Sunday, December 28

On Art Blogs and Art Blogging

Today’s Image

Today’s Image is the graphic used for the Orbisplanis Art Blog. It is a photo (not a painting as some suspected) taken from a vantage point near a very famous art museum.

In a way, an art blog is an unusual thing. The context of an art blog should be about art, right? You would/should expect to see pictures, images, paintings, designs, photos or something visual anyway.

But and however, the context of a blog is all about blogging (web logging to be exact), which means communicating. Of course, there are all kinds of ways to communicate both verbally, written, and visually. Maybe artists who blog are in a different category or should be.

Art and blogging may be two of those activities that don’t seem to go together at first. That brings up the old discussion of left brain/right brain, and is one side (either the creative or the pragmatic) dominant? Well, yes and no. Yes, they can go together, and no, one side does not have to be dominant (although that is the case in most people). Like technical writing, where author meets engineer, in art blogging, artist meets writer or vice versa or whatever, you get the picture (pun intended).

Is art blogging an oxymoron? Can you “art” and “blog” simultaneously? The answer is yes. There are thousands (at least) of art blogs on the internet. I’m assuming that many of those are created by artists who can write and conversely by writers who can “art.” If you have searched for and/or looked up many art blogs, you’ve already discovered that there are as many kinds of art blogs as there are art and artists (and that’s a whole lot).

Some art blogs are very personal and art-y. They seem to say, “look at me, I am a creative person, just look at my work and how wonderful it is.”

Some art blogs are more art than blog. Make that art business. They’re mostly a collection of an artist’s work, such as it is, and not much more. They say, “Here’s everything I’ve ever drawn/painted/sculpted etc. Interested? Please buy something.”

Many are How-To art blogs. This is the blog where we presume the artist has been trained in whatever subject or technique he/she is trying to teach you. There may be step-by-step processes, or in many cases, they’re a video that you can play over and over and over again, as if watching it was all that was needed to teach you to “art.” They say, “Watch this, and here’s everything you ever need to know about watercolor/ oil/ still life/portraits/ etc., etc. and aren't you the lucky one to have found it.”

Other art blogs are more of a philosophical nature. They may have a sense of drama and an aura about them as if art were some kind of supernatural experience that comes over both the artist and the viewer. When you read them, you may think that art and the ambiance of the art experience will take you away to some other world inhabited only by the ‘creative ones.’ They say something like, “if you read this blog you, too, will discover that art is Zen and Zen is art (or some such).”

So, what should an art blog aspire to be? As in art, the value of the art blog is in the eye of the beholder or in this case, the viewer/ reader.

I do firmly believe, however, that creativity is the glue. Any feedback on this subject from interested viewers will be appreciated.

Monday, December 22

Thoughts on Framing Paintings and Artwork

Today’s Image

Today’s Image is the corner of a picture frame. At some point most artists want to share, show, sell, or give away their artwork, right? One of the things I’ve wondered about since renewing my interest in art and painting is: how, or even if, you should frame your paintings. Or maybe that decision should be at the tail end of the process. That is, should you think about the frame as you begin painting your picture or even before? I don’t know, and I suspect there is no right or wrong answer. However, here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

At first, of course, I wasn’t thinking about frames or framing at all. That was back when I was sketching with graphite and pastels. I was renewing my skills, and none of my artwork was suitable for framing. But I did move on to acrylics and oil painting and finished several that I decided to give as gifts. For those first few I decided not to frame them at all. They were relatively small, 5 x 7in (12 x 17 cm), and painted on canvas panel, so instead I bought small easels that would hold them on a shelf or tabletop rather than framing them for hanging. Truth be told, I also used the small easels so that the recipients could place them wherever they wanted—way up on a shelf behind something else or back in a corner somewhere—in case they really didn’t like the paintings anyway and were too polite to say so. The last thing artists need is pity or insecurity, right?

As time went on my paintings increased in both size and number and my self-consciousness decreased, somewhat anyway. I decided some of the paintings needed framing. At art galleries and art festivals some of the paintings were framed and some were not. With no scientific research whatsoever, it appears to me that the more contemporary the painting, the less likely it is to be framed and vice-versa.

Currently most of my paintings are on canvases with edges of .5 in (1.3 cm), and others are on canvas panel with no edge. I try to at least consider the frame as I go about my painting. I’m trying to keep a stock of frames on hand so that I don’t have to specifically search one out specifically. I suppose if the painting were ‘extra special’ to me anyway, I would want to have the perfect frame, but that hasn’t happened yet. So I look for frame sales at art supply stores and frame shops. I also go to yard or garage sales or swap meets (or whatever they’re called in your part of the world). I often find very nice frames that you can re-use (of course, I usually throw away the old print or painting).

Have you noticed that on almost all the paintings you see in galleries or at festivals that are not framed, most all have paint that continues around the edges of the canvas (rather than unpainted edges)? These canvases all have edges of at least 1.5 in (3.8 cm). In a way I understand this. It certainly looks more finished, but is that reality? Life doesn’t really wrap around the edges so that you view it around the corner so to speak. I also noticed that art supply stores sold canvases just for this type of unframed painting—it’s called ‘gallery wrapped.’ Why, I don’t know. I have not painted a ‘gallery wrapped’ painting yet although I did buy such a canvas. I suppose one makes the decision (to paint around the edges) up front as framing one of the ‘gallery wrapped’ canvases would be difficult to say the least.

Here’s a question to ponder—do you paint the bottom edge in the event the viewer should lean over to see if it’s been painted? Hmmm, I wonder.


Tuesday, December 16

12-Step Acrylic Painting Lesson

Today’s Image
Misty Blue
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in (40 x 50 cm)
Copyright 2008

In this edition of Orbisplanis Art Blog I’ll go through the steps I took to paint Today’s Image. It’s an acrylic coastal scene.

I completed this painting in four hours, which does not include varnishing. You do not have to follow these steps in the exact order to have a successful painting. In fact, you should do them in the order that suits you best so that the painting is your own. As Henri Matisse said, “creativity takes courage.” Please do not be either intimidated by that or think that I must be really slow—it takes as long as it takes you—no pressure!

Hour 1

Step no. 1 – Select your motif and style; I like to paint landscapes and coastal scenes, and the color and misty light in this photo caught my eye, so I downloaded it and printed it; I’m learning about how the Impressionists painted so decided to go for that.

Step no. 2 – Select your support; in the last Orbisplanis blog, I discussed how you can re-use canvases by painting over them with gesso, which is what I did on this previously painted 16 x 20 in (40 x 50 cm) canvas panel.

Step no. 3 – Select your color palette; with printed photo in hand I selected the following acrylics from my paint drawer in no particular order (remember--the printed photo may look different than it does on the computer screen)): Van Gogh warm grey, Grumbacher Payne’s gray, Grumbacher ultramarine blue, Grumbacher burnt sienna, Liquitex Basics dioxazine purple, Amsterdam greyish blue, Amsterdam sky blue light, Amsterdam Naples yellow deep, and Winsor & Newton Galeria titanium white.

Step no. 4 – Sketch the main elements on your support; for this painting there are only the few cliffs so I used greyish blue, which I diluted with just a little water, and painted them in loosely with a narrow brush (I prefer Natural Bristle brushes for my acrylics).

Hour 2

Step no. 5 – Paint the sky; I used Naples yellow and titanium white; I wanted to match as close as possible so I daubed the paint on in thick, short diagonal strokes.

Step no. 6 – Paint in the far mountains; I used a mixture of greyish blue and warm grey, which I painted on lightly and let some of the white of the canvas show through to lighten and give the look of distance and atmosphere; I tried to mimic the ups and downs of the peaks to resemble the photo.

Step no. 7 – Paint the mid-range mountains; these are closer to the viewer so they need to be darker than the far mountains; I used the same grayish blue but with more paint and daubed it on again with short diagonal strokes but left less white showing; again I tried to mimic the peaks in the photo.

Step no. 8 – Add dimension to the far and mid-mountain ranges; they may be looking a little flat and two-dimensional at this point, you can add depth and reality by scumbling over them lightly with Naples yellow, which adds the perception of light and shadow; I do this now as it spurs me on because it’s starting to “look pretty good” at this point and I need the encouragement even if it’s my own.

Hour 3

Step no. 9 – Paint the closest mountain cliffs; they are the focal point of the painting so you may want to think about how you’ll paint this before “diving in;” they are the darkest thing in the painting; in my mind’s eye I see a deep purple/deep brown, so I use a mixture dioxizine purple, burnt sienna, and Payne’s gray; it covers a big area so mix up a good blob of paint; paint it on thickly and heavily with multi-directional strokes and leave just a very few spots of canvas showing; leave the edges of the cliffs feathery but enough so they stand out from the mid-mountains.

Step no. 10 – Start on the water; I diluted Payne’ gray with water; loosely and lightly paint in the shadows of the waves starting at the “horizon” (of the water not the shore) and move closer in wave by wave; create depth by making the wave shadows that are more distant using narrow horizontal strokes and increase the thickness as you move closer.

Hour 4

Step no. 11 – Finish the water; this is the trickiest part; I used greyish blue, sky blue light, and titanium white for the water; since the light is coming over the far mountains on the right, the water needed to be lighter and with more highlights on the right side; first I used grayish blue in not-too-thin and not-too-thick horizontal strokes on mostly the left where the water is more in shadow but with a few strokes on the right; then I used sky blue light in relatively thick horizontal strokes—lighter in the distance and getting increasing dark as you move closer in and to the left.

Step no. 12 – Put finishing highlights on the water and near mountain cliffs; using titanium white that is very dry on the brush I scrubbed on the paint where the water meets the distant shore to add the look of misty, hazy distance; I scrubbed on dry greyish blue on the near shore below the dark cliffs to add mist there; finally I scumbled greyish blue lightly over the dark cliffs to add highlights and depth—you can eye-ball this so that the highlight add the depth that looks in keeping with the rest of the painting.

We're finished, and I like it.


Friday, December 12

How to Use Gesso

Today’s Image

In the Studio

Today's Image is Gesso. It’s that ubiquitous stuff that artists appear to take for granted. Not having been raised around art or the creation of art, this gesso stuff was interesting to me as I renewed my interest in art and painting. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it—was it GEH-SO with a hard G or JEH-SO with a soft G? Seems like a simple question, but you’d be surprised the number of hits it took on Google to find out (12). The winner was This was after visiting and (they use it to prime their toy soldiers before painting). By the way, it’s JEH-SO with a soft G as in “Jesse.”

I spent a little while researching the mystery, via Google of course, and found out a lot about gesso, and probably more than anyone cares to know including me. Seems it’s been around for a long, long time in the art world, but it’s had a rebirth of sorts with the advent of acrylics. Here’s what Wikipedia tells us:

Classic (my term) gesso is the Italian for "board chalk” (akin to the Greek word "gypsum”), and is a powdered form of the mineral calcium carbonate used in art. Gesso was traditionally mixed with animal glue, usually rabbit skin glue (what is that?), to use as an absorbent primer coat for panel painting with tempera paints. It is a permanent and brilliant white substrate, as long as it is used on wood or masonite. This mixture is rather brittle and susceptible to cracking, thus making it unsuitable for priming canvas. In Geology, Italian "Gesso" corresponds to the English "Gypsum", as it is a calcium sulphate compound.

Modern acrylic "gesso" is actually a combination of calcium carbonate with an acrylic polymer medium latex, a pigment and other chemicals that ensure flexibility, and ensure long archival life. It is sold premixed for both sizing and priming a canvas for painting. While it does contain calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to increase the absorbency of the primer coat, Titanium oxide or titanium white is often added as the whitening agent. This allows the "gesso" to remain flexible enough to use on canvas. High concentrations of calcium carbonate, or substandard latex components will cause the resulting film to dry to a brittle surface susceptible to cracking. Typically, a canvas should be sized prior to being gesso'd as a sizing coat will sink into the substrate to support it as opposed to a gesso coat which is just put on top of the substrate.

Who knew? I even added Gesso to the Artists Factoids section of the Orbisplanis Art Blog-see the right-hand column.

Anyway, as I read about its many uses, I experimented with it. Its main use, of course, is as a primer for canvas. Most store bought canvases are already primed so they don’t really need it. I think some artists like to apply even if it’s not needed because they just enjoy the process.

There are two reasons I like gesso:
  1. I like the rough texture you get when you paint it on the canvas or whatever support you’re using. You can get as fine or as coarse a texture as you like just by how carefully or sloppily you apply it-the more sloppy, the coarser. A coarse texture provides a way to adjust how the paint sits on the surface, and you can get all kinds of different effects, which I like. It lets you emulate different artists’ styles. The acrylic I’m working on now has a very coarse texture, which complements both the motif, a seascape, and the style, which is a very loose, almost abstract, brushstroke that works well, I think, with the distant and misty view I’m trying to achieve.
  2. Number 2, and I guess you can say the main reason I like gesso is because you can use it to re-paint your canvas at any time: whether you’re in the midst of your masterpiece or even if you have already completed it, varnished it, and hung it on the wall—you can still apply gesso to it. Now partly it’s economical, you can use and re-use your canvases over and over and over again. But mainly it takes the pressure off of me not to make any mistakes. That is, it allows me to just relax and paint away, knowing that I can fix whatever I don’t like whenever, even if I’ve ‘finished’ the painting.

If only there were Gesso for your life.


Tuesday, December 9

There Will Be Art in (Houston) Airports!

Today’ Image

Rather than an actual image, Today’s Image is a link to a series of photos on the Houston Chronicle website. I hope you take a minute to click on it and view them.

Back in September of this year (2008) as we began some of our travels, I mentioned in the Orbisplanis Art Blog (There Is No Art in Airports) that I was disappointed to find next to nothing in the way of art at any of the airports that we usually pass through. Those are Bush Intercontinental (IAH)-Houston, Los Angeles International (LAX)-Los Angeles, Hobby (HOU)-Houston, and Ronald Reagan National (DCA)-Washington, D.C. We also recently traveled through Tulsa International (TUL)-Tulsa, OK, and found the same thing—no art.

It’s not that I have particularly high expectations about art or anything else, it just seems to me that because so, so many people pass through airports in order to travel, there should be at least a little accommodation on this. When you’re at one of these airports (or actually any airport in the world) you usually have to walk an extraordinary distance: from departure ramp to baggage check to ticket counter to security check to moving sidewalk to shops/newsstands/restaurants to boarding gate. It’s a utilitarian journey through most likely dull public architecture and government financed structures with little or no human aesthetic. Even if the airlines have tried to spruce up their immediate environment around the departure gates, in my opinion there is nothing to show for it in the way of art (Before you email, I know there must be airports where this is not the case, but I haven’t been through any—Charles De Gaulle in Paris, maybe?).

Anyway, someone else must have noticed this, too, at least in Houston. I’m very happy to read about several public art projects coming in 2009—and two of them are at our airports, at Bush and at Hobby! An article in the Houston Chronicle details the two works. Bush will receive decorations for two large columns in one of the newer terminals in the form of colorful beaded designs representing world art. Hobby will get several large glass panels for a pedistrian bridge that abstractly show our area from an overhead satellite view.

This is very cool and good news. I’m proud of the art groups and alliances, as well as the airport authorities, in Houston who helped make this happen. Thank you! I hope LAX, DCA, TUL, and other airports worldwide take up the call.

In the Studio

I’ve been out of the studio for several weeks working on mandatory projects, so I am looking forward to getting back to my acrylic (or pastel) painting. Not sure what I’ll work on next, but that’s part of the quest, isn’t it?


Saturday, December 6

A Book About the Museum of Impressionism in Paris (circa 1965)

Today’s Image

In the Art Library

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been in the Art Library at Orbisplanis Art Blog, so that's where today’s blog finds us. On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., that I blogged about previously, we visited several used book stores in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Adams Morgan is an eclectic neighborhood just east of the Duke Ellington Bridge, and by all appearances is a happening place. It was a Saturday morning, and people were really enjoying the refreshing fall weather at coffee shops and outdoor markets. The old neighborhood includes restaurants, and row houses, and used book stores, which I enjoy roaming around. Today’s Image is a street scene in Adams Morgan.

Anyway, we found one that was full of all kinds of old books including art books, which I always look for. I found a small book I think is noteworthy in that it has a lot of information and color pictures of some of the most famous paintings in the world all in a 4 by 6-in. (10 by 15 cm.) format and 80 pages.

Entitled The Museum of Impressionism in Paris, the book (actually it’s a booklet) is part of a series called the Little Library of Art published and edited by Fernand Hazan in 1965. Others in the series are listed on the back cover and include books on African Tribal (art), Dali, Klee, and Picasso, just to name a few. It has a brief overview that talks about the history of how and where the Impressionists’ paintings were exhibited at museums from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century and current to 1965. It also provides an interesting introduction to the era of Impressionism and how the Impressionists came to be a force in modern art.

The second part of the book, starting on p.17, is a section called The Painters and Their Work and lists all the Impressionists alphabetically from Bazille to Van Gogh. There is no table of contents, so I found it fun to thumb through the pages to see who all was included. They are listed with any of their paintings included in the book (and all in color):
  • Jean-Frederic Bazille – The Family Reunion
  • Eugene Boudin
  • Gustave Caillebotte
  • Mary Cassatt – Mother and Child
  • Paul Cezanne – The House of the Hanged Man, L’Estaque, Still Life with Onions, The Blue Vase
  • Edgar Degas – At the Races, Absinthe, Dance on the Stage, The Laundresses, Woman Combing Her Hair
  • Theodore Fantin-Latour – Narcissi and Tulips
  • Paul Gaugin – Tahitian Women, The White Horse, Arearea
  • Eva Gonzales
  • Armand Giullaumin
  • Johan Barthold Jongkind
  • Edouard Manet – Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, Olympia, The Fifer, The Balcony, Portrait of Irma Brunner
  • Claude Monet – Regatta at Argenteuil, Bridge at Argenteuil, Rouen Cathedral at the Tour D’Albane, Morning Effect, Women with Sunshade
  • Berthe Morisot
  • Camille Pissarro – Chestnut Trees at Louveciennes, Entrance to the Village of Voisins, Red Roofs
  • Odilon Redon
  • Pierre August Renoir – Hillside Path in Tall Grass, The Swing, Moulin de la Galette, Gabrielle With a Rose, Torso of a Woman in the Sun
  • Henri Rouart
  • Henri Julien Rousseau – The Snake Charmer
  • Georges Suerat – Le Cirque
  • Alfred Sisley – Boat During a Flood, Snow at Louveciennes
  • Henri Toulouse-Lautrec – Woman with Gloves, The Clown Cha-U-Kao, Seated Girl-Back View
  • Vincent Van Gogh – The Restaurant de la Sirene, The Church at Auvers, Self Portrait, Portrait of Dr. Gachet

What I like about this little book, in addition to the 42 color pictures of the beautiful paintings, is that it’s so easy to use as a reference for all of these great Impressionists. You can keep it right there on top of your art drawers and boxes and near at hand to look at while you’re painting for inspiration. I hope you can find it in a used bookstore, too, somewhere or maybe on eBay.


Monday, December 1

Interest in Oil Painting

Today’s Image

I enjoyed a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the USA, which included travel to the mid-American city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. While there, we were shown around town, which included seeing several old buildings which date from the 1920s and 1930s. The main feature of many of these buildings is their Art Deco architecture and style. Art Deco is the style and form from that era that touched design elements from artwork to architecture to furnishings. Art Deco featured sleek, simple lines, many with squared (or rounded) prominent corners to imply movement, and sometimes shiny surfaces and obvious ornamental details for a modern (also called Moderne) look. It was somewhat surprising to see the number of Art Deco buildings in Tulsa, which is a medium-sized city (metro area population 840,000). In a tribute to urban preservation in Tulsa, most of these buildings are still in good-to-excellent condition. Today’s Image is a shot of the façade of a Native American arts and crafts trading center.

Renewed Interest in Oil Painting

If you are a regular viewer of Orbisplanis Art Blog, then you may recall I prefer acrylics over oil paints for very good and practical reasons. It’s not that I dislike oil paints or the beautiful results achieved from artists from the 17th century to the present. To the contrary, I am quite satisfied with my several oil paintings completed since renewing my interest in painting last year, and think they are some of my best.

No, I prefer acrylics over oils for these practical reasons: acrylic paint is odorless and acrylic paint is fast-drying.

My “studio” is in the house, not in a separate building or in a distant, out-of-the-way corner. My studio is in a room that has the largest window and best light, although the window faces west rather than north. It also happens to have a tile floor and is air-conditioned and central-heated.

Oil paint, and its friends turpentine and even “odorless” mineral spirits (OMS), can make a house smell like, well, an artist’s studio (see my blog on OMS). Nothing wrong with that except it can permeate the entire house. With acrylics I can paint away the day odor free.

In addition, oil paint takes an extraordinarily long, long time to dry in my climate, which is known for its abundant humidity three out of four seasons. Humidity and oil painting do not mix well, at least in my opinion. I know several of you would argue that great oil paintings have been rendered throughout the great art periods in all kinds of climatic conditions including humidity. Of course, that is true. However, I’m not aware of any great artists who lived and painted in a semi-tropical (not to mention un-air conditioned) climate. Many, if not most, of the greatest oil painters lived in temperate Europe, North America, or Asia, but not in the parts with extreme heat or humidity though.

But I digress. So, my oil painting period is relegated to the Winter season, which is fast approaching (in the northern hemisphere). During Winter I can set up a second “studio” part-time in my garage (car park), which is in a separate, although un-air conditioned and un-heated space. During this time I renew my interest and skill with oil paints. Many artists are of the opinion there is a superior and “certain look” with oil paintings, and others have a bias for acrylics--just link to the Oil Painting, Acrylic, or Café Guerbois channels on and you’ll see. However, I am glad to be able to enjoy both mediums if only one or the other during certain seasons, and I am looking forward to oil painting again.

In the Studio

Before moving part-time to the garage during Winter, I still have work to do on several acrylics I have planned in my indoor “studio.” I’ll keep you posted with updates.