Monthly Archives: September 2019

Art and Fear

Art and Fear, a small book with a powerful message.

The only work really worth doing – the only work you can do convincingly – is the work that focuses on the things you care about.  To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.

I just finished reading for the umpteenth time one of my very favorite inspirational art books, Art and Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  This small but mighty book has been in print since it was first published in 1994.  It always ranks high on the lists of books on art making.  So why is it so difficult to describe, except to say read it?

I think it’s because the authors address the secret, deep down challenges of art making.  Whether you are a visual artist or musician, writer or dancer, they seem to be able to tap into those questions that we raise in our souls.  What are we doing?  Are we any good?  Who says?  Does anyone really care but us?  What makes a serious artist?  Do we actually need talent or is just plain perseverance and hard work enough?

The authors portend that these questions only really have arisen in the past couple of centuries.  Before that, artists knew their role and their expected work, whether working for the church or their clan.  Few artists had the luxury of just creating for themselves.  You joined the guild that your father belonged to and that was that.  You accepted that you would carve stone for the rest of your life, doing the best that you could.

Now we have so many options available, that we’re often left blowing in the wind, twisting from one attraction to another.  If you do settle on one or two outlets for your creative efforts, you will still probably be working alone (excepting for those artists who are part of  larger group projects.) Maybe even after you’ve put hours, days, weeks, years into your project, you are still faced with the fact that no matter how skilled you may be, someone will come along, probably younger and glitzier, who will garner all the accolades for the next new thing.  Maybe they whip up a frenzy over their spray painted graffiti turned art or that they’ve stuck a bunch of miscellaneous objects together with snot and string (and I’m not saying that those things aren’t art), and you’re looking at your studio stocked full of precision master drawings or paintings, and wondering, Was all my effort worth it?  Doesn’t anyone appreciate real art?

In the end, art is hard work.  You have to keep after it, often (usually) for very little reward.  You work long hours, usually alone, for …what?

That ultimately is the question that this book – answers is not the right word, maybe explores. It will make you think. There are so many quotable quotes in this small tome.  The battered, used copy that I purchased years ago has underlines from at least two other readers (who the heck uses red for underlining?), plus a name label in the front.  Plus my own stars and underlines.  What the other readers thought was important may not be what I focus on.  Or maybe I do now at a different time of my life.

Whatever your art making form and wherever you are in your art making journey, I highly recommend this book as a great prompt for deep thoughts that you will want to return to often.

Figure drawing. How to improve your work.

A typical selection of notebooks or sketchbooks. From 4 x 6 up to 11 x 14, I use these to captures moments of everyday life no matter where I may be. I try to remember to make a note of the date and location as my memory is poor after time passes.

There are so many artists who really excel at figure drawing that I’m always envious of their talent and the ease at which they seem to be able to capture the human figure.  I’m not one of them.

For me, drawing the human figure is mostly a matter of hard work.  Draw. Draw. Draw.  That is my MO.

I was pulling out some notebooks in my studio this week.  In a career of over 30 years, I have a lot of notebooks!

I noticed that I seem to be attracted to figures of all types and sizes, all ages and venues.  I don’t concentrate on one “type” of figure.  Not the big eyed children nor the beautiful sylph models, but the old and the gnarled, the fat and the thin, children doing what children do, people doing what they do when they think nobody is watching.  I don’t think I have a type but others may disagree.

One thing that I noticed when I was pulling notebooks out of my flat files is that I’ve been consistent over the years with my drawing.  I draw a lot. This, more than practically anything else, has probably led to my ability to capture figures.  And I’ll admit right up front that not everything I’ve drawn has hit the mark.  But practice is the best way to develop a skill.

I have small notebooks (4 x 6) which I can squirrel away in a purse or bag.  I’ve been able to amuse myself at airports and museums, restaurants and beaches.  Nearly anywhere people gather.

This is a situational sketch in my small notebook. The location is Topaz Thai Restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. I did this while I was eating lunch. Toned markers were used for quick shading.

Macy Gray at the Iridium Jazz Club near Times Square. Using pen and toned markers.

It was late evening on Times Square. I found that if I leaned up against a wall, I could draw street vendors and other passersby without any notice. It’s a fun challenge.

Audience members at Birdland. I think we were waiting for Rita Moreno but can’t remember exactly. Should have written it down.

Some of my sketchbooks range up to 18 x 24 or larger, which are not always easy for transporting, but great for working on larger compositions.

For drawing instruments, I use everything from pencils to pastels, gel pens to markers to charcoal.  Each has a special characteristic but I suggest that you try many different types of instruments.

Some life drawing sketches. The model is Ron whom I’ve drawn for over thirty years. He can hold a pose for a long time and entertains the artists with stories in his southern drawl.

I’ve taken life drawing classes.  Yes, the models are naked but you get used to it.  I’ve drawn one male model, Ron, for over thirty years.  He’s not a Mr. America by any means but he’s a really great model with inventive poses which he can hold for a long time.  He’s in his 70s now!

Another typical life drawing sketch. If you look closely, you can see where I’ve made initial marks for the model’s trunk. Pencil is the medium.

These are quick sketches in life drawing class. Typically the artist is only given 2 – 4 minutes before the model changes poses.

We don’t get too many opportunities to draw two models together so this was fun. Also, nice to be drawing some real bodies with all the lumps and bumps.

And then when I’m working from photographs, I do several preliminary drawings of the subjects.  This helps me get acquainted with their shapes and postures.  I can work out problems before I even begin to tackle anything in paint.

This is one of several preliminary sketches that I made from photos for a painting I just completed. It’s good to work out problems before I tackle the final subject.

This is an older sketch of my son and granddaughter as a preliminary drawing for a large painting. I love the way his hands dwarf her tiny body.

More preliminary drawings from photos. The granddaughter and her tiny hand grasping her father’s shirt.

So my best advice is to get a notebook, any size but you might be more comfortable with a small one to start with, and a pen or some toned markers, and get to work.  You will be surprised but most people don’t even notice that you’re drawing.  I’ve drawn in restaurants and theatres, at musical venues and just along the street.  I’ve even drawn while in line waiting for a theatre to open!  Yes, really.

Asymmetrical composition

Beach Readers, Intimate Spaces series, acrylic on linen, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle The whole attraction of this subject was the irony of the two young women who are reading and totally ignoring the beautiful day at the beach. I also love the way the red beach chairs draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.

There are many rules of painting composition which I have discussed in previous blogs (search: composition).  These are usually conventional and are designed to lead the eye through the picture.  But one of my favorites is an asymmetrical composition, that is, not even or necessarily balanced.  I liken this somewhat to whether you are a candlesticks at each end of the fireplace mantle kind of person or you feel comfortable placing both candlesticks at one end (usually balanced by some other object at the other end.)  It’s just a matter of personal preference.

The painting above, Beach Readers in the Intimate Spaces series, is a good example of asymmetrical composition. The bright red chairs on the right lead the eye into the scene to the two girls who are reading.  Most of the other action is in that quadrant of the painting.  However, the small figure playing in the surf at the far left is able to balance the scene.  If you don’t believe me, cover the figure with your hand and see what a difference that makes to the feel of the painting.

Asymmetrical composition came into vogue in the 1880s and 1890s as the Impressionist artists were influenced by the import of Japanese prints.  These prints not only led to some experimentation in composition, but to flattened colors and situational composition.  This would be similar to a photograph that is just cut off at strange places.  This could include people looking out of the picture plane, cutting off the head or legs of horses, or even figures exiting the frame.

Below are several examples of paintings by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet which illustrate this influence.  The first two artists collaborated for years with their printmaking but as you can see, the Japanese influence directly appeared in their work.

Mary Cassatt, Woman and Child in the Driving Seat.

Degas, more race horses running out of the picture plane. Lots of empty space but it works.

One of many Degas racing scenes. Notice how some people are only partially shown in the picture plane. This is a similar composition to my Beach Readers in that there is a big blank space in the lower left side of the painting, with the action on the right leading into the main subject.

Degas. Another very unusual composition of race horses and jockeys.

Degas, Place de la Concorde. Notice how everyone seems to be looking off in a different direction. And why are the little girls cut off at the waist?

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Gillaudin on a Horse. You can only infer the horse in this painting although the main subject is centered.