The other day I was looking through an issue of American Art Collector and saw a brief article on an upcoming artist. It showed some stylized paintings of people, mostly women. So I quickly scanned through the text and immediately found the sentence I thought I would find. It said that the artist had really found his style after taking a workshop with Milt Kobayashi.
My immediate thought was, “Dude, you didn’t find your style. You found his style.” The paintings all had the same sort of pretty caricaturization that is the hallmark of Kobayashi’s style. It’s attractive, but rather cloying.
I’ve had this experience before. I’ll see a few paintings by an “emerging” artist and think, “clone of David Leffel.” Then I’ll look and see that Leffel is cited as a teacher. Or once I was at an open studio event and saw a bunch of expressionist paintings. “Oskar Kokoschka,” I thought. And darned if her bio didn’t state that she had studied with Kokoschka.
I’m not sure how I feel about this phenomenon. Once upon a time, it was pretty normal for a student to develop a style similar to a master’s: c.f. Van Dyck and Rubens, for example. These days, however, it seems a bit of a shame when a painter is presented as some sort of great talent when that talent really amounts to replicating another painter’s signature style.
That doesn’t mean that you should have no influences, but blatant copying of a style seems rather much, I think. Beyond that, I tend to be a bit disappointed when all of the students of a famous teacher such as Leffel seem to turn out paintings just like the teacher’s. It seems as if the job of a painting teacher is to help each student paint their own paintings, not more of the teacher’s work.
Posted in artists.
– 3 December 2009
Writer Steven Pressfield has a post on his blog on maintaining momentum. He’s a proponent of the value of working every day.
Momentum equals power
Momentum produces another critical payoff. As we work day after day with focus and intensity, energy starts to concentrate around us. That energy acts like a powerful electromagnetic field, drawing to us all kinds of providential aid and assistance. Ideas come. Insights accumulate. We even get help from outside sources—friends with money, colleagues with contacts. Serendipitous meetings produce happy outcomes, seemingly random occurrences bring unexpected allies and lucky connections.
When Paul said, “Start the next one tomorrow,” what he meant was, “Don’t mess with your momentum.”
Paul knew that the interval between the completion of Project L and the commencement of Project M is a power moment for Resistance. Resistance loves that moment because it can jump all over us with its arsenal of procrastination, self-doubt, indecisiveness and self-befuddlement. It can paralyze us.
The time to decide on Project M is while we’re in the middle of Project L. We should know what we’re going to do next. Otherwise we’re sitting ducks for Resistance.
This is exactly how it works for me. If I am working on a painting and can do some kind of work on it every day, then the momentum carries me through. If I stop, there’s a lot of effort involved in getting started again.
Go read the whole thing.
Posted in personal.
– 25 November 2009
I get more than 23 spam comments here for each legitimate one. Spam filters catch most of them, but occasionally one slips through and I have to delete it manually. And once in awhile, a legitimate comment gets tagged as spam, so I have to rescue it. (Sometimes I miss those and they get deleted. If I did that to one of yours I apologize.)
Oh, how I hate those parasites.
In case you’re not aware, comment spam is valuable because Google and other search engines rank sites based on how many other sites link to them. Google tends to filter out any site that’s just a bunch of crappy links, so just making sites solely for that purpose is a waste of time. But a link in a comment from a site Google considers legitimate (this site has a Google page rank of 4 out of 10, which is not too bad for a blog with a limited audience) does count. Enough such links, spread out over the internet, gets a site onto the first page of Google search rankings and decreases the cost of purchasing ads.
That’s worth money, so scumbags write programs to scour the internet, finding sites where automated comments can be entered. They are often written to look kind of like a generic nice comment, such as “Excellent points. Keep up the good work!” with hidden links. If you write a real comment that looks generic like that, it’s likely to end up in the spam filter.
Sigh. Sorry for the non-art post, but it’s kind of frustrating.
Posted in personal.
– 11 November 2009
Here’s a picture of what I’m working on. It’s oil on canvas, a little over five feet tall, so it stretches the limits of what I can put on my tripod easel. The picture is pretty awful, because it’s hard to photograph an oil painting this size without a lot of glare.
This is a commissioned piece. The customer wants a painting of this pair of jeans (supplied by him) against a black background. We went back and forth on the composition, eventually settling on making it look as if they were being worn by an invisible person. That entailed hiring a model to wear the jeans as I paint, since I’m pretty bad at working from photos.
As you can see, I’m working my way down. I mixed and tubed a base color and applied that as an initial dead coloring layer. I am working on top of that. Right now, the jeans are hung in midair so that I can paint the inside parts. The customer wanted to capture the iconic nature of Levis 501’s, so the inside tags—especially the one that will have a bright red 501 on it—are important.
I’ll try to post better pictures later on.
I like how it’s coming at the moment. In some ways this is an interesting and exciting project, and in others it will be really good to get this done, as it also represents a block on my other work.
Posted in art business, David's work, oil painting, painting.
– 10 November 2009
90 years ago, Marcel Duchamp did something kind of funny by presenting a urinal as if it were legitimate art.
The art world responded by repeating the same joke, with slight variations, over and over, while pretending to take itself seriously in the process. Much money was made by selling random objects to rich suckers. Now the whole joke may finally be starting to fall a bit flat.
Dennis Dutton writes in the New York Times:
The appreciation of contemporary conceptual art, on the other hand, depends not on immediately recognizable skill, but on how the work is situated in today’s intellectual zeitgeist. That’s why looking through the history of conceptual art after Duchamp reminds me of paging through old New Yorker cartoons. Jokes about Cadillac tailfins and early fax machines were once amusing, and the same can be said of conceptual works like Piero Manzoni’s 1962 declaration that Earth was his art work, Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 “One and Three Chairs” (a chair, a photo of the chair and a definition of “chair”) or Mr. Hirst’s medicine cabinets. Future generations, no longer engaged by our art “concepts” and unable to divine any special skill or emotional expression in the work, may lose interest in it as a medium for financial speculation and relegate it to the realm of historical curiosity.
In this respect, I can’t help regarding medicine cabinets, vacuum cleaners and dead sharks as reckless investments. Somewhere out there in collectorland is the unlucky guy who will be the last one holding the vacuum cleaner, and wondering why.
But that doesn’t mean we need to worry about the future of art. There are plenty of prodigious artists at work in every medium, ready to wow us with surprising skills. And yes, now and again I walk past a jewelry shop window and stop, transfixed by a sparkling, teardrop-shaped precious stone. Our distant ancestors loved that shape, and found beauty in the skill needed to make it —even before they could put their love into words.
Posted in the art world.
– 19 October 2009
Occasionally you see books, articles, or workshops dedicated to helping artists “paint from the heart,” loosen up their style, whack themselves on the side of the head, discover the light of Tuscany, or some other damn thing.
It’s crap. Your heart will never have any idea how to paint.
Of course, there are a few artists out there who could benefit from some loosening up. For every one of them, there are a hundred others who need to learn how to actually paint. This entails the acquisition of difficult skills and the mindset to use those skills to achieve specific goals. Some of those skills are:
- How to draw
- How to draw exactly what you see
- How to draw the figure
- How to draw the portrait
- Color theory
- Color mixing
- Brush handling
- Art history
- And lots more
That is the case even if you want to paint loosely. Read Richard Schmid’s book on painting (he paints in a loose alla prima style that is wondrous to behold) and you’ll see how hard it is to learn how to paint that way, too.
Heck, it’s a lot of work learning to paint abstractly, if you want to do it well.
Painting from the heart is for lazy people who just want to schmear paint around, feel artistic, and find people to tell them how wonderful it must be to paint.
Instead, learn to paint with your mind and your soul. That’s a lot harder, but will take you much further toward making paintings that belong on a stranger’s wall.
Posted in art technique.
– 14 September 2009
Sometimes you look at a painting in which each passage is competently executed, but the overall look just doesn’t hold together. The parts don’t look like they exist in the same visual space. Usually, the problem is with inconsistent keying, with edge control, or both.
Key refers, of course, the the range of colors in the painting. The most important key is the value key. If the degree of light and dark on one object doesn’t fit that of other objects in the painting, then they won’t look like they belong together. It’s easy to get so involved in one particular passage that its value key doesn’t fit that of other parts of the painting. Another possible look, besides that of being pasted-on, is that some passages fade out inexplicably.
It is, of course, possible to similarly mess up the chroma key or the hue key of the painting. Value is a more common and noticeable problem, however.
The best way to avoid inconsistencies in key is to frequently step way back from the painting and either squint or throw your eyes slightly out of focus. Inconsistencies tend to stand out.
Another way to inadvertently achieve a pasted-on look is to make all your edges equally hard. If all of the edges are the same, then all of the objects appear to come forward equally and the painting fails the verisimilitude test. Some otherwise excellent academic realists make this mistake. So do many beginners who have begun to develop the ability to render.
Softer edges recede, harder edges advance. Control edges and you control the dimensionality of each object in the painting. Do that consistently and the painting looks like each passage is part of a whole.
Posted in art technique, painting.
– 16 August 2009
Study for a commission I’m preparing for. Graphite on paper.
Posted in David's work, drawing.
– 16 August 2009
The first post here was July 2006. Posting has become intermittent, but I still find it worthwhile to keep going. Here’s to another year.
Posted in personal.
– 9 July 2009
Oil on panel, 10 × 12”.
This one has kind of a story to it. For the last 50 or so years, my wife’s family (on her mother’s side) has used this conch shell as a joke gift. It’s been passed back and forth many times. The real gift is hidden in the shell, or the shell is included as a part of the gift. Big laffs. Right now the shell is in my wife’s possession, but who knows how long that will last?
Posted in David's work.
– 6 July 2009
I’ve added a page listing suppliers of art materials whose products I like and who provide good service. Call it the All the Strange Hours seal of approval. Over time, I’ll expand the list.
Posted in art suppliers.
– 5 July 2009
So lately I’ve been stretching and priming a large (5 × 3.5 feet) linen canvas, along with a couple of smaller ones. A few observations (learned in part from having to correct mistakes):
- The easiest way to stretch a large canvas evenly seems to be to put it on the stretcher unprimed, somewhat loosely. How loose? Put the canvas on the floor flat under the stretcher. Tack the edges of the canvas to the back of the stretcher without pulling. You then size it with a thin layer of hide glue. The glue tightens the canvas. If you do it right, the canvas is taut with no wrinkles. This is easier than trying to get it right using canvas pliers and trying to make the tension even across the whole canvas.
- I like using regular office thumb tacks initially, followed by staples or copper tacks when you know you’ve got the tension exactly right.
- The lead oil primer made by Natural Pigments is very easy to apply. It is much less viscous than other oil primers I’ve tried. That means you don’t have to thin it and it’s less likely to get all over the place. It dries to the touch very fast. A potential downside is that it doesn’t tend to fill the weave of the canvas like thicker primers do.
- It’s good practice to rub the surface of the canvas lightly with a pumice stone before sizing in order to open the fibers up somewhat to accept the glue. If you do this, however, you will create small blobs of fabric in places. After priming, you’ll need to wet sand or use a knife to cut these away.
- Upper Canada Stretchers makes really good stretchers. Check out the discounts for good deals.
Posted in art materials, oil painting.
– 16 June 2009
Excellent gallery of images by John Singer Sargent. They say they have the full set of complete works. These are very nice scans in fairly high resolution. Since he painted in both oil and watercolor, though, I wish they’d identify medium (fairly obvious in many cases, but not always.
Thanks to Nick Orban, who posted this on Facebook.
Posted in artists.
– 30 May 2009
Tad Spurgeon has an excellent summary article on his views regarding sound oil painting practice.
Because the structure of an oil painting is inherently complex, it’s always best to attempt keep both it and its various components as simple as possible. However, this element of simplicity should not necessarily extend to purchasing ready-made materials if the hope or expectation is to create higher quality work: generic materials have a strong tendency to produce generic work. While boutique materials are usually higher quality, this is not necessarily the case with the oil. And they still don’t impart the vital information about the nuts and bolts of the craft: at the end of the day, there is no real process, just a set of purchases, a pseudo-craft.
Go read the whole thing.
Posted in art materials, art technique, oil painting.
– 29 May 2009
I’ve bought some art stuff lately, so I thought I’d post some mini-reviews, of which this is the first. Here is some stuff from Natural Pigments. Alas, I get no kickbacks if you buy this stuff. I also bought some lead white primer, but I haven’t used it yet so you’ll just have to wait.
Badger brush set
Badger hair is traditional for making brushes used for blending oil paint, so I broke down and bought this set from Natural Pigments. There is a fan, a round, and two sizes of flats. So far, I’ve just tried the round, but for blending it is just lovely. I had been doing most blending with a synthetic round, and wow! The badger beats that by a mile. Highly recommended if you paint in a style that involves rendering. I wish I’d bought these a long time ago.
#2 Bristle flat brushes
These were cheap, so I bought a few. The handles are nicely laquered in a natural wood color. The ferules are firmly set and double crimped. The brush hairs are well set (flags facing inward), with the annoyance of a few stray hairs that needed trimming. The brushes hold their shape under heavy use and have the right level of resistance when moving paint. These are an excellent value for inexpensive brushes.
This is calcite ground with a blend of bodied and refined linseed oils. I’ve made basically the same stuff myself, but it’s convenient to have some already made up in a jar. It’s light gray and the consistency of oil paint. Mixed with paint it adds no color, but makes it more transparent. This is a good medium for velaturas and for making strongly tinting pigments less strong without losing body. I haven’t noticed that it has much effect on the brushing properties of the paint. They have a similar medium that’s specifically for impasto, but that’s not how I paint. This stuff won’t magically let you paint like Velazquez, but it is useful and inexpensive.
Posted in art materials, art suppliers.
– 21 May 2009