Friday, May 27, 2016

The Hard Way

      Recently, I've been working on a series of paintings where I complete two paintings, one an 8" x 10", and the other, a 16" x 20", based on the same setup, simultaneously. The first couple that I did, my process was to make a drawing for the 8x10 and then bring it to FedEx to have it enlarged. It was a little tricky at first, but they figured out how to do it. The last painting that I just completed, "Melon Boat", their machine was down, When it's "go time" I can't wait, so I went home and gridded the drawing, and enlarged it the old fashioned way. It's obviously a lot more work and time, and time is money, so for my latest one (see above), I decided to give FedEx another try. I went with my 8x10 drawing, and explained that I would like one copy to be the same exact size, and one copy to be twice as big, 16"x20". Now I'm not a techno, but this doesn't seem to me to be overly complicated. I always bring a tape measure with me to make sure I don't leave with a wrong size image. The manager first made the one to one copy, it was a half inch smaller. Then she attempted the enlargement. It was an inch smaller, and all of the lines were scrambled and pixelated. She then proceeded to lecture me on why it was my fault for asking for something that was impossible, even though I explained to her that I'd had it done there before.
   I didn't get into an argument with her, I kept my cool, and drove back home empty handed. I try to be aware sometimes when the universe is trying to teach me an important lesson. I gridded up my drawing and proceeded to enlarge it the hard way, one square at a time. What I did was to setup two easels side by side, both facing the still life, and I made the block-in from the drawing, but I did the finished line work on the larger piece from direct observation of the setup. What I noticed was that as I made the enlarged drawing, I was picking up on some subtleties that had eluded me in the smaller piece, and actually might have been distracting in the smaller work. My original idea for doing these enlargements was to highlight some of the things that I do on the smaller pieces, and also to be able to push my brushwork a bit more. After doing the large drawing I transferred it to a canvas by rubbing the back with conte crayon, and tracing over the lines. I then did a very basic wipe out by covering the canvas with thinned down raw umber, and pulled out the lights with a paper towel. Some artists do a very developed and modeled wipe out, my philosophy is that if it doesn't look good with two simple value separations, it's not going to look good with five. My next step will be to add a thinned down color wash using Liquin, where I will paint each form up to as much of a finish as I can achieve with thinned down paint. Check out Doug Flynt's video (highly recommended) at for a good demonstration of this process. So Thanks FedEx for screwing up, you gave me the kick in the behind that I was needing!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Other Side of the Fence

           Recently, I was asked to be the sole juror for a local art club's annual members competition. I somewhat reluctantly accepted because I  have had a somewhat contentious history with thirty years of submitting work to juried shows, and I didn't want anyone to be having those same evil thoughts about me! I do have some experience. I've been on the jurying committee of a well known art organization for some time, and I've done a few smaller shows on my own. The good thing about this show was that I could judge from actual work. The awards were to be given out immediately following my jurying so it was a little bit stressful, as all of the artists were there, and I was expected to explain my selections and also to give out some critiques if asked. The work was all pretty good which made choosing the better pieces even more complicated.
        The art club had a form that they wanted me to fill out for the award winners that asked me to expand on things like the use of the elements and principles of art, technique, and expression. After emphasizing the elements and principles of art to high school students for over thirty years I can't tell you how many times I was pleasantly surprised when students would come up with their own solutions. I've come to realize that there are things that go into the creation of a successful work of art besides the standard "rules". I explained to the club members that to my way of thinking all art is essentially abstract and good underlying design structure is important no matter what your means of expression is. What makes a good design is somewhat debatable I guess but it seems to be something that's obvious even to "untrained" eyes. I have occasionally had something pointed out to me as a problem in my painting by a casual stranger, and son of a gun, most of the time they're right. (I really hate that!)
      One of the judging categories was "expression" and I have to say that I find that to be the least important element. In my undergraduate and graduate studies in painting expression was the God before which we all knelt. As I got older and began to re-train myself, I stopped worrying about whether or not I was expressing myself and just tried to make good paintings. I remember bringing some paintings to a gallery owner at the recommendation of one of my instructors. The owner asked me how I would describe my "style". I told her that I was working very hard not to have one. I guess she thought I was a little crazy but eventually she got the idea. More important than "expression" is harmony. Does the work hold together? We've all had those pieces where we love one little section of passage in a work at the expense of the other 70% of surface area. Each art work is a specific entity with it's own rules and logic. What worked in your last painting won't necessarily work in this one, you have to problem solve on a case by case basis. That's one of the things that I love about the process, it never gets boring. It can also make critiquing work somewhat problematic. I told the artists in the club that rather than me pointing out what I think might be "wrong" in their painting or drawing, it would be better if they asked me for advice on how to problem solve something that was troubling them. As I explained, what might be wrong in this work, could be right in the next.
     At the end of the evening we got into a discussion about submitting work digitally to competitions. The biggest problem with digital submissions is that you are using one art form, photography, to stand in for another art form, painting, drawing, sculpture, etc; All of the things that work well in photographs, value contrasts, flattening, perspective exaggerations, can be murder on an image of a painting. As someone who has been judging work digitally, I am often amazed  at the difference between the image and the real thing. One thing that will come through, even in a digital image, is a strong design (going back to my first point). I explained that if you're going to submit work to online competitions sometimes you have to go with the work that looks the best digitally, not necessarily what you see as the best in your studio. I use to pay photographers to photograph my work, but I was never completely satisfied with the results. They were seeing things from the photographers point of view. Once I learned to take my own photos I was able to limit the shortcomings from actual image to digital version as much as I could. The internet has opened up a whole new world for artists, but it's far from perfect. I often think of the Impressionists and their dealings with the official salon juries and wonder what they would have made of today's world of electronic jurying. Perhaps they would have revolted, maybe we should too.
"Behind the Scenes" oil on panel