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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Paintings I've Not Done Yet--Flowers

Copyright, Jim Lane
Tulip Tumult, May, Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam
Let me start by saying I'm not great fan of painted flowers. I'm not sure why, perhaps it's simply too easy to obtain, and artfully arrange, the real things. Moreover painted blossoms are, at best, a poor, flat, fragrantless imitation of the real things. Having said that, there's nothing like a few blobs of brightly hued paint, imitating flowers, amid virtually any landscape, to brighten it up and work wonders for both the painting and the eye. I suppose that's why I so often shoot so many flowers whenever I encounter them. Also, it's exceedingly hard to shoot a "bad" picture of flowers. Even the worst such photos I've ever taken, with a little digital editing--cropping, cloning, brightening, lightening, sharpening, and stitching--can often produce some incredibly beautiful results.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Floral Fields, Keukenhof Gardens
Before going further let me confess that I was responsible for taking only one of the photos seen here today (the last one at the bottom). My wife is a great lover of flowers (most of them are). She toured the famous Keukenhof Gardens just outside Amsterdam about four years ago and came back with some glorious images. These are the best, chosen after quite a rigorous "jurying" process to reduce their number to a reasonable level. I believe I toured the northern Netherlands the day these images were taken. That's probably good, or we'd likely have come back from our Baltic cruise with nothing but tulips and daffodils.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Two scenes "stitched" together.
A moment ago, in discussing photo editing, I reeled off a sequence of digital magic tricks of which most such software users are quite adept. Each have dictionary definitions, even as applied to photography, with which most people would be quite familiar. That is, all but one--stitching. Everyone knows what stitching is, of course, but how do you "stitch" digital imagery? Let me make clear, there are no needles or thread involved. With the understanding that "a picture is worth a thousand words," take a look at the photo above. If you haven't already, compare it to the two just above it. That's stitching. In seeing both source photos, it's relatively easy to see where the two were "stitched" even though there's no obvious hard line where they come together. However had you not had the two source photos at hand, the combined scenes would be quite natural, especially translated from the medium of photography to painting.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Tulip Time, Keukenhof Gardens
The real beauty of all this "stitch witchery" is that, IF you choose compatible photos, it's really not all that hard. The stitched image here took me all of five minutes to produce. You'll noticed I've not joined any of the other images on this page, the simple reason being that they were not as compatible (some far from it, in fact). The biggest challenge is maintaining a single scale between the two images (though with a little effort, size and scale can digitally be adjusted). The same applies to color values, though the skill in making these adjustments is often quite a challenge, even for the color eye of a painter. Likewise content and composition play a sizable role in creating stitched images. These two factors may well be far beyond what the image editor can mitigate.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Two-tones, Keukenhof Gardens
Often, the decision to "stitch or not to stitch" comes down to one of composition. It makes no sense to force together two photos, even assuming some degree of compatibility, if the resulting new image isn't essentially more than the sum of its parts. All but two of these images involve tulips yet only the two I used resulted in a more interesting composition of massed curves and colors than they possessed individually.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Monsella and Maxima Lutea, Keukenhof Gardens
Compositionally, there's also the problem that artists tend to like painting on rectangular surfaces. Even in photography, the eye anticipates such rectilinear conformity. However, stitching together images (especially when using more than two) sometimes doesn't conform to this standard. The image may therefore require some degree of cropping, which may or may not defeat the purpose of the whole exercise. Of course, if the artist can make up the deficiency, filling in missing content etc., then putting together three or more photos, while perhaps suffering photographically due to parallax distortion, may still result in a usable source image.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Springtime Spirits, Keukenhof Gardens
Quite apart from stitching, when an artist uses edited images (as all of these are), there comes the decision as to whether the painting colors should be faithful to those in the photos or simply related to them to varying degrees. There's no right or wrong answer to this decision, which used to be easier when color was a matter of chemistry rather than digital variances. Usually the artist would choose his own color interpretation. Today, especially if the artist is the one editing the photos, the great temptation is to keep adjusting the color until a printed or video image satisfies the artist's taste. It comes down to when and where the artist chooses to make such color choices.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Birds of Paradise, western California near Monterey.
We don't think about it a lot, but quite often a pitfall the artist/photographer encounters when faced with a gorgeous gardens setting such as Keukenhof, or when I was at Monet's Giverny, is in not seeing the blossoms for the flowers. The masses of color can nearly overwhelm the senses to the point there comes a need to consciously switch ones point of view from "macro" to "micro." Sure, there are a million flowers, but taken together, they may not be as lovely as a single blossom or two...or three...or four. The Birds of Paradise (above) are an example, though it's highly unlikely you'll ever see a whole field of such avian florals.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Market Day Array, Cavtat, Croatia
And finally, as beautiful as they may be either individually, or when massed, flowers are, after all, merely life's decorations. Sometimes they're architectural adornments. At other times they hang in pots from streetlights or in boxes from windowsills. In other words, the photographer should try to capture them in context, remembering that even the most beautiful decorations of whatever kind, have the potential to become boring, either in photography or painting, after being viewed for as little as a minute or two. The lowly bed of petunias (above), which I found in the resort community of Cavtat, Croatia, may not be much to look at, but the brightly striped market tents in the background would be just as uninteresting as the flowers, one without the other.
As the thirteenth group in this series, like the others, these photos are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographic location. If you have a website, please include the URL. All I ask is that, when finished, you e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Zoo Art

Mandrill in the Jungle, 1909, Henri Rousseau
Copyright, Jim Lane
Everyone's a critic.
The next time you run up against the ages-old malady known as "artists' block" or perhaps "blank page syndrome," a phrase I coined in my book, Art THINK (available at right), try packing up your portable easel, camp stool, and art supplies, then heading out for a day at your local zoo. Or if your not the Plein-air type, just grab your camera and do the same. Although most artists don't think about it much, a zoo is a treasure trove of exciting, exotic, and challenging painting content. One of the most famous wildlife artists in the history of French art, Henri Rousseau, got most of his inspiration for paintings such as Mandrill in the Jungle (above), dating from 1909, from picture postcards, the Paris zoo, and various private menageries. Even a quick look, despite the title, confirms the fact he obviously never visited a jungle.

"Hold real still, someone is drawing us."
What? Not another giraffe!
This one is by Eric Sweet.
I suppose some of the best wildlife artists today do, or have, at least once, visited the jungle environment from which to paint. But, let's face it, most, like Rousseau, haven't. And if they're hung up on painting outdoors, that pretty much leaves zoos as the only affordable choice. Moreover zoo's welcome even rank amateurs brave enough, and dedicated enough, to set up their portable studios where they can sketch and/or paint their modern-day menageries up-close and personal, so to speak. It also turns the artists into a free tourist attraction. With potential buyers watching their every move, the artists may even get a feel for what the animal must endure every day.

Howard, the Brevard Zoo Rhinoceros, Jeanette Drake
When it comes to animals, most artists have their favorites. The only problem revolves around the fact that the list of common favorites is too short and...well, too common. Everyone likes the big cats. Zebras offer a multitude of design possibilities. Likewise, elephants and monkeys are a perennial favorite. Although these are also favorite of buyers, they offer limited possibilities for novelty or exceptional creativity. Next time you visit a zoo, consider painting (or photographing) a rhinoceros. It's not sleek and pretty, but it's also not overexposed or tiresome (above).

"The tower" was never intended as a zoo, and eventually
became quite inadequate (not to mention, smelly). Yet it wasn't

until the 1830 that a new zoo was built in Regent's Park.
It might surprise most people to realize that there's really nothing new about using zoos as a means of studying, drawing, and painting wildlife. What may be the first zoo in modern times dates back to the early 13th century when three boatloads of wild animals arrived from Normandy as a gift to England's King John. We don't know what kind of animals they were but it set something of a precedent. For better or worse, such offerings came to be seen as worthy gifts from one reigning monarch to another. England's Henry III got a lion as a wedding gift in 1235, followed by a polar bear from the King of Norway in 1252. Though quite valuable and much appreciated at the time, the dilemma which arose entailed what to do with the damned things. The king came up with a typically British response, "Lock'em up in the Tower of London." Thus, over the course of the next few centuries, the Tower Royal Menagerie (with all its animal abuse horror stories) came into being.

The Ladies At The Zoo, Rome, 1883, Daniel Hernandez
As artists began frequenting zoos to observe their wildlife subject matter from the safety, comfort, and convenience outside the requisite cages and enclosures, they also came to realize that zoos were ideal places to observe and record human life as well, as seen in Daniel Hernandez's 1883 Ladies at the Zoo (above) as they hurry past the lion's cage only to pause and look back over their shoulders at the beastly king.

Puma at the St. Louis Zoo, Tony Hurt
Beyond that, quite apart from watching all manner of human and animal life, painting or photographing what they see, few artists realize that zoos are ideal places for drawing and painting landscapes. Zoos today, even the smaller ones, are often set amid carefully landscape gardens with colorful artists' attractions such as the waterfall (below) at the St. Louis Zoo. Such easily accessible sites are also idea for painting the same landscape features in different seasons. Some of the larger zoos are, in fact, set inside such city park venues. Thus a day at the zoo becomes a "walk in the park."

Notice the importance of carefully framing landscape shots as seen in the poorly cropped lower photo. The pool at the base is quite as important as the waterfall itself. Compare the two photos in this regard.
As fascinating as zoo animals can be, the artist
should always be aware of human interactions.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Theodore Chasseriau

He Comes Down from Cross, Theodore Chasseriau,
Philippe du Roule Church, one of the artist's last paintings.
It probably doesn't happen so much today as it once did, but a few art schools do still actually "fight" one another to attract outstanding young students to their doors. Today we've institutionalized this struggle with scholarships and it's not so much an overt battle in which a student is caught in the middle between two opposing schools (except in the realm of sports scholarships). Likewise we don't see major art schools today erecting stiff exams involving entry portfolios and actual drawing tests so much as was the case a couple hundred years ago. Today, if you can afford the exorbitant tuition, it's "welcome to your future alma mater." Once designed to keep out the "riff raff" trouble makers, art schools today have long since realized it is precisely this type of students who, in questioning tradition and possibly "shaking thing up" a bit, eventually go on to become major forces of nature in an art world fervidly in search of he "next big thing."
Two self-portraits, two great artists, two opposing styles.
In Paris' Ecole des Beaux Arts during the first half of the 19th-century there were two such "forces of nature" battling one another, though in this case they weren't students but faculty members--Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (pronounced, "Ang") and Eugene Delacroix (pronounced Del-a-qua). Although they were both steeped in the Academic traditions of the all-powerful governmental school of art, they might as well have been two separate schools, so diametrically opposite were they in their painting styles and philosophies. And, they each attracted, and sometimes fought over, a bevy of followers who delighted in their differences. One of these students was a little eleven-year-old boy named Theodore Chasseriau.
The child prodigy student caught in the middle.
Little Theodore was the son of a French colonial government official and his wife, the daughter of a wealthy Haitian plantation owner (both French colonies in the Caribbean at the time). Amid the history of art, it's rather meaningless to talk about child prodigies in that there were so many of them, and so many of the major names we know today could easily fit such a designation. But young Theodore Chasseriau, even as a very young child, showed remarkable aptitude for pencil drawing (pencils were quite new back then). Born in what is now the Dominican Republic in 1819, by the time his parents returned to Paris in 1830, Theodore's talent was such that even, as a preadolescent schoolboy, he easily gained entrance into the Ecole des Beaux Arts, thus being injected into the tempestuous Ingres-Delacroix tug-of-war. And, not surprisingly, being a drawing prodigy, he was immediately captured by the classical "line over color" influence of the Ingres "school."
The Two Sisters, 1843,
Theodore Chasseriau, the artist's
two sisters painted in the
manner of Ingres.
Ingres took a liking to the child, declaring him his "favorite pupil," and the future "Napoleon of Painting." Four years later, when Ingres went off to Rome to head the French Academy there, young Theodore, still in his mid-teens, fell under the influence of the rival forces of Eugene Delacroix, who was an avid colorist of the Romantic style of painting. It's hard to say which man had the greater influence over the budding young artist, but suffice to say Delacroix quickly turned Ingres' favorite draughtsman/boy into a dramatic Ro-manticist. Chassériau's work has sometimes been characterized as an attempt to re-concile the classicism of Ingres with the romanticism of Delacroix. In any case, when the young artist first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1836 (at the age of seventeen), he and was awarded a third-place medal in the category of history painting. By the time Chasseriau travelled to Rome in 1840 as a young man, and was reunited with his former instructor, Ingres did not like what he saw. His bitterness at the direction his former student's work had taking led to a decisive break.

Punishment Of Cain, Theodore Chasseriau
The Toilet of Esther, 1841,
Theodore Chasseriau
Among the chief works of his early maturity are Punishment Of Cain (above), and The Toilette of Esther (left), likely his most famous work, which dates from 1841. Both reveal a very personal ideal in depicting the female nude. Chas-sériau's major religious paintings from these years, Christ on the Mount of Olives (a subject he treated in 1840 and again in 1844) and The Adoration of the Holy Three Kings (below, right), received mixed reviews from the critics.

The Adoration of the Holy
Three Kings,
TTheodore Chasseriau

Two Young Constantine
Jewesses Rocking a Child,
Theodore Chasseriau
In 1846 Chasseriau made his first trip to Algeria. From sketches made on this and subsequent trips he painted such subjects as Two Young Constantine Jewesses Rocking a Child (left) and Head of a young Algerian Jew (bottom). A major late work, The Tepidarium (below) from 1853, depicts a large group of women drying themselves after bathing, in an architectural setting inspired by the artist's trip in 1840 to Pompeii. Chassériau's most monumental work was his decoration of the grand staircase of the Cour des Comptes, begun in 1844 and completed in 1848. This work was heavily damaged in May, 1871, by a fire set during the Commune era. Only fragments could be recovered, which are now preserved in the Louvre.

The Tepidarium, 1853, Theodore Chasseriau
After a period of ill health, exacerbated by his exhausting work on commissions for murals to decorate the Churches of Saint-Roch and Saint-Philippe-du-Roule (top), Theodore Chasseriau died in Paris in 1856 at the age of thirty-seven. Even a prodigy has to pace himself.

Study of a Negro, 1838, Theodore Chasseriau

Head of a young Algerian Jew,
Theodore Chasseriau


Monday, December 5, 2016

Clock Art

In the OMG category we find this masterpiece by
Newtown, Connecticut, artist, Michael Johnston.
The persistence of time?
When I first considered writing about the relationship between clocks and art I quickly realized there were several directions I could go. I could delve into paint-ings involving clocks and time, the most famous of which, Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Mem-ory, has little to do with either. However many other painters have dealt with the "persistence of time," as symbolized first and foremost by clocks. Another ap-proach would be to forget about clocks and just explore the ways and means artists have dealt with time itself. And finally, the ap-proach I've chosen use deals with works of art which double as time pieces--creative clocks. The main reason for this angle is that, thanks to the ready availability and reasonable prices of various clockwork kits today, virtually anyone, artist or otherwise, can unleash his or her creative impulses in creating clock art. It doesn't even take a great deal of skill, mostly just simple imagination. The results range from OMG to "What the hell...?"
Before I go on, let me confess that I've never actually made a clock. I have painted a few and in doing so, dealt with the passage of time; but I've already sidestepped that type of art. Having said that, let me note that virtually no other practical item in our daily lives supports such a broad range of creative possibilities. Whether it's superimposing clock hands over a painting, integrating them into the painting, or incorporating hundreds of possible materials into a work which very often may cross the thin line between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. The result being that which makes clock art such a fascinating endeavor.
Clocks from recycled art materials (photos), and virgin
art materials (tightly rolled strips of colored paper)
Clock art can be divided into two basic categories--that which utilized "virgin" materials and that which recycles what otherwise would be bits of flotsam and jetsam from our "disposable" way of life. And, of course, that's not an "either or" dichotomy. And when we eliminate the dynamic that art must be "beautiful" in favor of simply fascinating, novel, and/or intriguing, the range of possibilities begins to look infinite.
Skeleton clock c. 1860 to c. 1880, London,
John Lancelot Smith & the Clerkenwell Steam Clock Works
Long before artists began to paint clocks, they took to designing and creating clocks; and in the process evolved a whole new aesthetic which we've come to call "skeleton" clocks (above). That is, a time piece, elegant in design and materials, in which there is no attempt to disguise the fascinating workings of the clock, but to, in fact, emphasize them. Of course, this is largely an antique art form from the days when precise and careful winding of the clock (to avoid damaging the spring mechanism) was something of a science, if not an art in itself. Today, there's very little fascination in watching a battery power a tiny electric motor turning hands, or a computer chip lighting LEDs.
London's Big Ben actually refers not to the clock, nor even the
tower housing it, but to the gigantic bell inside which tolls the
time. The tower is officially known as the "Elizabeth Tower."
Strangely, the clock itself doesn't seem to have a name.
The largest clock in the world.
It would seem that the next logical step beyond skeleton clocks came in the realm of scale. Although there are larger ones, the two massive window clocks at the Orsay Museum in Paris personally comes to mind (below). Of course, when we think of gigantic clocks we instantly picture Big Ben in London (above). However, today that iconic British landmark rates as little more than a familiar face as compared to the monster clock the Saudi's have installed overlooking the Grand Mosque in Mecca (left). At an astounding 151 feet in diameter it is more than six times the size of Big Ben. It has four faces and sits some 1750 feet in the air, making it not only the largest clock in the world, but the most elevated one as well. The London bell tower is a mere 316 feet tall. We might term this type of development as "architectural" clocks.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The Orsay clock window with Paris in the background.
Moving another step up in scale has been the popularity of "garden" clocks in which the clock face is tilted slightly toward the viewer with various colorful plants and flowers used to create the numerals around the edge over which the giant mechanical "hands" rotate. In fact, regardless of size, about the only limitation an artist faces in building a clock is to keep the face clear so the hands can rotate unhindered. In painting clocks, on the other hand, as seen in my own The Works (bottom) the endeavor doesn't even abide that limitation.
A symbol of the Geneva watch industry, the famous flower
clock, located at the edge of the Jardin Anglais (English Garden)
since 1955, is a masterpiece of technology and floral art.

DO try this at home--ideas to spark the imagination.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Works, Jim Lane

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Displaying Art for Sale

My DIY display, a compromise of cost, practicality, and appearance.
I used it both inside and outside though it was not ideal for either.
(We hauled about 75 paintings and these eight, zigzagging flats--
 chicken wire covered by white burlap--in a horse trailer.)
For virtually every young artist, art fairs are something of "rite of passage." I used them as my primary marketing outlet for at least twenty years--well past the point I was still a young artist. Whether they're inside at a holiday arts and crafts event or outside in a hot and humid park, they're where artists go to sell art, and perhaps more importantly, where they learn to sell art. It's where they learn what works and what most assuredly doesn't. They learn from personal experience in dealing with might-be buyers and from other, more seasoned, purveyors of creative endeavors. Such shows are where artists come to realize that very often as much thought, money, and effort goes into selling art as in their creating it. And it's also where they learn that the two go hand in hand--you don't create what won't sell, and naturally you don't sell if you don't create.
The gallery in a Columbus, Ohio, mall which handled my work
billed itself as an "Art Outlet." It was definitely second-tier,
but sales were good until the Great Recession hit town.
Key to any success, whether on the art show circuit or in the ritziest high-end gallery is the display of the artist's work. Naturally, there's a great deal of difference between the two but many of the same marketing principles apply. It basically comes down to four factors:

A typical high-end art gallery with movable display panels.
The red is a little unusual but eye-catching.
1. Taking aim at a single market: Even on the art show circuit (sometimes termed a "trade show" at the high end) there are two buyers--those buying for resale and those buying for their personal collection. They expect tastefully restrained displays, perfect lighting, an uncluttered venue, and a low-key approach to selling in which the artists recognizes the nature of his or her client then discretely adjust any sales effort to that buyer's purpose. Individual buyers want quality over quantity (exclusivity) with the price of little consequence. Wholesaler buyers want both with price making all the difference in the world. They're in a tough, dog-eat-dog market.
The best outdoor display money can buy (short of laying down carpet).
2. Taking aim at buyers: If the artist, for instance, paints mostly classic automobiles, the general audience shows and crafts fairs will draw few sales; while at a classic car show the artist might find himself as the "only game in town." Landscapes have a broad appeal. Still-life's, much less so. Nudes (at some shows) may find you setting up your display in a back alley. Choose your shows carefully and display accordingly. Landscapes require large displays, paintings of kittens and puppies, which often sell quickly but at quite modest prices, are usually small, allowing the artist to display a wide variety.
Booth displays designed for designer jewelry.
3. Match your media to your display: Obviously, you wouldn't display jewelry in the same manner as oil paintings or ceramics. But beyond that, your display of watercolors would (or should) differ noticeably from a display of oil paintings. To gain attention, watercolors must be tastefully matted and framed under glass (or Lucite) to be attractive, all of which are fragile, heavy, and expensive. Once a buyer's attention is captured, a "tickler" rack with matted works, Mylar in lieu of glass and frame is sufficient. Oil paintings, (and especially acrylics) depending upon the surface material, are seemingly indestructible as compared to watercolors. A little dirt and moisture, either one fatal to a watercolor, easily wipes off with a paper towel. However, few artists would put canvas paintings in a "tickler" rack. Doing so would scream "trash I can't sell."
An indoor booth display for selling paintings or photos.
4. Decide on a marketing plan and displaying accordingly: Here there are basically three approaches--the rifle, the shotgun, and the hand grenade. With the rifle approach, the artist zero's in on a single type of buyer in terms of price, content, display, and media, then picks them off with sales like a sniper (usually the high-end model). The shotgun approach requires the artist to carry a broad quantity and variety of works, though concentrating on size, media, content, and modest pricing, aiming at Walmart-like quantities and appeal. Quality and eye-catching showpieces remain important, but so is the time invested in each piece to keep costs down. As for the hand grenade, I don't recommend it unless the artist cares little about sales and still less about the incredible effort they demand. He or she simply draws and paints whatever the hell they like, hangs it up for the public to gape at in great quantities as cheaply as possible. Then the artist (figuratively speaking) pulls the pin, watching to see what happens next. As unlikely as it may seem, this approach does actually work, though it's not likely to propel an artist into a major urban art gallery.
An outdoor display booth ideal for selling paintings.
Easels are inexpensive, practical,
and ideal for eye-catching
featured work, but also tend
to add clutter to a display.
An artist can divert his or her time, energy, and money into a do-it-yourself display (many of which, my own included, look exactly like what they are). Or the artist can invest an inordinate amount money into a slick, professional-looking indoor or outdoor displays (they're seldom compat-ible), which either drive up prices or drive down profits (or both), while risking little or no im-provement in sales. The decision is a tough one and cannot be made without regard to the four principles I covered above.

Adapting a display to the
product (lye soap).