Self Portrait, New Digital Project — Doubt, Fear and Confidence and the Art of Waiting

Self Portrait © Mary Baker
Self Portrait © Mary Baker

There are very few photos of me on the internet. In 2013 I did this self-portrait.

I am of the firm belief that art is very much connected to the unconscious, and in some ways I think of art as the unconscious made manifest.

I created this self-portrait back in 2013, and I look at it now almost 3 years later and wonder what it tells me about what was on my mind.

At the time I had been experimenting with digital images for 3 or 4 months, and it became clear that if I was going to get serious about the endeavor that I had better get myself a very good digital camera.

The portrait was taken after the camera arrived, and maybe captures both my excitement, and fear about this new artistic beginning, and also a resolute determination on one level to explore it and have fun, and I think subconsciously on another level, a determination to make it work. A big investment in this undertaking — good digital cameras are not cheap.

As a professional artist I know that creating has a certain rhythm.  In the beginning it’s a lot like a love affair, everything is exciting, everything is new, nothing could possibly go wrong, the possibilities are endless. And then at some point reality sets in, relationships are complicated and have their ups and downs. It’s the same way with the artistic process. It’s  the same way with this new digital project now in its 4th year.

With every body of work that I’ve created over many decades I always run into a period where a) I don’t know if it’s any good and b) I’m not sure what to do next.  At that point I’ve always worked on something else and I’ve learned to wait. A friend once said to me, “If you don’t know what to do, do nothing.” As far as I’m concerned this applies to art in a major way. Wait, sleep on it, and sometimes — quite often, it’s a very long sleep on it, and sooner or later, I end up knowing exactly what to do. This has worked for me for well over 40 years.

So in this new digital project I am in the “a) I don’t know if it’s any good and b) I’m not quite sure what to do next” phase. And from experience, I know to wait. I can feel that I’m just about to figure out what to do and move forward, but the pieces haven’t quite fit together yet, but I’m pretty sure they will, because decades have taught me that they always do.

So I look at this self-portrait that I did 3 years ago and it tells me that yes there is a certain doubt and fear about this new art prospect, but also a confident determination that after a long winter of not knowing, the spring of artistic progress has always arrived, and that sooner or later the winter snows will melt and I will know exactly what to do next.

Starting Out-How to Price your art work

Many, many people who are just starting out, whether they are young or older, ask me this question, “How should I price my art work?”

The most ideal way is, if you are involved or represented by an art gallery, to ask the art gallery director how to price your artwork.

However, many people don’t have this opportunity.

What I tell people who are not involved with an art gallery is to start your prices low. You may feel that your art work is better than an artist whose work you see in an art gallery, but it doesn’t matter. That artist’s work is priced at a certain level because they have slowly worked up to that level, and the gallery feels that they can sell the artwork for that price.

My feeling is start very low, sell a lot of art work, build an audience and then gradually increase your prices as the demand for your artwork grows.

Mary Baker

Art, Painting and Jigsaw Puzzles

When people come to me and ask me to teach them, or guide them (my verb) to paint and draw, one of the first things I do is tell them to do many hours of putting together jigsaw puzzles, either on the Web ( or at home. There is usually much huffing and groaning, but I say, “If you don’t want to do that, forgetta about it.”

So why jigsaw puzzles?

If you haven’t spent a lot of time painting or drawing, putting together jigsaw puzzles helps you start seeing thing as a collection of different shapes. You start to see objects as different combinations of circles, triangles, rectangles, instead of one unmanageable mass.

Putting together jigsaw puzzles too helps you understand that good painting takes time. And it also helps you get comfortable with the idea that when you start a painting you won’t know how it’s going to turn out. You will only know that out when all the “pieces” are put together.

Mary Baker

Realistic Art–Drawing

“How do I learn to draw?”

So many people have asked me this question that it seemed to be a good idea to address “drawing” in this art blog. The best book I’ve ever used to teach people how to draw, and art schools and colleges all over the country use it, is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards.

Betty Edwards has a number (not an overwhelming number) of exercises that trick the brain into seeing differently. (For example one exercise is drawing upside-down.) All the exercises are easy, fun and they work! They work really, really well. They can be done alone or in a big or small group. And if you follow the drawing exercises, amazingly enough, even if you “can’t draw a straight line,” you will be able to draw.

I’ve seen people who at the beginning of doing these drawing exercises can’t draw at all. Swear they will never be able to draw. Curse at the silliness of the drawing exercises. And at the end of the process they are totally amazed at the drawings they are able to produce. It’s pretty cool.

Mary Baker

Art, Problems and Solutions: What To Do If A Painting Just Won’t Work

When you are working on a painting and you get to the point where it is just not working, what in the world do you do?

Turn the painting upside-down

Turning a painting upside-down tricks the eye into seeing what you are working on in a completely different way. All of a sudden you will be able solve a problem that baffled you minutes before.

Hold the painting up to a mirror

Looking at a painting in a mirror works very much the same way as turning a painting upside-down does, only the results are even more dramatic. The problem is even more glaring and it is an enormous relief to see what is not working and to be able to figure out the solution.

Stop painting

If you’ve turned a painting upside down and held it up to a mirror and you still can’t figure out what the problem is–stop painting. You may need to stop painting for a few minutes, few hours, few days, months or even years. It depends on you and it depends on the painting.

The worse thing you can do is to keep working on the painting. It won’t solve the problem, you will become frustrated and the painting will become over-worked. It is a really good way to ruin a work of art.

There will come a point when you will know exactly what to do and can’t imagine why you never saw the solution before.

When I am working on a painting and I can’t find a solution to the problem, I always try to remember a phrase someone once told me which is: “If you don’t know what to do, do nothing.” A great piece of wisdom which always seems to work.

(c) Mary Baker 2005

Realistic Painting–Flowers

Oil on Paper
7” x 8”
Mary Baker © 2005

Up until three years ago it never occurred to me to paint flowers. I had painted landscapes for 15 years and had also done a more monochromatic series that I call the “Pod” series. (You can see a couple examples of the “Pod” series on my website. You can also see a lot of realistic flower paintings on my website too!)

I had gotten to the point where I was running out of landscape ideas (although landscape ideas are coming back in a major way) and after 9/11 people found the monochromatic Pod paintings, “cold” instead of “deep”.

So what to do? I wandered around my neighborhood and started to paint realistic flowers. It always seemed to me that it took a certain amount of chutzpah to paint flowers since Vincent and Georgia had already covered the territory, not to mention Heade…but what the heck, realistic flowers it was.

Once I started, I realized that although I had studied human anatomy in art school to paint realistic paintings, I had never studied “flower anatomy”…no botanist I.

I went to the Museum of Natural History in Boston where they have an awesome and extensive exhibit of glass flowers. I did massive research on the Internet on every type of flower or leaf I was going to realistically paint (if you go to Google Images, it’s just amazing what you get for let’s say “Morning Glory” or “Rose”). And then maybe the most helpful thing in painting realistic flowers was going around and snatching flowers in my neighborhood, keeping them whole or pulling them apart and pressing them between sheets of wax paper. That way I could see exactly how they were formed, making painting realistic flowers that much easier.

Original art–the palette, painting shadows

The second thing I learned from Steve Hawley was how to paint shadows. I had always used a darker version of the color, which had never been very effective. Steve told me to use:

Burnt Umber
French Ultramarine Blue
Thalo Green
Alizarin Crimson

What he recommended was to mix either Thalo Green and Alizarin Crimson, or Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue and use it very lightly as a gaze for shadows. It has made an amazing difference in my painting, and I’ve seen it make an amazing difference in other people’s paintings as well.

Original Art–painting tips, the pallette

One of the first things that happened when I studied with Steve Hawley, was that he gave me a basic painting palett that I had never used before. It radically changed how my paintings look. I’ve passed it on to a lot of people, and it always makes a huge difference. So here it is:

Basic Painting Palette

Burnt Umber
French Ultramarine Blue
Thalo Green
Alizarin Crimson
Burnt Sienna
Naples Yellow
Titanium White
Thalo yellow green