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

Art Scams–nifty email

Wow, just when I thought I’d seen every possibly art scam, I got this email from an art admirer.

I would love to inquire about some item which i saw on the web,they very lovely and would like to know if it can be sold to me for my new store in south africa,pls do let me know if it for sale ,i would be glad to get back to you with my choice of item and If you accept cashiers check as payment method
,pls advise strongly on this

And talk about chutzpah when it comes to art scams, this email wasn’t only sent to me, the human being on the other end of this art scam included 11 other recipients on the same email. (…and “Cheers Wesley”?? Oh good grief.)

Again, if you are an artist, go visit Castro’s blog on art scams…run, run, run!

Keyword, “Realistic Painter”–Could “Art Work” be Next?

Looking at my stats for my art blog I realized that people were finding me through the keyword “realistic painter.” Wow. So I moseyed over to Google and typed in “realistic painter” and voila–Mary Baker Art was, I could hardly believe it–3rd! Good grief.

I tried “realistic painting”…in the top 8 no less, and “realistic paintings” in the top 18! Could “art work” be far behind? All of a sudden I was showing up in the top 20 for keywords I loved.

If I, a mere mortal, could pop up for my chosen keywords in the top 3 to 20,think what someone actually doing this full time and making gazillions of money could do.

I can see why greedy, ambitious, do anything SEOs (it took me a long time to figure out what the heck SEO is, if you don’t know, you’d better Google it) have fallen head over heals, gaga with the whole blog thing, (I was amazed to find that my articles published at were in “blogs” from Blog.Spot all over the Internet–I’m glad for artist all over that “Art” has become such a nifty keyword.) and why “splogging” is the new scourge of the Internet.

I watched as people found out ways to abuse “links.” Now they’ve found a way to abuse “content.” So Google and company are now trying to find ways to regulate all those abusive sploggers out there and when they do, I imagine my art blog with disappear when people go searching for “realistic painter.” But for the time being I’m enjoying it a lot! Keyword away!

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.

Art, Artists and Blogs–how Google indexed my art blog and apparently gave it a Page Rank of 5

Ok, I’m totally smitten by this whole blog art form thing.

Google actually indexed my blog fast, and gave my art blog, I think, a Page Rank of 5–I love this! Who wouldn’t love this?

The fact that Google actually indexed my artist’s blog quickly, I’ll admit, was not because of any great knowledge on my part. But, I’m happy to share what happened. Here it is:

I had been looking at different places to blog and my host happened to let me install WordPress. So I did. Using WordPress for my artist’s blog, my domain name was part of the art blog url–so I could make it “”.

Missy Chabot–Chabot Web Design, who does my artist’s website, put a link from the Home Page and the Site Map of Mary Baker Art.

I wasn’t sure if search engines would think that the art blog was part of my website, but I guess Google does, because, at the moment, under a number of the blog pages are listed, including the art blog itself. In fact, now the website is listed in Google with lots of extra pages, even though my art blog has a whole different look and feel than my artist’s website! I mean, how cool is that!

Art–Contemporary Realism

Ok, so I really, really, really love Contemporary Realism, it’s my favorite, it works for me. Here’s why:

The Impressionists started it all!

As far as I’m concerned Contemporary Realism started with the Impressionists who rebelled against the established art world. Love that!

So, let’s take Degas. He got inspired by Japanese woodcuts, and “composition” took on a whole new meaning. The composition of Degas’s small painting, “The Rehearsal”, at the Fogg Art Museum, is as dynamic as the Modernist painting by Kenneth Noland (in the same Museum), an abstract painter who came into his own in the 60’s.

Let’s take Monet. All of a sudden he “got color”…no more dreary palettes for this guy. And on top of that, the late paintings by Monet are as abstract as any painting done by the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950’s. Talk about being “ahead of your time”. Wow!

Pop Art and Photo Realism

I loved Pop Art in the 60’s—full of irony, color, intellect and wit. (Yes, I’m from New York– irony, intellect and wit works for me!) And Photo Realism, which came next–beautifully executed paintings, borrowing heavily from photographs, shunning sentimentality and embracing detachment. Love it! Love it! Love it!

Contemporary Realism

After Photo Realism, came a loosely grouped of realist painters, which I will call Contemporary Realists. These painters borrow from ALL the traditions that have gone before them. Smart cookies!

Contemporary Realists incorporate the compelling compositions inspired by the Impressionists, the realism and craft of the academic painters, the gift of the camera and the extensive palette used in the 20th Century. Contemporary Realism reflects an ability to borrow from all that has been innovative and effective and to combine it into clear, beautiful and compelling works of art.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see how you can get much better than that!

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.

Highly Creative People–Painting, the creative process

I like the way it was described in the write up in the New York Times on Highly Creative People, that Dr. Barron “worked in a way that seemed to be casual and without any particular focus”; but Dr. Barron, a highly creative person, obviously had a great deal of focus.

For me, the creative process is a mystery. I wake up in the morning, and I have no idea what my day will be like or which painting I’m going to work on that day.

I often don’t know until I walk into my studio, which of the many, usually 9-11 paintings, will get my attention.

And if someone came into my studio, they would think I was wandering around aimlessly, doing things that have nothing to do with painting.

Usually it takes about a year for a group of paintings to begin to take shape and show some cohesiveness. After all these years I am finally comfortable with the chaos of that process, because I have been amazed, again and again at what emerges from it. Eventually what emerges in a year and a half to two years, is twenty paintings that are a consistent body of work.

I wrote a piece on my own creative process on my website, called Creativity. It explains in more detail the cyclical nature of the painting process.