Archive for the ‘My way of seeing things’ Category

Characteristics of Place

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

The transition from winter to summer seemed very sudden for us in Florida this year.  One of the few natural clues in the past few weeks that we were experiencing “spring” was the dramatic fall of leaves from the live oaks after daytime temperatures rose suddenly from the 50s and 60s(F) into the mid-to-upper-80s within a week.

Unlike most deciduous trees, live oaks cling to their leaves through the fall and winter, releasing the small, drying leaves only as the new growth of spring leaves begins.  So, in conjunction with our winter temperatures largely mimicking summer temperatures in more northern regions, (and aside from the fact that we don’t get much of a cold reprieve for more than about a week, ever) sometimes it feels as though our seasons are a bit backward on the Florida peninsula.

Hanging Moss in Oak Park, by Charlotte Mertz (8"x10" oil, #180207-o)

Hanging Moss in Oak Park, by Charlotte Mertz (8″x10″ oil, #180207-o)

It was a good reminder to teach my students to watch for the unique characteristics of not only the specific vegetation in the locales in which we paint, but other identifiable aspects typical of the region.  These may include rock and soil color and configurations, species of trees and shrubs in the area, wildlife native to the region, and architecture designed either to address climatic conditions or to incorporate notable regional cultural influences.

These regional differences are one of the reasons we travel – to recognize and experience both environmental and cultural differences from other areas we’ve known.  I believe, too, that it is one of the reasons plein air painting has become so popular in recent years.  Not only are the physical characteristics of a specific region different from those in other places, but the prevailing atmospheric conditions can be recognized, as well.  Artists often refer to it as “the quality of light.”

Atmosphere is influenced by a number of different factors.  These factors include level of humidity; active precipitation; prevailing winds; air pollution; mist, fog, or salt spray; type and depth of cloud coverage; the colors reflected from the earth’s surface onto the underside of clouds; and even altitude relative to sea level, which can affect the density of the air itself and the light’s refraction among any airborne particles.

As I write this blog, the air is heavy, dense with humidity.  Colors are less saturated, values are condensed into narrower bands of lights and darks than usual.  On days like this my grandmother would comment that the distant side of the lake on which she lived appeared particularly far away, whereas on clear, cloudless days she might say the far shore appeared especially close.  It is this kind of difference that, as an artist, I try to be aware of, to establish in my work a sense of the atmospheric conditions in a specific place.  It’s a lesson I mean to extend to my students.

 

Procrastination and Burnout

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Procrastination and Burnout would seem to be at opposite ends of a productivity spectrum, but I’m coming to believe they’re not actually all that far apart.

Inspiration or Burnout?

“Inspiration or Burnout?”

Procrastination – the action of delaying or postponing something.    Procrastination, which is often manifest by replacing one task with another, often unrelated,  activity, is often triggered by fears—of either failure or success, of embarrassment or unwelcome recognition—or by indecisiveness or lack of motivation.  Or perhaps we’ve been sidetracked by demands in other areas of our lives and are finding it difficult to get back into the swing of those things we need (or even want) to return to.

Burnout – physical, mental, or emotional collapse caused by overwork or stress.    Burnout is caused by applying effort without incorporating sufficient downtime.  The phenomenon of burnout can also be brought on by fears—of failure, loss of motivation or opportunity—or by insecurity or losing perspective on our physical, mental, and emotional needs in relation to our efforts.

Both cause a slowdown in our level of productivity.

We all need time occasionally to regroup, evaluate the direction and effectiveness of our efforts, and consider alternative means of accomplishing our goals.  Some of us may need encouragement to overcome indecisiveness or insecurity; others may need help in finding direction or motivation.  Some may need a mentor or encourager to help us overcome various fears that deter us from accomplishing our goals … or to remind us to pay attention to other areas of our lives that may have been neglected.

If our lives are out of balance, as mine often gets over summer travel time or winter holidays, we sometimes swing from procrastination in some areas to over-compensation, which can lead to burnout, either in the same area or in other areas of our lives.

Scheduling can help in overcoming procrastination.  I sometimes set myself imaginary deadlines to complete certain goals.  That technique usually works pretty well, so long as I don’t allow those “deadlines” to float, which defeats the purpose of providing motivation to accomplish those tasks without further delay.

Though habits and schedules can help us use our time efficiently, they can also dig us into ruts that leave little room for variation or innovation, both of which are necessary for creativity.  It’s like following the same set of recipes every day:  Without variations, those favorite and nourishing meals eventually become boring, and we may be unaware of shortchanging ourselves of other important nutrients.

So to combat stagnation or creative burnout in our artistic endeavors, sometimes we artists need to change it up, try a different medium or tool, select a different kind of subject, view a scene from an unusual perspective, limit our palette or change to colors we rarely use.  We may need to experiment with a different size or format.  Or it may be time to put down our own materials and go to an exhibit of other artists’ work to gain perspective and inspiration for our own.

How do you combat your own tendencies toward procrastination or creative burnout?  I welcome your suggestions and feedback.

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.”