Saturday, June 28, 2014

Oil Painting: Bowl with Residue

Bowl with Residue
Oil Painting on canvas
9" x 12"

This took awhile to complete.  The residue of spaghetti sauce was much trickier than expected and getting a bowl round just takes time. Here are previous stages of the painting:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Oil Painting: Violin

Still Life: Violin
9" x 12"
Oil Painting

This is an oil painting of my grandfather's violin.  My grandfather used to play the violin, accordion and coronet (trumpet).  I do not remember him as he died when I was one years old. But I do have his instruments and even took lessons as a kid on the coronet. The violin, when I received it, was in pieces.  I had it repaired and now use it in still lives, as I do not know how to play it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oil Painting: Clock on Books

Still Life: Clock on Books 
9" x 12" 
Oil Painting 

This is a painting I created from a still-life created for an art class at Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio. It includes a violin that belonged to my grandfather, an African violet donated by a student and some old art books about 14th Century French paintings.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Good Art and the Moment of Learning

I have been making and teaching art for more than twenty five years.  So, I might ask myself, what is it about making art that is of value? Or, what is the most important aspect of art to teach in order to have people continue painting, drawing and writing? 

It comes down to this: within the creation of each art piece there is a myriad of decisions that need to be made in the moment.  As an example, when painting a watercolor of a tulip, my first decision is what paper I am going to paint on.  Then I have to decide do I sketch with a pencil or a very light painted line. How big will the final painting be?  These are all preliminary decisions before I even paint.

OK.  But let's say I have been painting for years and I know that I like to paint botanicals on 140 lb. Fabriano hot press paper.  I know that I like to sketch lightly with a pencil and not erase.  I know that the final size of my painting will be a nice frameable size of 12" x 16". Still, when I start painting I am figuring out, in the moment, proportions and ratios of shapes within the subject.  I am figuring out how to mix the color exactly as I want it, or as I see it on the tulip.

This is a tulip.  No?
OK. But let's say I've been painting a few more years and I have limited my palette to just eight colors and I only add a couple more if the flower is an unusual hue. I now know how to get the colors I want without much effort.  As for proportions, I have figured out how to take casual or more exacting measurements of different shapes and the overall object to have a realistic representation.  At this point, proportions are not a decision as much as following through on a process. Yet, I still have to figure out how to represent edges as in front or behind each other - in the moment.  I need to still figure out the slight variations in the value of color created by changing my water/pigment ratio to represent atmosphere or the roundness of the object in space. And on and on...

It never stops. There is always something more to learn and explore.  Once I have mastered working with the medium, then I might think about content and how to push it to impact people more.  I might want to think about adding different media or translating what I've learned to a completely different medium.

Each piece of art is a series of decisions: moments of learning. As you approach each decision there are innumerable directions to take: make it more red, more blue, less yellow, etc.  The more complex the piece the more decisions and moments of learning there are represented in it.

This is a tulip with more "moments of learning" than the previous image.
The first image (above) took me three minutes to create and I had to make several decisions in the moment as to how I would draw this tulip.  How many points on top were enough but not too many?  How thick should the line be?  How long and thick should the stem be?  Should one leaf be in front of the stem and one behind? Many decisions, yet not as many as in the second image.  The second image (above, but not as above as the first) was created in stages over a three day period. Color decisions alone in the second image outnumbered all the decisions of the first image. The drawing in the second is more exact and there were many decisions in the representation of the frilled petal edges. Some decisions were incorrect and had to be changed.  Other decisions were correct -- but that didn't make them any easier.

What happens in the moment of learning? We become more accomplished while finding our direction in our limitation. Let's return to our images of a tulip.
This is a tulip.  No?  No.
This is not an image of a tulip.  There is no known tulip in the world that has these proportions, yet, we accept it as a tulip.  Why?  Because it is close enough.  Close enough we say, "yes, that is close enough -- jagged top, two basal leaves and a stem -- couldn't be anything but a tulip."  This is a tulip to a five year old.  AND, if this child never looks at a real tulip again she will always draw tulips like this until she dies (poor thing).  How sad that the actual beauty of a tulip would not be understood beyond this simple representation. How sad that the subtle convex and concave playfulness of a pedal edge as it dips under the bloom will not be seen, much less understood. The color variations from the base to the tip of the petal, and its subtle representation of the structure and growth of that petal, will be trampled upon and smashed into the ground never to be considered. In this dullards world, a tulip is a rose is a begonia is a hosta...
This is a tulip.  Yes?  Yes, weren't you paying attention?
In a moment of learning we begin to see differences.  Correction: in a moment of learning we see differences.

The more we practice seeing differences the better our art will become.  This is the image of a tulip after practicing seeing differences for many years.

Look familiar?  Were you paying attention?

Here are the benefits of artistic moments of learning:
- you will see differences in things
- you will practice comparing and contrasting
- you will discover how you perceive things of this world
- you will discover how you do not perceive things of this world
- you will come to see beauty in small things and large
- you will inadvertently apply these new skills to other parts of your life
- your life will change

Yes, that is what it all comes down to: if you make art, your life will not stay the same. You will begin to apply these skills to other parts of your life. You will question and examine.  You will see differences between what you used to do and what you do now.  You will see differences between who you are and who others are. You will question how society goes about its business. You will see more beauty in the world and others. Why? Because eventually you will perceive everything as more complex than you saw it previously. You are no longer five. You will begin to see the interconnectedness of things and how they are structured. You will get hooked on this ever present discovery of difference.  You will seek out experiences that teach something new, at least to you.  You will be propelled forward to find your own path, your own decisions, your own life. 

Then the day will come when you will sit down to paint and you will have an epiphany.  The painting you are about to create will be pregnant with the full meaning of your life, it will define your existence, your generation and the world in which you live. All of your experiences will be throbbing in your fingers as your brush mixes the pigments. Your heart will be transferred into the paint as it nears the paper. Then two hours later you will crumble in a heap, exhausted from creating the dullest, least interesting painting of your entire life (poor thing).

What went wrong? Good art is built brick by brick upon the moments of learning -- upon the myriad of minute decisions that make up a piece of art. Good art is not built by who we are and who we have become somehow magically appearing on the paper. Can the subject matter be about self? Yes. Can the art be about a specific personal experience?  Yes. But it still has to be based in the moments of learning found in production, not the preconceived finished product. Some people call this "play." Some call it "process." I call it "Stanley."

Previously, I stated that we "become more accomplished while finding our direction in our limitation." This is exactly it: moments of learning (decision making) increase our capacity to create strong art, yet we have to stay inside these moment to be effective. To think that we can make good art without focusing in the moment while painting is folly. 

In the same sense, how do you make a good life without focusing in each moment? That is for someone else to answer -- dammit, I'm an artist, not a psychologist, Jim!