Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why we do art

To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage.     Georgia O'Keeffe

As we near the end of 2011, I’d like to talk about why we do art. I recently read an article on how art is considered, by some, as one of the most useless college degrees available to students. The author’s vision was blinded by his limited knowledge of what art really is. No one can find a job as a CEO or VP right out of the starting gate (although historically most business leaders have had a strong liberal arts backgrounds), but you can find a job as a curator in a small gallery and there’s still plenty of work in the design and illustration fields. But do we actually work at our art solely to make money? If we’re not retired, many of us have what’s called the day job, be it a computer engineer or an administrative assistant. We all have to eat and art sales are fickle--especially in these times. So we do what we have to do. With that in mind, I came up with a few reasons why I do my art: Keeps me in the NOW.
This one heads my list since I know how important it is to live in the present. Years ago I used to voice the cliches about the past being dead and the future not yet grasped--never really living the belief. Even today, I have to work at staying in the present, but not when I’m working on my art. When I am observing an object, I have to home in on details. Nothing else enters my moment in time. As I’ve said before, when I draw or paint, I seem to become one with the subject. There have been times when I have actually become lost, when my “me” is gone and I’m in a totally different zone. Not that this happens often (I wish it would), but when it does, I am in wonderment. Usually, though, I enjoy the feeling of the moment. Nothing beats it--not reading, not fishing, not walking. For me my NOW begins when I take pencil in hand and begin my early sketches. Increases observation skills
One of the most common statements I hear from students is that since they started drawing or painting, they are looking at things differently. It’s true. You can’t help yourself from noticing more when you are creating art. It’s a visual business. I’ve read that this skill is so important that some medical schools are requiring art classes for their students so that they develop a better eye for details. When I was studying Communications during my post-grad days, I took a class in journalism. The instructor introduced a speaker, who was giving us a presentation on some theory of news reporting, and we were told to take copious notes. About twenty minutes later, the speaker left and our instructor told us we were having a pop quiz. He asked us to write a short essay on what the speaker looked like, including what he was wearing and his mannerisms. Most of us were stunned. We had taken notes on what the speaker said, not how he appeared. I guess you could say, I was using my left brain, where all the words and calculations linger, instead of using my right where our visuals are strongest. It was a great lesson. Art truly is in the details.

"One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity."
Auguste Renoir

Keeps the brain working!
When we were children it was fun to slap paint on paper. We had no inhibitions. Just go for it and see what happens. I still like to do that, especially when I’m playing with abstracts. Usually, creating art does require concerted work (thus, why it is called art “work”). It demands concentration, practice, eye-hand coordination, determination to overcome our inner critic, choosing the right colors, the right strokes, the right combinations to create something pleasing from nothing. All these chores require calculations and judgements, something your brain is very good at doing (let’s hope so). The process keeps your brain alive and working!! Doing something for yourself.
Returning to the money topic one more time, I’d like to emphasize that it’s best when we create for ourselves and not for the “market.” Of course if you are tied into the commercial side of things, you have to create what the client wants. I did that for years when I worked in advertising and public relations. Sometimes I had to create the mundane and mediocre, but heck, I needed the money. Fortunately, most of my clients gave me lots of latitude, allowing me an opportunity to try new pathways. Today when it comes to my art, I don’t really try to please anyone. Most of my work appears in sketchbooks that I store on my shelves and the rest is hanging on my walls or tucked away in my downstairs' storeroom. I don’t have any desire at this point to enter art shows or competition. I did that when I first returned to fine arts. I was juried into almost every show I entered. I thought it was fun at first, then I realized how much work and expense it took. I also witnessed artists painting for the juror(s) or for the market (for later sales). It simply took the fun out of the process for me. One day I decided I would paint or draw only for myself and I’ve been happy ever since. And, I’ve learned that I don’t want to part with a lot of my work, although some stuff I could truly  do without. Now with Costco doing prints on canvases, I’m able to sell prints instead of originals, which I like much better. Doing art for myself has given me so much freedom, and I hope that I never, ever have to paint for someone else or the marketplace again. Outlet for expression

Stack of newspapers at San Francisco MOMA
By painting for yourself, you are also developing a wonderful outlet for your own expression. Sometimes I look at some modern work today and wonder what does it mean? I guess that’s the first thing a modern artist wants you to ask. This past summer I was at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in San Francisco and there was a pile of newspapers in a corner--all black and white (no ad inserts). While standing there looking down at what I recycle everyday, I truly had to ask myself, “What’s that all about?” Going on the web later I found a lot of other people who were puzzled too. Then I ran across the site, It Depends. According to Arundhati of It Depends,  the stacks are a political statement:

If you think that these are just newspapers stacked neatly in a corner, wrong, wrong, wrong. The artist is making a political statement with this work. Notice how the different stacks are all of different heights and shapes symbolizing the deep inequalities of society. The pieces of string that have been used to tie the papers represent the chains imposed on society by the elite. Or something.

I guess I didn’t study the piece long enough to figure out it’s meaning. The point is that the artist was expressing his view point. I have a painting I rarely show and that’s because it’s political as well. When the Jews were forced to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip (right or wrong), I was disturbed by the turn of events. I imagined how hard it was for those folks to leave their homes of so many years. This caused me to create a watercolor entitled, “Uncle Theo Leaves Home.” Obviously without the title and some historical background, one probably wouldn’t get the meaning of the piece. Perhaps that’s what is lost on the stack of newspaper.

Uncle Theo Leaves Home, watercolor painting by JJ Goodell
Finding fulfillment
The biggest reason I do art though is because it’s fun!! It gives me a lot of pleasure, partly because there is a sense of accomplishment with each piece I finish and partly because art fills my life with so much satisfaction (and/or misery when things go wrong). After so many years in advertising and finding joy in creating ads and brochures--which I considered art at times--I am so very happy I found something as fulfilling and joyful as fine arts. I sometimes wonder if I will ever tire of creating artwork. Beyond the fact that I’m overly invested in the field (how did I accumulate so much art supplies in such a short time?), I can’t imagine myself ever dropping my pencil or paint brush for any other love.

Classes & Workshops Coming in January at Glastonbury Studios
Classes begin the week of January 8th and end week of February 12 To pre-register for these classes, please email me at

Every Tuesday evening: Studio Drawing              7 pm to 9 pm Exploring Color Pencil
A subject or media- driven class that helps students to sharpen their skills, it covers a variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes.  Supply list given at pre-registration.  Six week session. $70.00

Every Wednesday morning:  Sketch’n on the Go!™ 10 am to 12 pm Trying new media–pen and ink, oil pastels, colored pencil, plus more!
Enjoy learning all about sketching using a variety of media from pen and ink to watercolor pencil. Supply list given at pre-registration. During winter, we stay inside and hone our sketching skills.
Six week session. $70.00.

New Class!
Every Wednesday afternoon:  Beginning Acrylics 1 pm to 3 pm Learn the basic to acrylic painting from color mixing to brush/knife technique. No experience necessary. Supply list given at pre-registration.
Six week session. $70.00.
This class is limited to ten students 
Every Thursday evening: Intermediate Acrylics              7 pm to 9 pm
Here’s your chance to continue your acrylic painting adventure. Each week we will tackle a different subject, using a different technique.
Six week session.$70.00
This class is limited to ten students.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Using photographs as reference tools

Last month I talked about how tracing photographs for your paintings is just a form of imitation rather than interpretation. Having said that does not mean I do not use pictures as reference tools because I do. While drawing and/or painting from real life is always the best approach, we are often limited to what we have at our disposal and must rely on photographs for reference.

For instance, a friend of mine is creating a logo for her daughter’s company. She’s chosen to draw a dragon fly for the graphic image. Not many of us have dragon flies hovering around our backyards at this time of year and even if we did, it would be extremely difficult to get the fine detail you want to draw a good representation of the insect. This is when a photo comes in handy.

Since there are copyright issues when you use someone’s photograph, you can’t just go up to the Internet and download a picture to use as a reference. Even though it seems like you should; you can’t. Photographers’ works are protected by the same copyright laws that writers and other artists enjoy. The moment a photographer shoots a picture, it’s hers and you need permission to use the photo for anything. See for more detail on copyright issues.

One way to insure that you aren’t using a copyrighted piece is to download from sites that allow artists to use photos for their creative endeavors without any infringement,  like or The other way is to take the photographs yourself, if you're able to do so. Here are some hints for taking your own photos:

    1. Since I use a point and shoot digital camera, I take lots and lots of photos. When I was in Venice in 2007, I must have shot 700 in one afternoon. My thinking is that (a) it’s not costing a ton since I’m not using film, (b) my only limitation is the capacity of my memory chip and (c) I may never be here again. So I take as many photos as I want and what I don't want later, goes straight to the trash bin.
    2. In keeping with my photography frenzy, I take a shot from every angle. If you’re shooting a building, point the camera: up, down, sideways, upside down, to the right, to the left, with people, without people, up close, far away. Go for it―you never know, maybe you can find the beginnings of an abstract.

    3. Consider your lighting. If you're shooting in the morning, why not go back in the afternoon or evening and shoot the same object again to see how things change, especially color and tone.

    4. Take vertical and horizontal shots, even when it doesn’t make sense; it may add interest to your painting once you’re in your studio.

    5. Shoot a panoramic view by taking pictures that overlap each other.

    Some ideas when you're in your studio.

    1.  Watch those shadows. Although they look black they probably aren’t. Photos are notorious for distorting colors and shadows. Sooooo, if you haven’t made on-site color notes, think about what you want the painting to look like--in other words interpret what you’re seeing. The shadows are usually the color's darkest dark, such as dark red (almost brown) for an apple, dark, dull yellow on lemons, etc. I often put my photo into
    Picasa and lighten it. This also helps to see stuff in the shadow that may be eluding you.

    2. Perspective can become eschewed in photos. If you can, create a horizon line and vanishing point. Then test to make sure your vanishing lines are accurate.

    3 Don’t be a slave to the photo. You
    can change the design. If you have some flowers you don’t like in the photo, change them or eliminate them. If you think adding something will enhance the painting or drawing, then put it in—maybe even another reference photo.

    4. Remember to use the reference photo as a place to launch your ideas--exact replication of a photo often creates a lifeless work of art. Put life into your work by using the photo as an inspiration, then put a part of you in the painting or drawing.
    5. And finally, feel free to try different directions. Recently I had a student who was going to paint a cat from a photograph and she said, “He's going to be purple cat.” She really jumped off that photo and created one heck of a cat, purple and all. Well done!
Travel Sketching Opportunities in 2012
Right now the Mediterranean cruise is the only firm travel sketching trip. The rest that are listed below have not been set in stone. I'm actually seeing how many people are interested in taking the trips. So if something below catches your eye, send me a note at 

San Francisco
President's Day Weekend
February 17-20
Come visit San Francisco and sketch Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square, The Haight, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, plus more. We'll stay at Hotel Tomo that is a perfect place for artistic inspiration and centrally located for many of our stops. We'll use public transportation (bus) for the entire four days.
Workshop fee: $199
More details coming soon!

Mediterranean Cruise 
April 22-28
Cruise: $749; workshop fee $600
Room for three more students

Acrylics Painting Retreat
Memorial Day Weekend
May 25-28
Spend the weekend with paintbrush in hand, learning some new techniques in acrylics--from using the medium like watercolor to heavy impasto work. A fun weekend filled with lots of fun, laughter and cheer. 
Workshop fee: TBD
Place to be determined either coast or mountains

North to Alaska Cruise
August 31-September 7
Spend a week exploring Alaska, including a night in Victoria, B.C. We stop at Ketchikan, Juneau,Tracy Fjord and Skagway. We'll sketch all sorts of local scenery and people, while honing our photography skills as well. And the best part is all your meals are included and you're treated like royalty. A trip that's awe inspiring and all for less than a hotel and meals on the Coast.

Cruise: $799; workshop fee $300
See Celebrity for details on cruise

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 2011: Imitation vs. Interpretation

Many years ago I took a painting class where most students traced their photographs from a projector onto their watercolor paper. Everyone told me that they were more interested in getting to the color, instead of struggling with the drawing.

Of course, as a drawing teacher, I believe everything starts with pencil and paper. I call it visual thinking: when an artist sketches out her ideas on paper for a project. Take Michelangelo for instance. He sketched 100 to 150 drawings before he ever struck stone. He knew his subject and was known for his swift carving. A skill you can accomplish when you’ve planned things out in advance.

Projectors are being used by some instead of drawing
But now with digital cameras and projectors at our disposal, folks don’t feel like they have to know how to draw. One instructor announced some time ago that 90 percent of artists trace, while the other 10 percent just won’t admit it. I don’t believe that to be true, but we students chuckled anyway.

Unfortunately, cameras cause distortions, especially when it comes to perspective. They also have things that disappear into the night (blurred backgrounds or foregrounds, unidentifiable shadows). I can often identify a traced painting versus one whose conception came from a free-hand drawing because usually the subject is too photo-realistic, too perfect, dare I say, a bit lifeless.

Fundamentally, tracing instead of drawing is simply imitating instead of interpreting your subject. What I mean is that you are limited by what the camera sees and imitating that viewpoint. The lines traced, come from the camera, an imitation of its mechanical ability. Conversely, lines freely drawn by you are your interpretation of what you are seeing, part of your soul, the inner you.

This is not say, I don’t believe in using photographs as reference tools. Heck, I use them all the time in my classes! I rely on photos a lot. There is no way I can draw tropical plants while living in the Northwest, unless I take a trip to Hawaii. So I must rely on photographs to help me know, for instance, what a Cordia flowering plant looks like.  But I use the photographs for reference only—to gain visual knowledge. Moreover, I usually study many photos of the same subject (from sites that allow me to do so).

For example, I once had a watercolor commission to paint red poppies. Of course since I don’t grow them in my backyard, I had to go to the Internet and find some reference photos. I ended up drawing 30 or more poppies in all sorts of positions before I created my composition and subsequent painting. I got to know poppies so well that I can draw one on the spot to this day.

And yes, it is a struggle to draw first. I know how intimidating it can be, how scary that blank sheet can be (the same fear applies to writers as well). But once you get your sketches down on paper, you can break away from your tracing dependency and become the master of your work. You become the interpreter instead of the imitator. You and your painting are one.

Next month: How to use a photo as a reference tool.

New Six-Week Classes Session Starting at Glastonbury Studios

Week of October 23th through Week of November 27th
Pre-registration required. Seating is limited.
(All students must pre-register for classes. Please email me at to get your form and instructions for the following classes.)

Tuesday evenings (7-9)   Drawing:  Pen, Ink and Watercolor
Wednesday mornings (10:00 to 12:30) Sketching (Miscellaneous)
Thursday evenings (7-9) Fun with Acrylics (beginning to intermediate)
No class on Thanksgiving

Mediterranean Cruise News
Information Meeting at Glastonbury Studios
Sunday, October 9th
Workshop payment due October 9th
Mediterranean Cruise: Looks like we only need a couple more people for the cruise, planned for May 22-28, 2012. For more information go to the trip blog.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

September Newsletter: Drawing the Hand

Note: This newsletter is a little early this month, as I'm taking a group of students on a travel sketching cruise to Alaska. I won't be back until after the first of September. Hope you enjoy this month's topic!
One of the easiest parts of the body to draw is the hand. That's because we can see one while we draw with the other. In my beginning drawing class I have asked students to draw their hands using blind contour--looking only at the object and then drawing it without looking at the paper. It's hard, and most people get a kick out of what appears on their paper. With enough practice, one can get rather good at drawing blindly.

Then I ask everyone to trace (the only time I allow my students to trace anything) their hand and draw contour lines (like ones used on a topographical map), as illustrated here. Eventually, your hand looks like it's wrapped up mummy style, but it also shows how the hand begins to form right before your eyes.

Finally draw your hand as you would usually.  I like using cross-hatch marks when I do this. It's fun to use all sorts of drawing marks to create a hand.

As everyone knows I see shapes inside objects first. With the hand I see several rectangles, connected by balls (knuckles) and then all connected to a big square (the palm). I was recently reading one of Andrew Loomis' books, Drawing the Head and Hands, which you can download at  He uses the same idea, using first the rectangle, which turns into cubes. Below are several of his illustrations of hands:
Notice how he uses cubes to define fingers.
The palm and back of the hand
The tapered hand
The baby's hand
Drawing hands is a fun activity, one which you can do anytime, anywhere because you always have that free hand to serve as your model. Why not do a study or two of them this coming month.

Here are three more hands that I've done recently.

Next Month: Drawing from photographs

Fall Classes at Glastonbury Studios Start Week of September 11, 2011
Pre-registration required. Seating is limited.

All students must pre-register for classes. Please email me at to get your form and instructions for the following classes.
  • Tuesday evenings (7-9)  Drawing: People and Perspective
  • Wednesday mornings (10:00 to 12:30) Sketching (Landscape)
  • Thursday evenings (7-9) Acrylics (Abstract, Collage & More: beginning to intermediate) 

Travel sketching plans for 2012 
Workshop payment due October 1st
Mediterranean Cruise: Looks like we have room for four more people for the cruise, planned for May 22-28, 2012. For more information go to the trip blog. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 2011 Foreshortening

Foreshortening is hard.  But, I think it’s mostly a head thing.  We want to draw what we know, not what we see. According to the Artcyclopedia glossary, foreshortening is defined as the following:
“A way of representing a subject or an object so that it conveys the illusion of depth — so that it seems to thrust forward or go back into space. Foreshortening's success often depends upon a point of view or perspective in which the sizes of near and far parts of a subject contrast greatly”.

The old recruitment poster of Uncle Sam is a perfect example of foreshortening:

Notice his forefinger and thumb? Look in the mirror and point your finger at yourself like Uncle Sam. Notice the “shapes,” not the fingers. That is the key to foreshortening, drawing the shapes you see before you, rather then what you know is before you.
It's amazing how many times you will see objects in a foreshortened manner, from flowers to animal snouts. But the most difficult, I think, is when it appears in human form since we are so familiar with what "should" be. Take for instance the painting, Lamentation of Christ by Andrea Mantega (1431-1506).

Notice Christ's feet. Now compare those feet with his head. If drawn correctly the feet would be much larger since they are closer to us, but Mantega painted both almost the same size. While I think this was his intention, Mantega gives us an excellent example of how tricky foreshortening can be. Don't believe me? Have a friend or even one of your kids lay down on a bed with his feet directly in front of you. Then measure the height of the feet against the height of the head. There's a big, big difference!

There is a wonderful book I'd like to recommend, entitled, Atlas of Foreshortening: The Human Figure in Deep Perspective (Second Edition), by John Cody. This book is filled with photos of models in foreshortened positions. I have been trying to get through the book myself in my spare time, drawing each model. It's a challenge.

Here are a couple of my drawings from the book: 
Next month: Drawing hands

What's ahead!
New Glastonbury Studio class sessions to begin week of September 11, 2011.
Just want to remind everyone that a new session will begin for my private classes during the week of September 11. We'll be covering the following media and/or topics:
Tuesday evenings (7-9)  Drawing: People and Perspective
Wednesday mornings (10:00 to 12:30) Sketching (outside, depending on weather)
Thursday evenings (7-9) Acrylics (beginning to intermediate) 

Travel sketching plans for 2012 
Mediterranean Cruise: Looks like we only need one more person to make a complete group for the cruise, planned for May 22-28, 2012. For more information go to the trip blog.

Palm Springs: We will again take a trip down to Palm Springs for a long weekend in February. Details to come soon.

Fall Foliage: Instead of going to Alaska next fall, I'm thinking about a cruise to the New England area to see the fall foliage. Details to come soon.
Until next time...have a great summer!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some information on copyright

While you may be interested in your rights as an artist, I’d like to cover the subject of copyright from the other direction. The rights of others.  I can’t tell you how many times I‘ve heard students say that it’s okay to  use someone’s photograph as a reference for a painting if they just change a certain percentage of thing. . My only comment is: absolutely not!

Here’s the basic rule, if it’s not your photograph than it’s not your property. Using someone’s photography is stealing, plain and simple.

Using a photograph as a reference for a drawing or painting should only be done if you are given permission directly by the photographer, publisher and/or found the photos on a website that allows you to use such photos for reference (i.e., ). If you want to practice, using other people’s works from magazines, books, websites that is fine. But never share, sell, exhibit or even give away the practice pieces.
Beyond the ethic issue here, plagiarizing someone’s work can be very costly. You might think because you’re here in Portland, Oregon, no one is going to bother with you stealing. So let’s suppose for a moment that you find a really cool photo on the Internet and you create a watercolor painting from it. You submit the work into a juried show. You not only get into the show, but even win a prize. Then,  off the picture goes, traveling on exhibit throughout the state. It’s so popular that it’s picked up for publication in a magazine and you even start to sell greeting cards.

Now let’s say, Hallmark Cards found the same photo and, unlike you, asked permission and even paid the photographer handsomely for the use of her work. They proceed to use the photo as part of their card collection. Then one day, the photographer and/or Hallmark notices that you’ve used the same photo but without permission.  I bet you a cup of coffee and a scone at Starbucks that you would be in deep trouble—not only would  you have to cease and desist your own card production, but you may have to destroy your original painting and possibly face paying some financial damage.  So would it be worth it?
Just in case, you still seem a bit fuzzy on the subject of copyright, I’m including below the definition straight from the United States Copyright Office (you can find the link at:

What is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States
(title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including
literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This
protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106
of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive
right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
        To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
        To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
        To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
        To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audio­visual works;
        To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audio­visual work; and
        In the case of sound recordings,* to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

Clearly, the artist who has created the original work has the right to hold the copyright. The law is there to protect all of us.  The next time you’re tempted to pass someone’s work off as your own, think about what It means, no matter how much you change the original work. For more information on this subject you can go to this link: purchase the book, Legal Guide for the Visual Artist by Tad Crawford.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Popular Art Hit List

Today, I was on the Red Bubble site, an eclectic site designed to help and support artists, and noticed an article on what type of artwork sells nowadays. According to this article, a survey of 2,000 art buyers from ages 18-65 (guess 66 year olds don’t buy art??) showed that landscapes as the leading favorite in art purchases with photography coming in second. The younger group aged 35 and less, bought more photography, abstracts and pop art, while the older 45 plus, tended toward more landscapes, flowers and gardens.

This makes total sense to me. I remember when I was younger, I was more inclined to go for the simple abstracts or pop art as they were less expensive. While I’ve aged (very gracefully and willingly I might add), I’ve gravitated toward the more complex in art, which usually requires a lot more cash output. I also have to agree with my brother (a science guy), who says, “If I can paint it, I don’t want it.” But most of all, I want a story, a compelling reason to take a painting off a wall and take it to the cashier. I need inspiration.

Luncheon of the Boating Party c.1880/81 by
Pierre-Aguste Renoir

Take for instance, the painting above by Renoir--another one of my favorites. It's not a landscape so to be speak, but a painting that speaks of friendship, good times and a lust for life. This inspires me to come in and visit for a while.

What follows is the list of today’s most popular art. For me, I think Impressionism would top my list, with a penchant toward Parisian CafĂ© life (as you can see from the above painting).  But then again, I’m part of that old geezer group. What would your list look like?
 1. Landscape
2. Photography
3. Flowers, Gardens
4. Wildlife, Animals
5. Abstract, Surrealism
6. Impressionism
7. Tuscany, Paris, Cafes (scenes of Europe)
8. Still Life
9. Country Traditional
10. Pets (dogs, cats)
11. Sports (baseball, cricket, football, soccer …)
12. Religious
13. Pop Culture
14. African-American
15. Brand Icons
16. Hispanic Art
17. Other

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Back in the year 2000, my son Alex and I were walking through the National Gallery in London. We had already been stunned by the painting, The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger (check out the entry below). But nothing prepared us for the next painting we stumbled upon: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche (17 July 1797 – 4 November 1856).
The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, oil painting by Paul Delaroche completed in 1833
This painting is my all time favorite. While the scene is incorrect (artistic license), the emotional message is unparalleled in anything I have seen. Here is a girl of 16, who has been politically used, facing her death on the chopping block. Her reign as Queen lasted only nine days and her young life came to an end six months later. The following YouTube article from the National Gallery tells the story far better than I.

As the above video demonstrates with close ups of the painting, you can feel the fear in Lady Jane's posture. With no motion, you see her hands tremble and no sound, hear the  ladies in waiting, wailing in anquish. 

Delaroche accomplished one of the most moving paintings I have ever viewed. During the last 11 years, I have visited the painting four times. Every visit finds me mystified,  standing in front of this mere paint on canvas, totally enraptured by the story it tells. 

If you ever get to London, please, please jump in a cab and go straight to the National Gallery--it will be well worth the time. Best of all, it's free!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 2011: The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger

A lot of my favorite paintings hang in London's National Gallery. I've been very blessed in my life to have visited the museum several times and each time I discover something new that takes my breath away. On my first visit, my son Alex and I walked past the painting, entitled, The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). At first glance, it looks like a simple double portrait of some fancy-dressed guys. But when you look closer one sees a distorted skull in the foreground. The painting simply stopped us in our tracks. We were in awe, especially when we moved to the right and viewed a full version of the skull. 
Besides the skull, this painting is riddled with all sorts of interesting objects. In fact, it held the attention of my son for a good half hour and he was only 11 at the time. This picture is a prime example of how art can touch you.

The figures are two wealthy and powerful young men: Jean de Dinteville (29), French ambassador to England and to his right, stands Georges de Selve (25) bishop of Lavaur, some-time ambassador to the Holy See. Both are educated, as is demonstrated by the literature, music and globe. Along with the skull, all these symbolic objects have caused great discussion throughout the years. 

The skull viewed from the right.
Above you can see the distorted skull in full view when standing to the right of the painting. This distortion is called anamorphic perspective. Today we see this type of rendering with street artists, who create depth-like chalk paintings in sidewalks.
Swimming Pool in the High Street by Julian Beever 
I am fascinated with this type of art, one which I marvel at every time someone sends me a sampling of an artist's work. It's like eye candy. Do I know how they do it? No. As with everything, I suppose I could always learn. But like learning a magic trick, it's sometimes better to keep it a mystery. This way, I stand in front of The Ambassadors (or a beautifully executed chalk painting) and just be mystified. Do you want to see it directly at London's National Gallery? Then click here to see it in room four:

Next month, I'll cover another painting at the National Gallery, which tops my list for my all-time favorite: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833), by Paul Delaroche.

Until then, I hope the sun comes out soon and brightens your life! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

March 2011: Monet

Did you know that Oscar-Claude Monet (1840-1926) began his art career drawing caricatures. He was rather successful at it.
[I would decorate] the margins of my books. I decorated the blue paper from my notebooks to ultra-fancy ornaments, and I was representing, for the most irreverent, deforming them as much as possible, face or profile of my teachers. I became fast in this game with a beautiful force. At fifteen, I was known throughout Le Havre as a caricaturist." Thiebault-Sisson, Le Temps, 26/11/1900

Caricature of a man with a snuffbox, around 1858.
Notice the signature: O. Monet. He would not
change his first name to Claude until he entered the military service.
     Monet developed a small business creating caricatures of Le Havre's (his hometown) notables. He'd sell his works for 10-20 francs and managed to save 2,000 francs from his endeavors. Interestingly,the town offered an annual 1200-franc scholarship to promising artists for school in Paris.The year that Monet applied for the scholarship, it was awarded to two others instead:  a sculptor, Aimable-Edmond Peau  and an architect,  Anthime-Marin Delarocque. Just goes to show you, art critics aren't always right!
     Again, as with all the artists we have studied so far, Monet worked hard at his craft, studying other artists' techniques (Constable and Turner) and with prominent artists of his time (Boudin and Jongkind). Turning from studio work, Monet began to paint outdoors (en plein air). There's a story that when he visited the Louvre in Paris, instead of copying the masters in the museum as other artists were doing, he sat by a window and painted the world outside.
Women in the Garden. 1866
     Eventually, Monet befriended Pisarro, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille and Courbet, who together, overtime created the Impressionists—a group of artists who rebelled against the conventional artistic style of the day and opened their own independent exhibitions. Monet is considered the father of the Impressionists.
     I am most impressed with Monet's commitment to his craft. As early as 22, he was trying to do more than the "average bear," as evidenced with his painting,  Women in the Garden.  With a canvas that stood 8 ft wide and 6 ft tall, he created this lovely piece en plein air--totally outdoors. How did he accomplish such a feat? By having a trench built with pulleys attached to the canvas, so that the painting could be adjusted up and down as he worked. Ingenious.
Haystack, Snow Effects
     In time, Monet became well known and prosperous, unlike many of his counterparts. In the latter part of his life, he settled in Giverny, where he would purchase a house, marry his mistress and begin the serial studies of light on Haystacks or Grainstacks (1890-91)and Rouen Cathedral. Even when he was fighting blindness, like Mary Cassett, he soldiered onward and painted his gardens surrounding his Giverny home.
In his garden: Bassin aux nympheas 1899
     I hope my brief coverage of these artists has dispelled the notion that good artists just whip out masterpieces. It takes time, training, dedication and commitment. And just like the greats, we today must work at our craft.
     For the next few months I'd like to cover some paintings that I thoroughly enjoy. My first will be The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533. 
     If you would like to learn more about drawing techniques or links that would be if interest in your work as an artist, please go to my Facebook page:
     Until next month, happy painting and drawing!