I know it's been a while since my last post. These take a while to write and the arrival of warmer weather brings with it all sorts of chores to do outside. I'm waging a loosing battle with mowing and weeding. Alas, if I had a gardener and a maid, I could write and paint more...
At first, I thought this post was going to be about Vasari's Oil Colors website videos. It is to some degree. But it's more about finding inspiration. ("Again?" you ask.) There's a myth going around for the last one hundred and fifty years or so, that artistic inspiration strikes in a flash. The most popular image is of a starving artist in some Parisian garret (whatever that is), who is suddenly struck by an idea so inspired, he can hardly paint fast enough to keep up with his thoughts. He paints maniacally, without sleeping or eating, until at last he completes his masterpiece. He's utterly spent and exhausted when he's done. Of course, he receives the public recognition and admiration he so clearly deserves and lives happily ever after. Well, I hate to break it to you, but this couldn't be further from the truth. I suppose the myth lives on because the reality is so disappointingly unromantic. It's positively dull, even boring. The fact is, inspiration comes from the day-to-day routine work, the daily grind of sitting down at the easel and painting, every day, every week, all year long.
Okay, got the picture? So you're humming along, working everyday and getting some good work done. Every now and then, you do something you feel is a notch above your usual standard. How do you know? You just do. Everything just goes smoothly and the results really show your mastery of the paint. Sometimes, however, you get bogged down in the familiar, the safe, the tried and true. You use the same techniques and utilize old solutions for new problems. You don't push yourself. You get complacent. You don't even realize you're in a rut. After all, you are working every day. Isn't that enough?
While I was at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show a few weeks ago, a colleague told me my palette is too brown and my paintings are very flat. She said they didn't have enough light in them. No one likes to hear criticism of their work, and I certainly don't agree with her, but I went home and decided to try to see my work through her eyes and fix the "problems." But where to start?
Pondering the problem of too much brown, I tried to think of the different ways to mix a color or neutralize it or tone it down. I know there must be lots of solutions. Here's where the Vasari videos come in. They have a terrific website which I visit regularly to see what new products they have for sale, such as videos, books, paint sets, etc., as well as their bi-weekly color "sales." They also have some very in-depth videos about color mixing. It's a masterful blend of sales promotion and tres sophisticated how-to color mixing techniques. You need to watch them a few times to get the nuances of what they're demonstrating, because they talk about color temperatures, density, chroma, etc., in a very quick, matter-of-fact way. Now, I think I have a pretty sophisticated eye when it comes to color, but these people are absolute geniuses. I mean, do you know the difference between Lead White and Titanium Zinc White? (I didn't.) I guess they have to be good at mixing colors, right? Duh! After watching the videos, I realized I can't live without their "Rosebud" or "Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale." Take a look at those videos and honestly tell me you can live without "Rosebud!"
My shopping list of Vasari colors includes: "Rosebud, Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale, Bice, Video Blue Extra Pale," and "Naples Orange." I'm eagerly waiting to add them to my palette. Meanwhile, I'll just have to muddle through with what I have. Which brings me to my final point. I know artists often use a palette they've customized for their particular subject, i.e., portraits, landscapes, still lives, etc. Perhaps it's one they learned at a workshop or from a book. And it becomes written in stone. It never changes. I feel I've become a little too insistent on using Zorn's five color palette, or the "less is more" ideology. I get a real thrill when I add a color or change something on my palette. When I discovered Manganese Violet a few years ago it was like a whole new world opened up! So, be open to color additions or subtractions on your palette. Try mixing up your own "Rosebud" with the colors you have. I suspect it involves Alizarine Crimson and perhaps a blue and yellow of some kind. I'm going to do it right from the computer screen as an exercise in color mixing.
A Note: Artists should never forget they're always students. I recently bought some painting videos by Richard Schmid, a highly-regarded landscape painter. He uses a palette knife, no medium of any kind to mix his paints, and paints outdoors in all kinds of weather. In one video, the paint is actually beginning to freeze and it's snowing! He uses many different brands of oil paints, so you needn't worry if you have a paint box full of exotic names like Gamblin, Grumbacher, Winsor & Newton, etc. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is that you buy the best you can afford. No student grade, please.
Take a workshop, join an artists' organization, a sketch class or watch painting videos on You-Tube to keep your mind sharp and open to new ideas.