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Archive for August, 2015

tea, milk, honey jpeg

A good teacher of how to make art is not necessarily a particularly outstanding artist.  It’s possible, but basically, a good teacher is someone who knows the mistakes students make and has tried and true methods for correcting them.  The problem is that art schools often hire teachers based on their exhibition record (not, for example, their student’s exhibition record.)   Do not ask to see a teacher’s work.  Ask to see his student’s work, preferably before and after his course — since many already capable artists take courses.   Several of the famous teachers of watercolor would dismally fail this test.

To give a non-art example, which has been extensively studied:   a good teacher of subtraction can instantly recognize the mistakes a young student is making ( like not understanding “carrying”) and can explain how to do it correctly. There are something like 100 possible mistakes while subtracting numbers that a computer might make, but children only routinely make 11 of them.  Good math teachers can spot these and know what to do.

Charles W. Hawthorne who founded the Provincetown art school on Cape Cod as an artist colony and made it famous was one of those great teachers.  He had his students do “starts”, that is begin a painting and then throw it away when it invariably failed.  He knew that spending days trying to rescue a bad painting would be a waste of time.

There are very few such teachers of watercolor who would fit the bill as good teachers.  One of the very best is Marc Taro Holmes from Montreal.   Here is a link to downloads of 4 pamphlets on his Citizen Sketcher web page here .  There’s much more on his website as well worth viewing.  He is mentioned elsewhere in this blog for his perceptive review of Sargent’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (also on his webpage).

I came across an early pamphlet of his called “Tea, Milk, Honey” in which he recommends doing a watercolor in three passes, each with different viscosity.  There’s a lot of obscurity in dealing with the viscosity of watercolor paint, that is how “runny” it is, and when to use a particular viscosity.  Tea is transparent and the intensity of the paint is naturally weak, Milk is opaque with strong color, and Honey is gooey.  I don’t think he mentions that it’s a good idea to mix up the paint on the palette rather than go directly from the pan to the paper — but that should be obvious.  He also gives suggestions of where these different washes should go in this pamphlet.  For example the honey wash is last for selected darks.

He has since developed other approaches to problems.  For example, he suggests to begin with an under-drawing that is basically a scribble. (but see below).  It’s safe to do this because you are going to do a drawing in pen using the scribble as a guide but not copying it exactly, and then, when the ink is dry, erase the underlying scribble.  What is the problem he is trying trainbow trout illustrationo correct?  it prevents the sketch from becoming either a “cartoon” (with closed lines in which there is color) or an “illustration” that is so neat and tight that it excludes any participation of the viewer. When you look at an illustration of something, say a fish, you say to yourself, “That’s what a trout looks like” and “it’s a  picture of a nice trout” not “that’s a beautiful painting.”  In other words, he is going at the outset for a work of art, think of that!

Here’s a nice illustration, well done, but it won’t “hold a wall” like a real work of art.

winslow homer trout jpeg

Here’s one of Winslow Homer’s trout picture from his Adirondack days.

By the way, Marc Taro Holmes has taken to suggesting working without a pencil scribble underneath and going straight to pen.  He also has dispensed with the third pass putting in darks in ink because he feels he can add the values with watercolor. (See his blog).  This way you will have more failures, but the keepers will be better.

There will be soon two video lesson on the platform called “Craftsy” by Holmes.  From his website, you can enroll at a discount in the first one.  One of the really nice things about Craftsy’s videos is that you can listen to them at 1.5or 2x the speed.  That is, the person speaks faster without the pitch of the voice becoming squeaky.  You can also jump back an interval of time quickly if you missed something.

If you check out Craftsy, look for Shari Blaukopf (also from Montreal) who is also a watercolorist with a very good video.  Her blog is here  She and Marc Taro Holmes are friends apparently, but do very different work.  She tries to post a painting a day on her blog.  Her teaching style is different but very useful to watch her paint on Craftsy.

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The Met has a new exhibit, theoretically of Sargent’s portraits of his friends and fellow artists.  But they have a small room with what looks like their entire holdings of his watercolors which are not related to the theme.  They must have been left with an extra room.  But, first, here’s his  oil portrait of Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, one of the oddest artist’s name.  I’ve explained how he happened to have changed his last name to the same as his middle name elsewhere in this blog.  He was a playboy and amateur watercolorist who did very fast, super-juicy watercolors whom Sargent encouraged to exhibit.

 

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And here’s a oil sketch of his friend, Ramon Subercaseau, sketching in a Venitian gondola in 1880 which shows how long it’s been hard to juggled watercolor stuff when working outside.

Ramon Subercaseaux 1880

What startled me was that the Met has a whole series of watercolors of male nudes, including a lot of the “Tommy” painting done of World War II English soldiers who were nicknamed that and some nudes from Florida.

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tommys

and some others

 

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As Marc Taro Holmes pointed out in his perceptive review of the Brooklyn Museum and Boston Museum of Fine Arts show of their holdings of Sargent watercolors, Sargent’s technique was often to use the same approach he used with oils, instead of starting with the lights and proceeding to the darks, he would do the mid tones in watercolor and use gouache for the lights, perfectly acceptable in his day.  In fact, Winslow Homer started this way, but caught on to the prevailing preference for pure watercolors.   Sargent’s famous bravura brush technique is still somewhat evident, but Homer was taught by LaFarge how the Japanese used their watercolor in a much more watery or juicy way.  Also Sargent uses the same palette for all his watercolors.  Nothing wrong with this when you’re making them for yourself — as Sargent was — but, when they are hung all together in a gallery it is quite evident and too repetitive.  As often suggested, if you are painting for a show, don’t use the same palette for all the pictures you are going to hang.

By the way, it was not a frivolous change when the public wanted paintings only done with watercolor.  As LaFrage taught Homer, it is a completely different Asian-inspired aesthetic.

The old oil portraits of Sargent’s friends on display are often disappointing, incidently. Granted they were quickly done and he had the license to be “experimental”, but a lot of them are washed out and the edges all similar and indistinct — somewhat like what an over-cleaned Renaissance painting looks like.  One of them would be unacceptable at the school at which I teach.  On the other hand, they have hung some really great ones like of Wertheimer.  Altogether the ones that were given away are a textbook lesson in what little you can do to convey a form or object.  One has to remember that his theory was that there was one place in the paint which he called “the effect” where the eye is drawn by a sharp contrast of color or value. (In big paintings I think he would admit to a few such “effects.”  The rest was played down.)

At the beginning of the exhibition, there are some easel paintings that are small and hung at eye level which allows you to really look at how he drew the face, particularly the eyes.  (Sargent like Velasquesz and Carolas Duran, his teacher, didn’t use an underdrawing, but “found the drawing while painting”). These small sketches are so differently displayed from the big monsters that are hung very high so your eye is often at the level of the feet.   These are very valuable along with the charcoal drawings he insisted on doing instead of oils at the end of his career ,  make the exhibition really valuable for the artist — as I suppose his really bad paintings do too as well (we all should throw out a certain percentage of what we do.)

 

 

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