California Art Club Symposium Day One

Kim Lordier demonstrates how to create a larger pastel landscape from a smaller plein air study

After howling wind and rain last night, today was bright and sunny! I arrived at the Fort Mason Conference Center for the California Art Club’s Winter Art Symposium at 8 am and almost immediately ran into two artist friends, Kathy O’Leary, who also lives in Humboldt County, and ZeeZee Mott, who lives just to the north in Marin County.

The morning program started off with a panel discussion between CAC President Peter Adams, Eric Rhoads from Streamline Publishing and Thomas Reynolds, owner of a gallery of the same name. The topic at hand was “Creating the Future”, which led to a lively discussion of how representational painting got where it is today and how it will move into the future. Educating the public and the next generation about art were high on the list. It made me feel good about the fact that I am now teaching drawing.

Then Eric Rhoads, whose company, Streamline, publishes Fine Art Connoisseur and Plein Air magazine gave an information intensive, fast-moving presentation on “How To Transform Your Art Career”. I’ll be writing up some of what I learned from him in a future post, but he covered everything from deciding what you want out of your art career to mistakes artists make in advertising to landing an art gallery.

Portrait demo from live model by David Gallup

After the lunch break, we all spent the afternoon cycling between three excellent painting demos, offered by Nancy Seamons Crookston (a portrait in oil), David Gallup (three quick studies in oil) and one of my classmates from my art school days, Kim Lordier (landscape in pastel).

Not only was it fun to meet up with Kim again after all these years (we were at the Academy of Art in the Illustration Dept. in the late 1980s), but I also finally met an artist who did animal illustration before he turned to plein air painting and taught a class in animal drawing just a year or so after I graduated, so I had missed my chance to study with Paul Kratter. It was a treat to get to talk with him, both about animal art and the “old days” at the Academy.

BTW- The two images used to illustrate this post were shot with my new iPhone 4S. Since I’ve signed on for iCloud, everything is automatically uploaded via Photostream when the iPhone in on wifi. Photostream then automatically downloads the images to all my devices, including the MacBook Pro I’m writing this post on. Pretty darn cool.

3 Things You Should Know About Marketing Your Art + Some Resources

Fielwork is an important part of my work and it gives me great stories to tell, like getting to sketch this endangered Nene goose on the Big Island of Hawaii. People want to know how and why artists do what they do.

1. Ya gotta have a plan. A marketing plan. The process of creating one will tell you who your potential buyers are and how to reach them. It will also help you sort through all the options, opportunities and possibilities to figure out what makes the most sense for what you do and where you live.

All ready for North Coast Open Studios!

ACTION: Check out Art Biz Coach. Buy the book, take one of the classes, subscribe to her mailings. She knows what she’s talking about.

2. Time to stop whining about how you don’t want to spend time at the computer. Unless you have a Marketing Manager, it’s a hat you have to wear. And the ring you must toss it into is the internet. The good news is that doing so is, in fact, more a matter of time than money.

These days, at the very least, you must have (and use and update as needed):

– A website because you can’t be a professional artist without one and it makes your work globally available 24/7/365

– A Facebook “fan” page because there are over 800 million members who are potential fans

– A LinkedIn account because professional connections count. A lot.

– A newsletter using a service like Constant Contact, which will also be a place to maintain your mailing list. You don’t have a mailing list? See Action item no. !.

Also to put into the mix: a blog (I use WordPress. Lots of artists also use Blogger), Twitter, Google+

My work set-up. Since I use my iMac to view my images, it's also handy for doing quick marketing tasks when I take a break. But I make sure I get my painting time in every week.

ACTION: Come join fellow artist, Becky Joy, and I over at our new Facebook Page “Artist Marketing Tips That Really Work!”. We both use social media for our main marketing activities and we’ll be happy to answer your questions or find someone who can.

3. Believe in yourself. It’s a privilege to be an artist. It’s an amazing feeling of validation when someone buys your work. But you have to keep going- improving and learning no matter what. You need to be able to continue to grow as an artist and nurture your talent. And YOU CAN DO IT!

On location at Torrey Lake during a Susan K. Black Foundation workshop

ACTION: Take a workshop or a class, try a new media, work on something you’ve been stuck on (I’m going to be working on painting water).  I’ve been to the Susan K. Black Foundation annual workshop a number of times and can’t recommend it too highly.

Finally, a lot of people think that artists are magical creatures, kind of like unicorns, and what we do is the result of a gift we’re born with. There’s some truth in that, but working artists know that being the best artist you can be is WORK. The best work in the world.

Inspirations: 2 Great Art Books; Learning From Two Of The Best

Just got both of these in the last couple of weeks and I highly recommend them.

I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Lars Jonsson at the Society of Animal Artist’s 50th Anniversary celebration last year. He is one of the greatest bird artists ever and also one of the nicest people to chat with. I asked him how many birds he has on his life list and he looked down at me (I’m 5’6″ and he’s about 6’8″) and quietly said that he didn’t really keep a list. What a contrast to those who view birdwatching as a blood sport.

This book is a wonderful look at his career and how he works. It should be on the shelf of every artist who has birds as a subject. Since I’m about to embark on paintings of the cranes I’ve seen in Mongolia it only made sense to “consult” with a master. “Lars Jonsson’s Birds-Paintings from a Far Horizon” can purchased here.

This may seem an odd selection coming from an animal artist, but good art is good art no matter what the subject and Drew Struzan is legendary when it comes to his depiction of people and design ability. You’ll see LOTS of familiar faces in this book.

He was a guest lecturer when I was the Academy of Art University (then College) in the late 1980s. He flew up from LA for the day to speak to us illustration students. A couple of weeks before hand, he had sent a big pile of his posters, which were pinned up in display cases on the staircase and in the hallways of the department.

He didn’t talk down to us in any way and addressed us as colleagues in the making, which we really appreciated. I’ve always found him to be an inspiration and am lucky enough to have, many years ago, scored some of his posters from a video shop which was closing.

I’ve started to tackle humans as a subject and I’ve always been in awe of Struzan’s ability to catch the extreme essence of a likeness with impeccable draftsmanship and design.

“Oeuvre” can be purchased here.

Inspirations: Google’s New “Art Project”- Great Art, Up Close And Personal

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh

Kicking back this holiday weekend? Want to visit (virtually) some of the greatest art museums in the world?

Google’s done some really dumb stuff in its time, but with their new Art Project, they’ve brilliantly figured out a way to make great art accessible to everyone in a way never before possible.

Here’s an article over at ArtInfo that explains how.

For artists, while there will never be a substitute for seeing art in the original, Art Project not only provides extremely accurate images (unlike books, posters, postcards, etc., which are always a bit of a disappointment),  it lets you zoom in close, REALLY close. Much closer than you would ever be allowed to get to the real thing. At least until they throw you out.

Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

I can imagine Art Project being very useful for a classic way of studying painting, copying master works. The ability to zoom in and see brush stokes and edges is really terrific. Here’s an example from the Rijksmuseum, the main museum housing the work or Rembrandt. It’s “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”. Or one of my all-time favorite paintings…Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, from the Museum of Modern Art.

Have a great weekend!

5 Books For Animal Artists That Are Not About Animal Art, Just Great Art

To be a well-rounded artist with as much information as possible at one’s disposal, I think it’s important get outside of one’s genre and see what else is out there.

The classic piece of advice is to visit great museums and see masterpieces in the original and I agree with that.

But, seeing a great painting and understanding what one can and maybe, should, learn from it are two different things.

Today I’m going to present two works each from five great artists, none of whom are “animal artists”, although almost all of them included animals in their work at one time or another.

I’m going to offer you a thought or two about how you might explore what I believe the artist has to offer. See what you can think of that uses the ideas in these paintings, but with animal subjects.

First is Roy Anderson, one of the great living painters of Native Americans. These images are from a book “Dream Spinner, The Art of Roy Anderson”, which I found at Settlers West Gallery in Tucson this past March for, can you believe it, $10. They may still have some. I don’t know if they will mail them out, but it can’t hurt to call and ask.

At the back of the book is a whole section on how Mr. Anderson creates his paintings, worth more than twice the price of the book for the excellent advice and information he offers.

Here is a master class in color and value relationships. The painting has three “layers” from front to back. Imagine if this was a herd of wildebeest trudging through the dust of the Serengeti.

This one is similar to the first Roy Anderson painting I saw and which just blew me away. I love the strength of the backgrounds. No fear of color here! How could one vignette an animal with this as an inspiration? I must admit, though, that I’ve thought about how to present a Mongol herder in his traditional garb, using my own ideas of shapes and colors for the background.

Second is Edgar Degas, who was equally accomplished in painting, pastel and sculpture.

What inspires me personally about his work is his revolutionary compositions, in which figures and other elements are “cut-off’ by the edge of the canvas.

If you find your compositions getting a little stale or have realized that you tend to plop your subject in the middle of the canvas, looking through a book of Degas’ work will blast you loose.

Third is Richard Diebenkorn, an abstract painter who scandalized his contemporaries in the 1950s by introducing recognizable figures into his work at a time when that was considered beyond the pale.

How could this composition be adapted to an animal subject? Like Degas, Diebenkorn has used an unconventional placement of his subject, tight against the left edge and facing more or less off the canvas.

All good painting has a solid abstract structure underneath. Robert Bateman, the legendary wildlife artist, started as an abstract painter and then applied that knowledge to his animal art. Here is a Diebenkorn abstract from the 1990s that could inspire a representational composition.

Fourth is Dean Cornwell, known as the Dean of American Illustrators. He trained in mural painting with Frank Brangwyn in England and it shows in his ability to put together panoramic images with lots going on.

The inspiration in this piece is having the foreground and even the main character in shadow, contrasted with the bright, colorful background.

Cornwell’s rich, decorative approach and fantastic draftsmanship have something to offer artists in any genre.

Fifth is Joaquin Sorolla, known for his incredible ability to paint light.

It’s easy to get caught up in what is called “local color”, the inherent color of a subject. This and the next painting illustrate the truth that the color of something depends on the light (and also what the object is next to). We accept that the three ladies in the foreground are wearing white, but there is not a speck of pure white paint on any of their dresses.

How many colors can you count in this “white” dress?

The paintings:

They Sing Towards the Sun  40×72″ oil (detail)

Elk Robe Medicine  36×26″ oil

The Song of the Dog  22 5/8×17 7/8″ gouache and pastel over monotype on paper

The Green Dancer (Dancers on Stage)  26×14 1/4″ pastel and gouache on paper

Coffee 57 1/2x 52 1/4′ oil

Untitled No. 12  38×25″ crayon, graphite and acrylic on paper

Pontius Pilate’s Banquet from The Robe  23×30″ oil

“Ransom”, a Captain Blood story 26×51 1/2″ oil

Bajo el toldo (Zarauz)  39 3/8×45 1/4″  oil

Maria en la Granja  67×33 1/2″  oil

One Way To Know When An Outdoor Painting Is Finished….(You’ll Never Guess)

Notice the little drawing of a plein air painting setup, circa 1914

“But how do I know when it’s finished?”….is one of the many plaintive cries of the painting student.

There are probably almost as many answers as there are painting teachers.

And I think it depends on how far down the road of understanding an artist has gone. I know it has changed for me over the sixteen years that I have been painting.

These days, I have a pretty good idea of what problems I need to solve and how I’m going to do it. Once I have, voila, the painting is done.

However, as students and new painters are battling on many fronts at once, it’s easy to keep going and going and going…..until, well, It’s Dead, Jim.

F. Hopkinson Smith

But, once again, dipping randomly into one of my old art instruction books, this time “Outdoor Sketching” by F. Hopkinson Smith, I find another method, effective but probably not well known. The book is a presentation of four talks that he gave at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1914. Wish I’d been there. This excerpt is from his talk on Composition.

“The requirements are thoughtful and well-studied selection before your brush touches your canvas; a correct knowledge of composition; a definite grasp of the problem of light and dark, or, in other words, mass; a free, sure, and untrammelled rapidity of execution; and, last and by no means least, a realization of what I shall express in one short compact sentence; that it takes two men to paint an outdoor picture: one to do the work and the other to kill him when he has done enough.”

Hopkinson Smith may have written the most interesting and witty book on outdoor sketching that most artists have never heard of. There will be more….

But in the meantime, here are some of his sketches from “Gondola Days”, which is in my personal library. As you will see, he knows whereof he speaks:

Lovely old cover with wonderful typography

Two Exercises For Artists From A Good Old Oil Painting Book

Head studies from a museum visit*

I have a small collection of old books about the practice and techniques of oil painting, watercolor, drawing and sketching. This morning, trying to figure out what to blog about today, I pulled “The Practice of Oil Painting-And of Drawing as Associated with it” by Solomon J. Solomon, R.A. (Royal Academy) off the shelf. I purchased it some years ago in England for the princely sum of six pounds, fifty pence. There is no copyright date, but a portrait of a young girl with short hair suggests that it was published in the 1920s to 1930s.

Opening the book randomly, I found some study advice that is as relevant now as it was then, so thought that I would share it.

It’s from Chapter XII, Hints on Arrangements-Solecisms in Composition:

“We do not get stronger by watching other men lift weights. Nor are weights lifted or pictures composed, either at the beginning or at any time, without effort. Good composition calls for a far higher mental capacity than mere painting (interesting observation), which is in itself difficult enough…

When in the course of your reading you come across a pictorial episode, visualize it and sketch the scene as it strikes you. There are, nowadays, so many beautiful illustrations to be seen (alas, those days are mostly gone); you may well learn, from some of them, how figures are grouped, and how accessories are placed to complete the pictorial arrangement. Such mental notes, added to your unceasing practice, will greatly increase the facility with which you will be enabled to arrange and compose artistically.

When visiting a picture or sculpture gallery, take a sketchbook with you. Your memory will not suffice to recall the results of your analysis of compositions. Study particularly the placing of heads, half and full length portraits and figures, and the main structural lines and colour massed of decorative designs. Mark the arrangement of light and shade (chiaroscuro) in Dutch and Spanish pictures, which have such fine technical qualities, and when anything strikes you as particularly beautiful, draw it, and in drawing it search for the secret of its beauty.”

My main takeaway from the studies above was a greater understanding of what it means to “work from lean to fat” and how many small, subtle touches of tone and color go into painting at the level of a Rembrandt or Hals. This is why it is so critical to see great original art. Reproductions just aren’t the same

From Tiepolo

* The images are from studies that I’ve done myself. All but the first and last were from a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, “Rembrandt, Not Rembrandt”. The Tiepolo was from an incredible show of his preliminary drawings for one of his ceiling “jobs”. I’ve never been able to find a book with more than a couple of ok reproductions of them.

A Visit To The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

I had the opportunity to spend yesterday morning and early afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City before my evening flight home. (I was there for a Society of Animal Artists board meeting and added a little time for other things). My main purpose was to see the Kublai Khan exhibition. He was the grandson of Chinggis Khan, which I hadn’t realized until I started to learn about Mongol history. That will be a Mongolia Monday post at some point.

Afterwards, I wandered through the 19th Century European painting galleries and was reminded once again that there is no substitute for seeing masterpieces in the original. I also noticed quite a few paintings with animal subjects. I didn’t have my Nikon, just my iPhone. So the following images aren’t great, but they will serve to share my favorites.

I didn’t remember to photograph the labels for all of them, I’m sorry to say, but did track down titles and artist for all except one. But it really doesn’t matter who did them. The takeaway is to see and appreciate the great lineage of animal art that those of us who have chosen our fellow creatures as subjects are part of.

Tiger and Cubs- Gerome

Animal art has a long and honorable history in European painting and was not dismissed with the snobbery so many of us encounter today.

detail of horse painting- Bonheur

It is instructive to see how artists of the period, who had tremendous ability as painters in a variety of subject matter, could also do a specialized subject like animals extremely well. That is often not the case today.

Detail, camel

There was one entire room dedicated to European artists who painted North African subjects. Many also traveled to the Middle East. The collective term for them is Orientalists. I should do a post on them sometime since their approach and reaction to what they saw is interesting for any artist who, like myself, is also fortunate enough to journey to distant places.

Before the Audience- Gerome

What IS that black cat doing there? A spy, perhaps?

Friedland detail- Messonier

This is a detail from a massive painting of one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, with a cast of dozens. This horse is around 5″ from top of head to bottom of hoof. Stunning description of action and anatomy. Here’s the whole thing:

Friedland- Meissonier

Since we have a rough collie in the family, I naturally had to have a photo of this one, which has a more old-fashioned shape to the head:

Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon- Zorn

The Met also has a phenomenal collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. The main hall was filled with schoolkids drawing from the marble and bronze figures.

Bronze lions, ancient Greece

If you have access to a museum with animal sculpture, you have a great rainy day opportunity to go sketch animals that will hold still.

Statue of Artemis/Diana

It’s interesting to note how artists interpreted something like the head structure of a deer over 2,000 years ago.

detail of deer's head

I also want to strongly make the point that there is no substitute for seeing great art “live”. Reproductions in books and posters are, at best, rough approximations. The color is probably not accurate. The size certainly isn’t. And size matters. The visual impact of a painting like “Friedland” is due in no small part to its large dimensions: 53.5″ high and 95.5″ wide.

But what I think is missing almost the most is that a painting has a visual texture, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Printing an image of a painting on a flat piece of paper eliminates that aspect completely. As an admittedly dramatic example, here is a Van Gogh. First the whole work. Then a detail shot at an angle that shows how the paint was applied. When he put it on this thickly, the painting almost becomes a live thing.

van Gogh

A painting like this is about more than the image. It’s also about paint as paint.

Inspirations: 10 Great Quotes About Drawing


Tamenaka and wrestling scene, Hokusai


I firmly believe that drawing is the fundamental prerequisite for success in representational painting.  There is no way around it. No excuses to be made if an artist wants to be an excellent, or even simply competent, painter. Good drawing is inextricably linked to good painting.

With that in mind, here are some quotes that I really like about drawing:

In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.
Vincent Van Gogh

The whole essence of good drawing – and of good thinking, perhaps – is to work a subject down to the simplest form possible and still have it believable for what it is meant to be.
Chuck Jones

It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover to your surprise that you have rendered something in its true character.
Camille Pisarro


Portrait of Louis Reiset, Ingres


Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.
Salvador Dali

Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist.
Georges Seurat

Pure drawing is an abstraction. Drawing and colour are not distinct, everything in nature is coloured.
Paul Cezanne


Example sheet, Chuck Jones


A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.
Paul Klee

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.

To draw does not simply mean to reproduce contours; the drawing does not simply consist in the idea: the drawing is even the expression, the interior form, the plan, the model. Look what remains after that! The drawing is three fourths and a half of what constitutes painting. If I had to put a sign over my door [to the atelier], I would write: School of drawing, and I’m certain that I would create painters.


Portraits en Frise, Degas


From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’
– Hokusai, The Drawings of Hokosai