Yesterday was a great day to go to the south-side of town to grab a beer at Midnight Sun Brewing and Turnagain Brewing. My art show is up at MSBC for the month of January, and yesterday the brewery busted out dusty bottles of Sloth Belgian-style Imperial Stout from 2017! For those in the know, Sloth is one of the best beers MSBC has ever made. A Russian imperial stout that was originally brewed as part of the Seven Deadly Sins series in 2007. The brewery hasn’t brewed it since 2017! Sloth has a rating of 95 on Beer Advocate and is rated as the 90th best Russian Imperial Stout in the United States! It is big, bold, dark, black, and has a nice Belgian yeast note to it. If there is any left on draft today, I would get on down there and get a glass. If not, you can always find something noteworthy from the big offerings from MSBC. I made this painting of Sloth in 2016 and it immediately sold. Limited edition prints are available at my Etsy shop. If you prefer an original oil painting, rather than a print, I can paint a custom one for you.
Meanwhile, right down the street, an amazing sour beer called Solera Eclipse was released today at Turnagain Brewing! Since Maria and I are in the Mug Club at Turnagain, we had the opportunity to stop by to get first dibs on this amazing beer yesterday. It is a pineapple and blueberry sour that originally was brewed in summer 2021 and was released in early November 2021. Every year there is a contest called the Turnagain Tartside Challenge, and Anchorage home-brewers come by Turnagain Brewing to get a gallon of mostly fermented sour wort from the Solera. The idea is to flavor, finish, and package the wort to make a delicious beer. In 2021 I was the winner of this contest with the concept behind Solera Eclipse. Ted Rosenzweig (owner and brewer at Turnagain Brewing) and I conferred, and I designed a label, and Ted packaged the beer for individual bottle sales. It has to be one of the tastiest sour beers I have ever had, and today it is released again. At $7 for a 12oz pour or $7 for 12oz bottles to go, it is a good deal. My original recipe called for a whole pineapple and 1lb of blueberries per gallon! Little to say, the fruit in this beer is very expensive, and I am unsure how much profit can be made when using so much fruit here in Alaska! I have included a picture of Ted stealing a sample from the barrel on Halloween in 2021. I wanted to show off my original label and bottle design, because the packaging is different this year. The pineapple brings the flavor, and the blueberries bring some aroma, and a great color!
Anchorage is a great beer drinking town and I hope you brave the cold to get out to one of our lovely brewery destinations to revere our beer! Cheers to beers brewed in the North!
It’s that time of year when I show you all the paintings my customers commissioned during the holiday season. This is definitely the busiest time for me in the studio, as people tend to order more custom paintings in time for Christmas, but each year I manage to complete every single one on time! That’s not an easy feat, considering that oil paint takes longer to dry than acrylic. Thank you to all who commissioned paintings this year, and in the past! It’s always great to work with you on these projects, as you share your personal stories with the artist, and trust me to capture those special moments in timeless paintings. So, without further ado, here are the 11 commissions I painted in the last couple months. I provided links in the captions for the ones that are available as prints at our Etsy shop.
December is here, and it is now officially crunch time to get your holiday shopping completed. As an artist, I have mixed feelings about the holiday season. On one side I make more money at this time of year than any other time. On the other side, I have to work almost every weekend at in-person vending events, such as pop-ups. We sell art primarily through these channels: in person at pop-ups/craft fairs, at galleries, art shows at venues around town, and online.
Vending in person at pop-ups and craft fairs is an interesting opportunity for both the buyer and artist. I get to meet my clients, and can help them find the art they are looking for, or let them know about art pieces I may not have brought with me, but are available on my Etsy shop. In which case, they can pick up the artwork when it is ready a few days later at the studio (if you are lucky, you might get invited in for a home-brew ;). It is a lot of work setting up and taking down the booth, and has to be calculated in to our work day. Most of the time, there is no fee for us to sell at pop-up events, except credit card processing fees, and the cost of a couple beers, if the event is at a brewery. Sometimes breweries waive my tab, which always makes me very happy! Craft fairs charge a few hundred dollars for a booth. By the way, I’ll be selling my art at a pop-up at Anchorage Brewing Co. along with several other local makers on Saturday, December 3, starting at 2pm.
Galleries are a way to work with sales people and meet a larger audience. However, galleries take 40% – 50% commission, which makes sense, since they have brick-and-mortar overhead. After dropping off art to a gallery, the artist doesn’t have to do any work except keep track of what the gallery has and what they will need when something sells. Unfortunately, the gallery only has a certain amount of space, so artists are limited to sell only what the gallery is willing to put on its walls. Galleries have sales people that work to sell the art. This is a major benefit, especially since artists are not always good at selling their own art. I’m very happy to have my art at Dos Manos Gallery!
Art shows at venues like breweries, restaurants, and coffee shops are another way for an artist to reach an audience. This is a bit more than a pop-up, but less than complete gallery representation. It is super fun as an artist to have a reception at your art show. Everyone is there to see the artwork, and that is really rewarding. The artist often has to handle all the sales, if the venue doesn’t want to process art sales, which is a hurdle for the buyer, and leads to fewer sales. Art shows last about a month, so you are committed to that venue for a longer bit of time than a pop-up. Most art show venues don’t care if they sell anything, or not, so you often don’t get a sales person, like yourself at a pop-up, or an employee of a gallery. Sometimes nothing sells at all at an art show venue. Most of the time people go to the venue for the real reason it exists: food at a restaurant, or a haircut at a stylist, or beer at a brewery. Or they go to see your artwork. Most likely, if they are already on an artist’s mailing list, they already have artwork from the artist and may be there to support the artist personally and not to purchase art. My next art show will be at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in January.
Online selling is a good way to sell art. It is also very challenging, but if done correctly, can be quite profitable. You can sell direct from your website, this requires expensive web hosting, and secure checkout. SEO is a problem with that. There are a few other online venues: Etsy is one of the best, but there is also Fine Art America, iCanvas, Redbubble, and Deviantart. The listings are time consuming and require a keen eye for detail. Art purchasers don’t like to see typos in a listing — it makes them feel that the artist is careless. There is often a lot of communication before a sale is made, and if it isn’t handled correctly, the sale is lost. It is tedious to manage an online site for art sales. Some of these websites require the artist to make and mail all the art, like Etsy. Other sites, like RedBubble, or Fine Art America print all the merchandise, and mail it. But these sites take a much bigger cut for those services. Buying art online is really easy, you can do it from your phone, however, it is hard to tell what you will receive. This is fine when ordering a t-shirt from Redbubble, but a bit disconcerting to the purchaser when buying expensive originals, or fragile pieces. We just sold an original painting to a client in France, and I was really proud of the Real Art Is Better team, that my artwork was being shipped all the way to the cultural center of Europe. We’re offering a 20% discount, and free domestic shipping right now at our Etsy shop for a limited time.
We use all of these methods to sell art. And I find pop-ups to be the most work, but also the most profitable, especially when I am at a brewery. Not so much when I am vending at a craft fair, because there’s more competition from other vendors, and beer art is not everyone’s cup of tea. Galleries are good because they get the word out to art collectors, and help with establishing your brand, and the gallery does all the work. Art shows are fun, especially at the reception when the artist is honored, but most often you only sell a small percentage of what has been hung, and it is a lot of work moving artwork around and taking it back down. Online is a lot of setup and a ton of work when it comes to packing and mailing, or requires faith in the offsite production of reproduced items. We find that all these methods are working to keep our business running. All have their pros and cons. It’s a matter of getting it all out there, whatever the method.
My Aunt Barbara took a photo of a raven sitting on top of the Tok Thai Food establishment on her drive back from a visit to McCarthy, and I got her permission to make a painting based on her photo. According to a review on Yelp, Tok Thai Food has the best Panang Curry in Alaska. I’m going to get some on my way back from McCarthy next time. This roadside restaurant is an enigma, and I don’t know much about it. All I could find online were the menu and a bunch of positive reviews. The official website’s title page calls it Tok Tdai Food. I have always had a good meal there, but is it really “t’die” for? So, why is Tok Thai Food in Glennallen, and not in Tok? The questions keep on rolling. Why is the best food in Glennallen, Thai food? Why is the best Thai food in Alaska located in Glennallen? Who owns this place? Who is making this delicious food?
What I do know is that I love stopping at this crossroad on my way back from McCarthy, and taking a minute, or 20 to get out of the truck, get some gas, and have fresh food. Making a stir fry from old cabbage, a spotty squash, and some canned chicken at the cabin in McCarthy may fill my belly, but it is far from what you get at Tok Thai Food. I think it’s the location that makes it so special. Strategically located at the T, where the Glenn Highway meets the Richardson. If you are going to Chitina to dipnet, or want to go to Valdez, you drive right past it. If you want to go to Tok, Whitehorse, Haines or Seattle, you will also drive right past it. It is four hours from Anchorage, and four hours from the Canadian border, perfectly located for lunch.
I painted this iconic sign because it represents returning to civilization. After a month in the Wrangell Mountains, a hot meal is welcome. The Radio Shack sign in Glennallen advertising hot pizza is alluring, but they don’t actually have hot pizza, or at least not when I have been there. The Freeze has long since closed its doors. The IGA may have some sandwiches and deli snacks, but it is far from excellent. The raven in this painting symbolizes wilderness to me, and the bright yellow manufactured plastic sign, humanity. After washing hands in the gas station, and getting a crispy fried egg-roll, it feels good to know, that yes, they do sell auto parts within the Glennallen city limits. This painting is about the balance of going to the wilderness to reduce stress by leaving the trappings of the city behind, while in the wilderness there is a different kind of stress of knowing you only have what you brought with you. It is good to change it up, find the ataraxia (Greek for balance), remind yourself what is important in your life, and you will find your inner peace.
The original oil painting on canvas will be on display, and available for sale at my art show at Dos Manos Gallery in June and July. The art opening reception will take place on First Friday, June 3, 5-8pm. I will also have some prints available.
Montucky Cold Snacks is a light and refreshing beer, just like a good “adventure” beer should be. For this painting I imagined three white horses prancing around a Montana ranch, while a cool farm hand stands watching by the property’s fence, sipping on a Cold Snacks at the end of a long day of ranchin’. It is this type of dream of Montana that inspired this beer to be made, and inspired me to paint this composition.
I love a good, cold, American-style lager. It is the perfect beer for after a long, hard, sweat-filled workday, or a grueling play day. I would drink it on a box, I would drink it with a fox. I would drink it here, I would drink it there! Basically, I could drink Montucky Cold Snacks anywhere! The cool thing about this beer, is the brewery donates 8% of its profits back to local causes. Remember, the first two are for hydration.
The original oil painting, and signed prints are available at my Etsy shop.
This is the second installment of a blog post series about plein air painting during our ski trip with the Mountain Collective pass. The next resort I painted at after Taos Ski Valley was Arapahoe Basin.
The drive from Taos to Silverthorne, Colorado was about 4.5 hours. Not long after driving north, we hit the Colorado border. We stopped for a selfie with the “Welcome to Colorado” sign, and Maria made some coffee by plugging in the Balbali water bottle to the outlet in the back of the 4Runner. We love National Parks, so we decided to stop at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which was only about a 30-minute detour. We asked the park ranger what we should do during our relatively short visit, and he suggested hiking on the sand dune. So, naturally we hiked to the top of the tallest sand dune in North America, which was pretty fun, although our shoes got filled with sand multiple times. Our only regret is not renting sand surf boards. Overall, a great NP adventure!
Our destination was farther than we expected, and we ended up driving over a classic Colorado mountain pass in the dark, but we arrived safely in Silverthorne, and checked into the Luxury Inn and Suites.
In the morning we drove higher into the mountains, got our lift tickets, and hit the lifts. Driving to Arapahoe Basin, and parking was super simple. The parking lot is right at the base of the mountain, no need to take a shuttle. Lift lines were very manageable. A-Basin is a non-profit ski area, which reminded us of our beloved Arctic Valley Ski Area in Anchorage. Unfortunately, conditions were not very good — windy and icy. We went all the way to the top, which is close to 13,000 ft, and definitely started to feel the lack of oxygen at that altitude. The sun was out and the views were tremendous! We skied all over the mountain before stopping for lunch at Black Mountain Lodge. We shared a killer burger with waffle fries!
Then I decided to paint on the deck of the lodge right after lunch, while Maria made another run. I wrapped up the painting, and Maria showed me some fun runs she found, and we skied until closing, mostly around the double chair. Michael Kirkpatrick, our favorite folk singer, was also skiing in the area, and drove from Winter Park to meet us for après ski at the bar, which had a band playing! We had a couple drinks, and went out to our rigs to check out each other’s skiing equipment. Michael wants to buy some new gear, but his classic stuff seems to be in proper condition, and he said he had some good turns on the mountain after major knee surgery. I showed off my AT gear, which I should probably have left in Alaska, but I love my Black Diamond skis so much, I couldn’t go back to my old stuff. Maria drove back to Silverthorne in a snowstorm, and we got back with no delays. The storm was intense, but luckily, we didn’t have to drive anywhere for dinner, because Baker’s Brewery was right next to our hotel. Poor Michael had to drive back to Fort Collins, and got caught in traffic on I-70, and didn’t get home until almost midnight! It snowed about two inches, but the winds were high, so the next morning we decided to head straight to Basalt, nearby Aspen/Snowmass. I will talk about that next week!
Here is the little painting I painted on the mountain. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop for the price of a lift ticket at Arapahoe Basin.
When I was 11 years old, I went on my first ski trip outside of Alaska. My aunt and uncle loved going to Sun Valley in Ketchum, Idaho. They went there for a veterinarian conference to pursue further education, and had sessions in the mornings, so they signed me up for ski school. I had already been skiing in Alaska plenty of times, but the Sun Valley Ski School really developed my skills to a new level. My aunt passed almost two years ago and I wanted to keep the ski trip tradition alive, so when a group of friends from high school were planning a trip to Jackson Hole, I immediately bought the Mountain Collective pass. The pass provides lift tickets for 2 days at 23 mountains worldwide, and half price tickets for additional days at those mountains. Since Jackson Hole lift tickets are $200+ per day, I figured the pass would pay for itself if I went to one other ski area. You have to buy this pass before the ski season starts, and there’s a limited number of passes available. I intended to ski at Jackson Hole and also at Taos Ski Valley, as I have always wanted to check out Taos. A McCarthy neighbor spends winters in Taos, so I figured I could crash on his couch and ski a few free days either before, or after the guys’ trip. Maria also wanted to go on the trip, but my friends were being weirdly sexist and said, no women allowed. I called them out on it, but they were being pretty close-minded. I don’t get it, but I also don’t have kids, and I think Maria is a pretty cool lady on top of that. So, I figured I would just ski with her instead. My schedule actually made it hard to meet them when they planned to go, so I decided to do my own thing and started planning a ski trip with Maria. It’s funny, but the guys never made it to Jackson Hole. They all bailed.
Our new ski trip plan was amazing! Maria and I flew into Albuquerque, rented a car, drove to Taos, skied two days with friends who met us there, then drove to Colorado. Skied a day at Arapahoe Basin, then drove to Basalt, and skied one day at Snowmass and then another day at Aspen. Drove for about eight hours to Jackson, WY and skied two days at Jackson Hole with another friend. Finally drive to Bozeman, Montana and skied two days at Big Sky Resort, before dropping off our rental car and flying back to Anchorage, Alaska.
I brought my plein air painting kit with me on the plane. I always label the paint as “Clown Cosmetics” just to mess with TSA. The first ski day in Taos we met up with our friends: Ian, Lucas, and Denise. We skied tough and went all over the mountain, including up to Kachina Peak at 12,500 ft altitude. We had beers and bratwurst at the Bavarian Restaurant on-mountain dining lodge. It was a great day with friends on the mountain! We had a nice dinner at ACEQ, right next door to the SnowMansion Taos Adventure Lodge where we were staying in Arroyo Secco — a small community about 15 minutes from the ski village.
The next morning I mixed up some paint and transferred it to my small on-mountain palette. The yellow tube had a hole in it from rough baggage handling and I was battling to keep our room paint-free. I carried a small backpack on the mountain and skied hard until about 1:30pm. I broke off from the group and went to a place I found that was great for painting. About 45 minutes of frenzied, outdoor, cold-fingered painting later, I packed it up and met Maria and Denise back at the Bavarian. On route to meeting them, I toured the whole mountain, since I made a wrong turn after painting. We all went back to Lucas’s amazing cabin about a mile from the village for Aprés Ski. He had some excellent Bosque Brewing IPA and an interesting home-brewed stout. I enjoyed them both, then we went up to the ski village for pizza and beers. The village is really new and pretty cool, but the pizza was a grease bomb, so we told Lucas he could have all the leftovers.
Here is the little painting I made right on the mountain at Taos Ski Valley, of Kachina Peak. The size is 7″x5″, oil on birch panel. You can purchase it at my Etsy shop. I’m selling it for the price of a lift ticket at the ski area, which is $90.
Stay tuned next week for the following segment in the exciting adventures of plein air painting on ski resort mountains in the USA, when I talk about painting at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado!
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.
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!
Lighting can change the appearance of paintings more than you might expect. Not just paintings, but any surface color can be shifted by changing light. I am reminded of a time I was picking colors for a sticker design and I chose a red-orange instead of the cherry-red the client wanted. The evening light through my old apartment drapes affected my choice. Little to say, I had to make a quick reorder of stickers for that client. When I moved into this new house, the room designated for the studio was painted garishly orange. I decided to take a week to repaint the whole room, about 420 square feet of space, because I wanted to have a neutral color experience.
I have two lamps that I have been using for photography that I started using to supplement light in the middle of the studio. I have about as many windows as the rental studio on 4th Ave had, but the room is bigger, and the windows are spread around both sides of the room, so it is nice to have a supplemental lamp in the center. The lamp has a toggle control that switches it from warm to cool light, and you can see how the painting shifts in color. I have added a video to this blog for you to see this effect. It makes you realize how important correct lighting is for displaying paintings, and is something that should be considered when creating and installing art.
When we moved into my studio space at the 4th Avenue Marketplace, we were ecstatic to be downtown, and to have extra work space! I loved the view, and I loved working there. Having people come by for open studio events during First Fridays, Fur Rondy, and the Iditarod was always a great experience, and we usually made enough money during those events to cover our lease payments. Making the move to 4th Ave really cemented that I am a professional artist. However, I missed working at home. Packing a lunch was a drag, the bicycle commute across downtown was annoying (especially in winter), and the local street people seemed to always be present to greet me at the door to the building (when they were awake). I always seemed to have left this tool here, or that tool there, right when I needed it, and I was making another traffic-heavy bike trip back to one of the two locations.
I am happy to say that last weekend we moved out of the studio, and I am setting up my new studio on the first floor of our new house! It is a huge mess right now! I need permanent storage for tools, supplies, and paintings. I hope to be back to work by Monday, taking a week to move the condo and studio to our new house, and to get the condo ready for sale! The house is “not perfect,” as my father told me, but to us it is so amazing! It is quiet at night, there is more space for living and for the studio, and best of all, it has an oversized two car garage! No more carrying the table saw down stairs to work in blizzards for me! I can park my truck inside when it is cold out! Not to mention, the obvious home-brewing improvement! I brought my big smoker grill home from my parents’ house, and I’m going to smoke a brisket when I have everything set up. When brew day rolls around in the new garage, I’ll brew a big batch for a big housewarming celebration.
Until then there is a lot of work… Anybody want a cute little apartment-style condo in West Fairview? It would make a great Airbnb rental!
Cheers to making life better! May your day be brighter today than yesterday, and tomorrow be even better than that!
Sad the downtown studio is closed? You can still meet me for a beer at Midnight Sun Brewing. My art is there until the end of June! I will be having more out-of-the studio shows, so keep following Real Art Is Better on this blog, or on social media and we will keep you informed where and when we will be having in-person events!