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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gallery Sculptor Marsha Brown Interviewed by The Art League

Our own gallery member, sculptor and painter Marsha Brown, was recently the recipient of the Art League's prestigious Bertha G. Harrison Memorial Award for Figurative Sculpture for her piece "Golden Stretch," which was displayed in the gallery in November. Read all about her process here:

"Golden Stretch" by Marsha Brown

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Negotiating On Art: Do You Do It? Should You?

I was recently exhibiting a rather large (24"x48") painting at an art show. The show was scheduled to come down on Sunday; on Saturday afternoon I received an email from a patron stating that he and his wife loved the painting and, if it did not sell by the time the show ended, would I consider coming down on the price "a little." I offered to come down $100, which was about a 15% discount.  This touched off a back-and-forth negotiating session such as I've never experienced, both by email and phone call, with the buyer offering to pay cash if I could just come down 30%. I offered to let them pay in installments, and even directed them to another venue where I had smaller works more in their price range - to no avail. It became clear to me that, quite simply, they desperately wanted this painting but weren't willing to pay what I felt it was worth.

Thus brings up the question: Is it ethical for a buyer to negotiate the price of art? Is it wise for an artist to knock down their price? Not easy questions to answer. To the question of whether it is ethical to negotiate on art: some folks are used to negotiating on everything, if they can.  And they feel it's a particularly good idea to negotiate on art since they are dealing with a single person, rather than a corporation (I doubt these same folks walk into WalMart and say "How about $29.00 for this shirt rather than $35?" although if they thought they would succeed, would probably try.). They also might - either rightly or wrongly - assume the artist is of the "starving" variety and will jump at the chance to sell any of their work at any price. Most artists - starving or not - will admit to feeling slightly offended when they are asked to lower their prices. This is, after all, a piece of art that represents their time and talent - not a used car they are unloading on Craigslist.
Most artists feel exactly this way

That being said, however, there are many factors that go into whether, if at all, an artist will wheel and deal. There are those artists who will never, under any circumstances, change their prices. Some are so successful that they don't have to. You don't want to pay $1,500? The next customer will.  These artists have a proven track record and know exacly how much their paintings will sell for, so there is never a need to lower a price. Then there are those whose works take weeks, months - even years to complete. With so much time invested, they simply cannot afford to take less. There are also those who simply feel that an artist should never "cheapen" their work by negotiating on it, and never will - if this happens to mean that they don't sell, then so be it. Another factor is the artist's own expenses. Do they have to pay rent on a studio? Are they paying a commission to a gallery or oganization that will cut into their profit? Does the piece have a particularly expensive frame?

In the next category are artists who, if asked, will always come down 10% but no more, ever. Some of these artists, if they are approached to take the 10% often enough, will simply build that into their prices. Other artists, such as Gallery artist Jane Coonce, will offer the buyer the opportunity to buy the piece unframed, and deduct the price of the frame. "That way the buyer feels they are getting a 'deal' and I can use the frame on another piece," she says. Since most artists will build in the price of the frame to their overall price, this is an excellent way to make a sale without feeling they have come down on the actual price of the artwork. Many artists offer special pricing to repeat buyers. "I feel this is a great goodwill gesture," another gallery artist said. "I appreciate their coming back to me for more art and this is a way of letting them know I value them as a patron." Artists may also be willing to negotiate if they are selling their art at an art market where there are huge crowds, and a more casual vibe than in an upscale gallery. "There is a certain psychological aspect to the location you are selling from," said another artist."People expect to pay more in an upscale location; and expect to pay less in a casual, outdoor atmosphere."
A casual art market may  invite negotiation

It should be mentioned that there are other - artistic - factors that contribute to whether artists will deal. Many artists will admit that if they have had a piece for a long time, have exhibited it several places and it has not sold, then they are more willing to negotiate.  Ditto if they are a bit ambiguous about how they feel about a piece. Every artist has pieces that, for whatever reason, in their minds simply didn't work. In these cases they are less likely to hold fast on a price, unless they priced it lower to begin with.

This brings us to the last category, like the one I encountered: the buyer who wants the artist to come way, way down on their price. In my case, I ultimately - politely - declined to come down lower than the initial 15%.  This was a large piece, took a lot of time, was brand new and - most importantly - was a piece I felt very strongly about. Having the cash in my pocket and my painting on someone's wall would not have ameliorated the feeling I would have had that I had undervalued my work.

In the end, this is what a buyer needs to understand when they attempt to negotiate on art: sometimes it may work, but just as often, it may result in offending the artist - who may interpret your offer as "I like your art, but it's not worth this price." When you're dealing with the fragile egos of artists, this can be a deal-breaker.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Co-Director

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight?

The Arlington Artists Alliance recently announced they will be having a "Where's Waldo"-esque juried show at Gallery Underground this August titled "Hiding in Plain Sight." This is an intriguing call to artists, who will be required to hide a symbol somewhere in their piece.

The iconic "search" symbol
Familiar to everyone who has ever looked for anything on the Internet (that would be...all of us), the iconic symbol for "search," a magnifying glass, is the symbol that will be required to show up big, small, in the folds of clothing, the trunk of a will be up to the artist to hide it and the viewer to find it.
Katharine Hepburn by Al Hirschfeld

Famous caricature artist Al Hirschfeld was known for hiding his daughter Nina's name in his work, and would indicate after his signature how many times the name appeared. Many a child and adult alike have been fascinated with trying to spot all the names. In this rendering of Katharine Hepburn, you can spot one in the far left leaf on her collar...depending on how much time you have, you may be able to find the rest in the crazy hair.

Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code" comes to mind when thinking about hidden codes, but theories on hidden objects and messages in famous works of art abound. There is an entire website,, devoted to the notion that Van Gogh's works were full of hidden messages and pictures, many related to religion. The site puts forth that a donkey, representing the biblical depiction of Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey, can clearly be seen in the shape of the beard in one of the many portraits Van Gogh painted of postman Joseph Roulin. Of course, like those optical illusion puzzles, once you see it, it will drive you crazy because that's all you'll see.
Van Gogh's Postman Roulin

Another version of things "Hidden in Plain Sight" in paintings (actually, not so plain sight; in this case just hidden) is the new scientific technology that has evolved, which has enabled museums and art conservators to discover earlier versions of paintings underneath famous works of art. One example is Picasso's "The Blue Room," which was recently discovered, through infrared scanning, to have been painted over an earlier work, a portrait of an unknown man in a bow tie.

In another recent fascinating discovery, scientists at the Winterthur Museum's Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory found that beneath a study for a family portrait by N.C. Wyeth lay another painting. The painting was a full color illustration Wyeth did for a magazine short story. In the magazine, the illustration appeared only in black and white; so until this painting was revealed using x-ray imaging, it had not been known that it had been done in color. Many artists who provided illustrations for magazines did them in shades of gray if they knew they would be reproduced without color.

We look forward to seeing how artists will meet the challenge of hiding the search symbol within their works for the juried show; possibly years later these works will be the subject of much debate among art historians.

--Sandi Parker, Co-Director, Gallery Underground

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Traditional? Abstract? Artist Bud Hensgen Takes It All On

One of Bud Hensgen's traditional landscapes
Ever wondered what makes an artist want to make art? And what makes them take on a new media in a completely different style mid-career?

Like many artists, Gallery Underground member Bud Hensgen has never been far away from art."I was always the kid in class who could draw," says Hensgen. "Even when I went into the Foreign Service, I took my paints with me."  After his 30-year Foreign Service career came to a close, he began painting even more, taking a class from Jane McElvany Coonce through adult education [Coonce is also a gallery member].

In this class, Hensgen began doing traditional landscapes in oil, which he enjoyed then and still enjoys. He began entering shows and displaying work at venues, making a name for himself as a skilled traditional landscape painter.

To grow as an artist, Hensgen began taking additional classes at the Torpedo Factory through the Art League in Alexandria, VA, studying with well-known abstract artist Joyce McCartin - this time in acrylic. "This," says Hensgen, "was a very different painting experience. There is a spirit of play with abstracts; you go into it with no expectations, and play with the medium." Many traditional painters find when they begin painting abstracts that they have suddenly lost the "safety net" of a photo or object they are basing their painting on - despite this, Hensgen was energized. "You immediately get into a dialogue with the painting; the panorama is so wide when you're not in a dialogue with a "thing" - and only in a dialogue with the canvas," he says
Acrylic abstract by Bud Hensgen

This experience encouraged Hensgen to look at other artists' abstract paintings, in museums and in books. "Your horizon really expands when you look at famous abstracts; you learn an appreciation for their work."

Honing his abstract skills with additional classes, Hensgen has now become known for his large-scale abstracts. Hensgen feels that with abstract painting, there is more ego involved. "I find that abstracts are much more personal than traditional works; there is more 'you' in an abstract." Artists who have done both types of paintings will no doubt agree; although many painters will "abstract" a traditional still-life or scene - or use something as a jumping-off point - there is much more of the artist's imagination involved in a pure abstract painting.  What Hensgen really enjoys about abstract is the idea of "color as color; form as form; two forms speaking to each other."

Many abstract artists work in series; it can be scary when the series is finished. "When you work on an abstract series and then finish it, you have to get a new inspiration," Hensgen says. "You are walking a bit in the desert." He will, like many artists, continue to work in both mediums, enjoying the journey of working in two very opposing disciplines.
Hensgen returning to his roots, working on a
traditional landscape in the gallery

                                                                            --Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, October 10, 2014

Buying art? Time to move on from Thomas Kinkade

A recent visitor to the gallery, in town from Ohio on business, greatly admired one of our abstracts and began to tell me of his and his wife's art-buying journey.

"When we first began purchasing art, we - um - bought one of those Thomas Kinkade paintings," he said rather sheepishly. "It was a reproduction signed by the artist."
Thomas Kinkade Archive in Monterey, CA

Not to cast aspersions on the highly collectable work of Mr. Kinkade, but as this visitor began to realize, what he had was, after all, not an original, unique piece of art. He went on to say that as he and his wife began to travel, they began purchasing art by local artists, and eventually began commissioning pieces. The Thomas Kinkade was relegated to a closet for years. They finally sold it.

The visitor shared with me some photos of their commissioned works, installed in their chic, modern apartment: abstracts, a huge glass mosaic piece and sculpture. I couldn't picture a mass-produced piece like Kinkade's in this setting. "We've evolved," he laughed.

When adding art their home, most people realize at some point that they've outgrown the prints and posters of their college days, and the reproductions from the mall furniture store. They want something original, but admit to a lack of confidence: As a result, some figure the thing to do is find the most upscale, chic gallery in their city, only to return home after finding that the piece they liked carried a price tag equivalent to that of a small car.

Gallery Underground in Arlington, VA
What our visitor discovered is that good art abounds in local art organizations. This couple google "art leagues" when they travel, and make a beeline for these galleries. They have learned that here they will find art they like at an affordable price by a local artist, forge a relationship, and have art from places they have visited and loved. Whether commissioning a piece or purchasing one already completed, they are always thrilled when they hang it in their home.

Most artists who belong to their local art organizations have been artists for years; many regularly are juried into competitions and win awards. The quality is high, but without the overhead the upscale urban galleries command, the prices at local art organizations' galleries are usually much more affordable.

The artists in our gallery are all members of the Arlington Artists Alliance, and as our recent visitor found, the art is exceptional. He took several business cards. "I'll be calling to commission some pieces," he said as he left. And these pieces will NOT end up in the closet.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Never Drink and Draw? goes the saying. Under the influence of alcohol, everything an artist does looks to them like an award-winning showpiece. Until the next morning. Not unlike certain - um - bar experiences, they wake up, glance at what they did the night before and think What. On. Earth. Of course, it could be worse. An artist can always paint over disasters, unlike more...permanent artwork which sometimes happens after imbibing.
So, too many cocktails + artwork usually does not result in the desired effect for the experienced professional artist.

However, for those who have never painted before and are looking to give it a whirl in a relaxed setting, sometimes a little "Dutch courage" can be helpful.  It can sweep away those "there's no way I can make art. Not possible. I have two left hands!" thoughts.  For this reason, "sip and paint" events are all the rage; you can find them in every city.

Gallery Underground offers its own version, called "Painting Uncorked."  Budding artists show up to the gallery at 6:30 on Thursday nights ready to relax and create a painting in 2 hours that they will be able to take home, while sipping a glass or two of wine. The class is capped at 15 students, and every student paints the same image, under the step-by step direction of Justyne Fischer, a Fairfax County High School AP art teacher for 16 years.

"I find that many students have had either a bad experience, or no experience at all with art. This is a way to simplify the process while making it fun, in a social setting," Fischer says. She says that one problem some people have had with art is that they don't know where to start: "You need to be taught the foundation and principals. Once you have that, it's a lot less frightening."

Most people are surprised at how well their finished paintings turn out. Fischer says that though many students are a bit self-conscious about what they've made, they nevertheless are very pleased with what they created, and excited to take it home to hang in their homes.

So there are times when you really can drink and draw (or paint)! To register for an upcoming Painting Uncorked class, visit our website:

A recent Painting Uncorked class shows off their finished work
  Teacher Justyne Fischer is far left, back row

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director

Friday, September 19, 2014

Entering Juried Art Shows: Not For The Thin-Skinned

Artists have fragile egos. We work for hours, days, months (even years?) on a piece. "A masterpiece," we think. "This will get into that upcoming juried show for sure," we think. Only to check our email or show up at the jurying location to find out it wasn't selected. Suddenly our elation changes to, "Ok, not a masterpiece. In fact, no good at all. What was I thinking?" Try as we might, we cannot keep those thoughts from invading and we suddenly lose confidence in ourselves and our abilities. There is no artist on earth, no matter how celebrated and successful, who has not been rejected from a juried show. We are all in good company. Take, for instance, Mary Cassatt: those lucky enough to visit the Cassatt/Degas exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington DC will no doubt remember this beautiful painting, "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair"
Mary was clearly very pleased with this painting, and entered it into the Art Gallery of the American Pavillion at the 1878 World's Fair, where it was rejected. Mary was not happy. In a 1903 letter to her Parisian art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, she said:
"It was the portrait of a friend of M. Degas. I had done the child in the armchair and he found it good and advised me on the background and he even worked on it. I sent it to the American section of the big exposition [of 1878], they refused it ... I was furious, all the more so since he had worked on it. At that time this appeared new and the jury consisted of three people of which one was a pharmacist!" 

Even a painting worked on by both Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas was rejected from a show; in fact, the impressionists were often rejected from the great Parisian art shows. Although most shows these days are juried by - ahem - actual working artists rather than pharmacists, there is still quite a bit of head-scratching that goes on when artists find out what did - and did not - get into a given show.

Mary's painting was eventually accepted into multiple shows. Gallery Underground member Jane McElvany Coonce, a teacher for more than 30 years, loves to tell her students this story: she entered a painting into a monthly juried show over and over, only to have it rejected each time. She really believed in this painting, so undaunted, she thought, "Ok, I'll give it one more try," This time, the painting was not only accepted, it won Best in Show. And one of Gallery Underground's recent jurors, Mark Cameron Boyd, told the story at our opening reception of having had a painting rejected from a show by a juror only to have that same juror accept it into a subsequent show!

So, we as artists have to remind ourselves that often a "rejection" may have to do with a juror's mood on any given day, what they had for lunch, or a color they hate rather than the artist's talent. The good news is that there is always another juried show. And one after that.

--Sandi Parker, Gallery Underground Co-Director