Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Dancing 1920s

Paint pigments are of the earth making paint a living thing that can perform magic. The quality of any artwork is in direct relationship to the skill with which the artist applies the paint to canvas.

Imagination and style separate one artist from another. Mixed with an artist’s own unique experience and point of view, a message is created that breathes life into the finished work. This message is the artist’s own interpretation of what he or she sees, but there are other forces at work:

• Motivation. What motivates an artist to paint something in the first place? The answers are as varied as the artists themselves. It could be something as simple as a droplet of water on a leaf or the crinkles on a child’s nose to an emotional trauma, physical pain, or an arousal so deep it must be captured on paper or canvas.

• Composition. Coupled with interpretation, the center of interest or focus of any given artwork is not only a question of principles taught and used down through the ages, but what appeals to the artist’s own sensibilities, and how they will portray that vision on canvas.

• Choice. Not only choice of subject matter, but of equipment, of color, and tools. Whether to use a palette knife vs. a brush; whether to go “mixed media,” oil, or watercolor and every other variation in between. And whether your vision or interpretation can best be captured through a painting, a sculpture or in apparel, textiles, or jewelry.

Because the act of creating artwork is a living, breathing thing, it is fluid; always changing and sometimes unpredictable. The drawing forms a map that guides the artist through a labyrinth of choices. But on the journey, the artist may find that the roadway is off and something needs to be added or changed.

The painting itself – that first brushstroke on canvas doesn’t cement the artist’s vision or choices. The paint as part of the earth it comes from may be pushed and pulled or covered up if necessary. It isn’t until the painting takes on a life of its own that the artist may step back and say: “It is finished.”

I hope you enjoyed the vintage posters and my “work in progress.” Soon I’ll have the finished mixed media artwork ready for you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Comedy in the Roaring 20s

The “Roaring 20s” were packed with laughter and big-time comedy. Stars like Charlie Chapman, Buster Keaton, Eddie Cantor, and Sophie Tucker had them rolling in the aisles.  The Vaudeville era was at its height, and the transition was being made from the stage to the movie screen. “Talkies” were still in the future, and the silent screen was paramount. What happened over the next few years was nothing less than amazing.

According to Variety, “by the end of 1926 only a dozen big time vaudeville houses remained – the rest had converted to film use. Some vaudevillians sped the process by filming their acts as sound shorts. When movie theatres could offer top line acts on screen at a nickel a seat, why would anyone pay more to see lesser talents live? In December 1927, Julian Eltinge proclaimed that vaudeville was ‘shot to pieces,’ and was no longer able to attract "big names.

“By the early 1930s, the one-two punch of talking film and the Great Depression wiped away the last vestiges of vaudeville. Headliner Sophie Tucker noted that by 1931 'the movies had a death grip on vaudeville.' She pointed out that the vaudeville audience was not the same. Theaters were full of children impatient with stage performances and eager to cut to the films. With the newspapers and motion-picture magazines telling the public the “scoop” about the private lives of stars, a lot of the illusion and glamour of the stage were gone.

“Tough as times were, Tucker kept on performing. She was headlining at New York's Palace Theater in February 1932 when a fire broke out backstage. To prevent panic, Tucker remained onstage to coax the audience out of the theatre – despite the sparks that threatened to ignite her flammable sequined gown. The Palace soon reopened, but by that November it became a full-time movie theatre -- an occasion many point to as the death of big-time vaudeville.

Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton Link:

“With the Palace gone, the remaining circuits evaporated as vaudeville theatres became movie palaces. Although many theatres still presented acts between films, the number of available gigs kept shrinking. This took a brutal toll on thousands of performers. In her frank autobiography, actress and vaudeville veteran June Havoc explains...

Charlie Chaplin, "Table Ballet"

“Show business as I knew it had simply dwindled and vanished before my eyes. The happy island of vaudeville which had been my kindergarten, elementary and junior high school had sunk into the sea and left me treading water. I was an animation of the ancient quote: 'You can take the girl out of vaudeville but can't take the vaudeville out of the girl.' I was a displaced person. I didn't understand it. I only felt it.”
- Early Havoc (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959), p. 2.

Silent Ladies:

I hope you enjoy the vintage music covers on this page and links to YouTube performances from actors of vaudeville and the great silent screen. Next Tuesday, I’ll have a new 1920s mixed media painting ready for preview.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Guest Blogger – Caroline Martin

Caroline is an up and coming artist from Australia. I invited her to share her blog and some photos with you while I’m “waiting for paint to dry” and resolving some artistic and logistical problems.

In Caroline’s own words, she says, “I am a relatively new artist, who only discovered my talents in March 2009 after a house fire in January saw us re-housed beside the ocean for six months. After watching stunning sunset after sunset, I felt the urge to capture the images on canvas. So I bought a second hand easel, paint brushes, acrylic paints and a few canvas's, and the rest makes interesting reading on my blog…”

Caroline’s blog: “Growing as an artist, as we Speak…” has links to Caroline’s online stores at RedBubble and Fine Art America.

Martin is holding a “name this painting” contest with a painting featured on her blog. I hope you will enter this fun contest. Who knows? You might get lucky!

Martin's paintings are full of energy and motion. I hope you will enjoy them much as I do. Thank you Caroline for sharing your talents hopes and dreams with us. Here is Caroline's blog link:


Friday, August 20, 2010

Behind the Scenes

A recent trip to Minnesota, reminded me of the scenes that inspired my painting: “Americana.” Since I’m in between paintings, I thought you’d enjoy seeing the motivation behind the painting: a combination of nostalgia, history, and emerald green farmland that goes on forever.

The Holtz farm in Eagan, MN, represents all of that. The farm is maintained by the City of Eagan’s “Friends of the Farm” that includes people in Eagan and the surrounding areas. The summer gardens are planted and weeded by willing neighbors who reap the benefits of fresh produce in season.

In nearby neighborhoods, old fences laden with honeysuckle and morning glories are a common sight. Hollyhocks stand like welcoming soldiers on parade and provide a nice backdrop for the flowers. Cows and horses graze in long pasture grass and are mirrored in nearby duck ponds that in turn reflect Minnesota’s clear blue skies.

The song birds I enjoy seeing in Florida fly to Minnesota during the summer months so its “old home” week when we’re on vacation. The weather is a constant reminder that I’m not in Florida. One day it’s hot and muggy, and the next blowy and cool; even brisk. Minnesota’s weather is always in a constant state of flux.

When we’re in Minnesota, a trip to the Mall of America is a must. The three stories of unique and unusual stores keep us walking and shopping for hours. The Mall is a good place for family members with children to meet. The Nickelodeon Center with its myriad rides and roller coasters is a big hit. While the children are entertained, the adults can visit and catch up on family gossip.

The sight of a flock of Canadian geese is always a welcome sight. Although, in many quarters, the geese are viewed as a nuisance, they still remind me of home.

I invite you to send your favorite photos of home to my e-mail: .

And if you’d like to be a “guest columnist” on my blog, please leave a comment and a contact e-mail.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Artists of the Twenties

If you’ve never heard of John Held, Jr. let me introduce you. Held more than any other defined the “Roaring Twenties.” As an artist and illustrator, Held poked fun of the era, but only in jest. He captured the boldness of the Jazz Age and the beginning of an industrialized society.

He characterized people doing the Charleston and the Shimmy in dance marathons. He elevated the “flapper” to new heights and sent women on a quest for fun and adventure. His illustrations were featured in the New Yorker, and in McClure’s magazine. Google “Held” and discover all of his wonderful illustrations. Copyrights won’t allow me to cut and paste them into my blog.

The Art Deco period (1920-1935), although that title wasn’t coined until the 60s, emphasizes abstraction and distortion that uses simplification, geometric shapes and intense colors. This period was influenced by cubism, constructivism, and Italian futurism. Similar to the “Art Nouveau” period which came before it, Art Deco borrows from Far and Middle East design, Greek and Roman themes, and mirrors both Egyptian and Mayan influences.

Paul Manship was a well-known sculptor during this time period. Other artists who emerged from the 20s upsurge were names like Tiffany, Klimt, Georgia O’Keefe, and Edward Hopper. Of course, the twenties would not be complete without Grant Wood and his rendition of “American Gothic” and “Fall Planting.”

Having lived and raised my children in Kansas City for almost 18 years, my favorite artist of this period is Thomas Hart Benton. With similar style to Grand Wood, Benton’s undulating hills, and curvaceous figures make him distinctive in “People of Chilmark” 1920, and “Composite: the Parks, the circus, the Klan, the press” 1933.

I pay tribute to the artists, photographers and writers of the twenties. Without them, the history of this exciting and turbulent time would be forgotten. Artists record emotions, culture, and people’s reactions to what’s going on around them. They are great historians in their own right. Without them, the world would be flat, uninteresting, and colorless.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Retro Gone Wild

Let’s face it; life isn’t always “peachy keen,” even though we’d like it to be. I didn’t get my second illustration finished, but I did get a drawing on the panel that is really “spiffy.” So if you’re not too “hotsy totsy,” you can take a peek.

Compare it to the original below. In my opinion, it’s the “cat’s meow!” My own rendition will have a new twist when it’s finished. The song title: “Yes, Sir! That’s my Baby” is one of the most famous Tin Pan Alley songs by writer Walter Donaldson, the Dutch American composer and Gus Kahn, the Jewish American lyricist. The song was written at the height of the Charleston craze.

Speaking of the Charleston, here’s a YouTube link for a wonderful glimpse of that era: 

The Ukulele was one of the most popular instruments of the day. Here are links you may enjoy to hear that instrument.

Slang of the day:
  • If you thought someone was cute and sexy, you’d call the guys a “sheik” and the gals a “sheba.”
  • Feeling creepy or nervous? “I’ve got the heebie-jeebies” or “He gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
  • Prohibition bashers who got into speakeasies only had to say: “Joe Sent me.” They added their own twist on slang words with these gems: “You’re screwy!” “That’s lousy!” and you’re “all wet” pal.
  • A person of importance was a “big cheese.” A bore was a “flat tire. An easy touch was a “pushover.”
  • Jalopies were called “struggle buggies”…Creates a visual, doesn't it?
  • Hooch was the illegal drink of the day. And those 1920s hair “dooos” were bobbed.
Come back next week for more 1920s nostalgia. I hope you’re having fun! Below is another link to “Flapper Fashions.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Roaring 20s – and all that Jazz

I wasn’t around in the roaring twenties. I wasn’t even a gleam in my daddy’s eye. In fact, he was barely a glimmer himself. But I’ve always viewed the 1920s era as fun, lively, and provocative.

And then there’s all that jazz, born out of sorrow, etched in the grips of pain, and lifted by hope. The music itself cuts right to the chase and pierces all hearts to the core. Sensual, soothing, and awash with tales of grief and woe; the horns wail with sexual vibrato. Black and white keys are fingered first tentatively and then raucously like a kitten at play running, pawing, tickling the ivory and the ebony.

Listeners sway in the moonlight or play the music as background to intimate foreplay. Clarinets wrap the listeners in warm steam, soaking through the flimsy cover of inhibitions and prudish pride. Raw, earthy, and wonderful, the sounds are so integrated in our culture that it has become an integral part of American history, right up there with country music and bluegrass. In some quarters, you can hardly tell the difference.

My daughter, Holly, was given some old sheet music from the 1920s. She showed it to me on a recent visit. I fell in love with the covers. Using stark red, black and white, the artwork captures the wild craze of that era from Betty Boop to Minnie the Moocher. And unforgettable songs like "Give me a little kiss, will you huh?" "The Best Things in Life are Free," and "Happy Days." Here's a fun link from YouTube:

In the next few weeks, I will do my own renditions of some of these covers. I’ll try to capture the fun, the color, and the feel of this timeless period in history. Your comments and contributions are more than welcome: Please share a link, some artwork, a piece of music…and all that jazz!

Here is a wonderful link to the Pittsburg State University in Kansas. Kansas City and the surrounding areas are well known for the best BBQ and the best jazz in the country. There are other links on this site, and notables like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Great!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Were you always an artist?

I get that question a lot! The answer is "no;" but the truth is that my latent talent must have been simmering just below the surface.

Before I learned how to paint and draw (or should I say: before an art instructor taught me how to see?), I used my sewing machine to design wall hangings, pillows, and pictures. When you have a creative bent, it will always find a means of expression in one form or another. Without an outlet, frustration ensues.

Some people love to cook and entertain. Their food presentations rival that of any sculpture or work of art. Some people express themselves through writing, through dance, or through athletics.

There are many ways to express yourself and your feelings. Your individual reactions to the things around you shape your own personal perspective on life. Combine that with your own unique and varied experiences, and you have the basis for developing a personal style.

Where does creativity come from? Is it divinely inspired? Is there karma or are there vibes moving through the universe that we simply attach our thoughts to when we're "in tune?" Does it matter? The way we react to the inspiration we receive is unique to each of us. The source is as personal as the act of creation.

For me "my brush with God" is linked to my faith walk with him. For others, it may be meditation, inspiration from others, or simply an inborn gift that resides somewhere in the human soul. For whatever reason, the more we share our gift or gifts, the more they multiply.

I enjoy sharing my gifts with you. I'm in a transition mode right now, and my next work of art is still out there somewhere. I hope it will transform itself by next week's blog. In the meantime, please enjoy the drawings that have come out of my love of living in "Paradise!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Painting is a Process

The dictionary defines process: “as a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result or end; the result of growth.” Sounds a lot like Life, doesn’t it?

My “in-progress” painting is also a process. First the pencil sketch on canvas, and then the acrylic drawing I showed you last week.

Today, I’m sharing the first applications of oil paint that further define the figures and the action. When my painting is finished, I want the center of interest (the girl holding the basketball) to literally “pop” off the page. I want her emotions, her thrust, her drive, her hopes captured for a nana-second in the mind of the viewer.

Before the painting is finished, I will have brushed on several layers of oil paint to refine the details and produce the needed “glow” that defines my style. This painting is the third painting in my “With These Hands” series. The title “Hope” says it all. The other paintings in the series are called “Wonder” and “Love,” and can be viewed at my online gallery:

In the next series, my focus will be on older adults using their hands to comfort, work, and teach. Your ideas and suggestions are always welcome. If you would like to see another contest on this blog, please let me know. Suggestions for contests or your commentary are encouraged and welcomed.

Saturday, I studied with Wm. Parker Harlowe a prominent local artist. Yesterday, I helped a fellow artist hang her paintings in a show at the Gateway Golf and Country Club that is featuring artists in the Gateway area. I displayed at this club in April and May.

As I told you in my last blog, I’m going to focus on drawing for the next two months. I will share my drawings, my progress and my stories over the next few weeks.