Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Creating the Perfect Composition; it’s all about Focus

"Reggae Night" acrylic on canvas
In art circles, creating a center of interest, relies on “the big three:” dominance, contrast and repetition. Not surprisingly, viewers will look at a painting in the same way they read a book from left to right. It’s ingrained in our schooling and in the way we were taught. The walls of caves were painted from the left, and printed pages throughout history were printed using this innate formula.

It’s only natural then that people will start their perusal of a painting from the left. The best designs not only have a lead in on the left but from several different vantage points. The secret to a successful composition is moving from one point of entry into the painting and around the entire scene. An interesting painting keeps the eye continually moving. If the eye stops at all, it should be on the “center of interest” or the focus of the entire piece. Movement creates energy and excitement.

"Hey, Coconut Mon" mixed media on canvas (the boy is off-center and many of the background parts are blurred)
Contrast and a few well-chosen highlights will emphasize this focal point and continually draw the viewer’s eye back for the impact it makes and the enjoyment it creates. A strong focal point leaves a lasting impression that may influence the reputation and popularity of the artist perhaps even impacting sales.

In an artist’s attempt to create a dramatic center, there are also dangers. If the composition or design components lead the eye automatically to the center we end up with a “bull’s eye” composition. Essentially the eye does not wander through the painting but is trapped in the middle. A Center-focused painting is boring. The eye is locked in and the painting becomes static and uninteresting.

(This painting could have been much better by removing the chest of drawers. The uneven height
and the interesting outline of the figure, buggy, and cat would have been more interesting.
As it is, the eye is locked into a clump in the middle)
You can avoid this death trap by placing your center of interest off-center. Make sure there are enough uneven edges and lines to create interest. Check out the negative space around your focal point. Are the shapes interesting? Are the lines and values leading the eye on an interesting journey to your central focus? By analyzing your composition early on, you can avoid some of the pitfalls.

Another simple device for creating memorable paintings is the principle of “balance.” Do all elements in your painting look the same? Do they all scream out for attention or do some of the parts fade into the background. Having parts of your painting downplayed is called “subordination,” another device for making the center of interest dominant. These contrasts in value and subordination add depth to an otherwise flat painting.

"With These Hands -- Hope" acrylic on canvas (Notice how the background figures are fuzzy
and faded? The focus is on the girl trying to make a basket and her challenger)
Creating out of focus elements may also increase the contrast between the center of interest and the less important parts of a composition. Photographers use this design concept by blurring an otherwise overpowering background so that the focus is clearly on the focal point.

"With these hands -- Love"  (This painting could be improved by adding more shadows, thus giving it depth)
I have made many mistakes over the years, learning the hard way the importance of these timeless truths. Once understood, setting up the perfect composition using these design elements becomes easier.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Artistic License – from the Poetic to the Absurd

"Easter Lily" photo of my own potted plant!
Authors and fine artists must take risks when it comes to making a statement. They can only harness their passions and intentions for so long and then they must either step over the line or die trying. Today we call it “cutting edge.” In the past it was viewed as a daring attempt at expose’ to flaunt the accepted norms of society.

I attended the movie “Noah” with these thoughts in mind: "How far is Hollywood willing to go to exert their artistic powers over the Word of God?”

In a normal collaboration, the author is consulted on all points where the Producer or Director differs on presentation. Did the collaborators consult with the author of the Holy Bible? Did they meet with leading Christian leaders about their decisions or ideas or check them against accuracy?

"Bird of Paradise Bloom" (an amazing flower)
Apparently, not! The story of Noah was tweaked in dozens of places. For those who may have thought the Book of Genesis was legend before will surely believe that it is now. The movie included a taste of Science Fiction, a change in all the characters and their roles, and a distortion of the actual plot. Unfortunately, the smattering of truth displayed was overshadowed by a bizarre rendition of the truth and a lack of faith and obedience by the stalwart figures like Noah as represented in Genesis 6 (KJV).

Mystically, the animals were all put to sleep by a magic potion Noah himself concocted and not by the power of God. In Hollywood’s mythical version, the characters did not have to feed the sleeping animals which made it easier for Hollywood moguls to grapple with logistics.

In actuality, Biblical verse 21 of chapter six states that Noah was commanded: “And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for you and for them (animals) Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.”
"Fan Palm" in our neighborhood
Noah’s obedience to God doesn’t sound like a man who would willingly kill his own fictional newborn granddaughters as soon as they were born does it? In Hollywood’s twisted version of Noah, there was little food to eat anywhere, so how could they gather up any food?

Hollywood’s ark was also a strange affair and did not follow the constraints that Noah was given in Genesis 6:14-16 (KJV), neither alike were the number and sex of the only people saved on the ark. Fictional characters replaced Biblical ones, and instead of Noah releasing the raven and the dove at the appropriate time, it was his wife. Ham trudged off without a wife after they landed leaving behind his mother and father, a younger brother, and brother Japeth, his wife and two daughters.

I’m supposing that in order to preserve “political correctness,” females in the story were more vocal and performed many tasks usually performed by men of that day. Yes, I’m on a tirade; but how far is artistic license allowed to go?

"Sea Grape" Their deep roots are vital in protecting our coastline from erosion.
Will Noah’s Ark be a box office winner or a big loser? When we attended there were fewer than 10 people in the audience. When it was over there was no applause or standing ovation as in the most recent uplifting movies or Christian films.

Hollywood is trying to hang its hat on the countless successful Biblical and Christian productions in the last few years. Their own titles have been less well attended and the market for sleaze and violence is slipping. They are trying to mimic the formulae without the substance. The proof will be in the pudding.
(Copse of southern pine and small lake surrounded by dried up "alligator or flag grass")

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Success is a Lonely Walk we must take by Ourselves

"Siesta"  8 x 10 original drawing (reminds me of Key West!)
Being an artist is a lonely pursuit. Remembering what you know and putting it into practice requires self-motivation, skill and continued study. I’ve known artists who are professional students. They constantly take classes, but never quite get beyond the stage of exploration. They think that the next great class will surely make the difference between success and failure and in their ability to paint that perfect painting. Sadly, it never happens.

Only you can develop your brush strokes and style. You may learn value and color, you may understand another person’s technique and recommendations, but unless you continually practice your brush strokes and develop your own process for painting, you’ll be stuck.

"The Neptunes -- Octoband"
Plugging away and working while everyone else is at play is difficult. In order to climb, you must put in the time. It is by doing that we learn. We can read every book on the planet, and take all the classes available to us, but if we don’t put into practice what we have learned, our dreams of success remain in limbo.

"The Neptunes -- Trumpeteers"
The biggest hurdle for most artists is finding time and space. Don’t wait until all your ducks are in a row. Don’t put off painting until you have the ideal space or allocated chunks of time. Delays are excuses. They keep us from making commitments.

Robert Genn’s twice-weekly newsletter is being done by his daughter, Sara, in his absence. Sara shared this gem a few days ago:

“Here's my version of English author and illustrator Neil Gaiman's Eight Rules for Writing. I've modified them for painters:

1. Paint.

2. Put your first stroke down and move on with another stroke. Work your strokes and let your strokes work you.
3. Stop the painting before you think you should.
4. Put your painting aside and start another painting.

5. Always keep in mind that you are your own best critic.

6. Perfection in painting is probably not possible. Excellence in painting is for people who appreciate the poetry of your soul.
7. Your style is what you're doing academically wrong. Radicalize yourself -- you only have one life to show you've got style.

8. You need to paint with enough assurance and confidence to know you can do whatever you like. So paint your story and make painting your life. Be honest with yourself about your progress. Always try to do a better job than you did the day before. I'm not sure there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

And finally another quote from Gaiman’s book: "I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes," says Gaiman, "Because if you're making mistakes... you're Doing Something."

That’s all we can really do, friends. We can keep on making mistakes, and sometimes we may get lucky. (Below: work in progress "Fuchsia Fantastic #1, #2)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Small Island Packs a Huge Wallop

(Our Ferry to Key West)
On Wednesday; I left my paint brushes and canvases behind to join my husband and our friends on a one-day trip to Key West. When we arrived at Fort Myers Beach it was still bright and early. Too late we discovered that others had beaten us to the punch. There were only a few seats left on the boat as we boarded.

After four long hours of bobbing and bouncing across the water, meeting new people and watching a movie, we arrived. We decided to take a train ride around the island to orient our sea legs and find out what the island had to offer. Big mistake! After our two-hour journey, we had only 3.5 hours left to eat and get back to the ship.

We enjoyed a magnificent lunch and friendly chatter only to discover we were running out of time. We didn’t make it back to tour Earnest Hemingway's home or the Harry S. Truman domain. We learned that an overnight stay is a must if you’re going to really experience Key West. We heard the night life is unbeatable!

We learned that the island has no water supply and depends almost entirely on rainfall which is captured in huge tanks. Because of the moisture, tin roofs are being replaced with stainless steel. Most of the island is very old and has a rich history. The newer areas are located on the boardwalk that frames the harbor where new restaurants are in abundance.

Key West was once a wild life preserve. The locals had their own livestock as well. Today Chickens and roosters are protected on Key West and run wild everywhere. I tried to snap a photo, but they are also very fast!

The island is much smaller than I anticipated. Most people rent mopeds or bicycles for getting to and from work or for sightseeing. If we do get back, we definitely would stay overnight. During “Season,” however, the average rate is $279 per night and up. We were told there were two cheaper hotels, but I’m sure they were booked solid.

The weather is always temperate. The restaurant we ate in had no air conditioning, but had ceiling fans which brought the exotic air in from the open windows and doors. The food was excellent. Prices are inexpensive to moderate during the day and somewhat higher at night.

There is a large artist population and gays have put their stamp on the community. One hotel boasted “all men,” while a restaurant/museum suggested that “clothes are optional.” They may have been making reference to the bathing suit and bikini clad patrons or they may have meant what they said. Since we had no time to explore, we never found out.

What I will always remember are the tropical plants, colorful flowers, and unusual trees. Above all else, the exquisite tropical blue waters have left their imprint on my artist’s heart and soul forever.

   Molly the Fun Dog gave me this award! Copy and give to your favorite bloggers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Innocence Lost -- a Long Ago Glimpse into the Past

"Day Dreams" 11 x 14 oil on canvas, Prints available
I came from a small town where doors were left unlocked, people waved and chatted over fences, and children were allowed to roam the streets at will. In winter, I walked a few miles across town to ice skate, returning in the dark of night, never worrying about the shadows or the fruits of my overzealous imagination.

My innocence was shattered one evening at the movie theater. The woman who sat next to me called my attention to a stranger’s arm that dangled over the back of his seat.

“You’d better watch him,” she said in a hateful tone. “You never know what they’ll do.” She pulled her purse close to her, keeping it a safe distance from the stranger’s limp hand.

To this day, I don’t remember the movie. I was terrified the whole time, checking the foreigner’s hand, making sure he didn’t touch me. Had he done something to the woman, I wondered?  Was she upset because he was different; an Iranian student, a foreigner to our town?

"Blond Boy" 11 x 14 oil on canvas, prints available
It was dark when I left the theater. I usually skipped home, knowing my mother would have supper waiting. Attending a movie and walking home alone at night had never bothered me before; but that evening, everything changed.

I heard footsteps clicking behind me. When I turned, it was the man in the theater. Fear overtook me, the fear born of one woman’s hatred and my own insecurity. I walked as fast as I could. When I quickened my pace, he quickened his, or so it seemed.

I reached the safety of home several yards ahead of him. He took no notice, but continued his nightly walk, likely returning to his own apartment. But if he had gained on me, what then? Prejudice breeds fear.

So does the influx of strangers and the changing dynamics of a diverse and growing population. That year a baby sitter returning home from a job was murdered on her own front porch and time stopped. Our safe structured world was shattered.  People started locking doors. Parents were more cautious about letting their children go out at night. Our town changed. The whole world changed.

(Illustration of "Cooper" from "Madison Morgan,
when dog's blog")
The culprit was a young man, a troublemaker who had recently come to live with his aunt and uncle.  Bouncing from one home to another, he finally landed in a place that offered hope and love. He hadn’t meant to kill her. 

He only wanted to talk to her, perhaps kiss her, but her frightened screams wouldn’t stop. He covered her mouth a little too long, and then it was too late. He fled in fear. The town not only mourned the girl, but the sad young man who never had a chance.

Foreigners, who first drew suspicion, breathed a sigh of relief and went back to minding their own business. Others covered up their misplaced blame with excuses, and life was never the same.

Perhaps your home town was much like mine. Society has, indeed, changed. Now our children and grandchildren are no longer safe in their front yards. Walking to school is risky. Parents prefer driving their children to school rather than sending them on the bus. The roadways are crowded. The traffic outside the school grounds is backed up for blocks. The innocence of yesteryear is gone forever.

If you are interested in having a portrait done from a photograph, contact the artist for details and an estimate.

"First Daffodil" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hunters actually shoot these adorable Partridges

"Northern Bobwhite" Drawing; prints available
When I spotted the two birds, they were running alongside the chicken wire fence, hidden beneath the Brazilian pepper, the hedgerow, and the Spanish moss which draped from their lower branches.

The birds saw me and a soft chortle started up in their throats as they ran for a hole under the fence to escape. They were so fast on their feet that I failed to capture the details necessary for identification.

Checking my Audubon Field Guide later, I tried to piece together my impressions: stocky round bird, reddish brown feathers, unique head markings or Mohawk haircut; a chipping or swamp sparrow I wondered? Naw! Too small.

It was a year later in March before I saw another pair scurrying along the fence line. This time I got a good look before they slipped under the fence and disappeared in the dry pasture stubble. 

Turns out, they were northern bobwhites; members of the quail or partridge family and indigenous to Florida.
When the mating season begins each spring, coveys break up and mates build their own covered nests in the grass. In late summer, families join others to form a new covey until the next breeding season.

My husband and I saw the bobwhites almost every day for several weeks. One lusty fellow searching for a potential mate flew to the upper branches of a live oak and serenaded us with a “bob bob white.”

On days when we didn’t see the quails, my husband would whistle his own rendition of the song and we waited. Sure enough, an answering whistle told us where the bobwhites were located that day.

When the spring rains came early that year and flooded the grasslands, our bobwhites disappeared. My husband whistled to see if they had returned, but so far, there has 
been no answering call. We have waited four long years for their return. I miss those bobwhites!

Mike Barr has one of the most helpful videos on painting a rainy day scene:  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Taking Pot Shots at Hot Shots -- is it Fair Game?

"Fuchsia Fantastic" will be my next painting; I'll adjust composition above --  a photo I took in Minnesota.
Have you noticed that in the arena of life, it is those that “haven’t made it” who throw hateful darts and arrows at those who have? Envy? Sour Grapes? Both?

This phenomenon was birthed by the Internet. A recent study said that this spiteful and destructive behavior was spawned by the “anonymity that the Internet provides.”

People concoct pseudonyms to hide their real identities, and then take pot shots at those they hate, dislike, or are jealous of. It’s one thing to harp at policy or behavior you disagree with; it’s quite another to defame, bully, bash character or reputation in the name of truth and justice or simply “getting even.”

Civility is not only a little used word its meaning from lack of use is almost meaningless. It is more fun (at someone else’s expense) to gang up on someone and hammer away at their faults and foibles. It’s not cool to “play nice” anymore. It’s hip to be first to notice a fault and to throw the first stone.

“Ah so,” the people say, "that’s true; and have you noticed that pussy pimple on his fat ass?”

Before you know it a barrage of negative ugly thought gains strength and is propelled in a slew of wicked words and e-mails intent on bringing the intended target down; down to the level of the insidious few who sling bad fortune and bad taste for fun.

How do we put a stop to this kind of mudslinging that in some cases has resulted in the death or suicide of the recipients? 

Some would have us outlaw “hate speech!”  But hate speech changes over time, depending upon which side you’re on? Should the government be the judge? Should the democrats? The Republicans? 
I loved the yellow sunflowers against the blue cloth, and the shadows! May paint this one, too!
Should women be the judge of hate speech if a man is the speaker? Should men be the judge if a woman’s speech is suspect? Should a thin person judge someone who is fat or vice verse? Should a government in the process of taking its citizens rights away accuse another government of Human Rights violations?

You can see where this triangulated thinking leads. We’d all end up in jail eventually. You can’t control everyone’s speech, and you certainly can’t control anger even with fines. In a free society, people have opinions and free speech not just for a few, but for all.

I'd like to paint this, too, but would anyone buy a painting of sea gulls?
Would that everyone was kind and tactful, but they’re not. Sometimes people get “hoof and mouth” disease, as my mom used to say when I’d speak out of turn. We can’t punish everyone. But we can use common sense. We can be more tolerant and forgiving. We can put our verbal and physical weapons away and try to salvage common decency and good sense.

My granddaughter, the cook, would be fun to paint!