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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Another Round

"Attaching a Scarlet Letter"
Watercolor, 22 x 22 inches

Another round!!   Another shot at adding another image to a series!

In this case,  the series is Men at Work.   I have been playing around with this series for 7 or eight years . . . . .and not too many paintings in the series, yet.   I say "Yet" because these images don't come to me, nor do I come across suitable images from which to make paintings very often.   One has to wait patiently and be diligent about assessing every happenstance of stumbling onto men at work.   First, I desire to have interesting images . . .  .not just a bunch of guys leaning on their shovels around a big hole in the ground (we see that often, don't we?!!)  ;-)   What I mean is that I need to see action . . . . . and there needs to be some sort of background story along with the work.   And those sort of images don't show up very often.   Linemen replacing broken utility poles is one such example.   One can only imagine what might have caused the broken pole  . . . . not to mention the incredible risk that the linemen encounter every day in their jobs.   That is interesting.

Then there are the mundane, or seemingly so, stages on which the workmen act out their form of "theatre."   Here, in this image, is one example.   People pass by guys like this all day long, glance at them, and move along, not paying heed to much other than 'those guys in that cherry picker up there.'
To me, this little act of the theatre said so much that I found fascinating:  the shadow, for one.   The contrast of the white uniforms against the red letters . . . .  .and the fact that we see such signs so often in our day that we don't even realize that we see them . . . . .they are just part of an every day landscape!!  Like, who spends time looking at and observing them?   Really!!   But put two guys up there fiddling with them?   That is a different story!

So this piece goes in with the rest of the "Men At Work" series . . . . some painters, some linemen, some plasterers just about anything one can imagine.   And there is much more to come . . .  .but what?  And when?   I just have to remain alert and pay attention.

And, as I look at the image, I am forced to wonder about the strength of the composition.  It appears to me that too much attention is given to the letters, while I want the viewer to be mesmerized by the workmen.   I will consider cropping a good part of the left portion of the painting to cast more attention to the men in the basket.

Sometimes, us art people find the gold in places we would rather not find it.   In my case, I always prefer to do the 'discovering' and subsequent photographing and/or sketching myself.   But it doesn't always work out that way.   Such is the case with this image and the source of it.   This image appeared in our local (Santa Cruz Sentinel) newspaper approximately 7 years ago . . . . at least I think it was that long ago . . . . . .I have held on to the image for that long waiting for public memory to dissipate.   Also, two or three computers ago, I wrote to the gentleman who had taken the photo requesting his permission to use the photo in an artwork.   He graciously and cheerfully gave his permission with the best of his good wishes and he did so in writing . . . .I fear, however, that the letter rests in the grave with the used up computer someplace.

As a point worth making here, for those painters out there who read this material, I STRONGLY advise getting permission when ever using any publicly displayed photos . . . .or even photos that you did not personally make yourself.    I have seen some art careers destroyed by not doing so.   Seriously, it could mean being publicly humiliated and perhaps being sued!!   Get permission!!

Keep your brushes wet!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Suspense . . . . and Effort

"The Plaster Master"
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches

Today, after several weeks of working on two paintings, specifically to raise my bar of quality and to test that bar height against the best of the best watercolor painters in, maybe, the world . . . .but for sure, the USA, . . . .I completed the two paintings.

One has been "finished" for months.  But a day or two ago I looked at it again, in one of those deep concentrative states, and saw sooo many things which needed tuning up to high quality.   Funny, how one simply doesn't "see" until he is ready to SEE!  

There is an old saying:   When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.   And my teacher really showed up this week!   I was led to learn the Law of Attraction . . . an led to learn about the power we each hold to draw in virtually anything that might be in our world of desire . . . . even if it is a minor thing.   Being led there was precisely the very thing I needed to come to terms with all the many things which have been flowing in my direction for years.   Actually, I have always suspected that we artistic people are more than just creators of pretty paintings.   There is something way bigger at work in our creative consciousness!!!   The fact is that we create virtually everything that "happens" to us as we go through our lives.

That might be a difficult thing to understand or even believe for many people.   But I can say, without reservation, that we DO get what we wish for . . . .even unconsciously wishing.

So much for that for this article.   For twenty five years, as you know, Dear Reader, I have been learning to paint . . . .and my teacher lives at the business end of my paint brushes.   That's right.  It is me.   I have studied, and learned.   I have painted and learned.  I have entered shows, competitions and exhibitions and learned.  I have taken and taught workshops and learned.  I have observed other painters and learned.   The fact is the hunger to understand never, ever quite relaxes.   That hunger is my teacher.  And projects such as this one are exquisite challenges to rise above mediocrity and to reach for excellence!

Once per year, there is an art organization in New York City that stages a juried exhibition once per year around the first part of the year.   This is a water media show and I must say that the best of the best painters apply to show in that prestigious exhibition.   This will be the third time I will be accepted, IF the jurors so decide to accept the paintings I have prepared for this purpose.  And within that third time there are great honors . . . .recognition by my peers and superiors . . . that the paintings submitted stand up to the few masters who hold similar honors.   It is one of those propositions that haunts and haunts one until it is attained.   It is one of those things that is constantly nagging at my standards of excellence.   And, mind you, there is no easy path to be there.   One just needs to be at one with that business end of the paint brush that I spoke of a few paragraphs ago . . . for many, many paintings  . . . until enough "brush mileage"has accumulated and mastery begins to appear.

That, my dear friends, is something that simply has called to me for years . . . . to reach the possibility of mastery.   In fact, you might understand more if I said that "I AM the Possibility of Mastery."   I live in that possibility.   I breathe it.   I think about it.  I even teach it in an indirect way.  It is way more than play, or a simple pastime or hobby.   It is the possibility of fulfilling a dream!!

So here it is.  I have completed the work for this year.  Honors might possibly be waiting to find me in January . . . . or they won't . . . . .which means that I am not yet ready . . . that more effort is required.  That the universe has given me this task to fully complete . . .no matter what . . . and it has provided something else for me to chew on while I ply away at this endeavor:  pure, unadulterated joy and happiness along the way!   I must confess that I recognize that I have been bestowed with a few great gifts!!   Those gifts were never meant to be squandered or taken for granted.  They were given to be developed to the optimum state that they can be!   And I am grateful for them . . . .yes, painting  . . . . at least the desire to be excellent at it . . . has been one of those gifts.   Another is the possibility of loving . . . .yes, LOVING.   To bathe in that possibility is a gift from god . . . .as is the gift of creativity.

You may think that these are the ramblings of someone who has gone daft, but I can assure you, daft I am not.   I have stepped into all of the challenges for each of the possibilities and done so willingly and with great passion.

And so, Dear Reader, I am quite alive and quite enthused about every moment of being alive . . . .and grateful for my gifts . . . . .even if I might have to wait in suspense for this January's decisions . . .or the next . .  .or the next after that.   I signed up for this.   And I am prepared to accept the challenges and the results . . . . for what else is there other than the joy of the journey??

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Making of a "Good" Painting . . .

When my wife and I watch a movie, whether or not it is at home, within a few minutes our senses perk up and one of us alerts the other that this movie isn’t going to be very good.    Then again, there is absolute silence and rapt attention when the movie appears to have the necessary substance to receive, an above average rating from us.

We employ a scoring system of rating the movies on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the absolute best.   Of hundreds of watched movies, it seems we have only awarded two movies with the 5 rating.    Nearly all others, save for around 30 that have received 4’s, the rest fall right in the middle with ratings of 3 or lower.

How is it that we can sniff out those that come off early as unworthy of our time or attention?    Have you noticed similar reactions to seeing paintings?    What is it, in our senses, that tells us to not bother spending any time looking deeply at certain paintings?  

For most of us there is a feeling just behind our navel that sets us off.   We can’t define the feeling, nor the cause of the feeling.   We just “know” that it is there.   And the same goes for many painters in the throes of making a painting.   “Something isn’t right . . . I can feel it . . . .darned if I know what it is!”

For most beginning and many intermediate painters, they focus on the aspects of the subject matter of the painting.   “The perspective on the box seems a little off.”  “Or those birds should have 26 feathers in each wing.”   “The joints in the fingers aren’t quite right.”    These comments are made comparing absolute “reality” with the painting . . . . . . .in other words, the person making the critique is seeking a photo reproduction of what is ‘real.’   In my mind, this sort of criticism is useless to a painter.

Perhaps you might have seen the play “The Lion King.”   If you did, you probably remember the representations of the various animals using poles and stilts and all sorts of never before seen means of suggesting the gait and confirmation of the animals.   In my case, those illusions were so effective that they were shocking and fascinating!    I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  Of course, the musical background added to the mesmerizing effects of the illusions of the animals.   I can recall some of the moments in that theater production as if they were mere moments ago!

For a painting to win an award from an astutely qualified judge, many of the same things must occur in a painting . . . . .

Nothing should ever stick out and seem as though it doesn’t belong.   In other words, there must be some sort of relationship between all the parts . . . . .and I am NOT speaking of the things or objects in the subject matter.   The “parts” are the value shapes, the color shapes, the textures, the brushwork, the sizes and placement of the parts the painter wishes the viewer to focus on.   There must be a sense of a unified whole about the painting where the parts harmonize in a way to suggest a quiet relatedness with the rest of the painting.  Yet, while harmony must exist in the painting, there should be areas where there is indeed a contrast or a significant shift away from that relatedness to call attention and, yet, not appear wrong.   (That is a mouthful, I know.)    A good painting must at once hold excitement, mystery and belonging. In other words, a bit ambiguous.    For example, in painting a group of people, a few must stand out, so they can be clearly understood as to ‘what’ they are, while many others must be a singular big shape where there is little individual identity at work.   Within that shape should come variations of color and value so that the viewer gains some feeling of internal difference and is entertained, but whose attention isn’t averted from the whole.   The whole must move in a way to support that one big shape.

Omigosh!!   The words are confusing!    Consider the following words as the true parts of a painting, whether or not it is realistic or non objective:   Line (edges), Size (scale, proportion, measure, perspective), Shape, Direction (Horizontal, oblique or vertical), Color (intensity, temperature, value and Hue),  Texture and Value.

How the artist controls color and its four aspects is a good look at the artist’s creative talents and how he or she uses that creativity.   It is way more than copying what he or she thinks he or she sees.   For example, the turn of a surface toward a shadowed side can be shown with a mere value change and the color grayed into that shadow.   Or, the artist can use a big shift in hue and temperature to show the same affect.   Which do you think would be more entertaining to the viewer?

If the artist was to use that latter method, it cannot be alone in the painting.   The rest of the painting must use a similar method to express transition from light into shadow.  In that way, the rest of the painting is in support of that piece of creative license.

Take the seven words above, and tie them to the eight “Conditions” of design.   Some experts call them “principles” of design.    I speak of these words as the conditions that are the resulting conditions or states that are created by the seven elements noted above.   The eight conditions are:  Unity, Harmony, Dominance, Contrast (Conflict), Repetition, Variation, Gradation (transition) and Balance.  

Each of the elements, such as Line, can be assessed by all of the conditions within a painting.  For example, there is a simple line and there are all the edges (which are indeed lines) . . . . . .one can assess just the aspects of Line in a painting by considering the Unity of Line throughout the painting, the Harmony of Line, the Dominance of Line, the Contrast of Line, Repetition of Line, The variation of Line, the Gradation (change) of Line, and the Balance of Line.  (Consider substituting the word “Edges” for ‘Line’ in the last few sentences.)  Yes, each of the elements will have some of these conditions existing in them in a painting.   It is up to the artist to determine the degree, or the amount or quality of the conditions.  For example, how much contrast is called for?   Is it a quiet contrast or is it strident?   Does the contrast chosen find harmony in the painting ?   Or, does it stand separate and away from the other aspects?

This is much to digest, I agree.   It is also the reason there are so few masterworks in this world.

There is another aspect in judging a painting . . . . .that is the choice of what the artist chose to paint.   The “WHAT” combined with the “HOW” is the quality that stops the viewer (the judge) in his tracks to take a much closer look at the depth of the artist’s work.   That aspect of “What” . . . .or subject matter . . . . .can be, for the artist, a trap.    I agree that a fine painting must have some form of emotional content or message . . . . . . . a pictorial story, if you will.    There comes a challenge, however, when the emotional content is sappy or saccharine or overly sentimental.    ( Remember the comment about the movies at the first part of this article?   Does the word ‘corny’ come to mind?”)    What has been seen before, thousands of times, is no longer interesting.   For example, simple reproductions of flower blossoms is a trite subject . . . . . ( I used to paint them myself!!) . . . . . .UNLESS it is done in a highly designed way so as to cast the sense that that image has never been seen before.   It isn’t in the “how well” the artist reproduced the image, but in HOW the artist was able to create an interesting illusion.

Obviously, there are infinite ways of painting the same idea or thing.   What sort of emotional aspect, which is included into the painting, is completely determined by the artist.  How the artist imbues those feelings is really a manipulation of Line, Shape, Sizes, Directions, Color, Values and Texture.   A good judge will turn his or her back on corny, over done subject matter (as seen on greeting cards) because it has been seen so many, many times before.

Creativity is word used often without fully understanding the idea of bringing forth something completely new . . . . .something nobody has done before.   Of course, as millennia elapse, more and more paintings of “new” work closes out the range of our possible choices, it seems.   Yet, artists everywhere are coming up with new ways of saying something visually every day.  

I am reminded of a specific artist who was creating incredibly beautiful non- objective paintings.   She submitted her painting into ‘that big show in New York’ only to be refused entry into their annual show.   Not put off, she submitted the very same painting the next year.   Refused!   And the next.  Refused.   And the next and next and next for 13 straight years !   The same painting!!   Finally, on the 13th year her painting was accepted.   Then for the next two years, submitted similar, highly creative work and was accepted and awarded her signature status.    Was it her paintings that were the problem, or was it the jurors who misunderstood her work?
Remember!!   It takes that sort of courage to stand for your work!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Thinking About It.

"Coastal Fog"
watercolor 22 x 30 inches

Recently, I read some thoughts by Chuck Close.  If you don’t know who he is, I would suggest you look him up and learn something from him.   His work is in every museum in every major city in the world.   So, I think he is worth paying attention to.

He said:  “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

What, do you suppose, he means by that?  There has to be some wisdom attached to that idea.   Let’s let it settle a bit while I move on to something else which is extraordinarily important.

Painting is one of the few activities in our lives where we must be, (and usually are) completely, totally in the present moment.    (Being in the moment is a gift.  That’s why they call it “the present.”)

In my experience of teaching other painters and guiding them in their quests to better their skills, I have found that many (most) of them are deeply concerned about many different things relating to their painting;   What other people think, the outcome (good or bad), their spouse’s likes or dislikes, their art education, whether or not they are ‘good enough’ and on and on and on.

Frankly, every one of these thoughts removes the person from being in the moment . . . .from being fully present with what is happening on the paper or canvas at THIS moment NOW.   More bluntly, every one of these thoughts sabotages the artist’s work.

These are not my original thoughts or ideas, but the wisdom of different eastern religions.   There is a sense of spirituality about this pattern of thought . . . . .and it all has to do with happiness and satisfaction in living.   For example, if one is concerned about how they were treated or abused as children and projecting their anger or disappointment with that treatment, they are clearly not living in the present.  They are creating every step of their life by focusing on the past.   The painter who worries about what ‘others’ will think about their painting . . . .or is upset because ‘it isn’t coming out the way I want it to . . . . is not being present in the here and now of making the painting.   Their thoughts are quite distant from being fully present in the process.

Some years ago, I read a book entitled “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior”  by Dan Millman. . . . .It has been a long time since reading it  . . . so, I think that was the title.   There followed a movie by the same name.   The story is about the gradual enlightenment of a young man about living in the here and now.   The story culminates with his performance on the horizontal bar in a gymnastics competition in which his team score is behind the leader.   Of course, he makes the performance of his life and his team wins the gold medal.

He was asked what is was that inspired him, or how he focused so well to pull out the winning of the gold medal.

He replied, “Make every move about the move, not about the gold!”   Fearing or focusing on the outcome removes you from what is happening right now . . . . it takes away from the present.

Watching him speak in the movie, I sat bolt upright in my seat at the moment he explained that to his teammates!    My Gosh!!   This applies completely to painting !!!!   “To make every stroke about the stroke, not about the outcome!”  

That realization has helped me so much in making  solid, fresh, spontaneous watercolor paintings.   You have heard it before:   Put the paint down and leave it alone!!!!   “Make every stroke about the stroke . . . . .not about the outcome!”

The realization grew more as I came to know that there are no ordinary moments.   Every one matters.   If our complete attention is to what is happening in each moment, then our perceptions multiply as our enjoyment of life also grows.

If our attentions are put onto whether or not this “picture is going to come out right,” then we are missing the necessary focus to have that actually happen . . . . . .to focus on what is happening on the paper or canvas right NOW and being in complete presence with it. 

My philosophy about painting is centered not on WHAT we paint, but HOW it is painted.  Making a painting is not about WHAT!   It is not about anything but that one moment in time when the brush hits the canvas or paper!   It has to be with focused attention.

Mumbo Jumbo you say?   Well . . . . .maybe one day the dawn will come.

Now, to Mr. Close’s comment . . . . .it’s simple!    It is sort of like “tomorrow never comes.” . . . . .that is waiting for the “right inspiration” or the right moment to paint . . . . . .or the right mood, etc. might not actually ever come.   What he means is to just show up!!   Go to the easel and go to work, regardless of how you feel.  PAINT!!!   Be in the moment with what the paint is doing on the canvas.  Make every stroke about the stroke!  Raise your consciousness to its ultimate awareness!

That is far from being amateur!

Think about it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Color Harmony . . .

 "Walk to the Lighthouse"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

"On Chimney Rock"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

The words "Color Harmony" are frequently spoken, but it is my concerted opinion that many painters simply miss the meaning of the words and, moreover, how to apply them to their paintings.

On a recent trip to teach a short Plein Air painting workshop at Point Reyes National Seashore, every day was overcast and foggy . . . . .and some of the painters were disappointed in the fact that there 'was no sun or shadow.'    I understand their disappointment.   When the sun is out, there are shadows and lots of predictable color.   But there is predictable and even beautiful color when us painters are faced with overcast or foggy days.   In fact, we can achieve wonderful color harmony in painting foggy or overcast conditions.

Eh?   Whaddya mean, Mike?   Simply this:  Gray is present in EVERY color.   Rich, saturated color simply is not present, for the most part, in overcast settings.  Granted, flowers seem to be of neon in those conditions, but the overall general dominant color is of the gray family.

Harmonies have to do with relatedness.   We can really affect harmony by selecting one characteristic of color and insuring that that one characteristic is present in every color in the painting.   For example, we can establish a temperature harmony where there is a cool or warm dominance through the painting.   Or, we can set a harmony by assuring that the dominant condition of all the colors in a painting are fully saturated, high chroma colors.   Indeed, when painting in overcast conditions, the gray sky color dominates the landscape.  There is a noticeable lack of shadow, so 'things' must be connected through their relatedness of color . . . . in this case, the presence of gray in every brush load of pigment.   

Gray is a relative term, actually.   Think of "gray" as toning down a color . . . . .add its compliment . . . . . . it isn't necessary to take the mix all the way to near black or neutral . . . . . . . . .just reduce the chroma of the color so that it is noticeably neutralized.   If every color has that characteristic, there is a distinct relatedness to all the colors in the painting . . . .a harmony.

A gentleman by the name of Faber Birren made his career in color harmony.  Google him and read up about how he set different painting harmonies (I call them painting strategies!).   You will see that there is something very worth your time (if you are a serious painter) by studying his work.

And if you ever get the chance, Point Reyes, in northern California, is a must visit sort of place.   It is a desolate, wind swept and exposed section of the coast that holds an enormous wildlife population and scenery worthy of your time.   Sir Francis Drake discovered the wonderful bay there and kept his ships from the ravages of weather on that coast by hiding in that bay.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Staying In The Fight

watercolor 18 x 22 inches

There is an underlying, ever present, persistent obstacle that clobbers plein air watercolor and acrylic painters.   It is the one thing that forces the watercolor painter to be on top of his or her game at all times during the painting process.  In fact it is so persistent and so unobtrusive that it will clobber the efforts of even the most experienced and advanced studio painter.

This obstacle . . .or this challenge (you might call it that) . . . is so in the face of the painter and so omnipresent that most painters are not even conscious of it.  

Eh?  What??   

When there is such a challenge as this, it calls into action the least fun of the painting skill set so that the urgency of the fight becomes the center of the painting process.  In other words, if the painter is not prepared to deal with this challenge, the painting will most often fail.   Well, if not fail, then it will not blossom into that glorious state of miraculous, wonderful outcome that makes us painters leap with excitement and thrills for having accomplished such a piece of work.

This challenge calls into the painting process A PLAN OF ACTION.   That plan must be present in the painter's mind so that there is no . . . repeat: NONE. . . . hesitancy in the act of painting.   The painter must know how, exactly he or she is going to paint each part of the painting . . . .from color choices, to value assignments, to the order of what gets painted first, to management of edges and that plan must be executed with speed . . . .or shall I say with urgency.

Yikes!  What do you mean, Mike?   What is this ornery challenge that takes the joy away from a lingering form of meditative bliss that we studio painters enjoy so much?

In the outdoors, there are a few things that can wallop a painter before he begins . . . sunlight being one of those.   While we painters all LOVE the sun and what it does with light and shadow, being in the direct sun will spoil a painting very quickly.  It bakes the paint.   AND . . . . .it really changes how we perceive color and value . . . . especially when that paper is pure white and the light from the sun is reflecting back into our eyes and causing our vision to actually diminish from the glare.

But that isn't it.   It certainly deserves attention . . . like getting the painting into the shade . . .under a tree or umbrella or just out of the direct sun.  

What I am speaking of here is the rapid, almost imperceptible speed of evaporation that exists when painting outdoors.   Yep.  That's what I am talking about:  Drying time.

A great wash requires that the wash remain wet for a period of time so that the fluid can slide down the face of the paper and remain wet so that it dries uniformly.   If the paint dries so fast that the brush cannot complete laying down the wash before the beginning of the wash dries, then the painter is in a fight to insure that his painting isn't baked before he completes it.

When we are confronted with fast drying time there is no time to step back and make those long considered decisions that form the core of that meditative state we painters all love so much.   The painter must act so that his work is staying ahead of the paint drying too rapidly.  Otherwise, there will be hard nasty edges all over the work . . .in places that they aren't wanted.

The solution is to spend some of that meditative bliss in the preparation to paint.   Do a few good value sketches.   Become familiar with the subject.   Plan where edges need to be soft or where transitions need to occur by having the colors mingle and blur.   Know ahead of time the order in which the big shapes will be painted and when you intend to charge in another color before a wash dries.   Have the composition drawn out so that there is no room or time for retreats.   Hot dry days do not allow for these decisions to be made on the fly.   They have to be planned so that the painter is always ahead of the paint drying and is in a position to manipulate the paint while it is wet.

Mixing colors and mindlessly stirring them around in the palette is a waste of valuable time.  one must be decisive and must be willing to stand by those decisions without consideration and mental debate.   In short, the painter must act with deliberate certainty.   Serve up the color, put down the stroke and live with the result.  The only way that can happen is to have a very solid plan ahead of time.   It is sort of like knowing when to swing the bat when the pitch is delivered . . . there is no time to think . . .just react.

The painting above was done en plein air in France on a very hot day.   The only available shady place actually dictated what subjects there were to choose from.  Once in the shady place, I fiddled with different compositional alternatives in a sketch book.  Then I nailed down a few solid value studies so that I knew exactly where my lights, mediums and darks would be and when they would be painted.  It was so hot that afternoon that my plan to charge in cerulean blue into a sky wash of yellow ochre was immediately thwarted because the ochre dried before I finished laying it in.  I couldn't get cerulean blue on the brush fast enough to catch the ochre before it was dry.  Then and there, I realized that I had to act fast and execute my plan with dispatch!   I had to speed up.   The entire painting was finished in around 45 minutes (including planning time!).  And during that time I was conscious of nothing else but what was happening on the surface of the paper.   I had to stay in the fight against drying time for the duration!

Part of the charm of a great watercolor painting is that it appears to have been painted with startling urgency . . . and that it remains "fresh."   That is that the paint doesn't appear to have been fussed over and there was a clarity of purpose by the artist.   The only way to get that is to P L A N.  

I stress this too in studio painting instruction.   Planning is the center piece of excellence in watercolor painting and, in particular, in painting outside.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Never Ending Subject

Recently, I was invited to participate in a show with 75 other artists . . . .all who must provide a self portrait for the show.   The organizer kept giggling at "what fun" that show will be.   In fact, she said something to the effect of not knowing what to expect and was quite excited at that aspect.

So, off I went, knowing that my portrait wasn't due until January of 2015.   Then, while sorting through a large pile of drawing paper in my studio, I decided I would "give it a go" to see what I could do.   After all, I haven't studied the figure much, or portrait drawing or painting.   I have done a few, mind you, over the years, but never in a studied way . . . . .just one of those challenges just to see "if I could do it."

Since that day of sorting through paper, I have done nearly ten self portraits  . . . . . and the fascination with the design in a portrait has stung me!!    . . . . .

Should I push the image into a caricature?   Should I exaggerate the nose?  The glasses?   And what to do with the mouth that my loving wife points to at every turn?   And what of the color?   How many different harmonies could I play with in order to build a serious mood?  And what about the shapes of the light and shadow on the face?   My goodness!   The possibilities are endless!!!

I have even taken a chance with watercolor crayons only then washing over the drawing with clear water . . . . . the crayon marks smear and merge in a delightful way, incidentally.

I am NOT an artist who has an attitude or is full of himself (at least I try to make a point of NOT being that way) . . . . .so, self portraits have always seemed rather self absorbed   . . . .which I am not. HOWEVER!   Or should I say BUT ?   The cool thing about doing a self portrait is that one never ever runs out of subject matter . . . .Ever!!!

Imagine the possibilities that one could devise . . . . . consider just color. . . . . Skin tones have to be the hardest and the most demanding in terms of understanding the paint pigments we use, transparency and opacity suddenly mattering a lot.   And which Yellow to use as an underpainting?   What if I did a green underpainting??   Or suppose I tackled an all violet portrait?   Or better, what if I took on the challenge of painting all in tones, then using pure tints in the center of interest?   Perhaps a few heavy shades thrown in to lift the tones to appear more colorful?

As you can see, dear reader, the possibilities for just color would be enough to entertain and frustrate any artist for YEARS !   Now that I think of it, I happen to enjoy interesting use of LINE in a good painting . . . . yes, edges, too . . . . . .and . . . .Oh, Yes!   Different value schemes, too, not to mention odd poses or perspective.

As you can see, a project like this would be one of those challenges that could lock myself away in my studio for months, maybe even years, to come.

You get the idea.   It isn't about making the mouth just right.  Nor is it really about whether or not the image resembles someone.   It is really about finding out what I can do with all those variables to make an interesting outcome.

Come to think of it, this same process is precisely the sort of process I have subjected myself to over the years . . . . . it is called painting in series.   You might know, too, that this very idea of fooling around with different ways to exploit the elements of design is an incredible way to learn to paint . . . . .  .in fact, it is THE WAY most great artists perfect their work and their craft.   It is to fully understand the nuances of every aspect of making marks on a canvas or paper.   And it can be done with any single subject.   Many of the best painters in the world have turned to series work with simple objects, such as still life or portraits, or even a pond in New Mexico . . . . . .the same point of view . . . . and not worrying about if the nostrils (details) are exactly right, but focusing on making something extraordinary and unique.   Something that will halt a viewer in his or her tracks in order to truly LOOK at your painting . . . . and look carefully.

I have done this with a still life . . . .over 120 versions . . . .and counting . . . .and I find that is isn't boring at all.  In fact, it is as challenging as anything I have ever painted . . . . . .  .and more . . .  .it has given the gift of significant breakthroughs in thinking and in painting skills.

It isn't the subject that matters.  It is what you DO with it.


Monday, May 12, 2014

The Hunt

"Porch Perch"
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches

The hunt for ‘the next painting subject’ seems like an endless, frustrating task at times.

The art world is filled to overflowing with “pretty pictures” of subjects that seem to repeat themselves over and over ad nauseum.   For example, still life paintings of flowers, or Koi fish, or baskets and bunnies . . . . . . .You know what I am talking about:  The greeting card look.

I can remember that not so long ago, when I began painting, the frustrations for finding “good watercolor subjects” clung to me like an ill fitting suit.   The fact is that there is no such thing as a subject suited to a specific medium.   Most artist learn over time that it isn’t “What” you paint, but “How” you paint it that matters.   It’s true!   It seems perfectly ridiculous that people choose the same subjects over and over because they are “pretty.”   Excellent art is well designed, obviously, but it also carries an emotional mood.  It makes the viewer feel something.   “Pretty” is but one possible feeling that a painting can hold.

So, I ask . . . . . .what’s pretty got to do with it?    Just because something is pretty doesn’t mean that it is good art.   As a professional artist, I have found that it is NOT the subject that magnetically attracts the viewer / buyer.    In short, it is the pattern of light and dark (light and shadow) that arouses that odd feeling in our gut that draws us in (sorry for the pun!) to look closer  . . . .and, perhaps, be so moved so as to purchase the piece.

Painting subjects are everywhere!    They are hiding in plain sight.   If you are a neophyte to the painting world, all you need do is open your mind (and your eyes) to interesting patterns of light and shadow.   It is a developed awareness.    My friend, Mark Mehaffey, is an expert at this.   His international reputation isn’t built on painting “cute” pieces of art.   His paintings reflect his skill at spotting (and designing) very strong value abstract patterns in realistic subjects.   An example would be how the light bounces around in an old alley in Shanghai, China or Reno, Nevada.  One wouldn’t know it was China or Reno.   What is attractive about such paintings is how the darks and lights sit inside the rectangle of the painting’s picture space.

Like gold,  painting subjects are where you find them.   They pop up when you least expect it.   All that needs happen to find them is to pay attention to your surroundings as you move through your world.   Light coming through a window and reflecting off a dining room table top made for a prize winning painting at NWS a few years ago.   There were no flowers, no knick knacks, no table settings . . . . .just light and shadow created by some chairs around the table!

Another prize winner was an open refrigerator and the light streaming out of it dodging around the contents.   All one could make out was some silhouettes of various containers.   It was the light and the shadow that won the day in that painting.   The list of examples could fill a book!!   The best paintings often lie among the most mundane settings or things.   It is the artist who elevates the mundane to something extraordinary that gets the recognition.  

In other words, pay attention!!    Yep!   Awaken yourself to patterns of light and shadow around you.   Set yourself up to NOTICE  . . . . .and, therefore, see the potential offered by shadow patterns.   And, be aware that “pretty” isn’t always the best art subject.   Consider the unordinary or the worn out, over used buildings or objects and how they fit in their surroundings.

I recently gave a workshop in Oklahoma.    The first morning I stepped out of the side door of the church in which we were gathered and was immediately struck by the cast shadows on the old house across the street . . . .and how the old easy chair on the porch was illuminated in that shadow pattern.    Maybe is isn’t something you would put above your couch in the living room, but the patterns sure do capture the eye.    There are hundreds of painting subjects literally sitting and looking back at you.   You merely have to notice them.