Saturday, December 30, 2006

Blogging Art in 2006 - The Making A Mark Awards (Part 2)

"The 2006 Making A Mark Awards" for excellence in blogging art and about art in 2006 continues with
  • The ‘Get off your Blogging Bottom and Sketch’ Brass Plate
  • The Painting Plein Air Plus Prize
  • The Travels with a Sketchbook Award
  • The Amusing Musings Trophy
  • The “Tales from the Frontline” Mention in Despatches - my favourite blog by somebody who lives with an artist
The ‘Get off your Blogging Bottom and Sketch’ Brass Plate

This is for the artist or illustrator who has used their blog to make me feel most like I ought to do more exercise! Julie Oakley has set the benchmark with her blog One Mile from Homei.e.

Walk a minimum of one mile from home. Record where you’ve been with a drawing, sculpture, photo or painting and then walk back. Every day for a year.

I started with good intentions but soon fell by the wayside, whereas Julie has continued and will reach Day 250 on December 31st. Alison (5kRadius) in Canberra got on her bike and deserves an honourable mention for also sticking with the challenge – albeit in metric.

Having qualified for the stickability bit of the painting a day/stickability award Julie had very stiff competition on the painting front so I decided she needed her very own award - which she can of course aim to retain in 2007! ;) The brass plate is, of course, in recognition of all that brass monkey weather she has endured. (For those unfamiliar with English idioms please consult wikipedia which has an explanation). I reckon if she decides to go for a solid three years then I’d probably need to award her a Gold Medal!


The Painting Plein Air Plus Prize
This award is for excellence in plein air painting plus a strong commitment to sharing information

It is awarded to Ed Terpening for his plein air painter blog Life Plein Air. When I started blogging, Ed's was the only blog to come up when I plugged the 'plein air painting' tag into Technorati! He’s a professional blogger for a California bank and a part-time artist. Latterly he's had some very strong competition from other full-time artists, including William Wray and Linda Blondheim (who both deserve an honourable mention) but Ed has been blogging consistently since June 2005 and has edged ahead of everybody else due to his continued strong focus on sharing information on his blog as well as his commitment to plein air painting.

Ed provided me with a map and draft guide to plein air painting spots on and around Highway 1 - between San Francisco and Malibu which proved absolutely invaluable on my travels along the coastline of northern and central California in July 2006 – as recorded in my other blog “Travels with a Sketchbook in…….” I was delighted when he won a plein air painting competition in San Luis Obispo in October this year shortly after I was there myself. Ed’s blog has included insights into why artists should blog, how the wisdom of crowds applies to art and blogging (and the plein air competion) and a very good overview of his workshop with Ovanes Berberian. Read his June 5 post and posts on subsequent days and/or search on Ovanes Berbarian.


The Travels with a Sketchbook Award

This award goes to the most intrepid and/or industrious artist travelling with a sketchbook. The winner for 2006 is Laura Frankstone of Laurelines primarily for blogging her sketches of Paris in October while she was still there but also for the way she planned a whole year of themes for her artistic endeavours – much of which involved getting out and about with her sketchbook - or rather sketchbooks! Her blog is hugely popular and her sketches regularly delight all the very many people who read it on a daily basis. Do read her entry I had a plan dated 30th December - you'll get a flavour for what having a plan can do for your art.

An honourable mention must also go to Cindy Woods who also blogged about her travels and excursions as well as her daily life with exquisite line drawings in her sketchbook blog Learning Daily. Cindy has an unerring eye for a good composition and a remarkable facility for making the complicated seem simple - and her gadding about makes me quite dizzy at times!


>The Amusing Musings Trophy

This trophy is awarded for keeping me amused. It’s clear from a lot of research that many people enjoy humour when reading blogs. I’m torn as two blogs make me laugh out loud a lot. They are:

  • Hugh McLeod for Gaping Void – Hugh provides both humour and images for free alongside an expert insight into the business side of blogging and marketing product in a web2.0 world. He manages to capture all of this through drawing cartoons on the reverse of a business card. Although some of Hugh’s business-oriented blogging is on behalf of his clients, it’s also very clear that there is a substantial element of independent perspective filled with both expertise and humour going on – as there should be. I do hope the invective survives the move to London from the Lake District.
  • Maggie Stiefvater has had a meteoric rise this year in terms of the development of her art and art business - most of which has been very under-stated in her blog Greywaren Art. I’ve written about her a lot partly because she's a friend but mostly because she currently confounds a lot of the doom and gloom merchants and some of the conventional wisdom about art, what to sell and how to sell. However I’ve maybe not highlighted her writing on her blog enough. She mostly provides daily blog posts and almost without fail demonstrates that the fresh eye which she brings to portraiture also applies to her take on the world as well. She has a very unique voice – in both words and images.

………….and finally

The “Tales from the Frontline” Mention in Despatches - my favourite blog by somebody who lives with an artist.

Ruth Phillips is the wife of artist Julian Merrow Smith and the daughter of artist Tom Phillips RA so qualifies twice over. She has already won a mention in despatches from me when I applauded her blog meanwhile, here in France in the annals of the Guardian on-line newspaper for ex-pats a couple of months back writing as follows <

I started with Julian's blog "Postcard from Provence and then discovered his wife's blog which I've now been reading for several months. I love her writing - it's always a treat! She knows how to highlight the small and quirky incidentals and nuances as well as reflecting on the life they live in Provence, the changes in the seasons and the impact on their lives of the changes which have resulted from Julian's new found fame and good fortune. Best of all is when she is talking about her music. When is somebody going to give this woman a book contract or at the very least a newspaper column?

I have absolutely no doubt you will be finding Ruth's writings on a bookshop shelf near you in 2007 if publishers have any sense.

Ruth has been blogging for two years - and it shows. Read her archives - she's better than a good book. Plus you get to hear about what happens when everybody wants to buy anything your artist partner produces! Added bonuses are the insight into life as a musician travelling to play at concerts - and the scrummy yummy photos and descriptions of French food. If you're on a diet this January consume Ruth's blog instead!



I do hope you’ve enjoyed the Making A Mark Blog awards for 2006 – and I hope to see your blog featuring in them in 2007. By which time I might actually have constructed a widget or some such for the winners!

What do you think of my award winners and who would you give an award for blogging about art in 2006 and why?

Last of all, a huge thank you for all the comments I've already started to receive about the contributions my blog has made to your blog reading in 2006. It's been my pleasure - truly.


Technorati tags: art, art blogs, art business, art marketing, art websites, artist weblogs art marketing daily painter, daily painting, daily paintings, painting, plein air, sketching, sketchbook, travel sketchbook

Blogging Art in 2006 - The Making A Mark Awards

Ladies and gentlemen - I'd like to introduce you to "The 2006 Making A Mark Awards" for excellence in blogging art and about art in 2006 - according to me. Absolutely no consultation or voting has been involved! Get your hot drink of choice and find a comfy seat - this is a long one and comes in two parts!

When I started my review about blogging art in 2006 I wanted to recognise those art/illustrated blogs which had been most influential. Gradually I realised that I'd only be indulging in very spurious accuracy. So I've switched it to recognising those blogs which have most influenced me for one reason or another in 2006. Some also have made it in to the awards list for clearly having a verifiable influence on others. I felt I had to exclude from the awards those blogs where the blogger is employed by an organisation to blog on its behalf - although some very definitely have merit.

I've had great fun inventing categories and auditioning for my new Making A Mark awards for 2006 - and I think I'm going to have to make this a regular event! I might even come up with an actual award by this time next year.

The awards come in two parts as follows.
  • The Painting A Day Stickability Prize
  • The FAQs and Answers Really Useful Medal
  • The Best Art Blog Project of 2006 Virtual Challenge Cup
  • The Make Me Think E-Mail Gong
  • Best animal in an illustrated blog Award
  • The ‘Get off your Blogging Bottom and Sketch’ Brass Plate
  • The Painting Plein Air Plus Prize
  • The Travels with a Sketchbook Award
  • The Amusing Musings Trophy
  • The “Tales from the Frontline” Mention in Despatches - my favourite blog by somebody who lives with an artist
Links to their sites are in the body of the text and links to relevant posts on this blog are listed after each section.

The 'Painting A Day' Stickability Prize
"What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way." Winslow Homer
Two blogs tie for this one and I've had both on my blogroll now for so long they almost feel part of the furniture. Let's hear it for Duane Keiser ( A Painting A Day ) and Julian Merrow Smith ( Postcard from Provence ). They posted a new painting a day on their blogs for well over a year and, although they're not now posting a new painting absolutely every day, they're still managing a lot more than most 'painting a day' blogs.

I admire these two for a number of reasons. Most of all I like the way they paint and what they paint and never get tired of looking at their unique daily perspective on their regular motifs (Duane is now on his 20th broken egg!). I also admire Duane's focus on the process of art and continued innovation in blogging about art (which continues to stimulate). Julian's business set-up also managed to impress by coping with popularity of the blog both before and after they were swamped with buyers and selling everything Julian had in stock some 5 minutes after the publication of the New York Times article about him in February. He's now notched up over 200,000 visits to his blog and generated a mailing list of 3,000+ people.

These two also deserve an award for the enormous influence they have had on many, many other artists who have tried blogging art daily as a result - even if most had to drop back to a 'nearly daily' position. They certainly helped to influence a number of extremely popular posts on this blog judging by the visitor numbers (see below).

The FAQs and Answers Really Useful Medal

I like sharing information on this blog (but see also Making A Mark: Resources for Artists in response to Jeanette's comment on an earlier post) and I value blogs which also aim to share good information including what they have learned with others.

An honourable mention should go to Justin Clayton (Daily Paintings) who started doing daily paintings on January 1 2006 and provided an extremely informative set of answers to questions he found he was frequently being asked.

I would have liked to have included a mention for Marion Boddy-Evans of were it not for the fact that is part of the greater New York Times empire and has to be excluded from the awards according to my criteria.


The Best Blog Project of 2006 Virtual Challenge Cup

Everybody had blog projects in 2006! How to decide? My forehead now needs Botox for the wrinkling you all caused me - but in the end I decided that this award had to be split between two very different projects

Do you all remember that curious period in June and July when everybody started doing self-portraits? The Self Portrait Marathon started by Wally Torta/Sparky Donatello winkled no less than five blog posts out of me and four self-portraits and 390 entries overall from all those participating - pretty good going in numbers terms but completely stunning when you see the level of creativity that it generated in the marathon gallery hosted on Crackskull Bob.


The second award goes to the "Daily Painters" blog, started by Micah Condon. The blog, (and subsequent website) and mailing list provide contemporary original art for sale by painting a day artists and habitual painters.

I have to confess I've been somewhat ambivalent about this initiative. Let me start with what I like about it. It's main benefit for me is that it has succeeded in alerting me to artists that I was not aware of and for that I'm very grateful. It also helped to get some artists blogging their art who hadn't hitherto. As a result I've been looking at a lot of new art and new artists every day and I like very much some of the artists I 'discovered' due to this initiative. Of these, my current favourites are Carol Marine, Karen Jurick and Sarah Wimperis.

My ambivalence stems from the fact that it started out to be a community blog about artists who were following the painting a day tradition. Within a month it was redefined to cover both habitual painters (those who paint most days but don't necessarily produce a new painting each day) as well as the people posting a new painting each. Personally I think there's still room for blogs covering both groups and I'd still really like to see a blog which actually limits itself to people who produce a new painting virtually every day as they are a unique set. Let's see what 2007 brings.........


The 'Make Me Think' E-Mail Gong

This is for the weekly e-mail letter and associated blog or website which operates in an interactive way and makes the biggest mark on me - ie they always gets read.

I've got two award winners here:

Alyson is focused on the business end of being an artist, as does this blog from time to time (the career aspect of 'making a mark'). Her e-mail letter arrives in my inbox every Monday and always gets read as does her blog.

I've been reading Robert Genn's twice weekly letter and subsequent clickback for the artist community who subscribe to the Painters Keys for a very long time and he's been writing them for a long time too - since 1999. If you've not tried them before take a look at the archives. Robert's 'blog post' is actually an e-mailed letter but the opportunity he provides for people to respond makes it seem very much like a blog in my eyes. He includes some of the responses in the clickback and comments also provide material for future letters. I wonder what it would be like if it actually operated in exactly the same way as other blogs?

I'd like to thank them both for providing stimulating material for blog posts - ether indirectly or directly (see below).


Best Animal in an Illustrated Blog Award

No contest - Moose wins by a mile. Maggie Stiefvater characterises her cat Moose as a "criminally insane cat, furry muse, catcher of moths, grabber of ankles" but I think he's a total star. He's been breaking ACEO records and has also been featured in an article in Art Calendar about daily painting blogs. I fully expect he'll be having to complete his own tax return very soon.

Moose gets the prize for being most often featured in uncommon but totally typical images of a cat. I can only manage drawings of the catnapping variety as they always move in for a stroke as soon as I get the camera out. Moose however is a total luvvie and absolutely loves the lens. You can see more of him on Maggie's blog Greywaren Art and her website "Portraits with Character".

This award will in future be called “The Moose” in honour of its first prize-winner.



The next post contains Part 2 of the Making a Mark Awards for 2006


Technorati tags: art, , art business, art marketing, , , daily painter , daily painting , daily paintings , painting, painting a day

Friday, December 29, 2006

Plant motifs and art (#1)

Yesterday I visited the V&A Museum in South Kensington with an old friend whose job involves extensive travel to very interesting parts of the world. She has a very keen interest in the traditional art forms of different cultures. The ground floor level of the V&A is a delight in terms of the juxtaposition of European decorative art from medieval and renaissance Europe and the decorative art forms found in China, Japan, Korea, South Asia and the Islamic world. It was great to visit with somebody who'd just got back from central Asia!

The V&A is very civilized and has small folding stools which can be used by artists who have come to draw. Partway through the visit my feet gave out and so I sat on my V&A stool and did a very quick (unfinished) pencil sketch of a palampore in the South Asia (Nehru) Gallery - which is in Room 41. And no - I didn't know what a palampore was either! Mind you I wouldn't mind in the least if I had a nice bit of hand painted chintz from India c.1700 as a bed-hanging.

What I noticed particularly on this visit is the extent to which plants are used as motifs in both realistic and abstract forms. When I got home I studied the website and doing a search on the term 'flowers' produces 2,211 items in the museums's various collections. As a result, I think I'm going to make studies of a number of plant motifs on my SGFA drawing day at the V&A next week.

Here's my list of things to look out for - and this is just based on the things we saw yesterday!
There's a very interesting page on the V&A website "About Plant Motifs". The website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also includes sections on vegetal patterns in Islamic Art and plant motifs.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

A single pink peony

"A single pink peony"
8" x 11" coloured pencil on Arches Hot Press paper

This is a coloured pencil drawing of a single pink peony which I photographed at Kew in May this year - on the same day as the single peony I drew back in November. I think I need to do one more.

Dull grey days in winter tend to be the time when I to sit and look through all the flower reference photographs I took in the last year during visits to Kew and Wisley and on various travels. I seem to find that if you fill the frame with the subject and have good natural light, the colour coming through in the image produced is fairly close to the original. Of course I'd love to be drawing the original but then I'd love for the weather to be like May as well!

I don't think you would believe just how many pink coloured pencils I had out for this one in my attempt to capture the right pink shade - there are lots of quite subtle colour changes and I still don't think I've got it quite right. However I very much prefer the Polychromos, Pablo and Lyra Rembrandt coloured pencils for doing flowers - they produce a much cleaner finish. Links to the brand sites for these are on my squidoo lens for coloured pencils.

I had a little bit of a search for peony sites as I love peonies and came up with the ones in the links list below. Sadly the UK one seems to be having major problems with its website - but the Canadian one is well worth a visit.

The first of the 2007 Royal Horticultural Society London Flower Shows start on 16-17 January with 'Winter Fragrance'. This will include an exhibition of botanical paintings.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I got some clayboard for Christmas

One of my Christmas presents (from Gayle Mason) was a sheet of clayboard. Gayle has been recently experimenting with black clayboard and is absolutely loving it. I'm currently trying to find out more about it so that I can see whether/how much I need to add to my order for Ampersand's Pastelbord (which I am now officially 'in love' with)

Clayboard is especially suitable for people wanting to do scratchboard art, draw in fine detail (as Gayle does) or as I do - increasingly use erasure as part of the process of drawing. Gayle knew I was after a surface which would allow me to develop this aspect even more - and clayboard is the current candidate for a medium which supports this approach. My main concern is that it should be soft enough for me to be able to use a tool without aggravating my tenosynovitis (which fortunately has now subsided).

Use of the clayboard would also allow my work to be framed without glass once it has been sealed - which means no need for a mat (Yippee!!!) although where I can get hold of an appropriate sealant spray might be a whole other research project!

I'm currently searching for relevant information before I start to work out what I might use the board for. So this post records some highlights of that search to date.

Supplier's technical details

Ampersand make clayboard - in 'smooth', 'black, and 'textured'. I've got the smooth clayboard in white about which the Ampersand website says

"This museum quality panel is coated with a smooth absorbent clay ground comparable to the clay gesso grounds used during the Renaissance. Archival, lightfast, and acid free, the panels are ideal for acrylics, gouache, tempera, egg tempera, pen and inks as well as for mixed media techniques, airbrush, and collage. The surface is additive and subtractive. Remove paints to add contrast, texture, tonal value and fine details. Perfect for any artwork that requires an extremely smooth surface. Claybord Smooth is available in a 1/8" flat panel, a 3/4" cradle or with a 2" Deep Cradle..............(it is) very rigid and durable, repeated erasure and manipulation of the pencils won't harm the surface"

The Ampersand website also provides information in the tips section about how to use its products with different painting and drawing media - including Acrylics, Airbrush, Casein, Egg tempera, Encaustic, Graphite & colored pencils, Inks, Oils, Pastels, Printmaking, Graphic Media & Calligraphy, Watercolor & Gouache, Scratchboard (Sgraffito)

Other relevant websites

There appears to be rather more information on the internet about scratchboard than clayboard but it's more likely that these sites provide the information about how best to treat the surface and what sort of tools can be used to mark the surface. So although I'm interested in making marks rather than scratchboard art per se I've been having a look at some of the scratchboard sites to see if I can find out more.
Websites and links that I've found so far as are follows:

Questions which I need to investigate further include:

* whether to coat the surface with paint first before using coloured pencils
* which media produces the best colour overall if a subtractive process is used (and can I use it under CP)

Anybody with any tips out there?

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What shall we do today?

In the UK, today is Boxing Day which is a public holiday. The period between Christmas and New Year is also very often an extended holiday period for a number of people. "He who must not be bored while I sketch" and I were just trying to decided what we're doing today and later in the week.

One of the things we will be doing later this week is going to see the Holbein exhibition at Tate Britain - but unfortunately not today as it doesn't reopen until tomorrow after their Christmas break

For those of you would rather see art than hit the winter sales, here's a list of some of the exhibitions in London which can be visited before New Year's Day.
In the meantime, we've decided we're going to Blackheath today to walk in Greenwich Park and to look at the view of London from the Old Royal Observatory - which is of course home to Greenwich Mean Time (or GMT) being located at the Prime Meridian - (i.e. zero degrees) - inbetween the western and eastern hemispheres.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Festive Greetings

Last week I drew my mother's Christmas wreath in coloured pencil in my sketchbook while she was out at a committee meeting. Aged 78, her various committees and panels keep her very busy - I'm trying to persuade her to cut it down to under 15 hours a week but I'm currently on the losing side!

She got back and announced I'd drawn last year's wreath and that she had still to finish re-decorating it for this year!!! I told her it was fine and would be totally over the top if she tried to get any more on it. I gathered from her reply that that's the way she likes it! So on your left you can see my sketch of my mother's unfinished Christmas wreath complete with gauzy sparkly ribbon with stars!

I've got a lot of cooking coming up in the next day or so and then my aim is to have my nose stuck into my Christmas present to myself . My new book about John Singer Sargent's watercolours has just arrived as has another one about his portrait drawings......I'm looking forward to being somewhat preoccupied for the next day or so!

My very best wishes to you and yours at this festive season in whichever way you choose to celebrate.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Celebrating your progress in 2006

One of my favourite reads is Alyson Stanfield's art marketing newsletter which pops into my inbox every Monday regular as clockwork. On Monday this week, Alyson suggested a great quiz for everybody "Celebrate" - to celebrate what we've achieved in 2006.

While I was away, Maggie Stiefvater got the other Fine Line Artists to have a go at answering the questions posed by Alyson, which I've repeated below
.......It’s the time to take a good hard look at the steps you’ve taken toward reaching your goals. And I’ll bet you’ve made more progress than you know.

That’s why it’s important to do this exercise. If you don’t write down your achievements, you’ll just keep thinking about what’s left to do.

With that in mind, what did you do this year? Take into consideration:

* How many works did you create?
* What trips (local or far away) did you make to nourish your art?
* How much money did you make from your art?
* What classes (business or creative) did you take?
* What did you invest in that will help you to run a more profitable or streamlined business?
* Whom did you hire so that you can spend more time on your creative career? (framer, virtual assistant, housekeeper, lawn mower, bookkeeper)
* Whom did you meet that has turned out to be a mentor?
* What books did you read? What magazines?
* What movies did you see that inspired you?
* How many names did you add to your mailing list? (Note the exact number so you can evaluate your progress this time next year.)
* What habits or routines did you put into place?
* What habits or routines did you eliminate?
* Where did your name or artwork appear in print? Where did it appear online?
* How did you improve your website or Web presence?
* What new marketing materials did you add or improve on?
* Where did you speak about your work?
* What new materials or techniques did you experiment with?
* What organizations did you join?
* What projects did you initiate?

On a more personal level:

* How did you care for your health and well-being?
* How did you strengthen your personal relationships?
* What vacations did you have?
* What parties did you attend?
* What new hobby did you take up?
* Where did you volunteer?

Recalling your accomplishments is a good habit to adopt. After you do, how will you celebrate?

(From "Celebrate" Alyson Stanfield's Art Marketing Action newsletter 18th December 2006)
I was simply 'gobsmacked' at the answers they produced! It's a totally stunning and very rewarding exercise - and really helps you think about goals for 2007 as well as feeling good about yourself and your achievements right now. I'm planning to have a go at it between Christmas and New Year.

You can read Alyson's answers to her own questions here.

For those of you who don't know Alyson and her work but are serious about marketing your art can I recommend that you:
If anybody has a go at the quiz and doesn't mind sharing (as much or as little as you like), do use 'comments' to put a link to what you've written on your blog - either here or in Alyson's blog here or preferably both!

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Blogging Art in 2006 - A Review (Part 2)

Last week I started a review about blogging art in 2006. Part 1 focused on some blogging basics for art and illustrated blogs. This is Part 2. It looks at the influence of art and illustrated blogs - blogs vs websites, blogging communities and the role of blogs in marketing artwork. I was also going to try and identify the influential blogs.......of which more later.

It's my perspective based on my own experience, reading the opinions of others as expressed on the internet and impressions gained from surfing relevant sites over the course of the year. I look for data the whole time and find very little - hence the emphasis on shared experience. If you have a different perspective please use the comment function to explain how you see it differently and why.

Blogs versus Websites

Prior to the advent of the blog the on-line art world typically comprised large complex websites (national art galleries and museums; on-line art galleries for art history and commerce; large bulletin boards for artists and some good resource sites) and large numbers of small websites - for individual artists and small groups. Blogs have added volume but have also helped create wider networks and relationships of the sort only previously seen on some bulletin boards.

The debate continued in 2006 about the relative merits of different ways of presenting art on the internet. Some artists with established websites and sales records who blogpost on a regular basis have publicly indicated that they now find their blogs to be an effective way of marketing available work, leading people to their websites and building relationships for the long term. Blogs are easy to access, change on a regular basis (leading to repeat visits and growing familiarity with a body of work) and provide an opportunity to hear about the work and talk with the person producing it. In a nutshell, they provide exactly the same sort of things which people value about a private view at a gallery!

Art blogs are becoming more influential within the on-line art world.

There is no good reason to suppose that the art world will be exempt from the large-scale change permeating the rest of the economy when it comes to communication using social media and transactions performed via e-commerce. One only has to pause briefly to think about the percentage of christmas shopping done online this year compared to last! The blog can be an important tool of communication and influence for art.
  • Art blogs are read by people interested in art. Art and illustrated blogs are mainly viewed and read by people interested in art – learning about art, producing art, viewing art, buying art supplies and/or buying art. And artists buy art as well as produce it!
  • Reader profiles vary. Many of the people who subscribe to or comment on my blog also have a blog of their own and most of those are art/illustrated blogs. Artist bloggers with an established following generated elsewhere (eg of buyers or students) may well have a different reader profile.
  • Words are as influential as good images in attracting visitors. About 25% of the people visiting my blog 'found' it while conducting a web search using art-related terms. These are people who are interested in art in the past or the present, where to look at it, where to buy it and/or how to make it. A blog post is only one entry on a web search page - but if it looks interesting it'll get read and if it's actually interesting people will come back for more.
  • Content rules. Artist who blog on a regular basis and focus on providing good relevant content (about materials, techniques, experiences or just themselves) as well as displaying their art on their blogs have had good results in terms of both readers and/or sales. I've looked at the blogs of artists who've indicated they've not had a positive experience of blogging. Many lack narrative. In general, posting an image and then sitting back and waiting for it to be found does not work - it's a bit like putting something in an envelope but forgetting to address it and post it. See Part 1 for my review of blogging basics.
  • Art blogs have value for both tutors and students. A number of people are using an art blog to provide a 'taster' of the type of approach provided by those who offer tuition. The demands on the media 'savvy' of the tutor are however increasing - the quality of presentation is important and links to video casts have started!
  • Art news blogs typically focus on the 'high end' of the art economy and matters relating to museums, exhibitions, auction prices and prestigious artists and art fairs. There's very little which focuses on eg regional or city-wide art activities.
  • Newspaper journalists have discovered the value of blogging about art. 2006 has been a landmark year - whether it’s the Guardian (recognised as the lead UK newspaper for blogging) identifying the need for an Art and Architecture Blog (new this Autumn) or the New York Times and USA Today and other style journals realising that art blogs can provide good copy. Art Journals/Magazines are beginning to realise they also need to have an active internet presence - preferably including a blog with a feed. It's likely we'll see more developments in this area in 2007.
Small is the new big - blogging communities now rival the big message boards

Conventional ‘message board’ websites focusing on art have offered opportunities for artists to communicate for about 5 years or so. The biggest ones have a range of forums and can attract a lot of sponsorship from those involved in supplies and services for artists. However, membership numbers now seem to reflect historical recruitment over time rather than the number of active users after the effects of 'churn' have been taken into account. Members are also spread across numerous different forums which can separate artists using different media. There’s a notion that such sites reflect ‘what the membership wants’ but it’s also become apparent that if ‘push comes to shove’ what actually happens on a site is dictated by the owner.

However in the web 2.0 world of 2006, definition of the "niche" is recognised as vitally important to effective communication using a range of social media that includes but is not limited to blogging. I’m noticing a change in that a lot of people, including me, now seem to be able to find niches for different art interests defined rather more effectively off rather than on the big message boards sites. It's a trend I expect to continue.
  • A shift has started in favour of smaller more specialised communities. In 2006, the big boards continue but churn seems to have increased and on my travels I'm noticing:
    • active blogging communities with hundreds of members (some have thousands),
    • sizeable and active groups which have a specialised interest (e.g. art workbooks, botanical art, illustration, sketching) – some operating as part of Yahoo or Google Groups and some operating with small scale message board forums
    • and a few blogs with very many totally devoted followers.
  • Smaller forums can be more active than some on the big message boards. The metrics to compare activity on big and small sites is time-consuming to collect and analyse (although I might have a go in 2007) and might not be strictly comparative but, having observed a fair bit during 2006, I've come to the conclusion that some of the more specialised ‘small’ groups and blogging communities appear more active than the equivalent specialised media/subject forums within the big art forums. Indeed some individual blogs are more active and get more comments than some of the forums on the big boards. If they've not done so already (and there's very limited evidence that they have), it's probably time for those who run the big boards to evaluate activity and their current approach to segmenting different interests. Trying to cover all the bases only stretches the support 'staff' - who in the end might just find it more productive and satisfying to initiate a community group for their own particular interest.
Art blogs are influencing how art is bought and who buys it

The 80/20 rule probably applies as much in the art world as other areas of the economy. Most of the high value sales are to a very small world of collectors that galleries compete for. Most of the sales transactions will be for much lower prices to a much larger number of people. Of the latter, many who like to collect original art will be unable to spend huge sums and might never dare to enter most bricks and mortar galleries. What nobody knows is the value represented by the volume of people who like to buy and collect art - in an affordable way. The challenge is how to make art affordable and accessible. Initiatives about how to promote, package, price, and sell art - on-line and off - are being influenced by blogs.
  • Art blogs are being used more and more by individual artists to generate sales. How they use the blog varies - some have 'buy now' buttons, others link images to on-line auction sites or their website or the bricks and mortar galleries which represent them while still others promote plein air events where work is sold direct to the public. It may become more apparent during 2007 if any one way is 'better' than another or whether all have value.
  • Galleries seem to be changing their approach - very, very slowly. Although development is still extremely slow, more galleries seem to have begun to understand the need for an integrated marketing approach between the bricks and mortar side of things, conventional paper-based media and the use of the social media aspects of the web 2.0 world. The scope of a blog to provide a feed announcing new work and enhance communication has not gone unnoticed. Whether we see more of them though in 2007 is anybody's guess!
The most influential blogs?

You'll have to wait until Part 3 for my thoughts on which are the most influential blogs - to be posted next week. I have a long list - and need to get it down to a short list! I'm happy to take any comments posted below - which aren't self-promoting - into account!

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Marble Dog - a work in progress

"The Marble Dog" - a work in progress
coloured pencil on Saunders Waterford Hot Press paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This drawing is one of the pieces I've been working on recently including while I was away seeing family. It's a development of the marble dog in the V&A cafe which I sketched recently and is still officially a work in progress - mainly because I'm thinking of trying it again on Arches HP. However, I've had the dog form checked out by Gayle, my UK dog expert who I saw earlier this week. She's given it the thumbs up!

The drawing, unlike the sketch, involves a lot of different colours (Polychromos and Pablo coloured pencils) but with the aim of ending up with mostly analogous and neutral hues and some fairly subtle changes in tonal values. Plus I'm trying to keep the overall finish somewhat sketchier than usual. To do this involves me in carving the marble dog using my battery eraser and getting layers and layers of subtle colour changes. My current thinking is that this might work better on Arches and consequently I'm wondering about trying a second version and, at the same time, trying also to knock back some of the colour in the people and to make them even sketchier. In part, it's about continuing down the path of developing the way I want to work in future on more finished pieces. I know what I want it to look like in my head - the challenge is in getting the materials and eye-hand co-ordination to cooperate!

Doing this drawing has also made me realise that I need to work out a new way of presenting more finished drawings of interiors on my website (including worked up versions of my restaurant and cafe scene sketches) - and current thinking is that I create one in 2007. The existing gallery - which is mainly sketchbook drawings - is here.

My trip up north and back became a little complicated due to the fact I had a nasty dose of food poisoning while away which delayed my return plus dense fog made my journey over to Yorkshire and then back to London 'interesting'. I've got a sketch of a Christmas wreath to show you before Christmas which I also produced while I was away - maybe Christmas Eve?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas dinner at the Cafe Fish

Cafe Fish
8" x 10" pen an sepia ink and coloured pencil in Moleskine sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I had dinner last night with an old friend and we went to the Cafe Fish - just north of Piccadilly Circus in Rupert Street. It just does fish - so we had what seemed like their Christmas dinner version of fish - the Grand Plat de Fruits de Mer and chomped our way through Rock oysters, Dorset crab, whelks, cockles, winkles, Atlantic prawns, mussels & Madagascan crevettes. We took our time as it was very good...........and I wish I had taken a camera. I brought the oyster shells home for still life subjects!

This is the very quick pen and ink sketch I did of the cafe while waiting for my friend. I was drawing globes and then realised I needed to remember to do the reflections of the globes in the windows and spent some time working out what the colour differences were. The light was very subdued (memo to self - must remember to take reading glasses to restaurants!) and the walls are tiled white making dining pleasant but sketching a bit more difficult as the colours all seem very washed out. As always, the staff were intrigued by the sketching and were very nice about it.

I'd taken my coloured pencils with me but didn't do much in the cafe other than indicate a few colour touches. Then went home through Leicester Square - which was packed with people at close to midnight - amidst Christmas revellers and blokes carrying the weird prize they won in the raffle and girls carrying the table decorations which they had spirited away from the Office Christmas Party

And then sat on the tube going home at gone midnight with my sketchbook and coloured pencils on my knee - getting the colours down before I forgot them! Such is my dedication to sketching dear readers!!! ;)

This blog is now taking a short break while I'm away for a long weekend with family and will return in the middle of next week.

Keep drawing those Christmas scenes..................

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blogging Art in 2006 - A Review (Part 1)

Yesterday my blog celebrated its first birthday – it made me think about what I knew when I started, what I know now and how blogging has changed in the last year in the art and illustrated blogs world.

So – for anybody who’s interested - here are some of my observations after a year of blogging amongst art and illustrated blogs. So much has occurred to me while writing this, that this post has become Part 1 and Part 2 will follow next week.

It’s now a lot more difficult to get noticed

Increasing numbers of blogs and splogs and failure to cull the inactive means that it can be difficult to find new art/illustrated blogs which are active and good. A dedicated directory of art and illustrated blogs – with tags or categories for different interests, active moderation and fast processing – is long overdue.

Blog numbers continue to increase at a phenomenal rate

  • When I started, Technorati listed some 30 million blogs.
  • Over the summer, huge spikes in splog (spam blogs) activity resulted in some blogging hosts or directory sites slowing down or stopping.
  • At the end of October. Technorati listed 57 million blogs – after the splog cull.
  • On average 100,000 new blogs are created each day

Blog attrition and spam activity seriously affects directories of art and illustrated blogs.

  • “Blogs Illustrated” was a really good introduction to the illustrated blogs world when I first started (my blog is no. 296) – but the ring had to close due to spam activity. There are now 412 blogs on a closed list with 270 more that will be forever ‘pending’.
  • The explosion of blog/splog numbers this summer meant that other directories and hosts struggled and faltered from time to time.
  • Blogs continue to ‘die off’ fast – only 55% are considered "active" (i.e. blog at least one post at least once every 3 months!)
  • Blogging on a regular basis (more than once or twice a week) for at least 3 months – my first target – means that you’re much more likely to continue. (Blogging almost daily means you have "a serious habit" and get withdrawal symptoms when you lose access to a computer and the internet!)

Art and illustrated blogs are now getting lost in blog directories.

  • The owner of the Blogs Illustrated webring applied criteria for entry, weeded out unsuitable applications and created a meaningful list as a result.
  • Most other blog directories offer art and illustrated blogs the choice of either a generic ‘arts and entertainment’ category or a personal category. Either way, it’s much more difficult to find a new illustrated blog. The generic ‘arts and entertainment’ category often includes masses of music / drama / film / celebrity / shopping blogs (“Shopping – art or entertainment or both?” Discuss!).
  • Not listing blogs with less than (say) half a dozen posts would eliminate a vast number from the less discriminating directories.
  • Directories don’t seem to cull in the same way that Technorati does – I’d like to see a big improvement in this area.

Tags are useful but awareness and practice is limited

  • Techonorati tags are useful but are really only limited to finding other blogs which also use tags who blog about the same things as you do - which is how I found Ed Terpening's "Life Plein Air". This resulted in a huge bonus for me - Ed supplied a guide to plein air painting locations in northern California which I 'road-tested' for him when I visited California with my sketchbook in July this year. (see Travels with my Sketchbook)
  • Technorati does not generate a lot of traffic. I don't understand why but I think it's because people either don't claim their blogs on Technorati or don't understand their tag system. And maybe just never use it to search for like-minded blogs?
  • tagging should get easier Improvements in blogging software and the ease of categorisation and tagging of individual posts should help people to find other art and illustrated blogs more easily in future through the use of tags.

Blogrolls provide useful pointers to good quality blogs

  • Blogrolls tend to be much more informative than blog directories. I found Karen’s Creative Journey (no. 18) and came to enjoy Cin’s Learning Daily (No. 41) through Blogs Illustrated and from there I found Laurelines. Their extensive blogrolls enabled me to find more of the same ilk and from there I started to develop my own blogroll. IMO, using the blogrolls of the blogs you like is the best way of finding blogs with good quality content.
  • Developing a blogroll policy helped me to decide which blogs to include on my blogroll and to respond to the very many requests for a link which I get. I don't swop links and I don't include blogs less than 3 months old.
  • My feed reader has many more blogs on it than my blogroll. Keeping me stimulated by your art (and maybe entertained as well!) is the best way to make it on to my blogroll.

Feed readers have got better but still need to improve

  • Feed readers are essential. I couldn’t get through the day given the number of blogs I read if I didn’t have a feed reader.
  • Feed readers can have problems. Some of you will know that I was plagued for quite a few weeks by a total inability to see images on certain Blogger blogs. When I realised that this was only due to my accessing them through Bloglines, I had to dump Bloglines and switch to Google Reader – which I don’t think is the best, most flexible reader – but I can at least see images again – when it behaves!
  • Feed readers could do better. When are we going to get feed readers designed around the visual image?

Commenting is the best way to stimulate visitors and links

Comments are what makes blogs really work effectively as social media (web 2.0).

  • Comment, comment, comment! When I started I made a point of visiting lots of blogs and commenting on what I saw on the ones I liked. As I hoped, many of the people I visited reciprocated and are now regular visitors to mine. Now, if I have time, I always try and check out the blogs of people who comment on my blog and then comment on theirs. IMO, it’s still the best way to to get repeat visitors. And you have to be exceptionally good at what you do to now get listed on my blogroll if you don’t comment on others.
  • Asking questions and inviting people to ponder a subject almost always gets an interesting set of responses. My blog and other blogs have been successful at generating both comments and civilized discussions about artistic matters.
  • Security and blogging software needs to get much more efficient and effective at filtering comments - I want to be able to let real people in and keep spammers/trolls out without making commenting on a blog like getting into Fort Knox.
  • My comments policy has saved me a lot of time and angst about deleting some comments I’ve received without a second thought.

Nothing is permanent but change.

Heraclitus had a point! It’s interesting to try and identify the latest innovations and trends – and who is better at it than others.

  • Innovators continue to innovate Duane Keiser – who instigated the daily painting blog – is now producing videos of how his artwork is developed which can be viewed via You Tube. At the same time as developing blogs which are slower-paced and more reflective about practice.
  • Technological developments will always generate new developments in art blogging. My guess is You Tube and (to a lesser extent) Podcasts will become a feature of more and more art and illustrated blogs in 2007. You’ve seen the photos, you’ve seen the sketches or the oil paintings – now we want to see the artist at work! I must confess it’s one of the things which is taxing my brain at the moment.

Part 2 of my review of the past year

........will look at the influence of art and illustrated blogs (blogging communities, which are the influential blogs and the role of blogs in marketing artwork). And I might just offer a few predictions as well as making a few requests. Part 2 will follow next week after a long weekend away.

And from a personal perspective……..

It certainly feels a very different world from a year ago when I started to pilot my new blog very quietly just before Christmas 2005. After a premature labour and a very quiet non-public pilot, we returned to the delivery suite after Christmas (and flu!) for the rebirth of the blog (i.e. the publishing of the feed) with a much shorter name and a much clearer focus. I then got stuck into serious blogging and, apart from a couple of trips to the USA, I’ve been blogging pretty steadily ever since.

Having had a long career in business and performance management, I’m rather keen on performance metrics and I’m very happy to report that my blog now has over seventy subscribers, has been linked to by around 100 sites in the last six months and averages between 200-250 visits a day from around the world. 55% of my visitors/readers are from the USA although I get visitors from all over the world (I love my clustr map and mapstats box). About a quarter of my visitors arrive from Google in one way or another. Other search engines account for a significant number of visitors as my page ranking with search engines has rocketed as a result of blogging. And less than 60% of you are still using IE as your browser!

I don’t think “He who must not be bored while I sketch” quite believed that some of the cyberchums actually existed until I started going on overseas trips to meet them! He certainly didn’t ‘get’ blogging for a very long time. I certainly didn’t understand how much I would enjoy writing as well as drawing. I’ve loved the process of working out new posts in advance and also sometimes sitting down in a morning without a clue about what I’m going to write. Some of the most visited and popular posts emerged completely spontaneously!

The best bit about blogging for me has been the chance to ‘meet’ so many wonderful people in virtual reality. I know your drawing and painting styles and what you have shared about your artistic ambitions and so much more – where you live, your family, your friends, your animals (and some of their dire habits!). I’ve shared your artistic aspirations and experiments, your plans and your projects, your successes and your failures – it has all been a real privilege and a real joy for me. Long may it all continue!

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