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  • Artists of the New Century at the Bennington Center for the Arts
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Give me 4 for the Road

January 30, 2014 by admin

I really don’t talk about my art much here, or how or why I create it. Not sure why, I just don’t know enough about it to be out trying to act like an authority on something.

I try not to give advice, I find it better to speak of experience, and folks can take what they want from that.

So let’s talk art for a little bit, and specifically colors. I love them! Since my very first little paint set I just loved squeezing out the paints onto a pallet and mixing those things together. I have no idea how many paints that cheap little paint set had in it, but I know it had to have at least twice as many colors as I use now. I thought then that the more paints you had the better you would be, or at least the potential to be better increased.

Many people feel the same way, and some for good reason. They probably know what to do with that magic color they just found at the local hobby store. Me, not so fortunate. I bring home the most awesome tube of color that I could find, and like I was talking about the other day, you could tell in my next painting exactly which store I went to to buy that “perfect” color.

Growing up I painted some, but what I did the most was drawing. Pen, pencil. It’s what was around. I did not have a lot of

RGS circa 1977

RGS circa 1977

disposable income, so drawing on anything I could find was the way I honed my skills. A paint by number kit for Christmas at some point was fun, and loved the results, but it was only a temporary detour from my love for the line.

It was my drawing skills and eye for detail that landed me a job at Hallmark in the 70’s, training to become the Master Engraver that I am today. I loved it, and it paid well. Taking 2D art and creating something 3 dimensional, giving it form, and depth, creating that illusion of reality with edges and shape.

Though it was the draftsman skills that paid the bills, I found painting a wonderful release from reality, a place where one could go for a time to escape the chaos of the world around. Taking a large white canvas and throwing color on it, step back and feel what develops. Finding shapes, colors, textures all mixing to bring my imagination alive.

At first I stayed away from painting what I saw, but rather painted what I wanted to see in a world of crazy fantasy inspired by the times. I don’t know if the times changed or it was me, but the imagination took a sabbatical and I began creating from reality. (which at times can be just as odd)

In this mixed up world of art where breaking the rules is the norm, and following them is like the worst thing in the world one could do, there was this rule that I always stuck to since the beginning of time…

“Do NOT to use paint straight from the tube!” Okay, Okay already.

I took this rule and etched it deep into my psyche and still to this day I get this feeling that if  I put straight paint on my canvas someone is going to come up to me and put “cheater” on my forehead. And the number of paints on my pallet was limited only to how many I could find. That and  the size of my pallet…

till 2011

In 2011 I met a man that would change my pallet, my art, and my life. A quiet man, who spoke with his art and his actions. He took that crazy art store of colors, literally shipped it to a needy artist in Africa, all save 4 simple colors. 2 cool colors, and 2 warm colors, and said “go little grasshopper!” And I went.

My pallet

My pallet

“Why?” Is it easier with 4 colors, what are the advantages, and how about the drawbacks?

At the time I thought Rick was crazy telling me that I was going to be painting with only Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue. Sure I had heard the stories about “you can make every color using just the 3 primary colors”, but I thought that was like an Urban Legend or something… not reality.  But I was about to find out. That or have the most gawd awful paintings the world has ever seen. (and there are some bad ones… not mentioning names)

I began my seemingly impossible task of creating art with my new pallet.

It was/is a challenge, but I must say after a while you begin not to miss the fact that you have no tubes of green paint on your pallet. I had to go so far as not even to put one in my back pack so I wouldn’t be tempted at first. I love some of those greens that they have out there, and when painting in the area I’ve grown up in, the summers cannot be recreated without every single shade of green being used!

What I began to see immediately in my art was something that I didn’t pay attention to before, (being self taught in this world

Rick on the Conejos

Rick on the Conejos

of color), and that was a harmony in my work. When they first spoke of seeing this in my paintings I had to step back and compare. And the more I became familiar with these colors, learning how to mix properly, making some of those colors that we find in our world, the more I began enjoying them, and the challenge of creating the art that I do with my limited pallet. It is very rewarding, and freeing at the same time for me. I don’t have to look to hard to see if I have all my paints before I leave on an outing. I just count them on one hand. Simple, even for me!

I use the same pallet for winter as I do for summer spring and fall (or is it autumn?) In each color I use a little bit all 3 of my primary colors. Whether the red I use is alizarin, or cad red depends on the temp I am trying to achieve at the time. But I always put a red, blue and yellow in all of my mixes. It’s that harmony I am still trying to achieve in my work, along with knocking down the tone a bit.

So is this another one of those “rules” that I have to live by, do or die type thing? No way! I really have no qualms about using a yellow ochre or a viridian sometime. I know they are very useful colors, and I’m sure my art would benefit by throwing in an extra tube of something or two, and I’m sure I will. Rick told me when he went to paint overseas he added another blue to his pallet. I wish I could remember which one, but if and when I travel across the water I’ll know.

In the meantime my goal is to become well versed at what I do. I have a long ways to go, and a short time to get there. No idea how short.

I love my 4 color pallet, it’s simple, easy to pack up, and I can still make a total mess of things with these 4 as I did with 44.

This would have been Rick’s “Golden Year” Born in ’57 and 57 years old.

Thanks Rick

LaSauses Turnaround

LaSauses Turnaround

 

The Biggest Compliment?

January 9, 2014 by admin

We have grown up getting compliments for things

Good job

Good job

we do well, and then criticized when we do something wrong. It’s pretty much bred into us. As an infant the entire family will clap and jump for joy when accidentally roll over on your back. And then all the high fives you give your kids when they finally sit on the toilet to pee. (totally glad that still doesn’t happen, but maybe it will again when I grow old)

Jump back this way to adult life and we still see all types of behavioral modifications being passed our way. Raises at work when you do well, speeding tickets on our roadways when we don’t.  I loved getting stars on my papers in grade school, red, silver, gold… okay I saw some people who got gold, “hey, why didn’t I get one?”

Under a glass

Under a glass

What about as an artist, what kind of praise do you like? For me the ultimate of course is Best of Show, with a big fat check. Is that the ultimate? Maybe not, but it’s up there. I sure do enter enough shows on the chance that I just might win, or at least get accepted. Sometimes things don’t always workout the way you want and you are left with what you thought was a really awesome painting, and here they didn’t even want it in their show. We must learn to be resilient as an artist, because we don’t always get the praise we want.

How about that other praise?

I get it all the time, and maybe you do too. It’s the “Oh that looks like a photograph”. I know that is normally meant to be a compliment, and to

many it is. But to me, it’s not the compliment that it is intended to be. I think it’s intended to be. I mean I’ve never actually asked if they meant that in a nice way or not, but I assume so.

My goal as an artist is not to recreate the scene so to speak, it is to envision what is before me, and try to capture how the light effects the scene, and to bring back that feel that took me there in the first place. Is it a windy cold day, with a dreariness about? Maybe a hot summer afternoon with no escape from the heat anywhere?

What I like to hear if I’ve done my job right, is “I like the light in this piece”, or “this feels like a autumn morning”. Maybe it’s me, maybe I have not conveyed a feel or air about the painting enough for the viewer to experience what I had taken part in when I saw that scene and decided “this is what I want to paint”.

There are those artists who strive for a photo realistic painting depicting the scene for exactly what it is. I admire those artists, and appreciate their technical skills, but what I want to do more and more is bring back that wonderful imagination that at one time kept me occupied for hours on end, and create compositions that not only feel, but “wow”.  There are photographers who “wow” with their pictures, there are ball players who “wow” with their on field abilities. What kind of compliment do you give them as they hit the ball out of the park?

As pretty as a photograph

As pretty as a photograph

A good standing ovation is always welcome, with cheers and accolades as they run the bases. Try that at your next opening, maybe getting high fives as you go down the line.

In many art shows you have the “public’s choice” or “artists choice” awards. How about next show give everyone a sheet of stars, and each of the guests come along and put stars on the paintings that they like. What do you think, should we let the patrons use the “gold stars”?

Take your art to an open critique, that will sober one up fast, and make you think that maybe you should reconsider your profession. Keep a thick skin, but it’s that old reward/punishment modification again. Not to change behavior or your personality, (or lack thereof) but to teach us what is wrong and what is right in our art.

It takes a skill to be able to comment on art of all types and skill levels. Art is not the same as adding up all the columns of a spreadsheet and getting the figures right if you are an accountant. In art, high praise and compliments are given to artists who do solid fields of color, nail toilets on ceilings, have their cats chase a feather across a canvas as it spreads paint. The same gold stars are given to the photo realism, the abstracts and the expressionists.

How in the world is the general public supposed to know what is “good art”?

A star for you.

A star for you.

(of course another great topic for later) Let alone know the correct thing to say when confronting the artist and their work?

If someone wants to tell me “That’s as pretty as a photograph” that’s fine. I really do appreciate their taking the time to at least acknowledge that

something has been created by the artist and is now on display for the publics view.

But really, if you’ve got a gold star sticker sheet…

I’m just saying.

 

Do You See What I See?

December 31, 2013 by admin

A star, a star, dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.

The holidays are about over for this season, just New Years and then Ground Hogs Day is coming up, but then we’ve got a bit of a break. I had hoped to take this holiday time to get a bit of a rest from a long hard year, and spend some time with family and friends.

Did it work out the way I had planned? Did it work out that way for you?

I did spend more time with family, but the slowing down part never really happened. I enjoy painting so I try to get out and do it as regularly as possible, and at the same time

Dorian & I

Dorian & I

I have been readying myself for the upcoming year. Can’t enter it without a running start can we? No way!

But as I traveled with family, sat around visiting, playing games and enjoying company I consciously found myself looking at things as I always do. Trying to decide how this could look better. What I could do if I were going to paint it to make it a more pleasant scene. It did not matter what it was I was looking at, and it didn’t really make much of a difference what was going on. Automatically my brain begins to compare and evaluate.

No I don’t “zone out”, well not to my knowledge at least. I just quietly look at things, try to figure out what their local color is, how I could mix it up with my pallet of 4 colors. How it might fit better on a page, landscape or portrait format. There are a bazillion things that run through your mind in an instant, some of them are actually pertinent to the situation, but then many… my favorite ones, are the ones that assess it’s composition and reproduction possibilities.

I have no idea if this is what all artists do, and whether it is a learned behavior, or more genetic. I do know that as long as I can remember I have been doing this in some manner or form.

188861_1877181046860_1991848_n

“KC Scout”

Grade school had me taking scribbles from other kids and I would take them and transform them into interesting objective or abstract designs. Not a page a school notebook or textbook went without being adorned in some form or another. (much to the dismay of my parents who had to pay for damages) Walls, desks, table tops, stairwells, nothing was too sacred for me and my mini masterpieces!

Is this natural for the artist, or the creative mind? Is it natural for everyone? I can only speak for myself, and it was natural for me. But if I were to listen to some of my keepers, I believe “are you crazy?”, and “what were you thinking?” was quite often mentioned, so maybe it wasn’t something everyone did.

It is not just in the arts. My mind works in a manner that is constantly trying to improve something, maybe. Things just can’t be left alone would be a better adjective. Always trying to find ways to change things, hopefully to make them better, but not always the case. I love to fix things, create, destroy, alter, change… Things were not made to be left alone. Is it a “guy” thing? I know for a fact that the majority of men when presented with a problem will try to fix it, while that same case being presented to a group of women, they will talk about it… then who knows?

By that time I am long gone!

I love the challenge of taking any scene and creating the best 581361_4536368924895_1243090803_ncomposition possible out of it. I’m getting better at it, and I believe it’s benefited greatly from the constant appraising of the view before me, and then of course a bit of education. Finally getting a bit of “formal” training in the arts, and what it entails. Reading books by some of the Masters of the genre, Payne, Hawthorne, Carlson. At long last paying attention to those who know better and listening.

If only I had listened to my elders earlier, ha! Not me, I’m the type that must learn by trial and error, and error, and… right now I am trying to see less than what is there. My mentor did not go a session without telling me to “simplify!” Less is better, no paintings were ruined by having too little. I was notorious for including everything I saw into the painting. A typical beginners mistake I’m afraid.

I will always be a student of the arts.

Do you see what I see? I doubt it, we all see differently, and that is good. Our brains interpret things differently, the eyes see, the brain translates, and we create, and create, and create.

 

I don’t paint for “Fun”

December 17, 2013 by admin

Recently I did a little challenge on Facebook involving artists from around the world. It was not for money or any sort of prize, no fame or glory, no accolades from the high end galleries on 5th Avenue. It was artists on every level taking part in something just for fun. The response was good, and some wonderful paintings were created and sent in. Almost all of those I spoke or messaged with thought it a great idea, and something along these lines should be done again.

And then there were a few of the others… not the artists who were traveling had a million other things that had to be done and were putting them off because more important things kept coming up. No, I’m talking about that other % of people that see things that are fun as a waste of time.

Are you an artist? If so, at what point in your professional career does the fun leave your work?

Why is it you paint, or better yet, let’s step back a few years. Quite a few for some of us.

Why did you ever decide to pick up a paint brush, or pen and ink and begin to create? Is it something you did on your own, or more something that you had to do along with the rest of the kids?

To some a blank piece of paper made a better paper airplane than it did a place to make a picture, but for me I found drawing a lot of fun. Something that was easilyRGS Circa 1977small picked up, always got good responses from other people, except from the teacher when I was supposed to be paying attention, and it gave me something to do whenever I was grounded and had to stay in my room. This was maybe one of my first ways to escape the here and now was through my art, and enter the world of my imagination.

Not everyone likes art, that’s a given. But what about those of us who do like art, and are good at it and making our career at it. Do we like it? Do we enjoy the act of creation? I do, but then I’m the kind of guy who likes just about everything, (except stewed tomatoes, yech!) And if I don’t like something, I still make the best of whatever it is. I have heard many say that the simpler minded people enjoy life much more than most because they don’t have the worries and questions that the more educated have.

Is this true? Maybe so.

I see a number of people totally miserable in their lives because they are not content. They are not content with what they have, and question incessantly. Learning is a wonderful thing, but for me I find if something gets in the way of my being happy, go around it, and if that’s not possible, make the best of it.

smile

smile

I’ve always been a “happy go lucky” type of personality, but real peace did not come to me till I fell face first into “AA”. Here I learned this helpful little prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr… “Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to Know the Difference”.

For me, this has been a lifesaver and helps me enjoy life as I can. My wife Susie tells me on occasion that “at our age, we have earned the right to enjoy life to it’s fullest!” I’m kind of paraphrasing, but maybe you get the drift.

While mentoring under Rick Howell he made it clear that on occasion you don’t have to look at a subject and evaluate it along the same lines as your gallery would. Deciding whether it would translate well as a large corporate work, or it fits in your gallery. Every once in a while you just need to paint something for fun, because you want to, the way you want to.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

I feel very fortunate to have spent my entire adult life in the field of art, doing something I enjoy. Whether you are or not it does not keep you from trying to make each and every moment on earth enjoyable for yourself or for others.  My 10 years as Cubmaster gave to me a credo that I live by and you may well know it too… “KISMIF” say it with me, “Keep It Simple, Make it Fun”

Maybe I will never be a “serious” artist, and if it’s a serious artist I must be, then you can have it. Because though I do take art seriously, I will do so with a smile   🙂

cambridge 106 007-001

 

 

Deja Vu

October 31, 2013 by admin

There is something I totally missed out on in all my years as a “studio” artist. Well there are a lot of things, but let’s focus on the relevant for a bit.

It’s not something I noticed till recently, though I’ve now been painting as a plein air artist for 2 years and 3 months now. It’s that feeling of being whisked away DSC_0142somewhere as you paint. Many artists speak of getting into “the zone” when they paint, but I’m not talking about that, nor am I speaking of some of those trips I took at my canvas in my college, AKA Timothy Leary daze.

What I’m talking about is what happens to you when you bring down one of those unfinished block-ins from a long past excursion. You know the paintings I’m talking about,  one of those that had you enthralled while you were there painting it, and looking forward to get back to finish up… but time and travels got in the way.

It’s what happens after you get that canvas on your easel and the paints out in front of you, pull the reference photo up on your monitor. Does it matter what playlist you bring up on your Ipod, or what kind of beverage you just set there on the coaster? No, I don’t think so. For me I wasn’t trying to do anything to spur it on, it just kind of happened.

You can have all the modern conveniences available to mankind at your fingertips, music blaring out the Bose 901 speakers, A/C turned to a perfect 78 degrees, but once you have everything set up and ready to go, it’s only moments before you are magically transported back to that place and time where that inspiration was first realized.

On the Los Pinos river

On the Los Pinos river

Maybe it’s not so dramatic, but when you get back into painting a piece that was started plein air, there are things stored in your memory that come out while painting. Was it the big fly that wouldn’t leave you alone, or the people you were out there painting with that day?

I had recently pulled out a block in from last year in Colorado, a wonderful start to a painting that I had been meaning to get back to since the day I returned. After getting it up and painting on it a while, I could feel the vast landscape around me, a overwhelming feeling of being again part of that land, by myself in this beautiful yet barren land. Those shadows in your photo that no matter how much you zoom in on your monitor in a studio piece, the plein air painting fills in with remembered details that if you had not been there, you would never know.

It’s “Deja Vu” at it’s finest!

A studio artist who has not painted outdoors will never have this same overwhelming feeling of being there. A plein air artist when out on the land observes and records, observes and records. Taking what they want, recording it either on canvas or in that strange storage cell called the brain, and then leaving the rest. A photographer observes and records, but not in the same sense. Do they study the shadows, watch as the light creeps across the scene before them for hours on end?

Pull out one of those forgotten canvases and see if it happens for you, no need to put bug spray on, and sunscreen, though the olfactory senses can play an important role.

smile

smile

Does this work for you? Do you remember the feel of the day when you work on an old painting started in the field? Does the entire time come flying back up in your memory?

Don’t have any unfinished paintings, then grab a favorite and make it BIG, either way I’ll see you back on the rivers edge. Enjoy

Mumbo-Jumbo

June 28, 2013 by admin

Recently attending the Oil Painters of America Salon show in Petoskey, MI, Signature artist and juror Marc Hanson was giving a demo on painting a “nocturnal” painting. If you haven’t seen Marc’s work, do check it out, beautiful stuff I’m telling you. Marc studied under none other than Master Artist Richard Schmid.

Marc Hanson demo

Marc Hanson demo

The demo was about painting after the sun goes down, with existing lights, and colors and all that this entails. But something really stuck with me from this demo of Marc’s. He said “if you see mumbo-jumbo, paint mumbo-jumbo!” Sounds simple enough, but it really set on me. This was not the only thing in the workshop that I remembered, in fact after the demo I immediately went out on site and painted a nice looking landscape using some of what I had learned. This I believe will be something ongoing for many years, but back to the “mumbo-jumbo” if I may.

As a Master Engraving Artist, I spent decades interpreting what was not there, trying to make sense of it all. Beginning at Hallmark, and then continuing into the field. When a customer sent artwork they wanted sculpted 3 dimensionally, I took that and hand carved it into metal, and when areas were vague, I created something. Whether it was a hibiscus plant, or the feathers on an eagle medallion. I would take this customers “mumbo-jumbo” art and make something that made sense out of it. This was what was expected, and what the customers wanted.

But now at age 55 I finally hear what I’ve been needing to hear to free me from this self-imposed purgatory of mine. “If you see mumbo-jumbo, paint mumbo-jumbo”. Why try to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense. It makes sense! If you see

painting Harbor Springs fog

painting Harbor Springs fog

something and can readily identify it, and what is going on, go with it. But how often do you look at something and say to yourself, “hmmm, is it a grouping of flowers in the shadows, or it kind of looks like I can see a face.” Just make it a dark shape with a bit of variety, and texture, and call it good. Let those people looking at it try to figure it out. Is it really important what it is in the first place? I doubt it, if it were you would probably know what it was.

Working with Rick Howell, he kept going over with me that if it’s not important in the painting, don’t make it so. I have been notorious throughout my life as giving the same weight to something on the edge of the canvas, as the focal point. This does not always work, and rarely did it work for me. I am finally understanding what it was about those great paintings that I love so much, they controlled what you saw, and expertly moved you where they wanted you to go. Glancing over unimportant parts of a composition, and lead you into the center of attention. If one does not recognize what it is you like about other art, it is so much more difficult to create things with the same feel.

I will go forth with all this in mind as I travel this long and arduous path I have chosen… and relish every minute of it. But is it “mumbo-jumbo”, or “mumble-jumble?” I wonder…

Winter Grays

March 27, 2013 by admin

I was in a juried show late in 2012, where I was fortunate enough to take an award for a painting I was not holding much hope for. Into the Los Pinos ValleyDuring the reception, the juror, a Dr. William Eickhorst was good enough to talk to all the artists, and to explain why he picked what paintings he did. It is not always required at juried exhibitions for the juror to do this, but always appreciated. What Dr. Eickhorst had to say about some of the art he chose and didn’t choose was to say the least informative, definitely entertaining, and at times brutally honest.

I love this sort of candidness from a juror, he pulled no punches when letting the artists know what he thought was good, or should not even been ever painted EVER! Now if he’s picking on your painting, this can be quite a blow to not only your ego, but wondering whether you should be even considering a career in art. It takes a very thick skin to be an artist, and to put what you worked so hard on out before the people and their sometimes rude insensitive remarks. But Dr. Eickhorst knows what he is talking about, and has quite a resume to back up what he says.

I try not to let it bother me too much, I’ve seen a juror reject a piece of art, and then that artist enters it in a different show, and it wins “Best of”.  Try to figure that one out! (actually, that’s easy, different juror’s like different things)

At this show, on this night, Dr Eickhorst was discussing with the artists afterwards, and was talking about some of these “gray” paintings. “What Monet was doing when creating the Impressionistic movement was light and colorful! Not dark and gray! He actually pointed to one of my pieces when refering to the grays. Some of the other artists when their piece that they had toiled long and hard over actually got into verbal battles with the guy trying to rationalize their creations. When he pointed out my painting as one of those art in parkville“grays”, I said nothing. Was it from biting my tongue in anger, or dumbfounded by the pure audacity of this guy? Really, I’m no different than the rest of you, I have feelings, though I have had to become a little more resilient from all the rejection through the years, but this time it wasn’t that. I was smiling inside, because I had finally did it. I had finally stepped away from the brilliant colors of my previous pallet. For over the past year my mentor had been working with me with creating “beautiful grays”, and it was hard. My colors were always too bright, too rich. Not that that is a a bad thing, I love color, but I was looking for more subtle color. Rick’s paintings mastered this, and he had been working with me to achieve this on a different level.

Rick had died shortly before this, and will be truly missed, though I still turn to him for help and direction. And on this occassion when Dr William “Bill” Eickhorst was talking of the impressionistic colors of the masters, and not these grays, I again turned back to Rick, and this time he was smiling. He had did it!

I have a long way to go in this pursuit, but I will get there.

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