Monday, November 29

Preparing for Acrylic Painting

My Reference Photo
Photo Copyright 2010

It’s a gray, muggy Monday morning here, so I am trying to gin up a little enthusiasm to start painting. I know I’ll get it in gear as soon as I pick up my brush. It’s the initial inertia I have to overcome.

A cold front blowing through in the next hour will help, too, as it clears the skies and a brisk north wind will cool and dry out the air.

What am I working on? As I mentioned a few blogs back, I am having a great time painting acrylic on 300-lb. watercolor paper. I may have “found my medium” as one artist recently told me.

The motif of my current painting is a city street scene. I chose it because I like the various elements of the pedestrians, the cars on the busy street, the steep perspective of the buildings, and the distant mountain, which is barely visible.

I started on my painting a week ago.

First I enlarged my 4 x 6 in. (10 x 15 cm.) reference photo to 17.5 x 28 in. (44.5 x 71 cm.) to fit the a full-sheet size (22 x 30 in., 56 x 76 cm.) watercolor paper. My reference photo is now the actual size of my painting.

Then using the 17.5 x 28 in. measurement, I taped off the borders of the paper using Tear-by-Hand tape. This will give you a sharp, crisp edge.

Next I used Saral transfer paper between my enlarged reference photo and the watercolor paper to transfer the main elements to the paper. It's wonderful stuff. This really helps when you have buildings or structures, which must have the proper perspective.

I was then ready to paint. I mixed ultramarine blue, azo yellow, and cadmium red medium acrylic to create my “dark” color. I painted all the darkest elements first with varying shades of my dark color from almost black to lighter grays. FYI-this is just the opposite of how you paint in watercolor. I like to paint the darks first in acrylic because it helps me judge the correct values of the other colors.

Some painters like to paint the whole sheet a neutral color first to cut the white of the paper, but for some reason that doesn’t usually help me, so I rarely do that.

Then I started painting the tall building fa├žade on the left-hand side. And that’s where I am right now as I begin today’s work.

I’ll let you know how it’s going. That cold front is blowing through with a rain shower, but I expect the sun to be shining soon. What a nice metaphor for a successful day of painting!

Until next blog…

Thursday, November 25

Hey, Thanks Art!

Thanks for Art in Everyday Life
Photo Copyright 2010

Well, I want to thank Art today. Actually I thank Art on many days, but today being Thanksgiving in the U.S., it seems especially appropriate.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Art and I go back a long way. Art deserves thanks for many reasons.

Art lubricates life.

Life runs more smoothly with Art, the same way good motor oil keeps your car running quietly and efficiently, but with a burst of power just when you need it.

Art lets you see a bigger horizon and often gives you a point of view you may never have considered.

Art enlightens and enriches.

Art is possibilities.

Every day Art fills up the hours with purpose and creativity.

Hey, Art, thanks!

Until next blog…

Monday, November 22

Do You Sit or Stand While Painting?

I Sat While I Painted
This Acrylic

OK, today must be trivia day. Are you a sitter or a stander?

I am a sitter. There, I admit it.

What the heck am I talking about?

I’m talking about what position you take when you create your painting and/or artwork. Do you primarily sit, or do you stand while you paint (or draw).

The traditional view of a painter is one who stands before an easel with a thumb in a kidney-shaped palette loaded with paint in one hand and a long brush in the other and wearing a beret (no, I’m just kidding about the beret). I don’t like stereotypes.

As I said, I’m a sitter. I work at a table with my support lying flat or almost flat in front of me. I’m not exactly sure why I paint in that position. Maybe it’s because when I got back into art a few years ago I started by drawing on paper. Drawing seems more natural on a flat surface, at least it does to me anyway.

A little later I began to paint in watercolor, which was a new medium for me. Again, I painted on a flat surface because, well, watercolor tends to run down the paper pretty quickly, and the only way to stop it is to lay the paper flat (duh). I’m sure there must be some watercolor painters somewhere who stand up while using watercolor—most likely letting the paint flow in an abstract way--just guessing.

It seems most of the photos you see of painters are ones standing before an easel or a mural or whatever. I guess most painters and artists are probably standers, but I don’t really know.

Of course, there was that one old photo of Monet sitting down in front of his easel painting his waterlilies. Now that does complicate things.

Maybe some of you will leave a comment and let the rest of us know in what position you do your painting.

Until next blog…

Thursday, November 18

My Latest Acrylic and a Book About a Van Gogh Portrait

Canal, Venice California
Acrylic on Paper
28 x 17 in (71 x 43 cm)
Copyright 2010
I’m feeling pretty good today. Why? Because I have accomplished three things this week.

“Only three? “ You say. No comment.

I completed my latest acrylic-on-paper painting, which is today’s image. I hope you like it. I actually have to do a little touch-up work on the bridge and a smidgen more here and there, but basically it’s finished (that’s no. 1).

In addition, I have also selected my next motif, and I am in preparation to start on it very soon (that’s no. 2).

And I finally finished reading the book, Portrait of Dr. Gachet-The Story of A Van Gogh Masterpiece by Cynthia Saltzman, that was previously listed over there in the right-hand column under The Art Book I’m Currently Reading (that’s no. 3).

I would recommend the book to anyone who is an art historian or a Vincent Van Gogh fan, or just likes to read books about art (like I do).

I would say it’s as much a book about history as it is about art. Oh, the main character is the painting of Dr. Gachet, but it’s mostly about what was going on all around the painting from its completion up until the book was published in the mid-1990s.

It takes you through the art markets in Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It follows the painting from owner to owner through World War I and the 1920s.

A good portion of the story takes place during the Nazi era in Germany through the end of World War II. As I said, it’s as much about history as art, and this part goes into a lot of interesting details about how the painting survived and was finally shipped to the western hemisphere. If you’re a history “buff,” you will like this time period.

The painting continues on its journey from the 1950s through the 1980s with descriptions of art auctions especially in the 1980s when the prices sky-rocketed. The part about the Japanese owner who acquired it in the 1990s is very interesting, and that’s where the book ends.

Of course, I had to go online to find out what, if anything, has happened to the painting since then. Don't know if this is accurate, but Wikipedia says it was sold to an Austrian investment fund manager in 1997, but has no further information.

So it seems to be somewhat of a mystery. Too bad it’s not in one of the world’s great art museums for all to enjoy.

Until next blog…

Monday, November 15

Let's Celebrate Claude Monet's Birthday, November 14, 1840!


In case you missed it, Claude Monet’s 170th birthday was yesterday, November 14. I think this occasion deserves a lot more than my little blog post, but I haven’t seen or heard anyone online, or anywhere actually, talk about the anniversary of Monet’s birth. Now maybe they celebrated it with birthday parties at Musee d’Orsay or Giverny and I’m just not aware of it.

 Anyway, I decided to list just a few brief facts about his life in homage to the great painter:
  • Oscar Claude Monet was Born November 14, 1840, in Paris to Claude and Louise. 
  • The family moved to Le Havre in 1845, a seacoast town on the English Channel, where Monet studies at the art school and later becomes known as a caricaturist, well enough to earn a living even as a teenager. 
  • Monet studies oil painting under the tutelage of Eugene Boudin in 1857. 
  • By 1862 Monet lives in Paris and is a student in Charles Gleyre’s art school along with fellow painters Pierre-August Renoir, Frederic Bazille, and Alfred Sisley. It was here these painters experimented with plein air painting and loose, open brushwork. 
  • Monet paints Impression: Sunrise, a painting of the port at Le Havre, in 1872. 
  • Several of the “new” painters hold their first exhibition in 1874, including Impression: Sunrise, which provides the name for Impressionism and the modern era of painting.
  • In the 1870s Monet paints what were to become some of his most famous paintings including The Bridge at Argenteuil, Poppies Blooming, Saint Lazare Train Station, and Woman With a Parasol, just to name a few. 
  • In 1883 Monet, his second wife, and family move to Giverny.
  • In the 1880s and 1890s Monet experiments with painting the changing daylight in several series of paintings including Haystacks and Rouen Cathedral.
  • In later life in the first two decades of the 20th century Monet devotes his energy to his gardens at Giverny and painting perhaps his most famous paintings of water lilies, ponds, and his well-known bridge. 
  • Claude Monet dies December 5, 1926.

 I believe Monet’s impact on the world of art and painting is immeasurable. Just think about it, without Monet and Impressionism what would today’s art world look like?
Until next blog…


Friday, November 12

German Impressionism

I want to tell you about the great time I had yesterday visiting two exhibitions on German Impressionism at Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) open through December 5. Did you notice, I said not one, but two exhibitions?

-"A Variation of Impressionism" German Impressionist Landscape Painting: Liebermann—Corinth—Slevogt

-"Drawing from Nature: Landscapes by Liebermann, Corinth, and Slevogt"

They are actually across a great hall from each other in rooms on the 2nd floor of the Beck Building in case you’re planning to go.

As you may have read in my blog, I always like learning new things about art. I knew nothing about German Impressionism or even that there was German Impressionism. I knew about French, of course, and something about American, but about the German, I knew nothing. Unless you’ve studied art history, you probably didn't either.

The MFAH did a great job in my opinion. They painted the walls of the exhibit rooms a celadon green, which sounds bad, I know, but it really made all those paintings pop. They also gave you just enough information printed in large type on the walls as you entered each room so that you get a context and some history for what you are about to view.

The stars of the show are, of course, the paintings of Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, and Max Slevogt (I guess Max was a popular name back then). As I said, I had never heard of any of these painters.

My tendency as I began viewing the paintings was to compare them to the famous French Impressionist paintings with which I was familiar. Somewhere after viewing the 20th painting or so (out of maybe 150 although I didn’t count) I stopped comparing them because it was obvious these paintings can stand on their own merit and style.

I learned that Liebermann, Corinth, and Slevogt were contemporaries in Germany in the late 1800s up until the 1920s. From the dates of the paintings in the exhibition, it appears these artists' main work came after the French Impressionists had paved the way for Impressionism.

From my point of view, the German's earlier work generally used a darker palette than the French but as time passed they appeared to lighten up. The motifs are mostly landscapes in the Netherlands and around cities, lakes, and mountains (Alps) in Germany.

I liked the work of Lovis Corinth the best. To me he had the most impressionistic style. I especially liked his painting, Walchensee Mit Larch (Lake Walchen with Larch Tree). It was eye-catching from far across the room with its palette of French Ultramarine blue, Violet, and Teal green.

If you want to learn more, you may “Google:” MFAH, German Impressionism and/or the names of these three painters. If this traveling exhibition comes to an art museum near you, don’t miss it.

Until next blog…

Monday, November 8

Shake Up Your Artwork Every Once In A While

My Shaken-Up Acrylic Paint Drawer

I’m painting with acrylic on 300-lb. Arches watercolor paper for the second time. A few months ago I blogged about the first painting I had completed using the same medium and support.

I liked the results then, and I like what I’m working on now even though I have just barely begun to paint.

Why do I like painting with acrylic on watercolor paper?

Well, I like the way the paint flows onto the relatively rough texture of the paper. When you paint acrylic (or oil for that matter) on canvas, linen, etc., it goes on pretty smoothly unless you’re doing impasto or some other thick-paint method. That’s all fine and good, but for some reason it can make my brushstrokes seem hard to control.

With watercolor paper there is just enough drag so that I feel more in control of the brushstrokes. It gives me a sense of controlling the pace of the painting. I may not be describing it very well, but it seems to give me the ability to paint the brushstrokes exactly how I want to render them.

I don’t know many artists' secrets or tricks of the trade. However, I do know that creating art is about being creative, and that includes trying new things— new to me anyway.

As I frequently say, “that’s how we learn.”

If everyone (every artist, that is) painted the same way, we’d all still be rendering primitive, but charming, cave paintings. No?

And where’s the fun in that?

Now, I’m not advocating that you all start painting acrylic on watercolor paper. Every painter has to do his or her own thing.

I am advocating that every painter try something new and different to rejuvenate the artistic possibilities.

Shake it up every once in a while and see what happens.

Are the fine-art-oil-painting purists out there cringing? I hope so. Good.

Until next blog…

Thursday, November 4

Ending the Life of a Painting


Well, I gesso’d a bunch of my stretched canvases yesterday. More precisely, I gesso’d over some of my acrylic paintings yesterday.

The good news is that gesso allows you the opportunity to re-use canvases with paintings that, for whatever reason, you have decided are not worthy enough to keep in perpetuity for future generations. That’s the good news, as I said.

The bad news is that you have chosen, for whatever reason, to scrap your artistic creation after what was probably a violent birth. This means you have decided your painting does not, for whatever reason, live up to your expectations and is worth no more than the value of the (now used) canvas itself.

Such are the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs, the ying and yang of a painter.

Some would call it character building, but it is a wrenching experience.

There’s nothing quite like taking a broad brush soaked in gesso and slapping it onto your once beloved work of art. It’s like sending a step-child away forever, although I don’t really know what that’s like, but I imagine it must be.

First you go through the tortures (“of the damned” as my grandmother used to say) of admitting to yourself that you would ever even consider what amounts to virtually throwing your painting(s) away.

Hmmm, which of my "children" do I like least?

Then there is the act itself. Up until the very moment you apply the gesso, you haven’t ruined the painting. In that instant before it touches the canvas you indecisively think, ”What am I doing?”

But after all of that, you have saved yourself the expense and labor of buying or preparing a new canvas.

Then you’re only left with the guilt. Was it worth it?

Until next blog…

Monday, November 1

What IS the Purpose of Art?


The idea for today’s blog just popped into my head. What is the purpose of art?

Art soothes.

Art inspires.

Art reinvigorates.

Art provokes.

Art shines.

Art wows.

Art saddens.

Art propagandizes.

Art humbles.

Art cures.

Art beautifies.

Art tantalizes.

Art calms.

Art nurtures.

Art educates

Art glorifies.

Art honors.

Art empowers.

Art symbolizes.

Art helps.

And much, much more.

Until next blog…