Wednesday, March 30

If You're a Gauguin Fan...

An Acrylic of Mine on Canvas from 2008
Or even if you’re not, you should read the article about him in the March issue of Smithsonian Magazine. It’s a well-written article by Ann Morrison that gives an overview of the life of one of the most interesting and, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood artists ever.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that his paintings are eye-catching, even now, and can you imagine their reception and impact in the late 19th century (think Victorian era)? Naked native ladies were in many of his motifs in case you don’t get my drift.

While I don’t particularly (or maybe that should be personally) care for his style--who am I to judge--what I really admire is his bold use of color as a main element in most of his work.

One of the things I got out of the article that sticks with me is that Gauguin did not even become a full-time painter until he was in his mid-30s when he switched from being an accountant, of all things--can you get more unrelated to art? However, he had painted prior to that and with some success. (That should give hope to the rest of us even if we're not accountants.)

Of course, he’s probably most notoriously remembered for his altercation with van Gogh in Arles just before van Gogh mutilated his (own) ear, whatever that was about.

Then there was Tahiti and all the paintings that came from his life there in the 1890s. There’s a great illustrated time-line in the article highlighting the high and interesting points in his life

Anyway, I thank Ms. Morrison and Smithsonian for publishing an informative article with insight that makes me want to learn even more details about Gauguin and his painting life.

Happy Painting!

Monday, March 28

A Tip on Style & Creativity

Was This My Style?
(Oil on Canvas Panel)
Here’s a tip—don’t let yourself become bogged down by the inability to break out of your art comfort zone. We all have one. It can become a prison of sorts if you never, or hardly ever, try to leave it.

If you call yourself an artist, it shouldn’t be difficult. Artists are supposed to have more than the average amount of creativity, so let it  out sometimes.

Have you noticed that many well-known and especially famous artists’ work all has a similar look. That's their style, as in “all of his work has a spiritual moodiness (or something) to it.” Case in point--Thomas Kinkade. On second thought, his work usually gets a strong reaction one way or the other, so not a good example, but you see where I’m going.

Anyway I can understand why this is so—commercial appeal. Once an artist has some success in either shows, galleries, or with collectors, why would he/she want to risk losing the $ucce$$ they’ve been striving to achieve?

Why indeed? If you have collectors, media, or others fawning all over your work, then you probably wouldn’t think of risking your celebrity (or good fortune) by changing your style.

Then there's the rest of us. We can end up with a lot of paintings (or sculptures or installation art) that all look pretty much the same. If you’re good at painting the Tuscan countryside, then by all means paint the Tuscan countryside, but please do it with some creativity so that all your paintings don’t have a golden sunset behind a grove of olive trees and a jug of wine, for example. Please.

Some will argue that having a style is your entryway to success (and if you were Claude Monet I would agree). However, think about not letting your style lead you down some winding path with a string of bland, same-old, same-old work. I’m just saying…

Happy Painting!

Thursday, March 24

Planning Your Next Motif for a Painting

Dusk on Main Street
Acrylic on Paper
Copyright 2011
In a recent blog I talked about the exhilaration of completing a painting. At least that’s the way I feel or thought I felt about the happy occasion.

Seems several of you and several artist friends disagree. Their perspective is that rather than being an up-beat occasion, it is a time of melancholy and a sense of loss. What?

It appears that many artists love the process of creating so much that when it ends, even temporarily until the next painting is started, it sends them into a brief tailspin.

I suppose I can grudgingly agree with that. After spending years, months, days—choose one—working on an art “project,” it becomes part of your life. Or at least it is part of your daily routine. And when it’s over, the emptiness it leaves is a real downer for some. It’s not devastating, of course, but it can be acute.

Maybe it’s the half-empty, half-full way of looking at things, but I’m usually very ready to move on to the next thing.

If you have this issue (notice—I didn’t call it a problem) here’s a suggestion. Do what I do, and start thinking about, searching for, and planning your next motif about the time when you’ve got your current painting blocked-in. There’s still a lot, if not most, of the real work to do on your painting, but you’re usually more than half-way done at this point.

That’s the time to find your next motif. Similar to getting a new puppy or kitten when your elderly dog or cat is in decline, it doesn’t keep them from passing on, but it does give you a replacement when it inevitably happens.

Anyway, today’s image is my completed painting that I told you I had almost finished in the last blog. Taking my own advice, I had my next painting all ready to go and have started work on it as I write.

Happy Painting!

Monday, March 21

Finishing an Acrylic, Attending an Art Lecture & Judging Paris

A Photo for You to Celebrate Spring
Maybe because it's vernal equinox (Spring). Maybe because the full moon was at its perigee. I don’t know, but I had a very busy weekend.

I put finishing touches on an acrylic-on-paper work I have been putzing over for the last couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure there will be more changes and additional brushstrokes; however, I’m going to let it “rest” a while before showing it because I need to see it with  fresh eyes after painting it hour after hour.

It’s a cityscape in the museum district here with a bicyclist going from left to right across a street with several cars in the background in addition to a prominent water feature in the form of three shooting fountains in the distance. I enjoyed working on this one. The time of day was very late afternoon and/or the beginning of dusk, so the light was subdued, and there is not a lot of change in values.

Also over the weekend I attended an art discussion/lecture at the Watercolor Art Society-Houston. John Salminen, the well-known and award-winning watercolorist is in town to judge the 34th International Exhibition at WAS-H and to conduct a workshop. He is an entertaining speaker, and his talk was interesting and informative as he showed slides of his most beautiful work. He talked about the locations, the lighting, and the subject matter along with some of his techniques and style tips. I enjoyed it. He has won the highest awards from both the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society. If you’re not familiar with his work, just Google his name.

And (drum roll, ta-da) I finally finished a book I have been reading since New Year’s. It’s the Judgment of Paris-The Revolutionary Decade That Gave The World Impressionism by Ross King. What a great book, that is, if you like history and/or art history. It’s hard to imagine how much time and effort the author put into this book.

The book is almost 400 pages of detailed information about what was happening in the 1860s up until about 1874 as it relates to the art world in France, especially Paris. Of course, the story is about what many of the impressionists-to-be were doing at that time as their careers were just beginning. There’s a lot about the conservative Salon and Ecole des Beaux Arts and how their actions affected the painters. One painter who plays a large part, but one that I had never heard of, is Ernest Messionier. It seems he was the most famous and wealthy French painter during that time but was subsequently purged and completely forgotten. I bet you never heard of him either.

In addition, however, it is almost a history text on the social and political times in France including the devastating effects of the Franco-Prussian War not only on the art world and artists but on the people of Paris. After I finished it, I felt as if I had just completed a university history class. Just thought I’d share my opinion. Now I can start my next book.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, March 16

5 Dumbest Things I've Done While Painting

I must be a creature of painting habit because I keep doing the same dumb things over and over again. You’d think after the first time or two that I’d get it. But noooo.

I may have blogged about some of these before, but I've forgotten and guess I'm doomed to repeat them. I’m sure you never do any of these, but I have and several on more than one occasion:

Elbow(s) in the Palette—How many times have I done this—I’ve lost count. I rarely use an easel and almost always paint on a flat surface. I get so engrossed (I guess) that I completely forget where my arms and elbows are in relation to my paint. I get a lot of paint on my sleeves and/or bare elbows. I have learned to wear old shirts, however.

Spilled Bottle of Masking Fluid—I don’t do this very often, but I’m always surprised (“What the___!”) when I do it. I suppose I’m too lazy to get a small pan, or whatever, to pour in just the little amount of fluid I  need. I think, “No, I just need a little bit, so I’ll just dip in the open bottle.” Next thing I know, I’m mopping up the smelly stuff, and sometimes it even gets on my painting. Yuck!

Rolled Over Painting—I’m referring here to when I pick up my watercolor to get a good look at it or check a detail, and then--oops--I drop it on the floor. As I lean over to pick it up, my rolling chair naturally flies right over one corner leaving a tell-tale caster/tire mark.

Way, Way Too Much White Paint—I have lost count of the times I’ve done this. When I’m doing it, I completely forget that it never works until at some point I realize I’ve almost used up a tube of white trying to lighten a color. Why can’t I remember to start over using white first and then add the other pigments to get the right color.

Just Dumb—OK I’ve only done this one once, but since it cost me the price of a mat, I probably won’t do it again (at least not anytime soon). Here’s what happened. I had finished and framed a watercolor for an upcoming exhibit of which I was proud to be selected and signed my name to it in watercolor pencil. When it was all ready to submit, I noticed a red stain on the lower left corner of the mat. What!? I had to completely un-frame it and buy a new mat. Later an artist friend told me what had happened. Seems I should have gone over my signature with a wet brush to set it. A fleck of the dry watercolor pencil had come off the paper, and the humidity in the air turned it into a red blotch.

Oh well, live and learn. Maybe blogging about it will help so that I don't repeat—Oh Snap! I just did it again!

Happy Painting!

Friday, March 11

And the Next "Big Thing" in Art Is...

The Next "Big Thing?"
What is the next “Big Thing” in the world of art?

I’m sure-- pretty sure-- that somewhere out there in the world is an art historian, art critic, art professor, gallery owner, auction house owner, art musuem director or curator, or maybe even an artist who thinks he or she knows what the next “Big Thing” will be.

However, I don’t think they know or have much more of a clue than you or I do.

Since you’re reading my blog, you are probably pretty much up-to-date with technology, social media, and online communications. That’s a good thing. Just because we paint or sculpt does not mean we are Luddites. (Of course, some artists may be, but not you and I.)

I like to think I keep up with what’s happening in the art world, at least in the online art world, by checking in with Art Slant, Art Babble, EmptyEasel, Wet Canvas, Spacetaker (in Houston), Glasstire (in Texas), the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Arts pages, as well as a lot of different Artist’s Newsletters. Those are just a few of the online sources I read, and I don’t mean to slight anyone by not mentioning their favorite sites.

But even keeping up with the “art-eratti“ (or whatever) and being what I think is fairly well-read, I surely don’t have a clue as to what the next “Big Thing” is. And I don’t think those people mentioned above do either.

Remember when Windows ‘95 was new and Bill Gates predicted we’d all be viewing images of the world’s greatest masterpieces on electronic panels hanging in our homes. Well, flat-screen TVs are here, but I’m still waiting for the images of the art I want to see.

For a while, I thought the art world was obsessed only with the young artists among us (not that there's anything wrong with that) by highlighting all of their works, their shows, and even their personal lives. I ask them not to forget the rest of us out there plugging away.

Recently, I’ve seen and read about outdoor installation art, where huge images, holograms, and laser shows envelop the viewers in large spaces or outdoor plazas. Is this the next “Big Thing?”

Well, I don’t know, and you probably don’t either. If we did, one of us would have been the one to come up with Twitter or Facebook.

Happy Painting!

Monday, March 7

The Look & Feel of Distance in Your Paintings

I Used Perspective and Atmosphere
 to Show Distance
Achieving the look and feel of distance in your paintings is important especially in landscapes. This can be one of those more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know subjects, but it’s a Monday morning, so I think I will keep it simple by talking about only two aspects of this—perspective and atmosphere.

Perspective is the relative appearance of the size of objects as they recede from the viewer’s distance and position in relation to an object or vista. That is, it’s how things look the farther away they are from the picture plane.

To be frank, there is no way to discuss perspective briefly in a blog (especially on a Monday morning). To get perspective right, you have to know and learn about it. If you go this route, I recommend the book, Mastering Perspective for Beginners by Santiago and Jose Arcas and Isabel Gonzalez. I believe I have referred to this book in a previous blog, but I use it to refresh my memory when I need to know more about a particular perspective issue I’m having with a painting.

Or, if you’re using a reference photo, even easier, you can simply enlarge and draw your motif on your support by free-hand, transfer, or projection.

Secondly, the depiction of atmosphere in your painting also implies distance. Simply put, objects or vistas in the distance appear to recede by becoming less distinct with vanishing edges (not to be confused with vanishing points) and by becoming slightly bluer in appearance at the horizon line.

Of course, as with anything, there is a whole lot more to know and learn about these subjects. However, master these two things, and your paintings will come alive.

Trying to keep it simple on a Monday morning.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, March 2

It Takes a Good Eye to be a Photographer AND a Painter

My Unusual Reference Photo

I will be the first person to say, “I am not a photographer.”

I admire, even envy, and sometimes wish I were a photographer.

But I repeat, “I am not a photographer.”

I kind of like to take pictures. To be clear, I’m not talking about those obligatory family and special-occasion pictures of family vacations or whatever, but rather reference photos to use in my paintings.

I suppose in the broadest, loosest sense, I am sort of a photographer. I use my trusty Canon digital ELPH (no product plug intended, it’s just what I use) to go around wherever I happen to be—not all the time, of course—to snap and capture scenes that may or may not make good paintings. Let me add that most of my photos do not and would not ever make good paintings. Unless you are a photographer you are likely to take a lot more photos of less-than-ideal, un-good scenes than vice versa.

What I do is walk around and snap photos of things and places (and people sometimes, but you have to be careful) that look sort of interesting to me. I try not to pre-edit my scenes very much, other than to make sure what I want to capture is actually on the digital screen. Sometimes it’s a landscape if I’m at a park or out in the country, maybe a street scene or building if in the city. I seem to like scenes with structures in them, but I also try to find things of everyday life and living.

“Unusual” subjects usually do not make good paintings. Why? Because if it’s unusual enough to make you want to take a picture of it, most likely the viewer will not have a clue as to what it is when painted--see Today’s Image.  (I know some people are scared of clowns, too.)

This is where a good eye and a lot of luck come in extremely handy. Sometimes the artist’s eye will see something just at that very moment that captures a mood or exerts an energy that will be visually appealing and moving to the viewer.

Anyway, that’s what I keep striving for; however, did I mention I’m not a photographer?

As Cezanne said, “Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye!”

Happy Painting!

Until next blog…