Yosemite in October!

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”   – John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

I feel privileged to be invited to teach for the Yosemite conservancy. Once a year I donate my time and take people to places around the park where we all paint together. The dates this year will be October 23 to 29 which is the height of the Autumn season, so expect spectacular colors all around the park! To pre-register go here and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list to find my name!

I know many Americans and even Californians, who have never been to this amazing place. Words can barely describe what you’re missing out on! Every time I drive down into the valley it truly feels like arriving at some magical, mysterious location and all my worries and everyday concerns seem to vanish instantly!
Hope to see you there!

Why paint…

To continue with the musings about growing and evolving as an artist, I happen to come across a website about poetry that posted a letter by one of my favorite poets Rainer Maria Rilke. It is one of a collection of 10 letters written by the famous poet RMR (1875-1926) to a young officer cadet at the Military Academy in Vienna, who wanted Rilke to critique the quality of his poetry so he could decide whether a literary career made sense for him.
The correspondence lasted from 1902 to 1908

I decided to include this because in his first letter, Rilke’s comments really hit home with me and it can be directly applied to the art of painting. It is as if he wrote this yesterday where in fact the letter dates back to 17 February 1903 in Paris!!

Read this excerpt and replace the word ‘poem’ with ‘painting’ and ‘writer’ with ‘painter’. The interesting thing to me is to compare it to social media today where so many artists post their paintings in hopes to get ‘likes’, in other words, looking outwards for recognition and approval. Nothing has changed! We just don’t send physical letters anymore.

“You ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now, since you have given me permission to advise you, I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now. No one can advise and help you, no one.
There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.
Then draw near to nature. Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose.
If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant.
If, as a result of this turning inward, of this sinking into your own world, poetry should emerge, you will not think to ask someone whether it is good poetry. And you will not try to interest publishers of magazines in these works. For you will hear in them your own voice; you will see in them a piece of your life, a natural possession of yours. A piece of art is good if it is born of necessity. This, its source, is its criterion; there is no other.
Therefore, my dear friend, I know of no other advice than this: Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth. At its source you will find the answer to the question, whether you must write. Accept it, however it sounds to you, without analyzing. Perhaps it will become apparent to you that you are indeed called to be a writer. Then accept that fate; bear its burden, and its grandeur, without asking for the reward, which might possibly come from without. For the creative artist must be a world of his own and must find everything within himself and in nature, to which he has betrothed himself.
It is possible that, even after your descent into your inner self and into your secret place of solitude, you might find that you must give up becoming a poet. As I have said, to feel that one could live without writing is enough indication that, in fact, one should not.”

Interesting stuff, isn’t it!
I encourage you to read the whole letter here (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/letters-young-poet-first-letter

Aspirations of an artist

‘Nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor’
Edward Reep, 1983 (from the book ‘Content of watercolor’)

Harsh words from Mr. Reep, but he has a point. Students often don’t seem to move on from materials and technique. Part of the problem is that people seem to think they learn how to paint by attending workshops. I don’t mean to downplay that a workshop can help. Some just take so many or even worse, some actually only paint in workshop settings, never anywhere else! The art of painting is learned by painting!

Well, it all depends on what goals we have, doesn’t it? I guess it’s ok to just paint as a pastime. However, I think that someone who paints three times a year should not have the right to call themselves an artist, any more so than someone who thinks they’re a musician when they only play their instrument every leap year and otherwise just listen to music.
To think and talk about painting doesn’t count. To look at painting images on facebook doesn’t either. We actually have to do it.

The more we paint, the closer we get to the real reason of why we paint. We no longer focus on the ‘how’ but more on the ‘why’.

When we start it’s quite normal that we’re preoccupied with technique and materials. We inhale ‘how to paint this and that’-books and attend workshops. We have to start somewhere. After a while, the focus starts shifting. At least in theory.

As the years go by I started thinking more and more about why I paint. In the beginning I even had problems articulating it, or finding a good reason at all! Sure, I used to be a professional illustrator. Sure, I painted since I was a child on and off. Sure, I studied painting with an Italian master painter, etc. etc. But are those real reasons? Motivation enough to keep at it today, after all these years? Do I love it that much?

Everyone should ask themselves the question why they paint, I think. Painting ultimately should be about expression. A painter, even a representational painter, needs to have a vision that goes beyond copying shapes that we encounter in nature or take pictures of. We need to have something to say with our art. It’s a different path for each and everyone of us. It’s a different life for each and every one of us. Therefore our art and what we express should be highly personal and intimate. Despite social media, painting will remain a solitary pursuit where only the end product is shared with others and even that is not for certain.

Keep it that way.

The Art Spirit, Part II

When I was interviewed by Paul Sullivan, editor with Artist Daily and a great watercolor artist himself, he mentioned that my interview was part of a series called  ‘Masters of American watercolor’. I was seriously concerned, because I don’t see myself being a ‘master’. Far from it, actually!  As if on queue I found a passage in Robert Henri’s book that talks about this very subject:

“He who is master of what he has today will be master of what he has tomorrow. An artist is a master at the start, if he is ever going to be one. Masters are people who use what they have.”

“Work always as if you were a master, expect from yourself a masterpiece. It’s a wrong idea that a master is a finished person. Masters are very faulty, they haven’t learned everything and they know it. Finished persons are very common – people who are closed up, quite satisfied that there is little or nothing more to learn.”
Pretty interesting, and I love this one:

“A small boy can be a master. I have met masters now and again, some in studios, others anywhere, working on a railroad, running a boat, playing a game, selling things. Masters are such as they had. They are wonderful people to meet. Have you never felt yourself ‘in the presence’ when with a carpenter or a gardener? They do not say, ‘oh, I am only a gardener, therefore not much can be expected from me’. They say, or seem to say, ‘I am a Gardener!’
These are masters, what more could anyone be!”

 

‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri

I thought I should share some of Robert Henri’s quotes, a book I am studying at the moment.
My thanks goes out to Phil Kinsey for turning me on to this book! It was written in the late 1800’s but it is as true today as it was back then. The truth will be the truth, withstanding the passage of time. Enjoy!

‘If you want to know how to do a thing you must first have complete desire to do that thing.’

‘The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the opposition of cool colors with warm colors, and the opposition of muted colors with bright colors.’

‘Hold on to the few simple larger masses of your composition, and value as most important the beauty and design of these larger masses, or forms, or movements. Do not let beauty in the subdivisions destroy the beauty or the power of the major divisions’.

‘Whatever you feel or think, your exact state at the exact moment of your brush touching the surface is in some way registered in that stroke.’

‘There is a super color which envelops all the colors. It is this super color – this color of the whole – which is most important.’

‘Do not be interested in light for light’s sake or in color for color’s sake, but in each as a medium of expression.’

‘In painting of light, in modeling form, keep as deep down in color as you can. It is color that makes the sensation of light. Play from warm to cold, not from white to black.’

‘The painting that impresses you at first sight and the next day loses even the power to attract your attention is one that looks always the same. It has a moment of life but dies immediately thereafter.’

Value studies help when there’s a gunfight!

The unexpected always happens when you’re painting on location. I have had anything from flies, annoying onlookers, bank trucks blocking the view to complete weather changes! I never had a ‘gunfight’ until a few days ago, that is!

While painting at Old Tucson as a faculty member of this year’s plein air convention, I was suddenly approached by a cowboy with a Winchester rifle. He told me I had to leave my painting spot because there was going to be a gunfight at noon (actually it was 5:30pm, small detail).

He had a fierce look, kept spitting and carried a gun. I thought it better not to argue. Luckily, I had done my value sketch and could finish my painting in the studio later. So, there you go! That’s why we do the value sketch, because you just never know for how long you can paint at a certain spot!

This is what I should have said in return: “Stranger, this town is not big enough for the two of us…”, but I wasn’t that quick witted, plus I was unarmed!!

Old Tucson was the set of many well-known Western movies and shows, i.e. ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and others.

A different kind of painting tip!

Workshops teach techniques. Every workshop instructor will have their own method of painting. So you might be taught to never do ‘this’ in one workshop, and to absolutely do it in another.
Art has no rules. Anything can be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, often only depending on timing or intention.

There is too much talk about ‘best painter’, ‘master painter’, this and that. People being put on pedestals, like they’re deities. If you classify people you create hierarchies and that creates suffering.
Looking for validation outside yourself is tricky business. If you try to paint like so and so, you’re setting yourself up to suffer because you’re not so and so.
Same thing happens if you’re painting to be ‘liked’. It is certainly good to get validation from your peers (notice I did not say followers) but not if you’re painting to impress someone or to get into competitions. Again, you’re setting yourself up for suffering! Be mindful of your motivations. Look inside of you for guidance.

I’d love to quote my favorite poet here when asked by a student if his work is good or not:
‘A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity. In this manner of its origin lies its true estimate and value: there is no other.” by Rainer Maria Rilke

In other words, it comes from a deeper place inside you. You have to paint, you have no choice! You will find subject matter that moves you, because what you love you’ll paint better. You need to express yourself that way and that in turn makes your art real.