The question of copyright comes up a lot for artists, and as it turns out, its often grossly misunderstood. So, I figured I'd do a quick post about it.
First, let's discuss what copyright is. Basically, it's just a bundle of rights that the creator of an original artwork has in relation to his or her work. Those rights include the right to be paid for the exhibition and reproduction of their work. It also includes something called moral rights which protects the artist from having their work mutilated or destroyed or altered in a way damaging to their reputation or from having their work associated with a cause or organization they're personally opposed to. Copyright isn't something that has to be registered, it arises as a result of the work having been created and it lasts a long time. In Canada, it lasts for the life of the artist plus 50 years. Other countries have slightly different durations.
So what does all that mean? I won't get too legalistic here, but I will address the most common question I get from collectors, whether they can make a print of a painting they've collected from me to give to their grandmother, their boss, whomever. They assume that because they own the painting they can do as they wish. WRONG! When you collect a work of art from an artist, you've purchased the physical object, that's all. You do not acquire copyright, that remains with the artist. So, you cannot in any way reproduce the work without the artist's permission and without compensating him or her for the privilege (called a licence). The long and short is, yes, you own the painting, but the expression of the ideas contained on it, the stuff the copyright protects, is still mine.
Not every day at work is the same. It really doesn't matter what you do or who you are, it just isn't. Even if you absolutely love what you do, and even if you give it 110% every single day, there are just days, well moments when you're more "in the zone" than others. Those are the days that if you're a runner, you just somehow can run that tiny bit faster and it wins you the race, or if you're an office worker, that pile of work you could never finish becomes something you easily tackle. You know what I mean, those times when you just melt into your work and there's nothing else. Distractions that are always there just magically fade so far into the background, they just aren't there anymore. It's awesome, but it's fairly rare.
I had one of those moments yesterday. As the bright sun came streaming into my window, warming me despite the fact that it was cold outside, it was just me and the paint. The result? The piece you see here, part of my East Coast Serenade series. It depicts a lone sailor coasting along the unusually calm water, his only light the glow of the full moon. It's peaceful, it's calming and there's a hint of mystery. I call it Guided by Ghosts. The reason for the title is two-fold, first, it speaks to the mystery of the piece and secondly, it describes the feeing I referenced above, the zone, because in a very real way it felt like the paint was guiding me and not the other way around.
As I sit here with my early morning coffee, I'm feeling nostalgic, so I figured I'd do a "Greatest Hits" post. I've done a couple in past years, but it' time for a new one. It's fun to look back from time to time, over my body of work and pick out which ones are my favourites. Mind you, all my pieces have a special place in my heart, but some stand out to me, personally. But before we get to it, I must, on this Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day if you're in the US), take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to those men and women in uniform whose service has allowed me the freedom to not only do what I do, but the ability to choose it. Take a moment today to remember, because if we don't remember the horrors of the past, we're doomed to repeat them.
And now, on with the show, so to speak:
1. City Life: This piece, the one pictured above, was one I did back in 2016. I really love the bight colours in it, it feels lively. The background reminds me of an old European city, perhaps Lisbon. And then there's the character in the foreground with the umbrella, faceless, well almost. Who is he? What's he doing? What's with the umbrella on an obviously clear day? He gives the piece an irresistible air of intrigue that I still can't resist even now, 2 years later. I just want to keep looking at it, to unravel the mystery.
2. Sensational Sleep: This is a commission I completed last year. I just love how it turned out. People are naturally a bit nervous about having a nude portrait done, I mean there is a certain vulnerability in exposing your naked body for all to see, perceived flaws and all (and by perceived, I mean we always see them in ourselves, even if no one else does). That being said, the collector was delighted with the piece, it's elegant, tasteful and beautiful.
3. Old City: I can't believe this one is almost 5 years old! I know I've raved about it before, and it even made the list of paintings that have defined my career. Well, I can't help it, I love it. It's really the first piece where I was able to just let loose and let my abstract freak fly! I was in a place in my life where I finally felt comfortable, with myself and my work and in that comfort, I found the safety to experiment.
4. Existence in an Unfathomable Universe: Speaking of the freedom and safety to experiment, I created this piece around the same time as Old City. It was a wonderful time in my life. I finally got my true love back after 20 years and I was just feeling free and happy. In this piece, I played with the surreal and I love how it turned out. I still remember standing there, at the canvas, in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the world was asleep. It's another one of those pieces that compels the viewer to think, to wonder. What's going on here? Who, or what is that blob person? What about the other person? What's behind that little door? All that and it's visually pleasing too.
5. Parting the Fog: I completed this piece about 3 years ago. As you know, I'm no stranger to painting people in boats or seascapes. What can I say? I love the ocean. To be honest, I just really love how this one turned out.
So, there you have it, my five faves right now. Enjoy!
The other night, we had the most beautiful sunset, you know the kind, as the sky begins to move from lighter to darker blue, it becomes streaked with shades of pink and purple, turning some of the clouds the same colour as the sun descends. It's beautiful. Of course from where I was sitting, I could only see a little slice of it. I began thinking, wouldn't it have been nice to have been out in the country to enjoy such a majestic sight! The sky seems so much bigger out there, probably because there aren't buildings everywhere.
Those thoughts and that warm feeling the sunset brings me must have stayed with me, because I found myself painting it. I suppose if I don't yet have my country estate, I can always paint it. ;)
I'm feeling quite philosophical today, maybe it's the grey weather, maybe it's just me, who knows, but what's on my mind today is the fact that we're a society of whiners. Everywhere I turn, someone has a boo-hoo freakin; sob story. Life's done us all wrong, it seems. But has it? Has it really? Granted, there are things that happen, horrible, crappy things that we didn't ask for, didn't deserve and that come right out of the blue like a sucker punch. That's not the stuff I'm talking about.
What I'm talking about is the individual hell we seem to create for ourselves, that self-made misery. We cry poor, yet we have more than over 90 percent of the world and we've spent more on pizza, beer and coffee this month than some people in our own communities have spent on groceries to feed their children. We complain about our weight, as we sit in state of the art, massaging, self reclining easy chairs, eating Doritos. We complain about the nice things others have, judging them as greedy or somehow morally inferior because they can somehow acquire these coveted objects, yet we're doing nothing to improve our lot to give us even a shot at getting anything like it. We hate our neighbours and childhood friends for daring to be "on the wrong side" of the political divide, apparently forgetting that the cornerstone of a democratic society, something we pride ourselves on, is the fact that we all have a say and a vote and are free to express it. We comfort ourselves in the complete assurance that the beautiful thin woman, the handsome man, well, they can't be very bright and they must be horribly unfriendly, selfish and self-absorbed. We run around searching for quick fixes to all these maladies, the magic pill, the sweet elixir, the book with the answers.
The catch is, we're the ones who created it, and believe me, I too, am guilty of slipping into this. We've done a lot of this to ourselves, and to comfort ourselves into thinking otherwise, we've taken to self righteousness, envy, judgment and a sense of not getting a fair deal. That's what this painting, which I call Self-Made, is about. The figure is sitting in her own hell, she created it herself. But you'll notice the light around her. You know what that is? I'll tell you. It's when we finally shut up for a second, sit down, take a look inside, deep inside and begin to take responsibility for the things we can change in our lives. It's at that point we can begin to change things for the better and turn that hell into something better. I'm not saying it's easy, and I've had to do it many times in my life (maybe I'm a slow learner), but it is worth it. A lot of what we do, we do to ourselves and once we realize it, we can begin to live in the bright light rather than the pit of hell.
I have to admit, I never realized that the idea of commissioning an artist and how one would go about that would be a topic of discussion. Apparently I was wrong because I happened to stumble upon exactly that question and figured, if one person had the guts to ask about it, there are likely many more in the shadows afraid to do so.
First, what does it mean to "commission an artist"? Simply put, it's just paying an artist to do a painting of something, someone, that they want you to do. It could be anything, a pet, a person, a place, something that means something to them. That's all it is. And how do you do this? Well, these are the steps, and they're super easy and ensure a wonderful, enriching experience for both artist and collector:
1. Find An Artist: Check out several artists. Look at their work. See what they do. Determine whether their style is something that resonates with you. The style is critically important. Think about it, if you love realism and you commission Picasso to do a portrait of your dog, you, and the artist are going to end up frustrated and confused. An artist is not going to change his or her style of work to suit, it just doesn't work like that, nor should they. Just like you can't adjust your taste. Find a good fit.
2. Approach the Artist: Most, if not all, professional working artists I know have websites and contact details. Believe me, none of them are hurt by the possibility of paying work. Send an email, ask questions, we're happy to hear from you, this is kinda what we do.
3. Lay Out Details Up Front: Things like size, price, deposit, subject matter, must be determined up front. You're entering into a contract here. You're about to pay good money and the artist is about to put hours and hours of work, not to mention materials, into this endeavour. Certainty and communication is key.
4. Speaking of Deposits: Be prepared to pay a deposit up front. Sadly, the world isn't what is used to be and those in business, any business, can't afford to take your word for it. You may be the most honest, most wonderful person on the planet, but supplies and time cost money.
I've done several commissions in my career and I enjoy doing them. They give me a unique glimpse into my collectors, what they value, what makes them tick. The one above is Rihanna, a piece I did for a collector that was a big fan of hers. I'm going to add a page to this website just for commissions, but for now, here are a few others I've done over the years:
So, feel free, if there's something you've always wanted to see on canvas, immortalized by an artist, whether it's you, your kids, dog, best pal, a favourite city, treasured memory, whatever it is, don't be shy, ask your favourite artist about the possibilities, you may be pleasantly surprised. And as my mother in law always said, "you don't ask, you don't get."
I found myself in another hotly contest debate yesterday. I really need to stay home, I think. That being said, these lively discussions are great for providing me with blog ideas. I was speaking to a friend who makes soap and she kept referring to her "art"; I corrected her, letting her know her work was a craft, not art. I didn't mean it as an insult, not at all, but I think, well I know, at least initially, she took it as such. And the debate took off!.
Before I get into the basis for my stance, let me explain that I'm examining this on a pure academic and objective level. I'm not making a subjective assessment on either. I'm not saying that one is any better than the other. They're both forms of creative expression and both have their place in the world. It has nothing to do with one being better or a higher form than the other. It's like comparing apples and carrots, you can't, they're different, both great for what they are, but different. That being said, I think a great deal of the confusion between what is art and what is craft stems from a recent trend I've noticed among some shops that have decided to call themselves galleries. They attempt to sell both fine art (painting, sculpture and the like) and craft, such as knitted wear, candles, soap, etc. I suppose they do that in order to maximize the profitability of their retail space and to attract the widest possible consumer base.
The main difference between art and craft is in the purpose for which it is created. Art is created for purely aesthetic purposes, it generally serves no practical human objective other than the pure beauty of it and the emotional and/or cognitive reaction it elicits. Craft, on the other hand, serves human objectives that are more tangibly useful, you wear knitted wear, you wash with soap, you burn candles for light, you put stuff in baskets.
Further, the process of creating between the two is different. Art is more unstructured, it expresses emotion, thoughts, visions. The focus is on the ideas, the feeling and the visual quality of the work. Craft is more about the proper use of tools, materials and technique. Art is more about that innate ability whereas craft is more about learned skill and experience. That's why a skilled craftsperson can duplicate their work, they can make 30 virtually identical baskets, soaps, sweaters, etc. Art doesn't work that way. Sure, I can paint 20 landscapes over my lifetime, but none of them will be the same. Because they rely more on emotion, my mood at the time, what I'm thinking, where my head is at, so to speak, than on the simply my ability to put a brush in my hand and paint a tree, they will all be different.
I love a lively debate (maybe not as much as my wife does) and this weekend, while enjoying after dinner drinks with a group of friends, I found myself in quite an interesting one. While speaking about art, the topic of posthumously completing the artwork of another came up. I can't tell you how the conversation turned to that, but it did and boy, did it liven the night up! Basically the question was is it a good or desirable thing for an artist's unfinished work to be completed by an equally skilled artist, say, when that first artist dies? I quickly found myself very passionately involved in the discussion and given that, I figured I'd share my thoughts with you.
Let me start the discussion with a warning, if I leave unfinished work behind when I pass along to the great buffet in the sky, DO NOT try to complete it, or I will haunt you eternally! And I don't mean a cute friendly Casper haunting.... I mean Stephen King book/movie creepy, scare the pants off you haunting. That may give you some sense as to where I come down on this surprisingly controversial issue.
Why do I feel this way? Well, it's like this, art is about so much more than skill, in fact, skill is only one small element, of many, that come together to create a work of art. It's necessary, no doubt, I mean of course, one much possess a certain level of skill, that's a no brainer. But a work of art is more than that, it encompasses the artist's vision, their emotions, their interpretation, in a sense, it's a slice of time glimpse into the artist at a given time. These are things that you simply can't swap out, they aren't interchangeable. No two people, no matter how close, no matter how much you've studied each other, have the same experiences, feelings or vision, therefore, the unfinished work, in this case, can never be what it was originally intended to be. Best to leave it alone, I say. And if you're so hell bent on "bringing an unfinished work to life", keep you damn mitts off of it, and maybe do your own work, based on what you see in the incomplete piece and clearly labeling it as such.
I had a completely different topic planned for today's post, then I checked my email and decided to answer the writer's question. I've reproduced the correspondence below, with permission:
Dear Mr. Parker,
I really like your work and I've been reading your blog since my junior year. My name is Brad and I'm 19 years old. I love to paint and draw and want to be a professional artist. I cannot afford art college and am not sure whether I want to go anyway. What advice can you give me as someone who has been there and made it as an artist?
Well, Brad, first, thank you for the question. I have to admit, I did giggle a bit at the idea of someone looking to me for advice, but I do appreciate it. I'll do my best to answer your question. I've distilled my response down into 5 top tips. Here we go:
1. Art School: Yay or Nay: Let me first say, education is never a waste of time. What we learn in life shapes us into the people we become and as artists, those lessons and experiences will find a way into our work. That being said, for me, art school was a big NAY. Why? I was never much of a student, not in a classical sense. I consider myself quite intelligent, but I don't function well within the traditional classroom paradigm. I'm the kind of guy that needs to learn at my own pace, at my own time, in my own way. Also, like you, I couldn't afford it and couldn't see myself going into debt for something I didn't really need. You don't need an art school education to be an artist, what you need is an ability to, in this case, paint or draw, and the passion to do it. School can't give you that. Further, art schools don't teach you the most fundamental lesson of being a working artist, the business behind it. If I had it to do over again, I may have gone to some sort of university or college and taken a few business and/or psychology classes. If you're not the type that has a real burning desire to go to art school, I say skip it. The local library, the internet and your own desire to hone your skills are all the schoolin' you need.
2. Art is a Business, and a Real Tough One: While you're honing your style and learning all you need and want to learn, one thing you need to do immediately is to get your head out of the clouds, if indeed it's there. The chances of some rich benefactor just happening by, seeing your work and propelling you into a life a riches and glory are slim to none. It doesn't work that way. Art is a business and it's a hard one. Creating the work is the easy part. After that, you have to market the work, somehow get it out there for the world to see, and you're competing with literally millions of other artists vying for attention. You have to know how to price your work so that you're covering your costs and making a little money for things like, you know, food and shelter. That's where an understanding of business comes in. You are going to work just as hard at non art, business stuff as you are at creating work. Get a website, pay the 40 bucks or so for a professional one, it just looks better. If you really don't have the cash to do that, you can go on one of the art selling sites like Fine Art America or Etsy, but eventually, you will want to get your own website. Get on social media, post new work, works in progress, etc. Some of your first sales will likely be friends and family from the various social media sites you're active on. Also, get yourself into art shows in your local community. Be everywhere to be noticed. If people don't know about your work, they can't buy it. Think about it, how do you think the Kardashians became famous and continue to maintain that fame? They're freakin' EVERYWHERE!
3. Don't Take it Personally: When you begin to put your work out there, you're going to hear all sorts. You'll her criticism, and you'll hear accolades. Starting out, I found the accolades the toughest to deal with. That sounds funny, so I'll explain. It's not the accolades per se, that bothered me, I mean everyone loves praise, but it was the empty accolades, the people who "love your work", have got to have it, but they never take that leap to buy. Or the ones that ask a price, get you all excited and you never hear back. When your living depends on selling your work, those things are tough to take. The thing is, not everyone can afford original art, life can be expensive and art isn't food or shelter. Some people are simply browsers and never really planned to buy. Others may come back later for the piece they asked about or another. It's hard not to take it personally, or to get pissed off at what feels like a waste of your time, but it really isn't personal. Always be respectful and remember, you don't know their circumstances, just like they don't know yours.
4. Find Your Style: Practice, practice, practice. Read about other artists, look at lots of art. Experiment with different styles as you're learning. Find your voice, your unique expression, that thing that makes your work unique.
5. Do Other Stuff: Starting out, you'll likely have to keep your day job. You can't just pick up a brush and quit your job thinking you'll somehow make a living as an artist. I worked for years while I was building my career, until I didn't have to. You'll need money to survive. The romantic myth of the starving artist, the idea that that desperation, that hunger, that despair, somehow fuels creativity and makes art better is complete and utter BS! Have you ever done your best anything when your stomach is growling from hunger? Would you want a surgeon to operate on you if all he could think about was how he can't pay his rent today and the fact that he's weak from hunger? On the contrary, you do your best work when you feel free and safe, safe because the wolves aren't at the door and free to create inspiring, wonderful work. Also, get out and do other things. Don't paint 24 hours a day, I did it for years and that obsession ruined my health. I got fat and sluggish and became a very one dimensional person. Work hard, yes, but remember, there are other things in life, people who love you, people you love, fresh air, exercise, experiences. All those experiences will not only help you to be a more well rounded, happy and healthy person, but they'll also fuel your work; you can't be inspired to paint if you never see or experience new things.
That's all I can think of for now. Good luck.
Today's question came to me via a DM on Twitter and it comes from Charlene. She asked, "Dear Carl, sometimes when I work on a painting, I can't tell when I'm done. How do you know when your paintings are done?" That's a good question, Charlene, thank you.
The truth is, like everything, the answer is both easy and complicated. The easy, it's done when it's done. There are pieces that I've done and it's just painfully obvious that it's complete, the image is there, the background is there and I've said what I wanted to say. But then there are other pieces, perhaps more complex ones where the finish line isn't so obvious. I'll explain:
I assume most artists are like myself, tending toward perfectionism. When we approach the canvas, we aim to do our very best work, every single time. We want to create masterpieces for our fans and collectors, not to mention ourselves, we don't half-ass it, so to speak. Sometimes, that drive for perfection can obscure the moment when a piece is done. There's a fine line between that final touch that will really transform a work from a nice little painting to WOW! Because we're always reaching for the WOW, we're tempted to keep going, to add that one more stroke, one more shadow, a little more here, a little more there. The problem is you can do that too much and then you ruin the entire thing. I know, I've done it.
So how do you avoid that? I think it comes with experience. There's a voice in my head, and I suspect in the heads of other artists, that asks, "are you sure you want to do that?" When you hear that voice, listen to it, it's telling you that the piece is done. Put down the brush, walk away. It's like when you were in school. Remember studying for an exam and there comes a point in time when you just put the book down because you know you've crammed in as much as you're ever going to? It's like that, your gut tells you, and like everything else, going with your gut is a good thing.