Saturday, December 20, 2014

Like A Sloth Moving Forward

 Oil on paper 2-3/4" x 8"

As my last post here indicates, I enjoy, receive energy from, open up the 'Art' side of my brain, and generally love to hear what other painters/artists have to say about the process of becoming, and of being an artist.  Some artists have said to me, "I've always been an artist, never any need to 'become' one..."... Fine, I'm jealous of that myopia.  The question that comes to my mind when I hear that is "Really?  You never, ever thought about anything else in life, or found anything else in life to be really cool to do?  Other than what you have always done?" If so, that's Wonderful, I am in awe!

I like to fish, hunt, fly airplanes, mow the yard, tear out brush, work with animals (3 years of being a vet tech in high school almost had me looking at being a veterenarian), ski (I taught skiing professionally from the time I was in the 10th grade until I was off to Art School and could have enjoyed that as a 'life')... cut, rivet and glue big things together (like boats and airplanes), do light construction work... and on and on.  At one time or another, any of those interests almost had me off on another life tangent.

I am getting to a point about art eventually... your indulgence of my sloth like movement foreword is appreciated greatly.  In this stream of consciousness piece, it seems, I am thinking out loud about why I am always questioning my art, and myself as an artist. Pretty boring stuff... you can check out now.

If not...

I'm happy that although I spent my earliest years scribbling in bird books with Crayola crayons, having 'battle drawing' events on lined notebook paper with my other pre-school warrior buddies (the result of being a military brat), copying the cartoons of my dad, and all of those photos in National Geographic, I had many, many other interests in my back pack of life.

I would be an idiot not to think that my life could have taken several different roads (like if I was just a few months older and my draft number had been drawn in 1972), if only due to all of my interests in life, if nothing else.  And I would be blind not to think that all of those other interests, hobbies, curious periods about the wide world around me, didn't have some profound effect on me and the reason that I am an artist.  They made me the artist that I may become, by the time I end up as a pile of dust.  Without those interests, I don't think I could have become an artist.  They are what formed the way I see the world Now... and Now is all I have to gauge where my art is.

To cut this way short, when I left the college biology labs (the ornithologist in me wanted to draw and paint birds) to find an art school program that would give me the best basic training that I was aware of, I chose Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, and began a major program in Illustration. I actually interviewed at UCDavis with Wayne Thiebaud, but decided it wasn't structured enough for who I was then... meaning I didn't know crap and needed a lot of work!  Looking back, it would have been interesting to have tried that out...

I do not have the mind or make up of an illustrator, I knew and had that confirmed at Art Center.  Although I received great training there, I didn't have the right stuff to head off to NYC or stay in LA and work in a commercial studio.  My youth as the son of a military officer, and all of the affiliated discipline that goes along with that, created the rather rebellious attitude that I now carry with me.   Nothing serious, I am not plotting to overthrow anyone, or anything (yet), but I tend to reject being told what to do, and I reject the idea that nothing can change, or be faulted, no matter how long I might have held a point of view, or belief about it. Illustrators must do what the client or art director wants them to do.  I used to try to be that way, but it never worked for me.

The reason I am talking about this, other than as my own therapy, is because of late I have been rebelling against what I thought I knew about me, what I thought I was, as a painter.  I'm convinced that it's very important to keep looking inward to evaluate where I am as a painter, where my art is, why it is, what is it, is it of me, am I doing the most I can do to take advantage of this life as an expressive visual artist?

Cliche alert: Turns out there really is ONLY ONE LIFE, at least only one where there are art supply stores near by, so I better make it the best art life that I can.  I'm sure that many of you think about this too, in fact it's an age old conundrum... Am I making the most out of this gift of life that has been given to me?

Enough of that... the point of this is that lately I have been in the studio painting.  A place where the "plein air" painter in me feels very uncomfortable.  So I have been asking myself why that is?  And is there a way to make the studio as seemingly vital to my art, as I feel the outside is when I'm outside painting?  And... why not just paint outside?

While I feel this way about the studio, I also understand that there are things that can happen in here that won't happen outside.  My challenge is to try to find out what that is... alas... that is the point of this post.  I've spent many years in a studio, painting and illustrating.  Not to disparage that time or those paintings, because they were what they were then.  None the less, I've always felt like I was out of place in here, and that the paintings were something being forced out of me.  Not paintings that were truthful examples of who I was, or am as an artist.  Every once in awhile I would do something that gave me a glimpse of that, but then I'd revert to this other thing.  This is where the sloth like temperament comes in.  It takes me a long time to recognize these sort of things in myself.

Back to those videos I posted yesterday, and some others that I've been watching lately.  I've learned that I have more in me that I can do in the studio, than I have been doing.  I haven't been paying enough attention to the 'Art' in my art.  Not listening enough to my own visual queuing up when it makes noise.  I am not going to be able to paint with the same kind of honesty and truth in here, that I am able to pull out of myself when I am standing out in Mother Nature, face to face with her.  However, there is a different kind of honesty/truth that I know I can find in the studio.  I need to fess up (with myself), listen, and get busy with that.

In listening to other artists talk about their work in these video interviews, like Phillip Geiger, Stuart Shils, Lennart Anderson, Vincent Dessidario, Nicolas Uribe, Bo Bartlett, Kyle Staver, Eric Fischl and others, I have come to a few ideas that should help me in my dilemma.  All of these painters paint based on life observation, but take those personal ideas into another realm... in the studio.  I am critically inspired by that notion, and am on a search to find it for myself.

The two images above (and I have no idea where this is going but am sharing it as if I were a naked baby on display),  are based from the memory of my walk to the studio this morning.  No photos, no field studies.  (I know you're saying to yourself... Wake up Marc!  That's old stuff.)  But from pointed observation and memory notes taken in the studio, and then painted.  This is very exciting to me, I know, maybe it's old hat to many.  It's what I am going to spend the studio time exploring for now.  Like I said, I am like the lowly sloth who is slow while life passes by, but confident that each next move, is the best one.

More later...

Ps... I am not suggesting that I want to make stuff up, hardly.  I think I'm saying that there is more within me, within us as artists, to bring out and work with.  I am an observational LANDSCAPE painter, no doubt about that.  That is one reason the studio is hard for me... there's nothing in here to observe!  But... there is 59 years of the observational logging of information... in me.  There must be a  way to access and use that experience when I can't be outside reacting to life.  That's all...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Two videos that have been inspiring to me.

'Mid - Afternoon August' - oil on canvas - 16x20 Horton Hayes Fine Art

When I'm in my studio painting there is usually music on.  If I am in one of those silent moods, or feel the need to be uplifted by human voice (probably a side effect of being alone in a studio so much), I love to listen to videos about being an artist.  Recently, I ran across both of these vids on Facebook (see, there is something good about FB), and they have been enormously interesting  to me.  They both touch on very personal aspects of an artists' life.  Enjoy if you feel the need...

Nicolas Uribe " was born in cozy Madison, WI, but ever since that day I have not set foot on Wisconsin again. In all honesty, I haven’t really been actively avoiding this generous land of cheese and beer. Given the very attractive winters that this icebox of a state has to offer, I was happy that my parents decided to return to Colombia before my first birthday. I spent my first 17 years in Bogotá and after finishing High School I went to New York to study Illustration in SVA. After graduating I worked at Evergreene Painting Studios, a mural painting studio, and at The Studio, an illustration studio where I did animatics, storyboards, print jobs, together with some illustration jobs (paperbacks, jackets, etc). After two years of constant and diligently supervised drawing, I decided to go back home to Colombia and be free to paint full time. What was a hard decision at first, turned into the best career move. I have been able to paint what I love, and be surrounded by friends and family."

His talk with the students at the NY Academy of Art is one that should get you thinking about what and why you paint.  It did me...
Nicolas Uribe Lecture to New York Academy of Art students.

"Lennart Anderson was born in 1928.  He studied at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cranbrook Academy, and at the Art Students League under Edwin Dickinson. He is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is an Associate of the American Academy of Design.  His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Tiffany Foundation Grant, and the Rome Prize. He has had solo exhibitions at many galleries.  He was an art instructor for many years in the New York area, having taught at Yale, Columbia and Princeton Universities, at Pratt Institute, Skowhegan School, Art Students League, and the New York Studio School.  He is now a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College.

For many years his work consisted of large, ambitious neoclassical figure compositions.  Later his paintings were on a smaller, more informal scale: a few portraits, some lovely landscapes and a lot of still lifes.  He gave careful serious attention to these traditional problems, and in the process he invested each of his objects with grace and presence."

Lennart is suffering from macular degeneration.  In this short video he discusses his art and career, and how he's dealing with this physical challenge to his art.  Very inspiring...
Lennart Anderson in his studio, painting and conversing.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts on painting surfaces.

 'Snow Light' 
14x18 - Oil and wax on canvas mounted on a cradled panel

I painted this one from a small sketch that I painted last February.  I liked the subtle, almost monochromatic quality to the color that I saw that afternoon.  The colors used to paint this one were Titanium white, Naples yellow light, ultramarine blue and Indian red. To enhance the translucency of the light effect, I used Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium, and loved it.

I'm not sure if it's a fault or if it may be benefit to me some day, but I seem to have an ongoing desire to try out new surfaces to paint on.  I'm constantly challenged, never satisfied with any one linen, canvas, paper or board.  Sometimes I tell myself that if I had been alive 200 or 300 years ago, I would have been an explorer of continents, as a result of looking for new materials to paint on.  With the limited resources available to civilization at that time, I am pretty sure I would have been the anciest person in the village, and probably one of the first to say "I'm going to see if there's some ________________ on the other side of that horizon!".

All of that is to say that lately, I've been enjoying painting on cotton (not entirely due to it's affordability, but that is a factor) versus linen.  A little secret... I spent the entire summer painting on pre-stretched cotton canvas with an acrylic emulsion primer, that I purchased at a deep discount in one of the local 'hobby' stores.  I just couldn't turn down a 2-pack of 16x20's for $7.99!  They have a good tight stretch, I LOVE the weave, and also love the way the primer on them takes the paint.  They're manufactured in Vietnam, and they do it right over there.  I burned through a truck load of these things in 11x14 and 16x20 sizes.  My method was to give them a coat of an acrylic wash of cerulean blue and burnt sienna as a tone, and then go to work painting on them.

However, I also know that to be the most archival, we are better off painting on fabric mounted to, or on a primed inflexible substrate like MDF, Gatorboard, Dibond, or other treated wood surface.  That sort of bums me out.  I like the give of the stretched canvas or linen.  I feel the sensitivity of the paint through the brush more than I do when painting on a hard surface or on linen or canvas mounted on a hard surface.  But I'm trying to adapt.

Since I enjoyed painting on those acrylic primed, pre-stretched canvases all summer, I am continuing to explore that idea and found some very nice 12 oz cotton canvas, unprimed, at my local Meininger's Art Supply store in Boulder, CO.  It has a weave that is not the normal, very uniform weave of cotton canvas.  It's a little more erratic looking, more 'linen like', a medium texture surface that looked like it would be nice to paint on.

My other favorite painting surface of late is the cradled panel, usually with a Baltic birch ply wood surface.  So here's my procedure for making a painting substrate from the raw cotton canvas and the cradled birch panel.

Materials used - Raw canvas or linen, Lamin-all adhesive, a cradled panel, a 4" medium nap roller & tray, Gamblin's PVA, an acrylic emulsion primer (aka acrylic gesso), brush to apply gesso and PVA, a hard plastic brayer (6" wide) and some sand paper.

Procedure - I cut the canvas with about 2" extra all around to help prevent it shrinking to a smaller dimension than the edge of the board when it gets wet from the PVA and primer, and to make it easier to trim to a nice, clean edge.  (seen in the photos above) Using the 4" roller, I roll on a generous coat of the Lamin-All glue, being sure to cover the edges especially well.  Lamin-All is a 'heat re-activated glue', meaning that it can be applied to the board, allowed to dry, then have the canvas laid onto it and heated in a dry mount press which will adhere the canvas to the board, because the heat activates the glue again.  Since I don't have a dry mount press, I use it as a 'wet mount' glue.  I prefer it to others ( like Lineco (an acid free book binding glue) or Miracle Muck), because it dries VERY fast.  Which means I don't have to cover and weight these panels.

While the glue is still wet (it will dry fast in open air) I lay the canvas onto the cradled panel, being sure to get the weave of the canvas square with the edge of the panel.  I use my hands to lightly work it into the glue, from the center out, then use the plastic brayer to work it down into the glue better, so that it's well adhered.  Work the edges down so that they are glued solidly.  The Lamin-All dries fast enough, and the canvas is heavy enough, so that weighting isn't even necessary.  I don't personally have the space to cover them all and weight them, so I have to do it this way.  I check on them every 10-15 minutes, run over them again with the brayer to be sure that the canvas is adhering well, and that seems to work fine.  Then let them set over night.  The Lamin-All dries fast, but I like to be sure that it's completely cured before I size and prime the canvas.

The next day I begin the priming process.  First I brush a coat of the PVA size onto the canvas, being liberal with it.  That does a couple of things.  One is that it seals the absorption of the canvas some so that when I go to apply the primer, it takes less primer.  Secondly, the PVA soaks into the threads of the cotton, offering greater protection.   Once that's dry, and it doesn't take too long, I begin to prime.  That's pretty simple, use a wide, stiff brush (the cheap hardware store hog bristle stain brushes work great), and apply a thin coat of the acrylic primer.  Once that's dry, I lightly sand it, and apply 3 more coats, sanding in-between each coat.  Easy enough...

In a few hours, when the primer is good and dry, I lay the panels with attached canvas onto a cutting board, canvas side down, and using a new blade in a mat knife or carpet knife, I trim the excess canvas off tight to the edge.  I will be framing some of these if not all, in floater frames.  That being so, I try to get a very nice, clean edge when trimming the canvas off.  I don't want tag threads or gouges into the edge of the cradled panel.  A little cautionary care here, and it works out great!

I find that this is a pretty absorbent surface, depending on the acrylic primer that I pick to use.  A little more sanding, and then a layer applied with a straight edge, like a piece of mat board, to fill in some of the dips in the canvas weave, and I'm done.

The canvas I purchased cost $8.28 a yard.  The cradled panels have to either be purchased (Cheap Joe's has some good ones for a very reasonable cost), or made.  I don't like table saws (I've known a few life long, skilled woodworkers lose appendages or be seriously injured on them), so I either have to make them with less convenient equipment (Skil saw and miter box) or purchase pre-made.  One thing that I'm about to do, is see if there's a local cabinet shop that will make them for me, or make the components for me so that I can finish them, and save some $$$.

Cost- The 14x18 cradled panel for this painting is $7.19 from Cheap Joe's. I have about $1.00 in the canvas, $1.00 in primer and PVA?  Under $10.00 is a good guesstimate.  The big picture is, I have a surface that is exactly ( for now ) how I like it!  That makes the time to make it worth that money, and more.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Meaning, starting to post on this blog again after almost 8 months of being absent.  There's no way I'm going to try to catch up.  There's just been too much water rushing under the bridge, but it's all been good.  Since last Spring, I've been traveling a lot, just stopping after two weeks in Mississippi teaching with Dot Courson and her Fine Art and Workshops business, and a short stop in Charleston, SC to visit Horton Hayes Fine Art... my gallery there.  In May/June I taught a workshop with the Akron Society of Artists in Ohio, I've painted in events in Grand Teton National Park (with the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters R.M.P.A.P., who've asked me to be a full member) Door County Plein Air Festival-Door County, WI, and Rocky Mountain National Park, also with the RMPAP group.  This past October I held a very succesful workshop here in Longmont with almost 20 painters... that will be repeated at some point.  It proved to be an ideal situation to teach from the property that I live on, and in the area around Longmont.  There have been a number of shows that I've been painting for, a commission or two done, and now I feel lucky to be able to settle into my studio and work on some paintings that are more complex and larger than all of the field work that I've been painting on since last Spring.  That's a brief summary of the time since last April's post here.  I'm going to start to get back into the swing of the blog by posting some of the work from the last number of months.  Hopefully, that will get my feet back walking the blog talk.

My best wishes to you all for a healthy and happy Holiday Season!

Cool Corner - oil on paper - 9x12 Hudson Fine Art & Framing Company

Ditch Road - oil on panel - 6x8 Daily Paintworks

Closeup of 'Foreshadowed'

Foreshadowed - oil on panel - 6x8 Daily Paintworks

Descending Mist - oil on canvas - 12x24 Horton Hayes Fine Art

Over The Range - oil on panel - 6x8 Sold

In The Shadows - oil on board - 4x6 Sold

Shadow's Edge - oil on canvas - 24x36 Horton Hayes Fine Art

Silver Creek Dawn - oil on paper - 8x10 - Abend Gallery

Sliding Light - oil on panel - 12x12 Abend Gallery

Storm Cloud - oil on board - 6x8 Sold

High Risers - oil on board - 6x6 Sold

Willow Pond - oil on paper - 8x10 Abend Gallery