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Ask the Expert…Harry Stooshinoff

 

Question: How can I learn to be my own best critic ?

Answer: A Continuous Critique

 

hs evening light
Evening Light, acrylic, collage on gessoed thin birch panel. 7.5 x 12

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.

October Bean Field
October Bean Field, acrylic and pencil on unprimed Whatman paper, 8.5  x  12.25

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.

 

hs glow, crossroads
Glow, Crossroads, acrylic and pencil on paper, 8 x 9.75

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!

hs home base, april 13 acrylic and pencil on paper 8x10
Home Base, April 13, acrylic and pencil on paper, 8×10

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.

hs July Stand
July Stand, acrylic and collage on single ply archival matte board, 7.75 x 9.75

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?

hs nightfall, horse farm
Nightfall, Horsefarm, acrylic, pencil, collage on heavy archival paper, 7.75 x 9.75

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).

hs entrance peach sky
Entrance, Peach Sky, acrylic and collage on archival heavy card, 7.75 x 9.75

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.

hs secret field
Secret Field, acrylic on geossed thin birch panel, 7.5 x 12

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.

hs march thaw
March Thaw, acrylic and pencil on Whatman paper, 10 x 13.75

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.

hsVisit the sites listed below to learn more about Harry and his work.

Blog

Etsy Shop

Website

Facebook, where I post daily.

YouTube videos on process.

 

 

 

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Featured

Art Cafe…All About Harry

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.

 

Featured

Ask the Expert…John Wentz

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?

IMG_2865

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.

 

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?

 

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.

PassagesNo14_48x48_OilOnCanvas_2015
Passages No.14, 48×48, oil on canvas

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.

ImprintNo25_76x38_6000
Imprint No 25, 76×38

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.

Photo credit_Heidi Yount

 

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.

 

 

 

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Featured

Ask the Expert…Richard Scott

Question: What’s the best way to improve my drawing skills?

Answer:

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).

image 2
Every time you touch brush to paper or canvas, you are drawing

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:

 

Pencil Sketch of Trafalgar Square, London
Pencil Sketch of Trafalgar Square, London
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Pencil Sketch of Trafalgar Square, London
Pencil Drawing – Simple subjects are a great way to practice and improve drawing skills
  1. 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.

  1. Red Flags

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.

 

Ballpoint Pen Drawing on a Napkin
Ballpoint Pen Drawing on a Napkin
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

Richard E. Scott’s book on daily drawing for artists
Richard E. Scott’s book on daily drawing for artists

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.

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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).

 

 

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Ask the Expert…Realist Art Resource

Question: What defines realism?

Answer:

A Path to Realism: Classical Training, by Realist Art Resource

 

Bouguereau's_Atelier_at_the_Académie_Julian,_Paris_-_Jefferson_David_Chalfant_-_Google_Cultural_Institute
Bouguereau’s Atelier at Academie Julian, Jefferson David Chalfant

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.

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Candidates for Admission to the Paris Salon, Felicien Myrbach-Rheinfeld

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.

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An Opening Day at the Palais des Champs-Élysées, Jean-André Rixens

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.

quest for beauty
Last Day of Corinth by Tony Robert-Fleury

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.

cast drawing sargent
The Dancing Faun, after the Antique, John Singer Sargent

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.

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The Life Class at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Wilhelm Bendz

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.

Suggested Reading:
Artistic Family Tree by Timothy Stotz. http://timothystotz.com/flowering-staircase/
Artistic Family Tree by Golden Gate Atelier  .

Paquette, Jonathan. Classical Realist Art: The Continuance of Representational Painting.

Citations:
Louis Torres. The Legacy of Richard Lack. 2006
Méras, Phyllis. The Historic Shops & Restaurants of Boston. New York: Little Bookroom, 2007. Print.

Visit the Realist Art Resource website for more information.

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