Sunday, November 24, 2013

wet coast dilettante art academy

I’m proud and honoured to report that the Wet Coast Dilettante Art Academy is now in full swing with a student population consisting of one. The course of instruction is satisfying.In addition I found a book on composition to add to my collection, and so I have several drawing activities, pastel, composition and anatomy to round out my curriculum. My instructors are very patient, quiet and understanding. What more could a student ask for?

I plan my days ahead so when I come home from work I do not have to think about what I’ll do next. It is already designated for me. One day I work on pastels, composition and contour drawing. Another day I may do gesture, blocking and copying. This planning comes naturally since I plan my meals to cook much the same way. I always know a week ahead of time what I’m going to eat so I can plan groceries and not have to think too hard when I get home from work about what to cook. That way I can save my brain power for other things like drawing and painting. I still need to get more organized regarding cleaning.That would help a lot.

In the mornings before work I write stones, work on this blog and also my book. The book I work on while having breakfast. Little by little it is coming together. The entire story is written down; I’ve edited it once and am now editing it again. It will probably require a few more editing sessions before it is ready to show anyone. I don’t know how long it will take, the progress is slow, but I try not to miss a day. So I’ve made it a habit to work on a few paragraphs while having breakfast and bit by bit it takes shape and evolves.

On Wednesday I took a small field trip to The University to watch the documentary Portrait of Resistance. The documentary follows the careers of two photographers who create visual tableaus intent on political and social change. Some of the work bothered me but not for the right reason. It seemed to me that the concerns they were pointing out deflected attention away from even harsher realities.While I did not admire all their work, I did admire their passion for the craft and the use of old masters as a composition starting point. When they did so their work took on a visual power which was lacking previously. It has made me even more convinced to study the techniques of the masters to enable my own creativity.

Since much of what I did this week was exercises and one badly distorted master copy, I don’t have anything to show for it. However I also took snaps to learn how to take good reference photos, so I’ll exit this post with one of those. The composition is clumsy, but like my badly distorted master copy, I'll get there yet.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

paint what you know

So the at home “formal” teaching program continues. I am studying anatomy for artists and drawing. I am also painting. This was not part of my formal program. I snuck it in. However one of the things I read said “paint what you know.” This struck me as pretty good advice because they say the same thing for writers: “write what you know.” So I wondered what do I know well enough to paint? So I painted the contents of part of my Sunday dinner sitting by my kettle. It doesn’t come any more familiar than that.
Since the still life of the chair I’ve wanted to do another. I’m happy with the chair because I like the shading on it and I learned about glazes, but as an artwork it is very stiff and bland. I like it because of what it taught me and not so much for the final product.

The vegetables are a slightly different matter. I did not really plan this painting. I wanted something to do, thought it would be good practice, quickly put the composition together and went at it. I used an old canvas board with an artwork I did years ago.The results are a pleasant surprise.

One trick I did learn and will continue to do is squint. While taking photos for reference take some time to squint. Look at the composition and figure out what features to take away from it and transmit to canvas. Squinting helps to dismiss all the fiddly details and focus on the subject. The dominant colours become clear. The quiet mood I found by squinting has been transmitted somewhat.At least I think so. I knew what I wanted to capture on canvas. I did not have that with the chair painting and it shows. Mentally I did, but my eyes did not see it except for the shadow.I'm proud of that shadow.

The kettle and vegetable painting took most of my free time this past week. Today I’ll give the place I live a good cleaning and then back to my “formal” training yet again. Curious about how the things I learn will affect the next painting. Will I always paint what I know? Probably not, but at this stage of my learning curve I'm find it good advice.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

changing my space changes my pace

Last week I mentioned how my son and I were frustrated after viewing a lacklustre exhibit at a gallery. This turned out to be a very good thing. In my fit of frustration I cleaned my art room, and discovered I have many books stored there which I know I’ll never read again—mostly novels which didn’t leave much of an impression. So I packed them up and tossed them in a bin for Literacy Nanaimo which operates a second hand bookstore. Maybe someone else will like them. 
While sorting and making room for art supplies, I came across a book my sister gave me years ago called How To Be A Successful Artist. Inside the book are stories of artists who managed to create a name for themselves and are able to survive by their artwork. Most of the art doesn’t appeal to me because the styles are too commercial. Many artists in the book began their careers as commercial artists so it came as no surprise that their works resonate the style they learned. However I read the book again because I’d forgotten most of the stories it contains. What one artist stated, I can’t remember which one, left an impression: “Do you want to be clever or do you want to be good?”

I’ve decided I want to be both but realistically I’d rather be good.  However I’m not good. I’m not even mediocre. Yet I believe I have the drive to become somewhat good, not brilliant, even at this late start. So I’ve changed my tactic as to how I approach my nights in the art room. I’ve gone through my different art books and organized them so I now have a course of instruction. I follow the lessons and if too tired at the end of the day I read instead.

My personal course of study: anatomy, observation and contour drawing.

One of the books I am reading discusses the golden ratio in terms of composition and also the Fibonacci sequence. These principles were used by classical artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci. There is dispute how much they actually used these ratios but I find the concept fascinating due to the mandalas I’ve done in the past. 

Why did I wait so late to read this book which I bought years ago but never opened? As much as I could kick myself, I am happy I’m reading it now. While I probably won't tackle a project in the near future using the golden ratio, I am inspired, and inspiration is never bad.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Earlier this week my son and I went for a walk along the Colliery Dams. It was a beautiful fall day, the air crisp but not cold and puddles of leaves crunched underfoot as we walked through the woods. 
It was the first time my son had been there and the first time for me in more than thirty years.
He stopped every few moments to take pictures and the camera contained about one hundred by the time he was finished. 

The University is close by so after the walk I drove to the campus and we visited the art gallery there. An exhibit showcased there designed by the Bomford brothers. The concept for the show was man’s presence in the woods and impact. How we think we’re alone and the first to explore an area and then come across signs of prior exploration. It did not take us long to view it. Perhaps slightly more than five minutes. 

When we left and walked up to the koi pond, I asked my son how he liked it. He replied that he was pissed off. He said they seemed more concerned with the idea than in the art. He saw little skill or attempt at good photography in the photos. They were simply recording.

I was very impressed by his answer and told him so. I thought he learned more in five minutes than what many students learn after four years of attending courses at University. Art is much more than just bearing witness or recording a happening which the Bomford photos felt like. Especially since we just walked through the woods and felt mankind’s intrusion at each instance.

I suppose there are those who see their work as inspired and provoking, however I was not one of them and neither was my son. We want something more.

Mind you to be fair I don’t always know how to get it. This past week has not been very gratifying in creating anything worthwhile. I did create a mandala that looks like a piece of really bad graffiti. Yet it was simply an experiment to try a different approach. I won’t even bother to post it (you've seen enough of my bad art.)-let alone place it in an exhibit. 

I recently read an article by Ron English about his painting process. In it he mentions that the process reveals ideas that are more interesting than his original thought. I suppose that is my biggest beef with the Bomford exhibit. I feel they didn’t explore enough. They didn’t dig. The original concept was good enough in their minds and I’m sorry, but it’s not.