Friday, 21 August 2015

The Art of Pet Portraiture: Danielle Ambrosia

     Danielle Ambrosia is reticent about the details, admitting there was pressure for her to choose another career. As a single mother it may seem like bravery or foolishness to fashion a life as an artist, but when a phone call from a potential client interrupts our discussion it’s a sign of her success. She is in demand and has found her niche.
     Danielle is a full time pet portrait artist. She has taken other commissions; human portraits and historical portraits, but she adores animals so she has no trouble with the subject matter. She works primarily in graphite and coloured pencil crayons, achieving a great deal of depth with accuracy, detail, and great use of shade and highlights. This can be more time consuming, but more easily achieves accuracy more quickly than using a brush and the results are impressive to the eye. So although she is an adept handler of acrylics, oils, watercolours and gouache she prefers drawing. She can work form quality photographs that are provided by the client, but mostly she works from her own photos, so she is required to take good photographs from which to work.
     Born in Calgary and arriving in Thunder Bay when she was ten, she credits one of her biggest influence being her PACI High school teacher Robert Magnusson with pushing his students to do their best. “He never gave us a perfect mark, and I thank him for it.” And she credits her father, Jim Comuzzi, owner of Rooster’s Bistro, with his support as well. He provided her with a large and brightly lit studio space above Rooster’s in which to work.
     Inspiration for her approach came from traditional and modern hyperrealist artists known for their large-scale drawings and paintings. She says that one day she might branch out to produce this kind of gallery work, but she is aware that it’s harder to produce enough pieces for a good show and hard to sell bigger drawings as they are much more expensive. The risk is higher.
     Danielle is also aware that there is not a lot of prestige in the art world as a pet portrait artist. Showing in a gallery or receiving grants from the Ontario Arts Council for doing animal portraiture would be very difficult. Hers is a commercial venture and a labour of love where she is happy to make a living doing what she likes while simultaneously extending and celebrating people’s sentimental relationship with their animal friends.
     This is by no means an unworthy artistic venture, because the term ‘sentimental’ does not imply a lack of value. Traditionally, especially during the Romantic Movement, sentiment was a great humanist value implying that bonding, empathy, and being “one with nature” were worthwhile goals for art. Since more and more evidence surfaces to show that animals share more human traits than we realize, respecting our animal friends is only natural, especially when we often have so much trouble dealing with other humans. As there’s nothing like having a true friend, which pets can be, why not celebrate and honour them?
      Danielle is making a living doing just that. However, her love of animals has to meet with the practical world of selling herself and her abilities. She is adamant that artists have to learn how to market their work and sell themselves. She provided a number of specific pointers regarding social media but says most of it comes down to self-confidence and lots of practice. Her marketing skills vastly improved after she worked in a gallery in Santa Fe. After only three days she impressed herself by selling a giclee print by popular American artist, Malcolm Furlow for six thousand dollars, which is very impressive for what is essentially a poster. Danielle smiles and adds, “I like his work, but it never influenced my own. Selling the print influenced my sales and marketing approach.” Danielle now does commissions for people as far away as Newfoundland and Florida.
      “You have to be confident in what you’re selling so you have to know what your skillset is and be able to talk about it easily. And we’re blessed in the age of free social media where we can market ourselves, but you have to put the work in. Time, motivation and effort are especially important.” 

     You can see Danielle’s on her Website and on Facebook.  

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Martin King: Fun with Drawing

     Martin King's Comic Book is HERE. Sometimes a little epiphany will direct you to see something afresh and wonder why you didn’t see it before. During the last Busker’s festival at Bay and Algoma members of the Die-Active Art Collective put on a “Yart” Sale behind the Hoito. This combination of yard and art sale presented a talented young gang who were selling knitted wear, second hand books, paintings, sculptures, photography and second hand clothing, all in an unkempt grassy patch. Martin King sat amongst the gang at a tiny table hocking his original drawings.     
     The random placement on the table and low price made the quality of the drawings deceiving. At first they look like simple sketches similar to the works of many high school art students. However with a second look, one can see a deft hand playing not only with an accurately drawn representation, but also with a lightness and clever roughness that enhances the subject’s personality. The sketches are more similar to the best kind of works you might find in the New Yorker Magazine or literary magazines where serious and famous people are celebrated in caricature.
     Martin is aware that he has talent, but he shrugs off compliments with a smile and soft-spoken reply. He’ll downplay his passion to draw and paint as a fun hobby, a way to get pocket money, but he knows his ability to draw is driving his desire to make a graphic novel and a short film. He’s very practical about its value and application.
     Martin smiles, “I did it from an early age. I drew cartoons, games – Nintendo – I was a kid, so I drew kid-stuff. I realized I could make money from it when I was twelve. I did cartoon characters and portraits and sold them to the students. The teachers got mad at me for making money from other kids.” Martin laughs. “I got a hundred dollars one time. My parents were wondering where I got the money.”
     This took place at St. Elizabeth, a catholic school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although Martin was born and grew up in Thunder Bay, he got some early art education near a few central hotspots for art, namely New York City and Philadelphia when his parents move to the United States.
     His mother was a clerk at Shoprite and his father an engineer at the airport in Newark, New Jersey. He spent five years living in the U.S. from the age of eleven attending a junior school in Pittsburgh and later Central High School located at 100 and Central in New Jersey.
    Martin reminisces about how he graduated from a Catholic school to a high school whose mascot was the devil for all the sports teams. He later learned that there was a myth about an actual New Jersey Devil, similar to B.C.s Bigfoot.
     “Art classes were mandatory in high school,” he points out, adding that he could take animation instead of shop. The class took up half the school day, and was offered as a career choice.
     In New Jersey, his family lived in a bedroom community where the breadwinners made long drives or took train rides into New York City or Washington or Philadelphia to work. Primarily a wealthy neighborhood of Caucasians and Arabs, Martin could take trips into New York City to see the major galleries and museums. He also has a fondness for the beautiful Philadelphia Museum of Art, not only for the beauty and vastness of the collection or the sculpture of Rocky Balboa adorning the steps, but also because it was a great place to skateboard.
    He laments that he probably missed all sorts of sales opportunities with his sketches. He was living in an affluent community after all, but skateboarding took over during high school.
     When his family returned to Thunder Bay he studied broadcasting and did well in the film program at the college. He is currently looking forward to making his own films with ideas he’s sketching out presently. Stories are inspired by actual world events with an interest in ordinary people dealing with extraordinary situations, more dark and artistic than the usual comic book fair. Stories deal with gambling pool sharks, doctors involved in romantic triangles, oil barons and illusionists fighting it out over a fortune.
     Popular culture has had the biggest influence on his work, but he began a series based on photojournalism, transforming dark scenes of murder and war into light sketches, as if a means to better control the subject matter, to make the images less daunting and more humane. He was quickly turned away from the dark imagery when admirers began commissioning him to do portraits and asking for drawings of their favourite celebrities.
     In his choice of subject subtleties of humour are not immediately obvious. In the drawing of Megan Fox, she is clearly disturbed when a hopelessly romantic fan attempts to give her a bouquet of flowers. Martin took special interest in the fan’s funny shoes. But the emotions expressed in the faces are hilarious. That’s exactly what you can see in the best of the New Yorker cartoons.
     Martin also draws from images of cosplay, wrestlers, sports stars, awkward family photos, and random pictures. Regarding his Star Wars drawings, he laughs, “People gobbled that up right away.” And he’s been busy doing portrait commissions, as seen here with a friend wearing moose antlers.
     What he gets out of copying imagery is the ability to better approach reality, expressing more character with human interactions, and becoming more intensely creative when he does his own work. He enjoyed making a political statement in an image called “Consumer Horror.”
     He’s also focused on being practical. He’s not giving up his day job any time soon. He’s going to use the Internet to publish his stories first before he decides to go to print. For his short films he’s going to storyboard the ideas first to ensure that he can follow through on a project.
     You can see some of his work at Gallery 33, part of the Painted Turtle, and on Facebook if you ‘friend’ him.