Friday, February 27

How to Collect Art--Cheaply

Today’s Image

I’ve found an inexpensive (cheap) way to collect art--wall calendars! They hang on a wall and people look at them, so they qualify as art, right? I think so. Calendars seem to be most plentiful around the December holiday period in many parts of the world, and year around in other parts.

Do you have a favorite theme? Of course, the calendar graphics don’t necessarily have to be artwork. Just about any subject seems to have been put on calendars: kittens, Mercedes Benzes, rainbows, Greek isles, bulldogs—you name it. I suppose once a graphic or photo is on a calendar, it does become art in a way, even a calendar featuring Elvis Presley.

You probably have at least one hanging around the house somewhere, and another one, maybe, in your art studio. I find them to be a great way to jump-start your creativity and to collect and view your favorite types of artwork. You can find them at almost any kind of store. One of the “big box” pet stores in my area has the best selection of dog, cat, bird, and fish calendars around.

While they’re not necessarily inspirational in the creative sense, these types of calendars can provide a way to expand your mind on the days when you experience artists’ block. Here are some of the calendars I have in my collection for that purpose (in no particular order):
  • North American Landscape 2008 – beautiful photographs of outdoor places, some you’ve heard of—Yosemite National Park—and some you haven’t—East Orange, Vermont, US.
  • Lighthouses 2009 – photographs of picturesque lighthouses in the US and Canada.
  • Beaches 2009 – a collection of photographs of beaches with turquoise water and palm trees that could double as screen savers for your computer, but no locations identified.
  • California Coast 2007 – one of my favorites; dramatic photos of the rocky shoreline up and down the California, US, coast.
  • In the Garden 2009 – photos of all kinds of flower gardens in bloom associated with the seasons and months (northern hemisphere).

The ones I like best, however, are the ones that feature the artwork of either one artist or an entire genre. The art may be some of their most famous work or collections of famous works from a certain period. Here are a few of my artist and artwork calendars:

  • Edward Hopper, Whitney Museum of American Art 2009 – a collection of Hopper’s paintings in the Whitney Museum, with favorites, such as Soir Bleu, Early Sunday Morning, Cape Cod Sunset, and Second Story Sunlight.
  • Thomas Kinkade, The Plein Air Collection, 2007 – I can see eyes rolling, and I’m aware that some think of his art as cliché, but this collection is worth seeing as it is in the Impressionist style; I especially like Brussels; Paris, St. Michele; Jackson Street, Cape May; and Catalina, Rosie’s on the Pier.
  • Vincent Van Gogh 2008 – a collection of Van Gogh’s iconic paintings including: Irises; Still Life, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers; and, of course, Starry Night.
  • Impressionists 2009 – a collection of work of some of the well-known and not-so-well-known Impressionists and post-Impressionists including: Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol Turned Toward the Right; Pierre August Renoir, The Seine at Asnieres; Edgar Degas, Dancer; Alfred Sisley, Little Town on the River Seine; Mary Cassatt, Summertime, and Edward Potthast, At the Seashore.

You can also have your own art made into a calendar, as some of mine was as a gift from a family member. What a nice surprise. At sites such as Hewlett-Packard’s Snapfish service, you can upload your art and select a calendar style for a totally unique art calendar.

So, if you want to collect artwork on a budget, add wall calendars to your gallery!


Monday, February 23

A Book with Painting Water in a Vase and Silver

Today's Image

In the Art Library

Here’s an interesting art book I found at one of the “big box” bookstores. It’s Celebrating the Seasons in Watercolor by Donald Clegg. It’s basically a how-to book on watercolor, but with a twist--it’s not just about watercolor painting. It uses the four seasons, gardening, and cooking as motifs for the watercolor demonstrations. (Today's Image is a painting I did using acrylic rather than watercolor, however.)

Clegg is a professional watercolorist and signature member of the National Watercolor Society. He also has interests in gardening and cooking; hence the interesting mix of art and cooking. I think you will agree his watercolors are beautiful.

The book is basically divided into the four seasons, beginning with winter. Chapter one, however, provides an introduction on supplies, color, lighting, backgrounds, and composition. Each seasonal section begins with the "mood" of the season, and Clegg also includes a couple of actual recipes in each section. For example, in spring, one is for a vinaigrette dressing. He brings in the gardening aspect by describing what’s going on outdoors and how it affects his painting. For spring, it's the budding trees and shrubs, the flowers, and planting his vegetable garden.

In each section he discusses the seasonal color palette. For spring he talks about the various greens by mixing Cobalt blue, Ultramarine, and Pthalo blue (each separately) with Azo yellow and with a little Quinacidrone Burnt orange added for earth tones.

The main part of each season/section is the watercolor demonstrations. In the spring section, demonstrations range from how-to’s on painting blossoms and crocuses to vegetables (garlic and lettuce) to flowers (pansies and tulips). He provides a lot of detail on how to paint with watercolors that only a professional could provide, such as how to darken or lighten the colors for the leaves, veins, and petals.

There are a lot of other professional tips throughout the book. The description of how to paint water in a vase convinced me to purchase the book, along with a description of how to paint silver items. Painting water and silver to look realistic has always intrigued me as I think it does many artists. Like a magician who reveals how a trick is done, Clegg shows you how to paint these. Each seasonal section also has additional recipes and demonstrations.

Celebrating the Seasons in Watercolor should be part of your art library, too.


Friday, February 20

Discover Your Artistic Style

Today’s Image
Little Church at Golden
Acrylic on Canvas
28 x 22 in (71 x 56 cm)
Copyright 2009

Today’s blog is about discovering your artistic style. By that I mean, finding out how you create your artwork; that is, how it appears or is perceived by the viewer. I’m talking about the “look and feel” of your art that makes it uniquely yours over time. I don’t know what my artistic style is—yet—and you may not know either. Today’s Image is a recent acrylic I did while in the process of discovering my artistic style.

It’s seeing a piece of art, and I’m speaking primarily of paintings now, and instantly recognizing who the artist is. Or if you can’t instantly tell, you’re able to at least narrow the field to just a few.

Here’s at little test. Look over the following list of well-known painters and see if you don’t immediately (or almost immediately) think of their artistic styles. I don’t mean being able to name the painter’s style, but being able to see one or more of their paintings in your “mind’s eye” or being able to say to yourself, “I think that’s a Picasso,” or whoever.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Claude Monet
  • Mark Rothko
  • Edward Hopper
  • Frieda Kahlo
  • Jackson Pollack
Were you able to visualize these artists’ styles? If you have studied any art history or taken any time at all, actually, to view art either in an art museum or online, then you should be able to relate to the above-mentioned artists’ styles.
Artistic style is, of course, a very personal and unique thing. It’s what comes from your creativity and, I think, is one of the great wonders of being an artist. I, for one, believe your artistic style is innate. It comes from within. Your genetic make-up is partly responsible at least for your technique, if not your artistic style—how well you see, how your arms and hands are shaped, how calm or nervous you are. Your artistic style, if you have one yet, is also due to your interests, surroundings, and likes and dislikes, so it’s also nature versus nurture.

I also believe the primary subjects of your art, your chosen medium, and your technique determine your artistic style. If you are a pastel portrait painter, you may have discovered your artistic style to be photo-realistic with a somber tone, just as an example. If you’re a landscape oil painter, it may be an openly broad technique in the Impressionistic style. If you paint with acrylics, your artistic style may be colorful abstract expressionism.

So, how do you find out what your artistic style is? Well, it’s not that simple to discover. If you don’t know, then you don’t have an artistic style yet. It’s only after time and a body of work that you can say, “I think my artistic style is (fill in the blank).”

You don’t need to worry about your artistic style, though. In fact, you shouldn’t, because this is where I believe artists can really break new ground. If you’re striving to invent an artistic style, then you’re thinking too much about it, and it may even be inhibiting your artwork. However, if you let it happen naturally, then you will work and experiment and create your very own artistic style that will one day be apparent to you and everyone else.


Tuesday, February 17

Learning and Painting Color

Today’s Image

Are you afraid to paint with color? I have been—but I’m doing better now.

It’s not that I don’t like color; I really do. Thinking back, the paintings that get my attention most are the colorful ones in which, what I call, the ‘movement of color’ catches the eye. By that I don’t mean that the color necessarily overwhelms you, although it can. It’s the way the color works with the subject, even if it’s abstract, so that the viewer really looks into the painting.
I’m not just talking about ‘traditional’ paintings from centuries past either. I’m also including other more recent genres or periods, such as Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and even Op Art, for example.

The paintings can be from the Impressionists with their wonderful way of catching colors in the fleeting light, or from the 20th-century, such as Andy Warhol’s bright canvases. These artists used color to express the mood and character of their paintings. Color and emotion are closely tied.

No matter your skill level as a painter, you absolutely must have an understanding of color theory. That means going to a library, a bookstore, or online and finding a book or article that explains color theory. It should be written in such a way so that you can easily understand it and be able to build upon the knowledge piece by piece.

Don’t try to “get it” all at once. Start with the color wheel and learn about the primary and secondary and tertiary colors. Then get your paints out and experiment with what you’ve learned. From there, move on to learn about warm and cool colors, for example. Then experiment and paint some more with those.

There is no better way to learn about color than by the actual experience of mixing them yourself. You can read all you want, but you must paint the colors to really know about them.

You absolutely must understand the power of complementary colors, two colors opposite from each other on the color wheel— for example, blue/orange, red/green, purple/yellow. They are almost magical in their ability to react to each other and their surroundings. They intensify each other and can actually make your work shimmer on the canvas—the ‘movement of color.’ As you grow as a painter, you, too, can pass along this phenomenon to those who view your work.

You absolutely must also understand the power of triads (three colors opposite each other on the color wheel.) With this powerful knowledge, the colors in your paintings will relate to each other and your motif so that the viewer will experience your beautiful and harmonious palette. The Impressionists understood this and produced beautiful masterpieces.

You should also learn how the nuances of neutrals can enhance your art and provide realism or abstraction if that is your intent. Learn about neutrals and mixing neutrals, and you will have given yourself a broader range with which to create and express.

I think I was initially afraid of color because one of my favorite motifs is southwest US landscapes. As you may know, the main colors of southwest US landscapes are earthtones—colors of the desert, the mountains, adobe, and just plain sand and rock—and not particularly colorful. Even the greens of plants are usually washed out to a gray-green, typical of cactus and other succulents.

But, I’m learning and growing and experimenting with other motifs and color. Use it to its fullest extent and do not be afraid of color!

Friday, February 13

What is a Motif?

Today’s Image
Pastel on Paper
14 x 11 in (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Copyright 2007

I thought I’d write today’s blog on selecting the motif of your painting. Because I spend a good amount of time thinking about this, I figured other artists probably did, too.

If you read the Artist “Factoids” column on the right-hand side of my blog (over there to your right), you see that I describe motif as “the main idea in an artistic composition." As one artist described it simply, ‘it's what you're painting.’" I suppose in the broadest sense, a motif can be the style and subject of the painting that you're creating (or usually create). For example, you always paint flowers, or still lifes, or mountain peaks.

Most acclaimed artists did not paint just one motif throughout their careers. Claude Monet, as you probably are aware, didn’t paint waterlilies until the latter part of his long career; before that he painted the French countryside, cathedrals, and shocks of wheat at different times of the day, among other things. Edward Hopper painted both New York cityscapes and the houses on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

At the other end of the spectrum, according to my artist friend, the motif is simply what you’re painting that day. In this definition, you may think your motif is beaches, but it would be the particular beach your are painting is your motif—for example, the beach at Waikiki, Hawaii—as opposed to just any beach.

So, what is a motif? Here’s an official definition from Merriam-Webster (the dictionary folks) Online Dictionary: 1: a usually recurring salient thematic element (as in the arts); especially: a dominant idea or central theme; 2: a single or repeated design or color. So, can it be both a recurring theme and dominant idea in a painting and simply the subject of your painting that day? I vote yes.
If nothing else, maybe this will help you discover and decide what the motif of your next painting will be.

To put this in some context, I myself have several broad motifs: southwestern US landscapes, adobe structures, and also coastal scenes. The motif in Today’s Image combines both southwestern US landscapes and adobe structures. The particular motif is an old adobe church situated near a graveyard. I have painted many paintings using these motifs, but I still have a lot to discover about them.
I want to explore new motifs as time goes on although I don’t yet know what they may be. I think that’s part of the creative process that makes art a new experience every day.

Do you have a motif?


Tuesday, February 10

8 Tips for Painting the Sky

Today’s Image
Big New Mexico Sky
Acrylic on canvas
(20 x 16 in, 50.6 x 40.6 cm)
Copyright 2008

If you are a plein air painter, or if you paint landscapes, seascapes, or actually any outdoor motif in which the horizon is visible, then you have to determine how to paint the sky. Today's Image is my acrylic painting of a bright, mid-day sky.

Painting skies is and should be an important part of your motif considering it can cover anywhere from next to nothing to 100 percent of your canvas (or paper). It’s important to be able to render it according to your artistic vision.

In today’s The Painting Life I’m passing along a few tips for painting skies that have helped me. First let me tell you to relax, because there is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s your creation and your sky and your vision and you can paint it anyway you like.

Second, artists don’t agree on how to do this either. I know one professional artist who said you should always paint the sky last, that is, after you’ve already painted everything else. I think he said your painting will look more realistic, but I don’t necessarily agree. He said when you paint the sky last, it does mean you have to go back and fill-in the sky around the edges of objects you’ve already painted, such as trees and branches. To me that can be difficult and a whole lot of filling-in to do. I think it also looks like what it is-- adding paint at the very end, which doesn’t look realistic to me. Painting the sky last just doesn’t work for me.

I do much better by painting the sky first. To my way of thinking, it’s the most distant thing in your picture, of course, so naturally everything else will be closer to the viewer. I tend to paint in sequence according to how far away objects are, starting with the most distant object first (the sky). Then I paint the next closest objects or area and lastly the closest objects to the viewer. In landscapes, for example, the closest thing may be the ground that’s right in front of me, which I paint last. Whether this makes artistic sense, I don’t know, but it’s logical to me and it works, so that’s how I do it.

I paint mostly with acrylics, and here are my eight tips for painting skies:

  1. As I already said, paint the sky first.

  2. One of my favorite blues for any kind of sunny, daytime sky is Amsterdam/Van Gogh Sky Blue Light; it’s a natural looking light blue that can be used right from the tube or mixed with Titanium white.

  3. Depending your geographic location and altitude, and in addition to Sky Blue Light, I find a Cerulean blue mixed with Titanium white looks more realistic for my landscapes; Cerulean blue has green in it, and somehow it look better with landscapes, which are earth tones.

  4. For seascapes, either Ultramarine or Pthalo blue mixed with Titanium white is a good choice no matter what mixture of blues, greens, browns, or grays you’re using for the water; Ultramarine or Pthalo seem to provide a more pleasing blue painted above water.

  5. For a daytime scene, the sky should be lighter at the horizon and become gradually darker at the highest point, even in broad daylight at noon.

  6. If your motif is either a sunrise or a sunset, then you have a whole variety of oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples from which to choose; these should be painted brighter or more vividly (a darker value)at the horizon and become gradually less intense the higher in the sky they reach; pay attention to how they mix with blue depending on how bright the daylight is on the horizon.

  7. A night sky should look rich and velvet-y; almost never use black, Mars black, or Payne’s gray to paint a night sky; a better choice is either a Pthalo or a Prussian blue, which can be mixed with a little Payne’s gray; you can also use a Deep violet or Dioxazine purple mixed with either a Burnt Sienna or Pthalo/Prussian blue depending on the look you’re going for.

  8. Clouds, of course, play a huge part in the look and mood of your skies; however, painting clouds is a subject all by itself and will be left for another blog; suffice it to say, there is almost no limit to the whites, blues, grays, greens, yellows and/or pinks of your clouds or their type, depending on the weather.

With these eight tips, the Sky’s the Limit!


Friday, February 6

Painting Sunlight & Chiaroscuro

Today’s Image

Today Image is an icon for the sun, which ties into the topic of today's art blog--painting sunlight.

‘How do you paint sunlight?’ you ask. It’s not easy. Little kids simplify this in their art by drawing/painting/coloring a large yellow orb in the upper right- or left-hand corner. Not only little kids do this. Grown-up artists do this, too, sometimes. I hope it’s due to the aesthetic of the piece, similar to the moon in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and not because it’s how you think sunlight should be painted!

Since I started painting again, I have learned that you don’t really “paint” sunshine, of course. If you recall from your middle school science class, the sun’s rays are invisible. What you’re painting, or capturing, on paper or canvas is actually the result of light falling upon your subject.
That sounds easy enough, but it’s not easy by any means. It takes skill, practice, and time-years in most cases- to master the art of painting sunlight. But the reward is worth the effort, because the ability to paint light is what makes your artwork come alive.

You may have already figured this out, but there can be no light without dark. What? The impression of light is actually relative by comparison to something less light (or dark). Think about it. If all you painted were light, your artwork would be all white and nothing else. That’s because white is the additive result of all light. All white artwork is fine but probably not your intention.

What I’m getting at is that contrast of light to dark (or vice versa) is the key. This is the value of the color (or hue), which means how light or dark the color is. Confused yet? Don’t be. However, learning to paint the variation or gradation of light upon your subject(s) along with its shadow(s) will improve your artwork.
As I said, it’s the contrast of the light to dark that’s most important. Painting light and dark, or sunlight and shadow, is also how shapes and space are perceived. Without that contrast, everything would appear to be on a flat plane or two-dimensional (length x width). It’s the ‘play’ of light on the lighted and unlighted portions of our subjects that make them appear three-dimensional (length x width x height).

A big word for arranging light and shadow in art is chiaroscuro. Whether you know it or not, that’s what you’re doing when you figure out how much light illuminates your subject and conversely the shadows. Although painting sunlight sounds as if it’s applicable only to plein air painting, that’s not the case. The same principles apply to indoor or artificial light as well.

There is a whole field of scientific study on color, with art being just one of the interested parties. I’m guessing you just want to be a better painter and not a scientist, right? Painting light-or sunlight-and alter ego darkness is a whole area of artistic education. Lucky for most of us, a passing knowledge of the basics of color theory is all that’s really required, not becoming an expert.

One of the masters at this is Edward Hopper. His whole career was based on, and I quote, "I just want to paint the sun's light on the side wall of a house." He is known for his stark and thought-provoking paintings in which the contrast of sunlight or indoor light versus shadow played a prominent role in most of them.

Hopper’s breakout piece of art that was the beginning of his long career was a watercolor entitled Mansard Roof. It’s a painting of a house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and in it he perfectly captured not only the sunlight but the whole atmosphere of the place. Currently on tour, it resides in The Brooklyn Museum in New York, USA.

Learn to paint sunlight and your art will come alive!


Sunday, February 1

Acrylic vs. Oil, Pastel, & Watercolor

Today’s Image
Mexican Hats
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
20 x 16 in (51 x 41 cm)
Copyright 2009

In the Studio

I’ve been back in the studio this week I’m glad to report. I finished Today’s Image, an acrylic with the effect of a watercolor, which is the point of today’s blog--the versatility of acrylics.

Acrylic is the most versatile medium there is for artists in my opinion based on readings and observations. If you have ever tried acrylics, then I think you will agree. There’s nothing else like it. I’m not saying that acrylic is the best medium for artwork. I’m not saying acrylic is the most beautiful medium for artwork. I’m saying it is the most versatile.

There are those artists for whom their chosen medium is the one and only acceptable medium. They create with oil only or pastel only or watercolor only—period, end of discussion. If you have ever visited any of the art sites on the web that specialize in email opinions, then you’ve seen the arguments that rage on about oil, pastel, watercolor, and, yes, acrylic.

I wonder if oil painters, pastel painters, or watercolorists have tried acrylics. Actually I’m sure they have, but for some reason, you never hear them touting acrylics. I’m guessing they've pursued a particular medium throughout their education and career, and then stick with it. I would hope for open-mindedness, but have no expectations.

Acrylic is the ‘Rodney Daingerfield’ of the painting mediums. For those outside the US, the late Rodney Daingerfield was a well known US comedian whose whole stand-up comedy routine was based on his getting no respect, ever. I think acrylic is in a similar situation—it doesn't get that much respect.

And I don’t why. Acrylic seems to be put in the same category as hobby or craft artwork (as if there were something wrong with that). Take it from a casual observer, there appears to be a condescending, looking-down-your-nose attitude toward acrylics. Excuse me, but how narrow-minded and short-sighted.

Is it because acrylic is regarded as a hobby medium? Is it because it is not viewed as suitable for fine art? Is it because it has ‘plastic’ in it? Just what is it? I think it is simply arrogance. For some reason, oil and watercolor, and to a lesser extent pastel, are considered the painting mediums of true artists (whoever they are). I’m guessing because way back when, oil. watercolor, and pastel were the only painting mediums available.

Yes, the medium is only 54 years old (acrylic paint for artists was invented in 1955 by Liquitex). So what if it hasn’t stood the test of time yet, whatever length of time that is? What I read about oil is that most of the old oil paintings are deteriorating at a rapid clip due to the environment and light. In case you haven't noticed, most of those great old masterpieces that hang in museums or travel around the world on exhibit have been totally restored. I’m not just talking about the ones more than 500 years old either. There are plenty of 19th century masterpieces in the same shape.

I maintain the greatest painters of the past would have used acrylics had they only been available to them. Look, they jumped on the invention of paint in tubes as soon as it became available, didn’t they? They were a savvy and pragmatic group, so I’m sure they would have loved acrylic and all the techniques it affords.

Acrylic leads many lives. Here are just a few of the techniques and properties to remind everyone why it’s so versatile; it can be:
  • used like oils
  • used like watercolor
  • used for impasto
  • used for glazing
  • used for palatte or knife painting
  • used in mixed media
  • scumbled, scraped, and daubed
And those are just a few that come to mind. There are many more techniques for you to discover, explore, and create. Acrylic is the most versatile medium by far!