Monthly Archives: May 2013

Pearls from artists* # 42

Balinese dancer

Balinese dancer

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Things-as-they-are offer such an abundance of material that a photographer must guard against the temptation of trying to do everything.  It is essential to cut from the raw material of life – to cut and cut, but to cut with discrimination.  While working, a photographer must reach a precise awareness of what he is trying to do.  Sometimes you have the feeling that you have already taken the strongest possible picture of a particular situation or scene; nevertheless, you find yourself compulsively shooting, because you cannot be sure in advance exactly how the situation, the scene is going to unfold.  You must stay with the scene, just in case elements of the situation shoot off from the core again.  At the same time, it’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness of the reportage as a whole.

Henri Cartier-Bresson in Images a la sauvette

Comments are welcome!

Q: Why do you need to use a photograph as a reference source to make a pastel painting?

One of Barbara's reference photos

One of Barbara’s reference photos

A:  When I was about 4 or 5 years old I discovered that I had a natural ability to draw anything that I could see.  It’s the way my brain is wired and it is a gift!  One of my earliest memories as an artist is of copying the Sunday comics.  Always it has been much more difficult to draw what I CANNOT see, i.e., to recall how things look solely from memory or to invent them outright.

The evolution of my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings has been the opposite of what one might expect.  I started out making extremely photo-realistic portraits.  I remember feeling highly unflattered when after months of hard work, someone would look at my completed painting and say, “It looks just like a photograph!”  I know this was meant as a compliment, but to me it meant that I had failed as an artist.   Art is so much more than copying physical appearances.

So I resolved to move away from photo-realism.  It has been slow going and part of me still feels like a slacker if I don’t put in all the details.  But after nearly three decades I have arrived at my present way of working, which although still highly representational, contains much that is made up, simplified, and/or stylized.  As I have always done, I continue to work from life and from photographs, but at a certain point I put everything aside and work solely from memory.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 41

White Sands, NM

White Sands, NM

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

If you look at the work of an artist over a lifetime there is always transformation.  Some hit a lively place early and then seem to lose it later.  Others find that place progressively throughout their life; others still, find it late.  But regardless, they are all learning to isolate the poetic place within them.  That focus on the poetic in our own work increases our appreciation of the beauty around us, increases our growth, and increases our divine connection.

One thing you see in many artists’ work is that as they continue over the decades to translate their experience of the poetic into form, they learn to communicate better.  They strip away all the extraneous stuff and artistic baggage they had.  They say more with less.

The problem is seldom that what we truly, deeply experience is too simple to simplify.  There is power in stripping everyhing away to reveal the vision.  That’s what takes a lifetime.

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

""The Ancestors," in progress

“The Ancestors,” in progress

A:  I’m continuing to  work on a 58″ x 38″ pastel-on-sandpaper painting that I started some weeks ago.  It’s working title is “The Ancestors.”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 40

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

Balinese boy in Hindu dress

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

A film is a succession of snapshots more or less posed, and it only very rarely gives us the illusion of the unexpected and rare.  Ninety films out of a hundred are merely interminable poses.  One doesn’t premeditate a photograph like a murder or a work of art.

Photography is rather like those huge American department stores where you find all you want:  old master paintings, locomotives, playing cards, tempests, gardens, opera glasses, pretty girls.  But steer clear at all costs of the floorwalkers.  They are terrible chatterbox bores who have no idea what they are saying.

A photographer for the Daily Mirror said to me:  “The most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken were on a day I had forgotten my film.”

That photographer is a poet, perhaps, but quite certainly an imbecile.  The photographer’s personality?

Obviously each of them blows his nose in his own fashion.  But the most successful photographs are not those that required the most trouble.

That would be just too easy.

Carlo Rim in On the Snapshot

Comments are welcome! 

Q: What is it about soft pastel that you find so intriguing that you use it as your primary fine art medium?

Some of Barbara's pastels

Some of Barbara’s pastels

A:  For starters it’s the medium that I fell in love with many years ago.  I recently read this article online, “What is Pastel?” by Mike Mahon, and will quote it because it neatly sums up  what I love about working with pastel.

Pastel is the most permanent of all media when applied to conservation ground and properly framed. Pastel has no liquid binder that may cause it to oxidize with the passage of time as oftentimes happens with other media.

In this instance, Pastel does not refer to pale colors, as the word is commonly used in cosmetic and fashion terminology. The pure, powdered pigment is ground into a paste with a minimum amount of gum binder, rolled into sticks and dried. The infinite variety of colors in the Pastel palette range from soft and subtle to hard and brilliant.

An artwork is created by stroking the stick of dry pigment across an abrasive ground, embedding the color in the “tooth” of the ground. If the ground is completely covered with Pastel, the work is considered a Pastel painting; whereas, leaving much of the ground exposed produces a Pastel sketch. Techniques vary with individual artists. The Pastel medium is favored by many artists because it allows a spontaneous approach. There is no drying time, therefore, no change in color occurs after drying as it does in other media.

Did you know that a particle of Pastel pigment seen under a microscope looks like a diamond with many facets? It does! Therefore, Pastel paintings reflect light like a prism. No other medium has the same power of color or stability.

Historically, Pastel can be traced back to the 16th century. Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele. A Venetian woman, Rosalba Camera, was the first to make consistent use of Pastel. Chardin did portraits with an open stroke, while La Tour preferred the blended finish. Thereafter, a galaxy of famous artists—Watteau, Copley, Delacroix, Millet, Manet, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Vuillard, Bonnard, Glackens, Whistler, Hassam, William Merritt Chase—used Pastel for a finished work rather than for preliminary sketches.

Pastels from the 16th century exist today, as fresh as the day they were painted. Edgar Degas was the most prolific user of Pastel and its champion. His protégé, Mary Cassat, introduced Pastel to her friends in Philadelphia and Washington, and thus to the United States. In the Spring of 1983, Sotheby Parke Bernet sold at auction, two Degas Pastels for more than $3,000,000 each! Both Pastels were painted about 1880.

Note: Do not confuse Pastel with “colored chalk.” Chalk is a porous, limestone substance impregnated with dyes, whereas, Pastel is pure pigment—the same as is used in other permanent painting media.

Today, Pastel paintings have the stature of oil and watercolor as a major fine art medium. Many of our most renowned, living artists have distinguished themselves in Pastel and have enriched the art world with this beautiful medium.

So knowing all this, I often wonder, why don’t more artists use pastel?  Is it because framing is a big issue?  Works on paper need to be framed and pastel paintings have unique problems (see my April 27, 2013 blog post).  Second only to the cost of maintaining a studio in New York City, frames are my single largest business expense.  Sometimes I am grateful that pastel is a very slow medium.  I typically finish 4 or 5 paintings in a year, which means I only have to pay for 4 or 5 frames!

Comments are welcome!

Q: To be a professional visual artist is to have two full-time jobs because an artist must continually balance the creative and the business sides of things. How do you manage to be so productive?

No computer in sight

No computer in sight

A:  With social media and other new ways of doing business, managing it all is getting more difficult every day.  Bear in mind that I say this as someone who does not have the extra time commitment of a day job, nor do I have children or other family members to care for.  I have no idea how other visual artists, who may have these responsibilities and more, keep up with all the tasks that need to be done.  In The Artist’s Guide:  How to Make A Living Doing What You Love, Jackie Battenfield lists a few of them (believe me, there are others):

…being an artist isn’t just about making art.  You have many other responsibilities –  managing a studio, looking for opportunities, identifying an audience for your work, caring for and protecting what you have created, and securing money, time, and space – in addition to whatever is  happening in your personal life.

To begin with I try to maintain regular studio hours.  I generally work on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and once I’m at the studio I stay there for a minimum of 7 hours.  To paint I need daylight so in the spring and summer my work day tends to be longer.  My pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are extremely labor-intensive.  I need to put in sufficient hours in order to accomplish anything.  When I was younger I used to work in my studio 6 days a week, 9 hours or more a day.  I have more commitments now, and can no longer work 60+ hours a  week, but I still try to stick to a schedule.  And once I’m at the studio I concentrate on doing the creative work, period.

I am productive when I keep the business and creative sides physically separate., ie., no computers, iPads, etc. are allowed into the studio.  Recently I tried an experiment.  I brought my iPad to the studio, thinking, “Surely I am disciplined enough to use it only during my lunch break.”  But no, I wasted so much time checking email, responding to messages on Facebook, etc., when I should have been focusing on solving problems with the painting that was on my easel.  I learned a good lesson that day and won’t bring my iPad to the studio again.

As has long  been my practice, I concentrate on business tasks when I get home in the evening and on my, so called, days off.  After a day spent working in the studio, I generally spend a minimum of two to three hours more to answer email, apply for exhibitions, work on my blog, email images to people who need them, etc.  At present I  have part-time help with social media – the talented Barbra Drizin, of Start from Scratch Social Media – although my time commitment there is growing, too, as more details need my attention.

No one ever said it would be easy being a professional artist, but then again, I would not choose to spend my days any other way.  As I often say, “Being an artist is a calling.  Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a life for wimps… or slackers.”

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 38

Morning sun at the studio

Morning sun at the studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

It’s one thing to be intelligent and it’s another to enjoy thinking, to relish the time spent alone with one’s thoughts, to happily muse, imagine, and analyze.  Artists, who are introspective by nature, typically enjoy spending time in this fashion and may even prefer solitude to the company of others.  Able to work by themselves, artists are often lost in a state of dreamy thoughtfulness of the sort described by the painter Hans Hofmann when he wrote, ” The first red spot on a white canvas may at once suggest to me the meaning of ‘morning redness,’ and from there I dream further with my color.”  Artists are not introspective, thoughtful, lost in time and space because they wish to ignore the world.  They’re introspective because out of that attitude artistic answers flow.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts

Comments are welcome!