A New Paint Brush and the Artist Blues

Last night I learned about a paintbrush I’ve never used or even knew about — a feather paint brush. Wow. It seems so obvious. I don’t think I can use any of my feathers for that — though the turkey feather I found last year would work pretty well according to what I’ve learned so far. It’s too beautiful. I’m a little embarrassed because the feather is one of the oldest painting tools. I should have known since I see myself as a minor god of Medieval Painting, but OH WELL.

As confirmation of discovering this new tool, THIS turns out to be the prompt for this morning.

My tiny bit of research tells me that it’s the best tool for painting grass — well, I’m painting grass right now and while I’m more or less happy with what I have so far, it’s not exactly what I want it to be. Sometimes a painting is like a friend. They might not do or be exactly what you think they should do or be, but you like them a lot and they have the right to be who they are. Considering that most brushes are made of animal fur or synthetic animal fur it will be an unearthly experience to paint with a feather. If I end up painting grass with a feather — wow, that’s kind of a nice metaphor. Grass reaches as far into the sky as it can and then? Loosens its seeds to fly away in search of fertile ground.

My thoughts about being an artist while I was in the throes of Covid brain — well, they boil down to this. An artist like me who’s not a great artist, will never been “known,” but who does decent work with love and dedication, and then wants to sell their work is basically a small, local business. A VERY small local business. Since I live in a kind of “arty” place with few galleries it’s complicated and 2020 complicated it further. The few galleries around here closed.

After my reading last week I spoke to one of the county commissioners about the annual holiday art show. He pretty much let me know that ship is no longer coming to port at the museum, that they want to get away from being an “art gallery” (once a year?) and focus on history. I mentioned it to the new director who backed up what he said.

It was easier in California (obviously) because there were more opportunities (obviously). With so many people, there was competition, but it wasn’t personal. I belonged to an Artist Guild that had two unjuried shows a year. To be in the show, an artist had to be a member of the guild AND pay a $25 entry fee. The shows were hung in the historic town hall of Julian, CA, a historic mining town in the Laguna Mountains. I sold paintings that way. Another was the guild of the San Diego Museum of Art which had themed juried shows every year. Also, the San Diego County Fair has a huge juried show. In California, an artist doesn’t have to be a personality behind the art, necessarily. The work is there for people to see, speaking for itself.

When I first moved here, there was an artists guild that showed work, but that is gone. This is a feature of being an old person. The people who were members of the guild were all older than I and maybe we all reach a point in our lives when we don’t have the interest or energy in supporting “causes.”

Many people don’t understand what goes into a painting. Materials are expensive. Good materials are more expensive. The museum is pondering the idea the artists should “give” the museum something to hang their work. Well, OK. The director mentioned 30% which is what galleries get. I think a lot of time people have the illusion that we make a lot of money from what we do (no one in this place makes a lot of money except maybe potato farmers) and that we sell a lot of work. We don’t. The market here in winter is very limited, no one is wealthy and to sell anything, our prices are the minimum. I sold a painting last year for $75 because I wanted to get rid of it and the buyer loved it. The irony is that the buyer gave me $100 and told me to “keep the change.” I almost broke even on that painting. The most anyone has paid for a painting at that show is $250. The frame was barn wood, so not expensive — $60? The painting was on a panel, $40. Then there was the paint which is pretty difficult to quantify, maybe $20? Then the hours of work — another $100? So I possibly made $30 on the painting. If the museum took 30%? I’d have to raise the price so no one in this place at that season would look at it.

SO… I have to expand my horizons and decide what matters to me. I like being here, but to sell my work, I’m going to have to (gasp) travel to places like Denver and Santa Fe. Well, I feel too ragged to think about that now. I think my job today is finding out how to paint with a feather and now I’ve seen this video. How cool is that? I can’t use my hawk feather for this. I can’t use any of my feathers, though my Harris Hawk feather is leaning over me right now saying, “Why do you think I was there, right in front of you?”

“No, I can’t cut you up. I can’t.”


Thanks for the encouragement and good wishes in the Covid moment. It’s not “gone” but it’s much better. I see a few days of fatigue and brain fuzz ahead of me, but that can happen anyway.

13 thoughts on “A New Paint Brush and the Artist Blues

  1. I had bought 2 such feather brushes in China and at first had no use for them, as they are not particularly helpful for traditional Chinese painting. I then did calligraphy with it and was very happy with the result. I should still have them somewhere….Occasionally I make my own “brushes” and I’m thrilled every time.

    • I got the idea from a photo of an ink drawing/painting by a hyper-realistic local(ish) nature artist. I have to ponder whether to cut up any of my feathers for this.

        • ❤️ Pretty much how I see it. Some of my feathers are 30 years old hawk feathers I found on the trail with my dogs and friends in California. One is a Sandhill Crane feather I picked up in the fall of 2020, that miraculous year of solitude, nature and cranes. It was a gift. They’re NOT just feathers to me at all. If I do this feather painting, I’ll have to buy one. BUT I think they might not be right for the heavier oil paint I use.

          • Drawing with a quill pen is one thing I’ve really enjoyed. Painting with the other end of the pen is a separate matter. Using them to paint with oils probably won’t do much unless you use a lot of turpentine.

            • I was thinking that they would have to be very liquid oils and too transparent as a result. Still, maybe if I do more watercolors.

  2. Wishing you a steady recovery.
    And, yeah. It’s one thing to cover the basic costs, but if you factor in the time…
    Like writing. I see cheap books by new authors for sale on Amazon, price maybe $1. I think of all the hours it took to write, create a file, upload their book, design (or pay for) the cover design, then figure in the cost of graphics, images, editing — and hopefully the writer did get a proper edit. Then how many books are they going to sell? It’s a labor of love.

    • I have published all my books on Amazon. Luckily, the platform is free — they get paid when a book sells. Some of them I didn’t “publish” to sell and there are only 1 or 2 copies in existence. I like designing books so that’s one thing. I have a good editor. Some of the books were written to sell, and they sell slowly, but that’s mostly on me because I’m not a book promoter and I can’t afford to hire one. Even then, I know what I write is not what most people today would be interested in reading. Labor of love? Yep. All of them.

      Paintings are either a labor of love or me learning something by taking on a challenge. Storage is a problem. My problem is with the attitude toward artists. The museum complained that they provide we artists with space, light and heat, etc. BUT they’re open anyway. What they GET for having an art show in December? They don’t have to set up the exhibit or take it down. The reception brings in a LOT of people and an event in the middle of the season brings in more. Most of the work on the walls isn’t even for sale; people just come to look because it’s something to do, they enjoy the show, they want to meet the artists, they’re curious. The art show brings them into the museum. The great inconsistency is they have a quilt show and don’t question that. OH WELL…

  3. I’m going to take Mochi to the park this weekend. The geese there are thick – and they shed feathers constantly… I’ll see if I can find some. If I do, I’ll let you know and send you a “feather letter” !!

  4. What about your contact at the local library? When I worked at my local library, we would hang ‘art’ from local artisans with their info/price on the piece – and the local Friends Group held an auction that allowed folks to donate ‘small’ pieces, for fundraising, BUT who also, did a lot of promotion/biz cards, etc., so there was ‘a way’ to get local artists name ‘out’ into the community of buyers/etc.

    Also, there are ways you could take pictures, post online, in a free, one page website/store, IF you have a paypal account – or pay a commission on a free account ONLY when you sell that isn’t near 30% – – for those options, online, checkout – Gumroad.com and Ecwid.com

    And that is the extent of my ‘sharing ideas’ that have been of use to my local rural artists and crafters – some have done and while not wildly ‘making their fortune’ it has, overall, brought in some $ above what they spend on supplies to ‘keep making’ – 😀

  5. Similar to what Tamrahjo said: We have restaurants in my town that hang local art with the info/price on the piece. Might be something to check out?
    What a shame about the art gallery. Why can’t they blend art and history to satisfy people who might like one more than the other? My husband likes history; I like art. We’d both be happy.

    • Yep. It was never like the museum took down historical exhibits for us to hang our work. It’s OK. This place has been pretty weird since Covid and Trump. Behind everything is politics and assumptions about others. I realized I’m just going to have to find a way to live here, show my work somewhere, and fall back in love with what was once Heaven and is now some kind of limbo. All that’s on me because I’m not going anywhere. ❤

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