Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Farewell to an Era

I know I've been terrible on keeping to my own schedule these past two or so weeks, but I'm in the process of doing a Major Life Shift of the sort that you don't really ever see coming and as such, it sneaks up and bites you on the back of the calf with pointy, stalactite-shaped teeth before you even notice it came in the doggy door with your cat.

I should hurry to say that this isn't an Unpleasant Major Life Shift (UMLS -- I mean, it even sounds bad as an acronym, doesn't it? Like the noise you'd make after licking an ice cream cone and finding out it was seafood flavored). Quite the opposite. Probably the exact opposite, actually, although PMLS sounds a lot like an unpleasant time of month and doesn't fit with the spirit of the thing at all. And I will give you the full details on it later. I just can't yet.

The upshot is this, though. I'm going full-time with my writing for the foreseeable future. I'm going to keep sketching and drawing for my own enjoyment, and to keep learning, and I'll still be offering workshops and doing works for the gallery that represents me in Richmond. I'm actually looking forward to the experimenting.

And I'll be keeping up this blog regularly, still posting several times a week -- probably with sketches most of the time, with only the occasional full colored pencil piece. And there will probably be a lot of silly anecdotal posts of the sort I used to do almost every post.

But that's not the real purpose of this post. This is: I was going to close my commission books for the foreseeable future, but I've decided I'm going to take on just two more and then, unless an act of Congress intervenes, I am not taking on any new portrait commissions for the next two years.

So if you've been dying for a Maggie Stiefvater portrait . . . this is your last chance for the next two years. My e-mail for commissions is here and I'm taking only the first two I get (held with a deposit). And then the books close for two years.

(all images this post copyright Maggie Stiefvater)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May Artist Project -- Group Hug!

I'm revoltingly pleased that some of my blog readers joined in on the May Artist project. Artists I would've never even thought of looking at!

Here are the links to the bloggers who highlighted artists on their blogs. I wish I could show all of the artists here as well, but I'm sticking to the Safely Dead (and Beyond Copyright) artists here.

Gillian McMurray did a post on Franz Marc (his foxes are there at the left -- aren't they just the coolest ever?) I'd seen a sleeping dog piece of his before, but never these foxes.

Meg Lyman did a post on the hilarious and talented Will Bullas -- definitely worth going over and taking a look.

Sheona Hamilton-Grant did a post on Rien Poortvliet, the illustrator of one of my absolute favorite books as a kid -- the Gnomes book (which is sadly now out of print and I'm going to have to scramble to find a copy because I must have it for my two ankle-biters when they get a little older).

Jo Castillo did a wonderful post on a Dangerously Alive artist (as Tania dubbed those who are not Safely Dead), Tom Christopher, who works from life. He has a particularly gorgeous piece on her blog called "Winter Light" that I loved.

Thanks everyone who played along and everyone who's commented on the May Artist Project so far. I've a got a few more artists left to go for May and then I'm doing a fun sketch project for June that Jo's turned me onto (thanks, Jo!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

May Artist #6: Wendy Sutherland

Okay, y'all who have not yet participated in the May Artist Project with me, I'll give you two more days and make it Wednesday that I feature the artists who blogged with me.

Here's the challenge: find an artist (either Safely Dead or a Dangerously Alive one that you've gotten permission to show their works on your blog) who you greatly admire. Study their body of work and jot down why it is that you admire their work and what you'd like to apply to your own.

Sound easy?

That's because it is, especially if you're only doing it once instead of three times a week on dial-up (sorry, did that sound bitter?)

It's a great way to learn and a great way to introduce your readers to new artists.

Okay. That said, today's artist for me is a Dangerously Alive artist, Wendy Sutherland, who kindly gave me permission to show her work on this blog.

Wendy has a huge collection of works on her site, and they're all very unified in style, which is something to strive for in itself, but for me, the pieces of hers that make me want to be her are her tree pieces.

You guys may be scratching your head by now because Wendy's stuff is not my usual fare on this blog, but I love them. And here's why:

  • Spare compositions. Nothing fancy. Horizontal lines, a few values, maybe a hint of color, and the interest of crossing branches to hold our interest.
  • Evocative. Instant mood, baby! Still, cold -- I can feel the bite of the highlands where Wendy lives. This is because of the spare compositions and the stark, unadorned lines of the trees.
  • Simplified/ Stylized. They are undeniable trees, but they're missing the fussy twiddly bits of real nature. These are Art Trees and they can't be bothered with things like branches that don't suit the composition shape, leaves, or even twiglings that get in the way of the piece.
  • Abstract and realistic at once. These would work even if they weren't trees. The shapes alone are appealing, and then we see that they're trees. I read once that even the most effective of realistic compositions can be reduced to a pleasing value pattern at its most basic level . . . I think this very much is true here.
Thanks again, Wendy, for letting me display your art here. And the rest of you, get busy. I want to see a lot of links to artists studied in the comments this time! You have two days! That's forever!

Friday, May 16, 2008

May Artist #5: Elizabeth Nourse

I am completely squirming today with exciting stuff that I can't talk about (yet) but I have to type about to torment you guys. I really wanted to use it and my runny nose as an excuse to get out of doing this blog post tonight so I could hurry up and watch Chocolat to reward myself for being good . . . but I felt the siren song of discipline singing to me.

So here I am, and I'm glad I did, because I found a really interesting (Safely Dead) artist to highlight this time.

Between this artist and Mary Cassatt, you guys are going to think I've gone all soft and that I'll stop calling my children things like "Ankle biters," but never fear, it's not really the sentimental subject matter that drew me to Elizabeth Nourse's work.

Without further ado, here is what drew me to her art and what I would like to steal for my very own:

  • I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with my recent sketching kick, but I've become a real sucker for realistic gesture and pose in my art. And Nourse's work, like Cassatt's, is full of very real and very candidly observed people.
  • Lovely use of values. You guys are probably beginning to see that I tend to like works that are mostly dark punctuated by light, rather than the other way around. Nourse has plenty of dark gloomy works to make me content, but regardless of the predominant value, she uses the value on the opposite end of the scale to point to her focal point.
  • Multiple subjects. Busy, busy, busy. I love works that have multiple subjects and pull it off well. Check out the first painting in the post. Absolutely crawling with children and yet not busy at all. Why? School marm there is the clear focal point and the children, while adorable (and probably smelly) are merely there to play supporting roles.
  • Color. As teens would say, OMG. I love those purples and burgundys offset by light violets and whites. It gives the paintings a certain . . . gravitas.
Makes me glad I'm bringing my sketchbook with me tomorrow.

Links for this artist:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Americans in Paris
Valparaisio Poetry Review
Revolt in the Desert
The Ohio Channel
Biography of Elizabeth Nourse

Monday, May 12, 2008

May Artist #4: Doug Dawson

This week's first artist is unusual because he is not Safely Dead, unlike every other artist that I've highlighted on this blog to this point.* He's quite alive and I was very happy when he gave me permission to display some of his art for this post.

*If you are a Not Safely Dead artist, please don't send me e-mails asking me to look at your work and/ or feature it on my blog. Believe me, you aren't the only one, and believe me too, I'm picky. I won't like it, even if you're good. That's just the way it is.**

**If you are a Safely Dead artist, you may contact me -- only via e-mail -- about your art. Just because e-mails from Undead artists intrigue me.

Anyway, that aside, the artist is Doug Dawson, an American pastel artist whose work I greatly admire. He's represented by Ventana Fine Art, where you can see more of his work.

I am, in a lot of ways, a lot pickier about my Still Alive artists than my Safely Dead ones. I mean, for starters, Still Alive artists are under copyright. I have to go to the trouble of getting permission to display their art and letting at least one other living person know that I seriously admire them, which is bad for my tough-girl image. I definitely need to see some definite quality with a capital KW to make that worth my while. Also, Still Alive artists had all those Safely Dead artists to learn from. They ought to be at least as good, if not better, right?

But Doug Dawson is good enough to make me smile and nod and say "bring on the art." So here it is. He offers numerous workshops which I would gladly give at least one of my wisdom teeth to take. None of them are close to me, however, so I'm forced to do this sort of remote talent-stealing thing I do.

So, without further ado. Things I like about Doug Dawson's work and would like to steal for my very own:

  • Amazing sense of light. I can't remember which was the first image of I saw of Doug's -- it was either "The Church on Alameda" (the first one featured here) or "Doing the Town" (the third one down), but with both of them I just sort of gently picked my jaw from where it had fallen to the floor and thought "I want to do car lights like him."
  • Atmosphere. After I'd gotten over throwing a fit over why my light couldn't look as beautiful as Doug's, I started lusting after his ability to create a mood. Tell me those paintings don't powerfully evoke evening or early night.
  • Detail. Just enough to draw our attention to the focal point, but no more. These are suggestions of shapes. The memory of places. The invocation of a place. Okay, maybe the last one was too corny. But you get the idea. This is stuff more real than photo-realism.
  • Subtlety. Boy, I say that a lot in these May artist posts, don't I? I think it's because it's one of my weak points. I do know that I desperately admire it in Doug's work. Understated colors, limited palette, no crazy showmanship, just silent blowing-you-away with his invisible technique.
Looking at Doug's work now, I think part of what makes his light so convincing is a) no white and b) no black. Sure, he has small details that are either in some of his pieces, but the sky is not nearly as dark as you'd think it would be nor is the light as white as you'd expect.

Instead, we get darkness suggested with cool blues and purples and a hazing out of details, like at twilight, when it sucks to drive because you can't really make out the road signs.

And we get light implied by warm colors waving wildly from the other side of the color wheel. "Hi, I'm yellow-orange! I'm a complementary of blue-purple! Aren't I warm and light and bright?"

When I see Doug's pieces, it makes me want to break out my color wheel and try a limited palette piece with one splash of color from a complementary. Remind me in June when I'm done with all the artists that I wanted to do that. In between him and Mary Cassatt, I'm feeling like pastel artists are taking over my brain.

Thanks to Doug for giving me permission for this post and I hope you guys are enjoying this series as much as I am enjoying researching it. It's making me feel a lot better about being away from my art supplies finishing my novel for my editor.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

May Artist #3

Sorry for the delay, guys! I was at the Woodbridge High School today, having a Q & A with the creative writing students there (hi guys if you're reading! you were great!)

Anyway, today's May Artist is Hubert von Herkomer, a German-born artist who spent most of his career in the late nineteenth century (that's the 1800s for y'all who need number things) painting illustrations and portraits in Britain.

There is a quite a bit of Herkomer imagery available online, but a lot of it requires licensing which Maggies are too lazy to apply for, so I'll direct you to more images at the National Portrait Gallery. And of course, as always, check out the linkage at the very bottom of the post for places to find more info - like bio, where his works currently hang, and where to find prints, etc.

Okay. Onto the fun stuff. I found Hubert von Herkomer on the Museum of Fine of Art Boston's gigantic website. I forgot what I did to find him -- probably I typed in "someone to possibly come close to being worthy of the love I bear in my heart for John Singer Sargent."

Anyway. I love this dude. Not in a "sweep me off my feet and let's have arty pigmented babies" way but in a subtle, "I know how to use dark values and am a Master of Understatement and Gesture" sort of way. I can live with that. I wish I could find more of his work available online, but so far I've just not found anything to rival the John Singer Sargent gallery for any other artist.

Anyway, what do you guys think of his work? Here's what I find interesting and appealing about it:

  • First and foremost, check out his lighting. Regular readers will know how I harp in almost-constant monotone about values and lighting. "Strong light from one side or the other make for the best portrait." That's what Maggies always say. I know, because I am one. Okay. With that in mind, take another look at his lighting. Yeah. He's got that understated, non-directional light thing (no strong shadows) going on and he pulls it off. Yes, I know you guys can show me a bunch of French guys who technically pulled it off in some distant century, but I've not liked any of them. More on why I like Herkomer's lighting below.
  • Because he uses value patterns in an interesting and thoughtful way, even without strong lighting. See the white dresses everywhere? And the pale faces and dark backgrounds? The shapes are interesting without needing strong shadows.
  • And check out his autumnal/ evening palette, perfectly in accordance with his nondirectional light. Lovely, warm, quiet, subtle. Like evening just after the sun has gone behind the trees.
  • Finally, I love his faces. This is where I especially recommend you check out the National Portrait Gallery's link -- he invests every face with such character, without having them busting out in a smile. I feel like I've actually run into these people, and they've given me a wry smile because my skirt's too short, and I now know something about them.
Von Herkomer is another artist that I'm wishing I had time to put into a full length monthly study of him, because I'd like to copy one of his works and steal some of his magic for myself.

Hubert von Herkomer - Wikipedia
Hubert von Herkomer - Art Renewal Center
Lady Lever Art Gallery
National Portrait Gallery

Monday, May 05, 2008

May Artist #2: Louis Comfort Tiffany

Okay, maybe I'm being self-indulgent here by choosing Louis Comfort Tiffany as my second artist to study, because I've known I've loved him for a long time. I can't help it. He was an amazingly versatile artist that, aside from some quite hideous lamps, had an incredible grasp on palette, form, and style. I definitely have stuff I can learn from him.

I had always drooled unabashedly over his stained glass pieces, but I didn't know about his regular paintings until I bought the book Louis Comfort Tiffany by Jacob Baal-Teshuva, which is full of gorgeous photos of both his stained glass windows and his paintings (and also his hideous lamps, but we'll pass over that lightly).

So what is it that draws me to Tiffany's work? Well, man -- first of all, I really encourage everyone to follow the links at the bottom of the post to find out more about his life, because it's really fascinating stuff, and also to see more of his art, because it's impossible to represent it well in just a few pieces here.

Tiffany's work is diverse enough that I could really do two posts: one for his paintings and for his windows, but I'm going to only talk about his stained glass for now.

Why I Like The Works from Tiffany Studios:

  • Clever use of limited palette. One of the things that I find appealing about these windows is that he used an amazing amount of neutral tones and colored grays/ lavenders/ browns so that the color he did use popped out -- or to create a contemplative mood when the "color" of emphasis was pure white.
  • Use of strong, simple compositional design rather than color to create interest.
  • Powerful overall shapes. Stained glass tends towards a certain 2D-ness -- sort of like the layers of 2D cutouts that make scenery on a stage -- and I get the feeling when looking at a Tiffany window that he is embracing that effect and using it to lead me to a very definite focal point.
  • Strong structural elements. By necessity, he has the edges of the windows giving him strong verticals and horizons, but does that faze Louis? Not hardly. He rocks those strong geometrical shapes with diagonals that constantly guide our eyes where they need to go.
  • Recession. I'm not talking about what our economy's doing. I'm talking about how Tiffany pushes those dramatic elements of the composition back by placing bold, intricate shapes in the foreground.
  • Application of color. I love that no color in a Tiffany window is single color. Every petal of every iris is three different shades of purple; every brown is streaked with a green in the same value. Strong, simple compositions marked by insanely detailed glasswork and complex, beautiful colors. Lovely.
  • Idealism. These aren't real places. Well, actually they are. Oyster Bay is, for instance (the top right image). I saw a photograph someone had taken of Oyster Bay from the same angle. Can I tell you it did not look like that window? Tiffany's windows drip with a sort of understated idealism only made tolerable by his beautifully muted palettes.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artcyclopedia Images
Ye Olde Wikipedia
And of course the Tiffany book I mentioned above is really the best I've found for luscious images.

Friday, May 02, 2008

May Artist #1: Mary Cassatt

I'd initially resolved to only study artists that I wasn't already familiar with for my May Artist Project, but I've never formally studied Mary Cassatt since I've started doing art seriously.

I remember, though (warning! childhood reminiscing alert!), that when I was growing up, my mom had a big book of Mary Cassatt's works. One of those huge, glossy affairs with tons of color images. Anyway, I remember sitting on the couch and just reading it again and again (yes, I was a small, strange child). My absolute favorite was Little Girl in a Straw Hat and I used to just stare at that page. I don't know why. Probably a deficiency in some vitamin.

Anyway, I decided today that I wanted to see if Mary Cassatt still held the same fascination for me nowadays and . . . she does. So here she is, and I'm determined to find out why.

Okay. So first, I had to get over just going ooooh I likey when I was looking at the images and find out why I liked them. You know, like a grown up. So, here's why I think I like her work:

  • Colored whites and light colors. Look at how interesting she makes her light colors. For that matter, look at how much of her work is a light color.
  • Wonderful gestural line. These are real people doing real things. Look at how floppy and jointless her kids are, like real kids, and yet have perfect anatomy. I can almost pinch the baby fat and smell the old diapers.
  • Faces. She has great expression in all of her portraits' faces, and yet the eyes are very understated. A lot of them don't even have catchlights. I'm thinking, after looking at them, that the reason she can pull this off is because so much of the personality is expressed in the body language.
  • Colors. I'm a sucker for limited palette and although I don't think I could ever use her springy pastel palette, I like how few colors she uses for each piece.
  • Multiple subjects. She handles multiple subjects effortlessly. Look at that one of the mum and the sister kissing the baby. Three subjects -- not competing for attention a bit. Perfect balance.
  • Composition/ cropping. She has great diagonals. Look at how in so many of her pieces she has diagonal lines drawing your eye through the piece.

Seeing her work makes me want to get out my pencils and do a piece with just 10 pencils. It also makes me want to sketch my kids from life some more. Something with a lot of white . . . I might do a quick study tomorrow to see if I can incorporate that personality in gesture rather than in face.

Here are links for those interested in further study: here, here, and here.