You learn a lot about subjects just by observing them. This is certainly true in painting and it is true about web design. While I was happy to get my website finally online last October, I knew when I put it online that it would require some maintenance and some creativity. With the exception of an annoying Internet Explore bug, don’t view my site in Internet Explorer, the site meets my minimum functional requirements: display the gallery, options to purchase works, and view my blog entries. While I will resolve the Explorer problem soon, I have turned my attention to the aesthetics of my website.
This past Christmas my wife gifted me a Bamboo Pen & Touch system. With this device I can sketch on my computer with a control level near that of a real pencil. I intend on using this pen for digital sketches and maybe even a full digital painting. However, for the moment, I plan on improving the look of my site with this pen. One thing I find when I view other websites is the clever use of color schemes, efficient layout of imagery, and the ease of navigation. I have gathered many ideas while surfing the web (does anyone still use that phrase?) and I’m now in the design stages of the next version of my site.
First, I plan on incorporating many videos into my site and thus I need a well laid out video page. When complete, you will be able to quickly select a video from my site as each video will have a brief description of the contents. I am also debating whether to trim the frame element from my existing video “My Bonny” because I think that as more videos are added to the page the extra graphics could look garish. Second, the image gallery is in need of some work. I have been teaching myself Flash and this gallery represents my first complete project in it. I would like to add a feature where the user can click on a painting and get an expanded or close-up view of that painting – right now the experience is limited to the size of your browser. Because there is no substitute for walking into a gallery and viewing actual paintings up close, the virtual gallery must be more flexible. Finally, the site is drenched in black with a green accent. This will probably change because I want to make the site warm and inviting to my viewers. The new color scheme is a work in progress.
As for the easel, the pirates painting is progressing as expected. I’ve been having some issues with rendering a likeness of a character, but other than that the work is progressing as normal; I‘m targeting completion by mid February. I have already begun planning for the next painting which you will see more of in the coming posts. Until then…..paint on!
It has been a productive week for me – artistically. I have been working hard on my latest project, which is a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, and I really like where it is going. Because this is another gift for someone, I will have to hold off on showing you some progression photos, but I will have those up when the painting is complete. I am also in the process of creating another short movie about creating this painting.
I have spent the last year or two educating myself on the various techniques of still-life and figurative painting. When I finally went back to a landscape painting last year (The Runoff), I was disappointed in the results. I felt that my landscape skills had stalled and I realized I needed to balance my skills better to accommodate the various aspects of my current projects. For example, my current project is a mixture of figurative, landscape, and portraiture work. If two of the elements appear strong, they will still be overwhelmed by a weak third element. As nice a face I might paint, if the tree is a formless blob then the viewers eyes will just focus on that. So I have been working hard on my landscape skills and I hope it shows in this next project.
I guess I figured I had achieved a sense of accomplishment with landscape works or perhaps I just got a little bored with landscapes – or both. I entered the oil painting realm with the desire to paint landscapes, but then I realized that there was so much more I could cover that I got lost in my explorations. I can now say that figurative works are my favorite. I love depicting people in scenes that tell stories, however I still have a great love for landscapes. It’s funny that my feelings on these genres are completely opposite of my favorite oil painter – Thomas Gainsborough.
Gainsborough (1727-1788), was from England and was a tremendous portrait and figure artist. Even if you think you have never heard his name, you are most likely familiar with his most famous work The Blue Boy. Not only could he convincingly render emotions in his faces, but he could bring out the fine details of the clothing his subjects were wearing. In the Blue Boy for example, I don’t think it’s the youthful skin tones he rendered, but the blue satin on the boy that makes this a classic. Light seems to pour off the canvas from his costume even without the bright gallery lighting. I’ve been fortunate enough to see this painting in person (it sits in San Marino at the Huntington Library) and I was in awe of it. The eyes of the boy seem to penetrate his viewers and leave you pondering why he appears so confident. The boy gives off such confidence that you might suspect he has just won something. The background is so understated that you don’t even notice it. It’s a very serene landscape with earth tones to complement the cool blue satin of the costume. The funny thing here is that Gainsborough actually didn’t like doing portraits. He only painted them out of financial necessity. Commissions for portraits came in constantly which gave him a comfortable living. In his early years however, he was trying to sell his real passion – landscapes. They didn’t sell well though, not because people thought they were substandard, but because oil portraits were the rage in those times. So he continued the portraits to make his living and it wasn’t until his later years, after he made his mark on portraiture, that he returned to his first love.
While my first love was landscapes, it has since shifted to rendering people. Since I don’t have to rely on my art sales exclusively; I don’t have to target my works at a particular audience. I certainly appreciate the various genres of oil painting as they have their own inherit challenges. In my mind, a good artist can specialize in one genre, but since many paintings include faces, still objects, animals, and landscape elements (sometimes all of these in one), it is important to be competent in all of these areas. That is my goal now and that is why I am working on my landscape skills.
I am in the design stages of a pirate themed painting – I will be posting the sketches soon. I also just completed a painting that won’t be displayed until after Christmas to avoid ruining the surprise for the receiver. In the meantime, I have been entertaining and educating myself on other artist’s ideas and opinions. Some discussions have been interesting to say the least.
For example, I recently was involved in a discussion in one of my art groups online about determining the value of a painting once you have completed it. This artist was clearly talented but he didn’t know how much to ask for when selling his work. Then he said something that made me jump into the discussion. He claimed that he saw artists who were asking thousands of dollars for their work and he felt those pieces were not hard to do and that because he could do a better job that his pieces should be worth even more. I rolled my eyes and began constructing my argument against his way of thinking.
So how do I value a painting? Well as I told this artist, the value is not based on level of difficulty – how would I even quantify that? I believe the value of a painting is determined by an assortment of factors including the medium, size, color, subject content, the amount of work involved, demand for the artist’s work, and others. There is simply no formula for artists to follow when assigning value to a painting. To illustrate my point to this person, I gave the example of two paintings of the same subject with different approaches. The subject is a coke can and the first is rendered in realism while the other is painted with an impressionist approach. I asked him that if the realist approach required more detail, does that mean it should be priced higher? There is no simple answer, but personally I would give the impressionist’s piece a higher price. The impressionist includes his own personal touch to this simple coke can while the realist is only painting everything that they see. If I wanted a painting of photographic quality then why not just take a photo of a coke can? I prefer to own art that contains a little bit of the artist’s soul in it. As for the price I would be willing to pay in this situation, well I would not pay much because the subject is so tame and uninteresting.With that said, when all is said and done, the artist has the right to throw out these considerations and slap an arbitrary price to their work. I prefer not to do such a thing. I price my pieces in a relatively affordable fashion because I feel that I need a reputation for successful work and a larger fan base before I can increase the value. In other words, the demand must be higher for me to raise the value. So there is no reason for me to slap thousands of dollars on my paintings when I know they will not sell for that price.
That is my point though – just because one painting is harder to execute does not make it worth more. I have seen many abstracts with a minimalist approach sell for thousands of dollars. This defies my logic because I don’t understand abstract to begin with, but in the art world nothing is logical and everything is spontaneous. This is the world I enjoy living in. You never know what you will see when you wake up each morning.
It is amazing what a piece of art can do. Paintings are more then globs of pigment on canvas. They are windows into new worlds and ideas that lead our minds into new realms we never realized existed. A provocative subject can give us pause to think, a subject based in parody can spark a laugh, and for some of us, they can even provide healing powers. A young man who was in a hospital was able to cope with his disease by engaging in artistic projects. This happy story illustrates the powerful responses, both physical and emotional, a piece of art can garner.
What kind of response do you get when you look at a painting? Any response is better than nothing for an artist’s goal is to have their work remembered. A painting can convey emotion just from the colors used or the composition chosen. Earlier this year I tried to convey a feeling of self-reflection and even a little regret in the work “It’s Never too Late.” The point of the work was to ask the question “Is it ever too late to try what you never tried?” In the scene, the old man is sitting on a chair while holding a cello. He has a pensive and urgent expression as he loses himself in a sunset that is fading away outside. He is pondering whether he could still try to learn this difficult instrument at his older age. Surrounded by family photographs, we assume he has made good choices for himself and found happiness. The expression suggests however that he does have some regrets. What has he sacrificed to obtain his happiness? What has he missed out on?
To convey these feelings I used symbolism. The main theme here is the eternal force of time. The old man is a victim of time and the choices he is forced to make because of it. There are two plants surrounding him in this setting. One is full of life and touching the sunlight while the other is in shade and withering as it approaches its last days. Time has worked its power here and the old man is surrounded by it. The large clock on the wall hovers over the old man as a reminder that life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. The old man is in his own epicenter of action and consequence. While the family photographs are behind him and represent the choices made and his path chosen, he is looking ahead into a sun that is setting and realizing the life he has lived all of these years is also starting to set. He has limited time to resolve these remaining desires that he has put off in his old age. Will he try to learn this instrument like he always wanted to? Is it ever too late?
The next time you are stuck on a painting take a moment to determine why you have an interest in the work. Is it the subject, color, or something else? Artists appreciate knowing that their work is creating a response.
Who doesn’t love the stories of pirates? Thanks to the Disney folks, we all have a rose-colored vision of what piracy really was like in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The truth is that most pirates died after about 7 years on the sea while on the run. The most common cause of death was disease. Where did the disease come from? Well if you sleep in your own filth, while crammed together with dozens of other diseased men, you will soon find an early exit to your miserable life. What about food? Well often there was none and so cannibalism reared its ugly head. Yes to be a pirate in reality was a horrible life. So let’s stay with the romanticized fantasy shall we?
Pirate history has always appealed to me because I love the idea of complete freedom. You can sail for adventure anywhere at anytime and meet anyone. I also enjoy pirate-themed art and while there are not many artists who voyage into this genre, I do have a personal favorite that I wanted to make you aware of. His name is Donald Maitz and I find his work to be humorous and enchanting. On a technical level, Maitz is able to balance reality with a slight touch of the cartoonist. His characters are full of emotion and energy and you cannot help but stare at a face and start to feel a little bit of the drama or comedy coming out of the scene. The paintings are great story tellers and they follow that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words. In his larger works the picture is more like one hundred thousand words. I love a narrative painting and Maitz is a talent with bringing comedy and action into his works. Most of you, though you may not have known his name, have seen at least one of his works. Maitz painted the famous portrait of Captain Henry Morgan which was adopted by the Morgan Rum company for the label on the bottle. “Got a little captain in ya?”
Maitz has influenced me in the last few years. I have found that I too want to venture into narrative works. Stories are great on canvas and you can return to a painting many times and find something new that you may not have noticed earlier. In this way, the story continues to be told in increments which keeps the viewer interested. A still-life or landscape can be admired for its color and content, but weeks later can you accurately recall the position of the trees and mountains in your head? On the other hand, if you saw a painting of some characters interacting, chances are you could recall the position and expression of the characters because the painting is telling you a story. As the viewers, we are more likely to recall a painting’s story when there are people involved because we are social creatures and we relate to faces and social events. While you view a narrative painting, you are painting your own version in your mind – just like when you read a book. Most of Maitz’s paintings give me that mental paint brush. I love art that creates an emotional reaction when viewed and my reaction when I look at Maitz work is one of excitement and desire. I don’t necessarily desire to be a pirate, I’m just exited at the possibility of the freedom and I hope to experience that kind of freedom someday.