Monday, November 28, 2016

British Masters - We Are Making a New World (Episode One)

As I began to watch this one I thought, this is awfully depressing to be watching on such a gloomy day but I ended up getting a lot out of it. This deals mostly with how war affected the British artists and how it shaped their views and their work and how it in turn helped shape the world around them.
The first thing I thought was, this really makes me feel like I'm not doing enough with my own work. My paintings don't really depict any of the hardships that people are going through today. Should artists be more mindful to include current social situations into their work? Personally I think some artists just have a better voice for those sorts of things. Photographers and videographers definitely have an upper hand on this topic these days.
Second thing that struck me was the artist Nevinson. I actually liked his work that they showed but his story was funny, it reminded me of some people I know, lying about their reality in order to get a wee bit of attention. For Nevinson it worked, but man, doesn't it get to be tiresome to lie all of the time?
Last thing I thought was interesting about the work they showed, it wasn't realistic. It was mostly work about the war, depicted in a way to evoke emotion, not something that was meant to be historically accurate. I think it's impossible to be historically accurate about war. Each side has their version of the story and then the people who witness it and aren't involved, they all have their own way of looking at it.
The title of the show, We Are Making a New World, is true in so many ways. The war created a new world and the artists were also creating a new world of their own.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Manymini Show

If you're in the St. Louis area, or need an excuse to be in the area, the Manymini show continues and this Friday they will have an opportunity to view the show, buy some work, drink champagne and enter to win some amazing work. Unfortunately I won't be there as I'll be freezing my toes off at the last plein air competition for 2016 (last for me anyway).

Friday, November 25, 2016

Plein, Plain or Plane

Toy Plane 3"x 5" watercolour on paper
If you grew up learning the English language consider yourself lucky because it's a hard language to learn. For example, this plain little plane was on a plane en plein air. That last part was French but you get it.
The last two weeks I haven't had much time to travel for plein air painting. I've been sticking around my neck of the woods for one reason or another. And with the weather turning colder and the daylight hours getting shorter it means I only get a good couple of hours outdoors. This also means I'm spending more time indoors in the studio.(I really hope this isn't a long winter).
Here are some things I've noticed about painting outdoors vs. indoors.  Outdoors is much more fun. The phone doesn't ring, the doorbell doesn't ring. Nothing rings! The possibilities of subject matter are nearly infinite while outdoors and I probably can't say enough good things about painting outside on location so I'll skip to the indoor observations. Yea, it's warmer inside and I never have to worry about when I'll get my next cup of hot coffee but inside has a huge drawback. I have too much time to think. When you're outside painting you have to scan your surroundings and commit to a location and get to work before the light changes or it starts raining, etc. When you're inside you can pick a subject matter whether it's a photo reference or a still life and then change your mind just like that. It's too easy to choose something to paint and then say, hmmm....I'd rather paint this other thing instead. It takes much more self-discipline to get work done indoors. For me anyways. I'm sure some people think going out to paint takes much more discipline but for me it's the opposite.  I've also noticed that I'm much more methodical while I paint indoors. I measure stuff, and check for more accuracy way more than necessary. I'm starting to wonder if it's my subconscious finding ways for me to procrastinate.  Painting outdoors feels like a much more free-spirited experience or maybe the word organic better describes it. You're there for the moment and you're trying to capture the light and the feeling of that moment of that particular day. While painting indoors you have all day, weeks, or months to fuss over minute details that don't make a difference in the grand scheme of things. One huge plus to working indoors, for me, is that all this fussing and measuring has really got my mind more focused on constructing good compositions which can only benefit me while I'm outdoors painting.
If anyone has some good pointers on how to transition from painting outside to inside I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Monday, November 21, 2016

M.C. Escher Documentary (by CINEMEDIA-NPS-RNTV) [1999]

As far as documentaries go, I think this one was very well done. With a clear synopsis of Escher's life and interviews with him, it really gives a great insight on Escher's life as an artist. What stood out the most to me was the interview towards the beginning. He explained that one of his teachers had asked him if he wouldn't rather be a graphic artist instead of an architect. I've discussed this with friends before, how ill prepared kids are when they're sent off to college or into the working world.  There are so many possibilities out there that young people have no idea about. For example, I had no idea they paid people to taste test ice cream. HELLO! Sign me up! I would do that job for free. Back in the day I got a job watching movies. No lie, I got paid to either count the people that walked in the door and match it up with the box office sales and other times I checked the cleanliness of the theatre or I had to go in and watch the advertisements played before the film. I stumbled onto that job and if I hadn't I would have had no idea that people actually got paid to do that. Now people give out that information willingly, for free, on social media. The whole point is, it's important to know there are many avenues you can take with your education or life in general.  It's nice if you can have a teacher or mentor push you in the right direction. Look where it got Escher. He still seemed to be kind of what we refer to now as "emo" but he had some happiness with the choice he made with not becoming an architect. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sketchy Attitudes Towards Sketchbooks

Various pages from my sketchbooks over the last three years. 
A little while back a friend of mine had their sketchbook laying open and I asked them if I could look at it. They seemed a little apprehensive and I was instantly sorry I asked.  When I sensed their hesitation, a wave of emotions came over me brought on by my own memories of having someone look at my sketchbooks. Allowing someone to look at your sketchbook is, in a way, like baring your soul. A sketchbook is a funny thing.
Some people keep diaries and journals that contain their inner most thoughts.  Journals and sketchbooks can both be considered our "huckleberry friends".  Some people never get one of those special friends, the kind who would never judge or blab what you talk about in confidence, so thank goodness for the one place you can do whatever you want and say whatever you want, the blank pages of a notebook/sketchbook.
Unfortunately I remember a time when having a sketchbook was considered a very bad thing. There was an attitude towards them, they're only for amateurs. A real artist doesn't need a sketchbook to practice in... That's a load of bologna, and I know that now, but sort of bought into it at one point and quit working in them because I wanted to be taken seriously, damn it!  
Where did this convoluted attitude towards sketchbooks come from? Why do some people feel that sketchbooks are beneath them? It's mind boggling what some people will think makes you a professional vs an amateur. It'd be nice if those people would never remove their little black wool beret so we can easily pick them out of a crowd. A sketchbook is a very valuable tool. Wouldn't you want to use the best tools you have available to you?
Working in a sketchbook can probably be compared to being an athlete or a gourmet chef. A gourmet chef would never try out a brand new recipe on a restaurant full of people. They would first try it out on a small group and see how they respond to it. The professional athlete must practice and workout in order to make it to the big game. We don't see them practice but we see the results of their hard work on the field. During this practice they work out possible situations and how to handle them. They consider variables, like what the other players may or may not do.  The sketchbook can be handy for planning your game strategy or mapping out your battle plans.
There are far more people out there who appreciate what a sketchbook can do.  Here's a link to some photos of artists' sketchbooks. Inside the Sketchbooks of Famous Artists and here's a link to a site where you can download a PDF (I HATE PDF's, but you might find this helpful) that gives some inspiration about why you should start using a sketchbook.
Here's another from an artist, can't figure out their name but here's the link
I especially liked this, "A sketchbook is a discipline. Much like a writer keeps a diary or a notebook of ideas, the sketchbook is about keeping the flow of ideas consistent. Not restricting or constricting it with unnecessary organisation and order. The sketchbook in its full context should be a narrative not a novel; it should highlight the total freedom of thoughts rather than make an end claim. In fact part of the beauty of it is that it does not make claims to any final piece of work, it is rather always work in progress."
Here's another,five reasons why you should keep a sketchbook from the Urbansketchers blog.
There are a gillion other sites/blogs out there praising the sketchbook, but at some point you need to stop reading about them and just start sketching in them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Salvador's Savoir-faire

Window Shade 7x5 plein air oil study on canvas panel. 

Salvador Dalí said, "Have no fear of perfection-you'll never reach it".  
When you read it, or even say it out loud it's just so simple, there is nothing to fear. However, we've all been told to not be afraid of the boogeyman because he doesn't exist, yet we still hear those bumps in the night and the strange things that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. If that's not the boogeyman, what is it? 
Even though Dalí makes a very valid point I have to ask, if we're not trying to achieve perfection what is our goal? Perhaps it's the word perfection that we just need not be afraid of because it seems like everyone's definition of perfect is different. When I read Dalí's quote that's what I take from it. This "perfection" we seek may not be perfect for everyone so there is no way to reach it. 
Going back to the question, what is the goal? If we're not looking to paint something perfect what should we be aiming for? This one's on you. Me, I personally decided that my goal, what I'm aiming for when I begin a painting is to be happy with the end result. It may not be perfect, may not be what I had envisioned, but am I happy with the end result?  If I'm unhappy I must make sure I achieved my second goal, did I learn something from this venture? If I'm not happy and I learned nothing, then I failed. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Claude Monet - Filmed Painting Outdoors (1915)

Oscar-Claude Monet was born on this day in 1840.  It's said that he was the most consistent, of the Impressionists, to plein air paint. So for this Monday I chose this short film showing Monet painting in his garden.
This poses the question; if you could go back in time and ask Monet anything about plein air painting what would you ask? If you could take back one piece of equipment, paints, tools etc. to show him what you use to plein air paint what would you show him? For sure Monet would be impressed with all of the easels and portable equipment we have today, but it's nice to see a short video like this that demonstrates that we don't really need all of the fancy pochade boxes and stuff like that, you just need to want to get out and paint. Although I'll take every unnecessary pochade box out there because they sure make life so much easier. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Love Is the Devil Trailer

The movie for this Monday, Love is the Devil.  It's about the artist Francis Bacon. His work may not be everyone's cuppa tea but I rather like it. Yesterday John sent me a photo of Bacon's studio after I was complaining about how messy mine was. Seeing what Bacon's studio looked like made my skin crawl. There are other documentaries about Bacon that would better describe him but this movie has Daniel Craig in it. A little 007 can't be bad, right? 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wonderful World of Workshops

30 minute Charcoal sketch on Art Spectrum primed paper. 
This really bad sketch was done at a (sort of) workshop I participated in a couple of weeks ago. The very talented Cecile Houel (pronounced like the word Well) gave a demo at the Iowa Pastel Society meeting and those in attendance tried to follow her techniques. So I tossed out everything I usually do and tried my best to follow her instructions. Her way of approaching portraits is very different from the way I do it but one of the points of taking a workshop is to learn new things. DUH!  But unfortunately it's not such a duh moment for a lot of people.
Between college courses and workshops I think I've met every kind of student there could possibly be.  I've probably been a few of them too, but everyone's entitled to their young and stupid years, right? On a frequent basis we hear about how bad teachers are.  Those of us who went to an art school can usually commiserate as we reminisce about the lazy professors who "never really taught us anything." But what about the students? Are we really the best students we can be?
Recently I had a conversation with a woman who teaches Zentangle. She was telling me about a group of women who signed up for her class and how after only a half hour into it she just quit teaching them. She said they were argumentative with her, complained about it the whole time, and kept asking why they were even doing it. Well, hopefully the next workshop they signed up for was one on etiquette, but they brought up good points. Unfortunately they were all points they should have asked themselves before they signed up for the workshop.
Sometimes it is fun to try new things but do a little research before you just jump into it. There's an excellent article written by L. Diane Johnson in PleinAir, a supplement to PleinAir Magazine. Her website is being revamped and her articles will be available soon, but until then here's a summary of what she said.

  1. Evaluate your skill level.  "Be honest with yourself on this one."  She goes on to explain how to tell if you're a beginner student, intermediate or professional.  I'd like to add something to this. Evaluate your skill level not only in your artistic abilities but social skills. Ask yourself, am I physically capable of sitting and listening to someone for two hours then trying it myself? Can I sit still and be quiet? Can I ask meaningful questions? Can I take constructive criticism? Will I be OK with it if my finished piece isn't a "masterpiece" when the class is over? It's a sad day when sitting still and being a good listener can be listed as a skill, but, trust me, this is what it's come to. 
  2. Evaluate Your Goals. "What do I want to do? Why do I want to take an art class? Do I want to become a professional artist? Do I want to dabble in art as a hobby? Do I want to just make gifts for friends and family?"  I think this is something more people need to do. Signing up for a workshop you're spending your money and time to learn something, make sure it's the right something and for the right reasons. A couple of years ago I went to a fund raiser dinner and they served some of the most amazing bread I'd ever eaten. The woman who made it told me she holds workshops and teaches how to make it. I actually told her what my goal was, I wanted to learn how to make that specific bread. A couple weeks after that I was in her home learning how to make it and I still make it, there's some sitting on my counter as I type this. My goal was specific and therefore the workshop was successful and well worth my time and money.  
  3. What Kind of Art to Create. "Do you want to be a painter? If so, using which medium and in what style?"  THIS! This kills me. How many times have I gone to a pastel workshop and someone shows up with oil pastels? Or an oil painting workshop and someone shows up with acrylic. Don't sign up for a workshop and try to change the "rules" on the teacher. If the teacher is giving an oil painting workshop don't bring watercolour and expect them to bow to you. Also, if you want to paint realistic portraits don't sign up for a workshop with an abstract expressionist. Would you expect to learn how to ballroom dance from someone who square dances? 
  4. How to Begin. "Identify places offering classes and workshops:  Find out what resources you have in your immediate area. Are there colleges or universities where you could take classes? Read registration and art class descriptions carefully: Does it describe exactly what you want to learn? How much will you have to spend for the course and for materials? How large will the class be?"  One time I took a workshop where we had to pay a deposit to hold our spot in the class, which is perfectly fine most of the time. This particular time two of the students paid the deposit and only stayed for the demonstration. What's wrong with that? Well, for one it's incredibly rude and selfish. The class was limited to a certain number of students, there were probably two students who didn't get in the class who would have loved to participate. Then the teacher didn't get their full pay. If you only want to sit in on the demo contact the teacher and arrange something. Most teachers wouldn't find it a problem to have you pay a minimal fee to sit in on the demo to see if it's something you might like to do, similar to auditing a college course. "Talk to the instructor: if you don't do anything else, do this. I spent years and many dollars taking classes that were not what they said they would be, and were taught by those who could not teach or were not skilled themselves in the subjects they were offering."  She goes on to say that you should be honest with the instructor, tell them your skill level and your goals. This not only helps to prepare them on what they need to bring to the table but it will also help give them ideas on what to demonstrate. I still take watercolour classes with John Preston and every once in awhile he asks the class what we want to tackle. I always say clouds because I suck at clouds. My goal is to not suck at painting clouds. If I sat in the back of the room and never said what my goal was I'd never be closer to not sucking at clouds.  
  5. Expectations. "To maximize your time and make the most of your investment in the class or workshop, you should work as much as you can between classes.  Bring all the work you have done during the week back to the next class for the teacher to review.  Believe it or not, the work you do outside, between classes, may be what will benefit you the most! And if the instructor gives you outside projects, do them, and more if you can."  You've got to put in the work people! If you do five sit-ups before you go to bed tonight you better not expect to wake up tomorrow morning with washboard abs. You do those sit-ups consistently and over time you see results. Same with painting, or whatever it is you're trying to learn. 
  6. Conclusion. "Finding the right art class for you takes some time, but can be extremely rewarding! Find the best artist-teacher you can to save time, money and unnecessary frustration. With the right instruction, you'll soar to new heights and discover what can be done with your innate talent."  Finding the right teacher can be difficult but it's a two-way street. Are you a good student? Do you show up on time with an open mind to learn? Do you have a positive attitude about trying new techniques? 
We can't put all of  the blame on the teacher. God forbid we have to take responsibility of our own growth. (insert eye roll here) We need to be honest with ourselves. Are we getting what we need from the class? Are we putting in our best effort? The teacher/student relationship is like any other relationship, it needs good communication, a level of respect and most of all it requires work.