Wednesday, September 28

A Good Read on Monet

Monet's The Bridge at Argenteuil
at the National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.
If you ever look over there in the right-hand column of my blog, there is a section called "The Art Book I'm Currently Reading," which tells you, naturally, the art book that I'm currently reading. You may have noticed that it's been saying "Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism" by Daniel Wildenstein (published by Taschen) since last January.

Well, I finally finished it! I admit I'm not the fastest reader, but this one took me a while. It's not that it wasn't interesting. On the contrary, it's the most interesting and complete book about an artist, any artist, that I've ever read.

In my defense, it was a very long book to get through even with all those beautiful photos of his paintings and the interesting personal photos. It's a large format, coffee table book, so the text on each page is equal to at least two (maybe three) pages of a regular size book.

Did I mention it is 480 pages long?

Anyway, it was well worth however long it took me to read it. As you know, I'm a big Monet fan, so almost every chapter and page was full of information on him, his work, his career, and his family, most of which was new news to me and very interesting.

From his boyhood in Le Havre to his death at Giverny and everything that happened in between is covered. And that was a lot--he died in 1926 at the age of 86. There are all kinds of accounts of his artistic beginnings to the siege of Paris to the Impressionist era and beyond. So much information is included about the other Impressionists and his dealings with Durand-Ruel as well as his family life with Camille and children and then with the Hoschedes.

If you are a Monet fan, then it's a must-read, and it will keep you reading, even if it takes a long time to finish.

(BTW, my next book is Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection by Matthew Hargraves.)

Happy Painting!

Thursday, September 22

Big Brush Painting

If you’ve been following some of the last few OrbisPlanis blogs, then you may have noticed that I am on a path to overcome art inertia and keep on a steady art path, so to speak. I talked about a few ways to rise above and beyond Art Slump (AS) and how visiting an art museum, or in my case, a fine art fair, may help to keep you on your one true art journey.

Today, I’ll tell you about something else I’m doing. I’m practicing painting with big brushes only. Now this may sound silly and/or elementary to you, but if you have never tried it, don’t knock it, OK?

It’s one of the many things you can do to keep innovating your painting style. Of course, it may not be “you,” and if that’s the case, then you should go try something else, no questions asked.

However, in my reading about how to paint loose, impressionistically, painterly or whatever else you may like to call it, painting with big brushes was consistently discussed as one of the key things to do. So I thought, why not? (So you know, I'm talking about watercolor here rather than acrylic.)

Beforehand, my largest brushes were ones I rarely used—something called an Oval Mop, a 1-inch (.76cm) rather flat, soft brush by Loew-Cornell and another big, soft, flat brush, a No. 16 by ProStroke, also about 1 inch across.  I had only used them for painting skies in watercolor, you know, when you need big, long strokes of paint that you try not to get streaky. I rarely used them because, frankly, I had better luck with a foam brush.

Any, I digress. My only other brush of any size was a No. 4 Round by Winsor & Newton, which is not very big at all. I had not needed larger brushes because my stroke style was rather short and choppy with dashes of paint, or I simply used them to fill in larger areas of paint (other than the skies mentioned above).

Down to my nearest art supply store I went and purchased three brushes: No.12 and No. 14 Rounds by Qualita and a huge No. 36 Round by Creative Mark. If you think that’s a big gap between a No. 14 and a No. 36, you may be right. I wasn’t sure exactly what to get, so erred on the conservative side. I can always go back.

I also read to practice a whole lot to get the feel of these larger brushes. So that’s what I’ve been doing as you can see in today’s image, which, if nothing else, is abstract anyway. I’ll keep on practicing and actually paint something, and then I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Happy Painting!

Sunday, September 18

Visiting an International Fine Art Fair

I had the opportunity to view artists' work from all over the world this weekend at the 1st annual Houston Fine Art Fair (HFAF). Being first is always good. According to the Gallery Directory that every visitor received, it was started after the late Peter Marzio of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston expressed interest in holding an international art fair here. Organized by an exposition group, it was actually a gallery of galleries exhibiting the work of artists each represents. I'm glad to see there is entrpreneurial spirit alive in the art world in today's trying times.

Held September 15-18 at the downtown GRB Convention Center, the fair comprised 80 gallery exhibitors from cities in Europe, Asia, and the Americas (including a few local ones, too).

Although I was not familiar with too many of the artists represented, there was a good mix of current well-known artists (and some deceased) and emerging artists worldwide. Of the deceased, you would recognize the names of Warhol and Rauschenberg, not to mention a Courbet going for the princely sum of $475K-US.

I am somewhat surprised that the term “fine art” now encompasses so much of what I had recently considered contemporary art. By that I mean, there was mostly contemporary and abstract art in oil, acrylic, and mixed media. Only one gallery exhibited a watercolor  artist and another one a pastel artist, unless I missed some. There were very, very few traditional landscapes and nothing I would call traditional still life.

There were a lot of collages and optical-illusion art (at least that’s what I call it), such as the work of world-famous Carlos Cruz Diez. In addition there were sculptures, mobiles, and other kinetic art. They were made from all kinds of materials—wood, resin, metals, ceramic, computer keys, eyeglasses, paint brushes--you name it.

A lot of the work was eye-catching and some was downright unusual, such as the display of 500 miniature wine glasses shaped from twisting up candy wrappers.

But all in all, I am lucky to have seen the cutting-edge trends in the art gallery world in 2011. Or at least, that’s what I hope I saw.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, September 14

3 Steps to Overcome Art Slump

Step 1: Visit an Art Museum
How many of you artists have ever experienced what I’ll call Art Slump for lack of a better word? I was on the brink of Art Slump (AS) recently. Perhaps it’s the extremely warm weather we’ve been enjoying in this part of the world all summer long, but probably it’s just that I’m tired of the way I’m painting and perhaps I’m tired of what I‘m painting.

Here are the symptoms of AS: lack of enthusiasm to paint, unhappy with results of every effort, hoping to see instant improvement in your work, looking for inspiration from a better painter, longing for something new to paint, wishing for a better technique.

Any of this sound familiar? Then, you too may be on the brink of an AS, if you’re not already in it.

It’s not the place you want to spend much time in, but I do think almost every artist experiences AS at some point in his or her art life. It’s only natural because art and painting are creative efforts. Like the tide, creativity ebbs and flows. My experience has been that it’s much better when it’s flowing than ebbing.

What to do?

You can be irritable. You can be moody. You can wait it out. Or you can come to terms with it, which is the way most problems are eventually solved.

Step 1, go to the art museum of choice and find your favorite paintings or painters, and then spend at least two hours roaming, standing, and sitting among these paintings.

Step 2, go online and Google the medium or the painter to which you want to learn more about. For example, Google: watercolor techniques John Singer Sargent. You will find not only information on Sargent’s technique, but even better, links to other sites about watercolor and watercolorists you may never have heard of. It’s here you will be exposed to new ways of painting and new painters.

Step 3, select one or two of these new favorite painters or techniques and go to YouTube. In the search box, type in the painter’s name or technique. Then, if you select the videos carefully, be prepared to spend hours watching painters paint the way you’d like to paint.

Inspirational and a sure-fire method for overcoming AS.

Happy Painting!

Saturday, September 10

The Importance of a Good Motif

Original Reference Photo
Cropped Image

Actually a well thought out motif may be a better characterization of today’s blog title than "good." What may look like a good motif in your reference photo does not always pan out in your painting.

I thought today I’d show you a motif that I tried (and tried again) to paint, but one that I ultimately abandoned.

Today’s images show the two versions of my reference photo that I used. The one on the left is the original photo, which I touched up with the “I’m feeling lucky” button in Picasa. I really like that feature, and while obviously not as sophisticated as Photoshop or PS Elements, it is easier and faster to use.

After printing my photo, and transferring the main elements with a sketch, I began to paint. I painted and painted and painted. Did I mention this was watercolor? Nothing was working. The colors were drab, and it had no life. I tried adding contrast with stronger values and added some pigment for more chroma. Still nothing. I folded up the painting and put it in the re-cycling bin.

I decided it was the motif. So back to Picasa, where I played around with the cropping feature until I was satisfied with the results as shown in the image on the right. The format was now portrait as compared to the original landscape format. I had also gotten some suggestions on how to crop from an artist, and l was now wondering why I hadn’t listened to the advice first.

So I started the whole process over with a sketch of the cropped motif and an underlying wash of ultramarine. I painted and painted and painted. Talk about déjà vu all over again. Again the painting was not working--nothing good or well thought out about it. I even washed off what I had painted, thinking another fresh start would help. It didn’t. Into the re-cycling bin again.

This is the point where artists can go into a downward spiral of sorts with their work. I was determined not to let that happen and decided to figure out the problem(s).

To make a long story short, it was not a well thought out motif. Although I liked the subject  matter—buildings near a harbor and with palm trees—the composition was bad, and there was not a real focal point (other than that palm tree!) and not much depth.

I learned that I should spend (a lot) more time on selecting my motifs, remembering all of the artistic elements that make up a “good” painting. And I hope you have learned something, too.

Happy Painting!

Monday, September 5

Art--Can You Really Call It Work?

My "Labor of Love"
Oil Pastel on Paper
Copyright 2008
Today is Labor Day in the US. What’s that all about? Well, it started out a long, long time ago, around 1882 in New York City, as a celebration of the American workforce. I don’t think it’s looked upon as that much anymore. Mainly it’s the last holiday of summer, a time to relax at a barbecue, or whatever, before all the autumn and winter activities start up.

I doubt many artists think of themselves as laborers, and I doubt many take the day off. I know I’m off to my easel just as soon as I post this blog.

Of course, artists work hard, it’s just a different kind of “work.” Art--in my case, painting--does not have regular hours, and it does not seem like work. It’s not a 9-to-5 job, thank goodness. It’s a whenever-you want-to do-it job, or at least, I think it should be.

That does not mean artists do not or should not put in the hours. It takes a lot of practice and long hours to achieve the level of talent you aspire to. Or not, sometimes it’s pure creative talent and sometimes it’s just luck—being in the right place at the right time to make it in the art world.

Can you really call it work, as in labor? I don’t think so.

That said, I suppose it’s sentimental to call it a "Labor of Love," but I just did.

Happy Painting!