Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

2018 Watercolor Classes

Monday, January 1st, 2018

A new year marks a good time to take a fresh look at the methods and approach I will be taking in teaching my watercolor classes this year, as well as to redefine my goals for them. I look forward to starting my new 5-session series of beginning watercolor classes next week in both the Verandah and Pelican Preserve communities here in Fort Myers.  I want to give my students more than bragging rights for a “refrigerator magnet” style one-time souvenir.

Instead, I have two goals.  The first is to provide my students with the basic understanding of the medium, technical know-how, and confidence to be able to begin painting in watercolor on their own, from an unlimited choice of subjects, for the rest of their lives.  The second is to instill in them a joy in painting so they want to continue developing their skills and understanding, increasing in both confidence and satisfaction in their ongoing efforts.

"Still Life with Ixora Blossom" by Charlotte Mertz (171207w detail)

“Still Life with Ixora Blossom” by Charlotte Mertz (171207w detail)

As I review my course syllabus, I know the information to be covered in each class session will lay a groundwork upon which any further learning can be based.  But more important than that is the enthusiasm I hope to express as I talk with my students and demonstrate my own joy in painting.  Enthusiasm (or lack of it, unfortunately) is contagious.  So I want my joy to always be apparent both in my own work and in my attitude toward the students and each topic I present, so each group of students bonds into a supportive community, enthusiastic and encouraging toward one another as we learn from both our successes and that inevitable “School of Oops,” from which few of us ever entirely graduate.

Art is one field in which we can never “know it all.”  It’s a wonderful subject for those of us who consider ourselves “lifetime learners,” because it poses a never-ending challenge to exceed whatever our current level of skill and expertise might be.  No matter how innately “talented” we may be even without instruction, or how developed our skills become through extensive education, there is always room to learn more.  But without a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction we will probably feel little impetus to maintain a long-range drive toward excellence.

So that is my primary goal for these beginning classes—not that I necessarily start my students on a road to becoming great artists, but that they feel motivated with an inner sense of pleasure and satisfaction to pursue their budding interest in watercolor painting and carry it as far as they will.

While maintaining an atmosphere of camaraderie and encouragement, my subsequent 5-session series of Continuing and Intermediate classes in both communities will continue to build on the basic skills learned in the Beginning classes.  The Continuing and Intermediate classes will focus more on general artistic principles, which contribute to a sense of perspective and reality.  Although my classes will address how artistic principles can be applied specifically to watercolor work, understanding them can enhance compositional design in any medium.

Will you be joining us as we begin our classes next week?

Winnowing the Yield

Friday, December 1st, 2017

One of the plights an artist faces is what to do with the vast amount of “product” that accumulates in the studio.  If we are skilled and in demand, much of what we create sells promptly and clears the way for further work.  Although I’m not quite at that point yet, I intend to keep working at it.

As we climb the stairway toward greater success, years’ worth of practice, studies, and still-immature work tends to accumulate, gradually encroaching on the working environment, consuming shelf, drawer, wall, floor, and other storage space until there’s scarcely room to move.  So sometimes we need to glance back down that stairwell to see that though what we achieved at each step succeeded in teaching us something to carry us a step further, that we had not yet reached our destination.  Just as I did in this depiction from several years ago of an unusual natural-wood stairwell configuration.

"Spiral Stair" 11"x15" watercolor (#130702w)

“Spiral Stair”
11″x15″ watercolor (#130702w)

Even knowing that my own work has not always lived up to my hopes or expectations, I often find it difficult to discard what amounts to ideas.  (Surely they could be useful to me sometime in the unforeseen future.)  The problem is that the material accumulation of unsuccessful or unfulfilled “ideas” can interfere with my continuing work in the present and even deter fresher ideas from coming to fruition!

So as we approach the end of another year, it’s time for me to winnow out the chaff—those earlier efforts that reaped no rewards beyond experience (a good enough reason in itself to have painted those pieces) to make room for more mature work.  Three stacks soon accumulated:  discards, salvageables, and keepers.

“Salvageables” fell into several categories—those that require only minor work to bring them up to acceptable standards; those from which I would like to make another attempt of the same subject, usually in a different medium (Oh dear, there are those ideas again!); and those from which I can reuse the canvas or framing materials, if nothing more.

The decisions aren’t easy.  (I can be ridiculously sentimental about some of my work.)  But as a professional, why would I want to waste space on pieces of much lower quality than I can currently produce?  I mustn’t!

Certainly, selling it might bring in a bit of immediate revenue, but it wouldn’t help reinforce the brand quality that I want to project.  So some “tough love” has had to come into play.  And some forthright frankness with myself about what lives up to, or at least approaches, my current level … and what simply doesn’t.

The job of culling the crop isn’t finished yet, and may not be before the end of the year … but hey, … I can already see a little open rack space again!

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.”

Suitability of Style

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

In the past few weeks, I’ve recently been realizing just how conservative my painting approach has been.  I’m finding that my attempts at “creativity”—or perhaps more accurately, my variations from the literal—are more in the realm of simplification, substitution of colors, and composition layout than in experimentation with application techniques to help express the painting’s concept.

I admire in others’ work the use of strong, vibrant colors.  But I have to struggle to paint with such boldness myself.  I tend to be a quiet, rather unassuming person, not comfortable calling attention to myself.  My work reflects that.  Boldness is not appropriate for my work.  But what is?  The answer to that question is one every serious artist seeks, either consciously or unconsciously, until a personal style gradually emerges.  For some, the answer presents itself more readily than for others.

With each painting I undertake, evaluation almost always calls my attention to some aspect that could be adjusted to improve the effect.  And from these observations and revisions I’m continuously learning, reviewing old lessons, refining my observation skills, and adjusting my planning approach, preparatory to taking on the next subject.  This is an organic form of style development, growing bit by bit out of experience, even if not so daring as such do-or-die methods of experimentation as spattering paint across a canvas or encouraging runs and drips for the sake of unifying the image.

Perhaps some of those alternative methods would enhance my vision of a subject.  But, although I often admire such techniques in others’ work, most don’t coincide with my own aesthetic, personality, or artistic vision.  When I experiment, it should be to enhance my own visualization of the subject, not to emulate someone else’s technique.

So I’m looking now at some of the earliest influences that attracted me to any artwork:  These include the minimalist efficiency of Oriental art, particularly sumi-e and woodblock prints, subtlety of hue, graceful line, translucence, and limitation of detail to key areas.  I ask myself how they have affected my aesthetic, how they have influenced my work, and whether they have already (or could) become signature characteristics of my work.  Through this evaluation, I can see that yes, they do still excite me and are, to varying degrees, already evident in my paintings.

These influences may also explain why I’m more consistently drawn to the subtlety of watercolor than to the vibrant potential of oils or acrylics.  This realization reinforces my decision to focus on watercolor rather than on those other mediums that many artists consider easier to control.

The next step beyond recognizing how those specific influences have affected my work and preference of medium is to consciously incorporate more of those characteristics into future work to see if they eventually integrate themselves to a greater degree into my style, even without such conscious intent.

So another route of exploration is mapped out, and the journey continues….

My Teaching Philosophy, part 3: On artistic principles

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

It is important for serious students of art to understand basic artistic principles.  The more of those principles we understand, the easier it becomes to optimize our own work, no matter what medium we use.  And the greater appreciation we gain for the mastery of great artists we might otherwise overlook.

Although I do try to incorporate and discuss many of the principles in my classes, in conjunction with lessons on watercolor technique and during our subsequent coaching sessions, I can’t cover them all.  The spectrum of artistic principles is far too broad to allow me to cover everything comprehensively in the few short class sessions that I teach in our community every winter.

A brief overview of the principles applying specifically to artistic composition is available in my ebook, Elements of Great Composition: A Quick Reference for Photographers and Other Visual Artists.  Needless to say, there are many additional principles besides these that need to be learned, regarding use of color, creating the illusion of form, perspective, and so on.

Final-EGC-Cover-(small)Any self-taught artist who is serious about improving his or her work and learning to appreciate the finer aspects of art in general, would do well to seek out a comprehensive course that goes beyond the “tips” offered by many popular teachers for using a specific medium.  It should provide both a firm foundation of artistic principles and at least an overview of the development of various artistic styles throughout history.   I used the Virtual Art Academy, an online, self-paced course, to fill this gap in my own belated artistic education.  It is just such a comprehensive program, and I have found the training invaluable for my own artistic development.

My point is that, as artists, we should be continually seeking out opportunities to learn many different aspects of art.  These will gradually coalesce and contribute to a personal style by providing us more tools and information from which to draw as we strive to express our unique artistic vision.

As you settle into 2017 and envision the year unfolding ahead of you, challenge yourself to seek out some form of continuing education to both reinforce and extend your current understanding and level of mastery in whatever area your creative passions may be.