Friday, December 25, 2015

Ho Ho Ho

And Merry Christmas to us, each and every one! In this era of conflict, let us all remember our shared humanity and our common goodness.

This is Thomas Nast's 1881 Santa Claus, published in Harpers Weekly. Nast, a political cartoonist and satirist, is considered the inventor of our contemporary old St. Nick, although credit goes to several others as well (Clement Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the 1820s). Nast was born in Germany in 1840 but came to the United States as a child. He was reportedly an indifferent student though his artistic talent was evident early in life. He was taught by individual artists and at the National Academy of Design (founded by Samuel F.B. Morse and Thomas Cole, among others).
Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, January 1, 1881

During his career, Nast was mostly a political commentator whose cartoons were featured prominently in Harpers Weekly and other periodicals of the day. He became famous during the Civil War but is still best remembered for his campaigns against Tammany Hall, Boss Tweed and the Democratic machine of the day. Nast not only invented much of our image of Santa, he also invented or expanded on some of our well-known political cartoon symbols--notably the Republican elephant.

Nast produced numerous woodcuts and drawings of Santa Claus, and it is his renderings of the jolly old elf that produced our modern images of Santa. Clement Moore's poem "A Night Before Christmas," was obviously known to Nast and probably assisted in his imagings of St. Nick as well.

There are numerous other Nast images of Santa Claus that you can easily find on the Internet.

So Merry Christmas to all and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Wikipedia entry for Thomas Nast
Brief Bio of Thomas Nast

Friday, December 18, 2015

Archibald Motley

During a recent visit to the new Whitney Museum in lower Manhattan, I had the chance to see the show titled Archibald Motley, Jazz Age Modernist. Although I admit to never having heard of this artist before seeing the show, all I can say is I'm happy I know him now. This is a show of real interest and power. Motley was the real deal.

Motley was one of the important visual artists of the Harlem Renaissance, in spite of the fact that he never lived there. He was a lifelong Chicagoan who did his best observing and his best work in that city. Nevertheless, Motley was the first black artist to have a one man show in Manhattan, which he believed prejudiced New York black artists against him ever after. True or not, it's clear from the show at the Whitney that Archibald Motley is a memorable artist whether based in New York or elsewhere. He was very talented.
Archibald Motley "Self Portrait" ~1920

Archibald Motley would probably have been called "creole" in his day since he was of mixed race and was born in New Orleans in 1891. His family moved to Chicago when he was very young. He grew up in a south Chicago neighborhood that was mostly Italian, where he attended mostly white schools and lived in a mixed neighborhood. From a very young age he was recognized as being gifted in art. He once spoke of how he spent most of his time in class drawing in the empty margins of his textbooks. Classically trained at the Chicago Art Institute School, he later studied in Europe. As his self portrait above shows, he was a talented painter whose gods were the masters of the European tradition. But he was also fascinated by the black experience in all sorts of settings--pool rooms, churches, barbecues--any place people of color gathered. As a youth he spent time in black poolrooms and dance clubs as well as churches and other large gatherings of blacks. And that's what he painted for much of his career.
Archibald Motley "Saturday Night" 1935
The pictures we saw in the Whitney show were fascinating. The early work is included in the first few spaces, clearly showing his schooling in figure, portraiture, and composition. From there you move into areas full of his "jazz age" paintings. These are the works that really have something to say. There are pictures of black church events, barbecues, nightclubs, pool rooms, and even the bustling street life of Chicago's black south side. And he makes them speak to us in many ways. First, he distills the emotion of the environment, the action and bustle, so much so you can sometimes hear jazz wafting just behind the images. Motley's work is deceptively primitive and sometimes seems to rely on caricature and stereotype, perhaps more than we find comfortable today, but even when the faces echo minstrel blackface the pictures are very thoughtful--carefully composed and colored, conveying a constellation of emotion. The stereotyping is deliberate. Motley was, after all, classically trained.

In one example, the painting above, "Saturday Night," painted in his prime, Motley shows us people in a jazz club, moving and dancing with what appears to be joy. The dancer is shaking her breasts in time to the music. But there are somber counterpoints to the joyful-looking dancer. Just to the left of her sit two downcast men with their faces turned away. The barman behind them simply looks bored. And only one person we see is apparently smiling, in the distance by the bandstand. The two waiters set at right angles, the man downing his martini, whose motion is given to us by the dancer's arm, and the piano keyboard in the distant background take us on zig-zagging happy-dance journey into the depths of the barroom while subtly evoking the dancing itself. The nearly monocolor palette sets the tone of a garish, loud nightclub with significant patches of darkness here and there, as is usual in such establishments. Overall, Motely evokes the real, red-blooded life of a black club of his day. It's a major achievement on several levels.The other works in this show bear similar levels of meaning and and will reward the viewer more than once.

If you're in the New York area, do yourself a favor and go to this exhibition.

Motley at the Whitney

Friday, December 11, 2015

Brushes Part 1

This is the first in a short series about artists brushes. These pieces are in regard to brushes used for oil painting. Acrylic and watercolor brushes are different and being used with water media means the care is different as well.

For a serious painter, choosing brushes can be vexing. When I began to paint, I mostly used brushes that were made of animal hairs--hog bristles and others. There are quite a few different kinds, including true sable hair (from an Asian marten), "red sable" (from the kolinsky, or Siberian weasel and other red-haired animals), fitch (an animal related to ferrets), mongoose, even squirrel and camel. Artificial hair brushes were available then but were relatively expensive in comparison. In the subsequent decades, synthetic fibers have become a significant part of the artist's tool kit as well. Synthetic brushes have been produced from nylon, polyester, acrylic and other compounds, and today they are often less expensive than natural hair. Over the years, my experience is that information about brushes for artists has been spotty, contradictory, and therefore confusing. This post is intended to set down what I know about how to choose, use, and maintain brushes and to discover the most accurate information available.
Hog bristle brushes

Artist brushes may be manufactured by machine or by hand. Several companies employ master brushmakers who make their top-of-the-line brushes by hand, using a process called cupping (or stacking, which is slightly different). Depending on the intended final size and shape of the brush, a metal cup is selected that will hold a tuft of hair or fiber. The fibers are placed in the cup, tapped into place, and then transferred to the ferrule which will hold them and glued together from inside. When dry, the hair and ferrule assembly is matched to a handle, with or without glue to strengthen the bond, and then the ferrule is crimped to the handle.

Natural fiber brushes are still the most favored kind by many painters. In general, oil painters use hog bristle brushes and red sable brushes; watercolorists may use true sable brushes (expensive) red sable (less money), mongoose, or squirrel for their soft yet springy action. Acrylic painters are probably best served by synthetic brushes, although I have personally used natural hog bristle brushes with acrylic paint without difficulty.

Natural Brushes
Hog bristle brushes are naturally quite stiff and resilient--new brushes spring back into shape nicely after being deformed--and are used mostly for oil painting. Hog bristles are naturally colored but are bleached white when used in brushes. These are best quality when their tips are "flagged," meaning they have naturally split ends that help the brush to hold more paint, so one of the critical steps in evaluating hog brushes is to check to see if the tips are split (use a magnifying glass); if they are trimmed square across the ends, as some cheap brands may be, the quality is considered poor. These brushes require significant care to maintain their spring and cleanliness.

Sable brushes, as noted above, are derived from true sables and other, usually related animals. They are prized because these natural hairs taper from a thicker center to a fine point, which makes it possible for them to hold more paint and release it easily and with control. Red sable brushes, which are common, are not made from sable hairs but from red animal hairs of various kinds of related animals, particularly weasels. Note that the best red sables are actually from a species known as a kolinsky, or Asian weasel. Even so, it's also important to know that if you see a brush listed as "red sable" it isn't likely to be from kolinskys because many other kinds of red hair might be used. Brushes advertised as kolinsky are likely to be genuine though, and also likely to cost more.

Mongoose brushes are made from hair obtained in India and Europe, predominantly. Mongoose hair is soft and has good paint holding and releasing qualities and is less expensive than sable, kolinsky, or red sable for brushes. They can be good substitutes for the more expensive brushes you might encounter.

Badger brushes are most often used by oil painters to blend passages of paint. The hairs are tapered, like other natural filaments, but the fatter part of the shaft is near the tip rather than in the central part so these brushes look bushier than others. I've used badger blenders for a long while and find them very useful as one softens and blends various strokes. Synthetic badger brushes are sometimes sold but are reportedly inferior to the natural ones (I have never used them). These can also substituted for sables, but don't receive much use that way.

Synthetic brushes
Nylon or polyamide fibers were the original synthetics, as you'd imagine, since nylon was among the first polymers developed. Nylon fibers were produced in the mid-20th century in diameters comparable to hog bristles, but had no taper nor flagging. Eventually tapering fibers were developed, as well as finer diameters, which led to nylon being used for artist brushes. Nylon remains a favorite synthetic and is sold under many names. Nylon fibers can be made very thin (and therefore soft) or very thick and stiff to imitate bristles. They're sold for all sorts of uses besides art, as well.

Today synthetic brushes are also made from a number of materials besides nylon. In some cases it's not clear to me what the actual fiber may be, even if the name evokes nylon. At least one company markets a fiber named Interlon (Aquatec ) but that name is also claimed by another company (Silver Brush) for their own Ruby Satin line, which their materials says is a new fiber.

Taklon is a polyester fiber originally developed by DuPont but now owned by Toray, a Japanese company. Taklon is widely used by a number of companies to produce good quality artist brushes. Taklon fibers are reportedly smooth and reasonably resilient, but said to be somewhat less sturdy than others. Taklon brushes are often substituted for red sables, and are available in standard shapes. 
Golden Taklon

Some companies list "Toray fibers" in their synthetic brushes. I suspect that these are probably very like Taklon. Like Taklon, Toray fibers seem to come in white or gold colors. For example, Escoda in Barcelona promotes White Toray and Gold Toray and says they are " of the softest [fibers] and typically used in watercolor," which sounds a lot like Taklon to me. Toray manufactures other fibers, including nylon and acrylic types, but I can't seem to find any actual polymer names. Proprietary fiber names abound though. Silver Brush, for example, mentions Mightlon, Bristlon, and Interlon as new fibers developed for them, but do not name the polymer involved. The final three letters might suggest nylon, but my hunch is they're a different polymer or maybe the same molecule with different wrinkles--sizes, split ends, etc.

A lot of painters don't pay all that much attention to brushes and alternatively there are those who refuse to let anyone touch their brushes. Certainly, top end brushes are expensive and require care in use and cleaning to get the most out of one's investment. But top quality brushes will perform better by holding more paint, releasing paint with more control and finesse, and retain their desirable qualities--stiffness, softness, etc.--longer. The problem is to get what one pays for. For me, the best course has been to try brushes from various companies, after taking time to look into what others I've respected have to say. Below are a few companies that have excellent reputations among professionals.

Brush shapes and their uses.

Silver Brush
Escoda Brushes

Monday, November 23, 2015

Alla prima, or premier coup?

Terminology in painting has been confusing to many--me included. Learning to paint for me meant studying various sources diligently to learn various ways to manipulate oil paint. At first, as I suppose it is for most, painting for my teenage self meant producing a picture directly, in one go, wet-into-wet. For an untutored beginner it made sense and was the only way I could imagine to do it anyway. Direct painting continues to be one of the most important ways of picture-making, in contrast with indirect painting, which rely on glazing in multiple layers.

The plein air movement, painting outdoors, has gained momentum in recent years and is almost always direct painting. Many masters of the medium painted directly. Two particular favorites of mine, Hals and Velazquez were direct painters who made their brushwork sing. I've posted a couple of examples below.

I learned the term "alla prima" ("first attempt" in Italian) to mean doing a painting in one session, one go. So it is a direct method, meaning using paint without glazing, seems to me. Direct painting and "alla prima" aren't quite synonymous, though That is, direct painting can take place over more than one session, which is what Velazquez seems to have done, and so did Hals. On the other hand, there are portraits by Hals that are said to have been painted all in one go, wet-into-wet, which is what "alla prima" meant to me.
Juan Pareja by Velazquez, 1650
One particularly good book about Velazquez methods, by the way, is "Velazquez. The Technique of Genius" by Brown and Garrido (Yale University Press).

So direct painting in several sessions may or may not be painting into a wet layer since drying depends on the pigment, vehicle, and any medium being used as well as local conditions. And alla prima implies only one session of work. Nevertheless, the distinction is clear, I think.

Then there are other terms that can be confusing and interrelate with direct painting, wet-into-wet painting, and alla prima painting. The phrase "premier coup," has been said by many to mean a single session of painting (the term is French, and also means first attempt). One notable painter of the past, John Sargent, was said to hover with his brush at arm's length then rush the easel and place a stroke of paint just so, leaving it alone thereafter, which certainly sounds as if he did what I think the term ought to mean. He put down a stroke of paint only after considerable thought, placed it precisely, and generally left it alone, especially in the final stage of a portrait. Of course, that description belies Sargent's well-known penchant for scraping and repainting, sometimes dozens of times on the same picture. So the question arises, is premier coup really a synonym for alla prima? They are defined as the same thing when translated to English.
Jasper Schade by Franz Hals 1645

Premier coup ought to mean the same thing that alla prima does, but to me it's the first touch of the brush. If you see it that way, then premier coup means the "put down a stroke and leave it alone" school of painting, in contrast to working one color into another (wet-in-wet) on the painting surface, which might lead to muddiness or worse.

Also confusing is that direct painting could be alla prima or not and alla prima might be premier coup or not. The idea that wet-into-wet is somehow synonymous with any of the above, isn't strictly true, either. The centuries-old technique of painting into a lubricating medium applied to the support, underdrawn or underpainted, or what Monet called "painting into the soup," is by definition wet-into-wet. That technique is actually glazing, adding more or less transparent layers over an often contrasting underpainting that has been allowed to dry thoroughly.

So to sum up for my own purposes, I use the terms mentioned as follows:
  • direct painting - painting without glazing, sometimes in more than one session
  • alla prima - painting in a single session, which requires wet-in-wet techniques
  • premier coup - putting down one brush stroke and then leaving it alone 
  • wet-in-wet - application of wet paint to a wet underlayer, whether paint or medium
Without a clear understanding of terminology, seems to me, we're all at sea.


Here are a couple of my own small works. Each of these was painted alla prima using a premier coup technique. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
"Jimmy B" (study) 2015, 8x10

"Hockney" 2015, 6x8

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Favorite Art Books Part 1

Everyone has favorite art books. Their favorite might be one of the tried and true classics, like Harold Speed's "Practice and Science of Drawing" for example. Or maybe George Bridgman's equally famous and favored "Complete Guide to Drawing from Life." Some are fans of the materials and methods books like the classic by Mayer, or the one by Eastlake. The range of books dealing with art, artists, art materials, art techniques, art exhibitions, art collaborations, and art festivals is beyond imaging. Still, there are books that have deservedly become virtually indispensable, either for the information contained within or for the images, or best, both.

I plan on uploading comments and images about favorite books here, on an occasional basis. So as a start, here are few favorites of my own, in no particular order. These are chosen for the teaching they provided me. The books listed below are from my own library shelves, mostly well-used, but a few (I have to admit) only used a time or two. Along with some information about the book itself I'll tell you why it's important to me.

Ways With Watercolor by Ted Kautzky
Originally published in 1949, this is a book that encompasses much of how to paint in watercolor. As you'd imagine, some parts (materials, brushes) are dated and of only historical interest. But Kautzky, a master of the medium, takes you through pigments, limited palette studies that begin with only two colors and progress to more, along with step by step ways to paint buildings, trees, streets, and the like. Although his style is a bit antiquated, this book has much to teach today's painters.The first edition went through about ten printings, and there is a very useful second edition that dates to 1963, shortly after Kautzky's death. Highly recommended.
Village Scene by Ted Kautzky ca. 1945 (from Ways With Watercolor)

Drawing the Head & Figure, How to Draw Animals, and Drawing Scenery: landscapes and seascapes, all by Jack Hamm
Although not famous, Jack Hamm was a very busy artist, illustrator and teacher in the 20th century (d. 1996). These books are fundamental drawing books that show the reader easily understood ways to construct believable drawings. Published in the mid-20th century, each book provides specific information. For example the book on animals shows clearly how certain animals differ structurally and how to draw many different species. There are incredibly detailed drawings demonstrating animal movements, markings, features, and a lot more. Each of the three books has probably a thousand drawings with accompanying text. Still in print, you can get all three for about $30 on Amazon. Highly recommended.
page from Drawing the Head & Figure by Jack Hamm
Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil by J.D. Hillberry (1999)
J.D. is an amazing pencil artist whom I met online years ago. His book is chock-full of wonderful drawings plus great techniques for making simple graphite drawings special with texture. One of his specialties (which I admit I enjoy a lot) is trompe l'oeil, with shallow depth and much detail. His sections on materials and methods are very useful, and the included stepwise demonstrations provide even a professional with much to think on and emulate. This book is still in print and available widely. Highly recommended.
Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil (Detail of cover)

Monday, November 02, 2015

Thumbbox Exhibition

Every year in early winter the Salmagundi Club holds its traditional Thumbbox Exhibition and Sale, a show of members' paintings measuring less than 108 square inches (about 9x12 inches) and sculptures less than 12 inches tall. The show itself has been a tradition for many years, attracting visitors and buyers to the club. This year's show runs from November 23 to New Years Day.

This year I've entered these three oil paintings. Each measures 6x8 and was done in oil. The first is a shiny coffee creamer I've had around for ages that just caught the light in a way I found arresting and interesting to paint. The ground I was using then had a lovely ochre tone and was pretty porous and absorbed oil and medium in equal amounts. It was fun putting cooler tones on top and judging the effects. The reflections help to give the sense of form and smooth surfaces.

"Shine," oil on paper mounted on board, 2011
The second is a painting done this week of the very last rose from my garden. I'm not usually much of a painter of floral subjects, though I do enjoy landscapes and streetscapes. Mostly, doing paintings of flowers has seemed to me like a waste--why not just look at photos or videos or just go outdoors? But as the cold months have begun to threaten here in the Midwest, gardens are going brown and dormant. Nevertheless, last week I discovered that my landscape rose in the front garden had one last, fat bud. I brought it in, gave it some warmth and light, and was rewarded with the last rose of summer. Here it is, almost faded.

"One Last Rose," oil on panel, 2015
And last, certainly not least, the final painting I sent to Salmagundi for the show is a quirky little still life I did around the same time as the one of the coffee creamer. Same ground, same interest in making cooler darks come forward. This is my studio tabletop, a tube of cobalt blue and an eraser and scissors. I cover my work surface with tan butcher paper which inevitably becomes marked by this or that pigment. This is pretty much how it looked one morning.

"Studio Tabletop," oil on paper mounted on board, 2011
The Thumbbox Exhibition has been a favorite of mine for several years, so off these went (via emailed entry) to the club for the jury's consideration. We'll see what they have to say.

Salmagundi Club Wikipedia entry

1939 History of Salmagundi Club (pdf)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Computer Art Programs

Computer art programs have become important, and not just to professional artists. Digital drawing is a useful way to improve artistic skills, even for beginners. Computer art programs have significant advantages, not the least of which is convenience and (my favorite) no cleanup. No brush washing, preserving or disposing of paint, rags, used paper or canvas. However, on the negative side of the ledger many will add that learning computer programs is too hard, or the programs are too expensive. Or they may feel that using a computer to make images puts the artist to far away from the art--the tool is too intrusive--and besides, some artists really love having dirty hands and paint-spattered jeans. And of course, artists who have established useful and solid methods and know their materials inside and out don't want to change, saying "if it ain't broke..."

Nevertheless, I'd like to gently suggest giving digital art-making a try.

My experience is probably like that of many others. For a long time, although I owned Photoshop, digital art was something I had no interest in or time for. It occurred to me that perhaps the computer expertise needed was mostly beyond me, so the program languished. But a few years ago, a program called Art Rage changed my mind about digital drawing and painting. I saw a demonstration of the program by an oil painter who had only used it a short time. Unlike the more expensive and impressively digital Photoshop, Art Rage emulated what an artist does with graphite or paint, and seemed to be quicker to learn. You can pick a "brush" with defined properties that allow the artist to make a display mark very similar to
Portrait of Woody 2014 "graphite" drawing done in Art Rage
a mark made with graphite or charcoal or watercolor or oil paint. You can blend strokes and colors, just like real paint or charcoal. And importantly, Art Rage and other digital programs let you work in layers. In this portrait of Woody Guthrie, done from a photograph, you can see how well Art Rage simulates the look of graphite pencils.

There are newer digital art programs that are immediately available by download from the various online providers for all of operating systems (you can get Art Rage online too), although some are specific to one platform or another. Even better, you can get started with a free app or program and advance to the more expensive ones if or when you feel the need. Even the expensive programs like the Photoshop line from Adobe and its companion program Illustrator can be gotten quickly online. Today those and similar professional programs from other companies (Sketchbook, from Autodesk for example) are still relatively expensive but the cost is spread over time. You can download Photoshop online and pay about $20 per month while you use it and participate in Adobe's Creative Cloud. You will pay almost $250 per year so if you use it for a couple of years, well, you've paid a great deal.

Beginning in digital art making can be very inexpensive, though. In fact several very good entry level digital art programs can be downloaded for free. If you have a smartphone (who doesn't?) you can download a free program now called Brushes Redux from iTunes. David Hockney famously used the original Brushes app for quite a lot of the digital images he has been exhibiting, if the press is accurate. Today there are thousands using the program and uploading their images online. Besides being free, it's fairly simple to learn because you can just draw the image with a finger on the screen of your smartphone or iPad. The pictures you can produce on a telephone screen with such a blunt tool as a fingertip are necessarily rather rudimentary, of course, but with the larger tablet screens and the use of various kinds of styluses the pictures can be striking. There are other programs that are free or sell for a nominal charge online that can provide very good images, excellent convenience, and aren't that hard to learn.

Another iPhone and iPad app is Art Studio, again available from the iTunes store. This program is significantly more sophisticated than Brushes Redux. It sells for $4.99. Like Art Rage, Art Studio emulates the experience of painting or drawing. You can make it produce images similar to graphite, ink, or charcoal drawing. Or you can "paint" like watercolor or like oils.
Imaginary Character 2014 done with Art Studio
There is an additional add-on that you can buy from within the app, a Brush Pack that supplies more varied "brushes," but it's not necessary if you just want to try it out. The painting to the right was done in several layers using Art Studio while checking out how different brushes laid down color.

And finally, follow the link below to see uploads of Brushes-based images from all over.

Artworks created using Brushes

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Being mentioned in a piece in Forbes online a while back got me thinking about publicity. It was Lee Marvin who said something like, "I don't care what you write about me, just spell my name right." The implication of course is that there is no bad publicity. Well, perhaps. Marvin was in the midst of his famous "palimony" suit brought by an ex-lover who wanted alimony. In his case, he seems to have been right because nothing detrimental to his movie career ever happened. On the other hand, regular people--like me--want to be recognized favorably. Notoriety isn't for me.

So as I began thinking of other public mentions of my artwork, I remembered that I've been interviewed for newspaper and television in the past few years. The Des Moines Register has run a couple of articles about my work and a local television station broadcast an interview conducted in my studio in 2012.

"Rene Descartes (after Hals)" 2012
At the time I was doing a copy of a portrait of Rene Descartes, the famous natural philosopher, painted originally by Franz Hals in the 17th century, and the camera caught me at it. I do these kinds of copies to study the technique of the masters. Hals is a particular favorite of mine for his bravura brushwork. Of all of the Dutch masters of the 17th century, he's my all-time favorite. In particular, I enjoy his "tronies" or paintings of heads of various "types" of people, from his smirking gypsy girl to all of those tipsy revelers with ruddy cheeks and noses. 

So here is the link to that interview, conducted by long-time newscaster Mollie Cooney of KCCI television. Mollie and I met at ArtfestMidwest here in Des Moines a couple of years back and she asked to do the interview.

In the Artists Studio with Gary Hoff

Friday, October 16, 2015

Society of Illustrators

One of the great places to visit in New York is the Society of Illustrators. The Society was founded over a century ago to promote the "art of illustration" as they put it, and to hold exhibitions. And they've done so for the entire history of the organization. Further, the Society has always had renowned artists as members. During its early history, the club counted Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parish, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg as attendee at monthly dinners. And our old friend Mark Twain (a founder of The Players) figures in some of those early events at the Society as well.

"Dover Coach," Norman Rockwell, 1935
An interesting side note is that during  World War I years, Society members worked with the government to produce original poster designs, one of which was the famous James M. Flagg recruiting poster of Uncle Sam. Several members also received commissions and were sent to France to sketch the war.

Today its venerable club building on 63rd houses the Museum of American Illustration, society offices, a wonderful dining facility and gallery spaces.

A few years ago we visited the Society for lunch. The Salmagundi Club and the Society are reciprocal organizations that welcome one another's visits, so Pat and I and our friend Beth Kurtz dropped in for lunch. What a treat! The food was good but the art was better. The dining room is known as the Hall of Fame Gallery and has quite a few pieces by the well-known and famous selected from the Society's permanent collection. Norman Rockwell's Christmas painting, "The Dover Coach," has pride of place over the bar in the dining room, but there are works by many others in the halls and stairwells. After a sumptuous lunch, we spent an delightful hour studying as many of them as we could.

Society of Illustrators

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Forbes Magazine online

A few weeks ago I received an email from Jason Borbet, a contributor to Forbes. He had been in my booth at the Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis last summer and asked if he could include me in a piece showcasing contemporary artists on the Forbes online site. Jason is an artist himself as well as a writer, and has published several showcases of contemporary artists (about 70 artists so far) in the recent past.He regularly conducts interviews with artists as well, as you'll see if you follow the link below.

Besides his Forbes connection, Jason has a blog and gallery (linked below) where he shows and sells his own work. His latest is his take on Jeff Bridges' character of The Dude from the Coen brothers' hilarious cult classic "The Big Lebowski."

Thanks, Jason.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What is it worth?

The question of the worth of things--more properly, value-- recurs again and again in our culture. In the world of art collecting, the prices paid for works by famous artists have spiraled into the outer stratosphere, far above other perceived value.

By other perceived value I mean aesthetic value, mostly. Does the picture or sculpture provide the viewer with something besides an experience of beauty, or prettiness. Does the piece provoke thoughts of something new or new thoughts about something we've already been through? Does the work rouse admiration in us for its virtuosity of form or for its evocation of moment or emotion? Is there a story we see in the work? Does it provide us with fertile ground for our own narrative inventions? Is the image challenging or commonplace? And on and on. It might be said that some works transcend financial value. The Mona Lisa.
"When Will You Marry Me?" Paul Gauguin
On the other hand, in all other pursuits the price of a thing for sale is set by how much someone will pay. The value of the object is simply the market price. Forget aesthetics. Value is set by the dollar amount somebody will pay. In the last few years, quite paintings have sold for truly enormous sums--over $100 million. One by Gauguin called "When Will You Marry Me?" (original title Tahitian) sold a few months ago for $300 million, for example, eclipsing the record of $250 million set by the sale of Cezanne's 1893 "Card Players," to the Qatari family.

Both of these paintings are undeniably interesting works, and the Gauguin at least is attractive and pleasing. The Gauguin, unlike a lot of his work, has real depth of composition and expression while using relatively flat fields of color. It has real aesthetic value. The Cezanne is hardly his best work. A cursory look at this painting shows Cezanne's shortcomings as a draftsman very clearly (look at the arms). And no matter what his apologists say about his genius, his palette is drab enough to make us wonder if he was chronically depressed. There is a sort of helplessness in the card players, and a gut-deep feeling of unhappiness comes out of the work. In that sense, Cezanne succeeds if arousing such thoughts was his purpose. Nonetheless it is clumsy, dark, poorly composed and altogether forgettable.

Obviously neither of these pictures is worth what was paid. There are many other works, obscure and famous, that have more human content. Certainly there are thousands that are more visually arresting, better drawn or painted, or simply provide the viewer with a more transcendent experience. And neither of these is ground-breaking, neither is startling, neither makes us want more, in all honesty. The purchasers bought the painter's names and their historical and critical reputations regardless of what the image actually contains. They purchased an investment, regardless of how the acquisition was described. And stay tuned, of course, because auctions and private sales continue to push art prices beyond the stratosphere, where there is only vacuum.
"Card Players," 1893 Paul Cezanne

The Ten Most Expensive Paintings in the World

Most Expensive Paintings--Wikipedia

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Big Draw

Drawing is a fundamental human activity--perhaps even a prehuman one. Drawing could easily predate speech in the evolution of human behavior. It's that basic. The old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words contains real truth. The best artists over the millennia have communicated with us what they saw, from the cave paintings in Europe to drawings and frescoes in antiquity and forward into the contemporary era. Besides being a communication tool, though, drawing helps those who practice it to expand their minds.

Drawing requires us to actually see what we're looking at. Drawing is about looking hard at the object before us, translating that looking into a mental image, and then transmitting that image into neural impulses that drive our muscles and reproduce an image. The connections in our minds and nervous system are complex and still being worked out. Nonetheless, it appears clear that drawing alters one's perception of space, objects, light and dark, and a myriad of other properties. 

In contemporary times Kandinsky, then an avalanche of others freed themselves from imaging the real object and began to produce abstractions in both drawing and painting. And our late 20th century and early 21st perceptions have changed as well. We've strayed from strict depiction of reality into individual interpretation. Regardless of how one parses the history of art, though, drawing has been the foundation. 

Drawing was once widely taught, and it makes sense as a skill since drawing a map or a tree or an animal would obviously make it much easier for others to understand. Before photography, drawing would have been almost a universal skill, at some level. Through much of the last century, art in various forms was taught in public schools. At least through the pre-high school level, art was a required portion of the American public school curriculum. But money concerns and changing priorities have produced reductions in art education, inevitably including drawing.

Given that this is an entry about drawing, here are a few of my recent ink drawings. These were done for practice or because the image caught my interest. The first is about 5x8 on bristol, done with a waterbrush charged with black ink. It gives a freer line and a chance to fill large dark areas quickly. The other was done using an old-fashioned dip pen and black ink. One was done from a snap I made of narcissi last spring, and the other is a quick drawing I made of an English painter's  plein-aire streetscape. Drawing provides the opportunity to better understand a subject, whether it's the cups of flowers or the curve and slope of a street.

One of the greatest things about the Internet is the opportunity to discover how wide and unknown the world of creating is. Just this week I learned that October is the month of The Big Draw. According to their website, The Big Draw is an international celebration of drawing  that began as a day of drawing in the UK at the beginning of this century and has turned into an annual month-long festival of drawing worldwide. The first Big Draw in 2000 attracted 180 partner organizations. This year the festival worldwide will involve at least 1800 events. And anyone can participate, either by making drawings or by running a drawing event. The links below give a much better explanation and history than I can.

How the big draw festival helped me see

The Big Draw

The Campaign for Drawing

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Draw

For some, even in today's e-reader world, books remain an addiction. An addiction to physical books has been a problem for me my entire life. Books cling to me the way sticker-burrs cling to socks. Like many, I've made a wary transition to reading novels and newspapers on my tablet. I use another e-reader occasionally, and I feel fully assimilated into the digital world of literature.

Nevertheless, a Kindle or Nook is not the answer when it comes to books of art reproductions or books of art methods. I can't see the art or diagrams well enough. You just have to have the physical book. So I have quite a few.

As time goes on, I'll mention books occasionally, as they rouse my interest.

For the past few months I've been reading and re-reading "How to Draw" by Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling. This is perhaps one of the most useful how-to art books I've seen in a long while. Although a beginner might be a bit out of his depth in using this book, the authors do attend a bit to selection of materials, the craft of drawing, and the like before diving into more technical drawing. Robertson's background is in industrial design, and the emphasis of this book is on mechanical objects like vehicles, airplanes, and boats.

This is not a book for those who want to make still life, or landscape drawings, nor is it a book that emphasizes sketching on the spot. This is a book for those who are interested in making drawings of environments and vehicles as well as people, in proper perspective and proportion, including rather complicated perspective drawing techniques with one, two, and more vanishing points. It will really be useful to budding video game artists and animators. Still, it really looks to
Add caption
be helpful in sharpening drawing skills for literally anybody.

The writing is clear and to the point, and the accompanying diagrams are especially useful. In particular, the attention to cone of vision, curves and ellipses in perspective, and a number of other matters should be helpful. I've been through the first seven chapters a couple of times, and found that repetition helped assimilate some of the material. Overall, this is an exceptionally useful book. The final three chapters deal with drawing aircraft and wheeled vehicles, which is interesting but less useful to me personally, so I've spent more time on the initial chapters. Finally, there is a great final chapter showing various sketching styles, combining materials I wasn't familiar with. In particular, they discuss and show the use of Copic markers, of which I was completely ignorant.

A bonus in this book is a series of symbols strung throughout that are keyed to a tablet app. That is, you use a tablet app (downloadable and free) to "see" a code on the book page that tells the app to find and show a video demonstration of the technique or drawing that you're reading about. So in effect, by buying the book you also get several hours of demonstration videos that show Scott Robertson making the drawings included on the pages. Very impressive use of technology, and the videos are clear and well done. Bravo.

You can see a number of Robertson's videos on YouTube, including a number included in the book.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digital Art

Technology advances. Inexorably, science informs and spurs the invention of new technology which in its own turn changes life for everyone. In a single lifetime we've seen how the personal computer and now the Internet changed retail marketing, has nearly obliterated bookstores, altered music recording, sharing, and sales forever; intensified and sped communication (and miscommunication, alas). At least some kinds of art have made the transition to the new tech reality, though. Quite a few programs available now can produce excellent images digitally, and of course movies and videos routinely employ computer generated images.

Many artists work using computer programs. Perhaps the best-known art program today is Photoshop, and there are other top of the line programs like Corel Painter being used, too. But simpler, more inutitive (and cheaper) programs now exist (Sketchbook Pro, ArtRage) that allow an individual to explore the digital world. Cartoonists, illustrators, book designers, and other graphic artists make images digitally, but "fine artists" generally do not.

Something like the old and artificial division between fine art and commercial art, there is a division between digital art and traditional art. Some digital artists or graphic designers learned traditional methods in school, but in recent years many did not, prompting at least some critics to decry the trend, suggesting that without exposure to traditional methods and techniques, graphic artists are handicapped unnecessarily. Still, digital methods continue to flourish in commercial applications and settings. In contrast, the traditional art world has had little to say about or to do with digital art. Maybe that's because these works haven't much value as investments.

In the past few years, the "art world" has begun to notice digital art, sort of. David Hockney is a traditional painter and printmaker whose images made on smartphones or tablets prompted a rather large, traveling exhibition. The pictures began as scribbled images emailed to various friends. In interviews, Mr. Hockney has noted that in a short few months he had sent several hundred pictures. At that point, someone decided to exhibit them. They were printed in very large formats and displayed like proper paintings, or shown on iPads or on large monitors hung on gallery walls, achieving great acclaim.
Here are some examples of his digital works:
Examples of David Hockney's digital images

Although it's a great thing that digital work has begun to merit attention from "serious" art critics and writers, in this case their attention is misplaced, in my opinion. Someone without Mr. Hockney's fame would have been hard-pressed to have digital pictures of this quality shown at all, even to family. This isn't to denigrate Mr. Hockney as an artist. His works in tangible paint are interesting for content, style, narrative, and considerably more. The best one can say about his digital work is "interesting." At its best the level of accomplishment here approximates that of a beginning art student who is learning to draw and paint. At worst it looks like the finger paintings of a 10 year old. The pictures are composed well, as one would expect of a good artist but his use of the program(s) in question suggest that a great deal remains to be learned. Still, kudos to Mr. Hockney for his exhibition.

"Sky Kings" by Derek Zabrocki, 2015 (from Deviant Art)
"Study" by Elena Berezina, 2015 (from Deviant Art)
The "art world" may have just noticed digital works in the last few years, but digital painting is hardly new. The computer has been used for a long while to produce images (video and stills) commercially. Drawings and paintings in periodicals and advertising are now mostly made using computers. A few are made the old fashioned way with paint or graphite, but digital pictures are faster to make, easier to edit, and quick to transmit. The old field of commercial art has become graphic design, encompassing everything from digital illustration to website layouts.
"Standing Guard" by Pascal Campion 2015 (from Deviant Art)
Digital painters produce compelling and beautiful pieces, many for reproduction. Here are a few I found in just a few minutes' time, on Deviant Art, an online community of artists of every kind. These first three were in the Digital Art section of the website, under the subcategory of Painting and Drawing. These come close to emulating real paint and in that sense they succeed very well. Further, the pictures have wonderful conceptual and compositional strength. In particular, I enjoy the concepts in "Sky Kings," with its allusion to an old western song as well as an old television series, within the genre of western art. In the second, the artist has produced a digital image that could very easily pass for paint, with the exception that the lightning stroke could only have been made electronically, seems to me. The bottom painting, "Standing Guard" is beautifully composed and executed, showing a man as sentinel while a female (his girlfriend? wife? maybe daughter?) sleeps peacefully. The colors are well done and the image is affecting.

Finally, at the bottom, I've shamelessly included a digital image of my own, done to emulate the technique of ink and wash, which is what I often do at art festivals and sometimes as watercolor postcards to friends and family while I'm on vacation. In this case, I did "Bacchus" for practice while learning to use a program called Sketchbook Pro combined with a pressure-sensitive tablet. Digital sketching is fun because you can change things literally at will while still preserving the best ideas. And it's convenient, quick, and easily used, if you have a tablet or a smartphone. These past couple of years Sketchbook Pro has been my main program, although I've dabbled in a couple others, including Brushes, Art Studio, Gimp, and ArtRage.
"Bacchus," by Gary Hoff 2013

Friday, September 11, 2015

Waiting for food

Like him or not, Robert Crumb is considered by many an indisputable master of cartooning. His fame rests in large part on his underground comics from nearly 50 years ago, Zapp Comix and others as well as his characters Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, et al.  His famous cartoon "Keep on Truckin'" is an icon of the 1960s, having been copied endlessly by nearly everyone, although Crumb himself saw almost nothing from it. Regardless,his singular style of drawing and his even more singular subject matter made him one of the more interesting cartoonists of all time. Like many artists, one of his important characteristics is perseverance. Seen in the bio "Crumb" and obvious from the sheer volume of his work over the years is that Crumb is always, always drawing. About 20 years ago he even published a book of drawings he made while waiting for his restaurant orders to be served. "Waiting for Food" remains great fun and Crumb has published a number of sequels too.
Margarita Monday
To give credit where due, Crumb inspired me to try my hand at making a few small ink and watercolor pictures in restaurants. This one was done in a 3x5 watercolor sketchbook while waiting for my hamburger to arrive. We were visiting in Seattle last week and enjoyed lunch overlooking scenic Lake Union, which is always dotted with sailboats. I knew there was no way to do anything much with such a glorious and complicated landscape, so I decided to look indoors and concentrate my view. These shakers seemed to fit the bill, and I particularly like how the round tops of the shakes contrast with the straight lines everywhere else.

I laid the painting in using an earth red watercolor pencil on watercolor paper toned with ochre gouache. The paper is bound in a small, 3x5 sketchbook that's handy to use, easy to carry, and relatively inconspicuous. Using a waterbrush and a small set of colors I washed in the darks. Next came watercolor pencils for the menu lettering and to darken spots on the salt and pepper shakers. After strengthening the transparent washes and adding more points of color here and there plus a few highlights in gouache I used a waterproof pen to add a few strengthening lines and it was done. Took about 20 minutes, and as I looked up our burgers arrived with perfect timing and I could sit back and savor the great view of Lake Union on a sunny summer day.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Portraiture at The Players

In the great scheme of art, portrait painting has long held a place of high esteem. During past centuries, the hierarchy of genres in art was topped by history painting, then portraiture. Other disciplines like landscape and still life painting were relegated to the bottom of the list. Today, history painting is a relatively uncommon pursuit but portraiture is still going strong. People who might never buy a landscape painting will commission a family portrait. For many, especially former illustrators, portrait painting is one of the ways to keep practicing art. An excellent example is Raymond Kinstler.

Mr. Kinstler began his illustration career in the 1940s, starting with comic books and later paperback covers, and then book and magazine illustrations. Kinstler broke into illustration during the golden age, drawing literally thousands of comic book panels and hundreds of magazine illustrations and book covers. But the heyday of illustration ended, necessitating a career shift during the 1950s. Mr. Kinstler has been very successful in ensuing half-century, painting well over 1000 portraits plus many other works. He has painted nearly everyone in public life, or so it seems, including people in politics, the arts, education, and other pursuits. Examples include Gene Hackman, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg In total, he has painted a half-dozen governors, even more U.S. presidents, and a number of other public officials. Although he's now past 80, Kinstler continues working.

Tony Bennett by Raymond Kinstler, 2006

Here is his portrait of Tony Bennett from 2006 showing his deft brush strokes and well-considered draftsmanship. There's a hint of drama and wisdom in the face and in the composition too. Mr. Kinstler has said that he tries very hard to see something of the psychology of the sitter, and here he succeeds admirably.

On a trip to Manhattan a few years ago, my wife and I took advantage of my membership in the Salmagundi Club of New York to have dinner at The Players, a private club in Gramercy Park. The Salmagundi Club began as an artists' sketch club in the 1870s and has continued as a club for artists of all kinds for a century and a half. Over the decades, the club has included numerous artists, including such well-knowns as N.C. Wyeth, Thomas Moran, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Salmagundi, like many other private clubs, has reciprocity agreements, one of which is with The Players.

We wanted to visit The Players because they hold a wonderful art collection that includes work by Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, James Montgomery Flagg, Norman Rockwell, and others. In particular, The Players has a large number of works by a contemporary portraitist, Raymond Kinstler, most of which are actors. Mr. Kinstler, a member of The Players himself, maintains a  studio just next door in the National Arts Club. I had heard about the Kinstlers at the Players club and was eager to see them. Dinner seemed a reasonable beginning, so we went with our friend Beth Kurtz.

The Players is a venerable club dating to 1888 when Edwin Booth, the American actor, deeded the building (his home), its contents, his collection of art and theatrical memorabilia and his extensive personal library to The Players. The idea was to provide a convivial atmosphere in which gentlemen of the theater could mingle. It remained gentlemen only until the 1960s, when Helen Hays, then known as the first lady of theater, was inducted. Interestingly, two of its founders were Mark Twain, who lived nearby, and William Tecumseh Sherman the famous Civil War general. Since then it has served as a club for actors and theater folk. We had an excellent dinner in the downstairs Grill Room, a convivial space also lined with original art. One of the features of the room is Mark Twain's pool cue, hung in honor over the fireplace.

Christopher Plummer as Prospero by Raymond Kinstler
After dinner we wandered the upper rooms of the club, since we were told that Kinstler's works could be found in any number of them. While that was in fact true, The Players' gems of the Players' portraits by Kinstler are housed in the Kinstler Room, a large room next to the Great Hall. In this room are his paintings of Katharine Hepburn, Christopher Plummer, and James Cagney. Like so much of his work, the brushwork and approach to paint give these pictures great energy, real life. His painting of Christopher Plummer in the Shakesperean role of Prospero is striking and solid. 

There are portraits by Kinstler of  Jose Ferrer as Cyrano, a mustached Jason Robards, Alfred Drake (a well-known theater actor in the 20th century), and numerous others. One of the more important functions of portraits is to show the viewer something of the psychologic makeup of the sitter. Think of works by Rembrandt or Hals and you'll have an idea of what I mean. In many cases, portraits by the masters look as if the artist had looked into the soul of the subject. I think the picture of James Cagney, done near the end of the actor's life, does something similar, plumbing the aging process and how the man had changed from the Yankee Doodle Dandy so many remember from one of his movies.  
James Cagney by Raymond Kinstler, 1980

Overall, our visit to The Players was a memorable opportunity to see, up close, the work of an artist of enormous talent, polished skills, and  a decidedly vigorous approach to portraits. The Cagney portrait retains the freshness and vigor because it was made as a sketch for a lithograph produced to benefit the club.

There is a fascinating six-part series of videos on YouTube wherein Mr. Kinstler provided a tour:


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Drawing Practice

There are a lot of painters who don't draw. Some have even claimed they couldn't draw at all (the British painter Francis Bacon, for example). But drawing is still a fundamental skill for artists. Increasingly these past few weeks I've been drawing and then drawing more. It isn't only metalpoint that prompted me to draw more. Actually, doing a drawing or two every day grew out of my daily routine. Now each morning after a cup of coffee and the morning news I draw for an hour or so. The subject doesn't matter, nor does the method. It's the practice that's important. As the great illustrator Albert Dorne said, "You learn to draw by drawing."

Some drawings are warm ups, some become continuing studies, and some are for trying out new materials or methods. Once in a while I do draw just for fun. Whatever the reason, drawing is an integral part of life in my studio. For years most of my drawing efforts were either graphite or charcoal. About 10 years ago I went through a period of investigation of pastels, but eventually returned to older, simpler materials.

"Gettin' Funky"(graphite)
Lately I've practiced with graphite, ink, Copic markers, and pixels. Mostly these drawings stay in sketchbooks, although the silverpoint posted at the bottom has been exhibited. One of the most interesting things about drawing in several different media is how many if not all of the skills needed to draw carry across all of the different ways to make marks. Naturally there are many differences and peculiarities, but drawing is drawing whether done with a pencil or a computer.

Here are a few from the past year or two. The first is graphite on a 9x12 gray-toned sheet. I was struck by the rather stiff, uncomfortable posture of the older man dancing, whom I paired with a younger woman. This one was originally intended as a study for a painting, but the painting has yet to materialize. Even so, "Gettin' Funky" is a light-hearted celebration of the game, if clumsy, middle-aged male dancer.

Pen and ink study of narcissi, from a photo
The next is an ink drawing I did to test a new dip pen. The name "dip pen"  tells you exactly how these pens work. They're actually sold as metal nibs that fit into a holder and are dipped into a bottle of ink. These pens are made of spring steel that will deform and return to its original shape, which facilitates line work. These are the implements of illustrators of the late 19th century and the poison pens of umpteen newspaper political cartoonists. Today the dip pen is a true anachronism. This is about 6x8, on paper intended for ink work. I was interested in varying line weights using a traditional dip pen. If you use a mechanical pen like, say Rapidograph or others, you can't vary line weights except by doubling. Varying line weights using a dip pen is dependent on the amount of pressure applied. Heavier pressure means thicker, weightier lines. Pen and ink is still a wonderful way to draw.

The Dying Woman (silverpoint)
The silverpoint drawing to the left was done using a photograph of my own for reference. The woman in the drawing was in the final months of cancer. Like many of my silverpoint drawings, this one is on a gessoed panel, 6x8. Silverpoint is a difficult medium, but it captures the essence of gray scale values very well. Over decades the silver will tarnish to a warm, dark gray, just as silver table ware or tea sets tarnish.

Finally, here is a really scary clown, done digitally. I've been learning a drawing and painting program called Sketchbook Pro, a full-featured program that allows the artist to produce all kinds of variety of line, color, and the like. There are many digital art programs out there, of course, so I've been trying a number of them. This happens to be one of my more successful works, developed using a Mardi Gras float for inspiration. A lot of people are scared of clowns, I'm told, but I've been calling this guy "Loki" after the trickster in Scandanavian mythology.

"Loki" or "The Scary Clown" (digital)

Monday, August 31, 2015


In the last several years I've become increasingly fascinated by the metalpoint medium. It's an old way of making marks, dating back as far as the Romans and probably farther. At first it seems that people used small rods of lead to make marks on wood, parchment, and other surfaces. Metallic lead is quite soft and rubs off easily, but isn't always satisfactory for use. Gradually rods and styli of silver and other metals replaced lead. By the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, many artists began a painting with a detailed drawing in silverpoint. Silverpoint has the advantage of being quite permanent and difficult to rub out. That same advantage is something of a disadvantage as well--mistakes may be difficult to correct.

Silverpoint drawings by Renaissance masters like Durer and da Vinci have been part of my inspiration. Those artists and others had to have amazing drawing skill, since once a mark is put down with silverpoint it's not going to change. You simply must draw well.

Here is a copy I made of a da Vinci silverpoint from the 15th century. The support I used is a small hardboard panel primed with traditional gesso measuring 6 by 8 inches. With this one I simply picked up the panel and stylus and made the drawing. It took perhaps four hours. The photograph is a bit dark; the gessoed panel is white.

Head of a Warrior in a fantastic helmet, after da Vinci
In my copy my interest was more on getting that fantastic helmet just right than on traditional metalpoint technique. The masters used cross-hatching and line weight with great facility, but I was more interested in seeing how the medium works. Hence the sometimes choppy and uncertain lines. The original drawing is a chest-high image of a warrior. That drawing and a number of others are on view now at the British Museum. It's a show I long to see. The catalog is gorgeous, and the show contains work not only by masters of the 15th and 16th centuries, but also works by more contemporary artists like Otto Dix, Jasper Johns, and Joseph Stella.

As to my silverpoint works, besides the Leonardo copy here are several, all done on small gessoed, toned panels. The faint toning of the panels was done with transparent watercolor, applied and wiped to avoid too much soaking into the porous gesso. Although it's often been said that silverpoint suffers from an inability to achieve a wide range of values, that hasn't been my experience. Instead, the ability to differentiate value depends on the quality of the metal (softer and finer), the abrasiveness of the surface, and the pressure applied by the artist. Further, you can darken and widen your line to assist in development of depth. Overall, it's a wonderful medium for drawing, if indeed unforgiving.
Head of a hound, after a 15th century Durer original

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Summer Arts Festivals

Out here in flyover land, a sure sign of summer is street festivals. As soon as the weather warms  people are outdoors and going to farmers' markets, street concerts and parties, and of course arts festivals. A lot of summer arts and crafts fests feature not only artists' booths but other attractions, often including bands, food, beer and wine, street performers, children's activities, and so on. Inevitably some festivals that began as art shows have become more party than art exhibition.

In Iowa, the Des Moines Art Festival is a giant downtown street fest with a healthy dose of art on the side. A second show during the same weekend, billed "The Other Art Show," carries on as an indoor, art-oriented exhibition that attracts people with an interest in art but without loud bands, beer, or half-interested passersby.As an exhibitor, I prize an indoor venue in summer, for a lot of reasons. The Des Moines Art Festival happens in June, when the weather can be a problem--heat, thunderstorms, rain, you name it. Bad weather can ruin an outdoor show for everyone. And of course there are the potential security issues and all the other distractions I mentioned as well. Nevertheless, outdoor art shows are one of the best ways to meet the public to show and discuss one's work.

Here are a few images of shows we did in Omaha, Minneapolis, and Des Moines. The first two are from the Uptown show in Minneapolis. We were fortunate to be just across from a food truck that served some truly awesome food--especially freshly-made donuts. I spent some time doing a watercolor of the truck. The sketchbook is 3x10 when folded open.


Another over the shouldeer shot of me, sketching food trucks. Sometimes, if time drags during a show, food seems to be on my mind. Below that, the resultant water and ink sketch and then a quick look at the crowd.

The Uptown show got a bit damp on Sunday afternoon, with a light, steady rain for about three hours, or just long enough to discourage people from coming outdoors. One of the down sides of outdoor shows, and never predictable. Still those who came were serious about looking at the art. And in spite of the rain, it was an enjoyable afternoon.

Below is a small watercolor I did in June of the crowd at the Other Art Show. I was most interested in rendering a bit of the ductwork overhead and capturing the indoor feel. 
A slice of the crowd at The Other Art Show (watercolor, 3x5)

And finally, here a three from the Omaha Summer Arts Festival. We were in the same exact spot as last year, just across from Leahy Mall, which is actually a park with a beautiful lagoon, trees, etc. just next to downtown Omaha. These show some of the park as well as the exhibition. The Omaha show is great fun, the exhibitors and the visitors are "Midwest nice."Sales are usually pretty good too.