Friday, July 31, 2009

A brief aside this morning: a few comments on creativity and education and how, often, the two do not go hand in hand.

I just watched a twenty minute video suggested to me by a young art student with whom I am working. The video is part of the 2006 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) annual conference on 'ideas worth spreading'. These particular comments by the respected British visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken Robinson, are his thoughts about creativity and education. Quite entertaining in their presentation, his words rang very true in my ears.

When it comes to encouraging the innate creativity that I believe we are all born with, sometimes a school room, to my way of thinking and apparently that of Sir Ken as well, is not the best environment to foster and nurture the continuing development of those leanings.

I have often been asked by people at art shows, gallery events, lectures and casual social occasions, how they might best encourage a child who they see as maybe having some sort of artistic talent. My response has always been the same - let them 'DO'! Let them draw or paint or sculpt or putter wherever and whenever. Forget the coloring books, with their pre-dictated enclosed boundaries. Forget setting limitations on what they might draw or paint or form. Supply them with the basic things, blank sheets of paper or a pocket sketch book and let them do whatever comes into their mind.

When I was in college studying for my teaching degree, I had to intern over several sessions at a couple of different schools under the supervision of the in house teachers. I recall a number of incidents when I was just stupefied at the totally adult directed, non-child based level of teacher control over what were supposed to be creative happenings; in essence, 'here is your paper, here is the elephant I want you to draw, here are the colors to use on 'your' drawing'.

It did not take me long to realize that many of those 5 year olds were quite frustrated at their having to follow the dictates of what everyone else in the room was supposed to be doing. It hurt me to watch this.

When it came time for my first venture into leading an extended classroom art activity, I recall, just before Thanksgiving that one year, bringing into class a huge cardboard box, filled with all sorts of scraps of cloth, paper, cutouts from magazines, markers, lengths of string and fuzzy pipe cleaners and strips of rubber and all sorts of goodies. I also had a very roughly formed styrofoam shape that resembled a turkey's body enough that the kids knew what it was. After dumping out all the contents of the box, and placing the turkey shape in the middle of the table, I said to the somewhat astonished group of children, something on the order of, 'Tom the Turkey needs a good dressing. See what you can do in the next twenty minutes. You can use anything on the table or if you have something else in the room that you would like to use, go for it!'

The children just sat there for what seemed to be agonizing minutes, not moving, with very puzzled looks on their faces. It became apparent to me that they were still waiting for 'direction' and what to do and how to do it. That hurt.

Ultimately, after I had picked up a piece or two of cloth and paper and sort of dashed them around the form of the turkey body and made what I hoped were non-leading suggestions of how they might begin, several of the children began to grab up items and talk to one another about what they could do with them. As I watched from the corner of the room, seated next to the classroom teacher who kept whispering into my ear that 'they will never get it', the children began to get into the swing of it. By the end of that twenty minute session, there sat on the table a rather jaunty, colorful turkey surrounded by very proud and smiling faces. Sure it was a big mess, but what was more important was the fact that no adult had really told them how to do it and left it completely up to them what to use, how to use it and where to put it.

At the end of that day's classroom, several of the children came up to me as they were putting on their coats and asked when they might do 'that' again. It was very gratifying to me to see that there was still that spark of creativity within them and had not yet, been totally taught out.

I do believe that children can sit in a classroom and learn some basic fundamentals when it comes to being an artist, but if they want to educate themselves and allow their innate creative talents to flow, the best route is by doing; by sketching when and wherever they can, by challenging themselves and being told that it is OK to try and fail sometimes and to be able to move on to the next trial without fear of failure, by letting themselves follow whatever course of discovery they might choose at any given moment and not be stifled.

Of my many art school teachers, as I have discussed recently with that young art student with whom I am currently working, there are several who stand out in my memory as ones that fostered my own, personal creative level, who set up situations and assignments in ways that left me in total command of how and what to do always knowing that they were there to offer input and help to resolve issues, when asked. But, they were in the minority for sure, and of the others who made any impression on me at all, I only remember the angst they caused me, or the fear they instilled in me at the time of imminent failure or the idea of never being able to attain their goals.

Creativity needs room to breath, sources to feed upon, a nurturing environment in which to grow, access to an entire world of possibilities, but it can be subdued and defeated, stifled and deadened when these windows of fresh air are shuttered and fogged over .


I have dived right into this one and the water's fine!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Got up this morning, made my tea, ate my Cheerios and began to mull over the possibilities for the next piece to be started on the board. I need a second work for the same show that I just did the last piece for; something with a New England theme once again. I had three ways to go, two of which were once again, very rocky! After much thought, I decided that I had had enough of rocks for a bit and decided that maybe it was time to play in the water. So, here goes!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A note or two, today, on the just completed work and some thoughts on the placement of objects on the center line in a work of art. As noted in a comment posted to the last entry, I was questioned about my choice of placement of the large boulder at the center of the work and how it might be justified in light of the often thought 'rule' to not place a subject at the center of an image. Here then, is a discussion of my reasoning for doing this and how I believe it works within the totality of my composition.

As I have spoken of many times before, utilization of the traditional elements and forms of composition play a very large part in my approach to what I do. I tend to spend a great deal of time in the preliminary stages of thought, idea, formulation and the working out of placement of all the components of that idea. In recent conversation with a young art student, I spoke of the fun I have in doing all this preliminary work and in finding a reasonable balance to the overall composition. In the course of that conversation, I pulled out some art books and randomly picked out a number of images of both well known and not-so-well known paintings that illustrated many of these historically well used forms of composition; one of those forms being triangular construction - the placement of all the major components within a triangular shape, usually centered within the confines of the edges of the canvas or paper.

In essence, what I have tried to do in this last work was to formulate an interesting arrangement of components in a very horizontally stretched out triangle, all centered on that one, large central boulder.

Before talking about my personal intentions and concept of the use of this traditional form of composition, let us look at some very good examples from across many time frames and use by many different artists through the centuries.

A very common practice in the early religious paintings of several hundred years ago was to place the dominant subject at the heart or center of a work and have all the other elements of the work direct the viewers eye inward to that central dominance. As seen below in the famous work by Sandro Botticelli, The Adoration of the Magi, this central dominance and focal point is very obvious, and in addition, you can easily see a very strong triangular shape to the composition.

Below that, Da Vinci's Last Supper also shows this traditional approach to high advantage.

As we move forward a bit in time, Rembrandt made substantial use of that central focal point in his famous Night Watch. There is a great deal going on in the work, but the main point of entry into the work is very strongly directed to the central figure, around which all the other activity revolves. He also intentionally moves our eye around through the well thought out use of light and shadow and gesture of the figures.

Georges Seurat, who agonized over balance and placement in this famous and well loved work, places that red umbrella and its owner dead smack on the center line of his canvas and pulls us into the work through that compositional device, but all else around it, as in the Rembrandt work above, gives such overall balance and interest to the work, that we are not initially aware of it being on center.

In this gorgeous, light, delicate yet commanding work above, by Winslow Homer, everything revolves around the subtle clutch of the two figures which again, occurs directly on the center split of the space.

Vermeer, in the following two examples of his mastery of composition, places his figures on the center line and balances the rest of the work through his use of light and shadow and placement of secondary objects, positive and negative spacial relationships and with a very firm use of triangular form.

Now, see how Albert Ryder mirrored what Vermeer did in this elegant nocturne, centering his main subject yet balancing the work by placement of the moon, which acts as a wonderful reminder of the natural light that pours through Vermeer's windows.

The next two works, the first by Wyeth and the second by Fragonard, are rather straight forward portraits, but both built with added interest by adjunct compositional components; the window in the Wyeth (strangely mirroring those Vermeer windows) and the luxurious appointments of the costume of Fragonard's seated reader and the chair she sits on. Again, both subjects are dead center, but the additional elements of the compositions help to lessen the intensity of their central positions.

In the following famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, another rather straight forward portrait, though Washington himself is just slightly off center line to the left, when taken in total with the figure just behind him holding the flag, they act as a single unit which is indeed, upon the center line of the work. And in the work below Washington, by Courbett, his famous Painter's Studio, all the action revolves around the central seated figure of the artist at work, the secondary characters, as in Rembrandt, support the dominance of the central focus as well as add further interest and movement to the work.

Below, in what is probably Velasquez's most well known painting, again we see the central subject positioned directly on the center line with all the secondary subjects revolving around her, bringing added focus to her as well as giving the eye of the viewer many points of movement throughout the work.

And one final example, this diagrammatic of a still life by Cezanne, we see he has positioned his main subject focus of the objects on the table directly on the center line, making strong use of the triangular form of composition.

So, why did I put that boulder right on the center line . . . it acts as the cue that brings the viewer into the work and when thought of, in conjunction with the other large boulder to the right and all the intervening tumble of rocks between the two, as a singular unit, as I have described in the middle sketch below, that entire unit shifts the weight off the center line and to the right. In so doing, I hope I have created a path for the viewer's eye to continue to move (as indicated in the bottom sketch below) from that center point, around to the right to the other large boulder and then up along the line of the tree and around to the two deer standing upright and looking out at us, on to the third deer, bent down and moving downward into the rock on the hillside in front of it and then back to the point where it all began . . . forming a continuous oval loop of interest in the work. The overall form of the composition takes on that of an elongated and stretched out triangle.

In the end then, placing something on the center line of an image is not a bad thing in itself, as long as it is handled carefully and the rest of the work has a well balanced level of interest. It does take some thought and work but, as I hope the examples above have shown, it can make for an interesting composition.

** An Afterthought after posting this earlier this morning **

Granted, spot on center positioning of an object may not be the most creative use of a particular space, especially when dealing, as I like to do, with elongated horizontal boundaries, but as I indicated earlier, it is a viable and well tested/worn compositional device when handled well. Since I feel that the major subject matter of my recently completed work was those three deer that one finally stumbles upon after, I hope, following the oval movement I tried to establish between the rocks and tree and all, having that large boulder on the center line is not truly, then, the major subject of that particular work; in my way of thinking, it is only the entry point for your eye to come into the work and then move, as I said earlier, around to ultimately find the subject. Unlike some of the examples I used this morning, where the major subject might have been that central 'object', I hope that my little twist on 'a theme' might add a bit of surprise and give the 'ah ha!' moment that I sometimes enjoy working into a piece.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I had to take a last look, today, to make sure I felt this piece was done when I left the drawing board last night and with a few final flourishes and 2B strokes here and there this afternoon, I will sign my name momentarily and feel pleased with the results of the last two week's work. The piece is 7"x 24".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

That elusive light at the end of that proverbial tunnel is finally in sight and this work will be coming to its conclusion in the next day or so. At this point, in addition to finalizing the squiggles and noodles and dots and dits in the background trees, I am over layering here and there to deepen shadows, strengthen minor details, move things foreword and back and generally 'cleaning up'. There is also the matter of a couple of surprised deer to take care of and then this piece will be ready for framing. I hope to finish by the end of this weekend as it is time to be moving on to the next work and the deadline on this one is rapidly approaching. It's been a 'rocky road'!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Before I sit down to the drawing board today, I wanted to post the piece as it is up to now. Been busy with other things the last few days, so sorry to not have much to show, though I was able to squeeze in several hours of work before this morning. It's the background hillside now and getting it all to recede. So . . . here is what it looks like now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This past weekend, notwithstanding it being a weekend and knowing full well that the ocean front beach would be jam packed with sun worshipers, I headed down to Chincoteague National Refuge. A bit over two and a half hours from home, it was worth the trip! What a marvelous day of photography. I'd never been to Chincoteague in the summer time before and had no idea of what to expect. As I said, I did expect long lines of cars and lots of people enjoying a gorgeous mid July day at the ocean front, but was pleasantly surprised at the abundance of bird life I found there. Plenty of reference material was had. Following are just some of what was seen and enjoyed. I've left out the seemingly endless line of cars waiting for parking at the beach. Fortunately, I just pulled over to the side of the road and had a front row seat for all the bird activity I could stand . . . and then some!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Before I begin work today, I wanted to post this shot of the work as it stood late last night. I am now working the foreground, detailing what needs detailing, sharpening up shadows and separations between rocks, softening grey tones as the rocks recede into the distance to add depth and other sundry stuff! I have 'framed' the image today as at a certain point in the process, I begin to do just that on the drawing board, frame the image so I can focus on the work and not be distracted by the unworked edges of the Bristol Board or other parts of the drawing table surface. This enables me to see the image more clearly and to be able to pick out spots that need work. I accomplish this by keeping several lengths of scrap mat board on the corner of my drawing table. These lengths are about 3" in width and vary in length from about 16" to 24". By lining them up over the drawing to match established corner points and overlapping the two lengths of mat at a perpendicular, I can see what the image will look like once completed and matted or framed out, thus bringing everything in the work to that point into a much sharper focus. I know many painter friends who will do the same thing with an incomplete canvas . . . they will drop it into a frame just so they can focus more on the work itself and not be distracted by what is going on around it. It is uncanny how much sharper everything appears when you do something like this in mid stream on a work. Try it!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Digging into the background now in earnest. And tightening up the foreground as I go . . . 'merrily I rock along, rock along, rock along . . . '

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today's bit of work . . . continuing to layer and deepen tones, starting to pick out some background details while keeping them soft and fuzzy for distance and I hope you can finally see the outlines of three deer who have wondered into the scene. You never know who is going to show up!

I've switched from color shots on the drawing board now to grey scale as I think the tonal values show up better this way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Other doings this past weekend, including the reception at McBride Gallery, but did manage to squeeze in a few hours on the drawing board. So, here is the fourth installment on the current work. Beginning to deepen the darks and add the strong shadows in the foreground that are going to give a feeling of depth to the finished drawing. Some little four footed friends now showing up!

Friday, July 10, 2009

And, here we are at the third installment of the current work. Still lots of toning going on as well as some tightening up of separations between foreground and background. I wonder if any astute observer can see another couple of those 'mid-stream alterations' to the original plan? Just some minor changes, but ones that I think will go a long way to contributing to the overall final cohesive and more directed composition.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Somewhere along the Maine coast, part 2.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The beginnings of a new work on the drawing board. This will be the first of two new works for a fall juried show with New England matter as the theme. At this point all I am doing is laying in tonal values across the entire work (24" in width) to establish balance of values. I guess you would say I am toning the 'canvas' just as a painter might do in prep to begin to add 'color'. You also should be able to determine that this work is going to 'flow' in a different manner from the one just completed last week of the gourds. How I work a piece, as I have always said, is determined by the work at hand, its composition, its subject placement and importance, and the overall values and focus.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

McBride Gallery's 2009 Summer Salon Show
I'm quite pleased to announce that I currently have a number of works at McBride Gallery in Annapolis as a special invited guest artist for their 2009 'Summer Salon Show'. The showing will spotlight the works of over a dozen artists and is hanging, on view now through the end of July. There will be an Artists' Reception next Sunday, July 12th, from 1 to 3 PM.

McBride Gallery is located at 215 Main Street in historic Annapolis, at the top of Main Street just next to the Maryland Hotel. If visiting the area over the next few weeks, stop in to see some fine art work.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

As I have made mention to during the last several days, I have been involved, on and off for over a week, in a pretty major project . . . digitizing (is there such a term?) my complete slide film library. I had noticed recently when going through some images of a trip to Europe back in the summer of 1966, seeking some interesting material for possible upcoming drawings, that a number of these 40 plus year old slides had begun to deteriorate and mold was actually growing on a number of them. As I did not want to just lose all this valuable information, I decided to begin to make digital images of everything and save to disc so I would have a good future record of all this great material, some of which I have not reviewed for 25 years or more.

As the days have passed, I have been transported back to, among many other places, my first three trips to Africa, that wonderful summer of '66 touring Europe for two months, several trips through the Canadian Rockies and along the coast of British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and on down the coast to northern California, and the American Southwest.

As I mentioned above, it is surely at least 25 years since I have looked at any of my film from a 1970 trip to the Grand Canyon. I know it has been said many times before and many, many times by people whose words are far more singular than mine, but that place is overpowering, inspirational and just takes the breath away.

I had forgotten, till reviewing these Kodachrome memories, just how much a few days spent wondering the canyon edge and one spectacular day hike down to Plateau Point on the Bright Angel Trail left me with so many wonderful images; images that now flood my brain and have quite amazingly brought me back to the feel of the place, the incredible quiet and memory of what it was like to sit out on the south rim on three consecutive evenings to watch the sun slowly disappear in the west as a rainbow of color moved back across the shear walls of the canyon, vibrating in shades of orange and rust and mauve and deep purple.

Many years ago, I did two works with reference made to the Canyon and my time there, but it has been decades since I last even thought about making use of any of those images. During the couple of hours that it took to turn these slides into digital images, any number of ideas hit me and I singled out quite a few of those images to set aside and look at again to see if the spark can kindle some interesting compositional idea. But even if nothing develops in the way of an idea or two for a drawing, just having had this wonderful chance to relive that week in the southwest has left me smiling.

One thing is for certain . . . the Grand Canyon is a place that everyone should behold and experience at least once in their life. See for yourself . . .