“Water Rhythm Wumeng, Painting Huize” International Watercolor Plein Air Week

I am happy to announce my participation at the International Watercolor Plein Air Week in China, from February 25 to March 3, 2018. The event takes place in Yunnan province, the tropical area in southwest China, and the itinerary will include an exhibition, demos, seminars, plein air painting and sightseeing.

I will post pictures after my trip. Here are two paintings that will be on exhibit there:

Touching The Earth (2018)

The Coulee Region, WI (2018)

The Coulee Region, WI (2018)

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What is Notan?

Notan is a Japanese word that means dark-light. The principle of Notan, however, means much more than that. It is the interaction between positive and negative space. The ancient symbol of Yin and Yang is probably the most widely known Notan. The positive and negative areas make a whole through a unity of opposites. The Notan’s practical applications are for the design in painting. Understanding Notan will enable us to create value masses, tension, movement, and symmetry in our work.

A tone of grey between two value extremes (i.e. ,black and white) changes their relations and opens up a new field for creative activity. Here we think of Notan as the values of one tone against the another.

The set of three values is the basis of drawings, mezzo tint, aquatint etc. From there it is an easy step to many values. It is an exercise of great value (pun intended) to draw or paint a landscape with three values: white, black and grey.

Understanding Notan can help identify the most interesting and dominant shapes. It will also help identify the correct values and therefore create a stronger painting. Art sources to check out are Japanese Notan designs, the artists Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian, among others.

I recommend reading Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design (Dover Art Instruction) by Dorr Bothwell, Marlys Mayfield (1991).

I also recommend doing value studies before painting as it is the same exercise in determining value masses and their interaction = Notan! Other examples of strong Notan in representational art: Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Self-portrait at an early age” and James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s “Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1” (Whistler’s mother).

Best of 2017…quote, unquote.

Here are some of the most liked paintings I did last year. At least according to Instagram. The whole social media circus is strange to me, because it is tempting to actually believe that these are also my ‘best paintings’.  Often I post something and think ‘this is a real good painting’ and almost get no response. Other times I post something I think is mediocre and, voila, it’s a total hit! I have kind of given up analyzing the whole thing.

Happy New Year to everyone who is interested in my art and comes to my blog. Let’s focus on the real reasons we are creating! Remember why your are an artist in this fake world of ‘likes’. Remember the reason why you paint and look through all the bullshit! Put your phone down and take in the world with your senses.

Let’s all try to spread kindness, reach out to help others and make up for the lack of empathy and compassion in this world.

 

 

 

What is a good painting?

In my last blog post I have talked about how painting can be compared to music. Personal taste is ultimately the reason why an individual likes a painting or a song. Good art, bad art? Who’s to judge? What’s great to one person may be horrible to another. In music, there are people who love endless jazz solos and others would want to run screaming out of the room if they were exposed to it. There may be paintings that I like a lot and someone else hates them. Overall, I think that’s natural.

But there is some music and some art almost everyone can love, maybe Mozart? Paintings by Sorolla, or more contemporary, Dali? Ancient Notan art of the Japanese and Chinese. In other words, there is a consensus where most of us feel the same way about something. To take it further, most people would agree that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman. So there is almost like a standard for what’s beautiful.

How would that apply to painting? I think, ultimately, it comes down to the personal style of any given artist. The artist’s personality that has its presence in their work. We can see it. Sometimes you look at some painting and you just know, that’s a Sargent or a Zorn! The masters have their own distinctive style. It is *their* own personal vision of beauty that we pick up on and it resonates within us.

Nature by itself is not art per se, it is what the artist expresses when they paint her that becomes art. A painting that has the mood of a landscape is more powerful than one where the artists tries to paint every leaf on a tree.

Art and music are also influenced by the aesthetics of a people and societies in general. Sense of beauty and taste also changes with time, although some art and music is ‘timeless’. Landscape painting is timeless, I think, because we as human beings come from nature. It is in our DNA. In music, the classics like Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin etc etc. are still liked and listened to today even though their music was written hundreds of years ago.

Painting and music – a great analogy

Both art forms (music and painting) have effects on our subconscious!

Words like sensuous and passionate, or emotional, stimulating, mood altering, uplifting, depressing… can be applied to both music and painting! An example would be to make a painting too busy. It is equal to listening to music where someone plays solo without stopping. It is tiresome and ultimately not a pleasant experience. It is like looking at a painting that is filled with too much information or no color harmony.

Emotional attributes are equally felt in the use of color in art. A painting has the highest impact when it captures some poetic mood of nature, an impression of strength and power, or an emotion in a portrait. Color sets mood. Just think of the beautiful works of the masters Corot, Whistler or Thayer. Warm colors, by nature, are exciting and stimulating but can also be irritating. Imagine being in room where all the walls have been painted scarlet red! Cool colors have quiet the opposite effect. They are restful in the emotional sense. There is a reason why most people use soft greyish tones when painting walls in their houses.

Going back to music, any music piece is only consecutively played notes between pauses which, when played without emotion, are just that: notes, scales. The actual music is in the interpretation. It is nowhere to be found in the notation. Exactly like in painting: without an emotional connection a painting is just pigment on paper or canvas. It is certainly not found in the color mix. That’s why there is the term ‘artist’ and another one for ‘painter’. When does a painter become an artist?

When a painting is ‘technical’ we may be impressed (or not), but when a painting grabs you by your emotions it becomes art. That’s the painting you keep coming back to, whereas the technical one has your attention for 30 seconds and then you loose interest!

Instead of my paintings, this time I have uploaded some of the Masters.

A good quote by artist Jean-François Millet: ‘Technique should always hide itself modestly behind the thing expressed.’

Tribute to a Beauty!

This is a small oil painting of ‘Beholder’, a famous American race horse. She is retired now, but during her career she earned more than $6 Million.
The picture was taken at Santa Anita race track. She was warming up for her last race before retirement in 2016. Usually, I am not a big fan of horse racing but I am a big fan of horses! Over the years I visited Santa Anita race track multiple times to sketch, take the tour of the stables and just look at the magnificent horses. They are athletes and just amazing to look at.
Beholder had initially quite the reputation: she was known to be very temperamental and hard to control. That changed as she aged thanks to her trainer with whom she developed a bond and depth of communication that made all the difference.
Before races, her trainer would use ear plugs and a hood with ear coverings to help her calm down. She also didn’t like travel therefore she raced most of her career in home state of California.
When asked what it’s like to ride Beholder, her jockey Gary Stevens said: It’s like I’m driving a Mack truck with the speed of a Porsche and the brain of a rocket scientist.”
Definitely a horse that deserves to be painted!

As for process, I don’t do any sort of underpainting in oil. As I do with watercolor I do a pencil sketch and work ‘alla prima’, as far as I am able to. What that means is, I try to judge value and color, mix the appropriate paints and put it on. Done. No going back (if at all possible, doesn’t work all the time). While this may be a harder approach it is also more gratifying because the energy of the brush strokes is completely preserved. No fiddling, over blending etc. etc. Unlike in watercolor, the brush strokes in oil painting is everything… actually, it’s the same in watercolor..never mind!

A ten day extravaganza in Tuscany, Italy

It was a pleasure to be back at Abbondanza, once again working with the wonderful Paula and Karolina.
We had a great group, total of 19 people with several non-painters, or ‘civilians’ as they liked to call themselves!
Paula’s is one of the best workshop venues when it comes to European painting trips. It is hard to top this experience. There is a chef on location and a driver for the daily excursions, done in a luxurious bus that can hold up to 20 people.
Some of my students who took the workshop two years ago are still raving about the culinary experience they had at Abbondanza!

One of the highlights this year was painting in the Villa Reale gardens near Lucca where John
Singer Sargent painted a long time ago. We found the exact locations he picked. Out of respect and reverence, we decided to paint a different view, from the opposite site Sargent had picked.
Unfortunately, it was a rainy day and we ended up working with umbrellas in one hand, paint brush in the other. That didn’t stop us, however. It may be a once in a lifetime opportunity so nobody was deterred from trying. Nice light would’ve been a treat but the weather is what it is!

Villa Fiori, our accommodations, were located about a 20 minute drive from the city center of Lucca, high up in the hills. The location couldn’t have been better! There was an olive garden and medieval church right outside, which we painted multiple times in different light.
My workshop was well received and I got many positive reviews. Students really like my teaching style and emphasis on sound painting principles.

As a fun side-note: the week we were there, the Rolling Stones were also scheduled to play a concert in the moat next to the city walls of Lucca. So the town of only 10000 grew to more than 60000 on the day of the concert. We made sure we stayed far away from Lucca that day!