Ears Should Filter Egos

I have been learning art from different sources for years. Early on I was naive and took the first few lessons as the exclusive way to do things. As time as gone on and my personal art education has grown, I have learned that to learn new art techniques you must consult multiple sources to come to a determination about what works for you. At times I feel that an artist is passing on a valuable tip, but at other times I feel the artist is simply telling me that their way is the only way and that simply is never the case.

I have been following a weekend online art course and listening to this landscape artist give tips on using photographs to assist in landscape painting. While I have picked up some interesting ideas, I do find myself sighing in annoyance as I feel the artist is coming down on other methods that do work for other artists. As an example, one student submitted a photo of an old 16th century stone building in the middle of this luscious green landscape and wanted to know how to manipulate the composition to produce an effective landscape painting. The instructor said he “wouldn’t paint this even if he was paid to” because the structure is too straight and straight lines bother the eyes. The problem I have with this answer is the implied denouncing of anything man-made in paintings. With his explanation, he is saying only nature is worth painting. Sorry but that is garbage because how many paintings have we seen that include man made structures that work well for the viewer? I have seen marvelous paintings of the Golden Gate Bridge, New York Skyline, and the Great Wall of China. How can this instructor allow his personal preference to pass as a “lesson?” I also have a problem with how he addressed the question. He essentially stepped on the student’s desire to paint something she loved. Not all paintings have to be done just to make money. This is a hobby before its a business.

So now I have learned to filter out the egos that many artists tend to dish out. I also find it hilarious when artists refer to themselves as “Masters.” I recently responded to an artist in a forum, who claimed he was a master artist, with some harsh but structured words. In essence I said a true master is not labeled as such until generations of artists, collectors, and academics have reviewed the works of the artist and determined the work to be exceptional. The overinflated sense of self this guy has will keep him from ever getting better because he thinks he can do no wrong. We have to identify and learn from mistakes to get better – he never will as I told him. I’ll spare you the rest of the flame war that ensued, but let’s just say I had more supporters that he did in that forum. Please oh please…leggo his ego.

Meanwhile on the easel, the next post should provide you with some information about my newest painting. I will also be talking about my next project and why I chose it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled painting.

For the record…

Long Beach Arena, Mural Painted by Wyland.
There are so many great places to view art in southern California. I have been to museums, public art shows, and private artist galleries. Having lived in Long Beach for 10 years, I have been fortunate enough to see many paintings by classic and contemporary artists. In all those years however, I never knew that I lived in a city that was in the record books for an art related record. When driving in downtown Long Beach, you pass by the Long Beach arena. The arena is used for sporting events, trade shows, and other events. Though I’ve never been inside, it’s what’s on the outside that grabs me. The entire arena is painted as a continuous sea life mural. There are many kinds of fish, dolphins, whales, etc. adorning the arena. While it has a nice look to it, I never gave a second thought to the fact that the mural might be in the record books. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the mural is recognized as the largest painting in the world to have been painted by one artist. If you are familiar with contemporary artists who deal in marine life then you might guess the artist here. The clock is ticking…. Give up? The correct answer is ‘Wyland’. Wyland has multiple art galleries across America but he does a majority of his work in Laguna Beach which is about 15 miles south of Long Beach. I’ve visited his galleries in Laguna Beach and in San Diego and appreciate his love of the ocean and the environment. I had only just learned about him being the artist behind the mural last week when I decided to check out his website (Wyland’s Art Studio) which I got from his PBS show. It’s funny that things you see everyday that hold significance and you don’t give it a second thought. If you go to Google maps and check out Long Beach California, you will see that the top of the arena was also painted. The world’s largest painting of the earth is featured on the top of the arena. Again the artist is Wyland and his message is clear: protect the earth and its creatures. It’s a great way to communicate your message – through paintings.

Another interesting and fun fact I learned last week was Google has started the Google Art Project. The project is all about bringing the world’s museums to your home. This is not just a place to view photos of paintings. You can really zoom into a level of closeness that you couldn’t achieve if you were in the museum itself. In some cases, you can zoom in to see the individual brush strokes of the artist. You can see the cracks in the paint from the years of exposure too. This is a great entertaining site that could also hold some educational value for students of the arts. Check it out at Google Art Project.

As for my easel, I have been slowed this past week in my work on the pirate painting but none the less it is about 65% complete with about 2 weeks worth of work to go. I look forward to sharing it with you all. In the meantime I have been working on ideas for my next painting and I have narrowed it down to either a landscape or a portrait. Either way, I plan on completing both ideas before the year ends.

As mentioned in the previous post, the website will be undergoing a face lift in the coming weeks. I have been working on a new layout and color scheme and I think I am close to finalizing the changes. Look for the new improvements soon.

If you haven’t subscribed to the blog please do. I offer not just my own thought on my work but I enjoy sharing the developments in the art world, the history, and in this case – the records.

Time for some more painting!

Why the long face? Get a face-lift!

Cheer up! A new and improved site is coming! - Early Rendering from 'All Grown-up With No Where to Go' 2009 by Ryan G. Williams
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!

Gaining Momentum

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.

Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough

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.

The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough
The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough

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.

See you next post.

Prepare for Pirates!

Sometimes the hardest part about solving a problem is getting started. Where does this problem come from? Perhaps we see the problem and only think about the multitude of hurdles that could impede us as we work to completion. Perhaps we worry that we’ll invest laborious hours and heavy emotion into a project only to find us left wanting in the end. Or perhaps we are simply trying to put the horse before the cart – we have no attack plan. I’ve experienced all of these problems in painting and in other aspects of my life. I’ve learned through my failures that a good plan is required to solve any complex problem. No architect lays concrete or erects beams of steel before drafting a blue print. The same principles apply to the artist. For any subject with multiple characters or objects, we must conceive of the compositional sketch before we touch the canvas.

The Luncheon on the Grass c. 1865 - Claude Monet
The Luncheon on the Grass c. 1865 - Claude Monet. This shows the level of detail Monet put into his sketches so he knew what he wanted when he hit the canvas.

When I started painting in oils back in 2005, I never really sketched out my ideas. I simply had a vague idea about a scene I wanted to render and I went about doing it on canvas. In my mind, I was never going to make a mistake and my imagination was going to transfer to the canvas perfectly. Then I learned that what you expect to happen often doesn’t. I made many mistakes as I painted – both in form and composition. The results were paintings that disappointed me so much that I have them laying in a dark closet to only see the light of day when I need a harsh reminder about the dangers of impatience. Six years later, I sketch my ideas for days if not weeks before I even look at the canvas.

I think the best choice I’ve ever made in my little art career is carrying a sketch book. This book keeps everything from 60 second doodles to full pencil renderings of projects I want to pursue. Thanks to my wife, I now have two avenues with which to create my preliminary sketches. I was gifted a digital pen and pad so that I can now render simple sketches or full color digital paintings on the computer. Nothing can replace the pencil and paper, but this digital pen can do some great things. For example, I can draw a quick sketch, select a few colors for the sketch, and then move around the elements just to get a rough idea on what might work in the painting. I can also simulate oil painting in my sketches by clicking the mouse and changing from pencil mark to brush stroke. I admit that this system does take some getting used to. I’ve been training my eye to not look at my hand and focus instead on the screen. I’m practicing almost everyday so I’m making progress. I’ve completed some sketches of multiple projects that I plan on completing this year and I want to share with you the project I’m working on now.

Composition Sketch for upcoming Pirate painting.
Pirates Compositional Sketch - This was done with the Bamboo Pen & Touch program and adobe illustrator.

Based on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, this painting will depict pirate ships, a sea monster, and some familiar characters. With all of these elements in mind, I simply couldn’t jump on the canvas and try to sort it out as I went – the results would be a mess. So I’ve been sketching on paper and on the computer. You notice in this sketch that it’s a compositional sketch only. This means there are no details, no faces, no waves, no boards, and no puffs of clouds. This sketch is only to get the layout of the main elements – pirate, ships, and the monster. I then plunked in a few basic colors to get a quick idea of the color scheme. I’ve since settled more or less on this layout and so I printed this out as a reference for the duration of the work. The sketch is to scale so I can place markers on the actual canvas of where the subjects will be. I love this pen and pad. The product is the Bamboo Pen & Touch if you are interested in purchasing it. It only retails for about $100 so it is certainly affordable. You can expect to see more of these digital sketches on my blog and my website. Remember that preparation is crucial to the problem-solving process. This applies to every aspect of life and not just art – think before you leap and sketch before you paint.

In other news, I’ve just created a YouTube account and will start posting small videos of my painting projects for everyone to see. Anything on this channel will also reside on my website. I’ll have more information on this in the near future.

In my next posting, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite artists. Stay tuned and subscribe! Thanks!