Friday, November 28, 2014

Balance and Harmony Keep a Composition or a Design in Check

"Victims of War" acrylic on canvas
I know an art teacher who also owns an art store. One day he showed me his paintings that were hung around the entire shop near the ceiling. He used these in classes for examples and demonstration.

“My paintings used to go so fast, I couldn’t keep any hanging,” he said. “Now I can’t sell any of them.”

The paintings were stunning landscapes of Florida scenes and of the Gulf; traditional compositions that once “brought a hefty price,” he complained.

Today “wild is in.” Even the works of amateurs are being bought up if they are unusual, colorful, and a tad weird. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times and our confused and undisciplined society. Anything goes as long as it entertains and dazzles the eye; fads that may in time become the new “norm.”

Finding the right balance is a real dilemma every artist grapples with. Keeping one foot in the real world and the other in the solid traditions of the past is a struggle. When you allow yourself to push against the outer limits, or by way of contrast show restraint, a judgment call must be made based on each artist’s level of experience and training.

"Prayer Circles"  mixed media on canvas
I enjoy the humor that many artists use to invite people into their perspective. There are so many fearful and chaotic events happening at home and around the globe to cause anxiety. Some “comic relief” is healthy and relieves stress. Conversation pieces that cause laughter rather than thoughtful reflection may be just what the doctor ordered.

Tactile paintings: pop art, half art and half craft invite us to touch and examine. Critics lament that this practice degrades and gives real works of art a tawdry and cheap appeal. But they are selling none-the-less because they’re affordable and fun.

Trends come and go. What is in fashion today may be gone tomorrow. Artists must learn to adapt to the changing scene and create a unique and appealing style that sets them apart from the rest; keeping in mind that the classics, the centuries old tried and true methods of the past have weathered the test of time and will endure.

"Moody Blues" mixed media on canvas
Vibrant color is a significant part of this new genre. From the book: “Color Design Workbook” by Adams Morioka and Terey Stone, the authors’ state: “Color is a visual language in and of itself; it can attract the eye and focus attention on the intended message in the work. Color can be used to irritate or relax, encourage participation or alienate.

Advertiser Josef Albers remarked that “Whether bright or dull, singular or complex, physiological or psychological, theoretical or experiential, the persuasive power of color attracts and motivates.”

Also from the book: “As humans, we seek balance, especially in terms of color. For example, when exposed to a particular hue, our brains seem to expect the complementary color. If it is present, the combination looks vibrant. If it is absent, our brains tend to produce it to form a balance.” 

These very reasons alone explain why one painting is chosen over another. Although people see colors in different ways, they almost always choose that which is pleasing to the senses. With knowledge and experimentation, you too can be a part of those who sell on a regular basis.

"Cafe' Costa Rica" acrylic on canvas

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Know the Territory and Use Benchmarks to Map your Progress

"Sea Swirls" 24x18 acrylic on canvas
If you live around water or near the ocean, you’re probably familiar with channel markers. They warn you about shallow water and keep your boat in safe passage until you reach the deeper water. Sometimes these signposts protect wildlife such as manatees. Every year many of these creatures are killed or scarred for life by boat rudders and propellers.

In life and in business, there are also markers of achievement and professionalism. You often hear motivational speakers talk about the importance of “channeling your mind and your energies” to achieve success. The term “harnessing” your mind was used in much the same way to encourage previous generations to aspire to great heights.

Beginners are impatient to “get to the top.” They often take risks to get their work out there and to get noticed before they have mastered basic techniques. Those who have made it often say “don’t play it safe.” They recommend breaking rules and boundaries in order to draw attention. But it’s one thing to take risks, and quite another to go beyond the guiding principles that have already been proven for success.

“But don’t achievers push beyond the boundaries in order to stand out,” you may ask? “Do you always do the safe and predictable thing or do you gamble on your gut instincts?”

Most educators advise “Until you know and understand the territory and the essentials follow the recommended procedures until you’ve mastered them.” After that, you’re on your own. Only you will know when that time comes.

In the weather business, forecasters use benchmarks to compare past turbulence with current patterns. For instance, in November of 1976, they had a “long drawn out winter,” similar to what is happening today around the country. A benchmark is a standard used to measure activity and progress.

Professionals can use benchmarks to track their own personal improvement. Self confidence and instinct increase when you tackle difficult projects and complete them to your own satisfaction. Others you respect may also provide insight and suggestions that add to your level of skill and mastery.

Observing how “others have done it” over the years can serve as an example. Even copying to learn is a great lesson in self-mastery and enlightenment. The masters can give you a blueprint for success. If you study their early paintings and compare them to later works, you’ll see how they nailed down the rules first and then they were ready to fly!

"Sea Swirls #2" work-in-progress
Until you know the subject and the fundamentals stay within the tried and true methods. Once you’ve mastered them, you own them. They are yours to stretch, push, manipulate, and wow.
"Sea Swirls #1" work-in-progress

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Light Reveals Truth, Darkness Provides a Contrast

"Hibiscus Glory" 16x20 mixed media SOLD; prints available
I was intrigued by a recent study about people’s fears. It was done broadly (worldwide) to see if there were any differences in race or culture. The conclusion was that what people fear most, no matter who they are or where they come from, is darkness.

I wondered if fear was a part of us at birth or if it’s simply human nature to fear what we do not understand or that which is unknown? For whatever reason, the study concluded that most people, most children all around the world fear darkness.

As a Christian, this set my spiritual wheels turning. Scripture declares that every person “that comes into the world” is born with the light of Christ in his heart. (John 1:9 KJV) It would only make sense then that coming from our creator God “trailing clouds of glory,” as Wordsworth put it, we would be afraid of the dark which has always represented evil.

Believers hunger and thirst for light in much the same way that all living things reach for the light. A seedling pushes through the dark earth in search of the life-giving light of the sun that will nourish it and feed it as it grows. Even the lowest of animal forms seeks out light for warmth. On any given morning in Florida, my sidewalk is filled with lizards that crawl out of their dark havens to warm themselves in the light.

Snakes slither from their dark holes in much the same way. They become intoxicated and lethargic as they drink in the warmth of the sun seemingly blinded by the brightness. You can walk right by them and they barely notice.

Darkness is often used as a reference to evil, and good is portrayed as light. Darkness can also be seductive and intriguing. It is more difficult to ignore sin and temptation in the darkness. We are deceived into thinking that darkness somehow hides or “covers” our sin.

Light reveals and exposes truth and evil. No wonder we run from the light when we feel guilty or “bad.” No wonder people, especially children, fear darkness because it leads us into the unknown and may cause us to do bad things.

Darkness also has its own beauty: a starlit sky, the moon glowing through wisps of clouds, the skylights of a city sprinkled across the landscape. Darkness provides contrast. In a painting it’s all about light. The tiniest glow of light against a dark canvas looks even brighter. If the whole composition were light, the objects would appear flat and uninteresting. It is the contrast in color and intensity that gives a painting life.

How an artist handles the play between light and darkness, shadow and changes in value tells you a lot about his or her style. Some creatives like subtle changes and soft values. Others passionately splash color boldly and provide luminous eye-popping light that defines shape and creates depth. In this way darkness can define space and provide a backdrop for light making it glow with luminescence. 

The subject of the composition and its treatment determines whether evil is present or perceived. The color red may also indicate evil if the images are coarse and vulgar. A red rose may also appear holy and beautiful if the petals are delicate and soft. Treatment has as much to do with how evil is perceived as darkness itself.

Study the Masters and see how they contrast light against darkness. Analyze your own reaction to it to see if the painting registers somber, illuminating, inspiring or degrading. Your response indicates the power of darkness to reveal the essence of goodness or of light.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Your "Stuff and Nonsense" may turn into a Firebrand

"Fish Market" mixed media on canvas (acrylic underpainting; oil on main images)
I have a file on my computer called “Stuff” where I put down ideas for blogs and articles. I get a one-word idea, and then ramble on with it to see if it has substance. Some of my one or two word ideas really take off; others fizzle out after one or two sentences.

When that happens, I do some research on the subject to see what turns up. If I’m lucky (or blessed), I find a plethora of information. If there’s nothing, or the word has a negative connotation, I go back to square one.

One such word was “firebrand.” I loved the sound of it rolling off my tongue. I had a few ideas on which direction I could take it, but then I actually looked the word up:

Firebrand, “One that creates unrest or strife; urges crowds to riot (I certainly didn’t want that!); progressively promotes a cause – an agitator.” I didn’t like that definition either.

But the more I thought about it, I decided that was exactly the word I wanted to write about. I liked this description: “One that creates unrest or strife.” Artwork is supposed to cause people to think, to push them to analyze and to cause unrest or strife within. Fine art is supposed to change us in some way, either to shake us up and help us see another point of view or to inspire us and motivate us.

"Hey, Coconut, Mon!" mixed media on canvas (acrylic underpainting; oil on main images)
Most people think of art as beauty. I was sitting in a relative’s living room this weekend (relaxing after a wedding celebration and the reason for my late blog!) admiring a painting on the wall. Actually, the watercolor was very bland. The background was tinged light ochre, beige and tan. A dark brown tree spread its naked branches against the yellow cast sky.

I realized that I’m a firebrand kind of person. I want to make a statement. My paintings don’t blend in or stay in the background, they are more conversation pieces. They either draw you or repel you, depending on your point of view. I have difficulty painting fluffy pretty scenes. I’ve had to master this technique and by the time the canvas is finished, I’m eager to move on
We each have our own style, but there’s one thing that we must all agree upon: without passion and conviction, the final work may look and feel like a puddle of paint. 

The word firebrand also describes the hot iron that burns rancher’s initials on his or her cattle. Artists must create their own firebrand that becomes recognizable; a signature that is unique and represents not only the artist’s name, but a clue as to his or her style. 

"Early Christian logo created from the
Greek word for fish"
I wish I’d created something more unique than just my first initial and last name. I’ve seen some very clever logos that are remembered and admired. If you’re just starting out, I recommend creating something different. Make it simple. Make it memorable. Then when your fans see something of yours, they’ll recognize it in an instant.
(I just threw this one in for fun!)

Use your “firebrand” to create unrest, strife, or simply a tranquil experience that people will buy and treasure for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Make your Voice Heard -- Vote your Conscience!

"Looking Outward" 16x20 acrylic canvas; Old window frame, painting on glass = 3-D experience!

It’s all about perception.”  This statement has become a political strategy. The meaning is clear: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you stand for; what matters is what other people think you stand for and how you are perceived.”

In other words, if you can pull the wool over people’s eyes some of the time, you may just fool them into voting for you. After the election, all bets are off!

Unfortunately, this has become the norm in politics making our decisions at the polls more difficult than they have ever been before. Politicians say one thing and do another. There is inconsistency between their behavior and their words; but there’s one little secret they won’t tell you. If you examine their record, you can see exactly how they vote in Congress, what legislation they support and whom they side with. Those are the facts they can’t hide from.

Perception colors our choices and our responses to other people. The words people use to communicate are linked to past experiences. Two people may use the same word, but have an entirely different meaning attached to it. Relationships, environment, and family influence determine how we see the world and how we communicate with each other.

"Sea Swirls" acrylic drawing, work-in-progress (3rd in my Seaside Series)
The best way to illustrate the power of perception is taken from a familiar story by John Maxwell in  Developing the Leader Within You.

“After World War II, a general and his young lieutenant boarded a train in England. The only seats left were across from a beautiful young lady and her grandmother. The general and the lieutenant sat facing the women. As the train pulled out, it went through a long tunnel.

"For about ten seconds, there was total darkness. In the silence of the moment, those on the train heard two things — a kiss and a slap. Everyone on the train had his or her own perception of what happened.

“The young lady thought to herself, I’m flattered that the lieutenant kissed me, but I’m terribly embarrassed that Grandmother hit him!

“The Grandmother thought, I’m aggravated that the young man kissed my granddaughter, but I’m proud she had the courage to retaliate!

“The general sat there, thinking to himself, My lieutenant showed a lot of guts in kissing that girl, but why did she slap me by mistake?

“The lieutenant was the only one on the train who knew what really happened. In that brief moment of darkness, he had the opportunity to kiss a pretty girl and slap his general.”

"Sea Swirls" acrylic on canvas; 2nd work-in-progress (It's all about layering)

Another interesting story comes from (Delhi)

“One day a man opened the garage door, which startled a large butterfly. It flew immediately to its perceived escape, the circle-topped window where it frantically tried to exit through the invisible wall of closed glass.

“The man raised the third-car garage door in hopes of aiding its escape. This caused the butterfly to fly higher and higher and become entangled in a spider web.

“Fearful that it would remain entangled in the web, the man selected a long-handled broom to assist him escaping the tangled threads.

 “At this, the butterfly returned to furiously pumping his wings and banging into the glass, which was, in his perspective, the pathway of escape, but remained his cage.

Success Principle
 “By simply turning his focus to one side, the butterfly would have easily exited his prison. Rather, due to his intent on one direction, he remained confined, captive.

“Every day in our lives we focus on one side of the problem, not looking at it from others points of view. If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own.”

This is true in life and in many other endeavors at work or at play. When we create we never know how our work is perceived? People view it from the vantage point of their own experience. What may seem beautiful or interesting to the artist may trigger something entirely different in someone else.

"Sea Breeze" acrylic on 30x24 canvas; First in my Seaside Series
This is why juried competition is often frustrating on many levels. The judges see the canvas from his or her past learning experiences and their personal expertise and vision. The artist creates from his own internal perceptions. Each has a different perspective on what they see. A determination is made, but it is more subjective than objective. 

The best an artist can do is to keep painting from his or her own passion and life experiences until others share the joy and excitement the artist felt at creation.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Key to Shared Laughter is its Direction

"A Joyful Heart" 11x14 pastel, matted and ready to frame
We all love to laugh. It’s healthy. It feels good. Medical professionals recommend it as “the best medicine” in the world; but that depends entirely on where your laughter is directed and on whom.

None of us likes to be “laughed at.” In fact, most of us cringe and recoil when we’re the brunt of someone else's joke. Poking fun of others is another form of bullying. The difference between healthy laughter and aggressive hee-haws is the purpose behind each.

When we laugh together at the same thing that is shared fun we both enjoy. When I laugh at you and watch you squirm, I’m not only making you uncomfortable, I’m pushing you away. This kind of laughter diminishes both of us. You become a victim. I become a heel.

Sensitivity to someone else’s feelings should warn us when we’ve crossed the line. It’s never too late to realize bad taste, even in ourselves. Shared laughter brings us together and bonds our friendship. At the very least, it makes us feel good to be human beings. Finding humor in life or in the awkward situations we find ourselves in may ease the tension in a difficult situation.

"With these Hands -- Hope" mixed media (acrylic underpainting; oil on center of interest)
Laughter can smooth ruffled feathers and ease the pain of embarrassment. A giggle or two at the appropriate time says “I forgive you. Hey, it could have been me!”

I’ll never forget standing in a movie theater lobby with my husband. Everyone nearby was laughing at this guy who tromped from the restroom into our group trailing toilet paper. The more we laughed, the funnier it became. I was nearly doubled over, and a darned good thing. Looking downward I discovered a few sheets of tissue stuck to my own shoe. If you think we were laughing hard at that point, you should have heard us after this discovery!

A person who can laugh at themselves really has it made. They rarely take their petty grievances out on others. They are everybody’s friend. Joy is written on their face. These are the portraits I want to capture and the main reason I love to paint. My Artist Statement declares:

“Thanks to my grandfather, a biologist and teacher; my uncle, a former professor of entomology at Berkeley; and my father, a fly fisherman of great renown; I was born an environmentalist, a lover of nature and of God’s remarkable handiwork.

"I believe there is spirit, voice, and emotion even in inanimate objects, but especially in living things. I envision each object, each life force speaking out – no, shouting out to me. I try to portray nature as honestly and beautifully as I see it. Sometimes I exaggerate color and movement so others may share what my inner life sees and feels. I have a vivid imagination.

"With these Hands -- Wonder"  mixed media (acrylic underpainting, oils on center of interest)
"Portraits are a favorite of mine. The slightest crinkle in a nose or the twinkle in an eye can tell volume’s about a person’s personality. Faces are complex; as varied as the flowers in springtime, as deep as the roots of a tree or the depth of an ocean. I hope viewers will experience joy when they look at my paintings.”

I started painting in oils, but chose acrylics because there was no smell and you don’t need turpentine. I had a mishap where the mineral spirits ate through the plastic container it was stored in and trickled over the floor soaking my rug before it seeped into my storage area. That was a real turnoff!

But after watching Vladimir Volegov paint in “quick time” on YouTube, I’m having second thoughts about oils. Volegov is a master of color, light, and of blocking in shapes as quickly as possible. Every stroke counts! 

I hope you enjoy the following links: 

Girl at Rest

Here is another favorite artist: Ritch Gaiti with his ethereal Native American paintings of “another time, another place”: