Master Class: Sorolla's Light
It may be that the light in Spain reminds me of light in South Africa. It is bold and uncompromising. Light and dark dominates and seldom are there any misty greys to soften the effect. Since we are entering summer in this part of the world I felt that Sorolla's bold brushwork in this painting evoked the summer mood.
The painting above covers all that I love about Sorolla's painting. Although a tranquil scene we can sense that it was probably a scorching hot day. The cool shadows by the pond bringing some relief. The luminous water, bright reflections and value contrasts all work to illustrate the concept.
In particular the brushwork stands out. Sorolla's brushwork is confident and bold. He was known for assessing and placing his mark then leaving it alone. No blending and fussing which weakens a painting. One can appreciate that the brushwork creates a sensuous texture on the canvas. This is how oil paint should be used.
Reflected light fills the scene and is closely observed by the artist. Look at the lady's white dress - there is no white paint, but rather a series of greys to convey the shadows and indirect light.
We are also reminded to keep the paint in shadows thinner and transparent while laying it on thick in the brightly lit passages. Overall the harmony of light has been captured and rendered expressively. It is true that we need not worry about harmony if we follow nature's lead and depict colours accurately as they appear in nature. Values and harmony will look real on the canvas too.
We can all learn by studying masters like Sorolla and this should be part of a weekly process when you are in need of a break from painting.
I will be covering these techniques in more detail in my upcoming online workshops starting in January. More info.
Art is a challenge and the old adage about the more you learn the more you realise that there is still even more to learn, rings true.
A recent trip to Knysna on an art workshop brought this fact home loud and clear. Artists of all abilities share a common cause - the pleasure of creating. We also share the frustrations that this process brings too. Does the painting you envisage in your mind translate exactly onto canvas? Probably not. Something like the song in your mind seldom sounds right when you sing it out load (that is why my singing is limited to the shower).
Painting is enormously rewarding if you give it the time and space to grow. Talent gets you started and passion fires the soul, but good old dedication and discipline sorts out the pros from the occasional painters. Nothing wrong with whatever direction you choose, however it must be said that your expectations and effort need to correspond.
I have learnt over the years that constant practice does bring sweet reward. This could mean doing dozens of drawings, value studies and colour maps before your try out the painting itself. After years of this process you may be able to refine and distill the preparation somewhat. Occasionally something so profound strikes you that you will pick up a brush and create a stunning piece without any preparation at all. In truth these moments are built on a strong foundation of work.
It is not how much you spend on lessons nor on the extent of your studio equipment. Money cannot buy you effort. That comes from within each artist and we must decide how much we are willing to give. How unsatisfying it would be if painting was a quick-fix thing - a fad for today.
Thankfully painting is hard work and I would not want it any other way.
outdoor painting is the fuel that keeps the artist going through the long journey in the studio.
Which do you prefer - outdoor or indoor painting? There is no right or wrong answer, but I want to look at an aspect that sheds more light on the topic.
When painting outdoors the constant change in conditions and the many other goings on that form the totality of the experience makes us react to all these stimuli. This seldom applies to working in the studio.
At first glance it may suggest that outdoors work is very demanding and chaotic at times. Perhaps it appears this way for example when the weather changes for the worse. We need to react to changing conditions by making quicker decisions about the painting process. This prevents us from making too many little changes. What seems like a limitation at first becomes a plus. Our intuition improves together with our skills often resulting in surprisingly fresh and energetic paintings.
In the studio the conditions are controlled, but the demands for results are also higher. The actions of the artist need to be more positive. Nothing happens without your input and you have to supply the stimulus to do something. The technical and other artistic processes need to be brought into play to ensure that a painting of studio quality is produced. Often this can result in flat and lifeless work. When we pull it off the painting can look accomplished, but is there atmosphere and a sense of feeling in the work? Only the artist can answer this truthfully.
There are often reasons put forward to avoid outdoor work such as safety issues or that the results are hit-and-miss resulting in wasted paint. There are many artists who paint outdoors without any risk provided that common sense is used. As far as wastage is concerned the results in the long term will pay for any wasted paint.
It does seem then that ideally we need to combine the two because outdoor painting is the fuel that keeps the artist going through the long journey in the studio. Both outdoor and indoor work is necessary for us to arrive at our destination.
Unblock! 10 Tips-of-the-Day
Paint miles of canvas! Yes my previous article proclaimed this and I stick by it. Just one snag though - it can get a bit stale if you use one approach for weeks on end. Without variety in your art process there will not be much progress. Even worse - it might begin to feel like a chore! The great part about being an artist is the freedom to decide. It is all yours and we sometimes lose sight of this because everything else in life has to be so tight and pc. Cut loose and do something different.
Some ideas (please add some of yours too)
1) Toning the canvas the same colours getting you down? Go for multi-colours in loose blocks all over the canvas. What shows through when you start the painting may give a new twist;
2) Drawing the outlines of your subject in pencil seems ho-hum? Try charcoal and work at arms length. Get free and loose to show energy and bold big shapes;
3) Oil paint again? Try watercolour. Add some pastels over parts that have dried for a multi-media approach.
4) Change your palette: Try painting in monochome too. This does not have to be black and white, but any colour of your choice. Just vary the values and see what happens. The lessons learnt are priceless.
5) Use different tools: Swop the brush for a palette knife for example. Use your fingers to soften edges where required. Use a rag or dry brush technique over dried surfaces to catch the light.
6) Step outside. Use a viewfinder and crop any outdoor scene and paint that in twenty minutes. Time yourself. Use a large brush eg: size 12 only.
7) Gallery crawl: Visit galleries, museums and even artist friends and take a break from your studio for a day or two. Let the experience soak in. Let the juices bubble a bit. Ideas will come. Act on them.
8) New sights. Bored with your neighbourhood? You do not need to go on an expensive holiday. Try going for a drive out at a time of day that is not part of your usual routine. For example in summer take an early morning drive or walk (if you a a late riser by habit) and see how the light changes familiar sights. Another approach is to paint a nocturne - what with there being so much artificial lighting in towns and cities it is possible to paint exciting scenes this way.
9) Do a self-portrait with any medium of choice. Simple or detailed - that is up to you. It may reveal more than you think!
10) Music - change it - turn it up. Music can light up the creativity in you.
What works for you?
Respect, Work and Steal Like An Artist
How do you picture an artist going about his or her business? Many images come to mind about an artist's day influenced by misconceptions and some romance too. A lot depends on how you see yourself and what it is you want to achieve through art. A full-time pro will have a schedule and approach totally different from the weekend painter. Perhaps your interest is more academic than practical. If you can answer the big questions: What do you want ? and Who are you? - then you can figure out the direction to follow.
Let us say that you do want to paint more and that you have an idea of selling your art. You have a dream of turning pro through a process of transition from regular day job to full time artist. Aside from technical issues I would like to focus on three valuable qualities that you may choose to follow.
1) Respect: Have respect for all other artists and also for yourself. Respect other artists irrespective of their ability. There will always be someone better than you and you will be better than others as far as technique is concerned. Respect keeps an artist humble and keeps professional jealousy at bay. These weaknesses of the ego are fatal to artists. It is one thing to have confidence, but it is another to be arrogant. It is useful to remember that every artist has her own path to follow and own burdens to carry. Try not to add negative energy through ego. Even better - express gratitude that there are many other artists to share this kinship with.
2) Work Joyfully: A creative life is a joyful one and there is much to be grateful for simply living in this manner. I am not sure if there is any better way to feel the rhythm of nature and the universe than to be engrossed in a creative task. There is a certain synchronisity involved when the soul is engaged. Time flies and happy coincidences seem to happen with regularity. The opposite condition is when you are out of synch with natural rhythms. You feel blocked and frustrated. You try to kill time and self-doubt creeps in as your mind fills you with distractions. If you find yourself shopping or watching too much TV to get over this feeling then you need to do something quickly. The solution is to start working.
The other benefit to work is that productivity increases. With this comes improved quality of work and growing skills. These qualities are due to regular and dedicated work. If you paint then get through miles of canvas. If you sculpt then tons of material needs to be chiseled away. Get the idea? Quantity counts and quality follows naturally. With regular, joyful work comes effortless creativity.
3) Steal like an artist: A famous quote goes along the lines of " Everything that is worth saying has already been said, but since nobody was paying attention, it bears repeating." We artists need to learn from those who have worked before us and those who strive alongside us. This is not copying or plagiarism. This about about taking what is good, assimilating it and producing something unique with your own interpretation. It was Picasso who referred to Cezanne as the father of abstract art and Picasso took the process further as was his chosen duty as an artist.
It is well known that renaissance masters learnt their skill by copying those masters who went before them. The student then produced his own unique works once his skills were up to standard. This process of learning and acquisition links up to respect and work. Stealing like an artist is not a shortcut. You will need to respect the information you acquire and work hard to produce your own unique work. Acknowledge your influences and be grateful for their work. In turn be generous with your own work as you carry on a tradition of learning. For an off-beat take on this topic visit
The three qualities go more to the character of an artist than technical skills, but all are linked and share in importance.
Time for a Change?
Funny thing about life is that change is scary to most people. Funny because change is a constant fact of life. We should be comfortable with change since that is the way the big picture works. Farmers know this. The seasons and occasional extreme weather patterns are just that - patterns. Farmers who cannot live with these patterns will sell up. I do not know much about farming so let me use art and business as an example.
For the past year or so I have been told and have read this too, that the economy is at its worst ever. No matter how low those interest rates drop people are just not buying. Art sales are at the lowest ever and have you seen the petrol price? (Did I mention that I have stopped reading newspapers).
Looking back over this period I have realised something. What we think of as disturbing change is merely a pattern repeating itself. It is very difficult for there to be real change. If it was easy we would be changing things, but we remain mostly passive. Pushed around by these patterns, confused and fearful. This is a choice we make for ourselves and conveniently blame it on others or circumstances beyond our control.
Have you seen those big shoals of fish that move like big clouds billowing in and out. Changing shape all the time to avoid trouble. This pattern of behavior is a defence mechanism to confuse predators. When there are thousands of fish together what does it matter if a thousand or two get gobbled up. The majority may still survive. Thing is - dolphins know this and they will whittle that shoal of fish down to a handful and those fish still cannot change their pattern of thinking. Fortunately we can change our pattern of thinking.
I have noticed that in quiet months my thinking falls into a self-fulfilling pattern. It is the economy and things are just down. Look at everyone else going through the same problem. Truth is the universe does not care what mode of thinking I use. It just gives me more of what I think about. If I lose focus completely and scramble in panic mode I may kid myself by saying that I am putting a plan of action together. All I get in return is more confusion and doomsayers confirming my doubts.
I caught myself in this pattern recently and recognised it for what it was. Taking a step back and cutting off the stream of negative energy I simply took my place in front of the easel and started creating again. Literally within a day I had fresh positive ideas and collectors visiting my studio.
The lesson learnt was that the patterns I choose to fall in with are just that - a choice. Will I make the mistake again? Sure - I am human after all.
What I can say is that as an artist the creativity needed to paint is also needed in every aspect of my life. If we can accept change and adapt by taking the opportunities that change creates then we are living actively. Positive or negative patterns are just that - we choose the pattern by our thoughts and actions or inaction.
So embrace positive change and act on the opportunities that the universe presents to you. Chances are you have already thought of several positive actions or ideas while reading this blog.
See how effortlessly it works?
Art from Life Lives On
Eden Rose by Jeremy Lipking
What is it about the art that you admire, covet and ultimately love? Is it the colour? The energy of a painting's design? Very likely it is something more than the sum of its parts. That is the mark of a good painting. But is it relevant?
Representational art has been plagued by this question for too long. Aided and abetted by art academics who have developed an entire lexicon of learning and lore about modern and post-modern art. The result has been the shunning of representational art - at least at the upper levels of the art market. Gifted artists turned their back on the art they loved to produce something that the market demanded. The influence of critics and high end galleries has been significant in this process. Not to mention the spotlight falling on a few celebrity (notorious) artists.
What is representational art? Art in whatever medium that creates work recognisable from life whether of people, places or things. This leaves a wide scope for expression and skill. So too does post-modern work, but perhaps the latter has escaped sharp analysis because it has been more difficult to interpret. Determining real merit has been an issue in this century. Fortunately art lovers are making up their own minds these days.
It is easy to understand why representational art took such a beating from the 1950's. The world was a mess socially and politically together with the threat of nuclear war. There was a lot of angst and for good reason. Has anything changed?
My take on this is that there has been a massive change with the internet leading the way. The sharing of ideas and empowerment of the traditionally marginalised has given the younger generations a greater sense of control over their own destiny. No more corporate ladders and old gatekeepers. Politicians kowtow to social media. Anarchy is just so 70's.
Add to this the rise of the green movement to mainstream culture. Appreciation for nature and beauty is part of this mindset. Health and all things natural lends itself to looking at our real world with new eyes. If you love nature then you will appreciate the nuances of skillful art depicting these subjects. Perhaps a dose of nostalgia adds to the appeal. The appeal of ugly has had to give way to seeking the light. Not to say that beauty means sweet and sugar. Beautiful art can depict subjects of all types.
The rise of representational artists producing sublime work especially among younger artists has added credibility to the genre too. Artists like Jeremy Lipking, Peter Van Dyck and Ben Fenske for example have brought new energy to the art world.
Recently there was a significant convention in the US , The Representational Art Conference held in California to debate this very topic. What does the future hold? Who knows, but one thing seems certain - representational art is back and collectors across the spectrum are looking for beauty once again. That is a good for all of us.
Resistance Has Allies
The Pieta by Michelangelo
There are many ways an artist can get derailed from his or her work. We have seen that an artist's wellbeing depends on whether the artist does her work on a regular basis. If we want to take our art to a higher level we have to be professionals. This means getting to work everyday. This work consists of many things from marketing to paperwork and of course creating. The latter is the most difficult for most artists. Impossible! Every artist loves to create so why would this be difficult to do?
Yes we do love to create art. A true artist will hanker for the creative process, but just when we are about to start something comes up. Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art calls this resistance. The force that attacks artists everyday like a great white shark with only one thing on its mind: to keep us from our work. It takes commitment, discipline and sometimes we have to trick ourselves to get the work started. Even as I type this article I confess that it took me three hours of struggle with resistance to get to the point where I could start typing. What did I do for three hours? Many inane tasks that I can barely recall until I got to the point of swearing at myself until I started work at the keyboard.
If resistance is not enough there are other insidious traps waiting for artists.
Do we seek praise? Never directly we may reply, but one way or another we may try to weedle praise out of the people who will not want to hurt our feelings. As we build up our sense of self (ego) we unfortunately leave our backs wide open for the train coming from behind. No I will not go so far as to say that this is delusional behavior. It is simply ... well, yes it is delusional. What we artists need is balanced criticism and we must seek out the truth. Improve where needed and forge ahead. Good honest assessment of our work is good for us.
Do we find fault with other artist's work? The competition. If you do this then there is going to be much turmoil ahead. No good comes of this form of behaviour. The real danger is that it becomes a habit and an attention seeking form of behaviour. It is not the artist's place to try and drag down another artist whether directly or indirectly. There are professional art criitics and the good ones have their job to do. The others need to find another calling. As far as artists are concerned I find no benefit in pointing fingers and decrying someone's art. Far more is gained from seeking the positive and artists will feel at peace doing this.
Always focus on the moment and create the best work you can. It does not matter if the painting turns out ordinary in your opinion. Accept that there will always be a gap between what your creative soul envisaged and what your hands produced. Did Mozart compose his music exactly as he imagined it? Did Michelangelo produce the perfect sculpture exactly as he imagined it? We cannot believe that these works of genius always fell short of the artist's expectations. The purpose of art for artists is to live the moment of creation. It is the process not the end result that matters.
As hard as that may be to accept it is our only source of peace.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa