Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Studio Notes have Moved

Dear Friends,

Sorry to take so long getting this information to you.  My brand new website is up and running. My studio Notes will now be found at my website:  Sorry for any inconvenience, but know you will find the new site a treat.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Choosing a Subject

Choose the Subject for Your Paintings Carefully-They are a Portrait of You.

Traditional Subjects—When we begin our life long painting journey most of our energies are directed at technique, design, and accuracy of the object or scene.  This as only natural.  Each era has their own cliche’s, but barns, boats, and bouquets are always popular.   The shortcomings of painting these subjects is that these images tend to be more about the subject than the artist. This is not to say impossible. The paintings of Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and Wolf Kahn all painted traditional subjects in personal and dynamic ways. So if you want to paint a barn try to do so in a manner that reflects your unique fellings or insight for the barn.
Non-traditional Subject—Another option is to select  subjects that are rarely painted.  Martha Wakkefield , (a contributor to The Palette Magazine) has used scissors and slips (lingerie) as metphors in her recent work.  Ellie Reif painted ceiling fans, vacuum cleaners, plucked chickens and pizzas in a delivery box.  There are many advantages in choosing unusual subjects.  First there are not so many examples by other artist to cloud our possibilty list. Secondly, subjects that are not so prevalent have intrinsic appeal. Lastly by virtue of looking for unused subjects a whole new world appears and the artist that brings these subjects to light are revered.

Conceptual Subjects —  Another sure way to select subjects is to go inside your thoughts and express you emotions and ideas.  I think of nonobjective paintings as painted images without the middle man. The middle man being the visual objects we use to express non visual ideas. For example red can be used to express fear or anger or love.  While nonobjective paintngs have no identifiable objects the idea behind them is the subject and no less real than the most recognizable  images.

 These 3 broad categories of subject selection are not intended for any reason other than to encourage us all to be thoughtful in making choices as to what, how, and why we make art.  There are good and bad choices within each of these categories so make your selection based on what engages you and what keeps you interested in your work. If you stay interested, it is likely, the viewer will too.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Clocks and Clouds

Sorry for my absence.  I recall a "Mainer" once proclaiming , "if you can't improve on the silence—don't".  I guess I have had nothing to say,
I have been reading, The Social Animal, by David Brooks, Random House, 2011.  I believe that there is much to learn about painting contained in this book.  Give it a read.
In the chapter," Intelligence" there is a section titled "Clocks and Clouds". The science writer Jonah Lehrer sometimes reminds his readers of Karl Popper's distinction between clocks and clouds.  Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be defined and evaluated using reductive methodologies.  You can take apart a clock, measure the pieces, and see how they fit together.  Clouds are irregular, dynamic, and idiosyncratic. It is hard to study a cloud because they change from second to second.  They can best be described through narrative, not numbers.
Paintings are not clocks that can be made using scientific calculations.  We sometimes, and usually with poor results, attempt to analyze art by inspecting the parts used in the making of it.  Paintings can be orderly, neat and exact.  Paintings can also be sloppy, chaotic and defy systematic analysis, unlike a good clock.

Paintings are more like clouds irregular, dynamic, and idiosyncratic.  Paintings may come from mathematical equations, but art does not. Art happens when the expression is free from formal recipes.  Design is not the art, anymore than a key is the clock, design is only an aid in making art.
  Art is much like a cloud and the artist we most admire are those artist who live in the "clouds".  The world of imagination, creativity, possibilities, and authenticity of ideas. I  wonder why we revere the works Picasso, van Gogh, de Kooning, Motherwell, Rothko, and many others we categorize as creative expressive and genius and take workshops emphasizing technique, design, and imitation. Are we trying to turn clouds into clocks?  Making paintings based on  rules can make paintings that resemble art but in truth they come from a place that is not personal or creative.
Studies have found that if given a task requiring problem thinking people with high IQs score higher than lower IQ people.  If, however, the task is without rules high IQ people do no better than the average population.  Art is not about IQ or even talent: art is about honesty, integrity, and a commitment to doing some well.  So put your heads in the clouds, dream big and throw away your "clock"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Searching for YOU

"The Rise" 22"x30"  watercolor on paper

Why Self. Why is it important to find your personal voice, style, or mark as an artist— or is it? The answer to this question is yours, but a look at options is valuable when making the choice.  Historically the artists we most admire and respect are those whose work we recognize by their distinctive style, ideas, marks, and consistency.  Most other art we identify by recognizable subject matter, but that has little to do with the author. ("That looks just like a rose/lighthouse/grand canyon-".  One group of artists creates, the other group imitates.

Creative or Imitative The road less traveled is the road of creative and personal.  This is the road traveled by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollack, and David Hockney, and many others. These are the artist who give meaning to the term "creative arts". This is a harder road to travel because it means leaving the comfort of the established, accepted, recognizable group and style and venturing into unknown territory without certainty of success.

Handicaps and Hurtles.  There are many reasons not to choose "the road less traveled".  Most of the available instructional art books, magazines, and teachers teach "How To" make someone else's painting. Too often, juried shows appear to be more about conformity than creativity. Sadly,paintings are often purchased by people wanting something for their walls that is simply decorative, that match the sofa, remind them of a person, place or thing,  and is not TOO expensive. They are less interested in the artists' exploration or statement. In the world of commercial success there are few reasons to take artistic risks and numerous reasons to conform.

Exploration.  One thing is undeniable,  that is if you do not take chances nothing is going to change.  The unknown can be a scary place or an opening to adventure.  Think of stepping away from process and tradition as an unplanned vacation in search of the things never seen or experienced.  Proceed from a place of no fear.  Take every chance, listen to your intuitive voice, prepare for marvelous disasters, and do not evaluate success with the same old rules. Be more like van Gogh than the television artist.
This is not to say that non representational art  is always original,and representational art is never personal. However, the task to bring a fresh point of view to  a recognizable subject is very challenging. But maybe it is the challenge of Your lifetime. And bringing real expressive content to abstract art is equally daunting. But if you don't push, we'll never see what You have to say.

Finding YOU.  Paint as if you had invented painting.  When unique color combinations, shapes, lines, and textures reveal themselves rejoice and move forward.  Paint as if no one was ever going to see your creations.  I cannot help but believe that all great art is born of exploration.

Leave Yourself at Home.  We all know how easy it is to give advice and how hard it is to make it happen.  Here are a few suggestions that may help.  Make a contract with yourself saying that for a month you will paint like you have never painted before, exploring every notion and thought,  with an oath that no one will ever see the paintings done during this time. During this time you will forsake every rule, convention, tradition and "thou shalt not" you have ever heard and paint EXACTLY what and how you want.

                                          "Night Search"    22"x 30"    watercolor on paper                    

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get up and go to work, with an Idea

Chuck Close is attributed with saying, "Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just get up and go to work".  I agree with part of this admonition, that we need to go to work and stop procrastinating.  The part I question, just a bit, is what purpose is served in going to work without a clue as to why you are going to work. Guys like Chuck Close probably have a backlog of ideas just waiting to be explored.  There are times when I have a list of ideas waiting to be explored, but there are also those time when I go to the studio and stare at the walls. ( I guess you can tell I am presently in one of those periods.)
The question is what to do when in this mind set or perhaps more descriptive, "mind  fog".  Sometimes a trip to a museum, gallery, or the library will cause a light to go on or at least flicker.  One must be cautious when searching for inspiration in these places so as not to confuse finding ideas with plagiarism.

Diane at MoMA looking at  a painting
 by Barnett Neuman 

When drawing inspiration from other artist do not simply copy their technique, but rather emulate their commitment to an idea. It is not enough to just paint "in the style of."  Look for their underlying motivations and the evolution of the choices they make, for it is in these observations that we will find excitement.  Take note of the artist whom you most admire: this is a good barometer the path you should travel.  The work of Matisse is born of passion and emotion while the images from Picasso are more calculated and intellectual. Acknowledge which of these artist you most enjoy and relate to. Identify what it is that draws you to the work of a particular artist. This knowing will serve you well in choosing you own path.

Well, now that I have that off my chest I am charged with new enthusiasm and ready to go back to work. I hope this will be of some inspiration to you and make leaving the couch an exciting event.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Getting off the Fairway

On the last day of 2010 I played golf with my brother and his 2 sons at a course named the  Links of Challedon.  It was one of natures winter gifts with temperatures near 60 degrees.  This is an annual event and rarely do the temps approach anything this comfortable.  We have played in snow, wind, temperatures in the single digits, and occasionally a day like this one. The weather makes for some higher than average scores, but has little to do with our enthusiasm and laughs.

On a par three somewhere on the back nine I hit a shot to the far side of fairway.  After finding my ball and hitting it near the green I did something I had not done for many years.  I looked into the woods and decided to take a walk to the green via the woods.  The sun was bright and the air still and the crackle of dried leaves under my feet seemed so familiar, as if this was something I did often.  The truth being that with the help of numerous golf teachers and many hours of practice I rarely had to make treks into the woods in search of my golf ball. I should have been pleased with my acquired skills that kept me from the woods, but my thoughts were just the opposite. I had been missing one of the real pleasures of PLAYING golf.  Mark Twain was right when he said,"Golf is a good walk spoiled". Golf is a game invented by shepherds who when  bored with watching sheep decided to have some fun by hitting rocks or whatever they found available into a distant hole in the ground.  I image they must have had a terrific time. Golf is a great game until you keep score. Why we even have a number called "par" is not very scientific.  Why are there 18 holes and not 20 or 10, or pick a number.

All this leads me to the question of why do we have par in painting.  What adventures are we missing by adhering to the ideas of others. We should not let tradition, societal taste, and demagogues dictate the  path we travel as creative artists.  Let's get off the fairway and kick some rocks, hear the sound of dried leaves, stop to admire a hundred year old tree, listen to the sounds of nature and freedom and truly make our painting journey an adventure in living.

"At Ease"  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I taught my first class at Howard High School in 1965.  I have taught at high schools, colleges, church basements, grand halls, regal resorts, and 45 states. I have worked with thousands of students and, for the most part, the experience has been extremely rewarding.  There is no profession as honorable and noble as teaching. Especially, if I may say so, teaching art! Where else can you find so many people dedicated to learning a craft that offers so few rewards. There is little chance of getting rich, fame is only in our dreams, and it seems that the better and  more personal we get at our craft the smaller the approving audience gets. From my point of view there are no people so beautiful as aspiring artist.

The rewards of teaching come in small increments, one student at a time.  One student making the jump from imitation to creation. Each new understanding brings a smile to the face of student and teacher.  Each time I see the light of awareness radiating from the face of someone I am working with I am richly rewarded.

Teaching and painting have been my life and I could not have wished for anything better.  This year I received the highest honor of all, even bigger that the Towson University Distinguished Alumni Award, and the High Winds Medal from AWS, when Barbara Smucker honored me with The Big Orange Splot award.  The Big Orange Splot is a children's book written by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.  It is the story of Mr. Plumbean who lives in a town where all the houses are the same until the day that a seagull dropped a bucket of orange paint on the roof of Mr. Plumbean's house.  The neighbors were upset that their perfect, predictable town had been altered. Mr. Plumbean, however, saw potential in the occurrence and painted his entire house  in equally vibrant colors.  "My house is me and I am it.  My  house is  where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams," said Mr. Plumbean.  After many discussions with the neighbors and lots of shared lemonade every house was painted exactly as the owner wanted his house to be.  Barbara Smucker's  inscription to me reads:
To Skip- Thank you for being the "Mr. Plumbean" in my life."

For me there could be no greater thanks than this gift of shared joy and respect.

Happy Thanksgiving !