Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday Tip #21: Unriddle Me This

After reading a fair amount of books about art, written by artists I've come to the conclusion that some artists are better at painting than they are at writing and vice versa. There are a few who are very good at both. Some artists write whole chapters on what makes a good artist and what makes an amateur, and you better believe the answers to these problems are written in their book. For the low low price of $19.99 plus shipping and handling, but wait, there's more! The problem with the written word is that the tone/attitude of the writer can be mistaken at times. Maybe Harold Speed didn't intend to come off sounding like a complete a-hole when he wrote, "It is surprising how few art students have any idea of what it is that constitutes art".Hey, Dingus, that's probably why they're students.
Anywho, if you're looking for a good book that won't make you feel like the bottom of a shoe, check out "Alla Prima II" by Richard Schmid. When I first read this book it was loaned to me by a fellow artist. Someone who had gone through and underlined the parts he found most interesting. THAT was cool. Then I had to get my own copy because it's such a large book full of information that can be referenced again and again. One of the things that popped out at me was this, "Focus on the fascination of problem solving".  More and more I'm beginning to believe that problem solving is what sets artists apart. We should all come to a point in our lives, not just our lives as painters, when we begin to at least attempt to solve our own problems. With painting it's nice to have some guidance and it's great to have someone around that you can ask questions to. However, at some point you need to try to figure things out on your own. Modern medicine wouldn't be where it is now without trial and error. We wouldn't be able to fly around the world without the many failed attempts at building aircrafts. Almost every item in an art supply store was born from problem solving.
It's funny for me to think about this.  Having the fascination to solve problems is kind of a more eloquent way of saying don't be lazy. When in school I had a professor for Design 1 and he constantly tried to get us to improve a box. Yes, a box. I'll admit I was lazy and rather than doing the assignment I would write arguments as to why it didn't need improving. I got an A and a recommendation to go to law school so I could argue all day. A few years later I worked in a music store and would always complain about the boxes the guitars came in. I would go on and on about why didn't they make the box open up this way, or shorten the flaps here and staple it shut on that side instead. There I was, years later, doing the assignment, but not for a grade that time.
To summarize the point; try to work out as many problems on your own.  Imagine every instructor as Rembrandt or Michelangelo and you could only ask them one question per class. Would you waste that one question asking them how to draw a straight line? Besides problem solving is almost more rewarding than a good painting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Tip #20: Break the Rules

One of the most frustrating things to a new artist are the rules. Most people pick up a paintbrush thinking that it's got freedom harnessed in the handle. You picked up that brush, you can do whatever you want now. Then someone comes along and tells you about these rules.  Mostly the rule of thirds. Don't put anything in the center of your composition. Don't put that there or the viewer's eye will just run away off to the next painting. You can't put that there because it will create a tangent. It's incredibly frustrating! Worst of all most new artists tend to get extremely defensive when it comes to these fresh new rules. These rules that aren't supposed to apply to them because people just don't understand their "vision". The first rule any artist should be taught is, don't be defensive. If I were the teacher I'd say, shut your cake-hole, buckle up and keep your mind open.
Back to that rule about not putting anything in the center rule. This is usually a good one to follow, especially for beginners. Composition/design is one of those things that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Crawl before you can walk.
In "the Artist's magazine" that I mentioned last week there's a tip from artist Jane Jones, "The rules of composition warn against placing something directly in the middle of a painting. And it's true that placing an object off-center makes the composition less formal and adds an immediate feeling of movement. But I've found that the center is a very powerful area that can be used for emphasis and formality. Centering an object makes an immediate statement about its importance".
If you check out her work here you can see how she makes that statement with her still life paintings.
I think this is the hang up with this particular rule about putting things in the center. We associate the center with importance. I usually try to follow the rule of not putting something in the center but with the sketch above I put the woman with the sour face right in the cross-hair. On purpose. I did it because I wanted to put so much more emphasis on her than anyone else. There are three other people in the sketch but I designed them to emphasize the crab apple in the bunch. That's not fair for me to say, she's probably a really nice lady, I just happened to catch her with that expression on her face. Point is, if I had never learned why I shouldn't put something in the center I'd never be able to pull off actually putting something in the center. It goes back to how I designed the people and things around her. If I didn't know the rules I wouldn't have set up everything else to work around her and the center of interest would've been lost, even with her smack in the middle.It's funny how learning the rules first is what's going to give you the freedom to work the way you want.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday Tip #19: Spring Cleaning

Looking West on J-Street 7x5" watercolour on Kraft paper. 
It may not feel like Spring yet but it's definitely that time of year. Yesterday I went looking for something and found ten gillion other things instead. That lead me to begin my Spring cleaning without even planning to do so. While emptying out  a desk drawer that hadn't been opened since 2007 I found an old issue of "the Artist's magazine".  It's from January 2004 and for whatever reason I kept it. A friend had gifted me a subscription, which can be considered a second tip for this week, gift your artist friends with useful tools like this. After cleaning out the drawer I sat down to look at the magazine to see what was so special about this issue that it was the only one I kept. I'm still looking for that answer but it is chock full of tips from great artists.  Tips that I will gladly share here with you because surely you don't have the January 2004 issue memorized by heart.
This tip comes from John Cogan from September 1993. (I was a freshman in high school that year). "Before you ever begin painting you must choose your light source, consider its effects on everything in the painting, and then apply those effects consistently through the scene.  If you're not certain what the effects of certain lighting will be, then you need to make direct observations outdoors.  Every landscape painter needs to spend time painting, sketching and observing on location".
This is something I struggled with when I first started plein air painting. The one thing people told me was I had to paint fast because the light would change so that's all I focused on, speed. Now when I go out I find something I want to paint and try to first observe how the light is and then figure out which direction the light is going. In the sketch I posted above I'm facing west so I knew that the light was going to go down the street. It's also coming from behind me so that gave me extra time to work.
It may seem complicated but once you get out and do it a few times it just becomes second nature.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tuesday Tip #18: Don't Mistreat the Trees

Freshly Mowed Path, 4 1/2x6 1/2" watercolour sketch on Stonehenge Kraft paper.
For those who have been reading this blog for a while now, I thank you for that, you probably know my frustration with painting trees. It turns out I'm not alone and should no longer feel that way.  In Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, John F. Carlson has a whole chapter on understanding trees. Seems there could be an entire book but in the long run it's not necessary to sit and read about how to render a tree but to actually go out and study trees. Look at how they grow, what distinguishes one from another, it's just a matter of putting in the effort.  One thing Carlson writes in his book put the struggle of painting trees, and pretty much everything else, into perspective for me. "We must not imitate the externals of nature with so much fidelity that the picture fails to evoke that wonderful teasing recurrence of emotion that marks the contemplation of a work of art".   How I translated that was that we need not worry about exactness.  "Nature is a moving, changing, living thing, possessing a soul".  What's the point of trying to paint in every branch and leaf if the wind is just going to come by and blow the leaves off the tree and the branches break off? Get the shapes, get the colours and most importantly get the mood.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tuesday Tip #17: Mix it Up

Andrew Loomis said, "To learn to draw is to draw and draw and draw".  Draw everything, but mix it up. For almost a whole year I did nothing but draw landscapes, then I had a project that required me to draw people. I felt like I had forgotten how to do it. I was rusty to say the least and was frustrated with my attempts. Some people use the phrase, like riding a bicycle. Well, yes drawing can be much like riding a bicycle but at its basic. If you haven't ridden in a bike in a few years you can probably still get on one and pedal down the street but you're no longer very sure of yourself. It takes consistency. One easy thing to do is to mix it up. If you're out painting landscapes every day maybe take a half hour every day to sketch people or animals. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday Tip #16: Don't Eat the Desiccators

We all know those "do not eat" packets that come in stuff like shoes, vitamins, pills, etc.  The silica gel desiccant packages are used for preserving materials that are moisture-sensitive. More commonly used when humidity is the cause for moisture.  In this case you can use the desiccant packets to help keep moisture from ruining your paper.
This picture is of two flat file drawers, the top one holds my watercolour paper and the one below has my pastel paper.  Since we're getting into the more humid months of the year it's important to make sure my paper doesn't get destroyed by the humidity. I'm not fond of the air conditioner so the house tends to be overly humid, which isn't good for the paper.  We've found that the sizing in most brands of watercolour paper is very sensitive to humidity, which makes sense. What we've noticed is that when a sheet of paper gets damp the sizing disperses then it dries funny.  The paper is flat and appears to have no flaws but the sizing is no longer uniform and creates problems when you apply paint to the paper. Whenever you get one of these little packets throw it in the drawer or wherever you keep your paper.  Even if you just store it in a plastic bag on a shelf, throw one in the bag.  This tip originally came from John Preston so thanks, John.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday Tip #15: Soft as a Rabbit in a Hat

In your quest to become the best artist that you can be you may have come across other artists talking about "edges".  Edges can be tricky. Lost and found edges, soft and hard edges. When and where do you use them?  As with everything in art there are no definite rules but in this instance you can almost always use this tip to help you in a landscape painting. If you ever feel like your landscape paintings aren't conveying distance/depth, try softening the edges you want to appear in the distance. In this quick sketch of the blusiest street in Chicago you can see the harder edges of the signs and awnings appear close and the softened edges of the buildings make them appear to be further away.  In reality our eyes would focus and see all of the buildings as hard edges, but in the reality of the painter we have to convey a three dimensional world on a two dimensional substrate, in order to do that we have to use a few magic tricks here and there. This one is as reliable as a rabbit in a hat.