Archive for the ‘My way of seeing things’ Category

Of Prudence and Preference

Friday, December 15th, 2017

In this month that too often turns into Frenetic-Shopping Season, it’s important to trust our own taste and judgment about what to choose.  We can be unconsciously and unduly influenced by the hype of advertising and salespeople, especially when shopping for merchandise with which we may feel insufficiently knowledgeable, such as artwork.

Art is one area in which uninformed buyers can easily be duped into “investing” in works of little intrinsic value or merit.  But how can you protect yourself?

While traveling earlier this month, I was reminded of how easily an uninformed shopper can be misled.  At a so-called “plein-air” gallery, the displayed paintings were, to my eye, obviously painted from photographic reference material rather than ala prima style, en plein air.

What’s the difference, and why does it matter, you may ask.   These are valid questions.  “En plein air” is the French term for painting outdoors, on location.  It involves contending with the natural elements:  heat, cold, humidity, rain, snow, wind, insects and other wildlife, and all their associated discomforts and inconveniences.  It also means that the light is continuously changing as the sun moves and alters the position of shadows.  So plein air work is often done comparatively quickly, without the refinements an artist is more likely to take time for in the studio.  Animals, human figures, and details are more often suggested with quick, minimal, but carefully considered brush strokes than with fine detailing and highly rendered brushwork.  So the overall appearance often tends to be rougher and more “painterly” than studio work.  But the immediacy of the ala-prima (all-in-one-go) approach also imbues it with a sense of liveliness and personality that is difficult to reproduce in the studio.

Whether or not it’s actually worked en plein air makes no difference to its intrinsic value; but some collectors prefer the smaller sizes and spur-of-the-moment quality that typifies plein air work.  If you like the painting, it shouldn’t matter in what manner or under what conditions it was painted, but don’t be misled by an inaccurate representation of the work.

Another gallery I visited sold beautifully executed watercolor images but didn’t openly specify that the merchandise were prints rather than original watercolors.  Typically, prints are priced considerably lower than original watercolors because any number of copies may be made from a single original image, and can be made in a variety of sizes.  This means that the same image may be sold to a number of different buyers for a variety of purposes.  For the artist, the sheer quantity of sales can make up for the lower price of the prints.  But the inks used may not precisely match the original colors and are often subject to more rapid fading than most professional-quality watercolor pigments would be.  And the buyer does not have the exclusivity of owning the original painting, which is what most fine-art collectors prefer.  If you see multiple copies of the same image, or notice it in more than one size, or if the price seems unusually low, you can be pretty sure that you’re looking at prints rather than originals.  And that’s fine if you don’t feel strongly about owning an original.  But you should be aware of the differences before you decide to buy.

Prints of oil paintings, of course, usually lack the impasto texture typical of oils.  Even these, though, may be reproduced on canvas and may be “enhanced” in key areas with an impasto gel to simulate the surface textures and brushwork of the original painting.  Look for inconsistent surface textures and for textures that do not align with the direction of the underlying brushwork, as shown below.  These prints have their place, but if you buy one, let it be a conscious, informed decision rather than a misguided mistake.

Inconsistent surface textures indicating gel enhancement over a print of an oil painting.

Inconsistent surface textures indicating gel enhancement over a print on canvas.

“Limited edition” prints usually show a number, such as 83/250, in a lower corner of the trim edge.  This means that it is print #83 out of a limited print run of only 250 total prints, after which no more would be made (traditionally, the metal plate used would be destroyed).  This designation used to be more important than it is now because it was used to indicate how comparatively crisp the manually pulled print was likely to be when taken from a metal plate.  This plate would wear down a bit with each print taken from it, gradually losing its crispness and clarity.  So the lower the first number, the higher the quality was likely to be.  This is still a valid designation for etchings and some other art forms, such as wood-block prints. But most reproductions of paintings today are not manually pulled from this kind of plate but are more often gicleés (sprayed ink) or other computer-type printouts, which make the size of print runs and the relative position within the run virtually meaningless.

So, especially if you lack confidence when shopping for artwork, whenever you choose art, don’t think in terms of its financial investment value (which is always a high risk, whatever salespeople might try to tell you about the demand for some high-profile artist’s work), but base your selection instead on what moves you and art that you truly like.

If you can, try to learn the motivation and story behind any specific artwork you are interested in purchasing.  Learn about the artist and what influences might be reflected in the work.  These stories will help you connect with it on an even deeper level than what originally drew you to the work, and will enhance your appreciation of it in the future.  It will also provide you additional information to share with people who admire it in your home or place of business.

In short, there’s no need to be afraid to shop for artwork.  It’s available to suit a broad range of tastes and in a wide range of prices.  Let any thought of “investment” be purely in your pleasure in the artwork, not in some “potential” (but unlikely) increase in monetary value.  So find what you like, and what suits your needs.  Whatever your budget and targeted price range, be discerning when it comes to quality to know what you’re getting.  As my grandmother used to say, “Trust your own good judgment.”

I hope you find exactly what you’re looking for, both in this joyous, if somewhat frenetic holiday season, and throughout 2018.

Please feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more about any of my work.  My paintings are currently all originals, not prints or gicleés.  I am always happy to divulge the stories behind my work when requested.

Why art?

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Why do I paint? 

The easiest, though not the complete answer is “For me.”

Why?  Because I feel compelled.  Because I enjoy the challenge of depicting the beauties I see in the world around me and to continue to improve my skills through ongoing practice.  Because I increasingly feel that I’ve been called to it, despite the shortcomings I continually identify in my work.  And because I believe that, in its own way, it is a blessing both from and to God and to other people.

Is it for me?  Yes.

Is it for others?  Yes.

Is it to make money?  Not primarily, though I prefer that it should be self-supporting.

"Story Time" by Charlotte Mertz  (10” x10”, pastel on blue-toned paper, #171010sp)

“Story Time” by Charlotte Mertz
(10” x10”, pastel on blue-toned paper, #171010sp)

What, then, is the purpose of my art? 

I draw and paint to express my experience of, and appreciation for, God’s world.  I teach to share with others the pleasure and satisfaction I, myself, find in art and to enhance their own enjoyment and appreciation of it.

It is of little concern to me if my own artwork ever makes waves in this world.  But if it sends out even little ripples that can extend joy and encouragement to others, and if I can open the potential in others to share their own art with the world, I will be happy.  Their artistic pursuits and successes are up to them, not to me.  But if I can prepare the way for them, smooth the road, and introduce them to some of the possibilities of their potential, I will feel I have done my part and served my purpose.

In that case, you might ask, how can I justify charging money for my work, either paintings or teaching?  My response is from Matthew 10:10: “A worker is worthy of his support.” Those who knowingly contribute to my support in willing exchange for my artwork or teaching are more likely to place continuing value on what they receive in return.  This last consideration is not directly supported biblically, though Matthew 10:16 reminds us to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” in our dealings with worldly issues. Financial reciprocation is the way of the world in which we conduct our business dealings.

I am open to leading from the Holy Spirit regarding when to set this policy aside (which He does lead me to do, on occasion), and I trust Him to provide appropriately for me, the giver, and to bless the gift for the recipient’s benefit in His own way and time, whether or not I ever become aware of the extent of His blessing.

I hope that my art has been blessing you.  Your pleasure in it brings me pleasure, as well.

If I have taught you anything to enhance your own artwork or the appreciation and understanding of others’ work, the knowledge of that brings me a sense of satisfaction.

I hope you, too, will share your gifts – in whatever form and whatever way the Spirit leads you.

Casting new light on the subject

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

One of my goals for October is to study the effect of unusually colored light sources.  Such study helps train my eye to see the real colors before me—not just the local color we expect to see but how that color is influenced by the color of the light.   The colors within shadows and reflections are also affected by the unusual color of the light, as well.

"What Shell I Paint"  (watercolor, 10"x8", #171001w)

“What Shell I Paint” (watercolor, 10″x8″ #171001w)

One of the studies I made was of a still life in whites with warm, earth-tone influences.  I used a red bulb to illuminate it so that even highlights on the white satin shone as a pale pink.   The shadows were strongly influenced with turquoise—the complement of the red light cast by this specific bulb.  But because most of the elements of the still life were reflective, bouncing the red light back into the turquoise shadows, the colors of the light and shadow combined into variations of lilac.

Not surprisingly, the red light emphasized the warmth of the warm color spots on the subject, enriching its appearance and enhancing its appeal, while the cool shadow areas provided a contrasting foil.  Incorporating some muted yellows and warm browns helped balance the color harmony, which could otherwise have appeared too “sweet.”

Practice and Trying To Do Our Level Best

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

It’s important to understand artistic principles, but when it comes to painting, the rubber meets the road in the application phase.  There’s a lot to keep in mind in planning and preparing to paint a composition. But even when it’s carefully planned, the execution of a painting is another matter entirely:  Can we stick to the plan?  Can we maintain the dynamic balance as the composition develops?  Can we keep the value range where we intend it?  Does the edgework enhance the sense of perspective?  Is the level of detail appropriate in each area of the composition?  Are hue and saturation variations used to their greatest effect?  …

There will almost certainly be changes made during the painting process.  Some will be intentional; others will be inadvertent.  Regular practice will help an artist recognize and identify which variances are improvements and which are detrimental to the work and should be re-addressed.

Practice is immeasurably valuable to a painter.  Purely mental exercises, from observing and making mental note of the physical world around us, to recognizing how those elements may be used to develop an artistic concept for a composition, are a form of practice.  I find that careful observation is an invaluable skill that can be practiced at all hours, with or without pencil or brush in hand.  And envisioning concepts for paintings can be practiced continually as we talk with other people, become aware of world events, or recognize personal passions.

But active, more concrete practice is crucial both to instill artistic principles in our minds and to incorporate them into our planning stages.  This includes rough sketches, selection of media, value studies, palette planning, color studies, and other carefully considered preliminary work before the final composition is undertaken.

Physical practice is equally crucial for training our intellects to either follow or intentionally deviate from the plans we have made and to train our hands to manipulate our tools masterfully to successfully execute our intentions.

Following our plans necessitates practicing ongoing comparisons among the subject, the preliminary plans and studies, and the ultimate composition.  Even if the subject is not literal but imagined, we must have a clear understanding of the “subject in kind”—that is, a solid anatomical or mechanical understanding of the subject’s form and appearance and how it would move if it were literal.

Training our hands includes practice in developing application techniques and the gradual discovery of our natural style, creating specific types of marks with our implements—whether brushes, palette knives, fingers, or other tools—and in understanding, anticipating, and controlling the consistency and working qualities of our media with all the variations we choose to incorporate.

None of it is easy.  It all takes time and ongoing effort to develop a working understanding, and to exceed and surpass our current level’s “best.”  But it’s worth it.

Am I doing my “level best”?  I wish I could say that I always manage to.  But though I welcome the challenge to get there, I rarely fully succeed and often become discouraged in the attempt, because however far I get, “better” is just a step beyond.  And the better I get, the more difficult the struggle becomes to exceed my current level’s best.

Confidence

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Even small successes nurture confidence.

A month ago I had the delightful experience of watching my youngest grandchild learn to walk.  He’d already taken his first unsupported steps some time before I arrived for my visit, but on my first day there, he was still toddling only a few steps at a time before landing on his well-padded seat and having to cautiously resume his upright stance before making another attempt.

"Stepping Out," by Charlotte Mertz (7"x5" graphite pencil, #170801p)

“Stepping Out,” by Charlotte Mertz (7″x5″ graphite pencil, #170801p)

The second morning of our visit, he was able to walk for several additional steps at a time.  But if he swiveled his head or tried to turn, he lost his balance and would drop down onto his seat again.

By the third morning he had mastered his turns enough to make a game of pivoting, and by evening was able to not only cross the entire room but chase his brother halfway down the hallway.  His efforts weren’t perfect; he wobbled a lot and frequently lost his balance.  But he had developed enough confidence to prefer his upright mobility to his previous four-point method of locomotion.  And the more he drew on his confidence, the more adept he became.

The same is true when we practice any skill.  Our advancements may not be as apparent as those of a young child, but even our baby steps do improve with practice, and, despite minor setbacks, “wobbles,” and sometimes-less-than-stellar results, the more we succeed, the more confident we become.  That confidence becomes apparent in the results of our efforts, which, in turn, encourages us to stretch our skills even further.

So whether our practice is in walking, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or some other skill, even small successes indicate progress.  And progress generates confidence that our efforts are worthwhile.  So let’s focus on our successes, however small.  We’re getting better all the time.  Let’s keep at it!