Unanticipated Scotland

I recently returned from a trip to Scotland. Unlike previous trips abroad, I had no artistic or cultural objective: I was there simply to get away from the day-to-day grind and be open to whatever surprises the trip had to offer. With no expectations, I was rewarded with a beautiful country, welcoming people, visual inspiration, history lessons, and experiences that truly celebrated the art of life and pleasure. The town of Oban, known to me initially because of their whiskey, and then somehow affirmed through a Rick Steves video endorsement :P, best exemplified the experience.

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The drive through the countryside to get there was simply beautiful. Rolling hills, green everywhere, sheep... just beautiful. The coastal town seems to originate from a cliff facing the ocean. Everywhere I looked, I found visual inspiration with a sense of familiarity that surprised me. The history of Oban is celebrated not only in the distillery (amen!), but several landmarks as well: McCaib's Tower and Dunollie Castle, to name a few.  Unusually dry conditions allowed the rare opportunity to sit outside for a dinner at Ee-usk, watching a colorful sunset as our group enjoyed some of the freshest fish I've ever had - mussels, sea bass and properly paired wine and whiskey. As we were finishing our meal, one of the locals stopped by our table and started a conversation with us that ended in song; I believe it was "The Road to the Isles". I was a kid in a cultural candy store. In the end, each city shared its own story and they were all very satisfying.

I was refreshed in a way that made the end of the trip not only bearable, but hopeful. I believe travel is such an essential part of life, as it enriches our perceptions of what is ultimiately important, in addition to offering a release from the routines that we can get into as part of the discipline of life's work.

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What a Walk Will Do

Last week, I had a commitment to attend a four-day event in downtown Denver, not too far from my studio. Instead of driving, I decided to walk to and from the venue. More and more, I appreciate walks, as they slow my hurried world down and I'm able to see more of the nuances of what's happening around me. As I walked through my neighborhood each day, I noticed new things everywhere: graffiti, venues, construction, buildings, more construction. Denver is booming and there seems to be a new building going up on every block!

The walks were an adventure of new discoveries and compositional possibilities.

As much as it reconnected me to my neighborhood, it also reminded me that sometimes in both life and art, it helps to slow down, observe and reignite the excitement of possibility.

Doesn’t Remind Me

Denver scene, detail

I was painting in the studio the other day, jamming to Audioslave, when I heard a familiar verse -

"I like studying faces in a parking lots, Cause it doesn't remind me of anything."

- lyrics to their song "Doesn't Remind Me" which is so appropriate in the way I've trained myself to see, as an artist.

As I have stated before, in order to see the visual world objectively, the artist must work to disassociate from himself/herself from preconceived ideas of whatever their subject matter is. The artist observes the world as if they have never seen it before, so as to avoid any visual bias and ultimately distortion of the subject matter. 

The end-result from seeing something that "doesn't remind me of anything," enables me to find more abstract relationships between shapes, values, and colors that set the stage for my own artistic expression.

Community

For the last 15 years, my studio has been located in what is now known as the River North Art District (aka RiNo). When I moved here, the location was actually referred to as Upper Larimer: RiNo had only been in existence for a year or slightly more prior, and referred to a budding art community (as opposed to an entire district). I moved here because the space was conducive to creating and displaying my art. It was only after the move that I discovered RiNo. I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of it since then.

During my time here, I have watched the neighborhood grow with artists of all styles converging to create a very unique environment which, as RiNo's tagline indicates, is "Where Art is Made." From new murals to growing First Fridays, I’m privy to watching the neighborhood come into its own.

Last year marked my re-emergence into the RiNo scene, after spending several years privately focusing on my artistic development. During that time, I lost touch with old friends in the neighborhood and missed out on meeting new folks as well. The time seemed right to get out of my studio and be a part of something greater than myself, once again. As luck would have it, RiNo was hosting a networking party for members, so I signed up and attended a recent event.

It was great to meet new people and see what kind of businesses are popping up in the neighborhood. So much growth has occurred within the last few years. In fact, next week begins an outdoor film festival called, "Side Stories" that I'm excited to check out. I am grateful to be part of this community.

One Hundred (continued)

From November 2016 through January 2018, I worked my way through a portfolio of mostly drawings, with several paintings completed in the latter half of the series. In the end, this has been the most worthwhile activity I have ever pursued as an artist.

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For the sake of improving my drawing skills and committing myself to a number of drawings far beyond what I produced historically, I endeavored to create 100 self-portraits. I chose the subject matter (me) only because I knew I would be available, at all times, to pose for pictures. I wasn't really sure how I would be able to create 100 different poses, let alone maintain my interest to see the work through, so my first step was holding myself accountable.

I had doubts that I could complete the series and did not mention my intention until I produced the second drawing and posted it on Instagram. I figured if I started to slack off, at least my friends or family would say something to keep me honest.

The series progressed, and I noticed my work seemed to improve around segments of ten or more works. As I approached the first quarter mark, I finally started to believe I would actually finish the series. Additionally, my connections on social media started commenting on the work. Their words of encouragement kept me motivated, as I had hoped.

From November 2016 through January 2018, I worked my way through a portfolio of mostly drawings, with several paintings completed in the latter half of the series. As I approach the end of this series (I'm working on #99, at the time of this writing), I can say this has been the most worthwhile activity I have pursued as an artist. The lessons learned through consistency and commitment are immeasureable. If you believe in the philosophy of 10,000 hours - this is an excellent way to get there.

As I work to complete the final two portraits, I'm looking to the future for my next series of 100. We'll see where it takes me.

My New Favorite Artist

 "The Three Graces", Marie Bracquemond, 1880 Image courtesy of The Trivium Art History Project.

"The Three Graces", Marie Bracquemond, 1880
Image courtesy of The Trivium Art History Project.

I recently attended the Denver Art Museum's exhibition, titled "Her Paris - Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism". The show was very extensive with some artists I was familiar with, and others I was not.

One particular artist, whose work fell into the latter category was Marie Bracquemond. The luminosity and brush work of her paintings had such a dreamy quality to them - I was spellbound. I spent more time observing her work than any other artist on display.

I will certainly spend more time learning about her, and studying her paintings. I highly recommend you take a look at her work too.

Collector's Notes

I am nearing completion on three paintings. The work is significant to me, as it marks a shift in the way I approach my work. Instead of perceiving objects and things, my focus has shifted to the abstract relationships of values within the painting, enabling me to see more harmonious relationships that bind all elements of the painting together.

Furthermore, I have developed a better shape vocabulary with a greater understanding of the nuances of shape contour.  

With a better vision of the work, and clearer intention, I am able to work more quickly than ever before. More importantly, it opens doors for the future of my work to go beyond traditional figurative painting. 

Triangulation

By relating compositional components to one another, I am able to expand context and achieve greater accuracy in my drawings and paintings. Through my studies, I observed my tendency to relate things in terms of their proximity. Upon considering why I do that, I believe it is simply for the sake of convenience. It's very easy to compare or contrast something in relation to whatever is immediately next to it. I've found, however, that In order to improve my understanding of something, it is advantageous to push the boundaries of comparison points as far out from the point of origin as I am able. Thus, pushing me out of a visual comfort zone. The further out I look for a relationship and point of comparison, the more I am able to accurately render it. This applies to shapes, colors, lines, angles, values, and even life.  

The visual technique that helps me to accomplish this is triangulation. With this approach, I look for a single, distinct point of reference as a source of truth (an anchor), by which I compare all other references. Once that point is established, I look for the next obvious point. From this secondary point, I look for a third point to relate to, in order to further perspective. Of course, I could expand to have additional points, but three seems to be the minimal number required to achieve the accuracy I seek. This is one of several tools I use to interpret the visual world through pattern recognition.

The examples above were studies for a self portrait.

The examples above show the progression of a work in progress, illustrating how triangulation ultimately translates into an actual drawing (self-portrait).

Loving Vincent

Last weekend, I saw the film Loving Vincent. The film is illustrated through painted animation that references Van Gogh's work not only in terms of style, but subject matter and characters as well. The technical aspects of the film are truly impressive - 100 artists, each frame hand-painted. This was truly a labor of love.

The idea of so many artists contributing to this film was such a moving (literally) tribute to a beautiful, and often misunderstood soul who was not long for this world, but left a wealth of timeless art and inspiration. I absolutely love these types of experiences that open my eyes to possibility! This was a great reminder for what I am trying to do with my work as well - using expressive brushstrokes and color to convey the feeling of seeing the world through fresh eyes again.

I highly recommend seeing this film. If you do, feel free to share your comments and let me know what you think!

 "Landscape at Twilight" Vincent VanGogh

"Landscape at Twilight"
Vincent VanGogh

Learning from Bargue

For the past few months, I have continued work to retrain and improve my drawing skills. Specifically, I copied master drawings from various artists, including several from the Charles Bargue Drawing Course. Shortly after I bought the book, I saw an exhibition at The Denver Art Museum called Becoming Van Gogh. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Bargue Book on display as an integral part of Van Gogh’s training. Its appearance gave me a sense of connection with art history and provided encouragement at a time when I needed it. With newfound inspiration, I began studying hands and feet.

The two drawings pictured here demonstrate my first efforts:

The hand was done on a small scale with graphite pencil in my sketchbook. Though I was encouraged by some parts of the drawing, I realized to make the most out of this effort, I needed to work larger and in a charcoal medium.

In the second image, a foot, I worked on a larger format (on a roughly 12” x 18” surface) and used vine charcoal which I avoided working with until that point. Thoughts like -

It's too messy.
You haven't worked with charcoal enough to produce good results.

- kept me from even trying it for some time.

Immediately, I was surprised by the subtle tonal differences that charcoal offered. I continued to produce copies over several months and will post highlights with pics and comments on my process over the course of the next few weeks.

Persistence

Working through fundamental exercises in any given field, let alone drawing, can test your patience but the key is to remain persistent. After I read through Dr. Betty Edwards' "Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain", I learned not only about why the brain perceives the visual world the way it does, but also strategies for a new way of seeing to improve my drawing. This foundation of knowledge motivated me to continue to work in these areas while sparking my interest to learn more from other sources.

I attempted to enroll in several classes and workshops around the Denver area to further my education but I always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short when it came time to enroll. My search continued and I eventually discovered an excellent resource for artists called Smartflix. This website provided instructional video rental for drawing and painting in addition to many other specialized craftwork. I rented videos from there while checking out more from the library. The videos helped solidify the concepts of what I had read in Dr. Edwards' book in addition to new teachings. Now, I had to take this new information and put it into practice.

After several months of working on my accuracy, I gravitated toward portraiture. My interests were pushed further when I was commissioned to do a portrait series of three siblings. I also began two separate series of self-portraits and burlesque performers around this time.

In the autumn of 2010, JQ and I flew out to Washington D.C. to attend a wedding. We planned to spend sufficient time at the Smithsonian Institution. I was struck by two galleries in particular. As you might suspect, the first was the National Portrait Gallery where I marveled over several works by John Singer Sargent while gaining a better appreciation of American artists in general, such as Childe Hassam and Robert Reid, to name a few. I surprised myself developing a newfound love of work I had long disregarded, ultimately realizing the importance of portraiture in American art as not only documentation of history but as an entity of beauty in and of itself. Interestingly enough, the second gallery was the Feer/Sackler Gallery, typically known for its Asian collection. This time, however, there was a gorgeous exhibit featuring the work of James McNeill Whistler. I absorbed visually what I could from the trip, writing down names of interest with the intent of looking them up when I returned home to find out what I could about the artists and their processes.

Of the artists I wrote down, Sargent and Whistler were the most documented regarding their process. From Sargent, I learned of his strong work ethic and how much time he put into rehearsing his material through sketches; he encouraged at least 100 studies of a particular subject before committing it to canvas. Whistler, on the other hand, was known for his remarkable visual memory. He would study his subject intently for a period of time and then turn his back, facing away from the source to recite verbally what he had seen in order to commit it to memory. These two concepts would eventually become the cornerstone in my continuing development as an artist.

Jared 2.0, Back To The Blog: Part II

“I’m gettin’ old, man. Heard the gun for half-time go off when I turned 40. I’m at half-time in my life. My life is half over. And I played a sloppy first half, man.”

-Billy Gardell


Self-introspection had begun in earnest. I was looking at my paintings through the eyes of a critic and what I saw was work that didn’t match my vision. I simply wasn’t producing the caliber of work I was striving for.

The first problem I identified was my drawing ability. I have been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil. Throughout my life, I’ve been told by friends and family that I was a good artist and until last year, I believed it too, whole-heartedly. Once I began viewing my work more critically, it became apparent my drawing skills were lacking. In the past, I settled for these inadequacies because I always managed to tell myself that I could do better if I wanted to, if I really tried. The reality was that regardless of whether I could or couldn’t, I never made a concerted effort to improve my drawing skills and thus, I had yet to prove to myself that I was as good as I thought I could be.

As I was driving one day, I listened to a radio interview with an author who had written a book exploring whether talent is something inherent or can be learned. If my memory serves me correctly, I am thinking of David Shenk and his book called The Genius in All of Us: New Insights Into Genetics, Talent, and IQ. The particular subject discussed was “Why many childhood prodigies never fully live up to expectations.” He referred to a study where a grade-school classroom was divided into two groups: Group A was told at the beginning of the grading period that they were straight A students, that their work was exceptional, and they were doing very well in class. Group B, conversely, was told their grades were average to below average, and if they hoped to improve, they would need to work much harder. Riding on infused confidence, Group A proceeded to coast through the semester, turning in very average work while Group B worked substantially harder in order to produce better grades. In the end, Group B outperformed Group A. I could immediately see the lesson and how it applied to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that until my realization, I never worked at becoming a better draftsman because I accepted that I was talented and therefore had no drive to work on my skills.

I needed a resource to help me improve. I looked up possible classes and workshops, but they were either filled up or too expensive for me to attend. During an evening making canvas boards with Tony, I explained my recent revelation and that I was interested in improving my drawing skills. He suggested I pick up a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards who has a master’s degree in art, a doctorate in psychology and a passion for education. In her book, Dr. Edwards breaks down five levels of visual comprehension, followed by basic brain anatomy, function, and visual cognition to provide an excellent foundation of understanding. She then provides various techniques to help counter those obstacles to obtain objective perception; a new way of seeing. All of these concepts are referenced in one form or another in all drawing training material I have found, such as: utilizing negative shapes, determining a basic unit within the image and using it to compare and measure other, larger shapes within the same composition, determining angles, and several other methods. I therefore believe this book is the best place to begin if you are interested in improving your drawing, whether you are a beginning or advanced artist, because it is the most comprehensive.

Understanding brain anatomy and function piqued my interest and after reading about them, I was prepared not only to utilize different measuring and self-checking techniques to develop better drawings, but to continue learning about how we learn and other concepts that related to and transcended the world of art. I also became aware of how much effort needed to be put into practice. Drawing is a discipline- you can’t merely study it and expect to get better without actually working at it. Again, a discrepancy I noticed between reality and my perceived reality.

I began doing the exercises diligently with an eye on revisiting the fundamentals of composition.

Jared 2.0, Back To The Blog: Part I

Nearly two years ago, I hit a creative wall. I felt my artwork wasn’t progressing the way I wanted it to and blogging about it only served to confirm those feelings so I stopped writing. I needed time to rethink my approach to painting.

I remembered my college professor, Earl Linderman, telling the class the only way to get better at painting was to continue to paint. After graduation, I put those words into practice and noticed gradual improvement in my work, particularly in the five years I was fortunate enough to do it full-time, but in 2010 I plateaued. The uncertainty of how to proceed sent me into depression. I was determined to find a solution. I needed to refine my skills to match the vision that was beginning to form in my mind of what my art should look like.

In an effort to cheer myself up, I began watching a lot of stand-up comedy. As I continued to observe and listen to various comedians and their material, I became interested in the development of their career path (a subject I hope to expand on at a later time). I eventually came back to George Carlin whose work I hadn’t seen since the late ‘80s. After combing through all of his stand-up material, I looked up additional t.v. spots and interviews and found one particular interview where he discussed a turning point in his career which he claim happened at about the age of 40. Incidentally, this was the same age I found myself at the time I watched the interview. Carlin went on to explain the change came about from a book he read titled "Psycho-Cybernetics."

A short time later, I picked up a copy of the book, by Maxwell Maltz, out of curiosity and actually found it to be an interesting read. In fact, I recommend it to anyone who is looking to make some positive changes in their life. The gist is that humans are goal-seeking individuals. Once we determine a goal we work to achieve it through a self-correcting system, directed by our own experiences utilizing positive and negative conditioning, and ultimately moving toward the positive for a successful outcome.

I thought about my own situation and realized regardless of the frequency of which I painted, if I was in fact continuing to employ bad habits or other unnecessary or negative strategies, it would therefore follow that I would continue to produce undesirable results. I needed to look at my work with complete honesty to determine what I liked and what I didn’t like about it. Once I was able to quantify the compositional elements into these categories, I could then make the necessary changes. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

To be continued…

A Time of Quiet

2009 ended quietly and, so far, 2010 continues the trend for me. I don’t have many new works to show, as I’ve been working on several commissioned projects that will be finished soon. In the meantime, I am taking a step back to revisit the fundamentals of composition, value, painting and storytelling.

I feel like I have been saying the same things again and again, to the point where I’ve bored myself with repetition. So, to quote from the Paul Simon song Hurricane Eye:

When speech becomes a crime
Silence leads the spirit
Over the bridge of time…

… Peaceful as a hurricane eye.