Sunday, August 28, 2011

Knowing when to Quit (sometimes & someplaces)

Some of the most interesting pieces of art are the ones that fall into your lap.  When you are painting or sketching and you get an effect that is arresting; half real and half abstract.  Like the watercolor portrait above, interrupted after a couple of washes.

Or this nude, which seemed to work without going into any serious detail.

Or this elevation with some simple shadow casting.

Of course you don't always feel like just stopping.  But if you have a little confidence and experience you can quit on certain areas, and continue on in others.  The above washes already have an interesting feel, but I wanted to get into some Ultramarine Blue to balance the warmth.

Even at this point I wanted to add higher contrast and detail, so I moved on, but limited the work to the broken pediment area.

There is a magic in seeing the concrete reality of the sculptural ornamentation, while seeing areas of stained paper.  It is an effect that I strive for, but it will never be at the level of masters like John Singer Sargent, as shown in his watercolor sketch below (called Bedouins).  In this detail the brisk brushwork and brash colors sit side by side with what must have been careful modeling of the faces.  (image from Wikimedia)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Knowing when to Quit

...It is one of the hardest things to learn.

Children often get tired or bored, and quit at just the right time to leave a fresh "take" on what they see, or are trying to express.  Having raised two kids I can state that children are simply lucky in knowing when to quit. More often then not a drawing would turn into mush from overworking and revision.  Once or twice a year (after dozens of recycling bins filled with "keep-em-busy" sheets) a beautiful scribble turns up.

The inexperienced artist usually feels a need to work to some sort of perfection.  This is just as well since the novice needs the experience of working more then the she needs the perfect masterpiece.  The skills will come with experience; and mastery will lead to masterpieces.  Just as the novelist needs to learn spelling, grammar, and sentence structure before telling a story, the artist needs to feel natural and comfortable with his tools before expecting perfection.

Unfortunately, the modern world seems to encourage an impatience in people.  If I can photograph my house, or model and render a design in no time, why can't I create perfect beauty instantaneously.  Life is short: meaning that we expect to experience everything in the world right now!  I guess I'm more a stick-in-the-mud then I thought.  In reality life is longer and better then at any time 'til now.

The mature artist, having mastered the tools and techniques, can return to the visceral reaction of a child. Although composition and proportion can be taught, beauty tends to happen when you least expect it.  Letting your skills race along, while your mind's eye stays awake to the possibilities that are developing, seems the best way to get to the right place.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reading Art Books

I just finished "reading" J. C. Leyendecker, by Laurence S. Cutler & Judy Goffman Cutler (Abrams, New York, 2008), and it reminded me of something I have taken for granted my entire life: different books are read in different ways.  Reading fiction, history or biography is a "start at the beginning" business.  It is linear, and if well written, can be profitably read from beginning to end.

An art book like J. C. Leyendecker is a different thing; at least to a visual artist.  The pictures come first - no reading of words, just paging through to absorb the images and save the good ones in the brain's image bank.  A day or two later a viewing of the images again, but stopping to read the captions to get the materials, size, technique, etc.  Finally, a week or two later if the previous "readings" have piqued my interest, read cover to cover.  By the way, this book is excellent on all levels and is well worth picking up.

Aside1...  I'd love to know what percentage of the population reads art books in this "image first" way.  Also, what percentage reads art books cover to cover, and how many (like my wife) who avoid them altogether.
Aside2...  Military history and economics (among other subjects) tend to be written and read linearly, but necessarily have many maps, graphs and tables that make reading them more jagged and "skip-a roundish".  Complex subjects in general make one stop, reread and absorb (and are perhaps a different category again).

Anyway, the number of art books that I have actually read entirely is quite small - a fraction of the books I own or have checked out of the library.  And, I treat the internet in the same way: images first, text later.

Oh, and Leyendecker?  An amazing artist with the ability to be highly stylized (see book cover) or rough and ready (above); but always a first class recorder of reality.  I was put off at first by his relentless fashionable look, but was won over by his obvious talents (note the range in the following pieces).  It was also impressive that at a time when photography was easily used to complete paintings, he was said to work exclusively from models.

Reading and Writing

This curious relationship between artists and art books has comforted me in writing my own book.  I am writing it in the same way that I would read it; pictures first.  (actually this was the way I wrote my masters thesis - diagrams and graphs first, then text)

So, I began each section (in this case a two page spread) with a group of images that are examples of the principle that I am going to talk about.  I weed them out and decide on a sequence that will bring the idea out, clarify it, and finally exemplify it in a finished architectural rendering.

Next, I sketch out the layout of the images and text, following the sequence arguement.

Finally I write the text, and assemble the page in Word, so that I will have a complete, detailed layout to present to a publisher or critic/editor.  Although it is not the final product, it is complete enough that there is no confusion about the subject, image quality and vision for the final product.

Enough!!!  Back to the book.