Ever since technology essentially air-lifted artists' work out of their studios and galleries and put them online, on any given evening (for those of us who prefer to work in natural light) you can find mobs of artists, usually very solo creatures, roaming around the Internet looking at other artists' work. A few years ago, during one of my nightly expeditions, I stumbled upon a freak phenomenon called the "Painting A Day Movement" (affectionately referred to as "PAD"). It started when a single painter named Duane Keiser decided to challenge himself to make a single painting a day and sell them online. He was smart about it, the paintings are small, he set up a simple group on Google, collected email addresses, threw the paintings up on Ebay, and the next thing he knows he's not only selling work, people are bidding up the price, he has legions of fans, is making a great living and has been credited with starting the movement by USA Today and the New York Times.
Curious, I signed up for his newsletter and everyday I receive a painting in my email box. The subject matter is simple and very well rendered. With an odd sort of "Being John Malkovitch" sensation, it's as if I'm in the studio, sitting in his brain and seeing what the artist sees every day, every morning. While I may have made him miss a day, I caught up with Duane in his studio and talked to him about it:
"Sunbeams and Pushpins" 4 x 6" Oil on Panel. Duane Keiser
Kimberly Brooks: What was the spark that possessed you to make a painting a day?
Duane Keiser: Several years ago I sat in my studio and looked at several small oil studies I had made and I wondered what I should do with them. Back then I was almost completely reliant on galleries to sell my work. I decided to use my studio as a gallery (complete with makeshift track lighting) and have an opening for my family and friends. The prices on my larger paintings had risen over the last decade, to the point where many of my original collectors could no longer afford my work. So I priced the work at $100 each. I called them Postcard Paintings because of their size and because, like the dime-store postcards you send while on vacation, each painting kind of says to it's recipient, "this is what I saw." I called the show "100 paintings for $100." The opening was a hit. I sold a lot of work, everybody had a great time, and a lot of people bought their first original oil painting. I had several more shows after that and started to learn my way around the web and how to present my work via zeroes and ones.
"Egg" 4 x 6 in. Oil on Linen. Duane Keiser
KB: How did that experience end up a movement?
DK: I started experimenting with a blog (actually I just wanted to find out what the hell a blog was.) I remember thinking the journal-like aspect of blogging seemed appropriate for what I was doing, so I posted a few images and called the blog "A Painting a Day." About a week later I got fifty emails in my inbox from all over the world. The next day even more. They were all emailing me about my work and my blog. I couldn't figure out what was happening until someone emailed me that BoingBoing.net did a little story on my project. And that is when I discovered the wonders of "viral marketing."
At the time, the paintings were sold first-come first-served for $100: the first person to email me got the painting. They started to sell within minutes. Unless you were tethered to a computer all day it was hard to buy one. So after several months I decided to try Ebay. This gives people the time to consider a painting over the course of several days and then, if interested, decide what they think it's worth. It's like having my own Sotheby's. After about a year and three months I felt like the strict painting-a-day project had served it's purpose for me. I am still making close to a painting-a-day, but now I have the freedom to work on other projects.
Video of Ice Cream Melting 4 Minutes 13 seconds. Duane Keiser
KB: What kinds of other projects are you doing now?
DK:I'm about to publish a book via blurb.com and I also have an internet project brewing that I intend to unveil soon. Lastly, I'm continueing to work on some large still life pieces (like the big doughnut on the homepage) and, as always, my postcard paintings.
KB: How do you think the PAD movement has affected your audience?
DK: I've been struck by how many emails I have received from artists and non-artists alike wanting to start their own PAD projects. Many aren't interested in selling or even showing their work publicly. They often have full-time jobs and kids. It finally occurred to me there is something going on here that goes beyond wanting to learn how to paint a pretty picture, and I think it taps into an underlying attraction to the idea of making a painting a day: We go through our lives with a perpetual cursory glance. We see but we don't notice. We simply aren't used to observing things firsthand, of investigating them, and I think we sense this--that we're missing something; that we have, to some degree, become spectators of our own lives. Cell phones, computers, TV, video, 24 hour news etc-- all of this information forms the visual equivalent of white noise. It is hard to see and appreciate the colors in a candle flame when it is seen against a fireworks display-- and if we are only looking for fireworks in the first place, we will not only not see the subtleties of that single flame, we won't notice the flame at all. In effect, the flame ceases to exist to us. Direct observation and the patience it requires has become less natural to us.
I think this is one aspect of the PAD idea that draws artists and non-artists alike to the idea of making a painting a day. Even to the uninitiated, there is the notion that painting makes us participants again. The idea of bringing painting into our life holds the promise of experiencing a moment each day when we can be still. We turn off the TV and the cell phone, and we paint. On the one hand painting is a brief respite from the electric hum of modern life but on the other it is the opposite--a way to face and thus reenter our visual world. Annie Dillard wrote, " Admire the world for never ending on you as you would admire an opponent, without taking your eyes off him, or walking away."
Artist Photo: Duane Keiser