Tag Archives: Aquarelle

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.

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Watercolor portraits

Almost like formal portraiture? Not really. While painted somewhat formally, I am mainly experimenting with expressions.

These come from photos I have taken of people on the street. Some look lost in thought, sad, haunted, sometimes expressionless. Commuter robots (comm u-bots). When walking around downtown or places like NY you’ll see them everywhere…

I don’t like photographs of people posing. Especially in portraits you see people pose a lot. They are too aware of the camera. It looks staged. I like the candid photos, where people look more natural, unaware that someone is taking a picture. These portraits are not very big. The face of the girl with the long blond hair is only 3 inches long. The other one is bigger.

As for technique, these take multiple glazes to get the right color and value. Direct painting (alla prima) is, unfortunately, not really possible in watercolor so I normally prefer to do work like this in oil. As in oil painting I only used black, white, cad red, raw sienna and ultramarine blue. That’s it.

It is a nice challenge and these can certainly be improved. Always something to learn! As artists I think it is very important to keep evolving, keep pushing. I am considered a landscape painter in watercolor but I refuse to be put in some drawer. Never be static and predictable. Or known for one thing. It’s too easy to burn out!

The art world is becoming increasingly homogenized. The only way to stand out is to do your own thing, not copy other painters’ styles and subjects. Workshops can help only if you get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) or at least be helped in that direction. Pick workshops carefully! Ask the venue about the instructor and their teaching style. Don’t fall for reputation. There are some with big names out there but they don’t know how to teach you a thing!

Simplifying a scene

Painting, writing and music have a lot in common. Have you ever tried reading a book
that was written with too much trivia and detailed descriptions? After a while it became a chore
to keep going instead of a great read.
In music, if the composition is too complicated with lots of intricate passages, it’s hard to listen
to it. Some Jazz music is like that.
Well, it’s the same with a painting. The artist can get lost in detail and trivia as well. The
camera is already master at recording every single detail. The artist’s job is to take the subject
apart and find the essence. That what gives it life, why it is interesting and why it is worth a
painting and capture that essence.
Every painting has a key component that has stirred the artists soul! It can be the design,
light and dark patterns, the subject itself, for what it is.. The main inspiration.

One of the hardest things to learn is to weed out what’s unnecessary and to develop what makes the scene. If we edit out too much we might end up with a painting that’s somehow not working. If we leave too much clutter we might end up with something that is confusing.

That’s why, once we pick a subject we must have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish. We can’t hope that it will work itself out during the process of painting!

Here are some tips to stay focused:

-Always remember what it was that made you want to paint the scene.
-Unfocus your eyes a lot while painting
-During painting, always step back and check if things are working out
-Never spend too much time on any section of the painting
-Work out a definite focal point
-Keep an eye on the time elapsed, spend too much time on the same piece and you start doing
too much!
-Make every brushstroke count
-Try not to second guess what you just did

You can easily see that my blog is about painting, not limited to the watercolor medium only.
Painting is painting, no matter what choice of medium!

Vermont in October

I was really looking forward to this one and Vermont did not disappoint! Everything was wonderful: the location, the Landgrove Inn, the people and the weather! Only one rainy day out of four glorious days of sunshine and cool, crisp temperatures.

Staying at the Landgrove Inn was great. It is truly a place to get away from everything. Tucked between two mountains in southern Vermont, you won’t find a better place to recharge your batteries from your day to day hectic life! Everything was taken care of: breakfast, lunch and dinner! All we had to do was show up. Tom even catered our lunch when we were painting in a nearby town. How does it sound to just paint for a whole week with nothing else to worry about?? The Landgrove Inn is the place to do it, second to none! Thanks so much, Maureen and Tom!

Painting en plein air is the greatest teacher ever! One of the biggest issues students have is editing the scene in front of us, last week was no exception. That goes both for shapes and objects as well as color. Just as a scene is overloaded with lots of information, it is also overloaded with lots of color. Especially in Vermont in the fall! Both must be simplified.

In my workshops, I teach a way to look at a scene with the eyes of a painter! While we try to capture what’s in front of us, we must not get tempted to put in everything we see. First of all, it can’t be done anyways. Second, it won’t even look appealing. Third, why paint it at all? Why not just take a photograph and leave it at that?

I teach painting. I don’t care about watercolor. Painting is painting and in order to do it successfully, we must learn how to see right. Before adding anything to a scene I always ask myself whether it adds positively to the picture. Will it support the message of the painting? Will it add to the design and composition? Or is it just another repetition of what’s already there?

The thing to understand is the light and dark pattern first and foremost. What colors you end up using is completely secondary. If the pattern and design is good, the painting will be good!

A week in La Crosse, WI

Thanks again to Bob Witte (http://wittesendstudio.blogspot.com/)
for inviting me to teach a workshop in La Crosse!

On the short flight from Chicago to La Crosse I flew over the most scenic, rolling hills you can imagine, littered with working dairy farms. I knew I was in for a treat!
La Crosse did not disappoint and I can genuinely say that I loved the area! It reminded me so much of Bavaria Germany, minus the buildings, of course.

If you’re not familiar with LC, I highly recommend a visit. Expecting midwestern flatness, I was quite surprised to encounter the most beautiful landscape with endless subject matter to paint!
More paintings in the next blogpost!

The workshop went really well and we all created some interesting paintings. Credit for the photos I posted goes to Dave Bass, photographer and proprietor of the SG1311 Gallery in La Crosse (http://www.sg1311.blogspot.com/)

Have a look at his excellent work here http://www.dbassphoto.com/
Thank you, Dave!

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.