What makes a painting beautiful? Part II

Composition! It’s everything…almost.

Every good composition strives to hold the eyes of the viewer within the painting. It is called the eye path or leading line. It is achieved by line work and arrangements of shapes and patterns.
If you study the horse scene, you notice that the eyes go straight away to the horse on the right. It helps to have the grass point to it. (not too obvious; in a subtle way)
Right after that you start noticing the pair of horses on the left, because the right horse is looking right at them! The very left horse and the one on the right have eye contact. From the pair on the left you’ll notice the railing taking us back into the picture where the barns sit. The telegraph pole connects to the sky. Also, the tree line of the dark background tree and the lower end of the blueish hillside trees make a line that points straight to the right horse.
That’s the eye path I developed for this picture.
It is debatable whether it works the way I intended. It always is, but that’s ok. I arranged my shapes (horses, barn, pole, trees) in ways to support what I was after.

Now, what about subject matter and focal point? Aren’t those two sides competing, vying for attention? Maybe, but I think it still works. The eye contact of the horses does it for me. There is a connection, it gives it meaning and animates the scene. The look like they’re moving…they look alive.

Things to avoid: Important shapes too close to the edge of the painting. Big blocky patterns in the foreground that prevent the eyes from traveling into the picture.
All very traditional, but that’s what this is: traditional painting

What makes a painting beautiful?

I am thinking if people comment about a particular painting and call it beautiful,I have accomplished my mission. But what exactly is it that makes art beautiful? In the seventies the word ‘kitsch’ was used for art that was considered…well, not beautiful, or substandard!
Wikipeadia says:
‘Kitsch (/ˈkɪtʃ/; loanword from German) is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using
popular or cultural icons. Kitsch generally includes unsubstantial or gaudy works or decoration, or works that are calculated to have popular appeal.’

I guess that includes Thomas Kinkade! A winter scene with smoking chimney tops and lights on in *every window* of the house, yet somehow green and red trees? Yeah….kitsch!
Not beautiful.
Andrew Loomis lists the Elements of beauty in his excellent 1950’s classic book (long out of print) After all, it can’t just be one thing!
Here’s what Loomis wrote:
Unity, Simplicity, Design, Proportion, Color, Rhythm, Form, Texture, Values, Quality of light, Choice of subject, Technique.

Definitely the bible for me when I first started long ago. Even now every teacher talks about these! They repeat themselves in traditional painting like the backdrop in a Flintstone’s cartoon. And forgood reason!
The ones I struggle the most with is ‘Rhythm’ and since I am mostly watercolor painting nowadays, ‘Texture’. Texture in watercolor painting is very limited.
‘Rhythm’ is almost esoteric. You can’t put your finger on it. There’s rhythm in a landscape, the hills. There’s rhythm in a tree or a flower. Everything has rhythm, from the smallest forms to the cycles of the universe (to quote Loomis).

Choice of subject is relative, in my opinion. You can make a pretty drab subject look beautiful. That is when the artist comes in! Just look at Dean Mitchell’s work. Often far from pretty subjects, but beautiful art nonetheless.
I’ll talk about some of the other elements in the next blogpost.

Paso Robles Arts Festival 2015

This weekend the Paso Arts Fest came to a close. It was well attended and I am happy to say that all my work sold (four paintings, one was auctioned off) The caliber of artists participating was quite impressive for our small town: Established painters like John Cosby, Ruo Li, Libby Tolley, Richard Robinson (from New Zealand), W. Truman Hosner, my friend Andy Evansen, Carolyn Lord and many others. Andy, Carolyn and myself were the only watercolorists, maybe that’s why we did so well!
One of the biggest surprises (almost unheard of, really) is the fact that one of my watercolors got an award of excellence. I mean, watercolors never win anything!
Here are some impressions of the festival. The signature show will run until the end of June and I have four paintings in it.

Visiting Artist at Yosemite Art Center

Last week I worked for the Yosemite conservancy again. This is my third year in a row and I enjoy spending time in this magnificent place and paint. I taught for four hours every day, helping fellow painters. I do not get paid for it, it’s a way to give back to the community and I gladly do it.

Once again I spent time at the stables and sketched horses. Yosemite is a peaceful place and I love sitting in a remote location, paint and re-charge my batteries, so to speak.
This year we had sun, clouds, rain, snow flurries and temperatures between 31 and 80 degrees (0 – 25 C) I enjoyed every minute of it!

Monterey Plein Air convention Recap

I was definitely impressed by how well organized it was. Despite the amount of participants (over 700) there was never a problem.
Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the size of the event first, but the organizers tried hard to accommodate everybody. The catering company did a tremendous job, there was always food and drinks, so nobody had to go hungry.
The best part were all the great demonstrations by internationally known artists! If anything I come away inspired after seeing the presentations of Quang Ho, Antonio Masi or George Carlson, just to name a few.

Another highlight for me was meeting and spending time with fellow watermedia painters. Many painters whom I admired greatly when I first started out, like Eric Wiegardt! I also met Jean Haines, Michael Reardon, Robin Purcell, Andy Evanson, Georgia Mansur, Stewart White, Francesco Fontana and many others. We all hung out together at night to present a united front against all the oilies! Just kidding! We all got along and a few oil painters even took the time to complement us and admitted their admiration: ‘watercolor is just too hard’, was what I heard more than once!

Painting outside was great fun and there was room for everybody. My job was to also help out, if anybody needed guidance or had a question about how to approach a subject. We carried around flags and wore faculty hats to be of assistance if needed. Overall, I never felt pressured and many participants were experienced outdoor painters who really didn’t need much help.

Next year this event will be held in Tuscon, AZ, a very different environment. I am happy to say that I will be invited again as a faculty member. My presentation on the watermedia stage was well received and my painting in the Atrium exhibition sold!

Upcoming exhibitions

 

Just a quick post about some exhibitions and events I will be part of this spring:

April 13-17, Plein Air Convention in Monterey, CA
April 24-26 The San Dimas Art Festival  in San Dimas, CA
May 22-24 The Paso Robles Art Festival in Paso Robles, CA

Please consider visiting if you’re in the area and see some of my work in real life!

 

Color temperature!

While my paintings are mostly value based they also depend a great deal on color temperature. Color change does not necessarily mean value change, although a lot of times it is the case. So color change can therefore mean a change in value (intensity) or a change in temperature, or both!
This is important stuff because temperature affects our perception of form just as much as light. The change of value and temperature of a three dimensional object depends on how low or how intense the light source is. In low light conditions, the temperature changes are more obvious since there is no significant change in value!
Just take a look at some impressionists like Van Gogh or Cezanne who often painted work that is completely devoid of light and purely based on change of color temperature!

Great painting very much depends on subtle color (temperature) changes. It is at least as important as understanding your values.
When I first started painting this whole point was completely lost on me. Many artists are not aware of this, instead assuming that transitions in three dimensional objects are achieved with value change only! Often we see work that is completely based on overly dramatic, highly graphic and intense value changes and not much else!

Studying the old masters like JSS or Zorn will quickly show how the success of their work not only depends on values but ever so subtle transitions in color temperature. A humbling lesson on how to achieve lively, beautiful and timeless art!