Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Watercolor Rules

I never liked adhering to rules about making what some people call pure or true watercolor. That is the surfaces that you are required to work on and using only transparent watercolor without adding opaque white paint (body color) or any other opaque colors (gouache) to make corrections. They have these rules even though great watercolorists who they name as examples used opaque paints and body color in their work- Turner, Sargent, Homer.  

Durer made fantastic watercolor studies that were actually painted in gouache. Gouache is watercolor, just not transparent watercolor. I would be more concerned with making a great painting no matter what the medium. I really don't understand why people make rules for the medium- you can wind up with a great watercolor but a lousy piece of art or the other way around. I remember someone told me that they didn't consider a gouache painting serious art because it reminded them of the poster paint kids use in school! What would that person think of Durer's work?

 Now, having said that, I definitely fell in to the trap of striving to make  
"Pure Watercolors". Feeling that if I didn't measure up to these rules anything I do will just fall short, or I could be satisfied with a painting only to have it torn apart under criticism. Not because it wasn't a good painting but because it wasn't a good watercolor. 

These last three paintings I did were done in watercolor without making corrections with opaque colors. Not a bad experience but not what I want to be rated on. On the one hand I would like to master the medium and on the other hand the painting is not just about the medium.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Student Teacher

“You are always the student in a one-person art school. You are also the teacher of that class.” Irwin Greenberg

“Don’t hoard your knowledge, share it.” Irwin Greenberg

A little while back I was browsing through the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. They sell a lot of used and out of print books and have a great selection of art books. I have been browsing the store since High School when I h was a student of Irwin Greenberg, (Greeny). He gave me my first real art book and encouraged me to buy a book on John Singer Sargent that had just come out- the beginning of my book collection.

I came across an out of print book by James Fletcher Watson, an watercolorist whose work I was curious about. When I opened the book the first thing I saw was Greeny’s name on the upper right corner of the page, (Greeny had the habit of writing his name on all the books he owned). I immediately bought the book. I was thrilled to have a book he once owned by someone who influenced his work which in turn influenced me.
The Scarf, Watercolor by Irwin Greenberg

Greeny taught at the High School of Art and Design, The School of Visual Arts and also at the Art Students League and he was always learning.
He learned from the Old Masters, from contemporary artist‘s,  from books, from his students, and especially from painting everyday.

I think the best lesson that I learned from him is to always enjoy being a student and let other people call you an artist, or as he
put it:

“ Don’t call yourself an artist. Let others name you that. ‘Artist’ is a title of great weight.”
Irwin Greenberg

“Be humble; learn from everybody.” Irwin Greenberg

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Copying and Experiencing Art

I love working from life. I like going out doors and painting or drawing, sketching in the subway, etc. I also work from photos and from imagination. I read an artist comment that anything other than working from imagination is merely copying. I disagree.

Working from nature is an experience and an opportunity to add visual information to that mental library where your imagination draws from. When you work from life you decide what and how much information you need for your image. You add, subtract, rearrange, reinterpret the information before your eyes to convey what you find interesting about it. If you strive to explain in paint, or whatever medium the thing that you find interesting about your subject then I can't see how that can ever be copying.

I can see how working from photos can becoming copying unless you apply the same method of decision making you do in life drawing, extracting and subtracting the information you need for your image. In the end its the image that matters- is it interesting? How well does your final image tell what you find interesting about your subject?  Does that carry like a conversation to the viewer?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reworking and Improving

I remember when I was in Irwin Greenberg's class in the High School of Art and Design he told a story of an illustrator who was challenged by his art director to do a particular piece over again several times. After reworking his illustration again and again he saw how the piece had improved, he had learned from each one and knew better what to do as he progressed. The latest version was better than the last.

Its a lot of work to invest so much time energy and care into one painting and continue to redo it hoping to improve on the previous version.

The painting on the upper left is the first sketch I did of this figure. Initially I had no idea how I was going to paint his face. Not happy with this painting I painted the next one posted bellow it. Felt better about this one so I moved on to paint the rest of the figure in the next painting.

These piece's are studies for a larger painting with another figure to be added so I will be reworking this yet again. There is a great benefit to making so many studies, I normally like to dive right in with nothing more than a thumbnail sketch but this is a lot more helpful. Only draw back is that I might get tired reworking the figures and never progress to the finished painting, but with patience, discipline and hard work I can make a better painting and learn a lot in the process.