Thursday, April 4, 2019

When Is an Artwork Finished?

How to know when a painting is done

Artists are known for asking this. I've read it as a question people write to magazines and 
heard it in other circumstances. It's not surprising, really.

We grow up being told lots of "supposed to's" and "not supposed to's". Everything is already
created and ready to buy. We're given instructions on how to assemble things or operate
things. The decision was always made for us. Some of us (like me) had to come to realize that, when creating things, how we do or make it is how it's supposed to be done! It can actually be daunting when the path hasn't been cut for us already - no "supposed to's" to guide us!


"Seabreeze Sunset", w/c
I was originally disappointed in it,
but now I like it.
And then, at some point we find ourselves the creator or author of some creation - a book, a recipe, a painting, ... Hell, furnishing and decorating a room even counts! We've all done one or both of those. Yet we didn't have any quandary over whether the room was finished. Of course, we make adjustments as we continue to use them. 

But do artists make adjustments on a work of art? You bet they do! But then there's our old question: When to stop and call it "Done"? You can continue to adjust it  forever when you work in opaque mediums like Oils.

So this seems to involve 3 factors...1) your tastes and style; 2) your technical knowledge and skill; 3) your message. 

Why do I say that?

We look at "taste and style". Keeping in mind that we are letting go of "supposed to's", we now have the freedom to do what pleases us art-wise. WHEN YOU STOP IS WHEN YOU LIKE THE RESULTS. 

But even that is prone to doubts of how satisfied you are and whether you can make it better! So the temptation to work it and overwork it remains.

Number 2 says, "technical knowledge and skill". Now you've got new criteria. Does it have nice shapes and value pattern? Does it have good balance, unity, harmony? Is it too random or too predictable? Is it entertaining? (For reference on how I judge the technical merit of my paintings, see "Design Principles I Use and Recommend")


"Reflection, Study", w/c and pastel,
lending a thoughtful mood. The
bird-shaped water was unintentional.
Now we come to 3,"message". Though I mentioned this one last, it is probably the most important.

In your last creation you intended to say something, right?  You grabbed that pencil, crayon, paintbrush or pastel stick to say "sunny day", or "family", or "flowers", etc. Even that simple doodle you made while on the phone had something to say, and even if it was only to yourself for amusement. 
It is no secret that art is communication.

I don't think any artwork can ever be made without having something to say first - abstract or not!

And, like any message, how well "technically" and how well it fits your "tastes and style" will determine if you're hitting the mark to your standards and satisfaction. The better we get technically, the more our "satisfaction" will be on point.

Who knows, maybe "Artist's Block" is only being at a loss as to what to say, even if being modified by other factors. 

Alright, so, given these 3 factors, there is only one more thing to do... Decide!! ...
I hate to say this (not really, I love saying this), but, the painting is done when you say it is!! ...But it is probably better technically said as, "It's done when the statement has been made". 

Obviously it needs to contain and be monitored by the 3 factors above to any degree if we are to be satisfied with it by your standards - and that's a good thing!

Well, I'm guilty of overworking my paintings, being a hopeless perfectionist. I certainly don't wish that upon you by any means. But I do wish to you better results from less confusion on the above question. 👍 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Escapades of a Lazy Artist

    First of all, who in their right mind would call themselves a lazy artist?? Aren't we all supposed to be awesome superheroes who save the day with our quirky charm and save the day with our unique mysterious talents? 

    Being difficult enough to get admirers to part with their hard-earned (or not) money, I should be positioning myself as a successful artist, not a lazy artist or a (God forbid) Starving Artist! 

    Hear me out. When I have a brush in my hand I'm anything but lazy. I have the actual 
disadvantage of taking my paintings too seriously. Each new undertaking has to be at least awesome - if not the next masterpiece. And each new painting is chosen because a) I'm attracted to the scene, and b) I think I can pull it off. 

    I'm not a "formula painter" or "one subject factory". I don't make different versions of one scene or subject as a permanent exercise. Each one of my subjects or scenes take on a different approach. And I often grow intimidated by it as the painting progresses, knowing full well that my next painting session will make or break the painting.

    Knowing how I want it to turn out as a certain "look" or "effect" causes me to resist   alteration of my vision and letting the painting "take its own course", which might often allow for a decent painting despite it variance from my original intention!

    No. I tend to force things and expect certain effects to take place, fixing paint applications 
so they conform to my vision. No I am not lazy while I'm working. I'm mentally the opposite! If anything, I'm a bit obsessive!

    My laziness comes in on merely getting my arse into the studio! Oh, the errands distractions that keep me from getting there only 30 feet away from my chair in front of the computer. The pics I don't feel like loading into my desktop. The time it takes to heat up the studio. The food I need to cook for now and later. 

    It's amazing how my fear of being disappointed in the success of my undertaking, having now consumed 5, 10, 20 hours, keeps me from getting back to it. Am I lazy or just a scaredy cat - afraid of my own uncertainties and mistakes?

    Well, I'll admit on my newly 2 yrs retirement attitude of being sick of have to, have to, have to. I can't seem to shake off or wear out the feeling of, "Good. I'm finally retired. Now I ain't gotta do sh*t!" I'm glad to be able to be lazy! 

    Sure. I'll make art, but at my own damn discretion! Yeah, it's lazy and not a formula for
prosperity, 'far as I can see.

    Escapades? I don't know... Internet, social media, research, youtube, cooking, errands, surfing through past photos for future projects..., certainly not productive activities here. I would prefer being in the company of my peers. There's a nice vibe when being with your own kind. Things flow better. I'd get more done. 

   I'd also be a lot more motivated to create more if my inventory was moving more. I know you know what I'm talking about. When people "consume" what we do for them we feel more motivated to do more!

    Well, I guess this blog is more of an explanation than a description. Maybe I'll have to do a follow up. Any thoughts on this?

Monday, February 4, 2019

Design Principles I Use and Recommend


The Elements and Principles of Design 


At a point in my travels pouring through books on making watercolors I encountered what I felt to be a gold mine of simplified, "down-to-brass-tacks", concepts on how to construct a good painting. It had the best tabulation of design theory I'd seen yet! It listed 7 elements and 8 principles to consider in designing a painting. The ambiguity was gone!

It was a book written by Ron Ranson called, "Learn Watercolor the Edgar Whitney Way".
In it he covers some personal accounts of Whitney's students while studying with him at
his paint-out workshops. He had quite a style of teaching and could instill his lessons with great flair!

I also have, "Complete Guide to Watercolor Painting", by Edgar A. Whitney himself.
Ed Whitney had what he called, "Elements and Principles of Design", and though these
are directed at watercolors, I believe they can be applied to other forms of art - dancing, cooking, living, etc!

The Elements are listed: Color, Value, Texture, Line, Shape, Size, Direction. In fact, you
can even chant them rhythmically in this order like you would in a protest. This allows me to remember them.

The Principles are listed: Conflict, Harmony, Unity, Dominance, Balance, Repetition,
Alternation, Gradation. ("CHUDBRAG") Again, this order helps me remember them.

The Principles are what you apply to the Elements to orchestrate a good design.
A flagrant example of Repetition where
 the circles are repeated in different Sizes.
Color is also repeated to give Unity,
  Harmony and Balance. 

("Suns and Moons" w/c)

For example, with Shapes, you'd want to Repeat them to help give the painting Unity. Repeating them with variety provides better entertainment. If they are similar in character you get Harmony.

You may have various colors in your painting but maybe one should Dominate, for Unity. Conflict in any of the Elements can create interest, as in complimentary colors.

Some might say, "Well, what about edges?" I'd put those under Shape. Temperature can go as a function of Color. And what about "Variety"? Can it be a Principle in its own right? Sure, if you want. But I think it mainly applies to Repetition. Let's keep it simple!
Here I used Conflict in Value to bring
out the brightness of the flowers. The
Line of the leaves change Direction,
Repeat and provide Harmony
 and interest.
("Light Bulbs" w/c)

I think these are distilled in the best form you'll find. I've seen other versions of them by his students in their own books, but I think Whitney had it the best and the students didn't quite understand how to use some of them.

So there you have it. I recommend getting these books on Amazon. Whitney's book is more in depth and he liked writing in a very scholarly fashion.

I like the simplicity of Ranson's book, the included Whitney-isms, the stories of his students and the samples of their work. Some of them were my early mentors by means of their books.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Are You an Artist?

Are you an artist?  

    A common misconception arises when people think about art. People are quick to put
themselves down as not being an artist. "I'm no artist." "I could never do that." And, "That's not art!", is a criticism I hear about abstract works. 

Innocence and Joy, w/c, Steve Sidare
    The problem is that these mind sets act like viruses. And they have spread across society. 

    I'm sure you've had some idea that got kicked in the head one way or another. Your idea for a solution gets invalidated or ignored. 

    Or you create something you're proud of - a song, painting, recipe, gadget or whatever - but people talk through the song, just stare at the painting, don't even try the recipe you made for the Christmas party and just eat the "same ol' same ol'" like hypnotized zombies at a brain-fest. 

    Or someone acts like you're nuts for your clever invention that keeps squirrels out of the bird feeder. 

    There's no shortage of invalidation on your attempts to create. And I believe it starts with your childhood imaginations! Perhaps you've forgotten because there was a bit of emotional pain connected with it. So now you're "practical", "sensible", and less creative.

Well... let's look at the word and see what it means...

ART: My 1960 New World Dictionary calls it, Creativeness, Skill, ...even, Cunning

My American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd Edition, has these: 

Winter Pier, watercolor, Steve Sidare
    1) Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter or counteract the work of nature. (Hmmm...)

    2a) The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty; especially the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium. (Wow!)

    In 3, it says: High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value. It also has 6a) A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of activities, as in "the art of building". (Sweet!)

    Number says: A specific skill in adept performance, conceived as requiring exercise of faculties that cannot be learned solely by study, as in, "the art of writing letters".

    The definitions include: tricks, artfulness, contrivance, cunning, etc, as well.
It originally comes from [<OFr <L ars, astis, skill.]

    ...Now we have -IST. ...Of the 5 choices, we have: 1b) One that produces, operates, makes, plays, or is connected with a specific thing, ie, "Novelist". [Greek, -istes, agent.]

     Notice that "skill" and "beauty" come up more than once. Also notice how it's not limited to creating art forms, per se. Anyone who becomes adept at an activity is an artist in their field! [Now anyone can be "out standing" in their field! (Enter eye-roll here)]

    Definitions 3 and 7 above make me think of the Japanese traditional concept of making many activities a skill and art - all the way from archery to tea. Their culture put beauty and flair in their daily activities!

So why do I bring all this up? 

Distant Boat, watercolor, Steve Sidare
    First, I see art forms that might not be readily labelled "Beauty". They just might not. Are they creative? Yes - to a greater or lesser degree. It came from an idea and was created. But isn't emphasizing beauty more helpful to all? 

    Second, to point out that you too are an artist in what you do if you are employing creative skill. Do you entertain guests? Do you do sales and make customers happy in the end? Are you a matchmaker? Are you an inventor - even if not official?

    Third, to also point out that we are always creating, every second of the day. We are creating thoughts, physical motions (walking, working, building), sounds, problems, joy, you name it! We are natural born artists. 

    So YES. You ARE, in fact, an artist! How are you going to use your creative impulses? 
For Good? Bad? Ugliness? Beauty? 

    Instead of just talking AT you, let me know what you think in the Comments section below!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Confidence, Persistence and Rejection

"Winter Walk"
    Being a self taught watercolorist, I've had my nose buried in plenty of books and magazines, my eyes surfing pictures of pictures and videos of watercolor creations, the likes of which I thought were untouchable, made by the earlier generation of artists - my mentors, you might say. A little bit along the way I started reading articles on legal issues, getting into galleries, making portfolios and the rest of the gamut. Occasionally I see articles or blogs on the subject of "rejection". Most of us have had at least a little of that in life - job seeking, relationships, high school cliques, etc. The writers of these articles always seem to approach it with a bit of tone of Sympathy.

    While I won't venture to write a book about it here (although I could), I'm no stranger to it and have found in life that if I wanted to pursue a goal or a even simple activity, I had had to do it myself without company or so much as a blessing in many cases. I refused let someone's lack of agreement and camaraderie control or dampen my goals, activities and pleasures.

    There's a word I believe has fallen out of use today: "Effective". We have a world glutted with pretty and fancy, but rather "user-UNfriendly" products.  With lots of bells and whistles, fewer people are thinking in terms of simple effectiveness. And nowadays, pleasantness presides while being effective and "getting it done" is heavily measured by how few people were "offended" in the process. Getting the product takes persistence and guts.

    Well, this applies to art, too. It takes guts to show your paintings around, especially when you're fairly new at it. Dealing with criticism and the world's indifference requires undying, burning embers in your heart. This is where that "thick skin" becomes needed and handy if you are going to pursue art as more than a hobby. I personally recommend throwing in a dash of defiance! If you've been sharpening your skills  - learning, practicing, observing, over and over - you're probably already your own most severe critic! (But don't forget to be your own best audience as well!)

    People go around saying, "Be confident!". Oh, yeah? Confidence, to me, is a byproduct or result of wins and successes. Until you get enough of these under your belt, no matter how they come, you'll need your stubborn persistence to lead the way. Talent alone is not enough.

    Rejection? Pffft! Even the best artists get it. I get local awards with relative ease, yet I got turned down when applying for signature status directly in a couple groups. I achieved it anyway in one club due to being accepted into 3 shows - 2 with awards from an outside judge! (Clique mentality? Maybe) I even have a place where I collect rejection notices! It's a game, a numbers game. The more I get, the closer I am - given that my quality is improving!
"The Whispering Wood"

    So, with persistence in hand, you now need to increase your skill. These will increase your successes. And who can deny that more skill equals more success? Be good - so good your work can't help but be accepted. It may not be 100% of the time for reasons out of your control, but you'll come to realize as you progress that it wasn't because of your skill. You know now that your work is usually pretty damned good, outside of "low periods". You've become "undeniably good".  And that's my solution to the question of rejection: 

"Be undeniably good".
   

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Rules in Art


Boat Waiting
There seems to be something about the field of art that lends ambiguity in its methods of creation and design. I believe the response to this lack of codification is an over-codification. If you've ever been critiqued or criticized on your artworks, you       might know what I'm referring to.  In short, rules, rules, rules!

There are several definitions for "rule". Some are more stringent than others. This word can instill some uneasiness in an artist. The wrong solution is to buy into the myriad and ultra-importance of all the rules without question and inflict it on self and others, often to the demise of would-be artists, including oneself! No doubt there are core skills worth learning: color theory, tonal values, perspective, size relationships, et al.  But beyond the basics, arbitraries enter in and diminish ones one's creative abilities and output, not to mention the joy of just creating!

What, really, are these rules except guides toward better design and composition, and thus create the right mood and message. A student needs to be comfortable with a subject and its so-called rules so as to have the needed deft and dexterity when applying them. Great skill requires great practice, yes, but skill isn't all manual or physical.  One must, as well, eventually acquire great understanding to achieve ultimate mastery.

I have a proposal. Let's look at these rules not as "supposed to's", but as guides with levels of workability. Some things applied in the creative process will work better than others in that situation. In practice we have to use judgement and ask, "Did that make it better or worse?"..."or just different?" The more mastery you have with these guidelines, the better and quicker you'll know. It will be instinctive.

So, be enough relaxed about the "rules" that your creativity can flow. Don't let them become your
shackles of despair". But don't be so dismissive or rebellious that you don't make good art. The Impressionists bucked the rules, but then formulated new ones to better suit their art form. And, even abstracts are guided by thought and planning. 

 Make good art, but enjoy the journey, too!


Thursday, December 21, 2017

What Scenes Inspire Me


   Through the course of time spent with painting in watercolor, I've taken on various subjects,
usually excluding people and animals, that give varying results. In the end I've found the outdoors and nature to be the most moving for me. Let's face it, most people like the unbound feeling of being outside. Travel brochures rightfully concentrate on the outdoor scenes in warm, intoxicating sunlight! The indoors are often associated with being cramped, secluded, confined. Those who live it the temperate zone are often pining away over the seemingly endless Winter and long for
its overdue end.
 
   Landscapes would have to be my main inspiration and choice of subject. And this can be any season, with Summer being the favorite. Though, I do love the bare tree look amongst the snow, gracing the sky with lacy branches and twigs. The elements I gravitate to the most are trees. They can be bold, tall, short, wispy, mangly, spindly, etc, all of which beg me to capture their many personalities. Their shapes, foliages, colors and color changes; their trunk and branch structures and linear peculiarities -all of these get my attention and respect. I have even been called a "tree whisperer"!  Trees and other plants ask very little and give so much. They also require less exactness than most structures. And there's just something about the feeling of space - the feeling of being surrounded by nature.  Ask any hiker!


   That said, I do enjoy geometry, especially the menagerie of angles and interlocking shapes. The
contrast of nature and hard, straight-lined manmade structures has its own merit and delight. But to go and detail intricate architecture, no, that's for a steadier more accurate hand than mine.
I am rather humbled by nature and this would have to be my main passion. I always think of color,
shape and texture in my representational work. Nature provides that for me. And the one thing        I'm always after,  whether in the studio or painting en plein air,  is the lack of geometry in nature. This I call "Perfect Randomity". When something doesn't look right I change it. It's something I have to do. The challenge before me is how to retain the different quirks of nature and maintain good design. Having obtained that, I'm more confident I've properly delivered my message. 
And the message is what it's all about.