Friday, January 6, 2017

Commission, Discipline, Perfection and Chopin: An Artist Rejuvenation

I am working on a large commission and have had thought of never accepting a commission again.   A bit harsh but it's not that I haven't enjoyed working on it, it's just that I have a hard time painting on demand. I either have the inspiration or vision or don't, if I force it, it rarely works.

I've since changed my thoughts on commissions for several reasons. There is a wonderful aspect to the commission that I have only begun to realize: it's called concentration and discipline.

The only other time I have had to work through distractions was teaching painting. If you are teaching a student, it doesn't matter if you are having a problem with concentration, you have to maintain and teach the class. Discipline of mind is necessary to continue to paint in a scheduled time.

I have a short attention span when it comes to painting, I usually can have an hour with extreme concentration. I can paint longer if I work on multiple paintings because each time you switch to a new painting, it's a bit of a refresh.

An Older Commission

It's a matter of details. When you truly see a subject as it is without short cuts or assumptions, you can really get lost in the small details. I remember a recent student who learned to hate rocks, I feel her pain now in the details of water foaming.

If you look at a large area of foaming water it is a large nondescript white area, but as an artist you need to define the depth and the differences between tone and texture, it is the only way you can capture depth and make the image appear to the viewer in a way that makes sense. Also the colors change and the movements are different, the artist needs to pull these insignificant changes to the eye and make the viewer realize what they are seeing.

When it works, it is quite a magical experience. In this exercise of painting this most recent commission, I have forced myself to push beyond what is acceptable and trying to capture what I actually see. It forces me to see the painting and the subject so much deeper and intensely than I have in the past.

To add another aspect of the creative experience, I have started to listen to Chopin during the process. What I've learned is my lines are sharper and clearer and I stay in the mode longer. I will experiment more with other classical music but I think I'm on to something new.

It's been a difficult year for my art, lots of photography and writing but not as much art. I am excited to see the next series of paintings having more disciplined approaches to my subject, a deeper understanding of what I am actually trying to say and a bit of classical music as the cherry on top. I'm excited to see where the new direction will take my art.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Art Meets Nature

I have a tower of heavenly blue morning glories in my backyard. I was impressed when I counted 40 blooms and now as each day passes they have multiplied. At last count 300 plus blooms are climbing a great tower of green leaves to the top of a hackberry tree.
After photographing them on numerous occasions and getting every angle I could, I still felt like I couldn't capture the magnitude of a spectacle of hundreds of morning glories with blooms more than 4 inches in diameter.
I saw them as a mosaic of rich blue hues, so the next progression seemed obvious. What if the tower of blues became individual pieces of art, each different in their own way. 

My first attempt was changing the gathering of blue into a mosaic or even a stained glass window, with help from Photoshop, suddenly the blue objects became more vibrant, more unique in the frame.
I am in the process of painting a series of acrylics. It is a series of morning glories as well as the species of passionvine I have collected. I will be showing the whole series at North Haven Gardens, December 3rd.
I'm also planning on adding all of these pieces of art to a complete series of art dedicated to the huge tower that grows by the day. If this goes well, perhaps passionvine will be the next series. Let me know what you think, I would love to hear your comments. Thank you.

As an addendum to this post, I wanted to explain the use of filters on photographs of flowers.
I am very careful about not overusing Photoshop filters and usually avoid them if not necessary for the project.

In this case I wanted to deconstruct the flower and only allow the richness of its color to dominate. I also experimented with the idea that the colors of the flowers were almost like fragments in a mosaic or stained glass. I added light as a backdrop as well as brought back the basic concept of the flower.

I wanted the colors to be at their richest and yet just a hint of the original to show nature's perfect form. The hues in the background only become a tapestry to complement the richness of the blooms.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Painting a commission and finishing a painting blind....a break was all I needed

I've been working on this painting for several months now, after I saw it in a vague image at church. The idea has grown but all the pieces never seemed to gel.

This is one of those paintings that took all the patience I had to continue. It's probably the most abstract I've ever attempted but the abstract parts do have a reason.

The background flecks of color are a stained glass window. What was difficult was trying to convey a glow of light. The bright light came as a final note and it seemed to go so quickly. It's amazing how you suddenly understand the purpose of a painting and it finishes itself.

I also attacked a very large commission today. It's a large ocean and it was a liberating feeling to be able to move paint across the canvas with a clear idea of where I was going.

Painting from a photograph sometimes has its benefit. It's an enjoyable feeling to just paint without that much fear or question of the final image. I have a great idea of how it is progressing and how I need to approach it. So far I am slowly overlaying colors to make the colors from the underpainting vibrate.

I think getting a week break has refreshed me and filled me with inspiration. I plan on finishing many of these paintings that have been hanging on for too long.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Photography: Coming Full-Circle

I have been photographing for many years. From the first 110 camera I got as a Christmas present to the medium format camera I shot in-house portraits for a local business after college. Photography has always been a quick vehicle for capturing what inspires me.

The first 35mm SLR I worked with was a Pentax K1000, completely manual, I even had two bodies to facilitate multiple lenses. I would disappear for hours in the country to capture anything from snakes, nature scenes to sunsets.

I learned on Kodachrome 64 and 25 speed film. There was not a lot of room for error with slide film so I learned quickly how to expose sunsets to use the full saturation of the red leaning Kodachrome before it was replaced by C6, a more blue balanced film.

Nature is usually the subject but I'm completely open and recently that scope has grown. My first big project was a set of sunrises for an Electronics company. I had found success. Unfortunately I also lost my eye and for the next few years I thought of how to sell the photo instead of shooting instinctively.

I learned how you can overwhelm yourself in a place like Glacier National park, how altitude sickness can be dangerous to your equipment and how trying to mix a photo trip with a family trip can often end with negative results.

In recent years I have found the ease and immediate rewards of going digital. Suddenly instead of selling photography, I started using photos as a way to tell stories. To describe things in nature, still life and people that can be expanded upon in my writing. I found my niche.

The only problem with working with automatic cameras is too often you start relying on the camera. I feel I've become more interested in composition and color, losing some of the photographic principles that turn a snapshot into a work of art.

I have a photographer friend who has made me start questioning f-stop, shutter speed and ISO-it's like coming full circle, truly taking back control of the camera. Using all pieces of the camera and exploring techniques I hadn't previously thought of.

Another aspect of my recent photography is night scenes which I have always painted but now with my new found inspiration and direction, I am enjoying long exposure night scenes and the use of layering. I am excited to see where this new inspiration will take me and excited to see the new work
that is on the horizon.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What's so great about classic films?

I watched a movie on TMC Saturday night, the name of the movie is the Gypsy Moths. It’s a story about a group of barnstorming skydivers that visit a small Mid-western town to hold a show.

It features Burt Lancaster and Gene Hackman along with a star studded cast of actors before they were famous.

What really impressed me was how silence is used almost like a color in the directors palette. You listen to the sound of the air as they fall from the sky, there is silence between characters.

Another tool the director uses flawlessly is human interaction. Not with words or long oratory, instead the silence, the look at each other. The director shows you the characters by what they do, not by what they say.

Another wonderful aspect is the camera angles, the tension between characters, the amazing use of light that creates a landscape where the viewer is able to pick up all the emotions without knowing everything.

There are layers that slowly unravel for the viewer to explore. There are textures that aren’t immediately evident. You have to watch, it keeps your attention because you don’t want to miss the interaction.

These days, everything needs to be spelled out to the viewer, explained, spoken and you are lead through the plot with twists that jar you instead of actually knowing the characters.

The old movies insist that you invest in the characters, you get to know where they are, how they react and what they don’t say is more important than the obvious dialog.

My favorite directors, the Coen brothers, bring back that same use of silence, the investment in the characters and the fact that often you learn more from what isn’t said.

I would suggest we go back to the old days, when the director had less effects to work with and used every tool they had with the drama and skill of an artist.

The Director explains to us a story, even takes us to a place to meet specific characters, they then allow the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own experience and imagination. What happens is you are engaged, you’re not just a spectator, you are involved in the scene.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Three different avenues to creativity

For me there are several levels of inspiration and creativity. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The first and simplest way I am inspired is in the moment. Although I don’t often paint plain air, this is the kind of inspiration that lends itself to painting from life.

You are inspired with a place or object. You paint from life or from a photograph, in this process you can simplify the image you see, exaggerate certain aspects you need to convey or attempt ultra realism.

In this process, the small details are captured often without my knowledge. Subconsciously I often interpret the scene with many intangible elements that are rendered with varying degrees of detail depending on intent or my level of concentration.

The next inspiration is that which does exist, only not necessarily in one place. Different pieces of many different scenes are assembled to capture an idea.

This process is usually a snapshot in the mind that adds multiple images. I will use photos for details but much of the details are often absent, the subtle nuances of the scene can often be overlooked in this kind of painting but often this allows for the viewer to see what the artist intends without the extraneous details causing distraction.

The next process is from an inspiration that does not exist, it is an idea, often in dreams. Not all of the image is discerned in the initial view.

This particular image can take years to develop. Usually this kind of painting sits on the easel half done for several periods of work and often the idea never makes it past a sketch.

All three ways I paint have positives and negatives and just like writing, sometimes I can paint one way and other times I can’t even paint from life. 

Creativity is a very mystical thing for me, it’s the intangible feelings and aspects that are most rewarding for me as an artist.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Unraveling the Abstract: Artist Review Monique Carr

Sunflowers Galore by Monique Carr, Used with permission

What is abstract and where does the impetus come from. I have always painted emotions, feelings and objects of memory and have never fully appreciated abstract until recently.

A few artists have inspired me to learn more about abstract. It’s the shapes and colors, without description or explanation, in my opinion they create a raw feelings from abstraction.

This post is about an artist that has captured so beautifully the space between reality and the nuance that is abstract. Her name is Monique Carr.

I found her on a google plus page. Her art had that connection to reality and yet it exploded with color and energetic forms that leapt off the page.

I went to her website and discovered more paintings that were just as bold and exciting as the first painting I saw.

I found her portraits and that’s where I saw how she mixed the needed discipline of a skilled portrait with the energy and richness of abstraction.

Monique’s plein air paintings take you to a specific place but what she captures is the moment. A splash of colors and warm light describe the energy and excitement of a day in a sunflower field.

I could feel the heat of the afternoon, I could taste the summer air; to me that is where art transcends it’s two dimensional form. An emotional response is triggered by the kinetic humming of shapes and colors with just enough realism to keep the viewers eyes grounded.

I sent her a long winded email and we talked about abstract, I shared another artist who I am very fond of and she agreed. Her description of doing abstract was to abandon her assumptions, expectations and fears and paint the light and shapes that surround the image.

We both agreed, it’s an amazing feeling to connect with other artists especially the ones that perhaps see the world the same and yet so different than you have.

I am still unraveling the riddle that is the abstract. Monique inspires me to learn more about it and explore perhaps my inner abstract.

Check out Monique Carr Fine Art at