01 THE CALL TO RESPOND Stanka Kordic
07 S TAYING OPEN Dan Beck
12 F OOD 101 Kyle Richardson
16 T RADITION & TELESCOPES John Brosio
22 O N PAINTING & ALGORITHMS Duane Keiser
29 P AINTING ON COPPER Julio Reyes and Candice Bohannon
41 THE PAINTING OF ANTONIO LOPEZ GARCIA David Kassan
52 S ELF CRITIQUE OF PAINTINGS Robert Moore
59 P ORTRAIT OF EMOTION Stan Miller
64 T HE CONUNDRUM OF COLOR Amy Lind
THE CALL TO RESPOND Take it all in. Then, make your mark, and respond to where it leads—even if you’re not sure it will work.
Boundless, 30 x 36 inches, Oil on linen (detail)
We all have our reasons for creating the art that we do, and I for one believe that variety of expression is a wonderful thing. As visual artists, we have a tangible way to reach out to people and offer up a viewpoint, an experience, a question, or possibly even an answer. I like to roll it all together, literally in layers of discovery, with an open-ended result. This is why I am drawn to working abstractly within my representational painting. The unknown intrigues me.
I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I could have been a top-notch, strictly-representational painter if I stuck to my guns from the get-go. But I got restless. It wasn’t enough for me to view and record; in other words, to see with just my eyes. That skill took over 30 years to develop, and I was close to having it down pat. Then one day, it just wasn’t enough. Well, okay, it took more than one day.
My fascination with non-objective painting goes way back. I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art for five years, and was exposed to many schools of thought—from learning the fundamentals, to conceptual ideas, and everything in between. I didn’t understand much of my education at the time, but I took it all in anyway. Something told me to stick with it, even when I had my doubts. During that time, I spent a lot of time across the street at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I studied the work of Diebenkorn and other modernists as often as I did Rembrandt and the Impressionists. Their marks fascinated me. With the modernists, I saw that those sometimes simple marks held a fascinating abundance of possibilities as a language unto itself, but I never pursued it until recently. My brushwork then never went beyond a means to an end: to describe light, form, color and texture. Today, there’s no going back. The voice of the paint has become a part of the dialogue. So why not defect and go to the other side? (tongue in cheek) Because I recognize the power of the human face. I have great compassion for humanity, and there is no other way for me to express that than through a portrait or figurative work. I am making art to be shared. I use real people that I meet and come to know, and together we forge a connection to whomever stands before the piece. We create an experience, a moment with the viewer—maybe even more. The figure is the trigger to the familiar. They follow that person to more ambiguous passages within the painting. Then, something changes. A subtle shift that is actually felt, and not visible. Unique to each person.
Tree of Life, 60 x 36 inches, Oil on linen
BUT I GOT RESTLESS. IT WASN’T ENOUGH FOR ME TO VIEW AND RECORD; IN OTHER WORDS, TO SEE WITH JUST MY EYES.
Anjali, 50 x 40 inches, Oil on linen
Portrait of Nehemiah: Open Road, 15 x 17 inches, Graphite on paper
What I’ve noticed in my unscientific excavation of this process is that the abstracted marks cause a response in the brain when it is not describing something visual. (This is strictly my own experience. Not claiming an absolute.) An expansiveness occurs, and so many possibilities of seeing and feeling become apparent. Why not sit with a painting with multiple interpretations, which can include more than just a story to ponder; something that cannot necessarily be categorized, or even named? To try to clarify, I’ll share a small bit of process with a piece I recently completed. First, I toned the canvas in a bright yellow, and after it dried I began the underpainting with burnt sienna. I then let that dry. I had the idea to begin the next layer with
a cool color combination, in this case, Payne’s grey and white, to see how it would respond with the yellow. I laid it down with large, bold strokes. I then sat with it. I laid down some masking tape, and painted over that with the same mixture, plus a bit of viridian. I lifted the tape and studied the shapes that were made. Okay, the figure began looking like a Smurf, but I didn’t panic. I chose instead to look at those strokes of color to see what I could do with them. I broke parts of it down into twodimensional shapes to study. I flipped the canvas all around; I looked at it through a mirror to change the viewpoint. Then, insights slowly occurred from which I could move.
Everything Returns, 28 x 30 inches, Oil on linen
Sometimes these insights take the shape of using different tools to paint with: wider brushes than usual, using masking tape as a frisket, Plexiglas as a paint squeegee, spatulas, fingers, etc. I’ve tried a lot of things. The big part of this whole process is a lightness, a joy in the making. Somewhere along the trajectory of my own life as an artist, I lost a lot of that, and I wanted it back—that reckless abandon and sheer delight of just scribbling and moving without thinking so hard. This is true freedom, true creativity. Glorifying the difficulty of working representationally doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I want joy to be the greater experience. And mystery. I want that for my viewers, too. It is of no interest to me to make them uncomfortable, to embarrass them, or to have them turn away with a yawn. I’m easy. How about a moment of calm in this already crazy world? Or, just simply appreciating how two color strokes look together, without having it describe a thing? So, on we go. Building the painting bit by bit. Moments of untethered spontaneity combined with discipline and accuracy. Both camps coming together—in peace, most often. Take time with your work. Appreciate every bit of the journey spent, and be gentle with yourself. It really is a privilege to create something that is shared, and a wonderful way to live. Respond to your own call.
Beneath the Veil of a Red Sky, 40 x 30 inches, Oil on linen
2 Learn more about Stanka Kordic at: www.stankakordic.com
Release, 20 x 23 inches, Graphite on paper
Living the artistic adventure No matter what approach I use in a painting, I am an artist who is still usually painting an image that is somewhat “believable.” I am painting the visual world that I see; I am painting “what is there.” The truth is, however, I have no idea what is “there.” I think and wonder about it a lot. What am I actually seeing? Am I “seeing” the way a camera “sees?” But even a camera can see a scene differently depending on how the photographer changes the camera’s settings or frames the shot.
Oriental Teapot, 12 x 16 inches, Oil on linen
So again, what is really there? I love and embrace the idea that I don’t know what is there, and I think this is fertile soil in which an artist can dig forever. We live in this visual world, but all people see things differently. You can measure and analyze all day and still no two people will see a thing exactly the same. So for example maybe we see an apple. We see the apple as very firm and bright red, and perhaps we see the air between ourselves and the apple, and we notice how ethereal the apple appears. Even its color tones seem to bounce and fit into its environment. Perhaps we see the apple in some literary or symbolic context, or we feel the need to see the exact “uniqueness” of that particular apple. Or maybe we need to see something about the apple that gives us a feeling of the universal “apple.” Maybe the apple is just a shape that is
relating to other shapes in the scene in a particular way that appeals to the artist. Maybe an artist’s emotional, spiritual and/ or intellectual fires are burning so intensely that the apple is just an excuse to capture the actual (inner-life) subject that the artist is dealing with. These are just a few examples of how different the visual world can appear from person to person—and I’ve only scratched the surface of possibility. All this mystery and wonderment and possibility is what gives birth to so many great and beautiful and interesting paintings done in so many different styles and approaches. I am a huge fan of artists who see and work in very different styles. And I want to stay open so that my painting reflects the interest and journey that I am on.
Bear Creek Magic, 8 x 10 inches, Oil on linen
Nearly Spring, 28 x 22 inches, Oil on linen
Having established my need to stay open to possibilities as an artist and the freedom that comes with it, the next thing I need are tools that allow me to express my intent. In today’s art world there are so many schools of thought and rules to picture making that it can get confusing. I feel that I only have to learn what I need to learn in order to paint the paintings I am trying to paint. I think as artists we have to trust ourselves to know what is important to our pursuit and what is not. My visual language will have a correlating vocabulary and I have a better chance of making my intent clear if my vocabulary is strong enough to get me on the right road. Like most artists I use line, shape, value, texture, color and edge. Everything I do will fit into one of these basic elements. For example, behind a figure there may be a wall (shape) that I need to gradate. I could gradate it using value; i.e. from light to dark, or with color— warm to cool, grey to pure, etc., or both. I could also vary my texture from smooth to rough. My choices may be intuitive (for me, intuition—to get into a “zone,” is the best way to paint), or they may be more thought out. But I am aware of a certain vocabulary, contrast, rhythm, balance and harmony. I am aware of light situation, focal idea, and compositions— from big shape/value ideas to internal structure (how the shapes are dealt with.) I need to know if I am approaching a subject more impressionistically or more naturalistically. Can I combine the two? How far can I push? And on and on. It’s easy to see why some great artists who have painted well into their 80s have expressed towards the end of their lives that they are just beginning to get the hang of it.
Rebecca, 18 x 14 inches, Oil on linen
This artist life is surely an adventure. To constantly strive to get better at my craft as well as remain open to what I see and feel and think is an ongoing way of life. I am aware that no two people see the apple the same way, no two people see the stream the same way, no two people see the model the same way and no two people see the painting the same way. And that sounds pretty fun to me.
Jessica’s Sister, 12 x 16 inches, Oil on linen
Learn more about Dan Beck at: www.danbeckart.com
Traveler, 20 x 16 inches, Oil on linen
FOOD 101 I was once a cook in a previous life, and I approach just about everything I do from this perspective. A key for me in what I do today as the Business Manager in North America for Royal Talens, has been understanding the alchemy of materials, pushing aside the sparkly marketing behind what I was seeing, gaining an understanding of the basis—at a material and often molecular level—of what is truth and what is fiction. Realizing the difference between the necessary advantages of materials and process, and also understanding what was just marketing, romance and storytelling. I want to share with you now a small bite of what I’ve learned. Not as a marketer, but as a student of the materials, as a learner of process and materials, translating the mysterious art and alchemy of making paint to a very relatable process, like cooking a meal, for ones you love. To me, there’s really no difference. Just don’t eat the paint please.
RECIPE. INGREDIENTS. PROCESS. PRESENTATION. These are the four keys that every chef has to know and control. Recipe The recipe is our guideline, our songbook. While many things may alter the ability to achieve the same results twice, without a strong recipe and the ability to repeat it, we leave the results to chance. It’s challenging to replicate a success without the comfort that what we use as tools will be consistent, guiding us thorough our own changes in methods and experiences. For a moment, I’d like to bring you to one manufacturer, Royal Talens in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Royal Talens has been making paints, inks and pastels in this historic building since 1899, shortly after paint had been put in tubes instead of pig bladders. As a center of pigment trade for many centuries, and having a few great painters within their midst, the Dutch know a bit about paint, and a bit about art. I’ve had many tours of the paint manufacturing facility in Apeldoorn, as well as incredibly interesting access to all facets of the process. It’s an experience that any artist should try to take advantage of, and if you’re in Europe, they would be happy to show you typical Dutch hospitality.
To me, it is one of the most interesting kitchens in the world. The recipe for the paints produced there is held in close secrecy by the colorists, so that only select people are privy to them. Colorists at Royal Talens spend many years there before they are allowed to manage the process. Most have 30 years of experience crafting the paints that you use, and they are incredibly proud of what they do. In my first visit I was shocked at the level of precision with which the ingredients were measured—to the microgram. The amount of pigment in each batch is measured during each step of the process to ensure that from batch to batch the chroma and hue, and the workability of the paint remains consistent. Controlling the recipe is one facet, but controlling the environment is also important. Despite the strict precision
of the recipe, and the frequent measurements along the way, it is always a human hand and human eye that make the final call on whether a paint has been made correctly.
Ingredients Pigments are fascinating. There are incredible stories behind historical and modern pigments. We live in a time when technology has given artists access to materials of such quality the world has never seen. We owe this in great part, of course, to the Industrial Revolution. What’s not generally known is that artists’ pigments most often come from one industry in particular—the automotive industry, which we have to thank for much of the improvements in stability and lightfastness of the pigments we use. I can remember as a kid seeing cars with faded paint, especially red cars, which faded to an orange hue after around 15 years. You don’t see that anymore. Why? Because the much larger automotive industry helped to improve the lightfastness of these pigments, to our benefit.
Even before this, however, colors like Alizarin Crimson, which we call Madder Lake, started out as a dye, derived from the root of the madder plant. It was a brilliant cool red color, without equal in the natural world, but it was incredibly fugitive. Its synthetic version, along with being a fraction of the cost, is stable and lightfast. Often the process of procuring natural pigments from the earth is not only expensive and unreliable in consistency, but the process of treating those pigments to prepare them for use in paints can be devastating to the environment, as harsh chemicals are often used in this process.
mesmerizing, and if you stand there long enough, you’ll see
Process Just like baking a cake, dry (pigment) and wet (usually linseed oil) materials are mixed in a large mixer, like the Hobart mixers you see in most professional kitchens. The mixture is then ground on a triple mill roller, which is the most interesting part of the process. This is equivalent to the oven in my analogy. Watching color being churned over the rollers is
paint to a rich, buttery feel. Most important is that the pigment
the transformation—the paint being born like bread rising. Pigments don’t naturally bond with linseed oil as dyes do with water. The grinding of the pigment and oil over and over again breaks the pigment down and disperses it in the linseed oil. Grind it a few times and it looks like paint already; it’s stiffer than what you’d expect, but it looks like you could stop there, put in in a tube and start working. As the process continues for hours, however, something vital is happening. Those pigment molecules become extra fine, changing the consistency of the molecules at this step now allow more light to pass through the space between each molecule, resulting in a higher chroma. This process, and the pigment used, dictates a color’s strength. This is also why Rembrandt oil colors are called “Extra Fine” on the tube. It doesn’t mean “very okay,” it is an actual description of the type of oil paint which is inside the tube.
MOST IMPORTANT IS THAT THE PIGMENT MOLECULES AT THIS STEP NOW ALLOW MORE LIGHT TO PASS THROUGH THE SPACE BETWEEN EACH MOLECULE, RESULTING IN A HIGHER CHROMA. This is also where judgment comes into play. Throughout this process, a paint sample is taken aside and spread across a Hegman gauge, a tool to measure how finely the paint is ground. It doesn’t come off the triple mill roller until that colorist is happy with the fineness of the grind. Each batch is hand-tested by a trained expert, and nothing passes without their approval—like a chef taking a sip of their bisque before ladling it into a bowl. That human interaction is incredibly important—no instrument is as valuable as the trained eye of a professional. The paint is ready, right? Not quite yet. When I make steak, I let it sit on the cutting board for about 15 minutes, to allow the juice to redistribute through the steak—that’s what makes my steaks so good. Our paints sit for a while. The length of time depends on the pigment, and is part of the recipe. They sit, breathe, oil comes to the top and is removed. Once it’s settled, it’s ready to be packaged. The packaging and preparation of the product is done at Royal Talens in a very efficient way, as this part of the process must be controlled to ensure that outside elements don’t interfere, and contamination of the paint is avoided by maintaining a clean, controlled environment. Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, that’s what
this part looks and sounds like.
So the meal is on the table, and it’s time to clean up. Not as simple as it sounds. We all know that certain pigments, like the phthalos, are incredibly strong. You don’t want any of that in your next batch of titanium white, that’s for sure. Royal Talens has industrial cleaning machines for their vats, which ensure totally clean vats without contamination. That last batch, by the way, that was Cadmium red light. Cadmiums are the fugus of the paint world. They are unequalled in opacity, rich and high in chroma, but handling them is quite an ordeal in a manufacturing environment. Under the factory is basically a wastewater treatment facility. Strict health and labor codes require us to be very careful of anything—water, dust or refuse—that leaves the building. For the safety of the environment and the workers, this process is critical and it is what allows us to continue to produce cadmiums and cobalts under the strict guidelines in place. Presentation Communicating this process to artists like you is the presentation. The packaging, how it looks at retail and how effectively we speak about the product, engaging artists in conversations and opening ourselves up to the artist, is how we grow and change as a color house. It’s not the meal, it’s the garnish, and it shows how much pride we take in what we just cooked for the ones we love. Bon Appétit! Or, as they say in Holland, “Goede Apetite”
Kyle Richardson is the North American manager for Royal Talens (www.talens.com)
TRADITION & TELESCOPES WHAT INTERESTS ME MOST ABOUT WRITING THIS ARTICLE IS THAT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.
In many ways I don’t consider myself a “painter.” Yes, that is what I do, but I don’t think I aspire to it, per se.. I feel that it is more incidental than anything. I am certainly compelled by some of my notions, my opinions, and painting is my means, my way of realizing and exploring those various ideas. My best imagery is the result of a good fight with relationships, proposals, and “what ifs.” Shoot, I almost continued with film
Fatigue, 48 x 60 inches, Oil on linen
in college. As a kid I made my own little abstract films. I even remember asking my mom, when I was in fourth grade, if I could have a hundred million dollars or so to make a movie. She laughed, of course. I think I even sighed and walked back over to my drawing pad to continue with what I was doing. I am thankful for and enjoy the little realm of exploration in painting that luck and other things have afforded me, but I still don’t feel as if I always fit in. I still see lots of paintings at art fairs and galleries of idealized women walking in the surf, contemplating the intersection of orgasm and meaning. I see
paintings of contrived, studio lighting dashed over otherwise majestic subject matter like ranch dressing on Kobe beef. I see thick paint, which of course denotes “meaning.” And oh . . . paintings of floating nudes. Tons of paintings of floating nudes, which assume and depend on that pervasive default fetish for “the figyur.” And then there’s Warhol (see Robert Hughes). I guess it was always like this. And will always be like this to some degree.
Night Hunt, 27 x 36 inches, Oil on linen
But must I only gripe?! Not at all. I like some of the things coming out England, like Justin Mortimer. I like Matthias Weischer in Germany (less so the Hockney stuff). These artists are trying something. Wayne Thiebaud still addresses color, mass-produced art, and excess better than Warhol. I like Tara Donovan too. But to focus in I am very suspicious of what people are calling “traditional” art. I think that folks have to be very careful with “traditional” because painting in many cases is no longer any of the things it was ever used for. The notion of context goes rather unaddressed I think.
I AM VERY SUSPICIOUS OF WHAT PEOPLE ARE CALLING TRADITIONAL ART.
Look, for purposes of analogy, to Galileo (who was born, FYI, three days after the death of Michelangelo). Building that telescope was compulsion. It was need. Only four decades prior the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno alive for putting forth essentially what Galileo proved with that little telescope. That push against comfort, that progress, has palpably continued along in science to this day, where the most learned among us now say that what you are viewing through Galileo’s telescope (or anything else) is actually not entirely there if you are not viewing it directly and collapsing it by way of perception into a wave function. Huh? What? Hard science too now tells us that the universe is probably predetermined to a great degree and that free will is an illusion. Huh? What? These are disconcerting, almost scandalous notions to some, ideas that might get scientists in trouble with any variety of Church. Or bring them hate mail. For doing math. Or for building a telescope. State of the Union, 41 x 66 inches, Oil on linen
So if I were to attend a science fair, a supposed meeting of top minds and wonderfully pointy proposals, how disappointed would I be if there were row upon row of homemade telescopes to every one cosmologist? Just how I feel sometimes is all. But donâ€™t get me wrong: there is a wonderful culture of amateur astronomers who trade in backyard telescopes. Some have even built their own, if only to go through that first experience, to navigate some of what Galileo felt. That experience is beautiful and elevating. Human and universal. But no such devices are ever put up anywhere near the summit of exploration.
BFF, 27 x 36 inches, Oil on linen
Edge of Town study, 19 x 25 inches, Oil on linen
So. Back to art. I know a lot of wonderful painters I am proud to call friends. Painters who are trying things. And I see a lot of them struggling in painful competition with rather pedestrian works. One wants so much to find a place to lay some kind of blame for this but that is a mistake perhaps. All of art and progress is a continuous struggle to elevate us above our nature, and this pursuit can never be abandoned. There will always be a competition with “beautiful” and that is by design. But again, don’t get me wrong: It is in the end a question of sensibilities, no matter what kind of work is being produced. Jeremy Lipking, for example, does what we call “traditional” art. His work is dazzling with regard to the reasons for which it is painted. One can never produce work of that nature, of a traditional
Edge of Town 7, 40 x 48 inches, Oil on linen
sort, and not be responsible to at least that level of aesthetic. Think about it: Madame Butterfly with world-class singers is
I have even seen self-professed Beethoven fans wince upon
amazing. Madame Butterfly with less than world-class singers
hearing his late string quartets like Op. 131. They like
is silly. “Tradition” has to hold up what has been achieved, not
Beethoven but as soon as he starts trying something I guess he
just imitate it or quote it. And the sensibilities have to be there
needs to be edited, huh . . .
in any successful work, traditional or not. But the folks who buy Lipking have a hard time considering George Herms, Llyn Foulkes, Frank Auerbach, or even David Park, for instance, all of whom champion amazing sensibilities in art that few would
And there is still a kind of “art smug” in the air as well over some supposed conflict between abstract and representational work, and that is getting to be a little tired, but I digress.
Here is another take on “traditional” just to end this rant:
I wish it were not the case, this latter dynamic. I wish that any consumer could transition back and forth without hesitation between Monet, Turner, and Gustav Klimt on the one hand and artists like Max Beckman, Ed Kienholz, or Kathe Kollwitz on the other.
If someone wants to engage in tradition, to be connected to
We are at the point now where no one in my opinion can make a great representational painting anymore and not incorporate the contributions of de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Pollock. Likewise, no one can make great abstract painting without Velazquez and Da Vinci.
to the first moments of what occurred in Italy. Folks who call
the Renaissance, they can also participate directly in what the Renaissance has become. Anywhere you find that continuing, compulsive fever of exploration—in aeronautics, film, medicine, cosmology, art, all of it, you can trace it directly back themselves “traditional” artists might have a harder time with their label once they realize that 3D filmmaking has as much to do with the traditions of the Renaissance as do paint and brush.
Bride in Headlights, 12 x 18 inches, Oil on linen
The Renaissance was a time in which art and science were inseparable. Think about creating an art piece during the Renaissance that brings what are now so many disparate disciplines together—top minds of every pursuit—to create a machine that is designed to explore who we are. Think of combining craft, imagery, technology, engineering, and motion, and having it search for who are and where we’re going. Then perhaps call it the Hubble Space Telescope. And think on traditional art.
2 Learn more about John Brosio at www.johnbrosio.com
ON PAINTING & ALGORITHMS “WITH AN APPLE I WILL ASTONISH PARIS” – Paul Cezanne
If you wanted to paint an apple in the manner of Cézanne, you would need to have an extensive knowledge of his work and a strong sense of his aesthetic intentions. Every brushstroke would need to be accompanied by the question, “What would Cézanne do?” You might stop frequently to refer to his paintings to see how he handled certain visual situations. As your painting progressed you would gradually develop perhaps a dozen general stylistic guidelines for yourself. These guidelines would be instructions along the lines of “when you see this, do this.” Of course, much of the process would be based on wordless intuition; a vague sense of when a group of marks looked “Cézanne-esque.” On a basic level, this is not unlike the way a computer algorithm works. An algorithm is “a finite sequence of instructions, an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem, often used for calculation and data processing.”(Wikibooks) An algorithm acts as a kind of flow chart which guides a computer through a series of evaluations and decisions. When translating, say, a Shakespeare sonnet from one language to another, a computer will use an algorithm to evaluate and substitute words and phrases into the other language. This is called “gisting” because computers are still not capable of making a translation that is much more than 80% accurate—for all their processing power, computers have a difficult time processing the complexities and nuances of contextual meaning. In art
Apples on a Sheet, Paul Cézanne, c.1900, Private collection
of literary translation there are no clear-cut right or wrong rules for choosing a phrase that means the same thing in one language as it does in another and that keeps the same rhythmic or emotional characteristics. From Wikipedia on the art of translation: “Fidelity (or faithfulness) and transparency are two qualities that, for millennia, have been regarded as ideals to be striven for in translation, particularly literary translation. These two ideals are often at odds. Thus a seventeenth-century French critic coined the phrase les belles infidèles to suggest that translations, like women, could be either faithful or beautiful, but not both at the same time.”
THE BEST A COMPUTER CAN STRIVE FOR IS FAITHFUL. BEAUTIFUL, FOR THE TIME BEING, IS OUT OF THE QUESTION.
Here is a Shakespeare sonnet translated from German into English by a computer program: I am to compare one summer day you, which you lovelier and moderate are? Mays expensive buds drehn in the impact of the storm, and is all too short summer period. You get a general idea of what the words mean but the poetry is missing. The best a computer can strive for is faithful. Beautiful, for the time being, is out of the question. In painting a Cézannesque apple you would, in essence, be acting as a kind of translator. Specifically you would be trying to translate one visual language (Nature’s) into another (Cézanne’s). Or, in Photoshop parlance, you would be acting as a Cézanne filter. There are no Cézanne filters that I am aware of, but there are, of course, the increasingly ubiquitous art filters that use algorithms to manipulate or imitate a film type or fine art media. Interestingly, in the late 1800s a number of photographers attempted to make their photos look more like paintings by manipulating the development process to make their images more expressive—a kind of analog version of Instagram. Computer applications can be quite sophisticated in terms of their ability to mimic natural media like oil paint or watercolor—both in terms of their appearance and their working properties. There are also more and more programs now that attempt to mimic specific styles of painting like, say, Impressionism or Pointillism. You feed the program a photo and it spits out an “impressionistic” version of it. The results are almost always very bad. Like language translation, art filters are far too simplistic to handle the contextual/aesthetic complexities of painting. It is hard enough for a human to define what a good painting is, much less write an algorithm that can define it for an unthinking computer.
Camera Work, No 17, 1907, Joseph T. Keiley
But computers are getting more powerful and algorithms more sophisticated. Massive databases of information can now be accessed so quickly, and patterns discerned so efficiently, that a computer can appear to be sentient, as when the IBM supercomputer “Watson” competed against two Jeopardy champions. The computer had access to two hundred million pages of information that consisted of raw data like encyclopedias and dictionaries, books, news, movie scripts, etc. It was not connected to the internet or guided by any human helpers. As with most computers, Watson’s weakness is the inability to understand the nuances of speech and language or to have any life experiences to draw upon to divine answers. Scientists alleviated these problems by loading the data onto the computer’s RAM rather than the hard drive, which made searches much more quick and nimble. Algorithms were then designed to take advantage of this increased speed to find subtle patterns and probabilities inside the mountain of data. So Watson listened to Alex Trebeck, rang the buzzer, and answered in the form of a question, all without human intervention. Watson won. Another interesting example is a program called “Emmy” designed by David Cope, a professor at UC Santa Cruz. Cope was having trouble finishing an opera commission so he designed a program that could emulate the work of several great composers to help spur his thinking. Emmy uses an algorithm to find patterns in a great composer’s music and then uses that information to piece together the composer’s style and create a new composition. When an audience was asked to listen to an Emmy-created Bach composition and a real Bach composition, they could not tell the difference. One could argue that the “new” compositions are merely derivative and so not new at all, but couldn’t the same be said of human composers? As Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” At the University of Georgia, Gil Weinberg designed a robot, named Shimon, that can interact with other musicians and also, supposedly, play and improvise like Thelonious Monk. Weinberg programmed Shimon to play like Thelonious Monk. He says that, though he and his team were trying to teach the
robot to play like a machine, they first had to teach it how a human plays. To do that, they used statistics and analysis of Monk’s improvisation. Once they had a statistical model of the pianist, they could program the robot to improvise in that model. Weinberg says the robot won’t play everything exactly like the bebop pianist—or any other jazz master—would, though he says, “It probably will keep the nature and the character of [the musician’s] style.” “It’s difficult to predict exactly what they would do in every single moment in time,” he says. “But our algorithm pretty much looks at the past several notes that it plays and, based on that, it sees what is the probability of the next note to be, based on all of this analysis of a large corpus of transcribed improvisation.” (NPR, A Robot Named Shimon Wants To Jam With You, December 22, 2009) I think it is likely that in the near future there will be a painterly version of Emmy, Watson or Shimon that can digitally paint in the manner of an artist by analyzing an enormous database of that artist’s work and perhaps even the work of those who influenced him. The output will vary in quality, of course, and depend a great deal on the appropriateness of the input, but I’d guess that at least some of the resulting images will be quite convincing. Also, it is not hard to imagine that in five or ten years, display screens will be capable of displaying images that, from a few feet away, are virtually indistinguishable from real paintings. Perhaps they will be like the Kindle screen, except able to reproduce millions (billions?) of colors and a have a resolution that not only reproduces the details (think of the Google Art Project) of the depicted image but also accurately conveys the texture, sheen and depth of the brushstrokes. This screen would likely be very thin, light and easy to hang on a wall. It would also be fairly inexpensive and have a battery life of months rather than hours or days. And, as an aside, maybe there will be a company called “Artflix” rather than “Netflix” whereby one could download an ultra-high resolution image of a great painting. (I suppose the company would have to work out some kind of revenue sharing system with the museums
and galleries that owned the rights to those paintings—as iTunes did with the music labels.) You could rent a Vermeer for a week. We all act as filters to some extent. Our minds edit incoming signals (photons don’t have color, for instance—we assign them colors via rods and cones). These are primal algorithms over which we have very little control (we do not have a choice to see in black and white). The human algorithms I am referring to are those decision matrices we use by choice in the course of a painting—the processes, techniques and methods that we learned in our training and practice. In one sense they help us build our paintings by freeing us up to focus on the larger idea of what we want to express. In a painter’s formative years he borrows algorithms because emulation is one way a painter learns from other painters. Borrowed algorithms serve as temporary bridges that allow him to cross artistic waters he may not have the experience or knowledge to navigate alone. As he practices he slowly develops his own algorithms. However, an algorithm can devolve into a habit of sorts, if a habit is defined as an automatic reaction to a specific situation. Painters are tempted to rely on such habits because they allow them to avoid the risk inherent in painting, and thus mitigate the struggle. The quest for a technique or method often turns into a quest for shortcuts—that is, the successful deployment of a technique or style becomes an end in itself. The larger thought or idea that style or method was supposed to serve gets lost in the pursuit of risk-avoidance and efficiency. A kind of analog version of an algorithmic filter is the paintby numbers painting system. In paint-by-numbers, one is presented with an image divided up into numbered sections, with each number assigned a color. You paint each section with the corresponding color. If one designed a PBN system using thousands of colors and thousands of sections and perhaps added other parameters like degrees of softness to edges or types of brushstrokes (thick or thin, fat or slow, etc), the end result might appear to be quite sophisticated and intricate. Add a few more subtle variations and a painter could come to believe he was following his own muse rather than a set of instructions. The whole purpose of paint-by-numbers is to make painting
a pleasurable, soothing experience like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It takes patience and some skill but your path is made plain and you know what the results are going to be beforehand. The painting is a foregone conclusion, no matter its complexity, and the smell of paint belies the fact that the painter is simply being a computer running an algorithm. An example of efficiency in painting taken to an extreme can be found in the art factories of China. Sixty percent of the world’s mass produced, cheap oil painting copies come from one small town (1.5 square miles) in China, called Dafen. A worker there can produce a couple of dozen copies a day by hand and it is estimated that five million paintings are produced in Dafen every year. There are assembly lines, too: Dafen—and other villages like it—are bringing the factory assembly-line into the artist’s studio. In a dimly lit hall on the outskirts of Dafen, “painter workers” stand side by side dabbing colours onto canvas. Liu Chang Zhen, a 27-yearold, works eight hours a day to complete more than 200 canvases a month—painting several copies of a picture at a time, methodically filling in the same patch on each before moving to a new part. At other factories, painters work on the same product, but specialize in different parts—in ears or hands or trees. They work from art books, postcards and images from the internet. Sometimes they just paint inside an outline copied electronically from a photograph, enlarged and stamped on the blank canvas. (The Economist, Painting by numbers, Jun 8th 2006)
Production line painting inside Dafen Louvre building, ©Stephen R Woolverton
These workers are trained to be, first and foremost, efficient. They find the quickest, easiest way to complete a technique so that it can be repeated without much thought. Apparently there is little pretense among the workers that this is high art, but workers do take pride in the specific skills required. In Dafen, for instance, there are regular art competitions where several dozen workers compete to see who can complete a copy (or a “replica” as they are referred to) of a masterpiece the fastest and most accurately. It is art as sport. I am sure one day robots, using algorithms and printers (or perhaps using real brushes and paints) will replace these assembly line workers just as robots replaced many workers in industrial factories here. Looking at this surgical robot, called Da Vinci, it is not hard to imagine it manipulating a brush. Low level, repetitive jobs are always the ones that technology targets and replaces first. “Low-level” is always being defined up: Tuesday was a great day for W. Roberts, as the junior pitcher threw a perfect game to carry Virginia to a 2-0 victory over George Washington at Davenport Field. Twenty-seven Colonials came to the plate and the Virginia pitcher vanquished them all, pitching a perfect game. He struck out 10 batters while recording his momentous feat. Roberts got Ryan Thomas to ground out for the final out of the game. Tom Gately came up short on the rubber for the Colonials, recording a loss. He went three innings, walked two, struck out one, and allowed two runs. The Cavaliers went up for good in the fourth, scoring two runs on a fielder’s choice and a balk. (NPR, Big Swing: Robot Sportswriter Outperforms Human, April 17, 2011) This excerpt was written by a computer program that writes local sports stories using just the statistics from the game as a source. Every painter experiences moments when he feels as though he is just filling in the numbers. The mind drifts and the algorithms take over. For too many painters this is a desirable and soughtafter state because it is taken as a sign of skillfulness—an ease that comes from many hours of practice. But we have all seen paintings that are skillfully, even beautifully done, yet
something is missing. It is as though the painter knew what his painting was going to look like before he started and did not allow any room for variations or tangential discoveries. There is no risk, no probing, no investigation, no surprise. No curiosity. In a lecture at the Center for Applied Educational Research, University of Melbourne, David Breswick discussed the nature of curiosity: The highly curious person will have a high regard for the uniqueness of the signal and for the integrity of the cognitive map, and so will be loathe to either assimilate or accommodate. He or she will seek the best possible fit, and typically that will require seeking additional information to build a suitable new integration of the incoming information with what was known before. So questions will be asked, calculations might be made, things will be turned over and looked under, there may well be much wondering and doubting, but after the ball has been kept bouncing for a sufficient length of time some sort of resolution will be reached in which sufficient accommodation occurs for the conceptual conflict to be resolved. The result is that a new order of representation of the world is developed. He goes on: To continue with the characteristics of highly curious people, I like to think of curiosity as belonging at the border between chaos and cosmos, so highly curious people will remain longer than others in situations of uncertainty, as well as being more likely to be there, that they will have developed a range of investigative skills to help resolve conceptual conflicts by gathering additional information, that they will have a sufficient sense of security in their world to put their cognitive map in jeopardy without debilitating anxiety, to run the risk of creating a new and better order, and that they will have the capacity to carry out the integration required to create a sense of cosmos where there was the threat of chaos. That is, they will be able, typically, and more than most people, to create, maintain, and resolve conceptual conflicts.
ALL THE GOOD PAINTERS I KNOW ARE EXCEEDINGLY CURIOUS.
Curiosity is a quality more often associated with scientists than artists, but all the good painters I know are exceedingly curious. They like to “peel the onion” in that they peel away one layer of understanding in a painting so as to reveal another and another and so on. In so doing they learn to become comfortable with being lost in a painting; of not knowing what to do. Scientists are quite comfortable in this state of unknowing because it is where they spend most of their time. They have a “notion about the cosmos” that they then must test with experiments. The results, invariably, will lead them, or someone else, to further questions, theories and experiments. And so the onion is peeled. Paintings should be experiments too. Not in the sense of self-consciously trying to create something new or cuttingedge, but rather in the sense of being open to new possibilities as each painting develops. On making movies, filmmaker Werner Herzog said: Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix . . . If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch . . . Very often, footage that you have shot develops its own dynamic, its own life, that is totally unexpected, and moves away from your original intentions. And you have to acknowledge, yes, there is a child growing and developing and moving in a direction that isn’t expected—accept it as it is and let it develop its own life. Painterly, to me, does not mean a painting with thick paint or bravura brushwork. It means a painting that is cultivated and allowed to grow in its own way. This is difficult to do because it requires that we wander into unknown territory where we have no rules to guide us and thus we are forced to make our own. This is where it is tempting to unthinkingly use “off-the-shelf ” solutions, a ready-made pieces of “code” that we can insert
into our painting to help us deal with an edge or a shape or composition that doesn’t seem to work. We ask, “What would so and so do?” Or we reach for some well-worn solution of our own instead of exploring other possibilities or refinements. We have instant access to more painters and paintings than any time in history. This is, by and large, a good thing, but it can also be quite inhibiting because it means, at any point in a painting, we can peruse and find a number of solutions to whatever painting problem we are working on. Malraux said, “The poet is haunted by a voice with which words must be harmonized.” Today it is a million voices. My reason for discussing such technology is not to sound an alarm about computers replacing painters but rather to study and perhaps become more sensitive to those moments when we become computers. No, the computer will not make painting obsolete any more than photography did, but I do believe it will be disruptive. Much of what we see now in terms of painting and computers is in its infancy and, like most technology, when it first starts out it can appear simplistic and even silly. However, it did not take long for photography to become the de facto way to record visual facts, and as cameras grew smaller, cheaper and more efficient it became evident: if your job as a painter was to merely paint facts, your equal became a box with a pinhole in it. Similarly, now, if your mission as a painter is to merely follow a set of visual rules (“when you see this, paint this”) then your equal will soon be a piece of silicon. Photography started an ongoing conversation about what painting is and what it should be and I believe computers will soon rekindle this conversation. Cézanne had a unique goal in mind for what his painting should be and so he had to find unique solutions. Frankly, I don’t understand how Cézanne did what he did. I don’t know how he made an apple seem so dense and heavy and tangible. Obviously it has something to do with his deliberate marks,
his use of color and strong edges and the way he structured his compositions and his perspective, but the traditional building blocks of rendering volume and weight don’t quite explain it. I’m not sure even Cézanne could explain it. Cézanne’s technique and style came as a result of the pursuit of his goal, a goal that was maybe, to him, beyond his technical ability or perhaps even his full understanding (he felt that he failed to reach it). In the opening paragraph of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s 1945 essay “Cézanne’s Doubt,” he writes: It took him one hundred working sessions for a still life, one hundred-fifty sittings for a portrait. What we call his work was, for him, an attempt, an approach to painting. In September of 1906, at the age sixty-seven—one month before his death—he wrote: “I was in such a state of mental agitation, in such great confusion that for a time I feared my weak reason would not survive . . . Now it seems I am better that I see more clearly the direction my studies are taking. Will I arrive at the goal, so intensely sought and so long pursued? I am working from nature, and it seems to me I am making slow progress.” Painting was his world and his mode of existence. He worked alone without students, without admiration from his family, without encouragement from the critics. He painted on the afternoon of the day his mother died. In 1870 he was painting at l’Estaque while the police were after him for dodging the draft. And still he had moments of doubt about this vocation. As he grew old, he wondered whether the novelty of his painting might not come from trouble with his eyes, whether his whole life had not been based upon an accident of his body. The hesitation or muddle-headedness of his contemporaries equaled this strain and doubt. “The painting of a drunken privy cleaner,” said a critic in 1905. Even today, C. Mauclair finds Cézanne’s admissions of powerlessness an argument against him. Meanwhile, Cézanne’s paintings have spread throughout the world. Why so much uncertainty, so much labor, so many failures, and, suddenly, the greatest success?
Bisected Nautilus shell (Wikimedia Commons)
Several years ago I read a lovely metaphor for how an artist develops a way of painting. I cannot seem to find it again online and I don’t recall who wrote it. Anyway, it went something like this: The nautilus is born in a small shell that has seven chambers. As the nautilus feeds and grows it adds a new chamber, slightly larger than the last, to accommodate its new size. This growth continues until death (on average twenty years later.) At the end of its life the nautilus leaves behind an extraordinarily precise architecture that is as beautiful as it is strong. The nautilus did not set out to make a beautiful shell— the shell formed as a result of the nautilus living its life.
2 Learn more about Duane Keiser at: www.duanekeiser.com
JULIO REYES & CANDICE BOHANNON
MATERIALS & METHODS FOR PAINTING ON COPPER Oil paintings on copper feel preciousâ€”small enough to hold in your hands, and meant to be admired up close, they petition the viewer for a more intimate interaction
The Barrens, Julio Reyes, 10 x 18 inches, oil on copper, 2011
We have often marveled at the beauty of oil paintings on copper in museums across the country, admiring their brilliant colors, the preciousness of their scale and detail, and their immaculate appearance. Many look as if they were painted yesterday, having defied the ravages of time; they remain as remarkable today as the day they were painted. Although not as common with artists throughout history as wooden panels and canvas, copper has been used as a substrate for oil paintings for hundreds of years. The first oils on copper date back to the early sixteenth century, with surviving works from as early as the 1560s!
A Dutch Gentleman, Gerard Ter Borch ca.1640, 20 x 14.875 inches, Oil on copper, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Collection
The Coronoation of the Virgin, Guido Reni, Oil on copper, The National Gallery, London
Many of the works on copper in museums are relatively small, fantastically detailed pictures. They bring to life a world full of vivacity and color, with all the fair joys and folly of mankind and nature at her finest, in a painting typically smaller than a sheet of printer paper. We have admired the conceptual beauty, craftsmanship, and ingenuity of works on copper, and have always felt as though we were gazing at the fine workmanship of a jeweler. Oil paintings on copper feel preciousâ€”small enough to hold in your hands, and meant to be admired up close, they petition the viewer for a more intimate interaction. These works are out of the ordinary, and their rarity reinforces their jewel-like presence. When painted over with a broken
surface that allows the copper to shine through, thereâ€™s a rich effervescence unlike oil on any other surface. We can only imagine what the medieval and Renaissance mind must have felt when it first saw these little marvels. They were not so removed as we are from the origins of thingsâ€”they knew well the value of the precious metal in the copper plates, the crushed rare gems required to make the pigments, and the sultry oils necessary to make paint. The opulence and combined overall effect must have seemed otherworldly. Perhaps they saw most clearly just how jewel-like and truly remarkable oil on copper is.
Candice in Yellow, Julio Reyes, 2010 10 x 8 inches, Oil on copper
Deep calls to Deep, 13 x 20 inches, oil on copper 2012
We are often asked why we would choose to paint on copper rather than on panel or canvas. Although it is not the right choice of substrate for many of our works, it is a rich option we consider when painting a work small in scale that demands great attention to the finer details.
The choice to paint on copper is one an artist can make whether they plan to paint thickly or thinly, with alluring detail or minimalistic elegance. It can be a versatile substrate to fit the artist’s varied and unique desires, and history offers us many beautiful examples from which we can take inspiration.
Painting on copper inspires precise, deliberate brushwork. Copper plates are non-absorbent—paint sits on top of the silky surface without sinking in as it does with thirsty primed panels and canvas. This results in paint layers that are oil rich or medium rich, which is perhaps why copper paintings give the appearance of having more saturated colors, a wider range in values, and an “inner glow.” We often (but not always) paint with a broken surface so that the raw copper is allowed to peek through unpainted passages of a painting, creating a glimmer of warm, mid-tone metal, which acts as a lively color, changing appearance in different lighting scenarios and viewing angles.
Preparing copper We purchase our copper plates from printmaking supply stores that offer plates in a variety of thicknesses and sizes. They are reliably smooth, and free from any bends or scratches. Copper can be expensive, and there are several types of vendors that offer quality copper, so you’ll have to shop around before buying in large quantities from one vendor. The thickness of your typical printmaker’s plate is more than adequate for the purposes of oil painting, and a 16 or 18 gauge will be perfect.
Whispers, 8 x 8 inches, Oil on copper, 2012
Shadow, Candice Bohannon Reyes, 2012, 8 x 8 inches, Oil on copper
Once you have your copper surface, we recommend that you affix it to a solid backing, or substrate. Copper is an expensive, relatively soft metal, and most artists will be using plates in thicknesses that are vulnerable to dents, dings, bends and scratches, all of which can wreak havoc on a finished oil painting and lead to the deterioration or discoloration of the work. The substrate should be rigid enough to prevent flexing, and be made of a sturdy, preferably lightweight material, compatible with any installation and/or framing hardware that might be used. In the past, we have used anything from MDF (medium-density fiberboard), lightweight aluminum panels (i.e. Dibond速), and expanded PVC panels for this purpose. Whatever the choice in backing, it should be adhered properly to the raw copper plate with a good glue such as Miracle Muck, which is reversible, or a polyurethane adhesive like Gorilla Glue, which is permanent.
Before we apply any glue, we sand, score and clean the back of the copper, and we do the same to the front of the backing material to ensure the glue has good adhesion to both surfaces. Denatured alcohol on a clean rag can be used to wipe down the sanded surfaces and remove any dust or oil that may prevent good adhesion. Apply the glue, then clamp or press the two surfaces together with even pressure. We use clamps, heavy books, weights, bags of clay, small children, loaves of fruitcake, or any combination of the aforementioned heavy objects, depending on the size of the plateâ€”whatever gets the job done!
If you are using MDF as a backing, or any material sensitive to atmospheric moisture, be sure to seal it from the elements; skip this step if youâ€™re using aluminum or expanded PVC. Two to three coats of a polyurethane outdoor sealer will do just fine. The sealer will help minimize any damage caused by moisture, such as warping, or substrate-induced discoloration (SID). To prepare the copper to receive paint, you will want to thoroughly sand the surface with a medium to fine grit sandpaper to remove any oxidation. This step will also alter the smoothness of the surface so that it creates enough tooth
in the metal for the first layers of oil paint to achieve a strong mechanical bond. Be sure to wear clean gloves to prevent oils from your hands from rubbing off on the sanded surface, and carefully clean the plate surface with denatured or isopropyl alcohol to remove any dust or grease. Both dust and grease will prevent the oil paint from adhering properly, and if they are not fully removed they may lead to delamination over time. Once the surface of the copper has been sanded and cleaned, you should continue to wear clean gloves when handling it to prevent fingerprints or oily smudges. And here’s where things get culinary! Gently apply a thin layer of garlic juice to the surface of the copper plate, either by rubbing freshly cut garlic cloves on the surface or by brushing on liquid garlic juice that’s available in bottles at grocery stores. We usually use raw garlic for this process by slicing a clove in half and rubbing the halved garlic directly to the copper in small circular motions. This should be thought of less as a “layer” and more like a damp wiping treatment. Make new slices in the garlic every now and then to access more juice as it dries; we use clean razor blades to slice off these thin layers. The garlic juice was used traditionally to alter the surface tension of the copper and provide a surface that makes applying paint or ground easier. Otherwise, the paint has a tendency to bead up due to the differences in surface energy. The mild acid from the garlic juice actually etches the surface of the copper. You will be able to see the metal change in color and sheen as you apply the garlic juice. The effect is subtle, so keep careful watch so you don’t backtrack over areas you’ve already covered. The copper will form a chemical bond to the lead in your primer/ paint and the other heavy metals in your oil paints such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, etc. This bonding is in addition to the mechanical bond that sanding alone would provide. Together these individual steps contribute to what you really want when painting on metal, or any surface for that matter: a strong and lasting bond between the paint and the surface.
Coastal Cypress, Candice Bohannon Reyes, 2010 12 x 18 inches, oil on copper
After the garlic has dried, you may choose to apply a thin layer of lead white ground to the copper to create a smooth, opaque surface. Or if you prefer, you may just begin painting right away on the freshly dried garlic covered copper. If you’re going to prime the surface, it’s preferable to use a lead-based primer. If you choose to forgo the primer we recommend that a lead white oil paint be used for mixing with colors. This is because the etched copper will achieve a chemical bond to the lead in the paint, which it will not do with titanium. This added provision aids in the longevity of the work and is, perhaps admittedly, splitting hairs. However, if it is within good reason to practice a deeper, more disciplined level of craft, then we will ALWAYS err in that direction. A bit obsessive? Absolutely. So it’s up to you! If you are priming (the traditional preparation method), use two coats of very thinly applied primer. It’s desirable to keep these layers smooth and thin. For a smoother surface, after the primer is dry it can be carefully wet-sanded with linseed oil and fine grit sandpaper. If painting directly onto the copper plate without primer, be careful to leave no areas of the plate exposed to air without a layer of paint, medium or varnish covering it, because the copper will eventually oxidize and change colors in those areas. Painting on copper is a different experience than painting on canvas or board. Copper prepared in this manner really doesn’t have a slick feel under the brush as you might assume—it actually has a lot of grip and the brush will drag and chatter. This will most likely change the way you paint and the type of brushes you’ll decide to use. This “grippy” characteristic of the copper isn’t something we really enjoy, so here’s a little studio secret revealed: a medium made by Natural Pigments called Oleogel overcomes the grippiness obstacle. Oleogel is a thixotropic gel medium made with linseed oil and pyrogenic silica. This medium behaves similarly to “neo-meglip” and it is also completely transparent and thixotropic. We rub in a thin layer across the entire surface, being sure to cover every inch of exposed copper. This could be allowed to dry and then burnished, to make a clear “ground”—but we just paint right into it. It is similar to painting into a “couch.” The Oleogel will meld with the oil colors we are applying and dry in a single uniform paint layer that is smooth to work into and completely seals the copper from oxidation. Painting into this clear gel medium also allows for far more open working time on day one, as the raw copper plate dries the first layers of paint very quickly.
Wildflowers, Julio Reyes, 2011 20 x 8 inches, Oil on copper
Sparrow, Julio Reyes, 10 x 8 inches, oil on copper, 2011
We believe that working on copper can provide a rewarding new experience, add a distinctive look to a painting, and expand the artistâ€™s repertoire. Its relative rarity and unique attributes create an undeniable allure for both the artist and the observer. The challenges and rewards of working in oil on copper are considerable, appealing to our creative energies and demanding we produce paintings worthy of the materials from which they are made. If any of the qualities we have mentioned in this article appeal to your artistic sensibilities, you may wish to try making your next work of art on copper.
For more information on the history of artists painting on copper, we recommend reading the book Copper as Canvas by the Phoenix Art Museum.
Learn more about Julio Reyes and Candice Bohannon, visit their websites at: www.JulioReyes.com www.CandiceBohannon.com
ON PAINTING ANTONIO LÓPEZ GARCÍA
It is November 27, 2012. I’m in Antonio López García’s studio in Madrid, Spain, and the master himself stands before me, remarkably, as my model. My brush is tentatively placing little spots of color onto the painting surface. I’m pleased with myself. Not with the painting, but with the fact that I didn’t actually drop too many paint tubes as I clumsily added them to my palette. I’m feeling a little rushed and I’m afraid to ask him to hold still. I have so much respect for this artist, and he is looking directly at me with the same intensity that he brings to his work. I’m confused about what I should say to him. Usually I talk a lot to my models, but my brain is frozen right now. I’m
grasping for a better understanding of him, not only for the painting’s sake, but also for what I can learn about him in this short time. From the start, I know that this quick alla prima painting doesn’t need to be good. It is just for me, no one else. I want to remember this moment for as long as I can—to turn this fleeting moment into a concrete memory, an experience that will stay with me. I have a very deliberate way of working, focusing on only what is in front of me.
I’M GRASPING FOR A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HIM, NOT ONLY FOR THE PAINTING’S SAKE, BUT ALSO FOR WHAT I CAN LEARN ABOUT HIM IN THIS SHORT TIME.
About ten minutes into the painting session, Antonio says something loudly in Spanish and laughter fills the studio. I naturally smile even though I have no idea what was said. My good friend and translator Borja turns to me with a smile and says, “Antonio is fascinated with the strange shape of your ear.” When Artists on Art asked me to do an article, I thought it would be the perfect publication to write about my experiences meeting and painting Antonio López García. Over the past couple of years a number of people have asked me how I was able to meet him and what he was like, as well as a number of other questions. It’s an experience that has always been really hard for me to summarize, because the story unfolded over a few years and only happened because of pure luck and the generosity of friendship. It all started strangely enough with an email I received in 2006, from Borja, an aspiring artist in Europe. Bonafuente Gonzalo, Amazing. I have no more words. Amazing. That´s what I want to learn to do. Do you accept students in your studio? I´m from Europe but I will be in New York for 3 months from november to january. May I visit your studio please? Just to see it or something, I don´t want to disturb any of you. It´s really amazing your paintings. Thank you for your time. Borja Fortunately, I get emails like this on a somewhat regular basis. They are incredible, especially for an artist who is pretty much a hermit when I’m in my studio, with all of the weaknesses and insecurities in my work that I’m struggling to overcome.
So many folks that you come across in life (family, friends, strangers) don’t understand what it is that we do, or how hard we work. They think it’s a hobby or they’re waiting for you to grow up and get a typical job. It is not their fault that they don’t understand the passion that we have as artists. As a result, I’ve really come to cherish and appreciate every kind word that is thrown in my direction. Back in 2006 when Borja was visiting New York City, I had my studio in my home and had just welcomed a new addition to my family—a four-month-old baby named Lucas. I wasn’t really into having studio visits with strangers. I suggested over email that we meet at an exhibition opening or maybe a museum. A week or so after he arrived in New York, we met up at one of the Salmagundi Club shows and hit it off right away. He was super serious about painting and was really chill. At this time I had the great fortune to teach once a week at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine’s sculpture studio. The Cathedral is a huge gothic structure up near Columbia University on 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Few people know that there is a huge art studio with thirty-foothigh ceilings in the cathedral’s crypt. The space is the working studio of artist Greg Wyatt. The studio was funded and run by a foundation, and they hired me to teach a drawing class there once a week. At that time, I was really hungry for teaching jobs, especially with the new addition to the family. I was struggling to make ends meet and desperately trying to keep my painting career alive. I jumped at the chance to teach, even though it didn’t pay very well, and was a two-hour commute in each direction. I had to hire a sitter for an hour each class to watch my son, but the models for the class were all paid for, and the best part of the job was that the students could attend for free!
Once I saw how cool Borja was, I immediately asked him to join the drawing class. Over the next few months, we hung out a little together and I even had him pose for a drawing, which ended up on the cover of the Australian magazine EMPTY. We used to joke around, saying that you know it’s a small world when a Spaniard is drawn by an American and the drawing ends up on the cover of an Australian magazine. Fast forward to July of 2009. I had received an invitation to teach in Faro, Portugal, where I had taught the previous year and fallen in love with the city, which is located right on the southwestern coast of the Iberian peninsula, in an area called the Algarve. Since I was already going to be in that part of Europe, I figured that it would be easy to first fly into Madrid and then train down to Seville and grab a ride over to the Algarve region. Faro was only a two hour car ride west from Seville, and the year before my buddy Nuno, who lived in Faro, said that the Portuguese in the Algarve regularly drove over to Seville to shop at the Ikea. Having never visited Madrid as an adult, I planned for an extra five days to visit Borja, who was now living in Madrid. The last time I was there I was only three years old, but I’ve held on to the strangest fondness and memories of my trip there. They are almost like vague dreams.
Gran Via, Antonio López García, 90.5 x 93.5 cm, Oil on board
My father was in the air force for 22 years, and in the late 70s and early 80s we were stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. While we lived there, my parents’ goal was to see as much of Europe as they could. They would pack my two older brothers and me into a compact green Renault for long road trips to other countries, one of which was Spain. It is funny the things that stick in a kid’s head, but we happened to be there at Easter time and I participated in an Easter egg hunt, right outside of Madrid. I won a huge Tonka truck—well, at least it was huge to a three-year-old. It was so large in fact that we had to strap it to roof of the car. So since I was three, I’ve always loved Spain—the land of enormous free toys, and it goes without saying that by default, I was super-psyched to drop in on Spain again. I arrived early in the morning, since it is my practice to take redeye flights so I can sleep on the plane and wake up the next morning in the country I’m visiting. This helps me to not waste a day of my trip and keeps me from getting jet lag, because my body is immediately synchronized with the local time. Borja was immensely hospitable when I arrived, even picking me up at the airport and driving me to his apartment right off the Grand Via. He stayed at his girlfriend’s place for the week, so I had full use of his place during my visit.
Ropa en Remojo, Antonio López García 80.5 x 74 cm, Oil on board
As we drove to Borja’s apartment from the airport, he turned to me and said that the area through which we were then driving was where Antonio López García lived. The next time I was in Madrid he said we would meet him, then he laughed and said, “We would track him down, that we will do it, that you will meet him one day.” I just smiled. Being in Spain at that moment was overwhelming enough for me; I just said “Yeah!” I had no real mission for this short five-day trip, just wanted to have fun, catch up with Borja, get to know the city, see some amazing artwork, and track down some books on Antonio López García. I guess that’s a lot. Oh, and one of the guidebooks recommended Oreja de Cerdo tapas—roasted pig ears. (But after taking one bite, I don’t recommend it.) Borja’s apartment was close to everything, in the heart of the city and walking distance to the major museums including Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and Sorollo’s house, as well as being close to the Plaza Del Sol and Mayor. On the second day of my trip, Borja and I visited the Cuesta de Moyano, a street that has about two dozen open-air used book dealer stalls. It is very near Retiro Park and the Atocha train station. We scoured each bookstall in search of hard-tofind books on Antonio López García. Back home in Brooklyn, López García books are rare. We came away with a few treasures including one of the first publications of his work from the 70s and a small blue book that he had written called En Torno a Mi trabajo como pintor (About My Work as a Painter).
Ventana al Atardece, Antonio López García 141 x 124 cm, Oil on board
I got up early on the second-to-last day of my trip so that I could draw at the Prado. I quickly got lost in all of the Ribera paintings. I love how he creates volume, and I’ve been trying to incorporate my study of him into the work I’m trying to create. His style is close to how I approach painting form.
We were also able to buy some Cuban cigars for my buddies back home. Spain subsidizes the Cuban market, so the Spanish get the cigars for the same price as in Cuba. I’ve since made it a tradition to visit the same tobacco shop near Plaza Mayer on each of my visits to Madrid, even though I don’t smoke cigars anymore.
After a full day of sketching, I received a call from Borja, asking
The next day we visited the Antonio López García Room at the Reina Sofia Museum, an amazing contemporary museum that is across the street from the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica is on view there, and in real life it is truly majestic.
meet that day. Borja said that he would arrive in a half hour to
if I could meet up with him. He said that a friend of his—an art rep and collector—had seen my work and asked to meet me. Borja had said that his friend was also one of Antonio’s collectors and that she had a few of his pieces. Unfortunately, the woman had limited availability that week, and could only pick me up in front of the museum.
After drawing all day, I was a sweaty gross mess, and I asked Borja if we could swing by the apartment so that I could clean up and put on a button-down shirt. I wanted to look at least a little bit presentable. Borja said it was more important to be on time, rather than well dressed, and that we were already running a little late—there just wasn’t time. When I came out of the museum Borja and Jorge were already there. I jumped into the backseat and we were off! We drove to the outskirts of the city to a more residential area of town that looked familiar to me, although I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was still a little out of sorts, having been overwhelmed by my first full day of drawing at the Prado, and bowled over by so many inspiring works of art. I was also increasingly curious about this art rep-collector that I was to meet shortly. As we drove down one of the main streets, Borja turned back to me. “Remember,” he said, “when I picked you up from the airport and I said that we were close to Antonio’s neighborhood? Well, right there is his street.” I replied, “Could we please just drive by his house quickly, so I could at least say that I had been there?” “Maybe on the way home,” he said. About two minutes later we made a left-hand turn onto a quiet residential street. We parked and got out. The homes on the street were all gated with high walls. The “doorbell” was a box sort of contraption that had a call button and a keypad. Borja walked up and buzzed, and the box came alive with a crackle and the voice from the other end that spoke in rapid-
fire Spanish. I only caught “hola.” The look on Borja’s face was a little distraught and confused as he responded. Were we too late? After a few minutes of quick incomprehensible conversation the door buzzed open. The wall protected a little front yard with a humble two-story home in the middle. I had strange feeling walking through the doorway, a real sense of déjà vu. Had I been here before? On the front steps was an older woman in a simple grey house dress. Again I couldn’t help feeling I had seen her before. Was this the art collector’s maid? Was she the woman I was there to meet with? The front yard garden was full of an assortment of fruit trees and plants, and among the foliage was a number of small marble baby heads. They were obviously Antonio López García’s work. I had only seen the colossal version of the baby head during his exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few years before. Borja had mentioned that this woman was a collector of Garcia’s work, so I thought nothing of it. We walked up the front steps and followed the woman inside. We stopped in the living room and on the mantle was another López Garcia sculpture, a portrait bust. The walls were covered with some amazing landscape painting studies that looked like they were the seeds of some much larger ideas. Borja was once again in an intense conversation with the woman in the humble grey dress. I was really confused at this moment, partially exhausted from the full day of drawing, and my brain was tired of trying to follow the context of every Spanish language conversation of the last few days. I took Spanish in high school, so I would pick up every fourth or fifth word, just enough to kind of understand what was going on, but at this time in my trip, my brain surrendered and just shut down. I was in a fog of confusion, feeling like I had been there before and wondering if this was the art collector we were there to meet, or if we had missed the appointment. I vividly remember the worried look on Borja’s face and how it suddenly changed as he nodded his head up and down in understanding. Borja just turned to me with a big smile on his face and proclaimed “We did it, you are here!” “I’m where?” I replied. “You are in Antonio’s home!”
For a split second I was in complete disbelief. Then it was as if my fog of confusion just completely dissipated and the world came into sharp focus, everything made sense. The woman in the humble grey dress was clearly Antonio’s wife. I had seen her in paintings, and the portrait bust and sculptures in the garden were also familiar to me. I had been here before, through Antonio’s work. Also the source of Borja’s worry was revealed, “But Antonio isn’t here, he is at the studio. We will go there, now.” The studio was only a short walk from the house. We walked out to the car and grabbed my backpack, camera and video camera. Borja had grabbed the books that we had bought a few days prior, and brought them along when Jorge and he had picked me up at the museum, so we could get Antonio to sign them. We headed up the street towards Antonio’s studio. As Jorge, Borja and myself walked giddily up the slight incline, I could make out the vague outline of a man waiting for us in the middle of the street. Antonio was wearing a white smock decorated
Madrid Visto Desde Torres Blanca, Antonio López García 145 x 244 cm, Oil on board
with plaster and paint smears. Under the smock were a t-shirt and shorts. We introduced ourselves and he introduced himself as if we didn’t know who he was. He ushered us into a nearby building where his studio was on the ground floor.
The studio was lit by skylight, and looked as if it had been an apartment in a previous life. The natural light was beautiful. There was a model stand in the middle of the room and what had looked like little landscape painting projects and sculpture projects scattered around the room. We followed him into the naturally lit kitchen of the studio. He gave us chairs and we settled down to hang out with one of the most respected representational painters alive. The walls of Antonio’s studio were a hodgepodge of newspaper clippings, intricately gridded-out drawing studies, torn-out images from art books or magazines of Greek statutes and modern paintings, a compositional study of a painting that he was working on in the royal palace, a portrait of the royal family of Spain, and some images of his own work that he was laying out for a book project. Like a kitten in a room full of balls of yarn, these were just a few of the interesting things that were attracting my attention. Antonio doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak much of Spanish, and the only phrase I remember from high school was to ask if I could use the bathroom. I used it to get out of class to wander the halls. I’m guessing that Antonio did the same thing while in his high school English classes. I was extremely fortunate to have Borja and Jorge there to translate. It was also helpful that they are both extremely talented artists and had questions of their own. Antonio was also very gracious and allowed me to film the entire visit. Again, fortunately, I had my video camera in my backpack with a fully charged battery and plenty of memory storage so that I could capture and translate the entire two-hour conversation. About a third of the way into our time there, one of Antonio’s friends stopped by the studio, a young guy in his 30s, named Eduardo. He has known Antonio for 20 years. He grew up in the neighborhood, and also spoke very good English, having lived in America for a
little while working for a few international tech companies. We all got along right away and the more translators in the room the better. Unfortunately, I know that I probably only really understood half the conversation that happened that day. Antonio was very earnest and steadfast in his opinions, in some ways stubborn. One discussion was with Jorge, who had started a painting of a mechanical box in the underground that inspired him. Because the space between the box and the tracks was only about three feet, he decided to work from a photograph of the box in his studio, rather than compete with all of the people getting on and off the trains while he painted. López García was really against this idea; he said that if the subject could not be painted from life then the subject was out of the realization of the artist and shouldn’t be painted. Both arguments were passionately debated, as you would no doubt expect in Spain. My own opinion falls somewhere in the middle. I now use photographs to paint from all of the time. When I was in school, on the other hand, I used to paint only from life, but I ultimately found this style limiting in subject matter and scale—not to mention it was wicked expensive. I strive now for a hybrid approach. I paint as much as I can from the live subject, and I’m always looking to the photo reference as if it were a living person, so there is a lot of editing that goes on beyond the photo. What I was struck with the most on this visit was Antonio’s courage. He doesn’t care about selling a painting or about the market, or how difficult a painting is to paint or what anyone else thinks about his subject matter. He is just concerned with the work itself and the meditative process of creating the piece. He said that he knows that there are paintings that he will never finish. Some of his paintings have taken him over a decade to “finish.”
BEING TRUTHFUL TO WHAT HE SEES AMOUNTS TO EMBRACING WHAT HE KNOWS TO BE TRUE: TIME IS DEVASTATING AND UNQUENCHABLE, AND IT DEVOURS US ALL. 47
In a review of Antonio’s 2008 Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston John Yau stated this so elegantly: “For López García,” he said, “being truthful to what he sees amounts to embracing what he knows to be true: time is devastating and unquenchable, and it devours us all.” López García really is the living embodiment of Howard Roark. He views himself as just a humble painter, painting and sculpting his life as honestly as he possibly can, regardless of the onslaught of time. A quote whose source I don’t remember sums it up for me: “The brushstroke lasts longer than the hand that created it.” This is a truth I always think about when I have a deadline for an exhibition and I feel like I’m rushing a painting. In the long run—in the big picture of what I want to create and what I want my work to represent—is this show’s deadline important enough for me not to take another week or even a month on the painting to get it better and closer to what is in my mind’s eye? With Antonio, he is thinking not in weeks or months, but sometimes in years. To make this painting better—closer to his vision—that may be what it takes. It is for these reasons that Antonio and his work represent the artist that I wish to be, the path that I want to follow. Not that I would swap my work for his or want to copy him in any way. His art is his journey and mine is my own open-ended search for understanding. He represents the values that I hold near and dear to my heart: authenticity, time, depth, weight, and purity—values that seem to be the first ones compromised while trying to make a living as an artist. While I was sitting in the little kitchen of Antonio’s studio, I was struck with a question that had always been in the back of my mind. It was more of a curiosity really, regarding one of his paintings. The painting was part of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibition of Antonio’s work I had attended in 2008. This exhibition was hugely influential to American representational artists, including myself, and I can already see its impact on many of my fellow artists. I made the trip to the exhibition towards the end of its run. Here in Chinatown, New York, you can hop an old Greyhound
bus up to Chinatown in Boston for only 15 bucks each way, so one morning I got up early and jumped on one of the earliest buses headed north to Boston to see the show. There really is something about seeing paintings in person rather than just printed or digital reproductions. It is kind of obvious, but in reproductions you really do lose the richness, texture, subtlety, depth and scale of the real thing. As long as I have the means to do so, I hope to ultimately see all of my favorite paintings in person. The travel and expense are well worth the experience that the real painting has to offer. This exhibition in Boston had the feel of a holy site in Jerusalem. But to be honest, I’m only guessing at that since I have never been to a holy site in Jerusalem. The rooms of the exhibition that were on the ground floor of the museum had a solemn, reverent air to them. When I got there I ran into a few other artists from New York that I hadn’t seen in some years, who had also made the four-hour trek north to see the exhibition. What also blew my mind was that I ran into my friend Emil Robinson, who had come to the show from Cincinnati, Ohio along with Jonathan Queen, a ridiculously talented still life painter. We had all made this pilgrimage to see the show. Emil is an amazing artist I met while we were both studying at the Art Students League a few years ago. This was crazy to me—way before the Facebook days. Only five or six years ago the world of painting was way less connected. Today everybody knows what everyone is up to and what shows are happening all over the world. It is an amazingly collaborative and supportive environment on Facebook. Seeing all of these artists at this show was also comforting. It is great to know that you are not the only crazy person when it comes to the painting life. Okay, so back to the mystery question that I had for Antonio. While I was at the Boston exhibition, which I soaked up like a sponge, or at least tried to, there was a painting called The Table. The painting is of his family sitting down to share a dinner. The figures flicker in this liminal space as if in motion, and right in the foreground on the dinner table amongst the painted remnants of food is a photo of a piece of meat glued
to the canvas. This baffled Emil, Jonathan and me. This was something that I had never noticed in the reproductions of the painting. I had just assumed that it was a painted part of the canvas. Why did he do that? This was my main curiosity about his work. Today, the art world seems to be getting more and more convoluted. So I braced myself for some complex explanation about why he added this collage element to the painting. The answer surprised me. He said that he was working on the painting for a while in the studio and was never quite sure of the composition of the elements on the table, so instead of painting the meat, he decided to just add a photo of it, to move it around and see if the composition worked. He left the painting to work on some other projects and the gallery had sold it as it was, with photo attached. So he decided that it would stay that way. Overall we spent a little over two hours with Antonio discussing different artists, the different representational art cultures from country to country, as well as his main influences. I left with a huge thirst to paint and draw more, and was truly inspired about the directions in which I wanted my own work to go. I wanted to make my work as personal as I could get, without the input and influence of a market that dictates what is more saleable or popular. Something stirred inside of me, stimulated me to journey towards a more authentic and heartfelt body of work, one that is unbiased and gutsy! The weight of how valuable Antonio’s time was didn’t strike me until we were driving home. I felt so and how fortunate I was to have had this experience and the immeasurable friendship of Borja, who worked hard to track down Antonio to make this experience possible. It truly was the surprise of my life. Fast forward to a year and a half later, I got an email from Eduardo. He was coming to New York with his wife and was wondering if he could stop by the studio. I told him of course and we had a great visit together while he was in town. I’m so glad that he made the trek out of Manhattan to my Brooklyn studio, especially while he was on vacation.
One night about a year later, I thought of how amazing it would be to do a life-size painting of Antonio. It couldn’t hurt to explore the idea, right? What is the worse that could happen? Only that he could say No. So I sent out an email to Eduardo asking if he thought the idea had any possibility of happening. The first email I sent him was in January of 2011, to which I never received a response. For some reason in April 2012 the idea was rekindled in my head. I thought that it had been over a year since I first asked, and that I wouldn’t be a pain if I asked again. This time I received a response in a few weeks, and learned that the original request was sent to an email that Eduardo didn’t check often. He replied that he had no problem checking with Antonio to see if it was something that he would be interested in doing. At this time, Antonio was extremely busy, with museum exhibitions and meetings all over Spain. He had recently had a solo exhibition at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and his time was in high demand; he was travelling all over Spain, lecturing and planning further exhibitions. So it was a challenge for Eduardo to even communicate with him. After a few months, I got another email from Eduardo. He had talked to Antonio, who said that he would love to pose. Now the only difficult part was figuring out when this could happen. He had been extremely busy, and I had been travelling a little more lately as well. We finally settled on the month of November 2012. I left the entire month open so I could travel there as soon as I got word from Eduardo that there was a window of time in which Antonio would be back in Madrid. At the beginning of the month we settled on a ten-day stretch over Thanksgiving. I bought my airline ticket and two weeks later I was off to Spain. So this brings me back to where this story started—fumbling through my painting as one of my painting idols and role models is remarking on the funny shape of my ear. What goes through your head when you have someone posing for you for whom you have such tremendous respect for? For me it was incredibly humbling, even though I was pretty confident in the finished study. I’ve learned to embrace my insecurities over
the years, so I’m ok if the painting doesn’t turn out well. In a strange way there isn’t a thought in my head that is negative. Maybe this is a false confidence, a coping mechanism for the brain. I figured that anything that is put down on the painting is part of this pivotal experience for me. There is no thought of what anyone else thinks of the painting, even the model, in this case Antonio. This is probably the most valuable lesson that I have learned from these experiences getting to know Antonio, his work and career. It’s about having this purity of observation and a positive meditative approach to painting that comes solely from artist him/herself. The experience and time that we put into our paintings add a psychological depth to the work. These works are the cumulative collection of our thoughts about what we are painting, mistakes and successes mingling together revealing the history of how the work was observed. This is how the artist puts his viewers into the space of his works. I didn’t want this to be an instructive piece for Artist on Art, but in a holistic way I think in a way it is. It is about developing a state of mind, about being your own artist, about being who you are and bringing your own truths to your work, in the way that only you can. Individually, we are the sum of our own life experiences and investigations as humans. These experiences cling to us like our unique fingerprints. Harvest these truths with what, why and how you create. Have the courage to write your own personal “novel” without words. In truth this story is more about life than it is about art. It is about developing lifelong friendships and understanding through example about the type of artist and person that I would like to grow and evolve into. I learned to strive to be more like Borja and Eduardo, just as much as I learned to be fearless like Antonio. In 2006 Borja took the chance on emailing me about meeting up, and I followed Borja’s example in contacting Eduardo six years later, which led to the incredible experience of clumsily recording my own unfocused fractured thoughts while painting Antonio in his studio.
Toward the end of that painting session in Madrid, as I was wrapping up my brushes and gathering up my supplies, I looked up at Antonio. With a thoughtful expression he spoke to me in Spanish. I had the usual puzzled look on my face when Borja turned to me and translated: “Antonio says that you have guts for coming all the way to Spain to paint him.” I just muttered, “Thanks, I’m learning.” Thank you Borja, Eduardo, Jorge, and Antonio for being role models; I really appreciate our friendship.
2 Learn more about David Kassan at: www.davidkassan.com
SELF CRITIQUE OF PAINTINGS: THE TEN SUGGESTIONS When on location, plein-air, or in the studio, one of the most valuable tools to have is somebody to correct you. Unfortunately this is not always possible. So the next best thing is to have specific areas identified that allow us to focus on various elements and judge our paintings objectively.
After twenty years of doing critiques I have found ten areas to be the most important.
1. Are the masses large, separate shapes, defined by their closely related values? If you arrange a first grade class from shortest to tallest and a sixth grade class from shortest to tallest, the tallest first grader is still going to be shorter than the shortest sixth grader. This separation is critical when you are painting those separate masses in your painting. For example, you have sky mass values that are your first graders (the lightest). Within that mass there are going to be areas that are light-light, medium-light, and
Ful;ness Therof, 24 x 48 inches, Oil on canvas (detail)
darker-light. There is a range just as with first graders—some are shorter, some are taller, but they are all first graders. When you compare those values with the darker upright tree mass, the darkest light is still going to be lighter than the lightest dark value. This clear separation is what creates a mass. So to maintain separate masses we must keep the first graders with the first grade, sixth graders with sixth graders, and twelfth graders with twelfth graders, etc.
2. Are there three to six clearly defined masses? A) Masses must remain clearly separate and unbroken except in a transition area (a portion of an edge). B) Masses must follow the concept of the Mass/Value Range Chart: Mass / Value Range Chart This chart describes a hypothetical painting with 12 values in 4 masses. The actual number of values and masses shown here is arbitrary. The concept is what is important.
Following this simple organization of masses and values will result in a presentation of clearly communicated information for the viewer to easily decipher and enjoy. In a recent poll (given by and to me) 80% of bad paintings are caused by confusion of this “simple massing” concept.
October’s Voice, 70 x 96 inches, Oil on canvas
A sample structure of a failed painting: What often happens is that we compare the darker lights to the lighter lights and forget that the relationship also has to be with the other masses. So we paint the dark lights too dark and the light darks too light, etc.
3. Do all of the major shapes have unequal relationships? The simplest way to define a dynamic shape is that good shapes will have unequal distributions A) The simplest unequal ratio is 2:1. If our reference gives us a 1:1 ratio it is our responsibility to change it. We are not slaves to the reference. B) Differences are sought out and celebrated in every aspect, including making sure there are unequal portions within a given mass. Edges and smaller segments of the silhouettes of the masses also need to be varied.
Both illustrations show three trees. The first one may be a true representation of nature, but the second still communicates the truth but in a much more dynamic way. Keep shapes unequal.
4. Do silhouettes of the masses interlock? A) Avoid uninterrupted lines or visual movements off the edge of the composition. B) Do not allow the painting to be a set of uninterrupted bars.
Heavy Snow, 20 x 24 inches, Oil on canvas This is an example of interlocking where there are darker masses injected into the lighter and the lighter into the darker. This causes shapes that are forceful and will maintain the viewerâ€™s gaze longer than parallel bars.
5. Are the edges related and worked? A) Do not leave any edges to chance. Design requires intelligence. B) Compare edges and relate them. C) Exercise freedom. The eye accepts many edges: brush, knife, towel, finger, etc.
6. Is there a sense of depth through the use of linear and atmospheric perspective? A) It is a valuable tool to use perspective in a landscape painting even if you have to generate it from other sources. (e.g., a road, a path, a creek, fallen logs, etc.). B) Distant forms are influenced by atmosphere (small and numerous veils of colored light). The sky starts at your nose.
7. Is the composition comfortable for the viewer? A) Compositional â€œmagnetsâ€? of contrast and information near the edges must not be too strong or they will arrest the eye for too long. B) Use contrast and information to lead the eye around the painting. If a visual magnet is too strong then lessen the contrast and the information.
8. Is the use of scale correct? A) A vertical distance low on the picture plane increases exponentially in its perceived size as it moves toward the horizon. The inverse is true in the above-the-horizon line in the sky. B) Vertical distance is especially important with roads and waterways of any kind. Any ellipse depicting the shape of a road or waterway will kill the painting as it distorts the vertical component. C) Like elements must decrease in size as they move toward the horizon. This is a tool for showing depth. D) Do not just copy like elements from your reference. Do not be a slave to your reference! You are the master and you are responsible for your creation!
Remember both the rabbit-cow and the Godzilla-cow are the same actual size.
9. Does your color have a common denominator that harmonizes the scene? atural light brings harmony—are there stepped progressions of hue, value and intensity that bring the N effect of natural light? Are all of the elements of the scene defined by differing local colors with many subtle steps of transition, bathed by a common colored light? A) Assign warm and cool color to the masses in a way similar to the values in the Mass/Value Range Chart above. B) Make steps and progressions of hue and intensity within a given “mass value.” Don’t fall into the 80% failure range by forgetting about massing principles when you apply your attention to color. C) C ompare similar color to similar color and then celebrate the differences while maintaining the overall order.
Harmonies, 24 x 36 inches, Oil on canvas
If you have followed the previous nine principles and your painting is still not exciting, the problem is probably with your shapes.
10. Are the shapes dynamic and unique? A) Shapes should not express similarities between objects; rather, shapes should celebrate the differences. B) Shapes must be unequal unless monotony is the feeling you want to communicate. C) Avoid trite shapes like cotton balls, lollypops, and teepees. Do not emphasize the ways that shapes are equal and similar. D) Shapes will become eroded through the process of painting as you paint one edge into another and chip away at the different, unique shapes. Draw back into the shapes and redefine them as part of the painting process. E) Avoid amoeba-like shapes that are not dynamic. Make them unequal and unique. Try to imagine objects represented by the shapes (e.g., a cloud that looks like a T-rex or a shadow on foliage that looks like a roadrunner). F) In order to focus on design, start out with shapes that are highly defined and bounded by strong contrast around their entire perimeter. However, if the shapes are left this way the result will be a â€œcutoutâ€? effect. To achieve a natural feel, transition (or lose a portion of ) the edge of the shape into the adjacent shape. The problem correctly defined is its own solution When we are painting alone it is critical that we are able to correctly define the problem. Remember that the solution may require years of practice or study but that is also what keeps the variety in a life engaged in the discipline of painting.
2 Learn more about Robert Moore at: www.rmoorefineart.com
PORTRAIT OF EMOTION Often I am asked by my students, what makes a portrait so appealing that one would buy a painting of someone they don’t know? In attempting to answer their question there are a number of things to consider. In my case, my painting style is traditional and quite realistic. I look for a model that has universal characteristics—a model whose look seems to suggest a type of character, rather than a face that has a very specific and unique look. I also look for a universal emotion; perhaps determination, intensity, sadness or contemplation, rather then a face that shows a unique emotion such as a sneer or a big grin. My approach may be somewhat analogous to a director who casts characters for a movie. If we compare this movie to my style of painting, the movie would have a traditional story with perhaps classic characters: the sad girl, the determined outsider,
the sublime beauty, the lost soul, the mystic. If the viewer first sees and responds to the actor’s emotion and character, before they see the uniqueness and specificity of who they might be, their ability to relate will be more intimate and personal. For those whose style of painting (or moviemaking) is more bizarre, impressionistic or abstract, the need to pursue these guidelines diminish. The more abstracted the painting, the more one is open to imagine whomever one wants to imagine, and the mood as well becomes more open to interpretation. The painting materials and processes, like color, texture, uniqueness of approach and energy of the technique, becomes a much greater consideration for liking the painting in the abstract, when compared to the realistic painting.
THE MORE ABSTRACTED THE PAINTING, THE MORE ONE IS OPEN TO IMAGINE WHOMEVER ONE WANTS TO IMAGINE, AND THE MOOD AS WELL BECOMES MORE OPEN TO INTERPRETATION.
Another analogy to help us understand this idea might be writing. The more realistic the writing style, the more the characters need to be believable. The less realistic and more bizarre the story, the less one needs believable characters. As students and artists who choose to paint the portrait we first need to know just what it is we hope to communicate. Will our interpretation be essentially fiction or non-fiction? If we have no desire to capture any specific truth that we may see in our model’s face, one could dismiss the model after an hour and for the next week we could simply work from our imagination. In using this approach we are probably heading towards Picasso. If we simply want to capture the truth of this face as the model appears to us as we paint, then we need an accurate drawing. When the painting is finished, we hear the words, “It looks just like him (or her).” If we desire to paint the model as they look, but we wish to communicate a particular emotion or mood, we need to find the right model, direct the model and pose, pursue the right light, and edit the face and features as we paint. When we are finished, if we have been successful, we hear what we had hoped to capture: “She looks so sublime and contemplative;” rather than, “What’s her name?” In writing the professor asks us, “What do you want to say?” In portrait painting it’s important that we know just what it is that we wish to communicate. Most portrait artists who do commissions try to capture the truth about the specific person they are painting. In my work, I have little interest in capturing the particular truth of the specific person I am painting, but rather seek to communicate a particular emotion or truth about humanity. In Picasso’s work, the abstraction and distortion of the model permits viewers to share a wide variety of responses to his particular portrait. Fiction, non-fiction, the poem, the short story and the novel . . . so many ways to communicate a message, so many different styles, we need to choose and then commit ourselves to our chosen approach. In the end, it’s all subjective art and the artist has minimal control over understanding just why their art is accepted or rejected. The public, the critics and in some cases, the centuries decide what is truly great art.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–1519 30 x 21 inches, Oil on poplar, Musée du Louvre, Paris
It has been suggested that one of the primary reasons the Mona Lisa has endured in popularity through the centuries is because of her smile. Why her smile? Perhaps because she is not just smiling. Her smile seems to be uncertain, thoughtful, reflective, indecisive, causing one to pause, look again, ponder what she is thinking, feeling. There is a common truth that all of humanity shares and that we feel when we look at that smiling woman.
Picasso’s Untitled (1923) is so dramatically distorted and abstracted that one can quite easily imagine any number of characters and qualities of this person. The style and distortion of this painting is equal to or more fascinating than the subject (a smiling woman), diminishing the need to establish a more acceptable universal mood or character that a more realistic style might require. The watercolor below is titled Heather’s Memory. My hope is that the viewer would first see her soul, her contemplative thoughtfulness and longing. If people’s initial reaction to this painting is, “What’s her name?,” the painting in my mind would be a failure (except for her family). Charles is painted with egg tempera on paper. My goal was for the viewer to first see the contemplative man—a man who ponders life and reflects on his family, his history, his past, his future. Untitled, Pablo Picasso, 1923, 61 x 50 cm, Oil on canvas
Charles, 24 x 36 inches, Egg tempera on paper
Heatherâ€™s Memory, 18 x 15 inches, Watercolor on paper
The Messenger, 14 x 20 inches, Watercolor on paper
With the The Messenger, do we first want to know who this person is? Or do we first want to know what he is feeling, what he is looking at, what he might be reading? The character on his face suggests that he has struggled in life, that there are storms around him, and yet we might see a courage . . . a strength. Finding the right model, creating the right lighting and doing effective editing are all crucial in communicating the right message. Determine the viewer response you hope to achieve before choosing a subject and starting your painting. Keeping this goal in mind will focus your attention on only the details that move the painting in that direction.
2 Learn more about Stan Miller at www.stanmiller.net
THE CONUNDRUM OF COLOR Richard Schmid said, “Color is to seeing what flavor is to eating. It is by far the most sensuous element of the visual field, and for many artists, its allure is the sole reason to paint.” I could not agree more. But while color can be a powerful tool for artists to communicate emotions and ideas, its complexity is often paralyzing. Just as a chef combines different ingredients and spices until the taste combination is a perfect medley, so too an artist mixes an array of different colors until they exist in a harmonious combination that is pleasing to the senses. That is, if harmonious is the artist’s objective. Of course, every artist has different goals and intentions for their work, and therefore they use color in a variety of ways to communicate different ideas and emotions. Much as each artist’s hand makes unique marks or strokes, so each artist also has unique color sensibilities and preferences. Sometimes, however, an artist may know what color ideas they want to depict, but struggle to achieve their desired effect when translating it into pigment.
The Jolly Joker and the Gentle Giant, 36 x 60 inches, Oil on linen
Katie, 21 x 16 inches, Oil on linen
Now then, let’s equip ourselves with knowledge and tools to help overcome insecurities we may have about working with color, so we can have the confidence to move forward and enjoy the process of exploring color in our artwork! For starters, we’ll learn or refresh our memory of basic color principles and then move on to eight helpful tips for depicting subjects in nature using colored pigment, such as paint. Difference between light colors and pigment colors
By contrast, the colors we see on the surface of objects function much differently than the colors we see in beams of light. When light falls on the surface of an object, certain wavelengths are absorbed (or subtracted) while other wavelengths are reflected. Thus, the colors in pigment are known as “subtractive colors,” as seen in the figure below. For example, blue paint appears blue, because it reflects light rays in the blue portion of the spectrum and absorbs all the other light rays.
For me, it is the allure of natural light and its effects on the colors of the human figure that inspire me the most to paint. While it may seem like an obvious concept, it’s important to understand that we cannot actually paint with light. We are limited by the illusions we can create with pigment in order to achieve the look of brightness or darkness that exists in nature. Richard Schmid put it simply when he said, “God creates color in a variety of ways, but paint can only produce color one way—by reflecting light.” The colors in light are known as “additive colors.” When they are mixed (or added) together, they become lighter as seen in the figure below. The three primary colors in light are redorange, green, and blue-violet. When they overlap, they mix to form the light secondary colors yellow, magenta, and cyan. When all three of the primary light colors overlap, they create white.
Color fundamentals – Color wheel An artist’s color wheel, which was originally developed by Sir Isaac Newton, traditionally has twelve colors, as seen in the figure below. You can mix the three primaries—red, yellow, and blue—to create the three secondaries—orange, green, and violet. Further, the primaries can be combined with the secondaries to create the six tertiaries—red-orange, yelloworange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. An artist can produce a full range of colors using the primary colors, but they cannot create pure primary colors. Without tubes of paint in the primary colors, an artist can only create less saturated versions of the primaries. It should be noted that in nature you would rarely find objects that appear to be one of these twelve colors in its purest form.
“Complementary colors” are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. When complementary colors are placed next to one another, they intensify each other; this phenomenon is known as simultaneous contrast. Conversely, if you mix complementary colors, it is like you are mixing the three primaries and the result is a low-intensity, de-saturated gray. “Analogous colors” are next to one another on the color wheel and when mixed together their intensity is not noticeably lessened. Color properties – Hue, Saturation and value When referring to different colors, we define them by their name or “hue,” such as “red” or “yellow.” “Saturation” refers to the relative purity or intensity of a color. Colors are at maximum saturation in their purest form, and their saturation is lessened as they are mixed with their complementary colors. “Value” is how light or dark a color is. When mixing pigment, an artist can alter the value by adding black or white. Another way of achieving a lighter value is by applying the pigment thinly, allowing a lighter ground, such as canvas or paper, to show through. Another way to darken a color’s value is by mixing it with darker colors other than black, giving the color more tension and depth. Interestingly, mixing pigments of equal value creates a darker pigment, because more wavelengths are absorbed.
Temperature – Warm and cool colors “Warm” is a term used to describe hues in the red/orange area of the color wheel, while colors in the blue/green area of the color wheel are referred to as “cool.” It is important to remember, however, that these terms are relative. There is not an intrinsic color temperature to each pigment, but rather it changes and looks warmer or cooler compared to the colors around it. For example, you can see in the illustration of colored squares that the red-violet color on the left side appears cooler when placed next to a warmer orange color, whereas the exact same violet color appears warmer when placed next to a cooler blue color.
Relatvity of color & effect of light on color Have you ever painted a wall in your house and noticed that the color of the paint on the wall seemed drastically different than it appeared on the little paint chip in the store? Well that is because color is relative and it changes depending on the light sources, adjacent colors, and surrounding reflected light. This relative nature of color makes it hard for a predictable color system to exist. Perhaps the lighting in the paint store was fluorescent and you were wearing a blue shirt while initially picking out the paint chip. Both of these things would have contributed to making the gray paint chip appear cooler. So now that you have painted your wall at home, you are surprised to see the gray paint appear much warmer. Your incandescent lights at home, which have a reddish-yellow cast unlike the blue cast of the fluorescent lights at the store, along with your brown wood floors are making the gray walls appear warmer. To make matters more confusing, you have a lamp sitting next to a red sofa, reflecting a “pink” hue on the walls. Moreover, the natural light coming in the windows will affect your perception of the color as well and it will change depending on the time of day. Natural light appears warmer just after sunrise and just before sunset, and during the middle of the day the light is more neutral. However, the mid-day light can appear bluer under heavy clouds. Different exposures (northern vs. southern) and your position on the earth will also affect the cast of the light. Geesh!! No wonder we often have trouble analyzing and interpreting color! Well rest easy knowing that it is quite complicated, so we have every reason to be perplexed! So, might I suggest arming yourself with the following tips?
Profile of Annie with Dreadlock, 18 x 24 inches, Oil on canvas
1. It’s important to trust your eye and believe what you are seeing. Always remember that color is influenced by different lighting conditions, adjacent objects, and reflected light. We have what is known as a “visual memory,” in which we learn the “local color” of things. For example, bananas are yellow and grass is green. But you must consider the fact that the local color of an object is affected by surrounding light and objects. Let’s say, for example, that you were painting a banana on top of a purple tablecloth. It wouldn’t look unified or feel like it’s resting on the table until you add the purple influence of the tablecloth along the edge of the banana where it touches the tablecloth. Our visual memory can trick us into painting things the colors we think they should be instead of the colors they actually are. For example, we may think that the exterior of a house is white, so we paint it on our canvas using our tube of white paint with the addition of black for the shadow areas. When viewed under morning or evening light, however, the white house may actually be a warm yellow-orange in the light areas and a cool blue-violet in the shadow areas. This idea can be seen in my painting Morning Solitude. The woman’s clothes are “white,” but at sunrise they appear to be yellow-orange in the light areas and blue-violet in the shadow areas. This leads me to my favorite trick, which is almost always foolproof . . .
70 Morning Solitude, 32 x 21 inches, Oil on panel
2. W arm light produces cool shadows and cool light produces warm shadows, so simply look to the shadow area if you’re having a hard time determining the temperature of your light source. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the shadow will be the complementary color of the light. But don’t let this fool you. You still have to look for the intricacies within these general light and shadow colors, as they are affected by the colors around them. This idea can also be seen in Morning Solitude. Let’s take a closer look at the shadow areas, and you’ll see that the shadow color shifts from more blue to more violet in different areas. The blue ocean and blue sky reflect onto the right side of her dress making that shadow area more blue than violet, whereas the warm local color of her skin blends with the cool shadow on her arm and face, making those shadow areas more violet than blue. Also notice that the terminating line between the light and shadow areas is a warm orange color.
3. I cannot count the number of times I have heard that “warm colors come forward and cool colors recede.” While this can be the case, the opposite can also be true if all the color and value relationships are accurately depicted. 4. When mixing pigment color with any other color, you are creating a new color and the temperature changes as well, even if you mix it with black or white. In fact, it’s important to note that white is the coolest color, and it will make any color cooler when mixed with it. A little trick: Since adding white to a pigment color makes it cooler, it’s easier to mix light values that are cool compared to mixing light values that are warm. So having a cool light source (as natural light often is) is to your advantage when mixing the lighter values.
5. S ince we cannot create the brightness of light that exists in nature with pigment, we need to be aware of the limited color and value scales of pigment. This means we may have to paint some areas darker or less saturated than they actually are in order to accentuate a brighter area. Helpful hints: Mix your own version of black using colors such as Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson to create a deeper black. Also, when depicting a light source, it should be the brightest value in your picture.
72 Flora, 29 x 21 inches, Oil on linen
6. “Color harmony” in nature is produced by light, and each light source has its own unique balance of color. More obvious color harmonies are created when the light leans heavily towards one color, such as warm natural light at sunrise/sunset. The key to creating an image with harmonious color is to determine the light source’s dominant color. Then you will notice that dominant color throughout the light areas, and you should use less of its complementary color. By less, I mean use a de-saturated version of its complement. This is because the dominant color is affecting everything, even its complementary color, making it less intense. By weaving one main color throughout, you will in effect be helping to unify your picture.
7. Keep in mind that working with color should be fun! Color can play a big role in capturing the viewer’s attention and defining form in addition to having a strong impact on the viewer’s emotions. The joy in many paintings for both the artist and viewer often exists primarily within their use of color. Compare my color paintings below to the adjacent versions that have been changed digitally to black and white. You will see in the black and white versions that many of the different colors actually have quite similar values, and the contrast in the color paintings helps to create the illusion of depth and form. Not to mention, color helps to shows a sense of vitality. That being said, color is like music. It often contains slow and subdued notes so that the quicker, louder parts are more powerful. In some of my paintings, I have intentionally kept the color fairly monochromatic and de-saturated, except for a few areas of more saturated color to emphasize a focal point.
74 Sheer Elegance, 24 x 20 inches, Oil on panel
8. Finally, use a “simple” palette. In other words, only use the colors necessary for your subject matter and the way you paint. Juliette Aristides put it eloquently when she said, “A great painter can transform any palette into an excellent painting; an inexperienced artist can have an extensive palette containing the very best colors and still turn the color to mud.” You’d be surprised at the complex range of values and temperature shifts you can get from using a limited palette of just a few colors. One benefit of keeping your colors to a minimum is that it’s easier to maintain harmony and unity. An artist’s palette will likely differ from artist to artist. You may find a system of colors that you will always work with, or like me, it may be ever changing. Currently when painting the figure, I typically select from the following paint colors: Zinc White, Titanium White, Cadmium Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Vermillion, Alizarin Crimson Permanent, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, and Ivory. If you are just learning to work with color, I suggest you take simple subject matter and paint it three ways – (1) using a limited palette of, say, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Titanium White; (2) using a full range of pigment but mix and paint it with the goal of getting the colors as “exact” as possible; and, (3) using a full range of pigment and an Impressionistic application of purer color. These tips should help you to become familiar with the possibilities of paint mixing while you search to find your color voice!
2 Learn more about Amy Lind at www.AmyLind.com
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