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.
Each holiday season I receive many requests for commissions that need to be done and delivered in time for Christmas. One of my favorite parts about working on these custom pieces is hearing people’s stories behind the painting concepts. Usually they send me a photo of a special beer they enjoyed with a best friend, or loved one, along with another photo of a place that is significant to both people, and then I combine the photos into one composition. Each detail has a meaning, and I am always glad to be part of creating a one-of-a-kind piece for a person who is caring enough to order a custom painting for a friend, spouse, or significant other. So, each year I publish a blog post to show you all the commissioned paintings I completed during the holiday season. Signed prints are available of Bourbon Paradise, and A Deal with the Devil paintings at my Etsy shop.
Can you think of anything unique, and significant to you that you’d like 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!
When I tell people I’m the Beer Artist, they immediately think I make beer labels. I have to explain that I am an oil painter and I make paintings of beers. I have only made three official beer labels during my career so far, and two have been for special one-off beers for Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Former MSBC Chef, Chris Hilliard, and I brewed a Dopplebock called Feast with the brewing team. It was barrel aged in whiskey barrels. I made a special painting for the label with Alaskan animals drinking and feasting. When I heard MSBC’s General Manager Gary Busse, a.k.a. “The Adult,” was retiring, I asked if he had plans for a special retirement beer. He said, “Yes, a dunkelweizen.” I was excited about it, and said, “I have to do a special label for that!”
What most people don’t know is that Gary has been instrumental to my beer artist career. In 2006 I made a series of paintings called the Color of Beer, which was the first time I ever painted beer. The show was a huge success, not because I sold any work at the actual art show at Noble’s Diner, but because when I drove the paintings around town after the art show, I sold them at local breweries and at the home-brew shop. During a stop at the original MSBC location on Arctic Blvd I sold 3 of the 10 paintings! Two to Gary and another one to a customer who just happened to be getting a growler filled. It was because of this type of success that I made my second beer art series, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. It took me years to complete the small paintings and then I had no idea where to show the large body of work. I had grandiose plans to house the show in the Lower 48 (what Alaskan’s call the Continental US), and I had a long back and forth email conversation with Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. When that failed, I imagined Deschutes Brewing being the location for the show. Bend is where beer is more plentiful than water. When I visited the brewery, I couldn’t figure out where I would hang the pieces. Two years passed while I was searching for a location and I was chatting with Gary at the new MSBC Loft and asked what they had in mind for art. Gary explained that Barb Miller was going to do a rotating show every month and have a First Friday event called First Firkin Friday.
A firkin is a 10 gallon keg that is cask conditioned, i.e. fermented just enough in the keg to cause carbonation naturally. MSBC uses a pin for First Firkin Friday , which is a 5 gallon version of the firkin. Gary told me he would put a good word in for me with Barb, but that it was a long shot, because she had a specific vision. Barb and I hit it off, and she made me wait until January to have the show, because it was the first ever AK Beer Week! The show was a huge success, and I owe it to Gary and Barb! The following year Gary purchased a large beer painting I made for the next show at MSBC called Another Round, which consisted entirely of MSBC beer paintings. I continue to make beer paintings today, and completed my most famous series called the Year of Beer three years after the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. I showed this series at MSBC as well.
Gary is the General Manager at MSBC. His nickname at the brewery is “The Adult.” He is the one who has kept MSBC profitable and in business. After art shows at MSBC Gary is the guy who writes and signs my checks. He has worked there for nearly 20 years! When I asked him what to do for his retirement beer label, he said it had to be a portrait of him with a bunch of kids running loose in the tasting room. He said the beer would be called “The Adult,” and that it was going to be a dunkelweizen, his favorite style. I am not a portrait artist and I have had some mixed reactions to my portraits over the years, and I mentioned this at our art meeting. I gave it my best shot and Gary was slightly disappointed with my first attempt at his portrait. He said the likeness maked him look like Butt-head, from Beavis and Butt-head. I gave it another try, working from a new picture that Gary send me of himself, and I finally got it right on the third try. The other characters on the label represent employees at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. It’s pretty easy to identify Davey with his mohawk and Barb struggling over toys with Mark. I imagined the girl in pink to represent some of the servers, and the others as brewers and workers over the ages. I know I missed many important MSBC people, but they are represented whether the likenesses are to be found or not. Leave it to “The Adult” to keep them in line.
What will MSBC do without this parental figure to check everyone and keep the brewery in the black? Luckily, Gary passed most of his knowledge to Jamie Schmitt, who has big shoes to fill. I am sure there will be many memories yet to be made at this iconic brewery in Anchorage, Alaska. With so many great beers and such a high quality bistro, MSBC has found its recipe for success! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next! I love going to MSBC and love adorning the walls with my paintings every June and January! Cheers to Gary!
Our studio is inside the 4th Avenue Market Place, which is right on 4th Avenue, about a block from the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. So, since 2016 we’ve been transforming the studio from work mode to pop-up gallery mode, and opening it to the public when everyone is on 4th Avenue to watch the race. Each year I paint a new dog-mushing oil painting, and it usually sells on the day of the race. A lot of people who come through the studio that day are tourists who came to Alaska just to see the Iditarod. This year I painted this piece of Martin Buser, and then featured it in an e-news to my subscribers, and it sold before the open studio event!
So Maria took a photo of the painting, and printed prints of it to sell during the Iditarod start at our studio. But she also displayed the original, with a “Sold” sticker on it, and she had the brilliant idea to write on the sticker that I accept commissions, and could paint a custom Iditarod painting similar to this one with “your favorite musher.” Well, several people took her up on that offer, and suddenly, I found myself painting dog teams for the next three weeks! We were supposed to go to Washington, Hawaii, and Australia, but those trips were cancelled due to COVID-19 hysteria, so I ended up having plenty of time to work on these paintings. I just finished them last week. Who’s your favorite musher?
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.
Each year several thoughtful gift-givers commission me to paint custom oil paintings for holiday gifts, and so far I’ve always finished them all on schedule to be delivered several days before December 25th. This year most of the paintings were dog portraits, and sadly two of those were of loved pups that had recently gone to doggy heaven. No one ordered a cat painting. Hmmmm. One person really liked one of my existing float plane paintings, but wanted a smaller version, so I painted one for him. I’m always impressed with the concepts that my patrons develop for these pieces, and my favorite part is finding out the stories behind each one. I hope all the recipients liked their gifts. I did receive a couple photos of smiling people holding their custom Clendaniel originals.
Click on each one to see it in more detail. All paintings are framed in a natural wood frame, with hanging hardware installed. The turnaround time is 2-3 weeks. You can order a custom oil painting at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter, or by contacting me at info [at] realartisbetter [dot] com.
There were many days this summer when Maria would go hiking, or biking with friends, and I would spend the day at the studio, weekends included, working on the big 1% for Art project for Gladys Wood Elementary. We installed the paintings this week, and yesterday I touched up all the spots where screws were visible, and mounted the plaques, so the project is officially done! The whole process took over a year, but a lot of that time was spent waiting for paperwork to get processed, designs to be approved, contractors to be available after the earthquake, etc. The actual work took about 7 months, but I did spend a few weeks at the cabin in McCarthy, and went on a ski trip in March. I also managed to have an art show at Midnight Sun Brewing, and complete all the commissioned paintings that were ordered during that time. Now that the big project is over, I need to regroup and set a course for the next few months. The first thing I did was clean my studio, now that the panels weren’t completely overtaking it. That really set my mind at ease. So, what’s next?
Well, first we’re flying to Arizona, and meeting a couple of Maria’s relatives from Germany, and going to Las Vegas with them, and then Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks! When I get back, I’ll start working on my next public art project (Maria is really good at keeping me busy), which is a 12ft x 6ft oil painting on canvas for the new clinic in Bethel. I will also continue working on my beer-themed coloring book. So far I’ve completed 26 pages, and my goal is 50.
I will also start getting ready for my next art shows at Enlighten Alaska in November, and Midnight Sun Brewing in January, and the Makers Market in December. We can start having First Fridays at our studio again, and the next one will be in December, which will be the Real Art Is Better holiday party. Other than that, I’m available for commissions, graphic design, and sticker orders. Life is pretty much back to normal, maybe I’ll even go mountain biking tomorrow with Maria!
~ by Maria Benner
The name of our business is Real Art Is Better, and people often ask, “What is real art?” Although there is no widely-accepted definition, generally people know it when they see it. Right after buying one of Scott’s original oil paintings, customers often exclaim, “This is my first piece of real art!” But simply put, when speaking about wall art, real art is original paintings that an artist actually created by hand. They can be oil, acrylic, pastel, water colors, etc. The reason I’m writing this post, is because I’ve noticed that often people have a difficult time differentiating between real works, and reproductions. And that’s largely due to the way art reproductions are often presented by artists and galleries to look like “real art”.
Reproductions of art come in many forms, and often they are hung on walls of galleries without a proper explanation, masquerading as real art, when in fact, the piece is a reproduction. So, pay close attention if you’re about to buy a piece, to be sure that you’re getting an original, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing wrong with buying, or selling reproductions, just as long as the customer is aware that he/she is not getting the real thing. The best way to tell the difference is by reading the details on the price tag.
Giclée – a high quality reproduction using an inkjet printer. These are often printed on canvas, and look almost like the real thing. Pay attention to the price tag, it should tell you whether the piece is a giclée, often also referred to as a “print on canvas”. Often they are framed to make them look even more like originals.
Prints – these reproductions are easier to recognize, because they are printed on paper most of the time, but can also be printed on canvas, metal, wood, you name it. Sometimes these are framed as well. The price tag should say “print”. Some prints are limited-edition, which means there’s a number under the image like 112/500. This means that only 500 copies will be produced, and you’re looking at copy #112. Sometimes prints are signed by the artist. The smaller the number of total prints produced, the more valuable the print.
So, next time you’re perusing art at a gallery, pay close attention to the price tags to see how art is labeled. If the tag says “oil on panel” or “acrylic on canvas” then you know you’re buying real art. Sometimes artists will paint a few strokes onto a canvas print, which is a nice touch, and makes the painting look more like an original. In this case, the tag should say “painted giclée”, or “painted canvas print”, or something similar.
Scott sells original oil paintings and limited-edition, signed prints. You can differentiate easily between his prints and originals. At an art show, or at the studio, the art hanging on the walls is real. Each piece is an oil painting on panel, framed in a natural wood frame. There is only one in all of existence, and the value of it will increase over time. Limited-edition, signed prints are in the black print bins. They are printed on paper with archival ink by an inkjet printer in our studio, signed by Scott, and numbered. Prints can also increase in value, but not as much as originals. We chose to make prints, because we realized that some people don’t have a budget for originals, but still love the images, and we want them to be able to enjoy them.
To see the latest Clendaniel originals and prints, I invite you to attend Scott’s art opening on June 7th at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage. He will kick off the art show at 5pm by tapping a firkin of Sloth Belgian-style stout barrel aged in bourbon barrels and cask-conditioned with tart cherries soaked in Cabernet! Scott’s paintings and prints will be on display at the brewery and available for sale until July 4th. If you’re on Facebook, here’s a link to the FB event.