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About realartisbetter

Real Art Is Better! Real Artist living and working in Anchorage and McCarthy, Alaska, making Real Art - colorful oil paintings and prints that brighten any space.

2021 Year Review and Looking Ahead to 2022

I think at the beginning of the year it’s important and helpful to sit down and reflect about what you accomplished during the previous year, and to set goals for the new year. At least for someone who is a self-employed artist, this is extremely grounding and inspiring.

So, let’s see what we accomplished in 2021 with our art business.

The year began with yet another art show during a pandemic. The occupancy limit at the venue — Midnight Sun Brewing Co., was 25%. As you can imagine, that art show could have gone better, but we still managed to do okay on sales considering the limitations.

Many people decided to spruce up their work and living spaces during the lockdown, so I was busy painting commissioned pieces in 2021. I also completed three large canvas pieces for the new library and community center in Willow.

Painting took a bit longer after I broke my hand while skiing at Alyeska Resort. Luckily, it was my left hand. Everything healed well, but I didn’t meet my deductible, so I had to pay around $2,600 for medical bills. Big thumbs down!

We traveled to Cordova, and spent a lot of time at our cabin in McCarthy. The most notable things that happened in McCarthy were having my cousin Cameron come up from California for the summer to be the caretaker at the museum, hiring my favorite musician, Michael Kirkpatrick to play a house concert at our cabin, and building a 15ft sculpture for Burning Dude!

The most significant accomplishment this year was finally buying a house, which involved moving our studio out of the 4th Avenue Market Place, into the house.

We also created a wholesale program.

We had two art shows at Turnagain Brewing, two art shows at Midnight Sun Brewing, and one art show at Middle Way Cafe, which is still happening now, and will end on Feb. 5th.

Goals for 2022

2022 started off with my art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. that I have every January and June, but I found out yesterday that the venue chose to close for the rest of the week, due to C-19 precautions. So, that’s how that art show is going.

I don’t have any public art projects lined up for the first time in five years.

The first goal is to maintain a healthy environment mentally and physically by taking enough time for myself so I don’t feel overworked, continuing to workout, and prioritizing dedicated work time in the studio.

The second goal is to expand our product line by coming up with new product ideas to sell wholesale and at our Etsy shop.

The third goal is to build a Quonset hut in McCarthy for storage of our tractor, snow machine and many other things that need to be stored in a dry, covered place. My mechanic gave me his dad’s old Quonset hut, which had been laying behind his log cabin on Big Lake for about 50 years. We dug out all the parts, discarded the damaged and corroded ones, and brought the rest to our property in McCarthy. Now we just need to assemble everything.

Goal #4 is to continue brewing delicious beers and making new beer paintings.

Goal #5 is to reach out to new venues to schedule art shows.

Goal #6 is to paint new paintings. I have a list of ideas for paintings, but I rarely have time to paint them, because I’ve spent most of my time painting commissions, and working on public art projects.

We’ll revisit this list at the end of the year, and see how things went. Overall, we’re really grateful for being able to work for ourselves, and for our new home. I hope you all have a great 2022, no matter what the world will throw in your path!

Commissioned Paintings for the Holidays 2021

Each year people commission paintings from me for holiday gifts, and I’ve always completed them on time. As I’ve said before, my favorite part about commissions is the stories behind each painting. I also love being involved in the surprise, and try very hard not to ruin it. So, now that everyone has received the paintings, I can finally show them to you. This year I completed nine oil paintings during the holiday season in time for Christmas, or anniversaries. Each one is super unique, and meaningful to my patrons, and the recipients. Thank you to all who commissioned paintings this year, and in the past!

Memorable moments from a trip to Greece, 18″ x 36″, oil on panel
14″ x 11″, oil on panel
10″ x 8″, oil on panel
10″ x 8″, oil on panel
Fatbiking in Newfoundland, Canada, 10″ x 8″, oil on panel
20″ x 30″, oil on canvas

Trying out My New “Alaska” Skis in a Santa Suit

Every year Arctic Valley Ski Area has a fundraiser auction, and this year I bid on a pair of custom skis from Go Custom Skis in Seattle, Washington. I couldn’t believe I was the winner at $75 below retail value!  Tristan runs GC Skis, and we started communicating about my new set of boards right away!  I wanted a pair of skis that looked like the ones I painted in an image called Ski AK that I have been selling since 2013.  The graphic is a nod to the Alaskan flag and says “Alaska”. When I was designing my new skis I put the same graphics on the front, and created a new one for the back of the skis, which was not visible in the painting. I put my Arctic Valley trail map painting inside the text spelling out “Alaska”.  The skis got made and hand-delivered by Tristan, who is also a jet pilot for Costco.  He happened to fly a group of execs to Alaska and brought the skis, which saved me having to pay for shipping.  I bought some nice Marker bindings, and had them mounted at SkiAK.

Yesterday was Santa Skis Free day at Alyeska Resort, and my first chance to try out my new “Alaska” skis.  Santa Skis Free day is a blast!  Nothing is funnier than seeing 750 Santas riding the lifts, rocking some turns, crashing, drinking beers, and occasionally gathering up scattered gear from an all-out Santa yard-sale.  Everyone who dressed up like Santa head-to-toe, or Ms. Claus, an elf, or a reindeer got a free lift ticket!

My skis had just been hot-waxed, and were way more slippery than my old skis. It was also a classic Alyeska ski day with overcast skies, some flurries of snow, fog, and overall terrible visibility. Since I broke my hand up there last year, I hadn’t been back to ski at Alyeska.  The new skis were handling way differently than I expected, and I nearly wiped out on Silvertip just after I got off the lift.  This happened mostly because I couldn’t see anything.  There is a significant drop-off where speed is needed to get up the other side. I didn’t biff it, but I didn’t look very smooth either. I pretty much splayed my legs out and avoided going down from the sheer strength of my groin (imagine me doing this in a Santa costume).  Snow sprayed up all over me and I looked like an abominable snowman for the rest of the day.  After the fifth run I was getting more comfortable with the short turn radius, and I could sit back and ride them a lot more proficiently.  Maria and I made it to the Santa group photo, and skied a few more laps, stopping in the woods for a quick sandwich.  We then made it down the mountain with no repercussions. I got many compliments in the lift line, and on the chairlift on my “Alaska” skis, and gave Tristan props each time.

After we took off our Santa suits we went over to Girdwood Brewing to nab a tasty brew!  I got the GBC 500: a Brewing Odyssey, and Maria had the IP-AK.  Last time I had a beer at GBC after a ski day at Alyeska I was icing a broken hand.  Much better to be sitting there without a broken bone.  We drove home with enough time to catch the end of my Russian lesson on Zoom, and then we helped a friend assemble a brand new dining room table he had built from a large slab of Elm and solid Walnut.  It turned out to be a great day!  Cheers to new skis, an amazing new table, and the genius who came up with Santa Skis Free Day at Alyeska Resort!      

Here’s my design that I sent to GC Skis
Here’s how they turned out
I painted this in 2013, and I’ve wanted a pair of skis like that ever since!
Lovin’ my “Alaska” skis on Santa Skis Free Day!

And the Winner of the Tart Side Challenge is… Me!

Turnagain Brewing graciously hosts a contest each year for members of the Great Northern Brewers Club called the Tart Side Challenge. Ted and Mary Rosenzweig, owners of the brewery, give each club member one gallon of wort containing the brewery’s proprietary sour culture from the solera tank we all affectionately call Big Bertha. Our task is to flavor the wort any way we wish, and to ferment it into beer. The entries get judged at the GNBC annual summer campout, and then Turnagain Brewing brews the winning recipe. Last year, Maria won the contest. When I created the recipe for my entry this year, I referred to my experience making small batch beers. I had been mixing beer and fruit for a couple of years now, and I know how much fruit to add to make a beer explode with flavor. I wanted to bottle-condition this beer, since oxidation is one of the easiest and worst things that can happen to a beer at this stage.  I also know that people generally tend to like slightly stronger beers over weaker ones. Since this was a beer tasting committee I was aiming to please, I added a 1/2 cup of malt extract to not only slightly increase ABV, but also to restart fermentation. I also added some of my own yeast from my yeast ranching project, since bottle-conditioning doesn’t work without yeast present.

I was unsure what fruit I wanted to put into the beer. Last year Maria won with a blueberry recipe, so I knew blueberries were a crowd pleaser. I also love the Piña Colada beer Ted has been making for Serrano’s Mexican Grill. It all became clear to me when I was making my morning smoothie with a healthy dosage of sour yogurt, pineapple, and blueberries.  Blueberries and pineapple would play the starring roles in my beer.

Ted didn’t have enough space to ferment my beer, so he used a French oak barrel, which added Brett to the equation. Ted and I were sipping on the finished beer at the brewery and I suggested that he bottle my beer, so we could cellar it to allow the Brett to develop. Since I’m the local beer artist, I also offered to make a label design for my beer. 

I had to design the label quickly, and I think best when I am out running on the trail. The next morning I figured it all out when doing my five mile loop.  I came up with the name, “Solera Eclipse” and decided upon a design inspired by the yin yang of T&C Surf Designs.  Ted’s solera is where the wort originated, and an eclipse is a noteworthy astronomical event.  The yin yang showed off the the contrast of the blueberries and pineapple perfectly.  Since it was fermented in Ted’s favorite old wine barrel, I included some barrel parts in the design making a sun. 

I am very excited to try the commercial version, I have one bottle left of my homemade version, and I look forward to sampling them back to back! The beer will be released at my art opening at Turnagain Brewing tomorrow (12/03/2021)! I’ll be there 5-8pm, and hope you’ll stop by to try my beer, check out my art, and buy a couple bottles to cellar.

Cheers to Turnagain Brewing for doing this fun contest for GNBC!

Ted taking a small sample of my beer from the barrel to see if the Brett flavor had sufficiently developed.
My design for the bottle label.
Solera Eclipse sour ale with blueberries and pineapple.

First Snow Day of the Year!

The first real snowfall of the year covers the grass and leaves, and provides winter light during the long, dark nights. Last night I was excited to see the tips of the stalks of grass obscured from view. The entire city illuminates from the reflective properties of the falling snow. This morning I was surprised to see eleven inches on our back porch. We went for a lovely 3-mile walk to the Helen L. McDowell Sanctuary, breaking trail the whole way! Upon our return, Maria and I spent a little over half an hour shoveling our driveway and walkways. There was about a foot of light and fluffy snow, so it wasn’t that hard. It’s still snowing as I write this, and all the clearing we did is now under another two inches.

I get really excited about the first day of snow, because I love winter! Skiing, fat-biking, ice skating and winter walks are all things I enjoy in winter.  Don’t get me wrong, I also love summer.  The hectic pace that ensues with all the daylight, the out-of-state visitors, and the insidious mosquitos that come along with the warmer weather make it a second best to me.  Third, comes late fall when it is cold, dark, and there is usually freezing rain.  Last, is early spring, when the meltdown makes everything ugly, and going outside is difficult due to half-frozen swampiness. 

Winter is my favorite.  There is a special quality to winter, especially in Alaska.  I mentioned the light from the snow. I can easily navigate at night without a headlamp, if a blanket of snow is reflecting any bit of moon or starlight.  My favorite thing about winter though, is semi-hibernating.  Nobody expects you to answer your phone after 9pm, and if you say you can’t make it because the roads seem too dangerous, people completely understand. In the summer people want you to go to work for 10 hours, then expect you to climb a mountain.  In the winter, if you spend 4 hours riding a chairlift, people might expect you to fall asleep while watching a movie afterwards. 

Snow is great! It makes winter real! Let it snow! I will shovel the driveway again this evening, right before I climb into bed at 9:15pm.

Sketches for Paintings, so Everyone Is on the Same Page

I’m one of few artists who accepts commissions, and completes them in an agreed-upon timeline. Some of my fellow artists have many valid reasons for not doing commissions, and one of them is fear that the client won’t like the painting. One of the ways I avoid this from happening is by making sure the patron is familiar with my style. I’m not a photographic painter, so if you want an exact likeness of your great-grandfather in oil paint, I’ll refer you to someone else. If you want a colorful, textural painting that captures the vibe of the scene, then I’m glad to work with you. An important step in the commissioning process that I never skip is providing sketches to my clients for approval. I will not start painting until a sketch is approved. Sometimes the first sketch is a go, and other times I go back to the drawing board and make changes until the client gives me the go-ahead. This way everyone is on the same page. Here are three examples of sketches, and the final product. As you can see, a sketch is used to show the patron where each object will be placed, and the proportions.

I’m working on two sketches today for commissioned paintings, so I’m going to get back to that now. Until next time!

A Surprise Trip to a Hop Farm!

We recently got back from a trip to America — I hadn’t left the State of Alaska for over two years!  Maria and I had to go to Pullman, WA to attend my aunt’s memorial service.  We decided to make the flight worthwhile by extending our trip a bit to go see some of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park.  Did you know there are 63 National Parks in the US? The Olympic National Park is pretty wet in late September.  The highlights for me were walking to the Sol Duc waterfall, and soaking in the hot springs there.  Hot springs are nice in the rain. We also saw the biggest Sitka spruce tree in the world, and the largest red cedar tree.  They are huge! 

The largest red cedar tree in the world!

We had to drive to Pullman for the memorial, so we decided to stop in Yakima along the way, because we knew it was time for hop harvest!  First thing we did was go to the hop shop, Yakima Valley Hops.  Surprisingly, this year’s hops were not available there yet.  I bought a little bit of last year’s harvest, which smelled pretty good.  The sales attendant was very helpful and told me to come back in three weeks when the hops would all be ready for sale.  We asked about stopping at a local farm, and she recommended going to CLS Farms, and maybe we could get a tour there.  That evening we went to the Public House of Yakima, and sampled about 15 different fresh hop ales!  Some were good, and some were quite… interesting.  We learned about NDA — non-disclosure ale, which means the hop variety used in that beer is a secret!  The Public House offers 5oz pours and serves up flights of different brews.  Saturday was going to be the big fresh hop beer festival, but we had to be at the memorial at that time.  Still, I feel I got a pretty good example at the Public House of local fresh-hop IPAs.  

All fresh-hop IPAs!
NDA – non-disclosure ale

In the morning we planned to stop at Bale Breaker Brewing, our favorite brewery (with a small hop farm) in the Yakima Valley, to get supplied for the trip to Pullman, but they were not going to open until 3pm.  Instead, Maria found directions to CLS Farms, and we followed a hop truck into their parking lot.  I nervously knocked on the office door and a strapping young man came out.  We told him what we were about, and asked about a tour.  He said he could give us a tour right now!  They were actively harvesting El Dorado hops, a critical ingredient in some special West Coast IPAs.  He said a lot of it goes straight to California to Stone Brewing, for their “Drink By” series, and the El Dorado IPA.  Huge plants were being loaded onto the conveyor and being stripped of flowers.  The air was astringent with pungent hop aroma!  It felt like breathing IPA.  There are two hop stripping machines at CLS, but what was really interesting was the kilns that dry the hops.  Rows of huge flat trays about 50×50 feet large, and four feet deep were filled with full cone hop flowers!  After a couple of hours they pull up ropes from the bottom of the trays, and the hops from the bottom are stirred to the top — a cool, low-tech way to ensure an even drying process.  Next, we went to the baling station.  I wanted to buy a bale from our guide, but it was 200lbs, and I don’t know how I would have gotten it back to Alaska.  I could have bought some fresh hops on the spot, but our tour guide said they start going bad after 24 hours.  We got a picture with the hop pile at the baling station, and I guess that will have to be good enough.  Our guide said that most of their hops go straight to CA, with Sierra Nevada, and Stone Brewing showing up with fleets of trucks and getting the stuff straight from the farm.  I have to say I was a little jealous of the quality of the hops that were not available to me, a super small-time home-brewer-artist guy.  

We stopped at Fred Meyer and bought a few six packs of Bale Breaker brews, and headed to Pullman.  I will never forget the hop farm experience!  Those guys need a brewery at the farm to give the whole hop experience, something for us hopheads to wet our lips with, and not just smell!            

Burning Dude, McCarthy, AK, September 11, 2021, 9:11pm

Burning Dude 2021

I know that Burning Man is an established event that has been happening for decades,  but I have never been.  I basically don’t know anything about the event, except that it is a wickedly insane art festival where they burn a temple at the end, sometimes with a man at the top.  A week-long avant-garde art event with 70,000 people all showing up to party and experience being human together in the middle of a hot, dusty desert.  

Dave Hollis, my friend in McCarthy, is a retired computer programmer who I would consider to be the social guru for the Kennicott River Valley.  This guy knows what is happening, where it is happening, and also plans some amazing events of his own.  In McCarthy, around 2009 Dani Evans and B-Mac built a Burning Woman, and she asked Hollis to be a fire tender.  Four years ago in 2018, Hollis and Brady, and some other McCarthy locals, decided to make a small version of Burning Man, which they called Burning Dude.  It is a fragment of the Nevada festival, and can’t even be compared, but it is still a hoot, and a lot of fun.  I missed the Burning Woman, and I also missed the first Dude, who was 12 feet tall, and I heard was awesome.  In 2019 fire danger was high, so there was no Dude.  The second Burning Dude in 2020 was designed by Seth, a local fire dancer, and I helped erect the dude with 10 other people, while Brady quickly nailed supports to keep it upright.  It burned, but never fully caught on fire.  The sculpture was 34 feet tall.  The oversized head was dropped and ignited later, providing plenty of entertainment.  I told the team that I have sculpture training and would like to help build next year’s Dude.

Burning Dude 2020

This fall, both Seth and Brady were not available to build the Dude.  Hollis was bummed, but he asked me if I thought it could still happen without them.  I gathered a small team: my wife Maria, my cousin Cameron, and of course Hollis.  I designed the Dude on a sheet of paper, to be built from log mill slabs, which are fairly irregular, and have a lot of bark on them.  I took an afternoon the day before to gather twigs from the bottom of spruce trees from my ten-acre lot, and loaded them onto my trailer.  The next day, Maria and I drove down to McCarthy, picked up Cameron and we unloaded the brush on the bank of the Kennicott River.  Then we drove over to Hollis’ house where we picked up about 200 spruce slabs.  We chucked them down to the Kennicott river, and we started to build.  I had packed a ton of tools, including my cordless drill, driver, chainsaw, a million screws and nails, as well as wire.  First, I built a sturdy box, and then we built the feet and legs.  We attached the torso, and put on the arms.  Finally we built the head, and put a crown of sparklers on top of it.  Hollis and Maria juggled the head up to Cameron, who was standing on the box.  Cameron hoisted the head up to me, as I crouched inside the torso.  I quick-like attached the head and then had to remove my chainsaw helmet to extract myself from the torso.  Next, we stuffed the spruce branches all over the dude and filled the box, torso and head.  I bought a gallon of vegetable oil and we stapled oily paper towels all over the Dude.  We were building the Dude in a prominent location, right next to the foot bridge, where everyone saw us.  Hollis did a great job telling people to show up at 9pm for Burning Dude.

We had three hours to spare before the scheduled ignition, so we went to Mark and Livvi’s new house for ice cream and hot dogs.  At 9pm, a fairly large crowd had gathered around the Dude.  All four of us ignited him at 9:11pm on 9/11!  I knew the spruce boughs would work, and vegetable oil is essentially as combustable as diesel fuel.  It ignited in three stages: first the box platform, then the torso, and finally the head.  The head had this amazing glowing crown above it from the sparklers, and then it kept burning even after the branches all burned up.  The paper towels were amazing.  The head fell in after 11 minutes, but the Dude lasted about 44 more before Malcolm decided to kick the box over.  I was so pleased with how well everything worked.  I thank Maria, Cameron and especially Hollis for making this possible!  Not as spectacular as Burning Man festival in Nevada, but Burn Dude was a success in 2021!   

Cabin Life

What is a typical day like at our cabin in McCarthy these days?  The last three days I have been installing hardwood flooring.  A project like that pretty much takes all day, and when you finally get to a good stopping point, you simply quit for the day, and maybe you can do a few other chores like cooking and cleaning.  I finished the floor yesterday just in time, only a few hours before the rain started.  Last night it rained heavily, and I was so happy that my load of flooring was all in its rightful place, instead of stored on the trailer under a tarp. 

On days I am not working on a big project, I enjoy coffee time while reading e-mails and doing my daily Duolingo lessons.  Then I do about 40 minutes of yoga, followed by a five mile run around the neighborhood.  Then I have breakfast, and finally get around to doing some work for the art business.  Today I had to work on a graphics project, send off a bio to a publisher for a book I illustrated, and write this blog post.  I will probably go to Art Lab (my studio) for a bit and mix up some oil paint, and get started on a 11”x14” commissioned painting for a client.  At 4pm I will Zoom in for my hour-long Russian language lesson.  Then I’ll probably have a beer on the deck, grill some salmon for dinner, and then pick lingonberries.  After dinner we may play pingpong, or I might go visit my neighbor whose parents are arriving tonight.  Maybe Maria and I will play a game of Yahtzee, or sit around the campfire and listen to some tunes. 

Cabin life is good!  I burn wood in the wood stove, and wash my clothes with rainwater.  The fresh glacier air is crisp this time of year.  I love taking life a little more simply than I do when I’m in the city.  I guess that is what cabins are good for.      

Rainier Bear 2.0

In 2016 I was inspired by a news story to paint one of my most popular beer paintings, called Rainier Bear. In addition to selling the original oil painting, I had also released 52 limited-edition prints of the image. I sold the original, and all 52 prints. This is only the second time I’ve sold out of a limited-edition run! Now that all 52 are sold, I won’t sell that image as a signed print again (stickers are available though). So, I decided to paint a new version of this bear, because I just really like him, and Rainier beer is so iconic to me, since I was born in Washington. So, here you have it, Rainier Bear 2.0!

Cheers to these cute trouble-makers!

This original oil painting, and signed fine-art prints are available at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Rainier Bear 2.0, 14″x11″, oil on panel by Scott Clendaniel