After the show, I found this book at the museum shop. It relates conversations over many years between the art critic Martin Gayford and David Hockney. The artist discusses his life, his artistic process, and his thoughts on art. It's a very intimate and insightful look at a legendary artist and I'm really enjoying it. You can get it on Amazon here.
In writing this blog, I came across this excellent article from the New York Times that really seems to capture David Hockney's quirky, stubborn, intellectual, curious, and playful spirit while explaining many of the influences in his work. Definitely check it out if you'd like to know more.
I hope you've enjoyed this virtual museum visit! Where shall we go next?
I was so happy to be able to visit this major retrospective of David Hockney's work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I was familiar with his work and have always admired his color sense and his moody, enigmatic portraits. Most of his work is very large, so I knew that seeing his art in person would be a totally different experience from seeing it on the computer or in a book. I also wanted to get a sense of the artistic progression throughout his long career (he's now 80), and to understand his different influences and styles.
This iconic Hockney painting is one of his best known. In person it is bold and powerful. I love how he gave the feeling of water by simplifying shapes and colors. The light colors, dark shadows, and powerful reflected light create a scene shimmering in strong California sunlight.
This is the first of Hockney's double portrait series, which often showed couples in intense, emotionally ambiguous poses set in their homes.
Later Hockney switched to oil paint and created intensely colored landscapes of his native Yorkshire, England.
The artist often created very large paintings made up of many medium sized canvases, each taken from a slightly different perspective, as if one were to turn a bit to look to each side or up and down to see each individual view.
This painting, like many in his later years, plays with perspective. For instance, here the deck seems to both advance and recede at the same time.
Hockney was an early adapter of drawing on the iPhone and later the iPad. For years he has created small daily sketches of views from his house and of household still lifes and posted them to friends.
No one would ever call me a party animal. Ever. So it's no surprise that my favorite New Year's tradition has nothing to do with the festivities on New Year's Eve. Instead I'm all about the new beginnings of New Year's Day. My tradition is to create a vision board which I use to inspire me about my goals and the possibilities of the coming year.
I'm sharing my vision boards from the last several years with you in the hope that they inspire you, too. I have erased some of the text because, well, some goals are personal. :-)
I was introduced to the idea of a vision board by a friend at her New Year's day brunch seven years ago. She explained to her guests that a vision board is a collection of images of things that you would like to become part of your life. It's a way of focusing on these ideas and enjoying the feeling of already having them.
So in this case, the images were to be of our visions for the next year. Our friend provided us with stacks of old magazines, poster board, glue, and markers, and we had a great time. When I got home, I posted my collage on the wall in my studio.
Over the next year I enjoyed looking the goals on my vision board. I didn't worry about accomplishing them, I just glanced at it a few times a month and was able to think positively about my priorities and about what I might do next.
I enjoyed my vision board so much that I've made it a personal tradition to start a new one each year on New Year's Day. (Sometimes it doesn't get finished until February, but that's OK.) Of course, because I'm an artist, the final product must be visually attractive as well as inspirational.
I start by deciding on my main goals for the year, both personal and professional. I find it works best for me if I don't make the goals too specific; I can do that elsewhere if needed. Then I make labels of the ideas and begin gathering images that suggest each goal, from the internet and magazines – this is a great excuse to buy a handful of my favorites! I also include some images of my artwork. Lastly, I arrange it all in a pleasing composition.
Right now I'm working on my vision board for 2018. I've got lots of good ideas and I can't wait to see what it looks like when it's all put together! So now it's your turn. What do you want your 2018 to look like?
Best wishes for the Happiest of New Years,
Maxwell Anderson is a celebrated art historian who for thirty years was director of museums in Atlanta, Toronto, Indianapolis, New York, and Dallas, most notably as the director of the Whitney Museum in New York for 15 years. He curated countless exhibitions, procured innumerable works to enrich museum collections, and occasionally identified unattributed treasures that rocked the art world.
Anderson is clear about what he looks for in artwork, "If a work of art does its job properly – by inspiring us, for example, or stirring, provoking, or engaging us – then it has a claim to being measured by how well it does one or more of these things."
Technical Skill of the Impressionists
The French Impressionists were startlingly original in their time and are now admired worldwide; Impressionist exhibits are very popular and profitable for museums. However, Anderson is discriminating regarding the technical skill of individual impressionists. He does not mince words when he talks about why he sees Manet's work "The Bar at the Follies-Bergère" as a masterpiece, whereas he views Renoir as "the poster child of the overrated artist."
Throughout the book Anderson analyzes seemingly disparate works of art such as the Nairobi mask, Bernini bust, and Mendelssohn observatory shown above, and explains why they all meet his five criteria of artistic quality.
In addition learning more about artistic quality, I was intrigued by Anderson's many tales of the inner workings of top-tier museums and the challenges they face.
I found that reading this book on an iPad had distinct advantages; I could easily look up less familiar vocabulary words (inchohate, plebiscite, adduced, invidious, evanescent, etc.), and also zoom in on the illustrations to study them carefully. I highly recommend "The Quality Instinct", a fascinating read. Enjoy!
I get asked this a lot at art festivals. It's natural to look at something that seems difficult and wonder how many hours of work are involved. You would think I would have a clear answer, but it took me a while to decide how to respond. Here's why:
It's Hard to Say
I'm never really sure how long a painting takes, because I never work on a single painting straight from start to finish. I usually work on two or more paintings at a time, and I'll often put a painting aside for a while to get a fresh look at it. (The small painting above was completed over the course of two months, because it remained unfinished for quite a while.) And I don't paint all day. More than half of my time is spent on work other than painting.
What Other Work?
Well, there's all the preparation that happens before I actually pick up my paintbrush, including taking photos, culling them, editing them, creating sketches, and doing the work to prepare the canvas.
Getting the Word Out
There's also the marketing side of art, which is always more time consuming than any artist wants. This includes writing my blog and newsletter, preparing for shows, attending art events, entering competitions, updating my website and inventory software, posting on Facebook, shipping art, and maintaining connections with my gallery and my clients. And the list goes on.
The Short Answer
But I think the answer most people want is what time did I spend actually painting. And unfortunately, I don't know because I don't track the hours on a specific painting. The best way I can answer that is to say that my smaller paintings (16x16 and smaller) are generally painted within a week and my larger ones (30x30 and larger) within a month or more. Does that answer your question? I hope so!
A Master of California Light
Tim Horn is one of the contemporary painters I most admire. I find his paintings so honest, compelling, and uplifting. He is known for his depictions of rural and small town northern California, as well as his recurrent themes of surfing, Airstream trailers, and old cars and trucks.
For me, the most striking aspect of Tim Horn's paintings is his depiction of the strong, warm light of California, which he achieves through a mastery of color and value. I attribute his skill to his dedication to plein air painting as well as to his background in graphic design. His paintings exhibit a sophisticated sense of composition and an ability to simplify complex subjects into clear forms that move the eye around the canvas.
In addition to painting in California, Tim holds workshops around the country, painting in locations such as Maine, North Carolina, and Arizona. His work from those areas reflects the unique atmosphere of each place, while at the same time exhibiting his distinctive style.
I've taken several workshops from Tim and he is a thoughtful, patient, and generous teacher, transmitting his enthusiasm for plein air painting and for using paint to interpret the world around us. He once said something that has stuck with me; he said his aim was to create "paintings that feel 100% me." I continue to admire his work and I am inspired to create my own "100% me" paintings.
You can see more of Tim's work on his website at TimHornArt.com.
What It Takes
People often ask me how long it takes to paint a painting. I think it's not so much that they are interested in the exact time, but they want to get a sense my typical process from inspiration to completed canvas. In this post I explain the stages and some of the creative decisions that went into my recent painting, "The Family Castle", which began with photos I took of a family at Clearwater Beach, FL. This 40x40 painting took about a month to complete.
My inspiration for this painting began with the image on the left. When I was walking along Clearwater Beach I was attracted to this young family creating a sand castle together. I took several photos and these two were my favorites.
I was immediately attracted to the beautiful posture of the woman at the left. She is standing in a classic contrapposto pose – her weight on one foot – which makes her body look both dynamic and relaxed. The bucket in her hand and her air of concentration tell the story of the scene: the family enjoying working on a fun project together. I also liked how the two sons were working side by side.
In the photo on the right I liked the pose of the standing son caught in a moment of action and purpose. Since odd numbers are always more interesting, I combined all these figures to make a family of five instead of four. I re-positioned all five figures to create a scene that worked in my favorite square format, which you can see below in black and white.
You may have noticed that the photo at left is in the sun and the one at right is under clouds. I planned to modify the skin tones of the standing boy and to add sharper shadows to make him look correct in my sunlit painting.
I used a black and white version of the composite photo (above left) to create my form and value studies (center). The small sketch defines the large shapes which must make an interesting design on their own, without details. The larger sketch is the value study. In it you can see that the darkest shapes are all in the foreground; the woman's hair and top, the three caps of the boys, and the father's shorts. They create a pattern that moves your eye around the canvas. Even though the background in the photo is much darker, I planned to paint it light to make that area recede.
Next I added notes on the value sketch as I planned the colors. I always start with the actual colors in the photo that I like – in this case, the red and black of the woman's suit and the beautiful green/blue of the water – and then I work around those colors to plan all the other hues.
On the right is my palate as I worked on the painting. Generally, I mix multiple hues for each color. The red of her suit, for instance, has at least four versions. For each hue, I start with the darker colors at the back of my palate and lighten it as I move forward. The three vertical lines of color at the left are all versions of skin color. These puddles of mixed color constantly change as I work on the painting and need more space to mix fresh color.
Drawing and Painting
Using a grid on both the photo and my grey-tinted canvas, I started the drawing with a light yellow ochre paint. Next, I used a darker burnt sienna on top of that as I continued to refined the drawing.
On the right are my first marks of color, starting with the ones I was most sure of. I painted very loosely to define the major color notes. You can see I added additional figures in the ocean to round out the composition.
First Pass of Color
On the left is my completed first pass, with only simplified color notes for each color. On the right, I started to modify some of the colors. For instance, I changed the color of the swimsuits of the man and boy, and I lightened the distant buildings and the sand castle. My goal was to make the colors work better together and to make the background recede.
Now the Details
At the scale of these photos you might not be able to see it, but there is a tremendous amount of refining represented in these two images. I continued to lighten and modify the figures, the background, the ocean, the sky, and the sand. My aim was to balance all the elements and to create the statement of a relaxed family working together on a sunny beach. When I felt that I had accomplished that (and nothing bothered me), I finally signed my name.
I'm constantly refining the colors I use; as my work changes so do my paints. Here's my current palatte, with colors in the order I place them, left to right.
As you can see from the photo above, I'm partial to Gamblin colors. I like their heavy, soft consistency, their high quality colors, and their price tag.
My color advice for beginning oil painters
Buy good paint, never student grade. You can't learn to paint well with poor quality paint. Utrecht makes good quality paints that are a great value.
Start with a limited palatte and really learn to use those hues. I recommend the above list, initially eliminating Perylene Red, and Raw Sienna. Resist the temptation to buy other exotic hues until you are really comfortable with these, and you will save yourself a lot of money in unnecessary tubes of paint.
My color advice for intermediate oil painters
Take time to practice mixing secondary hues (oranges, greens, and violets) from your basic palate of colors. Learn why mixing a cool red and a cool blue makes a beautiful violet, but a warm red and a warm blue makes ugly violet mud. (It's because the warm colors also have some yellow in them, which dulls the violet.) This concept is true for all secondary colors.
Then learn to make neutrals using Portland Grey with a little color mixed in. You can make beautiful blue greys, violet greys, and orange greys that will make brighter colors pop when put next to them.
Also, I highly recommend the book Color: A Course In Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors by Betty Edwards. This book does a beautiful job of explaining color in terms of hue, value, intensity, and harmony.
Lessons I wish I had learned earlier
Here are a few quick tips that I learned the hard way.
There's always more to learn! What questions do you have? What tips can you add? Please write to me in the section below.
I was recently in San Francisco and was very pleased to discover that the Legion of Honor Museum was hosting an exhibit entitled Monet: The Early Years. It turned out to be a terrific opportunity for me to revisit Monet's work, to better understand his influences and motivations, and to get inspiration for my own work.
The Luncheon on the Grass, above, was the centerpiece of the show. I hadn't realized that the painting that I was so familiar with, on the right, is a cropped portion of a much larger painting. (A section at the far right and strips on the top and bottom were cut off by the artist due to mildew damage and are presumed lost.) Monet began this ambitious work to enter into the 1866 Paris Salon, but he was unable to complete it in time and it remained unfinished.
How I Look at Artwork
When I look at artwork in museums, I stand back to look at the whole canvas and see what strikes me first about the subject, style, and feeling of the painting. Next, I'll often get very close to the piece to look at the brushwork and learn as much as possible about the artist's working process. Here I was looking at Monet's loose strokes on the dresses, fruit, and background. The unfinished dress in front helped me to understand the order in which Monet put down paint, and where he worked wet-in-wet.
Then I stood back again to understand the rhythm of the painting. My eye was first caught by the seated woman, then it moved down to the food, continued left to the three figures there, then back to the central man and the two standing people at the right. I saw that the size and position of the woman in cream provides interest and keeps the grouping from being just a line of people against the forest. But the focal point remains the woman in white because she is the lightest figure and we can see her face.
The contrast between the bright blue color and the dull greens and pinks first attracted me to this painting. I like how the strong values in the foreground frame the distant scene painted in muted colors. The horizontal lines and reserved colors make this pastoral scene look restful.
Love That Teal
This painting was caught my attention because of its colors, the bright teal set against the bit of red orange in the chimney, the vivid greens of the foreground, and the muted blues of the sky. However, I'm confused about the composition; it seems somewhat staid with the house plopped right in the middle, but who am I to argue with Monet?
A Grey Seascape
The colors in this simple sketch really capture the sense of a grey day at the seaside, while the angled brushwork of the sky and the women's skirts in the background make it seem like a windy day. Notice how that tiniest bit of red and blue in the background liven up that area.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show and I'm looking forward to the next one, Monet: The Late Years, which the museum says will be coming in two years. I can't wait!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please type them in the comment field below so that other readers can see them as well. Thanks!
In Search of The Perfect Brush
To say that I'm obsessive about my brushes is an understatement. I want a brush that creates a certain mark with the least amount of effort. The more particular I am about marks, the more particular I have to be about my brushes.
First of all, I'm looking for a brush that has a lot of spring and body, providing resistance against the canvas. I don't want it to be floppy, because that makes the paint harder to control.
Next I want a brush that is thick enough to apply a good amount of paint, but not so thick that I can't control the mark.
Finally, I want a brush that holds onto the paint and releases it when I apply pressure.
Are you noticing a theme of control here? That's really the bottom line. With my brush I I have to balance creating a loose, interesting mark with being able to control it.
Brush Fibers & Length
A paintbrush holds paint in the tiny flags on the end of the bristle. The best material for this is hog's hair bristle, and the best hog's hair is Chunking from the region in China of the same name. My favorite all-around brush is the Grand Prix by Silver Brush (The one at the top with the green handle). It has very high quality springy bristles that also hold a lot of paint.
I've also been using brushes with acrylic bristles for small canvases. Acrylic bristles hold less paint and create sharper edges, but on a small canvas I'm willing to trade that for more control. The acrylic brush I like is the Bristlon by Silver Brush (The bottom brush with the dark blue handle).
Typically, oil painters use brushes with long handles so that they can stand at arm's length and paint. If you paint up close and use the paintbrush like a pencil, your work can get too fussy and have problems with proportions.
Notice that most of my brushes are slightly stained on the end. Staining paint hues like phalo will color the bristles of a new brush, but eventually it fades to the grey that you see here.
There are several basic shapes in oil brushes, and each comes in a range of sizes. The main types are round, flat, bright, and filbert.
The round is a brush with a circular cross-section, is actually the least useful. I only use it in a very small size to sign paintings.
The flat is the workhorse brush for most painters because it creates a broad stroke and it can also be used to paint a line when used on edge.
The bright is a short version of the flat. I have recently switched to brights for most of my painting because it gives me a little bit more control than a flat. However, they're harder to clean because if you're not careful the paint can dry in the ferrule (the metal part) and ruin the brush.
The filbert has a rounded edge and is the preferred brush for portrait painters because it leaves more blended marks. I primarily use filberts for the faces on my figures.
A Whole Lot of Brushes
In order to have the exact brush I want as I'm working, I keep over 70 brushes on my taboret. The two containers on the left hold filberts, in sizes from 0 to 8. The two in the middle hold flats and brights, in sizes from 4 to 12. And the two containers on the right hold the wet brushes I'm using as I paint. The rocks in the bottom are to keep me from tipping over the containers.
The types of brushes I use cost between $7 and $27 each, so you can see that brushes are a big investment for me. I make my brushes last as long as possible by cleaning them thoroughly after each session. It's time consuming, but it's worth it.
As a painter, my work depends on my marks and my marks depend on my brushes.
For many of my paintings these days, I depict people bathed in strong sunlight. For guidance and inspiration I often turn to the work of Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), an influential Spanish painter who excelled in portraits, genre paintings, landscapes, and monumental works featuring the people and countryside of his beloved Valencia and other parts of Spain.
Sorolla is especially known for his scenes of people in strong sunlight on the beach, like the painting above. He was a master at color and value, using those tools to create the sense of a warm, blinding light from the sun above as well as many colors of reflected light bathing his subjects in a luminous glow.
Joaquín Sorolla's draftsmanship of the human body was also superb, reinforced by a lifetime of drawing and painting from life. Even for the largest paintings he would haul his canvases and easels to the seashore or the countryside, and have his models pose in the sun while he quickly and deftly painted with large brushes and mounds of paint.
His images beautifully captured movement and emotions, showing swirling wind-caught fabrics and thoughtful expressions. Sorolla's depictions of children are especially sensitive and perceptive without being maudlin. His wife and two daughters posed for many of his genre paintings of women like the one below.
I love this painting for its soft, relaxed mood, and the way the dappled sunlight and cool shadows convey the sense of a warm afternoon at home. I especially enjoy the punctuation of the black shoes under the pretty dresses, and the family dog at the women's feet.
Sorolla painted many portraits of friends and family, but also commissions for wealthy individuals like Louis Comfort Tiffany (above), and for royalty including the King of Spain and his family. I find all of his portraits masterly composed and beautifully painted, conveying the personality of the sitter as well as a compelling atmosphere.
About twenty years ago I was able to visit the Hispanic Society of America in upper Manhattan. Their headquarters contain many of Sorolla's original paintings on canvas as well as his series of huge murals depicting different areas of Spain. The murals were commissioned by the Society, and work on them dominated the last years of the artist's life. I found the experience of seeing all this magnificent work together to be awe- inspiring.
I hope to go back to the Hispanic Society some day and also to visit the Museo Sorolla in Madrid, Spain to see the large collection of his works that are housed there, donated by his widow. Joaquín Sorolla's work continues to inspire me.
I'm Linda Hugues and I paint scenes of people and places from my vacations in Europe and my travels in Florida. Here on my monthly blog I write about everything related to my art life, in and out of the studio. Enjoy!