Cleveland Museum of Art

•June 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Just a couple of pictures from the Cleveland Museum of Art on a bright, sunny, summer day.

CMA for Blog

CMA for Blog 2


Color me excited…

•January 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

You can never go wrong with color studies.I’m not a “color” guy. In college I did not do well in my entry level painting class which might explain why my concentration ended up as sculpture. So of course after paying a lot of money to learn about sculpture (and I think a refund might be in order) I decided to learn how to paint like a big boy.

It is difficult.

I poured over books about color theory, looked at tons of paintings (not really understanding what I was looking at or for to be honest), and made more color wheels than I would like to admit.  All for not. Trying to match a color used to inspire as much panic as I felt when I was in high school algebra… and geometry…. and college physics. I’m feeling much better now.

Lots of artists out there now all about different kinds of pigments and their chemical properties and all that. I don’t. Not yet. Some day I’ll ht the books on all that stuff. For now I’m working on matching a color, making things advance, making them recede, looking at how color unifies and structures a composition. I’ve taken a more discovery based path to understanding color. I feel comfortable with this process. Even when you het something wrong you learn from it. And if you learned from it how wrong can that situation be? I don’t mind my mistakes (though I still say impolite things when I’m not quite understanding things at a rate that make me feel like an artistic genius. Here are a couple of color studies in oil, Van Dyck’s “Moses and the Brazen serpent” and the “Portrait of Mulay Ahmed” by Rubens. These guys are pretty small (they’re called thumbnails for a reason right?) You can cover them with one hand with room to spare.

Van Dyck Moses and the Brazen Serpent color study      Van Dyck Moses and the Brazen Serpent for Blog

Rubens Maulay Ahmed color study       Rubens Mulay Ahmad for Blog

Color studies should be part of any serious painters agenda. I think about 75% of what I’m working on should be some type of copy of work that inspires me and expresses a level of craftsmanship that I would like  achieve some day. Someday never seems to be today. Funny how that works.So, Bargue it up. Do compositional studies after old master drawings. Plant yourself in front of your favorite painting or sculpture at your nearest art museum and let let those works teach you what they know.

A scanner, a good art history book, and decent printer works well. I just IMG_0864make little copies of paintings I like (maybe I need to learn about blue so I pick a “blue” painting or I want to create a sense of deep space so I choose a painting with deep aerial perspective) and make some color studies with “too big a brush”.

If you’ve ever thought something like “I wish I could paint like Rubens” you should give it a shot. He’s been gone a long time but he’s still a good teacher. After you have learned to paint like your favorite artist it won’t be long before you’re painting like yourself.


Van Dyck Jerome color study      Van Dyck Jerome for Blog


We’re All Thinking It…

•December 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

If Renoir just tightened up his lines a little he’d be a regular Thomas Kinkade.

There. I said it.

Is this thing on? (or Turning Over a New Leaf)

•November 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

acanthus for blog detail 4Admittedly, it has been a long time since I posted anything. I have been thinking more and more about why I haven’t kept this updated. I wish I could say that I have been so busy making art and doing commissions and having shows that I just haven’t had a moment to gather my thoughts to complete a post. I wish I could say that…. In truth, I am a lazy man. Honestly, real life snuck up on me and demanded a lot of attention. Sometimes I forget that making art is real life. I should be more conscientious of my time. Enough apologies. How about some pictures and a story or two?

These pictures are from a little excursion I took walking some trails not for trail 1 for blogfrom the Academy. There are horses aplenty down around there. in the far distance of the large picture you can see two people on horseback. Later that afternoon I met a jockey (from Ireland) who was out waking a young horse on the sandy trails. He says this helps strengthen their hearts before they travel to New York and Kentucky for the rest of their training.

trail for blog 5

So this story goes back to 2014. Thanks to the graciousness of the maestro I was able to return to the Academy to continue my studies. Last summer I completed a charcoal drawing of the cast of the nose. This summer I was to work on a more challenging ornamental cast and perhaps make a painting as well. Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! To paint! How exciting. (Alas this was not to be and thankfully so. The drawing took longer than expected so there wasn’t enough time to adequately complete a painting. The maestro thought it best that I push the drawing as far as I could. This was a good idea. I got more out of that drawing than I think I could have from a hurried painting.)

I was given the option of drawing another facial feature or an ornamental cast. I had been reading a book about drawing acanthus leaves (cool, right?) so given a choice I selected the ornamental cast with the fragment of the acanthus leaf along with the decorative egg and dart at the top and a bead and reel below.I had no idea what those things were but picked it up as the drawing progressed.

The drawing began with a sketch on brown craft paper using charcoal and white chalk. In typical Bargue fashion the object was analyzed as geometric shapes. Identifying big shapes is stressed and I was reminded to always go back and reconfirm the relationships amongst the light and dark shapes across the form. You’d think that by now I wouldn’t need be so frequently reminded but I guess I’m a slow learner. I’m grateful for help in the studio by people more patient and skillful than I to help me along with suggestions and encouragement. Decent folks at the ol’ acanthus sketch for blogAcademy. The preliminary sketch lasted about a week. This is such an important stage for me as it helps me “get to know things” about what I am drawing. It reveals some interesting relationships within the subject. I never get tired of the discoveries of how the bits relate to each other. Those Greek guys seemed to get everything right and we’ve been playing catch up ever since.

From then on it was just work. Guided by more experienced students and critiqued by the maestro I was slowly making progress. After about four acanthus for blog detail 5weeks it was evident that there was no way a painting was going to happen so this drawing was pushed as far as it could go.Just like with the Bargue drawings I would reach a plateau where I was convinced that I could not see any more subtlety. After a good night sleep (and a Sunday off) I would return to the drawing thinking “I can see so much more. There is no way I can finish this before I have to return home.” What’s that expression about art? It’s never finished; only abandoned. I put as much into this drawing as I could for six weeks and then had to call it quits. At the end of my time there the maestro said “Another couple of weeks and this thing would be done”. I laughed a little. Maybe a little more than a couple. Drawing to the infinite, he calls it. That’s an accurate description.

“Luxuriate in the slowness.” I can’t take credit for that little gem. In a life that is governed by doing everything as quickly as possible many positive experiences are lost. You can do things fast or you can do things well. Rarely do those two qualities coexist. During my time there I reach a certain level of…I don’t know what. Like being in tune with what you are doing. Is that what Zen practitioners experience? It takes a little while to shake off the dust of the expeditious life and get in harmony with what you are doing, to be in the moment, in the experience. I don’t recognize acanthud for blog detail 7when it is happening, only when I have a moment to reflect. Drawing this way is such a conscious effort but not one you are conscious of in the midst of the act. That doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it? Words are pretty useless for the really important things. I begin to feel a bit of a pinch in week five. A little panic in week six. Deadlines begin to invade your thoughts and you know you have to return to that other life soon. You have to leave the cloistered meditative experience and your world begins to, regrettably, pick up speed. I wondered what it would be like to not speed up and slow down. To just go at your natural pace, governed by your unique development. The yoke of artificiality is heavy. I told a friend, also studying there, that it was about time for me to get back to real life. “This is real life.” he said. I forget sometimes…. because of the yoke.

trail for blog 4

So here it is. A little drawing full of magic and curses. Some lines scratched on paper with a burnt stick. I need to remind myself to get quiet and go slow. If you let yourself be ready, drawing will reveal wondrous secrets.

Acanthus for Blog

Acanthus drawing for frame

You should draw like your life depends on it… because it does.

After Greuze…

•March 28, 2014 • 1 Comment

Just a quick entry to post a drawing I finished a little while ago. It’s a copy of a drawing by Jean-Baptiste Greuze. His is much more deftly and confidently executed. I find I like his drawings far more than the paintings they where made to facilitate. I drew it the same size as a photocopy of the original. I scanned both into Photoshop and then turned down the transparency of my drawing and slid it over the Greuze original. I know I should not use this for a comparison but, you know, curiosity, cats, etc. I was surprised at how closely so much of my drawing lined up. The jaw is a little wide/thick. I could probably go into and rework it to make it more accurate but I decided that once I compare a copy to an original in Photoshop I won’t continue working on it. At that point I’m using a mechanical aide for accuracy rather than developing my eye. So I’ll live with my thick jawed French girl. It was a fun drawing and a bit more of a challenge than I expected. Just to give an endorsement: Study Sight-Size drawing. Period. It should be taught in every art school and every artist should know it like they know linear perspective. And again, copy, copy, copy.


Greuze Copy Final For Blog


•March 4, 2014 • 1 Comment

Acanthus Ornament Cropped for blogCopying. In the non-art world this word really should be spelled with four letters. Actually, that last sentence isn’t entirely accurate. Copying normally has a connotation of being a negative thing, at least we are taught that. The reality is that all kinds of less than honest behavior of varying degrees goes on and we (what passes as society) publicly decry the behavior but generally give it a pass if it does not affect us directly or doesn’t measure too high on the Richter Scale of immorality. But let’s pretend we are all very honest, pillars of our communities, and shining examples of wholesomeness. So when we hear the word copying we think of plagiarism or some other form of cheating.

I want to praise copying (but not plagiarism). In the art world, perhaps not so much today but back in the good old days, copying was a fundamental part of an artist’s education. As an apprentice the budding artist would copy the works of his master and make the rounds of public sculpture and museums to copy the works of the “Old Masters”.  For a long time this was part of the foundation of art education. When novelty became more prized than craft this educational experience began to taper off. A few stalwarts held onto and maintained this orthodoxy but by and large it went the way of the Dodo.

For an artist there is no substitute for copying works of art. If you want to be a more skillful draftsman then one should draw frequently and have in front of him an excellent exemplar. Painting is the same of course. If you want to be a painter then you must paint… a lot. One learns a great deal from copying great works of art. Things like proportion, composition, how to create certain types of lines and planes to achieve a particular end. When copying a painting you learn the secret of how an artists mixed and applied color or how brushstrokes where used to create form. Even if your drawing or painting falls short of the masterwork you are emulating you are still benefitting from the experience. Remember, “failure” is only failure when you don’t learn from it and grow from the experience. If you think to yourself “Well, that was hard. It didn’t turn out well at all. Guess I’ll do something else.” that is what failure sounds like.

Carraci Copy Evolution Small

You find that through the process you begin to “absorb” all kinds of secret knowledge of the masters. Sometimes you are specifically trying to learn a particular thing. Along the way, as you search for this thing, you also collaterally pick up an understanding of composition, balance, harmony…. a whole unrecognized aesthetic sensibility works its way into you subconscious. And when you are working on “your own stuff” this subtle knowledge (subtle because you absorbed it rather than that it is hard to recognize) makes it way into your work. You probably have a lot of kettles on the stove as an artist; working on a variety of projects as you explore your ideas. On the back burner there should always be a drawing or painting that you are copying. Just as an athlete or musician practices their skill so should you. Pick a drawing that that speaks to you, that has within it something you do not yet know but are desirous to master. Make sure you choose a good image. You’ll never learn anything from copying bad art…. except bad habits. When in doubt it is hard to go wrong with one of the biggies: Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens, Prudhon. But don’t limit yourself either. Go to the library and check out a book about old master drawings. Flip through it, pick a  drawing, and get to work. A personal suggestion here (as if my blog isn’t anything more that a series of personal suggestions and opinions):  Pick something challenging or a topic you wouldn’t normally gravitate toward. Pick something that seems like it might be a bit too much. I think that artists should stand right at the edge of impossible and dangle their toes over the precipice. Then lean forward just a bit. Didn’t Nietzsche say something like that?

That which is falling should also be pushed.”

Included is drawing based on an engraving of an ornamental design and a sequence of a copy of a Carracci drawing.

Carracci Copy for Blog

“I’m your Venus, I’m your fire…”

•February 18, 2014 • 1 Comment

A little 80’s nostalgia courtesy of Bannanarama to begin this entry.

I haven’t written about North Carolina yet even though I finished my second round of studies there in August of last year. I have meant to, of course, but I haven’t quite decided how. I wax nostalgic for North Carolina even though I’ve only seen a few square miles of it really (mostly the short drive from Pinehurst to Southern Pines). I think about the Academy alot particularly when I know I should be drawing and I’m not. There one cannot be lazy nor does one want to be.

Over the summer I completed three drawings. They were all tough in their own way and exciting, too. I had started the Homer Bargue drawing at home and tried to maintain the discipline I had received the summer before. “Real life” gets in the way and you never Homer Detail Eyesdraw as much as you should. When I say “you’ I mean “I”. As it turned out I was pretty lucky to have not finished the drawing before I headed south again. I had hit some rough spots and working on the drawing under the watchful eye of the Maestro and the more advanced students helped me get back on track. I fell right back into the rhythm of the studio; it felt like I had never left. Everything was wonderfully familiar. Homer turned out pretty Homer Croppedwell, I think. I posted am image of him in a previous entry. Not too shabby. That brought me to four Bargue drawings but it must have been pretty obvious I needed some more work. I then began the fifth Bargue drawing, large Venus image.

Here is what I like about the atelier format of art education that I think art schools, colleges, and universities should take a good hard look at: You don’t move on until you’ve mastered the foundation technique. Now, I know in education (boy do I know) they’ll tell you that’s just how they run their program. I believe they (the ubiquitous and vague “they”) honestly believe in what they are saying. But I’m a product of that environment. I’ve worked in that environment. It’s not the case. You pay your money, you do your time (prison reference intentional) and then you walk out an artist. Two tings of note: 1. That system is run by money, we all know that. 2. You probably aren’t an artist.  In defense of that last statement I freely admit that I am not an artist. I don’t think most people who think they are really are. I will probably never be one. There are few Titans of the Arts out there. They usually have one name: Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Sargent….  I guess I’ve revealed the gods in my pantheon of art. I’m not discounting more recent artists. I would definitely include the names Cornell and Rothko to the above list. If I made a list of poets I think Cornell and Rothko would fit in there quite nicely as well. Ultimately, I suppose I have no idea what it means to be an artist and as a result I suppose I don’t really know what art is. You may just want to discount everything you’ve read so far. I might…

In the same way that the Ariadne Bargue was an incredibly important experience for me (it still hangs were I can see it so I can remember how much I still need to learn) the large Venus induced a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Oh, she started out Venus sketchcharming and alluring, full of soft curves and round shapes, pulling you close and making you promises as a Venus is wont to do. But near the end I could not stand the sight of her. Frustration upon frustration. The secrets she revealed early on grew complex into a maelstrom of related but seemingly contradictory qualities. She grew cold and I knew I would never know her secrets and was a fool to think I could have. Dejected. Rejected. Led on and led astray. But then it happened, as it was supposed to, as it was ordained to… the tumblers fell into place. The tantalizing little relationships I thought I saw at the beginning, thought I understood at the beginning, where just glimpses out of the corner of my eye; half realized vagaries seen straining through a fog. How clever I thought I was to have seen them. I made a meticulous sketch with detailed notes about all the relationships I saw. How one form related to another and how this group related to that….. My sketch looked like a page from an illuminated manuscript, a holy book. In the center was the drawing; the gospel, and around it the scribbled notes and naive interpretations of novice trying to will himself to understand. But then all those small bits and pieces, little relationships and connections became one. And I knew this drawing. I had seen the parts and then I had seen the whole…. Then I saw them all together, simultaneous and in harmony (or with as much harmony as my furtive scratching would allow).  A tempestuous relationship with a demanding mistress. But in the end I came to know that drawing. (Am I still talking about drawings?) The drawings I completed have sat in boxes unopened since my return leaning against my easel. I recently opened them to have a look and take a few measurements; perhaps frame one or two. There she was, somehow closer to perfection than I remembered. There are still things “off” I’m sure but I try not to let myself get too caught up in those deficiencies. The curves and arches and bends are all there; gentle, soft, beguiling. I put the drawing up on my easel and thought: “I know you.”Venus Cropped

Art is a funny thing. These objects are like people. They have personality. When I go to the museum there are certain paintings I have to see before I leave. The Rembrandt usually, the Caravaggio and Sargent certainly, and Ruben’s portrait of his wife, Isabella Brant, without exception. ( ) Sometimes I watch people interact with my favorite paintings (my paintings). I wonder what they are thinking. I wonder why they are drawn to this work or that. Perhaps I should ask. Paintings, works of art in general I suppose, are like people in that way. They have special and unique relationships with each person. It’s unwholesome to have such an impassioned relationship with another mans wife but since she died of the plague a few hundred years ago I don’t think anyone will mind.

I then graduated on to the third dimension: my first cast drawing. But we’ll save that story for another day.