Monthly Archives: February 2019

Are you a crab or an escapee?

Ghost crab or sand crab on the beach at night on South Padre Island. When “caught” with a flashlight, they freeze, only to scurry away if the light wavers.

I was scrolling through some vacation photos from last summer and came across this photo of a crab on the beach.  My granddaughter and I went out after dark one evening to spot crabs. They were everywhere!  We had so much fun walking along the sand at night at catching the crabs with our flashlight.  The little critters skittered here and there but froze when the light shone on them. If the light wavered at all, they were off like a flash.

The photo put me in mind of one of my favorite expressions crabs in a bucket.  If you’re not familiar with the expression, it comes from the old story of the fisherman who was catching crabs and throwing them into a bucket.  His grandson asked why he didn’t have a lid on the bucket and wouldn’t the crabs all crawl out.  The fisherman replied, no, the crabs don’t crawl out although they are certainly able to do so, but when one crab reaches a claw over the top of the bucket, the other crabs all pull him back.

Sound familiar?

I can think of so many applications for this parable.  Whether it’s being a better student or artist, getting a promotion or a new car, we all tend to compare ourselves to others.  I wonder why that is?  Isn’t it possible for everyone to be successful at whatever they want to be?  Being around negative people, those who complain all the time or put down others, is very draining.  I always try to look beneath the surface to determine what their real motives are for complaining.  Feelings of insecurity or inferiority?  Or are they just crabs in a bucket who don’t want anyone else to succeed if they can’t? Or are they looking for excuses for their own lack of motivation and hard work?

Have you ever faced some crabs in your life?  When you announced that you just got a raise, they responded with well, you’re just going to have to pay more taxes. Or maybe you aced your last test and your friend called you a brown-noser.  Or someone in your neighborhood complains about those snobby rich people down the block who think they’re really something. I could go on and on.

Being a crab is unfair and being around crabs is depressing.  The news and social media are filled with crabs, those who want to basically gossip about this person or that.  I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not happy with a situation, change it, don’t just complain about it.  And certainly don’t waste your efforts envying someone who has something, whether a skill, a trait, maybe a material possession that you don’t have.  Stop being a crab.  Escape the bucket and make your own path.

Little Stone Church, Provence – demonstration painting from photographs

Little Stone Church, Provence, France – final. Acrylic, 12 x 16. As you can see, I made the sky more interesting and edited the road a bit, too.

I thought I’d share another lesson from the class that I’m teaching about painting from photographs.  Frankly, this process can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it.

Little Stone Church, Provence – original photo

In this example, I have a real photo – you know, the printed kind – from a biking trip that I took through Provence, France many years ago.  I like to browse through the old photos and inevitably I see a new subject that I overlooked before.  In this case, I remember exactly how I felt cruising through the olive groves when I passed this old stone church one morning.

Little Stone Church cropped.

The original photo included more subject matter than I wished to include in my painting so I cropped it to fit my canvas size.  This is easy to do if it is a digital photo, but in this case with a real picture, I used paper L-shaped pieces to manipulate the photo (not shown here.)  I don’t usually need to do this anymore since I’ve been painting for so many years but it’s a good hack for new painters.

For the purpose of the class, I actually scanned the photo and used these images to demonstrate.

Little Stone Church – photo divided into thirds. The center of interest – the church – is at the intersection of one of the thirds. Also, notice how the road leads the eye into the painting and points towards the church.

I divided the selected picture area into thirds each way and then placed the church on one of the intersections.  This generally makes a nicely balanced composition.

NOTAN Here I changed the photo to black and white, then pushed the contrast to the extreme. This helps one get a better idea of the basic shapes. Notice how the stone church (center of interest) also has the greatest contrast with the trees framing it.

The prior week we had discussed NOTAN – the theory of making your image extreme black and white in order to seek balance in the composition.  Here, I manipulated the image by computer to show a high contrast in black and white which is essentially NOTAN.  Here is a link to a very good explanation of NOTAN by artist Mitchell Albala.

A black and white image of the same photograph. This helps the artist gain a better handle on values, lightest to darkest. The same effect can be achieved by viewing the color photograph through a piece of red gel. See a prior post on the subject at the link.

I then showed a regular black and white photo to the class so they could get an idea of the values.  Again, you can use the trick of a piece of red gel to get the same effect.  (Click here to see an earlier post about using red gel.)

The next step was to demonstrate to the class my procedure for painting the scene in color.  In oil or acrylic, one usually starts with the darks and works towards the light.  Watercolor usually proceeds the opposite way with laying in the lights (or reserving the lights) and adding more and darker color as the painting progresses.  There are several demonstrations of both of these methods under the tab Artworks at the top of the page.

The takeaway here is that composition can be enhanced for using old photos as painting materials by manipulating the size and shape of the photos, taking care of the placement of the center of interest, and selecting pleasing balance and contrasts of lights and darks.

Little Stone Church, Provence

Way the Wind Blows – a quiet painting

Way the Wind Blows, acrylic on wood panel, 8 x 10, original painting, Kit Miracle

With the nasty weather screaming through the Midwest the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surfing through old photos and files for subjects to paint.  I came across some images taken on a visit to New England to visit family.

This is a painting of the cupola on the 200 year old barn at my brother’s home in New England.  Made of red oak, the original timbers inside were marked with Roman numerals for assembly at some time in the past. I was attracted to the late afternoon sun as it caught the weather vane on top.  One wonders at the history this barn has seen in its long existence.  These old buildings always make me reflect on life as it was back then.

Although the subject of the painting is not one of the more complex that I’ve painted, I just enjoy the peace and calm of the scene.  Very plain.  Which just demonstrates that a one doesn’t need a lot going on in a scene to make compelling painting.

Painted on wood panel in a contemporary impressionist style, this small painting will fit in many spaces.

Way the Wind Blows, framed. Sometimes framing a painting makes all the difference.

When the wind is in the east,
It’s good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the north,
The old folk should not venture forth.
When the wind is in the south,
It blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the west,
It is of all the winds the best.

Link to painting on Etsy.  

Winter reading – artists’ biographies

I love reading biographies, particularly autobiographies, particularly artists’ autobiographies.  Winter is a great time to snuggle inside with a book or two or ten.  These are a few of my current recommendations.  You may be surprised that I don’t just read books about painters or even about artists who work in the same style as I do; I am more interested in their motivations, how they became who they became, and what obstacles they had to overcome.

Alexander Calder, an Autobiography with Pictures.  1965.  In this autobiography, Calder dictates over a period of several months, his life and career as an artist.  From a struggling student in engineering to the famous artist he became, this is a fascinating tour of his life.  He doesn’t always delve into the why of the works he created, but it’s amazing to see how his career grew.  And I couldn’t believe just how much he and his wife Louisa traveled, not only between the US and France, but all over the world.  They moved frequently and were undaunted to tackle any old derelict of a farmhouse, apartment or barn.  Personally, I would not be able to remember all the details about my life as he relays in this account of his.  Full of photos in both black and white, this is a page-turner.

Chuck Close, A Life  by Christopher Finch (2010) Chuck Close is a brilliant artist known for his gigantic portraits but he also faced many struggles in his career. A poor student, he probably suffered from dyslexia, but he overcame the naysayers to garner acceptance into Yale.  His early successes established him as a leader in the art world.  I loved reading about his years in a loft apartment in the Village, and the name-dropping of other famous contemporaries.  His spinal stroke in mid-career set him on a new trajectory that would have sidelined many lesser individuals.  Close didn’t discover until late in life that he actually suffered from prosopagnosia, i.e., he is unable to recognize faces, even of those whom he knows well.  This probably set him on the path to focusing on the giant portraits.

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir  (1959) It was interesting to read this biography of such a famous artist by his own son.  I always admire the early impressionists (although they didn’t call themselves that at the time) and to read such a personal account by an eyewitness of the day is fascinating.  I learned a lot about Renoir and in the end, didn’t really care for him as much as a person.  But this is still a great you were there account which gives the true flavor of what it was to be a painter at this critical period in France.

Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (2011)  Nearly everyone holds some ideas about Van Gogh but many of those ideas are shallow characterizations.  He was much deeper than cutting off his ear.  He painted to celebrate his love of God and God’s world.  The fact that he was able to create in the face of so much ridicule and drive himself to continue to paint is inspiring.  This book is not for the faint of heart as it is over 900 pages, but it is very thorough.

Edward Willis Redfield, An American Impressionist and His Paintings and the Man Behind the Palette by J.M.W. FLETCHER (1996)  I am a huge admirer of Redfield and his work.  He was such a dogged master painter and had some of the best working habits of any artist that I’ve read about.  Redfield doesn’t get as much attention as he did during his lifetime but take a look at his work if you happen to visit a museum.  What I love most is the sheer energy that he put into his paintings.  You can tell by the bold and sure strokes.  He was a big man and usually painted large canvases….on location.  No matter the season, winter or summer, he would wade through snow and ice to get what he wanted.  This book is a personal labor of love by the author who researched it about as thoroughly as anyone could.  It contains just about every detail of Redfield’s life and career as he could round up.  I feel that some of the photos that the author took could have been done a little better, but overall, this is an amazing portrait of an American Impressionist.

Willard Metcalf, Yankee Impressionist  Spanierman Gallery, LLC.  (2003)  I fell in love with Metcalf when I first viewed his painting The North Country in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It became an annual pilgrimage to visit this painting on my many trips to the city.  The delicacy of the colors of the painting cannot be done justice in any reproduction compared to the real painting.  Metcalf was prolific and had many successes early in his career.  However, he was not so lucky in his relationships and had a problem with alcohol.   The book is filled with many beautiful plates and is certainly a good depiction of a lesser-known American artist.

This is just a small list of some of the artist biographies that I have enjoyed.  Check them out and be inspired. I’ll post links to my favorite women artists another time.

Links to the books:

Calder – Autobiography with Pictures

Chuck Close – Life

Renoir, My Father

Edward Willis Redfield 

Willard Metcalf 

Year of the Pig

Year of the Pig, green background, original painting, 6 x 6, Kit Miracle

The Chinese Year of the Pig begins on Tuesday, February 5th.  I had this cute little pig teapot and decided to paint it for a close family friend who is Chinese and whose birth year is the Pig.  Actually, I painted two versions.

The painting is a very simple portrayal in acrylic on a canvas panel.  Although the teapot is small, the pig is big on character.  It was very fun to do after some of the more complex paintings that I’ve been doing lately as I don’t usually paint on this small scale except for watercolors.

The Year of the Pig (birth years 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019) portends good luck for the people born in this year.  They are hard workers, energetic and enthusiastic.

So, to my friends of Chinese background, and to everyone else, Happy New Year!

One version of this painting will be listed in my Etsy shop.

Year of the Pig, brown background, acrylic on panel, original painting, 6 x 6, Kit Miracle