Monday, October 29, 2012

On teaching and Learning

I'm sitting here in New York watching Sandy. Safe and dry.

And I have picked up the paint I ordered to be delivered to my daughter. Began thinking about the famous teachers of the New York Student League, including David Leffel and Gregg Kretz. Then I thought about the people I have studied with. Maybe 25 in total. Most were a waste of time. Knew little or nothing, were at best entertainers. Luckily my first teacher was very knowledgeable. But what about all those people taking lessons from the others? Rather sad. When I teach I encounter many of them. Absorbs you trying to break through the bad habits and misinformation.

So how might you tell who is good before wasting your time? Remember, some can paint and can't teach. Here are some considerations.

Certificates and other qualifications mean little. Harold taught the university teachers how to paint, never mind how to teach!
Time painting or teaching mean little. Practiced bad habits don't count.
A long history of taken workshops means little.
If you hear "this is THE way to...." run for the hills.
Formula approaches don't get you on the way to learning to paint.
The application of constructive truth from the teacher is fundamental.
Consider the reference from a reputable artist who tells the truth.

Consider your expectations. Learning to paint in order to become an artist is a trip. A long one. No short cuts.
Workshops are at best for learning one small element or skill. There is no followup so the ability to internalize the lesson depends on you alone, and practice. Courses are a little better.

The full trip can be enhanced by a good mentor. They put you in a position to learn, but you must do the work. As Robert Genn says, "go to your room and paint". Anything that distracts you from that slows the development process. That includes a focus on selling, doing juried shows etc. Involve your mentor.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Pricing

I visited a juried exhibition yesterday.  Most of the art was beginner level.  What caught my attention though was the pricing.  I don't know where these people got their pricing ideas, but they were consistently very high.

My art background does not include art school.  However, I was very fortunate in being introduced to art by a person who knew what he was talking about as it turned out.  His mentor was an artist trained in Montreal at L'ecole des Beaux Arts.  He was a demanding teacher who gave bits of advice that came together after quite a period of training and development.  Harold was his name.  I never met him but I was quickly introduced to his wisdom.  Harold gave some interesting advice including these two;

  • Don't be in a hurry to show.  Wait till you are ready.
  • Price by the square inch.  Start low.

He claimed most beginners start to show when their work is basic beginner.  Viewers remember this intro as the kind of capability of that artist (another danger lurks, in another post).  A reputable artist who tells you the truth can tell you if you are ready (not a face book comment).  Malcolm Gladwell would tell you that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours on the easel with a good mentor.  That would take a long time painting once a week. 

Pricing should be by the square inch because area is proportional to value.  A buyer does not care how long the painting took, or whether you think it is wonderful.  She looks for value.  At the beginner stage the price should be low.  If every piece is selling, the price is right.  As the painter emerges the prices can go up.  At this stage the painter is able to acquire gallery representation.  Then comes mid career and finally the mature period.  These stages can not be achieved by short cuts.  You cannot paint today what you will be capable of in 5 years.  Painting every day.

My experience with mid career painters, mature artists, and gallery owners supports this pricing approach.  Robert Genn subscribes to the methodology.  By these standards much of the art at the juried show was between 3 and 10 times overpriced.

Harold's advice, second hand as it has been, has turned out to be true in every case.  It took me some years to resolve these nuggets.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stunned by the Colour

Totally stunned by the colour.  For some reason I have not painted in Algonquin park till this year.  We hit the peak of the colours.  Walls of colour.  Odd colour - wild purple, loud rose, every red in the book and a few more.  Excited.  We drove for near 250 kilometers looking for something to paint.  Harold screaming to just sop and paint.  Brain on overload.  Finally we started looking for small patches of colour that might tell a story.  A wall of brilliant hots just doesn't do it.  The human eye with its large field of view sees the large sweeps of colour in context with complements, structures, greys etc.  So we looked for chunks that would stand on their own.  We ended up on the outskirts of town (Whitney).  Set up on a dirt road.  Middle of the road!

End of Day Light

Using the Stapleton Kearns fingers trick we determined that we had about 30 minutes till the sun disappeared below the tree line.

Some Structure

The odd person driving along, creeping, thinking moose or who knows what, didn't get upset with characters set up mid road.  It got us painting instead of driving.

The next day we woke up still stunned.  We faced walls like this.

No Justice with Photo

So we settled in to a spot without hordes of picture snappers.  Quiet and beautiful.  Paintings in every direction.

My Studio

Chunking down I settled on a scene with greens and violets dominant.

Massing In Shapes - Big Brush

A quick wash, a thumbnail sketch to determine shapes and values and wait for the wash to set up. First, the complements to the final layers of colour.  Then....

Stand Back

This time we decided to use chairs to help with stamina.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Eye Line Perspective and Composition

I have found that quite a few people have some difficulty applying the eye level (eye line, horizon line) in their painting.  The eye level is found by looking out to the horizon and seeing where that imaginary line sits within the shapes you wish to paint.  Sometimes the horizon is hidden by buildings, stands of trees, hills and mountains.  The horizon is still there somewhere beyond these obstacles.  If you are employing traditional perspective in your concept, then the eye line has some practical uses.  If you look at a three dimensional shape, you will find that the mass moving away from you will diminish in size going towards the eye line.  The part of the shape above the eye line will move away from you down toward the the eye line.  The part of the shape below the eye line will move away from you up toward the eye line.  You can place the eye line anywhere you wish on your canvas.  There are many options for the composition.  I suggest students experiment with their thumbnail sketches as follows;

4 Sample Thumbnails

The thumbnail in the upper left was drawn without a border.  There are 5 shapes, sky, tree line, tree in front of the tree line, shack, and ground.  The relative values are indicated.  The eye line was determined to be at the base of the tree line as indicated by the small arrow.  That means that the eye line is somewhere in the middle of the shack, and closer to the bottom of the tree.

The thumbnail at the upper right shows a landscape canvas outline around the same image.  You can see that the eye line is near the centre of the canvas.  The thumbnail on the lower left shows a canvas with the eye line placed low.  This gives more emphasis to the sky - the shape is larger.  The thumbnail on the lower right is a high eye level version of the same image.  Here the foreground is emphasized, and the sky is eliminated - a simplified image.  There might be more implications to this last trial.  If the canvas is a long portrait type, the viewer will have the feeling that you have painted down almost to your feet.  Or they might feel that there are two points of view in the same painting.  Or they might feel the land is tilted - flattening the picture shapes.

Trying a number of variations will help you determine your concept and further help you determine how you might proceed before you commit to paint and problem solving on the fly.