I have yet another pandemic art show in full swing! I’m the featured artist at the Loft at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for the month of January! Indoor seating capacity is limited to 25% until who-knows-when, so I’ve created a virtual art show for those of you who don’t feel comfortable going to the venue in person right now. If you’re interested in any of these pieces, give the Loft a call at (907) 344-6653. Even if you live outside of Anchorage, you can still nab a piece, and I will personally mail it to you within the U.S. at no charge. All of these are one-of-a-kind, original oil paintings. They are all framed in natural wood frames, except Winter and Autumn, which have dark brown frames. More paintings and prints are available at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.
During these crazy times we all need each other’s support. Everyone is saying we should support our local restaurants, small businesses, independent artists, but when times are this uncertain, saving money is also a good idea. Maybe you don’t need art, or certain services at the moment, but you may need them in the future, and that’s why we want our local businesses to get through this lean period. So, how can you support all your favorite businesses without going broke?
• Follow your favorite businesses and artists on social media, and sign up for their e-newsletters. Do you love a picture they posted? Then like it, share it, comment on it. The more engagement a post has, the more likely other people will see it, and then the small business won’t have to spend as much on advertising to be seen.
• When you need to buy something, don’t just automatically go online to look for it, take a few seconds, and try to think of a local place that may have what you need. They already spent the time and money to get products delivered to their store, so give them a call, or go to their website and see if they have what you’re looking for, or maybe they can order it for you. Amazon will definitely survive through this, but isn’t it nice to have local brick-and-mortar stores around, in case you need something immediately?
• Post pictures of the food you are about to enjoy, or your favorite piece of art by an artist you follow. Tell people why you love what they do.
• If you can’t afford to spend money at every business you want to support, then tell your friends in real life about why you love a certain shop, or restaurant, and maybe they will try it for the first time. Attracting new customers is much more difficult than keeping existing ones.
• If you hear of an opportunity for artists, don’t assume that all artists know about it, forward that e-mail, or text the info directly to the artist. I have had several friends text me about opportunities that they thought are a good fit for me. Most of the time I find out about them eventually, but it’s nice to know that I am top-of-mind for some people, and I also appreciate having the extra few days head start on the application process.
• If you have a blog, or are a freelance writer, feature a small business in your next blog post, or article.
• Write a review on Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc.
What other ways can you think of to support your favorite businesses?
People say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to have a thriving local economy. We can get through this if we are creative about how we do it. Lastly, I want to thank my patrons who have continued to purchase my art online and in person. You make my art career possible!
Today is already the middle October! I’m so sad that I haven’t been able to have open studio gatherings to see you all. We’re going to figure something out for the December party we normally have. Since, I think we can only have about 5-7 people in the studio safely at once, we may schedule visits if you want to come in to sample a little homemade brew and shop for holiday gifts. I will announce that possibility as we get a bit closer, and depending on the status of C-19 cases as winter weather sets in. We haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet, so I assume most of you aren’t in the right mindset for that as of yet.
What I do want to talk about right now is COMMISSIONED artwork. I have had a nearly perfect record with successful commissions. I just finished a piece for a local fire fighter who works just down the street from my studio. He wanted a painting to commemorate a trip with his girlfriend to Orca Island in Resurrection Bay. The painting was supposed to be a surprise, but he told his girlfriend about it when she was having a bad day, and she cried! The only problem with commissioning a painting for a holiday gift is I run out of time to get them all painted, so getting in early is better. In 2016 I completed 24 individual paintings that my patrons commissioned for holiday gifts. I felt like an elf that year, and my beard started to twinkle with a bit of varnish by December 15, the last day possible for paintings to dry in time for the 25th. I suggest you look through the pictures of your favorite trip this year, or last year (considering a lot of us have been hunkering down and not going anywhere since March). It always brings a smile to see people so excited to give the gift of a special painting! Cheers, and I look forward to seeing what you bring for me to paint!
Recently I started painting on canvas again. Last year I had to build a giant painting (12ft x 6ft) for a clinic in Bethel, and decided it would be best to paint it on canvas, roll it up, then fly there to rebuild and re-stretch it. I was pleased with the results. The end product was quite different from the hardwood plywood panels, but I found it to be easier to put certain details into the painting. The finishing work required to put a painting on the wall — framing or painting the sides, has always been a hurdle for me, and I remember one of my college professors praising my paintings, but criticizing my shoddy frames. I often see paintings framed poorly, and I have striven since those early college failures to produce professional looking pieces. I still have some of those old canvases rolled up, but fortunately I did away with the garish frames. In my defense, I was framing them on the catwalk balcony at my dorm room, because the sculpture professor wouldn’t let me make frames in the state-of-the-art sculpture lab.
A finished canvas without a frame needs to have a full wrap so the edges may be painted. I didn’t make canvases that way until I was taught how to do so in class. Frames need to have a lip that covers the front edge of the painting so you don’t have a distracting gap. Previously, I used to laminate a piece of hardwood to the edges of a painting and sand the edge back to make a finished looking box, which is impossible with canvas. That also takes a ton of work, since I am without a wood-shop, just like in the old dorm-room days. Operating a table saw and a chop saw outside in the snow and 10 degrees is not my idea of fun. Nobody ever told me being an artist was going to be easy. In fact, I was told a successful artist works harder than most people. I don’t know how hard I actually work, but I do seem to always be out of time. I don’t really like power sanding, so I ordered a case of professional grade canvases. I’ll give them a try and maybe I can just paint the edges and skip that snowy outdoor time with the annoying power-tools.
Painting on a canvas is completely different than the techniques I have been using on the hardwood panels. My gold and red underpainting doesn’t work the same, so I have gone back to a traditional painting technique I haven’t used in a decade. I was always about getting the colors to scream on the surface, but I am now more interested in getting a more accurate depiction. I am now making an underpainting that represents the grayscale values, and not the primary colors I always used previously, which makes me like using canvas way more. Canvas paintings reproduce better as canvas prints, since it is the same material used to begin with. The gold and red painting surface that I have been using, looks great as an original, but always misses a bit as a reproduction. I am switching over for completely practical reasons. It seems very few people purchase original paintings. I sell 20, or more prints and then maybe one original. Even though my originals are pretty affordable, and I price my prints a bit higher than average.
Painting on canvas takes more time as I am forced to work with layering techniques. The alla-prima technique looks lackluster without the red and gold underpainting. It is necessary to build up layers to completely cover the canvas and fill in the little white spots that form around painted objects. This takes more time and requires mixing mediums. I will probably have to charge more for originals, since it takes way longer to make canvas paintings. I originally started painting on the red and gold panels because it worked so well in a Plein Air (outdoors painting) environment. I could start and finish a painting before it started to rain, or the sun moved too far, changing the shadows. I was also making smaller pieces. Are the red and gold panels to be retired forever? Of course not! I will still make some pieces using my signature technique, but I also have bought two large canvases and want to see where these traditional materials lead me.
We recently returned from our cabin in McCarthy to the metropolis known as Anchorage. Maria and I both experienced small culture shock from the peaceful surroundings of our ten acres near Wrangell – St. Elias National Park compared to the industrialized buzz of the Anchorage city scene. At the end of a two week stay all the treats we stockpiled to bring to the cabin start to run out and pretty soon you are making a lentil casserole from leftover ingredients. At the cabin the birds were chirping and the loudest noise in the area was ourselves. In Anchorage, the place where supplies are plentiful, we ordered sushi the night we arrived to our condo. It was crazy to hear sirens, neighbors’ doors opening and closing, and the garbage truck.
We returned because I have an art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. starting this Friday, June 5th, and lasting for the whole month. I have been working hard to get a new group of paintings together for this show. The new pieces represent the four seasons of nature in Alaska’s Boreal forest, and I think they turned out pretty well. Alaska is still experiencing over a dozen new cases of the Covies each day, but the Governor said we can start socializing again, so the show will go on, but don’t forget your mask. I’ll tap the firkin at 5pm, and last call will be at 8pm.
Upon returning to Anchorage I was pretty stoked to go into MSBC and have a beer with my friends again. MSBC didn’t get to celebrate its 25th birthday on the 5th of May the way it normally does, so this week the brewery is having a small celebration by offering some serious barrel aged beauties on draft. Yesterday I stopped in and they had Arctic Devil barleywine, Sloth imperial stout, Bar Fly smoked imperial stout, the 25th anniversary barrel aged quad, and the Grand Crew Brew all on draft. The walls at the Loft were bare when I got back Sunday, so I hung some paintings Monday. I will hang the remaining 33 paintings tonight, and I will see if those barrel aged beers are still on draft.
Tomorrow is one of my favorite nights of the summer when I get to host the First Firkin Friday for June. If the barrel aged delights are no longer on the menu, never fear, because there will be a special cask of Sloth aged on blackberries! I will be bringing my craft fair table and will be selling art cards and stickers while sipping the tasty brews around my face mask. It has been since 2013 that I have been enjoying MSBC’s hospitality in June, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the beginning of summer than sharing a small glass of Sloth with you! So don’t go hiking at 5PM tomorrow, because you won’t get back in time, the brewery still closes at 8pm. This isn’t a problem in the winter, but during summer, sometimes you have to set an alarm to make sure it doesn’t get too late for fresh beer at the tasting rooms! I look forward to seeing all your sparkling eyes, if I miss being able to see your big smiles under your masks tomorrow! Cheers to summer!
If you have stopped by our studio in the last three months you saw the enormous oil painting filling my work space, or stashed in the hall in order to make room for people during open studio events. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation built a new clinic in Bethel, and released a call for art in early 2019. We applied for several wall spaces, and were awarded a contract to create a 12ft x 6ft oil painting on canvas for a large area high on the wall above a stairway. This is the largest canvas I have ever painted! Last week I delivered, assembled and helped install this piece at its location in Bethel.
So, how do you take such a large painting on a jet-plane? I designed the canvas from the start so that transporting it on an Alaska Airlines flight would be possible. However, we all know that while some things seem easy conceptually, they can gain complexity as they progress. The stretcher support was made up of 45 individual ash and birchwood pieces, and no piece was longer than 6ft, because I wanted them all to fit into a ski bag. The canvas was rolled up and the stretcher support dis-assembled for its journey. I waited until the day before departure to break it down, and pack it up.
I awoke at 3:30 AM to catch a 6AM flight to Bethel. I brought two checked ski bags, and a carry-on backpack. No extra luggage fees for me with Club 49 thanks to Alaska Airlines! I could have brought another checked bag, since it was an in-state flight! Alaska Air and TSA were gentle enough with my precious cargo, and everything arrived in good shape and on-time. I was picked up by the YKHC maintenance foreman, Pat, at the airport. He and his team have been installing all the newly-acquired art pieces at the clinic. I got to see some of the art while I was there, and I must say that the committee chose some incredible art! We drove to the maintenance building and picked up two more staffers to help lift the painting onto the wall. Re-assembly took me a couple of hours and I had a conference room to myself. The extra help was great, and I don’t think I could have stretched it back to its original tightness without the extra muscle.
The maintenance crew was clutch, as I had planned to hang this colossal piece the same way I hang smaller pieces — on a heavy-duty wire. There is only an inch of clearance on either side of this piece so getting it straight on the wall was the real problem. Pat suggested I use a French cleat, and I agreed that would be better, if only I had thought to bring one. Pat was a superhero and produced the hardware from his storeroom! This made hanging the piece much easier. Four guys and two ladders later the 90lb painting slid into place. This took us right up to lunchtime, and I was a little disappointed I had taken the early flight, as now I had 8 hours to kill until I could catch the return flight to Anchorage. Pat had to check on his dog, and I had packed a lunch, so I chilled out at the hospital for an hour and breathed a sigh of relief.
After lunch Pat took me on an amazing driving tour of Bethel and the Kuskokwim River. I got to go to the grocery store to replenish my snacks for the return trip to Anchorage. Pretty expensive to buy food and gas in Bethel. $4.49 a gallon for gasoline, and $8.49 a gallon for milk! The area is beautiful tundra with mountains glistening in the distance. I got so see a pretty nice chunk of the town, which is much larger than I had expected — about 10,000 residents. The area around Bethel is very interesting, but the people are where the real beauty exists, everyone is so friendly and helpful. Bethel is a hub, but it felt like a really welcoming village.
I was dropped off at the airport with my drop cloths in my ski-bag, and I was feeling really fatigued by this time. I hunkered down at the airport and worked on my beer coloring book pages for a couple of hours before catching my flight home at 10PM. I met a fellow who was so happy to pick up his crate from Alaska Airlines. He said he had snow-machined for two hours from his camp to pick it up! This was right at twilight, so it was going to be a dark return trip for him. Adventurous people live in the Delta and I was happy to get a glimpse of this culture. Thank you YKHC for this superb opportunity! Maybe next time I can come in the summer and do a little fishing.
Here is a slideshow of some pictures I took during this whole process. Below you’ll also find three timelapse videos of my painting, and the last one is of us taking apart the painting and rolling up the canvas.
Since I don’t have gallery representation, I don’t get to show people my art in person as much as I would like. Throughout the year, people can see my art by making an appointment to visit my studio, or attending an open-studio event and art shows at local venues. Sure, I post photos of my paintings online all the time, but that doesn’t do justice to the colors and texture. Seeing art in “real life” is a completely different experience. That’s why I’m so glad to be participating in, and hosting several events this month where you can see my work. I’m looking forward to seeing you at any, or all of these (if you’re on Facebook, you can see the Facebook events by clicking on the images).
1. Winter Market at Anchorage Brewing Co. November 30th and December 21st, 2-8pm. Great beer, and pizza baked in a wood-fired oven!
2. The Holiday Studio Sale at the Real Art Is Better studio! We clean up our studio, and turn it into a pop-up gallery for First Fridays a few times a year, but this one is not to be missed, because it’s more like our holiday party. December 6th, 5-8pm. 333 W 4th Ave, Suite 4.
3. I will be the featured artist at Turnagain Brewing Company in December, so you can see my art there all month long. I’ll have a meet and greet event there on Saturday, December 7th, 5-7pm. My art will be available for sale directly from the brewery.
4. I will be joining many talented local artists and crafters at the annual Makers Market at the Atwood Center. December 14 & 15, 11am – 4pm. That will be a great place to do all your holiday shopping!
The holidays are always a busy time of year, but I’m grateful for each and every one of you who has supported my art career!
Tomorrow is the May First Friday Art Walk, and normally we would have converted our studio into a pop-up gallery for the evening, and opened it to the public, but this month I’m working on a huge 1% for Art project for Gladys Wood Elementary that is taking up most of the space in the studio, so open studio events have to be postponed. This is our second 1% for Art project. The first one was in 2017 at Ryan Middle School in Fairbanks. Right about this time last year I was awarded the Gladys Wood Elementary project, and now I am finally putting oil paint on panels.
Signing the contract and receiving the first payment installment took about a month. In the meantime I started working on design concepts for four large ellipse paintings for walls in two different hallways, themed Spring and Fall, and six circles for the ceilings in those hallways. The committee of ten people approved the designs immediately, which was so much faster and easier than I expected. Then we left the country for a month, but when we returned we started looking for contractors to help us install the panels securely, especially since six of them are going to be on the ceiling. I decided to hire the same crew that remodeled the school, since they know the admin staff, and everything about those walls they built. Luckily Cornerstone General Contractors agreed to work with me, even-though this project is small potatoes for them. About a week after my conversation with the contractor, that 7.1 earthquake hit, and I didn’t hear back from those guys for about two months, which was totally understandable. I didn’t really mind, because the holiday season was in full swing, and we were busy mailing orders, and selling art at craft fairs around town. So finally, in January, I ordered all the panels from Hardware Specialties, a great wood store, and arranged with the property manager of the building where we lease our studio to get some extra working space. Luckily, there’s a huge room downstairs that is vacant at the moment, with a garage door for easy unloading from the truck! So we unloaded all the wood panels, and then Maria and I went to the school and made templates out of paper and tape of the four ellipses, so I could trace the templates onto the panels. That took us two evenings.
The next step was to trace and cut the panels, which I accomplished with a skilsaw and my trusty sander. I finished that step right before we left on a two-week ski trip to Idaho and Utah.
So now the contractors finally came into the picture. We hired two strong guys to help us pre-install the panels. I really wanted to make sure they would fit, before I started painting, and also, to figure out where all the screw holes would be, so I could try to camouflage them in the design. The pre-install took two evenings. Those guys were great to work with!
Next, I sanded the surface of the panels to remove any wood texture, and coated them with two coats of white primer. Then we coated them with gold paint. The gold shines through small gaps in the oil paint, making my paintings glow when light hits them at certain angles. Before I could start painting the design with oils, I had to figure out where I could work on such large pieces. One option was to lay them out on the floor, but I’ve worked on the floor before, and it’s painful after many hours of crouching. So I modified my existing easel with 1x3s so it would hold an entire ellipse at once. The whole set up barely fits in my studio!
At this point I have finished one ellipse for the Spring hallway, and am now working on the second one. Progress is steady, and I’m expecting to finish on time and on budget. The deadline is October 2019.
~ by Maria Benner
I try to find places to hang out before they get discovered by everyone else, and become too crowded for my comfort. Mostly because I dislike waiting in line (like a typical Alaskan), and prefer less noisy environments where I can easily communicate with my friends. The Zip Kombucha tap room is one of those places that is still mostly under the radar. I shouldn’t even tell you about it, but at the same time, I want it to prosper.
I prefer brewery taprooms over bars, because they offer a comfortable setting without the meat-market/sketchy vibe that most bars have. This taproom is unique in that it offers draft beer in a brewery-taproom setting, but can stay open past 8pm. It can also have live music and games. The craft beer selection is really top-notch. Last week it was the only place in Anchorage that had No Woman No Cryo IPA by Girdwood Brewing on tap. The price is a very reasonable $5 per pint! For those who don’t want to drink alcohol, or are gluten-free, kombucha is on tap in several delightful flavors like blueberry, ginger, or mint. Wine is also on the menu. Delicious and healthy food is available as well. Recently, Glacier Bowl teamed up with Zip to offer poke bowls. Several nights a week there is live entertainment including open-mic night, and music by local musicians. The large space in the brewery even has enough room for dance lessons. The taproom also exhibits art by local artists. In April the featured artist is Scott. His oil paintings and limited-edition prints are on display and available for sale through Zip until May 2nd. This place has it all!
What is kombucha? It’s a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria. It tastes sweet and sour at the same time, but the flavors are not overwhelming. The yeast eats most of the sugar, so this beverage won’t rot your teeth, and it’s loaded with probiotics. Added flavors like ginger, berries and mint really shine in this clear and fizzy drink.
So next time you’re looking for a quiet, yet hip space to meet your friends where you can get food, craft beer, and non-alcoholic, gluten-free beverages, along with entertainment, and art, check out the Zip Kombucha taproom at 3404 Arctic Blvd. The location in midtown is convenient, with plenty of parking. Open every day 4-9pm.
February 15th 1935, 24 years before Alaska was even a state, Anchorage local Vern Johnson started the first ever Anchorage Fur Rendezvous! Miners and trappers were already in town awakening from the hibernation months of December and January with the hopes of restocking supplies and selling some of their recent harvest. Only three days long, the original Fur Rondy hosted hockey, basketball, skiing, boxing and children’s sled dog races, and not much else.
The event has grown over the last 84 years and people have come to expect a grand time during this traditional Alaskan celebration. I remember Rondys of the past — the festival used to last three whole weeks and we got a day off from school just to enjoy the festivities. My mom would bundle us all up in our snow gear and we would trudge off to downtown Anchorage to ride the Ferris wheel, eat elephant ears, and watch super cool events. I remember the party kicking off with the amazing fireworks extravaganza! Some of my favorite classic events as a kid were the Grand Prix Auto Race, World Championship Sled Dog Races, the blanket toss, snowshoe softball, the amazing Rondy Grand Parade, and one not to be missed — the snow sculptures.
The festival was shortened from three weeks to ten days in 2008 due to budget constraints. We don’t have the Grand Prix anymore, but we still race sled dogs down 4th Avenue and slam beers at every base during snowshoe softball. Another popular event is the Miners and Trappers Ball, with a beard contest and many costumes made from blue tarps, duct tape and Carhartts. The outhouse races are always a highlight, and of course the new favorite is the Running of the Reindeer. A bunch of Rondy participants dress in costumes and brave running with a pack of horned reindeer. I always wonder if the reindeer are infuriated by the hotdog stands lining the street, selling famous reindeer dogs. Another new tradition is Anchorage Brewing Company’s Rondy Brew. This year it is a delicious NEIPA brewed with 100% Strata hops, which taste like passion fruit!
Real Art is Better is strategically located in the 4th Avenue Marketplace, across the street from Rondy Headquarters, in the NW corner of the building. We clean it up and convert it to a small retail space for the weekend. There is also a craft fair inside the building. I invite you to stop in and check out my newest work and take in the view of the Rondy Carnival from our amazing Inlet view window. We’ll be open Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 6pm. I have several new art cards never before released, and many new paintings. I bake cookies for the event and there are great snacks to be found at the craft fair. The studio is a great place to warm up after watching the mushers, or making the trek down the hill to 2nd Avenue to see the snow sculptures. The blanket toss and fur auction are right across the street in the 3rd Avenue parking lot.
If you are getting fed up with Alaska style cabin fever, Rondy is the remedy. This is the biggest social event of the winter! Celebrate the end of hibernation season and get ready to PARTY! Dust off those styling furs and show off Anchorage style!