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May 2008

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Linda Blondheim

    Linda Blondheim once lamented about her desire for a "Salon" experience, where artists, poets, musicians, and others gathered at the home of a common friend to discuss ideas and share inspirations.  And even though she recently lost her beloved pet, Anchor, she agreed to a Sunday Salon interview with the Ancient Artist.  I know you will enjoy what she has to say.

    Linda is a talented landscape artist living in Florida.  As both a successful gallery artist and workshop teacher, she has gained a wealth of information over the years, some of which she has generously shared here.

First, a brief description of Notan, taken from the book Composition, by Arthur Wesley Dow.

"Notan.  There is no one word in English to express the idea contained in the phrase 'dark-and-light,' I have adopted the Japanese word 'notan' (dark,light).  It seems fitting that we should borrow this art-term from a people who have revealed to us so much of this kind of beauty. 'Chiaroscuro' has a similar but more limited meaning...Darks and lights in harmonic relations - this is Notan, the second structural element of space-art."  pp 113.
LBorangeshopfinal     Orange Shop @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Linda, you have studied the principles of Notan , and apply them to your work.  What drew you to this concept and how do you use it in your painting practice?

    I discovered the study of Notan back in my art school days.  I was lucky to have one of the best design teachers, Jack Nickerson, who made design fascinating for a young art student.  Notan focuses on light and dark, so it is essential for understanding value structure in painting.  For years I used color as a crutch because I really did not understand values.  About two years ago I decided it was time to revisit the learning process of Notan.  It was the best thing I ever did for my own painting technique. My work has improved greatly and oddly enough, my color palette has improved as well. Studying Notan helped me to develop a five value family system which shrinks the normal value range down to five.  It has made handling values so much easier for me.

Have you always been a landscape painter, or did you come to it through different subjects?

    I have been a landscape painter for 30+ years.  i also enjoy still life and florals, and abstract landscape painting.

LBcattleranch5 Cattle Ranch @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Why do you think you are drawn to the landscape?


    The landscape offers so much variety and approach.  It's simplicity is deceptive.  It looks simple but is very complex.  I've always loved the land.  When I was young I fished and hunted all over north central Florida.  I know many farmers and ranchers and have a deep respect for them and their work.  I love dogs, horses, and cattle, and so I feel a deep connection to my work, and the history and culture of people who understand the land.  The South has an agrarian history and my ancestors were farmers and ranchers, so it comes naturally to me to love the land.  Painting these farms, state parks and ranches moves me deeply and they are sacred places to me.

When you are seeking inspiration, what sort of things go through your mind?

    Just about everything I see.  I have never lacked for inspiration.  I am always on a quest for the next painting.  I am a research and study freak. I like to develop palettes and experiment with them.  I like doing Notan exercises, and I like to experiment with lots of different surfaces and mediums.  Each year, I set a study subject for myself and spend time throughout the year working toward completion of the project.  It may be architecture, wave and water patterns, flowers, Notan/values, atmospheric study, backlighting, clouds, etc.  I usually pick something that I am afraid of or that is difficult for me.

LBtomokafinal Tomoka @ Linda Blondheim 2008

What do you consider the most important skill that every painter should develop?


    I like to consider the "Big Three" as the most important skill in landscape painting.  Composition, Values, and Color Mixing.  Those three encompass many techniques and skills, but nothing is more important that those three areas of study.  All of my workshops revolve around those skills in some way.  They are vital in my opinion.

What is the funniest experience you've had as an artist?

    There are many funny stories and a few that I wish to repeat :>)  Most of them revolve around professional paint outs I have been to.  It's one of those things where you had to be there.  Paint outs are a different world for artists.  We are taken out of our regular routine.  They are essentially marathons, where we are working 12 to 15 hours a day, turning out paintings like machines.  At night, we socialize and funny things do happen but I would not want to share them or embarrass other artists.  There was one night when the 'boys' decided to grill dinner and blew up the grill with too much propane.  It went up like a rocket!

What is the most unexpected thing that you've learned as an artist?

    I think it would be that I was surprised at how much maturity helped me to become a better artist.  The idea in this culture is that youth dominates and that older people are marginalized.  That is not the case in the landscape genre'.  Most of the top painters in Florida are over 40 and many are around 60-70.  I didn't even start to get recognition and make a name for myself until I was 50.  I am just starting to learn how to paint and I have many more good years to improve and grow.  Maturity gave me the wisdom to recognize that I needed to improve as a painter.  Maturity has allowed me to let go of my ego and focus on the  important part of being an artist and that is the process of painting.  I no longer focus on my position in the art world.  Now I just paint.

I wanted to follow up on two of the threads in Linda's answers, so I emailed her a few more questions, which she graciously answered.

Can you recommend any books that are particularly good at explaining the fundamentals of Composition, Value, and Color?

    There are three books I can recommend:
    I also recommend for Notan: www.virtualartacademy.com Notan Painting: How to insure success in two minutes.  It's a basic course in Notan for landscape painters and very good.

    I will soon have my first book out based on my Plein Air Monthly Class.  It is designed for groups or individuals with 12 lesson plans and other information based on my research and techniques.  It will be called Plein Air Monthly, self published with blurb.com.  It will be on my web site, lindablondheim.com.

LBFallMarsh Fall Marsh @ Linda Blondheim 2008

Do you have any other words of wisdom?

First, let me way that it is wonderful to be an artist.  But most people are little prepared for what it takes to become a successful artist.  They do not know the huge amount of time that must be spent in marketing and selling.  At least 50% of my time is spent in non-painting activities to promote my art.  The rest of my time is devoted to practicing and researching my work, in order to improve, so that it will be purchased.  Essentially, I am a workaholic. 

The pros I know, who actually survive on art and teaching, work 16 hours a day, as I do.  It takes a great deal of energy, commitment and ingenuity to be a successful artist.  You must be driven and unwilling to fail.  I  have had many hard days in my long career which would have broken others.  If you are a successful artist, it consumes your life.  It's not a job, but rather a way of living.

LBhoneymoonislandpalms Honeymoon Palms @ Linda Blondheim 2008

All images used with permission of the artist.

You can find more information about Linda's art here.  You can read about travels, recipes, and Linda's process of painting on her blog, Linda Blondheim Art Notes.




  

Trends and the Changing Art Market

The May issue of Art Business News published an excerpt from the Gallery Roundtable held at Artexpo New York 2008, and I thought I would share with you some of the interesting points that jumped out at me.

  • Small paintings are gaining popularity, as clients opt for filling large spaces with "a collection of small pieces by the same artist or by several artists."

  • There is a return to Contemporary Realism, figurative work, still lifes and representational work in the style of the old Masters or traditional approaches.

  • The internet is driving sales on reproductions, prints and giclees, so many galleries are countering the trend by focusing on originals or very limited editions.

  • More young people are entering the market as collectors, generating a sense of energy,  "a new kind of celebrity" similar to that seen in fashion, music, and technology.

  • Relationships - between galleries and their clients, and galleries and their artists - matter: "At the end of the day, it's about the relationships we create and how we build them."
You can read the Gallery Roundtable excerpt here, if you don't subscribe to the free magazine. 

Sunday Salon: Remembering

In honor of Memorial Day here in the US, today's Sunday Salon is about taking the moment and remembering those you have loved, and those who made a difference in your life.  Thank you, too, for reading and commenting. You have all made a difference in my life. 


DSC02157

Tree of Life @ Sue Favinger Smith 2008
oil on paper

How to Read an Art Book

    Clint Watson recently asked his blog readers to send him the titles of their favorite art books.  My first thought was "I have so many - how can I choose just one?"  But then I thought it might be more useful if I didn't send Clint my list, and just blogged about the best ways to read (or use) an art book.

    So here are my tried-and-true methods. 
  
     Art book as a door stop. This is useful for those books you don't need today, and maybe not tomorrow, either, but you aren't ready to sell them on eBay or donate them to the Library.  Depending upon the amount of ventilation (stiff breeze) through the windows, you can easily prevent the studio door from slamming shut with one or two average art books.  More than that and you risk stubbing your toe.

    Art book as a decorative item.  I like to lay my art books flat and stack them on the book shelves in my dining room.  They look very artistic that way, and I intermingle colored dishes and artsy-looking pots.  If you stand there with your head tilted to one side you can read the interesting titles.  You can't see much of the pictures on the covers, though.  However, your dinner guests are usually very impressed.

      Art book as a future reference.  You never know when an art book might actually prove valuable to you.  Take Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting by John F Carlson.  Copyright is 1929.  The first time I tried to read this book I got as far as  "The art of painting, properly speaking, cannot be taught, and therefore cannot be learned."  That, along with his true-to-the-times references to painters as "men" was enough for me to consign this book to the "door stop" category.  But I re-discovered Carlson after stubbing my toe on his book.  For the landscape artist, it contains a wealth of information.

     Art book as feng shui symbol.  Oooh, I like this one.  If you want to be famous for your art, place lots of art books in your "fame" section.  Also, place RED books in your south area.  This also helps.  And then, if you have plenty of time on your hands, you can determine which books relate best to your various other sections: the earth area could house your landscape books, your helpful people area could hold your figure drawing books, and on and on.  Endless possibilities. 

       Art book as an alternative to therapy.  There are tons of books on the market offering to help you find yourself creatively, avoid artistic depression, re-invent your artistic life, fight your artistic wars, become inspired by dead artistic people, but far and away, the absolute best book that I've read on this subject is "Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision", by Ian Roberts.  Absolutely the best!

So what do you use your art books for?
      

Sunday Salon: When you feel the pain

"I'm stuck, in a rut."
"I'm frustrated and discouraged"
"I'm stressed out; everything's urgent."
"Maybe I just don't have what it takes."

These are a few of the opening sentences in Stephen R. Covey's new book, The 8th Habit, From Effectiveness to Greatness.

If you follow this blog, you know that I read a lot of books, and about 75% of them are not about art. But "Art" doesn't live in a vacuum, apart from the rest of our lives.  What  works and doesn't work in our "real" world is the same sort of stuff that works or doesn't work in our "Art" world.

If we were in our early 20's, our "Art" lives would be different.  We'd have the time and freedom to explore ideas, themes, techniques, and problems with the enthusiasm of one who sees no end in sight.  As we age, though, it's natural that "the end" begins creeping toward our horizon.  I received an email recently from Casey Klahn who explained,

"One thing I've discovered as an older artist is that it is important for me to start "at the top". I am not a school kid, after all!"

I remember feeling times of great urgency, a limited window of opportunity that I was going to miss - and still do.  I remember pushing myself nearly to the point of exhaustion and then feeling frustrated with the results - and still do.  So how do we achieve a sense of balance between the urgency of the Muse and the realization there might not be enough time left to do all we dream about doing?
 

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Believe that there is enough time to do what you are supposed to do.  Once I freed myself from the belief that time was working against me, my life became easier.  I would walk into my studio and not feel the self-imposed pressure to create something that would "sell now!"  In fact, I realized the more I tried to answer that demand of "sell now!" (which was a form of needing to justify what I was doing) the worse my work became - and the more frustrated I felt.
  • Realize that the "top" is only a marker on the spiral, just a "starting point" for the next growth cycle.  I understand where Casey is coming from when he says he needs to start "at the top."  Because we are entering the art market at a mature age, the art market expects a high level of competency.  Our work can't be excused as young and brash, full of passion, short on technique, but loads of potential.  So it's necessary to study artists working at the levels of competency to which we aspire in order to ensure that our work is comparable before we approach the market.
  • Growth requires us to "hate" our work periodically.  I once had an exercise t-shirt that read : "No Pain, No Gain."  I wasn't into pain, so I never saw much gain. Its the same with art.   Being stuck, feeling anxious, frustrated, angry, experiencing the emotional pain of hating what I'm producing - I used to dread it.  I still dread that moment of walking into the studio and looking at the painting I just finished and immediately "hating" it. But I've come to realize these are messages from my unconscious, my artistic soul, telling me, "hey, you gotta move on here!  Your work was fine for where you were last year, but this is Now." 
  • Become your own best mentor.  Be kind to yourself.  When you grow to the point of recognizing there is something missing in your work - rejoice.  It means you've developed your "eye" to the point where you're able to progress, and that you're not suffering from what Robert Genn calls "Kalopsia"  (an interesting read in the click-backs).  And as your own best mentor, take on the responsibility of learning what else you might need to know at this point on the spiral - whether you watch instructional DVD's, read books, draw daily, paint daily -- whatever you do, begin to expand your practice consistently.
  • It's also okay to work within your comfort zone.  Out of curiosity, I started reading art blogs coming out of the New York Art Scene.  I quickly discovered that I didn't belong in that rarefied world of artspeak, critical laceration, bizarre theory, shock art, power plays, movers and shakers, blog wars, hoaxes and non-hoaxes pretending to be hoaxes...okay, too much hyperbole here.  My point is only that it's better to focus energy where you know you want it and not spend it where it drains away your enthusiasm.  Activism, while fondly remembered, might be better left to the young.

So what is Covey's 8th Habit?

The 8th Habit "is to Find Your Voice and Inspire Others to Find Theirs" (p. 5).

Interesting, huh?


Breaking the Glass, Continued

Last Friday I came across a thought provoking post on Seth Godin's Blog about a beautiful glass sculpture that contains a clock stopped at 0:00.  The clock is real, waiting to start ticking.  But in order to start the clock you must break the fragile glass sculpture.  That was your choice.  You have something beautifully constructed, a work of art, but time will not start unless you "break" your comfort zone and be willing to start new in the unknown. 

Theclock2 Seth has a way with words, and in his post he asked "analogy, anyone?"

We receive messages all the time.  Sometimes, the message is so familiar to the messages we've received in the past we "tune it out" the way our kids do when we tell them to clean their rooms. 

And sometimes a message comes through that rings such a bell of authenticity within your personal psyche that you suddenly "get it."

This is one of those messages for me.

Although it seems logical that life should proceed in a linear fashion, with one accomplishment leading naturally into the next, more often it becomes a spiral.  Each rotation of "learning" comes back to the starting point and we are faced with the choice of standing there admiring our beautiful glass sculpture or breaking the glass.

Starting that clock requires that we "break" with the past, or safety, or the comfort zone we've created.  Maybe, like me, there is fear beneath the hesitancy.  What do I risk if I do this?

But turn the question around and ask yourself, what have I compromised in order to keep this security?

If you have compromised your artistic dreams, then you have no other choice but to lift that hammer.


Have You Ever Attended a Virtual Critique?

Dsc02188Invitation to Critique

When I was attending art classes, I dreaded the critique.  The experience of trying to master a new concept and then realizing I'd missed the mark completely was definitely depression material.  But now I realize an informed critique is vital to artistic growth, and I am inviting you to join in this virtual crit session.

Taking into account that the color will vary according to your monitor, what I am seeing is a fairly accurate representation of the actual painting.   My palette consists of violet blue, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow deep, yellow ocher, Winsor yellow, terra rosa, transparent red oxide, burnt sienna, Quinacridone  violet,  Naples yellow (French), Naples yellow (Italian), Naples yellow, Naples yellow pale, and zinc white.  The greens are mixed.  I think the colors in the painting are slightly more saturated than the image I am seeing, but not as saturated as in the earlier versions.

Here are a few questions to start the critique...
Overall structure: 

  • does your eye move smoothly throughout the composition or does it get stuck somewhere?
  • what do you think is the center of interest?
  • does the composition feel balanced or awkward?
  • are the major shapes working? (assuming that the major shapes are there?)
  • do you like any of the earlier versions ( previous post) better?  If so, why?

I hope you will participate, if only for the practice of evaluating a painting so that you can develop the skill.  I am hoping for some feedback that will help me see things I might have overlooked.

Looking forward to lots of responses in my comments section!




Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with the Atelier Approach

In my conversations with Slump, he suggested I was "stuck"  because I'd reached the edge of the cliff.  Metaphorically speaking, that is.

"And that cliff would be?" I asked, eyebrows raised for emphasis.

"The one where you're standing on the edge of solid ground -- the painting skills you have -- and you're afraid to step off the cliff -- gaining new painting skills -- because you think you'll crash and burn."

"Ah, the Wiley Coyote Observation," I responded snidely, since Slump had loved Roadrunner cartoons as a kid.

But Slump has thicker skin than I have.  He ignored my immaturity and reminded me I ought to read one of those books I buy instead of just looking at the pretty pictures. 

So I did. 

One of my painting aspirations is to become a fabulous landscape painter.  Well, at least a good one.  But  I've been producing work that's rather ... ho hum.  So, under Slump's continued nagging I pulled out Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, by Juliette Aristides.

The Atelier Approach was once the gold standard for artist training.  It fell out of favor, but is regaining popularity.  The basic philosophy mentors an artist through lessons from a Master Artist, introducing foundational skills through a curriculum that "naturally builds upon itself during the course of a developing artist's period of study (p. 1)."

I began with the first exercise, studying tonal arrangements.

I know this is a big risk, telling you how I took short cuts, labored over a painting when I knew better, ended up overworking it, making it ugly and just waiting for my husband to pass by and point out these details the way someone points out the obvious to a four year old.  But in the spirit of sharing, I hope my experience will be helpful.

I've had more time recently to devote to painting, and I started working on some new, smaller landscapes.

Dsc02167 Painting One @ Sue Favinger Smith

So here is the first version.  I thought it looked interesting from 20 feet back, lost it's power at 3 feet.  I wasn't sure exactly what was wrong.

I liked the light and place.  I liked the personality of the trees.  My original inspiration had dramatic light to dark contrast, but was a photo and photos aren't very good at revealing what's in the shadows.  I didn't want to just copy.  I also liked the color scheme.  The sky was a mixture of violets and blues, making the yellows glow.

But something just wasn't quite right.

I needed to study the composition through tonal values, and compare it to the tonal values of a "Master Artist."

Best2 I use Photoshop Elements, and have recently incorporated it into my painting routine.  I have a folder marked "Works in Progress" where I save digitals of my painting process.  This is useful as I now have a record of how seemingly small changes effect the overall design. 

I also Photoshop for tonal value analysis.   I convert my painting image to grayscale ( Image > mode > grayscale), where I can actually see the value pattern I've created, without the distraction of color. 

And what I'd created was a very active abstract composition with diagonals converging into the center and vague major masses.  I liked the way the strong verticals added stability and contrast, but I realized my values were closer together than I'd imagined. I also saw several large X's in the composition which I did not like. And it did not have the elegance of design I was after. 

Dsc02179copy Wash at Hudson's @ Don Stone
Here is the grayscale version of a painting I have long admired, by Master Artist Don Stone.  I noticed that he uses his values differently than I do.  I decided to use him as my Master Artist and analyze exactly what his thought processes might be.

I converted Stone's image to grayscale, and then printed both his painting and my own so that I could tape them side by side on my studio wall.  Next, I began to analyze and compare.

Well, it didn't take very long before I just "knew" what to do...

I admit, I like to think I can paint on the fly.  I mean, inspiration has a direct conduit to my fingers, moving my hand way before the old brain catches up. 

So I fiddled... just a little darker here... I dabbed paint rather than putting it on with thought and deliberation...maybe some yellow here...I experimented. (Saying I felt my way would be more accurate). And I became more frustrated as my painting became more of a mess.  Finally, after trying "just one more bit," I had to go to work and leave it for an entire day.

When I came home that night I took one look and realized what I had done. 

You're thinking, "She's going back to Slump, isn't she?"  But you'd be wrong.

What I had done was push past "safety in what I know" into "willing to sacrifice a perfectly mediocre painting to learn something."

This is a very good place to be.

Dsc02187_2 Painting One (left) and Painting Two (right)

In painting one, you can see how I had attempted to unify my darkest value and ended up with a black hole pretty much in the center of the painting.
Oops!
I lost much of my color by over painting and blending too much.
I studied my Master Artist and then wrote down in my notebook what I liked about his work and what I needed to do in my own work.

Like: 

  • Strong value design
  • 3 values

Work on:

  • design first
  • greater value separation
  • more paint on the brush
  • cleaner color
  • mix larger puddles on palette

Then I wrote out my analysis and solutions:

What am I doing wrong?  I'm not completely sure ahead of time about major decisions, so I feel my way, try out things, change and overwork.

My solutions:  I need to spend more time planning the idea, then painting thinly to be sure it works.  I need to plan and mix colors and values, using a limited palette.  I need to apply the paint with as little "fussiness" as possible...put it down in one stroke.  I also did a value sketch from memory, unifying the major masses, and clarifying the 3 value areas.

I painted the second version last night in one go, about 3 hours.  I knew ahead of time how I intended to apply the paint and I had mixed up my colors in large puddles so I would not get caught short and have to mix something up in the middle of things.  The scary part was wondering if I could recreate the freshness in the original composition or if it was gone forever.

Here are the value comparisons.  I am very happy with the unity in the second version, and the defined value pattern. I lost some of the personality in the first set of trees, and I will go back in and strengthen the lighter values in the foreground to capture the sense of light hitting the rolling pathwayDsc02187copy_2. But overall I think that the second version has a more cohesive design and the color is clean.

But more importantly, this exercise reminded me that an artist recognizes when her work isn't up to par and then does something about it.  And I discovered that I can "do it again" and actually "do it better."

Yes, I will study the two new side by side value images, and determine what works in the first and try to apply it in the second.  And yes, I really do wish I hadn't overworked the first painting and destroyed the elegance in the paint application.  But the realization that gives me the most joy is that I've now reached the artistic level where I realize where my work is weak, and I'm developing the skills to make it stronger.

And that's a better place to be than satisfied but unable to see.