Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eeny Meeny Miny Moe – Shadow Box / Still life Stand

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
My mother told me to pick the very best one,
and that is Y-O-U

There are several advantages to having a designated still life stand. The obvious is the control over your work space and environment. Add to that a shadow box and you gain complete power over light and composition. The still life provides a unlimited opportunity for the study of form. How light moves across an object can be thoroughly analyzed and painted in a controlled situation and under regulated lighting.

My stand is simply a heavy duty shelving unit I purchased from a hardware store that measures 2’ x 4’ x 6’ tall, I wanted one deep enough to hold a large set up and adjustable so that I could set the still life shelf at a standing height to work from. This one adjusts by inches so I could pick exactly where I wanted the shelf to be. I did add a plywood back to the still life shelf and painted it with a neutral tone, this gave me a means to change background by either taping up colored paper or pinning a cloth.  I use a clamp light with a natural daylight bulb inside the frame, and draped the entire shelf unit with black fabric creating the shadow box.

I frame the opening on both sides like curtains so that I can draw them closed leaving just enough space to view the composition. I use the other shelves for storage of canvas, frames and palettes. It may not be the most attractive furniture in the room but it functions well and does solve a lot of problems.

One bonus with your designated still life space is storage space for your collection of artifacts, curios and studio oddities. Funny how you can buy the weirdest stuff at yard sales and junk shops and just tell people (-my wife-) you need it for a still life painting and they're fine with it. That’s how I got my great human anatomy skull.

Once you have a work space like this you can start to explore compositions and discover what objects work together. Play with shapes and textures and look at how shadows fall and leading lines can create eye movement. Take some time and work through several arrangements, make it as simple or complex as you like, work out some profound narrative or make a contemplative moment of observation.

Either way, compose something you really want to paint and spend some time with -- remember it’s not going anywhere it’s a still life. So by the "eeny, meeny, miney, mo" method, pick out some objects and play with the arrangement. Don’t forget it is a process of discovery so have fun with it.

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches ©jimserrett

Eeny, meeny, miny moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers make him pay,

Fifty dollars every day.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website -
Studio Blog -
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Rubik’s Cube

The iconic classical Greek philosopher Socrates wrote, “The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.” My understanding of the language of art making is always expanding, every time I think I know something and understand it completely I am shown how much more there is to learn.

Painting is as much about patience as practice. It is a slow process of discovery and as long as we are aware of that fact we will see the type of improvement we desire. Those artistic breakthroughs come from persistently pushing our ideas and abilities to their limit.

To do that you must build a visual language and vocabulary, develop fundamental skills through practice and learn to speak with them in a voice that is unique to you. This is a tall order!

It is not about being a perfectionist but about realizing the new challenge that every piece of work creates. I’ve used the expression before about chasing the carrot, maybe “moving the ball forward” or “grabbing the brass ring” would be better idioms/sayings.  You get the idea, it is the small increments of success, those little artistic epiphanies, that maybe only you can see in your work which keep you going, it is that process that leads to the next painting.

If I were ever 100% satisfied with a piece, if I did not see something I could improve on or something I could not say better, well I think I would be done. Because I would have stopped progressing as an artist. The language of art and the eye of a painter - is always a work in progress.

Rubik’s Cube, Rock and Bottle, oil on panel, 8 10 inches, © jimserrett

“The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.” – Socrates

A Mysterious Esoteric Footnote: 

I am not sure how many Rubik’s Cube’s I’ve owned over the years, but I have never solved one of them, and I keep trying.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them."-Erno Rubik

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 


Home of Rubik’s Cube


Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wild Turkey and Thoughts About Painterly Realism.

Back in the day working as a pictorial artist, I must have painted a few dozen billboards with liquor ads and this little paint brought back the memories. Always enjoyed doing those illustrations because I got to really loosen up and fling some paint around.

It is a very abstract subject to paint, the effect of refracted light through the melting ice, liquor and glass are gratifying objects to depict. You get to play with the medium, manipulating the best qualities of oil paint in thick and thin passages, the looser and more abstract your brushwork the better.

Abstraction is everywhere when you look, and in this imagery of reflections and transparencies it can be seen easily, it's what makes it so satisfying to paint. Using loose open brushwork that describes the structure and creates an illusion of three-dimensional form, a real tangible thing - is Abstract Realism. I personally prefer the term Painterly Realism because it does not sound like such a contradiction, however I consider the terms interchangeable.

It's a very hard thing to accomplish, being descriptive while holding those abstract qualities underneath the picture. If only I could always paint that loosely with definition. Painterly Realism is something we should work towards; but is not a technique, it is developed over time through observation and knowledge using nature as your guide. The study of form, space, depth and atmosphere. Often artist's rush to that "loosely painted” brushwork where they trade expression for knowledge.

However, many great painters seem to have found that balance, Rembrandt, Titian, Sargent and Vermeer all exhibit the unique and subtle equilibrium in which the abstract beauty of paint combines with a recognizable image.

I am always trying to figure out where I should keep details and where I should let things just soften. What paint quality do I need to describe this or that passage, with color, edges, textures and shapes. I certainly will try any paint application I can think of to arrive at that result; glazes, scumbles, impasto, scratching and scraping. Whatever needs to be done to make it look like that surface. 

So the marks we make need to reflect the object and be authentic to that specific thing we are describing. Creating lots of brush strokes and being impressionistic tends to look formulaic and mechanical which takes away from the natural realism I prefer. Look at contemporary artists like Jeremy Lipkin, Conor Walton or David Kassan, they maintain the abstract and yet are very descriptive. So the brushwork or looseness/tightness of the approach follows the object you are portraying. The goal is to master the medium and be truthful to the subject.

Form is what I am most concerned about. When people ask me what I paint, the real answer is form. That is, translating three-dimensional form to a two-dimensional surface and creating the illusion of reality with space, depth and atmosphere.  When you can arrive at this with some bravura brushwork and attention to detail that synthesis is what I consider Painterly Realism.

So for me it is all abstract. If a painting is successful at some level, the abstract beauty of paint viewed up close merges into a recognizable image from a distance.

Anyway these are my thoughts on this painting today, and as I pursue my craft with an open mind I reserve the right to change that opinion tomorrow. Then again it could just be the Wild Turkey talking. LOL

Wild Turkey, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in, Jim Serrett

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pear, Bottle and Speckled Rock - WIP

Going back to some basics for the first painting of the new year, a simple set up with an unassuming set of objects using a small shadow box and pochade box. I like objects that have a unique surface quality and form. The passages of abstract patterns, like the little area between the pear and glass bottle are fascinating and very rich in my eye.

Multiple ellipses and transparent objects, I am the type that bites off more than they can chew. I don’t mean to. I think to myself, “Oh yea, that would be interesting to paint.” Dive in and about halfway into it, end up saying (out loud this time)... “Why do you pick the most difficult things?” 

I have done several compositions with bottles and enjoy the challenge of manipulating paint to create the illusion of glass. Natural looking reflections and bounced light can be a difficult subject to pull off, but with a combination of glazes and scumbles you will achieve a pretty convincing realistic look. The hard part with that is overstating the effect. You have to remind yourself to paint what you see, not what you think you see and that always makes me a bit apprehensive.

I learned a long time ago that the good things you learn in this craft take time, practice and dedication. It also takes a bit of fearlessness, fear being the biggest barrier to success in any endeavor. That fear causes you to over think and is the death of art. You have to enjoy yourself in the moment - even if you are out of your comfort zone. Remember the adage, “You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

Pear Bottle and Speckled Rock, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, © Jim Serrett

If you want to push through to the next level, remember that no one ever creates anything great by staying in their comfort zone. You need to go beyond what you think you can do in order to see your full potential.

Break some eggs.......

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thanks for Listening 2016

How very grateful I am for you.

To my dear friends, colleagues, collectors, bloggers and loved ones who made 2016 such a wonderful year, you will never know how much your support is appreciated.

This Blog has been an amazing thing and has served multiple purposes. It has created a creative community of which I am a part and given me a voice to speak about the art I create. It has allowed me to think deeply about my work, art in general and its importance in the world. It has given me a window into the making of my art and by others, and a wealth of information to share and digest. I admit it has been mostly about me, for I benefit the most. But it would not exist without you.

Thank you. Thank you all for your continuing support.

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”     ---Friedrich Nietzsche

Have a Happy and Prosperous New Year, Jim

For my loving wife Linda, I know that no words can express how grateful I am for you.
I am a lucky man. 
My goal and promise in life to show you every day how much I love you, appreciate you and cherish you.
All my love, and Happy Anniversary!

Join Creative Commons,
Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vanitas II - Etiquette - Finished

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."  - Oscar Wilde.


I get an idea and tend to just run with it, focus on the process and let the concepts evolve as I go. When working in a series, one piece will feed into another and things will lead in interesting directions, if you let them. This awareness of the painting experience is directing your decision making and aesthetic choices. The process is always asking questions as you answer them, what hue, value, chroma, shape, edges, scale and on and on, and hopefully with experience you are doing all of this intuitively. I find a lot meaning, energy and satisfaction within this chain of events.

Media – Popular Culture and Dumbing Down

It seems that where ever you go today there is someone staring at some little device lost in a vortex of texting or in some loud authoritative one-sided conversation. I wonder how much of their life is spent with their head down and eyes glued to a screen. People have become so dependent on these devices, if not addicted, starring and constantly checking their smartphone. Having a conversation with someone while they are texting is not multitasking, it’s just bad manners. When my earliest cell phone rang it was usually a client or art director in a panic about some deadline, commission or change needed. Silence was a good thing…

I am very supportive of the technology, but I wonder what it says about society and its direction. With all this conversing we actually seem to be becoming more anti-social, less tolerant and self-absorbed…the synonym for Narcissism is Vanity. (We just had the most narcissistic/egotistical public display in history the 2016 Presidential election.)

We always study the culture of past civilizations by the artifacts they leave behind, we analyze their art, literature and music in hopes of getting a glimpse into the conscious of that society. I wonder what a future archaeologist will think of a society in which a dead shark formaldehyde preserved or a real-life bed strewn with empty liquor bottles, soiled underwear, and stained sheets is considered high culture? Does it take the absurd and obnoxious to get us to look up from our cell phones? With great interest and at times contempt I’ve watched the “official” art establishments join the conceptual art carnival where ruder and cruder is worth more. I mean what does an 18-karat golden toilet installed in a Guggenheim Museum bathroom, by Maurizio Cattelan’s titled “America”— yes an actual functioning gold toilet – says? Conceit, arrogance and snobbery, more synonyms for Vanity.

Ugly – is easy.

I try to be open minded and tolerant, but I don’t get the joke, postmodernist art seems to me to be elitist and exclusive, a system in which mediocrity is rewarded and validated by a self-contained circle of critics and promoters. And it’s no secret that the real value is its importance in monetary exchange and more its utility as an unregulated commodity.

When we approach art from the oppose end, that of beauty. We are judging it by a different set of metrics. We look at art through our human experience, a personal, truthful and honest view of the world. Great art transcends time and subject matter, not because of the artist’s technical prowess, but because it embraces universal ideas. It has an intrinsic power, some sensation of perfection that bypasses the intellect, in the same way that we receive sensual pleasure from the scent of a rose. John Ruskin referred to this as Simple Beauty, but also spoke about Ideal Beauty which he calls Relation. The artistic idea of relation goes a step beyond Truth, Beauty, Power and Imitation, into a realm that requires intellect. This is art that produces expression, sentiment and character. I see that as the gateway to understanding/creating artistic beauty- it is to see with the mind (intellect) and heart (emotion) These are the core universal ideas.

I enjoy writing/blogging about art but it truly is more for me than you. Writing is my way to work out some of my thoughts and concepts, engage in a bit of exchange and learn something new.  I hope you take my opinions with a grain of salt, for they may change. I believe it is very important for artists to give insights into their ideas, share those opinions, explore and conduct critical thinking about the world around us.

Who better to speak about art then those who make it.  That seems to me to be the proper etiquette.

Vanitas II - Etiquette, oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, Jim Serrett

In the Vanitas genre people look at the skull imagery as macabre and morbid symbolism peppered with some moral instruction. That is one of the obvious interpretation, but I see it more as a cautioning reminder that life is precious, so they better not waste it on frivolous and meaningless things. Often included in the Vanitas or memento mori images is the phrase Memento vivere - Remember to live.

Live in the present moment. And recognize how we spend our time is important, what are we really cultivating? Is it improving our lives? Does binge watching hours of junk TV (which I am painfully guilty of) enrich your intellect or cultivate a skill? We need to have a balance, things we do that are frivolous or fun and those which are worthwhile.


Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website -
Studio Blog -
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Vanitas II – Etiquette – WIP

Here is an update and progress shots of my second Vanitas painting. I've made a couple of passes over the underpainting and I'm starting to model the form. Looking for a very sculptural feel, I want the illusion of space to govern this piece and to have all the objects sit and recede with a sense of dimension, which moves the viewer into the picture by means of light, form and depth. This is very important to the narrative of this Vanitas.

My still life set up is a shelving unit draped and boxed in with black fabric to block out any light.  I light it from within and balance the same light on my canvas and palette. I often use my pochade box as a standing palette, and will normally use a hand held palette in unison to work out color mixtures.

On the palette I premix mix a string of colors for each object representing it's hue, value and chroma. If I see there is any color shift as it moves from light to dark along the string I will tap warm or cool into it from my color palette as needed. This way I am never tied to those premixes and as I see reflected light or a temperature shift I can quickly punch it up or tone it down without breaking the flow of the painting process. Because if am really way off on my judgement, I can make those finite adjustments as I return for my second or third pass. Each time I visit a passage, the subtle differences in color and value become easier to find.
This way I can just stay in the zone.

The Vanitas or memento mori imagery is a fascinating genre to explore and is full of interesting symbolism. My concept of the Vanitas or certainly the core idea behind them is to use it not just as a platform to speak about the struggle of life and death, but of art and life.

I will save more of that conversation for later and as I work through this piece I will share those thoughts. I do want to share this link to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the amazing series “The ArtistProject” in this episode’s artist Roland Flexner discusses the 16thcentury Vanitas painting by Jacques de Gheyn II.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Friday, October 7, 2016

Vanitas II – Etiquette - Drawing and Underpainting

Preliminary pencil drawing for my next Vanitas oil painting, originally it was intended to be a simple contour drawing to transfer to canvas, but I was just having too much fun with a pencil.
The majority of my still life works begin with a simple but descriptive contour drawing, which works out the composition and suggests the shadow side or turning point on the form. This is typically more than enough information to move on to the next stage of paint. Especially for any monochrome underpainting.

I pushed this one quite a bit further. In a preliminary drawing you can do a great deal of problem solving. By simply dissecting the imagery, exploring the shapes, form and value relationships. You really familiarize yourself with the subjects and those nuances that first attracted you to it. This process seems the most natural for me and the most challenging. I feel that I am looking through a lens and slowly turning it, focusing in on the subject through my mind’s eye, interrupting it as I go. Becoming more aware and knowledgeable about this thing before me as I progress through the process of creating the image.  As I describe the effects of the light, it becomes more and more dimensional and real to me. And enjoyed fleshing out the value relationships in this drawing.

I transferred the drawing to board. With the subject in front of me and the value study as reference, I painted a quick wipe out umber underpainting, to truly reinforce the value relationships before my first color pass.

If we attempt to translate the natural world into paint with some type of optical fidelity (faithfulness to how that object looks in real life), what you paint is light. I know this is the vague common answer you hear when you ask an artist - what do you paint? But it is the simple truth, the truth of physical properties when describing form, what is illuminated and what is in shadow? No matter what the subject is; skulls, flowers, apples and oranges, I paint the effects of light first and the narrative second.

Our perception of everything in this world is described by light or the lack of.
It is the universal narrator, the chronicler, storyteller and poet.

"The purpose of art is to stop time." — Bob Dylan

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Link: Fun with a Pencil By Andrew Loomis

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Vanitas I - The Death of Superman

Here is my finished piece exploring the art of the Vanitas. What a fascinating subject matter to dive into.
Vanitas I -  The Death of Superman, oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches © Jim Serrett

Memento mori is a Latin phrase which means "remember that you have to die", the phrase certainly speaks about the frailty of life and our mortality. Originating from a practice common in Ancient Rome; as a general came back victorious from a battle, and during his parade ("Triumph") received compliments and honors from the crowd of citizens. He ran the risk of falling victim to haughtiness and delusions of grandeur; to avoid this, a slave stationed behind him would say "Respice post te. Hominem te memento" (“Look after you [to the time after your death] and remember you're [only] a man."). Memento mori!” Remember that you will die!”

The early religious imagery surrounding death was often used as motivator to live a good, meaningful and virtuous life. Churches would commission and display memento mori art to compel viewers to meditate on death, reflect on their lives, and re-dedicate themselves to their theology. 

By the seventeenth century Dutch Masters like Adam Bernaert, Pieter Claesz and Willem Claesz Heda had turn this imagery into a genre of its own called Vanitas, still life paintings which often contained religious and allegorical symbolism to remind us how vain and insignificant our human concerns are and consequently, how important it is to turn to God/deity. The term Vanitas comes the opening verse of Ecclesiastes 1:2 in the Latin Bible “Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas’, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

Still Life with a Skull by Philippe de Champaigne,
 Vanitas c. 1671 is reduced to three essentials Life, Death, and Time

Keep in mind we are talking about the Golden Age of Dutch culture, the Netherlands was an economic and cultural powerhouse in the seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company was the largest commercial enterprise in the world, controlling more than half of all oceangoing trade. The Dutch were enjoying a very high quality of living for the era, and artists like Rembrand, Frans Hals and Vermeer were producing works of art at a caliber and quality that still astonish us today. With the wealth and exotic goods of it's far-flung trade, there seemed to be a considerable interest in religious themed imagery that had a moral lesson with some symbolic reminder of death to underscore the “vanity” of life and the need to be morally prepared for final judgment.

A Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Books, Römer, Oil Lamp and Pen, by Pieter Claesz, 
c. 1645 Oil on wood 15.5 x 23.5 in

The Oligarchy Vs Theocracy of the seventeenth century Dutch Republic and Painting in the Dutch Golden Age are pretty interesting subjects, certainly a fascinating period of history. Below I have added a couple links that go further in depth. 

However, I want to stay speaking about the imagery and metaphors that these Dutch Master were creating. The symbolic meaning of objects used in Vanitas paintings runs a gambit of psychological nuances and subtleties. Common vanitas symbols include skulls, which are a reminder of the certainty of death; rotten fruit (decay); bubbles (the brevity of life and suddenness of death); smoke, watches and hourglasses, (the briefness of life); and musical instruments (brevity and the ephemeral nature of life). The skulls and empty glass are fairly obvious. Some of it may be a little ambiguous today, decaying flowers, insects and fruits, but for most I think the allegories can be interpreted to where they still reveal a hidden meaning or truth. And in that is the universal truth, the one thing, that no matter what socio-economic background or theocratic religion, the same reality exists, just how short our existence is. And what we do with it does matter.

As the late great comedian Gene Wider said, "Time is a precious thing. Never waste it." That is the meaning or narrative I get from those Vanitas and memento mori pieces. Yes, remember that you are mortal humans, that yes each of us will die in time. We are not ten feet tall and bulletproof, little reminders that we are not Superman might be good for us. So the candle will go out, we must come to terms and know our mortality/humanity.

But we must also not forget, Memento vivere - Remember to live!

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Memento Mori - Vanitas WIP

Having spent much time sketching the anatomy skull it is understandable that I would become interested in the significance or meaning of such an enigmatic image. The skull certainly represents the frailty of life and the inevitability of death. Building on this theme I’ve become interested in other symbolic imagery I can add to this narrative. All which has led to a close study of the art of the Vanitas, the seventeenth century Dutch paintings filled with allegories and symbolism illustrating the impermanent nature of life and the vanity of human activity. And what kind of painting I could create that communicates the temporary nature of our existence.  More about this subject matter as I push through this painting. So here is the contour drawing of my idea on the easel.

Memento mori - Remember that you will die. Know your mortality.
Memento vivere - Remember to live.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

Website - 
Studio Blog - 
Landscape Blog - Pochade Box Paintings