Category Archives: art

The importance of preliminary work

Green and Yellow, 20 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. Intimate Spaces series

I recently posted a step-by-step outline of my painting A Day at the Beach (4-10-2019). A critical part of creating a significant panting is the preliminary work. I sincerely believe that the more thought I put into the piece at the beginning, the more I can work out the problems ahead of time, and the better the final result will be.  Well, that’s my theory anyway.

Green and Yellow, detail.

This is another painting in my series Intimate Spaces, all about the territory that people carve out when they visit the beach.  In this painting, I was sitting behind a couple who staked out their space early in the day with two chairs and an umbrella.  They didn’t show up until mid-afternoon.

NOTAN sketches for Green and Yellow. This is where I work out basic shapes and composition. As you can see, initially I intended this to be a rectangle shape but then changed it to a square shape.

I liked the near silhouette of the couple with the contrast of the kids playing in the surf in front of them. Maybe they were grandma and grandpa.  I don’t know and never did figure it out.

Large graphite sketch of the main characters for Green and Yellow.

As with most of my paintings, I begin with a NOTAN sketch, just hard contrast of black and white to get a feel for the composition.  Then I did a large graphite sketch of the couple.  I didn’t feel a need to sketch the kids as they’re just notes really.  They were painted directly.

NOTAN sketches of past couple of paintings. Working in black and white allows me to focus on the shapes and composition.

Here are a few more examples of NOTAN sketches.  You’ll notice the one from my last post of A Day at the Beach and how I was focusing on the interlocking umbrella shapes.

More NOTAN sketches from Jump.

And the two pages of NOTAN of Jump which I created in February.  With some of the bigger pieces, I’ll also do a color sketch but not always.

The final conclusion is that no matter what style of art you create, you will often have better results if you put in more thought and work into the beginning of your work than having to correct problems later.  Indeed, sometimes you may discover that the scene or piece doesn’t merit following through.  Or you may decide to attack it from a different direction.

A little inspiration for artists

OK, I will admit it.  I’ve been goofing off this week.  Well, not really but kind of.  The weather has finally turned gorgeous.  Spring is here in force.  Flowers popping out all over.  Just checked the fruit trees and they’re ready to put on a show real soon.

I cruised Home Depot this week as I had some time between meetings in town.  Of course, the garden center attracted me like a magnet.  Which meant that I spent some time this morning planting pansies.  They’re always so cheerful.

What I’m trying to say is that I really don’t have a real post for you today.  Yes, I’m working on a big project in the studio but am not ready to reveal it yet.

What I am going to share are a few of my favorite quotes, all about art.  Be forewarned; I love quotes and have collected hundreds over the years.  They often provide me inspiration or at the very least, food for thought.  I hope they’ll inspire you, too.

More than anything, plein air is an event. It’s an event where a sporting mind can sort things out–free of town-clutter and obligation, where judgment can take as long as it takes–look three times, think twice, paint once. Leave your strokes alone. Fix that colour. Level that horizon. Stop now, stupid, she’s on the hook, pull ‘er in, put ‘er in the creel. You will live to cast again.

Robert Genn

Once you fly, you will walk with your eyes skyward. For there you have been and there you will go again.

Leonardo da Vinci

Be careful that you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don’t know in your own soul.

Emily Carr

A good painting to me has always been like a friend. It keeps me company, comforts and inspires.
Hedy Lamarr

A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.
Michelangelo

All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

Federico Fellini

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.
Twyla Tharp

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
Scott Adams

Every artist was first an amateur.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A picture is a poem without words
Horace

New gallery opens in the area

Traditional Arts Today gallery at 314 W 9th St, Ferdinand, IN. The brick building behind this restored historical building is the workshop space.

I had the pleasure to visit a new gallery in the area this past week.  Traditional Arts Today at 314 W 9th Street, Ferdinand, Indiana, features the art and crafts of regional artists.

Beautiful entrance to Traditional Arts Today gallery

Housed in a beautifully restored historical home, TAT is just a block off Main Street in Ferdinand, Indiana.  The gallery showcases a wide variety of creations by area artists, from painting and photography, weavings and soaps, to jewelry and pottery, and a whole lot more.  This is a great place to browse and pick up something for yourself or someone special.

Official greeters at TAT

Many homemade products are featured, from soaps to edibles. Yum!

The impressive entrance hall of the gallery.

TAT also offer classes in their restored carriage house behind the building.  All those looms you see in the photo will soon be moved there.  This weekend they offered Ukrainian Easter Egg decorating classes.

Some paintings of Louisville artists and hand-made weavings. All those looms will be moving to the workshop space soon.

If you haven’t been to Ferdinand, it’s a great place for a day trip.  Of course, you’ll see one of the main features of the village which is the monastery on top of the hill, a truly spectacular sight.  Plus there are many other shops and small restaurants though out the town.

Some pottery by Monte Young with local photographs and handmade pillows.

Anyway, check out Traditional Arts Today gallery.  Their Facebook page is Traditional Arts Today and they’re just getting their website up but that should be ready soon.  It’s always heartening to hear of a new arts venue opening in the area.

Follow these links to learn more:

Traditional Arts Today  website

Facebook – Traditional Arts Today

Monastery of the Immaculate Conception

Ferdinand, Indiana activities

A sad day for arts magazines

I love arts magazines.  Looking at all those gorgeous photos of the artwork of other artists is so inspiring.  I’ve learned so much over the years. But there is a downside to all the magazines, and that is that I never wanted to throw them away.  I know, I know, they’re just meant to be temporary but most artists I know feel this way. We always think we’ll come back to them but we don’t.  That still doesn’t change the allure these shiny missives of creativity.

But I noticed something the last time I went to a bookstore.  You know that I live in a really rural area so visiting a brick and mortar bookstore is a treat for me.  I love the smell of new print, fondling volumes of wonderful possibilities, smelling the coffee and just hanging around with other book-lovers. But the last time I visited my favorite big name bookstore, I headed to the magazine rack at the end of my visit to peruse the latest offerings in art magazines and to snag a couple for home reading.  After digging through the layers, looking behind the home decorating and wrestling mags, I couldn’t find some of my favorites.  I thought that maybe it was the end of the month and the new editions hadn’t been put out yet.

So I was dismayed to read one of my favorite blogs by artist James Gurney (Gurney Journey) yesterday and to learn that F & W Publications, Inc., the company that produces The Artists Magazine has filed for bankruptcy.  What!?!  This magazine has been a staple for artists across the country for decades.  When I purchased a copy, I would read it from cover to cover.  Even the ads in the back listed announcements of exhibits and other great information.  Sigh.  This will make my next visit to the bookstore a little dimmer.  Yes, there are some other fine art magazines out there but they have a different mission and flavor than The Artists Magazine.  Oh, and Writers Digest,  Pastel Journal, Watercolor Artist, and Interweave Knits are going, too.

Read more here:

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/

https://www.adweek.com/digital/this-publisher-thought-ecommerce-was-its-savior-now-its-dead/

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin

Painting beyond the scene

West Wind Blows, original painting, 12 x 16, impressionistic, Kit Miracle

Artists are known for traveling over the world seeking new things to paint.  I have done so myself and have captured many scenes of my travels over the years.

I don’t know why travel is so inspiring but maybe it makes us see the world with new eyes.  We return home refreshed and look at our surroundings in a new way.

However, we don’t need to go away to appreciate what we have.  It is often right there before us.  A new light, a different angle, maybe the same scene in a different season.

This is a scene that I have passed thousands of times. I’ve always liked this valley with the hills but on this particular day, it really pulled at my attention.  Maybe it was the backlit clouds scudding across the sky.  Maybe it was the farm in the valley.  I even found the shadows of the trees across the pasture interesting.

West Wind Blows, detail, painting, Kit Miracle

Of course, I took some artistic license….like I need a license…and edited the landscape to suit myself. But compare the original photo to the scene that I captured. A little editing maybe but any local person would recognize this place.

West Wind Blows, original photo for painting

I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to get across to my students is to use a photograph as a tool, a place to start, but you don’t have to be religious to the exact photo.  It is up to you, the artist, to change it to suit your needs and desires.

It’s a warm wind, the west wind, filled with bird cries.

John Masefield

West Wind Blows 

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 

Wings, a beach scene

Wings – final, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24. Kit Miracle

I was looking through some old photographs for subjects to paint which I haven’t visited for awhile and came across the inspiration for this painting. Sometimes the subject doesn’t grab me for several years until I revisit the pictures but this photo was only from last summer. I love the beach scenes by Sargent, Sorolla and Zorn, particularly the ones involving children.

For this painting, I decided to work slowly and do plenty of preliminary work.  My last post included several sketches, some Notan studies, and one painting study of the central figure. The latter is actually larger than the figure in the final painting.  See the sketch for this painting.

The title comes from the focus on the little girl with her water wings and the flapping wings of the seagulls.  Sargent did a wonderful painting of Neapolitan Children at the beach and one of them is wearing a contraption of bladders for floating, similar to today’s water wings.

To learn more about this painting, check out my step-by-step page here.