Rejection

Left to the Village Image
“Left to the Village,” by Trowzers Akimbo, rejected by the 2016 Yosemite Renaissance exhibit/competition

First, let me apologize for my lack of new posts over the last two weeks. I’d received two new commissions for mural paintings from two different children’s hospitals a few day apart from each other and they required me to create 4 designs in 16 days. This, along with the 3 workshops I’ve been teaching each week, made it impossible for me to put together new posts.

Anyway, now that I’m writing again I wanted to talk about rejection. It seems to be going around lately! I recently ran into an artist friend, at an opening, who told me her submission had been rejected from a recent exhibit/competition. This from one of the most sought after, financially successful artists I know.

Two days later, at a local art organization holiday party, two more artist friends presented their work, prefacing with the fact the pieces had been rejected by recent shows. This prompted me to ask all present (about 50 artists) to raise their hands if they’d ever been rejected from an exhibit or competition. Every hand in the place shot up!

These bold admissions illustrate an important point for all artists, beginning or well established, to remember. Rejection is just a part of being an artist and rarely has anything to do with the piece of art being rejected. Instead, it has everything to do with the judges making the selection: their personal tastes or bias, their education, life experience, relationships, mood, even what they had for breakfast and their drive to work that morning. Different judges or a different day, completely different result.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold a single painting, during his lifetime.They hated his stuff! The Impressionist proudly chose their art movement’s name from a “catty” art critic, rejecting their work in whole as simply impressions of paintings, in a newspaper review he’d written.

All artists, big and small, are faced with rejection of their work. It goes with the territory. It signifies nothing. Don’t let it discourage you!

How to Properly Hinge Artwork

 

Complete Hinges Photo

When I was a kid and I finished a piece of artwork I felt warranted a mat and frame, I cut the mat, grabbed my roll of masking tape and tapped the piece into the mat. When a dark stain began to appear, years later, where tape touched art, I suspected I was doing something wrong.

Since those early days, I’ve learned about pH acid levels in papers, mat and mounting boards and the proper way to mount an artwork. Hinging is used to properly attach original art to acid free mounting boards in a manner that does no harm to the artwork and provides a weak link, should the work ever be mishandled. The concept is that the hinge, not the artwork will tear from the mounting, if the artwork is abused.

Wheat Starch PhotoThe hinges should be made of Japanese paper (rice paper or mulberry paper). If you take your original art to a framer to be hinged, matted and framed and they want to use something other than Japanese paper for the hinges, find another framer. It’s that important! The hinges need to be attached to the artwork and mounting board using neutral pH Wheat Starch paste. Both the paper and wheat starch can be purchased at your art supply store. The wheat starch is turned into a paste, by adding distilled water and heating it in a double boiler or microwave oven (my preferred method). Instructions on accomplishing this are on the package. Wait until all your other materials are prepared and ready, before making the wheat starch paste or it can harden before you’re ready to apply it.

Wheat Starch Paste Photo
Wheat starch paste

You want to tear, not cut out, your hinges from the sheets of Japanese paper. Sharp, straight, uniform edges are more likely to telegraph through the artwork you’re hinging, than the organic, feathered torn edges will. The tearing and feathering is easily achieved. Wet a small, thin paint brush with water. Draw you tear line on the Japanese paper with the wet brush and pull the paper apart along the wet tear line.

Hinge Tear Photo

You’re going to create a “T” or cross, made up of two, overlapping strips of the Japanese paper for each hinge. A minimum of two hinges, across the top of your artwork, are necessary, but I like to add a third along one side of my art, for more stability, in case someone carries it sideways.

Hinges on Artwork Photo
Glue half of each hinge to the back of the artwork.

Apply 1/4″ of the wheat starch paste to one end of half of your paper strips. Allow the paste to dry a bit, so it’s not sloppy wet and glue these hinges to the back of your artwork, leaving the long dry portion of the hinge protruding. Set the artwork, with attached paper strips, aside to dry. Because the paste is moist when you attach the strips to your artwork, I don’t like to use hinges on artwork created on thin paper, like normal weight pastel paper or drawing paper. I don’t want to take a chance on the artwork buckling where the hinge attaches, due to the moisture and, with thin paper, I’m also concerned about the paper hinge strip telegraphing through. In these cases, I avoid paper hinges and use archival corners instead (see my post Special Framing for Soft Pastels for an image of an archival corner).

Mat Mounting Board Photo
Hinge the mounting board to the mat with archival tape.

Proper archival mounting of your artwork requires you to hinge the art to an acid free mounting board, not the mat. You want to set up mounting board and mat as a hinged sandwich for your artwork. Butt top edges of mounting board and mat and attach them together with a hinge made with a piece of archival, acid free tape.

 

 

Weighting the Art Photo
Align art in the window & add a weight.

Slip your artwork, with the paper hinge strips attached, into the mat-mounting board sandwich and properly align the image in the mat window. You’ll need to place a weight on the artwork, to hold it in place, while you flip up the mat out of the way and paste down the final strips of paper, to complete your hinges. I’ve found a heavy old-fashioned glass to be a great weight. Be sure to place a piece of paper (I’ve used tracing paper here) beneath your weight to prevent it from marring your artwork.

Using your wheat starch paste once again, paste down the final paper strips to make the “T’s” and complete your hinges. Allow this paste to dry and you’re ready to close the mat-mounting board sandwich and install the assembly in your frame.

T-Hinges Photo

Rest easy in knowing you’ve done all you could to provide a professional, museum quality, safe, acid free, archival home for you valuable piece of art!

Framed Artwork Photo

Brush with the Infamous

Hope Town Photo

A recent announcement in the news reminded me of an incident I hadn’t pondered in a very long time. I apologize for straying from my discussions of art in this post, but couldn’t resist sharing this experience, once it came to mind.

Back when I was in art school, my father, brothers and I were into off-road motorcycle riding and motocross racing. My father was seriously involved in a motorcycle club which shared these interests, the Dirt Diggers. In fact he eventually became president of this organization.

Hope Town Race ImageThe Dirt Diggers biggest event of the year was to hold a pretty famous motocross race at Hope Town, a collection of old movie sets, then owned by Bob Hope, located in the Santa Susana Mountains of California. The course took participants along a serpentine route which included travel down many old western town streets. We’d all travel out to Santa Susana, the weekend before the race, to grade the course with tractors, set up hay bales in corners, string flags, generally, build the track. A bonus was that after all the work was complete, we could start our bikes up and give it a few test runs.

While we were running the course, one of my younger brothers thought he’d improve the track by adding a side trip down a short unpaved road to the dirt front yard of an old run-down ranch house. There we could plant one foot on the ground, cross our handlebars, crank the throttle, perform a tight doughnut turn (throwing a rooster tail of soft dirt into the air with our back tires) and head back onto the rest of the course.

Biker PhotoA few trips down this addition and we’d apparently interrupted a couple of guys working on dune buggies in a nearby open garage on the property. A few more trips and they walked over to where we were making our turnarounds, yelling, screaming and shaking big wrenches at us.

Typical teenagers, right or wrong, we didn’t respond well to threats, so on our next and last trip down the side road, we directed the dirt streams thrown from our back tires, as we made the hairpin turnaround in this makeshift cul de sac, all over individuals shaking tools at us.

A year later, when along with the rest of America, we were familiarized with every detail of their sinister, horrifying actions, we learned who we’d offended. Whether Charlie Manson was present at the Spahn Ranch that day, with those members of his dune buggy army, we’ll never know, but the experience made clear to me that you NEVER know who you’re dealing with.

Always More to Learn

Museum Logos

No matter who you are, how much education, experience or opportunity you’ve had, there’s always more to learn. A closed mind is an atrophied mind. This is especially true in art. Art dies when you close the door to learning, experimentation and new experiences.

It’s never been easier to gain knowledge. We live in a time when worldwide learning opportunities and experiences (secondhand anyway) are at our fingertips. The Internet is your door to all this information. Let me get you started on this mind-expanding journey.

Corey as Pollock PhotoOne of my favorite online sources for learning is the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) YouTube channel. There is so much information presented here, by category, I don’t know where to begin. Don’t miss the on-going In The Studio series. This constantly growing collection of videos, hosted by, painter, restoration artist and art historian, Corey D’Augustine, allows you a fly on the wall view of famous artist processes. Corey shares details of how various modern artists worked, as he actually creates new works of art, before your eyes, utilizing their procedures. Fascinating!

While not all of them are as complete or organized as the MoMA channel, every major art museum has a channel on YouTube and all are worth mining for new knowledge: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Museum, the de Young and Legion of Honor (Fine Art Museums of San Francisco), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Van Gogh Museum are just a few notables. I’d like to recommend the Musée d’Orsay (the Impressionism Museum), but the narration is all in French and I haven’t been able to find any way to add English subtitles (oh, those French!).

“In the Conservancy” by Édouard Manet.

Want to study paintings up close, brush stroke by brush stroke? Travel! Just kidding…a few years ago Google took on a project to archive as many of the art treasure of the world for posterity, as the artwork’s owners would allow. The result was the Google Art Project, now part of the total Google Arts & Culture site. For this Art Project, Google has been traveling around the world making high

Manet Detail Image
Zoom In on “In the Conservancy”

resolution scans of great works of visual arts (paintings). Many of the paintings are scanned at such high resolution you can zoom in to see the threads that make up the canvas, between the strokes of paint. What a learning device! Even if you have super-human eyesight, security would never let you close enough to a painting in a museum to see this kind of detail. For the first time, see what the individual brush strokes look like that make up that Manet masterpiece! You can travel through the front doors of the Google Arts & Culture or Google Art Project (click the View Project Site button in the upper right corner to get to the paintings) sections, but here’s a shortcut directly to the paintings.

There’s likely a whole lot more out there waiting for you that I haven’t discovered yet, but these will whet your appetite. As the saying goes, “The world is your oyster!” Now get out there and begin collecting those pearls!

 

Brush Up

Applying Paint Photo

Too often we overlook the full capabilities of the tools in our paint boxes and forget that they were designed to ease our workload and extend the impact of our work. Let’s talk a bit about brushes.

Ancient Egyptian Brush Photo
Ancient Egyptian Brush formed from sticks flayed at one end.

The artist paint brushes in our hands today are the product of centuries of evolution. They are modern marvels, the result of extensive, in the field, use and contemporary engineering. That’s all wasted, however, if we ignore all they can do.

It’s important to use the proper brush for the job at hand. My favorite workhorse brush, when painting with oils or acrylics, is the bristle brush. This baby’s stiffness can move the thickest of paints across a canvas and is great for scumbling, dry brush and impasto techniques. It’s my go to brush for most of my painting needs.

When you’re painting wet into wet, especially in a single session, alla prima, you’ll find the bristle brush less effective in paint over paint application. It’s rigidity tends to pick up the wet paint from lower layers, mixing them with the new paint you’re attempting to apply, preventing you from applying clean new strokes. This is when you want to utilize your sable brushes. A light touch with one of these, will float the new color on top of the previous applied wet layers.

Glazing (transparent layers of color utilizing large amounts of painting mediums) can be accomplished by either bristle or sable brushes. It all depends on the viscosity of your mixture.

I covered the proper brush for the job in more detail in a previous post, “Be Good to Your Brushes & They’ll Be Good to You!

Grasses Image
Thin, overlapping vertical & diagonal strokes for grass.

What I actually wanted to talk about in this post was allowing your brushes to do some of the work for you. All the subjects you paint possess visible characteristics quite different from each other. These characteristic are the result of things like growth patterns, chemical make-up, environment wear, etc. The leaves on a tree present a much different surface characteristic than, say, the granite face of Half Dome, in Yosemite, for example. Yet, it’s easy to ignore this fact and apply paint to canvas in the same uniform manner, when executing all elements in our compositions. Boring!

Clouds Image
Rolling a bristle brush around, with occasional edge flicks to communicate clouds.

Instead, pay attention to how the elements you’re painting grow, what they’re made of, how they move, how their surface reflects light and color and then allow your brushwork to communicate this. The British painter, Alwyn Crawshaw, famous for tv shows, books and videos on painting, suggests you try to become the element you’re painting, “I’m a fluffy little cloud!” Then paint the element accordingly. A bit over the top form me, but I get what he’s saying.

El Cap Detail Image
Crisp vertical strokes for granite.

What does this actually mean: allow your brush to reflect the characteristics of various elements in your paintings? Well, when studying the granite face of a monument like Half Dome or El Capitan, in Yosemite, you’ll notice it has very chiseled characteristics with strong vertical concave and convex up and down forms. A great approach in painting these, might be to use the edge of a flat brush to create vertical strokes, occasionally rolling the brush a bit, from side to side, to vary width in the process.

Leaves Image
Globbed paint then flicked at the edges for leaves.

Foliage on trees often starts with a glob of paint and ends with a flick of the brush towards the edges. With clouds, rolling the brush around, then flicking an edge here and there might be the best solution. Ground is often a series of short horizontal strokes, reflecting the years of overlapping footprints of man and animals. The directions of strokes over a face in a portrait reflect the anatomical structure beneath. Strokes representing a flowing river tell of the repeating pattern it creates as it travels around rocks and over an uneven river bottom.

How you portray the various characteristics of the elements that make up your paintings is a personal choice, there’s no ONE good solution. I’m suggesting that your paintings will be more dynamic, more interesting, if you consider the actual structure, make up, of the elements in your compositions, then reflect this to your audience with how you use your brush in your paint application.

Say What You Think!

Painting Boop Photo
Photograph © 2016 Vicki Thomas

I’ve been teaching a lot lately, both to adults and, as a Teaching Artist, to kids in school. Having been creating art, in one form or another, since I was a tiny lad, I perform a lot of procedures, make a lot of decisions on auto-pilot, almost unconsciously, when at the easel. Many of these decisions involve critical creative fundamentals. Fundamentals I should be sharing with those in my classes. I’ve found these automatically performed functions to be the most difficult to relay to students. Not because they’re difficult to explain, but because, when I’m in the zone painting, I’m unaware that I’m even performing many of them.

So, I’ve made a conscious effort to make myself aware of every step that occurs, while I’m painting. To write them down, as they occur, for later communication to those in my workshops or classes. I’ve also found that talking through the process with other creative friends, verbalizing procedures, brings these buried faceted automatics out into the light. These conversations also reveal differences in how others works, providing me with even more information to share. If out of the blue, I begin a conversation with you about paint application or simplification of forms, let me apologize in advance, know the annoyance is serving a good cause!

Lifting procedures up onto the surface has been like a trip down memory lane. “When did I pick that up, who taught me that?” It’s a realization of how very many great teachers I’ve had, how many truly accomplished artists I’ve worked beside, how much information has been passed along. I’ve been extremely fortunate! It’s important to reveal and write all this stuff down, then pay it forward!

 

As Seen On TV

Jon Gnagy Photo
Jon Gnagy, host of “Learn to Draw.”

As far back as I can remember, I’ve considered myself an artist. This is likely because, from the age of 5 or 6, I was treated like an artist. My mother and her father, my grandfather, are/were both creative individuals, so I’m sure they were pleased I showed an interest and encouraged it.

I’ve learned, over time, that in addition to my love of art, from my mother I inherited a unique energy. I fall asleep at night (I actually resent having to sleep, at all), thinking about what I’m going to accomplish the next day and hop out of bed, the next morning, chaffing at the bit to get started. I continue driving forward until it’s, once again, time for bed. I thought everyone functioned like this, until many others pointed out to me that this was not, in fact, the case!

Oswald Cartoon Image
Oswald silent animated short.

I’m of that first television generation. To my recollection, there was always a television in our house. I took full advantage of that. My inherited energy prompted me to jump out of bed, early in the morning, on weekends and during vacations from school, long before anyone else in the house was awake. I’d immediately switch on the TV to a test pattern. Trying to be patient, I’d fidget through the farm report (first program broadcast in the morning), waiting for the old silent black and white animated shorts to begin. I’d watch, learn and dream about creating animation myself, someday.

Saturdays were different, than other days off, however. On Saturdays the National Broadcasting Network presented “Learn to Draw,” hosted by Jon Gnagy, as part of their early morning line-up.

http://https://youtu.be/7YIRcQVkTOw

Long before Bob Ross (Bob was likely sitting in front of the TV in his PJ’s, as well), Mr. Gnagy would host on-air draw-alongs, guiding us through the creation of elaborate compositions, utilizing simple geometric shapes: the ball, the cone, the cylinder and cube. Later I’d learn that this was not actually a Jon Gnagy original discovery, but was instead promoted by Modern Art giant, Paul Cézanne.

Gnagy Kits Photo
Jon Gnagy “Learn to Draw” kits.

Under Mr. Gnagy’s tutelage, I created snowy landscapes, asian seascapes, farm scenes, still lifes, you name it. Beginning in 1947 (before I was born, I must add), over time, his show grew in popularity, prompting the retail release of Jon Gnagy Art Studio Kits, sold in toy store. I was the recipient of many of these kits, as family friends and relatives saw them as perfect gifts for a young artist.

I don’t know what it was that made me think about Mr. Gnagy, lately, but something led me to search him out on the Internet. I learned that while Mr. Gnagy is long gone (he passed away in 1981), his studio kits are still alive and available thanks to the Martin F. Weber Company.

Warhol Self Portrait Image
Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait

My research has also informed me that I was not alone in my devotion to the Learn to Draw program. I found this quote from Pop Art giant, Andy Warhol, “I watched his show every week and I bought all his books.”

I wonder how many other artist, famous or infamous, spread out their drawing materials on the floor in front of the TV set and, along with me, spent a half hour of their Saturday mornings following the goateed instructor’s lead.

 

Chasing Shadows

Ahwahnee Bridge Detail Image
“Ahwahnee Bridge (detail),” by Trowzers Akimbo

One of the most difficult concepts for artists to understand or accept, I find, is color theory. It’s a tough buy-in to ask of anyone who’s been taught all their lives that the primary colors are red, blue and yellow (subtractive color) and that when these 3 are combined, a murky black is the result, to now understand, that with light (additive color), the primary colors are red, blue and green and, when combined, result in white. It doesn’t seem possible!

Subtractive Primaries Image           Additive Primaries Image

An extension of that reluctance of acceptance is the fact that shadows on an object are not just darker versions of the color of that object in light, but, in fact, completely different colors. For example, a red apple’s shadows are actually some form of green, not just a darker red. The consequence of this lack of acceptance is artists just adding black to colors to create shadows, resulting in myriad, otherwise beautifully executed, paintings continuing to exhibit dull, dirty, lifeless shadows.

Viewing Color Image
Red light reflected back to eye.

In hope of convincing those holdouts, let’s quickly review how the eye perceives the color of elements in the world. Clean white light is the resulting combination of all colors in the light spectrum. All colors in the light spectrum being those we see, when this white light is refracted, then reflected by a Prism or in a Rainbow. The various subjects we encounter in the world don’t actually have a color, per se. Instead their molecular make-up either absorbs the various colors of the light spectrum or reflects them off the surface of the subject and back to our eyes. So, when you perceive an apple as red, you’re doing so because that apple could not absorb red colored light and reflects that light back to your eyes. All other colors in the light spectrum (blue, purple, green, yellow, etc.) are absorbed by the apple. In the case of shadows, direct light is blocked, in turn, the light color being bounced back to our eyes is also blocked, leaving a combination of all remaining colors of light in the shadow. Confusing? Yes, but there’s a simpler way to remember this!

Color Wheel Image
The Color Wheel

The color wheel is one of the most important tools in an artist’s paintbox. Among other things, it’s your simple guide to the color in shadows. As it turns out, the shadow color of any given color is its compliment. Take the primaries red, blue and yellow. Yellow’s compliment is violet. Remember our discussion above, stating the shadows of any given color are a combination of all the remaining colors in the color spectrum? Well, those astute readers out there have likely already realized that yellow’s compliment, violet, is the combination of the two remaining primary colors, red and blue. The color wheel makes calculation unnecessary and locates each color’s compliment directly across from it on the wheel.

While there are other factors involved in determining the final color of a given shadow, like value, nearby reflected color, color of the surface on which the shadow falls, etc., knowing the base color of shadows, moves you away from black and assists you in using your eyes to determine what’s really there before you.

Carry a small color wheel around with you, use it diligently to help determine color in shadows and you’ll find, in a very short time, that you have it memorized. Your shadow depth will increase and your paintings become more lively!

 

Necking

Dirty Paint Tube Photo
Dirty paint tube neck.

I never used to even consider paint tube hygiene to be of any concern in my painting. I just put up with the built up dried, gooey, messy paint that collected around the neck of my paint tubes, the difficulty this caused in getting the caps to screw on properly and even broken paint tube caps. I just thought this was the way all painters lived: simply a cost of doing business in this bohemian world.

After a lifetime in this “dirty” world, I recently discovered a path to a cleaner life. It requires a change of habit and a bit of diligence, but I think I’m up for the task. I’m tired of grinding concentrated bits of pigment into the floor of my studio or tracking it through the house, when a bit of this goop, unseen, falls from the neck of a tube and ends up on the bottom of my shoe.

Clean Paint Tube Photo
Tube neck after cleaning and oiling.

How do you adapt this change in lifestyle? You start by removing the paint goop from the neck of each paint tube in your paintbox. If the tube is almost empty or the gunk is too difficult to remove, just give up on this tube and begin your new regimen of hygiene, when you’ve used the color up and replaced it with a new tube. Once the paint is removed from the neck, apply a drop of linseed, walnut or safflower oil (your oil of choice) to the threads on the neck of the tube. You won’t believe how smoothly the cap now screws on and off. From there, it’s just a matter of wiping away wet paint from the threads, whenever it begins to collect and applying the oil.

Stay the course and your paint tubes will function like well oiled machines. Ugh!

Why Art School?

Chouinard Facade Photo
Chouinard Art Institute (Early CalArts)

Is an art school education really necessary for those that intend to make creating art their profession? Can’t you just learn everything you need to know about art, on your own, through practice? What do you actually gain from a formal art school education?

Drawing Class Photo
Chouinard Drawing Class

We’ve all run into self-taught artists in our lives with incredible abilities. Which begs the question, do you really need a formal and generally expensive, art school education to create great art? The answer, I believe, is no, but let’s discuss why I still recommend an art school education to anyone seriously interested in becoming a professional artist.

 

Contemporary Drawing Class Photo
Contemporary CalArts Drawing Class

Sure some can reach an extremely high level of proficiency, as an artist, on their own and stand toe to toe with artists who have benefited from an art school education, without one. However, it takes an individual with an extremely high level of discipline, perseverance and hunger for knowledge about the arts, to pull it off. It also takes a long, long time to gain the same knowledge, on your own, that you’d receive in the typical 4 years dedicated to an art school education. But it CAN be done. Hell, Vincent van Gogh did it!

Art History Class Photo
Art History Class

So, what are the benefits of a formal art school education? Thoroughness, truncation, concentration and camaraderie with hundreds of other artist, from around the world, experiencing what you are experiencing, at the same time. Realize you’re learning from professors with a lifetime of unique formal and, in the field, collected knowledge. Each one is passing this accumulated knowledge on to you. Quite the shortcut! You also gain a knowledge of art history you likely never would have acquired on your own. All organized and catalogued by significance. Artists and art movements you didn’t even know existed, that will prove important to the work you’ll create in the future. Art history informs of the important work that has come before us and explains why it is important. It prevents us from trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead enables us to stand on the shoulders of the giants in art.

Paint Sink PhotoSo, get an art school education if you can, but don’t despair if it isn’t in the cards. With proper dedication and exposure, you can get there on your own, the journey is just a significantly longer one.