Watercolor Out the Wazoo!

Perchon-watercolor detail-scott freeman

In previous posts I’ve talked a bit about a crazy watercolor technique that I like to use. I was once unenthusiastic about watercolor because I generally found it to be wussy and boring. Then, when I worked at Hallmark I found some guys using watercolor in a way I had never seen it used before. Eventually I took a work shop from these guys, (Craig Lueck and Johne Richardson,) and fell in love with the medium of watercolor. I remember the first night after the workshop; I dreamt of blushes of watercolor flowing into each other.

So, over the years watercolor has become a secondary medium for me, right behind my favorite medium of oil paint. However, since the beginning of this year, I have worked almost exclusively in watercolor due to the list of projects and commissions I’ve taken on. Furthermore, I’m scheduled to teach this crazy technique this coming January (2015) in a Saturday workshop at Schissler Art Acadaemy, in downtown Loveland. So I’ve definitely got watercolor on the brain right now. (Which, I admit may have been a better title than Watercolor Out the Wazoo.)

In the course of pulling together some samples for Schissler Art Academy, I ended up going through a lot of past work, and I think it’s fun to look at as well as being fun to paint, so I thought I’d show some to you. A lot of it is available in greeting card format on our ZAZZLE SITE, and also as fine art prints by contacting me directly. I even still have a few select originals around as well, for those of you who have money to burn. (The originals are several times more expensive than prints.)

For those of you who are art nerds, I’ll say that I pretty much only use oils for my fine art. However, I use watercolor for a whole range of artistic expression, including fine art, but also for my commercial illustration, which includes my children’s storybook illustration. In fact, watercolor is almost exclusively what I use for commercial illustration, because I feel this technique presents a unique and striking look. Following is a survey of some of my favorite pieces from over the years.

 Masters copies:

The Visitation-watecolor by Scott Freeman

“The Visitation” based on a 16c painting by Mariotto Albertinelli. 6 x 8 inches. I would be willing to have prints made of this one if someone asks, because it’s one of my favs. The original is in a private collection.

Sometimes I like to take an old Master’s composition and translate it into watercolor. For me this is an act of appreciation, kind of like a musician covering a classic song. Someday maybe I’ll post the originals alongside the reinterpretations.

See a previous post on The Visitation. (left)

The Music Lesson-Scott Freeman

“The Music Lesson”
based on an 1877 painting by Frederic Leighton. 6×5.25 inches. I have prints available of this one. It’s also available as a note card on my Zazzle site.

Native American-watercolor-Freeman

“Native American Portrait”
5×7 inches. Based on a 1910 black & white photograph by Carl Moon.
  1 of a set of 3. Framed original available for $700.

Watercolor studies- Scott Freeman

Left: Study after Johannes Vermeer’s (1665) “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
6×9 inches. I have prints available of this one.
Right: Study after Frederic Leighton’s (1864) “The Painter’s Honeymoon.”
5×5 inches. Private collection.

Plein Air Pieces:
I almost always paint in oils when I do plein air events, but occasionally I’ll do a watercolor painting. Here are a couple that I was able to photograph.

Perchon-Scott Freeman

“Horse of a Different Color”
4×6 inches. Painted at a riding stable in Estes Park, Colorado. A composite of 3 white Perchons who took turns posing for me. Original sold. No prints.

Santo-Sedona AZ-watercolor

“Santo”
Painted from a statue on the grounds of a Catholic church in Sedona, Arizona.
Framed original available for $400.

Artist demos:
When I teach a watercolor workshop, I generally do a demo throughout the day. Below are two that I liked enough to document.

watercolor demo-Scott Freeman

“Light and Fashion”
8×10 inches. Demo for a watercolor class.
Unframed original available for $200.

American buffalo-watercolor

“American Bison”
5×4 inches. Demo started in class and finished at home.
Original sold. Available as a note card on our Zazzle sit

Children’s Book Illustration
I’ve been doing a lot of book illustration lately, especially with the recent launch of my online kids’ book company. Below are some of my favorites so far.

Mount Fuji-kids stotybooks-Freeman

“…and she flew away to Mt. Fuji in a breeze.”
Full spread from the upcoming book, The Adventures of Nathaniel and His Father’s Globe, by Beth El Kurchner.
8.5×17 inches. Original spoken for.

kids story books-The Cocky Rooster

Select illustrations from my newly released kids’ storybook, The Cocky Rooster.

I just found out I need to get new tires for my car in addition to several unexpected expenses. So I guess that means it’s time for a SALE.

+ I’ll sell any of the prints mentioned above, unmatted and unframed for $25 (includes shipping & handling.)
+ When I have matted prints on hand, I’ll sell them to you for $40 (regularly $60 – $80.)
+ Framed pieces are already discounted, as listed above.

My fine art giclee prints are reproduced using archival watercolor paper and inks.
I’m not set up to sell prints and art online, so please email me if you’re interested: scottnmollie@yahoo.com
I may not have to charge for shipping depending upon what you want and where you live.

For easy online purchases:
+ You can browse our Zazzle Store HERE
+ You can purchase my newly released storybook, The Cocky Rooster, HERE!

I’ll keep this sale going until my next post – (probably in a couple of weeks.) THANK YOU for your support!

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New Painting: The Wall Remaining

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The Wall Remaining – Detail

This week I want to feature what may be my favorite painting from the Zeitgeist art exhibit, a show of recent work by Mollie and me. If you haven’t seen the show, there’s still time! It runs until Feb 23, 2014.

The painting I’m featuring is titled The Wall Remaining. It’s a triptych approximately 4 by 6 feet, painted in oils on panel. Below I’ve reprinted the text that accompanies the painting in the show:

THE WALL REMAINING

The history of relations between the Church and the Synagogue is one of the world’s tragic stories. The first followers of Jesus (Yeshua in, Hebrew,) were all Jewish, and his “church” began as a sect of first century Judaism. As these early Jewish disciples spread the message of Jesus, a series of events, described in Acts chapter 15, led to an astounding decision on the part of his disciples: the Jewish church in Jerusalem made the decision to fully welcome gentile (non-Jewish) believers, as brothers and sisters, into their company without requiring them to become Jewish. The gentiles’ status as joint heirs would be based on their being “partakers of the new covenant” of Yeshua. The ancient Mosaic covenant sign of circumcision, as well as Torah observance, would not be required of them.

As a result of this inclusivity, large numbers of gentiles came into the church, eventually outnumbering the Jewish members. As the church became more gentilized over time, and as Jewish members increasingly found themselves out of favor with traditional Jews, the church took on a distinctly Greco-Roman character. By the time of the first Ecumenical Council under the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, there was not a single Jewish bishop in attendance, though some 1800 invitations were sent out across the empire. Increasingly, anti-Jewish laws were passed under subsequent Christian emperors and kings so that the Church eventually became an openly anti-Jewish institution, generally consigning Jews to an inferior status, and at times actively persecuting them.

Throughout Europe, it is still possible to see vestiges of the historic, divisive relationship between the Church and the Synagogue displayed in the artistic embellishments of its cathedrals. Many cathedrals feature two figures: Ecclesia (the Church,) and Synagoga (the Synagogue.) Triumphant Ecclesia wears a crown, and usually holds a staff and a Eucharistic chalice. Synagoga is always blindfolded, and carries a broken staff and a representation of the Torah. Though I had previously read about these two allegorical figures in my books, I saw them for the first time in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The sight of them deeply saddened me.

It is noteworthy that the New Testament scriptures do not support this division. The Jewish apostle Paul writes:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision (Jews,)…were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise…But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:11-16)

Here I have painted Ecclesia and Synagoga as ossified and broken statues warming in the light of these scriptures. Ecclesia is not triumphant; instead her head is bowed down. Synagoga has become indignant and distanced; understandably so. The wall remaining, though invisible, is as formidable and as obstinate as the Berlin wall ever was. The figure in the center panel reaches for the hands of the two ladies, awaiting the healing and the unity-in-diversity that I believe we will see in our lifetimes; a unity that has not existed since the dawn of the early Church. (end quote)

One New Man-synagoga-ecclesia

For hours and information about the Zeitgeist painting exhibit, call the Loveland Museum-Gallery at 970.962.2410, or visit www.lovelandmuseumgallery.org.

You can purchase note cards and other artsy gifty items featuring our art & design work at our online Zazzle store (click here.) Thank you for your support!

 Top related posts:
–          What Easter has to do with Separating Christians and Jews
–          Art & Church History: The Uncut Version

Zeitgeist – Recent Paintings by Scott & Mollie Freeman

Mollie and I opened our art exhibit at the Loveland Museum-Gallery last weekend. In this post I will share my opening comments for those of you who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it. Many thanks to those of you who did come – you certainly made it a special evening for us! Art is, after all, a communal undertaking.

Of course I can’t help but do a little embellishing along the way, but here’s the gist of what I said:

First I want to say that Mollie and I are inexperienced travelers, and we claim no expertise in things German. What follows are simply our observations and contemplations around our wonderful visit to Germany.

Mollie and I chose to title our exhibit, Zeitgeist, which means “spirit of the times.” Why Zeitgeist?
Well, it strikes us that the spirit of our times has to do with unity, community, and communion. This is what we’re all seeking, to some degree. We’re all now familiar with the idea of the world getting smaller, and the reality that international communication has become ridiculously easy and cheap. For me, it’s like a miracle that I regularly sit at my dining room table and communicate with people around the world. The fact that this art exhibit grew out of an unexpected international friendship initially set the tone for our show. Our trip was only made possible by the generosity of friends here at home, and especially by the generosity of the Taube family in Germany.

When we arrived in Germany, we saw the human urge to create community, to varying degrees, visibly expressed everywhere. It seemed that everywhere we went, we were surrounded by the smoldering reminders of someone’s attempt to create a better, unified world. I happen to be fascinated with utopian idealists and their visions. I say this without a hint of sarcasm. It seems obvious to me that the world is broken and that there is something terribly wrong with the human condition. I believe we’re all seeking unity between Man and God, between Man and Man, and between Man and Nature. I would guess that all of us are giving our energies to one or more of these pursuits. I give utopian visionaries props for at least trying to make the world a better place.

But there is a maddening paradox.

Part of what fascinates me about studying utopian human movements, ideologies, and isms is how they seem to always go horribly wrong. Despite the best intentions of men & women, our plans to make the world a better place often create a situation worse than what existed before. The worst examples of this are seen in political revolutions carried out “for the good of the people” that have often resulted in the bald slaughter of the people they claimed to liberate. It’s astonishing how good intentions can go so wrong.

Germany’s tumultuous, world-shaping history is extraordinary, profoundly contributing to the world both for better and for worse. This tension is reflected in the paintings here, to varying degrees:

With Nazism and World War 2, much of Germany was destroyed, and the entire country has been tirelessly rebuilding ever since; reconstructing its old historic structures, as well as creating new ones, often blending the very old with the very new. Several of Mollie’s watercolors feature the reconstructed St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lubeck, which was extensively bombed on the night of Palm Sunday in 1942. It’s important to note that Germany’s massive reconstruction campaign is not designed to cover over and forget the unspeakable horror of Nazism.  Often the ruins of the war have been left as a monument, or documented with public placards, so that future generations will never forget what occurred.

Other structures are reminders of the remarkable positive contributions that Germany has given the world. My painting, Coexistence of Centuries #2 shows St. Michael’s Church in the town of Luneburg, rising up behind the harmonious modern architecture in the foreground. Johann Sebastian Bach sang soprano as a choirboy in this church from 1700 to 1703. St. Michael’s, which opened in 1409, has stood through the invention of the printing press and the Renaissance, the Reformation, two world wars, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and German re-unification.

blg-Coexistence

Coexistence of Centuries – oil, 24×36 in, Scott Freeman

After the Second World War, Germany was split in two by Communism. The city of Berlin suffered a bizarre fate, becoming engulfed behind the iron curtain, making West Berlin an isolated island of freedom well inside of East Germany. Stories abound. Though the Berlin Wall is now gone, city planners have marked and memorialized where it once stood, so that it is impossible to go through the city without seeing the remains of the utopian Communist experiment gone wrong in the midst of a now re-unified Germany. Two of my paintings resulted from a midnight walk in Berlin where I watched gentle people enjoying the night hours on Alexanderplatz, the site of the largest anti-government demonstration in GDR history, just days before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. I’ve posted thoughts on these paintings HERE and HERE.

Our German hosts also took us to visit the site of a much smaller utopian experiment. In the town of Worpswede, an artist from Bremen named Heinrich Vogeler joined an artist community in 1894. The next year he bought a cottage there and named it Barkenhoff, (which means birch tree cottage.)

blg-Barkenhoff

Barkenhoff

I took this quote from the museum exhibit:
“Upon returning to Worpswede, disillusioned by his experiences in the first World War and highly politicized, Heinrich Vogeler tried to create a “new world” at his Barkenhoff. Here a commune was supposed to realize his social utopia of a self-governing society without class structures and private property – an ambitious experiment that was to fail after a few short years.”

After the failure of the commune, apparently due to various human infidelities, Vogeler joined the Communist party, his art became propagandistic, he emigrated to Russia, and was eventually deported to Kazakhstan where he died, sick and destitute.

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Worpswede – Near the Artists Colony – oil, 20×24 inches, Scott Freeman

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Synagoga – part of a trytich entitled,
The Wall Remaining
– oil, 20×48 inches, Scott Freema

Mollie and I have also included our personal visions of unity, community, and communion in the exhibit. My triptych, The Wall Remaining, quotes tragic medieval iconography, and looks forward to what I believe will be a new unity emerging between the Synagogue and the Church. We shall see. I have posted on this painting in detail HERE.

One of my favorite pieces of Mollie’s is a large piece (4×5 ft) entitled, Jacob’s Ladder #8. She has painted several variations on this theme over the years. It refers to ideas of unity and communion in that the biblical theme of Jacob’s Ladder ultimately has to do with uniting heaven and earth. She has posted on this theme on her art blog, HERE.

blg-Jacob's Ladder 8

Jacob’s Ladder #8 – water media, 4×5 ft, Mollie Walker Freeman

 

“Zeitgeist – Paintings Inspired by Germany” will be open through Feb 23, 2014 at the Loveland Museum-Gallery in Loveland, Colorado – 503 N. Lincoln Ave – 970.962.2410 – http://www.LovelandMuseumGallery.org. Admission to the Foote Gallery is free.

New Watercolor Painting: “Muse”

This week I’m hoping you will do me the favor of casting a vote between two versions of the final painting I just finished for an upcoming exhibit. After finishing the first version, I wasn’t completely happy with it, so when the Loveland Museum moved our turn-in deadline back a few days, I started a second version of the same composition. This painting will be my smallest piece in the show, and also my only watercolor.

I use a crazy watercolor technique which is very fun, but darn near impossible to control, so there’s really no way to get the same result twice. I typically work on two watercolor paintings at the same time anyway, partly because working on a second one keeps me from messing with the first while successive stages are drying. Usually I’ll abandon one partway through and stay with the one I feel has the most promise. I this case, I completed them both, but am unsure as to which one I like best. I can’t exhibit them both because I only have one frame prepared.

When I started the second version of “Muse,” I was happy enough with the result that I decided to photograph some successive stages of the painting, for those interested in the process. I would summarize the process by saying that the painting is composed of successive layers of very wet glazes, so that the paint literally rolls around on the watercolor board. I’m grateful to Craig Lueck and John Richardson at Hallmark Cards, for introducing me to this technique, which made watercolor enjoyable for me.

(You can see a younger me using this technique in my 4 ½ minute watercolor video on Youtube. Simply type scott freeman watercolor in the Youtube search bar. My apologies for not yet being set up to link videos on this site.)

Here’s the first version of the painting. Mollie says I should put this one in the show:

Muse 1

Following are some stages showing the development of the second version.

Muse-stages

Below is the final result. Please let me know which painting you think should go in the show, (though I’m definitely leaning toward one of them.) Vote the first or second version. I’d be interested in your reasons if you’d care to share them:

Muse 2

The subject matter of this painting comes from one of my favorite evenings during our trip to Germany last year. After Mollie and I spent the day in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, our wonderful German hosts took us to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Then we went for a walk and a glass of wine at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s most beautiful square, featuring domed German and French Cathedrals facing each other across the expansive plaza with the restored Konzerthaus Berlin (Berlin Concert Hall) rising up between them.

When we entered the square, the sky was beginning to turn Maxfield-Parrish-blue. The weather was still and lovely, and a street musician was playing saxophone on the square under an ornate street lamp that was just coming on. His music echoed through the square, making the moment all the more transcendent for me. To be carried away to Europe by the generosity and grace of our new international friends, and to now be in their company on such a beautiful night in one of the world’s historic cities was extraordinary. This overwhelming memory will always be with me.

Berlin-Soldier Market Platz

Street musician on Soldier Market Platz – photo by the author

On our walk to Lutter & Wegner’s Winehouse, we passed the Concert Hall with its grand stairway. Great statues framed the stairs. On one side was a lion, on the other a lioness, each mounted by a cherub playing a musical instrument. Our hosts waited patiently as I took more photos, one of which became the source for this painting. Back at our hotel, my night ended when I couldn’t sleep from excitement, and Mollie excused me to take a midnight walk in the city (recounted here.)

Scott Freeman and Mollie Walker Freeman will be presenting a two-person art exhibit themed around their Germany trip, entitled, “Zeitgeist: Paintings inspired by Germany.” The show opens with a reception at the Loveland Museum-Gallery on November 8, 2013 at 5pm, and will be on display through February 23, 2014.

Portraiture

Lisa blg

I find portraiture to be a strange genre in contemporary culture. It’s not really my business as to why someone wants a portrait; if someone wants to commission me for a portrait, I’m happy to paint one. Do most people want portraits of themselves in their homes? I doubt it. A couple of times I’ve had guys wanting me to paint their girlfriends, as a gift for their girlfriends. I’ve felt obligated to ask if they had reason to believe their girlfriends would want a portrait of themselves. Do you see what I mean? Portraiture can be a tricky genre. I once saw a home where, in the master bedroom, a large portrait of the wife’s mother hung over the couple’s bed; Hmmm…I think I would hang a portrait of my mom somewhere else.

I can tell you several reasons why people might want portraiture. I’ve had several parents commission portraits of their children. (But I generally only do older children for reasons that will become clear later.) I’ve also had parents commission portraits of themselves to leave to their grown children someday, and I think this makes sense also. Some collectors simply love the human face – the psychological impact, or the personality or stories that a face might suggest. The human face is a powerful carrier of emotion. Oddly, when I first moved to Loveland, which at that time was even less racially diverse than it is now, my gallery sold 2 or 3 portraits of beautiful black women I had painted. I’m not really sure what was going on there.

A few times I’ve had the sobering honor of painting infants or children who have died, for the parents who lost them. I consider this a weighty endeavor because these parents will only have the painting, photographs, and memories by which to remember these children.

Finally, a lot of artists seem to especially enjoy a beautifully painted portrait. Portraiture is an unforgiving subject matter. If one can balance the technical aspects of good drawing, composition, values, color, edges, and paint-handling without losing the grace and sensitivity that painting a human face requires, that is something to appreciate. Over the years I’ve sold off a few unframed portrait studies to artists and students for a couple hundred bucks each, because I know they can’t afford a full price portrait, nor do they care who the subject is. They’re just interested in the art of it.

I’ve been participating in plein air festivals for several years, and I usually paint a portrait during the Quick Draw event (click here for a fun Quick Draw story.) I do this because the public seems to enjoy watching portrait painting. Despite the fact that the Quick Draw models are usually dressed in cheesy period clothing, I usually sell these, and I’ve won several awards for them.

My Approach to Portraiture

I generally only paint from live sittings when doing portraiture in oils. There are plenty of other artists out there who will do a portrait from photographs, and this is certainly logistically easier. However, I find there is an authenticity and spontaneity that results from a live sitting that is very difficult to achieve from a photo. Also, coming to my studio for a sitting creates an experience to go with the painting.

At the Kansas City Art Institute I studied primarily under a painter named Wilbur Neiwald. While my studio work has now taken a departure from Wilbur’s approach, I find his approach to be unparalleled when it comes to portraiture. Wilbur taught a fascinating direct-study painting approach that by-passed traditional aspects of art instruction such as anatomy, perspective, and color theory. In fact he believed these things can sometimes hinder a painter from seeing clearly. Even today, because of what I learned under Wilbur, when I teach a class I tell students it’s a “seeing class” as much as it is a painting class.

Boiled down to its simplest description, Wilbur taught that all we really see are color relationships. That pretty much encompasses everything else, if you think about it. So when I paint an oil portrait, I’m simply seeking to paint one color in its proper relationship to another. If I basically get down the color relationships in the size and shape as they appear in front of me, a likeness appears. It’s almost that simple.3 Portraits

The frustrated-Hallmark-artist portraits 

Scott Brown blg

“Scott Brown”
Yes, this guy worked at Hallmark. He wore black every day and rode a Harley. It was always refreshing to see him; kind of like bumping into Thor in the lingerie section of a department store.

My previous post describes my 10 years as a Hallmark greeting card illustrator and designer. For me, one of the enriching aspects about working there was that were so many great painters there. A lot of these painters ultimately desired to be full time fine artists, but many us had families to support, so we worked at Hallmark instead; because it’s notoriously difficult to make a decent living as a fine art painter. But we found outlets, and made opportunities to pursue painting “off the Hallmark grid.” One of these opportunities, open to anyone, was a Wednesday lunch hour painting group. I thought of it as the “frustrated painter group,” (not because the group was frustrating, but because our dreams of being fine artists were frustrated by the realities of life.)

Roxanne blg

“Roxanne”
One of my favs that I will never sell. Roxanne had exotic features: amber eyes, reddish brown hair, and a lovely almond-shaped face above her willowy neck; so fun to paint! Something gelled for me in this painting.

Hallmark was a fairly cosmopolitan environment, full of interesting people. Every Wednesday we would ask someone from the company to come and sit for us for an hour. Artists could paint or draw in the medium of their choice. Every Wednesday. For a couple of years I organized the model list as a ploy to discipline myself to attend every week.

When I first joined the group, I could not paint fast enough to finish a painting in one hour. However, after regularly painting a portrait a week, over time I eventually was able to consistently get a result I was pretty happy with. For me, an hour is still too short of a time to really nail a portrait, so the time limit forced me to loosen up. There’s just no time to get picky in an hour. I came to enjoy the spontaneity that came across in these portraits.

3 more portraits

Left: ” Tracey” – I like the loose spontaneity of this one.
Middle: “Wale” – This guy was from Uganda. A writer, I think.
Right: “Cathy” – My lovely next-door-cubicle neighbor. I kinda wish I still had this one.

Loveland portraits

Redhead wpblg

“Redhead”
I lost the likeness on this one, but I like the painting.

I’ve continued to do portraits sporadically since leaving Hallmark to become a full time artist. A lot of my commissioned portraits are gone before I can have them photographed, but shown here is a sampling of portraits I’ve painted since moving to Loveland.

Come visit me and I’ll paint your portrait if you like!

I now tell people a sitting is two and a half hours long. (You get breaks, and I have good music.)

I charge extra for cosmetic improvements, though not as much as a plastic surgeon would.

I’m kidding. I don’t do cosmetic improvements. At least not on purpose.

You must be brave – sitting for a portrait is not for the faint of heart.

bald guy blg

“Bald Guy”
This was a demo piece done at the opening of Wild’s Art Center in Loveland

Unless otherwise noted, all portraits in this post are roughly 9 x 12 inches, and are painted in oils, from life, in a single session.

Self Portrait blg

“Self portrait” – 8 x 10 inches
This was painted from a photograph, (don’t tell anyone.) I thought a portrait in my plein air painting hat would say something about me. In this painting I wanted to try my ridiculously large brush and experiment with the paint handling.

When I Worked at Hallmark, the Corporate Greeting Card Giant

If you have a job you hate, you will not believe what I’m about to tell you. In fact, you might not want to read this because it might make you cry.

If you are a rabble-rouser, or an anti-capitalist, anti-corporate socialist ideologue, or a controversy-seeking dirt-digger, you may be disappointed that I have nothing negative to say about anyone or anything regarding my experience at Hallmark. It will actually read more like a fairy tale.

It is true that I felt like a fish out of water in the corporate environment. As though at any moment the security people might come down to inform me that it had been discovered that I was not cut out, after all, to be in a trendy corporate environment brimming with wealth and beautiful people. But I figured, until that day came, I would make the most of my Hallmark experience. I believe that I did.

For a decade after I graduated art college (KCAI,) I struggled with trying to find the balance between making art and making a living. This balance generally seemed to include persistent inner-city poverty. I told myself that this was a self-imposed poverty; the price I had to pay to be an artist. I knew I was intelligent and responsible enough to get a job and start climbing the ladder in pursuit of the American Dream, but that was not what I wanted. I would drive by Hallmark and sneeringly think, “You couldn’t pay me enough to work there.” But I did wonder what was going on inside of those walls. I had desperate moments when I thought about getting a job as a janitor there, kind of like Matt Damon’s character in “Good Will Hunting.” Because hey… I was a fine artist, man! I wasn’t willing to prostitute my talent to churn out pictures of bunnies and leprechauns for a paycheck! Ha! No way!

But then, newly married and a couple of babies later I was pounding on Hallmark’s door, pleading for them to let me in. “I’LL PAINT LEPRECHAUNS! I’LL EVEN PAINT LEPRECHAUNS!” I cried.

Originally I thought I would work there for a couple of years until I paid off my (and my wife’s) considerable art school debt. But all of my preconceptions about Hallmark were wrong. Insiders didn’t call it “the Golden Handcuffs” for nothing. At the time I was there, Hallmark turned out to be the most generous, inspiring, and ridiculously creative environment that I could imagine an artist working in. I remember getting “the tour” after I got hired. Unbelievable. I had a carpet burn on my chin when it was all over because my mouth kept falling open. Eventually I stopped asking, “Wait…you mean they’re going to pay me to do this?”

In order to maintain their position as the industry leader, Hallmark aimed at recruiting the best “creatives” in the world – artists, writers, designers, photographers, and calligraphers. To keep this creative staff energized, outside speakers from various fields were regularly brought in. As long as we stayed on top of our work, we were free to attend these presentations. I leapt at this opportunity. This was like getting paid to go to school. I heard photographers (like Keith Carter and Robert ParkeHarrison,) poets (like Pattiann Rogers,) designers (like Barry Moser,) and a multitude of other artists and creative thinkers. This alone would’ve been enough to keep me there.

HM angel

Created in the RIC when Hallmark developed a line of cards featuring angels. This pieces features “drapery glass” on the angel’s garment – a dimensional, folded glass invented by Tiffany studios, which I was excited to use for the first time.

But then there was the Rice Innovation Center. The RIC was a cavernous, skylit wing at one end of the building. It contained an artist playground area, including studios for ceramics, woodcarving, printmaking, stained glass, glass blowing, batik and fiber, an old–fashioned letterpress printer, and a workspace for mosaic projects. Artists could submit ideas for cards that required the use of any of these processes. When such ideas were approved, artists could work in the RIC and create what they needed for the card. Furthermore, productive artists would often be rewarded with 2 or 3 day workshops in the RIC in a medium of their choice. Instructors were there to train us if the medium was unfamiliar. These workshops were for “creative renewal,” as they called it, meaning no actual greeting card application was expected. In other words, you could make cool stuff and take it home. They paid us to do this.

I found all of this to be brilliant and extraordinary. I heard that there were bean counters on the business end who had difficulty justifying these expenses compared to the artists’ output. I don’t know about all of that, but I can tell you that these perks certainly built a gratitude and company loyalty in me. Needless to say, I stayed longer than two years.

I haven’t even told you about the Kearney farm.  The farm was a beautiful, sprawling property in Kearney, Missouri, about 45 minutes away from the downtown headquarters. This farm was once owned by renowned illustrator, Mark English. Hallmark bought it and fitted it out to be a place for off-site meetings; a place to get away from the city and the corporate environment. Another brilliant idea. The sensitively modernized farm house was very cool, in itself.

But then, there was the barn.

HM fishclock

Fishclock
This was actually created at a found-object workshop, but the tail pieces were left over from a blacksmithing workshop. The eye is a doorknob from our first house. The green lips came from an old toilet seat I found in the crawl space. The words are a poem written by my preschool son: Hours are big. Minutes are small. Seconds are hardly anything at all.

For me, as an artist, the Kearney farm was like a freaking piece of utopia. The barn was fitted out with creative workshop media that were not suited for the Rice Center at headquarters; workshop media like welding and blacksmithing. Yes, I said blacksmithing. When I went to work at Hallmark as a greeting card artist, I learned freaking blacksmithing. There were 3 forges, and an instructor who could give a crash course on safety and process so that a small group of artists could finish a project in 3 or 4 days. I couldn’t believe it. I lived for these workshops. There was something very satisfying about the art and physicality of pounding glowing, red hot metal over an anvil into something lovely. In the barn there were also 3 wood lathes for bowl-turning workshops, which I also took, and loved.

I must relate one ridiculously pleasurable story about the farm. I don’t know how my name got on this list, but I was somehow recommended to take a workshop with visiting artist, Diego Romero. Diego is a Cochiti Pueblo Native-American, who arrived at Hallmark wearing a T-shirt that said, “My heroes have always been Indians.” A contemporary ceramic artist from New Mexico, (you can google him,) he has a wonderful knowledge of traditional native ceramic techniques, combined with a modern sensitivity and a university ceramics training. Our lucky workshop group started out in the Rice Center where Diego shared some slip glaze that he had extracted from a secret creek bed location in New Mexico. He showed us how to burnish the slip with a smooth rock. Then the next day we went to the Kearney farm to fire our pieces. Early in the morning we dug a pit, and split wood, and Diego created a completely low-tech pit kiln, by stacking the cut wood according to the knowledge that was passed down to him. Then we torched the entire thing with our pots inside, and had a little pot party. (Clay pots!) The whole experience was pure enjoyment; everything from getting to know Diego, to later digging through the ash to see the results of the firing. I will always remember this event fondly. Hallmark paid me to do this.

HM armadillo pot

Armadillo Pot
Created with Diego Romero. 3″ high.

It’s been some 13 years since I left Hallmark, and as I write this I’m still amazed at the creative experiences I had. I haven’t even told you about the trips…

Twice I was sent on week long, “blue sky” painting trips for the purpose of “creative renewal,” apparently just because my manager knew I was interested in painting. (God bless her.) The first was a weeklong trip with a bunch of guys, to a cabin in the Conejos National Forest, in Colorado near the New Mexico border. Amazing. It was on this trip that painted the Colorado landscape in the open air for the first time. The experience marked me for life. It was glorious. Years later when I left Hallmark, I moved to Colorado to become a painter and plein air artist full time.

The second trip was a weeklong painting trip to the Snake River in Idaho, to take a workshop with Russian expressionist, Ovanes Berberian. The trip included a visit to the Grand Tetons and the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This trip left a big mark on my art as well, and is a story in itself. It was also a great community-building experience. Hallmark paid for everything including airfare and the considerable list of artist materials that Ovanes required.

MM parable

Parable of the Wheat and Tares
Created at a raku workshop at the Kearney farm. Based on the parable of Jesus from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
19″ high.

I’m pretty sure that Hallmark put these remarkable practices into place when the greeting card industry was thriving, and the economy was healthier. The company prided itself in having never laid anyone off during its entire history. It had as a goal each year to be listed in Forbe’s best 100 companies to work for. But changing demographics, shopping patterns, and technologies changed the ink and paper greeting card industry. While I was there the entire company underwent a restructuring. I honestly don’t know what it’s like to work as an artist at Hallmark now. At the time of the restructuring, when I didn’t get the new position I hoped for, I chose to leave rather than take a less creative position. My wife and I viewed this as an opportunity to pursue our postponed dream of making a living as fine artists. This is the reason we made the move to Colorado. I don’t think I would have had the courage to leave a great job, and move my family down an uncertain course if I hadn’t been downsized, so I am even thankful for getting downsized.

There is a lot that I don’t know about this first downsizing in Hallmark’s history, but I do think Hallmark lost its human face in the estimation of many. I was probably the only one fist-pumping the air when given the word that I was being let go. Mostly there was a lot of hurt, crying, and anger from a lot of people who had planned on retiring from Hallmark. I’ve heard many people say, “When one door closes, another door opens.” I don’t think that is necessarily true. My experience has been, “When one door closes, you might try feeling around in the dark for a hammer or pick-ax, and use it to bust out a hole in the wall.”

Our options aren’t always as easy as walking through an open door.

HM cedar bowl

Cedar Bowl
Turned on the lathe at the Kearney farm. 7″ high.

New Painting: Street Band – Berlin

I don’t want to give too much away in advance of our show that opens in November, because I want you to come to it. But by way of a preliminary announcement, I’d like to share a couple of new pieces I just finished, and describe how the exhibit is developing.

Mollie and I are calling the show, Zeitgeist: Paintings Inspired by Germany. (Zeitgeist is a German word meaning spirit of the times.) The show will open at the Loveland Museum-Gallery on November 9 in the downstairs Foote Gallery, and will remain open until February 23, 2014. On the evening of January 10, Mollie and I will be doing a joint demonstration in separate media. She will demo re-purposed house paint, her primary medium. I will demo watercolor, my secondary medium, (because it is so fun to watch!) We’ll take turns talking and painting while the other’s work is drying. We really don’t know if this will be fun, or chaotic and dizzying for people, but we’d like for you to come and find out.

The Zeitgeist exhibit will present work representing both the external landscape of northern Germany and visions from our internal mindscapes. Some views were painted en plein air on location, other pieces were inspired by people, places, or art we experienced. My crazy wife is busily working on 3 large paintings that will not fit in our van (sigh.)

Following are two pieces I recently completed, both inspired by our visit to Berlin. I posted earlier about a midnight stroll I took in Berlin one night when I was too excited to sleep. These pieces came from that night as well.

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Street Band – Berlin
Scott Freeman, oil, 14×16 in.

I enjoy painting urban nocturnes because of the isolated, lively colors that one simply doesn’t get in the daylight. This scene of a street band is a small painting that reflects the spirit of Berlin that I saw that night. Just a group of guys playing music on Alexanderplatz, (plaza) the site where the largest anti-government protest in East Germany history occurred, just days before the fall of the Berlin wall in November of 1989.

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One of my favorite graffiti images from Berlin.

The second piece, below, is an appropriation – an assemblage of street art, none of which originated with me. I hope I didn’t commit any crimes in collecting these pieces of urban subculture. Certain areas of Berlin were covered in Graffiti and plastered with posters and announcements. I was kind of keeping my eyes open for a cool poster from off the street, but one that I could remove intact without being an inconsiderate jerk. Down an alley, I was happy to finally discover the pink elephant poster which had mostly peeled off the wall because of the rain. So I helped it off the rest of the way. I love the juxtaposition of the anti-capitalist blog leaflet ( the wolf) over the Club Maxxim image – a wonderfully ironic statement for pluralism and freedom.

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Animals of Berlin
Appropriation, Scott Freeman

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