« On Painting

Global Change

Originally posted on May, 10, 2007

The change from painting in oil to painting in watercolor is a global change. It is difficult to imagine something bigger in those terms.

John Singer Sargent was right. Painting in watercolor is an emergency. Degas was probably thinking of watercolor when he likened a successful painting to the perpetration of a crime. It takes much cunning to do a good watercolor.

Oil, on the other hand, affords the freedom of contemplation. It is such a flexible and forgiving medium that comparatively it is like a breath of fresh air. You can go to a quieter place and plan your next move.

What do these mediums have in common? Besides the obvious fact that we are placing pigments on a flat surface, they take place in time. Time is the common element. Watercolor is the contemporary medium par excellence because it is fast and spontaneous. Oil is contemplative. It unfolds under a much longer period. It is kind of like the difference between a fine wine and “pepsi”.

Hermann Hesse said that the artist and the mystic where attempting to do the same thing: annihilate time, the artist through hyperactivity and the mystic through inactivity. This distinction, I think, is poorly understood today. We do not slow down enough to understand the contemplative side of things. Be that as it may.


Published in french as Changement global

Learning to paint watercolor

Originally posted on Mai, 3, 2007

"Winter Tree", watercolor, 19cm x 25cm,<br /> 100%cotton paper, 2005

The first rule of watercolor is that there are no rules. This may not be helpful but that is the way it is. It is part of what makes watercolour difficult. On the positive side, it is also what makes watercolour so much fun. (There are many people who once they begin painting in watercolour forsake all the other mediums.)

I hesitate to give specific instructions on technique. There are plenty of books written on this. It would be good to study everything you can get your hands on. It is only through much trial and error that you can determine the things you need to master. You need to prepare yourself for the fact that this could take a great deal of time. How long? The answer depends upon how involved you want to get. Keep it simple. Buy good materials and keep it simple. You do not need a large palette. A warm and cold version of the primary colors is sufficient. A green such as viridian, and a cadmium orange could prove useful. It is necessary to study the characteristics of pigments. It is only through doing this that you will begin to understand what fits your needs.

Some, if not most people, will think this advice not direct enough, or practical for the task at hand of learning to paint watercolors. This is dependant on the result you want. If you want to, in the shortest possible period of time, learn to do a “pretty” picture follow one of the formulas from “the paint by the numbers” school. I’m being a bit harsh. Please forgive me. I put it this way because I’m sick to death with mediocrity. If you are going to do something we owe it to ourselves to do it well! It is essential that we enjoy the process of learning. Painting our first painting is not that important.

Let me say that I have much respect for anyone engaged in the creative process.

Bon courage,
Published in french as Apprendre à peindre à l’aquarelle

Can Art be taught?

Originally posted on April, 26, 2007

In the old atelier systems years where spent simply learning technique: genius, the problem of becoming an artist, was not addressed. Conventional opinion was that art could not be taught. It wasn’t until very recent times that this began to change. Today, it is not really clear how to go about teaching art.

Is it best to stick to the art cannot be taught doctrine? Do the questions of design and composition become important? Do we attempt to help the student find their personal style? The questions go on and on.

However we may feel about it, evolution is leading to more and more importance being placed on individuality. Having a healthy sense of self is vital for the artist. But the insecurity that usually goes along with being an individualist can be great. Finding the balance is often difficult.

The question of how art should be taught is an important one. If we are going to teach art it needs to be taught well. A big responsibility. I am going to toast this drink to all the good art teachers.


Published in french as Peut-on enseigner l’art ?

On the face of things

Originally posted on April, 17, 2007

Historically speaking, artists have not have a lot to say about their art. They have been more absorbed in the doing of it. Needless to say they gave a lot of thought to this doing. But for the most part they let the art speak for itself. After all, it is a visual language. Up to a certain point this worked out fine. However, when the impressionist came under attack by the “new generation” of the 1880’s things dramatically changed. The modern era required that everything be rationalized and justified. This became problematic for the artist. It is not as if he had nothing to do but to be concerned with what people where saying.

Add to this complication the fact that the artist is obliged to become a businessman or businesswoman. For the professional painter or artist today they are obliged to spend at least one-half of their time taking care of the business and promotional side of things. All of this is to say that being an artist today is a very complex issue. And there is nowhere to run and hide from the complexity. The paramount task in the mist of all of this activity is to create art that speaks to people. It is not enough, and not even relevant, to simply do something considered new. The very long dialogue about which art is the most decadent or who is on the avant-garde cutting edge has now to my ear a hollow ring. There are many more important issues which urgently need attention. Being an artist today has something to do with identifying and addressing these issues. The pundents are not going to do it for us. Not easy. How are we to do all of this and pay the bills at the same time?

We need to walk our talk. Not easy. But where are we to hide? All of the good hiding places are gone.

Have fun,

Published in french as À première vue

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