Inspiration from the Masters

The Denver Art Museum is wrapping up a printmaking exhibit from Rembrandt. I’ve seen the show twice now, and it is truly inspirational to me. My appreciation for Rembrandt only grows, as time goes by, with his understanding of light and shadow, precise mark-making, and relentless study of art in general.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I am trying to be thoughtful about how I want to apply myself, moving forward. One thing the exhibit so plainly demonstrated to me was the diligence and discipline required to create the type of work I want to produce. The artist’s attention to detail and his commitment to learning are concepts I will refer back to when I need to find motivation this year, and beyond.

Time to get to work.

"The Three Trees" Rembrandt van Rijn

"The Three Trees"
Rembrandt van Rijn

Art Appreciation

On my recent trip to Scotland, I made it a point to visit some of the museums in Edinburgh. The Scottish National Gallery  and Scottish National Portrait Gallery were two venues that really stood out.

Interior of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Interior of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The Portrait Gallery featured a fascinatingshow by Victoria Crowe. The collection revealed a biographical narrative to portraiture. I found the work interesting because of the attention it paid to a story beyond a single portrait or moment in time. The people in the paintings were all connected to the artist, so she was telling her story, in addition to theirs. The show made me think about the level of depth needed to provide the story for each painting. The concept of stories within my own work continues to evolve, so the show sparked a lot of thought into my own future as an artist and story-teller.

The National Gallery featured great work from artists I tend to gravitate to, such as John Singer Sargent, Monet, and Pisarro. Though I hadn't been previously interested in Flemish painters, something clicked for me and the paintings on display really spoke to me. Vermeer and Rembrandt, were masters at light and shadow - nothing new there. I was struck, however, by the level of detail so brilliantly demonstrated through the work of such masters as Rubens and Van Dyck. The intricracies of paint application was a great complement to the detail of ideas demonstrated in the portrait exhibit.

The level of detail in both areas is something I've been more cognizant of within my own art and will continue to explore. 

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.

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.

IMG_3451.JPG

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).

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…