"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Monday, August 06, 2012

Delicate pinks

Flower by Matt Courtney
This lovely painting (Flower) by Matt Courtney, one of my students, is notable for the careful rendition of delicate pink in the flower. Matt probably used Permanent Rose, a better choice than Alizarin Crimson for this particular pink. Setting it against the dark and underplayed background also helps. The camera used unfortunately doesn't capture some of the nuance of the original painting. Well done, Matt. Here's a link to his web page.

As part of the basic color-biased palette, I have been recommending that students include Alizarin Crimson (a cool red) or Magenta. But you might consider trying Permanent Rose for variety.

Some comparison of different cool reds.
Quinacridone Magenta

Alizarin Crimson

Permanent Rose Quinacridone

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What is success as an artist?

The following are just some musings on "success" as an artist. We tend to define success in this world by money. How much money do you make from your profession? Based on that perception (or conception) many visual artists would feel they were not a success. This is not just a modern day phenomenon. I was surprised recently on reading that many of the well-known French impressionists had financial difficulty throughout their lives. Or, if they were financially secure, it was not as a result of their art.

Edouard Manet — the oldest of the original group —came from wealth. His mother was related to the Emperor and Manet maintained his contacts in the leading circles.

Degas came from the same social background as Manet and was not poor.
Morisot — Refuge in Normandy
Berthe  Morisot married Manet’s younger brother and thus had the financial security to pursue her painting career. After her husband died, she continued to paint but was never commercially successful in her lifetime. However, she did outsell several of her fellow artists, including Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. She painted one of the first “impressionist” paintings, called “Refuge in Normandy.” 

Alfred Sisley came from a prosperous house and was able to follow an artistic career without any worries. In fact, he seems to have helped some of his poorer artist friends when they were in critical situations.

Because Impressionism wasn’t considered an important style at the time (mid to late 1800s), many of the so-called Impressionists who didn’t come from a wealthy background suffered severe financial hardship.

Camille Pissarro made almost no money, yet he had a family to support. He never found a rich patron.

Monet had financial difficulties as a young artist to such an extent that his wife died of an abortion attempt when pregnant with their fifth child. (She tried to abort because she felt that they couldn't support another child.) Later, in life, he had patrons and seems to have done well. 

Paul Cezanne came from a wealthy family but had serious financial difficulties for years because he was afraid of admitting his love of art and somewhat illegal living conditions to his father. (He later inherited, but by then was well-known as a painter. 

Auguste Renoir came from a very poor family and was in difficult financial straits until about the age of 36. 

I have embedded Morisot's "Refuge in Normandy" in the above blog just to show you another concept of success. We have a badly mixed up world. People with professions (or scams) that don’t really contribute to the survival of mankind often pull down extraordinary amounts of money. While artists of all kinds not infrequently either take a “day job” to supply the necessities of life or give up their passion for art entirely. And yet, it is art that contributes beauty and meaning to life. 

Note. Material for this post was taken from several websites which I reference here as (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Admiration is the artist's pay

Bouquet and Lemon by Coulter
I recently participated in 2 shows, one a 1-person show (mine) at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston (32 paintings) and one a 3-person show in which I had 20 paintings at the Rose Gallery in Reston. So there were two receptions. For an "artist's reception", the artist invites guests and provides a spread and hopes that some interest and — yes — sales of work will result. So when there are no sales, or the turnout is meager (one of the receptions was admittedly held on a record-hot day when the News told people to stay home), it can be a little depressing. (Oops. We don't use the word depressing anymore. You can feel the pointy ears of psychs rising alertly.)

So, anyway, I was discussing the lack of sales at the second reception with another participant and said, "well, you know, part of the artist's pay is admiration." She immediately brightened up. Well, it's true. And those of you who've admired my work (but never bought any) should feel less apologetic. I do pay attention to your admiration. It is appreciated.

But also take these words to heart:

"If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul"
- Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet

Art is an important part of your world. Art is created by artists. Artists have to survive. If we can't survive by selling our art, then we must become bankers, or bureaucrats, or engineers, or street cleaners. And if you look at the bankers bureaucrats, engineers, and street cleaners of the world, you may find frustrated artists of one kind or another.

Support your own artistic endeavors. And support artists as well as you can. Buy hyacinths for the soul.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Batik - what is it?

Recently, I mentioned batik to a student and got a blank stare — or the equivalent. So I thought I'd blog about it.

Wikipedia defines batik as "a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique." When I use the term, I am referring to the process, not the product. Cloth using this process is traditionally associated with Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore, but I first encountered a "batik factory" in St. Kitts in the Caribbean.

The process consists usually of 2 or more applications of color to a piece of cloth with liquid wax applied in between to the dry fabric. That is, the artist applies a wax design to the fabric, lets the wax dry, then immerses the fabric in a vat of dye color. Then the fabric is totally dried and the next application of liquid wax is applied. This can go on to many colors, but usually I think the cloth is restricted to 2 or 3 colors.

Some artists have modified the process by using colored wax (like wax crayons) and/or painting on portions of the fabric.

Some years ago, I did a series of batik panels and found the process incredibly tedious. But the results were spectacular!

After you've completed all the color applications, you must remove the wax. In  batik "factory" I believe they use kerosene. An alternative for the home artist, and one that I used, is to place the completed piece between thick pads of paper towels and use a hot iron to liquify the wax. After this is complete, there is still some residue, so, if the art work is to be used as a wearable item, it would need further treatment. In my case, I simply mounted the batik on white backing and framed as I would a watercolor.

One thing that is interesting about the process is that you have to think backwards. For instance, if you want to have some white in the final piece, you have to apply wax to the areas that will be white first. Then, you need to chose your colors carefully, because any color that hasn't been waxed will combine with subsequent applications of color to make a combined color.

For example, here's a batik piece I made called "green-eyed woman."

And here's the "color design" that I worked out for this piece.

And here's a piece called "flutist," also done at this time.

I think the process produces spectacular results. It is very time consuming, however.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Boy and Granddad by Phyllis Simard

Boy and Granddad by Phyllis Simard
This is a painting (yes, a painting) done by a student of mine, Phyllis Simard, in acrylic (yes, acrylic). It's done from a photo with some editing of content to enhance the composition. I think it's very impressive and wanted to share it with you. The style is reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, who painted more than 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell was looked down upon by some in the "Fine Arts" community as a "mere illustrator" until after his death when the pendulum swung and his body of work was recognized as art. Too late for Rockwell, but Wikipedia remarks that he didn't mind being called an illustrator. It's what he called himself.

I would encourage all my students: follow your personal dreams. There will always be people who make less of them; you are the one who can make them come true.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Color attributes and their relationship

A rough color value scale
I have often heard the plaintive cry from students that "I just don't know how to mix color." So I decided to offer a course in color theory, and I'm currently running a class of 8 students at the Reston Community Center. The major attributes, and those we're doing exercises on first, are hue, value, saturation and temperature.

I realized yesterday, from a student's question, that the relationship between these attributes is sometimes not well understood. For instance, "hue" refers to the quality that distinguishes red from green from blue. But hue refers to the saturated color: pure red, pure blue, etc. So a grey or a beige is a color but not precisely a hue. It's a neutral. In tinting or shading a pure hue, you're always going to affect that hue to some degree. Addition of white always cools the color. Addition of an analogous color (such as adding yellow to red to lighten it) changes the hue. Adding black or a complement to darken the hue brings it off the outside of the color wheel and it becomes a neutral.

Also, the beginning student may not realize that the neutrals include not only "grey" in various values from white to black, but warm and cool greys, beige, and the whole spectrum of neutral and partially neutral shades and tints.

When I'm having the class do an exercise to establish the "home value" (or basic value) of a hue (red, for instance, is considerably darker when applied as a fully saturated hue than yellow) against a grey scale, The hue will be modified  as to its value, saturation and even temperature as we lighten and darken it.

What splendor we can add to our paintings if we understand and can work with all the attributes of color.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mixing Blacks

I have for some time omitted black from my palette and have depended on mixing blacks and grays using complements or near complements. My favorite combinations to date have been 1) ultramarine blue and burnt sienna and 2) (when I have green on my palette) Thalo green and alizarin crimson. I have so far not found a combination on the yellow-purple complement that I care for as "black" (although I've gotten some good muddy colors), but I assume that I just haven’t found the correct combination. Yellow is so light a value that any combination with purple that gets close to neutral tends to be too light for a rich black. This could probably be remedied by selecting one of the dark yellow neutrals such as raw sienna or yellow ochre rather than high-hue yellow.

By the way, a student asked me the other day if I was familiar with “Payne’s Grey” so — curious as to what its mineral components were — I looked it up. It turns out that (according to Wikipedia) Payne’s Grey is simply a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. So now you don’t need to go out and buy Payne’s grey.

But I wrote a poem with a Payne’s grey sky in it some time ago, and I include it here:

It’s a Payne’s grey watercolor sky,
blotted clouds grumbling in anticipation.
Somewhere it’s started to rain.

I will weep, weep with the rain
which hurricanes my heart’s ache
descending in typhoons.
Strong trees may break
before this is over.

It is a long slow rain,
flooding the path to the house.
In a distant land, men are fighting.
I will weep with the rain
for their lost lives.

        Exercise: If you  have old tubes of paint lying around or you don’t mind the expense of trying new colors, here are some possible colors to try mixing for blacks and greys. A familiarity with and ability to mix various blacks and grays will give your paintings more richness.

1)      alizarin crimson and thalo green.  (Also try any magenta or cool red with assortment of greens.)
2)      cadmium orange and cobalt blue. (Also try other orange and blue combinations. Try also blues with warm browns – which are actually dull oranges.)
3)      Indian yellow and dioxazine purple. (Also try raw sienna and other yellow-browns with purples.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Quinacridone Magenta

OK. First of all, Quinacridone? What a funny word.

Wikipedia says "Quinacridones are a family of synthetic pigments used to make high performance paints. Quinacridones are considered "high performance" pigments because they have exceptional color and weather fastness." The Wiki article is brief and interesting, but I didn't find any origin of the word.

in my last post I stated that I was going to change my basic palette to include Quinacridone red instead of Alizarin Crimson. Having ordered Q. Red from a color chart, I found that the red is a bit too warm, and that Quinacridone Magenta is more nearly the "cool" red (slightly bluish-red) that should be used in place of Alizarin. The WIki article on Alizarin is also of interest.