More thoughts on painting

Last catch of the day!

Often enough, we see paintings in international competitions that are 1:1 copies of photographs. Often they win big awards. It is interesting to note that most non-artists identify ‘great art’ by how realistic it is painted.

I once was gallery sitting and there was a huge painting of a tree right at the entrance of the exhibition.
The tree was hyper-realistic, it was just like looking at a photograph of it. The artist must’ve spent weeks or even months painting every leaf of it. Only when you’d move up close could you see that it was actually a painting. This one guy came in on a couple occasions while the show was up, always making it a point to tell me that that tree was the best painting he’s ever seen in his life! He was blown away by it. He couldn’t get over it. He loved that painting.

I thought about this for a long time. Who gets to decide what good art is or what art is in general? Would I contradict him and say I disagree with his assessment? Of course not. I just smiled and thought ‘whatever’.
Usually the jurors of competitions decide what painting makes it into a given exhibition. Jurors have opinions, just like the guy who loved the tree painting. It says that a certain person likes it, that’s for sure. Does that mean it is good art? Does it mean anything? Or is it just one person’s opinion?

One person’s opinion: the person who buys the painting, the juror who judges the painting. One person loves it, the other one hates it. It is the same in music, isn’t it? That’s why it is hard to have a discussion about art or music!

Having said all that, I have come to notice that there *is* a certain consensus about what’s good and what’s ..well, bad! If a painting is beautiful, everybody will notice it and 90 percent of visitors will agree. It will stop them in their tracks and have them take another look. Here’s an analogy: the beauty of a women. (hey, I am a guy)
While it is highly debatable if a woman is beautiful or not, there is a man out there who thinks she is and another who thinks she’s not. But when it comes to sheer beauty, almost everyone agrees. Most men and women from all walks of life would agree that Audrey Hepburn (just an example that came to my mind right now) was beautiful.
Going back to music, it is the same there. Some music is just sublime and there’s not much discussion about it. Bach, Mozart, Britney Spears maybe..

So, generally speaking, it’s all relative. But then there’s the beauty, the sublime, the awe inspiring – and most of us agree! What is your take? Am I right, am I wrong? I want to know what you think! Leave a comment, if you have a couple minutes. It is an interesting topic!

Thoughts on painting

Good painting is very dependend on good observation. When we grow up as kids, we learn to see what we know and the knowing often gets in the way of seeing ‘right’. We don’t really look, we think we know what it looks like! (i.e. ‘if I paint a car I have to paint four round wheels’)

When I first started painting (longer than I care to admit here), my artistic mind was on the quest for realism. I was obsessed with technique and how to paint this and that. I recorded places verbatim and got lots of encouragement with favorable comments from people around me. “Oh, good job, that looks so real..”etc.
As I grew as an artists, things started to change. I no longer looked to paint something as realistic as possible. The correct and scientific rendering of something before me couldn’t possibly be the goal of my art, I could just take a photograph. I started looking for more, something else. I started seeing how objects relate to each other, how they interact, the quality of light and the interconnectedness of everything on the planet. There just isn’t a ‘car’ on a ‘street’, but the interaction of different entities that relate to each other through light, shadow, color, mood. In short, I became obsessed with light and mood.

The paintings I paint now are more of a visual notation that *imply* reality, hopefully like a poetic statement. The tools of the craft and technique have long moved to the subconscious.
It’s an ongoing process. You never stop learning and it is the truth when I say that every watercolour teaches me something. I am by no means there… maybe I will never be ‘there’, whatever ‘there’ is! As the Zen master teaches us, the journey is the destination.
On that note: back to painting…

Copying a masterpiece – why do it?

Studying a master’s work by copying it can have beneficial effects on our own work. It can help us through a tough time, like when we’re not sure where our art is going. It can inspire us to get to that next level! It can help understand about the painting process he or she used, the palette and color mixes. Learning by copying was done throughout the history of art.

Students would go inside museums to paint. Painters would copy each others work.
Last century, just like today, many painters painted similar subject matter. Whatever was ‘en vogue’ to paint at the time. Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn and a few others all painted models with parasols, girls bathing or naked children playing on the beach. Sadly, some would most likely be called perverts in today’s world, but that’s an issue for another post.

Today, many artists paint street scenes, en plein air. It has become ‘cool’ again, to be out on the street or in nature and paint from life. We add all things of modern life, cars, figures glass buildings, back buildings and alleys. This is our time, our place, no reason to act like they are not there…
I wanted to copy these two paintings for a long time. I greatly admire Zorn’s work. I spent hours inside the National Academy in New York this spring, looking at the 30 or so watermedia paintings, trying to understand! I was blown away, still am..
You’d be hard pressed to find anything of his caliber work anywhere out there today. Yes. There. I said it! Of course, it’s my opinion and I am not going to elaborate.

From looking at Zorn’s work and copying the woman with the bedsheets (I forgot the title of the piece) I learned how to suggest facial features by use of multiple, transparent washes.
From Sorolla (his was actually an oil painting but I did it in watercolor), the woman bathing the child, I learned how he mixed his purplish blues and his use of warm and cool colors in such subtle and delicate ways. Very inspiring!

Workshop: Schroeder Gallery, Orange CA

Last weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a two-day plein air only workshop at the Schroeder Gallery in Orange, California. Thank you, Judy, for hosting my workshop and taking great care of me!

We had fantastic weather, not too hot and not too windy, more or less perfect conditions. The group was 10 painters altogether, so no problem finding enough space for everyone to paint. Downtown Orange is a wonderful place for plein air work. There are countless subjects, all within a five minute’s walk from the gallery and we could’ve easily added another day.

Maybe next time.

Thanks to all my students for taking my class, see you all next time! Happy painting!

Florence (Firenze), Italy

During my recent workshop in Italy, we were able to do the three-day add-on in Florence which turned out to be our favorite time of the entire trip.

Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.

The statue of three intertwined figures that is the center of my painting is called The Rape of the Sabine Women (Latin: Sabinae raptae). It depicts an episode in the legendary history of Rome, traditionally dated to 750 BC, in which the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families. The English word rape is a conventional translation of the Latin “raptio”, which in this context means “abduction” rather than its prevalent modern meaning in English language of sexual violation.

I was just as captivated with this beautiful sculpture as the figures I made up for my painting! This is not the original. Just like the statue of David on the Piazza della Signoria, this Rape of the Sabine Women is a replica of the real thing, the real sculpture being situated in the Galleria degli Uffizi, safely away from the elements and pollution.

Upon closer inspection, you will see that I kept the background to a minimum, really just focusing on the shape of the statue and the young men passing by. I love how they all look up while passing by! Almost like all conversation has temporary been halted while they’ve been near this magnificent sculpture. You may ask, “Did it really happen like this?” …Well, it may have happened just like that; I like to think that even young people could be captivated by the power of this eternal piece of art.

Workshop: The Watermill, Posara, Italy

Last week I taught a watercolor painting workshop The Watermill in Tuscany.

We had a wonderful week and many plein air painting excursions! A heartfelt Thank You to Lois and Bill for taking care of us and making this a memorable trip! I hope these pictures give a bit of an impression of this beautiful part of the world! Lois and Bill have a great location and provide ample Tuscan cuisine with many local specialties. They are well organized and we had the luxury of being dropped off and picked up at painting locations by the father-son duo Paolo and Lucca.

Thank you so much! We just have to do it all over again next year!

From onsite sketch to studio painting

P1050202 Brooklyn impressionsII, web

On my recent trip to New York I took the time to paint as much as possible, but focusing only on quick sketches that capture the mood.
Once I had the essence of the scene in front of me, I would stop and move on. If I am there for painting alone with nothing else planned, I will attempt a ‘real’ painting, not just sketches. If I am pressed for time and can’t spend an hour or more on location, sketches are the way to go.

This decision is best made before the trip. For instance, if traveling with non painters or for other reasons than painting alone, I would pack differently than for a painting trip. For the trip to NY I would squeeze paints and just bring the palette, no paints! That would yield approx 3 to 4 small paintings/ sketches, no more. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do more anyways, so no need to bring all this extra weight!

As I said before, weight is a huge issue when painting plein air. It sounds really good when a manufacturers tells you their easel weighs less than 4 pounds. Those four pounds feel like lead after walking around a city center for two kilometers.
Just like in watercolor painting itself, when it comes to weight, less is more!