Before I Die I want to ....
Waiting may be the real human condition. Consider what people want out of life. I believe that it is usually something in the future. A better job. Real love. More money. A new something or other. A better life. All just out of reach and always tomorrow. When did this attitude to life begin? Thinking about it I suggest that it was probably in our later teens. You know when we started wishing we were older. Remember the Beach Boys song? "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older then we wouldn't have to wait so long..."
Why is waiting such a big part of our lives? Maybe the honest truth is that we are afraid. Fear is the number one factor before lack of time, money or motivation. When we try something risky like creating from the heart we are letting our defences down. That goes against human nature. We need to protect ourselves at all costs. But is the cost worth it? Who pays the price in the end?
Recently this idea came up around our dinner table. We were discussing Christmas gifts since it is getting to that time of year again. My wife wants our gifts to the extended family to be handmade. This is better than something bought at the mall. A gift from the heart. But what if the recipient did not like the gift? Would it not be safer just to buy something? My wife is very talented at crafts. We looked at each other as if we suddenly woke up and thought: "We are two artists second guessing our ability to make worthwhile gifts for our relatives!" Trivial, but it illustrates a point. If we do not keep an eye on ourselves we will do whatever it takes to preserve ourselves from rejection even it it means compromising on our talents.
The idea is to use our talents now. Not wait until sometime in the future. The time is never right. The time is short. Act today no matter if the first steps are hesitant and clumsy. Forget the TV and the mantra of "I am too tired, maybe tomorrow." If art is your thing then grab a pencil and sketch then move on to adding colour or whatever is the next step for you. Want to write? Start with a sentence.
I read an article about Prince Charles in the recent Time magazine. The Forgotten Prince is the lead title. It is about Prince Charles getting on with projects and duties as if he is king. He has not waited to be crowned before doing anything worthwhile. Life is short and he clearly is taking opportunities today to make a difference.
This blog title is borrowed from the story of Candy Chang. You can read the full story on her website. Her project was to create giant blackboards where people could fill in the blank space. A reminder that the time is now and our time is short. Let us not waste another moment. I love this idea! I relate to it very much. It has been and still is a challenge for me to put my art out there. It may be insignificant, but perhaps it makes someone happy too. Ultimately it is what I do and what I am sharing that matters. There is a long way to go, but I cannot stop now. We all need to do our meaningful work even if it is difficult.
The challenge then is to start today. Whether it is art, writing, physics or mending relationships - just begin.
What would you write in that blank space?
50 Greatest Artists
Who would you select on your list of greatest artists? This is my personal list of all time greats.
Please share or download this slideshow as a teaching aid or simply for the enjoyment of art.
Artist Paint Brush Review
Are you debating whether to buy an artist quality brush? Is an artist quality brush really worth the price? Read this artist's paint brush review to find out.
I often hear artists say that artist quality brushes are not necessary. What they usually mean is that the brushes are too expensive. Only professionals need such brushes. I know these arguments since I once used them myself. I was wrong though. Artist quality brushes are a great investment and will improve your painting. They are good value for money too.
Read this full review on My Studio page.
In Art Passion is Everything
Some things never change. In art, as in life, we need to create with passion first, reason second.
If painting is no longer needed, it seems a pity that some of us are born into the world with such a passion for line and color. (Mary Cassatt)
Artist Beware! How to Avoid a Scam
It was probably my turn to be visited by a scammer. Fortunately the tale ends happily, but the story may be helpful to you.
I recently received an order for a few paintings via e-mail. The person posing as a collector requested an invoice which I supplied. Shortly thereafter I received a proof of payment that looked exactly like a Standard Bank EFT form.
With hindsight I should have felt something odd about the deal. Buying and selling art is always an exciting event for both artist and collector. But this time there was none of that. Too clinical!
The collector asked for overnight delivery, but I had to frame the paintings first. The next morning I received a mail asking for the tracking number for the paintings. Red flag! This was looking strange since I had not received notification from my bank that the funds had cleared.
I let another day pass and still nothing. It was now clear that this tirckster was looking for a quick overnight delivery based on his fraudulent proof of payment. Fortunately my paintings remain safe and sound with me.
The moral of course is to never release goods until the payment is cleared and in your own account. Never trust a proof of payment alone no matter how authentic it looks.
On a lighter note it reminded me of a Fawlty Towers episode where Basil is conned by someone posing as a lord. Basil Fawlty's reaction at the end is how I felt too! I found part of the show - good for a laugh!
Loosen Up and Live Your Art
Art is supposed to make us relax a bit more, right? It is a pastime that could be on the doctor’s list of prescriptions for stressed out patients. Of course artists are laid back and carefree folk with tie-dyed cloths. It makes sense to take up painting for good health and besides there is no physical exertion involved. Well I have to agree, except for the tie-dyed clothes, that art can do all those things. But is it likely?
The most common pitfall is that we get caught up in unreasonable expectations. This is usually our ego getting in the way. Being attached to an outcome almost always leads to disappointment. We see a painting in our mind’s eye, but the outcome looks nothing like the masterpiece we envisaged. Suddenly excuses start cropping up that are designed to avoid embarassment. Things like painting is expensive, I don’t have the time or we start to doubt our talent. All imagined but given life by our very thoughts!
Recently I caught myself out. I had been going through a dry spell. I was missing the spark that would get me fired up. Something was missing and it was getting me down. What was it that was holding me back? Sure it was not something dramatic because others still liked what I was doing, but I knew that there was something out of alignment.
Then it dawned on me when I changed medium to watercolours. It was this change of technique using a large mop brush that gave me a wake-up call. The beauty of watercolours is that you cannot become tight and controlled. Water is not like that. It flows, splashes and splatters. That is the great part. You have to have your wits about you though and think ahead, but boy is it great to see those accidental effects. By some magic in the drying process those crazy moments of frenetic painting change into a vibrant and energetic painting.
So the moment of realisation was that I had succumbed to little-brush-syndrome with my oils. In the quest for more realism I had sacrificed what I loved most about the process. The vibrancy and energy of large shapes and large brushwork. My painting was getting tight and it was not my natural style. I threw aside the little brushes and completed two small oils in rapid succession using nothing smaller than a number 10 or 12 brush. Fantastic! It felt right and I was relieved and happy.
Whatever your natural style may be try to be in tune with your expressive nature. That is when the joy begins.
As Kevin MacPherson says:”Paint by the pound”. Painting for me is an expression of who I am. I want to be moved by what I do. I want those brush strokes bold and juicy and the colours to resonate. Painting must be fun. Loosen up and go for it.
Don't Frack With Our Karoo
So our government has given the go ahead for drafting fracking rules in South Africa. The Business Day article calls it the "green light" but there is nothing green about it. Of course this is simply another step into the inevitable downward spiral chasing after easy billions no matter what the cost to our fragile environment.
What has this to do with art? For me plenty. The karoo region is loved by South Africans for diverse reasons. For artists and other creative minded people it is a well of inspiration that has helped to produce profound art over the years. Of course there is prehistoric art too not only modern work.
I have spent wonderful moments in that silent and peaceful place. No surprise that many paintings have been created from those experiences. They always seem to be my most popular works, because there is that emotional content that comes through. For residents in the region the idea of fracking is disturbing. Would we not all feel this way when we realise how brutal the process is. No it is not about jobs for the unemployed. Fracking is not sustainable. Once the deed is done the foreign companies will move on leaving all sorts of social and environmental scars.
Fracking is safe they say? Look at this recent spill in North Dakota and tell me that anyone wants to see that in the karoo. We need to remember that the karoo's water comes from ancient springs underground. It is not being replaced. Once contaminated that is it! Gone. I took the picture above in Niue Bethesda. The village is a wonderful green oasis with spring water running through furrows to small farms. Will this water be safe when the spills take place?
What can we do? Continue to voice outrage. Boycott the services and products of the oil companies behind the project. Write to the minister and make your votes count in protest. Support organisations like Treasure the Karoo. You can also share this article and hopefully we help spread the word.
Some years ago Lewis Gordon Pugh gave a moving speech protesting fracking in South Africa. It is worth watching again and reminding ourselves that this is our country. Not Shell's or any other foreign corporation. Ours! We do not have to roll over.
The Patient Artist
Patience! Someone once said that patience is a state of torment disguised as a virtue. Surely every artist knows this is all too true.
As I struggle through a paintings that I am unhappy with, looking for that new direction, I am trying to remind myself that these periods always come before a breakthrough. All to often people give up at the moment before success is achieved. With time (age) this becomes clear enough. So persist with patience and enjoy the moment.
Remember those artists who have struggled against resistance and come out all the stronger for it. How dull life would be if it was too easy. Create your art and I will do my work too. We can share the moment later when all is done, but until then paint on!
Watercolour: A Master's Medium
Watercolour is a popular medium. There is however an idea that watercolour is easier for the beginner. It sounds cleaner compared to oils. Certainly there is less chemicals to worry about. Perhaps it stems also from our childhood experiences with watercolours. If they trusted us at school with watercolours then why should we adults not be comfortable with them?
Sadly many beginners find out that watercolours are not easy to work with. The very nature of the watery medium is a challenge to handle. Watercolours run and bloom and mistakes cannot be easily corrected. When to stop and concepts of wet-into-wet take on a whole new significance when we try this medium. It also tends to get us thinking ahead and this is difficult for the inexperienced painter. As a result many artists abandon watercolours all too early. The joys of this medium, waiting to be unlocked, remain hidden for good.
One of my favourite master artists, Paul Cezanne, used watercolour extensively for preparatory painting. This medium is ideal for a quick study to try and get a good layout for composition. When I looked at Cezanne's watercolours I was amazed by the simplicity of shape and delicacy of hue that he employed. Even Cezanne's preparatory watercolours are substantial enough to stand on their own. Light and joyful with a masterful economy! They are a delight.
Painting in watercolour is also an excellent foil for oil painting. The approach to oils and watercolour differs enough to provide the artist with a new challenge. However all the requirements of hue, value and composition still apply. There is no reason why both mediums cannot be enjoyed with equal pleasure.
Watercolours did unfortunately get bad press for producing rather weak paintings. I blame those terrible wishy-washy calendars we used to get in the 80's. This was not the fault of the medium, but simply the artist painting for a certain market. Watercolours can be powerful and bright or light filled wonders. Anything is possible when the pigments are used to their potential.
Have a look at this brief video showing Cezanne's watercolour method. Then give watercolours a try for yourself!
The Persistent Artist
“Every day I discover
Claude Monet's expression of joy and frustration in the above quote will resonate with many artists. Monet had a full and rich life as an artist, but it was not all fame and fortune. These came late in his career. He experienced persistent torment through most of his painting life as he tried to express his vision to a reluctant public. Debts mounted up and derisive art reviews from critics followed Monet's early impressionist work. What would any artist have done in the circumstances?
Monet was also quoted saying that his life was indeed a failure. Yes artists have a way with exaggeration at times! We must remember that Monet's work was groundbreaking with little reference to old masters to help him. Together with his debts and little respect for his early work one may be excused for thinking that he should have tried another career.
Thankfully Monet did not give up his art. He did persist with his unique vision and history now honours him as one of the greats of all time. It does make me wonder what artists today have to face to make progress in their careers. Would Monet have been encouraged by our frenzied world filled with information and distraction? What does an artist today have to do to stand out and be counted? Or simply to make a living?
We seem to be encouraged to take the easy way out and blame circumstances. The economy. The shallow experience that social media fosters at the expense of deeper understanding. The persistence to do the exceptional is a rare quality. It is however exactly what we need today.
Monet and others of his type knew that strength of character meant hard work and dedication. When faced with an idea Monet worked at it with a singular focus that may seem absurd today. Take his series paintings of haystacks for example. This mundane subject was ridiculed at the time, but Monet was persistent. He painted dozens of haystacks in different light conditions in pursuit of his vision. Did he have sales in mind? It is hard to imagine that Monet did this exercise as a business decision.
So I do have to remind myself in my humble circumstances that when art seems to be all frustration there is virtue in persistence. For every uphill comes with its own reward when the summit is crested. Without challenge life is dull. It is as simple as that. Paint on and be happy with the uphills, because they hold the promise of new insights and rewards.
Most importantly have fun along the way. We are privileged to be able to create art and it is comforting to know that many great artists had to face adversity along the way. The least we can do is persist and enjoy the journey.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa