Telling a story through my art is important to me, but I’m not always able to do so… I love the figure and I love relationships – mother and child, sisters resting on a Sunday afternoon, a boy and his dog, an old couple sharing an apple in the shade of tree they planted when they were newlyweds.
Sometimes I’m not always able to handle a painting with a story, yet, unable to put down my brushes down, I turn to subjects that for me are fairly simple. Recently after finishing up a landscape from out of my head, I needed to relax. Portraits are the simplest subjects for me due to the fact I began my interest in art doing portraits of real and TV cowboys.
Yesterday I decided to really take a day off from work, and do a portrait of Josephine, my 16-month-old adopted granddaughter. Josephine has been inspiring me with her explorations in my studio since she came into the world. I’d love to do her portrait from life but, crawling or walking, she is a little whirlwind. Each visit I simply study her, her coloring, her features, her smile. Yesterday I selected one of my photos of Josephine, one that keeps me smiling. By the end of the day, I was totally reenergized and had a nice sketch to hang in my studio that I can look at when things aren’t going right.
Beauty is what most artists I know look for when looking for something to paint; beautiful women, beautiful landscapes, beautiful flowers. I’m talking and thinking about artists whose style runs along realistic, not abstract lines. Artists who paint for a living or are serious amateurs who do not need to rely on a sale.
How important is beauty? How do such artists define the concept of beauty? Is it simply finding the most beautiful scene to paint or just painting roses? For many, it’s as simple as finding a beautiful young girl. For many years that is what I did. At times I still just paint a rose or a sunset or a beautiful girl, because I need to produce paintings. Something I do now, that I did not do when I was very young, is find a way to make each painting special – to me and to the person who decides they want to live with my work for a very long time. My collectors want something unique, which is what a great many successful artists give them. They add flare to their roses, they add their personal vision to their landscapes. I, myself, always find a moment to add to my work.
We artists have moments when we see clearly – when we see with more than our eyes. All our senses come into play, all our beliefs come into play. My dad’s “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it right”. My Mom’s love of flowers and both their belief in being part of the community.The secret that so many painters look for and hope a master artist will reveal to them is “finding oneself” and finding a way to put oneself into one’s work.
I’ve talked about Bob and Don a few times. Bob can copy a photo perfect or capture a scene before him perfect. His paintings look great, but they lack that reaching out to the viewer’s heart. Don, who cannot draw worth a lick and has no understanding of composition can grab one’s heart by putting his soul into each of his paintings.
Not everyone is capable of understanding the importances of being different. For so many, it is more important to be perfect. At 71 I’m enjoying my imperfections.
Whether working from life or from a photo one needs to know their subject. I remember my first painting trip. I did a lot of driving – looking for that perfect subject. Ended that first day quite disappointed. I’d used up a lot of gas and had seen a lot of so-so subjects. I didn’t know part of being an artist was being able to see the important things like the farms and barns I passed up were people’s lives. Came home with a few paintings, just nothing I could be proud of. Instead of wandering around the country looking for a Wyeth painting or a Schmid painting I picked a place I knew something about – the Clark Smith house. Not an impressive scene, but one I knew something about.
Clark Smith fought in the Civil war, was wounded and died twenty years later from that Confederate musket ball. Knowing that the house and barn had been built by a veteran of the Civil War added a bit of color to my painting. Knowing Clark and his wife are buried in the little grove of trees just south of the house added even more interest for me. As a teen, a few of my friends and I checked out the story. We found the grave markers, five in all. Whether the story was true or not really didn’t matter to me. Knowing the farm had maybe belonged to a Civil War soldier gave me that little something to do a better painting.
Not all artists need some connection to the subjects they put on canvas. I found for me a connection, no matter how trivial, makes for a better painting.
Greenhouses fill my head with visions of paintings. Colors of all hues call out to me filling my head with possibilities. I want to rush to the studio and begin reaching for those impossible colors that only nature can create. I can deceive people into believing my paintings have those colors by pushing the colors that surround the flowers on my canvas.
Flowers present a special challenge for me. Besides the colors, flowers are so delicate, requiring thoughtful brushwork – fitting my style of painting into capturing their softness. Every subject requires something different out of us, drawing, mixing colors, knowing when to use colors straight from the tub…
I tell my students, not to dilly dally around, flowers may look to be holding still but they are growing as we paint and picked ones only last so long.
Got my Portrait Society of America newsletter the other day. It’s a real treat to see all the fine creative works by such talented artists. There’s something about being a member of a group alongside such people.
A fine portrait is more than simply just a likeness of the sitter. The great portrait artist puts a bit of themselves into each piece, it’s why their work is so recognizable. Those who have a passion for art, for painting, recognize the hand that creates each piece. Everett Raymond Kinstler
, Daniel Green
, Burton Silverman
and William Draper
are but a few who’s work is recognized by that bit of themselves they put into it.
There are also great landscape artists who put themselves into each creation that comes off their easel. Figurative artists, still-life artists – all reach for the heights and get there by putting more of themselves into each piece. Art isn’t perfection; art is passion, feelings, awareness and a willingness to open one’s soul to others. It is a one-on-one connection between like souls. A painting of an old woman working in her garden painted with loose, rough brushwork can move one to tears and to another be a total turn off. In my 20’s I looked for beautiful young women to paint and admired other artists who filled their canvases with beautiful girls. Now with more life behind me, I see beyond the beautiful. I see the soul guiding the hand that created the art before me. Bold colors put on with a palette knife to me is zest for life, while a dark palette is a more serious, moody soul. How I see the works of others is my own personal interpretation, it’s what makes art so interesting.
Setting up a still-life, picking the props, figuring out the best lighting, the best angle to view it from are all part of what goes into a painting. Elegant objects? Ordinary objects? Related objects?
Some think still-life painting is the simplest to paint; it can be the most challenging, most rewarding, and most developing. Arranging the objects into a composition, considering the effects of lighting on the objects plays into how viewers read the still-life. Taking ordinary objects and capturing one’s interest is very challenging. Painting still-lifes greatly improved my landscape paintings and my figure paintings and it improved my editing when out on-the-spot painting. Editing is what makes for a good plein air artist.
Recently I got a postcard from an artist who relies on copying photos exactly. The painting on the card was done rather well, a pretty scene, a beautiful scene in fact, but very common. The artist hadn’t taken that extra step to raise his painting above the ordinary. With the number of artists out there, it is important to be able to get something extra into each painting. Settling for simply copying a good photo isn’t going to make it. Worse is taking a photo off the internet. I see these paintings done from photos put out there for artists to use. It sounds like a good way for learning how to paint, but that’s all it is. The lighting is all done for the artist, the pose is all done and where is the connection between the subject and the painter? Artists who copy from internet photos most have no life. My friend Chris used to use photos off the internet and recommended the practice to his friend. I convinced him to try doing a painting of his back yard and he loved it so much! He has become a better artist and is now represented by a gallery. People want to know who you are and painting the life around you is more interesting than painting a pretty girl you don’t know. Show off your mind by revealing life around you. Let people see the junk, the clutter you collect, and the strange people in your life.
Putting that little touch of oneself into a work of art is what raises the bar. Whether it be a portrait, landscape or a still-life, that touch can put a good painting over the top. It’s what makes for great art and great artist. Beautiful women are a favorite subject of many artists and beautiful scenes top the list of many landscape painters. The Grand Canyon is one of the most painted places in the world. Some painting competitions have separate awards just for paintings of the Grand Canyon.
Great artists do not rely on their subjects alone to carry their paintings, they find ways to add interest and drama to their work – an edginess. Dark forbidding skies can increase the drama of an ordinary scene, deep blue skies with puffy white clouds can add the feel of wind or the heat of a summer afternoon to an ordinary painting. Backlighting adds drama to a simple portrait. Lighting from below can add interest to a girl’s face. We all see these beautiful places and gorgeous girls. An artist adds that little bit of the unusual – that little something of himself to his subjects. An artist will study a scene for days before finding the right time of day to do a painting of it. How often do people see their favorite places at twilight after a rain? Artists can capture such moments and sights. A face dripping with water in a rain storm, or the wonder on one during the forth of July fireworks. These treats of the unusual come along so seldom people hold them inside and bring them out when in need of comfort. I like to bring out my visual treasures onto my canvases, reliving these moments everyday in my studio.
Two nights ago it was the full moon over St Mick’s Church. The silhouette of the Church Steeple and the pale white moon floating in an indigo sky. I thought of my friend Ronnie who alerts me to such sights and ideas of how to incorporate all this into a figure painting began to come into my head. Pulling over I took in this inspiring scene for 30 minutes. Will any of the ideas I played with make it to a canvas? I do not know, but working on such ideas strengthen my imagination.