I bought a new sketchbook a few months ago. It’s a larger format than I usually use so I decided I would divide each page into small squares. It’s been an interesting process…. depending on the size of the small squares, depending on how many I put on one page, I find myself exploring themes and variations of a single theme. sometimes I’ll start a page by filling all the squares with a similar shape and then start doing different things to each one. sometimes it’ll be certain set of colors I want to work with or a different media. Every single little square is a future painting I think. There are more small squares than I have time left in my life to paint but it’s going to be fun trying.
The one color the alchemists could not conjure up for painters was the one they labored the hardest to devise. Struck by slanting rays of the sun, gold set the medieval altarpiece ablaze with light. In Byzantine churches like the sixth-century San Vitale in Ravenna, golden mosaic tiles create a dome shimmering with holy radiance. Whatever the cost of ultramarine or vermilion, gold has ancient associations that make its value transcendental.
Gold is the substance of royalty, so what could be more pious than to offer it up to God in sacred art? And unlike silver and other metals, it was seemingly immune to the passing years- it did not tarnish or lose its splendor.
The use of gold in Medieval art shows us more clearly than anything else how the nature of materials took precedence over any concern for realism. Until at least the fourteenth century,holy figures on altar panels are framed not by nature’s skies or foliage, not by draperies or masonry, but by a golden field that permits neither depth nor shadow.
In later ages this metallic sheen was pushed back onto the gilded frame that held the canvas, but for the medieval artist gold was a color in its own right. It was applied to the gessoed panels in the form of thin sheets; gold leaf. There was no need to visiti the apothecary to procure this color, for it was to be found in the purse of every wealthy person. The craftsmen of the Middle Ages , unrestricted by laws protecting currency, made thier gold leaf by hammering and hammering at golden coins, transforming them to sheets so thin as to feel almost weightless.
This task was carried out by professional goldbeaters who, even into the twentieth century, measured the wieght of gold leaf by the ducat, the gold coinage of medieval Italy. The thickness of the foil was determined by the number of leaves (each about three and a half inches square) beaten from a single ducat.
When I went to college and majored in Art I never thought that I would be a teacher. That would have meant talking in front of people and , oh my God, I could never have done that! When I went to Grad School in my late 30’s I never thought I would be able to be a Teaching Assistant….. again , I’d have to talk in front of people and Lordy Lordy , I could never do THAT! But, one thing led to another, I plucked up my courage, applied to be a T.A., was accepted , and from the second I walked over the threshold of the classroom door on that very first day , nervous as hell, all of my life’s insecurities went out the window. I loved teaching from the very first minute I did it. And with that love came a memory from 5th grade that I tell my student’s all the time. And it is this…
In 5th. grade we had to draw the state bird, the state tree, the state flower, etc. etc. I was given the state tree. I , in 5th. grade already knew I wanted to be an artist, loved drawing, WELCOMED any kind of drawing that we could do…. I spent a good amount of time drawing that tree; shading the leaves, the bark, and when I was finished I presented it to my teacher and she said it wasn’t good enough and that I should do it again. I did. Still not good enough. On the verge of tears I sat down and remember so clearly , taking my finger and placing it on the edge of that tree picture and trying to copy it EXACTLY as it was inch by inch… ( I was at a complete loss as to what the teacher wanted) and before I could get even half way around the teacher snatched my drawing away as she said , ” we don’t have time to wait for you to finish . I’ll let “so&so” do it. I remember feeling so confused, so sad, so completely crushed by the complete lack of understanding on the teacher’s part.
Another incident….. in High School I was priviledged enough to be able to attend “art camp” .Participating students went to a University of WI campus in Wausau , we lived in dorms, we worked in our chosen media in studios for 8 hours a day, then attended lectures at night. It was a fantastic experience and I was able to do this for 3 years. One year I took a printmaking class. I took a silkscreen image that I had done that year in High School, had won a prize for it and , probably because I was sort of insecure about EVERYTHING, I went up to the instructor for that class ,showed him my silkscreen image and told him I had won a prize for it . ( I was hoping for some praise I guess). He said,” So What?” Absolutely Crushing. What possible thrill could an adult -artist-teacher get out of embarrassing a young girl like that?
Soooooooooooooooooo…. when I started teaching I told myself that I would NEVER, EVER, crush the spirit of any student I ever have , like these two individuals did to me. I would never let any student be ‘afraid’ of doing art. I would never discourage them from trying new things, or being proud of what they have done. every art work is a new adventure…. a new media, a new concept, a new ‘failure’, but that’s how we learn. what is the point of making someone feel horrible?
Of course , I have structure, I teach foundations, I have critiques and point out areas where things can be improved upon. That’s my job as a college art instructor.But I won’t let students be afraid …. to try new things, to literally RUIN something in their attempts to try the new things, to not try because they already think they’re no good. It’s a waste of time and no advancements are made. So far, I think my ‘method’ has been working pretty well . By the end of any semester and any class I think the majority of the students have made some pretty damn good art. ( see my student artwork page for some great examples)
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
So, in my efforts to explore something different….. change my technique, my style, explore other motifs and ideas, different colors, and different media, a question came to my mind.
OK….. I definitely have a kind of imagery that I feel bonded with …… for the last 16 years or so ….. I’m physiologically driven to draw and paint imagery that contains bi-laterally balanced shapes, ( lotus, the onion domes of the Kremlin, that sort of thing). I have seen lots of other artists’ work out there that also use this sort of imagery. We , as artists, “take”, “use”, “derive”, “mimic” the work of others and , HOPEFULLY , make it our own.
I have found an artist , via the” PINTERESTS”, whose work I have fallen in love with. For many reasons. #1 being the use , in some pieces of those same bi-laterally balanced shapes. The technique used is more free, more mixed media, simpler in some ways but more rich in surface. ANYWAY, I have been totally inspired…. and find myself trying to create imagery that reflects this artist’s work . Now, in the grand scheme of things, is this plagarism? I’m still using my own ideas, my own sensibilities…. but more in the style of this artist in a search for a different style of my own. I’ve switched from oils for the time being to acrylics because they seem more spontaneous to me. I don’t know if the artist I’m talking about uses acrylics or not…. most pieces are listed as mixed media.
This artist’s work is large, I’m merely experimenting on small square foot panels.
This artist has a larger vocabulary in the work , not just the bilateral shapes, and that work I don’t like as well altho’ the colors and textures in all pieces are something I’m drooling over.
I guess, at the end of the day, whether we’ve been at this business of making art for one day or one lifetime, studying and , yes, I’ll say it, copying the work of others has been standard practice. The ideal goal is to move beyond the copying and begin to find something that moves each one of us in a very personal way. This is the motivation we all need to keep making art EVERYDAY.
GOOD LUCK in your own creative invention and re-invention wherever direction you may find yourself heading toward.
Well, it occurred to me after doing what is most probably the 100 th demonstration on how to mix all the colors on a color wheel using colored pencils that I am totally enthralled with that whole process. No matter how many times I create a color wheel, using colored pencils, or paint, or pastels, or even cut paper, it’s like magic to me every time it’s completed. So, the more I thought about it, it occurred to me that no matter how many times I demonstrate shading with graphite pencils, or how to blend brushstrokes with oil paint, or how salt thrown onto wet watercolor creates a grainy texture I’m like a child seeing it for the first time. It’s absolutely and totally magical to me. I never get tired of it.
I’ve always been very good at doing repetitive tasks. I used to fold arty T-shirts, hundreds of dozens a day, found it tiring but also satisfying in an achievement kind of way, i make Christmas ornaments out of paper, dozens and dozens the same way , over and over. I don’t find this kind of activity boring. Actually I think it’s kind of meditative…… the muscle memory achieved by the repetitive motion frees up my brain for thinking about other stuff.
So, everyday I teach…… every semester the lessons stay basically the same and I give the same demonstrations, fortunately with as much enthusiasm as the first time I ever did them. The resulting art work achieved by the students is the big payoff. they do amazing things and ITS NEVER THE SAME THING TWICE! It’s like Christmas day opening presents when every new project is completed and turned in.
I am a happy ,( maybe idiot is the wrong word after all) , child in a grown up’s body – maybe? Maybe no qualifier is necessary …. I’m just so very happy when I’m making art and showing others how to make art as well.
Begin by painting your shadows light. Guard against bringing white into them; it is the poison of the picture, except in the lights. Once white has dulled the transparency and golden warmth of your shadows, your color is no longer luminous but matte and gray.
-attributed to Rubens –
Dark is the basic tone of Rembrandt’s paintings, and darkness occupies a large area in them…. But how full of life is such darkness! Beginning with the most glowing middle tones of brown and yellow, they are gradually deepened through glazes and accents and made so unutterably rich in values!”
-Max Doerner (1949), The Materials of the Artist
Q: Now I hardly like to ask what significance painting can stil have, in relation to that responsibility of grasping reality.
A: It’s hard to say whether – as people do sometimes assume – painting in the past had more effect and more reality, on the grounds that it was better understood, or more popular, or was always on view in the churches to everyone. But painting still has a reality and an effect now. It is shown and bought and discussed, and quite a lot of effort goes into all of this . And so long as the art justifies the effort, by being interesting enough, then in a sense that will do for now.
Q: It might be possible for pictures to launch something like a leap in perception or in consciousness. Someone might suddenly look at things differently, react to them with more doubts, or with more involvement. Indifference might be overturned by pictures.
A: I believe it might. But I’ve got nothing to say on that subject.
Q: You have no desires in that direction yourself:
A: Of course I have – it just doesn’t do any good to take on that kind of elevated responsibility. We all know, don’t we, what well-intentioned paintings look like.
Q: Kasper Konig once showed your figurative paintings – the cycle 18 October 1977 – and abstract paintings in direct succession, in order to show that the theme is the same.
A: He was right to do that. Even so, it’s difficult, because figurative paintings are always more attractive than abstract ones. As soon as there are persons or objects to be seen, you get more interest.
Q: In 1968, in the period of the Grey Pictures and the Four Panes of Glass, there is a double panel called WAY THROUGH. It gave me a sense of a sacrifice, in the joyous, pagan sense of the word; giving something up and getting something in return. Did it feel like leaving something behind you, shaking something off, slipping away from it, in order to get to something different?
A: Certainly. And for that you always have to give something up, or destroy it, or scratch it out – as in this little abstract here.
Q: Let’s stay with scraping off for a moment. Is this removal of painti an agressive thing?
A: Yes, certainly.
Q: It has something to do with injury.
A: Yes, with injury and with taking something that has been made and destroying it, subtracting it, scratching it out. And then the pleasant feeling that you can get something else in return.
The Daily Practice of Painting – Gerhard Richter
Here is a second great article sent to me by my friend and fellow professor at Edgewood Collge. I am happy to pass it on . Enjoy!
28 August 1985
The Abstract Expressionists were amazed at the pictorial quality of their productions, the wonderful world that opens up when you just paint. And in the evolution that led to Tachism, the Informel, this irrepressible image-quality – that is, this ability to communicate – showed itself even ( or rather especially) through the radically new, mechanical techniques of picture-production. It was as if these paintings were producing themselves; and the less deliberate the painters were about infusing them with their own content and mental images, the better the paintings became. But the problem is this: not to generate any old thing with all the rightness ande spontaneity of Nature, but to produce highly specific pictures with highly specific messages ( were it not for this, painting would be the simplest thing in the world , since in Nature any old blot is perfectly right and correct.)
Even so , I have to start with the ‘blot’, and not with the new content ( if I could exempt myself from that, I should then have to look for an appropriate way of representing it). With all the techniques at my command, especially those of elimination, I have to try to compel something that I cannot visualize – something that goes further and is better and more right than my own pre-existing opinion and intention – to appear as an existing picture of something.
Action painting is just what the name suggests: painting with pure abandon, dripping and spilling colors all over the place with no particular idea or plan in mind
In the 1950″s , Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and other abstract expressionist painters introduced action painting to the art world. However, long before that (probably since the advent of liquid paint) , generations of young children practiced action painting. It makes sense that children would be the first to see how much fun it is to toss and smear paint around without wondering if what they were making was somehow great art. The fact that the abstract expressionists made this kind of child’s play into an art form gives us adults a great excuse to play with paint, color, and texture just to see what comes out in the process.
One of the unique things about action painting is that the resulting picutres are a visual record of the artist’s “dance” that created the painting in the first place. Action painting emphasizes the dynamics of the painting process with a focus on movement , gestsure, and free-form play. This approach is a good place to start using your intuition because it allows you to use materials freely and to explore movement, spontaneity, and dynamic change without exerting overt control over the painting process. Action painting can involve your whole body- not just your hands – and allow you to use new tools and movements to make a work of art
Art from Intuition – Overcoming Your Fears and Obstacles to Making Art by Dean Nimmer ( contains more than 60 drawing and painting exercises).