Saturday, April 30

3 Reasons to Clean Out Your Art Studio Right Now

How I Feel Before
I Clean Out My Studio
I seem to recall that I usually blog about cleaning out your art studio and supplies this time of year, you know, Spring cleaning and all of that. A cliché, maybe, but really a necessity for artists.
A necessity? Really? Why is that?

Three reasons.

Number One. It’s cathartic, and we artists need a good catharsis every now and then, don’t you think? Otherwise, we are prone to get moody, huffy, even surly, on occasion. A good cleaning, a re-cycling, a throwing-away is just what the doctor ordered to overcome surliness.

Number Two. A cluttered art space does nothing but clutter the mind. A cluttered mind does not usually make for a clear-thinking mind. Artists need a clear, open space to work. They, likewise, need a clear open mind in which to conjure and create, to muse and meditate, to plan and paint (draw, sculpt, etc.). I’m a proponent of a clutter-free studio because I believe it leads to the crisp and clear or the dark and moody or whatever your mind and hands want to create.

Number Three. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you are, how are you going to get where you’re going? By this I mean, if you don’t know what you currently have in the way of tools and supplies, how can you possibly be ready to promulgate your next creation? You probably have too much of one thing and not enough of another or none of what you actually need and some things you don’t need at all. Case in point--when I was using pastels a couple of years ago, I learned a jar of rice was good way to clean your pastel sticks. Guess what I found on a shelf, taking up valuable space? A big jar of rice for my pastels that I haven’t used in forever. Into the recycling bin it (the plastic jar) went.

So, get out your cleanser and your vacuum and your mop. Get ready to sift through, to sort out, to re-cycle, and to discard. You will then be ready to attack your next work of art.

How I Feel After
I Clean Out My Studio

Oh yes, and…

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, April 27

When to Stop Re-Working Your Painting

Walking on Terrazzo
Acrylic on Paper
Copyright 2011
If you’re a painter, then you will know what I’m talking about.

And what am I talking about? I’m talking about working and re-reworking your painting, and when does it become too much re-working, and how do you know when it’s too much re-working, and how do you stop re-working it. Or maybe you never have this situation, and you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I do have this situation on occasion. Recently, I was in this situation again. For me, it’s difficult to tell when I’m re-working a painting too much, and I don’t really realize it.

There comes a time in every one of my paintings when I get totally bored with the whole thing. That seems to be when the painting is just about complete, or what most people would think is complete. For one of my paintings, that’s usually somewhere near the end of the second week or into the third week of working on it.

I can and do paint faster than that, but not always, and I usually work on more than one painting at a time. Not that I measure the quality of my work by how long I’ve worked on it, but I seem to notice how long I’ve been working/re-working on it by the third week or at least about then.

I think, “How long have I been working on this thing—when did I start it—seems like a month ago?” The boredom has set it.

That’s my first clue. My second clue is when I suddenly notice that I am changing things in the painting back to the way I had first painted it. Wasn’t there a darker shadow here? Wasn’t the value of that much lighter? That blue looks way bluer than when I first started this, and now I'm painting it back to the original blue. These are the tell-tale signs.

On the painting in today’s image, I counted, and I painted that ceiling four times. First it was too dark, then it was too yellow-gray, then it was too violet. Finally I darkened just the part closest to the viewer to provide depth.

That's when I realized I was re-working it way too much. I immediately stopped, and put my paint brush down, and never looked back.

When you’re in this situation, you should do that, too.

Happy Painting!

Friday, April 22

Impressive Impressionist Exhibition!

Main Entrance to MFAH
You must make every effort to see as many of the Impressionists' masterpieces as you can (before the inevitable happens, that is). Put that on your bucket list.

If you live on a continent where any of the art museums house them, then it is a must-do, must-go, must-see trip.

Last year when the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) announced it would be hosting an exhibition of the Impressionists work, I knew it would be big. And it is. And I knew that I would go. And I did.

Yesterday, I and a few family members spent an afternoon gazing at and soaking in the beauty of the paintings at the exhibition titled ‘Impressionist & Post-Impressionist - Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art.’

And was it worth it! The exhibition filled up six galleries (big, skylight-lit rooms) on the second floor of the Beck Building. If you are any kind of art lover, then it is not a stretch to say it was awe-inspiring, and if you are a painter, then it was beyond inspiring. The paintings were arranged more or less chronologically with the Impressionists in the first galleries, and the Post-Impressionists in the latter galleries.

These masterpieces are on exhibition in Houston for three months that began February 20 while their permanent home in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is being refurbished.

I am twice lucky since I already have seen these magnificent paintings during previous visits to D.C. and the National Gallery.

The curators did a nice job placing replicas of the artists' signatures in very large, and what looked like  special vinyl-adhesive, templates on the walls above the artists' respective paintings.

And what were some of the paintings? Only some of the most well-known and well-loved paintings of the late 19th-century. To name a few, they include:

-Claude Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge and Woman With A Parasol

-Edouard Manet’s Plum Brandy and The Railway

-Auguste Renoir’s The Dancer

-Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait 1889

…And many more by these artists in addition to famous paintings by Frederic Bazille, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Eva Gonzales, Paul Cezanne, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

All I can say is, what an exhibition(!), and I hope wherever you are in the world, you also have the opportunity to view these and other great paintings of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Happy Painting!

Monday, April 18

To Enter or Not to Enter an "Exhibition"

My Watercolor Rejected in
 a Recent "Exhibition" 
Well, the deadline is fast approaching. It’s this coming Saturday. Should I enter yet another painting contest that is euphemistically called an “exhibition?”

I’m not sure, and I don’t know. In a previous blog, I said art is not a competition.

On the one hand, some of my paintings have been recently accepted in a couple of exhibitions. So that encourages me, and that should encourage you, too, if you’re in a similar situation.

On the other hand, I've had rejections, actually many more than acceptances. So I have to think about that.

The “exhibition” I’m considering is farther afield in location than the ones I have previously entered, and that worries me a bit. Why? Because for some reason I feel less sure. The juror/judge, the probable entrants, and the sponsoring society are all unknown to me.

In addition, the judge appears to have an affinity for abstract art. None of my work would be considered abstract.

“They” say you shouldn’t paint and/or enter certain paintings in exhibitions based on who the judge is. “They” say you should paint solely for yourself, and I do agree with that. But it seems you should at least consider the judge’s reputation if you’re going to make a calculated decision.

One artist compared it to the lottery and said, “If you don’t buy a ticket, you surely won’t win.” That, of course, is true.

But a lottery ticket costs only $1 (U.S.), not $40 (U.S.). One could spend a fortune entering exhibitions.

Another argument for entering is that if your painting is selected, it will look good on your artist’s resume. But wait. Why do I spend my time painting anyway? To win painting contests?

No, I paint because I enjoy painting. Note, joy is in the word enjoy, not un-coincidentally. Winning contests is secondary at best.

I wonder what Monet would have done. I think he would enter and keep on entering until his paintings were accepted. OK, that settles it. Now where’s that website with the instructions for entering--I only have until Saturday.

Happy Painting!

Saturday, April 16

An Art Gallery Reception

Venice Beach, Morning
If one of your art goals is to have your work presented in a gallery setting, I hope you have found success. After reading about the pros and cons of galleries online and discussing galleries with artist acquaintances, I suppose I am still a bit of a skeptic.

Of course, if you already have an established following of collectors, you have a leg-up. If you don’t, then your work, and mine, may just hang there.

My opinion is that unless you have somehow “made it” and have been persistent (or lucky?) enough to have your work in well-known and respected galleries in the brightest art centers (New York, Paris, London, etc.), then you may well have tasted success. If you are showing in lesser-known art venues in other places, then, I guess we’ll just see, won’t we?

I blog about this because I am part of a group show at a local art gallery for the first time. I have had work exhibited at the local art society, which is a gallery of sorts, but this is the first time at a privately-owned gallery.

The reception was one evening last week, which was fine, and there was a nice turn-out. I’m not sure, however, I could tell who were merely well-wishers (bless their hearts) and who were potential bona fide buyers. The wine and cheese were great, and appreciated, and the conversations were generally positive about the hanging art, or at least most of it.

Being what I consider generally optimistic but practical, then I suppose this is a next step. I consider this one other way to get my work out there. Perhaps I will engage with someone who likes my painting and with whom I might not have otherwise engaged. Perhaps.

Oh yes, and to enjoy the experience…

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, April 13

Back to Basics: Painting Spheres, Cylinders & Cones

(Learning about Shapes in My Acrylic)
I ran across an early acrylic of mine the other day, and it reminded me of when I was learning to use some of the most basic elements in painting, that is, a sphere, a cylinder, and a cone.

Then I remembered that one of my favorite artist’s quotes, which is also one of the sections over there in the right-hand column of the blog, was from Paul Cezanne, who said, “See nature in terms of the cone, the cylinder, and the sphere."

These, along with the cube in all its forms, are the three-dimensional shapes and objects we use, or should use, when we draw or paint objects—we’re always using them (except in the case of some abstract paintings).

That’s why it’s important to recognize them and to understand their properties and nature.

Why are these shapes “important?” Well, if you know where your light source is coming from, and you can also recognize these shapes in the objects you’re painting, then you will be able to paint them more correctly (and did I mention more easily?).

These shapes have volume, they take up space. They have areas of light and shadow on them. They can cast their own shadow. They can also reflect light. See? It’s not so easy.

You should learn to see these shapes in your motifs. Recognize a tree branch as a cylinder, and you’re half-way home to being able to model it as you paint. The same goes for trees or flowers as cylinders, and heads in portraits as spheres.

If you study them and know how they act and react, your paintings will be the better for it.

Happy Painting!

Saturday, April 9

Art & Politics Don't Mix (Very Well)

The Smithsonian on the National Mall
in Washington, D.C.
I decided when I started art blogging that the content of the blog would be all about art (and painting and drawing, etc.) and not at all about any agenda. I have kept to that premise and will keep that ideal as the mission, so to speak, of the art blog.

That said, I will state that art and politics don’t mix very well, or at all, in my opinion.

I bring this up because of a recent news item in the American state of Maine, where the governor of that state ordered a mural removed from public state property because he didn’t think the subject of the mural provided a balanced view between business and labor. Is public art subject to different criteria?

On the other hand, when should an artist’s free expression include a political or social point of view? If it does, does it stop being art and take on a veil of something else?

Art, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder. Unlike the distinction in literature between fiction and non-fiction, there is no distinction of which I'm aware between 'expressive art' and art ‘with a viewpoint,’ for lack of better terms.

Alas, I suppose I’m living in a fantasy world or at least a fantasy art world, but I maintain that art and politics don’t mix (very well). On that note, I'll stick to my art blogging.

Happy Painting!

Thursday, April 7

Don't Paint Hard Edges

(I think I did a decent job of softening the edges
in this otherwise realistic acrylic painting of mine)
There is no place for hard edges in a painting except for the rare circumstance or the not-so-very-often instance when, for whatever reason, your motif, such as in a super-photorealistic painting, might possibly call for it. But even then, hardly ever.

And even then, even when you’re trying to mimic a photograph in a painting (and why do that?), would it hardly ever need hard edges.

Hard edges are just that—hard. They don’t necessarily make a painting look more realistic. In fact, in most cases, just the opposite. They actually detract from the real-ness of the painting, in my humble opinion, of course.

In real life--if there is such a thing, and I’m not saying there is--when you view a scene or even a still life or facsimile of one, for instance, and even if you have 20-20 vision, the lines and edges are not razor sharp.

No, they fade into other objects. They vanish away. They are smooth, yes, but not so crisp and abrupt that they catch the eye of the viewer so that is the first place the eye goes because of the contrast in values.

The slightest possible exception that I could possibly make is when you are painting a reflection in water and/or glass or similar shiny surface. To give the look and feel of water and/or glass, then and only then, it may be permissible to have a hard edge. But even then, you have to evaluate and think it over and see how it looks before you paint anything resembling a hard edge.

Therefore, when you have “finished” your painting, you must go back over it and look for hard edges and soften them. Scrub them or dab them  or re-paint them if you have to, but don’t leave them for the viewers’ eyes to immediately be drawn to.

Got it?

Happy Painting!

Monday, April 4

Are You Getting Better as a Painter?

My Improved Watercolor
I was rearranging some of my supplies and paintings the other day to see if I could organize things a little better. Usually I keep a pretty neat area with like things stored together and paint colors, paper, brushes, and finished work in some sort of order.

In a perfect world, all of my finished paintings would “fly off the shelves,” so to speak, and would be instantly sold on eBay, Etsy, at an art show or festival, or bought by eager collectors.

But here in the real world this does not happen. And so we are left , or I am anyway, with a stack, a pile, or a file of completed paintings that have nowhere to go except the far, dark corners of my studio.

So that was the scenario the other day—I was thumbing through a stack of my watercolor and acrylic paintings on paper. I do attempt to protect them somewhat, either with plastic envelopes or paper sleeves or similar.

In doing so, I came across a painting from way back in ’09, which sounds like a really long time ago when you say it like that. It was a watercolor of a rather simple coastal scene. It had beach grass on sand dunes leading to a faded red bait-and-tackle shop, which was the focal point, and with the upper two-thirds of the composition being clear, blue, noon-time sky.

When I saw it, I instantly remembered working on it. I liked the motif, and still do, as it reminds me of the vacation we took that summer, whenever that was.

I remember working so hard on that painting, trying to get it just right with correct shadows and change in values. I was proud of it even though it got a very luke-warm review from a more experienced artist, and I really liked it.

It had been at least a year since I had looked at this painting. At first glance, I could see exactly why it wasn’t very good. There were hard edges on everything. The objects in the distance didn’t recede at all and neither did the horizon line where the water met the sky. And to top it all off, the sky was streaky. Oh my.

But seeing it again, I was now happy.

Why? Because I could see the error of all my painting ways, meaning that, in the two years since painting it, I have grown as a painter! I now have more experience and know how to improve it.

And that’s what I did. Being watercolor, it was easy to go back over the whole thing and soften and make corrections. I even lifted most of the streaks in the sky and repainted it.

To see how much you, hopefully, have grown as a painter, take a look at some of your old paintings. If you can improve upon them now, congratulations, you're getting better!

Happy Painting!