Vermont landscapes… mountains, farms, villages, and trees. Most of my landscapes have been a combination of at least three of these four elements. Three weeks ago, I challenged myself to paint only a group of random trees in the woods. Nothing else. My last blog featured the resulting “Locusts and White Pines”. It involved a real struggle. In the process, I worked through some tough (for me) situations and created a good, strong piece. So this past weekend, I tried again. I challenged myself to simply go out in the yard and paint a stone wall. It involved a real struggle. In the process, I worked through some tough (for me again) situations and created a good, strong piece.
I might be on to something. Pushing out of my comfort zone when I don’t really have to is not easy. I was urged on by my friend Joe. He’s been pestering me to become much more than a technician. “Become an Artist for crying out loud!” I’m on my way Joe. I’m on my way.
I can surely say I got lost in the woods creating this piece. I really didn’t know where I was going(with my art). At first glance I saw a wall of trees with the sunlight reflecting off the bark. The low angle of the sun allowed it’s light to penetrate well past the edge of the woods. The scene seemed to scream out for attention while whispering a dare, “Just try to capture what I have on display at this moment. Hurry, I’ll only hold this sunlight for a few minutes this late in the day.” I love the beauty of early spring. Nature lays herself bare. She’s mostly hard edges and unfiltered sunlight. Just right for a guy with a bottle of ink and a dish of water. A friend recently told me that great art is the artist co-creating with his materials, not creating in a sterile environment. Said another way, “Allow your materials to do what they do. Give your medium permission to whisper or scream and know it won’t always go as planned.” Be open to little accidents becoming little wins. Your painting may be filled with little unplanned wins. They arrive on the wings of spontaneity fueled by enthusiasm and constant work. “Locusts and White Pines” was the result of very little planning. In fact it was a big risk. I have not painted a scene like this before. It could have gone bad in a big way. It didn’t. I sure had doubts when I was lost(artistically). I’m happy I let my materials help me find my way. Thanks to you India Ink and my wide assortment of grubby brushes, squeegees, and steel wool. It was kinda fun in the end.
Last week I spent two days at a plein air oil painting workshop with David Lussier. I have long admired David’s landscapes. His color palette is beautiful and his brushwork among the finest and most confident I have seen. I was pleasantly surprised that there were only five artists in his class. Perhaps David was hoping for more but five was just fine with me. More attention from the teacher. There is something about the shared energy of a group of painters, together but independently all trying to accomplish the same thing. Support is authentic. Shared joy washes over the group. The work is king, no shortcuts, no excuses. Time flies and soon you have an original that never existed before. I loved it! So next time you have the opportunity to create art alongside other artists, please dive in. It’s difficult fun that can at times feel like too much work… until the work is through and it ended way too soon.
Does this sound familiar? You’re a creative person and you
love to build. You may have a medium of choice (oil paint) but you find
yourself tinkering with other mediums (watercolor, ink, clay, wood, charcoal,
stone). At the same time, professional art sellers tell you to focus on one
thing if you want to be successful. And they don’t just mean one medium. They
want one type of subject, one audience, one way. If you want to sell more art,
this may be good advice.
However, from the viewpoint of a creative, growing artist, we need to be always pushing ourselves and working on our craft in new ways. How boring is it to paint the same thing year after year? I love to draw. It makes no difference if I’m using pencils, charcoal, conte’ crayons, or ink. When I work with oil paint, half the enjoyment is the initial drawing with dirty turpentine and burnt sienna. In a workshop with Charlie Hunter, he had us drawing with paper towels and Q-tips.
Here’s something to consider: every two years take a
workshop with either an artist, a medium, or a subject matter that you have
little experience with. I’ve done it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised often.
This makes us work in new ways and at a rate much faster than trying something
new on our own. Work! That’s what’s important. It’s the process that helps us to grow. Visions and dreams are just visions
and dreams until you do the work. Go get your hands dirty making something. If
it rubs off elsewhere in your work, great! If it doesn’t, wash up and move on.
You’ll see the dirt under your nails and know you dug in and tried something
About half way through Bruce’s 2018 Broadway show, he tells his audience about getting 1 + 1 to equal 3. It’s art, not science. I can tell early on if this is going to be a 1+1=2 painting or a 1+1=3 painting. It takes sustained energy and enthusiasm to make 1+1=3. It doesn’t happen every day. Don’t artists live for the 1+1=3 days? That’s when the magic happens. That’s when we produce our best work. We’re in the zone. Work flows, love is present, time stands still. I long for this zone toward the end of a painting in the hope that I can somehow tie it all together and breathe new found energy into the piece. But truth be told, it’s the beginning that most needs the magic of 1+1=3. Then I have something really worth working on. Something that really adds up.
Pink Floyd has a song with the lyrics about living a life of “quiet desperation (is the English way)”. Sometimes life as an isolated artist makes you feel like the central character in that song. Thankfully, I have my art group. Three years ago I was voted into this band of talented contemporary artists centered here in Newfane and South Newfane, Vermont. We are the Rock River Artists. Our focus has always been our annual studio tour which is the third weekend of July. It’s a big weekend to prepare for. People visit the space I work in. I share my inspiration and perspiration. And I sell a few pieces to folks who love original art.
Three days ago, our group got together for a meeting and then toured the studio of fellow member Deidre Scherer. Sure, we spent time planning our July weekend, the necessary PR, the needed high res images, the money needed, and who will do what as the studio weekend approaches. But once this was done, the important stuff happens. We all visited Deidre’s studio where she showed off what’s next in her art life. It was a wonderful time. Her talent is first rate, her studio is wonderful, and her current work is as surprising as it is recognizable. It is on first glance totally new. At the same time, it looks like where she’s been aiming for some time.
This is why I joined the Rock River Artists. It’s for the community. It’s for the dialog. It’s even for the (constructive) critiques. So please pay us all a visit if you are in our area on July 20-21 this summer. We’d love to share our not so quiet desperation with you.
I paint in hundreds of greys… you may even see some black and white in my work. When you observe life as a painter does, you see more. You just do. A zebra is much more than just black and white. There are many light greys and almost white whites. There are many dark greys and almost black blacks. The highlights, shadows, and textures are all needed to really tell the story of a particular zebra. It’s the same with snow. I could never paint a convincing winter landscape without lots of greys. Zebras in many greys
In my work, the darkest darks often have a little something extra deep inside. Flat black is boring. Bright white has little to say. It’s everything in between that keeps our interest. Have you ever noticed that people who see the world in terms of black and white think they have the answers? And they love to tell you their concrete opinions too? It’s always this way or that way. Rarely is their view in shades of grey. Conversations with them are boring. You have to listen to a stream of opinions on their view of our world.
The many shades of Snow in Vermont.
Most artists see a whole lot more. Paintings, like life, should have texture. Paintings, like our personality, have layers. In art school, we always wanted to draw and paint weathered, old faces rather than fresh, young models. I am not very interested in just adoring art. Tell me a story! Does your art say much about the passion you put into your work? If it does, great! If it doesn’t, start over. Work faster. Work more. Make lots and lots of messy marks. Get physical. Be daring. Don’t aim for perfection. Don’t be boring. Be awesome!
The place where art and engineering meet has always been a place I enjoy. There is a natural beauty to objects whose form is the result of the object’s function. That’s why most jet planes are beautiful to watch, especially while they are doing their job. It’s also why 300 year old cathedrals are still beautiful today. Their vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses hold up massive weight while projecting a spectacular aesthetic because they are functioning perfectly. I dare you to find an office building today that can do the same thing.
That’s also the reason covered bridges stand the test of time. Their lattice joints and pegged timbers are designed to hold their weight and carry traffic. No extra decorations, just engineering and good materials that function perfectly.
Occasionally, I am asked to create a painting of a covered bridge. My response is usually a hesitant “maybe”. I mean, art is a personal vision inspired by your experience or the subject you’re observing. If I have top notch engineering in front of me, how does my painting portray that? You have to tackle the whole setting: how the bridge fits into the landscape, where the light is hitting, are you above or below the bridge? Trying to capture the full length of the bridge rarely results in a pleasing composition. Am I going to disappoint the person requesting the covered bridge art? Perhaps. I am sure my art will not match their expectations. Thus my hesitant, “maybe”.
Want it all?
I have recently created a piece depicting the Scott Covered Bridge in Townshend, Vermont. It’s a wonderful place to visit. Only foot traffic is allowed so no worries if you have little ones with you. You can swim and fish. My brothers and I use to jump off the bridge for cool dips on hot days. Here’s the thing, I have placed my 9” x 12” original art (mounted on wood panel) somewhere on the bridge. Go for a walk and see if you can find it. If you do, give it a good home. Original art is an important part of a home and every artwork has a story. Just let me know when you have it, my email is on the back. Good luck. Oh, here’s a clue: X marks the spot. THIS PAINTING WAS FOUND JUNE 3. CONGRATULATIONS LORI.
Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who creates mostly large scale sculptures from natural materials found out on location. The medium may be boulders or snowballs. The art may last centuries or hours. Most of his work requires physical exertion. The stressful kind, like ditch digging and stone stacking. He doesn’t arrive at his vision with just a good eye and some well placed brush strokes. This is why my friend’s son worked as an assistant to Andy. He collected rocks, picked up sticks, and raked leaves. All so that Mr. Goldsworthy could carefully select what he needed as he created his sculptures.
What would you create if you had an art assistant? Would your work improve? Could you accomplish more? What would change?
In Steven Pressfield’s inspirational book, “The War of Art”, he makes a strong case for doing the work yourself. He says it’s all about committing yourself to your art and working at it every single day. The well known contemporary painter, Chuck Close says his unique style is the direct result of many, many months and years working hard at his art. Mr. Close says, “Dreaming and waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Pros get to work.”
So if I had an assistant… I suppose my website would be more sales focused. I’d have a ready supply of mats and frames on hand in my studio. I’d be more organized. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to shop for art supplies any more. However, I would have missed a recent conversation with my framer about the merits of wide and narrow wooden frames. His endorsement of a new art supply would have gone unheard. The only benefit I can think of in terms of improved art is an assistant could allow me more time to focus on creating my art. But so could watching less TV. So could getting up an hour earlier all summer long. So could saying no to another volunteer request. If I had an assistant, the flagstones I kept tripping on outside the studio would have likely been moved out of the way. Instead, I stepped over them each day until one day I thought, what would Andy Goldsworthy create with a few square flagstones? I didn’t sketch. I didn’t dream. There was no plan. I just started moving stones around. First the big ones, then the small ones. Then a handful of pebbles… let’s say fifty. What could I create?
I bet my imaginary assistant would have kept me in the studio working that day. That’s what the pros tell us we need. But artists also need to remember to just be… Be creative. Be original. Be simple. Be a maker of things. Even if it vanishes in the wind or melts in the spring. My flagstones are now a patio. But for just a few days they had the title, “Flagstones”.
Have you been invited to one of these yet… “Spend an evening creating your very own painting with friends. Raise money for a good cause. Drink wine. Take home an original.”
These painting nights have become popular. One of my friends recently indulged. Her post painting story… “My painting isn’t very good but I had fun.”
A while ago, I spent a long overdue evening painting a model. I attended a figure drawing/painting class for anyone desiring to sharpen their skills. No instructor, just a live model and a heated room (and no wine). My post painting story? “I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting and the work reminded me of how rusty I am.” Art school and figure drawing are decades in my past.
Should my friend frame her painting? The answer is yes, the sooner the better. She’s going to keep her painting. She likes showing it and telling her story. I think she has a better reason to frame her painting than I have for framing mine. By the way, when I say frame, this means frame AND hang.
My post painting story could be one of frustration and unmet expectations. But it’s more a story of nostalgia. Revisiting the nude after such a long time off brought me face to face with my skills and my limitations as a figure painter. It wasn’t fun, however it did bring me back to a time when I was learning a lot about painting with lots of like-minded students. Sometimes I miss those days. Should I frame my painting? The answer is yes, the sooner the better. I’m going to keep my painting and why not tell the story should someone happen to ask?