Every year during the holidays I get a surge of requests for commissioned paintings by customers who are very thoughtful gift givers. Arguably, a custom oil painting is one of the most unique, personal, and thoughtful gifts one can receive. My favorite part about working with people on commissions is hearing the stories behind each painting concept. This year I didn’t get as many commissions as in previous years, because after the earthquake on November 30th people had other things on their minds like cleaning up trashed homes, broken glass, and fixing cracks. Earth picked a bad time to shake us all up, and I think many retailers and artists felt the economic impact of decreased sales during that time. Nevertheless, I completed seven paintings in time for Christmas, and they were all gratefully accepted by their recipients. Now that they are no longer surprises, I can show them to you. 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.
~ by Maria Benner
This is a big day for us here at Real Art Is Better, the day we published our first book — How to Draw Alaskan Baby Animals: 49 Drawing Lessons from the 49th State. The book features 49 drawing lessons, teaching any aspiring artist how to draw Alaska’s cutest baby animals. Each easy-to-follow, step-by-step illustration shows you how to turn lines and circles into detailed drawings with a pencil and pen. Anyone can learn to draw by practicing with a bit of direction! This book is a fun way to learn drawing skills, inspire creativity, and boost confidence for anyone who likes to draw and loves animals.
We’ve been working on this for about three years, which sounds like a long time, but when you think about the scope of the book, and the fact that we also run an art business full time, in addition to traveling occasionally, then three years doesn’t seem so long. Scott had to draw 49 different lessons, then I had to edit the book, which means that I drew every single baby animal, at a rate of one per day. Then summers would happen, travel, the holiday rush, and the list of excuses keeps going. But we finally made this project a high priority, and worked on it a bit each day, with the goal of releasing the book in time for the holidays! The book is available for sale on Amazon. I want to make one thing clear: this book is not just for kids, adults can learn how to draw cute Alaskan baby animals too!
As a small token of appreciation to our blog readers, here is a free page download. See if you can draw this adorable polar bear cub. And we’d love to see your drawings! Post them in the comments.
We’ve been taking a week-long break at our cabin in McCarthy, and this morning I rose before daylight at 7:30 AM here in the Wrangell Mountains. We have been doing some fat biking around the roads and trails that connect key places in the Kennicott Valley. On our ride from our cabin south of McCarthy to the town of Kennicott, the glaciers and mountains were spectacular, Mt. Blackburn looming in the evaporating clouds, and the Root and Gates glaciers glistening in the distance like diamond encrusted jewels. Our route took us past the new and ever popular The Potato Restaurant in McCarthy. It is slumbering like all the bears out here with a “Closed for the Season” sign and all the picnic tables put away for the winter. Meanwhile in the big city of (Los) Anchorage, a new hipster hangout has popped up like a mushroom in the sun after a fall rain shower. La Bodega teamed up with McCarthy’s Potato crew to make a pop-up restaurant called La Potato, located in Mr. Whitekey’s old haunt, the Fly By Night Club. If you are newer to town you might know this place as the Taproot, or the most recent, and briefest occupant, Route 33.
Pamela Hatzis, the proprietor of La Bodega, the cool liquor store where you can get boutique wines and by-the-bottle beers, wanted to have a place of her own where she could host tasting events. She has been doing a righteous job running the ever popular liquor store with two new locations springing up in the last four years, one in Girdwood and a second Anchorage location at the Northern Lights Center Mall. Rebecca Bard, one of the owners of the McCarthy and Valdez Potato restaurants has been wintering in Anchorage and working for Pamela at La Bodega for a while. She has endeavored to school the Bodega team on how to run a successful restaurant. The end result is a spectacular success with the pop up restaurant everyone is raging about, La Potato. Raging is the word. Maria and I attempted to go there on Saturday late afternoon, on the second day in business, and the parking lot was overflowing like Moose’s Tooth during a First Tap event. We came back when we thought it would be less busy Thursday last week. We easily found parking and came in to find a lovely draft menu, as well as great canned and bottled beer offerings. I am sure there was some good wine and saké offerings as well, I just neglected to search them out. I ordered some rosemary garlic fries and the duck egg kimchi plate, and I recommend both. Watch out though, the garlic fries are a litmus test for how much your date really likes you… Better if you both consume that much garlic in one sitting. I ordered My 85th Rodeo IPA from Woodland Empire Ale Craft in Idaho (pictured in this painting in front of the iconic Spenard sign that hangs next to the stage) and a Solid Gold from Founder’s Brewing Co. I exited right before a secret show began featuring The Lucky Chops, because I didn’t bring hearing protection, and I’m just too old to handle loud music at this point. The place went from being modestly busy to teeming with people for the music. It’s like Anchorage has been starved for a hangout that isn’t a bar and people are finally finding their fix. We have Koot’s and Van’s Dive Bar, and even the newly revamped Carousel Lounge, but La Potato is different because it is a restaurant first.
As I pack up my bags tonight and make the grueling drive back to the big city tomorrow, I am not sorry to leave, because the fun is in Spenard where the spirit of McCarthy is alive and well. I will pass the slumbering Roadside Potato as I drive out and will look forward to its glory in the summer months, but this winter is all about Ancho“RAGE,”!
Cheers to Pamela and Rebecca’s brainchild that is rocking the socks off the block in Spenard!
Only one original oil painting, and limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.
~ by Maria Benner
Today is the first day of snow! This is a very exciting day for most people, and this year it happened on a Monday, making the dreaded first day of the week a bit interesting. We all know the first day of snow is coming, but for some reason most of us choose not to do anything about it. But this morning we quickly realized that we’d have to add some extra chores to our list today if we want to continue with our regular daily tasks, like driving.
- Change tires on our vehicles to winter tires. Preferably studded ones, which have the best performance on ice versus the ones that claim to be studd-less winter tires. Some stores, like Costco, stopped carrying studded tires, because they cause so much road damage, but we found a place just a couple blocks from our studio that still sells them, and tomorrow we’re dropping off our truck so it can get brand new studded tires put on it.
- Switch to our fat bikes that also have studded tires. We ride bikes to the studio from our condo, because the studio is only 1 mile away, and we have to pay for parking. So today we had to air up the tires on those bad boys, and get them ridable again for the first time since last March.
- Put the big brushes that we use to clean the snow off our truck back into the truck. We took them out for the summer to have more space in the back seat.
- Pull out winter boots, and put away summer shoes. Same goes for winter jackets, hats, gloves, etc. Good luck finding all that stuff after several months.
- We live in a condo, so we don’t have to worry about snow removal, but most people had to clear their driveways on top of all the other snow-related chores.
We still have to wash our summer bikes to make the transition to winter complete. Right now we’re excited for winter, and all the activities we’ll get to do like ice skating, skiing, and fat biking. Ask me again in a few months how I feel about it.
In case you’re looking for some indoor activities now that it’s cold outside, this Friday we’re hosting a First Friday Open Studio event. Stop by and see the newest oil paintings for the first time, enjoy some complimentary refreshments (Scott always bakes fresh cookies), and meet the artist if you haven’t already. Click here to see the event on Facebook. If you’re not on FB, here are the deets: November 2nd, 5 – 7:30pm, Suite 4 inside the 4th Avenue Market Place on 333 W 4th Avenue.
Well, today is day 4 of my semi-Sober October. Normally I just roll through life drinking as much beer as I feel like without getting horrendously drunk. I find I am successful at not driving under the influence and also not making a fool of myself most of the time. My doctor said for my weight and stature I should not be consuming more that 14 regular, 5% ABV, 12oz beers per week, which is 2 per day. I think I average about 3 per day, just because most of the beer I drink comes in pints, or has a higher ABV and, well, I am Alaska’s Beer Artist. So I feel a cutback is necessary to allow my liver to regenerate, and I found from past experience that October is a good month for sobriety. Technically you can still experience Oktoberfest, since it starts at the end of September, and then there are no real beer holidays until Halloween which is on the 31, so by then you are ready to go. It really isn’t that hard this time around. I guess I’m not that addicted to alcohol. As I stated before, I am going semi-sober this October. The 14 beers are cut to 4. The intent is not to drink during weekdays, without binging on weekends. The end goal is to have superb health throughout my life and enjoy beer until I am ancient…right.
So this Thirsty Thursday beer painting brings an important lesson. Mario and Luigi toasting Oktoberfest beers. I call this painting Course Clear. My Mario performance has been enhanced without the beer. I am playing better, getting farther and beating more bosses when I drink sparkling water instead of IPA, my favorite beverage. Who would have guessed? Not surprisingly this makes gameplay more fun. So if you have to take a break, whether self-imposed as in my case, or for whatever reason, and you find yourself wondering what to do if you have to take an alcohol break, consider playing video games. I’m sure your gameplay will be enhanced.
So I propose a toast to Mario Brothers (yes, I am raising my cup of green tea)! The Japanese game about Italian plumbers eating magic mushrooms, and tasting pretty flowers. Cheers!
The original oil painting sold. Limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.
After college I spent a brief period in Portland, Oregon, where I began working as an artist full time. Every first Thursday of the month art galleries downtown and in the Pearl District would be open with new exhibits. My portfolio was not quite developed, and getting an art curator to take me seriously as an artist didn’t pan out. I wasn’t the only artist who wanted to participate in First Thursday, there were many talented people who wanted to show and sell their art, so the “outcasts” of the established gallery scene in Portland started their own event on Alberta Street on Last Thursdays. They displayed paintings, jewelry, sculptures and crafts on the sidewalks up and down the streets, and soon the event became quite popular. There were live musicians, food vendors, fire dancers, and overall great times! I joined in one time and paid for my space by trading one of my paintings to the business owner who let me display my art in front of his store. I didn’t sell any work that night, but I made connections and had a blast!
When I moved back to Anchorage in 2002, we didn’t have as vibrant of an art scene like the one in the City of Roses. There was no First or Last Thursday, and very few galleries. I don’t remember how, or when First Friday started in Anchorage, but I’m very glad that it happens now. This is the first week of October, which means that Friday is the day that all the galleries, and some coffee shops, tap rooms, and restaurants will be hosting art opening receptions. This is your chance to shop for the newest art, and to speak with artists directly about their inspiration.
I sometimes have art shows at various venues around town, and when I don’t have one booked, we open our painting studio to the public just for a few hours during the First Friday Art Walk. Normally, when we’re not hosting an event, our doors are closed, and we’re just working in there, but you can make an appointment to visit if you want to shop for art, or commission a painting.
This Friday we will be open to the public, and I invite you to stop by, especially if you’ve never seen where we work. We have an incredible view of the Inlet and the Port, and I’ll bake my famous chocolate chip cookies. This is a great opportunity to see a real painting studio, meet the artist, and see the newest paintings. We’ll be open from 5 to 7:30pm, and the studio is inside the 4th Avenue Market Place at 333 W 4th Avenue. We’re in Suite 4, just follow our Art Show signs.
There are three other First Friday events that I recommend you attend. The Anchorage Museum is free and often has live music, talks and special exhibits, and is open late on First Fridays. Williwaw Social is hosting their first First Firkin Friday event, and is celebrating the grand opening of the Midnight Sun Brewing Dining Hall. And lastly, check out the new tiny gallery called Blank Space where my friend Justin DeWolf is having his first art show.
Supporting local artists keeps our community vibrant and creative, and First Friday is a good way to see a lot of local art in one evening. Don’t spend your PFD in one place!
Well, we got back from our cabin in McCarthy yesterday, and we don’t have any trips planned for the foreseeable future, so it’s time to get back to regular life and knuckle down in the studio. Today I signed the contract for a big 1% for Art project at Gladys Wood Elementary in Anchorage, so now I can start working on the design. I gathered some good reference material in McCarthy, where Fall arrived a couple weeks earlier than here in Anchorage. We also picked about 13 pounds of lingonberries, and I’ll be making many jars of jam this week. I’m looking forward to being grounded here in Anchorage for the winter, and working in the studio. We’ll be hosting a First Friday in October for the first time since last April! I hope you’ll stop by. I’ll be baking my famous chocolate chip cookies for the event.
Here are photos from my proposal for the Gladys Wood Elementary 1% for Art project. The requested theme was Southcentral Alaskan natural scenery. The final paintings will be different, but this is the overall concept based on my existing oil paintings. I’ll be creating four large elliptical paintings for the walls, and six circular ones for the ceiling. They will be displayed in two different hallways. One hallway is themed Spring, and the other Fall. I have until October 2019 to complete this project. I’ll post updates on Facebook and Instagram along the way.