Friday, September 13, 2019

The Plumb Line and String of Thought

I spend a great deal of time sorting objects for a still life, arranging them and looking at the set up. I will contemplate the surfaces, shapes, reflections, positive-negative spaces and assemble the composition. Then looking at the overall design and playing around with it, add and subtract things until I get something that “feels’ right. All the while looking through a view finder for a sense of how it will look to scale on canvas. I try not to rush this part of the painting process, knowing that I am going to make a commitment of time and energy. I want it be something worth the effort and not have one of those last hour, “good grief what was I thinking" moments.

Now that I have a design I like. I need to transfer the image to paper or canvas. In almost every painting or drawing setup of mine you will find a plumb line. A very simple but most useful tool for artists.

Webster’s definition of plumb line is.
1 : a line (as of cord) that has at one end a weight (such as a plumb bob) and is used especially to determine verticality   

OK, so it’s a cord or string with a weight on it. 

More important is that it is a drawing tool, a vertical line from which you can measure any point. Plotting out the dimension and placement of objects and the alignment of elements.

Plotting the drawing and blocking out.

To scale the drawing, you need a measuring device, something you can move your thumb up and down and make visual measurements from quickly, for comparison. You can use a piece of charcoal or a brush handle works. I like chop sticks as they have a uniform thickness up to the point. 

After setting up the still life and establishing a viewing point (the spot you will use to make all your observation from), establish a vertical axis through the composition. Use a plumb line or scale edge held at arm’s length. I place the subject and artwork where I can see both in one glance and flash my eyes back and forth between the two and make comparative measurements. Always using my reference of the plumb line from my vantage point.

Hang your plumb line so that it visually kisses or intersects edges. In the Moka pot I have the plumb line falling down the straight edge of the upper part of the pot. I draw that line on my paper for the first placement. Then using a pencil at arm’s length, I establish a unit of measurement. I measure widths and heights from this virtual line. How tall the pot, how wide, how far over is the garlic clove.

Once you establish the size of one part, compare it to another and build on those relationships, establishing one measurement that you compare the next measurement to and so on, growing a set of ratios. As you develop the drawing you will check your dimensions often. I like to refer to this as plotting out the drawing. Develop a set of points you can use as constant reference, after plotting all your reference points block out the basic shapes with simple straight lines. Keeping it as uncomplicated as possible, keeping the marks simple makes it easier to rearrange them until you have their placement correct.

My goal is a accurate drawing and solid foundation for my painting.

This is mainly a Comparative Measurement process based on my adapted version of the “Sight-Size Method”, there many links and articles about this topic online and a wealth of information at Darren Rousar’s website.

I absolutely recommend spending some time there.

The sight-size method is great tool for artist to understand and adapt to their process. I think sometimes it gets a bad rap because of its academic pedigree or it being too mechanical. But, every representational artist: no matter how loose they paint, plot the positioning of the elements in their picture plane with some type of mark or mass of paint. This process when applied to a direct method of painting can be very fluid and energetic.

I want approaches which allow me to understand the elements required to represent three-dimensional space in painting. Good drawing skills are the first element of that. To help achieve that goal make use of any drawing aids that will train your eyes and hand to draw proficiently. As you progress most of those tools will become second nature. I have always liked the idea that to master a skill you must own it.

String of Thought

My line of thought is to get the main idea down, blocked in or sketched out as quickly and accurately as possible. I want to see the main impression, or what is the “big” picture?

From there the general approach is to continue bearing down on the elements in the painting, making smaller adjustments, dialing in on the image I want to see. Thinking big to small, simple to complex, general to specific. Until I reach the illusion of realism I want to imply.

This can seem like a slow process to some, but when done consistently you will find it very effective and quick. But the point of the process is not speed but slowing down and engaging with the image. Painting is both time consuming and time slowing.

If you are not going to get a thrill, how can you give someone else one? 
You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start.   ---- Charles Hawthorne 

I paint what captures my eye, often those small things overlooked. The reflection in a glass, the atmosphere around an object, the ying-yang of negatives-positive spaces, the play of light and shadow. Those qualities that resonate with me in art are skill, beauty, poetic feelings and simple truths. These are the qualities that transcend mere representation and I aspire to.

I certainly enjoy the process of painting, building layers of glazes and color – modeling form. It is a very sensual medium. But it does go beyond the technical and observational skills, craftsmanship is just the conduit for authentic self-expression. If art is hard work, it’s because you’re struggling to go beyond what you know and looking for that poetry in your art.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fourth of July Inspiration: Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle (1853 - 1911) The Nation Makers, 1903, Oil on canvas, 40 1/4 × 26 in.

Howard Pyle was a Golden Age Illustrator, painter and author.

Today, Howard Pyle is not nearly as well-known as his images. However, he was one of America’s most popular illustrators and storytellers at a time when top illustrators were celebrities. Pyle was also heavily immersed in documenting the history of America. Pyle considered The Nation Makers among his most important works and, between 1903 and 1908, he sent it on tour to New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Green Bay. People stood in line to see the work on display.

Happy 4th of July !

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Monday, April 22, 2019

The Red Cloth – WIP

Sometimes it just seems like nothing works. And you ask yourself, 
“Why am I still painting on this mess?” 
And you say to yourself push through, don’t give up. And you do and then you say, 
“Why and I still painting on this mess?”

The Red Cloth, oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, Jim Serrett

I did battle with the inner critic over several elements in this painting. Once I realized I was struggling because I had lost focus on the idea of the painting. Everything fell into place. I just had to get out of the way and enjoy the process.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

It’s My 10 Year Blogiversary!

Wow. This blog is ten years, 4 months old now. Wow, time flies when you are having fun.

Just seems like yesterday I was learning basic programming and language to create a blog. Today there are templates that make creating a blog very simple. That happened through the creativity and commitment of many bloggers to this platform over the years. To them we owe a great a debt of gratitude.

Through this blog I found an amazing community of artist who were willing to share their knowledge, insights and passion about art. This anniversary is not really about my blog, but the network and community around it.

Through you I have gained in ways I cannot articulate, I am because of this blog and community a better artist and person. And if you’re reading this, you’re one of the reasons it exists. Thank you for letting me share my passion with you. Here’s to another ten years!

Thank you.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

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Blogiversary / Bloggaversary / Blogaversary

#blogiversary - The yearly anniversary of someone’s web-log (blog)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Thanks for Listening 2018

As this year closes, I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of you who have made this such a great year. I appreciate your, kindness, support, and generosity.
Hope you have a great 2019. 

Thank you!

The Sun will not rise or set without my notice and thanks. (Winslow Homer)

For my loving wife, no words can express my appreciation for you.
The source of my greatest happiness. I am extremely lucky, and extremely thankful… for you.
All my love, Happy Anniversary

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Feather Vase - WIP

Current work in progress. Progress shots, drawing, wipe-out, first pass, last pass.

Preliminary pencil drawing. Most of my still lifes 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.

Bistre - (the wipe-out method) – An underpainting using warm browns (usually raw umber or burnt umber). A thin coat of umber is painted or rubbed over the canvas and then ‘wiped out’ or lifted using a rag or a bristle brush and a small amount of solvent

First Color Pass: These are the first color layers over the underpainting, with each color pass over the image you make small corrections and adjustments, slowly tuning in the image to the level of three-dimensional reality and “resolution” you wish to see in your painting. When I speak of “resolution” I am using it to describe the degree of focus.

Feather Vase, 11 x 14, oil on panel, Jim Serrett

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Holiday Sale - "Support living artists, the dead ones don't need the money."

For the Holiday Season and in appreciation of you,
I will be offering a 25% discount on all work in my Etsy store.
Give the Gift of Art.
Original art is a unique, lasting gift that can give joy for years to come.
**Sale runs through January 2019**

"Support living artists, the dead ones don't need the money."

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In appreciation November Deal - on any etsy purchase use code - HOLIDAYSALE 

Link: Etsy Store

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Eat More Art

Its hard to imagine that summer is over. 
Seems like we were just getting started? 
Where did she go?

And like everybody else there is always a list of honey do’s and DIY project around the house that just don’t make the completion list. I will say it’s not from the lack of effort but more that agendas quickly change, kind of... life happens.

For this artist/painter there is always some unfinished business. Always a few unfinished canvases, neglected sketches, and unrealized ideas. However, I have come to learn this is part of the process, creating art is not a linear thing. It must remain fluid, you cannot let it become a regimented system if you do let that happen then you’re missing so many possibilities. You will never know where things may lead. There are different paths that need to be explored.

Let me be clear, I am not talking about abandoning your artistic voice or changing hats so to speak, because I really believe in the 10,000 Hour Rule Theory.  The principle holds that 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" are needed to become world-class in any field.  You’re just not going to be a good at any one thing without practicing and focusing on it. It’s not like I am going to stop creating representational art and take up Jackson Pollack drip paintings.

But I am talking about the willingness to explore your art, make messes, create failures and play with the process to learn what you are capable of and what the medium is capable of. The only way to improve your art is to create more art. I have a saying for that, “Eat More Art”.
What does that adage mean? Eat More Art.

Simply devour more art, bring more art into your life, see more art, engage with more art. As an artist and a patron, go to art openings, museums, visit artists’ studios, support living artists. Follow your passion, be inspired. Create more art.

Never stop

Eat More Art.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Friday, June 29, 2018

The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon and the Realist Revolution

 In 1952 a group of scientists were studying the behavior of monkeys in the Koshima Island. These monkeys, the species Macaca Fuscata to be specific are known to be quite intelligent. So the report goes on that the scientist provided this monkey colony with food by dropping sweet potatoes on the beach. The monkeys liked the sweet potatoes but just tolerated the sand that stuck to the outside. One day a bright young 18-month-old- monkey figured out that she could wash a potato in the ocean to remove the gritty sand.
She gradually taught this behavior to the other monkeys and by 1958; six years later, all of the young monkeys were washing their potatoes. But only a few of the older monkeys had learned this behavior or showed any intrest.. Then suddenly the older monkeys were also washing their potatoes, essentially the entire tribe was exhibiting this behavior.

But what truly startled the scientist was not that the older monkeys who for years hadn’t caught on to the behavior of the younger monkeys were washing the sweet potatoes, but that entire colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland of Taskasakiyama also started to wash their food in the ocean.
(Keyes1981, 11-16)

As a representational artist working in the 21st Century, most of us have felt we were on a collision course with the Post-Modernist art world. That some where, at some time a real battle would be waged and the artist with the most skills and training would win pulling back the curtain and revealing to the world the truth.

For too many realist artists the easy thing to do is to proclaim modernism of the past century rubbish and scream “Viva La Revolution". The truth is that there are many works of merit by modernists that have a place in our shared artistic history. Unfortunately just as many of these works deal more with fad and fashion than any high art, -fortunately most of these works are ephemeral/temporary,  that no one will have any interest in a Damien Hirts Balloon “thing” after the next hundred years except maybe the institution that paid millions for it.

The real issues facing the realist artist in the next century have little to do with the “izm’s” of art from the past one hundred years but more with the doctrine of the art educational systems. At the graduation ceremony when I received my BFA I recall sitting there looking at the program trying to figure out who all these people where? There were about 30 art studio majors who I recognized, and about another 300 art majors that I had no clue about. They were the art history, art education, art therapy majors, whose careers would be about discussing art.  This was repeated several thousand time across the US alone.

“This is a major issue within the art community that is constantly minimized by schools and faculty.  I went through the links and data, one item I think that is missed is that in University art programs most graduates are Art History and Ed. majors and when that university states they have 30% placement. They are not actually talking about “Visual Artists” they may be art majors but they do not create art.”

--Jerry Saltz

The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, 1844-1845, oil painting, 17 3/4 x 21 5/8.

My parents were horrified I wanted to study art, they talked me into Commercial Art School so that I would not waste my education. Which I am so glad they did because there I studied illustration and was taught the basics and fundamentals of drawing and painting. Very traditional methods of creating representational art. After finishing there, I went to a University Art program, where it was anything goes, there was literally no direction. You just experimented and tossed it out there for critique. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed that part of my education. I did not get much out of it as far as skills, but it was a great exploration of the different concepts of art. My biggest complaint, was that craftsmanship was considered a terrible thing to pursue and realism, boring and for the uneducated. That the teaching of skill somehow inhibits creativity? So, I conformed to the "everything is art" philosophy and learned all the post-modernist art speak.... for a while. By grad school I was determined to pursue representational art. 

There, I was told by facility that I wanted to be an illustrator, like it was some terrible thing. The thing I heard over and over again in university art school was that “craftsmanship was not art.” They constantly marginalized representational art and my interest in it. I was honestly frustrated. By my professor’s dogma there were only two ways to become an artist, one was to become famous, create something so shocking that the world noticed or teach at the university. I spent most of my academic time in the library reading old art books. I left grad school. 

Any of us who are old enough to have experienced art instruction during the 70’s, 80's or 90’s can tell you that most schools of art and institutions of higher learning purged their curricula of teaching basic fundamentals of drawing and painting and replaced it with a philosophy - lecture based - art theory - concept of art, where personal introspectiveness and self-awareness is more important than teaching fine draftsmanship and painting. That some how having knowledge of how past great art was made would interfere with ones “expressive” development. Art programs at universities and colleges has been about the teaching of “the discussion of art” not the making of art, for them art is not about visual communication but verbal communication of Art Speak.
And yet we rely on these institutions to supply us with the next great visual artist?

Lets be clear, I am not opposed to modern painting, I enjoy many of the works of the postmodernist and spent most of my undergraduate years as a artist pursuing abstract expressionism. Mainly because this was all that was offered to me. The paradox is that modernist with all of their claims of open, progressive thinking have been the most regressive force in modern culture in regards to contemporary art and realism. We have had a hundred years of modern art.

Walead Beshty - FedEx Large Kraft Box Laminated glass, FedEx shipping box, accrued FedEx shipping and tracking labels, silicone, metal, and shipping tape, 24 x 24 x 24 inches

There is a type of critical mass being reach among artists. What it comes down to is that artist are tired of the same old establishment art... based on some linear art theory of evolution, described to them by entrenched, fossilized art history instructors from the status-quo institutions of higher learning. Artists have had enough of “Modern art" being the official and only approved art of institutional America...Say that fast three times.

Realist art had been marginalized long enough.

“Modern will remain the official art of the establishment for the immediate future. But it is a dinosaur, and little proto rodents on the jungle floor, are beginning to eat its eggs.”
                                                                                                                   -- Stapleton Kearns

Like most artist today I get much of my art “fix” online. There are a multitude of artist blogs, online magazines, and art forums I read, browse and contribute to regularly. I truly enjoy seeing an artists process, and most artists do not have any issues with showing you how they make their work or come to their ideas and concepts. In fact through this medium, the web-blog, I think artists who share their process and join into the creative commons have helped secure a footing in the contemporary world of art for representational painting.

One must recognize that with the availability and ease of the digital camera, the painting of photos has become a trend, producing camera-friendly artwork, easily distributed through social media. Such work caters to a photographic aesthetic, slick and highly detailed. But considering that most of this work is exhibited via digital media, being photo-ey seems to be acceptable. These works, to the layman may even look like realism or reality, because they are actually paintings of photographs. And that type of imagery they are accustomed to, through the daily bombardment of visual stimulus via the internet, television, and movies. What is hard to explain to someone who does not paint is that this is photo-realism or hyper realism which relies on mechanical processes to create an image. And requires an entirely different set of skills, that have very little to do with realism let alone painting.

The mastering of skills, having technical expertise in drawing and painting allows and empowers artists to be free to create anything they want. But if we cannot allow process and technique to overshadow the subject matter, for in that the modernist are half right craftsmanship, alone is not art.

The language of art is taught and developed through immersion in the practices of drawing and painting. The mastery of technical skills is important, mainly because in doing so you master visual thinking. Those attached to a digital monitor to paint from are short circuiting their process, after a while even they cannot even see the difference between a photograph and nature. Painting from life, forces you to engage with the subject. And you create an image filtered through your eyes, through the depth and substance of life and your perceptions of the world. It becomes art stamped with our own unique DNA and vision.

It was proposed that when knowledge was limited to a few monkeys, the behavior was passed on by observation and learning. But when a significant number of monkeys had learned this behavior – for the sake of simplicity they called it the 100th monkey – that some critical mass of conscious had been reached.

Let us learn from our mistakes,

"..a movement for representational art must be democratic, reversing the status quo of 21st century elitist post-modernist consumerist art. Challenging artists to achieve ever higher levels of perception, interpretation and craftsmanship.."  
--Alexey Steele

**The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon and the Realist Revolution was first publish in 09/01/2012

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

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Alexy Steele
Slow Painting, a Deliberate Renaissance 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

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Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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