Tag Archives: Monet

How to improve your art skills

One of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. Many artists explore a subject in a series of paintings of the same subject. Van Gogh did at least twelve paintings of sunflowers.

I’m often asked, “How do I get better at my art?”  Hummmm….well, I have several suggestions.  They aren’t anything new but maybe they’re new to you.  In no particular order.

Make a LOT of art!  Studies have shown that students who create a lot of art eventually get better, especially compared to those who seek to create one perfect painting or poem or story or pot.  Like almost anything else, the more you do, the better you get.  This is the time to explore.  Try new things, new styles, new subjects, new mediums.  Just make a whole lot of it. Don’t worry if it’s any good yet.  Just do it.  The old adage that practice makes perfect applies here. While you are testing new things, your mind will begin to make connections and build on what you have done before.

Make it easy.  Make it easy to make art.  Do you have to clear the children’s homework from the dining table?  Drag out all your equipment and easel every time you want to paint? Find a space where you can keep your materials at hand.  Set up a corner in the bedroom to work.  Use a portable screen if the clutter annoys you.  Keep a sketchbook next to your TV chair.  Or in your purse or pocket.  I’ve often drawn mini-sketches while waiting for dinner or in the theater.  If your materials are nearby, you’ll be more likely to use them.

Don’t worry if it’s any good.  So many people worry about if their work is any good.  Stop that right now!  Refer to the first suggestion.  Just do it.  Do a lot of it.  ALL artists make some really bad paintings.  That’s Okay!  That is what preliminary work is for.  Try it out.  Maybe it will be brilliant. Maybe it won’t.  But you will have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Copy other artists.  Yes, I recommend studying other artists, your favorites perhaps.  Go to the museums or the library or even review their work online.  What do you like about their work?  What don’t you like?  Try making a few copies in the style of the artist. How does that feel to you?  Does it feel natural or awkward?  Look at what attracts you most.  Their subject matter?  Style?  Brushwork?  But do NOT EVER try to pass off someone else’s work as your own.  That is dishonest and plagerism. You won’t feel comfortable about it and you’ll be found out eventually.

Do a series.  A series is a group of artwork of, perhaps, the same subject or style or theme.  This helps you to dig deeper.  Find out what attracts you to this subject.  Van Gogh painted twelve sunflower paintings.  I’ll bet that he got better at them towards the end.  Monet painted thirty haystacks, 250 waterlillies, and over thirty of the Rouen Cathedral. Different angles, different times of day. 

My concluding advice is just keep at it.  Don’t let anyone discourage you. Only you know what you are learning.  If you have tried it before, try it again.  You’re in a different place and time.  Perhaps you have more skills and knowledge now.  Just keep moving forward. Good luck!

What Is Impressionism?

Impressionism is, without a doubt, one of the most continually popular painting styles of our times.  But this has not always been so.  It evolved in France in the 1860s to 1900s with a group of artists whose names you know well – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cassatt, Degas, Pissarro, etc. In an act of rebellion against the strict styles of the time of realistic, classical-based story-telling, this group of artists burst onto the scene with a new style which emphasized the beauty of nature. 

It is generally agreed that the invention of paints in tubes provided artists the freedom to begin painting outdoors. Before this time, paints were hand ground from pigments, mixed with oil and turpentine, and used only in the studio.  There was a possibility of using paints stored in pig blatters or glass syringes, but the Winsor Newton company patented the metal tube and added a screw cap.  This gave artists the portability of leaving the studio for the open fields and forests.  In other words, they began painting en plein air (out of doors). 

Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet. This is the painting from which the movement derived its name. The painting itself isn’t very large, only about 19 x 25 inches.

The freedom of painting outside allowed artists to capture a “snapshot” or impression of what they saw at the time they saw it.  This new style was labeled impressionism after Claude Monet exhibited his painting, Impression Sunrise.  The label was meant to be derisive but as fate would have it, it stuck.  After the initial shock of the crude paintings by this group of rebels, in a short time the public’s tastes were changed to one of acceptance and regard.  This big change was as revolutionary as going from classical music to rock and roll overnight.

American collectors were the first to embrace this style and began snapping up the paintings of the notable impressionsts and shipping them back to the United States.  Even today, many French musems relegate the impressionist paintings to some dim, out of the way spot while they are often featured in American museums.

Impressionism continues to be one of the most popular painting styles both among collectors and painters.  So how can you recognize what denotes an impressionist style? Here are a few guidelines.

  • Painters express feelings more than capturing a specific place or event.  How does the sun feel?  Can you see the glint off the water?  Express the coolness of the shady trees?
  • Thick brush strokes are another indication of impressionism.  The brush strokes are visible and the paint is not over-worked. 
  • The colors are mixed with the eye, i.e., they are laid down next to each other instead of being mixed to death on the palette.  If you look at an impressionist painting up close, it will often appear fuzzy and unclear.  However, if you step back a few feet (or several) the bold strokes and colors come together to form the image.  Think of Monet’s water lily paintings.  The paintings are huge and up close they appear to only be a loose collection of swirls and paint blobs.  However, from a distance of about ten feet, the whole painting comes together and the beauty of the scene is striking.
  • The subjects are often common place, found objects or still lifes. People in ordinary circumstances.
  • There is an asymetrical cropping of the paintings.  Parts of the scene are allowed to go off the edge.  Many times the scenes are captured exactly as they are found. Landscapes often have a very high or very low horizon line.

These are just a few of the main points defining impressionist style.  It continues to be popular with both painters and viewers.  However, there are now many finer branches of impressionism – contemporary, nouveau, outsider, open, etc.  Some use very bold colors and others are more muted.  Frankly, it’s all good. 

One of Monet’s many waterlily paintings. He painted over 250 images of these. Up close, it appears to be swirls or patches of paint. The composition doesn’t come into focus until you step back several feet.

If you would like to see more artwork, I suggest that you visit one of the many free museum exhibits online.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a breathtaking collection of work by the impressionists.  There are few things so humbling than sitting in a room full of Monets or VanGoghs.  Especially if you calculate how many millions (billions) of dollars worth of paintings are just in that one room.

There are more than 6,000 books on the subject listed on Amazon and more than 600,000 links about impressionism listed on Google search.  Yep, still pretty popular. Here are a few links to museums with online exhibits.

https://ecobnb.com/blog/2020/03/online-museums-free/

https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

More series, Intimate Spaces – Beach Series

Go! Number 11 in the Intimate Spaces – Beach Series. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 16. Kit Miracle

I completed the twelfth painting in my Intimate Spaces series this week.  My thoughts behind painting this series of beach paintings is that when people go to the beach, they carve out their little spaces, arrange their belongings, and then seem to act as if they are invisible within their own little territories.  They’re not.

Maybe I’m just a voyeur, or just have an artist’s eye for observing, but I have always been drawn to people-watching.  The beach, of course, is a great place to be an observer of the human animal, but there are many other places to do that, too.  More thoughts for future series.

Many artists have created series of paintings around themes in the past century and a half.  Most notably are Monet and his haystack paintings or Van Gogh and his sunflowers.  Some artists work the same theme for their entire lives like still life painter Gorgio Morandi who essentially painted the same objects over and over.

And what is the point of painting the same thing over and over? you might ask. For some artists, like Monet, it’s to study the object or scene in different lighting conditions.  For instance, he would often have several canvases at different points of completion, and then work on them when the same lighting and conditions presented themselves.  Most notably, his Rouen Cathedral series, but he was known for this throughout his life.

For me, it is the challenge to drill down into the subject. I like to paint the human figure in situ, or it’s natural, unposed state.  How do people interact when they think no one is watching them?  With each other, or with their surroundings?

My series of beach paintings, I have sixteen planned in all, does exactly that.  Children, families, individuals, seagulls, the landscape – all of the interactions within a limited scope of place.  If it were a different beach or place, there would be different subjects and activities.

But I am surely getting tired of painting sand and sea and sky.  Not doing the beach for the next series, for sure but I already have ideas rolling around.  First, however, will be a little plein air painting for a change of pace.