Continuing on the Path

May 31, 2009
Yellow Irises, oil on canvas, 12x12

Yellow Irises, oil on canvas, 12x12

Yesterday, I began writing about what I’ve observed in terms of artistic growth and development in my own career as well as from the perspective of an instructor. I talked about the importance of learning the basics and as a beginner, not being in a hurry to get “somewhere”, to take the time to hone basic drawing, composition and color skills and learn how to use your chosen medium properly.

Let’s say you’ve done that and are now at the point where you are ready to get to the next stage. What comes next is a period of analysis where you look at the work you’ve done in your beginner level courses to determine:

  1. what you do best
  2. what you need to improve
  3. what interests you most (subject, medium, style, concept, etc.)

What you do best vs. what you need to improve

It is a good idea to get some objective input on this from an instructor or other experienced/knowledgable artist or critic whom you trust. The point is to help you identify the strengths in your work so that you can focus and build upon them, as well as the areas that need further study and improvement. For example, you might find that you have excellent drawing skills and an understanding of form and value, proportion, perspective, etc.–but you have difficulty working with color. Being aware of this enables you to take steps to improve such as additional courses in color theory, working with a limited a palette, etc. Not knowing will leave you frustrated and unsure of why you are not getting the results you want. So find a good advisor and listen to what they have to say. Learn to look at your work objectively and without emotion–acknowledge your strengths and make the most of them, acknowledge the problem areas and do something to improve your understanding of the challenges you are having and how to address them.

What interests you most

This is the fun part! Look at your work and try to figure out what aspects of it you truly enjoy:

  • Do you favor one medium over others?
  • Do you find you are attracted to a specific subject?
  • Do you enjoy solving visual problems with composition?
  • Do you like working with color or do you prefer a monochromatic approach?
  • Do you enjoy drawing?
  • Do you like working with collage, mixed media, found objects or other non-traditional approaches?
  • What types of artwork do you yourself like to look at?
  • Who are your favorite artists?

Once you’ve identified the things that inspire you, focus on them to begin building a portfolio. The portfolio will evolve over time, but it is a good thing to begin thinking about early on as it will help you to stay on track and avoid frustration. Choose your courses based on the areas that interest you most. Try to find an instructor whose work you like and whose teaching methods are in alignment with the way you learn. At this point, you should try to find courses that are designed for intermediate artists–you want to be in a course that will challenge you and not be too easy, otherwise you won’t grow. Try an independent study course if one is available in your medium of choice. Take workshops with artists whose work you admire, but don’t fall into the trap of becoming a “disciple”. Learn from your mentors but always be sure to develop your own style and stay on your own course.

Tomorrow: Turning professional–are you really sure you want to do this?


Charting a Course for Artistic Development

May 30, 2009
Apples in an Old Wooden Bowl, oil on canvas, 12x12

Apples in an Old Wooden Bowl, oil on canvas, 12x12

Twelve years ago I decided to get back into painting after not having done so since leaving art school about 10 years prior to that. For the first two years of my re-entry into the world of drawing and painting, I did nothing but paint still lifes directly from life.  I think this was key in getting me on the right track toward where I am today as a professional artist and instructor.

Thinking back on my own experience and what I’ve seen in the classroom since I started teaching, I believe there are stages artsits go through on the way from the start of their artistic pursuits to however far they choose to take them.  I’d like to write about that in the hope that it might help prospective students better plan for continued growth and creative development. I don’t think I’ll be able to do it all in one post, so I’ll start today with the beginning.

I believe artists who are just starting out first need to focus on the basic technical skills associated with drawing and painting. It doesn’t matter if it is starting out for the first time late in life, re-introducing yourself to art, or starting out as a young art student. Nor does it matter if you plan to paint in a representational or abstract style. Learning the basics of form, value, composition and color is key to becoming a successful painter, as is learning the proper use of and experimenting with a variety of media.

I would recommend beginners start with a drawing class, learn the basics: form, value, porportion, perspective. Drawing from life: still life, landsape and figures, is the best way to train your eye to observe the elements listed above that are key to a good drawing. Even if you plan to work in a non-representational style, learning these skills or at least becoming familiar with them will teach you discipline, good design and give you a foundation upon which to build.

Personally, I believe it will take most artists about 2 years to really get familiar and comfortable with the basics. If you are just starting out, particularly if you are doing this in your spare time in addition to a full time job or children at home, give yourself the time needed to really learn the fundamentals. Don’t feel pressured or rushed into developing a style, exhibiting your work or even producing work that you wish to hang in your home. Think of your classes as time to learn, rather than time to produce work. Take beginner level classes in drawing, as well as one color medium–pastel is a wonderful medium to start with as are acrylics. Oils are my favorite medium but I am very glad I had the opportunity to work with pastels before moving into oil.

I will continue this article tomorrow by focusing on where go after you’ve mastered the basics.

More flowers…

May 29, 2009
Rhododendrons & Peonies, oil on canvas, 14x18

Rhododendrons & Peonies, oil on canvas, 14x18

Alla prima flowers, I have to admit flowers are one of my favorite things to paint in this manner. The organic forms lend themselves so well to the wet-into-wet brushwork.

I have these as well as all of my most recent work now posted on a public Facebook page. I will update it regularly with new work purchase information for all of my paintings. Here is the link:

The Party’s Over

May 28, 2009
The Party's Over, oil on canvas painted from life, 30x40

The Party's Over, oil on canvas, painted from life, 30x40

detail, lower left section

detail, lower left section

detail, wine bottles

detail, wine bottles

detail, wine glass

detail, wine glass

This is the final version of the still life of all the bottles and glass, that means it’s time to come up with a title. I don’t like titling paintings, because sometimes words get twisted or can imply messages that are not meant to be there, so I’ll explain my thinking on this one.

I’ve named this piece “The Party’s Over” because I’ve always found the chaos in the mess that’s leftover after a big party to be visually interesting–remember, I also find piles of laundry, garbage, dirty dishes, recyling and other debris interesting. There are so many hidden patterns and repeating shapes in the aftermath of toppled bottles, glasses and corks. From a visual perspective, putting those elements together on canvas in a composition that creates motion and rhythm is what this piece is all about.

Although the bottles themselves formerly contained alcoholic beverages, this piece has nothing to do with drinking–but it can be a metaphor for overindulgence of all sorts–over spending, over borrowing, greed, power hungry politicians interested in making their mark, etc. The kind of things that put our economy where it is today, thankfully in that sense, it does seem as if the party’s over.

Alla Prima

May 27, 2009
study of peonies, oil on canvas, 10x10

study of peonies, oil on canvas, 10x10

Alla prima, also known as direct painting, is using oils wet-into-wet thus allowing an artist to  finish a painting in one sitting while achieving a soft focus, atmospheric look. It is not easy to do–yet often, beginners wish to try this method instead of working in layers to build value and color. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are trying this method for the first time:

  • ALWAYS begin with a value study–do it in acrylic if you wish to start painting on top of it immediately to ensure that your underpainting does not mix with your color layer
  • Do not skip the value study / underpainting–defining your values at the beginning will ensure a strong painting with depth and a wide range of values
  • Begin working in color with a limited palette, this painting is made up from burnt sienna, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow and titanium white
  • Start with your darks and then go into the medium value colors, place colors NEXT TO one another, SLIGHTLY overlapping so that you don’t get gaps where edges of color meet, but being careful not to overblend or pile paint on top of other paint which could result in muddiness
  • Really observe the colors you see and use what you know about color theory and the complementary colors to work out believable, harmonious color in your shadows and highlights
  • Don’t overuse the white and don’t get too light too soon, establish your darkest values before you put any of your highlights on the painting
  • Stay loose, keep some soft edges and suggest nuances rather than painstakingly rendering every little detail

Another plein air study

May 26, 2009
study of fallen log, about 5x8

study of fallen log, about 5x8

This is  a quick study I did of the woods/stream nearby. Keeping the shapes abstract and focusing on color variation, especially with the greens. Plein air forces you to work quickly due to the changing light, but is excellent for developing your observation skills.
Note: There is still room in my June 6 plein air workshop at NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit. Registration fee is $90, class runs from 3-7 p.m. Call the center at 908-273-9121 to register.

Acrylic over Collage

May 25, 2009
acrylic over collage on canvas, 8x8

acrylic over collage on canvas, 8x8

A new technique I am experimenting with. I’ve always been interested in collage but felt collage alone was not enough given that I really love drawing and painting. This started out on a recycled canvas that I gessoed first, then applied ripped magazine pages with acrylic medium. On top of that, I put a transparent glaze of yellow ochre for color variation. Next I painted the shoes on top using burnt umber, titanium white, cobalt, alizarin, cad red and cad yellow.  I like the graphic feeling and abstract shapes formed by the collage elements combined with the realism on the shoes. More to come.