Thursday, May 28

Mea Culpa - Republishing the Blog on Jackson POLLOCK

I want to thank the OrbisPlanis viewer who alerted me to a mistake I made in the March 5, 2009, blog post. The blog was about a documentary on Jackson Pollock and whether a painting from a thrift store was an authentic Pollock or not. Unfortunately I spelled the name of the artist incorrectly in the blog. So, to make up for that, I'm re-posting the blog with the correct spelling - Pollock - and will delete the previous post. My apologies to Mr. Pollock and his family.

I recently saw a very interesting show, a documentary film actually by New Line Cinema on the Sundance Channel. For those who either don’t know or live where it’s not available, the Sundance Channel is, according to its website, “…the television destination for independent-minded viewers seeking something different; bold, uncompromising and irreverent, Sundance Channel offers audiences a diverse and engaging selection of films, documentaries, and original programs, all unedited and commercial free.” It was founded by famous actor and director Robert Redford in 1996. The Sundance Channel is available in the US on cable and satellite networks, and may be available in other parts of the world as well.

The other evening I watched the documentary entitled “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?” It was one of the most intriguing shows about art that I have seen.

It chronicles the story of Teri Horton who in 1992 in San Bernardino, California, paid $5US for a large painting at a thrift store (it may be called something else where you live, but anyway a store that sells used items) for an ailing friend. It was treated almost as junk and very nearly discarded. Only later when someone, it’s not clear to me who exactly, told her it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Pollock’s iconic paintings are world-renowned for their abstract drips, splatters, and splashes of color.

At that point, Horton, a big-rig truck driver by trade and with little knowledge of art or the “art world,” began a quest to prove that Pollock is the artist of her painting. It’s also her quest to prove the “art world” wrong. Without going into all the twists and turns, which at times seems like a fictional movie, the documentary covers multiple paths to prove authenticity of the painting over next decade.

The cast of quirky characters seem to have come straight from the pages of a Larry McMurtry novel. Teri Horton herself is a salt-of-the-earth character if there ever was one. Her raspy voice and demeanor remind me of actress Elaine Strich.

There is forensic art detective Peter Paul Biro who spent considerable time and effort attempting to prove authenticity to no avail, including crawling around on the floor of Pollock-Glasner House (Pollock’s art studio, now a museum) in East Hampton, New York. His primary work centers around the fingerprint he found on the back of the painting and his scientific work in trying to match it with the few fingerprints of Pollock’s that have been found--one on a paint can in the Pollock-Glasner House.

There are art dealers and critics, regarded as experts, who come off in the film as condescending. They include, among others, Jeffrey Bergen, Nick Carone, and Thomas Hoving who contend the painting is not a Pollock even with the evidence of matching fingerprints. There’s Tod Volpe, who appears as Horton’s business manager and agent and who himself spent a couple of years in prison for art fraud.

Then there are Horton’s friends and family who stand behind her all the way. All in all, an interesting group of folks. Did I mention that Teri Horton has already turned down offers of $2 millionUS and $9 millionUS, the latter a buyer from an Saudi Arabia? Such is the determination of Horton.

The documentary was completed in 2006 and leaves the viewer in a quandary over which side to believe. For more information , you can Google the title or Teri Horton’s name and find many websites and articles about this interesting story.

The latest update I found was from October 31, 2008, in the Art News Blog, which reported the painting was for sale in the Gallery Delisle in Toronto, Canada, for the price of $50 millionUS.


Monday, May 25

Using Perspective in Painting and Drawing

Today’s Image
The Inn
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyrightf 2008

Today's OrbisPlanis art blog is on perspective in drawing and painting. Today's Image is an acrylic painting of mine in which persepective was a major element.

As an artist or painter, what gives you the most trouble when you’re in the midst of creating your art? For many it’s rendering the proper perspective of objects in your composition. Of course, this may or may not be important to you depending on the type, style, and genre of your painting or drawing.

Do you think Picasso had perfect perspective in mind in his many paintings of women and other subjects? I don’t think so either.

However, for those who want some semblance of realism in their art, perspective is very important. I’m not talking about the kind of perspective such as your viewpoint on the importance of Impressionism (for example) in today’s art world.

No, I’m talking about the use of real perspective that gives depth to your artwork. When you use perspective in your art, you mimic what your eyes see. It’s an illusion that allows you to replicate, more or less, the three-dimensional onto a two-dimensional surface.

It’s a very important element in your composition. When it’s rendered properly, it provides balance and realism. When it’s not, it can ruin a drawing or painting by skewing the proportions of your subject. And if that's the case, it just doesn’t look right and never will.

Although they’re understandable, the concepts of perspective are numerous and require some level of study--much more than can be covered in this blog. I think it also helps if you’re good in geometry and geometric concepts

A good resource is Mastering Perspective for Beginners by Santiago Arcas, Jose Arcas, and Isabel Gonzalez. It is an easy-to-understand text on the subject that gives you an historical background and takes you from the simplest concepts to the most advanced, such as periodic repetitions, and also covers perspective in stairs, inclined planes, shadows, and reflections. It also includes numerous exercises and really good diagrams that help you put into practice what’s discussed.

Two simple concepts of perspective are: 1) objects farther away from the viewer appear smaller than those up close and 2) parallel lines appear to converge at a point on the horizon. The latter is also called the vanishing point, which may be on the horizon line or beyond.

Without going into detail, here are some other basics that are covered:

- Visual field and viewpoint
- Ground plane
- Picture plane
- Ground line
- Line of sight

When you’re finished, you’ll be able to render perspective in your artwork with confidence. You’ll also have a ready reference whenever you need to double check your drawings.

Here’s a hint—practice may not make perfect, but it will put your artwork in the proper perspective!


Friday, May 22

Why Mixing the Color "Gray" Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Today’s Image
A Gradation of Gray

Today’s blog is about mixing the color “gray” in your paintings. It's like the box of chocolates from the movie, Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re going to get!

Oh sure, you expert artists out there would say otherwise. You’d tell me there are exact mixing guides that will give you perfect results every time. You’d tell me you must use these mixing recipes because, heaven forbid, you don’t ever want a “surprise” on your paper or canvas. Right.

To use an American expression, “they are full of it.” The art world can’t even agree on how the darn color should be spelled. In one camp, the color is ”gray.” The other camp spells it “grey.” I could care less how you spell it, although I choose “gray” for no other reason except that it looks right.


I find that using grays in your paintings is one of your most useful tools and a skill you should become proficient in.

Why? Because the change in value, the contrast, the chiaroscuro, is what makes your paintings come alive. Unless you’re painting in the abstract or abstract expressionism (or any other of the –isms), you need the gradation in tone (in color or black/white) to provide the third dimension and a sense of depth to your work.

Also, I’m not implying that you can only use grays to achieve value changes or shadows. There are many other ways to do that, although using gray is one of the most useful.

So, how do you get the color “gray.” Well, let me count the ways, but remember—there is no one right way of doing it.

I will add here that if you don’t know anything about color theory or the color wheel or any of that, I suggest now would be the perfect time for you to go and get a basic understanding of color before moving on. Otherwise, you will probably get very frustrated trying to mix your grays, not to mention all the other colors.

Of course, the easiest way to get a gray is to go out and buy one off the rack (like Davy's gray, for example). But to me, that’s cheating, plus it takes all the fun out of learning about mixing colors. Don’t do it.

The second easiest way is by adding the complement of the color you are painting. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, see the paragraph above on getting a basic understanding of color theory . For example, you get a very nice gray when you add a touch of orange to blue.

Following on with my blue-and-orange example, depending on the exact orange (yellow-orange, red-orange, etc.) and the exact blue (ultramarine, cerulean, etc.) you mix, you will get a DIFFERENT result every time. That doesn’t even take into consideration the proportions of the colors you're mixing.

And that’s just orange and blue. Yesterday, I mixed a very nice gray, and just the one I needed, by combining—get this—magenta, sap green, and cobalt blue—that’s three colors! There are also warm grays and cool grays, but I’ll leave that discussion for another OrbisPlanis art blog.

Wow--the possibilities are endless, but if you’re like me, you’ll learn a few basic mixes and then use variations of those as needed. Learning is the fun of it.

That’s why I said at the beginning, mixing the color "gray" is like a box of chocolates!


Tuesday, May 19

Help Public Arts: Give or Volunteer to Your Local Public Arts Projects

Today’s Image
Synchronicity of Color
Sculpture by Margo Sawyer
Discovery Green Park - Houston

I hope, as an artist, you live in a community that supports the arts. In this time of global recession it’s tempting for those who have authority over the budgets for arts funding, public art projects, community giving—call it what you like—to automatically cut expenses in this category.

What a pity when this happens. Of course, people need the necessities of food and health care. However, cutting or shrinking corporate or government spending for the arts, art funding, or art education is a short-sighted view.

If anything, individual givers, companies, and agencies should look at ways to reduce expenses across the board rather than cutting in just one area such as the arts.

Now more than ever, we need the soothing benefits we receive from artistic endeavors. I’m talking about the benefits from public exhibits, museums of all types open to the public, public/private funding of art events, and funding for arts education.

You can help by supporting the artistic activity of your choice through monetary giving, volunteering of your time and expertise, and/or donating artwork as appropriate. For example, you can volunteer to teach art to school-age children or seniors. Or perhaps you can donate your art--many charities hold art auctions to raise money for any number of causes. The artwork is auctioned with the proceeds going to worthy causes, such as the homeless, cancer research, hospitals, and many others.

If you’re not sure where to look, then do some research online using Google or any other search engine.

Try searching these terms followed by the name of your city, state, or country:

-Public arts fund/funding
-Public arts projects
-Public arts network

For example, when I Googled the term “public arts fund Houston ” one of the first search hits was “Houston Municpal Arts Conservation,” which states, “To complement the artistic endeavors of the private sector, the City of Houston's ongoing vision to emphasize public art continues to expand the opportunities for citizens to enjoy art in public spaces... The Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) has been officially formed through the merger of the Cultural Arts Council Houston/Harris County, the Municipal Art Commission, and the Civic Art Committee. The HAA now serves as a unified entity that will fund, advocate, preserve, and promote the arts in the Houston, and Harris county region.” The site provides a lot of information, links to other sites, and many ways to participate in the arts in Houston. Cool!

When I Googled the term “public arts projects Los Angeles” the very first search hit is a newsletter for the Department of Public affairs for the city of LA. It states, “Stay up to date with current public art happenings in Los Angeles, and be on the lookout for new projects in your neighborhood!" The site and newsletter also provide information and other links (e.g., a link to Public Art in LA, which gives a long list of public art venues around the city. Great!

When I Googled just the term “public arts network” with no city, state, or country I got the site for Public Arts Network, which is part of a group called Americans for the Arts. It states, “Americans for the Arts' Public Art Network (PAN) develops professional services for the broad array of individuals and organizations engaged in the expanding field of public art. More than 350 public art programs exist in the United States at the state, local and national level. PAN connects the field by stimulating dialogue, discussing critical issues, developing public art products and services, and providing information through the website and the PAN Listserv.” Like the other two sites, there is also a lot of information and links to other associated sites. Wonderful!

All that information from just three online searches, and I barely scratched the surface of what’s out there. There’s a whole lot more, I’m sure. Be creative and spend some time to research public art opportunities available in your area.

You can help someone and feel good about yourself because you made the effort to participate in public art projects.


Saturday, May 16

Artwork of Emil Kosa, Jr.

Today’s art blog is on Emil Kosa, Jr. and follows my last blog about California Regional Artists 1920s – 1950s. We visited the exhibition, California Regionalism: Oils on Canvas, at the California Heritage Museum when we were in Santa Monica recently. I liked all the paintings on exhibit, but was particularly drawn to those of Emil Kosa, Jr.

’s works stood out to me because of the way he used light and shadow in an almost chiaroscuro effect to heighten the drama of his motifs. I don’t recall exactly how many of his paintings are in the exhibition, at least five I think, but each one successively got my attention more.

I was not familiar with Kosa’s work or, actually, any of the other artists either. But I liked his paintings so much that I decided to do a little online research about him.

From the Calart website I found out he was born in Paris and lived from 1903 to 1968. In the 1920s he moved to California and worked with his father producing murals and other large decorative art projects in addition to commissioned portraits and fine art for galleries. In the 1930s he was encourage by Millard Sheets to pursue his talent in watercolor in addition to oils. He “was among the first California Style watercolorist whose work brought attention to the West Coast watercolor style,” and was a prominent member of the National Watercolor Society. Another site mentioned that he studied at the California Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1927. Today's Image is one of Kosa's watercolors.

This is interesting. Living in LA, Kosa also worked in the film industry. His father worked on special effects for the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. Kosa Jr. was a matte artist at 20th Century-Fox for more than 30 years. He is known for his painting of 20th Century-Fox’s searchlight logo. It was mentioned that his best known work in the film industry was probably the ruined Statue of Liberty in the movie Planet of the Apes. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) website provides his complete filmography. And--he also won an Academy Award (Oscar) in 1964 for Special Effects in the movie Cleopatra. How about that?

On the California Watercolor website, where you can see some of his work, I found out that in the 1950s Kosa was known for his portrait work of movie stars and other prominent people. His portrait of Earl Warren of California hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In addition to being included in the exhibit, two of Kosa’s fine oil paintings are featured on the brochure and take-away promoting the California Regionalism show. They are The Big Top, circa 1950 and Looking Towards the Civic Center, circa 1940.

In 2004 the California Heritage Museum hosted an exhibition similar to the 2009 Oils on Canvas except it featured watercolors and was called Everyday Life in California, Regional Watercolors 1930-1960. All of the exhibited paintings were published by the museum in a book of the same name.

I’m so glad we visited the exhibit at the California Heritage Museum and became acquainted with Emil Kosa, Jr.’s artwork.


Wednesday, May 13

California Regional Artists: 1920s - 1950s

Today’s Image
California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica

When I travel, I like to see if there’s an art museum in the area that I haven’t visited before and that may have something new or different either in a permanent collection or on exhibit. That is just what I found on a recent trip to Los Angeles. I happened to pick up a copy of the Santa Monica Daily Press, a daily free paper. Under happenings or events or some such title was listed California Regionalism: Oils on Canvas. Although I’ve been to LA (and Santa Monica) quite a few times, I was not aware of the California Heritage Museum, where the exhibit was showing. Today’s Image is a shot of the museum and marquee.

I even had to Google the name and location to see exactly where it is—on Main St. and Ocean Park just a couple of blocks from the beach. What we found when we got there was not an art museum, but rather an historical museum about the early days of Santa Monica, and it also hosts art exhibits.

The museum itself is the restored 1894 ‘craftsman’ style home of Roy Jones who founded Santa Monica. The first floor is full of California vintage furniture of the era and an interesting collection of individual decorative tiles. The tiles were handcrafted with motifs ranging from Spanish and Mexican heritage to flowers and agricultural products related to Southern California. Several times a year the museum hosts a “tile show" and auction for collectors.

One of the rooms also held a most interesting exhibit of Mexican Calendar Girls, the Golden Age of Mexican Calandar Art 1930-1960. It’s a collection of lithographic prints in color of lovely Mexican women that “embody Mexican history, culture, and aspirations.” That’s something you don’t see everyday.

But what we came for was on the second floor, the California Regionalism exhibit. It’s a collection of popular California artists of the time period of the 1920s to the 1950s. The paintings depict everyday life, mostly in Southern California, but with a few from the Bay Area, too, in a period of tremendous growth. They were part of an art movement called Regionalism, of which I’ll have to find out more. The paintings include rural and desert settings, coastal scenes, and, of course, cityscapes of Los Angeles during the era.

The artists whose works are exhibited are Paul Sample, Barse Miller, Ben Messick, Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Ralph Hulett , Phil Paradise, and Emil Kosa, Jr. I was not familiar with the work of any of these artists, which actually made the viewing more enjoyable, as I was experiencing their art for the first time. As a group, the styles range from loose and airy to contemporary to realism, but you can see the individuality of each artist in his work.

This little museum exhibiting such interesting and beautiful paintings was a lucky find. I especially liked the work of Emil Kosa, so the next OrbisPlanis art blog will be about him and some of his paintings in the California Regionalism exhibit.


Thursday, May 7

Five Tips for Watercolor Painting

Today’s Image
Santa Barbara Patio
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2009

Today’s Image (above) is one of my first watercolor paintings completed after having attended what I like to call Watercolor School (WS) for a couple of months. I posted it in response to one of my Twitter followers who asked about my watercolors (thanks @lulasi). WS is not actually an art school, but rather weekly lessons for a few of us lucky artists at the studio of two professional watercolor painters.

Having said that, today’s blog is about five tips I have learned so far at WS. They are not necessarily the most important tips nor are they by any means the only tips for watercolorists. They are five tips I have learned so far that were important enough for me to be able to remember them off the top of my head for this blog.

Here we go:
  1. Use 300-Pound (640 grams/square meter) Hot-Press Watercolor Paper for the “Best” Results - This is the standard for the class. Up until I took the class, I didn’t even know there was 300-pound paper; I thought 140-pound was the maximum. No one has said exactly what the “best” results are, but I have gleened from comments, they mean pleasing results in the way the paint goes on, sturdiness in being able to take many washes, and the ability to make changes (even what they call “scrubbing”—not actually scrubbing, more like scraping), and durability so the painting will last a long, long time.
  2. The Standard Palette is a Good Place to Start - This is a palette of three primary watercolors: Cadmium Red Medium (or Deep), New Gamboge, and French Ultramarine. The reason to use these is that you can make almost all, but not all, other colors you’ll need as a beginner. There are other palettes (delicate, old masters), but those will come later with more knowledge.
  3. Buy the Best Quality Paint You Can Afford - Since you’re only starting with the three colors, cost may not be a problem for many, but I don’t want to presume anything, and will let you know that in the US, a small 17 ml. tube of professional quality watercolor costs about US$8 to US$12, depending on the color and your place of residence. A tube goes a long way, but still. You can substitute the colors labeled “hue,” but I was told you use more of it, so there is not much cost saving, and that the hues are not as transparent (relatively speaking) as the good quality stuff.
  4. How to Flatten your Finished Painting After it Dries - Depending on how much paint and water you used on your painting, you will, no doubt, end up with a painting that curls or bows inward/outward to some extent. What you do is apply some water to the back of your painting—careful, not too much, but enough so that it’s shiny. Then on a level surface, place your painting between two other sheets of watercolor paper (300 lb.). On top of that, place some really heavy books so that they cover most of it. Leave it alone, and after the third day, your painting will be as flat as a pancake. No joke.
  5. Never Give Up on a Painting - I was told by the other students that this is the only rule that cannot be broken in the class. Once you start a painting, you cannot quit it no matter what. You may make corrections, you may change it up, you may put it away for a day or two, but you must finish the painting. No if’s, and’s, or but’s (and the instructors will not allow a haphazard, slap-dash effort either).

So, these are five useful tips I’ve learned so far. Occasionally I’ll blog about other tips I learn and show some more watercolors.


Monday, May 4

Learning to Be an Artist

Today’s Image
A sample photo from Microsoft

Today’s Image
is a bright photo of growing and glowing flowers, and is the perfect visual for today's blog on learning to be an artist.

If you’re an aspiring artist you may want to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible so that you can use what you learn immediately. I say this not to lessen in any way the importance a classical art education provides. However, for many, enrolling in a fine arts curriculum is just not possible. The answer may be to acquire and supplement your art knowledge through your own volition of study, lessons, and, for lack of a better word, STICK-TO-IT-IVE-NESS.

This allows you to focus your effort and learnings on the type of art and/or the medium that most interests you. You will achieve your art goals if you are fully ENGAGED and INTERESTED.

Be selective in your interests, and you can either jump-start or even immediately improve your artistic skills. If you have any inclination to pursue art as a career, a vocation, an avocation (or hobby), or whatever your motivation is, be DETERMINED.

Compare becoming an artisit to learning how to drive a car. First you learn some of the basic rules of the road before you get behind the wheel. Then you get behind the wheel and actually learn to drive by doing it, as there is no substitute other than the experience itself. Next, you practice, practice, practice, and your skills greatly improve. Finally you are zipping along a freeway, expressway, autobahn, or whatever they call them in your part of the world.

You may currently be anywhere along your journey as an artist, from the absolute novice to a professional . It doesn't matter where. To keep the learning-to-drive analogy going, you can enter, change lanes, pass, and exit anywhere along the way. Just DON'T LOOK BACK.

As a novice, the whole art experience awaits you, and that’s an exciting place to be. If you’re already a professional, then you know it’s never too late to learn a new technique or take up a new medium.

The secret to growing as an artist is to always KEEP LEARNING.

You have already taken the very first step, which is acknowledging your desire to create artwork. You have taken the second step by doing something about it--you’re reading this art blog aren’t you? You may have even moved to the next steps of actually drawing or painting something that interests you.

Some piece of artwork interested you, caught your eye, got your creative juices flowing. That became your inspiration and motivation.

There will be times in your creative journey when you’ll want to give up or give in. During those times, which will occur in the middle of your creative effort, REMEMBER WHAT INSPIRED YOU initially, and that will MOTIVATE YOU to complete your work of art.

Whenever you start and whatever you try, BE PATIENT and give yourself a chance to succeed before moving on. You must PERSERVERE and FOLLOW THROUGH.

The old cliche, “10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration“ rings true when you finally complete your work of art.

Never forget, in art ONLY YOU HAVE TO BE SATISFIED.


Friday, May 1

How to Paint the Color of Shadows

Today’s Image
Motel Cactus
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2008

It’s May Day, time to turn the calendar page on my Impressionists art calendar. And featured for May is Camille Pissarro and his painting “A Corner of the Garden at the Hermitage”--a beautiful painting to look at for the next 31 days.

Today’s blog, however, is about painting shadows and how tricky that can be. In reading more about it, I’m pretty sure it's tricky for me, you, and most artists including even those who are expert and renowned.

Why is it so tricky for so many? It goes back, I think, way back to when our brains taught us to recognize what things are. After we had learned what a tree is, we then stopped looking at them. So, a tree’s a tree, a house is a house, and a lake is a lake, and they’re all the same.

The fact is that most people don’t actually see details when they look at things, and therein lies the problem with shadows, too. Today's Image is an acrylic of mine in which I really had to concentrate on painting the shadows.

We know shadows are present in bright sunlight or in any light, really, but we don’t think about them as objects. But they are just as real as the tree itself even if they are fleeting and changeable. A professional artist told me that painters generally don’t paint their subjects with enough dark shadows or contrast. They tend NOT to paint shadows properly to make whatever they’re painting look realistic.

Here are a few things I researched on the subject (in real books, too, not just on Google!) that I hope will be helpful to you.

"Shadows are important to your artwork," Arcas says In Mastering Perspective for Beginners. Shadows allow the artist to capture the three dimensions and transmit them to two-dimensional paper or canvas. Shadows are nothing more than the absence of light. Sounds easy enough, but because factors, such as the source of light (natural or artificial) and the direction from which it comes, artists must learn how to paint them. In addition, there are two kinds of shadows—the shadow on the object itself and the shadow the object casts.

In addition to not being able to see them correctly, even when we do see shadows, we don't have a clue as to what color they are. Ask anyone what color shadows are, and they'll probably say, "black." Wrong.

In Color A Course for Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors, Betty Edwards says one problem is that we only see the colors we expect to see. She uses the example of an orange that is never “orange” all over. Depending on the brightness of the light it’s in, its colors range from almost white in the highlight to orange, red-orange, to a dull brown in the shadow.

What about the color of the shadow the orange casts? Ms. Edwards goes on to say the color of the shadow cast depends on the color of the surface itself. The color of the surface will be reflected in the cast shadow, but it also depends on, 1) reflected light from the object itself and 2) any surrounding or background color.

In Exploring Color, Nita Leland says shadows are like veils through which you can see underlying colors of the surface only darker and never black (I told you so) or opaque. She says to use 1) a deeper color of the surface, or 2) a complementary color to the overall light (does she mean color?), or 3) a creative color (not sure what she means) and not just a blue or violet, which I read are popular choices, or 4) chromatic neutrals , which are similar to a range of grays with hints of color (chroma). She also says some artists paint the shadow first, some last, and some as they go, but you should experiment.

See how quickly it becomes confusing as to how to mix colors to paint a shadow? Unfortunately, there is no simple, 1-2-3 guide for painting shadows. No wonder it’s tricky.