Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thanks for Listening 2017

Wow people, here we are again. Another year over..
It has been an amazing year for Linda and I, and we want to express our deepest heartfelt appreciation to our family, galleries, collectors and friends. Thank you for making 2017 such a wonderful year!

May 2018 bring you happiness, good heath, peace and prosperity.

Enjoy the Holidays!

And to my loving wife, Linda there is no words that can express my appreciation and love for you.
Happy Anniversary.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Paint what you see not what you think you see.

On my drawing table I have a small note, an axiom which states,
 “Paint what you see, not what you think you see.”

I'm not sure where I first heard this saying, I just know it has been in my studio for a long time, longer than I remember. I’ve found it scrawled on notes and inside sketchbooks dating all the way back to my early Art School days. It just keeps resurrecting itself.

It's one of those things that is easier said than done. Sounds very simple, until you attempt doing it.

And it is one of those sayings that is hard to explain. An important idea to understand but a concept that is almost a contradiction in terms. Which is probably why it keeps showing up in notes around my studio work space.

As representational artists/painters we are interested in depicting the world around us, however as we attempt to do that we find that paint has its limitation when compared to the real world, that we cannot paint as bright a white or as dark a black as we see them in nature. And that if you describe literally everything you see in a subject in detail verbatim, you will give yourself and the viewer a mental overload. Too much detail can kill a painting, and vise versa, being overly simplistic and too idealized the less realistic.

We are supposed to be more than visual recorders of facts, not simply replicating what you see; but artists, creating a piece of art which portrays the real world in some meaningful way that moves and touches the senses of another human being. So how do you make a realistic representational image that does that? Which is why the saying “Paint what you see, not what you think you see.” sounds like such a contradiction.

With my still-life’s I can do controlled studies like this where I can investigate the subject. The whole idea for me is to slow down and really see what it is that is front of me, to see form, color, space. Not objects, when I see or think objects, all kinds of preconceptions come up, I think the image, some idealized version of the image more than see the thing in front of me. So, I cannot let preconceived ideas get in the way. You must investigate the subject…explore it with the eye of a painter…form, color, edges, light, atmosphere, and how one relates to another. Discover relationships between those elements and look for those nuances that make it unique and interesting, it is one of the hardest things to do,  to let go of what you think you know.

But when you are attempting to paint realism, knowing how to suggest information is more important than knowing the fact. The average person's head has up to 150,000 hair follicles but I would never attempt to paint them, only imply them. A glass bottle is transparent and an apple solid, but I would not paint them the same way, but imitate the differences of their forms. Much of my time is spent figuring out how to convey the character of a thing by texture, shape, color, value, edges that makes a convincing illusion of realism.

It is about creating imagery that reads convincingly to the human eye. So, we will manipulate and alter the imagery responding to the complexity of the subject and to make aesthetic adjustments. The human eye sees the world in shape, color, forms, light, shadow and deciphers that information to represent the natural world. We paint an impression of that information and attempt to set it into a picture plane with an illusion of space and depth. With abstract brush strokes, lost and found edges, and other paint manipulation you suggest and imply “hopefully without getting too gimmicky”, an illusion of the thing in front of you. All the while keeping it simple and true to subject so that it can be considered naturalistic and real. See what I mean easier said than done.

Once you jump that mental hurtle you can really see what’s in front of you, then you can begin to play with the object and express your idea or emotion about the subject.  It becomes a new discovery. And in that discovery, you will open new eyes, those of your viewers and your own.

That sense of wonder, when you move past merely the representation of a thing and transcend it becomes the illusion of nature seen through a poetic eye. It seems that learning to see, is just as much about learning to unsee.

Which just might be another one of those axioms that is hard to explain…

Silver Cup, Egg and Bottle, oil on panel, 10 x 8 inches, 2017© Jim Serrett

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

MANYmini Extravartganza !

This is OA Gallery’s third annual small works show highlighting MINIwork from MANYartist from around the region and across the country.
.. I am very honored to have four pieces in the show.

Don't miss this amazing exhibit!
It will be a two-month long exhibit at OA Gallery, starting November 3rd - January 6, 2018!
And if you are in the area, check out this show.
Going to be a great event!

Opening reception is Friday, November 3,  6-9pm.
The exhibition runs from November 3, 2017 - January 6, 2018

And thank you, Blick Art Materials for your support of the Manymini show

OA Gallery is the premier St. Louis gallery showcasing exceptional, contemporary, representational artwork by over thirty regionally and nationally recognized and  award winning artists.

OA Gallery is located in beautiful downtown Kirkwood, MO directly across the street from the train station.
​101A W Argonne Dr.  Kirkwood, Mo 63122

​Wednesday 12-5
Thursday 12-5
Friday 12-5
Saturday 12-5

OA Gallery Website Link
OA Gallery Facebook Link

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Underpainting Techniques – Demonstration Six - Part II – WIP

First Color Pass: These are the first color layers over the underpaintings. I have attempted to develop each one equally and establish a similar refinement. It is obvious from the beginning the degree of finish or resolution is more observable in the further developed monochromatic underpaintings.

When I speak of “resolution” I am using it to describe the degree of focus, that 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 you wish to see in your painting. With this slow dialing in, each pass should be about fine tuning not correcting and selective focus instead of detail. That is key to moving forward towards you’re vision. The artist Sadie Valeri explains this dialing in like this, “that in every layer of the painting you get 50% closer to reality “and in each additional layer fifty percent more so on. Each one growing exponentially (building) on the last until you achieve a high degree of realism.

Form Painting: So, in the First Pass I wish to make the big statements of color, shape and edges over the value study and drawing.  I want to think about color relationships comparing abstract passages of paint by chroma and temperature. To think about form, that each brush stroke exists in three-dimensional space and state where it is in light and where it is in shadow. The concept of light on form or modeling dimension like a sculpture is often referred to as Chiaroscuro – The contrast of light and shade. The act of modeling light and dark is called “Turning Form”. I like that adage because it simply describes the goal of representational painting to create the perception of depth.

My paint consistency varies depending on which underpainting I am working with but basically, over top of the underpainting I am using thinned transparent glazes which I then work into with more opaque paints wet into wet. Building up of transparent, semitransparent, semi-opaque, opaque and impasto layers of paint (glazes, scumbles, velauturas, impasto) that create different optical effects.

Starting top left moving clock wise- Grisaille, Bistre, Ébauche, Imprimatura.

I am not quite ready to lose my drawing yet, plus I need the values to affect the color passages and to build luminosity and depth. In each paint passage I continue comparing hue, value, chroma, edges, and textures.

I think form and atmosphere, not things. Painting the points of contact, reflected light, the hills and valleys as light rakes across the subject I look for delicate passages and subtle shading. I look for the “air” around the subject, (as odd as that sounds) and try to paint the atmosphere.

Hue - is a color’s characteristic, where it lies in the color spectrum, (the color name)
          and which temperature it leans towards, warm or cool.

Value – is the relative degree of grayness, lightness or darkness of a color.

Chroma – is the colors intensity, the degree of brilliance of a color, from intense to dull.

Chiaroscuro, (from Italian: chiaro, “light,” and scuro, “dark”) 1. The contrast of light and shade and the art of distributing these elements in a picture planes. 2. Light and shade as they define three-dimensional objects

Summary: The main purpose of underpainting is to solve the problems of composition, drawing and value so that you can concentrate solely on the application of paint. Using a variety of techniques to realistically create the illusion of depth, form and atmosphere. (The amount of light, depth and atmosphere you can achieve in this manner is almost magical.) Multiple veils of transparent color contrasted by opaque light passages, produces a level of realism that I believe cannot be matched with other approaches. You literally carve out volume with this method.

Which type of underpainting to use, Grisaille, Bistre, Ébauche, or Imprimatura is about knowing the strengths of each and being able to look at an object as say, “Yes this approach will work best to achieve that", kind of knowing which tool to reach for in the tool box. I was going to go into my thoughts on each and compare strengths and weaknesses? But feel it better to not muddy the waters with that and let people come to their own conclusion. Maybe I will touch on it later, but for now I will say there is a wealth of knowledge within these methods to explore and doing so will expose how to get the maximum impact of what the material can do.

As a Realist, it is important to have a comprehensive range of techniques to draw from and expand your artistic vocabulary.

You can find Underpainting Techniques – Demonstration Six - Part I – WIP here.
You can access more Underpainting Demos through the labels in the side bar or use the search box at the top left of the blog.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Underpainting Techniques – Demonstration Six - Part I – WIP

In this demonstration, I will attempt to compare the different methods of underpainting technique used and developed by artist prior to the 20th century. Just walk through any museum and compare the 20th century wing to the 19th and on to 15th century. It becomes obvious that those artists where doing something different, they were using paint differently. They had a vast vocabulary when it came to making marks with paint and with it they could create great illusion of space and form.

Painting in an indirect method, building layers up of transparent, semitransparent, semi-opaque, opaque and impasto layers of paint create different optical effects. The purpose of this is to achieve three-dimensional space, through the refraction of light, what is called “Turning the Form.”

The most important illusions of realism in a painting are Form and Value. And by using the underpainting to divide the image into manageable parts, the drawing, the values and lastly color, they could focus on the actual mechanics of applying paint. They created this amazing tool box of techniques, which liberated them, where they could slowly tune in on the level of realism wanted. Thus allowing these artists to create at a higher level of expression and produce some of the greatest masterpieces in history.

Starting top left moving clock wise- 

Grisaille – (griz-eye’) fr.-  A grey underpainting done entirely in monochrome shades of gray or another neutral color, to produce the illusion of relief sculpture.

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. Darks are built-up with thicker and leaner layers of umber in a near dry brush approach.

Ébauche – (ay•boash ) fr.  - or first block-in with color or color sketch. This creates the overall general feel and effect of the painting with colors and values.  Leaving a sympathetic underpainting or foundation similar to a watercolor.

Imprimatura is an initial stain of color painted on a ground. It provides a painter with a transparent, toned ground, which will allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the paint layers. The term itself stems from the Italian and literally means "first paint layer". It's use as an underpainting layer can be dated back to the guilds and workshops during the Middle Ages; however, it came into standard use by painters during the Renaissance, particularly in Italy.

Alla-prima – Italian expression loosely translated “at first try”. Direct painting (wet into wet), a method which is completed in a single session without previous preparation or later layers of paint.

I will be continuing along with the indirect painting technique over these underpaintings, using layering, glazes, scumbles, and velauturas to create a illusion of three dimensional form.

So, I invite you to visit again as the paintings evolve.

You can access more Underpainting Demos through the labels in the side bar or use the search box at the top left of the blog.

A couple of quick Links:
Bistre Method – “wipe out”     
Grisaille Underpainting  

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fourth of July Inspiration: Childe Hassam

"The Avenue in the Rain," by the American painter Childe Hassam. (1859–1935)
oil on canvas, 42 in. x 22.25 in.  1917, Courtesy of The White House Collection.

The Impressionist work depicts Fifth Avenue in New York City in the rain, decorated with US flags.
It is hard to think of the 4th without thinking of a Hassan painting.

To learn more about Childe Hassam click this link.

Happy 4th of July!

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Honey Bear – WIP – And being an “oil” painter.

Funny how you run into someone doing something different, all of sudden you find all sorts of people doing that same thing. “That’s so weird, I just met someone doing that yesterday!” would be the statement.  Coincidences happen but how often do you met a bee keeper or someone involved in bee keeping. So of course that got me thinking about honey and what it would be like to describe it in paint, also that my wife calls our little kitty Honey Bear might play into it.

The truth is, very little does not get me thinking about painting and all of the ways to interpret the world around me visually. I love image making and working with oils, there is something magical about the medium that is nearly transcendental. I enjoy the process and the craft of working with oils, a medium whose techniques dates back to 15th century. That heritage and methodology resonates with me.

It is not sheer coincidence that oil painting has stuck around for centuries. It is the nature of its diversity, the variance of texture, the thick, thin, transparent, opaque and the beauty of the pigment suspended in oil that just draws me and others to it. And when you can pull all of those abstract passages of color together and get an image, what could be more dynamic then that? I believe that understanding the craft of painting creates greater freedom of expression.
It is no coincidence.

“Craftsmanship is the foundation of self-expression.”   -Juliette Aristides

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Upcoming Exhibitions - See My Work

See my work at OA Gallery, “SKY'S THE LIMIT!”
St. Louis' Premier Exhibition of the Boundless Landscape
June 2, 2017-July 29, 2017

I also have some work in a few local shows, I thought I would share.


Event Dates: 5/2/2017 - 6/2/2017
Location: PAPA Gallery
124 Broadway
Paducah, Kentucky 42001
United States


Event Dates: 5/13/2017 - 5/29/2017
Location: Herrinfesta Italiana Art Gallery
3 South Park Avenue
Herrin, Illinois 62948
United States


Event Dates: 5/7/2017 - 6/1/2017
Reception: 5/20/2017 
Location: Hartley Gallery
100 S. Park Avenue
Herrin, Illinois 62948
United States

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Enjoy the Process

In this age of social media we are bombarded with imagery. It may be good to see what everyone else is doing. Follow artists whose work you admire and most want to emulate. There is value in setting the bar high, it keeps us reaching and hopefully teachable. But a constant game of comparison is not healthy, in fact it can be downright stifling to your own growth. Sometimes I think we are not even aware of it with all of the liking, hearting, thumbs up, thumps down, all the signaling of satisfaction and approval (or of rejection or failure) cannot be healthy in the long run. It is very easy to get caught up in all that social media “trophy hunting.”

The answer to combating all the digital noise for me is to simply turn to the process, the act and craft of painting.

Quiet the inner critic by focusing on what the painting experience is teaching you. Fall in love with the process; the whole creative learning process, the ideas and concepts which go into the creation of a painting. Recognize that part of the process is failure, be willing to fail and be teachable. This is where the best lessons you learn come from. “Failure is success in progress” to quote Albert Einstein.

Don’t block the process with endless comparison, you have no idea what their journey is all about. As artist we are supposed to create a personal voice within our artwork. It should be stamped with our unique DNA filtered through our experiences and knowledge of the world expressed in and through our art. Our emphasis should not be on producing a finished “work of art” but rather on the practice and development of a fundamental skill set.

To accomplish that - work at your craft daily, it is progress not perfection.

As the process is more important than the finished work.

 “Failure is success in progress”Albert Einstein

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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 

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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


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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

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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.......

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