Wednesday, August 31

Artist as Communicator

A Watercolor  of Mine on Twitter
I got to thinking about why art:

a) speaks to (most of) us

b) is found in all civilizations

c) evokes a response

d) is important to us

e) all of the above

It’s because art is a form of communication. Although it’s not specifically called out on Maslow’s Heirarchy chart, it should be right up there with social needs and esteem, in my humble opinion.

Communication at its most basic is nothing more than information sent from a sender and received by a receiver.

An artist (the sender) renders an image in 2D or 3D that the viewer (the receiver) sees. What could be simpler than that?

By that definition, art is a form of communication—visual communication. Nothing in communication theory limits what the information may or may not be (or contain). Therefore art, in all its forms, can be included as communication along with Gutenberg’s bible, a tweet from Twitter, or a simple hello or good-bye between friends.

I suppose most artists don’t think of themselves as communicators, at least not primarily. Primarily they see themselves as artists first.   

But they are communicators. And art (in all its forms) does two things, if nothing else. It makes us feel something, and that, in turn, makes us human. And those, in my book, are the most important ways an artist communicates.

Yes, we can communicate without art, but why limit it?

Happy Painting!

Saturday, August 27

Stretch---Your Watercolor Paper

Copyright Jeffrey Smith
I like to think of myself as someone who listens to reason and will take, or at least consider, the advice of others more knowledgeable than I. Then why have I not been stretching my watercolor paper before I begin painting?

I don’t have a good answer. I would read about the need to stretch the paper or see it on a video on one of those web sites for art and artists.

But did I listen or do it or even think about doing it? No.

Maybe it’s because I was mainly using 300-lb. watercolor paper, which is actually pretty thick. It seems to take quite a lot of water before it begins to buckle. But it does bend and buckle at some point. When that happens, I think, well, I’ll have to flatten the paper out when I’m finished with the painting.

Ironically, you flatten it by using even more water on the backside along with something heavy, like coffee table books. Then you let it dry for a day.

What I could or should have been doing was stretch my paper first to avoid all that. It would also avoid the aggravation of having the paint pool in the wells  that naturally occur.

What changed my mind?

Well, I started looking around for more economical watercolor paper. That is, rather than buying $10-per-full sheet, 300 lb. paper, I thought there must be an alternative. (And $10 per sheet is actually a good price for 300-lb. paper—sometimes it’s as much as $18 per sheet.) I decided to try a 200-lb. paper that was only $3 per sheet (cold press). To my surprise, it worked almost as well.

But what got me to finally learn about stretching? I was working on my painting on the 200-lb. paper when I decided I was not happy with my painting. It was not the paper, but displeasure with my rendering--the paint was beginning to look muddy. Rather than waste time with a container of water and a foam brush to remove the paint, I decided to speed up the job by running water all over it in the bath tub. One-two-three, and the paint washed away in a jiffy (non-staining watercolor also helped).

Of course, the paper buckled, but not as much as I was expecting. I then spent a few minutes with a portable hair dryer, drying it somewhat, and then laid it down flat on a board and taped the edges with masking tape.

The next day it was flat as a pancake. And what really sold me on stretching was that as I painted again on the paper it did not buckle, bend, or even ripple one bit as I applied copius amounts of water.

So, let this be a lesson—listen to the experts, at least some of the time. Now, get ready--one, two , three--all stretch.
Happy Painting!

Tuesday, August 23

What A Wonderful Art World

One of My Oil Pastels from 2008
What if.

What if I switch back and forth between or among various painterly  mediums? That may be ridiculous for a painter to do, but I do it, and it keeps me interested, entertained, and relevant, I think. Perhaps I may never “master” any one medium, or maybe I will master all of them, but if you don’t try, you will never know.

What I mean by that is, how would you ever know that pastels (for example) is the medium in which you will excel if you have never painted with pastels? Simple, you wouldn’t, and that’s the point.

Recently I have gone back and forth between acrylic and watercolor. I found that when I was painting exclusively with acrylic, I was slowly forgetting how to paint with watercolor. Not every single thing, of course, but I was forgetting some of the unique things about watercolor, and how to achieve them, that make it so popular (and respected).

I didn’t want to forget. In fact, I don’t want to forget anything about any of the mediums in which I have painted—and that includes oil, acrylic, watercolor, and, yes, pastels, even oil pastels. However, not forgetting is not very realistic, so I am compelled to venture from one painting medium to the other.

In a perfect painter’s world, I would move effortlessly among mediums on any given day, rendering my art just as I imagined it. I would paint with boldness and determination in acrylic and with rose petal softness in watercolor. I would capture light and shadow perfectly in my oil paintings, and I would render the texture of velvet in my pastels.

In my dreams, of course, but as the song title says, ”What a Wonderful World.”

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, August 17

Art Marketing 101

Spring Road
Watercolor on Paper
12 x 18 in/31 x 46 cm
Copyright 2011
I don't pretend to be a good promoter of my own art. I’m not sure many artists are good at promotion—of course, there are some who are successful at both art and sales, which is basically what promotion is all about--selling.

I think being good at both is a little strange because the two, while not exactly mutually exclusive, are certainly strange bedfellows. One has to do with creativity; the other with making money. And all artists know that if you’re only in it for the money, then you are likely to be extremely disappointed.

But that doesn’t mean that we artists who are not as marketing savvy as some in the gallery or online art marketing business can’t make a go of it. On the contrary.

We have our shows, we have our festival booths, we have our art blogs and our Etsys. And we have our pride, our artistic pride, that is. Although pride alone won’t pay the bills, it does go a long way to staying true to yourself and your art.

Anyway, this is just my two cents on the subject.

I hope you like my effort at promoting my own work by appreciating Today’s Image, which is my latest watercolor. Oh, by the way, it’s also for sale, if anyone happens to be interested in my entrepreneurship.

Happy Painting!

Saturday, August 13

Why Do You Art?

Creating art is like walking down a lonely street. No one knows where you are going but you. 
Style, mood, vision, beauty, expression?  Some, all, or none of these? What are you going for?

I, personally, want to paint a picture in which I thoroughly enjoy the process, and at its finishing touch can say that it is the best work I have done and that I am satisfied. I have yet to achieve all three, but it is a goal.

But what about you? What do you want to achieve in your art, not that I really care, but you should?

If it’s fame or fortune, you can forget about it—achieving these have about the same odds as purchasing a winning MegaMillions lottery ticket.

If it’s to impress others, Good Luck, especially if those others are artists. Like “keeping up with the Joneses,” trying to impress or please others is pointless (and dumb).

If it’s to heal from life’s harsh reality, that’s OK.

Or if it’s just to past time, well, that’s OK, too.

I do hope you have some reasonable excuse for spending time at your artistic venture, whatever it is.

Otherwise what’s the point, or as Alfie said, “What’s it all about?”

Many times I don’t enjoy the process, and I rarely say it’s the best work I have done. But I am often satisfied, and I hope you are, too.

Happy Painting!

Tuesday, August 9

Notebook or Sketchbook Watercolor Style

A Pen&Ink Drawing
from My Sketchbook
I have been looking at the paintings of various watercolor painters recently and noticed the wide variety of styles that artists use to render their work. This is, of course, no surprise, as there is a (very) wide variety of styles.

But, in looking at particular artists’ watercolor paintings I began to notice a certain style of which I could not put a name to. I know what the terms photo-realism and representational and impressionistic mean--even the less descriptive term, loose.

However, the watercolors I like all had a particular “style” that, as I said, I couldn’t put my finger on.

To me, these paintings certainly appeared loose, but at the same time they are also full of specific elements or objects that are rendered rather precisely, although not photo-realistically. That is, they appear to be loose washes of color used for the background colors of objects, but followed with more precise brushstrokes used to show detail—or maybe vice-versa—I don’t know.

I decided to look at some of my watercolor reference books to see if I could figure this out. In Watercolor Tips & Tricks by David Norman, I think I found what I was looking for. In a section on initial sketches, he says sometimes pencil lines from a sketch are left to “create a notebook style.” He says this can be effective but should not be over done.

Then I Googled “notebook style of painting” and, of course got a slew of hits. Wikipedia has an entry called Notebook (style), which primarily discussed how writers use notebooks to jot down thoughts and ideas. But in the last paragraph, it said notebooks used by artists are referred to as sketchbooks and then talked about Leonardo da Vinci’s use of sketchbooks for his art and sculptures.

Of course, I then had to Google “sketchbooks in watercolor paintings” and found the entry: Sketchbook . This entry has a really good discussion on sketchbooks and their uses. In addition, it has links to the sketchbook art of many famous painters (not necessarily watercolor painters), such as Rembrandt, JMW Turner, and John Singer Sargeant in addition to da Vinci. But the main takeaway was the ability to quickly record impressions through sketching and I suppose, watercolor.

There may not be an official style of watercolor painting called “notebook” or “sketchbook.” However, look at the work of David Norman or Eugen Chisnicean. You may agree that this light and airy watercolor style looks as if paintings were rendered on the spot.

If anyone has more or better information on this “style,” please leave a comment.

Happy Painting!

Friday, August 5

The Harmony of Color

Color Harmony in my Acrylic
"Garden's Edge"
What is the first thing that draws you to a painting? For me, it’s color, first and foremost. My eye is drawn to see what is going on over there on that canvas. Is it bright and airy or subdued and mesmerizing?

Of course, color is not the only important part of a work of art and does not entirely stand on its own even in abstract or expressionist pieces. To make the whole, there’s also composition, subject matter, style, and mood of the piece.

But for me it’s color.

I like the quote of Vincent Van Gogh, which I include in Favorite Art Quotes on my blog: "Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life." Although it’s hard for me to imagine Van Gogh saying those words in a serious moment, I do agree with the sentiment.

Some people like big, bold colors that cover the canvas from frame to frame. Others are happier with the monochromatic schemes. I, however, am a fan of harmony.

Harmony is that secret ingredient in color theory that makes certain mixtures of colors, and paint, go together in such a way that envelopes the viewer and relaxes the soul. It’s hard to describe or put your finger on what makes this so.

The science of color theory tells us we get all other colors from the three primaries, so that by using a limited palette, you automatically produce harmony. That’s true, but a little too cold of an explanation for me.

I like to think it’s the creativity and eye for color of the artist who plans to make harmony one of the prime elements of the painting. As everyone knows, Monet was a past master at this and why his work endures for the ages. Look at any one of his land- and riverscapes from his mid-1870's paintings, and you are likely to see beautiful sky blues and blue-green waters in unison with yellow, red, and purple flowers in a sea of soft, green meadows. Beautiful.

There is something about the harmony in soft pastel colors that gets to me when I see them in a painting, no matter the style or genre. That’s how I know color, for me, is the first thing I notice in a painting.

And so, I ask you again, what is the first thing that draws you to a painting?

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, August 3

Why I Don't Attend Art Workshops

Today I’m blogging about art workshops. OK, I’m actually blogging about why I don’t attend art workshops.

Being an introvert, as I am led to believe many of us artists are, I would rather not spend time socializing with artists (and/or a lot of other people either).

I know there is a lot to be said about the value of artistic workshops. I’m sure I could learn something I don’t know or improve my painting technique or perhaps feel good that I was doing something to improve my painting technique.

However, the very few workshops I have attended seem to go like this: introductions; ice-breaking of the apprehension of other introverted artists in the room; take a much-needed break; a demonstration of how the artist paints, etc., or worse, a video of a demonstration followed by a sales pitch for the video; Q & A; a thankful lunch break ; blah-blah-blah after lunch; time for actually doing whatever the workshop is trying to “teach;” more blah-blah-blah; finally, conclusion and well-wishing all around about how great the workshop was.

All of that, and you had to pay for the privilege of attending in addition to actually enduring it.

Sorry for stepping on some toes out there, but really, the artists who conduct workshops are doing it for two reasons: to get paid for the day and to reap some accrued benefit or exposure that could lead to future awards or future sales of their work (they hope).Nothing wrong with any of this—free will and free enterprise and all of that.

You may have noticed a slight cynicism in my description, and you would be correct. A cynical artist knows what type of art to pursue without attending workshops.

I much prefer my method, which is viewing artwork and paintings in person at museums and galleries and by viewing paintings in books of great art collections. Viewing art in person or in a book allows you to look and see what interests you and take time to evaluate it and internalize it with the goal of using what you see in your work and in your own good time. I would even rather buy a good how-to book (now and then) —money better spent, in my humble opinion-- than spend time in a workshop.

Happy Painting!