Friday, July 29, 2016

Pete the Street

Outdoor painting--"en "plein air" if you happen to be French--has gained considerable momentum in recent decades. Like their predecessors, painters flock to the countryside and city streets to capture the fleeting light and transient landscape.

An artist I admire these days is an English painter I came across online, Peter Brown, a.k.a. "Pete the Street," as he is known at home in Bath, England. Brown paints practically every day, in all seasons and all weathers. No fair weather painter, Pete the Street. His works may feature rain, snow, overcast skies, or bright sunny meadows as a consequence. He travels all over the United Kingdom from Bath and to other places as well, painting cityscapes and landscapes in cities as diverse as London, Edinburgh, Paris, Bath, Varanasi and Barcelona. In all, his website offers paintings executed in at least a dozen cities in various countries.

Although he is primarily an outdoor painter, his site does list an occasional interior view or other works. Besides his outdoor habit, Brown is incredibly prolific, with dozens of works listed on his website as either already sold or still available. Over the past 15 years he's had at least one show annually, in Britain. I find his work his fresh, vivid, and engaging. I like it a lot. Here are a handful of examples.

"Piccadilly Circus, Toward Shaftesbury Avenue," 2014

"Observatory Hill, Greenwich," 2013

"Coyde Bay, Low Tide and Moving Weather," 2012

"End of the Day of the Pageant," 2012

"Rain, Lower Regency Street," 2012

Pete the Street in All Weathers
Interview of Peter Brown by Lisa Takahashi
Peter Brown website

Friday, July 22, 2016

Watercolor Postcards

One of the things I often do when traveling is carry along a deck of postcards made of heavy watercolor paper. I use them to do pen and wash pictures of various portions of the trip, write a few words of greeting on the other side and drop them in the mail. My family and friends love to get a painting from somewhere like France, complete with foreign stamps. At first the idea was simply a way to keep working while away from the studio, but I find that it's also invigorating and challenging, especially if time is limited, as it sometimes is during a "leisurely" vacation. Another nice thing is that you don't have to take much along--a small set of pan watercolors, waterproof pen, and a block of watercolor postcards doesn't take much space. And these little paintings provide a dose of discipline. That is, they're a chance to quicken my pace, choose emphasis carefully, and (I hope) economize with the brush.

A few of these I did on the spot, but often made only the drawing (or part of one) and a reference photo as time permitted, then finished them later when I was able.

Here are a few.
Arch of Tiberius, Pompeii, 2001

Pantheon Afternoon, Rome, 2001
Rainy Day, Passau (Germany), 2013
Street in Buda (Hungary), 2013
Paris Streetlamps, 2012

Avignon from the Rhone, 2012
The Chain Bridge, Budapest, 2013

Friday, July 15, 2016

Greeny's Hundred

Over the years I've had a number of teachers and mentors who have made a big impact on my work. Their kindness, funds of knowledge, and helpfulness are beyond price. Although I didn't know him, Irwin Greenberg was well-known to thousands who studied with him over the years at the High School of Art & Design and the Art Students League of New York. I had the pleasure of meeting his best friend, Max Ginsburg, a few years ago at a workshop in upstate New York, hosted by Garin Baker at his Carriage House Studio. During the workshop, Max reminisced about his years teaching with "Greeny" at both institutions. Although he passed away in 2009, he remains a formidable presence in the lives of his myriad students.

Irwin Greenberg (image downloaded from
During one of our conversations at the workshop Max mentioned a collection of sayings Mr. Greenberg posted in his teaching studio and had given to many of their students. Garin (who studied under both men) kindly unearthed his copy. They've likely been posted elsewhere on the Internet, but they're worth putting up again. Here they are.

Greeny’s Hundred
Irwin Greenberg’s Sayings about Art
1. Paint every day.
2. Paint until you feel physical strain--take a break and then paint some more.
3. Suggest.
4. When at an impasse, look at the work of masters.
5. Buy the best materials you can afford.
6. Let your enthusiasm show.
7. Find the way to support yourself.
8. Be your own toughest critic.
9. Develop a sense of humor about yourself
10. Develop the habit of work. Start early every day. When you take a break, don't eat. Instead, drink a glass of water.
11. Don't settle for yourself at your mediocre level
12. Don't allow yourself to be crushed by failure. Rembrandt had failures. Success grows from failure.
13. Be a brother (or sister) to all struggling artists.
14. Keep it simple.
15. Know your art equipment and take care of it.
16. Have a set of materials ready wherever you go.
17. Always be on time for work, class and appointments.
18. Meet deadlines. Be better than your word.
19. Find a mate who is really a mate.
20. Don't be envious of anyone who is more talented than you. Be the best you can be.
21. Prizes are nice, but the real competition is with your performance yesterday.
22. Give yourself room to fail and fight like hell to achieve.
23. Go to sleep thinking about what you're going to do first thing tomorrow.
24. Analyze the work of great painters. Study how they emphasize and subordinate.
25. Find out the fewest material things you need to live.
26. Remember: Michelangelo was once a helpless baby. Great works are the result of heroic struggle.
27. There are no worthwhile tricks in art; find the answer.
28. Throw yourself into each painting heart and soul.
29. Commit yourself to a life in art.
30. No struggle, no progress.
31. Do rather than don't
32. Don't say "I haven't the time." You have as much time everyday as the great masters.
33. Read. Be conversant with the great ideas.
34. No matter what you do for a living, nurture your art.
35. Ask. Be hungry to learn.
36. You are always the student in a one-person art school. You are also the teacher of that class.
37. Find the artists who are on your wavelength and constantly increase that list.
38. Take pride in your work.
39. Take pride in yourself.
40. No one is a better authority on your feelings than you are.
41. When painting, always keep in mind what your picture is about.
42. Be organized.
43. When you're in trouble, study the lives of those who've done great things.
44. "Poor me" is no help at all.
45. Look for what you can learn from the great painters, not what's wrong with them.
46. Look. Really look.
47. Overcome errors in observing by exaggerating the opposite.
48. Critics are painters who flunked out.
49. Stay away from put-down artists.
50. If you're at a loss for what to do next, do a self-portrait.
51. Never say "I can't." It closes the door to potential development.
52. Be ingenious. Howard Pyle got his start in illustrating by illustrating his own stories.
53. All doors open to a hard push.
54. If art is hard, it is because you're struggling to go beyond what you know you can do.
55. Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached.
56. There is art in any endeavor done well.
57. If you've been able to put a personal response into your work, others will feel it and they will be your audience.
58. Money is OK, but it isn't what life is about.
59. Spend less than you earn.
60. Be modest; be self-critical, but aim for the highest.
61. Don't hoard your knowledge, share it.
62. Try things against your grain to find out just what your grain really is.
63. Inspiration doesn't come when you are idle. It comes when you have steeped yourself in work.
64. Habit is more powerful than will. If you get in the habit of painting every day, nothing will keep you from painting.
65. There are three ways to learn art: Study life, people and nature. Study the great painters. Paint.
66. Remember, Rembrandt wasn't perfect. He had to fight mediocrity.
67. Don't call yourself an artist. Let others name you that. "Artist" is a title of great weight.
68. Be humble; learn from everybody.
69. Paintings that you work hardest at are the ones you learn the most from, and are often your favorites.
70. Read values relatively. Find the lightest light and compare all other light values to it. Do the same with the darks.
71. Grit and guts are the magic ingredients to your success.
72. Let your picture welcome the viewer.
73. Add new painters to your list of favorites all the time.
74. Study artists who are dealing with the same problems that you're trying to solve.
75. Have a positive mind-set when showing your work to galleries.
76. Don't look for gimmicks to give your work style. You might be stuck with them for life. Or, worse yet, you might have to change your style every few years.
77. If what you have to say is from your deepest feelings, you'll find an audience that responds.
78. Try to end a day's work on a picture knowing how to proceed the next day.
79. Don't envy others success. Be generous-spirited and congratulate whole-heartedly.
80. Your own standards have to be higher and more scrupulous than those of critics.
81. Pyle said, "Throw your heart into a picture and jump in after it."
82. Vermeer found a life's work in the corner of a room.
83. Rembrandt is always clear about what is most important in a picture.
84. If, after study, the work of an artist remains obscure, the fault may not be yours.
85. Critics don't matter. Who cares about Michelangelo's critics?
86. Structure your day so you have time for painting, reading, exercising and resting.
87. Aim high, beyond your capacity.
88. Try not to finish too fast.
89. The theory of the '€œlast inch'€ holds that as you approach the end of a painting, you must gather all your resources for the finish.
90. Build your painting solidly, working from big planes to small.
91. See the planes of light as shapes, the planes of shadows as shapes. Squint your eyes and find the big, fluent shapes.
92. Notice how, in a portrait, Rembrandt reduces the modeling of clothes to the essentials, emphasizing the head and the hands.
93. For all his artistic skills, what's most important about Rembrandt is his deep compassion.
94. To emphasize something means that the other parts of a picture must be muted.
95. When painting outdoors, sit on your hands and look before starting.
96. Composing a picture, do many thumbnails, rejecting the obvious ones.
97. Study how Rembrandt creates flow of tone.
98. If you teach, teach the individual. Find out when he or she is having trouble and help at that point.
99. Painting is a practical art, using real materials--paints, brushes, canvas, paper. Part of the practicality of it is earning a living in art.
100. Finally, don't be an art snob. Most painters I know teach, do illustrations, or work in an art-related field. Survival is the game.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Digital sketching--Sketchbook Pro

Sketching using a digital program is easier than many might think. The biggest issue is learning the program. Today, the number of programs available for simple sketching, on a tablet like an iPad or a pressure-sensitive tablet or even a high-end display/painting tablet is enormous. My own favorite is Sketchbook Pro. I've been using SBP for a couple of years but still haven't mastered it. It's a bit like learning a new, real-world medium like say casein or acrylic. But computers are very forgiving--thank goodness for the "Undo" command--and provide lots of practice with no cleanup or mess. Others may like Photoshop, or perhaps ArtRage. I have both and have used them, but for user-friendliness and intuitive use, SBP has become my go-to program. When Microsoft issued their newest OS, Windows 10, there were some compatibility issues with Sketchbook, but those have been resolved.
Here are a few SBP sketches.
The Iowa Capitol, 2015

This was actually done from a reference photo of the capitol building in Des Moines in very late afternoon. I was especially interested in a limited palette of complements.

Red Riding Hood, 2015
This image began as a way to look at darker values and also practice with a limited palette. In particular I was interested in adding one more intense color note in an otherwise dull schema. When I began I had not actually thought of the fairy tale.

Greco-Roman sculpture (drapery study), 2016
Over the past few months one of my projects has been to improve my understanding of drapery and clothing. As I posted not long ago, that has meant both drawing with traditional materials--graphite mostly--and with SBP. This is a digital drawing of a Greco-Roman sculpture from a couple of millennia ago. I concentrated hard on getting the various types right in the drawing. You can see diaper folds, pipe folds, half-locks and others in this drawing. It emulates a pencil underdrawing and a pen and ink finish.

Previous post "Digital Studies"
Sketchbook by Autodesk

Friday, July 08, 2016

Self Portraits

Sometimes an artist can't afford a model. Or perhaps there are no models available. Or maybe the artist is shy or introverted, or a beginner reluctant to involve others in his flight of fancy. Whatever the reason(s) there have probably been millions of self portraits drawn, scribbled, painted, or otherwise devised over the centuries.

Albrecht Durer did a number of self portraits, his first at a precocious age 13.
Albrecht Durer, "Self portrait," 1484

Rembrandt is particularly well-known for self portraits. He painted something near a hundred, many of which have become virtually iconic. My favorite is the one in the National Gallery, Washington D.C. (shown). There are others that seem more realistic, given his aging, straightened circumstances, but this one is well-loved.
"Self portrait in a beret," 1659

One of my favorite artists of all time, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin did self portraits in pastel. Chardin had an astonishing facility with still life, but did a number of images of himself and his wife. My particular favorite is this one from 1771.
Jeab-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, "Self portrait with spectacles," 1771

Vincent van Gogh couldn't afford (or cajole) models much of the time so he painted around thirty self-portraits, including a couple after he famously cut off a piece of his right ear and gave it to a prostitute (Some say Gauguin cut it off with a sword.).
"Self portrait with bandaged ear," 1889

Many others have produced selfies during the past century and a half, everyone from Ilya Repin to Chuck Close. Photographers in our time use self imagery quite often--Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, and others.
Here is my own self-portrait from a few years ago, painted alla prima. I still have the sweatshirt.
Gary Hoff, "Self portrait," 2012

Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4th

On this date two and a half centuries ago (almost) a group of well-heeled, generally well-educated men pledged our independence from England, basing their declaration on certain "inalienable human rights." Amazingly, that declaration of principles has stood the test of time and conflict, and the many new tests we citizens have proposed or permitted. The principles embodied in their declaration remain a standard for all people, even today. Despite our flaws, despite our fumblings, this country is still an example for the world.

Happy Independence Day, USA
"What to do?" (after Leyendecker), 2014
This is a small oil I painted a few years ago using a magazine cover painted by the great 20th century illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker. Not a political statement but instead simply an observation of the American public's difficulty with guns in our own time.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Favorite Art Books Part 4

A few months back I discovered James Watrous' book The Craft of Old-Master Drawings. Over the years I'd searched for concise information on drawing techniques, particularly metalpoint, without a lot of success. But I found in this book not only a truly excellent introduction to metalpoint, but also to many of the other materials traditionally employed in drawing. The book, first published in 1957, is still in print, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

These days, and for many decades, the preferred mediums for drawing are charcoal and graphite, while older methods are used considerably less often. This book is intended as a relatively comprehensive review of nearly all of the methods of drawing available over the ages. Watrous begins with a very valuable and detailed discussion of metalpoint, a truly ancient technique. He gives a thorough diescription of metalpoint both from a historical viewpoint and a practical one, and is the reason I purchased the book in the first place. It's one of the very few modern, detailed outlines of techniques of silverpoint, gold point, and others that I have found.

Gary Hoff: "Dutch Iris," 2015 (silverpoint)
In the following chapters, the book details pen and ink methods, even including information about how to cure and cut goose quills and reeds into pens as in past centuries. Watrous also details how and why steel pen nibs arose and how they are best used. In a separate chapter he also provides information on inks used in drawing, including recipes and methods to prepare one's own bistre, iron-gall, and carbon black inks.
In a second section labelled "Broad Drawing Media," the author details working methods for chalk, pastels, crayons, charcoal and graphite. In these chapters, as in the earlier ones, he also providess useful recipes for making one's own materials.

This is a short book containing information that seems unlikely to go out of date. It's brief (under 200 pages) but also contains many illustrations from over the centuries displaying masterworks made with each of the various materials discussed. Although there is no mention of supports--parchment, paper, vellum, etc--I think that's a minor criticism. If you're interested in detailed information and recipes dealing with nearly every aspect of drawing, this book is for you. At less than $30, it's a bargain. Highly recommended.

Favorite Art Books Part 1
Favorite Art Books Part 2
Favorite Art Books Part 3