Ideas on painting

Consignment Forms - Are They Really Necessary?

Art Business: Yawn, right? Still, I think it's important enough to write about. Of all the artists that I know, the successful ones (read: make their main income from art) are totally involved in the business side of their art, not just the creation of it. The romantic stereotype of the messy artist who just creates in a cluttered studio is really the image of an artist who won't survive.

Example of a Gallery Consignment Form

Example of a Gallery Consignment Form

It’s hard to stand up for yourself as an artist, especially if you’re just starting out, but it’s a good habit to get into. It can be tempting to just hope for the best in terms of a gallery relationship, but that’s rather naive. Nobody is going to look out for your interests except you.

An Artist-Gallery relationship takes work, a lot like a marriage. The first few months may even be bright and sunny like a honeymoon. If you talk to someone from either party though, you’re likely to hear some disgruntled experiences. Why nobody would want to try and improve this experience through more open and transparent communication is beyond me. (I suspect it’s because this approach takes work from both sides. Easier to do nothing and think positive, right?) I spend a lot of time asking questions and getting to know them before making a commitment. Artists need to make it clear what they want, listen to what the gallery wants, and then work with the gallery to make that happen - don't just sit back and wait for the checks to roll in. It doesn't work that way.

I've worked behind the scenes in a handful of galleries previously and have helped curate and organize exhibitions, so I know how difficult artists can be: missing deadlines, unresponsiveness, etc. How would a gallery react if they spent money advertising and curating a show and the artist then sold the advertised work on the side before the opening? An agreement discussed beforehand could state that would be bad form for an artist to do - sounds obvious, but it’s been done.

Galleries sign contracts for properties, loans, advertising in magazines. Why wouldn’t they sign one with an artist they’re doing business with? Perhaps because it lessens their liability. What happens if an artwork is lost during shipping? It’s not uncommon. The artist loses inventory (which equals real dollars), but that consignment doesn’t monetarily affect the gallery unless they agreed to bear some responsibility. What other businesses function without contracts?

Plenty of homes are purchased without major problems occurring during the process. Would that convince you that an escrow agreement was unnecessary and to just trust all the parties involved? People seem to think of consignment forms as a sign of mistrust. A contract is not a pessimistic statement or expectation that things will turn out poorly, it’s protecting you from the not uncommon reality that things can happen.

My five main reasons for using consignment forms:

1. If you’re a self-employed artist, nobody is looking out for you. You need to look out for yourself and protect your work. It’s hard to stand up for yourself sometimes, but nobody else is going to do it for you.

2. It protects both parties involved. If you were consigning any other physical object for sale, such as power tools or furniture, wouldn't you want to have something signed as proof that the agreement actually exists? Fedex and UPS have you sign to verify receipt of a package. Otherwise, how do you prove that the exchange ever occurred in the first place? Art is always talked about as a commodity, but so much is often agreed to by handshake alone. The gallery could have purchased it separately from a third party. A contract is as good as the paper it's signed on, meaning, no contract, no good. Get it in writing. Plan for the worst case scenario, and create a consignment agreement that will prevent you from ever getting there.

I’ve heard horror stories from other artists: galleries that closed and consigned artwork was confiscated as payment for debts by the gallery’s creditors (consigned = still the property of the artist, the gallery does not own it); galleries that didn't pay what they agreed to pay when selling (discounts given); galleries that denied work was ever even given to them or somehow lost paintings. Galleries selling prints without the artist’s permission (see #10 below about reproduction rights - a gallery cannot unilaterally do this). I've also heard stories from the gallery side of things, too, so why wouldn't both sides draw up a fair agreement that protects everyone?

3. It should keep everyone involved happy. Nothing is guaranteed, but if both the artist and gallery are all on the same page at the outset and have the same understanding of the agreement, misunderstandings should have much less chance of occurring.

4. The art world is in reality a small community. If an artist sets certain precedents in a gallery relationship, good or bad, that affects other artists who come afterwards. If an artist accepts lousy commission rates just for the sake of a wall to hang on and a little ego, the gallery will continue to use those lousy rates because they can, and that artist has now made it harder for every artist who comes after him to get a decent agreement. If one artist walks away from what they perceive as a bad deal, but the next ten artists agree to it, nothing will change. But if one artist walks away from a bad deal, and subsequent artists do too, that sends a message to the gallery that maybe they need to change something to get the good artists in the door. Artists need to stick to their guns, or be prepared to walk. Artists should realize that each of their business decisions, even on a small scale, affects not only their career, but other artists and the art world at large.

5. You know where your work is, and how long its been there. Obviously art is not the same as a loaf of bread at the grocery store that needs to be replaced after a few days, but it's a good idea to refresh your work in a gallery from time to time. Collectors like to see something new and it's a good way to stay involved with your gallery. If you don't have some sort of record of these things, and have multiple paintings out at multiple galleries, it's very easy to forget how much something was priced at, or what size it was, or how it was framed. Documentation is your friend.

It creates a record of your work, your exhibition history, your collectors. This is provenance, which can help determine authenticity later down the road.

A few things to keep in mind, and to ask for when negotiating with a gallery (your email correspondence is also documentation):

6. 50/50 is not a good deal. Artists, you should be insisting on at least 60/40. I can't say this enough, and I can already hear the galleries complaining, but hear me out. Artists have rent/mortgage, utility payments, car payments, grocery bills, and more, just like gallery owners, as well as the upfront costs of paying for all the materials to create something (paint, canvas, stretchers, etc), the time spent to create it (often many more hours than you know), plus framing the artwork and shipping it to the gallery. What about airfare to get the artist to the opening reception? I know galleries have other expenses. However, galleries tend to represent multiple artists, even at times upwards of 40+, while artists tend to be represented by, let's say, 4-5 galleries. So, even if a lot of the artists represented in a gallery aren't selling, chances are good that a few are, and the gallery will be earning income from that. Even with 4-5 galleries, there is still a good chance that an artist will go for long periods of time without selling anything.

If galleries would purchase some of the work outright from an artist like they used to, it would be an immense help. Years ago when an artist had an exhibition, a gallery might purchase 1/3 of the new work. What about even one or two pieces? Not only would this give the artist the ability to continue to survive and create, but now the gallery is really invested in selling the work, because they own it, rather than having no horse in the race as is the case with consignments.

7. Frames should be dealt with separately in consignments, and not subject to commissions. Why is the artist expected to eat this cost? If an artist gave an unframed work to a gallery and the gallery had to go to the expense of framing it, the gallery would want to be reimbursed for that expense, and rightly so. Well, so should artists. Here's how I break it down (see the image above):

Step 1: Gallery Retail Price (the price a buyer pays) - Frame Cost = Adjusted Retail.

Step 2: Divide the Adjusted Retail into the previously agreed commission rates. A 60/40 agreement would give the artist 60%.

Step 3: Add Frame Cost to whichever party paid for it. Boom. If the gallery supplied the frame, the Frame Cost is added to their commission, but since artists usually take care of this expense, it would be added to their commission. I don't know why galleries are so averse to this. Presentation is important and artists need to recoup their Frame Cost if they're going to continue to present their work well.

(One suggestion I've heard from galleries, since they usually insist on a 50/50 split, is to double the frame cost in the Gallery Retail Price. This way, when the commissions are split down the middle, the artist DOES get reimbursed for the frame, but this unnecessarily inflates the price for the buyer and also pays the gallery more money for a frame they didn't supply.)

Now, a gallery might be paying for a few other things like magazine ads or exhibition brochures - these are definitely expensive, and the artist probably never sees the cost of any of this. This then is a negotiating point at the outset of the relationship - who pays for what? Does the artist pay for frames and shipping to the gallery, while the gallery pays for x number of ads per yer? Lay it all out on the table and agree to it beforehand.

8. When a gallery sells a painting (at least in CA), they are required by law to give the artist the name and address of the collector. It's a state law*, and if the artist requests it and the gallery refuses, it's a misdemeanor. If galleries are so concerned that their artists are going to try to sell directly to the collector, maybe the gallery should reconsider who they represent. Artists, you are entitled to this info, but you will probably permanently break a gallery’s trust if you go around them to sell directly to their collectors. Be a good partner and respect the relationship. If a gallery is doing well for an artist, the artist will have no reason to do anything other than paint, which is what we want to be doing anyways.

9. You can always say No. Artists - if you're not getting what you're asking for, or feel like you're compromising just for 'exposure,' you can ALWAYS say No and walk away. Maybe it would be better NOT to sign on with a gallery; instead regroup and work on strengthening your art. Don't be hungry for 'representation' or 'exposure.' Make your art your best ambassador.

10. ALL reproduction and copyrights remain exclusively with the Artist. Your forms should clearly state that it is only the physical artwork being sold, and copyright as well as any and all rights for reproduction in any form remain with the artist. Think of them as two separate things: a physical artwork that hangs on a wall, and an image that can be reproduced (prints, postcards, etc.). The latter rights to reproduction always remain with the artist unless they are explicitly sold as such. Galleries (or anyone else) cannot make postcards, posters, or anything else using an artist’s image without their permission, but I know instances of this happening. (If anyone in the Illustration or freelance world wants to weigh in on this with more detail that would be awesome.)

So you start to see why artists might seem so crazy - we have to manage not only the creative side, protecting the playful child-like approach, anticipating and responding to new experiences in order to create, but we have to balance it with the responsible, grown-up side of doing business in the art world. Add to that a preponderance of galleries that jump at the first mention of 'consignment forms," and it can be precarious at times to maintain those two worlds and yet not have them influence each other too much. Like I said at the outset, I'm hoping this improves Artist-Gallery relationships, puts more out on the table and up for discussion. If you want something, ask for it. Also, listen for (or ask if you don't hear it) what the other party wants or needs. Stay involved. If it doesn't sound like it will work, there are plenty of galleries out there.

OK, now I'd love to hear from you. Are you an artist? What are you experiences? How about galleries? Do you have something to add that I might have missed? Let's start a discussion about this and make it the norm for every artwork to be accompanied by a consignment form.

*Want the nitty-gritty? Here's the 1909 CA law requiring Consignees (Galleries) to give the name AND address of the Purchaser (Collector) to the Consignors (Artist) upon request.

Required Information

Stats. 1909,c. 706.p. 1081, Section 1.

It is hereby made the duty of every commission merchant, broker, factor or consignee, to whom any property is consigned or entrusted for sale, to make, when accounting thereof or subsequently, upon the written demand of his principal or consignor, a true written statement setting forth the names and address of the person or persons to whom a sale of the said property, or any portion thereof, was made. The quantity so sold to each purchaser, and the respective price obtained therefor; provided however, that unless separate written demand shall be made as to each consignment or shipment regarding which said statement is desired, prior to sale, it shall be sufficient to set forth in said statement only so many said matters above enumerated as said commission merchant, broker, factor, of consignee may be able to obtain from the books of account kept by him: and said statement shall not be required in case of cash sale where the amount of the transaction is less than fifty dollars. Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.  (Added by stats. 1909, c 706, p. 1081, Section, 1.)

Seeing Color in the Desert - International Artist Magazine

My article Seeing Color in the Desert (originally posted on has been reprinted in the August/September 2014 issue of International Artist magazine. It originally started with notes from my sketchbook about what I was observing while out painting, and what to do about certain problems that color posed or provided a solution to.

The Artist As Critic: Art That Inspires

An Interview with Eric Merrell Discussing His Salton Sea Haze and Gustav Klimt's (1862-1918) Attersee, 1909 by Stephanie Campbell (Summer 2013 issue, CAC Newsletter).

Salton Sea Haze, 30" x 30", © Eric Merrell

Salton Sea Haze, 30" x 30", © Eric Merrell

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918),  Attersee , 1901, Oil on canvas, 31.57" x 31.57" Leopold Museum, Vienna

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Attersee, 1901, Oil on canvas, 31.57" x 31.57" Leopold Museum, Vienna

Eric Merrell was recently interviewed by Stephanie Campbell for the Artist As Critic series featured in the California Art Club Newsletter (previously featured artists include John Asaro, Amy Sidrane, and Tony Peters, among others). Here is the article:

STEPHANIE CAMPBELL: When did you first learn of Gustav Klimt, and how did he and his work impact you?

ERIC MERRELL: It was in my early college years, while I was at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia that I first learned about Gustav Klimt. I was initially introduced to his figurative work, which is what he is best known for, but a few years later I cam across a book that was specifically dedicated to Klimt's landscapes. Immediately, I was intrigued by his use of color and shapes, and found his landscape compositions innovative and fresh.

SC: Can you tell us a bit about Klimt's era?

EM: Klimt was classically and conservatively trained at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts where he focused on architectural painting. His career began as part of an intimate group of painters with his brother, Ernst, known as the "Company of Artists." The group provided him with important public projects including interior ceiling murals in large buidings on the historic Ringstrasse in Vienna. One of his most successful series was the "Allegories and Emblems." Some years later he became one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession movement. The secessionists were a group of many different kinds of artists who were trying to find a bigger and newer voice, but not necessarily with the purpose to get rid of the tradition. They were just trying to find their own place in the art world.

SC: How do you classify yourself as an artist?

EM: That's hard to say. I feel an affinity with the California Impressionists and also with some of the Romantics, but I don't know if it's completely accurate to place myself in those categories. The title "Romance of the West" that American Legacy Fine Arts gave to my summer 2011 exhibition was very apt. Romance in the classic sense is missing from the contemporary art world, and I think that is a big part of what my work is about. The ideal American West, pulling oneself up by your bootstraps and making something out of an opportunity, is something that I feel is lacking today.

SC: What ultimate effect would you like to have on society as an artist?

EM: I want to show that there is still something new that can be said with painting. I want to paint subjects they may have otherwise not thought of as being paintable. I find myself avoiding "traditional" perspectives of landscapes and digging a little deeper. For example, some of my latest interests have been painting right at dusk and during the middle of the day, periods which many artists refer to as "flat light" as there are no shadows to use for contrast. Of course, the world doesn't change from 3-dimensional in the morning to 2-dimensional at noon and back again in the afternoon - these situations are all paintable, they just need to be approached differently. I have also found that nocturnes provide a lot of room to explore artistically. In these types of situations I find I can solve some of these problems by playing with abstractions, shapes, and color. By doing so, I hope to show people how to see things from a different perspective. I truly enjoy taking a very traditional scene and making it my own, as Klimt did.

SC: How would you compare your style to that of Klimt's?

EM: Our color sensibilities are different, as is with every artist, because color becomes a very personal thing. Our training is also very different; he was trained under the much more classic academy and atelier style, whereas my education was (initially) based more on commercial illustration. Despite these differences I feel a kinship with Klimt. I can relate to the way that he saw the world. He didn't just do landscape for landscape's sake, he was doing something more unique with it.

SC: How do you think your painting Salton Sea Haze and Klimt's Attersee are similar and how are they different?

EM: Though our color sensibilities are different, our palettes are similar in this case where our use of colors are in the same family, such as the silvery violets and the cooler sea greens. I wasn't familiar with Klimt's painting, Attersee, until after my wife Ramona, went to Austria and saw it in the Leopold Museum. She emailed me a picture of it, because she thought the similarity (including the square format) was uncanny to my Salton Sea Haze. Despite how similar the tones are, the paintings are climatically different: Attersee depicts the cool damp European climate while Salton Sea Haze shows the dry heat of the southern California desert.

SC: What do you find particularly interesting about the Salton Sea, and what do you think Klimt saw in Lake Attersee?

EM: I've become more interested in temperature and color contrasts, beyond value contrasts, and because the desert lends itself to those qualities I often paint there. In particular though the grand scale of the Salton Sea and the fact that not a lot of artists have explored it as an appealing subject matter, gives it a pioneer aspect. It also has a bad stigma to it (drug trafficking, dead fish, and abandoned trailer parks) but I want to show the beauty that is there that people don't think about. The feminine aspect of depicting a body of water is what first comes to mind with Klimt as inspiration for Attersee, as his work often featured women. There is also the challenge of painting a body of water, Unfortunately most of what we are taught about Klimt relates to his figures, historically his landscapes and the inspiration behind them have received little attention.

SC: How would you compare Klimt's landscapes to his figurative work?

EM: They all have a mosaic quality. A 2006 LACMA exhibit of Klimt's work had a few figures and a few landscapes. The exhibition allowed people to see that although the subject matter is different in the paintings, there is a lot of crossover between the two areas. His landscapes may have been more of a breath of fresh air to him, because most of his figures were commissioned works, which meant dealing with individuals and committees, while his landscapes would have been painted by personal choice.

SC: What in particular attracts you to Klimt's Attersee?

EM: There is something about this painting that always seems to retain a certain freshness; it's one of those paintings that you can keep looking at and it never gets old. It has a contemplative quality that can put you into a meditative state.

SC: Do you think that you and Klimt were trying to achieve the same visual effect?

EM: I feel like he was honoring traditions, while still using his own voice and creating something different. I hope that is something I am also achieving. I'm in this funny position contemporarily where I feel as though I'm more modern than a traditionalist, but I'm too traditional for the modernists. Somehow, I like that.

SC: How directly do you think Klimt's style has influenced you?

EM: I don't think his style has influenced me so much, but it's rather the way he sees things in simple shapes and design. Our textures and brushwork are different, but the way he views the world and translates that onto his canvas has had a big impact on the way I see the world.

SC: How do you feel Klimt has influenced other contemporary artists?

EM: Klimt was so unique in his own way that it is hard for people to be directly influenced by his work without having their work inadvertently look like his. Indirectly, I think that he has influenced contemporary artists such as myself in a way that inspires us to follow our own voice.

Master Workshops: Pasadena, Carmel and More

Why should an artist paint on location? How do I know what to paint? How do I create personal work that stands out?

I hope you'll join me for a few workshops that I'll be teaching this October in the Pasadena area, and we'll work on answering those questions. I'm especially looking forward to the Seeing at Night class, as we'll be focused on how to paint on location at night. I think this will be unique, as not many artists work on location to paint nocturnes - I'll show my approach that allows you to see REAL subtlety and color, not invented color.

The Water That Is Entirely Jewels 11" x 14", © Eric Merrell

The Water That Is Entirely Jewels 11" x 14", © Eric Merrell

LANDSCAPE PAINTING, October 4-6, 2013 (3 days)

SEEING AT NIGHT, October 12-13, 2013 (2 days)

I've also partnered with Carmel Visual Arts to do a 3-day workshop in Carmel:

PLEIN AIR ALONG THE SEA, November 9-11, 2013 (3 days) Register here

And if you've been following my California desert workshops, I've just scheduled the 3rd Annual workshops for both Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree. There aren't many workshops taught in either place, and my experience painting on location in the desert will help to bring the classes to great locations and have a great experience.



Interview with Michael Corbin (ArtBookGuy)

I was recently interviewed by Michael Corbin, who runs the website I really like what he's doing there - interviewing artists in a unique format via email that is rather like a conversation, and working hard to make art more central to our everyday lives. Here is the start of the interview:

Shadows Between the Sky, 16" x 20", © Eric Merrell. This painting was conceived solely from thumbnail sketches, written color notes, and observations from the landscape.

Shadows Between the Sky, 16" x 20", © Eric Merrell. This painting was conceived solely from thumbnail sketches, written color notes, and observations from the landscape.

Eric Merrell is one of the most gifted and insightful painters, I’ve ever interviewed His observations are right on target and he’s a truly informed artist who has lots to say that may be of use to other living artists. What does he say? Check out our cool chat …

MICHAEL: Hey Eric, Your work is cool. First off, what is it about plein air painting that appeals to you?

ERIC: Hi Michael, I grew up camping with my family, so have always had a great love for the outdoors. I like to visit places and immerse myself in them – I look around a lot and compose mentally while exploring. Often when I’m on a painting trip, I’ll read about the location in the evenings after painting – history, geology, legends. Being on location gives me the opportunity to know the place better and to discover why I’m going to paint. Painting on location continually presents challenges that keep me engaged.

MICHAEL: There's a lot of landscape out there. How do you determine what you'll try to capture on canvas? What's your process?

ERIC: My process evolves into a new direction or approach every so often...

Continue reading the interview here.

Borrego Springs Workshop and Invitational Paint-Out

I've just returned from an action-packed painting trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Up until now I'd never been to this part of the California desert, located west of the Salton Sea and on the southern side of the Santa Rosa Mountains from Palm Springs. Interestingly, I don't think that many people in Southern California have ever heard of it, despite its being the largest state park in California. It's remoteness is probably a big reason. Historically, this area was frequented by San Diego-based artists such as Marjorie Reed and Maurice Braun; for the L.A. artists, Palm Springs and the high desert was much more convenient.

Staying in Borrego Springs, a tiny desert town surrounded by the Park, I spent the first three days teaching a workshop with great attendance. Each day presented new locations to explore - and we worked only around the western side of town! Once you get in your car and drive, there are enough hidden canyons and valleys to last a lifetime. We focused on the basics of painting on location, always stressing the importance of good color relationships, emotional impact, and light. We had lots of good conversations and questions about painting, good meals, and covered lots of canvas boards with paint. I was pleased to see a jump in confidence in each person's work from one day to the next, so I think it was enjoyable for all. By the end of the workshop each individual was developing their own approach and personal sense of color.

March 8 was the full moon, so this meant perfect conditions for some moonlight painting! No wind, comfortable evening temperatures, and bright moonlight. Everyone should see the desert in moonlight at some point, it's awesome. This photo only gives a sense of what my setup looks like at night, the camera can't pick up the moonlight even from a full moon; yet it produces enough light to walk by without any other light source.

The last day of the workshop we drove up the mountains to gain some elevation. Culp Valley turned out to be a fantastic spot, with dramatic views back down to the desert floor amidst ancient boulders and forests of cholla.

After the workshop ended and everyone packed up, happily but wearily, to drive home, I had another job in town, so I stayed on. The 6th Annual Borrego Springs Plein Air Invitational began the next day, hosted by the Borrego Art Institute, and I had been invited to judge the event at the end of the week. This meant I had some time to myself to paint, and so I happily disappeared into the desert each day to explore and paint. I was enthralled by day with locations such as Coachwhip Canyon (got stuck in the sand), Earth Narrows Trail (got stuck by some cholla), Font's Point, and others; and devoured stories of desert lore by night - ghostly stagecoaches that rumble by in the dark of the new moon, mysterious ships discovered in hillsides and sand dunes, old stories of lost prospectors and lost claims, shootouts with bandits, De Anza's desert expeditions, Pegleg Smith's legendary black gold, and Indian guides with secrets.

At the end of the week, each of the 15 participating artists brought in their work to be juried. This was a tough decision to narrow down, as art is more subjective than sports, but yet there are criteria we can use to begin to judge the merit of an artwork. Saturday night was the reception for the exhibit, and the town of Borrego Springs turned out in numbers to support the Art Institute and exhibition, a wonderful sight to see. Winds and rain did finally come to town on Saturday afternoon, but the weather generously waited out the week so that everyone could get their paintings done. To me, the desert is one of the most mysterious, beautiful and difficult places to paint, so I congratulate everyone who participated in the Invitational. I came home with a dozen or more sketches, and I'm excited to get to work on larger versions of these.

*Due to the great response to the workshop, too, I'm planning to do another soon. Maybe returning to Borrego Springs, or heading up to Joshua Tree in the high desert. If you're interested in these, send me an email and I'll keep you up to date. This last one filled up quite quickly.

101st Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

A Place of Clarity; Crystal Lake, San Gabriel Mountains, 30" x 30", Oil on canvas, © Eric Merrell

"A Place of Clarity" will be part of the upcoming California Art Club's 101st Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition opening March 31, 2012 at a new exhibition venue: The Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 95614 (in Griffith Park). The Artists Gala Reception will open the exhibition on Saturday, March 31 from 6-9 p.m.

This was painted at Crystal Lake, one of my favorite new locations to paint in the San Gabriel Mountains, way back up Highway 39 out of Azusa. This area has been closed for about 9 years, since the 2002 Curve Fire which burned much of the area. Crystal Lake is apparently the only natural lake in the entire San Gabriel range, being fed from snowmelt and rainfall. As I painted there over last summer, I did notice the water level drop significantly over the months of warm weather. It's a popular place for fishing, too.

This is a special place, and feels more like the Sierras. These kelp-like plants grew very rapidly (kelp is not a freshwater plant, however, so I don't know exactly what it is, but it very much resembles kelp!) Fun to paint them growing out of the watery depths into the sunlight, swaying with the slight breezes over the surface of the water.

Here are some old photos of the Crystal Lake area.

Here is an interior shot of the secret Neutra studio where I worked on the painting in an undisclosed neighborhood in Los Angeles... :)

Down to Earth Sinks the Sun; The Arroyo Seco, 9" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Also in the exhibition is a small painting of dusk in the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, looking towards South Pasadena with the last of the sunlight hitting some trees in the distance.

CAC Returns to Barnsdall Park

Joshua Tree Nocturne, 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

SAVING PARADISE: The Symbiosis of Landscape Painting and Environmental Awareness March 8 - May 6, 2012 Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG), Barnsdall Park 4804 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027 Conversations with CAC Artists: Friday, March 23, 7 - 8:30 pm (more info)

These two paintings will be in the upcoming exhibition "SAVING PARADISE" at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles. This exhibit's theme is to designed to highlight the importance between landscape painting and preservation, so both of my paintings are from protected areas in California - Joshua Tree National Park and Angeles National Forest. I'll be at the Gallery on Friday, March 23 at 7 pm along with some of the other artists to discuss our paintings.

Some historic notes: The California Art Club was previously headquartered at Barnsdall Park and specifically used the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House for 15 years, 1927-1942, so this exhibition marks the first time the Club has been back to Barnsdall Park since then. Read about this slice of L.A. history that is only documented on this blog.

A Great Containment: Morris Dam and Reservoir, San Gabriel Mountains, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Palm Desert and Pasadena events

This Too Shall Pass - Arroyo Seco, 9" x 12", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell (Private collection)

I'll be giving a short presentation about my work at 1 pm on Saturday, October 15, 2011 at the Henderson Community Building, 72559 Highway 111 at El Paseo (Entrada del Paseo) in Palm Desert for the 6th Annual Desert Garden Community Day, presented by the Desert Horticultural Society, the City of Palm Desert, and the Desert Garden Center in Palm Springs. The events will be a combination of artists and their work along with workshops about desert landscaping. The Palm Springs Art Museum is not far from there, so stop by and make a day out of it!

On Sunday October 16th I'll be exhibiting new paintings of the historic Arroyo Seco along with other artists from the California Art Club. The exhibition will take place from 11:00 am - 4:00 pm at La Casita del Arroyo, 177 S. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA  91105 [map].

On The Importance of Writers

I just returned from my honeymoon in France with my beautiful wife Ramona. One of the things that struck me on our travels there was a small exhibition we saw at the Musée Rodin in Paris, titled Rien Que Vous et Moi ("Nothing Except You and Me"). It focused on the friendship between the great sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and the great painter Claude Monet (1840-1926). (Rodin was born on November 12, 1840, two days before Monet.)

One of the interesting points the exhibit made was the boost given to the artists by two of the most prominent French art critics of the time, Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) and Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917). Geffroy and Mirbeau both wrote extensively about the two artists and were credited with introducing Monet and Rodin to each other - resulting in a lifelong friendship between the artists, exchanges of artwork ("Belle-Ile," above, was given by Monet to Rodin and is now the collection of the Rodin Museum), and numerous letters between Rodin and Monet. The critics were also responsible for introducing the artists to the renowned Georges Petit Gallery in Paris, where they presented a two-man show in 1889.

I thought this really highlighted the importance of writers to an artist's career. What we as artists really need is not exposure en masse but better, well-thought out and carefully selected exposure. With the advent of the internet, blogs, etc., everyone can now have their say - so it takes a skilled writer with something to say - writing about something worth hearing about - to cut through the din. Cheers to all those out there doing that.

The grounds at the musée have Rodin's monumental works interspersed throughout; also, one room is dedicated to the work of Camille Claudel (1864-1943), probably Rodin's greatest student (with whom he also had a stormy relationship). Did you know that Rainier Maria Rilke (1875-1926), the great German poet and writer, worked in another room as Rodin's secretary for a period?!? The Musée Rodin is definitely worth a visit on your next trip to the City of Lights.

Painting Workshop in the CA High Desert

No Man Is An Island (Joshua Tree National Park), 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

During the week of Sept. 19-23, 2011, I'll be leading a painting workshop in the California desert where we will explore and paint the unique light of world-famous Joshua Tree National Park. Lodging in comfortable and affordable cabins at a rustic B&B in Joshua Tree, CA (5 minutes from the Park entrance), we'll make daily excursions into the Park to paint the different areas of immense beauty.

If you've never been to the desert, it is simply spectacular. The more time one spends in the desert, the more it opens itself to you and the more you'll see. And, although it sounds remote, there are plenty of modern conveniences nearby in town. On at least one night we'll venture over to the famous Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace for dinner in Pioneertown. This is an experience you'll never forget!

The temperature averages for September in Joshua Tree range from 97°F during the day to 64°F at night - not too different from Los Angeles at the same time of year. The days will be organized to avoid the warmest part of the day: We'll paint in the morning, take a break during the warmest part, and continue painting in the afternoon. This is also a spectacular time of year for desert sunsets.

Limited to 10 students, the workshop is $500 for five full days of painting (Individuals are responsible for accommodations, food, supplies, etc.) Make your reservations today by sending me an email.

Accomodations: The Desert Lily B&B Carrie Yeager, Owner P. O. Box 139 Joshua Tree, California 92252-0800 (760) 366-4676

Check out the different cabins and rates on their website above. The cabins are cozy and comfortable, but if you bunk with a couple of others, it works out to about $180 - $300 for six nights, and the seventh night is free! That's $18 - $42 per night! Please call the B&B directly to make arrangements, and mention that you're part of the painting workshop.

Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice

A new book on color by Al Gury was just published by Watson-Guptill this last year. Al was one of my most influential teachers when I was studying back in Philadephia; he is currently the chair of the painting department at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts there. Titled "Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice," this is a very thorough book that should prove helpful for students and those artists just beginning their voyage into color exploration as well as interesting and thought-provoking for many who have been painting for years. (Here is another book that Al wrote a few years ago, this one on alla prima painting.)

This book covers a great range of topics including the history of color usage in art, how artists organize and conceptualize their color, and a whole lot more. I wouldn't be surprised at all is this became a staple in art classrooms.

There Is No Gray in Nature

An idea I hear tossed around fairly often about color is that while the morning and evening are great times to paint, during the middle of the day color "flattens out" or "dies." I would like to suggest something entirely different: the color does not go gray, it merely changes. The middle of the day has beautiful color just like any other time of the day, though it may be more subtle  than a sunset. Same with an overcast day (see Dan Pinkham's painting below). We can still see the relationships (and hence forms) in nature nonetheless, and since we as humans experience the world in full color (there is no such thing as a gray or neutral in nature's color spectrum, only in your paint tubes and color theory classes) I think it is a greater struggle to attempt to find these subtleties of color. Every plane change is a color change.

The issue I have with using terms like "gray," "brown," "neutral," "washed out," etc. is that it starts to get the brain thinking along those lines. Akin to shooting yourself in the foot before starting a race, you need your brain to make a painting - it makes it even harder to find, say, a quiet violet tone (like the top plane of the wrist in Bongart's painting above) if you're thinking of grays. Also, I think this is perpetuated by color being taught too literally, trying to "match" one's paint colors to that of the landscape or your model (see Delacroix quote below).

Here are a few other ideas about color:

- Every color note that is gray, muddy or chalky is a missed opportunity, and - Every missed opportunity detracts or weakens the overall color of a painting (think of an orchestra or band playing - what if the trumpet or guitar player hit just one sour note!); - When you put the final spots of color onto a piece, it should all come together and create the sensation of light.

The general conception of color seems to imply a high saturation or intensity; i.e., when I say "red," you automatically think of an incredibly bright red, like a sports car. But "red" could also mean a pale violet, made to feel like red by placing it next to a colder color. Look at that warmth in the shadow above in Hensche's still life (and how different it is from the red flower). Painting with color doesn't mean intensity at all - it means painting good relationships. Sorolla used a yellowish-orange to paint that little girl's back - but it relates to all the other colors and reads like sunlight. I think color painting in particular highlights how deficient language can be with describing our experiences. Another note about the images here, check out all the color used to convey "white" - they really aren't white at all, but every color under the sun.

Here are a couple of quotes that may help with the idea too:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” - Aldo Leopold

“Art begins where nature leaves off.” - Oscar Wilde

“Nature serves the artist as a dictionary only, and ‘Realism’ should be defined as the antithesis of art.” - Eugene Delacroix

Desert Wanderings

The Call of the Desert (Box Canyon), 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

The lure of the desert recently bit me again and so I went out to the Coachella Valley to paint with Andrew Dickson, Joe Forkan, Yu Ji and Larry Groff at the Salton Sea and some other great spots in the area. We explored some places I haven't been yet, like Box Canyon and Painted Canyon, hiked to the Dos Palmas Adobe and Oasis, once the home of artist John W. Hilton (who lead quite an interesting life: he was a friend of President Eisenhower, James Cagney, Howard Hughes, and the early desert artists including Nicolai Fechin and Maynard Dixon used to gather at his place for parties - more info on Hilton here and here). We also spent some time painting the surreal landscape of Bombay Beach.

The Solid Becomes Light (Painted Canyon), 9" x 12" sketch, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

In Hilton's words, the desert ". . . is a land of peace, silence and boundless skies …It is as if nature herself set aside these vast areas …so that thinking men might have a place where they go to regain their perspective and find themselves and their true meaning.” From what I understand, the Dos Palmas Adobe has been designated a Historical Monument and is no longer in danger of demolition.

In the top painting above I was interested in the composition - the focus on the deep shadow on the left that then moved across the calligraphy of the face of the cliff in sunlight. After I sketched it and made some notes in my sketchbook,  the color harmonies brought it all together. The painting below that was a fun challenge - frontally lit with almost no shade save under a bush or two - I had to use subtle temperature shifts to suggest some of the form changes on the hills.

If you're in Mecca, make sure to eat at Plaza Garibaldi Restaurant, 91275 66th Avenue, Mecca, CA 92254, 760/396-1500. Some of the best Mexican food I've had in California - you can get a good idea of the quality of a place by their chips and salsa, and these were amazing! Also, homemade tortillas!

New Paintings

Sunset in Bronson Quarry, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, 18" x 24", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Here are some new pieces I've been working on, all done on location over a series of days.

Summer Twilight, 16" x 20", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell

The San Gabriel Mission, 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Charred Landscape (Angeles National Forest), 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

This is from the area of the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel Mountains last year. It's still open to drive through, but it seems like fully half the forest was torched. Eerily beautiful. Lots of strong new growth too.

A Reflection of a Reflection of a Reflection (San Gabriel Mission Bell Tower), 12" x 12", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Article on

Spaceship Landing (The Salton Sea), 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

If you're in New York, my exhibit opens today at The Forbes Galleries with an opening reception next Tuesday, July 20 from 6-8 p.m.

Article below by Ann Japenga of

"Most Manhattan gallery-goers don’t know the names Jimmy Swinnerton or John Hilton; they can’t tell a smoketree from a cholla. While desert art is expanding its geographic appeal, it hasn’t reached the east coast yet. That transcontinental link may finally be forged, though, with Eric Merrell’s show “No Man is an Island”, opening July 14th at the Forbes Gallery in the lobby of Forbes Magazine headquarters in New York City. The exhibit is a collection of Merrell’s paintings made during an artist’s residency at Joshua Tree National Park in 2009."

"Will east coast viewers take to the yuccas..." [Read more]