Thursday, June 9, 2016

Become a Paint Mixologist, here's why

"When I paint I try to have one foot in my unconscious mind and the other foot on the ground. If I fall over I start again. "   (Anthony Wait)
  I have been mixing a lot of paint lately, tube after tube. Different color combinations and medium experiments continue as I think about the ways that paint can be manipulated. One thing of interest: at what moment in the process of a painting you choose to mix the colors can make a big difference.

  Mixing most of the colors I think I might need with a knife on my palette before I start painting is new to me and it has a lot of advantages.

1. It keeps the color clean, clean, clean! No brush, no contamination with an unwanted trace of the previous color.

2. I usually mix extra, or at least enough, paint in a pile.

3. This is a big help: I can see a comparison of the values and color contrasts before any paint is applied. I can change and edit them while they are side by side in a small area on my palette.

4. The process of mixing the color is so enjoyable all by itself that it’s great to just give oneself the time to spend just doing that.

  Look how beautiful the palette of colors for this painting is here, before I started applying the paint to canvas:

  And how cleanly the paint went onto the linen surface:

  This paint was applied with a knife and then smoothed here and there if needed with a brush. Some areas were brushed if I thought that was a better effect. I am looking for clarity and simplification.

  It is easy to do this in my studio, but it is also possible to do this en plein air out in the landscape. It just takes a lot of discipline not to just jump right into painting when you are outside and the light is changing quickly! Try it anyway.

  If you have good luck with this method, feel free to leave a comment on my blog and let us know how it works for you. Click the link to go to Blogger if you got this in an email, and comment at the bottom of this blog. Happy mixing!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Finding Nuance in an Empty Coffee Cup

"God is in the details." - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

"Baking"  8" x 8" oil on linen 

  Walking out the kitchen door I found an empty coffee cup poised on the railing where it had been left, forgotten,  by my husband Mike on it's way into the dishwasher. I have found an empty mug in that precise spot many times before, but seeing it this time made me smile and think " I really love this guy." It's the little details that trigger the big emotions.

  That idea is so true in art making as well. A work of art often turns on the smallest nuances. What seems an ordinary subject turns within the subtle details and relationships that can create the biggest responses. Once the structure and the big moves are in place in a painting, everything hinges on the small moves and you have a chance to bring your art to another level in the subtleties of the art. It might be that one color that that is the keystone of the painting or the perfect shape that sets the art in motion. Or the edges, or maybe it's the part that is obscured instead of shown. You never know, but it's there in the details.

  Recently, there was a good show at the MFA in Boston that brought this idea into focus for me. It was an exhibit of paintings by Canadian artist Lawren Harris. It's work with strong design that I've only seen in reproductions before and while I've admired them I haven't been particularly interested. That changed when I saw the show, as all of the nuance of the layered color and the subtle surface of the paint application was only apparent when I saw the work live. The power of the work was in the subtle aspects of it. I wonder what else is missing for all of us as we increasingly view art online- are we not really finding God in the details anymore?

For more information on the Lawren Harris show:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Power Trio from the last generation

"A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once. It's an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute." In Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1975, p. 85)
  Energy. Intent. Mastery. Innovation. Fearlessness. Communication, Power, grace, and imagination. These qualities are hallmarks of the paintings of great artists.  They are also the traits of this trio of first generation abstract expressionist artists- Helen Frankenthaler, (12/12/1928-12/27/2011) Joan Mitchell-(2/12/1925-10/30/1992), and Grace Hartigan (3/28/1022- 11/15/2008).

  There is so much joy in this work, and confidence. I have been thinking about the generation that came before mine and looking at paintings from that era. I starting looking at these three artists and came upon this fun photo, from a year before I was born to the day:

 Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Grace Hartigan at the opening of Frankenthaler's solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, February 12, 1957. Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos

Just to inspire you to do your own search of the art of these three innovators, here is a taste of each:

"Tales Of Genji" Helen Frankenthaler

"Untitled 1960"  Joan Mitchell

"Sweden 1959" Grace Hartigan
Yes, three women ab ex artists, but that's not the key factor here. Three great, exciting painters. 
There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about. Helen Frankenthaler

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Think This Way Before You Start A Painting

Ideas always acquire appearance veils, the attitudes that people acquire of their time and earlier time. Really good artists tear down those veils. -Frances Bacon

Winter in New England leaves me plenty of time to reflect on many of the processes that contribute to making art. First up: what I think about before starting to work. Following that is what a couple of other artists say they consider before, or at the beginning of a work.

Five things to think about before starting a painting:

1. How will my ideas and observation interact and work together?
  Observation might be the main thrust of what I am doing, but working in support of an idea that was exciting to begin with makes a work that has a stronger finish. Or the idea is striking, and observation shows the way to pare down the extraneous detail to support the idea.
2. What is the most concise way to clearly express the idea of the painting?
  I don't spend enough time on this one!

3. How will the size of the work contribute?
  Large or intimate, somewhere in between that is familiar and easy?

4. What color range might work?
  Yeah. Good question.

5. Am I able to experiment and change within the framework I set up?
  At some point I may have to throw out the first idea and rethink the whole thing.

*From Richard Diebenkorn, found in his studio after his death:

Note to myself on beginning a painting:
1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued-except as a stimulus for further moves.
3.Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don't "discover" a subject-of any kind.
6. Somehow don't be bored-but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can't be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful, but only in a perverse way.

From artist and teacher Skip Lawrence:

1. Why do I paint?
2. How can I make my work express my ideas?
3. What is uniquely mine and how can I further develop that?
4. What brings me the greatest pleasure in painting?

There are no wrong answers to these questions as long as the answers are honest.

* from " The Art of Richard Diebenkorn" Whitney Museum 1998

Saturday, January 30, 2016

When Observation Meets Imagination

Or, what I learned from Rembrandt.

  I have been devoted to observing my subject as I paint it for as long as I have been painting. In the late seventies at art school I worked from the model to learn gesture, tone, and expression as well as anatomy. (I worked with the late, great Dean Keller, and that is probably the subject for another blog post!)I started to focus on oil painting and the landscape around 17 years ago, first learning from Janet Manyan, who sent me to read the Hawthorn book and who stressed the idea of direct observation and continued practice, among other things. Working en plein air has been been my schoolroom and my playroom for years. When not outside, I continue to work from the model. I expect to keep going that way--- but lately the idea of using memory and imagination has taken hold. Where is the intersection of observation and memory/imagination in a painting?

  Rembrandt is partly to blame for this veering off the observation trail. He reached forward from the 17th century to the 21st to demonstrate the possibilities available to the wanderer on memory lane. Looking closely at his art recently, the clarity of his observing eye in early to mid career is astounding. The variety of human expression and form, the surfaces of objects and the palpable reality of his painted spaces speaks volumes about the expressive power of observation. But his imagination and use of his interior life obvious in the late works as it marries the keenly observed subjects of the paintings is so compelling.

  Well, I do know that I am not the next Rembrandt, but still there is the challenge of following the master in looking for that avenue that connects observation to imagination.  To that end, and with baby steps, I flounder a bit then begin following that idea by taking a daylight subject that I am fond of and painting it as a night scene. The plan is to open the memory pathways during the painting process. I have observed sketches done in the late light but in different locations, and drawings of the harbor scene done in the daylight. I'll combine everything and try to pull out memory of that scene at night.

  My sketches and the beginning of the painting I am working on are below.

Here is an early stage of the painting in progress:

  Are you devoted to pure observation only, or pure memory or imagination? Or looking to combine them? All approaches have merit, and the work itself aways changing and growing is the reward of the search. Paint on my friends!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Remarkable Dutch 17th Century Masters show at the MFA

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer 
A Lady Writing, Johannes Vermeer

  The two small paintings above were hung at either end of a short freestanding wall in the middle of a large gallery at the beginning of this absorbing show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I was there with a friend on a Tuesday, and there were few people in attendance, so I was free to spend a long time with these amazing works. I went back after seeing the whole show and looked again. 
  I had seen both paintings before twenty years ago at the groundbreaking Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. I remember large crowds swarming around the small, intimate paintings (35 of them!) and feeling the frustration of trying to see, see the detail and delicate values, the paint quality and feel from behind the backs of other viewers. What a treat to see these two again and be able stand and really look. Such control Vermeer had in the value modulations, the edges-some lost, some sharp- and the color! The color stood out from the rest of the masterworks assembled around the Gund Gallery rooms. Vermeer used strong areas of clear color where most of the other works relied on earth tones with browns and greens predominant. The sense of light, controlled light,  as a living presence in the paintings. In the 20 years since I last observed these paintings, I have become a different painter with different concerns and interests. I was struck by these paintings in a way I never could have been in 1995. 
  Well, if you can tear yourself away from the Vermeers, there are many other wonders in the show, including a large Frans Hals group portrait, "Regents of the St. Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem" with an imposing size and wonderful brushwork. The hands move you around the canvas and are a marvel of grace. It's time for a Frans Hals exhibition, don't you think?

Frans Hals "Regents of the St. Elizabeth Hospital"
  There are three Rembrandt portraits, but they were not too exciting to me, they felt like early works and didn't have the wonderful humanity of many of his portraits. Not very many landscapes, and no still lifes, I assume they did not fit the theme of the show. 

  My friend and I stood for awhile disecting this Ter Borch painting of a milkmaid at work in a barn, which is small and incredibly atmospheric with that large dark area entirely taking up the top half of the canvas. The cow at the left is looking at the viewer with a quizzical expression. Beautiful values and edges here, too.

Gerad Ter Borch, "De Koestal"

And one more, this elegant De Hooch with lots of subtle detail and fine color which you can't really see in this jpg. Which brings me to the real joy of this show, seeing these works from the 17th century as they are best seen, up close and personal. Nothing beats that.
Pieter de Hooch, " The Courtyard of a House in Delft"
Class Distinctions- Dutch Paintings in the age of Rembrandt and Vermeer  at the MFA is on view until January 18th.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Color--the thick and thin of it

"Colour is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment" Claude Monet

Transparency & Opacity, and why to think about it

 Recently, I have been thinking more about the properties of my oil paints, and choosing for relative transparency to opacity to achieve different effects on a painting. Transparent colors are going to give more luminosity generally, and opaques will give weight or mass to the painting.

  Any paint will be more transparent if you thin it with mineral spirits, but there won't be luminosity unless you use a paint that is transparent or semi-transparent to begin with. If you choose to use glaze layers over more opaque layers, you have to use transparent colors in the glaze to get a good, luminous effect.

  I like the look of thickly applied opaque layers for some areas of a painting, when I want to convey mass as in these shoreline rocks, which were done with a palette knife.

  In an abstract painting, using both thin luminous areas to play against opaque passages seems to me like an opportunity for many paintings just on that idea alone! I wonder if that alone could enliven a space and make some push and pull in a painting.

  Don't overlook the properties of your white. Zinc white is very transparent, while Titanium is more opaque. You can mix those two whites for further effects. Flake white is both opaque and very thick and a good option for surface textural effects.

  So I am in a place of thinking about these paint effects and how I might find and use them in my work, I am sure there are very many other ways to think about transparency and opacity and I hope you find your way around these ideas and many more.
"Apple and Peel", with transparent color
Transparent colors in my rotation now:
Zinc white
Hansa yellow
Lemon yellow
Alizarin crimson
Quinacridone red
Quinacridone magenta
Dioxonine Purple
Sap green
Pthalo green, and/or Blue
Transparent earth red
Transparent orange

Opaque colors in my rotation now:
Titanium white
Yellow ochre
Mars red, and other mars colors
Cobalt bluep
Cerulean blue
Cad red deep
Italian earth colors: red, orange,sienna, green