Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Art Shack

I guess every artist needs a place to retreat to work in. I am amazed by some artist's jaw dropping studios.

I have been recently hospitalized for post cancer reconstructive surgery. No big deal. It was a good time to hang out with other sick people and to exchange funny life stories. Little did I anticipate what was happening behind the scenes.

L. (otherwise known as Mamma Bear), cleaned out our garden shed and had a friend lay down a nice laminate floor. He installed a 3rd window and put in pot lights and turned it into a little personal 'gallery-workshop' on the lake.

When I got home, Mamma Bear, completed the transition by helping me move my art gear out into my own private workshop.

Now. How lucky can a man be?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Revellation - painting loose

When I began watercolour painting a few years ago, I was tortured by the process.
I was haunted by fear of failure. I was anxiety ridden for fear I would unintentionally ruin my work. And the more obcessed I was with failure, the slower and more deliberately I painted.

One of my instructors, plucked a small brush from my hand and told me: "get rid of that damned thing." "Paint with a bigger brush."

Its easier to tell a new painter to paint loose then for the newcomer to do so. And why?

Its a matter of confidence. Beginning painters who are outcomes obcessed - paint with a controlling hand.

I was surprised when I began to hear people tell me, "I love your loose."
I cannot remember a single day, in which I turned a switch and made the decision to paint loosely.

As I became increasingly confident, my interest was less fixated upon the results and more upon the process of art. The journey became more exciting then arriving at the station.

I use a lot of water when I paint. And, the more water I use, the less control I have.
I see myself as a tour guide, managing the flow. (as if that's entirely possible). The more the water does its own thing, the looser my works become.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Watercolour Landscape Painting...So Much to Learn.

I found myself looking online, at the paintings of another artist the other day. And, once again I wrapped my head around an old often thought idea. "This person has 'fast tracked' their way into art by painting single subject works, reinforced by a good background wash."

It happens a lot it seems.

An artist paints a spray of flowers in a vase, or a couple of apples on a table, or a bird sitting on a branch and gives it a background wash and signs it off with the sweep of his/her name.

This observation was reinforced by an artist, of many years, whom I know, who stepped out on the limb and painted a few landscape scenes. It was evident from the get go, that he was swimming over his head in pretty deep water.

But, I have no cause for patting my own back. Nobody asked me to paint landscapes - in watercolour. That was my choice alone. I made my own bed to lie in.

The learning curve is mighty, for the landscape watercolourist. Its not like painting a peach on a windowsill.

You have to learn the art of composition, and how to identify the potential within a picture. You have to learn to develop visual pathways into your work - roads, rivers, birds in the sky, terrain shapes, and fences.

Then there is the matter of values - learning how to appropriate suitable values and how to play these light/dark values back and forth against each other. As if that isn't enough there is the routine stuff such as painting water, trees, fields of waving grass, rocks, clouds and the list goes on.

Then there is the challenge of selecting a suitable pallet and interpreting values to create atmosphere or mood.

See what I mean? Its no easy task.

I once took a one week course on painting skies - and by week's end I had hardly opened the door on the subject.

The downside of being a landscape artist, is that 'you have to know your stuff, and do it well.' Everyone sees trees and rocks and skies around them, and if they aren't painted well - clumsy fisted techniques can bring rapid criticism.

The chance of making a mistake in painting a pear on a table cloth, is minimal. But the chance of screwing up the painting a tree with a reflection on water is immense.

Since landscape watercolouring is a hard venue to learn - it takes a long time, perseverence, and hard work to reach your goal.

I stopped at an art display one day and looked at the works of a respected local artist. She was an abstractionist. I asked her how long she had painted.

She said...."one year."


I followed it up to ask her if she had taken classes....."no".


She responded by saying, that she didn't wish to be influenced by someone else's style.

Well, from what I could see there was no problem there to worry about.

I nodded and made a few positive comments and walked away year from picking up your first brush to publicly showing and selling your works and handing out business cards and wearing the title of being an 'artist'. Not bad. Not bad.

On the other hand, a landscape watercolourist I know publicly said that she didn't consider that she had arrived at a level of skill where she could comfortably call herself a real artist, until after 5 years of committed work.

As I walked away, I reflected back to my own development at the end of my first year of painting in waters. Let's just say that if I attended art school for children, I would have been known as the big kid at the back of the 2nd grade class who was given a big chair and desk.

From my persepctive.....landscape watercolouring, is the toughest of all media to make it in.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

By Comparison

I was having fun at a pity party the other day. The problem was, there was nobody else there. So, I made the best out of my celebration of misery.

One of the things that seems to happen with development of skill is the consciousness of where you stack up in relation to others. Sad to think of it, that acceptance of my own skills often comes on the back of rejection of perceived flaws in others.

I hope that this rigorous self analysis leads me to humility and patience with others and in particular - with beginners.

It occurred to me some time ago, that I have entered into what is likely the hardest of all painting art forms. I think it safe to say, that watercolour painting is harder to master then painting in oils or acrylics.

I have seen some pretty skilled painters catch onto the techniques of these media, pretty quickly. (a lot faster then I have in waters). And, hard observation has led me to the conclusion that many watercolourists cross media and become successful oil and acrylic painters. But, few O & A painters make the journey in the reverse direction.

I have heard an uncountable number of O&A painters tell me that they "Gave waters a try but found that it wasn't for them." There are many reasons for that. O&A, are stroke by stroke media. When an oil painter is proud of painting loose, it seems to me that that means he/she paints with big, long, strokes. But call it what you may...every single gob of paint which goes into a painting is the result of a single motion.

Waters...well thats another story. I call myself a tour guide with colour. Pre planning and advanced thought is essential for me. I try to determine in advance my pallet, and I do a values sketch of my work, and I try to create some sort of finished image in my mind of my picture. This is the road map I take for my journey.

All of this is essential, for it liberates me from having to make decisions
'on the wing'.

Freedom is important in watercolour painting. Advance preparation gives me the only freedom I understand. But it allows me some flexibility. If the waters aren't taking on the direction I wish, I can 'go with the flow' to a degree and see where they are leading me.

I have rather limited experience in oils. I call my works, turps and a rag, jobs. And, they have given me credible first time paintings...I guess.

When I compare them to my first watercolour paintings.......they are really good. (this comparison doesn't hold up by comparison with the works of other artists).

This gratification of instant success is intensely motivating. And, I suspect that helps explain why few O&A painters make that transition to waters. I think its nigh on impossible to achieve good results from the start in waters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Telling The Story - Communicating the Joy of Creativity

Here I am at the Marmora village Art Show. It might have been the first in the history of the little village. I don't know.

But, here I stand, (wearing my black and white sweater) doing something I like so much: telling the story behind my paintings.

Art is a sublime form of communiction. Do you like that line. Its yours. I am likely not being very creative in making it up.

But, when we paint we draw from within ourselves. I enjoy telling people about that process.
Explaining nuances within pictures, answering questions, and sharing with them what turns me on as a painter.

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Camp on the Bend of the River

I have long had a fascination for native North American culture. This picture evolved from my many forest waterfalls scenes. One day, I sat looking at an earlier work and took a paper and looked at the picture with the waterfalls removed and I imagined - what would this scene have looked like several hundred years ago, with a camp of natives alongside the river. And while lost in a sort of meditative dream-imaging state, I came up with this work. It is my second painting on Arches Rough, and I was delighted with its slower drying time. This gave me a chance to work within the wet before the colours set.
But, what was most interesting for me, I posted this on an art website and it had about 50 viewers and 3 comments. Two of which came from friends in art. (they had the most analytical comments of those posted) But here is the interesting part. For the most part, the work failed to draw any response.
There are heights in this picture I have never been able to reach before. Simplicity and effective use of colour are two. I have laboured now for a long time to produce a work in which these two hand maidens have had greater control and voice.
I am not upset in the least, for I came to the conclusion that many painters don't necessarily have either strong analytical critiquing skills, or lack the ability to articulate these skills.
Want to hear something really odd. The prettier the picture I do. The more colourful the picture. The more comments the picture receives and the higher the rating of approval from fellow artists.
Where's the flower pot?Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours of Painting

Study: Author K. Anders Ericsson
Berlin, Germany.
Academy of Music

"The idea that excellence at performing a compex task requires a critical, minimal, level of practice, surfaces again and again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they beleive is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

"The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert in anything", writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. "In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case, in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long that to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

from: Outliers
author: Malcolm Gladwell

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Return to The Gut
Apsley, Ontario.
My thanks go out to Ron Morrisson of Courtney BC, who gave me a boost so I could see over the heads of those in front of me to watch the parade go by. Ron advised me to work on developing a personal pallet and to avoid using manufactured greens, to enhance my pictures with greater warmth. Wise words from a great painter!
This painting was done in May of 2008, after a hard winter. I had the pleasure of going to The Gut, with my daughter Karina, when the water was surging through in the spring run off. This picture is a much tamed version of what we saw. I have repainted versions of this scene a half dozen times to improve my techniques. Although I am partial to the results, I have long since learned that there can be a big gap between what I value in my works and what others like.
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lost Edges

This is a cut from a 9x12 watercolour I did, from a waterfalls along a river near our home. It wasn't until after I painted it and hung it in a local gallery that I became aware of how it fitted into my quest for spirituality in art.

There is something about Lost Edges that give us a glimpse of what I mean. You will see what I mean in the cut above. Here we find, the solidness of the tree not just fading into mist and water and air but metamorphosizing.

I am reminded of that great poem by William Wordsworth, 'View from Westminster Bridge, written in 1802.'

"Ships, towers, theatres and temples lie,

Open onto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did the sun more beautifully steep

In his first spleandour, valley, rock or hill;

Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will;"

Dear God, the very houses seem asleep,

And all that mighty heart is lying still."

This is a profoundly pantheistic image - where all of nature and life is infused with the living presence of God.

Here is where the solidness of stone and man made building change into objects which are bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Wordsworth begins his list of human objects from ships (objects of commerce) to simple towers, and then from there to domes then theatres (art) and from ever inward and upward to buildings of spiritual worship (temples). Its a journey from the material to the spiritual with art on the upper end of the scheme.

But there is also a change in physical substance taking place where solid buildings become objects of reflective light. It also becomes vaporous or part of the scenic atmosphere of the poem.

Note that while the image is suspended in this state Wordsworth migrates from the external image into the mystical, meditative, inner world - a sort of spiritual domain where all is silent and unknoweable and where the great heart of God beats and all of life becomes one.

Notice too how Wordsworth melds sleeping people with that nature takes on a human quality. "Dear God, even the very houses seem asleep."

After touching the divine heart Wordsworth steps back to the ancient metaphor of the river as the journey of life. The ebb and flow of life continues through it all, past the ships of trade and the impermanant stones and sticks that men hammer into the earth.

Lost edges provide watercolour artists with the same opportunity to work from the physical into the interior domain. In the picture above the colour flows without bounds into morning atmosphere. This creates a sense of mysticism, intransience and spiriuality.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Puzzling Story

I bought the painting of the sleeping monk (wearing the blue apron) from a gallery in Germany some 30 years ago. It was painted by an artist named Schada.

To my surprise, a few years later I discovered a similar picture on the cover of the book, A Dictionary of Drink. The artist who painted this work is E. Greutsner 1846-1925.

I sent the gallery an email and told them that the picture I bought looked uncomfortably like a knock off copy of Guenstner's original work.

When you click on each picture, and expand it in size, and look carefully at both works, you will see what I mean. The facial features of the monks is similar. The shapes around the barrels are the same. They both hold a glass of wine and they both have a wine basket by their side.

I suspect that if you took Guenstners oriiginal work that the picture on the cover is an edited, work.

When I bought the painting, there was no indictor of it being "After the work of E. Guenstner". I was led to beleive that it was an intellectual and artistic original.

I will look up the price and post it later. I feel somewhat cheated because the work I paid a lot of money for, has lost its artistic virginity.

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