Wednesday, June 27

George Bellows, American Master

I was in Washington, D.C. again last week and, as always, there is more art to see and more museums to do than time allows. So I had to choose.

I chose the George Bellows Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (Sixth St. and Constitution Ave. NW). The National Gallery almost always has at least one exhibition I want to see when I'm in town, and this trip was no exception.

George Bellows is one of those painters whose name I knew, or thought I knew, but one with whom I was not all that familiar. I knew he was American and painted way back when, but that was about all. I learned he was a contemporary of Edward Hopper, who you know, if you are a regular viewer of OrbisPlanis, is one of my favorite painters.

As the exhibit proved, Bellows (1882-1925) was quite prolific even in his relatively short lifetime--he died from a ruptured appendix at age 42. Too bad, because it's hard to imagine how many more paintings he would have done--I didn't count but I'm guessing there were well over 100 works spread out in several galleries on the second floor.

While viewing the exhibition I also learned he was a student of Robert Henri, and his early works were typical of the Ashcan School of realistic city scenes in the early 20th century. His friend and gallerist was Alfred Steiglitz. Bellows painted with, but was not a member of, a group called The Eight, which included William Glackens and John Sloan. Bellows became known for his large, realistic paintings of prize fights and fighters (e.g. The Sawdust Trail), which many viewers at the time considered crude in their content.

What impressed me most about Bellows is the wide variety of motifs he painted as his career progressed and not just gritty cityscapes. He proved himself an equal master with landscapes and portraits. There a more than a few paintings of his wife, Anna, and their two daughters in the exhibit as well as other portraits, all beautifully rendered. 

He used light source excellently, in my opinion, to heighten the drama in both landscapes and portraits. His painting, Blue Snow The Battery, with its bright sun and blue shadows on snow, is a masterpiece.

If you are in Washington, D.C. this year, don't miss the Bellows exhibition which runs through October 8, 2012.

Keep On Painting

Thursday, June 21

Visual Cues Create Interest

A Painting With Several
Visual Cues (copyright 2010)
One way to keep your viewers interested in your painting is to give them something to look at. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

So why do so many paintings fail to keep the viewers' interest? A boring motif is the obvious answer, one with little contrast or emotion.

But you also need to have visual cues. What do I mean by that?

In addition to a focal point, you should have counterpoints that move the eye around or bounce it back and forth across your work.

You need to lead the viewer into the painting. Usually this is some element that gives entry or points the way into the painting, like a road or a shadow or an object of some sort. Most often a viewer enters a painting from the lower left or lower right but not always.

You need depth--a foreground, a mid-ground, and a background. Otherwise the viewer is stuck in a static plane unless that's what you intend.

Depending on your subject, you will have perspective and/or a viewpoint to not only let viewers know where the picture plane is but also to orient them.

If there is an animate object in the painting, a person or animal or other creature, there will often be an eye-line. This means that the person or animal is looking in a direction such that the viewer is compelled to look in that same direction.

These are just a few basic ways to keep you and your viewers from being bored to death by your painting.

Keep On Painting

Friday, June 15

The Way I Imagine

I Imagine 
Painters, perhaps more than most, need a new start, a new beginning, a new outlook.

Today is that day. 

Today I will begin painting watercolors the way I imagine.

I will take time not only to understand but also to internalize the steps to create paintings the way I imagine.

Remember, the end result of the painting is art, but the rendering of it is craft.

So I will take time to control each step and nurture that craft to paint the way I imagine.

I will imagine the best motif, the best composition, the best underpainting, the best color palette, the best washes, the best values--in short, the best painting imaginable.

After I imagine the best, I will not give up or give in or otherwise tolerate failure unless and until I paint the way I imagine.

And imagine, if I can do it, so can you.

Keep On Painting 

Monday, June 11

The Main Focus of Your Painting

There are many ways to lead your viewer into and around your painting. Today I’m blogging about a subtle way some contemporary watercolorists choose to do it. This can apply to other mediums as well, but I have particularly noticed it with watercolor, probably because of its very nature.

All artists know the focal point is, of course, that thing or area in your painting to which the viewer's eye is natually drawn. It is usually obvious what and where the focal point is based on its contrast in value, color, or maybe placement.

It all has to do with focus, as in the focal point in your composition, and there should be only one. Everything else should support it by moving the eye around the painting and providing counter-balance.  

However, if the focal point is too obvious, it's as if a big finger were pointing right at it so there could be no mistaking. So what is the subtle way some watercolorists have of focusing the viewer’s attention? It’s simply by painting the focal point in sharp focus or relatively sharp focus compared to other areas.

If done correctly, your eye will naturally go to the area with sharper contrast of line or color, and then move around to areas that are in less focus. It’s also effective in providing depth, I think—other areas can be out of focus s while the main attraction is in relatively sharp focus.

One acknowledged painter explained on his DVD that backgrounds, or any area that is not the focal point,  should be indications of shape, light, and color. Otherwise, you run the risk of fiddling with too much detail and emphasizing things you didn’t intend.

It’s a rather simple concept really—painting the focal point in focus and everything else in less focus—but it takes forethought and planning to do it right.

Keep On Painting

Thursday, June 7

Remembering Paul Gauguin and His Color Palette

My 2010 Acrylic Using Bold Colors
in the Gauguin Style
Today is June 7. It’s an interesting date because today is the birthday of Paul Gauguin. He was born in 1848.

You remember Paul, right?

He was known for using very bright and bold colors that could certainly render an eye-catching canvas. His bold choice of colors was not particularly harmonious, and I think you’ll agree, neither were his paintings.

Whether you like Gauguin’s work or not, you must admit most of it is colorful, if nothing else. 

And what was his color palette? One site I came across provided the following:

-Cobalt Blue

-Prussian blue

-Cobalt Violet

-Cadmium Yellow

-Chrome Yellow

-Red Ochre

-Emerald Green


-Lead White

As I said, bold choices.

You may also remember that he left France for Tahiti in French Polynesia in 1891, and after several trips, moved there permanently. He painted the indigenous population, including several young women who infamously, according to some, appear in many of his later works.

Gauguin died May 8, 1903 and is buried in Atuona, Hiva ‘Oa, Marquesas Islands.

In addition, and perhaps most interesting, on one site I visited, recent art historians say Gauguin is the one who actually cut off Vincent Van Gogh’s ear (or maybe just the lobe) during a December, 1888, kerfuffle in Arles, France. Van Gogh didn’t dispute claims that he had done it himself; we may never really know.
Aren't painters interesting?

Keep On Painting

Friday, June 1

The Biggest Mistake Painters Make

How do you like the headline on today’s blog?  I think it will get most painters’ attention. Of course, it’s only my opinion of what a painter’s biggest mistake is, but I think I'm right, all things considered.

Call it what you like, but the biggest mistake most painters make is:
- The failure to correctly render value in representational paintings
This problem may also be known as:
-Not getting your darks dark enough
-Not painting enough contrast
-Painting everything in the mid-values

We painters all know, or definitely should know, about the value scale. If you don’t know what that is, then that’s your first mistake. Gaining additional knowledge about values may be just the thing you need to improve your work.

It’s elementary, really, but picture a horizontal bar that’s white on one end and black on the other. The value of white is 0 (zero), and the value of black is 10 (ten). I think everyone can get this.

But it’s what’s in between the 0 and 10 that’s most important. Numbers 1 through 9 correspond to ever darkening values as the darks intensify and white changes to gray and then to black.

That sounds simple and easy to understand, but it's hard to transfer that knowledge to your actual work. The confusion comes, I believe, when painters confuse color in their paintings with the value scale just described. Or worse, they don’t even realize the relationship between the two.

It’s confusing because you can have the following example. Orange can have a darker value (a 6,7, or 8) than blue, even though when you think about these two colors, you’re more likely to think of orange with a lighter value (a 1,2, or 3) than blue. (And many oranges do have a lighter value than many blues. )

To make matters worse, the term "tone" is sometimes used instead of "value," so painters confuse the two, thinking they are two different things, but they're not.

And that's why it gets confusing. Anyway, you have to learn and understand value and its importance, then you need to use what you know in your paintings.

Otherwise, something can be terribly wrong in what you consider your best work, and you may not even know why.  Now that’s a mistake!

Keep On Painting