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Debra Keirce – Behind the Scenes at a Painting Demonstration

Did you ever wonder what a painting demonstration looks and feels like from an artist’s point of view? Well, I just did one last week, so while the experience is fresh in my memory, I thought I’d share. (Actual events have been fictionalized to make them more entertaining. I am in no way meaning to insult or complain about the real life people who inspired the characters in this story! But yes, there is a kernel of truth in each part of this report.)

Siamese2UFFor two weeks, I’ve been thinking about what to bring, packing, changing my mind, repacking, and changing it back again. Should I bring the fancy hand held palette to look like an old master painter? Or should I bring the glass one I use in my studio? Glass breaks. How about a plastic plate then? That works. And do I want to put on a safety show and wear an apron and gloves? Where are they anyway? I haven’t used them since my last demo. Maybe I should bring my floor easel and bar stool, so I’ll be at the same height as the standing audience. Will I need my Chromalux light? Or can I make do with the gallery lighting? Where is that exacto knife? At least I’m not flying this time, so I can bring it.

Success! I arrived at the gallery.  It took me three times as long as it should have in the traffic, but hey – I’m here. Halfway here I thought of the brushes I forgot. Do I want to find an art supply store? Or maybe this can be a palette knife painting demonstration. There’s a thought.

It’s so great to see the gallery staff! I always feel like I am in my natural habitat when I come here. Now I just need to set everything up. Wow. I only need a fraction of what I brought. Well, best to always be prepared. The boy scouts say so.

Who is this person watching me? A new gallery employee? A collector? The UPS man? Do I keep painting in my most entertaining way, or do I stop and chat? He is coming closer. That’s my cue that he wants to engage in conversation. I say hello. He asks me where the restroom is and leaves. That didn’t really go according to plan.

A cute young girl, about ten, approaches sheepishly. I greet her and ask if she wants to be an artist when she grows up. She informs me that she is already an artist, and proceeds to critique my painting. I hear myself explaining that it’s just the under painting, and I like to start with only a few colors until I am sure I got the values right. I start to tell her what values are, but she gets bored and says she is going to look at the more colorful paintings in the gallery. I’m finding her a lot less cute now, but I admonish myself for those thoughts.

The gallery director introduces me to one of my collectors. They have three of my pieces, and are commissioning me to paint their two cats. They produce a few out-of-focus photos on their I-phone, and I try to politely ask for more detailed photos for the painting references. They want to know if I’d like to meet the cats. Since I’ve tried this in the past, and find cats hiding under beds to be very difficult to photograph or sketch, I decline the invitation, assuring them that the photos will be fine.

I go back to painting in earnest. I am thinking that I might just be able to finish this painting after all. It would be so nice to have a piece to leave with the gallery when I’m done.  Plus, I want to get past the ugly stage before the crowd arrives for the scheduled reception. Every painting has an ugly stage, where only the artist can see its potential. Then it comes together, seemingly miraculously. That’s what I want people to witness at my demonstration!

Art lovers start arriving. They are wet from the torrential rains outside, and I thank them over and over again for coming out despite the storm. They say they wouldn’t want to miss seeing the artist who paints under a magnifying glass.

Time stops.

Sounds are muffled and I am in a moment of panic.

I forgot to bring the magnifying glass!

How can a miniature painter forget to bring a magnifying glass?!

I’m painting larger than usual so people can actually see what I am demonstrating. I usually don’t use magnifiers on larger paintings until the final detail steps. But, the crowd is looking forward to seeing me paint with a magnifying glass.

Ominous music plays in my head.

What to do…what to do… becomes my mantra.

I could paint this almost all the way to completion without a lens.

I could be like MacGyer and use a wine glass strapped to my wrist with duct tape. I could sell it as the engineer in me wanting a little face time. It would look ridiculous, but just might work.

I’m painting and chatting, and the comments about magnifying glasses keep coming. This tale is reaching the dramatic climax. Can you hear the drum roll?

The gallery owner comes over and hands me a magnifier. He says “Here. I use this sometimes to show buyers your work. I thought you could use it tonight.” I love my gallery owners! Crisis averted!

People all around me are enjoying wine and appetizers. They all love the art in the gallery, and love watching me paint with the help of a lens. My vision is starting to blur from painting 6 hours straight, but I am in my happy place.

The director comes over and asks how I’d react if they told me I’ve sold a record number of paintings at this show. In my excitement, I don’t realize that my foot, dangling free in this high chair I never paint in, has wrapped around a cord.

DOWN goes my easel. The painting lands wet side down and smears.

DOWN goes the tray table with my magnifying glass. It crashes to the floor, and yep… I hear glass shattering. I turn a brilliant shade of alizarin.

“Well, since your painting is ruined, you won’t be needing that broken magnifying glass anymore” says a little ten year old girl’s voice behind me. She is SO cute!

Click Debra Keirce to see all of her art.