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 


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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

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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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.......

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim 

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