Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Inspirations for Artist Appreciation month

30 x30
August is Artist Appreciation Month!  I was reminded of this by Patience Brewster, the designer of whimsical and fanciful ornaments that most of us have seen in stores around Christmas time.

Patience asked me if I'd write a blog about artists who have inspired me.  It's a great idea and an opportunity to thank my touchstone artists.

So here they are in order of my personal chronology as an artist.  Because I started out in watercolour (only the hardest medium in the world, as it turns out), the first painters who inspired me were Joseph Zbukvic, and Charles Reid.  See the influence?  They both focus on light, and have loose, bold brushwork.  Zbukvic's contre jour aesthetic still dazzles me and the economy and joy of his mark making makes me want to applaud.

Charles Reid showed me how to paint the figure in one big, graceful gesture and how to find colour and colour temperature within it.  These lessons weren't in person, unfortunately, but I've signed his books out of the library countless times.

Then, when I switched to oils because I wanted to explore texture, paint larger, and ditch glass framing, I "discovered" John Singer Sargent.  A few people had got there before me, thankfully, and there are amazing books available by his sister's grandson, Richard Ormond.  The plates showed me that oil could be as radiant, loose, experimental and joyful as watercolour, and they showed me that big brushes were a must.  Eventually, I got to see Sargents in real life, and they revealed a rough and ready quality that photos couldn't.  It was a surprise and a delight to see that he wasn't polished and precise as the reduced-size images implied.

Sorolla came next because of his brilliant light and colour.  He wasn't a shy painter, and he painted subjects that touched me: beaches, children, summer sunshine.

And while these two were great models for what an oil painting could look like, I had no idea how to construct such a thing.  Most of the local art teachers focused on landscape painting - something I wasn't interested in - and so I looked to the Internet for contemporary painters that I could learn from.

Through many hours on gallery sites, I found Lawrie Williamson's work.  His suggestive, soft, contre jour figures touched me.  I liked his subtle palette, and his subjects: figures, water, movement, and fly fishing, a pursuit that my young son had become obsessed with.  Lawrie showed me the potential that small moments have to touch people's memories and passions.

I wrote to one of his galleries in the UK asking if he could forward my letter.  For a few weeks, I heard nothing, and then I received a long and generous letter from Lawrie Williamson himself.  In it, he outlined his working methods and colour choices, and offered encouragement.  I have it, and the exhibition catalogue that he included, on the table in my studio to this day.  His letter was invaluable and launched many years of work.  The starts that I make are Williamson starts.

Sergei Bongart came next because I love colour!  When a friend loaned me a book about his work, I felt I'd found my people.  The roughness, brilliance and dash of his work resonated and still does every time I look at it. I loved his figures and still life, and was moved by his words about the importance of life painting.

And lastly - though I could continue for many more pages - I was deeply and lastingly inspired by Maggie Siner.  Though I cannot be as economical in brushstroke and as restrained in palette as she is, this is an artist that I look at regularly online and whose work I aspire to collect.  She showed me that edges are a state of mind and that you can simply push past them as far and as often as you like, and your subject can still make perfect sense.  And, your painting will be thrilling for the audacity.

I'm indebted to these painters and many, many more whose work I look at online regularly.  Unlike any time in the past, artists have access to a massive range of artwork thanks to the Internet.  It can be overwhelming, but it can also be motivating.  The many great painters working today remind me that I can always do better and work harder, and that there are countless ways to put paint on canvas.

Happy painting, and don't forget to tell your families and friends to appreciate you this month!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Recipes for gorgeous greys

Daisies and Water
30 x 30
I've been on a technology hiatus this summer, painting, gardening, and relishing the short, intense summer - despite its hail storms and heat waves.  It's been a treat to be unplugged and to wait until the time seemed right to start looking at the computer again (yes, I actually mean Facebook, that great sucking abyss of irresistible video links and great paintings).  So I'm diving back in with a blog about greys because today is the first grey day in a long while.

There are lots of tempting tube greys on the paint display rack, but I prefer to mix my own from the primaries plus white.  That gives endless permutations and makes a livelier colour space for the eye to explore.  

My palette contains warm and cool variations of each of the primaries plus a few earth colours and a selection of whites.  Here's a list of the pigments that are my mainstays.  I sometimes add a novel colour like viridian, cad yellow deep, or Indian yellow, but this list shows the workhorses:

Cad red light
Alizarin permanent
Cad yellow medium
Cad lemon
Ultramarine blue
Cerulean Hue or phthalo blue
Yellow ochre
Raw umber
transparent red iron oxide
Titanium white
Flake white hue/replacement
Zinc white (to be mixed with titanium; it's too brittle to use on its own)

This list makes an endless and amazing variety of colours and those can all be used to make luminous greys.  For example, if I'm trying to make a warm, reddish grey, I would probably think of cad red light as my foundation colour (alizarin if I'm making a cool, reddish grey), and explore all of the triads that it makes plus varying amounts of white to make it light enough to read the grey:

Cad red light + cad yellow med + ult blue + white
cad red light + cad lemon + ult blue + white
cad red light + yellow ochre + ult blue+ white
cad red light +cad yellow med + cerulean + white
cad red light + cad lemon + cerulean + white
cad red light + yellow ochre + cerulean + white

That's 6 different greys, just in the warm, reddish field.  I could do the same with each of the warm and cool primaries as well as the earth tones which are, themselves, just low chroma primaries.  

But that's not the only way to make grey.  Adding white to any colour will automatically grey it.  Try putting some white in one of the cadmiums and you'll see how it loses its intense chroma.  This is particularly noticeable with cool, opaque titanium.

And then there are the earth pigments which, when added to high chroma pigments can also grey them. One of my favourite earth pigments for this purpose is yellow ochre.  If I have a yellow that's screaming too loudly in the painting, I'll add a bit of yellow ochre to it to dial it down a notch.  TRO mixed into cad red light will grey and darken it; adding a bit of white will give you a whole new sophisticated greyed red.  

So I avoid the whole grey section in the art store which saves me heaps of money.  And those savings can be applied to buying more brushes - my biggest weakness!

Happy painting!