Saturday, August 29, 2015

Abstract Realism – Yes, you can do it!

"Moonshines" acrylic on 18x24 canvas (abstract realism)
There’s tremendous freedom in doing an abstract painting. To do them well is the greatest challenge. What attracts the viewer? The colors, shapes, values, and most especially the mood. How does the painting make you feel?

Some abstract paintings are stark and limiting. Others may distort shapes or simplify images. According to Sue St. John, author of Journeys to Abstraction “The choices are vast and nothing is wrong. Abstract art can be incredibly liberating.”
Think of abstract art as fluid. Allow your brush to intuitively follow your imagination and mood. Take an idea, a theme, a feeling and express it in liquid motion. Keep in mind that an abstract artist is expressing “concepts” rather than exact depictions.

Abstract realism combines the best of both depending on what you choose to emphasize. Shapes and colors may be in the abstract with one part of the painting rendered true to life as the focal point. The reverse is also possible. Take a realistic background and an abstract center of interest. Inspiration is all around you.

I have an artist friend who gets inspired by fabrics. She can turn a small element of design into a full-blown abstract painting.
Look for shapes and patterns in your environment: the way light and shadow play out and create designs, structures, and lines. The world is full of texture, color and form. Examine how they work together and how they make you feel.

"My Trail of Tears" mixed-media on canvas

To advance a theme or emphasize a point, some artists incorporate symbols into their artwork. They are interesting. They provide additional information. For example, if the artist’s vision is “new birth” or change, a butterfly would help signify this metamorphous.

Many symbols are already familiar such as the circle (infinity, cycle of life, wholeness); the Egyptian Ankh which symbolizes the harmony between the physical and the spiritual worlds. Pentagrams (five-sided stars) represent the four elements of earth, wind, water and fire and how they are bound together with the fifth element of spirit.
The study of symbols alone would provide you with an astounding number of paintings and the basis for combining realism with abstraction. This should not only release you from preconceived notions about earth and life, but inspire you with countless stories and designs that are unique and personal. Above all, have fun!

"Moonlight Magic" 11x14 mixed media, layered acrylics

The following link should provide you with some great ideas. I’ve also included a quote by well-known artist Sherrie McGraw:

“A painting is more than the subject matter or the story it might depict. Good painting carries an undercurrent of beauty that expresses something beyond subject matter, beyond the tangible reality. It is this level of seeing that makes a painting a living thing, something that speaks even centuries after the artist is gone.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Developing Style one Brush Stroke at a Time

"First Daffodil" acrylic on canvas
If you’re like me, you keep your eyes on trends: What are people buying? What’s the new hot color? How long will this geometric craze last?

When circles, lines and shapes were popular in the 60s and 70s, I grew tired of them within a few years. The revival of this psychedelic conglomeration of zigzags and prisms hit me at a time when my home is full of traditional furniture. But one thing I’ve learned about trends and fads, they never last.

Today driving to an appointment, I noticed that new white cars are multiplying as are white vans and trucks for business. Even the latest auto ads are featuring white and chrome.

(Picasso's Blue Period 1903)
(Picasso's African Period 1907)

In the September Better Homes and Garden (BHG) and Woman’s Day magazines, white walls are making a comeback. These virginal surfaces allow bold and bright accents to add zing and a bit of flare to an eclectic mix of modern and traditional.

Recent issues featured vintage finds that tone down and anchor the bright colors and soften the angular lines and shapes they bump into. Designers call it a “happy blend.”

Kishani Perera, who loves traditional finds from the past, is a designer, author, and owner of the LA boutique and Rummage (featured in BHG Sept. 2015). She said: “So many pieces from earlier times were made to last forever. That’s the beauty of vintage.”


So, dear friends, don’t give up. Use those old pieces your mother left you. Incorporate those interesting and universal items gleaned from garage and estate sales and relax. Surround yourself with what makes you happy.

The same goes for your own artistic skills. If you do what makes you happy, eventually you’ll develop your own style. Don’t get sucked into every fad that comes along unless it becomes a part of your style. Your work should be unique and recognizable.

According to definition: “In the visual artsstyle is a ...distinctive manner which permits the grouping of works into related categories."[1] or ..any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, way in which an act is performed or an artifact made or ought to be performed and made."[2] It refers to the visual appearance of a work of art that relates it to other works by the same artist or one from the same period, training, location, ‘school’, art movement or archaeological culture: "The notion of style has long been the art historian's principal mode of classifying works of art. By style he selects and shapes the history of art".[3] (Wickipedia)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Self-Taught Artists Emerge after Grueling Hard Work and Physical Pain

"Cafe Costa Rica" 20x20 acrylic on canvas (SOLD), Prints available
As a self-taught artist myself, I wanted to shine a light on the anguish and healing that many of us share in common. I’ve chosen a few artists that are famous and well-known, and a few who never got above the sad circumstances of their lives until long after their deaths.

Many artists were driven to art in the process of mending from a long-term illness or accident. Once they tasted the sweet wine of creation, they found the healing balm of discovery and newness of life. While their minds and hearts were caught up in the rapture of creativity, they forgot about self-pity and pain and unleashed it instead upon paper, wood and canvas. 

My own early beginnings happened after a painful divorce. Remarkable magic occurs when emotions travel from brain and heart through the arm, into the fingers, down the brush and onto a blank surface. Explosions of the mind keep you focused and stayed on what’s happening before your eyes. The smoothness of paint encourages experimentation and afterward, you are never the same.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 and died in 1954. In 1922, she entered the National Preparatory School with the intent to study medicine and medical illustration. Three years later, she was in a near-fatal bus accident, which left her with many broken bones, including her legs, ribs, back, and collarbone. While recovering from the accident, she began to paint.

In 1928, she sought out Diego Rivera, a Mexican Rivera, for advice on her works, and would later marry him. Her paintings were surrealist. She used bright colors, and often depicted Mexican folk themes. Her first one-woman art show was in New York in 1938. In 1953, she had her first solo show in Mexico. Her work began to gain more attention in the 1970s, and many of her works are displayed in her former residence. Her bright outdoor scenes and bold self-portraits continue to amuse and delight us.

(Henri Rousseau -- Fight between a tiger and a buffalo)
Henri Rousseau was a post-Impressionist painter who was born in 1844 and died in 1910. He worked for a lawyer and a toll collector to support his mother and wife. It was his job as a toll collector that would earn him the nickname "Le Douanier" (customs office.) Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.

Rousseau began to paint in his early 40's and would retire at 49 to focus on painting full-time. He taught himself by copying art displayed at the Louvre, but would go on to establish his own style of painting. His paintings are noted for their flat style and great imagination. His most famous works depict jungle scenes, though he never saw a jungle. Several of his paintings are on display at the Louvre.

Winslow Homer was an American landscape artist who was born in 1836 and died in 1910. He was mainly self-taught and spent 20 years as a commercial illustrator before taking up oil painting full-time. He would open his own studio in New York City in 1859 and started to take classes at the National Academy of Design. By this time, he was already producing a great number of works. His early paintings often depict rural farm scenes. Later paintings would display marine subjects, such as fishermen and boating. He would later become best known for his paintings with marine themes.

Riet van Halder is a Dutch housewife who began to draw and paint at the age of fifty-nine after a voice urged her to do so while she was vacuuming the house.” Her family found it strange to see her suddenly become absorbed in painting. In the Netherlands, she had easy access to a vast array of ink, paint, and other media, which she explored in her art. She preferred paint applied with a multitude of implements on a variety of high quality paper and linen. Fittingly, she used a varied color palette. Her paintings are often densely populated with swirling, free form human and animal figures, which have predominately benevolent expressions.

“Her drawings are a response to an imagined world that is revealed, dreamlike, in the act of drawing and painting.” She explained that after finishing a work she was as captured by its beauty and mystery as a first time viewer. In 2004, her ability to create was ended abruptly by chemotherapy, which she received for a melanoma on her ear.

Woodie Long grew up in a family of twelve in a racially mixed sharecropping community in Plant City, Florida. As a young man, he worked as a sharecropper and itinerant laborer. He told me that he had picked just about every crop that existed in the southeastern US. Most of his life, Long was employed as a professional contract painter. This work took him as far as Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife, Dot. Long said that there he became acquainted with the Prince, now King, while painting the Palace and other Royal buildings. Dot and Woodie subsequently traveled for a year in Southeast Asia before they settled in south Alabama to be near family.

Long began his memory paintings in 1988 while recuperating from a respiratory illness brought on by long-term exposure to oil paint. 

He was a great storyteller, and was often encouraged by family and friends to recount his own experiences. He saw his wife’s hobby watercolor set as a good way to record his memories. Long certainly knew how to handle a brush and during his career had experimented occasionally with painting figures. He told me that on jobs, he often created a large image on each wall before painting over it.

Melissa Polhamus was born in Ludwigsburg, Germany. She is the adopted daughter of a U.S. military serviceman and his wife and grew up in several different East Coast military towns. She earned a degree in history from Virginia Polytechnic University. “In 1989, she began to draw from her own imagination while recuperating from depression suffered in the wake of an automobile accident.”

Polhamus is self-taught as an artist. Her undiluted watercolor and ink drawings are characterized by intense, densely fragmented compositions. “She has described the process of creating these works as entirely spontaneous and intuitive.” They have a dreamlike narrative quality in which convoluted environments are typically inhabited by cartoonish clothed figures as they carry out various activities that are alternately mundane, mysterious, or sinister, through a labyrinth of interconnected spaces. “Her drawings often include peculiar vehicles, weaponry, musical instruments, stylized vegetation and jaggedly geometric patterns that contribute to a pervasive sense of anxiety.” They are mysteriously compelling and consistently original in style. From a distance, the palette and patterns of her work may resemble certain Mexican Folk drawings.

Thank you to the following Gallery for providing these bios and paintings:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Censorship is a Dirty Word in a Free Society - - a Way of Life under Tyranny

"India Rising -- the Lost" oil on acrylic background
Artists like to talk about passion and freedom of expression, but what if your hands were tied, literally. What if every brush stroke, each swathe of color, and every word you spoke was censored and shaped for you by the ruling body, the government or the proletariat?

How would you like to serve jail time or worse for breaking the rules or being accused of sabotage or treason? In many countries this is what happens to those who dare to speak out against their leaders through their work. They face suppression, ridicule, subordination and sometimes exile.

According to the National Art Education Association (NAEA) “The freedom to create and to experience works of art is essential to our democracy. At present this freedom is under attack. Private groups and public leaders in various parts of the nation are attempting to remove certain artworks from public display, to censor exhibitions, to label particular works as “controversial”, and to identify some artworks and artists as “objectionable”. These actions arise from a view that censorship is needed in order to avoid the subversion of politics and the corruption of morals.

“Moreover, it is not only artworks that are being subjected to efforts at suppression. These efforts are related to a larger pattern of pressure being brought against education, the press, film, and television. It is important to note that even when such efforts do not actually suppress particular types of expression, they cast a shadow of fear which leads to voluntary curtailment of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy. The arts cannot thrive in such a climate of fear.

“Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. This freedom of expression includes both verbal expression—speech and writing; and non-verbal expression, which includes the “language” of the various arts. Free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.
"Prayer Circles" oil on acrylic background
“Now, as always in our history, artworks—literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, music, and dance, are among our most effective instruments of freedom. They are powerful means for making available ideas, feelings, and social growth, the envisioning of new possibilities for humankind, solutions to problems, and the improvement of human life.

 “On the other hand, suppression of ideas and of artistic expression leads to conformity, the limiting of diversity of expression to a narrow range of "acceptable" forms, and the stifling of freedom."

The NAEA’s declaration continues:
“As art educators in a free society, we confirm the following:
    • Freedom of expression in the arts must be preserved.
    • The individual has the right to accept or reject any work of art for himself or herself personally, but does not have the right to suppress those works of art to which he or she may object or those artists with whom he or she does not agree.
    • The free individual and the free society do not need a censor to tell what should be acceptable or unacceptable, and should not tolerate such censorship. All censorship is contrary to democratic principles.
    • It is the duty of the art educator to confront students with a diversity of art experiences and to enable students to think critically. The art educator need not like or endorse all images, ideologies, and artists he or she makes available to students, but should allow the individual student to choose from among widely conflicting images, opinions, and ideologies. While some works of art may indeed be banal and trivial, and some works may be repugnant and unacceptable to some individuals, the art educator should insist upon the right of every individual to freely express and create in his or her own way and to experience, accept, or reject any particular work of art. 
    • The art educator should impress upon students the vital importance of freedom of expression as a basic premise in the free democratic society and urge students to guard against any efforts to limit or curtail that freedom.”

Adoption: Adopted by the National Art Education Association Board of Directors Motion #17, September, 1991

Communist countries, dictatorships, or religious or police states regularly interfere with the rights of free expression and seek to enforce their dogma on all avenues of expression.

Freedom is not just a fancy word ….it is a precious gift that must be preserved, respected, and fought for at all costs. Check out the link below for famous Middle-Eastern painters.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When Things get tough, find a Different Way to Work

"With These Hands -- Wonder" 1st in a Series; oil on acrylic canvas
I sometimes wail and whine about getting older. My osteoarthritis has begun to swell my joints and reshape my fingers. I can no longer draw a straight line without some help from a ruler or guide.

And I recently had contact lenses implanted in my eyes. They are “monovision,” meaning that one eye serves for distance and one for close-ups. While it’s great not to have glasses, my perspective has changed. Do I really paint what I see or is what I see distorted by my altered vision?

We all have problems as we age. Some of us were born with a disability. Others were given problems and illnesses sometimes at the peak of their careers. Life happens to us all and “shit” happens.

So you think you’ve got problems? These heroic artists continued to create in spite of their problems and well into old age.

At the end of his life, French impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir continued painting — using a brush tied to his arthritic hand.

Renoir had crippling rheumatoid arthritis — at the LACMA Exhibit, there's a flickering black and white film that shows Renoir painting in 1915, despite his afflictions. His hands look like stumps of old trees — you can barely see his fingers because they are so curled in on themselves. Fabric is tied across Renoir's palms, to protect his skin.

In the newsreel footage, he clamps a paintbrush between the thumb and fist of his right hand. Renoir leans into the canvas as he paints. He talks while he works. He's lively, and his eyes are piercing.
(The Absinthe Drinker) Renoir
"I am just learning how to paint," Pierre-Auguste Renoir said in 1913 — six years before he died. The French master painted right up to the end of his life; he died in 1919 at age 78.

Edgar Degas “frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish a painting, an explanation that met with some skepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that "his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision." The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection "to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them," and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.
(Blue Dancers -- Degas) Love the composition!
He was a deliberative artist whose works, as Andrew Forge has written, "Were prepared, calculated, practiced, developed in stages. They were made up of parts. The adjustment of each part to the whole, their linear arrangement, was the occasion for infinite reflection and experiment."

1890 Degas’s eyesight fades and he does more sculpture and pastels. He does some mono-types of valleys from memories of the countryside from a trip to Burgundy.

1895 Degas experiments in photography.

1910 Degas goes blind becomes depressed and bitter, stops painting.

1917 Degas dies 27 September aged 83 at his home. And so ends the career of our greatest artists.
(Degas liked to paint members of his family)
The following “lesser known” artists have overcome monumental difficulties but continue to do what they love. Lisa Fittipaldi lost her eyesight, yet paints the most remarkable paintings. She detects the color by the feel of the pigment. Remarkable!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There’s more to Skin than Color; Watch your Emotions Betray you

"Day Dreams" 11x14 oil on canvas
Some people are more brittle than others. They can’t endure stress and they get their feelings hurt easily. We speak of them as “thin skinned” and overly sensitive. These internal stressors are played out on their faces. These types usually wear their “hearts on their sleeves.”

On a physical level, some persons actually do have skin that is more elastic and stretchable than others. Perhaps they are more able to roll with the punches and adapt to change. For whatever reasons, some of us were born rigid and inflexible, and others from the start are more laid back and easier to live with.
"Broken Hearted" 9x12 pastel on bristol; matted and ready to frame
We can also misinterpret someone’s “body language.” I’ve seen so-called experts try to decipher what someone was feeling or thinking and sometimes even they are baffled or they get it wrong. Just because someone has a long face or are down-in-the-mouth, doesn’t mean “it’s all about you.”

They may actually be down about themselves and feeling insecure. So many factors play into our emotions: work, family, friends, news, money, a crisis, an illness or fear that it's senseless for us to take personal responsibility for someone else’s mood swings or unhappiness.

For many years, I functioned in “zombie” mode which had a disastrous affect on my ability to experience emotion. I was trying to “keep it altogether” and in the process, turned off my emotions all together in order to avoid outbursts and confrontations. This zombie mode kept me safe, but it certainly didn’t solve any problems.
"Moody Blues" 18x14 oil on canvas
Once I began counseling, it was like the floodgates opened and from then on I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Abuse is abuse and I realized that I had a right to be treated with respect. I couldn’t sit by and allow someone else’s negative insults and putdowns to tear down my confidence and self-esteem. Once the door was open to my inner life and my own self-respect, there was no turning back.

Paintings that tell a story (and most of them do) usually portray some kind of emotion. I like to ask myself “What was the artist trying to say? What is the person portrayed feeling? How do the colors chosen feed into that emotion? Appreciating an artist’s perception of the world and its people is just the first step in discovering more about the beauty and skill that goes into a composition.

(Work in Progress -- "#Hopeful in India" 24x18 acrylic on canvas)
Even the softness or absence of line indicates subtleties expressed, or the hush of deep emotion. Broad swathes of color intensify and exaggerate either anger or exuberance. That’s why each painting can speak to us in a real way and affect us deeply if we allow ourselves to explore the technique used, the color, the subject matter and overall presentation.

According to recent studies, “the six basic emotions – angry, happy, sad, fearful, surprised and disgusted – do not begin to cover the range of feelings we convey with our facial expressions. Using new computer software to observe and record people’s faces, scientists mapped no fewer than 21 emotional states, including apparently contradictory examples such as "happily disgusted" and "sadly angry". Unless I missed it, there is one other emotion that law enforcement may recognize: guilt.

Check this out for yourself: 21 Emotions on Faces
(Work in Progress -- "Queen of Diamonds" 20x20 mixed media on canvas)