Sunday, March 20, 2016

Winter's Last Gasp? Hardly!

Well, as I predicted, we're in the middle of a wintry blast on this, the first day of spring. There's a happy row of bright yellow daffodils lining my fence, which usually withstand a few inches of snow falling on them. But alas, the magnolias I don't think will fare so well. They really don't like snow very much and drop their petals at the first sign of cold temperatures. I'm a little sad to think this is probably the last snow we'll have this year. I've always preferred winter to summer. I suppose it's because my birthday is in December
Today you're supposed to be able to stand a raw egg on its end - something to do with the earth's axis being vertically upright or some other equally nonsensical theory. I always manage to get one or two eggs to stand. I forgot to try it today.

As a young art student in high school, I remember doing pen and ink drawings of the forsythias in my yard. Hundreds of tiny, individual flowers. I loved just loosing myself in the rather hypnotic task of drawing such massive amounts of tiny little four-petal flowers. A few years ago I discovered a spot where hundreds of these shrubs are planted in orderly rows as far as the eye can see. They remind me of the lavender fields of Provence, only they're a perfect complimentary counterpart. I discovered that it's actually some farmland preservation project for the state, and I'm impressed, no, actually incredulous, that someone working for the government could have planned this, visualized it and implemented it is such beautiful way. People stop all the time to take photographs of the impressive sight. It's on a busy section of 537, heading towards Columbus, NJ. There's no room to pull over, so you take your life in your hands. I plan to go there some time this week, maybe Thursday or Friday. They should be in full bloom by then. It's still a little early and the cold snap doesn't help, but I want to try to catch them when they look their best.
I want to do a painting on site this year. I took some photos last year with my phone. None of them were quite satisfactory. It just doesn't register the magnificence of the view. Yellow is so difficult to get right. I use cadmium yellow, but it never seems to be chromatic enough, especially if I mix it with white. And the difficulty of keeping it clean, i.e., not muddy can, at times, be disheartening. I've tried all sorts of colors to mix for the shadows, but they're usually too warm (yellow). I've tried manganese violet, which just makes the shadows grey. I'll post photos of the painting as it progresses later this week. Meanwhile, here are the best of the photos from last year.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Van Dyck at the Frick

There's an important exhibition of the works of Anthony Van Dyck at the Frick from March 2, 2016 to June 5, 2016, and I suggest that if you live within a 200 mile radius of New York City, you make the pilgrimage to go and see it. You won't be seeing another retrospective like this for a very long time.
Van Dyck is one of my favorite painters. When I was young and first started visiting museums, I was attracted to the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens with his voluptuous, ruby-cheeked women and confident style. But I soon switched my allegiance to Van Dyck, whose sensitive, less idealized portraits were more to my liking. Not to mention his very romantic self portraits.
There's good news if you can't get to the show; you can visit the Frick's website. It's a clear, easy-to-navigate, friendly website, even for people with an irrational fear or aversion to any activity which involves a computer. There's a tour of the entire exhibition called the "Complete Checklist", which is the next best thing to seeing it in person. There are reproductions and descriptions of every work, including his drawings and etchings. It's a virtual Van Dyck treasure trove.
I discovered how to view any exhibition at the Frick - past, present or future, on the website while looking up a sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon I had seen there last year, titled "The Dead Thrush". It's a beautiful life-like  sculpture of a dead songbird hanging by its feet, with one wing breaking out of the borders of the sculpture. It's hanging by a delicate ribbon tied to a nail and the effect is so subtle, it's mesmerizing. It's carved out of marble, of course. When I clicked on the "Complete Checklist" link in the menu in the left hand corner of the page, it brought me to a page where all the pieces are displayed with a description of each work. Unfortunately the exhibition closed last year, so it's no longer possible to see it in person, but the website is a great way to see it if you missed it. If you click on any of the images, it gives you various views, as if you were walking around the sculpture in the gallery.
The link is:
If you browse the website a bit further, you'll find the Van Dyck exhibit as well. It's excellent, so treat yourself!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Drawing Trees

Today I spent a few hours drawing some huge Sycamores in Princeton, NJ. They are massive old trees. Their distinct coloring and gnarled limbs make them extremely challenging. I've been meaning to get out all winter to draw trees without leaves. I figured it would be a good way to study their anatomy. After all, I've spent a lifetime studying animal anatomy. What better way to understand trees than to study their anatomy? This winter has been so balmy and warm, I feel like I should have an entire portfolio of tree drawings, but as spring continues to give winter the bum's rush, I feel an urgency to go out and do it now. It's now or never. The tree pollen count is already very high, which means the buds are bursting on all the trees. So in a week or two, there will be leaves on many of the trees. This, while the pink magnolias are also just beginning to open and the forsythia have yet to show themselves. My quince bushes were blooming in December! Who ever heard of such a thing? The pink and white magnolias are varieties that bloom in early spring, so I know there's going to be another cold snap before too long, regardless of what the weatherman says. It never fails. As soon as the trees are looking magnificent, a cold freeze or late winter snow comes through and kills all the blossoms. It's such a shame. That's why I prefer the Magnolia Virginiana, which blooms in the summer. There's no danger of a cold spell to kill off the flowers and they have a heavier, headier scent than their March cousins.
Getting back to the drawing of trees, drawing them from life is much easier than working from photographs. Unlike horses or dogs, they don't move very much, so there's really no reason to work from photos. I find that photographs can be difficult to "read" sometimes, especially with a subject as complex (to me anyway) as trees. Cast shadows and branches coming straight at you can be impossible to decipher with a bad or unclear photograph, but sitting in front of the tree and working from life allows you to see how the branches grow from the trunk, how they overlap and are foreshortened. I can't help thinking this will help me when painting animals' limbs, as they have the same round form and go in all directions. Drawing from life is absolutely essential to keeping your work fresh and dynamic. There was a time when I used to work from photos so much, I became worried that perhaps I had forgotten how to work from life. Of course, once my subject was in front of me, I remembered how much easier it is to work from life, and how much more exciting. You can't peak around a photograph to see how the form goes or put your hand on the object to better understand its volume or how it occupies space. So my advice to any artist who wants to improve is to work from life as much as possible. Your work will improve more rapidly if you work from life at least three times a week. With animal painting, of course it's more difficult, but there are some excellent techniques to help you with the difficulty of a subject who doesn't stand still, like dogs (and small children).
To illustrate my point, I'm going to show you a drawing of an oak tree I did from life, and a photograph I took of the tree for later reference (in case I wanted to work it up into a painting). The drawing is simple and clear. I was trying to get the general shape and movement. The photograph is very confusing, with its cast shadows and high contrast. Even after adjusting these elements, I don't think I would have arrived at the same drawing if I took the photo and went home to work from it in the studio.

The trunk is the part I worked on from life. As you can see in the photo below, the cast shadows are confusing and make dark "holes" in the forms of the trunk and branches.

In the photo of the Sycamore, there is no bright sunlight and the forms can be seen more clearly because there are no dark cast shadows. However, the dappled effect of the trees colors actually help to define the form and direction of the trunk and branches, making it easier to draw. The "movement" of the tree looks a little static in the photo, and although there are some minor problems with the drawing, it is a pretty little study and worthy the effort.

The movement of the tree in the photo (above) looks a little static.

Although there are some minor problems with the drawing (below),
it's movement and directness make it worth saving.

Lesson Two:
Before the trees get their spring leaves, go out with a sketchbook and pencils and draw a few trees from life. You'll be surprised at the variety of shapes and sizes. It was actually difficult for me to pick "just one". Draw it from one angle, then draw it from another angle if possible. Note the way the branches change their relationship to one another, the way they grow out from the trunk, etc. You'll notice that they never form sharp angles, but rather gentle curves.

If time allows, work up a color study as well. Make sure you have pastels or watercolors in your car at all times so that you can make that quick study if the right tree comes along!

FYI: We'll be doing the same tree in a few weeks, so make a note of your location.

Reading List: The Artistic Anatomy of Trees by Rex Vicat Cole. A little dense, but the first six chapters have some very good advice on the painting and drawing of trees.
Dover paperback edition: ISBN: 0-486-21475-3

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The catalogue of the "Alfred J. Munnings, Images of the Turf and Field" Retrospective at the Wildenstein Gallery on East 64th Street in New York.
It was a Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the Jockey Club Research Foundation and ran from
April 28 - June 3, 1983.

There were 124 paintings and drawings on loan from private collectors and museums. A partial list of the lenders to the exhibition reads like a Who's Who of racing's aristocracy: Mr. Paul Mellon, Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Mr. Ogden Phipps, Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, the Honorable & Mrs. John B. Hannum, E. P. Taylor and Mr. & Mrs. Walter Jeffords.

Unlike today's slick, lavishly printed tomes of auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's, the catalogue has only a handful of color plates. The small, poor (by today's standards) resolution photos only hint at the magnificence of the paintings themselves. There are no sizes given, so one must try to remember (or imagine) their size and scope. For instance, No. 13, "Ned Osborne on 'Grey Tick' " as I recall, was quite massive, but measures a mere 3 1/2" in the catalogue.

 I can still remember how I felt while standing in front of that awe-inspiring painting in the gallery; it was as if I were on the horse in front of him, giving him a backward glance before I rode off down the hill after the field! That's how powerful that image was.

I really hope there will be another exhibition of his work in the United States, but the genre of racing and sporting art has once again fallen out of fashion. Frost & Reed, one of the most highly respected art dealers in London, stopped making their annual pilgrimage to Saratoga Springs in 2004, after 25 years of selling horse pictures there, and now focuses on contemporary art.
There was a retrospective exhibition of Munnings' paintings at the Richard Green Gallery in London in 2012. I came across an article about it by Brian Sewell, the late art critic for the London Evening Standard, while Googling the famous speech Sir Alfred gave at the 1949 Annual Royal Academy Awards dinner where he gave what can only be described as a Donald Trump-style tirade against modern art. He quickly fell out of favor and lived out the rest of his days painting at Castle House, Dedham.
Although Sewell was a controversial figure to say the least, I find his views on Munnings (and modern art/artists, Lucien Freud, Damien Hirsch, et al) run parallel to mine. I'm sure Munnings would have approved as well!
BTW, there's a copy of the Wildenstein's Exhibition Catalogue for sale on eBay at the moment, in case you'd like to browse the pages yourself! It's a great reference source for any artist who likes Munnings.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Fox's Brush

Greetings everyone! This is the official blog of Christine M. Cancelli. The purpose of my blog is to share my experience and knowledge of painting and drawing techniques, and to illustrate how to apply those techniques to painting dynamic pictures of horses, dogs, and other sporting scenes from photos, life and memory.

First, I'd like to give my readers a brief history of my life and career, so they can see how I became an equestrian and sporting artist. I know there are a lot of artists out there, young and old, amateurs and professionals, who grew up dreaming of and drawing pictures of horses. I was certainly one of them. I grew up in South Norwalk, Connecticut, long before it was what is now fashionably known as SONO. I was the second of six children. As a young girl, I longed to ride horses. My parents were solid working class people and with so many mouths to feed, riding lessons were never a consideration! So I daydreamed a lot, read a lot and drew a lot. I discovered the illustrated books of C.W. Anderson, Paul Brown and Sam Savitt, and spent many hours copying their beautiful drawings. Because my parents didn't have the financial means to send me to college, I went to New York City to become "an artist" right after graduating high school. A college education is a valuable experience; if you have the opportunity to go to school, go. The experience will serve you well. But you need something else as well. You need to be passionate about what you're doing, have a certain amount of talent and a lot of self-discipline. I didn't let the lack of a college degree deter me. I alternated working as a commercial artist with painting. I never lost sight of what I wanted to do. I took a year off to tour all the great museums of Europe with my future husband in my early 20's. I took a backpack full of art supplies - pencils, watercolors, sketchbooks and oil paints and a change of clothes. It was a top notch art history course! When I returned to New York, I enrolled at the Art Students League for one year, studying portrait painting in the evening as the monitor for John Howard Sanden. While there, I saw a self-portrait by Irene Hecht at the League's year-end student exhibition, which rekindled my childhood interest in horses. I wanted to be just like her - a painter and a horsewoman! I started riding at Claremont Riding Academy, on 89th Street near Central Park. I eventually bought a horse of my own, started hunting in New Jersey and followed the hunt and race meets. I was still working full time as a graphic artist, which allowed me to pursue my rather expensive "hobby" while gaining invaluable experience and knowledge of my subject - the horse.

In 1983, while working as a freelance artist on 57th Street, I came across a retrospective exhibit of Sir Alfred J. Munnings at the Wildenstein on East 64th Street. It actually changed the course of my life. I'd never seen so many wonderful paintings of horses and riders at one time! I spent my lunch hour studying those magnificent masterpieces every day for a month. When the exhibition closed, I decided that I too, wanted to make a living as a horse painter! I quit my job and started painting racing and foxhunting pictures. I followed the steeplechase hunt meets up and down the East Coast and attended the races in Saratoga Springs, New York. A year later, I was exhibiting at one of the many seasonal galleries that opened there for the summer. I even had my own gallery for six or seven years. I've illustrated a variety of books and articles, painted many horses, hounds and foxes (hence the name, "The Fox's Brush". It means the fox's tail as well as a paint brush). Hundreds of paintings later, here I am, ready to share my knowledge and experiences by writing my first blog. I hope you'll find something inspirational in these writings!
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The first  thing I'd like to do is dispel the notion of "artistic inspiration". To become a good artist, or even a so-so one, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline. Inspiration doesn't strike, it just kind of sneaks up on you. If you devout a few hours to painting every day, your work will improve. If you're lucky enough to find a good teacher to study with, that's even better! However, I was mostly self-taught, and therefore want to devout this blog to teaching anyone who has the desire to learn, how to become a better painter through self study. It's not limited to artists who have experience; this is equally valid for anyone who just dreams of becoming an artist. Reading, working, going to museums and galleries, studying other artists' works and keeping your eyes and mind open will definitely make you a better painter. And so, without further ado, here is my first lesson.
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Lesson 1: I always like to start off my workshops this way. The students have usually traveled some distance, and paid a fee for the workshop. Everyone comes in with art supplies at the ready, perhaps a little nervous, perhaps eager to show off! Whatever their mindset; it's not really important. I'm interested in finding out how observant they are and how attuned they are to the visual world around them, so the first thing I ask my students to do is draw something that visually impressed them on the way to class that morning. From memory of course. I got the idea from a 5th grade substitute teacher, who asked us one snowy day in February many, many years ago, to draw something we saw on the way to school that morning. I was stumped. I couldn't really remember anything very exciting. I settled on making a drawing of a red cardinal against some white snow. I vaguely remembered seeing one fly by the car window as my father drove me to school. The next morning I was looking at everything, trying to see the beauty in the sunrise, the shapes and colors of the houses and people I passed on my way to school. I was ready for that substitute teacher in case he asked us again. But our regular teacher was back, and I never got the chance to ace the "test" that day! I didn't realize until years later what a valuable lesson it was. That teacher taught me to open my eyes and observe the world around me. So, without looking out the window or around the room, I'd like you to draw something you saw this morning. I'd love to know what you come with. Good luck!

And please visit my website: