When is a painting finished.. and other musings

As I come to the end of a painting, this question always rears it’s ugly head: what else does it need?
The one after that I hate even more: couldn’t I have done a better job with this or that section? Is it a good painting? how good? My philosophy here is that I did the best I could do with what I have and who I am right now. I move on to another painting. This becomes very apparent to me when I look at work I did a few years back. It was the best I could do at the time. End of story.
You cannot ‘make’ a masterpiece. One day it may happen or it may never happen. It is a waste of time to think ‘this is it, this time I’ll do it’.
Doesn’t work.

Lack of decision and endless fiddling with the current painting is a harmful thing. You have to learn from the mistakes you can spot at the end and make amends, but the energy must go into a fresh effort! Learn to use your time wisely.

A word about talent: to any artist who has slaved over years to acquire his skills in painting, it is the most irritating thing to hear that your ability is just a ‘gift’. Talent is the first step, you have to have it. Absolutely. But nobody who paints amazing paintings has done so from day one. They put thousands of hours into it. There is no formula in art that will not break down as soon as the effort behind it ceases.
A good analogy is athletics: do you know how many hours pro figure skaters or tennis players practice every day? No need to answer that. Talent may help get you to the elite, I don’t dispute that. Even if I practiced tennis 8 hours a day from now on, I would never play like Roger Federer. I know that, I just don’t have enough talent.
But to say as artists we just have ‘this gift’ is ignoring how much work we’ve put into it.

Of course nowadays there are many who put more effort into their social media page instead of their art, but that’s another blog post. Or not.

What makes a painting beautiful, Part IV

You ever look at a dark tree against a light sky? The sky wraps itself around the tree, or the tree reaches into the sky mass. Both is happening, naturally. As logic dictates there is no visible connection between the branches and the sky, right? Well, not exactly.

There is a modification of the light going on near the dark and vise versa. Very gently, but it is there. It is the phenomena of diffraction:

As dark masses approach a light mass they grow slightly lighter. As a light mass approaches a dark mass it grows slightly darker, next to the dark mass. The edge can still be hard, as a branch in a sky would be, but the sky goes a bit darker around them. At the same time, the branch gets a bit lighter in value before it meets the sky.

This is how Sargent did it:

The second thing is the color. There is almost an exchange of color happening as well. The hill color behind the barn can be in the barn also. Same goes for the hill: put some color of the barn into the hill and it will look more harmonious.
The most obvious way to see this is to look at a telegraph pole against a sunset. It’s pretty crazy that the pole would take on the red or yellow of the sun on the bottom and the blue of the sky on the top. Isn’t it just a brown pole? The effect of halation!

Nobody says you have to paint like that all the time. But remember the old adage: you have to know ‘the rules’ before you can brake them.

Eventually, I will write a book with all these weird painting tips. It is nice to help fellow artists improve their painting skills, but first and foremost I will have to work on my own progress in this strange art world. The teaching is but a small part of it and it must not take over. It is not my calling to be a watercolor instructor. My calling is to be an artist. Thanks for reading my blog.

What makes a painting beautiful, Part III

There’s more to it than putting pigment on paper. One of the things I have learned is that, not only do we paint best what we know best, but also, we paint best what we truly love! Somehow that love goes into the painting and other people pick up on it.
Every scene ‘feels’ different. Early morning, midday, twilight…winter, summer, spring and fall. It is important to convey the feeling of the subject, I think.
If I hear that one of my paintings made somebody feel as though they were there, I know I have succeeded!

Light and color have a lot to do with it. They set the mood in a painting. It is one thing to copy nature but quite another to express her in a painting! We must never loose the big message to all the little unimportant detail. For instance, we need to consider the sweeping energy that a tree has, not so much how many leaves there are.

When working from a photograph, I think it’s important to do a drawing of the scene first. By interpreting the scene in your own way, you’ll paint a better picture than you would by slavishly copying everything on the photograph!

 

 

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!