Paint Schoodic

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Friday, April 20, 2018

How dare you speak to me like that?

Criticism is tough to take. Sometimes, that’s because the criticism itself is lousy.

The Raising of Lazarus, by Carol L. Douglas. Really, was it so bad?
I don’t remember the exact words of my first printed review, but they are burned in my memory as, “I can’t believe the curator included this dreck,” and “absolutely amateurish use of color.” My stalwart friend Toby, also an artist, listened to me whine and cry for about an hour. She stoutly agreed that the critic was an ass. That's a pal.

It was a national show, but the critic and I knew each other slightly and had mutual friends. Knowing me didn’t make him more kindly-disposed. That’s a good lesson in general, by the way: never assume that connections will carry you in the art world. They are just as often a handicap.

I’ve critiqued a lot of paintings myself since then. The older I get, the more I understand that there are few absolutes in art. It’s always childish and supercilious to rip on another artist. There’s almost always something that you can learn from another’s work if you take the time to try to understand his processes or point of view.

Well, heck, you may as well see the whole series. This is Submission. Later, it would be in a show closed for obscenity.
That was an unsolicited review. What is far more common is criticism that we ask for.

The worst mistake we can make is to ask for an opinion when we really want a pat on the back. We sometimes hear home truths we aren’t prepared for. Always ask yourself why you’re asking that particular person for a critique. If it’s because you crave his or her approval, quietly move on.

Even if you are genuinely interested in an objective opinion, what do you intend to do with the information? I, like everyone else, am plagued by self-doubts. I tend to immediately grab on to a criticism and act on it, without thinking it through.

I once paid another artist to critique a large work that had me flummoxed. “It kind of reminds me of an immature Chagall,” she said. She felt I needed to loosen up, abstract more, and conceptualize less. I went home and wrecked the painting entirely. I’ve carried it around for twenty years now as a bitter reminder. Under all that schmaltz lies a beautiful idea that died from an overdose of opinion.

A third painting from the same series. I can't even remember what it was called, but I have certainly gotten less political in my old age.
Sometimes it’s easy to see what your critic means: darken that sail, raise that cloud cover. But sometimes, he or she is making a subtle but very real point that will take you months and years and many more paintings to understand.

Very few people have earned the right to critique my work. They earned it by being trustworthy, not having an ax to grind, and understanding my goals and motivations. I can count those people on one hand. Ours are relationships of long standing. I trust that they understand my goals in painting, even when those goals are radically different from theirs.

Scrotum man, also from the same series.
“When you ask another painter—unless they’re an experienced painting teacher—they’ll often just tell you how they would have painted it,” Bobbi Heath said. Listen for this and guard against it. The questions the critic should be addressing are broad ones of value, composition and technique.

Even with an experienced teacher, an opinion may still be flat-out wrong. Poppy Balser once asked me what paintings she should submit for an award. I’m glad she ignored me, because the one I didn’t choose won Best Watercolor. The jurors were focusing on different things. In retrospect, I saw their point.

By the time you read this, I’ll be flying to Minneapolis for a weekend of dancing on crutches. Meanwhile, it's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer. I plan to be able to walk by then. Really.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The art of rocket science

Space Age art had an important patron: the Federal government.

Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Cutaway view, exposing the interior, c 1970 by Rick Guidice, courtesy NASA 
We have no shortage of plutocrats today, but Gates, Zuckerberg, et al seem disinterested in public art. Modern American art patronage is largely a group activity. There’s been no greater player than our Federal government, in all its many guises.

The NASA Art Program was responsible for much of our mid-century thinking about Outer Space and its potential. It was launched in 1962, just four years after President Eisenhower established NASA itself. It started prosaically but grew to be an important propaganda arm for the agency. With a huge budget and little practical application to the average voter, NASA needed dreams to justify its existence.
First Steps, 1963, Mitchell Jamieson, Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
In 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought a portrait of space pioneer Alan Shepard to NASA headquarters. Administrator James E. Webb promptly commissioned him to do a group portrait, one that would capture “the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation.”

Webb was a visionary when it came to art. He proposed, for example, “a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching,” as well as paintings of life in space. But as an administrator he wanted this program developed systematically. “The important thing is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…”

From the Earth to the Moon, 1969, Norman Rockwell, courtesy Look Magazine
The NASA art program would not just record events, it would capture the visceral side of missions, “in a way in which history could look back and fully appreciate all that the agency had achieved.”

In 1963, eight artists were chosen to depict the final Mercury flight. They were paid $800 ($6,567.21 today). The chosen artists ranged from traditional to avant garde.

Meteor and Mars Series 2, c. 1970s, Ren Wicks, courtesy Artnet
“When a launch takes place at Cape Canaveral, Fla., more than 200 cameras record every split second of the activity. Every nut, bolt, miniaturized electronic device is photographed from every angle. The artist can add very little to this in the way of factual record… It is the emotional impact, interpretation and hidden significance of these events which lie within the scope of the artist’s vision. An artist may depict exactly what he thinks he sees, but the image has still gone through the catalyst of his imagination and has been transformed in the process,” National Gallery curator Hereward Lester Cooke wrote in his invitation to these artists.

NASA’s stable included Annie Leibovitz, Robert Rauschenberg and Norman Rockwell, among others. It commissioned original music as well. In 2002, NASA commissioned  Way Up There, which memorialized lives lost in the Challenger disaster. A version by Patti LaBelle was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Toroidal Colonies, pop. 10,000. Interior view, c 1970 by Don Davies, courtesy NASA
Rick Guidice painted for NASA for 15 years. His paintings helped develop a public fantasy of what space colonization might look like. He and some of the other great NASA artists went on to illustrate The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, by Princeton Physicist and Professor Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, which has become a space colonization classic.

From the Seeds of Change… a Discovery, 1984, Robert A. M. Stephens, courtesy NASA
Then came Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award and its chilling effect on the more fantastical elements of government spending. NASA earned one, not for its art program but for its search for extra-terrestrial life. The age of exuberance in government spending was over. Government agencies may have continued spending as madly as before, but they did it more furtively.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Going by the numbers

We should all immediately switch to Instagram. But as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability on the internet. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.
Joan of Arc, 1879, Jules Bastien-Lepage, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Yesterday I had my left foot operated on, giving me a matched pair of incisions and some hope for less pain going into the summer.

My mind is muddled, so I’d hoped to reprise an old post. To that end, I consulted my stats for this blog. Blogger tells me what my top posts are (although this blog has been on three different platforms over the years). A few years ago, the most popular posts were The One Thing Every Painter Should Know and a recipe for scallops from my friends Berna and Harry.

Plastic bags, dethroned by art history.
Since I last checked, art history has steamrolled over them. The top view-catcher is this post about Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc. It’s eleven years old, it violates the modern dictums of length and language, it’s complex, and it continues to get readers. In fact, there are a number of art history posts on that top ten list, including The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow and Ingres and Napoleon.

Measured week-to-week, however, art history is a slow starter. Those posts usually have the lowest immediate readership, even when they have much to say.
Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, courtesy, Musée de l'Armée, Paris
After more than a decade of blogging, I still see no discernible pattern for what will be popular in a post. That’s liberating. It means I can write about whatever I care about, rather than pitching content to some ‘expert’ idea of the public’s low taste.

A survey tells us that new galleries are opening more slowly than they did a decade ago. This is part of a general decline in entrepreneurship in the United States. It’s no surprise to those of us who worry about our battered small town Main Streets, but there’s good news in that same report.

It surveyed a group of high-net-worth individuals about their collecting habits. These are people with more than $1 million but less than $5 million in assets. The vast majority (89%) spent $50,000 a year or less on art and objects. That suggests they aren’t buying from tony Manhattan galleries, but from low- and mid-tier galleries. In other words, they’re buying works by people like you and me, in places like S. Thomaston, Camden and Ogunquit.

The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, 1567, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, courtesy Oskar Reinhart Foundation
Meanwhile, the online market for art and collectables continues to grow, but at a slower pace. That makes sense as a market matures, and it’s nothing to worry about. More than half of online art buyers said they will buy more art online in 2018 than they did last year, according to the Online Art Trade Report.

Instagram has dethroned Facebook as the preferred means of online promotion. In 2016, galleries used the two platforms almost equally. Now only 31% of respondents prefer Facebook to the 62% who liked Instagram. Instagram is also the favored platform for collectors under 35, 79% of whom said they discover new artists on Instagram and 82% of whom said they use it to keep up with artists they like.

Going by the numbers, we should all immediately switch to Instagram. But just as with blogging, there’s a lot of unpredictability in sales. There’s still plenty of room for intuition.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How I plan to spend my summer (if it ever gets here)

Teenagers and artists choose interesting paths.

Teressa studying painting in Rochester, many moons ago.
Yesterday, I got two registrations in the mail for my Rochester workshop. Kamillah started painting with me when she was a junior in high school, working at a local diner so she could afford art lessons. Now she’s a graduate architect, studying for her boards. Her sister Teressa is in nursing school. It’s a joy to see these kids embrace adulthood with such grace.

Kamillah once painted with me on a late spring weekend in the Adirondacks. We were at an inn that hadn’t opened yet for the season. It was blowing and snowing, as the higher elevations tend to do this time of year. Kamillah is tiny, and I was concerned she’d be blown off the mountain and right into half-thawed Piseco Lake. Summer eventually showed up that year, as it will this year—at some point.

I get to teach in some mighty gorgeous places!
After I got their registrations, I opened my Little Book of Workshops. As of today, I have: 

(I don’t know about Exploring Rye through Paint (May 11-12, Rye, NY); contact the Rye Arts Center for information about that.)

That puts me about exactly where I am every year at this time. Suddenly, when it warms up enough for people to think about painting, those slots fill up.

Will I have a chance to paint in the surf this season? Who knows? Photo by Ed Buonvecchio.

Meanwhile, I—like every other plein air painter—anxiously await jurying results. Most are not in yet, but what I have promises an interesting summer ahead. On the 27th, I fly to Santa Fe, NM for Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta.

William Rogers from Nova Scotia is in that event too. That means I’ll see him twice this summer, since he’s the Honorary Chairman of Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival in early June. The roster at that event is like old home week, including many artists I’ve painted with for ages. That includes, of course, Poppy Balser.

Nova Scotia is one of the world's great beauty spots. It's a privilege to paint there.
I’ll be at Ocean Park’s Art in the Park in July. That’s really six old friends doing an ensemble act together, as we've done for several years. At Cape Elizabeth I’ll run into Janet Sutherland for the second time this summer. She’s a crackerjack painter and a regular at Castine, but we seldom get time to say more than a few words to each other. If only I could slow the tape down!

In August I’ll be back in New York for the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. And other than that, the jury’s still—literally—out.

Barnyard lilacs, by Carol L. Douglas
Except for one other thing, which is perhaps the biggest thing of all: in September I’ll be an artist-in-residence at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I was raised on a farm, and I’ve got a deep affection for agriculture. This will be the first time in several years where I’ve isolated myself to paint reflectively, rather than tearing around in a car painting fast. I’m terrifically chuffed.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: Basic principles of painting

Some painting rules are meant to be broken. But they all exist to make painting faster and easier.
Cadet, by Carol L. Douglas. That's American Eagle in the background. That's the boat my June workshop will be on.
 It’s closing in on plein air season again. Here are some basic rules to speed up your field painting.

Buy the best materials and equipment you can afford: I was reminded of that this weekend as I struggled to get my low-end sewing machine to handle layers of tulle. If you invest in decent paints and decent brushes at the onset, you’ll make better progress in the long run. You’re better off with a decent limited palette and two decent brushes than more stuff of lower quality. Then you can add to, instead of replace, over time.

Skinny layers in the beginning, please!
Fat over lean (oil painting only): This means applying paint with more oil-to-pigment over paint with less oil-to-pigment; in other words, use turpentine or odorless mineral spirits (OMS) judiciously in the bottom layers and painting medium in the top layer.

The more oil, the longer the binder takes to oxidize. This keeps paints brighter and more flexible. However, oil also retards drying. Using too much in underpainting, will result in a cracked and crazed surface over time.

The makers of Galkyd and Liquin say their products are designed to circumvent this rule. However, we have no track record for these alkyd-based synthetic mediums, whereas we have centuries of experience layering the traditional way.

Even if we could change it, why would we want to? Underpainting with soft, sloppy medium gives soft, sloppy results. The coverage is spotty and thin. The traditional method is tremendously variable and gives great control. It just takes a little while to learn it properly.

Can't tell what that's going to be? No matter; it's the shapes that drive a painting, not the other way around.
Big shapes to little shapes: Work on the abstract pattern before you start focusing on the details.

The untrained eye looks at a scene and thinks about it piecemeal and in terms of objects: there’s a flower, there’s a path, there’s a tree. The trained eye sees patterns and considers the objects afterward.

Is there an interesting, coherent pattern of darks and lights? Are there color temperature shifts you can use? In the early phases of a painting, you must relentlessly sacrifice detail to the good of the whole.  This is true whether the results you want are hyper-realistic or impressionistic. Composition is the key to good painting, and the pattern of lights and darks is the primary issue in composition.

Following the fat-over-lean rule, above, allows you to think about broad shapes first. In the field an underpainting done with turpentine or OMS will be mostly dry when you start the next layer. Stop frequently to make sure you haven’t lost your darks. If you have, restate them.

Follow the natural working characteristics of your medium: For oil painters, that’s dark to light. For watercolorists, that’s light to dark, because dark is impossible to eradicate. Acrylic painters can proceed any way they want, as long as they’re using opaque paint.

Doing the drawing in a dark neutral follows the natural working characteristics of oil paints. By Carol L. Douglas.
In oils, it’s easy to paint into dark passages with a lighter color; the reverse isn’t true. This doesn’t mean oil painters don’t jump around after we set the darks; we can and do. In watercolor, it’s almost impossible to erase a dark passage, so it’s best to know where it belongs before you commit to it.

Don’t choose slow-drying or high-stain pigment to make your darks. The umbers are great because the manganese in them speeds drying. However, I don’t want to carry an extra tube just for this. I use a combination of burnt sienna and ultramarine.

By the way, this is a common rule of painting to break. Just be sure you have the process down before you start experimenting.

Drawn slow and painted fast by Carol L. Douglas.
Draw slow, paint fast: This isn’t a classic tenet; it’s something my student Rhea Zweifler coined in my class years ago. Nevertheless, it’s a great rule.  

Taking time over your drawing allows you to be looser and more assured in your painting. Do value studies and sketches before you commit to color. Your mind needs time to think about the shapes it sees. Spend that time in the drawing phase, when ideas are easy to assess. Otherwise, you will be doing it on canvas, where your mistakes are more difficult to clean up.

Value study at Point Prim, Nova Scotia, by Carol L. Douglas.
Value studies and sketches allow you to be inventive. When you’ve only spent three minutes on a sketch, you don’t lose much by throwing it out. Drawing and value studies at the beginning actually speed you up, rather than slow you down.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

This post was originally published in May, 2017 and has been edited and updated.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Art, engineering and gender

The same principles apply across all creative ventures. So why don't women follow the money?

This way blindness lies...
I’m in the midst of foot surgeries. As you can imagine, I got bored before I got mobile. My daughter is getting married next month, so it was a good time to do handwork for her wedding. I started with fringing shawls for the distaff side of the bridal party. I could do that with my foot elevated.

The artist is intrepid at making stuff. We simply don’t see lack of experience as a problem. We’re often working in areas we’ve never been in before.

Fringing the shawls was tedious but required little actual skill.
Sewing, however, is something I can do just fine. If there was money in it, I might have been a couturier rather than a painter. From fringing, I moved on to making the ring-bearer a tartan bow-tie from the scraps of his sister’s shawl. Then, since the mess was all out anyway, I started the flower-girl’s dress. All this has been drawing me upright. I work until my foot throbs and then stop.

The bow-tie took a little more experience.
Grace’s dress is meant to be a miniature of the bride’s dress. It has a bouffant skirt with horsehair braid on the top layers of tulle. I like this new use for an old material very much, but it’s hard to scale it to a two-year-old.

A two-year-old cannot go strapless, for engineering and other reasons. A train is also out of the question. And somewhere I need to incorporate a big pink bow, which the bride's dress doesn't have. As you can imagine, there is only so far a pattern can take you, and we’ve long passed that point.

Barb Whitten's paper sneakers. A woman who can make those can make anything.
I copied the first four layers easily enough, but the top layer baffled me. I called artist Barb Whitten for help. She sculpts, so she can think in 3D. She had the layer figured out in minutes. There were eight panels, each with a 90° arc, which meant the skirt encompassed 720° of fabric.

I ran it past another friend, a seamstress and Civil War reenactor. “You realize I had to convert that to 19th century terms, don’t you?” she said. The penny dropped for me. When I saw that wedding gown as a variation on a Victorian gown, the layers made sense.

In the end, it all comes down to craftsmanship.
But to scale it down and cut the pieces freehand required trigonometry. I don’t care if you call it math or you call it “Granny drawing out a pattern on the table.” It’s the same thing. I guessed it, and then I calculated it, and my numbers were right to a quarter of an inch. So I cut it and sewed it.

Women have been doing this work since the dawn of time. It’s not much different from carpentry. It starts with a vision, which is then sketched, measured and constructed.

That’s also how engineering works. So why are women so skittish about entering engineering as a field? Historically, women have participated in science and engineering at much lower rates than men. That’s sad, because those jobs pay well and are in demand.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Follow the money

What can we learn from contemporary animation?
Waves of Mercy and Grace, Carol L. Douglas. Would I want to wander around a world that looked like my paintings?
The global animation industry brought in about $254 billion in 2017, versus about $45 billion for the fine art industry. Unlike many other growth industries, big parts of the animation industry are located in the old developed economies, including the United States and Canada. It’s a fast-growing sector, averaging about 5% per year.

If you’re a young person interested in a career in the arts, you will do well with a degree in computer graphics. Computer graphics designers working in the motion picture and video industries earn an average of $64,350, and there’s a lot of demand for them in other industries as well. (In fact, the Federal government is the top-paying employer of computer graphics professionals.)

Keuka Lake Farm, by Carol L. Douglas
This means that animation plays a big part in developing our national aesthetic. I don’t play video games, but I’m curious about their imagery, and I like speculating on how it will influence painting. I see this in the work of two young brothers from Syracuse, Tad and Zac Retz. Zac is a visual developer for Sony Pictures Animation. Tad is a painter. Their toolkits are very different, but the end result is often eerily similar.

Horia Dociu is a video game studio art director at ArenaNet. He identified three pillars on which all visual design rests:
  • Idea –the intellectual content of your work.
  • Design – the stylistic and compositional choices you make.
  • Technique – your method of rendering.

He then went on to mention ‘tone,’ which I’m going to call ‘vibe’ because tone means something else in painting. Painters achieve their vibe through color choices and lighting, but most importantly with the subconscious things we bring to the easel. In fine art, we often think of our vibe as a natural state, but it’s also the easiest thing to manipulate into dreck. That’s a good reason to avoid being overly self-conscious about it.

Still, there are some fine painters out there whose work relies heavily on controlling ambiance. An example is Tarryl Gabel. She has an enthusiastic following for her misty, gentle, elegiac landscapes.

Piseco Outlet, by Carol L. Douglas
My kids sometimes play a game set in a landscape that looks like New Zealand on steroids. I enjoy watching because it’s a beautiful landscape, even though the actions are dorky. This raises a question that we painters never ask ourselves: given a choice, would we enjoy wandering around in a world that looked like our paintings? If not, we might have a problem with our vibe.

Dociu went on to suggest that video artists ask themselves the following questions:
  • Why am I doing this?
  • What do I want to say?
  • Who am I speaking to?
  • How can I be most expressive to reach the audience?

Rising Tide at Wadsworth Cove, by Carol L. Douglas
In the end, his talk came down to craftsmanship. It plays a big part of animation development but is given little credence in modern painting. Perhaps that’s why the money flows so heavily in the direction of animation. They’re giving the people what they actually want.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mummy Brown and other figments about pigments

Sometimes gruesome, dangerous, or ridiculous, pigments have a colorful history.
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, 1881-1888, Edward Burne-Jones, courtesy Museum of Art in Ponce Puerto Rico. This was painted before Burne-Jones had his epiphany about Mummy Brown.
Mummy Brown was a rich brown pigment, located somewhere between the umbers and siennas. Manufactured through the 19th century, it was a mixture of pitch, myrrh, and the ground-up remains of mummies, either human or cat. (Cat mummies were also imported to England for use as fertilizer; they were raised by the ancient Egyptians by the tens of thousands, killed in kittenhood, mummified and sold to pious pilgrims. They were common as dirt.)

An Egyptian mummy dealer selling his wares, c. 1870. Courtesy Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum
Mummy Brown was a favorite color of the Pre-Raphaelites. Edward Burne-Jones once invited his pal Lawrence Alma-Tadema over for lunch. “Mr. Tadema startled us by saying he had lately been invited to go and see a mummy that was in his colourman's workshop before it was ground down into paint. Edward scouted the idea of the pigment having anything to do with a mummy — said the name must be only borrowed to describe a particular shade of brown — but when assured that it was actually compounded of real mummy, he left us at once…” wrote Lady Bourne-Jones.

The story was taken up by her nephew, Rudyard Kipling. “He descended in broad daylight with a tube of ‘Mummy Brown’ in his hand, saying that he had discovered it was made of dead Pharaohs and we must bury it accordingly. So we all went out and helped – according to the rites of Mizraim and Memphis, I hope – and to this day I could drive a spade within a foot of where that tube lies.”

Wife of a Donator, c. 1450, Petrus Christus, courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington. Her gown is Caput Mortuum.
Mummy Brown is not to be confused with Caput Mortuum, although the names were sometimes interchanged. Caput Mortuum was a purple form of hematite iron oxide, popular for painting the robes of saints. It was the by-product of sulfuric acid manufacture.

The pigment called Dragon’s Blood was supposedly a mix of dragon and elephant blood. “[Elephants] have continual warre against Dragons, which desire their blood, because it is very cold: and therefore the Dragon lying awaite as the Elephant passeth by, windeth his taile, being of exceeding length, about the hinder legs of the Elephant, and when the Elephant waxeth faint, he falleth down on the serpent, being now full of blood, and with the poise of his body breaketh him: so that his owne blood with the blood of the Elephant runneth out of him mingled together, which being colde, is congealed into that substance which the Apothecaries call Sanguis Draconis, that is Dragons blood, otherwise called Cinnabaris.” (Alchemist Richard Eden)

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 1834-35, JMW Turner, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art. Turner used Indian Yellow extensively.
Dragon’s Blood actually comes from the sap of Dracaena cinnabari and is extremely fugitive. Not that true cinnabar was anything to write home about, since it contains toxic levels of mercury. Despite that, it was once a popular cosmetic and art material.

Indian Yellow was said to be made by feeding mango leaves to malnourished cows and collecting their urine. Historian Victoria Finlay searched legal records, visited the town where the stuff was allegedly made, and interviewed elderly locals. She concluded that the story was probably a fable to gin up interest in the color.

All of this leads to the pigment Kidney Hematite. By now, you’re wincing. But Kidney Hematite is just an ore with a distinctive shape. Ground or sculpted, it’s perfectly benign.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Portland Museum of Art's new admissions policy

If you're 21 or younger, it's free, whether you’re from Maine or Madrid.
Redbud Tree in Bottom Land, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, April 17 1968, 1979, Eliot Porter, dye transfer print, courtesy Portland Museum of Art. All pieces in this post are part of their permanent collection.
In my youth, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery offered free admission. If it was too rainy to go to the cemetery or the park, our parents took us to the art gallery. By the time I was aware of my surroundings, it was as familiar to me as my street was. As a teenager and young adult, I continued to visit it regularly. My keen interest in art history started there.

Two Men in a Canoe, 1895, Winslow Homer, watercolor on gray laid paper, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
Beginning tomorrow, Maine’s Portland Museum of Art will be free for anyone 21 or younger. (This extends the museum’s current policy, which is free admission to kids age 14 and younger.) If they sign up for the Susie Konkel Pass, they also will be able to attend free film screenings and receive other benefits.
Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp, 1895, Frederic Edwin Church, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
The age of free art galleries is mostly over, which means that parents don’t take their kids to visit much on rainy Saturday afternoons. There are, of course, still hold-outs: the Smithsonian, the Scottish National Gallery, the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Victoria, to name a few.

Many museums offer ‘free days’ or limited kids passes. But mostly, it costs money to get in the door. That’s just one more nail in the coffin for kids’ exposure to art, which has been on a downward slide since No Child Left Behind excluded art and music from the nation’s core curriculum.

Beaver Dam Pond, Acadia National Park, 2009, Richard Estes, courtesy Portland Museum of Art.
The stiff admission charged by large museums ($25 for MoMA and the Met, for example) distorts the museum experience. Visitors by necessity rush through and see the highlights of the collection, whizzing past the tiny gems. The farcical end of this kind of experience is the reduction of culture to a selfie with the Mona Lisa.

Susie Konkel, who paid for the Portland Museum’s policy expansion, is a retired teacher from Cape Elizabeth. That’s about all I can find about her on the internet, but it’s an unusual profile for a philanthropist. “Education’s always been very important to me,” she told Maine Public Radio. “And I think every child—not just in Maine—every child around the world should have the opportunity to experience the arts. And they get about 9,000 children here each year, into the museum. And this will just make it endless!”

Castine Harbor, 1852, Fitz Henry Lane, courtesy Portland Museum of Art
As a nation, we spend a lot of time trying to puzzle out why our popular culture seems so crude and violent. Perhaps it’s because we’ve cut off access to refinement in the form of fine art and music.

Thank you, Ms. Konkel, for trying to reverse this trend. I like to imagine cliques of teenagers stopping by the Portland Museum to catch a movie. May many, many of them take advantage of your generosity.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday Morning Art School: sketching with Inktense pencils

Inexpensive, portable, and way fun, you can use watercolor pencils anywhere you normally sketch.

One advantage of being a lefty is that nobody borrows your scissors.
I use Derwent Inktense pencils to draw my sketches in field paintings. On a gessoed board, you can erase with a damp cloth. When you start laying oil paint down, the watercolor drawing freezes in place. I’ve been doing this for so many years, I’d forgotten why I bought the pencils in the first place. That is, until Mary Byrom reminded me last week that they’re great for pocket drawings and value studies.

This and a multimedia sketchbook is all you need to carry.
I buy them in packs of six in burnt sienna and ultramarine. This is a warm-and-cool combination that makes great neutrals in every medium. I use it for watercolor value studies and for my dark neutrals in oil colors. I can flip from warm to cool instantly with this mix, making it perfect for setting darks.

I always start with a pencil sketch.
The simplest (and most important) value study looks at the ways in which you can translate an image into simple black and white. At the same time as you’re thinking about black and white, you can also think about cool vs. warm. This is the modern, post-impressionist way of looking at value.

All light has color. An overcast sky has a color temperature of about 10,000K (blue). A room lit by candles has a color temperature of about 1,000K (orange). The most neutral light is sunlight at noon.

This photo of Mission San Jose in San Antonio starkly demonstrates the color of light. All the walls are white.
Of course, the ambient light color is also affected by the objects it’s bouncing off. I took the photo above in Mission San Jose in San Antonio to demonstrate this. The walls are white, but there was incandescent light above the loft. The lower part of the room was lit by daylight or in shadow. The effect was to make it appear that the room had been painted in blue and gold.

An aqua-flow brush is the easiest way to move Inktense around.
The color of shadow is always the complement of the color of the light. Of course, this is all mutated by the color of the objects being lit. A red sphere in warm light will appear crimson in the light spots and more purplish in the shadows. That’s just red mixed with orange light and blue shadows. We simplify matters by saying that if the light is cool, the shadows are warm and vice-versa.

The principle's the same whether the light is warm or cool, as long as it is consistent and matches reality.
Inktense pencils allow you to add in color temperature as you think about value. Ignoring their actual color and modeling, I made a simple contour drawing of my sewing scissors. I set the lighter half of my value range in blue. It’s simple to soften Inktense with a water-brush. Just fill it and run it over your pencil drawing. When that was done, I added my shadows in burnt sienna. You can get fairly intense darks with Inktense pencils.

Two different Inktense pencils can take you almost anywhere.
My fantasia was hardly inspired, but I’ve included it to show you how much depth you can get out of Inktense pencils. You can buy two Inktense pencils, a water-flow brush and a small pad of watercolor paper for around $20. The combination is no bigger than a sketchbook and pencil.

ADDENDUM: Susan Hanna points out that Derwent doesn't have those color names. I should have checked first. My burnt sienna WAS a color called Venetian Red; they don't market it as that any more. Try Red Oxide. Try Deep Blue for ultramarine. Once again, caught in the trap of romance naming for pigments.

SECOND ADDENDUM: Another reader mentions that Inktense pencils are fugitive. She prefers Caran d'Ache watercolor pencils. I've not tried them so can't comment.

It's about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.