Monday, September 28

Entering an Art Show or Exhibit

Today’s Image
An "Art Show"

There’s probably nothing that gets an artist to a more heightened state of activity, or is that anxiety, than preparing for an upcoming art show or exhibit. Today’s Image attempts to set the stage for the upcoming drama to unfold.

What causes all this activity/anxiety? Well, for one, artists are only human, although I’m sure there are some (many?) people out there who would dispute that premise.

Preparing for a show entails many tasks and skill sets almost none of which have anything to do with creating art. To the contrary, getting ready for a show is the antithesis of creating art.

In getting ready for a show, the artist must display at least a few of the following skills: alertness, decision-making, verbal and written communication, efficient handling of paperwork (either the real thing or online files), extreme attention to detail, time management, meeting a deadline, some level of confidence, and, of all things, people skills, if you are lucky enough to be asked to attend a reception.

Unfortunately, hardly any of these are ones most people would use when describing artists. Like oil and water, creativity and administrative duties don’t mix very well. We’re all familiar with the left-brain, right-brain view of the world, and nothing highlights the difference between the two lobes quite like entering an art exhibit.

The whirlwind of activities in entering and submitting artwork to an exhibition is manifold. First, the artist has to be in some communication loop or on some mailing or email list or a member of some art group or at least read some kind of art periodical to even know there’s an opportunity to exhibit his or her art.

The next big hoop to jump through is having the motivation to actually do something with the opportunity—like getting more information about the show. Then the artist must carefully read the literature about the show and decide if it’s worth entering.

Assuming the artist decides to enter the show, he or she must then decide which piece of art is worthy of being exhibited. This sounds easy, but it’s a stumbling block and a show-stopper for many.

Here’s where the extreme attention to detail comes into play. If the artist doesn’t read the fine print, so to speak, and follow every requirement to the letter, then there’s an excellent probability his or her entry will be rejected before their piece of art even makes it to the judging. This just has to be where the phrase “the devil is in the details” came from.

Every competition is different with different requirements about such things as subject matter, size, framing, matting, authenticity, etc., etc. Mess up on any one detail, and both the art and artist will be summarily dismissed. Don't forget, it is a competition and a cold, cruel art world out there.

One of the most important requirements is getting both the entry (the “paperwork”) and the artwork itself submitted on or preferably before the dreaded deadline. Miss it, and your dreams are over.

I think that’s enough for one blog, but please return for the next installment (blog), and I’ll continue the saga of submitting an entry to an art show or exhibit.

‘Til then…


Thursday, September 24

How to Use Sponges and Foam Brushes

Today’s Image
The Humble Sponge

Here’s something you don’t normally think of when you think about painting—sponges. Yes, you read it right—sponges.

I was using one this morning. They’re not just for kitchen and cleaning duty or making crafts. They are one of the ordinary tools that artists can use to create and re-create all kinds of looks in their artwork.

Like what, you ask? Okay, well, for one thing, there are different kinds of sponges that you can use. Bet you hadn’t really given that a thought. But there are, and they’re useful in painting, especially for watercolor and even acrylics. There are sponges made of synthetic or organic material, such as foam or wool.

Then there are sea sponges. That’s the kind you see in surf-and-shell shops in touristy coastal communities (and, oh yes, art supply stores). Not to get all National Geographic or anything, but this type of sponge was once a living creature. No, really, I’m not making this up. Sea sponges live in the ocean, but when they pass on, what’s left is their skeleton(s). It’s similar to coral but much softer, of course, and the ultimate in re-cycling.

Sponges come in different sizes, and you can cut them into whatever size you need. You use them like a brush, sort of, to paint with and spread out the paint to create different effects. They impart an interesting texture to your paper or canvas that adds interest if you’re into that sort of art. Or you can use them to daub on paint or water for a stippling effect.

Let me be clear about what I’m calling a sponge. I call any implement or utensil that is made to absorb liquid a sponge. However, I see that the sponge I’m getting ready to tell you about is actually called a foam brush, which, to me, sounds like something they would use in a California carwash.

These are the ones you see in art supply stores and even at paint stores that sell house paint. They come in different widths and sizes, and they’re attached to a handle like a popsicle. I don't know what the difference is, if any, between these and sponges; however, right there on the handle it says 'foam brush.' So there.

I use foam brushes like regular brushes for two purposes, both for watercolor. First, I use them to apply washes especially for large areas that you need to cover quickly with water or paint. You can use whatever width you need to cover the surface in just a few long sweeps. That’s the key--be quick; the faster you paint with the fewest strokes, the smoother the paint goes on without leaving those pesky streak marks.

One note of caution—get the foam brushes with denser foam. They cost slightly more, but the foam is more compacted with almost no visible holes. You can control the amount of water much better than the cheaper ones that are not as dense. Believe me.

Second, I use foam brushes when I need to flatten out finished watercolors. If you’re a watercolorist, you already know this, but the paper curls up as you paint with watercolor. To flatten out the paper for framing, you need to dampen the back (that’s the BACK not the front) of your painting and place it between two other sheets of watercolor paper. Then put the heaviest thing you have around on top, and shortly your watercolor will be as flat as the proverbial pancake.

Sponges and foam brushes are another tool to use in your art toolbox to create your own unique art.


Monday, September 21

Mixing and Using the Color Black in your Paintings

Today’s Image
After the Storm
Acrylic on Panel
Copyright 2008

I like to blog, although not as much as I like to paint. That said, there’s always some art thing to blog about, and today it’s about the color black.

As you may not know, there is no color black in nature. What? How can that be? Surely, there’s black out there somewhere, in a shadow or something.

Nope. Depending on whether you’re talking light or pigment, black is either the absence of all light or the combination of all other colors. Actually, in theory, you can’t ever really mix a true black, but let’s not split hairs.

This discussion assumes, of course, that you not only use black in your paintings or other artwork but also that you mix your own blacks. That, after all, is what “real” artists do, right, rather than buying any of the blacks available off the shelf at your art supply store?

Why mix your own black(s) when you can buy a perfectly acceptable Mars or Ivory in either oil, acrylic, or watercolor? Well, for one thing, it will be a learning experience if nothing else. As an artist, there is always something more to learn, and mixing colors is an endless learning experience.

Basically, you mix black by mixing red and green. Red is one of the primary colors, and green, of course, comes from yellow and blue, the other two primaries. Sounds simple, and it is, but the variations you get, depending on the red and the green you mix, is almost astounding.

It’s hard to think of black as anything other than black, but there are more variations than you can imagine. Again, depending on the exact red and green you mix, you will get all sorts of “blacks.” They range from what I call a warm black, which contains more red and takes on a rich, deep, brownish tone, to a cold,cold blu-ish black. Any everything in between and beyond.

Why use black in your artwork? Remember, you’re not actually using a “real” pure black, but a variation of a very dark hue. Well, for one, you can use black to tone down or darken other colors; that is, to lower the value. When you add black to yellow, you get a very nice range of olive greens so useful in landscapes. Add black to orange and you get all sorts of browns.

But be careful! You may think adding black is the simplest, most expedient way to darken a color, but what happens sometimes is that you end up with just a dull, muddy mixture because the color you were adding black to is already a mixture of colors, and it just makes a mess. Maybe that’s why the Impressionists absolutely refused to use black in their paintings and just about shunned any artist who did.

You shouldn’t be afraid of using black in your artwork. Since black is so intense, it certainly can add a mood to your painting if that’s what you’re after. It’s a somber color, often associated with death, and can evoke an emotional response. It, or a color near it, was used effectively in chiaroscuro paintings —those with lots of contrast where people or objects appear out of deep shadows—during the Renaissance.

However, please don’t think of black as only an ominous or spooky color either. It can add drama or realism to your artwork, and is as natural as any other color. Today's Image is an acrylic painting of mine that uses near-black as a major element.

Experiment and discover something new for your palette.


Thursday, September 17

What's the Difference Between Technique and Style and Why Should You Care?

The other day, I watched a new video on one of my favorite websites, Art Babble. This particular video was a discussion of Pierre-August Renoir’s painting, Moulin de la Galette, 1776. One part of the video talked about several aspects of how Renoir painted this painting.

The two people discussing the painting used the terms rapid brushwork, open brushwork, constant motion, use of light, loosening contours, and flattening space to describe the painting.

I thought they were talking about Renoir’s technique although the word technique was never used. Just so you’ll know, the video is primarily about how Renoir was one of the first to paint everyday life in Paris after the Franco-Prussian War of the early 1870s (and relates to my previous blog on Realism).

But then I thought, no, maybe they’re talking about Renoir’s style of painting.

Anyway, that got me to thinking (uh-oh) about what the commentators on the video were actually talking about, Renoir’s technique or his style?

First, I wanted to make sure I understood the two terms correctly as they apply to art.

Here’s a definition of technique I found on that sounds about right: the method of procedure (with reference to practical or formal details), or way of using basic skills, in rendering an artistic work or carrying out a scientific or mechanical operation.

A while back, I did a blog on discovering your artistic style, but it didn’t include a definition. So, here’s one I found at the that seems to be a good fit: the combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.

Well, I’m glad that’s settled. No, I’m confused. How exactly are they different? Let me see if I can figure this out and hone in on the meaning.

A technique is a method of procedure, or way, of using a skill (like painting).

A style is the distinctive features (that’s plural) that characterize a particular person (or his paintings).

Okay, so, when the commentators were talking about rapid brushwork and constant motion, they were talking about Renoir’s technique—right?

No wait, when they talked about Renoir’s use of light and open brushwork, and flattening space, they were talking about his style—right?

Which is it? Well, I actually think they were talking about both. They just didn’t articulate which was which in the video, and they probably weren’t even thinking about how they were using terms to describe both Renoir’s technique and style.

As they used to say in the corporate world, so what?

Well, I think you should learn and understand the difference between the two so you understand and can articulate both your technique and your style.

Know this. We, as painters, have both, and we should embrace them.


Monday, September 14

What is Realism in Art and Painting?

If you’re a regular viewer of the OrbisPlanis, you may have noticed that I’m always (or a lot of the time anyway) either asking questions about or looking for answers to what’s going on in the art world. I’m curious about why art is classified the way it is or who artists were (or are) or what happened in the past and why.

To me, that’s what makes art so interesting. You can spend all your time creating art or reading and learning about art, and there is always more to know, something new to try or learn.

Anyway, I’ve been wondering about Realism in art and painting. Why, you ask? It seems to me, since I started paying more attention to art in the last couple of years, that art is either realistic looking or it’s not. I’m talking mostly about paintings here, but I think it could be applied to other creative areas as well.

However, as I learned more about the subject, my view may be over-simplified, at least as it applies to the art world. I thought it was either/or—something either looks real or it doesn’t—and everything falls into one bucket or the other. Not so fast, I discovered, and if you dig deep enough, it all starts to get a little zen or nihilistic (e.g., what is existence?). I’ll think I'll just stick to art.

First, I’m not sure we’ll all be able to agree on a definition of Realism in art. One site, said it was the accurate and apparently objective description of the ordinary, observable world that appeared after 1850 when everyday life and people became accepted as artistic subjects (in rejection to earlier eras, such as romanticism, it said). It even provided a list of “Realists” including ironically (to me anyway), Degas and Whistler and a long list of other references on the subject.

But what about everything that came before or after?

Wikipedia (I know it’s not the definitive art authority, but it’s awfully popular) brings up the notion of illusionism as mimesis or verisimilitude (what?)--just wanted to get your attention. That simply means what I already said—something either looks real or it doesn’t. Wikipedia kind of agrees with my view when it talks about recreating the human form as far back as 2400 B.C. and also includes creating realistic figures and surroundings in other eras from ancient Greek to Medieval to the Renaissance. It then picks up where the other site did, and talks about Gustav Courbet’s famous 1849 painting, A Burial at Ornans, as creating quite a stir, being an ordinary funeral. It also includes VanGogh’s 1885 painting, The Potato EatersToday's Image and almost too real for me, if you know what I mean.

One of my favorite painters of realism, as I’ve shared before, is Edward Hopper, who painted from around 1920 until the late 1960s. Now, there was a real realist. Every one of his paintings was of subjects you could relate to. He used light and shadow to depict his subjects in a very real, some say harsh, way, and the people in his paintings are doing the most ordinary things even if you don’t know exactly what they are doing. Take a look at his 1960 painting, Second Story Sunlight, and you’ll see what I mean.

After an extensive Google search, what I discovered is that Realism is one of those subjects that is not easily defined or compartmentalized, and there are many views as to what it entails. For example, I’ll save photo-realism for another blog.

My last blog was about Abstract Expressionism, or at least it was about a movie on the subject of Abstract Expressionism. Now, that is about as far away as you can get from Realism. And yet, in the art world they co-exist—what’s up with that? See what I mean about art being so interesting with something always new to learn?

Keeping it real...


Thursday, September 10

Painting Painters - Abstract Expressionism in America

Today’s Image
A Representation of an Abstract Expressionist Painting
Courtesy of Microsoft

I’ve blogged about programs on the Sundance Channel before. Last time it was a documentary about a Jackson Pollock painting. This time it’s about the New York School (of Painters) 1940-1970 entitled Painters Painting . Since none of the abstract expressionists paintings are in the public domain yet, or at least none I could verify, Today’s Image is a representation of one.

You may or may not have access to the Sundance Channel through your cable TV, satellite, or whatever technology. Or your part of the world may not yet have access to the Sundance Channel. If that is the unfortunate case, sorry to blog about something you can't see, but it is a most interesting film on some very famous American painters.

One reason I like the Sundance Channel is that it regularly carries programs about art and artists that you won’t find in many other venues. Their other programming is pretty good, too, but it’s the art documentaries that get my attention. Painters Painting does, and hereafter I'll just refer to it as PP.

As I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I’m not studied or degree’d in art history, so I guess that‘s why I like shows like PP. It’s educational, and, if you like art, entertaining as well.

It was made in 1973 by Emile de Antonio and Mary Lampson. The opening lines speak of this American art as being of a grand magnitude and how the movie will answer the question: what is American abstract?

Its presentation is relatively simple--nothing but filmed (no digital, of course) interviews of artists in New York City, which, I’m guessing, were produced in the 1960s although some of the black-and-white segments could have been done earlier. The program covers the era of Abstract Expressionism (AE) from 1940 to 1970, although AE wasn’t really recognized as a genre until the 1950s.

The interviews are a mix of artists, curators, critics, and collectors. During the interviews, each provides insight into his or her own work. I recognized many of the artists from my reading, such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. The work of Jackson Pollack and Clyfford Still are also discussed, but they were not interviewed.

Others were interviewed with whom I was not so familiar ( my own fault) including Barnett Newman, Hans Hoffman, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, Marcel Duchamp, Jules Olitski, and Larry Poons.

Following are examples of how artists discuss the genre and/or their work. Motherwell discusses anxiety and violence, anger and beauty, and AE as an American situation. Newman said the subject of the painting is all-important, rather than technique or medium. Willem de Kooning talks about light in his studio being so important and how he uses color and tone. Rauschenberg said you had to feel sorry for yourself to be an abstract expressionist. Frank Stella talked about the “push and pull” of AE being the ability to pull you in or push you back as a viewer.

Critics, such as Clement Issenberg and Hilton Kramer (New York Times), were also interviewed to add their take on AE, as were curators including Henry Geldzahler, Leo Castelli, and John Hightower and William Rubin from the Museum of Modern Art. Equally interesting was the input of collectors Philip Johnson, the famous architect, and Robert Scull and his wife.

I also learned about several sub-movements within AE, such as Avant Garde, Action Painting, Color Field Painting, and Pop Art; as I said, it’s very educational.

Near the end of the program was a most interesting “demo” (for lack of a better term) of how Larry Poons created one of his large acrylic abstract paintings. He shows how he lays down the paint, how he edits the color, and how he then installs the huge canvas on a wall.

Painters Painting is a little long at two hours, and there are parts that get a little yawn-y, but all in all, I say watching this program is time well spent. I recorded the show in late August, 2009, but I noticed on their website that PP is not currently showing on the Sundance Channel. I hope when it’s shown again, you are one of the viewers.


Monday, September 7

Find and Discover Art in Everyday Life

Today’s Image

We’re so used to thinking of art only as something someone had painted, sculpted, or drawn. We think of artists only as the people who create art, that is, those who create paintings, sculptures, or drawings.

I will toss out a premise here. Art and artists are all around us. This has nothing to do with angels or those who believe angels are sitting on our shoulders like Jiminy Cricket, at the ready to jump in and help us out.

Artists are not angels. Do I see a smile or two out there? Please.

The point of my premise is that art is way broader, more encompassing, and more pervasive than most of us imagine. We’re used to seeing art as a “picture,” framed and hanging in our homes or in museums or maybe as that bronze statue in the city park.

However, you just have to take off your cultural blinders to be able to find it and to see it.

Here are just a very few examples of everyday art I ran across:

- The un-earthed bottom of a wooden fence post encased in concrete (and removed when the fence is rebuilt). When it’s turned upside down and an ornamental element is added (or not), it becomes a modern, abstract sculpture.

- The intricately designed marble and tile floor in the lobby of a convention center hotel. The ornate swirls and filigree are beautiful. Of course, it was designed to be eye-appealing and durable, but few probably would think of it as a work of art.

- The giant “dental molding” motif added to newly constructed overpasses on a freeway near here and painted an environmentally friendly contrasting earth tone. Thanks department of highways.

- The art deco fa├žade of a retail establishment designated an architectural historical site. Its tower and marquee once trimmed in neon lights with aluminum bands sweeping around the corners remain for all to view and enjoy.

- The random texture of a re-surfaced ceiling. It's somehow similar to the random expansion of fractals, and it can be seen as art. (It's Today's Image.)

- The view, or better yet, the photo you captured of the egret slowly rising, wings expanded, from the banks of the meandering creek on a misty morning.

Let’s not forget the everyday “artists” either--the laborer who poured the concrete around the fence post; the designer and installer of the marble flooring; the architect of the 1930s building; the craftsman who is a master of his trade in applying texture; and you.

Open your eyes and your mind to the possibilities of art that surround you. It can make your day. Art, like love, is all around us (just like in the song--thanks Wet Wet Wet).


Thursday, September 3

What to Do with All of Your Paintings?

Today’s Image
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2009

Today I’m going to blog about a problem many artists have, well some artists anyway; OK maybe it’s just me.

What to do with all the paintings you’ve finished, but which haven’t found a home?

You know, we’re not all Monet or Pollock or Hirst, and our paintings (OK, my paintings anyway) have not exactly flown off the shelves. They’re not flying off yet anyway—but I’m an optimist.

Today’s Image is a watercolor I just finished and framed. It’s stacked on the floor, carefully so it doesn’t get damaged, with all the others. Now what?

First, I think all those paintings that you and I finish that go nowhere need to have a name. Of course, you could call them “my paintings,” but how un-creative is that? How about “my personal oeuvre?” Or maybe “the masterpieces in the studio.” Sometimes I think simply “the bastards” would work, too.

I mean, depending on how fast you paint, it doesn’t take long before you’re falling all over them as you make your way to your easel or other workstation. I’ve been painting steadily for a couple of years, and even though I’ve gotten rid of (and I mean that in the nicest way) some of my paintings, those that remain seem to multiply like rabbits. And I don’t paint that fast.

I suppose I could store them in trunks in the attic. I guess they don’t make trunks anymore, but maybe in those plastic container boxes you see stacked everywhere in Wal-Mart and Target.

And they’re not the kind of thing you can just give to everyone as a thank-you or whatever; not like flowers or a box of chocolates anyway. Most people aren’t necessarily that happy to get your paintings as a gift either; or maybe it’s just my paintings (oh dear).

Early on, in my naievety, I thought some of those trendy coffee/wine/sushi bars would be begging to have some of my art cover their walls for the patrons to enjoy. But no, for all kinds of reasons that sounded pretty much like “we don’t do that kind of thing here” with an almost audible hurrumph!

There seem to be two camps. It’s either art galleries, art centers, or one of the many art shows (many of which are for good charity causes) who are so serious. They usually have a jury, or least a guest juror, who must have had a bad childhood art experience (I’m sure of it). Anyway, they decide who among us is good enough to reach that wavering, arbitrary cut-off point to “make” their show.

In the other camp, and I hate to sound this way, are the places where you may not want your art to be included. These are the thousands (upon thousands) of seasonal art shows or “festivals” that include among other things as art, dough earrings and what I’ll politely call papercraft. You may as well sign up for a swap-meet.

Of course, it’s nice to have a ready inventory of paintings on hand, I tell myself, so there’s always a good variety to choose from. Right.

There is an exception to the above-- the Twitter 140 Art Show—now in exhibit, is an excellent example and venue for a non-juried art show. My compliments to the organizer and artists.

But seriously folks, what is the solution to this? Leave me some comments or ideas, please!