Finding That View at create!

There are many approaches taken by artists to achieve perspective and build an accurately proportioned and modeled figure/subject on a flat surface.  They sometimes use a viewfinder when it is difficult to determine the overall composition of their piece.

Some of my readers may not know what I mean when I talk about overall composition…here are a couple of ‘rules’ that any artist can basically ‘throw out’ of their artistic tool kit if they wish…but, I tend to observe these.

In the past, I have used a slide frame as a viewfinder and shared that tool with my students.  What a basic viewfinder will do is eliminate a lot of the chaos that appears around the subject of the piece the artist is composing and crop the piece so that the composition is dynamic and gains interest.

Slide Frame ViewfinderAnother technique that helps to accurately transfer information and placement of content in a composition is to grid both a flat reference or photograph and the larger surface of the canvas/panel or paper with squares of equal proportion.  (The number of grid squares measured on the reference must be the same as the number of grid squares measured on the drawing surface and the ratio of those must be consistent in their ratio, 1:4 for example.) What the viewer/artist sees in the top right hand square is then transferred onto the drawing/painting surface accurately.  Here are a couple of examples of paintings and drawings rendered by my former middle school students, using this technique.  I think that this provides an exercise for student artists in observation and in training those brain/eye/arm/finger muscles to work together.

March 17 2009 Art and Feb Words 130 March 17 2009 Art and Feb Words 035 IMG_8185View finding and using a grid system are only two techniques used to compose.  On this subject, there is a huge and sometimes complex manner of creating a well-proportioned image.  Any and all techniques are available to every artist to the extent that they wish to use them.  It is often a magical thing to make reference to some basic skills in drawing and painting before one tears into self-expression.  If it is not your intention to distort figures in your work, it can be a frustrating thing to do beautiful painting and mark making that is lost because the eye travels immediately to the loss of foreshortening or proportion.

I have randomly selected a couple of videos here that demonstrate formal techniques.

Then…there is also the Fibonacci principle.  Wowsah!

Presently, in Calgary, my friend, Douglas Williamson, is the featured artist at Collector’s Art Gallery.  He has a practice that includes some of the very technical aspects of rendering and painting.  I admire his work and his dedication.

Most of the time, quite frankly, especially during events like Rumble House painting, I ‘eyeball’ it and remember that my teachers always told me that I had a bit of a natural sense for composition.  I just naturally eliminate peripheral visual information that I don’t want included when I am plein air painting or working in my studio.  Artistic style and intention need to be kept in mind and not forgotten.  I think it’s a dangerous thing when one artist tells another how things SHOULD be done.  Some artists work in a purely intuitive manner.

As I’ve discussed before, many contemporary artists access slide projection or image projection in order to create a large and accurate view.  Some among us label such artists ‘cheaters’ and this makes me laugh because typically the connoisseur of art knows little about the process.  Ted Godwin demonstrated his technique for me in his studio, as did Bill Webb. With every brush stroke, the works created by both artists became unique and while accurate in terms of the perspective, breathed the life and human touch not found in a photograph.

P1070233Recently, I saw that a facilitator, Francois Lavigne, at the wonderful create! in East Village had constructed a viewfinder that I thought would be fun to use while doing a seated sketch.

Viewfinder by Francois So, I headed down to see Wendy Lees and the gang at create!, now housed in the Center of Hope next door to the Salvation Army. Present yesterday, were people I care about so much, but haven’t seen for the longest time.  It was nice to meet Margot and Philip Lozano of Momentum, as well!  I hoped to hook up with Francois and purchase a viewfinder…and I did!  WHOOT!

One of the projects during the open session was a section for a Calgary Public Library project in the works at create!  So, I sat down and painted me a panel and ate up the varied and enthusiastic conversations that ensued.  Thanks, Wendy!  Thanks, Francois.  If you are an artist who is interested in the purchase of a viewfinder, please contact Francois directly here.

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Spring!

Spring means…

organizing photographs
dropping items to the Women in Need shop
Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow nesting in the vent across from my kitchen window
sprouts in the garden beds
return of water birds and the songs of red winged blackbirds, crows, geese, frogs, robins
crisp morning air
picking litter at Frank’s Flats
painting with children
keeping a close eye on live cams…eagles…wolves
walking lots

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Insert George Bowering poem here…living, breathing, birthing, protecting, growing, dying.

??????????Spring…a time of tremendous courage as new life needs so much protecting.

Such a true blessing to watch children paint spring.  I marvel at it.  Concepts…overlapping…large-forward, small-back.

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Grade Four’s Homage to Ted Harrison

A beautiful person and artist, Ted Harrison passed away on January 16, 2015, at the age of 88.  The world is losing so many heroes…and Ted is one.  Having a beautiful heart and eye for simplicity, he loved the northern skies of the Yukon and never failed to share his delight with anyone he met.

One of my big encounters with his illustrations was in the beautiful version of The Cremation of Sam McGee…a poem I used to challenge my grade sevens to memorize from beginning to end.  And every year, at least three students did!

I recommend that you introduce Ted Harrison to your classes.  For years, Ted’s work has inspired works by school children of every age.  When scented coloured markers came into vogue, so did another lesson based on Harrison.  It’s wild what variety of lessons we invented as art teachers.  The students loved it all!

Ted Harrison in Grade One Ted Harrison in Oil Pastel Ted Harrison in ChalkSomething I appreciate Ted saying in the video below is that if one is ever tired of life or inspiration, try looking up at the sky.

So, today…I looked up at the sky.

This morning, driving to school, I noticed a dappled sky above the rising sun…brilliant yellow, pink and orange, with a soft cerulean blue below an arch of cloud and an electric blue, above.  That was it…in the afternoon, I would paint the SETTING sun with the grade fours…thinking about chinook arches and dappled clouds over the mountains.  And so it went.

I line the back of construction paper with masking tape, when I can find the time.  This allows some durability.  Tempera paint tends to make paper, especially cheap paper, a bit crunchy after a while.  This way the work can be preserved for those folks who like to save things forever. (pointing at myself)

??????????Always use coloured paper for these paints as it creates a bit of an ‘under painting’ and activates the surface, taking away the intimidation of white or that ucky beige.  Below…see my favourite yogurt buckets.  Every art storage room needs at least twenty of these to be shared around.

DSC_1942Recess and the painting pods are readied…that, and a piece of chalk for drawing, placed at each desk.

??????????A paint station (Palette) is readied…two brushes in each bucket.  Students travel back and forth with colours agreed upon by every pair…back and forth they go.  The place is like a HAPPENING!

DSC_1945 DSC_1946I always work through a sample…don’t expect to have the students do something that you haven’t…how else will you know their struggles or the pitfalls of the lesson?

First…the short ‘review’ of dip, wipe and stroke.  Surprise!  You always discover that a lot of students haven’t handled a brush very much.  (Painting IS MESSY!!) Show them where to hold the brush…not at the white tip.  :0)  Explain how to share the paint center and remind them to keep two hands on the bucket on each journey to and from.

Regarding the composition, first I spoke about portrait as compared to landscape format and explained that just for today, the composition would be landscape.  I explained how clouds that are closest to the horizon line appear smaller…and as they are found higher in the picture plane, they can be depicted as larger and then they almost seem to come over our heads.  “Often, Ted Harrison outlined some basic shapes in his paintings and serigraphs…instead of painting up to the chalk lines, how about leaving some of the paper unpainted and the coloured paper will become the lines?” (some of the students got this)

“No…I don’t want you to do a giant sun.  No…no sunglasses…no rays…not today.”  I went back to describing how the morning sun had not yet shown itself, but that there was a really bright light next to the land.  I knew the sun was coming up.  So…for the sunset paintings, I hoped that the sun would be almost gone from the sky.  The teacher can always drive the vision…as long as he/she has one.  I’m sharing mine with my readers.  The teacher also benefits by allowing freedom within the vision.

“OH!  Why are those small clouds near the mountains the brightest?  YES!  The light from the sun is hitting them first because they are the closest to the light!

I explained that because the students were focused on the sky, the mountains needed to be located below the one third line. (Yes!  You’ll have to talk about dividing the landscape into thirds.)

The chalk is picked up and the students begin drawing, planning, and problem solving.

“Yes!  As soon as you’re ready, you can get your first colour. PLEASE, don’t everybody begin with the mountains!  Choose any colour and away you go!”

Magic happened.

DSC_1948 DSC_1949 DSC_1950 DSC_1951 DSC_1952 DSC_1953 DSC_1954 “Pick up a paper towel with your first bucket of paint.  This will be your place mat…slip it along the edges as you go and then you won’t have to wash your desk!  If this gets super sloppy, you might need a second place mat.” DSC_1956I asked the kind caretaker if I might have a bucket half filled with water in my classroom.  This would provide a portable sink.DSC_1957 DSC_1958 DSC_1959 DSC_1960 DSC_1961 ??????????Tonight, as I walked Max at the pond…I captured some of the clouds.  We had an energetic hike about the area.  It was so darned beautiful!

DSC_1968 DSC_1967 DSC_1966 DSC_1964A wonderful class!

Shifts in Perspective

One gets used to multiple horizon lines, gazing out to that distant line to the west, where the sky reaches down behind the mountains like a silken blanket.  There are the foothills, layers of cityscape, residential sprawls, the river and everything else that seems to tuck up close.  Autumn’s landscape often seems endless and forever-deep.

All of that can change. With the change of weather and atmosphere, perspective shifts. This morning when Max and I headed out for Frank’s Flats, it seemed the world was two-dimensional.  White crystals in the air, mixed with foggy patches and a sky that was a warm white…all of this spilled over and covered those horizon lines that define and create depth.  Driving, I became mostly captivated by a sense of texture and acutely aware of how close everything was to me.  As I moved into the landscape, it seemed as though I was being swallowed up.

Out on the slopes, my perspective of things opened up again.  While very small, in comparison to the larger landscape, this part of the world was like coming home and my breathing opened up. Max bounded down to the frozen pond with the same enthusiasm that I felt.  Above us, flock after flock of geese called out to the cold air, arriving and then disappearing to the west and to the south.  I was reminded again of Stanley Kunitz’s poem, End of Summer.  It has been, for years, my September poem in the classroom.  I miss some things about having my own classes.

I relished the time with Max in this earthy, frozen, sleeping landscape.  I felt inspired to write a children’s story about how every winter, somehow the pond becomes spotted with heavy round rocks.  I created a character who systematically places them there on the ice. Each spring the pond becomes more and more shallow until all at once, there is no pond water left, but a huge field of rounded stones.

When perspectives shift, we create and think creatively.

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Cell November Bronwyn, Trea, Cold Landscapes, Remembrance D 080I returned home to hot coffee, Turkey a la King (add pimento, celery and onion to this recipe) on puffed pastry, and a dish of chocolate ice cream and suited myself up for my teaching duties.

I arrived to teach social studies a full hour early this afternoon, so I signed in and then headed for Fish Creek Park to the east.  It was interesting being on the west side of the Bow River.  My perspective and experience of the river is typically from the east side.  While the air was biting by this time, I was in heaven.  I felt alone.  But, it wasn’t so.

There at the base of the ancient river elms, were three men, filming hair brushes.  Yes.  You read that correctly.

I carried on walking north along the river, for quite some time and then thought it best to head back.

Returning to my waiting car, I had opportunity to speak with one of the three men, a crew member for Bruce McCullock’s new work, Young Drunk Punk. I deliberately took time to look at his props. We spoke, as we walked along, about our own father’s hair brushes and the lasting scent of Brylcreem.  We talked about black pocket combs and all of the nostalgia associated with these objects.  I explained that from a distance I had imagined that the three of them were releasing a beaver and photographing the event.  When we parted, one of us said, “Go home and check your hair brushes.”  The other said, “Beware of the beaver.”  How fun was that?  What perspective we gain by putting ourselves into the world and making observations.  One never knows.

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Thirteen!

In the company of create! creatives yesterday, we celebrated the experience of the Helping Hands mural and then, once back at the Golden Age Club, stepped into our paintings through a discussion about the illusion of space and creating depth.  I wanted to reveal to the participants some of the most basic mysteries behind trompe l’oeil and creating depth through one and two point perspective. I wanted to fiddle around a bit with block lettering and show some tricks to bring flat shapes into the three dimensional realm.

I had been thinking, as I drove down to the East Village, about a famous piece that was based on the number seven and wished that I had an image to show the class.  I had decided that since it was Friday the 13th yesterday and a full moon as well, I wanted the subject of the paintings to be the number 13.  Unfortunately, on my drive home, I remembered that the painting that had come to mind had really been based on the number 5, The Figure 5 in Gold by Charles Demuth. It causes me a big laugh at the keyboard as I type this admission. Regardless, I will bring a stack of my art books down to class next month and share the image, based on the poem by William Carlos Williams, The Great Figure.

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems
Four Seasons Company: Boston 1921

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thirteen!

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Final Stop: The Studio of Mark Vazquez-Mackay

Margy and I got caught up chatting with Phillip and bid Anna and him good-bye with hugs before heading over to Weeds Cafe for a Montreal spiced meat sandwich and Italian soda.  It was a pretty nice feeling.  When you go out on a Love Art in Calgary tour, your brain goes “ZING” and you find yourself processing so much great insight…sometimes it’s a good decision to punctuate!  On we raced to the studio of Mark Vazquez-Mackay.

P1150856Mark’s studio was magical, but how can it not be when he has such a beautiful way of seeing life and his world.  I think that he is extremely generous and very community centered.  His hands and mind are engaged a lot in terms of visual arts in Calgary and we need to be grateful for people like him.  He generates a lot of chatter.  I really do treasure the fact that we got a window into just a small part of what he does and accomplishes.

P1150816I liked learning about his use of ivory black to mix colour.  I liked that he had a Lucien Freud book perched against a wall. (I am nuts over Lucien Freud’s figurative works.)  I was excited to have him demonstrate his exploration of camera obscura, his connection with Vermeer, his insights after reading David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.  I felt so excited about his vision around public art and his open concept of public art everywhere.  I had a warm heart as he spoke of his son, the innovative and driven musician who worked alongside his Dad to paint his mother’s eyes on his front yard fence. Generally speaking, his time spent with us was jam-packed and invaluable!

P1150832Mark, impacted personally by the spring flood of last year in Calgary, appears to have not missed a heartbeat, but, with determination and resilience, rebuilt and then some.  He is a hero to our arts community.  A good person.

I’ve written sometimes about the objects of our affection…about how our objects hold memory and such.  In Mark’s studio, I felt that I was surrounded in a blanket of so much love, perception and imagination.  Truly remarkable!  Thank you.

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Morning Sketch # 6: Rien Poortvliet

I know. I know.  I’m behind already…not so disciplined as I imagined I could be.  No excuses, just forging on.  Saturday morning came around and then Sunday morning and then Monday I was called into work, which was wonderful, but totally unexpected.  Through it all, I managed to get some gesso brushed onto my boards and some under painting done, but this morning I’m left with all sorts of bits.  The nice thing about it is that it’s raining outside and sipping coffee and painting at the feast table feels like a luxury that most don’t have this morning.

I’ve slipped my new cd into the player and music is perfect as well.

Sketches inspired by an artist done this quickly have little in common with the originals.  If you look at the details of the lower left corner of mine and then look at Poortvliet’s you will notice what I’m talking about.  There is that lovely tint of green going through Poortvliet’s passage, where mine became an acidic yellow.  This is only one example.  Notice that on the horizon, the brush in the background of mine is a cool grey (again) and Poortvliet used a warm grey.  Let’s not even talk about the gesture of the running deer, leaving the middle ground!  The more I do this, the more I understand that I need to practice drawing for both proportion and the dynamic angles of the figures.

I’m convinced that my drawings of the animals and landscapes are going to be consistently different for their texture and detail.  This is primarily because of the tooth of the panels I’m using and the obvious smoothness of Poortvliet’s papers.  An artist needs to always keep in mind the tooth of the surface he/she is using as this has huge implications for the work.

I’ve provided an image here of ONLY three papers and the tooth.  You can imagine that pigments and media act differently on each, so the difference between a board and paper would be extremely different.  The difference between a masonite board and a sheet of plywood has the same dramatic impact on the image.

Tooth

Poortvliet’s two images demonstrate the difference between an animal placed in the foreground and one moving into the background….larger and lower in the picture plane for close-up, smaller and higher in the picture plane for distant.  This is one of the ways that an artist creates the illusion of depth/perspective.

I also notice that I use a lot of pure colour…it has been difficult for me in this practice to mute colours.

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