Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Few Sketches

A couple of weeks ago I had the idea of copying paintings as exercises.  I brought up on my mac screen or printed out drawings and paintings from artists I admire like Mark Demsteader and Henry Yan.  After copying a few of them I went to my own reference files, and using photos from our model sessions, I took what I learned from copying and tried to apply it.  I like the way it turned out and think it has helped even in live model sessions. The above sketches are from: (l to R) todays model session, a session in March and one from the summer. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Artist vs. Painter: Which?

There's a story floating around my artist group. The facts aren't as relevant as the content. Not sure if it happened at a workshop or during a class or in art school. 

A student approached the Master and asked how to be an artist. The Master thought for a moment,  then replied that it was the wrong question. First the student had to decide if they wanted to be an artist or a painter. The student asked, "What's the difference?"

A Painter develops her craft to an exceptional level then paints pictures that sell to collectors for high prices and makes a lot of money. The student said, " Hey that's what I want! But what's an artist?"

An Artist develops her craft to an exceptional level then explores her creativity using that craft, perhaps pushing the boundaries of the Art of Painting and enriching the whole of humanity.

The student said, "That sounds good too! What's the catch?"

The Artist is poor because she paints what interests her and what facilitates her growth. The Painter makes money because she caters to a collector base painting whatever the collectors want/however they want.

I can find lots of examples to corroborate this worldview, from DaVinci to Van Gogh, Sargent to Cezanne. Stepping outside the world of painting we can find examples in music with the concept of "selling out", or in performing arts with poor theatre people vs. very wealthy action movie stars.  But I'm not sure the worldview is accurate, though it's tempting to believe the evidence. If one digs a little deeper the clear distinctions become blurred.

Take Van Gogh for example: This was a guy who painted what he wanted, the way he wanted, with little commercial success in his lifetime. Shortly after his death his painting was found to have value and now it has exceptional value - both monetarily and culturally. But history tells us Van Gogh was beginning to be appreciated in his lifetime, with some early critical notice from Paris - then he offed himself. If Vincent had stuck around longer he might have enjoyed some commercial success (gasp), as Monet did. 

There's another example: for half his life Claude Monet was poor, miserably poor, rent dodging poor, sponging off wealthy friends poor, burning canvas for heat poor.  Then later he was rich. So wealthy in fact he could buy views from local landowners in order to paint them, rich enough to divert a river to create his own personal water gardens. Rich enough to hobnob with celebrity politicians. 

After an opening last week a bunch of artists and spouses went out to dinner. We were talking about web sites, and one husband said while designing his wife's website he considered adding a couch at the bottom. A couch whose color a browser could change - just to see if the paintings on the site matched.

My own worldview on this Painter vs. Artist isn't so either/or. It is a question I've given serious thought to, and come to a few conclusions. I think it's a question every "artist/painter" has to face at some point.  It's a question that once answered gets every artist up in the morning to do the work.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tom Buechner's Friday Night Class: First Session

Contour Drawing

Last Friday Thomas Buechner's portrait class started. It runs from October to June. My friend Bruce was kind enough to share his 'slot' with me. (There's a waiting list.) We alternate Fridays. The model for this month is a young teen, the daughter of one of Buechner's more famous models - Sonjia.

I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to this. Mondays I study with Dustin Boutwell and my plate is pretty full for the rest of the week. Tuesday is catch-up (framing, painting.)Wednesday is our nude model session, Thursdays I generally go to Ithaca for another model sesssion. Saturday's Open Studio at 171 Cedar Arts will be starting up. (Saturday is also a bird hunting day.) My Sundays in the fall (and spring) are full of soccer and coaching soccer. So the idea of painting Friday nights didn't have me too excited. But -after attending the first session with Tom Buechner I was excited.

I wasn't sure if Tom remembered me from past plein air sessions, but he did. The classes are held at his home on a hill high above Corning, NY. I arrived a few minutes early, which was fortuitous. Tom was able to introduce me to his studio assistants Eric and Maria and generally orient me as to rules and procedures. In order to get the full benefit of the sessions he suggested I paint his way, just like in a workshop, then after a while I could decide if I liked it.

His studio is amazing, and amazingly organized. There are hardwood floors, a wall of northlight windows, shelves of books on various painters (all arranged alphabetically of course) a model dais and mirrors and reflectors and painting materials...go to his website and you'll have a neat view of the space. Tom moved his giant Hughes easel out of the way to accomodate the class, and he painted from his ancient Jullian. Most of the students brought Jullians, though I did see a Soltek. Everyone present had been painting with Tom for years. There's no conversation except on model breaks and he plays opera over a state-of-the-art sound system. Oh, and turn your cell phone off, please.

My position was beside and slightly ahead of Tom. We were all squeezed in pretty tight and it wasn't a full class. Photos with no flash are allowed, so after every break I grabbed a few. I couldn't help but notice on the wall behind me a large blue ribbon. It was an "Award of Merit" from an OPA show.  I asked him what he'd submitted and he said he didn't know, that Eric and Maria go through his paintings and pick one out. He's received it in the mail recently. Jeez.

The way Tom explained his method of portrait painting to me was this: the first class draw a contour of the model on your surface. Then fix it at home. then stain it with a wash of yellow ochre and Ultramarine for a weak green. The next session is for painting the extremes of light and dark using Tit white or Naples yellow and a dark. After that he said we'd get into full color and half-tones.

The Contour is supposed to be a "road map" with no modeling whatsover. I hadn't spent three hours drawing one contour in years. Through the first break and most of the second I worked to place the head and shoulders in my rectangle. After I was happy with the position I started the contour in earnest. Generally if doing this on my own I'd make marks to place the bridge of the nose, zyphoid notch, jawline etc. Tom didn't want that and made me erase it. He also said my lines were waaaaay too heavy (at one point asking if I were doing stained glass). I struggled to reduce them. At the end of the three hour session I had a reasonable likeness. Sonjia, the model's mother, was appreciative of it. One thing the exercise did teach me is how easy it was to lose a likeness; one second it was there and the next subtle correction it was gone....

Tom has some great stories to tell and a lifetime of information to impart. He seems to have either taken a workshop with everybody famous or he sat next to them at a dinner party. He doesn't drop these names boasting, but in conversation while making a point about painting. During this session I learned he sat next to Richard Schmid at a dinner years ago, and had a very long conversation with him about painting. He's also told some funny stories about workshops with Kevin Macpherson, and contrasted styles of artists with Nelson Shanks. Stories like these bring the art world to life. I'm left wondering if he has any Hopper or Wyeth stories to tell. I don't know, hell, maybe he has one about Homer or Eakins.

As I said in an earlier blog entry Tom has a retrospective currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. There is a piece about him in the October issue of American Art Collector Magazine. His October show opens this Thursday at  West End Gallery in Corning, NY. Last week I was previewing the show and got a jolt as I noticed something. Tom must have been pulling out some very old photo references because he has a beautiful portrait of a girl about 12 or 13 years old. The same girl modeled for us recently. Now she's a 22 or 23 year old woman. Upstairs from Tom's show at West End I'll have a nude painting of her sitting on a diving board. Pretty cool.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

American Art Collector: A Review

"There's gold in them thar hills."  Unknown

In October of 2005 a magazine unique to the art world was launched. Published by the same outfit that does International Artist it's aim was to bring collectors and galleries and artists together. The magazine is image rich (appropriate given its purpose), intelligently laid out, generous in its size and a pleasure to browse.

The title of this entry is  misleading; while I'll be blogging about the magazine, this isn't a Review per se. A few weeks ago I began 're-viewing' my copies of American Art Collector  starting at the beginning, Issue #1. There are 48 issues so far, and I'm at #28. Besides being great inspiration and motivation, the magazine is important to me as an artist because it educates me on the Domain of Painting.

Every art has its own domain and part of the education process is learning that domain. The art of science has its domain, business has a domain, soccer and sports have a domain, just about every activity known to man has a domain - including 'Fly Catching with Chopsticks'.  It supposedly takes ten years to (ahem) master the domain. This includes mastery of craft. And there are circles within circles in each domain. It's been said the average age of the Nobel Prize winners in physics has continuously increased because the Domain of Physics is getting so huge it takes more time to master.

Painting has its own domain encompassing pretty much all of Art History, Art Theory and Craft Mastery. I believe a painter should be a student of painting and its history. A painter should be able to recognize a Turner or a Caravaggio. They should know where oil painting originated (Northern Europe) and why Durer went to Italy. A painter should have a grasp on the natural sucession of artists from way, way before Giotto right through to Pollock, Porter, Wyeth and beyond. American Art Collector Magazine is the beyond.

AACM has contemporary realist painters and sculptors - contemporary meaning of our time right now. I think it tries to showcase the best painters and sculptors working today in the realist tradition. There are no conceptual artists, fiber artists, abstract artists, video artists, or any artists of that ilk. In some of the first few issues I noticed a photographer here and there, but that has apparently been discontinued.  After the first year a special section on sculpture was added.

Every month I eagerly await, then slowly savor each issue that arrives in my mailbox.  Galleries take out huge full page and half page adds on upcoming shows.  Various featured artists are interviewed and their work displayed. This mag is not a 'how-to' like American Artist.  This is a glorious display, the best foot forward, a gallery walk and studio tour.  This is a  slice of some of the best  painting in America today.

A Warning: don't expect any deep analysis on the art or artists. I do like the fact that I can check out prices artists are charging for their work, sometimes even comparing prices from previous years.  This info is for the collector to determine appreciation (never depreciation), but it's valuable info for artists too.

Recently the magazine has changed in a subtle way. I've been trying to nail down exactly what changed, but have so far been unsuccessful. Perhaps its a new editor who has shifted emphasis subtly.  I do know there used to be photos of the artist's studios, and that seems to have been dropped. (As an artist I love to see other studios.) Perhaps the quality of the art showcased has dropped. Reviewing issues, as I approach October 2009 I find my self less wowed by the work. Flipping pages I'm thinking "cliche, cliche, derivative, oooo bad" more and more with only the occasional "HOLY SMOKES".

Some Observations :

Joseph Todorovitch preceded Jeremy Lipking in the magazine.

Jeremy Lipking's first painting in AACM was a landscape.

Danny Mccaw has almost disappeared from the magazine after dominating early issues.

I find something distasteful in Chinese painters using Tibetans as subject matter.

John O'Hern is a contributing writer (editor?) to AACM. He was the director of our local Arnot Art Museum until recently. While there he put together an annual show called "Representing Representation". Unfortunately he has since left the area. Fortunately he still writes for American Art Collector.

Tom Buechner has a retrospective at Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia and he's showcased in the October 2009 issue. I'm painting with TB and hope to blog a little about it.

Robert Liberace is rarely mentioned. Wonder why?

In the US the most important galleries for representational painting are located in NYC, Atlanta, Charleston, New England Coastal, Scottsdale AZ, Laguna Beach and LA. OK never mind, that's pretty much a duh? observation.

I'm continuosly flummoxed by the fact that people actually buy still lifes of grapes and fruit and wine bottles and cheese and vegetables and meat....????

Artist Don Huber grows on you. I like him. He's taken out a full-page ad in the mag from, I think, Day One.

Conclusion: If you're an artist painting in a representational manner  - subscribe to this magazine.  If you love representational painting - subscribe.  American Art Collector is NOT like International Artist or American Artist, etc. There is no talk of how to paint, it's simply a glorious celebration of the paintings themselves.  Oh, and by the way, it's monthly.

About Me

My photo
Elmira, New York, United States
In many ways I think like a photographer. The image itself is becoming more and more important to me; the actual application of paint less and less. Blasphemy in some painterly circles. I choose to paint figures and portraits because I consider them the most difficult subject.