We’d like to announce a new approach to make your mark. Welcome to Art Muse Contest where you can compete in a different way. The contest begins January 1st withKen DeWaard as the judge. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to win.
Compete with your peers at your skill level
More chances to win with limited entrants in Jan., Feb., & Mar.
Max. 150 Entrants for Emerging & Budding, Max. 75 Entrants for Master Class
Low Entry Fees
Great prizes and special awards, including an opportunity for a gallery show and gallery representation
Several weeks ago, I read an article about Christopher Rothko who has published a collection of essays about his father’s paintings titled “Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out” While Rothko isn’t in my top list of favorite artists, there is something that draws me into his work. Might have to add this to my reading list for the new year. Wishing you marvelous adventures and successes at the easel for 2016 from In the Artist Studio.
Ask the Expert is taking a break for the next two Wednesdays to celebrate the holidays. This would be an ideal time to catch up on any posts that you might have missed or revisit them. I’ve listed the Ask the Experts posts below for your convenience and don’t forget the Art Cafe. We will be back Wednesday, January 6th with another Ask the Expert post (can’t wait to reveal who’s on the 2016 list). Happy Holidays from In the Artist Studio.
We are adding to our “Ask the Expert” series. Jean Cauthen recently wrote a wonderful post for Ask the Expert about finding inspiration and we’ve asked her back to write a series of art history posts for next year. They certainly aren’t the kind that I experienced during my college years. We hope you agree.
Looking at Pictures: Vermeer
See this painting?
You could put it in your purse.
If you are reading this on an iPad or other tablet, keep in mind the painting “Girl with the Red Hat,” at 9” x 7,” is smaller than your screen.
The punch it delivers, however, is closer to the scale of your local Cineplex.
Did I Overdress for This?
Vermeer (aka. Dutch painter of only forty paintings of every day life and light; favorite painter of almost every painter ever) left no sketches for us to pick apart, no students, no writings. What we DO have is…a painting. And a painting, simply, of a woman captured in an instant. Intimate. Immediate.
The subject of a bust portrait in fancy costume was a genre in Dutch painting called tronie. It was reason enough for Vermeer to present a red-feathered serving tray to his model and say, “here, put this on your head.”
In spite of this, I’ve always imagined her in a pub. I have no idea why. That would be some fancy pub furniture. And that is one very fancy be-dazzled hat!
Then, she turns to look at you. And Pop. That moment is stilled forever.
Kitties in Paintings
Much is made of Vermeer’s likely use of the camera obscura (the predecessor to photography) to use lenses and light to replicate an image and aid in painting. Vermeer hung out with scientists and was fascinated by optics. Check out those awesome, oversized lion head finials and the minimal shapes he uses to describe them, including blurry, circular points of light. Just as you might see through a camera lens.
But this moment goes far beyond optics and costumes.
Required Star Wars tie in: The Force
As painters, we know that the force, or power of this painting, comes not from its subject…but in how Vermeer laid down colors and in the genius of his essential abstraction.
The abstraction is at the heart of good painting. I’m still figuring this out in my own painting. But I know it when I see it in Vermeer. Squint your eyes (never heard that before, right?) to see the big shapes and the perfect balance of the arrangement. The ice white kerchief anchors the little spots together into a tidy triangle.
If we could hold this little gem in our hands, (museums discourage, but whatever), we would see, for the cloak, the artist prepares us for the subplot of his story by laying down a thin, reddish brown veil of paint. He layers over this with glazes of ultramarine (read more about your go-to cool color here).
This gives the blue warmth and complexity. Over that, is a bit more saturated blue, with a bit of white in it. Then, on top, comes the (what?) yellow-white ABSTRACT shapes of light. Look. They are rather geometric…placed in the perfect arrangement of sizes, shapes. Heading this way and that. In different sizes.
The same thing happens in her face. The face, though in shadow, is intensely warm. We understand that there must be a glow from that crazy hat, but he makes those tones glow with the green he uses just around it. Vermeer is painting most of the painting thinly, glazing over layers. It is the slow build up to the climax of his story, applied with heftier paint.
He makes the red hat a crescendo (oops. slipping from literary analogies to musical ones but you get it, don’t you?) against a muted colored tapestry. But check out the shapes there. The pattern of the 3 shapes behind her head. The direction of the curves. They, too, get to play a part in the larger story (okay back to literary).
Now the story has gotten me so excited I can barely mention about the dot of light in her eye. Get in close. I swear to you. It is turquoise. A little tourquoise dot.
Who does that?
Johannes Vermeer c. 1615-1666
Oil on panel (9.1 in x 7.1 in) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
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. Click here to learn more about Jean.
Question : How do I capture the emotion of a scene successfully?
Editing – And the Power of the Unpainted, Thomas W. Schaller
Often, I like to tease my groups by holding up a blank sheet of watercolor paper, and announcing, “Look! The light is already finished – so you’re nearly done!” Joking aside, there is truth there. More than with any other medium, watercolor uses the surface of the paper to supply all the light evident in the final work. I write and talk often on the topic of watercolor as a “subtractive medium”. What I mean by that is – because of it’s transparency – all colors and tones, all the values needed to establish a successful painting are achieved by quite literally subtracting away from the maximum amount of light provided – the pure white of the untouched paper itself. In the final work, this light is either preserved completely in areas of saved white paper, or allowed to shine through – in varying degrees – the translucent washes of the medium.
And so – as in no other medium – the power of what is not painted in a watercolor is just as potent as the power of what is. Just as musicians sometimes describe music as the “space between the notes”, so too painting in watercolor can be seen as the saved light between tones. This is why I have titled my workshop series “The Architecture of Light”; because as artists, we can design and build our paintings with shapes of sun and of shadow.
Watercolor has a reputation of being an unforgiving and difficult medium with which to work. That may be debatable, but while it is sometimes possible to scrub away, to lift, or even to scrape certain areas of a work in an attempt to regain areas of light that have been lost, there is little substitute for the look of a painting where the areas of light have been designed beforehand and cleanly preserved.
It is for this reason that I often do – and urge my groups to do – small, very quick value /composition studies before beginning a larger work. These informal little doodles should take no more than a minute or so to complete, but can be invaluable in helping to identify the basic “value road map” that you wish your work to follow.
If you can identify three basic compositional values– the lights, the darks, and the mid-tones before you begin, the subsequent painting process will unfold so much more organically and with a great deal more immediacy.
By no means am I suggesting that every detail of a final painting could or should be decided upon and planned beforehand. In watercolor – as in any other medium –this is both unrealistic and undesirable. I mean simply that if you have a basic plan of attack – and know essentially what areas of the paper you wish to preserve as the lightest of the lights – you can then paint with so much more abandon and freedom, adjusting as you go knowing that the basic values of your painting – it’s foundation –are in place. Because much as any of us may love color – no color can save a painting if the values are not comfortably composed and executed with strength and conviction.
It’s become more and more my goal as an artist to “think less and feel more” as I paint. So for me, it’s a good idea to try to get my thinking out of the way before I begin a painting. This way, as I paint, I can truly become lost in the emotive world of the process. And as much as possible, I can thus eliminate anything tentative, indecisive, or half-heartedness in my work.
I’m often asked to describe the “style” in which I work. It’s a fair enough question, but it hasn’t a very clear answer. I suppose I would call it a kind of “Interpreted Realism”. I am always asking my groups to try to paint less of what they see and more of how they feel about what they see. For me, this is not an abstract concept or slogan, but what I genuinely try to do. As a visual person (and one who is slightly near-sighted! ) as I move through the world , I tend to see everything in patterns of dark and light.
These abstract patterns are what inspire me the most – far more than any literal “scene” or thing I may be seeing. In fact it is the tension, the dialogue, the conflict and the resolution between opposing forces that most interest me in a painting…light/dark, warm/cool, horizontal/vertical – these “opposites” and many others –are what make a painting able to be a vehicle for emotional impact. So, it is not any specific scene that inspires me and that I try to paint. It is the story of these opposing forces that defines and gives it life – that is what I most try to get down on the painting surface. For me, that is the stuff of art.
Before I begin to paint, I have a general plan, – an idea in mind – for the story I wish that painting to tell. Things may change as the painting evolves, but I have a pretty clear idea before I start of formatting : a vertical painting tells a very different story than a horizontal one – composition: value organization and registration : will this painting be dominantly light or dark and how will those shapes of tone be organized ? – and color key: I work almost exclusively in complements -blue/orange, yellow/violet, red/green, etc. All combinations of colors, subtle mid-tones and neutrals can elicit an infinite number of emotional responses in a viewer.
In part -because of this subtractive approach I take to watercolor – I have become more and more interested in the larger idea of editing in my artwork in general. More than ever, I am intent on having my paintings tell their story with no more “extras” than are absolutely necessary. If a single brushstroke is unneeded, it is my hope to know that and to leave it out. When I hear my inner voice begin to mumble that I should do “just one more thing”, it is getting increasingly easier to listen to my painting, to stop painting and call the work done.
In doing so, what I have found is that my paintings can have so much more presence and can tell an even deeper, more poetic and more powerful story. If the artist allows the viewer to become involved in his or her work, you will find that they will “connect the dots” – fill in a good deal of detail with their mind’s eye and with their own imaginations. So, I try very hard to not illustrate what I see, but by the assiduous editing of detail, I can interpret my inspirations and present them as actual reaction, response and emotion.
As artists, we all have a unique point of view and our own stories to tell. But if you involve viewers, invite them into your world and encourage them to imagine their own stories, art can become a kind of silent conversation – a communion – between painter and viewer.
To see more of Thomas’s work, please visit his website.
We are pleased and honored to announce that Thomas be one of our judges for the 2016 Art Muse Contest.
Irwin Greenberg was a watercolorist who taught at the High School of Art & Design and at Art Students League of New York. Below is a primer that he would hand out to his students. He died in 2009 but his Words to Paint By still resonate.
Words to Paint By, Irwin Greenberg
1. Paint every day.
2. Paint until you feel physical strain- take a break and then paint some more.
4. When at an impasse, look at the work of masters.
5. Buy the best materials you can afford.
6. Let your enthusiasm show.
7. Find the way to support yourself.
8. Be your own toughest critic.
9. Develop a sense of humor about yourself
10. Develop the habit of work. Start early every day. When you take a break, don’t eat. Instead, drink a glass of water.
11. Don’t settle for yourself at your mediocre level
12. Don’t allow yourself to be crushed by failure. Rembrandt had failures. Success grows from failure.
13. Be a brother (or sister) to all struggling artists.
14. Keep it simple.
15. Know your art equipment and take care of it.
16. Have a set of materials ready wherever you go.
17. Always be on time for work, class and appointments.
18. Meet deadlines. Be better than your word.
19. Find a mate who is really a mate.
20. Don’t be envious of anyone who is more talented than you. Be the best you can be.
21. Prizes are nice, but the real competition is with your performance yesterday.
22. Give yourself room to fail and fight like hell to achieve.
23. Go to sleep thinking about what you’re going to do first thing tomorrow.
24. Analyze the work of great painters. Study how they emphasize and subordinate.
25. Find out the fewest material things you need to live.
26. Remember: Michelangelo was once a helpless baby. Great works are the result of heroic struggle.
27. There are no worthwhile tricks in art; find the answer.
28. Throw yourself into each painting heart and soul.
29. Commit yourself to a life in art.
30. No struggle, no progress.
31. Do rather than don’t.
32. Don’t say “I haven’t the time.” You have as much time everyday as the great masters.
33. Read. Be conversant with the great ideas.
34. No matter what you do for a living, nurture your art.
35. Ask. Be hungry to learn.
36. You are always the student in a one-person art school. You are also the teacher of that class.
37. Find the artists who are on your wavelength and constantly increase that list.
38. Take pride in your work.
39. Take pride in yourself.
40. No one is a better authority on your feelings than you are.
41. When painting, always keep in mind what your picture is about.
42. Be organized.
43. When you’re in trouble, study the lives of those who’ve done great things.
44. “Poor me” is no help at all.
45. Look for what you can learn from the great painters, not what’s wrong with them.
46. Look. Really look.
47. Overcome errors in observing by exaggerating the opposite.
48. Critics are painters who flunked out.
49. Stay away from put-down artists.
50. If you’re at a lost for what to do next, do a self-portrait.
51. Never say “I can’t.” It closes the door to potential development.
52. Be ingenious. Howard Pyle got his start in illustrating by illustrating his own stories.
53. All doors open to a hard push.
54. If art is hard, it’s because you’re struggling to go beyond what you know you can do.
55. Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached.
56. There is art in any endeavor done well.
57. If you’ve been able to put a personal response into your work, others will feel it and they will be your audience.
58. Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about.
59. Spend less than you earn.
60. Be modest; be self-critical, but aim for the highest.
61. Don’t hoard your knowledge, share it.
62. Try things against your grain to find out just what your grain really is.
63. Inspiration doesn’t come when you are idle. It comes when you have steeped yourself in work.
64. Habit is more powerful than will. If you get in the habit of painting every day, nothing will keep you from painting.
65. There are three ways to learn art: Study life, people and nature. Study the great painters. Paint.
66. Remember, Rembrandt wasn’t perfect. He had to fight mediocrity.
67. Don’t call yourself an artist. Let others name you that. “Artist” is a title of great weight.
68. Be humble; learn from everybody.
69. Paintings that you work hardest at are the ones you learn the most from, and are often your favorites.
70. Read values relatively. Find the lightest light and compare all other light values to it. Do the same with the darks.
71. Grit and guts are the magic ingredients to your success.
72. Let your picture welcome the viewer.
73. Add new painters to your list of favorites all the time.
74. Study artists who are dealing with the same problems that you’re trying to solve.
75. Have a positive mind-set when showing your work to galleries.
76. Don’t look for gimmicks to give your work style. You might be stuck with them for life. Or, worse yet, you might have to change your “style” every few years.
77. If what you have to say is from your deepest feelings, you’ll find an audience that responds.
78. Try to end a day’s work on a picture knowing how to proceed the next day.
79. Don’t envy others success. Be generous-spirited and congratulate whole-heartedly.
80. Your own standards have to be higher and more scrupulous than those of critics.
81. Pyle said, “Throw your heart into a picture and jump in after it.”
82. Vermeer found a life’s work in the corner of a room.
83. Rembrandt is always clear about what is most important in a picture.
84. If, after study, the work of an artist remains obscure, the fault may not be yours.
85. Critics don’t matter. Who cares about Michelangelo’s critics?
86. Structure your day so you have time for painting, reading, exercising and resting.
87. Aim high, beyond your capacity.
88. Try not to finish too fast.
89. Take the theory of the “last inch” holds that as you approach the end of a painting, you must gather all your resources for the finish.
90. Build your painting solidly, working from big planes to small.
91. See the planes of light as shapes, the planes of shadows as shapes. Squint your eyes and find the big, fluent shapes.
92. Notice how, in a portrait, Rembrandt reduces the modeling of clothes to the essentials, emphasizing the head and the hands.
93. For all his artistic skills, what’s most important about Rembrandt is his deep compassion.
94. To emphasize something means that the other parts of a picture must be muted.
95. When painting outdoors, sit on your hands and look before starting.
96. Composing a picture, do many thumbnails, rejecting the obvious ones.
97. Study how Rembrandt creates flow of tone.
98. If you teach, teach the individual. Find out when he or she is having trouble and help at that point.
99. Painting is a practical art, using real materials — paints, brushes, canvas, paper. Part of the practicality of it is earning a living in art.
100. Finally, don’t be an art snob. Most painters I know teach, do illustrations, or work in an art-related field. Survival is the game.
Quick note: Art Muse Contest starts January 1st. Start painting and enter. Watch the video to find out more about Art Muse Contest or visit our site.
How should I approach a large scale, complex multi-figured painting?
“Painting From The Inside Out”
A step by step would be much more familiar to all who put paint to a brush and stokes on canvas, and yes I do that as well, but for some time the process has been an internal one. At times, I find it a bit more difficult to explain as an easy step by step.
So here goes.
The simple human narrative of everyday life, raising the ordinary to a place of reverence is something in my nature that seems to attract me most. So when I come across a scene with dramatic light, all the elements that echo and add to this human narrative, I’m all in!
Most recently with my painting “Night Shifts” was exhibited at the “American Masters” show in NYC. This annual curated exhibition features some of the best in representational art from all across the United States. It’s a shinning example of the growth and resilience of traditional painting that is gaining ground and making inroads among collectors and museums in the much larger contemporary art scene.
My creative process is all about “by whatever means necessary” and although my early training was focused primarily on working from life, I’m not a snob about the camera. When it comes to catching fleeting moments and body language, almost impossible to pose, the camera is an invaluable tool.
I will say that training, constant practice at drawing and painting from life is what creates a better understanding of real color, solid form and atmosphere beyond a somewhat sterile photorealistic approach. For me, there is no doubt for my entire career as a professional artist, I’m committed to working from life no matter what painting I’m working on. It’s an underlying and substantive cornerstone of my process upon which I rest every brush stroke.
Many artists today who use the camera as their primary source of reference material and execution are truly amazing and adapt copiers. Not to belabor this point, but there is also a tendency when working primarily from photos to push that all-important, “signature style”. Many artists are trying to find that “look” which sets them apart in the market place. This for me is antithetical to what creating art is all about and I firmly believe it compromises the creative soul over time. Since once it’s found and commercial success ensues, it’s quite difficult to change. Those with the courage and personal integrity to experiment with new approaches and discard familiar techniques will ultimately gain more personal expression in their work and deeper growth as artists. I believe style should come from within, and should not be settled upon or purposefully repeated for its own sake.
My large-scale studio works are a combination of countless on the spot, charcoal compositional drawings, figure studies, color notation and literally hundreds of photos.
It’s through early charcoal drawings that I make multiple determinations as to the compelling nature of the work. Discard, alter my point of view or abandon and start over completely, is my methodology. It’s at this stage, I plan a strategy on which elements are needed and only by seeing the forest from the trees can I plan which are dominant and which are subordinate. All the pieces of the puzzle are evaluated as my process of subtraction occurs. The larger composition is what ultimately matters and in fewer than most cases many of my charcoal studies never spawn a larger work. I make as many trips as necessary back to the location noting the same time of day or night as well as the activity of the figures and their roles in the composition. In several cases, I’ve been interrogated as to what I’m doing there and in most cases I ask permission ahead of any negative confrontations. I’ve also used my iPad movie app to record figures in motion allowing me, back at my studio, to find just the right pose or body language that I could have never hoped to capture, if posed.
The details are chewing gum for the eyes as one approaches and looks closer at the painting. It’s equally important that all these elements be done well and in their rightful place for the work to be satisfying on multiple levels.
There is a delicate balance between details and overall atmosphere since the eye must travel harmoniously throughout without breaks or notes of music out-of-place. If elements are poorly drawn, out of proportion, value, color and level of importance unrealized, everything will be affected and distract from the initial vision and compelling nature of the work.
The painting is begun in most cases on primed linen that I tone with neutral grays, but not with one color or another. I lay down with washes using paint thinner from top to bottom allowing gravity, wet into wet to blend the colors together. Cool against warm using the primary colors of reds, greens and blues from my palate until the entire surface reflects a neutral undertone of the overall composition I’m painting. Also trying to anticipate opposites and complimentary undertones in any particular area that will best suit what will inevitably be on top. When dry to the touch, I begin transferring by sight size my overall composition with large brushes in slightly darker tones by blocking in the largest shapes and overall darks and pulling out the lights by wiping away tones previously applied. Here I’m looking for strong abstractions that read from a distance and are relatable and capture that initial impact of the scene. I try not to render any details in the beginning stages and use just the right strokes to make the statement. Less is more! If I find myself too tight or rendering to soon, I step back and squint. Things need to be in their rightful place, value and tonal relationship is the most important thing for me. If not, I scrape down mercilessly, repainting the area, or if need be the entire work.
Individual figures and groupings are painted in an alla prima method and are usually blocked in within one day. Then only to be refined or wiped out if not working as part of the whole upon a fresh examining eye the next morning.
From a distance, works of mine appear quite tight but it’s only an illusion since the accuracy of value, color and placement is what I’m after. My large studio paintings are quite loosely painted when seen by the naked eye. I hope and trust the viewer to fill in the blanks and as a result enjoy the compelling nature, truth and realism I’m after.
This process of building a painting from the inside out for me is the best way I know and have over the years reinvented it countless times. Each new work requires its own set of problem solving skills based on the circumstances of the site and subject matter that presents itself. Hopefully each new work is a unique conversation all its own. As I get older, my patience to repeat the same dialog again and again for commercial purposes is at times a blessing and a curse. One thing for sure is life always throws you that unexpected curve and for me the only way to be prepared is to embrace it all and hopefully learn something along the way.
To see more of Garin’s work, please visit his website.
Garin uses his renovated art studios in the Hudson Valley of NY to create art educational opportunities in advanced and continuing studies. Please take a few minutes to watch his Hatchfund Project campaign, “A Space To Create”