When you stumble upon great poetry

A recent conversation about the work of a third person, another painter.

Am I so mistaken?

"The Other Guy" - Having now seen several such works by this artist all I see is incredible craftsmanship but absolutely no empathy. This painting lacks joy, celebration, or love. I am saddened that this is what the best and brightest have to offer back to the world for all that has been given to them. I must ask, who would buy this and hang in their living room?

Me - Ok, I'm growing weary of this kind of talk. I've seen it growing everywhere and it is mistaken. An artist has NO obligation to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It is not his job to make you happy.

"The Other Guy" - Mistaken? From your point of view perhaps. Perhaps it is intolerance for opposing views that is mistaken. Would you rather that everyone just shut up when they don't agree with you?

Me - It is YOU sir who has a view opposing all that the arts puts before you. And I am not trying to shut ANYONE up. I am trying to teach you not to insist on pretty where there is none. Not to demand easy entertainment when you stumble upon great poetry.

To assume art is only pretty is foolish. Some art is ugly. Art should make us feel something, even if that something is lack. I would put forth that a great artist could create a piece that could create a emotional void in its viewer.
— Josh Duckett
The diplomacy of artist to artist is an important topic. Millard Sheets taught me how to deal with other artists graciously. I always praise my fellow artists no matter what my private opinion (only my wife knows!). Many have ego issues and insecurities. Some try to advance themselves by putting down on others. Those i try to avoid and take great care with if I can’t. The opinion of what the purpose of the artist is I think is important but there are as many answers as there are artists. to be arrogant in saying anyones view is the only correct one is not valid.
— John Hewitt

Castles in the Sand

Someone asked about the value of comments on the visual arts from people who have no or little training. Here is my reply:
"From the very beginning untrained peoples have had their say and their experience of the visual arts. By a small flame they looked upon images on the walls of a cave and if they did not speak, at least they thought about what they saw and imagined from it. Today is no different and we are the same as those ancients. We look at a work of visual art and imagine ourselves the hero of the hunt or cringe at memory of the last failed hunt. In other words, we place ourselves in the context of what we see and experience it as if the running waters of our own life. Untrained people will always have their say and their thoughts. Most do not have the specialized vocabulary to bear witness to what they feel and are left with, "Awesome" or, "Amazing". But I am convinced that their experience is genuine and true according to their lives. The arguments, discussions and stories follow about what happened in the hunt or in the studio or over the sofa and they continue what should or could have happened. These are nevertheless our audience. Some of our works will elevate this audience to a higher pitch or leave them grumbling disappointed --but works of visual art -like the tides -will always touch the shores and leave more, or take sand away."


a great and growing year

It has been my pleasure to contribute to the Invitational Marinscapes Landscape Exhibition for the second year in a row in this spring.

I’ve also been honored this fall to participate in the Baywood Artists, ONETAM landscape exhibition this fall.

I considered it a great honor to receive the commission to paint the posthumous portrait of my good friend Curt Hanson and wonderful landscape painter out of Connecticut and a long time friend of mine.

In January I spent time at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton sketching and taking photographs of United States Marines in training on amphibious assault vehicles.

I attended the Combat Art Symposium at the National Museum of the Marine Corps to give a presentation of my paintings in their permanent collection.

I am about to set off for a grand adventure of three weeks painting in the desert of Southern California for another enlarged project. More about that later.

And there’s talk of an exhibition coming up in January or February but no details yet, I don’t want to disturb the negotiations.

I’ve had sales, commission, exhibitions and just a grand old time working in my studio. Life is good.

Who am I to judge?

Charles — Still focus in the figures. 
Energy in the brushwork.
A rushing background
- history on the fly!

If I was going to be nit-picky, I'd say the composition is a little boxy. But what do we have but a rectangle to work with? Beyond that, the slant of mark making in the background pushing forward on the figures braced against it and shielded by that wall with the heart on it . . . that says it all, doesn't it?

I've never thought "This is right and this is wrong" is a good approach -- although probably I have crossed this line many times in my life. Instead, I describe what I see and try to find what that makes me think or feel. It's to the painter himself to decide, "Is it enough?" When they hear what I have described, they know the message has gotten through, or not. Who am I to judge?

Just the decision to do the work requires courage enough. We work in a language with paint that even we don't always understand.

Somehow you feel the necessity of it. The need to take this up and to put this down. To stop here and to carry it on there. How can this rage be expressed? This fear? This courage to stand against the current? How to express the inexpressible? Why to we feel it elegantly or crudely represented in our raw mark making?

Why is there always the hope that this watermelon seed spit from our lives will grow a thousand fold to reach a future and an audience we can neither see nor touch?


OK, I've got to stop, now I've got myself walking into a fog of silly stuff.

Sounds familiar

The author Deborah Eisenberg, “You work and you work and you work and you work . . . and for months or years on end, you’re just a total dray horse, and then you finally finish something, and the next day you look at it and you think, How did that get there? What is that? Why were those the things that I seemed to need to say?”

My little talk with an excellent landscape photographer

John Deckert Brian -- because I'm hooked up with a lot of artists (probably most of them are landscape painters if I took a count) so every day I see a lot of beautiful works every day on Facebook. 
I just want you to know that you and your photographs rank right up at the very top of this amazing pile of art friends and their works. 
You have that special eye for killer compositions, subtlety in color, sensitivity to nature and its myriad forms and the absolutely loveliest sense of delicate details. I especially like it that you speak to us through your pictures not with theories and arguments and discussions. I'm getting breezy thoughts every now and then that sounds like, "Damn. This guy might be the Ansel Adams of our time!"
Please sir. Keep up the good work. I love it.

Brian Lawson Wow, thank you John. I appreciate it even if "the Ansel Adams of our time" seems a bit over the top to me. ;)
What are your thoughts on the color balance on this one? I received a vague "the colors look funny" comment on the ON1 site.

John Deckert Brian -- Relax. You must know by now that anyone that has a way with words can convince almost anyone else that, "There's something funny in the . . . " It's what words are for. They'll convince peaceful people to go to war. They convince honorable men to do dastardly deeds. They convince hard working people to sacrifice everything for a minimal return for the effort. Forget about those convincers.
Those colors are the colors YOU found; the ones YOU responded too. Be fucking proud of it. 
I'm sick of all the talkers talking about what they don't know. If they DID know, they'd be doing it themselves. But they're not . . and YOU are. Rejoice in that. It's why on my website I say, "Speak to me in pictures; Listen to me the same." That's exactly what I mean. You're doing it man. Wear it like a badge of honor and don't listen to the idiots. You're doing the beautiful stuff!
Wow! I got THAT excited without even a beer. LOL 
But I mean it.

And here’s my note to Mark Norseth:
The voice of nature speaking through you right here in this painting.
"Come from this bright light where you reside and chance a walk into the deep mysteries. See there is brightness and great beauty on the other side."

"Hey, you're missing the point."

Competition is probably pretty stiff in the art suppliers world. In many industries it opens up many vulnerabilities to disclose the ingredients of your product. Suddenly your buyers are inundated by marketing that describes how inferior your diamonds are to the competition's coal product. And you realise how your share of total sales are buoyed up by nothing more than marketing copy, fancy pictures, and the thread of hope that your customers know or care about the difference. So I think they should give some archival standard to measure by but I don't blame them for not hawking up their ingredients to you. It reminds me of those people who come to one of my paintings and their sole interest is, "How did you do that?" It's like, "Hey, you're missing the point."

In Mario A. Robinson’s paintings the world outside is a thin veil of substance animated by the slight breeze of melancholy, brightened with sober color and strengthened by unshakeable compositions. They are populated with subjects imbued of a calm confidence and meditative wisdom. 
Lucky you, if you have his work in your collection!

The advantage of a skylight

Apropos skylights and appropriate lighting for studio.

Natural light features VARIABILITY and EVENNESS.

There is VARIABILITY in COLOR temperature and BRIGHTNESS from AM to PM.

Proper skylight positioning allows EVEN ILLUMINATION in the space.

1.) Opening should face north to receive REFLECTED light.

2.) Steep or vertical light to avoid high sun slanting in.

3.) Early morning, high noon, and evening provide very different lighting conditions.

4.) Make your painting look good in each of these periods and it will look good in ANY lighting.

5.) Don't underestimate the value of observing your work in the dim light of early and late times of the day.

6.) Use artificial lighting as an alternate source to extend working hours.

7.) Artificial lighting offers one temperature and one brightness without variability.

It is neither the color temperature, nor the brightness which is most valuable to me but rather it is the variability of the light I find most useful. Plein Air painters who work outdoors in early morning, high noon and evening will know the same phenomenon but use it on three or four different paintings, one for each period.

Once you get me talking . . .

I suppose sometimes there's no other route to lead them to their eyes than through their ears. 

When I said I love seeing photographs of artists in their studios ssurrounded by their work:
Someone said artists should only be happy to their work on the walls of museums and galleries. 
I said that I like seeing my own work on the walls around me. It seems to be the natural environment for it. 
One of the sterling moments of my life was once when I was invited to Harvey Dinnerstein's studio. To be surrounded by his work as he must be for him too while working . . . That was so much better than a museum or gallery exhibition.
These things LIVE with us. They are not just product we put out for sale.

For an excellent fine art painter who is forced to leave his studio to find a job.
(Only temorarily, I hope) 
I said, "It feels like cutting out your beating heart, doesn’t it? Been there, done that. But it is just the pain you feel. Your heart, a little scarred now, is still in place. It still beats and you haven’t lost any of your hard won skills. Something will happen and you’ll be back at the easel in the future, though it may take a while. Take care of yourself. Look for opportunities. Like fishing, keep your hook in the water and be patient."

The dreaded Camera argument! It never dies . . . I like a good painting and I don't care how it was made. Even by Artificial Intelligence, if it moves me, it grooves me. If I hear some music and I want to dance I don't care if it's Frank Sinatra or a tape being played backwards. 
Now . . . if you want to compare the skills involved, that's a different matter. One is DIFFERENT than the other. That's about as far as I go. Except of course that I DO still like the human touch even when such lengths have been traveled to hide it.

A painting done by Artificial Intelligence

It apparently is expected to sell at auction for $10,000.
We have accepted the robots to do our skilled work. The robot, by which I mean a camera, draws a "perfect" picture, or at least most people accept it as a perfect representation. These days a few people learn to draw much like they might want to hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end. It's more efficiently done other ways but the craft and challenge of it has some aesthetic and personal rewards that are still valued by those odd people. I am one of these odd people. Everyone else take a selfie. Soon A.I. will take credit for work in the galleries and museums of the world and people will find some appreciation for it. You'll have programmers that specialize in the form like we have photographers.

You TAKE a photograph but MAKE a painting.  Will we say that A.I. TOOK this painting?

 "Painting" created by A.I.

"Painting" created by A.I.

To complain that it is crude is fruitless.  The process will get better and I think the majority of people will accept and even celebrate the form similar to the way we think of photography.  Here, have a look at the first photograph.  Imagine artists of the period speaking of how crude it is.

 How crude this first photograph must have seemed to a population skilled in draftsmanship.

How crude this first photograph must have seemed to a population skilled in draftsmanship.

Two Russians whose names I've forgotten created a project that involved surveying thousands of people about what they like in a work of art. Then they painted it. It involved a blue sky, a woodland setting with water nearby and an animal. I think a person or family was in the scene too. I have a faulty recollection but they may have created different pieces that corresponded to the preferences of various regions of the United States.
Komar and Melamid? Their Most Wanted Project .
Soon, you'll walk into a gallery, have your brain waves scanned and preferences tallied and a work of art made from the result specifically BY YOU and specifically FOR YOU.

most700.jpg

Combat Artists at the National Museum of the Marine Corps

This photo was taken at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia just outside Marine Corps Base Quantico. We all gathered together for a Combat Art Symposium. Included in the group were Combat Artists from the Salmagundi Club in New York City, the Viet Nam era, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Mogadishu, Djibouti, and reaching all the way back to World War 2. Also present were curators of military art collections from the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard and the CIA. It was quite an impressive group and I am very proud to have been brought into the fold with my work.

 Leatherneck Gallery in front of the Vietnam tableau. Attendees of the Combat Art Symposium 2018. — in Triangle, just outside Marine Corps Base,  Quantico .

Leatherneck Gallery in front of the Vietnam tableau. Attendees of the Combat Art Symposium 2018. — in Triangle, just outside Marine Corps Base, Quantico.

That was when I knew about the calligraphy of tall grasses in a lush forest

"A priority should be the focus on the root of things, not the trembling leaf of your symptoms"
Jay Shetty

The best career coaching for artists I ever got was a very talented instructor who stood in front of a group of about 30 artists and said, "most of you in this class can paint as well or better than I can but not one of you will work as hard as I do."

Long ago I tried to get a sketchbook and pen into the Brooklyn Museum. It was inside a black shoulder bag. After a great deal of discussion I was allowed in only with a large sticker on my bag that said, "Photographer" . I wish they had stickers that said ARTIST. and I hope they have changed their tune.


It's funny you think of me as quiet and painting for pleasure.  If you could hear the very loud music I listen to and the curses I throw at my easel!  ha!  you'd be cured of that misunderstanding.
My studio is very busy these days and I am happy for that.  I recently got word that the National Museum of the Marine Corps wants me to continue making paintings!  There is a possibility for trips to gather resource material at Marine Corps bases in several parts of the world I've never traveled.  Norway was mentioned as one location.  I am very happy to be doing figurative painting with purpose!  People want to buy landscapes especially here in California, but figure painting is hard to place except maybe as portraits and photography has done in a lot of that market.  So I am happy to be accepted as an artist associated with a museum.  It suggests that some people in the future may have a chance to see my work and may be somehow inspired by the nobility of the medium.  

I do not remember names, but some faces.  There was a very thin man and quite humble.  He was from Egypt and once asked for me to demonstrate how I drew my monogram.  Several months ago I came upon a couple of pastel drawings that I had saved from those days.  One was an extraordinary portrait of ME by the Russian who was the first to invite me to sit in an open space next to himself.  I had been standing there holding clean stools and a new book of pastel papers.  Looking confused and somewhat stupid.  An English woman tried to insist that he do her son in black and white for 60 Francs and he refused repeatedly holding out for 80.  When it was obvious he would not take the work and she would not leave I politely inserted that I would do the child's portrait. After way too much time of me trying to chase down all the mistakes I had made in this poor kid's face someone came from behind me and in a quiet voice in French said, "Oh, I think it's done."  and I took it as the voice of god giving me a pass on this one!  I scribbled a few more confident marks just for the show and turned it to show the lady.  She was so happy the ordeal was finally over she paid me, snatched the portrait and left me just absolutely GLOWING with, "I just EARNED 60 Francs!"  It was a magical moment for me and I fell in love with France and the French people all over again.  Another artist I think may have been Spanish or Portuguese wanted me to understand something of sculpting volume in the face and did a beautiful sketch to demonstrate.  I still have it.  I remember a girl came from Germany and was a great success because she was the only one with watercolors.  And I remember the Japanese man you introduced me to during the time of your marriage. And another from Brazil? Argentina? Chile? who I once again met on visiting their apartment when I was there for your wedding.  I remember the Chinese who were rounded up with me included when we have ventured up to the Champs Elysee at night to work under street lamps in front of the shops. I remember a group of young Parisians who found me working late at Beaubourg and wanted me to do just one more and then they sat their very ugly friend down on my chair.  I'd been working very well all day long and my pastels were just SINGING with fluid movement and I thought this young man's face was full of sadness and HUMANITY.  When I was finished I wanted to keep that drawing I was so proud of it.  And I also wanted him to have it because I thought I have shown him the real beauty of his disfigured face.  All the love and kindness and humility I saw above his shoulders.  That was when I knew for a certainty that I love doing portraits!

My way of working is to put down a couple paragraphs like this
and then edit bit by bit for the next week.

Small Doses

You gain a much larger audience if you paint for those Posterity guys.

There was a time I projected a few drawings onto a canvas. What I can tell you for a certainty is that it is ONLY a matter of confidence. You CAN draw directly to the canvas. The biggest problem at first is simply getting used to the scale.  It's larger.  Shapes are big.  Gestures require more movement.   To get used to the scale I divide the canvas and or drawing into four quarters, or even eighths. Then, start sketching and don't worry that I won't be able to do it . . . because I know I absolutely can. And the work will retain the fresh energy that is put into figuring out how things should be. I just want to toss in this little bit of, "Go for it!" It's like this, I'm on mile 17 of a marathon and it's a hot day and I've got a long way to go and then, out of the faceless crowd a hand reaches out with a bottle of water, a voice yells, "You can do this!".

I wonder if you know about turning the canvas upside down? Do you know about using a mirror? Do you know about using acrylic paints with a sta-wet palette? These are things I found made it easier to do the work. Perhaps you already know -- sorry, I'm just a very old man trying to be helpful.

Many will be interested in how you do the work, but in the end, no one cares HOW you do something. There's hundreds of ways to get a likeness. Most people will respond to and care about the end product of the effort. They don't care how long it took. They care about; "Is it any good?"

History full of thousands who can paint a figure better than me and make it come alive with light and substance. All very humbling.  I always enjoy these small doses of humbling.
So thank you to all who participate in the continuing life of the Fine Art Painting.  : )

I'm happy to answer any questions about techniques and material. I'm no expert, but I've been at it for quite a while.
1.) the mirror is a small pocket mirror. You stop painting. Pull out the mirror and hold it close to your face such that you are able to see the canvas and your reference at the same time. Like when you turn both upside down; suddenly you see where you went too long, too dark, too much  angle or not enough curve.
2.) The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette is the only sensible way I have found to paint with acrylics. It is an enclosed plastic pan. watertight when sealed. Inside is a thin wet sponge that covers the entire floor of the pan. On top of the wet sponge is a sheet of specialized paper that is prepared for use by soaking in boiling water. That paper stays wet the whole time. It will keep acrylic paint wet to use all during a painting session. It even keeps it wet out on a sunny day if you keep spraying water at the edges and corners. When the thing is closed, the both the atmosphere inside and the paper surface is wet enough to turn paints into liquid overnight. So, I scoop the paints onto a small glass for overnight. The palette paper is surprisingly durable and if kept wet can be used over and over even with a palette knife.
Well worth the purchase if you're going to stick with acrylics.
 

There is a common misunderstanding to acrylics for painters new to the medium.  That is the tendency to dilute paint with water for the effects produced by thin paint.  Acrylic emulsion is a necessary binder for the pigment.  For thin paint effects try using a medium to mix with the paint rather than diluting it with water.

Even if you want to use digital or mechanical means of getting a likeness, it is always good practice to see how close you can get by just eyeballing it. Keeps you tuned up.

 

Have Courage !

To a young artist today I wrote, "You have been drawing and painting your stories, your ideas and your friends.

They must think it is truly wonderful and revealing of your natural talent and your desire to make art.

I see you struggle with some of the great problems of representational painting.

How to incorporate a figure into an environment, for example . . . or how to balance the elements of form: 
Figure/Ground, Line/Mass, Perspective/Pattern, Hue/Value/Chroma, Image/Symbol, 
Meaning/Feeling, Imagination/Vision, Harmony/Discord, Transparent/Opaque.

These are the qualities that will carry your story in pictures however you choose to tell it. 

They combine to make a kind of visual poetry that will express Life itself when used effectively.

And it takes a lifetime of learning to master the Art of Painting.

You’ll find it is solitary work before a broad audience and you'll find a classroom everywhere.

There is much that can be described. Much to be taught. Everything to be observed and contemplated.

There are many teachers to point you in the right direction but only you are left to learn each lesson.

The steps along the way may seem heavy and hopeless or light and effortless.

Progress will trip over its own feet. Failure will reveal a delightful miracle!

The question “Why?” is asked and not answered so frequently it leaves a scar deep in your heart.

Distractions are so seductive; Disappointments are crushing; Money will shine like a trophy on the easier path.

Fun will flirt with your friends. Success will dance with your competition.

You may receive awards and sales and words of congratulation .

The thing you care about most may seem beyond reach.

Like light itself, it illuminates all you value but cannot touch. 

It is a lifetime of learning and hard won skills.

And the only possible response is to continue if you can. 

The reward you hunger for becomes simply to be able to continue the work, your exploration, your adventure, your mark.

There are some who say,

'If you can be discouraged from continuing in the pursuit of Art then you should be.'

The great challenge!"

Have courage!

On Leary and Deeds

Thank you for sharing this, John! There’s a lot that works for this image, especially in that it’s highly legible without relying on explicit detail: there's some beautiful planes at work in the faces of your subjects that are defined almost purely in color, and some very rhythmic, if not outright cinematic, diagonals at work (see attached) that frame the essentials. Your choice of complements not only suggest a convincing time of day, but are also mechanically dramatic. 

Someone asked me:
If it’s okay to ask a few questions to better inform any further comment, technical and otherwise, what’s your intent with an image like this? Do you believe that intent has been achieved, or is there a next step?

And my response:
Thank you for your comments, Jean.  I worked from a photograph for that painting.  A photograph taken by CWO-2 Michael D. Fay USMC (retired).  If there are structural dynamics that appeal in this painting it will be largely because they exist in the photograph; the color, the diagonals, the cinematic close up.  It may sound like I'm being evasive but it is simply the case that something in the photograph resonated with me.  I saw it and responded immediately.  Here is a note I wrote to the mother of one of the Marines in the painting, Mrs. Deeds, whose son died not long after the photo was taken. " I'm new to the Combat Art Group. When I saw the photograph Michael took of Leary and your son it struck me as an extraordinary portrait of these young men standing guard like combat angels over the very foundations of civilization. The brilliant morning sun and chill in the air only heightened the effect. I want you to see the painting I made in tribute to this. I send you my deep condolences and profound gratitude for the sacrifice your beautiful family has made."  

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that my input had something to do with my skills as a painter but more importantly it has to do with the certain emotional pitch inherent to this intimate scene. It was captured first by Mr. Fay. and I used the vocabulary of paint to add another layer of humanity to the image.  A painting is not a mechanical reproduction. That very conversion from photograph to paint is a statement in itself. You see the animated dance of light in textures and shaped surfaces. You see the abrasions of life itself registered in flesh tones from the wobble in my hand for example.  The uneven brushwork echoes the vulnerability of even the fiercest warrior. And these two Marines were not that. Strong they may have been, determined and vigilant yes, but they are young.  They’re colored by exposure to desert sun and darkened by the mood of a backlit sun.  Their faces cupped in helmets and balaclava. They are tired.  They are wary.  They have a job to protect the innocents living scattered lives in a war zone.  These Marines have unrealized dreams packed away in the tight script of letters back home written in pencil so neither tears nor rain can bleed their impact.  

I am surrounded daily by artists whose work captures the mundane aspects of life in the civilian world and I, myself, make similar contributions. We’re all trying to flex our muscles, show off our skills.  Show what there is of our lives that has aesthetic merit.  Some are amazing in their ability to render human form, or the petals of flowers, the light raking a landscape. However in this painting of Leary and Deeds I was able to cry humanity . . . humanity with a finger on the trigger of a deadly weapon.  The confidence of superior firepower tempered by a deep concern for parents and children, brothers and sisters, strangers.  I saw in this image the warmth of a gloved hand and the sun blinding a distant mosque tower. 

How long does it take?

Someone wants to ask, "How long does it take to do that?"

You tell them you were very direct about it and proceeded from beginning to end with deliberation.

That the painting was done in the amount of time it takes to do that much brushwork on that much canvas with a bit extra thrown in for corrections.

They will be amazed to hear it and back away blinking and thinking you're some wonderfully talented painter.