Welcome to M.E. BAILEY ART . . . .

Here you will find adventures in painting. . . . Victories, absolute defeats, frustrations, highs, lows, lessons learned, commentary and thoughts from me and other artists.

As an art instructor, I don't wish to hide the fact that I crash and burn often. I will always be learning. So, it all gets shown here . . .good and bad. Every painting we do counts in the learning and experience process. The failures actually are much better teachers than successes. Every piece made is a teacher. That's the fun of it: the challenge to learn.


Join in and comment or email me, if you would like.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Unusual Workshop Opportunity

"Fragments of an Idea"
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

There are a few opportunities where a fan of water media painting can combine a workshop with the AWS traveling show . . . .that is 40 stellar paintings right from the walls of the Salmagundi club in New York City . . . .The American Watercolor Society mounts its annual show of water media paintings from the best painters in the world at this prestigious location annually in the early spring.   Each year, 40 paintings are selected from that show to travel the USA to various locales.   This year that show will appear in Sebastopol, California!!   So close to Santa Rosa and Petaluma !!    

I will be leading a workshop there in Sebastopol concurrent with the AWS traveling show.  If you are driven to really get down to learn how and why paintings do or do not work,   How to judge your own work and how to think when it is time to make compelling marks on canvas or paper, then ThIS is the workshop not to be missed . . . .it will shake you to your toes . . . awaken the muse like never before . . .  . . and have you thinking about paintings in a dimension never before considered.

Here is a link to find out more.   https://form.jotform.com/53077515496968

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Jaded" Art Philosophy

"Landing Pattern"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

I happen to be a fan of “The Palette” Magazine.   This magazine is a little known, privately published, bimonthly gathering of articles aimed at watercolor painters.   William “Skip” Lawrence and Christopher “Topher” Schink author the content of the magazine and frequently render their strong, well educated opinions about the constructs of  “good” art.    (I highly recommend that any painter subscribe to and READ the magazine.   It makes us THINK!)

Recently, I picked up a copy of “Life” by Chuck Close.   Of note, one of the things he said in this book is “Inspiration is for amateurs.”   If that isn’t a jaded look at making art, I don’t know what is !!!!    But wait!   Mr. Close has a long life of art making behind him . . . a ton of experience . . .and extremely good experience I might add.

So, what, exactly did he mean by that statement?

I have been wrestling with his meanings and his motives for saying that for several months.  After all, there are many teachers out there who state “paint what you love.”   Today, I read parts of the latest issue of “The Palette” and was treated to someone else’s point of view about the very same thing:   Pablo Picasso said (lifting this from the text of “The Palette.”)   “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Also from the text of the article, “Experienced painters don’t wait for inspiration, for divine guidance, or some miraculous revelation before they take up a brush.   They dutifully begin working, trying new things, exploring possibilities.   And with exploration comes discovery, some of it bearing fruit, some barren.   But, as Picasso observes, you can’t find inspiration without working.”

“Effort is important, but it won’t necessarily lead to inspiration if it isn’t applied in the right way.”    Here is my own philosophy about the same thing . . . .”The pursuit of perfection is the ruin of what might have been good art.”   Translated, that means that most novice painters (including some advanced painters) are so stuck on replicating what they see, or making everything ‘perfect’ that they miss being creative.   They become enslaved by the subject . . . .and their paintings appear brittle, edgy, even ‘stamped out.’

In this day and age of popular Plein Air painting, there seems to be encouragement to ‘paint what we see.’    Then, the artists spend hours, even days, searching for the ‘perfect’ scene to paint and often confronting deep frustration in the process . . . because they can’t conjure up the “necessary inspiration” they need to begin work.

I say that the true artist will tackle painting the mundane, the common, the ignored stuff and put his or her efforts to exalting it to the extraordinary on their canvas.   It is in that process of digging down into the font of creation and bringing forth something not before seen that wonderful art truly happens.  

Jaded you say?   I would only say that after making thousands of paintings, every artist forms 
inviolate opinions about art making . . . it is from these opinions and hard won experience that mastery emerges. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It's Way More Than What You See !

Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Most people look at a painting like the one above and what they see is a clothes line with clothes hanging on the line in sort of a poetic rhythm.   That is right where most people cease to see what is happening design wise.

This painting came from a group of photos taken in Italy . . . and most of those were taken looking straight at the clothesline in a nearly 90 degree frontal view.   Put on the canvas or paper that way, the line would have been parallel to the edges of the paper, which would have been very commonplace and stilted, if not boring.   Stretching the line from off the top left edge of the page and sliding it over to the upper right edge made for a degree of tension or movement across the piece.   The challenge, though, is that lovely oblique movement could rifle the eye right off the paper into nowhereland.   And that little fact was the prompt to put the two very dork shapes there at the edge of the work . . . to stop the eye . . . . and their vertical alignment offers a directional contrast, while the dark-light contrast with the upper right dark shape and white shape holds the eye.

There is another gimmick being used to insure that there is a connection to the left most edge . . . and that is that two pronged shadow on the left edge of the wall that connects to the laundry shadows.   That little 'move' provided an edge to edge connection of a pathway of darker colors all the way across the page.   Now, all the darks form a pattern that supports the smaller congregation of light shapes (laundry) hovering just above the long passage of darks.   And, notice that the aggregate of darks are larger than the aggregate of the "lights" (laundry).  (Larger meaning amount of space covered on the painting space).  So, not only do we have dark / light contrast between the shadows and the laundry, but also a large-small contrast between the two value extremes.   

What the lay person doesn't see is the mental gymnastics that every painter must work through to establish a great design and to make a painting compelling to look at.   All the above named contrasts establish that sort of excitement to what could have been a very mundane image.  Our job as painters is to (and you can write this down in your journal) "Exalt the mundane to the extraordinary!"

The last consideration was to impart some color excitement in the shadows of the laundry to exaggerate the feeling of reflected light.  

There's more to write about, but you get the idea.   A great painting isn't really about whether the image is pretty or 'charming' (or if it manages to go with the furniture), but whether the design is strong and compelling to look at.   It is the not so obvious stuff that makes a painting exciting and interesting.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Value of "Wasting Paint and Paper"

Watercolor, 18x24 inches

I am a risk taker.   That is to say at times I commit to risky acts that might make life uncomfortable if I fail to succeed in the risky act.

Several weeks ago, I attended a big watercolor portrait demonstration in which Christopher Schink, Myrna Wacknov and David Lobenberg would each be separately painting a portrait of the same model . . . and all were doing it simultaneously.   Schink suggested that Me and Myrna and He do a similar demo in the south Bay Area.   Off handedly, I said "Sure, let's do it!   That would be fun!"

An hour later I was questioning my sanity !!

You may know most of my work, dear reader, as landscape painting and, occasionally, non objective work in watercolor.   Portraits??  Are you kidding?   Not me.  I mean NOT A CHANCE IN HELL !!
Moreover, compete with (or set myself up to be compared to) those two painters?   Was I nuts??

So, I made my bed.   I am in trouble.   Rather than chicken out, I made a promise to myself that I would start in making portraits and figure paintings ASAP.   What I know about myself is that if I am under pressure to perform, I will cram / study to learn what I need to learn and rehearse / practice until I can, at least, hold my own . . . .or, at least, give it the old "college try."

To date, I have painted somewhere near 20 full blown paintings and done a ton of drawings at my local Art League with nude figures.   I sure found out in a hurry that I didn't know what I didn't know!!   So, now I know what I don't know.   And I am scrambling to learn and to practice what I am learning.   Yes, practice.   I am, what some would say, wasting lots of paint and paper.   That is, making paintings, critiquing them for ways to improve (my gawd, you should have seen the first ten!) then throwing them away and beginning anew each time.    And I am not messing around with cheap paper or small formats.   I am painting on 300lb rough, full sheets . . . ( and hoping for the best!!)

I have learned a few things in my painting career . . . . one is to LET GO! . . . .Forget the details . . . get in there and paint as though this were the most fun thing I have ever done.   Have fun and experiment.   Act like there is no "show down" and try some different stuff.   Every painting is a lesson!   So, Mike.   Paint like there is no tomorrow and L E A R N !!

The painting above is a portrait of my dear, patient wife, Diana, who has posed for me numerous times . . . and her sister has, too . . .just to throw in variety.   I must say, with that open minded attitude about doing, virtually, anything along the way in order to learn is really paying off.   

It is June 20 and my 'performance date' is July 18.   This painting has given me more confidence that I can do just about anything I want, technique wise, and get away with it, if I have the basis of a good design.   So, there is where the work is being put in . . .design and composition.

Incidentally, isn't Diana beautiful?   It's tuff work but somebody has to do it!!   

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Plein Air Watercolor Traps

"Coastal Litter"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

As you know, by now, rocks and cliffs along the ocean front here in Central California is an obsession for me.   I can't seem to shake it.   And there are a few other habits I can't seem to shake. . . . 

One is copying what is right in front of me out there on the painting scene.   Not that what is in front is bad.   Not at all.  Because the beauty of those places is beyond description!   Garrapatta State Park is one of those places where a painter could stand in one spot for a very long time . . .maybe a year . . . . turn 360 degrees . . . .a few degrees at a time  . . . .and there are literally dozens of paintings looking straight out through every point on the compass!!   Weather changes, light changes, view changes, wind changes, temperature changes, surf changes, and more!  It is enough to boggle even the most experienced painter's mind.

The Traps, you ask?   Those damned views !!!   I call them traps because there is little effort needed to reach into one's creativity pouch to pull something especially unique out and put it on paper or canvas.  Falling for what is obviously in front of one is a trap where deep thinking is put aside in order to record what is seen.   (Yes, there is a school of thought out there that considers "accurate recording" "good art.")   I don't happen to feel that way.

More than a record, I have awakened to needing something more emotional . . . .more unique.   I don't take the word "Unique" lightly.   When a painting is sincerely unique, it is the only image like it in the entire world.   It is a one of a kind, never to be repeated spiritual statement of the artist's vision and feelings.  And, frankly, that takes careful thought and preparation . . . not just a five minute thumbnail sketch.

Another trap is to make a painting that fits into a 'category' of paintings well . . . . . as in "Landcape Impressionism."   To make a painting look like a million other artists could have painted it (and maybe have!!).    Obviously, there are better quality or better versions of said same . . . .But!! . . . most of them are not "unique."   There was a time when that uniqueness stood out . . . like when Monet was bringing Impressionism to the public.   Each of those artists had a personal vision!   It was different!   

The other trap is to remain comfortable with what we are doing.   Yep!   Staying in the same mode, painting the same things, never taking a risk is just like signing a contract for one's artistic demise!   In fact, I believe that is precisely what happens when a painter settles for what is in front of him (or her).   And, I must confess that is exactly where I have been for the last two or three years!

Yep!   There it is.   I have confessed.

So, let this be an introduction to my next phase of making stale paintings.   You may not think they are stale . . .and that is fine.   But the time has come for me to get out of my lethargy and do something special . . . to grow . . . .to change my thinking . . . .to reach farther . . .

Want to come along?   I want to begin a group of artists who will be accountable to each other and to reach beyond the mundane same ole stuff.   Come on!   Step up.  Join me.   Drop me a note at mebaileyart@comcast.net if you'd like to be accountable for new growth.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Disney, Henri and 4 other artists

"The Far Edge of Town"
Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Walt Disney in an old documentary about painting makes some very strong comments about "how to paint."  He quotes from Robert Henri's book then shows what four other artists do to create a painting.

In the end, someone said, all artists are self taught.   That is to say that every artist must spend the time struggling at their own easel, without coaching or teachers, to find the way to paint to suit them. That means that painting is, essentially, a sink or swim school of learning.  You cannot be taught what you like . . . .nor can you be taught taste . . . what inspires you has to do with how you have lived, your genetic code, your parents and what ever artistic influences have struck you in your life and many more events and introductions experienced in your life.   In short, only you can decide what is right for you!   Every great artist makes art that is unique  . . . .that is to say no other artist paints like another.

Yes, but how do I get there?   Paint!   That is an active verb.   You can't really get it from workshops, or watching others, or reading or even school.   Sure, there are parts that can be learned in any of these venues, but most of that stuff has to do with mediums, brushes, surfaces and different techniques.  From there, the student must plow the ground themselves.   Certainly, there are hints here and there, but the fact remains that personal easel time is the very best teacher out there.

Some of us call that time spent "Brush Mileage."   Or, wasting acres of paper or canvas.  

As a general comment, in these times that we live, most of us grew up in schools where we learned to "please the teacher."   And to do that, we had to do things a specific way to come out with the 'right answer.'   After watching this 16 minute video, you will see that there is NO right answer.   That is why I think that beginners should not be asking for critique from anyone other than wise highly qualified painters who could cause the student to learn quickly about personal insight in the painting process.

Enjoy this video:  Click here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Taming The Lion

"Harbor Impressions"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

Occasionally, one stumbles into a mood that prevents anything serious from being played out in the studio . . . . .or anywhere else.   I am not sure if this is just a spilling out of happiness . . . or a vacation from being too serious.    And I am still not sure of the source . . . .but I know in my soul that it is important to take on that sort of mood while operating a paint brush on occasion.

Eh?   What do you mean, Mike?   After all, isn’t learning to paint a serious pursuit?   Well, yes, it is.   In fact, it is one of the most serious forms of study that any sane person can take on.  But there must a be a time when us painters must throw much of our inborn caution to the wind, take a big risk and paint something in a manner not done before.   Putting paint down on a dry canvas or a dry piece of cotton paper is about as commonplace as it can get.   Change that surface so that the paint does different stuff with the paint than we are accustomed to trying to control . . . .that packs all sorts of failure risks!!

Aw!   Go ON!!   Take a risk!!   What have you to lose?    If you are a watercolor painter, try this . . . . . . with a big clean, water saturated sponge, wash down both sides of your paper a minimum of three times . . .  .wiping with lots of water . . .  .until the paper gives up all of its native stiffness.  It should have the consistency of a saturated rag.   Really!!

Once done, place the paper on your board so that it is perfectly in the place you would want in order to paint on it.   (Caution:  You may have to staple it down at some point, so be sure your paper is on a board that will accept stationary staples.)

Lay out the saturated paper.    Roll up a terry cloth hand towel in a very tight roll.   Hint:  fold it lengthwise first, then roll from one end of the long dimension.    Pressing firmly onto the paper roll the rolled up towel over the paper in order to take up the majority of the water on the surface, in the fiber of the paper and underneath the paper.    What will remain is a piece of fairly damp paper with no shiny spots on the surface.  

Use a flat, synthetic watercolor brush to apply the paint when the time comes to make marks.    Why synthetic?    It won’t hold much water in its bristles.   You will want to have the paper do most of the adding of water to the paint . . . . DO NOT saturate your brush.

Now, go ahead and paint what ever subject you like.   Lots is going to happen that you don’t expect . . . .  .beautiful ‘granulation’ . . . . soft, even fuzzy edges . . . . intermingling of colors in places you least want or expect . . . . values will significantly fade . . . .just about everything you would normally fight, in order to hold onto control will happen.

Go ahead . . . . . paint on it . . . take chances . . . what will happen if your brush is too wet?    What will happen as the paper begins to dry?    Yikes!   What if you make a mistake?    Can you wipe it up?   Can you lift?   Can you make a graded wash?   Can you give up control?   Well . . . . CAN YOU?

Here is the point:    The only way you will ever get to know your medium well enough to master it is to challenge it (and yourself) in every way you can!!   That’s right!    You must test it and test yourself so often that you get to the place where you can anticipate what it is going to do before it happens.

By going on a mental “vacation” and opening yourself up to courting absolute failure and letting happen what will happen, you will find that it is actually fun!!   That’s right, it is play!!   

There’s more to goof around with than just the paper and how dry it isn’t.   How about painting everything in a painting (and I do mean everything) with a three inch flat brush?   Or a big hake brush?   What if you confined yourself to just three colors?   Or, what if you put ox gall in your water?   What would happen?    Or, horrors!!!   Paint with your paper absolutely vertical!!    Could you stand it?   Or could you put yourself into a frame of mind to give it a go and let it do whatever it is going to do?

At some point in our painting life, we have to face every sort of challenge.   The masters never had much trouble with challenges because they actually practiced every possible thing that could happen and practiced how to handle the conditions that arose.  

Just because “it’s hard” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle it!!!!!    Get into that lion’s cage and tame the lion !!!    (You won’t die or even get scratched!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

An Important Message to My Painting Friends . . .

"Bad Dawg"
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Some painters will look at this painting and think to themselves, "I could never do that."   Or they might say something to the effect of "Yeah, he was born with that talent.  He scares me!"  Or, " I could never be that good."   

Or, those same people might look at this painting and think to themselves, "Why would I want to paint like thaaaaat?   I am a ___________ painter."   (Fill in the blank with realist, plein air, floral, animal, blah blah blah blah!)

Here is the message very bluntly:   "Comparing yourself (and your painting skills) to others is VERY UNHEALTHY!"

Yep.   There it is.   Comparing your painting prowess to other painters is a self defeating process that will prevent you from EVER becoming "good."   It is a natural inclination to look at masterly works and wish to develop one's skills to that level.   It is quite another to be intimidated by a skilled artist because you "don't think you are as good as he/she is."    Oh Dear!!!    What a perfect way to live in constant disappointment about yourself!!  Moreover, what a perfect way to be in constant self defeat! Ever wonder where thoughts like that come from?   The "I am not good enough" thoughts?   

Let me say this about the artist who is "good" . . . . . .he, or she, most likely put their head down for years and worked his or her butt off trying to become "better" at what they are now "good" at.   Yes.  Work!!  Hard work is the only difference between you and that other artist.   And I am not talking about hard work in workshops or school or some ersatz painting convention.   I am talking about time at your own easel painting.    That is a LOT of painting.   Making plenty of mistakes.   Ruining acres of canvas or paper.   Yep!   Making lots of throw away art.   So much of it that you might wonder if becoming "good" will ever come.   My advice is simple:    Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint!

Eventually, a comfort with making errors and mistakes will become part of you.  Yes, I said a comfort with making "bad" paintings.   It is okay to make those!!   

Our teachers in school were cruel overseers who did not understand the human condition  . . . . .nor did they really understand how learning happens . . . . . .it happens through failure.   Yep, when you think about it, failure is our best teacher.   It is through failure that we actually see what not to do and what to improve upon.    

I travel the country teaching painters to paint.   That is, I teach the processes and means of design and composition.   There is an underlying lesson, however, that seeps into the pores of the participants in my classes . . . .  .that is to just paint for the sheer fun of making marks, trials, experiments etc and not to worry about what anyone thinks about their work (play).   It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about your paintings!!!  (Secret:   you can never underestimate the taste of the public.)

The only thing you should be working toward in your time at the easel is your own satisfaction . . . . . . .  . .no one else's.    Reject the opinions of non painters.   Shed the advice of your spouse.   Be deaf to all criticism from unqualified persons.   And, take with a grain of salt, any critique, unless the person offering it gives you a few alternatives for making improvements.   Consider those alternatives, then make up your own mind about what you will do (maybe nothing!!).

WHAT MATTERS MOST IS YOUR SATISFACTION WITH WHAT YOU PAINTED.   Be prepared to be disappointed.   Be prepared to be like that old barber in the barbershop (years ago)  . . . . when your painting is complete, merely shout "NEXT!" and go onward.  Don't look back.   Just focus on the next painting.   Not all will turn out well . . . . . but a few will!!!   And that few is precisely what you are seeking.

If you are Unsatisfied, paint it again.   Maybe even again.   And maybe three or four or five times again.   (Remember, I said hard work).   Be patient and enjoy slobbering the paint around.  (it is, actually, fun!)  Take chances.   Take risks.   Take an attitude to do 'the unthinkable' just to see what will happen.   Be open to happy accidents.   Be open to making a painting that does NOT look like what you are painting.   Do it for FUN !!!

You may not see actual improvement in that process from one painting to the next.  But I can guarantee you that over time your paintings will improve.   Your brush work will naturally evolve.   Your drawing skills will naturally develop.  You will, as a matter of course, relax with what you are doing.   One day you will look at a perfect gradation of color in one of your paintings and wonder how you did such a beautiful wash.   

Here is the last piece of advice that I have to offer . . . . . . .if you are looking to paint like someone else, it has already been done.   When you get there, all you will have is a painting that looks like that other artist did it.   Think about that for a second.   Why would you want thaaaaat?

In conclusion, your painting "voice" is unique and special.   There are no others like it.  Let it shine!   Let the world come to hear your voice.   Sing your own visual music!   And, by all means, don't compare yourself with anyone else!!! 

P.S.   What is "good?"   What is "Better?"   Do you know?   Really?   Consider this . . . . .as you become more experienced, your ideas of what is "good"/"better" will change.   It is very much like the proverbial carrot hanging on the string in front of the mule . . .  . .chasing but never catching it.

P.P.S.   You have heard it before, certainly, but the goal is NOT the end result.   It is the journey itself.   You will soon realize that the learning, the struggle, the disappointments, the frustrations, the elations, the trips, the painting sites, the subjects tried are all a compilation of a wonderful life experience!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Eat That Which is Served!

"No Wind Today"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
en Plein Aire

A long time ago, my Mom made special awareness to all of us five kids at meal time:   You will eat what is served to you!”     “I am not cooking different meals for everyone who wants some thing more special than everyone else at the table.   Learn to enjoy that which is before you!

And so it is with painting en Plein Aire.   In artistic parlance, paint what is in front of us!   That does not mean that we cannot or should not add our own “style” or embellishments.   In fact, it shouldn’t mean that we don’t convert the image in front of us to our personal tastes . . . .abstract or realistic.   

Plein Air painting offers tuff cirumstances in which to paint.   Wind.  Cold.  Heat.   Sun.  Bugs.   Distracting People.   Inadequate equipment.   Difficult places to sit / stand.   Wildlife (skunks!).   Angry dogs.   Bothersome people.    People who have never painted a lick . . . .some who have . . . .and some whose “Aunt is an artist.”    You get the grist of it.    When Painting outside in the open air, there are lots and lots of conditions that try very hard to break your concentration.

That is, if you let them.

There is another side of the coin:   Standing in front of an easel, paints and brushes in hand, not knowing if you can carry it off right downtown Paris, France.   Or, standing in front of Yellowstone Falls painting the scene with one of your favorite artists, or Being at a secluded beach on a beautiful day watching every stroke be perfect,  Or Standing in the shallow, meandering water of the Merced River looking up at Half Dome in Yosemite park as the dome takes on an Alpine Glow and turns the color of a pumpkin.   Or, maybe it is when you are at Point Lobos State Park on the coast of the Monterey Peninsula, with two painting buddies . . . . everyone hyperventilating at the drop dead gorgeous scenery.   Or, fogging off to the French Conuntryside in the Lot River Valley trying to make artistic sense of a medieval village or citadel!  

Okay, so I have had my easel blown over and paintings spoiled while confronting the elements.   I have come home bitten and burned and sick to my stomach from hunger.   But, Baby, there is nothing like the places I have been and tried to paint (yes, unsuccessfully) !!!    I can still smell the air at Yellowstone Falls in the year 1995 . . . . .twenty years ago!!   I still look at the painting made while standing ankle deep in water of the Merced River because that was the best view . . . . .I can feel the trickle over my shoes!   And I can recount the crazy conversations and sharing the intense, deep connection with three friends while we painted Point Lobos.  (Google some images of that place!)

Yes, there are aggravations, distractions and disappointments.   But with them there are pleasures so rich and so unforgettable, that every one of those teensy little bothers are simply the external white noise to which we never pay much attention.

If you haven’t mustered the courage to fight off the elements and distractions, you are missing out on an extraordinary experience.   Those pleasures just sit out there waiting for us artists.   Yep.   They are sitting there right now ready to be eaten up by our excitement and our zeal to capture the beauty.

Thanks, Mom, for training me to eat what I have been served!!