Saturday, December 1, 2018

Lessons from the art tour 3

Hôtel des roches noires, Trouville
I'm still digesting all that I saw in my museum going in London and Paris.  One lesson that was driven home to me was how much the camera has complicated the painting process, and made us question the way we actually see.  

The flags in the Monet above are clearly fluttering, and just as clearly, he didn't use a photo reference to paint them.  He took no pains to connect the rough, broken stripes on the foreground flag, and, instead, dashed them onto a sienna-toned ground with all the vigour of the brisk wind that they describe.  

Monet's flags show how we actually see motion.  When we look at a moving object, person, or animal, we can't stop their motion and analyze what each component is doing during any given millisecond.  Looking at a fluttering flag, we don't see stripes so much as flickering colours and tones flashing against the sky.  

A camera view, however, freezes movement and shows us exactly what's happening to those stripes.  We can see each fold and wrinkle and even the reflected light within each fold.  And that's not a good thing!  It's too much information.  The flag below doesn't describe motion so much as look like a sculpture frozen into a horizontal arrangement.  A faithful painted copy wouldn't convey movement or wind.  It would be a solid lump against the sky. 

I'm not suggesting ditching the photo reference altogether, but I'd certainly avoid high resolution whenever possible.  My favourite work has come from blurry, small images, and my most stilted from high quality photos in which I could see every last detail. So now I go through a few steps in a photo editing program before I use a photo reference. I blur it or introduce graininess, and I avoid zooming in on any part of the image; I keep it in a small, thumbnail view on my computer, or put a hard copy print far away from my easel. The less I can see, the better the painting that I make.  

Photo references have their place, but unless photo realism is your goal, I'd use them cautiously.  Cameras don't see the world in the same way that we do, and by copying them you'll create dishonest works: paintings that don't actually convey your own vision and experience of the world around you.  

Happy painting!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Black, white, and grey

Dancer and Bouquet
30 x 40

The seemingly simplest colours are the trickiest to paint.  Black, white, and grey may seem straightforward but, if their temperature is wrong, they refuse to integrate into a painting. You can buy any number of blacks, whites, and greys, but I find they all need modification to fit into a painting. 

This still life has the full tonal range from light to dark, including a very large expanse of white cloth.  I use titanium white by M. Graham which is, despite it's name, a mixed white of titanium and zinc (PW 6 and PW 4 on the label). 

Most titanium whites in art stores are actually mixtures, possibly because the opacity and coldness of pure titanium is so hard to work with, or because it's expensive.  Gamblin's titanium is an exception: it's just PW6 - titanium, and is incredibly bright and cold.

White should never be used straight from the tube.  It can be - there are no paint police - but I wouldn't do it; it's bland, cold, and uninteresting.  I prefer to sacrifice some of the light value of tube white and add tiny amounts of the colours that I've used in other parts of the painting.  This harmonizes the work, and, where warm and cool whites are roughly layered, creates a visual vibration that can't be achieved with just one colour application.  I find it simulates the complex effect of a white cloth, affected by the colour of the spotlight, studio walls, objects, and window light. 
lots of layers on an initial pthalo green toning
Tube blacks tend toward coolness, but you can mix any temperature that you need by adding a touch of another colour to them.  This black is actually a very dark, warmish green through the addition of a touch of cad yellow to mars black.  I use mars because, unlike ivory black, it dries relatively quickly.  It's easy to mix your own, lively blacks from colours like ultra. blue + cad red light, or pthalo green + alizarin, but, for convenience, I sometimes have tube black on my palette and just modify it.

I could have warmed this black even more with a touch of cad red light, or cooled it further by adding some ultramarine or cerulean blue.  Experiment with the temperatures of black and you'll find one that works better than another.  In general, though, I find that warm darks give a sense of recession or depth.

mars black + cad yellow
Grey is a colour that is entirely dependent on a modifying temperature.  There is nothing more uninteresting in a painting than a perfectly neutral grey.  I always mix my greys from 3 primaries plus white, allowing one to dominate so that all greys are nameable: blue grey, reddish grey, yellow grey etc. 

This detail shows the layering of warm and cool greys.  Just as in the whites, these greys become livelier when they're layered than if just one grey was used.

warm, reddish grey over cool green grey
This layering and modifying is something that makes a painting seem right in my eyes.  I admire the simplicity of a single, clear choice for a patch of paint, but it doesn't work for me.  When I look at a still life set up, I see many conflicting hints of colour and temperature in every element, and I don't feel the piece is done until I've tried to capture some of them.  I try show the viewer the amazing complexity of the simple things that I'm painting.

Happy painting!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blog glitch regarding floral workshop in Lumby

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an announcement telling me that I was teaching a floral workshop in Lumby, BC - again.

I did this workshop more than a year ago, and Blogger appears to have randomly plucked it from the archives and announced it just for a giggle.

Technology is, ultimately, my good friend.  It allows me to communicate with artists from around the world, to see work in museums at such high res that I can examine brushstrokes, and to do video critiques in which another artist and I see each other's faces and talk about their work.  All wonderful things.

Sometimes, though, entire days are lost to glitches and gremlins like this one - though I have to say, this is a really new one for me!

In the meantime, please check the dates on any blog posts that comes to your inbox to make sure they're sensible.

**I will be announcing 2 real and upcoming workshops soon.  Both will be in held in Calgary in the spring of 2019.  Stay tuned!

Happy painting!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Lessons from the art tour 2

Portraits à la Bourse - Degas

This famous Degas painting reminded me that the revered artists in the museums that I visited were interesting, opinionated, and witty people.  Clearly pimping for the woman beside the building, this rat-faced man is catching the ear of some gentlemen in a line up.

What I loved was the economy of one of the men's hands.  They're a pink scribble, with the most important feature crisply defined: the wedding band.

I also had a laugh when I realized that the black-shod foot visible at the bottom of the pimp's coat was not connected to any figure, but was, instead, a sly joke protruding from the pimp's pants. 

As I stood in the grand museum, looking at what was essentially a naughty joke and a keenly-observed piece of social commentary, Degas felt very human and close.  I've read that he was prickly, but I think I'd have liked him.

Happy painting!

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Lessons from the art tour

Edouard Vuillard

I often hear artists worrying about the fact that their work is constantly changing.  They wonder when they'll be done with the endless stylistic renovation and experimentation, and emerge into their finished, final style.  I believe that my final, mature style will be the one that's happening in the studio on the day that I die.  Until then, change is my constant; it keeps me from growing bored and feeling like I'm working in a factory that produces paintings.

My recent trip to London and Paris showed me that I'm not alone.  I saw plenty of mature, famous works by big names like Monet, Morisot, and Degas, but I also saw anomalies: paintings that test drove styles, compositions, and ideas to see if they were worth pursuing.

The Musée D'Orsay had a great collection of Vuillards on display, and his ceaseless experimentation was plain to see on the walls.  Art books lean towards defining him as a painter of highly-patterned interiors.  Those are the pieces that are most often reproduced. But what I found was an artist who explored many more subjects and styles in his lifetime, circling around an interest in pattern, but stretching from realism to abstraction, overwhelming patterning to big, clean shape making, and everything in between.  I got a sense of a restless, curious artist who never got bored because there was always something new to try.  He made a life that was interesting and engaged.  Could an artist ask for more?

In no particular order, here are some of the Vuillards from the D'Orsay.  Enjoy!

Happy painting, and may you never bore yourself in the studio!

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The power of critiques

Conch Shell
16 x 12

This week I connected separately with two artists to talk about their art for a solid hour.  They were the first of the online critiques that artists have booked with me, and the process worked well thanks to the wonders of technology.

The first crit was done over the phone at the artist's request.  From 10 images that I'd received, I altered 5 in Procreate, and we discussed the altered images one by one, as well as discussing the body of work as a whole.

It's powerful to be able to show an artist ways to strengthen her work rather than rely on inadequate, vague words.  Instead of telling her to simplify or soften an area, I can actually show her what it would look like if she did so, without ever touching the actual painting. 

The second critique was face-to-face thanks to the miracle of video chatting.  I use Jitsi, an open-source, video conferencing service that doesn't track conversations, advertise to participants, or come with those annoying spammers who want to connect.  It allowed us to see each other, but also to share my screen during the call so that I could make alternate changes to the ones I'd already done, talking the artist through them while she watched on her screen at home.

In both critiques, I was amazed by how quickly the time went.  The hour flew as we talked about art: our common obsession. We had meaningful discussions about the painters' artistic goals, strengths, weaknesses, and concrete ways to address them.

It's a wonderful thing to be able to talk with thoughtful artists, no matter where they live, and I give thanks for the Internet.  It connects us with our tribe.

If you're interested in learning more about my critiques, have a look at my website, and get in touch.

Happy painting!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Fall can be a time for growth!

I thought I'd do a round up of news and events for readers who don't yet subscribe to my email news.
So here's what's going on in my autumn:

I'm taking some time off of teaching weekly classes this year to focus on my studio and to do some travelling.   The latter includes 2 weeks in London and Paris during which I intend to see as much art as humanly possible!  If the Eiffel Tower happens to be in my line of sight as I walk to a museum or gallery, that's a bonus.

In the meantime, I'm offering private in-person and online instructional critiques: 

I've found that there's an uncomfortable, often discouraging time in artists' lives between learning how to paint, and finding their personal style and genre - their artistic path. Artists can stall on this plateau for a long time, feeling that they're not progressing, but knowing that the answer is not a long-term class. I can help you out of this stalled state.

I'm now offering private critiquing online or in my Calgary studio for painters who want an honest eye, and concrete illustrations and suggestions for how to move forward in their artistic practises.  For information on process and pricing, please see my website.

New Gallery Representation!  

I've added a new gallery to the list of those that show my work, and I'm thrilled!
LePrince Fine Art now represents me in beautiful Charleston, SC.  Hurricane Florence had me worried when she blasted into the coast a few days after my work went up on the walls, but Charleston was lucky, and so was I.  Check it out if you're in the area.

Super good article!

Painters' health and safety has always been a priority for me, and I was given an opportunity to reach a very broad audience in August.  Artsy magazine commissioned me to write an article outlining both the hazards, and the easy safety measures that artists can take to keep themselves healthy in their studios.  I'm biased, but I still think that every painter should read this, and send it to their painting buddies!

Subscribing to receive my blog in your inbox:

If you'd like to have my rather sporadic blog appear in your inbox, don't forget to enter your email in the little "Follow by Email" box on the left.  I promise to write more!

Happy painting!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Using technology to solve a painting - and a blog glitch

Peonies Full Blown
30 x 30
**Yes: a Blogger blog again.  My explanation is at the end.

Paint on, paint off is often how my work proceeds. I make a choice, smack on the paint with great conviction, and then doubt or loathe the result.  Then I scrape it off, think for a long time, and try it again.
"Peonies Full Blown" involved a lot less manual labour than usual because I tried out my changes on my Ipad in Procreate.  Like an intuitive Photoshop, Procreate allows all sorts of manipulations: drawing, painting, moving elements around... it might make dinner but I'm still learning it.

A couple of weeks ago, I impulsively cut a bunch of peonies at the height of perfection, stapled some linen to a board, and dashed to get the image painted before the flowers lost their charms.  It was speed painting, and I blame that for my lack of forethought about what would surround the blooms.  

I ended up with this, and then I got stuck:

But this time, instead of trying out ideas on the painting, I took a picture of it, and popped it into Procreate. Then I tried out some ideas:

This harmonized with the ground shadows, and worked nicely to create recession behind the flowers. Lacked oomph.

Added line and a movement of pink within the middle section took the focus off the main event: my peonies. This felt like a decor piece.

Getting closer, but the blue felt too overt and chromatic. I liked the spotlighting of the flowers, though.

And one step back. This was just wrong.

Back to dark, but the black was too warm.
Just right!

With this one, I felt I'd found the solution. It has lots of drama, and respects the fact that it's about a very specific bunch of peonies. The background enhances the flowers, but doesn't compete with them.

With the decision made, I went into the studio, loaded a house painting-sized brush with ivory black mixed with a touch of ultramarine blue, and slapped it on. It was finished in 5 minutes and harmonized with the freshness of the rest of the piece.

I was pleased and a bit surprised by how well this process worked, and I'll definitely do it again with the next problematic piece.

So why am I back to Blogger after a mere 1 post away, on my new FASO blog?  It's because the FASO blog only allows people to subscribe to my blog via RSS feed, whereas this blog allows email subscribing.  Many of you have already added yourself to my blog list but putting your email address into the box on the right side of this page, and I'd hoped it would be that simple on the new site.  It's not.  So, I'll keep this going until some wonderful programmer puts an email widget on the FASO blog.  Thanks for reading here, there, or anywhere! 

Happy painting!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New website and moving the blog!

Building the new site, one image at a time.  Ugh!

I prefer my laptop to my phone, and never look at art on the tiny screen, which turns out to have been a mistake - one that I've been making for years. 

Last week I looked at my website on a phone and gagged.  It looked awful: creaky, manual scroll, cropped titles, absent information: all stuff that didn't show on the laptop screen for which it was clearly optimized.  So the past few days have seen me stuck at the kitchen table, populating a new FASO website.  Painstaking, boring work, but worth it.   I logged 11 live chats with the online help person over the course of 1 day and am sure they groaned aloud in the office when they saw my name pop up AGAIN.  But they were unfailingly helpful, which certainly made my day easier.

I'm taking advantage of the fact that they have an integrated blog page to move from Blogger, as well.  Isn't it a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket?  Actually, I think my blog will have a much greater reach on FASO and that's a nice thought.  I'll leave the blog archive here on Blogger, but all new posts will be on my FASO site.

Marketing is the last thing that any painter wants to be doing, and so I haven't really been doing it - at least not with any regularity.  Most of my days are spent happily applying paint, exploring new techniques, and turning a blind eye to business stuff.  I yearn for an agent. 

Anyway, I'm taking myself in hand and spending some much-needed time at the computer.  Wish me patience.

In the meantime, have a look at my lovely new site that works as it should, and please subscribe to my blog at the same time.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Explorations using still life

Bread and Bowl
16 x 20
oil on linen

It ain't over till it's over. 

This still life captured my interest: the lighting, the composition, and the objects.  Every day when I walked into the studio and saw it, I had the urge to paint it again.  So I did - 4 times. I figure it's not excessive if I'm still having fun.  When the thought another painting of bread makes me want to lie down with a cool cloth on my face, then it's excessive.

The first one was painted on fairly smooth linen which, in my experience, doesn't take a lot of paint before feeling and looking a bit heavy and tired.  So I minimized the number of layers, working on colour and composition more than on building the texture of the paint. 

Bread and Bowl 2
14 x 18
Oil on Baltic birch
The next 3 were painted on birch panels which can take as much paint as I want to add.  Each painting explored a different aspect of the subject and the medium.  I also changed out the bowl for something with some chroma.

#2 was started on a wet wash of ivory black mixed with 50/50 linseed and mineral spirits.  I've been using black a lot lately, finding that I enjoy the resulting coolness of the work, and the complex, rich greens that I can make with it and my cadmium yellows. 

By working into the wash while it was wet, I neutralized and contaminated all of the other colours and layers with black.  This allowed me to work with high chroma colours while knocking them all down a bit.  It also harmonized the whole piece since the black acted like a mother colour, appearing in every other mixture on the panel. 

Bread and Bowl 3
16 x 20
Oil and cold wax on Baltic birch
#3 took a different turn as I emphasized texture, building thick, broken layers with the addition of cold wax medium into the paint.  I continued to use a bit of the 50/50 mixture, but each brush or knife load of paint also had a small amount of wax in it.  A little bit goes a very long way, making the paint more matte and translucent.  It also resists a flowing approach to the painting, making crisp edges, and interesting broken marks.  What I enjoy about wax is its natural ability to create complex, visible layers.  In fact, it makes a smooth, flat application of paint almost impossible to achieve. 
Bread and Bowl 4
Oil on Baltic birch
With number 4 I felt I knew the subject inside out, and was verging on tired of it.  Still, I thought I'd do a last, quick one with different lighting and a different medium.  I also compressed the value range to lighten the shadows overall, and work colour and temperature rather than tone as I had with the previous 3.

I backlit the subject and focused on seeing all of the elements in shadow as a single, simple mass.  Within that mass, I found colour changes but minimal value changes - that kept the eye focused on the bowl with its glowing piece of light-struck green. 

My medium was 50/50 stand oil and mineral spirits, generously added to the paint to create a juicy mixture.  It flowed off the brush, but, because stand oil is so thick, it naturally encourages me to pick up larger volumes of paint when working wet-in-wet than I would if using a thinner oil. 

This has minimal layering though I did mingle warm and cool layers of colour in the shadows to achieve a glowing, airy look. 

It was cool cloth time after this last one, but I felt I had thoroughly explored the subject and, to some extent, my medium.  It was time well spent.

If you're interested in studying with me, there are still some spots available in my Umbria workshop in September.  We'll have many and varied subjects, from still life to figure, and will bring both a rigorous, and thoughtful approach to bear on them.  And we'll enjoy being in Umbria!

For more information, please see the Winslow Art Center Travel Workshops.

Happy painting!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

No such thing as overworking

Summer Walk
14 x 18"
Rose Frantzen once said in an interview that a painting is like the alphabet, from A to Z.  But if you always stop at D, out of the fear of overworking it, you'll miss out on the potentially great things that might happen at L.  This resonated.

"Summer Walk" started as a fresh, rough statement with a nice mood and, thanks to a lot of preliminary Photoshop and watercolour studies, good colour.  It could have been left largely as it was, and it had just enough nice moments for me to have reached the tweaking stage - I was using smaller brushes, and not making big changes to shapes - but it felt unsatisfying.  There's a richness and depth that comes from working a surface several times that was absent in this alla prima piece.  

version 1
So I scraped it down, and let it dry.  Scraping ensured that I blurred the surface, and destroyed those nice moments that were holding the piece back.  

When it was dry, I went back with big brushes, restating the thing that was important to me about this piece: the colour scheme.  The reference for this was a b&w family photo, and I'd envisioned the scene as a candy box array of pastel colour notes.  That concept had gotten lost in the task of rendering the figures.  This step brought me back to my concept and added a welcome layer of complexity to the surface.
version 2
By restating all of my shapes larger, I regained the potential for negative shaping, and also moved the colours around the composition, creating a greater sense of unity.  Suddenly, the painting had new avenues for me to explore, and the initial version had become just an underpainting.  I couldn't have arrived at the finished statement without it, and I got some of those "L" revelations that are so satisfying.

Happy painting!

Friday, June 8, 2018

1-Day Composition Workshop, Calgary

Dynamic Compositions
a 1-Day Workshop
Sept. 8, 2018
Leighton Art Centre
Calgary, AB

No amount of fancy brushwork can save a weak composition, but what exactly is a strong composition?  We've all read about the rule of thirds, the Golden Ratio, focal points and leading the eye. Yet, many of us struggle to put it all together, and make a compelling series of shapes and angles that lead the viewer happily through the painting, from one discovery to the next, with total control.  Many artists don't even know that's possible.

I'll be teaching a 1-day composition workshop on September 8 which will show you just how much control you have over the whole picture plane, and your viewer's experience of your work.

This workshop will put you firmly in charge of your painting from the very first mark; helping you to organize complex scenes into clear, coherent, and powerful paintings.

Working from your own photos, you'll learn how to develop a concept and then simplify, organize, and manipulate your images to achieve that concept.

You'll learn the tricks to creating dynamic shapes, and how to avoid excessive detail, and you'll discover the abstract heart that lies within every successful image.

For 2-D artists working in any medium and genre. 

To register, please contact the Leighton Art Centre

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Sanding a painting

Offering revisited
20 x16
This painting sat on the shelf for quite a while.  I knew it wasn't right, but it wasn't totally wrong either - something that would allow the easy choice of a scrape off or a frisbee toss into the trash.  So I sanded and scraped it down to a thinner paint film and worked it again.  

Those of you who have taken workshops with me know my thoughts on sanding pigments: not a smart idea.  Stupid, actually. And I still think that.  Airborne pigments are terribly toxic (especially cadmiums - but no pigments should be inhaled), so let me just tell you that I did take precautions.  First, I wet the whole painting with odourless mineral spirits, and then, wearing nitrile gloves, I sanded the surface with wet-dry sandpaper.  I didn't go for fine grit paper - which would give fine particles - allowing the scratches of a coarse paper to become part of the work's surface interest.  
Wet sanding created a dark, messy sludge on the painting's surface which had to be wiped off often with paper towels and more solvent, but none of it floated poisonously around or hit the studio floor.  I couldn't have done it on a soft surface, but the birch panel took a beating.   I did have to be very careful to avoid scratching through the layers of acrylic gesso priming.  

Below is the painting in its original state.  It had some good points, but was too specific and individual a portrait for my liking.  What I really enjoy about all of the "person holding fish" pictures that I see is the universality of the gesture.  If they intend to release the fish, all anglers adopt a reverent, gentle, cradling posture - offering the fish to the camera with pride and care.  In the repaint, that was what I aimed to capture.  

Happy painting!