Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tools and Technology are an Artist’s Best Friends

FINAL "Stir Fry" 16 x 20 Oil on Canvas -- framed.
I am a risk taker. I like to experiment. Sometimes I get lucky, and sometimes I’m disappointed. I stretch my skills and challenge myself to try different techniques and colors that enliven my palette. There is a certain light or glow I seek that emanates from my paintings. Until I have achieved that look and feel, I am not satisfied.

Using tools to build-up texture that ends up showing through may give you an unusual under painting over which you can layer, wipe off, or touch up with soft color, highlights or added lines.
(Underpainting; notice plastic rake tracks, swirls of color, mounds, etc.)
An artist from Australia, Robert Bosler, suggests that “how you apply paint (your technique) becomes a tool. There are refining techniques and empowering techniques.” Samples of both are at a link below for YouTube.

Tools of the trade for an artist can be digital or as simple as a plastic rake or a handful of tissue paper. 

I enlarge my drawings or photos on my PC to the size of my canvas. This allows me to block in the large items and saves me from always having to draw or transpose detail. Using my paint brush as a drawing tool, I can easily change or add to my composition. The details can be added later.

(This is the final result over that last underpainting--flipped
to portrait position.)
A novice once asked me for information on what it cost me to do a painting. He divided it into parts: supplies, paints, canvas, tools and time spent in the actual painting? 

This picayunish breakdown was designed to belittle me and other artist’s work with little regard to the years it takes to perfect a skill or the knowledge required to assimilate what one sees and to interpret it on canvas.

I gave him a simple mathematical tool to determine costs: Multiply the width of the painting by the length, add any overhead costs the artist may have (leased space / gallery, etc.), add in the cost of a frame or other embellishments. Include in this equation, the artist’s background and notoriety and the worth of a painting is much easier to understand and appreciate. This exercise at least gave him a basis from which to judge.

Reducing a painting to a dime-store print or knock off which has been photographed on canvas and then given a few swipes of paint is an insult. This is not a serious buyer, but a person who wants something for nothing. Walk away!

Common artist tools.
Beginning artists get overwhelmed when they see the big picture and know all the work that must be done to be successful. If this is you, try to slow down and take one piece at a time. A child doesn’t learn how to walk all at once. Neither does success come without a series of mini-steps and hurdles.

Focus on one thing at a time: 
  • Prioritize your work list in order
    of importance 
  • Do as much as is humanly possible
    in your 24 hour day
  • Don’t neglect your health or there
    will be no business
  • Small increments of time are better
    than nothing 
    Use down time for planning, organizing your thoughts, and creatively solving problems. When your body is at rest, your mind can take over.

I mentally paint even when I’m not at the canvas. I solve problems in this way. At other times, an idea completely changes and moves in another direction. By the time I’m able to actually work at the canvas, I can move ahead quickly with confidence.

(The palette knife -- a favorite tool!)
Use your time wisely and it can be an asset not a liability. Experiment or you will never get your career off the ground. Don’t hesitate to try new tools or new mediums. You’ll never find your own niche until you do!
(Scrapers, spatulas, sponges, odd-ball tools in a handy bucket)

In addition to your home and kitchen, here is a fun place to look for unusual tools.

American Science & Surplus Catalog

Here is Robert Bosler’s demonstration

A Second video demonstrates how to add texture to giclees

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Are you Spreading yourself too Thin?

(In honor of Martin Luther King)
If the New Year is any indication of how the next year will go, I’m in trouble. Last year was filled with illnesses, surgeries, and accidents. This year started out with a chest cold and flu in spite of the fact that I had a flu shot. Hence the title of this blog.

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and it’s all you can do to keep up with its demands. My blogs have been late more often than not. I feel I'm lagging behind and that I"ll never catch up. I haven’t felt like painting or doing anything, but I’m slowly getting back to normal.

(Shadow patterns on pavement)
One thing that's been on my mind is how much art and design is in nature. Inspiration comes naturally when you take a look around and try to recognize the intricacies of detail, contrast and color that exist all around us each day, but we're either too distracted or busy to notice.

Art usually replicates life, and nature is a big part of the equation. Even man-made objects add to the beauty of our surroundings. A brick walkway, tile roofs, sculptured or oriental rugs, baskets, wood grains, leaf patterns, light play and shadow. We are surrounded by artistic designs from our clothing to the food we put on our plates to eat.

Architecture and interior design complement our tastes and become the building blocks that highlight our personalities. Texture adds a tactile dimension and an element of fun. Our homes should reflect who we are and what we enjoy.

(I really need a hair cut!  My painting "Sandhill Cranes" behind me.)

(More beautiful shadow patterns)
You don’t have to be an expert to combine what you love with what brings you joy. Art and design are not complicated. They are simply an expression of who you are. Within your reach, note how many patterns and designs already exist in your home even without the obvious artwork. Wall art adds a third rail by accenting the colors that already exist and by providing an element of surprise or interest to an otherwise boring wall.

Wall art is like the final gilding on a non-descript room. It provides excitement and completion. Artwork ties everything together and adds a finished look to your entire scheme. Linking up with a few interior designers is a good way to get your personal artwork out there and become familiar with the local scene.

Next time you're in a slump, or you feel you've simply spread yourself too thin. Magnify your surroundings. Soak up detail. You don't have to travel or go to foreign lands for inspiration. You just have to remove the clutter from your own mind and focus on the unique that is already in front of you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Tell Good Abstract Art from Bad

"Queen of Diamonds" 20 x 20 acrylic on canvas

I found an interesting article at Keeton’s Office & Art Supply, Jan. 19, 2015 written by Nicole Tinkham that answered all of my doubts and questions:

1. Consistency
This refers to the consistency within a painting as well as the consistency of an artist’s portfolio. If a portfolio is all over the place with a few stunning pieces mixed with low quality work, the artist is either still developing or doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. Same goes for within a single painting. The flow must be consistent from one side of the painting to the other with planned and precise strokes.

2. Color
Colors that don’t mesh well together are a dead giveaway that the artist isn’t a professional unless of course it’s done deliberately in which case it has to be obvious.

3. Texture
Most of the time, good abstract art is compiled of layers. There’s typically and under-painting and these layers often create texture.

4. Meaning
All great art has some sort of meaning behind it. Some type of emotion, whether positive or negative gets thrown onto the canvas. There’s thought and planning put into it. You’ll know when an abstract piece is done at random. It lacks personality.

5. Complexity
As an artist completes more and more pieces, they grow and learn new techniques, which is evident in their work. In contrast to what you may think about abstract art, the techniques used in this style (by a professional) cannot be easily replicated.

6. Comfort
Uncomfortable paint strokes will tell you right away that the artist is an amateur. Experienced artists are confident and produce every mark with intention. Paint splatters may look random but they’re put there for a reason.

There are so many different feelings toward abstract art. There are many people that simply don’t understand it, others who think they can replicate it, and of course the abstract artists themselves who put much more time and thought into it than many non-artists realize.

Tell us, what do YOU think? Does this research and the qualities of good abstract art change your mind about it?
"Moonshines" mixed media on canvas
Respond to the authors article at:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Political Art – Does it make a Difference?

For an artist, it isn’t enough to envision, create, and wallow in paint up to your elbows. You have to read about art. Indulge your muse. Suspend your free time thumbing through art magazines to expand your knowledge. You have to scour what’s out there for knowledge and inspiration.

I’ve been doing just that by reading B.A. Shapiro’s latest novel “The Muralist.” Now I can see her in person on Tuesday, January 12 at the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers. Shapiro will be there in person to sign her new book and discuss its plot and characters with attendees.

"From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Art Forger comes a thrilling new novel of art, history, love, and politics that traces the life and mysterious disappearance of a brilliant young artist on the eve of World War II."

The book keeps me turning pages. Of course, it’s about a time period that has always intrigued me, and about the horrors that engulfed the entire world; but especially the Jewish people. Hitler and his minions hated, pursued, and incinerated millions of Jewish victims.

Shapiro not only covers the history well, but she knows art which makes the book that much more important on your lists of must read.

Many artists through the centuries have made political statements through their art, but most have avoided it as being too in your face or detrimental to their personal success. Some brave pioneers used art as a platform to voice their own strong feelings and to influence their audiences.

"Vik Muniz Photographer and mixed-media artist best known for repurposing everyday materials for intricate and heavily layered re-creations of canonical artworks. Muniz works in a range of media, from trash to peanut butter and jelly, the latter used to recreate Warhol’s famous Double Mona Lisa. 

"Layered appropriation is a consistent theme in Muniz’s work: in 2008, he undertook a large-scale project in Brazil, photographing trash-pickers as figures from emblematic   paintings, such as Jacques-Louis David’s “Neoclassical Death of Marat, and then recreating the photographs in large-scale arrangements of trash. The project was documented in the 2010 film Waste Land in an attempt to raise awareness for urban poverty. Muniz explained the work as a “step away from the realm of fine art,” wanting instead to “change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day.”

Others, like Thomas Hart Benton, passionately document history. War correspondents and artists fall into this category. This is why some people become angry when others in later generations wish to discredit or discard offensive images that were an actual part of history. Once we destroy history, we chip away at our own identities. History should stand, whether we like it or not.

Slavery is abhorrent to us now. It is a part of our history that we’re ashamed of and wish hadn't happened. But we can learn from our mistakes and vow never to make the same ones again. We can learn from the horrors of Hitler. The German people would like to bury this part of their past, but they haven’t. We and they must keep even the horrors of our past so that later generations will remember and perhaps be saved from repeating the same mistakes.

Our country seems intent on following in Europe’s footsteps. But, instead, we should learn from them:

Socialism has brought financial ruin. A flood of refugees has changed the face of many major cities across the globe.

The whole world is teetering on the brink of disaster. We would be fools to ignore what has happened and think we know best, that it can’t happen here because we’re just too damn smart.

All it takes is a few concessions here, a blind eye there, a white lie behind closed doors, and a willingness to ignore the obvious right in front of our collective noses.

If an artist or a writer can awaken us to the truth, all the better.

(Charles McNaughton, artist -- and below)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Are you Satisfied with Average?

Key West Sunset
Water is so relaxing. Hearing it tumble over rocks, flow into rivers, trickle into brooks and streams is the best way I know to fall asleep. Its movements can also be hypnotizing as you watch the way it rumbles and rolls over hills or slowly meanders into low-lying crevices and gullies.

Water follows the path of least resistance. It doesn’t run up hill without a fight. We can learn a lot about life by watching this liquid essence travel. What keeps it going?

1.    A strong source
2.    A Constancy
3.    A Tenacity
4.    A Clarity

The same vital traits you and I need to keep pushing ahead. Without them we would sink to the lowest level and settle into the comfortable ruts of familiarity. With them we can rise to the highest level of our abilities.

Effort is nothing more than a methodical plodding toward your end goal. There is nothing magic about achievement. It is hard work made visible. Sometimes it’s luck; but without the talent and skill to back it up, overnight success may be exposed for what it is a sham.

"Mount Rainier"
Where is your source, your fountain of inspiration? Where does your energy, your power and motivation come from? Only by understanding the source of your strength will you be able to access and use it. 

Some people call their source a muse. Others credit God or the gifts that they have been given. Whatever drives you, recognize where it comes from and learn how to harness its power in your life.

Review again water’s four traits above. Constancy is a given. Unless you keep on keeping on your skill will not be developed nor will it improve. Only through practice and effort can you achieve a professional level of perfection and polish. Skill is not a gift. It is learned through perspiration and hard work. The more you do something, the easier it becomes to repeat. Repetition expands success.

Tenacity means you don’t give up easily. Water always finds a way. So when your ego gets knocked down, get back up and try again. You are on a journey. Don't let others or your own defeat deter you from your goal.

Clarity is essential. A muddy or congested waterway eventually slows down. It may also widen or overflow its banks and lose its original path. If you can’t see your way clear to forge ahead, you’ll get bogged down or lost in overwhelming detail. You need a clear plan. You need oversight and a glimpse of the big picture. Once you know what you want and where you are going, the thrust of your passion and your desire will propel you forward. Let yourself go!

(Overlooking a water spillway)