Thursday, February 25

A Day to Visit an Art Museum

Today’s Image
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Photo copyright 2009

I admit it. I’m a fine art junkie. Whenever an exhibit of a famous artist comes to town, or I am visiting where there is an exhibit of a famous artist, almost any famous artist will do, I have to go.

Today I visited the (John Singer) Sargent and the Sea exhibit that opened at the MFAH last week. Now, mind you, this is almost the exact same exhibit that I went to last October when I was in Washington, D.C. Remember? I even blogged about it.

Let me tell you, it was great to see it a second time, and I think I enjoyed it as much or even more than the first. There were his numerous graphite drawings of ship’s riggings and boats and ships, and I’m still awed by the very, very fine graphite lines he used in these drawings. I don't know how he could draw so small and so precisely.

There was the whole room full of his landscapes in both oil and watercolor, which I’m pretty sure were the same ones in the exhibit in Washington. His most famous oil painting, En Route pour la Peche (Setting Out to Fish), was there, of course, and it took center stage. It hangs on the big wall with spotlight on it so that you can’t help but notice it’s the main attraction.

I had forgotten he did several other paintings similar to it as studies and that he was only 22 years old when he painted them in 1878. Talk about making a a big debut. I think En Route pour la Peche is one of the most beautiful paintings ever.

The other reason I wanted to go was to see even more of Sargent’s paintings, which were added for this exhibit. There was a whole other room of his paintings exhibited under the title Houston’s Sargents. These are at least 30 of his paintings, mostly in oil, which are owned in private collections in Houston.

The majority of these paintings are portraits. I didn’t realize he was probably the most famous painter of portraits of his day. In the information provided on wall panels, it called him the ‘VanDyck’ of his day. There were portraits of men, women, children, and families. His huge portrait of Madame Ramon Subercaseaux, who, I think it said, was the wife of the Chilean ambassador, is featured.

Lucky for us who live in Houston, it has the third largest number of Sargents available for viewing after New York and Boston.

As a major museum, there are always several exhibits running concurrently at MFAH in addition to the permanent collection. So I also saw the exhibit, Prendergast in Italy. I didn't really know anything about Maurice Prendergast or his work in oil and watercolor. He painted during the same era as the Impressionists, give or take a few years. The MFAH flyer said “featuring more than 60 picturesque views of Venice, Rome, Siena, and Capri, the exhibit also includes the artist’s personal sketchbooks, letters, photographs, and guidebooks from his two trips to Italy in 1898 and 1911.” Definitely worth it.

I believe Houston was the last stop for the Sargent exhibit, but if Prendergast in Italy comes anywhere near an art museum close to you, you should go.


Monday, February 22

Take Your Art to the Next Level and Say "Wow!"

Today’s Image
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2008

Do you know where your art is going or where you are taking it? “Now, what is he talking about?” you ask.

I’m talking about taking time to study, think, plan, conjure, or imagine how you will execute and render your next artwork or genre. It’s figuring out where you want to take your artwork and talent. It's deciding to take it to the next level.

For me, it’s usually when I am deep, deep in the rendering of a current piece of work, and I need a mental break to rejuvenate my artistic senses.

For you it may be the day you try a new medium or return to one that you haven’t used for a long time, say, more than a year.

It could be the day you or I make that leap and fortify our determination to paint that one break-through painting that will grab and electrify the art world. Visualize that!

Here’s what I’m talking about.

In my case, for several years, I have been reading up on and learning as much as I can about the Impressionists. This may sound clichĂ© or bourgeois, as they say in Paris, on my part. But it’s what I like, at least at this point in my art journey.

I want to know more about the painters and paintings of the Impressionist era (Monet, Degas, Cassatt etc.). In addition, I want to learn about the painters that came before (Courbet), which influenced the Impressionists, as well as those that came after (Matisse) and were influenced by them.

I study paintings rendered by the Impressionists, then visualize my paintbrush on canvas producing a fantastic-looking piece of art with all the harmony and chroma to take your breath away. It won’t copy Impressionism by any means; rather it will be my interpretation rendered in 21st century with my own eye (see Today's Image).

Your artistic future will, I’m sure, take a different path, and it should. What art do you like to view? Who are your favorite artists? What style really grabs you? Where do you see your art in a year or in ten years?

Individualism, creativity, technique, and ability are some the ingredients to make viewers (and critics) sit up and take notice of your work. Add in a determination to get you artwork shown and seen--along with a little luck--and you are ready to take your art wherever you want it to go.

It won't be easy, but the satisfaction will come when you (and others) view your work and say, "Wow!"


Thursday, February 18

Which Paint Brush Do I Use for _______?

Today’s Image
All My Paint Brushes

OK, there’s the art school and the textbook way, and then there is the other way (or the way I do it).

I’m speaking of which paint brushes to use.

If you read enough art books or online sites about painting, and painting supplies, you’re bound to have noticed that many ‘authorities’ tell you which paint brush you must use for which application. I guess the information is supposed to be taken as a suggestion, but the way it reads, you’d think there is only one way—their way.

I hate to disappoint, but in art, there is never just one way.

You would think there must be a whole scientific research community who studies nothing but paint brushes and their technical specifications and applications.

First, it’s how the size of brushes are categorized—in numerical order from no. 1 up to…I’m-not sure-how-high-it-goes. (My largest brush is a no. 16, and the bristles are about an inch wide.) The numbering system is the easy part. At least there is a progressive order to the sizes that even a child can understand.

It’s the classification of the type of brushes that’s confusing, or maybe it’s only confusing to me. Whatever.

There’s the round. There’s the flat. There’s the filbert (which always reminds me of the nut).

Here’s my understanding of brush usage: you use the round for almost everything except for when you need to make an edge, and then you use the flat until, of course, you need to make a curve, and then it’s the filbert. What?

At least the names of the following paint brushes give you a clue as to what you could/should be doing with them, and that helps me out a lot: the spotter, the detail, the shader, the angular shader, the wash, the glaze-wash, the stipple, the liner, the hockey. I could go on.

One of my favorites is the scrubber. This little work-horse of a brush is the one I use to ‘edit’ my painting as I’m nearing completion. That’s a nice way of saying you use it to cover up all your mistakes. Scrub them out.

If you aren't confused by any of this yet, wait, there’s more. Brushes can also be classified by the type of bristle.

It’s either natural or synthetic. If it’s synthetic, it comes in white or brown, and the only reason for this that I can tell is that you are able to see if your brushes are really clean.

If it’s natural, then it can be goat-, camel-, or horse-hair. My favorite is the sable. Really—sable-- as in mink?

Of course, all of the above come in different types to be used for oil, acrylic, and/or watercolor. It’s an art supplier’s dream scene—a brush for every occasion.

And don’t forget foam brushes either, about which I previously blogged.

Please. Just do what I do. Try out a few and see which one(s) you like the best. You’ll use these most of the time, and all those other ones you bought will just stand there like mine as shown in Today’s Image. Of course, on that rare occasion you’ll be glad you have that angular-shader/glaze-washer.


Monday, February 15

Become a Great Artist - Create Something NEW (and Different)

Today’s Image
Pastel on Paper
Copyright 2008

I read a news release online about the recent opening of a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. If you have been a follower of this blog for a while, then you know that I respect her artwork and her unique style. I’m sure you’ve seen her mesmerizing paintings of flowers and canyonlands in books. Maybe you’ve seen them in person, either at a visiting exhibit or if you’re lucky enough to have visited the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

Anyway, after reading the article and being reminded of her artwork again, I wanted to write a blog on the subject of creating art that is new. Today's Image is a drawing of mine that is an example of what NOT to do.

That is, every work of art should be new (and different), and that’s what I’m talking about—creating art that is completely NEW.

Why is that important? Well, you may not care about this at all, but if you really want to become a 'known' artist and ‘make a statement’ in the art world, then your art has to be new (and different). If that’s not your goal, and it’s not for many artists, then you can stop reading.

You have to bring something new to the canvas or paper or whatever the medium. I’m not sure they teach that in fine art schools; maybe they do, but that’s not the point.

The point is that your art will only rise to the level of its uniqueness (if that’s a word). By that I mean, if you are trying to create art that already looks like some other artist’s work, then you are already on the wrong path if your goal is to stand out and become known.

Many, if not most, artists study, paint, and practice their art by trying to create work that looks like other artist’s. I am not talking about copying, but I am saying that one of the conventional ways to learn art is to try and paint like other artists whose work is well known.

I do it, you probably have done it. I’m saying it’s fine as way to learn your craft, so to speak, but it’s not OK if your goal is to give the world completely new art.

If you practice painting ‘pretty’ pictures of landscapes or seascapes or even people, I wish you much success. The same goes for those who paint like Chagall or Pollock or whomever. Just remember though, it’s not new, and it’s not unique.

Every era has an artist or a movement that ushers in ‘the new.’ Think Caravaggio; think the Impressionists; think Picasso; think Expressionism; think Hirst. Important note: I said think like them, not paint like them.

Today’s blog is about thinking about where you are going with your art career and being comfortable with it. If you are not comfortable—that’s great. You're on your way!

Think O’Keeffe.


Thursday, February 11

A Book About Frida Kahlo and Her Art

Today’s Image
A Painting Symbolic of Kahlo's Mexican Heritage
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2008

I enjoy reading about artists as I’ve mentioned occasionally. I just finished reading the book, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by Isabel Alcantara and Sandra Egnolff; the publisher is Prestel, and an icon on the cover says Pegasus Library. It was a gift along with a biography on Diego Rivera, both of which I received last year. I read the Diego Rivera book first and blogged about it late last year, so I wanted to follow up with a blog on the Kahlo book.

Although the title of the book is Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, it seemed to me to be primarily about Kahlo and her life and artwork. Rivera was, of course, a large part of her life, and some of his work and murals are included. Had Kahlo not married Rivera, her life story would still make for an interesting read.

The book is relatively concise and well written with smooth transitions. I like the descriptive subtitles that lead you seamlessly along the timeline of her life. Although Kahlo’s life was full of challenges and emotion, the book remains objectively matter-of-fact so the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions (thank you).

What’s even better is that the authors included colorful images of her paintings, which I assume are also the most notable and well-known ones. Her art was such an expression of what was happening in her life that, without them, her story would not be nearly as powerful. The inclusion of personal photographs of Kahlo and family and friends was also a bonus.

If you don’t know much, or anything, about Kahlo and/or Rivera, you should read more about them because they are one of art’s most interesting couples. To put it mildly, they were not your typical next doors-y type neighbors.

Kahlo was an individual from her early school days, and, I would say, remained so throughout her life. The first and biggest challenge that affected the rest of her life was a bus accident in 1926 in which she nearly died. Remaining painful problems with her feet, legs, and spine caused her to undergo surgeries the rest of her life and probably contributed to her early death at age 47; that, and Rivera’s numerous and infamous extra-marital infidelities. Without going into more detail, Kahlo, herself, had an affair with Leon Trotsky, the famous Communist, no less.

But to focus on her art, the book reports that Kahlo described it as painting what she felt. Many, many of the paintings are self-portraits with herself as the main character interacting with various themes and circumstances. For example, her miscarriages are portrayed in several unique paintings.

Kahlo did not describe her style as Surrealism, although, to me, it comes the closest if you had to pinpoint one.

Most interesting is how I describe Frida Kahlo and her artwork. You are free to draw your own conclusions.


Monday, February 8

One Way to Put Harmony in Your Paintings

Today’s Image
The Color Wheel

We all want harmony in our lives, right? Too bad saying it doesn’t make it so. We can’t control the inevitable bumps and sometimes even collisions of daily life.

But in your artist’s studio, on your very own canvas or paper, you can create all the harmony you want. Just what is this harmony of which I speak? I blogged about this subject almost a year ago, so I wanted to follow up on the subject.

The Free Dictionary online says, and I paraphrase: accord, a pleasing combination of elements in a whole. That’s a great definition.

Harmony in a painting is one of those things that, when you see it, you know what it is, but if there’s little to no harmony, then you know something is wrong, but you just can’t figure out what it is. I hope that makes sense to you.

Harmony in a painting is like a smooth melody in music—it just sounds good and makes you want to snap your fingers to the beat. In a painting, it just looks good, it’s pleasing to the eye, it’s beautiful. Instead of snapping your fingers, you may want to step up for a closer look, then step back to take it all in.

Okay. Now that we know or think we know what it is, how do we get some? As a bare-bones methodology, all you need to do is keep a color wheel on hand to refer to as you begin to paint. I won’t take time here to go into color or color-wheel theory or how to use one. (Google color theory for more details.)

Just start with the three primary colors: blue, red, and yellow (or cyan, magenta, and yellow). Draw a triangle with each color at a point. That's the little secret. In the simplest of terms, you have achieved harmony. Congratulations!

So, for any one of the thousands of colors you want to use, just triangulate its other two primary “mates” and you will have harmony. Wasn’t that easy? (Sure it was.). In theory it is, in practice, well, that’s something else.

Every time I begin a painting, I know I want harmony in it. I understand what I just explained to you and which seems so achievable. But somehow it’s difficult.

If I paint from a reference photo or en plein air, I should be able to paint exactly what I see in nature or see in the light anyway. I just need to pick out that dominant color, then triangulate it. Simple.

However, the problem is when I go from the see-ing to the paint-ing, even when I have the color wheel in my other hand. This is one of those abilities in art, I think, which separates the great from the merely pretty-good.

I would like to become a great artist, but I’m still on the journey. I like to say that I’m “aspiring and inspired” to become a great artist.

Remember—all it takes is "a pleasing combination of elements in a whole.”


Thursday, February 4

Art Dreaming - An Important Part of the Artistic Process

Today’s Image
Pennsylvania Avenue
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2010

Does your mind wander while you’re painting. Mine does. It’s not that I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing, I am, most of the time anyway. I think day dreaming is a form of multi-tasking while creating art.

Although some would describe artists as merely daydreamers, I’m sure we aren’t the only ones who do daydream. Those people probably don’t put much stock in artists or their artwork either. Whatever.

I believe daydreaming is an important part of the artistic (and creative) process. Let that sink in for a minute.

This is how it happens. You’re concentrating. You’re drawing, or mixing colors meticulously, or applying paint carefully, or you’re standing way back from the easel to assess your work.

Simultaneously your creative brain goes off to another place and time. You are conscious, of course, but at the same time, not fully "there." It’s during these moments, I believe, that our minds and creative spirits conjure up the notions that will become our work of art. Or, at least, these notions will supplement our consciousness and add to our ability to create something new.

I will see something in my work--a color, a shape, a texture, or a shadow--that had not previously caught my eye. This triggers a memory or a thought.

For example, recently I worked on a watercolor that had a city street scene as its motif. As the painting progressed I saw in my mind’s eye soft colors in paintings I had admired while visiting a prominent art gallery. As if on a carousel, paintings appeared before me for an instant before moving on. This "daydream" helped me to create the colors and values I was looking for although at the time I didn't know I was looking for them.

Instead of daydreaming, perhaps it should be called art dreaming. That describes it more accurately, at least, I think it did in my case. It allowed me to see things in a different way, from a different perspective, with a different approach and to use what I saw.

Is this what makes artists, artists? There’s no definitive answer to this, of course, but it makes sense to me that day- or art dreaming is part of it. The next time someone asks you why you’re goofing off or wasting time or not paying attention to your work, tell them you are not doing any of those things.

You’re art dreaming. It’s important.


Monday, February 1

What Kind of Artist Are You?

Today’s Image
Symbolic of Life's Highway
Photo Copyright 2007

As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous blogs, I enjoy reading biographies of well known artists and how they lived and progressed in their careers. Of course, there is no such thing as a “typical” artist anymore than there is a “typical” engineer, farmer, or President.

It’s the differences that make life's highway all the more interesting, don’t you think?

So that brings me to the question posed in the title of today’s blog: What Kind of Artist Are You?

You understand, of course, the blog is purely subjective on my part, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you a few types of artists who inhabit the art world. I’m sure there is not universal agreement, and if you don’t agree, then you may leave a comment or have the urge to write your own blog :-).

In absolutely no intended order:

The Pragmatist is the artist who came to the art world via another career path. Their previous work may or may not have had anything to do with art, but somewhere back in time, this person had the instincts that showed promise as an artist. Maybe they took an art class or two in school. Maybe they doodled or drew cartoon images. They may even have worked in the graphic arts or an allied field that let them feel artistic. The point is that the Pragmatist is a realist who wants the security of a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that; even the most famous and/or misunderstood artists had to eat. It’s just that the Pragmatist has limits, and for him or her, the true artistic lifestyle may be just beyond those limits.

The Lovely Artist is one who likes pretty artwork and whose world is a pretty place. Pretty artwork includes flowers and landscapes and still lifes that are full of light and pastel colors. Art is supposed to be uplifting. This artist looks for lovely motifs that can and will enhance the interior of a home or art gallery. They may also become the Romantic Artist if their work includes pretty people portrayed as being happy. There is nothing in their artwork that is narrative or prescriptive or objectionable. Life and art are a happy place. Pretty is as pretty does.

The Classical Artist lives in another time and place most of the time, and their artwork portrays this. This artist likes classical artwork that shows life as it was lived back somewhere in time. That time may be a long time ago, such as the Renaissance, or it may be as current as a 20th Century artist, O'Keeffe, for example. They may emulate, or is that imitate, someone like Carrivaggio or Courbet or Matisse. They yearn for an artistic life that would allow them to be transported to Café Guerbois, Paris, circa 1876.

The Shocker doesn’t need much explanation. Their artwork and art world has never been in the mainstream no matter in what era they created their art. Of course, as time progressed, what was considered shocking in one era became the norm in another—think Impressionism. But I’m not talking about that. I’m not even talking about Van Gogh, even though some Shockers probably have a lot in common with him if you know what I mean. Shockers want to do what their name implies: shock the viewer. Why? That is the question.

Consider this rhetorical, but what kind of artist are you?