Sunday, November 29, 2015

Rainy Grocery

I did this quick sketch from the car yesterday while Jeanette was in the market. It's 3 x 3 inches in gouache. The colors are: titanium whitecadmium yellow lightburnt sienna, and Prussian blue in a watercolor sketchbook

I wrote a five-word story to go with it. There's still a month left if you want to enter the Six-Word Story Challenge. It's free to enter. You can browse the entries that have come in already on the special Facebook event page we've set up for the Six-Word Story Challenge.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

John Rogers, Sculptor for the People

John Rogers was a late 19th century sculptor who was as well known and beloved in his day as was Norman Rockwell in his. 

He sculpted table-top sized figural groupings based on literature or the Civil War. He then had a team reproduce them in plaster. The casts were painted in brown or gray tones so that they wouldn't show dust. 

The plaster casts sold for about $14 —about $425 in today's dollars, so nearly everyone could afford one. Rogers produced about 80 different subjects, with about 80,000 reproductions in all. They showed up in shop windows and homes everywhere. Even Abraham Lincoln had one.
John Rogers was a 19th-Century Sculptor for the Common Man
In 2012 the New-York Historical Society had a retrospective called John Rogers: American Stories

Friday, November 27, 2015

Harold Speed on Modern Art, Part 2

Today we'll take a look at the second half of Harold Speed's chapter on Modern Art from his 1924 art instruction book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.

I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by comments of my own. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

1. The "extreme impressionist movement" was the product of an age of scientific discovery.
Since we often think of Impressionism as a nostalgic style, it's easy to forget that it was founded on new scientific theories of light and vision. Speed is receptive to the gains that impressionism brought to painting, particularly in the freshening of the palette.

Childe Hassam - Une averse
2. "Aspects of nature that had been hopelessly unpaintable on the old formulas were found to lend themselves to expressions in colour."
The Impressionists were revolutionary not only to their approach to color and painting, but also to their subject choices, painting contemporary life at unusual times of day or atmospheric conditions.

3. " did not lead art very far and had no possibilities of development."
There had to be a "but" in there. Speed sees the development into Post-Impressionism and Cubism as a consequence of the inevitable dead end of the "extreme impressionist movement."

4. Cutting with the art of the past
He argues that a flaw of the extreme impressionist position was to "entirely cut with the art of the past." That attitude exists even today among many academics, curators, and art historians. For example, a college near us built a big art museum, but they only show work of the later 20th century and beyond. All of their traditional realist paintings are either put in storage or relegated to a private, locked building that the public is not allowed to enter. The result is that the art of pre-20th century is effectively obliterated from consideration.

Had he lived into the 1960s, Speed would have been shocked to see the fervor for dumping the past as art schools gleefully pushed their plaster cast collections out of second-floor windows to crash in pieces on the ground. Speed is arguing that the extreme end of any ideological or religious movement can get destructive. He says, "There is something of Puritan austerity, a love of destroying pleasing things, and a dislike of seeing things going on too comfortably, in many of these modern movements....and a secret pride in being misunderstood, and if possible, persecuted."

"La Mont Sainte Victoire" by Paul Cezanne
5. "There is something about Cezanne, something about his uncompromising attitude toward all the softer graces of expression, and his love of uncouth directness, that makes him particularly attractive to a very large body of young painters." 
It is remarkable what a large shadow Cezanne cast over painters in the 20th century. If you look at 1950s American Artist magazine, you can see realist painters trying to absorb Cezanne into their way of seeing. He was rapturously elevated all the time in our art-school composition classes. Speed says: "He was deeply concerned with the third dimension in painting." I don't personally see that—maybe I never "got" Cezanne. His work has always struck me as rather concerned with flatness, and full of deliberate distortions.

6. Art, like religion, holds that these emotional perceptions put us in touch with things transcending the material world...and open up a correspondence with the world of ultimate realities.
This is an important value of art that was often overlooked in the era Speed was talking about, and is still often overlooked today, as many people are concerned with painterly surface and natural appearances. Speed seems to be acknowledging that the modern movement (meaning primarily Impressionism) was sound and valid at its core, but that the extremists were distorting the value of it by forgetting spiritual values, good design, and subtlety.

Painting by Thomas Moran
7. In modern "ism" movements, the aesthetic approach is to openly flout every other artistic consideration, and to limit the statement to a single principle.
To me, this was the problem with the abstract painting movement. I love the beauty of abstraction, but the abstract artists weren't the best at it. I always thought that the best abstract painters were realists like Thomas Moran or Andrew Wyeth, perhaps because they were accountable to nature. As Speed puts it: "Abstract ideas "gain their full significance in painting and sculpture only when associated with the representation of nature. Unassociated with anything but themselves, such abstract lines, tones, or colours become mere geometrical diagrams."

Most abstract-only painters have had a clumsy sense of color and design. Other abstract artists, it must be admitted, found their way to this way of painting because it doesn't require the drawing skills of realist painting.

Some abstract artists were sincerely trying to find in the visual arts some equivalent to the pure expression of music, but for reasons I'll have to cover in another post, visual art and auditory art are fundamentally different, making the goal of "painting aspiring to the condition of music" an impossible goal. Or at least that the goal of achieving pure abstraction in the visual arts is reached most perfectly by music visualizer programs, wallpaper, or motel art (not to disparage any of those forms—they all have their purpose).

8. "I am inclined to believe that every age has the art it deserves."
Maybe so, but I think we deserve better. Given that the Internet has created a level playing field where young artists can immediately find their way to the work they love, there's no reason that our age can't be the breeding ground of great work in every field of art. Speed here talks about a theme he developed earlier in the chapter, associating the art that is ascendant in any age with the cultural values that circulate around it.

9. "There are formulas at the basis of all good artistic design."
...but he says the life of the art is not in the formula. Art escapes the formula.

10. "There is no modern art any more than there is any modern truth. There is just Art and Truth. There is good and bad art, as there is truth and untruth."
Speed says that when you have to put an adjective in front of a kind of art, such as "Futurist Art" or "Post Impressionist Art" it marks it as second rate.

Speed concludes with some interesting points:

"The vigor and directness of expression one finds in good primitive art may be the thing we need in these days, but the scrapping of all traditions of fine painting and going back to a crude primitive means of expression is not the only way of reinculcating it.... The true advance in art is along the middle lines, in tune with a tradition of natural truth."

"What is original is only what is true, a newly perceived truth."

Next week: Chapter 3, The technique of painting.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," and there's also a Kindle edition.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

SCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius Pips

SCAD Atlanta instructor Rick Lovell says on his blog:

"Two classes worked on the Scroobious Pip project this fall quarter. The project was inspired by two different things; James Gurney's video demo called "How I Paint Dinosaurs", and a silly poem by Edward Lear called "The Scroobious Pip," a nonsense story about an animal that is a little of everything."

Scroobius Pip maquette by Sally Geng
"The students created their version of the Scroobious Pip in polymer clay; it begins with a wire armature, is bulked out with aluminum foil, is covered in Super Sculpey, sculpted, baked and finally painted."

Scroobius Pip illustration by Sally Geng
"The maquette is lit and photographed and is used as a model for a finished illustration that tells a bit of a story about each Pip."

Scroobius Pips on the SCAD Illustration blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Warm vs. Cold

With the thermometer dropping, it's getting a little chilly to paint outdoors.
In this little 4x4 inch gouache study I was thinking about warm vs. cold in terms of color temperature, too. The fading warm sunlight only partially melts into the icebergs of the buildings. 

I'm using three colors plus white here: Prussian blue, burnt sienna, and cadmium yellow.

On a different topic, blog reader Jim Douglas asked:
"After following your creative habits for years now I've gleaned you often make a sketch study of a subject then move on to a new subject to make a fresh start. New sketchbook page, new subject. Sketches, especially ones as excellent as yours, can certainly stand on their own as works of art, but do you ever have the urge to develop a sketch and produce a larger scale work based on it? I've only known you to develop sketches into a larger piece of artwork as part of a commission, and I'm curious to know if you ever follow that rhythm when making art for yourself." 

Jim, thanks for the compliment and question. As you say, my sketchbooks are very much an end in themselves, a way of seeing and sharing the world. I'm not doing those paintings to sell, and am making a living in other ways. The benefit of keeping the paintings bound together in sequence in a sketchbook offsets the limitation of not being able to frame them individually on the wall. 

At the same time my sketchbook paintings (maybe I should call them "studies" rather than "sketches") are valuable to me as a means to at least three other goals. One, of course is video production. The instructional documentaries are one of my primary creative outlets at the moment and an important source of income. I'm also looking into ways of publishing those sketchbooks both digitally and physically. And, of course, I do use my sketchbooks as reference when doing studio work. 

And finally, it's funny you should ask about larger scale works, because I just completed two larger separate paintings that will be the subject of the next video. I haven't really shared those images on the blog yet. They're both concept art pieces created entirely on location. Compared to the little sketchbook pages, 11x14" and 12x16" seemed huge. The new video is in voiceover and final edit and will be released in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Portrait of a Theorbo Player

It's not every day that you get to paint a theorbo, which is sort of a lute on steroids.

When I heard that theorbo specialist Simon Martyn-Ellis would be playing in Poughkeepsie, I made sure to get a seat in the front row.
I used watercolor pencils to outline the shapes. I painted the black areas with two water brushes, one filled with water and the other filled with dark gray water-soluble ink. I had all those tools ready in the left hand before the concert started so I wouldn't have to reach in my bag or move too much.

During intermission I painted the background and the skin tones with gouache and did the lettering with a fountain pen, then spent the second half of the concert finishing the details. 

"Soldier Playing the Theorbo" by Meissonier, oil on wood
8.5 x 11.5 inches, in the Met's collection, but not on view
In the back of my mind was this small study by Ernest Meissonier, where I first became aware of the theorbo.
Previous posts on sketching at concerts:
The Orchestra Now
James Bagwell Conducts
Maestro Bagwell
James Bagwell at a Rehearsal
The "Flash-Glance" Method
Gouache portrait of an Irish whistle player
Sketching a vocal concert  
Violinist in ink wash
Horn Player
Mirko Listening
Club Passim Gig
Shapewelding Sketching 
The Cello and the Pencil
Mass in C
Handel's Messiah
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