Sunday, March 11, 2018

On The Edge Of Springtime

March 11, 2018

The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”  Auguste Rodin

Up here in the Northland we eagerly await the days when old man winter slowly releases his frozen grip on us. When we can walk outside without having our breath stolen from our lungs by the icy air. When a car will start without a groan and birds are brave enough to sing again.

These early days of spring are filled with anticipation and hope. Soon we will see the first green buds on the trees and rain will fall instead of heavy wet snow. People will venture outside with t-shirts and shorts on them, even though it's only 40 degrees. They will pause, and close their eyes, and feel the warmth of the sun on their faces.

For Artists here it means we can finally leave the studio without nine layers of clothing on us. A chance to dust off our plein air gear, take an inventory and prepare to see a friendlier mother nature. It is a good time to paint outside, while the shadows are still long and before everything turns to a bright green that's almost impossible to paint.

Until that time arrives, I practice painting trees.

I also did a video recently on the newly released QoR watercolor kit. What a great little kit this is and you can find the complete video on my YouTube channel at:

Here is a very short clip of the paint swatches I made from them.

Resting Under A Tree - Watercolor & Ink

Walking Near The Tree - Watercolor & Ink
practicing trees

Monday, February 19, 2018

Awash in Gouache

February 19, 2018

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see". - Henry David Thoreau

This past month or so, I have been experimenting with gouache.
For the people not familiar with this particular medium, it is an opaque, chalky paint, traditionally used by Illustrators. However, many Artists use gouache, pronounced, ɡwäSH or ɡo͞oˈäSH.
Gouache can be re-wet, and used with watercolor. It is similar to acrylic or oil paints in that it is normally used in an opaque painting style. Gouache has larger particles in it and a much higher pigment to binder ratio. It will usually have a white filler which gives it its, "chalky" look and feeling, especially when it dries. 

Here is a painting in Gouache by Friedrich Wilhelm Schwinge (1854 - 1913) - Selbstporträt im Garten (self-portrait in garden)

The author died in 1913, and this work is in the public domain.
The work I've been practicing is much more like the type an Illustrator would do. Illustrators use gouache to do storyboards, thumbnails and finished work. If you're interested in seeing what Illustrators can do with gouache, this is a great reference by James Gurney:

Here is a painting I recently completed using gouache:

Gouache painting after Whitemore
I painted this from reference, using the the work of the famous Artist and Illustrator, Colby Whitmore. More on Coby Whitemore here:

I did YouTube video showing the process I used to do this painting and I discussed the various aspects gouache if you want to check it out.

I also posted a video of talking about the Holbein gouache I used, which you may find interesting if you're looking to try out gouache painting:

What I learned about gouache in this, "experimenting", is that I like it very much. It has interesting qualities, such as being compatible with watercolors. You can also thin them with water. The paints I used were acrylic-based, which is relatively new on the market, but others have been made longer and use gum-arabic as a binder.

I enjoyed the oil-paint-like qualities of gouache. It is such a versatile medium and if you don't like having to use turpentine or chemicals used in oil painting, this might be a great alternative for you.

Here are some watercolor paintings I've completed in the last few weeks.

Leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences about gouache, I'd love to hear from you.
Man thinking - Watercolor
Claddagh Customer - Watercolor
Old Barn - Watercolor

Mountain Study - Watercolor

Winter Barn - Watercolor
Man in corner - Watercolor

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Long Happy Winter Of Mistakes

January 22, 2018
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." 
                                                                                    ~Scott  Adams

When I talk to other Artists, we generally end up talking a lot about mistakes. The artistic journey is filled with them, how you see them has a lot to do with your success. 

We define a mistake this way: an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc. 2. a misunderstanding or misconception.

In modern english, the word, "mistake" is a noun. 

I take it to mean that a mistake then must be an idea, because it isn't a person, place or thing. Ideas, as they apply to art, are a good thing right? Therefore, mistakes are good. Could it really be that simple? Why not?

Mistakes or errors are largely in the eye of the beholder when it comes to art. I think people who are classically trained are also conditioned. They've been taught to see things in their work or process and to spot the mistakes. 

Who taught them? And what about the person before them and the person before that...until you go all the way back and find someone who just wanted to make sense of it all. So they applied some rules.

Humans prefer order over chaos. We are conditioned to find order. It gives us a measure of control in our lives, or at least perceived control. And so it is with art, that we look for process and rules. We train ourselves to apply these rules in our own work and then we look for it in others.

The paradigm isn't easily broken because it helps us make sense of the artistic chaos and it brings control to our artistic lives. I don't know if we are meant to break free from the paradigm or just recognize it exists?

These days I welcome the mistakes. They help me learn. They help me understand. If art is like a game with certain rules, you can decide which ones you want to master or you can ignore them altogether. Whichever you choose, I think it helps to find what makes you happy.

Your happiness shines through in your work whether it exists within the rules of the process or outside the confines of convention. 

I draw people because I like to. I follow some of the rules because it helps me see my artwork for more than just a spasm of creativity. I can see the nuance and precision, the order and mistakes, within the confines of those rules.

Perhaps it has always been this way. That we spend our lives following and mastering the rules, inventing new ones and redefining what it means to be an artist, to be human. I ponder these things, a great deal.

Now is the time to embrace our mistakes. Now is the time to accept the paradigm of the artistic process, so that we may choose whether to break it. 

This is turning into a long winter, filled with mistakes, and I am happy.

Friday, January 05, 2018

New Year, New Life

January 5, 2018

"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man."   - Benjamin Franklin

It's a brand new year and many people will make resolutions. 

I will not. 

I learned a long time ago that the best way to get anything out of life is to make it a habit.

For example, if I want to be a better Artist, I devote time to it. One of the most precious things we have in this life is time. We devote our time to many things, including our families, our work and our hobbies. Whatever it is you want out of life, if you make it a habit, it'll be far more achievable than if you make it a New Years resolution.

Resolutions are easily broken, habits are not.

Honda CB450 Vintage Bike - Ink Wash in sketchbook

For example, I set aside 30 minutes a day to devote to art. Sketching, drawing, painting, learning a new technique, all fall into my commitment. No matter what's going on or how busy we become, I forcefully find the time for art. Okay, I'll admit that I am absolutley passionate about it, so that makes it easier. And that's part of the secret, finding your passion. 

Cyndie DeRidder is reading - Ink Wash in sketchbook

Your new habit doesn't have to be art or art related. If I want a better relationship with my kids, I spend more time with them. If I want to improve a skill at work, I spend time on it. Time is also the greatest equalizer.

For example, of you see someone online who has tremendous artistic talent and you think to yourself, "I could never paint that well". That's just bad thinking, because if you devote time to it, if you practice it, you can overcome almost any lack of natural ability. It's easier if you have passion, but it can certainly be done if you're willing to devote time to it. I've seen it happen and I've experienced it myself.

Admit it, how often have you said to yourself, "I wish I was better at (fill-in-the-blank)"? Only to find you haven't spent any time on it. I've done that myself, more often than I'd like to admit. It really makes no sense. If you want to be better, you have to make time to become better.

Waiting for a cup of joe - Ink wash in sketch book
Since life is short, you may as well work on something that feeds your soul or your family or your passion and possibly all three. Make it a habit and it will happen. It's like magic. Leave me a note and let me know what you're passionate about and what your dreams are for a New Year.

Contemplation - Ink and Watercolor
Ziggy - Watercolor on 140lb 100% Cotton Hahnemuhle Paper

Monday, October 23, 2017

What Every Artist Must Unlearn

October 23, 2017

Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul. - Edvard Munch

Almost every Artist copies. Almost every trained Artist follows a prescribed script. Artists spend countless hours and many years, and sometimes a small fortune, to learn methods and rules for creating art. They want to become great Artists, they want to create something that will be accepted.

The really enlightened Artist spends the rest of their lives trying to unlearn all of those things. 

I think that's what Pablo Picaso was saying when he uttered the words, It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.

When I was a child, I painted and drew pictures for the simple joy of it. My imagination ran wild and I was transported to strange and fantastic places. There were moments when I was absolutely happy.

As we learn the rules, our drawings and paintings become better, or at least they are perceived to be better. And for each good drawing or painting, we are given praise and this reinforces our adherence to the rules. 

I wanted to seek out the mysteries of drawing and painting. And as the years past I, like every other average Artist, got better at following the rules and the work improved.

These days, I contemplate the meaning of all those rules and I try to recapture the freedom and joy of my childhood. I have those moments, now and again, but much of the time, I am torn between the two worlds, the world of rules and process, and the world of childhood joy. 

I don't know why the two are at odds and maybe the answer isn't in living in one or the other, but in finding harmony between the two. Picasso, would probably say that was bullshit.

Whatever the case may be, I'm sure the journey must be different for everyone. Maybe just recognizing these ideas is enough? Or maybe this is all just a metaphor for life and the lesson is to do what gives your soul joy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Leave Your Indelible Mark

September 14, 2017

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser." - John W. Gardner

Fortunately for the Artist, you can use an eraser to fix your drawings. I know what John W. Gardner meant though. He was saying that you can't really undo your mistakes in life, at least not very easily. Each line you draw in life is what it is. You leave an indelible mark, good, bad or indifferent.

These days I concentrate on making whatever small improvements I can to my work. Sometimes I start a drawing completely over again. It's almost always better the second time around.

The other day I found myself waiting for a meeting to start at work. All I had with me was my graph paper notebook and a mechanical pencil. So I made the best of it and just started sketching. I enjoyed it, because it reminded me of being a kid, when I would just use anything around to draw. Do you ever just pick up a piece of paper and start drawing?

These are few of my recent sketches.

These are from the Minnesota State Fair.