Conversations with artists aged 24 to 80. Whether they hit their stride right after college or make their best work in their final years, the creative career seldom has a conventional trajectory. Very insightful. Click here to read.
Question: I want to paint more expressively but how do I loosen up?
Answer: Failure is the Best Teacher
Perfection. The word brings to mind overly manicured gardens at historic French villas, straight lines that you’re not allowed to color outside of and predictability.
When you are learning to paint you struggle for years just trying to make your stuff look like stuff. You spend time trying not to make mistakes, hoping you’re doing it right and figuring out how to make your stuff look darn good.
One day it dawns on you that your stuff actually looks like stuff! Then you spend a whole lot more time (a lifetime, in fact) trying to make your stuff look as amazing as possible.
The path I’ve found most effective is to embrace destruction or deconstruction. Every studio painting I’ve worked on this year has almost been wiped entirely off the canvas. What seems to happen in this, I do some sketches and color studies, then I transfer my idea to a larger canvas, I block in all my big shapes and then I passionately hate every single inch of the painting.
The dark side of my brain whispers, “That’s it, you lost it, you can’t paint worth a damn anymore. Hang it up. Sell off your equipment and go back to work as a graphic designer.”
Then my stomach reminds me that it’s lunch time and I’m “hangry.” I get very “hangry” (that’s hungry and angry mashed together in case you weren’t aware) and tend to be negative until I’m fed. After eating I remember that I love painting, it’s my compulsive obsession and I don’t want to be a graphic designer again. So I take a look at the painting.
I still hate every inch. I plan on wiping it off first thing after dropping my kids off at school the next morning.
However, I refuse to let it be a complete loss. I plan to experiment with it before wiping it off just to see what I am able to learn by pushing paint around. More specifically, I plan to destroy parts of it by breaking edges, scraping away large areas with a palette knife, drawing on it with a pencil, slapping thick paint through passages where I see a sharp line and using tools can only be found at a home improvement store.
Why not, right? I was going to wipe it off anyway.
And that’s when it happens – the interesting stuff, the stuff worth keeping, the stuff that makes the painting worth looking at – the fun stuff. The more risks I take the more interesting the painting becomes until eventually I don’t hate it anymore and I don’t plan on wiping it off anymore.
To do this I have to be willing to fail spectacularly. I have to be willing to sacrifice passages of the painting that I like for the good of the whole piece. It can not be precious or I won’t take any risks.
Do they all turn out well? No. I wipe off my fair share but, at least in the process I learn something from each one.
One thing I keep in mind is this, every single artist I admire has painted a lot of truly horrible paintings. Most of them are never shown in a museum or printed in books, so, what we see of their work is only the best. Ask any living artist you admire and I guarantee they will tell you that yes, they still paint bad paintings, maybe with less frequency than when the first started out, but they still make some.
So, the next time you’ve spent hours working on a piece and find you hate every square inch of it, take a break, eat something and then see how far you can push it and what that painting will teach you. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Art Muse Contest is the only online art contest where you compete at your skill level for monthly cash prizes and the opportunity for 6 months of gallery representation with Jack Meier Gallery in Houston, TX.
See exactly how many entries are in the contest each month on our website. We don’t hide our numbers.
Increase your reach and following. We promote our winners and finalists on all our social media channels each month.
Getting Your Work Out There – Tips on Entering Juried Shows
by Debra Joy Groesser, CEO/President American Impressionist Society
Why Enter Juried Shows Anyway?
There are juried art shows out there for all experience and skill levels. Entering a juried show can take some courage, as not everyone who submits work will have their work accepted. Knowing and accepting that going in, juried shows can be a great way to get exposure for your work. Juried shows can offer:
-Exposure to galleries, collectors and the media (all but one of the galleries I have ever been represented by found me through a juried or invitational show.)
-Discounted advertising opportunities with show media sponsors
-A way to build your resume
-Awards and recognition
If any of these are part of your career goals, then juried shows may be worth your time and money. A word of caution: you will not be accepted into every show you enter. You will face rejection (in fact more often than acceptance usually) and must be prepared to accept that it is a part of the process and your growth as an artist. More on that later.
How to choose which shows to enter
Choose shows that are appropriate for your skill level and quality of work. You may be ready for national shows or you may want to start with more local or regional shows. National shows are normally much more competitive than local or regional ones.
Make sure your work fits the show’s criteria (examples: plein air, impressionism, a specific medium such as oil or pastel). If you enter an abstract or non-representational piece in a show which is for realism or representational work, your work will be disqualified for not adhering to the show criteria.
Check out the reputation of the organization or organizer sponsoring the show – beware of scams – talk to other artists who have been in the shows you are considering.
Larger shows often have online catalogs of previous years’ shows so you can check out the type of work that is accepted. This will really help you get an idea if your work is a good fit for a particular show.
Check out the number of entries vs the number of accepted works (if that information is available). Some shows may accept up to 50% or more of the submitted entries. This year, the American Impressionist Society received 1349 with 140 accepted (about 10%). The higher the percentage, the better your chances are of being accepted…if you enter your best work!
On Judges and Jurors: The judges (who give the awards) are nearly always publicized. The juror or jurors (who score the works and whose scores determine the pieces accepted in the show) are usually anonymous in the larger, national shows. There are several reasons for this. When jurors’ names are publicized they are sometimes contacted by artists who are not accepted into the show, expecting to get an explanation or a critique. Occasionally they are openly criticized on social media (please don’t ever do this!). Although jurors are usually paid a small stipend, they are not paid to do critiques in addition to jurying. Some people enter shows based on who the judges and jurors are…they try to “paint for the judge” thinking if they paint the subjects or style the judge does it increases their chances of acceptance or awards. This is just usually not the case. In my experience, you have a much better chance of acceptance if you enter your best work regardless of who the judge or jurors are.
You’ve chosen a show to enter…now what?
Read the show prospectus carefully. Note deadlines and follow the instructions to the letter. Avoid having your entry disqualified because of careless errors or omissions.
Nearly all shows use digital images for their entry submissions. You will need high quality photos of your work…use a professional photographer if necessary. Your photos must not show frames or any extraneous backgrounds…only the image of the artwork itself. They must be in focus and oriented correctly. The jurors have a very short time to view each image and they have to score your work based on the image you submit. If they can’t see the work clearly, it will hurt your score or could even disqualify your work. Make sure your image is sized correctly according to specifications for the entry system.
Fill out the application and make sure all your information is entered correctly.
If you are entering a show sponsored by an organization, where membership is required to be eligible to enter, be sure to pay the membership fee before submitting your show entry. These type of shows usually require a show entry fee in addition to membership.
If you are entering a show that will be held in a gallery, work will almost always need to be for sale and must be priced according to your established sales prices. Do not overprice your work because you don’t want it to sell. That is not fair to the hosting gallery or the organization sponsoring the show and can put you at risk of disqualification. If you sell a painting that’s been accepted into a show and then pull out of the show, you risk being ineligible for subsequent shows.
Submit your entry well before the entry deadline. The majority of entries for juried shows usually come in during the last week prior to the deadline, many on the very last day. For shows using online jurying systems, once the deadline has passed and the system has closed, it cannot be reopened to accept late entries. Inevitably problems can and will arise at the last minute, so it’s best to plan to submit your entries a few days ahead of that final deadline.
Enter your very best work and again, double check your entry before you submit to make everything is complete and correct.
Jury Results – Elation or Deflation
This is the nerve-wracking part of entering juried shows. The waiting and anticipation is hard! Every show will list notification dates for the jury results. Mark that on your calendar and note if the results will be posted online or if you will receive an email notification.
If you are accepted:
Note shipping and delivery instructions and dates on your calendar. If you don’t ship your work to the show on time, you risk disqualification from that show and subsequent shows.
Make sure to include any crate fees, return shipping labels, bios…whatever is required.
What if your painting sells before the show? Usually the gallery hosting the show will handle the sale and take their commission according to the show prospectus. Normally, you will be required to send the painting to the show regardless. Again, adhere to the rules as stated on the prospectus to avoid possible disqualification from future shows.
Try to attend the opening reception if at all possible. This is a great opportunity for networking, meeting gallery owners, collectors and other artists. There’s a higher chance of selling your work if collectors can meet you and connect with you.
If your work is “declined” – the dreaded “rejection” letter
This is the hardest part…hands down. I once heard OPA Master Neil Patterson say: “If you’re accepted, you’re not necessarily as good as you think you are, and if you’re rejected you’re not as bad as you think you are. Just keep painting the best paintings you can and eventually you will be accepted.” It’s true!
Don’t give up. It took me 13 times entering the Oil Painters of American National Juried Exhibition before I was finally accepted. Persistence, hard work and perseverance do pay off. The only way you will never get into a show is if you quit trying and not enter. The only way your last rejection will be your last is if you never enter again.
Personally, I take each rejection as a personal challenge to try harder, to make my next painting even better than the last. Do I get down and discouraged? Absolutely! Go ahead and have a pity party for a few hours or a day, but don’t let it overwhelm or defeat you. Above all, be gracious and be professional…refrain from complaining to or about show organizers, judges and jurors about not being accepted.
Know that in EVERY show, there are always a lot of deserving works that do not get in. Every show has limits as to how many pieces they can accept. Every juror or panel of jurors is different. Every show you enter a particular painting in, you are competing against an entirely different group of paintings. Most artists, myself included, have experienced having a painting rejected from one show only to win an award with the same painting in another show.
Bottom line…juried shows can be a great way to get your work out there. It takes courage and you will have disappointments along the way, but it’s all part of the process of growing in your work and your career. Be patient, keep trying, keep working hard and growing…and don’t give up.
For more information about Debra Joy Groesser and to see more of her beautiful artwork CLICK HERE.
Debra is CEO and President of the American Impressionist Society. For more information about the AIS including their national art show CLICK HERE.
The September contest is now open.
Don’t miss your chance to win gallery representation at Jack Meier Gallery in Texas, $500, $250 or $100 and many more prizes!
Who knew that at one point in Olympic history that the arts where part of the competition. Did you know that in 1912, someone won a gold medal in painting? I say, let’s bring it back again. Click here to read the article.
Check our monthly Art Muse Contest. Great cash prizes, opportunities for gallery representation and exhibition plus other cool prizes.
We live in a visual world as well as working in one, yet, I see some of the most boring posts. People just snap a photo and post. If you are trying to promote an event, workshop or even share your own work, take a little time and make it POP. I try to create a new image (like the hats) every few weeks for my Artist BFF website to give a visual to what I offer. There are so many programs that can help you add interest to your posts. I have used Canvaand PicMonkey (just to mention a few) to add text, filters and create collages. You can create Facebook posts, covers, Instagram posts with your own photos or there are many free images that you can choose from. Most of the options are free or very inexpensive (like a $1). They are easy and quick to create and make everything look more professional.
15 Minute Challenge
1. Create a new Facebook cover. Include your art and some text using Canva. It’s like getting an instant facelift to your Facebook page. It’s fun but a warning…it can be addictive.
2. Play around in Canva and see what else you can create for your blog, Instagram or Facebook posts.
For expert help with your art marketing needs, contact Kelley Sanford, Artist BFF and see a list of my services, visit my website.
Check our monthly Art Muse Contest. Great cash prizes, opportunities for gallery representation and exhibition plus other cool prizes.
Question: Painting plein air can be challenging. Do you have any suggestions for getting the most out of plein air sketches?
Answer: From Sketch to Finish.
One of the most overlooked aspects of plein air painting is the thumbnail sketch. This seemingly simple step can solve so many early problems in both composition and design.
When I arrive at a painting location I will wander around looking for a unique point of view with four to six strong, graphic shapes. I don’t get my paint kit out, but rather just take my sketchbook with me. Once I’ve decided on a subject, I determine the format – whether it’s rectangular, horizontal, square, or panoramic.
Next, I sketch in an outline of the outside format (a square for instance) and determine the horizon-line, or eye-level. This is a very important element to establish. As I sketch in the main elements using a ballpoint pen, I’m looking for three values, which fall into categories: black, white, and grays.
I use a crosshatch technique to create my values. Overlapping different directional lines creates a value pattern. I may also darken the outside lines of specific shapes to strengthen the graphical work.
As a former illustrator (22 years), I see the major elements as graphic shapes. I try to simplify them clearly, looking for hard edges. In the paining, I’ll lose or soften edges, but not in my sketch. This is also the time to edit elements from the scene. I ask myself what’s important to the composition? Does this shape help tell a story or compliment the scene?
If there’s an architectural element, I work out the perspective and the shadow pattern on the building. This can be really helpful as the shadow often changes with weather; I can refer to my sketch for the shadow shapes. Organic elements like trees are important and need to be designed well. I give them specific, well designed shaped, keeping in mind their unique characteristics.
The whole process might take five to ten minutes, but it solves so many issues before I pick up a paintbrush.
Now, I get out my painting kit. I redraw my composition in pencil on my board, just so I know where the elements belong. I then use thinned burnt-umber oil paint to block in the painting. I may make slight adjustments, making sure my perspective is correct.
Now I’m ready to paint. At this point, I ask myself what is going to change the quickest that I must capture first. It might be a long shadow. It might be the sky or the reflections in the water. I might paint these areas completely and work in other areas later. I prefer to block in the whole painting first, but that’s not always possible.
Using a fairly thin oil wash in the shadow areas, I block in these darks first using large, bright brushes. I’ll mix my colors on my palette in one general area shifting colors slightly to give them more interest. The next step is to block in the major light areas, using more opaque colors and slightly thicker paint. The goal is to have a harmony of color and capture the light of the day. These areas are mixed separately on the palette and I use a clean brush for each major color.
Next, I’ll block in the major light areas, using more opaque colors and slightly thicker paint.
At this point, my canvas is covered and I always step back to see the overall look of the painting. This is a critical step. Again, I ask myself, what adjustments do I need to make in value and color? What jumps out that I need to fix? It’s easy to fall in love with a brush stroke or a passage of color, but stepping back let’s me see the whole painting.
The last step is refinement of shapes. I’ll go back to the shadow shapes and refine color and value. In the light areas I’m building up a thicker, more opaque paint using directional brush strokes. I soften the edges of the trees and add sky holes.
I may add some texture with a palette knife and/or add smaller details, like telephone poles, fences, or tree branches. Sometimes the sky is done last (if it is a small area) and I’m careful to keep it clean. Often, I scrape my palette and add more white paint so the color is clean. Stepping back frequently during the last stage allows me to get a better overall view of my piece.
The thumbnail sketch may seem like a quick exercise to get to the finished painting. I find it to be an essential aspect of the process and critical to the success of my painting.
Question: How do you know when to stop working a painting?
Answer: How finished is finished?
“A fine suggestion, a sketch with great feeling, can be as expressive as the most finished project,” Eugene Delacroix
When I’m teaching I often come across artists who say “I liked it better before but now I’ve finished I’m disappointed with it.” I certainly can relate, and I think we’ve all experienced those feelings of heightened excitement and possibility in the early stages of a piece of work, only for that work to then come to an end borne of our own limitations to satisfactorily take the work further and a sense of frustration at not quite fulfilling the early promise, an opportunity lost.
I’m sure you’ll understand me when I say I’ve seen many a piece of work lose all it’s vitality and freshness when “finished,” and ending up with a range of malaise from muddied colors to having lost sight of the drawing. Usually an overworked painting is recognizable by being too stiff, somewhat lifeless and lacking in recognizable focus. Despite what anyone else thinks, as an artist we just know when we’ve gone too far.
Is the real problem here that we get too precious and the longer we work on a painting we may get quite defensive about all that time we have put into it and soldier on with a grim determination? If you find this happening I suggest you put it away for a while and when you come back to it be prepared to make a radical overhaul using your largest brushes or a thorough scraping down with a palette knife or a good “tonking” with paper. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Guard against being precious and working to tried and tested formulas. We learn far more by being daring and trying new approaches, and are more likely to recognize when something isn’t working and make the large changes it needs. To get a fresh view of a piece of work when you know something is wrong with the drawing but are unsure what it is, try looking at it in a mirror. Or turn it upside down and consider how the colors and values are working together as an abstract arrangement. Is there discord where you were seeking harmony?
When I was a student I read a quote by an American artist which said, “Say what you need to say in the painting then get out. There is no use chattering on after you have made your point.” I don’t remember who said it or where I read it, but I have never forgotten it. It struck a chord with me and has been my mantra for the past 24 years or so. Always I am striving to say more using less means. It’s important to ask yourself before you start “What am I trying to say in this painting?” If you can’t answer that then you can’t expect to know when you’ve said it.
My painting approach is to work on all areas of the canvas throughout, considering the entire composition right from the beginning rather than working section by section in a piecemeal fashion. I concentrate on bringing the painting along as a whole, and am always alert as to when I might have said enough. I may start a painting with quick linear marks positioning the subject but I am keen to soon move on to large areas of tonal value. I believe this approach helps me to form the main structure of the painting before getting involved in details that don’t add very much impact. I aim to make a concise statement.
If you suspect that sometimes you go too far in your own work I have a few ideas that may help.
When working plein air or from life, turn away from the subject from time to time and regard the painting rather than the subject. Ask yourself what’s the biggest difference you can make to move from where you are now with the painting to where you’d like it to be when finished. Go on from there to asking what else the painting needs to improve it and keep in mind the initial inspiration behind it or the feeling you are trying to convey.
If working in the studio consider taking more breaks. A break is either a time to think and absorb ideas about the painting or to get away from it altogether and come back to it with fresh eyes. Looking at a painting in progress in a mirror can help you to see any inaccuracies with the drawing. Desirable as it may be to achieve a loose impressionist look to the work you still need the underlying structure or drawing to read well, otherwise you will lose the believability and it will be difficult for your viewers to engage with the piece.
Another idea for self-training purposes is to take regular photos of a painting during the stages of its production. You might find afterwards when looking at the series of photos that there came a point where you continued working and actually lost more than you gained from there on. This can be something of an eye opener and can help you to spot when and how you might bring future paintings to a different conclusion.
Also consider timed exercises. Painting en plein air is terrific training for getting an idea down quickly and developing a short term visual memory. Even when working from a static reference it is a good project to set strict time limits to train yourself to get a complete idea down quickly and with minimum fuss.
The level of detail and finish that you aspire to is a personal choice and it would be a boring world if we all responded the same way. What excites me is that people perceive a level of detail in my paintings that isn’t really there, and I love them to get up close to the surface and see the abstract marks, dots and patches which led them to believe that they could see a whole village on a mountainside. Knowing when to stop is hard, but think of your painting as a collaboration with the viewer and try to leave a little something for them to work on. Notwithstanding all of that, the very best way to finish a painting is to start on a new one.
To learn more about Haidee-Jo Summers, visit her website.
Allan Duerr, publisher of Art of the West Magazine, is the July judge for Art Muse Contest.
You don’t have to enter a western themed piece of art in this month’s contest, however, if that is a genre you enjoy painting you should really consider entering.
Watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic and mixed media 2D artwork are eligible to enter.
Compete at your skill level for the chance to win $500, $250 or $100.
Plus the opportunity to win 6 months of gallery representation and participate in the winners show in 2017.
Summer is here and we know many of you are going to be traveling far and wide. Taking a break from working in the studio sure sounds like a great idea, but, you know in a day or two you’ll spot something that will have your painting hand itching to grab a brush and create. In this post we’ve included several ideas for travel art kits to help you scratch that creative itch while you’re globetrotting.
Each photo includes a website link for more information about how they were created, so click away and as you near the end of the list you might decide to hang onto all those Altoids tins you’ve been saving.
The question isn’t whether you like your website but is it inviting visitors to stay? Did you know that you have less than 10 seconds (actually more like 5 seconds) to grab someone’s attention? Sure you have needs that must be meet by your site but it doesn’t work if your visitors won’t engage. Keeping your site clean, easy to navigate and showcases your artwork should be your #1 goal. Can’t tell you how many artists’ websites I visit in a week but a large percentage don’t grab my attention and it has nothing to do with their artwork. You should be looking at your site as if you were the visitor. It’s like critiquing your own work…pull the emotion and personal views out of it. Here is this week’s challenge…it’s a 2 Part Series.
15 Minute Challenge, Part 1 – Does your website pass the test?
When was the last time you updated or actually looked at your website?
Are you capable of managing/updating your own site?
Would you describe your website template as clean or cluttered?
Are your website background colors neutral?
Do you have so many categories and tabs that your navigation bar is more than a single line?
How many categories of paintings do you have? i.e. florals, still life, landscape, figurative, oils, watercolors, drawings, mixed media, impressionism, small works? You get the idea.
How much artwork do you have listed on your site?
What is your oldest image currently on your site? Does it reflect where you are currently as an artist?
Does your website have bells and whistles? i.e. music playing in the background? If so, stop immediately and remove!!!
Is your email listed on your website? This does not include a contact page.
If you have a logo, does it over power the images on your home page?
Do you have a way for visitors to subscribe to your latest announcements and news?
Do you use any “Call to Actions”?
Do you list painting information and prices on your website?
Do visitors have a simple way to purchase or inquire about your work?
Is there a picture of you on your website?
Do you have an Events page that is blank or just lists previous events?
If you have a contact page, how often do you check for messages?
Now, keep these answers for next week. I’ll be back with some suggestions on how to improve your website.
Reminder: If you have any tasks that you are struggling, please email me. If I use your suggestion as a 15 Minute Challenge, you will receive a free 30 minute consultation with me.
Check our monthly Art Muse Contest. Great cash prizes, opportunities for gallery representation and exhibition plus other cool prizes.
Want to hear a confession? I used to keep my inventory of paintings and sales on Post-It Notes. Yep, I admit it. When I started this “system” Excel was about the only platform in use and I couldn’t stand Excel, so color-coded Post-It notes in a folder was my system. You can only imagine how well that worked. But today we have lots of options available. I got wise and became a professional (actually it’s easier than the color coded Post-It notes)! No matter whether you are currently using an inventory system or aren’t at a stage in your career to spend money on an inventory system , there is one SIMPLE and FREE option (up to 2 GB) that you should consider and not just as a way to track inventory. DROPBOX!
This is a great way to get started if you have no system or worse, my Post-It note system in place. It’s also the best way to have your images all in one place with all relevant information. Don’t be intimated. It’s as easy as attaching an image for an email.
Dropbox can serve as an inventory platform as well as a way to share images with your gallery(s), interior designers, etc. Instead of attaching huge files to an email or just sending them to your website, you can customize a set of images for a targeted audience and send them a link to view. So professional.
Once you’ve built it (which takes no time) it will be so easy and efficient!!!
Here’s the 15 Minute Challenge
Sign up for Dropbox. Pick 5 images of paintings that you have created (include at least one that was sold, donated, gifted or destroyed) and follow these steps:
Add folders (i.e. 2016 paintings, collectors, etc.) to Dropbox
Upload images to the correct Dropbox folder. SIDE NOTE – Name your painting images (from your computer) in this manner… TitleSizeMediumSupportYearcreated – EXAMPLE:Yellow12x24OilLinen2016. *If you don’t know how to name your images on your computer, click here.
Take a sold, donated,gifted or destroyed painting and rename the image in the Dropbox folder by right clicking on the image. You will see a drop down box. HIT rename. Then simply type in the changes. Example: Yellow12x24OilLinen2016Sold.
Create a simple word document to list your collector information: List the name of the collector(s). If it is a gallery sale and no collector name is available, list the gallery. Include the title of painting purchased, price and date of purchase.
Save this form to your Collectors’ folder in Dropbox. You can then add your collectors’ emails to your MailChimp or other email marketing services at your convenience.
Drop your price list into a Dropbox folder for easy access.
Add the Dropbox app to your phone and/or tablet. That way your images are always with you.
You’re done! See how easy this can be. Everything at your fingertips in one place. No more searching to find the image, to track down the size, medium and location (is it available, destroyed or sold). All that is left is to start adding more paintings as you create and sell them.
While this isn’t the long term answer for inventory management, it gets you started and will carry you through your career as your “GO TO” place to find all your images and information.
NOTE: If you are represented by galleries and need a way to keep track of what painting is where, create folders for each gallery including one for your studio. Then as you send or receive work to and from your galleries, just place a copy of the image in the designated folder and you know the exact location of any painting. I do suggest, however, if you are represented by galleries that it might be time to invest in an inventory tracking system but Dropbox can bridge that gap.
If you have any issues that you are trying to tackle, drop me an email and let me know. If I use your suggestion for one of my 15 Minute Challenges, you will receive a 30 minute free phone call consultation with me.
Don’t tell me I can’t build my own website. I learned and built two. Maybe my time could have been spent more wisely, but I’m happy about it now. Don’t tell me to not touch a cactus. I did it. Ouch! Don’t tell me to not do some electrical work in the house. I did it. (Just in case, I hired an electrician afterward. It was OK.). Don’t tell me I can’t make a living as an artist. I do and should have made the decision to do it earlier. Don’t tell me not to use black. That’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me not to mix more than three colors together. I do it all the time and even use the results. Don’t tell me to not over mix my colors. I mix as long as I want.
I’m betting that you are much like me, the word “don’t” is a green light.
Just the fact that you are an artist makes you a risk-taker to some degree. You may feel you had no choice but to be an artist, it is who you are. Ultimately, that is how I feel. Although, I tried to suppress it for a time, it didn’t work.
I’m much more likely to jump into something when someone tells me I can’t, shouldn’t or don’t. In fact, I have to admit I occasionally get myself into things I shouldn’t be doing. But, most of the time I learn and expand my horizons.
Many successful artists have used black including Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. The use of black should be a personal choice. I have seen artists that I believe abuse the use of black, having “dirty” looking paintings, black shadows or using black for graying of all colors. It’s easy to contaminate or overwhelm colors with black. But if an artist learns to control black and use it wisely, it can be very effective. Which is really the case with any color. I went through what I call my “yellow” period. I was told not to use white in my paintings to instead replace it with yellow. This must also have been a compliant period for me, for all my paintings had an overwhelming yellow tone to them.
Then there is the “gray issue”. Don’t mix more than three colors together. Come on, this just doesn’t make sense to me. By definition, gray is the mixture of all three primaries in various amounts. Does it really matter how you get there? Say I need my gray to be more violet. I’ve already mixed my three primaries to get my theoretical gray, but it’s not quite right. The dilemma: Should I just take a violet (that would make four colors in my mixture) or do I go back to the primaries of red and blue. Does it really matter? I’ll go for the violet every time, to quickly mix the violet-gray that I want. Now, this is a really big NO, I continuously clean my palette, gathering all the paint together creating a gray which I modify for whatever I need. Whoa! I didn’t stop to count how many colors I mixed together.
And of course, don’t over mix your colors. Why not? I want control of my colors. When I’m mixing colors together, they are often different values. If the colors are not mixed thoroughly, they often look too busy, muddy or not unified. If I purposely want several colors juxtaposed together, I will mix each color, thoroughly, and then place them next to each other. But, each of those colors that I mix and place together in a space will be the same value. To me it looks more cohesive and stronger. I’m not sure that I can suppress the urge to stand up and quietly defy when I’m told “don’t”. But then, it’s not something that I really want to do. I have learned many things on this journey and have continuously evolved on my own path. So don’t tell me “don’t over mix your colors”. I’ll mix as long as I want, besides, I love playing in the paint.
Visit Becky’s website to find out more about her work, online classes and workshops.
Besides being a painter, teacher, co-creater of Art Muse Contest, assistant to a successful artist, I’m also the Artist BFF. And I’m adding a new blog, Easel-ly Successful, Marketing Tips and Practical Advice for the Busy Artist.
What? Another blog with tips? Lots of great advice, but who has time to follow through? Precisely why this blog will be different. I work with artists every week struggling to create and market their work. I find that it’s must easier to break things down into smaller bites. Each week I will post one 15 Minute Challenge for you as well offer practical advice, marketing tips and updates on the latest trends in social media.
So, are you going to join me and take the 15 Minute weekly challenge? These 15 minute challenges can help cross off lots of items on your To Do list or ones you didn’t even realize should be on your To Do List. Remember at the end of day, it’s your business and no one will work harder for your success than you!
Click HERE for the first Easel-ly Successful post and 15 Minute Challenge, “Up your Instagram Game”.
Question: In respecting the rule in oil to paint fat over lean, which mediums thin out paints and which fatten them? Can you make oil paint too lean or too fat?
The “fat over lean” rule allows you to build a painting that is flexible so over time there will be less cracking to your painting. Another way to think about “fat over lean” is “flexible over less flexible.”
Because of the high pigment load of artist’s grade oil colors, paint out of the tube should be thought of as “lean.” Adding straight solvent to oil colors thins out the oil binder of the paint, thereby weakening its ability to form a strong, permanent paint layer. Thinning with a mixture of solvent and binder (described below) is a better choice, especially in the early stages of a painting. Painting mediums should simply be thought of as “fat” as they increase the flexibility of paint layers. If using a straight drying oil or Solvent-Free Painting Medium to thin oil colors, use these in moderation – up to 25% by volume – with oil colors.
Putting it to Practice
The under layers of a painting should be leaner than the upper layers. There are two different approaches to building paint layers following the “fat over lean” rule.
The first approach uses the same ratio of painting medium to oil color throughout a painting; however, the fat content of the painting medium is modified between each paint layer. In the initial layers, the oil medium (fat) is mixed with Gamsol (lean). As you add layers, increase the oil content of the medium by adding Galkyd oil painting mediums or a drying oil (Linseed, Stand or Poppy). The bottom layers will have more Gamsol and less oil. The top layers will have more oil and less Gamsol. The ratio of the painting medium mixture to oil colors remains the same.
The second approach uses varying amounts of the same painting medium throughout a painting. Since oil painting mediums are fat, when you add medium to oil color, the oil content increases. In the initial layers of a painting add a minimal amount of painting medium; then increase the amount of painting medium as you build up paint layers. The ratio of medium to paint increase as you continue painting.
Scott Gellatly is a landscape painter living and working in Portland, Oregon, and the Product Manager for Gamblin Artists Colors. To learn more about Scott and view his work, visit his website.
For more information about Gamblin Artists Colors, click here.
Question: What do you look for when creating a portrait sketch and what decisions do you make to create the final painting?
Of all the subjects I enjoy painting, none has brought me more enjoyment than the head study. People have always been my favorite subjects, but I was not introduced to the joy of painting portraits from life until figure painting class in college. The adrenaline rush from the limited time frame coupled with the challenge of capturing a complex subject quickly had me hooked.
The typical brevity of a life painting session simply does not allow enough time to capture everything. This time limit can be exhilarating, but it is also challenging, as it forces the painter to set goals, prioritize, and simplify.
My goal is to truthfully capture the subject’s beauty. On a technical level, this can be achieved by faithfully depicting the subject’s appearance in these four areas: drawing, value, edge and temperature. By prioritizing these four in this order, I find I can capture the most important information in the shortest time possible. I don’t always meet my goal to my complete satisfaction, but I find I can consistently come close using the systematic process I’ll demonstrate.
I build a head study (or “portrait sketch” as I call it) as one would build a house–from the ground up. I start with the foundation of drawing (the act of placing the correct marks in the correct places). I then build a framework of general shapes of value (shades of dark and light). At the same time, I consider the basic relationships of temperature (a color’s relative “warmth” or “coolness”). Next, I analyze the edges between each shape of value. In the beginning, the shapes I paint are broad and simplified, but they become gradually smaller and more specific as I progress. Likewise, the edges, temperature relationships, and colors become gradually more refined. I paint the details last.
Toning & Drawing
First, I tone my surface. Darkening the initial stark white of the canvas makes it easier to gauge values. I usually tone my canvas with a grayed version of the scene’s overall, average color. Using a flat brush with a fine edge, I draw with thin, precise lines. A general outline of the head establishes its size and placement. A line down the center of the face helps capture any tilt and/or rotation of the head. Perpendicular to this line, three lines can be drawn to place the center of the eyes, the base of the nose, and the mouth opening. Remembering a few general rules of proportion can greatly assist the drawing.
• The centers of the eyes are halfway between the bottom of the chin and the top of the skull.
• The base of the nose is about halfway between the brows and the bottom of the chin.
• The mouth opening is at the top 3rd between the base of the nose and the bottom of the chin.
Once I’m confident I have a reasonably accurate foundation of drawing, I’m ready to start thinking about value. However, there is never a point in the process when I stop drawing. Even as I make my final brush strokes, I am still concerned with placing the correct marks in the correct places.
Establishing a Value Range
Capturing the effects of light and creating the illusion of 3-dimensionality begins with value. Painters must carefully analyze the relationships between the values in the subject, or else risk the painting looking “flat.”
The first values I paint are the very darkest value and the very lightest value in the subject. I paint these first to establish a value range for my painting. These initial two values serve as anchors against which I gauge the other values.
Blocking In General Values of Light and Shadow
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the vast array of values visible to our eyes. That’s why it is essential to simplify the subject’s values, especially in the beginning stages. At this time, I paint two more values–one average value for the lit side of the model’s face and one average value for the shadowed side. To mix these values accurately, I study them with my eyelids halfway closed. Squinting like this makes comparing values easier. While squinting, I look at the lit side of the model’s face and ask myself, “How much darker is this value than the very lightest value?” I look at the shadowed side of the face and ask, “How much lighter is this value than the very darkest value?” I compare the lit side to the shadowed side in the same way. I mix one average value for the lit side of the face and one average value for the shadowed side, then paint these two values as large, general shapes.
Certainly, there are many variations of value within these two shapes. However, a careful inspection reveals the variations are surprisingly very closely related to the initial average values. When I become preoccupied with painting all the minute value variations too early, I usually break the delicate relationship between the lit and shadowed values of the head, and my portrait ends up looking “over-modeled.” I also resist the urge to become preoccupied with color. Remembering my time limit and priorities, I resolve to put value above color at this stage of the painting. Now is the time to establish a strong foundation of value to capture the appearance of light and form. Later, I can take time to mix more specific color, but for now, one average color for each value shape will suffice.
Though I don’t focus on specific color right now, I do consider the basic temperature relationship between the lit region and the shadowed region. Because the model is illuminated by a light that is cooler (whitish or bluish), the resulting shadows are comparatively warmer (containing a bit more yellow or red). Very early on, I strive to establish this temperature relationship by mixing my average color for the lit region cooler than my average color for the shadowed region.
Blocking In Midtone Values / Most Intense Color
Next, I block in the “halftones” or “midtones”–the values that occur between the lit and shadowed regions. I maintain accuracy by continuing to squint and compare. It’s a good habit to paint the most intense or saturated color at an early point. Much like I use the very darkest and lightest values to determine other values, I use the most intense color to measure other colors. When mixing a new color, I ask questions like “How much grayer is this color than the most intense color?”
Blocking In Other Elements
Just as I “blocked in” the face, I now simplify the other elements into two values for each–one value for the lit side, and one value for the shadowed side. Still squinting, I compare each new value to ones I’ve established previously. As I mix each new value, I ask myself, “Is this value lighter or darker than one I’ve already painted?” Then, I ask “HOW MUCH lighter or darker?” Asking and answering these questions helps establish correct value relationships, which in turn enables the convincing portrayal of light and 3-dimensionality.
Painting Smaller Shapes
Once I’ve laid a foundation of broad, general value shapes, I start building on top with progressively smaller and more specific shapes. For each new shape, I squint and compare. If you squint at this image, you’ll notice that the large initial regions of light and shadow are still evident. Even though I now add value variations within these regions, I strive to carefully keep these variations properly subtle and closely related to the general value families I’ve established. To keep from pushing these subtle value variations too far, I remember that within each object, no value in the lit side can be as dark as any value in the shadowed side. Conversely, no value in the shadowed side can be as light as any value in the lit side.
Painting Even Smaller Shapes
Once the basic shapes and values of the eye sockets are in place, I begin painting the smaller, more specific shapes on top. At this point, time has run out for the life painting session, but I will complete the portrait later using a photo.
The block-in stage helps to properly understand the subject’s forms in a simplified fashion, as though the forms were composed of a mosaic of angled planes or facets. However, now it’s time to consider the edges between these planes. An abrupt angle change between planes will yield a harder edge. A gradual, rounded transition between planes will yield a softer edge. A “lost edge” occurs when the boundary between two shapes is indiscernible. To avoid my painting looking labored, I strive to paint edges with as few strokes as possible. I create softer edges in two main ways– 1) by dragging one shape into another with a clean, dry brush or 2) by adding a shape of intermediate value between two other value shapes.
Typically, very few sharp edges occur within the human face. While relatively sharp edges may occur in spots like the top edge of a nostril, the highlight of an eye, or the outer edge of the jaw, the majority of edges within the face tend to be relatively soft. At first, I like to slightly over-soften the facial features. Later, I may place a few smaller, sharper-edged strokes on top, but only if necessary. Just a few of these sharper-edged shapes, contrasted by an underlying foundation of softer shapes, are enough to convincingly convey the great variety of edges that occur in real life.
Here is a close-up of the mouth in the block-in stage.
I soften the blocky shapes of the mouth to more closely match the edges in the subject. Softening can also reduce glare by flattening the surface of the paint. To do this, I use a dry, soft-haired brush (such as a mongoose hair or sable brush) to make very light vertical strokes, so that the brush hairs barely touch the paint.
Now, the mouth can be finished with just a few smaller, firmer-edged shapes on top.
This is my framework of basic shapes for the eyes.
Painting on top of this framework, I bring the eyes to completion with a few little shapes of detail.
A question I’m commonly asked by students is “how do you know when your painting is finished?” Artists have many different answers to this question. I consider my painting finished after I’m satisfied I’ve met my goal of truthfully capturing the subject, but before I ruin visual energy and vitality resulting from the life session. At this point, it is time for me to call the painting “done.”
Adam Clague has a Masters degree in Fine Art and lives an Missouri. To learn more about Adam and his work, visit his website.
Those landscape painters among us can’t recall a single fist fight breaking out over our humble art form (Okay, maybe that ONE time. But SHE hurled the first swing. But really. I digress). Historically speaking, most would not consider landscape painting as the controversial art form we think of with, say, a Jackson Pollock or Damien Hirst .
For heavens sake, landscapes are so harmless that THIS was my last year’s Christmas Card.
But perhaps, like your cat, those greeting card landscapes aren’t as innocent as they look. And among their ranks, are the artists of the Netherlands.
BadAss Dutch Landscape Painters
You could fit the Netherlands into Maryland. But you’d have to shove pretty hard to include all its groundbreaking artists as well. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Bosch, Breugal, Vermeer, Mondrian, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Frans Hal…well heck, they can’t even fit around this table at Applebee’s.
Many of those on the list are landscape painters; landscape painters with an axe to grind. And the object of their discontent was none other than the Catholic Church.
Not So Sunday School Suitable Anymore
Like all the the European artists of the time, previous 15thc. themes of the Dutch centered around religion. However, after the Spanish Wars and subsequent suppression by those conquerors, painters voiced their protest (get it? Protestant?) in paint.
Landscape painters of Northern Netherlands (Again. Protestant), like Bruegel, sought to break from the religious-themed paintings that served of reminders of the rule of the Catholic Spanish Kings. Instead, they chose more secular themes in rebellion against those.
Their home-town team fight-song came in the form of paintings of farms and hunters and peasant weddings.
Later, it would be the English who chose Landscape as their messenger of choice.
Those crazy tree huggin’, outdoor lovin’ Romantics
In the early 1800’s English painter, John Constable bucked the entrenched system of hoighty toighties by choosing NOT to paint the mythological, historical settings, and instead, as he put it, “I should paint my own places best.” This mantra is the writers’ workshop equivalent of “write what you know.”
He and other Romantic artists warned against the encroachment of the Industrial Age. Constable’s diary reads like a Sierra Club handbook.
Likewise, the American version of the Romantic painters. A stern “talking to” in paint.
It is harder to find Waldo than the moral message encoded in a American Hudson River School Artist, Thomas Cole landscapes.
So take the ruler with which he is rapping our knuckles and draw a diagonal through his 1836 painting, The Oxbow.
In a time, when Western Expansion was a political hot potato, he gives us this flip chart demonstration of what civilizing might look like.
If you ever read From Rembrandt to Diebenkorn , painters like to supply other painters with good rules of painting and living. One Dutch artist, Karel Van Mander (master of Frans Hals. In his popular Painter’s Book ), he supplied this list of do’s and don’ts. It is pretty telling.
Do not get drunk or fight
Do not fall in love too young and marry too soon. The bride must be 10 years younger than the groom. (Uh…)
While traveling avoid little inns. Always examine the bedding. (okay that’s a good tip)
Be careful in Italy for there are many opportunities for wasting your money (That 6 euros for a gelato, for example)
Keep away from prostitutes. It is a sin and they make you sick. (yeah. I would say so)
Show Italians how wrong they are in their belief that Flemish painters cannot paint human figures.
In Rome, study drawing, in Venice, painting.
Finally, eat breakfast early and avoid melancholia.
Later, in France, those crazy Impressionists would continue the rebellious tradition. Their patches of unblended color, the spontaneity and the everyday subject matter would cause the critics to claim ‘foul’.
So. I ask you. Are you badass enough to landscape paint?
Jean Cauthen is a Painter and fake Art Historian. She has a studio in Mint Hill, NC and teaches Arts and Culture classes at UNCC. Her painting workshops in Italy always include a “Gelato and Art History” tour of Florence, Italy where she asks that participants keep any discrepancies to themselves and focus on the gelato.
A brief history of Ultramarine…true blue. The Paris Review published this article, True Blue, on one of stables on a painter’s palette last fall and I keep forgetting to share it. But not today. Go Blue.
Question: When conveying strong emotion in a figure painting, what should I keep in mind?
For me, my life-interests manifest in my work. I am deeply fascinated by the psychology of humans. Despite the overpopulation of the world, we all share certain emotions – anger, love, betrayal, etc. The interesting part comes when each individual shows these feelings outwardly. The subtle changes in a face’s “tells” are endlessly intriguing to me.
All artists hope to tell a story non-verbally. My goal has always been to say something deeper than just “here is a model.” Each person I paint/draw has their own traumas and obstacles they have encountered in life. I want to tap into that. I want to portray emotions. With that comes different manifestations of each emotion from subject to subject. No two people are the same. They all process information differently, and, thus, show things differently. The realness of a mood is very relatable, though, not always welcome. Some people will, naturally, choose to suppress non-happy feelings. Which is another aspect of human psychology that interests me.
With a constant flood of tiny variations to even one emotion, I am always ready to put them down in charcoal or oil.
Once I decide on general mood for a piece while brainstorming, I then mentally zoom out and start thinking more about atmosphere. I think that body language is all-encompassing. Moods aren’t only portrayed with eye-rolling or death-stares. The placement of hands can run the spectrum from soft and delicate to menacing and violent. Zooming out even farther, the placement of the subject in the composition is also something I weigh heavily. Composition is what first brings the viewer into a piece – it makes them look longer and notice all the other things that the piece has to offer. When I enter a wing in a museum, I sweep my gaze around, and typically always beeline for the piece with the strongest composition. In a world of online thumbnail versions of our work, the composition needs to be incredibly strong to lead the viewer to take a second look and to also support the main idea.
I can become very connected with my art. Since I am trying to bring emotions to the surface, it’s important to feel that emotion as well. If I didn’t try to tap into it myself, the piece wouldn’t be as raw or real. When trying to truly connect to someone, I think that I need to be an authentic vessel – carrying a mood from conception to viewing.
This can be both completely exhausting and also gratifying. All of my feelings are right at the surface when I work. When painting for a solo show last year, there were times that I was wiping tears away while working. Not because I was “sad” particularly…it was a more visceral than just “sad.” I was feeling many different moods back to back, as a result each piece in the show was a flow of moods. This allowed me to reflect and work through issues in my personal life. It was a cathartic and healthy experience.
Kate Zambrano is an American painter hailing from across the United States. She grew up, with her sketchbook in hand, having a fervent desire to recreate the things she found beautiful.
To learn more about Kate and to see more of her work visit her website at KateZambrano.com
Start your week with this video of Van Gogh’s still life paintings. Listen to critics, Blake Gopnik and Christian Viveros-Fauné take on 4 paintings of irises and roses. I always enjoy their take on art.
Question: How do you bring a fresh approach to a scene that you’ve painted several times before?
Painting the same scene or at the same location can have it’s challenges. I may paint an area that I’ve painted frequently in the past because of necessity- maybe a gallery prefers paintings from that location or perhaps I am participating in a plein air show in the area, or I might just really like the location.
Elysian Study #1
Elysian Study #2
The first thing I do when I get to a location is take a quick walk around, composing a painting in my mind or doing a few really quick thumbnail sketches in my sketch pad. I might see a scene that is the obvious choice but find a way to tweak that view, or pass it up completely and look for different angles or a design that would still incorporate everything that I was attracted to in the first place.
Sometimes, I may come upon a unique view by accident. While walking in Paris one evening at sunset, I came around the corner and was confronted with this grand close-up view of the Eiffel Tower and it’s immense size and scale. I immediately knew that I wanted to paint that view – it was so different then anything I had seen before.
When painting at a plein air show at the Grand Canyon, I know that I can’t compete with all those wonderful painters who paint the sprawling vistas and the grandeur of the canyon really well. So, I’ll hike down the trails, looking for something different, or even narrow my focus to something in the distance, maybe a view of the river winding through a gorge or a cloudscape.
One year, I painted one of the sight-seeing planes at the nearby airport and drove over to the canyon rim and filled in the background with the view of the canyon, to make it appear that the aircraft was in flight. I had more fun painting that scene and it was certainly different from any of the other paintings in the show. To do something like that, you really need to know your strengths and weaknesses as a painter.
With my background in illustration, I’ve always felt more comfortable drawing than painting, so getting an airplane down quickly, in the right perspective, was not a problem and I knew it might be worth the challenge. I later tried the same thing at a show in Carmel and won an award for the painting, but now I need to avoid that subject for awhile – I don’t want to be pegged as the plein air airplane painter (then it’s no longer unique).
When painting the coast, especially Crystal Cove near Laguna Beach, I’m always looking for some different idea, whether it is a view from above the beach or below, using the light in a different way, perhaps focusing on an activity on the beach. I might not even show the water, just showing the long trek across the sand in the morning haze. Finding something new can seem like an impossible task – the coastline here in Southern California has been painted inside out over the past century, and I’m sure I’m not breaking any new ground. As long as I find something that interests me, I know that I will enjoy the process and that, hopefully, the viewer will feel my emotional response to the scene.
It’s always important to remember to paint what interests you, and not what you think others might find interesting. When searching for something unique, don’t paint it just to impress others or to stand out among your peers. Find something that YOU like, that you know you can paint, that is fresh in your eyes. The painting will have a greater chance of being successful. I have found scenes that I’ve never seen painted before, that intrigued me so much that I didn’t know where to start, or what NOT to include. I came across a view over downtown Los Angeles where every turn on the old road had something new to offer. I had never seen this view before. I did a series of pencil sketches and then small painting sketches, trying to capture as much as I could, moving things around, but remembering to keep that feeling that I had when I first saw it. After finally settling on a view for a painting, it no longer seemed unique or new to me. Only after getting some positive feedback on the piece after it was finished did I realize that it was still a somewhat fresh view.
Finding a good painting spot can take a lot of energy and work (why do all the best views seem to be from the middle of a highway where you can’t pull over?!?). Sometimes it takes a little walking around, getting away from your comfort zone, sketching some designs and compositions that work. Think outside the box a little bit, but remember what it is you are trying to convey, what story you are trying to tell with your painting.
It’s also important to remember that it’s not so much what you are painting, but how you paint it. But that’s a blog post for another time…
I have been a Gamblin Artist Colors fan for over 10 years. Their products and the information that they share on the website is great. I have called them on numerous occasions with questions and always got a wealth of information. Full disclosure they are one of our Art Muse Contest sponsors but I was Gamblin “girl” long before then. Despite the fact that I’ve visited the website for information many, many times I somehow overlooked the video about varnishes. I thought I’d share it with you. Happy varnishing.
Question: How can I learn to be my own best critic ?
Answer: A Continuous Critique
In this piece I’ll address certain issues of painting that are of practical value. From the moment I sit down to make a picture to the last stroke, the aim is to first create some quality of life on that surface and then to keep the flame alive until the picture is complete. The force of the picture must be maintained at all costs; a visual excitement has to arrive early and remain. For this reason, every painting I make is completed in one sitting. What I’m really doing as I make the picture, is monitoring that visual excitement as it develops, and trying to build on it over the duration.
I don’t really know, or even want to know, what that picture should look like in advance. In order to keep the energy for the painting process alive in myself, I need to avoid all the things that cause a reduction of excitement. There needs to be some sense of newness in the approach, so I mix up my methods and constantly look to modify approaches, so that I am not simply repeating what I already know. The technique that worked in the last painting might start feeling repetitive, so I avoid it, at least for a time. I tell myself that I want to court surprise at every turn. Even if that turns out to not be entirely true, at least I get comfortable with the idea so that some of the time I will accept the new visual surprise as something that should be kept in the painting. I know that too much repetition of method results in boredom, leading ultimately to less energy for the creative task. I know that welcoming surprises and allowing them to enter often into the creative act, keeps the excitement for the whole endeavor at a high pitch. I know that working on a small scale (9 x 12 inches or thereabouts) allows me to complete a picture a day, in one sitting, and turn over new ideas with great regularity. The energy of a picture never stays the same; it is either going up, or down. So I keep moving steadily, with a rhythm to my actions, trying not to overwork, or bog down in any stage. My aim it to create a picture a day, forever……so it is important that the process not stagnate.
Critique is the process where one is assessing all of the elements that that go into the mix, and using one’s experience and judgment to guide next steps. It is a very natural process and is not to be feared; it is what a person does when they use their intelligence to solve problems and move toward a specific aim. And critique happens continuously, at very regular intervals in the process. The dynamics of a painting, or any 2 dimensional piece of art, are determined by the interaction of the elements and principles of art. I won’t go into discussion of what those are here, as that will take up too much space. A quick google search will show a complete list, and it’s useful to note that the longer the list of elements and principles you find, the better, because it simply allows you to do more thorough analysis of your paintings. Don’t worry too much if your list is ‘correct’; rather see if your list of elements and principles can be useful in helping you understand the difficulty or exhilaration you might be experiencing with your work. To briefly introduce the general idea, some elements would be line, point, edge, texture, shape, form, colour (hue, intensity, value), positive/negative space and some principles would be contrast, scale, direction, tension, unity, variety/diversity, depth/space. I use awareness of the elements and principles to help me identify which areas of the painting are working well, and where problems exist. It can be very difficult to guide your own progress if you don’t have some sort of framework by which you work. Do not fear that method will supersede intuition; your intuition will ultimately guide everything!
Although I never know what a picture should look like, I do know that being both analytical and energetic in my approach will lead to a satisfying, resolved picture at the end of each work session. I have no rejects: I am happy with all of them at the end of each work session, and I keep them all! With knowledge and attention, every painting can be brought to a resolution that is surprising and suitable. I don’t search for perfection, and I don’t try to create some grand idea of a masterpiece. But I know that all elements must be brought into some sort of satisfying accord. I’ll try to outline how I consistently achieve this accord, by applying a method of continual critique based on the elements and principles of art.
Early in each work comes the concern with space. I usually aim for much asymmetry, often using variations of the rule of thirds. There will usually be something very far away, and something closer. I watch to see if my scale differences are helping me achieve distance. There will be many things that are large, and some things that are small…some are very tiny. I am largely a tonal painter. The sense of space is largely achieved by the way colour values suggest space. So I ask myself, do I have light colours, do I have middle value colours, and do I have dark colours, and how are these distributed throughout the piece? Is a satisfying balance achieved in how I have distributed these values?
Tension and excitement must exist and can be created in various ways. I often like to contrast large empty areas with areas that are more crammed with information and activity. One sees this in the real world and it is useful to reference it. If you have too many empty areas in a work, you can lose tension. If you have too many areas full of action, you can have too much competition for attention, resulting in confusion. If you notice this, you can choose to edit. For example, a sky created with too many brushstrokes, forces the viewer to take into account each visible piece of data. If that complexity exists everywhere, you will be confusing the viewer without knowing how or why. I allow sheets of colour to fall back, sometimes with minimum brushing, so they allow other information to take attention. I watch carefully to see how movement is created in the piece through line and shape. I want the eye to move variously, but continuously through the piece. The composition should be of sufficient complexity to allow both a stable balance, and movement of the eye through and around the piece. I allow line to work in tandem with shape to create variety and excitement. I’ll often paint in layers, using an underwash to affect top layers. This helps create a unifying quality to the colour and helps keep the paint surface active.
Colour is a complex subject but a few essential things can be stated to increase understanding. Colour comes to life as it interacts. Colours don’t exist by themselves, but only in relation to all that surrounds them. So it is the interaction that must always be attended to. It helps to keep a watchful eye for the surprising mood qualities that can be achieved as a number of colours come into relation with each other. The value or lightness/darkness is the first aspect of colour I pay attention to. I know what degree of light is required in an area not so much for any naturalistic reference, but because of what it will do in the composition, in relation to surrounding colours. Intensity or saturation of colour is also important. How bright do you want a specific colour to be? They can’t all be fully saturated, or fully greyed, or you’ll likely lose colour excitement. Most often I will grey a colour by mixing with its complement, or relative complement…something more or less opposite on the colour wheel. Mixing with blacks is fine if one understands that it should be done sparingly to avoid sooty effects (habitually mixing with black can kill colour).
How about the balance of warm to cool colour; is there the existence of both? In each of my pictures, I will have considered how all colour elements balance out. The balance will likely have been asymmetrical and unequal. If there are a majority of cool colours, there will be some warm in minority, to create tension. There will be less saturated, greyed colours, with fully intense colour, and they will likely not be in equal proportion. How about edge? Are all the edges of shapes created in a similar way, or is there some variety to create contrast and interest? And what about unity? Conversely, do you have enough repetition and similarity throughout the piece to create connection and flow? If you have too many various elements asking for the same amount of attention, you may need to edit, simplify, and repeat certain parts to avoid clutter.
I love the idea of touch, and am always conscious that every time I touch my work it must be with purpose. Is the way you touch the paint equal everywhere or is there some diversity in this suggesting that the world is filled with difference? Does the work look over-controlled through too conscientious an approach? Does it suffer from neat disease? Is there room for both highly controlled, and perhaps, more loosely entered passages? Does the quality of paint surface, determined either through the thickness of the paint, or the way it has been handled, contain an excitement and variety, or does it seem too consistent? These are some of the type if observations I make in the creation of every work. The observations are always very specific and non-theoretical. This analysis can be expanded a great deal, but enough has been said here to give you an idea of how asking simple questions can be used to offer useful guidance in the making of a picture.
Larger philosophical questions of the creative act are always considered in time away from the making.
But the paintings are in my view continually…I am never without them. And questions about how to go about the creative act are never ending and always under review.
Does the work deserve to exist? Does it compel you to return with your full attention, to consider all that is in it, and the things it only suggests? Was a playful spirit at work here, fully wondering about the possibility of miracles waiting to happen on the page? Sometimes paintings don’t deserve to exist because not enough has been ventured, and when the answer comes back……’not yet!’ then I keep going. 80% of the painting might be taken out, simplified by painting over with a colour, and tried again.
The painting is an act, set in a specific time. When that time is over, that act is over. My task is to leave an artefact behind that passes my test, as a testament to a specific time and place.
Visit the sites listed below to learn more about Harry and his work.
It’s all about Harry week on In the Artist Studio. I’ve followed Harry Stooshinoff, a Canadian painter, for many years and he is now posting YouTube videos of his process. Harry says of his work “It’s a big, NOISY world…..so I make small, quiet paintings”. Be sure to join us on Wednesday for our Ask the Expert, as Harry will our guest blogger.
Question: Is there a point where your painting takes on a life of its own? Do you respond more to what you see happening in the painting or what you see happening in the model or photo reference?
I begin each piece with a graphite gesture drawing. Then, I refine the figure, or figures, with darker marks in graphite until I feel like there is a good “frame work.” It’s at this point that the painting really begins to take on a life of its own because I respond more to the painting or reference. It starts slowly; mark by mark. I’m never after a likeness or anything. The model is literally a reference. As the painting evolves I’m responding more to the piece itself.
The really tough part, for me, about this stage is not relying on a “bag of tricks” per se. That is, not recreating paintings I’ve done in the past using the same technique over and over. I really try to see the model and the piece abstractly by first responding to the composition. Each mark, each direction of a brushstroke is composition. I try to keep all of those formal aspects in mind: balance, unity with variety, directional thrust, etc. I also think a lot about opposites such as line vs. tone, hard edge vs. soft edge and so on. For me, it seems like a lot of interest in painting lies in the dialogue created between opposites in formal qualities.
Imprint No 74, 22×15, Oil on Wood
Imprint No 40, 8×10, Mixed Media on Wood
Question 2. Strong drawing skills are so critical when working with figures, how do you find a balance between suggesting enough form and including elements of abstraction? Then how do you determine when to stop? Is it intuitive or calculated or a bit of both?
Imprint No 38, Mixed Media on Paper
Imprint No 37, Mixed Media on Paper
Imprint No 32, Mixed Media on Paper
Strong drawing skills are critical when working figuratively but the trick is to try and forget them after a certain point. I put myself in the viewer’s shoes. I paint standing up so I constantly view the painting up close and at a distance. When I walk away from the painting, I pause for a moment and then turn around to look at it. I feel where my eyes move around the piece and how quickly or slowly. I think that’s the real energy in a painting; where and how your eyes move around. The way to adjust that movement is with variations in value contrast, passive areas vs. active areas, linear passages juxtaposed against tonal passages and so on. Seeing things abstractly and not so literally helps. If there is too much weight at the bottom of a piece, I may add a bit more information around the eye of the subject. I try not to think of anything as detail or lack of; it’s all just information…fodder for making a picture.
Sometimes a painting can come out looking a bit more representational and sometimes, especially lately, a piece comes out a bit more abstract. It really depends on what it is I’m trying to convey about the subject. Knowing that assists in the abstraction, exaggeration and emphasis of form and subject.
There are many ways to determine when to stop or when a piece is finished. Lately, I’m trying to complete a painting with as little information as possible. It’s fascinating how little information it takes to engage the viewer. I think there is a lot of power in restraint. For the most part, I rely on a mix of intuition and calculation to know when to stop. However, I believe that “intuition” is just calculation that we haven’t realized yet.
John Wentz is a contemporary painter whose process resides in an area between rigid technicality and honest expression. To learn more about John and his work. please visit his website.
Question: What’s the best way to improve my drawing skills?
First, let’s touch on why drawing matters, then cover simple ideas on how to improve our drawing skills.
The better you draw, the better you will paint. When you touch paintbrush to paper or canvas, you are in fact drawing (putting lines and marks in the correct places to replicate the shapes and forms in a subject matter, or in your mind’s eye).
Drawing is to a painter what rhythm is to a musician. Imagine a drummer with poor rhythm. Or worse, does not notice that he has poor rhythm. This is similar to a plein air or studio painter who not does not draw proficiently, and does not notice the discrepancies between a subject matter and her drawing of that subject matter. In both examples, fundamental skills must first be developed so that these artists can better express themselves.
In my experience as an artist and teacher, I have learned that drawing is really a two-pronged skill set: (1) the skill of putting lines and marks in the correct places; and, (2) the awareness to step back and notice when lines and marks are not in the correct places.
The good news is that this skill and awareness is not the outcome of natural-born talent, but of practice. Proper practice alone will result in the skills and awareness needed to draw anything you desire with confidence.
So, what constitutes proper practice? Take some time each day to pick up a pencil and concentrate solely on the act of drawing. As you draw, keep the following seven ideas in mind:
Fifteen Minutes Per Day, No Matter What
The key to improvement is doing it daily. Not every other day, or every week, but every day, no matter what. Commit to doing this for the next 30 days. You’ll be surprised at how much you can improve by making this one commitment. Set the timer on your phone for 15 minutes, and do nothing but draw. Uninterrupted, focused time is what is needed to gain the benefits.
You Don’t Need to Finish
Use this time to work on accuracy. Don’t worry about completing a picture. Even if you draw only three shapes in 15 minutes, if those shapes have been correctly drawn, then your time has been used wisely.
Take It Easy
Draw simple subjects as you practice. Crawl, walk, and then run (it doesn’t work the other way around). Forget about drawing architecture in three-point perspective. Draw a coffee mug in front of you. Or, a lemon slice. The salt shaker on the table. A leaf. Your big toe. Anything that’s simple. By drawing simple subjects, you clear away unnecessary difficulties so that you can focus solely on proportions, angles, and the relationships between different shapes horizontally and vertically.
Check Your Work
Use your smart phone. Snap a photograph of your subject and your drawing of the subject. Then, scroll back and forth (on your phone) between the two photographs. Notice the discrepancies, of which there might be many. Don’t criticize. Learn. What are your tendencies? Do you draw objects too thin? Too short? Are your angles off? All of the above? (If so, next time choose a simpler subject.) Take a minute or two with each drawing to check your efforts. You can only improve your results when you know where you’re off.
Within a week or two, pulling out your sketchbook should get easier. If it doesn’t, or the thought of drawing doesn’t generate a feeling of enthusiasm within you, take notice. It’s at this moment in the practice that many people drop the ball and stop drawing.
The problem for many of us is that we feel the need to produce a master artwork each time. This is not a good strategy (it leads to feelings of pressure when you pick up a pencil). Instead, approach drawing practice the way a pianist plays the scales on a piano. Simply lose yourself in the moment as you see, draw, make errors, and learn from them. Accept that improving your drawing skills is a learning process that should take time. Trust that your skills (as well as your enjoyment of the craft) will improve with consistent effort.
And, do not share your drawings with anyone. This daily practice is for your eyes only.
What Doesn’t Matter
How quickly you draw doesn’t matter. Expect to work slowly as you practice. Speed comes after proficiency. How “loose” your drawings look doesn’t matter either. When a beginner aims for “looseness” in his or her drawings, the results are often not loose, but sloppy in appearance. Focus on accuracy only.
What Does Matter
Notice what’s happening inside your own mind as you draw. Notice that with consistent practice, your eye becomes ever more sensitive. You’re developing a sensitivity to proportions, to angles, to how different shapes relate to one another vertically and horizontally, and so on. With daily drawing, you become more skilled at making these observations and accurately recording them in the pages of your sketchbook. And eventually, you can apply this skill and awareness when you pick up a paint brush.
Mastery of drawing will not occur in 30 days. But, the habit of drawing, that is necessary for mastery, can be developed applying these ideas. With each passing month, drawing will become more comfortable, and more fun. After the first month, you may decide to increase your daily drawing time. The more time you put in, the better you will get.
When you develop a skill for accurate drawing, painting becomes much easier. Like a skilled musician, you will find yourself with a solid foundation, from which you can more easily compose, play, improvise, and get lost in the flow of making beautiful, expressive art.
Richard E. Scott is an artist, architectural illustrator, and author of “Sketching – from Square One to Trafalgar Square” (a user-friendly guide to the very best lessons Richard has learned over a lifetime of daily drawing). Available at www.amazon.com and www.sketchingfromsquareone.com (go here for the best rates on international shipping).
A Path to Realism: Classical Training, by Realist Art Resource
While the term Realism has been inconsistently used throughout art history, the Realist Art Resource (RAR) prefers to define it broadly as an artistic style, rather than a specific movement or subject matter. This style of art is chiefly concerned with depicting subjects realistically, i.e. the subject is depicted as believable, whether it is imaginary, actual, or idealized. In this sense, then, Realism spans many centuries and many artistic movements, and encompasses a myriad of artists. However, nearly all the artists we consider to be Realists, from Andrea del Sarto to John Singer Sargent to Pietro Annigoni, have had two key things in common: skill-based training and an interest in depicting subjects in a life-like, but by no means hyperrealistic or photorealistic, way.
These combined tenets have been experiencing a strong revival in the form of a contemporary movement called “Classical Realism”, more recently described as “The Atelier Movement”, terms coined by Richard Lack and Graydon Parrish respectively. Of any contemporary, skill-based art education it has the strongest ties to a storied artistic tradition primarily because of the training it offers known as “classical training” or “academic training”. For the sake of simplicity we will be discussing this pedagogical tradition as it pertains to painting only.
Institutions that offer classical training usually have a curriculum based on that of the 17th-19th century Royal Academies of Europe and Russia, and the ateliers that operated in conjunction and competition with them. The curricula of said institutions often included figure drawing and painting, master copying in museums, anatomy, cast drawing, and composition . The aim of this style of education was to achieve the highest technical ability, in order to prepare an artist for life as a history painter. At that time history painting was considered the most important genre, and it encompassed all forms of narrative. It was therefore imperative that artists also be familiar with ancient mythologies, history, literature, and the Bible as sources for subject matter. Today the idea that technical ability is paramount continues to bond Classical Realism’s constituents together. Due to changes in popular culture, however, there is less of an interest in mythological, historical, literary, and Biblical narratives among Classical Realists today.
Further exploration of this tradition can help elucidate why it fell out of favor and why it is experiencing such a strong revival today. During the 17th-19th centuries, the Royal Academies maintained a stylistic monopoly over art culture by curating exhibitions known as Salons. The juries of these Salons, comprised of Royal Academicians , were very selective of acceptable subject matter and styles of painting. By 1863 the scene had become so overrun, though, that rejected works from the Paris Salon (arguably the most famous one) numbered in the thousands and had to be displayed in a new exhibition called the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused). Although the Salons may not have initially accepted the work of avant-garde artists like Monet, the academies and ateliers associated with the Salons were largely responsible for educating such artists. This fact has been conspicuously forgotten when maligning the Royal Academies and by extension their pedagogies, but is essential to understand the oeuvre of many avant garde artists. While the repressive nature of the Salons cannot be denied, those critical of them rarely acknowledge their positive influence, namely upholding high standards of technical mastery.
Despite their dedication to technical achievement and their objective standards for teaching it, the Royal Academicians were eventually replaced with academicians concerned with ideas, rather than skill. The Salon des Refusés, of which there were four, and subsequent avant-garde exhibitions demonstrated that skill-based education was not a necessity in terms of monetary success and public recognition. Thus, a pedagogy several centuries old was largely abandoned, dismissed as an offensive remnant of the past. Despite these roadblocks, the classical training persisted into the present day through various limited channels (see the artistic lineages linked below) and began to be revisited around the 1960’s. This revival began roughly a decade after students at both Harvard University and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts intentionally smashed portions of their cast collections in an effort to further break from the classical tradition (Merás). Fortunately, classically trained artists today know that their education does not dictate the path of their career or even their style of painting. We now see them exploring a wider range of artistic fields including: video game design, tattooing, movie CGI, cartooning, and illustration, while often continuing to paint on the side.
While the seed of this Realist revival may have been planted in the late 1960’s with Atelier Lack, its proliferation began with the second generation of artists who established their own schools (Torres). The United States alone currently boasts over 40 such institutions. In spite of this revival, classical training is still not widely offered in public institutions (universities, or extant Royal Academies alike) and pursuing it is still actively discouraged by most Western universities. Due to its affiliation with the academies of the past, classical training is continually derided as unoriginal, anachronistic, repressive, elitist, and/or irrelevant. Many still consider it an inherently biased style of art, i.e. to be a Realist artist is to invalidate other types of artistic representation. Despite these harsh criticisms, schools offering classical training continue to grow. So, just as the Royal Academies’ repressive system perhaps cultivated the avant-garde, so to is the push for conceptual and abstract art ironically renewing an interest in skill-based studio art education.
Despite pressure from various non-representational art movements, classical training persisted into the 21st century. Nowadays classically trained artists are in a unique position. Free from the constraints of the Salons and able to investigate ideas put forth by the avant-garde, they can now explore uncharted territory in the realm of Realism. Furthermore, by communicating in a visual style that is universally decipherable, Realist painters have the ability to reach an incredibly wide audience. Yet, the first step in any artistic endeavor, whether it be dance, writing, or music, is the full mastery of one’s craft. Just as an author could not write a novel without knowing grammar, so too must the painter master his medium, and classical training is a time-honored method by which to attain that mastery.
Question: How important is it to have discipline in painting?
“The distance between dreams and reality is called discipline” Author unknown
I find it difficult to believe that I have been on this art journey for over 30 years. This is a trek that started early in my life. As a little girl, I would beg my parents to let me attend art classes. As a student at the school of medicine, I would love to draw and sculpt models for my Embryology/Histology classes. I used to think that medical school was such a long journey… I never imagined that the time spent in the arts would be even a longer one…a lifelong journey indeed.
I must say that at times this art journey has been a hard, time consuming adventure, and at times, even frustrating. Admittedly, it is a journey I would not change for any other one.
Through the years, I have had the opportunity to meet a plethora of wonderful aspiring artists, be it through workshops, classes, seminars or informal get-togethers.
Many times I would stand in awe as I watched these gifted artist paint. I knew that some of these artists were beyond gifted; I must admit that at times their masterful artistry would make me feel a bit insecure about my own work and progress. Time went by.
Many years later, I wondered about some of those budding artists. Where were they?
Had they achieve the great heights I had predicted? Surely, I thought, they have become prominent and well known. Perhaps they are hanging in the best galleries and participating in the great competitions and exhibitions. While I was not sure about me and my own work, I knew they would continue to paint beautiful paintings. However, many left the art world to pursue other venues.
I realize now that, as an artist, it has taken much perseverance, dogged determination and dedication and relentless discipline to continue on. I have attended countless workshops and lectures, visited all kinds of art museums and assiduously participated in life drawing sessions. I made up my mind to continue on until concepts became easier for me to understand and brush mileage was all I was interested in.
Many times I would spend a whole day in the studio working on a painting, only to realize that the fruits of my labor would not meet my expectations. Back in the day, I would senselessly keep those canvases. Today, when things do not work out, I wipe the canvas clean and, without hesitation, start over. There is no need to keep work I am not happy or proud of.
Discipline has indeed been pivotal in my growth as an artist. As Jim Rohn aptly stated, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” I constantly share this fundamental principle with my students. I emphasize the fact that failing to produce a masterpiece after a life drawing session, a paint-out, and even a month-long effort should never be taken as a ominous, catastrophic sign, but rather as an indication that discipline and hard work are always needed.
I am truly grateful that I have been able to create paintings that people appreciate. I am convinced that it has been discipline, persistence, and determination have helped accomplish these goals.
Early on in my career, I made the decision to work Monday through Friday. On those occasions when a painting was not going the way I wanted, I would stop and perhaps read an art book, research an artist I admire, read their biography, and attempt to figure out that artist’s troubleshooting philosophy. I would also resort to studying nature in an effort to learn essential principles of design, color harmony, color temperature, etc. I feel privileged to live in the era of internet. The ability to spend a couple of hours looking at high resolution images of paintings is something many artists would have loved to have. Other times, I would gain much inspiration by visiting the local art museum. Those fine artists who are now hanging on the museum walls were able to achieve their aspirations; I too must work hard to accomplish my dreams.
I have come to realize that many of us who continued working day in and day out on our craft perhaps got better and achieved some goals not necessarily because we were more gifted and talented as compared to some other students, but simply because we developed a scrupulous discipline, a rigorous and meticulous routine and an unswerving sense of perseverance. My advice to you is never to give up, to continue on, to persist. You have my assurance that, sooner or later, you will be rewarded.
Don’t know who Guillaume Apollinaire? He hung out with Picasso and a few other well known artists, combined poetry and visual art and a possible shady past involving the Mona Lisa. Intrigued yet? Here’s another delightful Ted-Ed video and a narrator with a french accent. What more could you want on a Monday morning?
Question: How important is the pre-planning stage of your work? When you start painting, is it in a more detailed and accurate fashion, then lose the information, or vise versa?
At the risk of being wishy-washy, I would have to say that I do it both ways. The short answer to how much pre-planning I do is none. If you look at the main dome in the progressive demo for “Sacre Coeur, Paris”, I established it very early on in the process, and left it untouched right through to the end. Other parts of the painting, however went from being very suggestive to being firmed up with detail and hard edges, only to be wiped out again with paper towel or a large brush.
I don’t do a lot of still life, but this genre would probably be the only time where I do any pre-planning at all. Even then, the planning is exclusively done in the arranging of the objects, not in the execution of the painting. I prefer to dive right in with the painting, introducing the full range of values and colour intensity right from the start. From there it’s a constant battle to keep things fresh and painterly, while at the same time, integrating the figure/ground relationships so that nothing looks cut out and pasted own. I also try to be mindful not to over-blend, so as to avoid an overly misty and ethereal look.
Nothing lends to a fresh, spontaneous painting quite like transparent paint does, and no medium exploits the beauty of transparent paint like watercolour does. Having worked for years with watercolour before getting serious with oils, I find it has had a significant influence on how I approach oil painting. Obviously there is no pre-planning for a little five minute watercolour sketch like this. When working this way, it’s all about sacrifices in drawing and composition, but these sacrifices are worth it for what you get back in freshness and spontaneity.
There’s a myth among students that opaque media like oil and acrylic are easier to use and much more forgiving than transparent, water- based media. I don’t think this is true. Granted, you always have the option to scrape and start again with oil, I feel it’s always best when you can achieve the effect you want in the first pass, regardless of medium. In the detail of the painting “New York Sun”, I painted the side of the taxi with a large knife in a single slow but confident stroke. Again, as in the watercolour wash, what’s sacrificed in good drawing is more than made up for in freshness and exciting paint quality.
Not Being Precious:
The distant buildings in the detail of “Montreal Turquoise Rain” went through many manifestations and levels of detail before I settled on this. That’s not to say I’m satisfied with the end result, but years of experience have taught me that virtually any part of a painting is improved by boldly blasting through an area with lots of painstaking details with a large flat brush to simplify it. Have I ever scraped or wiped away an area and immediately regretted it? Absolutely! This is the price you pay taking the approach I do to painting. That’s why I almost never go back and touch up a painting I have deemed finished. I’d rather scrap it and start again. Charles Reid once said that when he feels that a painting he’s working on is going really well, he worries that the end result will be disappointing. This happens to me all the time.
When I’m really excited about a painting that’s only a quarter way done, I inevitably get too precious about it and everything becomes tight and contrived.
It was very difficult to leave the distant musicians in “Symphony Three” in such a state of “unfinish”, but I knew it was worth sacrificing them to allow the one violinist in the lower center to be the focal area. I guess it all depends on what we deem most important in our work. When I look at it now, the draftsman in me wants to go back and paint eyes and fingernails on all the musicians, while the designer in me knows that the overall painting is better for leaving them be.
All painting comes with a certain degree of struggle, no matter how much experience you have. I find this struggle is magnified when trying to compose ambitious aerial paintings. Even with these, however, I try to avoid too much pre-planning. It used to be I would never begin a large ambitious painting without doing numerous value studies and a small oil sketch. In recent years I’ve gone away from that, as I found that I was using up all my spontaneity on the sketch. I now find it best to work out my compositional problems right on the surface, usually beginning with a monochrome wash of value patches. No lines. I then work from front to back, introducing the full value range right from the start, to be able to judge relative values right away. All the while I’m painting in details, and scrubbing them out, all with the intention of losing edges and consolidating values.
Visit Mark Laguë’s website to see
more of his art.
We are excited to announce that Mark will be our September judge for Art Muse Contest.
Question: How do I simplify my painting and not get distracted trying to include every detail I see?
Answer: Hold on to that initial spark.
My friends and family have been swept into the recent fad of tidying. They are tidying their clothing, their freezers, their toy car collections. By tidying, mostly they mean eliminating. They are slowly purging through their possessions, asking each object as they go, “Do you bring me joy?” Often, the answer is no, so out goes that shirt, that frozen meatloaf, that broken plastic car.
I am sort of like that when I compose my paintings. I wander through the landscape until something strikes me, something catches my attention and brings a spark of what I might call joy. Much of the remaining process is about holding on to that initial spark. Anything that detracts from the feeling that I hope to convey gets eliminated.
Once I know clearly what I want the painting to be about, I do several pencil sketches to finalize my composition. The concept and the composition are what will make or break the painting, so it is better to invest the time into really understanding what I am aiming for than to launch haphazardly into a vague idea.
My sketches are just enough to cement an idea in my mind. They are scrawled, like my handwriting, and usually illegible to anyone besides myself. I first draw a rectangle, then inside the rectangle I arrange and rearrange the main elements of my composition until I feel my idea is visually interesting. Usually I break down a scene into three to five elements, and when I arrange these elements I play a game with myself…the rules of this game are that no spaces should be the same, no shapes should have the same volume, and each value should be distinct.
This process helps me be more objective about what I am composing; many times after sketching for a while I decide that whatever struck me initially about the scene does not translate well into a composition. Then I move on until I hopefully find something else that does translate well.
All of this so far has been about my process working outdoors. My studio paintings unfold in a similar way and are often based on the smaller paintings I have completed on location. Usually I combine thoughts from several of these small paintings when I am shaping ideas for my larger compositions.
I think of my paintings as visual poems, and much of that has to do with simplifying, pairing down an image to its essence so as to best convey emotion and to allow viewers to step into it with their imaginations unfurled. A beautifully, thoughtfully composed poem carries depth and life in ways that abundantly descriptive prose cannot; we are built to love elements of mystery that draw us beyond what we can see or describe. Brevity often allows the space that our imaginations need in order to step in and engage.
The idea of simplicity has become central not only in my approach to art, but also to the rest of life. Some of the most influential advice I have received was from one of my mentors, Jay Moore, when he told me to live simply and focus on relationships. Simplifying creates space for the pursuit of what makes life meaningful and fills us with that spark of joy.
To learn more about David and see his portfolio of work CLICK HERE.
This week’s post is from a different perspective, it’s written by Buddy Odom husband of artist Kathie Odom. Buddy writes for Kathie’s blog and he does so in the form of letters. In this week’s post he writes to a friend and examines what he feels being a supportive spouse to an artist and wife truly means.
We often get so caught up in the hurry of life that we forget to ask about the things that matter. But after our lively conversation over drinks last week, I was reminded how good it is to simply catch up with an old friend.
You were very curious about my relationship with Kathie. And you often seemed puzzled over the amount of time and effort I invest into the pursuit of her art career. Most striking to me was your statement as you were leaving, “Well, I guess it’s my wife’s turn to do her thing now!” I think I was misunderstood. Right or wrong, here are some truths:
-‐ Yes, as soon as Kathie and I married, I gladly took on the burden of financial provision for our family.
-‐ Yes, we worked hard to find a vocation that intersected with my passions.
-‐ Yes, I found a great measure of personal satisfaction upon finding that job.
-‐ And yes, even while shelving her creative gifts for almost thirty-‐five years to raise kids and send me into my new found mission, she deeply enjoyed watching me thrive!
I can see, Matt, how you might think I have allowed Kathie to now “have her turn” in this rocketing art career of hers! And I can see how it looks to watch me champion, promote and support her in every way I can think of.
But her new path was not mine to give. Plus, this cheerleading of mine was not born out of a need for equity or fairness. Instead it began with an honest look at two things.
First, I started to look at my own ignorance. (I mean this word in the truest, not meanest, sense of the word). I ignored several things that were perfectly within my vision to see, mostly Kathie! I was so consumed with good things that I quickly began missing this young woman with whom I made vows. A few years ago after her career started to blossom, she asked me, “What were you thinking when you married an artist?” Frankly, I had no answer for her because I was busying myself with the pursuit of a wonderful life. You know… three kids, two cars, one house and a full belly.
Secondly, Kathie conveniently hid behind this wonderful life we had (have). But it was easier, much easier for Kathie to not paint. While extraordinarily demanding, it was somehow simpler to be the generous and kind woman who loved and encouraged a family and worked odd jobs while neglecting that once-‐fascinating and forever-‐stimulating joy of creating! Sure, she kept her juices flowing and hands busy with productive endeavors, but something was missing.
Make no mistake, Matt. While this life together is not completely ironed out, both Kathie and I are living with no regrets. And we know this crazy life cannot be settled with simplistic rules of fairness. Meanwhile, we want to live vibrantly today while not knowing what tomorrow holds. But (and this is a big but), there are longings deep within one another that need a lifetime of careful and intentional conversations to uncover.
The poet, Rainer Rilke, puts it this way: I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Clearly, there is a celebration going on over Kathie’s quiet success. Her oil paintings continue to evolve as do her relationships within a vast art-‐loving community. She is not hiding as much… and I am, thank God, not quite so blind.
As you know, I am one proud husband that will follow her anywhere she wants to go. But I must remember. She is a book written in a foreign language.