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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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Ask the Expert…Gladys Roldan de Moras

Question: How important is it to have discipline in painting?

Answer: 

“The distance between dreams and reality is called discipline” Author unknown

48x48_adjust blue
Devotion, 48×48, private collection

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.

Gladys b
At the Rose Window, 33×18

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.

RoldandeMorasTheGoodBook300
The Good Book, 24×30, private collection

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.

TheVisitGladysRoldanDeMoras30x40
The Visit, 40×30, private collection

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.

gladys-roldan-de-moras_elisabels-photography

 

Gladys is an instructor at the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts, San Antonio, TX and visit her website to see more of her work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ask the Expert…John Lasater IV

Question: How do you approach painting nocturnes and not arrive home with a bad painting?

There are a lot of subjects I’m interested in, but not all of them are easy when it gets down to it, like posing a model, or waking up early for a sunrise. Plein air nocturnes are difficult to get motivated for because it’s at a time of day I’d much rather be sinking into the couch. All of my nocturnes have come with some element of struggle, so that has to be part of the experience for me. It might explain some of the “bad paintings” as you put it.

The start is always the hardest part, but there’s a meditative mood to the night. Once I have a piece going, nocturne painting becomes one of my favorite experiences.

Here are a few of the basics when it comes to setting up and painting a nocturne.

Equipment

Good equipment is obviously important, especially the lighting. I used to clip flexible book lights to my canvas and palette, which was simple and cheap. Recently I’ve upgraded to a Revelite, which distributes the light more evenly. The Revelite also allows you to dim the lights to your pleasure. One warning though: I’ve found you can easily over-illuminate your canvas. A dim light is better, because you can see the value separation more truthfully.

This is Revelite

 

Color Control
This is the Revelite
Color Control

Because there is typically one main light source in a nocturne scene, you will observe a tonal, or monotone, key. One of the biggest hangups I’ve noticed with beginning nocturne painters is they color their piece as if they were painting a daytime scene. The alternating light sources of sun and blue sky makes a myriad of color vibrations in the daytime that are significantly missing from most nocturne scenes. For this reason, I practice color control, which means, I keep a limited color palette for the scene. Below are some examples.

The first scene, entitled “South and Carroll,” was under complete influence of two or three incandescent streetlights. This gave a very warm, or orange, tone to the whole painting. Instead of pushing any of the cool colors in the sky and shadows, I made sure they were strongly influenced by the warm colors I was mixing into everything else, because the shadows had no significant light source.

"South and Carroll"
South and Carroll

The second scene, called “Elkhorn Avenue,” was strongly influenced by the dusky cool sky light. The colors I chose for the shapes influenced by that light were limited to give it a more monotone effect. Also, knowing that I wanted to emphasize the warm points of light given off by the city, I made sure to grey the cool colors surrounding them.

"Elkhorn Avenue"
Elkhorn Avenue

The third scene, called “Corridor,” has a more divided concept. I was struck by how the brilliant, warm section of town was framed in by its surroundings. To accomplish this piece I literally divided the composition and divided the light sources as well. The diagram shows how you can see a similar temperature and color brought about by the two distinct types of light sources.

"Corridor"
Corridor
Movement

Because of the various isolated points of light in a nocturne, composing is trickier. In the daytime, it’s easier to see compositional shapes connecting with one another, but at night they appear more isolated. Finding a scene with midtone shapes that can connect the lit areas helps.

In the scene below, called “Cellar Door,” I demonstrate the movement of the eye, and how the midtones play a role in directing the eye to the brighter shapes. This is a large painting (24×30) created on location in a basement at a local resort. No photo of the scene would do it justice.

Cellar Door
Cellar Door
Going the extra mile

Beyond the unique considerations that a nocturne requires, I like to take my paintings a step further. One of the exciting things to study at night is the effect of glow around a light source and the colors that vibrate around it.

Oakes Street
Oakes Street

In this painting, “Oakes Street,” I looked carefully into and around the street light and the neon sign. It would be easy to be formulaic as often as I’ve painted things like this, but for this one I took my time. It was my hope that the painting would look like it had an internal light source. I’ve included details of those areas, so you can see the color treatment around the lights.

Detail
Detail
Detail
Detail

Get on out there and give it a try. Don’t worry about the failures. Simplify your colors, get a good composition going and go the extra mile!

We usually do a nocturne a day in my workshops, so check out the schedule.

John lasaterJohn P. Lasater IV developed a love for art working as a designer and illustrator for a division of Hallmark Cards.

John now paints full time, both from his studio in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and on the road painting “en plein air.” He also teaches national workshops. John’s honors include many Best of Show or First Place awards in national outdoor painting events, an Award of Excellence from the Oil Painters of America national exhibition, Artist in Residency’s, dozens of mentions in art magazines and feature articles in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. He also served as a faculty member for the 2015 Plein Air Convention put on by Plein Air Magazine.

Ask the Expert…Elizabeth Robbins

Question: What are the key elements in making a strong still life painting?

1: Concept.

It’s important to have a strong concept of what you want to paint before you lay the first brush stroke down. Many people feel that this means that there has to be some inner, deep, meaning to a painting that only a docent can explain to the viewer.

Although this is one concept, it’s not the only one. Many times a painting can be just about a memory that you cherish, a favorite vase, or it can be as simple as your favorite rose is blooming and you want to capture it. Having a strong concept also means planning a strategy for your painting. Do you want to have a very dramatic painting with a dark background and a lot of color or do you want to paint something ethereal and high key. Is this painting going to be a horizontal or a vertical? Do you want a lot of negative space so that the few elements in the painting take on a strong importance or do you want to fill up the space with positive shapes?

Example: painting that has little negative space.  The elements
take up most of the canvas.
Lilacs and Apricots 16_20
Title: Lilacs and Apricots
Example: painting that has more negative area than positive.  This makes the main element have great importance. This painting has a “Z” shape composition.
A Lyrical Line
Title: A Lyrical Line

2. Value

Value is King. Being able to recognize the correct value is a process that is learned by squinting. When I teach, many students judge the shadow value way too light. It’s because we are drawn to the light and when we look at the shadow value with our eyes wide open the light area affects our perception of how dark the shadow is. Squinting diminishes the amount of light that enters our eyes and is transferred to our brain. This enables us to more accurately judge the values.

Example: painting with values connected. Notice how the cast shadows of the apples connect to the value of the vase. Notice how the majority of the lights are connected in the upper half of the painting.
Ruby 3 values
Title: Ruby Red, 3 Values
Example: color version of that painting
Ruby Red opa
Title: Ruby Red

3. Temperature

If value is king then temperature is queen and in my opinion just as important as value. Students learn to paint something with a value range but seldom in my experience do teachers explain the important of temperature change. Where there is light, there is temperature change. This is what separates an average painting from an incredible painting. Nature follows laws of light that say when there is a warm light, there will be cool shadows and where there is cool light there will be warm shadows. It is often mistaken that you change planes with a value change when it can be more effective to change plans with a temperature change. I set up most of my still life’s with a 5500K light. This is a cool light, which is considered to approximate the temperature of a North Light window where the blue sky influences the light. When painting outdoors at sunrise or sunset, you will have a very warm light and cool shadows. As students we learn that Yellow, Orange and Red are warm and Blue, Green and Violet are cool. What you need to learn is that a greenish yellow will be warm next to a green but it is cool next to an orange. All colors/value are relative to what they are next too.

Example: warm and cool tones in a painting.

Love at first sight
Title: Love at First Sight

4. Composition and Connectivity

A powerful painting will have a strong connectivity through out the composition.What this means is that there will be a lyrical line that draws you from one element to the next instead of hop skipping and jumping all over the canvas randomly. Just as a music conductor stands before the orchestra telling the musicians where to increase their volume creating a crescendo and when to soften the tone so we listen harder, you are the conductor of this painting. You need to strongly say where an area will be exciting and where an area will be quite. A strong composition will follow shapes such as a “L” “S” “T” “V” and “C”. These shapes can either be drawn backwards, sideways etc to create the line that you want the viewer to follow.

Example: painting with good harmony and “S” shape composition.
Home Grown
Title: Home Grown

5. Shape

We are so accustomed to painting an element by thinking about that element as what it is. Often students paint an eye by thinking of what we think an eye looks like instead of just seeing that eye as shapes of light and dark, warm and cool, organic or abstract. Seeing things in the abstract puts you in the right side of your brain and you’ll be better able to draw the shape more accurately. When setting up my still life I am looking at shapes. I want a variety of shapes from large masses, medium masses and smaller masses. I look at my negative shapes to see that they are interesting and not repetitive. Also look at the positive shapes and determine the same thing. The key to shapes is having variety. Too much repetition is boring and static.

6. Texture and edges

A good still life will have a variety of textures and edges in the paint application. If everything is painted with similar strokes and blended all the same and all your edges are hard then you’ve created monotony. Have areas that are thin and areas that are thicker to create excitement. Great paintings will have a variety of edges. Some will be lost and some will be found. Some will be hard and some will be soft. If you want to draw someone’s attention to a certain area, which will be the focal point, then have more exciting, thicker brushwork and harder edges to that area. If you want an area to be quiet, then have quiet, thin brushwork with softer edges. Again, the key word here is variety.

Example: painting with a variety of edges and an “L” shape composition.
Silver and Cantaloupe
Title: Silver and Cantaloupe

7. Harmony

There should be a harmony throughout your painting, A similarity of color relationships. When you sing a song or play one on a piano, you establish the key in which you will sing or play. We all can hear in a song when someone is off key or a wrong note is played. The same is true for a painting. If you paint most of the painting with all soft high key colors then paint one element that is screaming in intensity, you’ve just painted a sour note. Make a decision in the concept stage what your harmony or key that you will be painting in is going to be.

 Example: painting that has a harmony with intense color.
Sunflowers and Jade
Title: Sunflowers and Jade
Example: harmony with softer colors.
Peonies and Roses 20x24
Title: Peonies and Roses

8. Color

The most often question asked by students is also the most irrelevant. “What color are you using?” Don’t ask yourself what color is it. Ask yourself what value is it? What temperature is it? How bright or dull is it? These are the three questions that constantly go through my mind as I paint. Am I too light or too dark, am I too warm or too cool, and am I too bright or too dull? Whether you paint an orange with a pure orange or with a yellow orange isn’t as important as that you have your value/temperature/intensity relationships correct.

9. Paint what you love.

I can’t over emphasize the important of painting what you know and what you love. I love my flowers. I grow all the flowers I paint. I have a connection to them. I have cared for them and they bloom for me. When I go out to my garden its as if they all shout “Paint me, Paint me!” I can paint a pig if I want to but I’m not really into pigs so when I paint one you can feel the lack of emotional attachment to it. There are many technically perfect paintings out there but they lack emotion. I would rather look at a 100 imperfect paintings where an artist put their heart and soul into the painting than look at 1 perfect unemotional painting. Good art comes from the head; great art comes for the heart.

Liz Headshot cropped

To see more of Elizabeth’s work, please visit her website. We are grateful to have generous artists sharing their experience and knowledge with us. Please visit their websites, facebook, etc. and thank them.