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Monday, November 23, 2015

Training and Use of Visual Memory, Deborah Paris TRAC 2015

Morning Light Deborah Paris
24 x 30 inches
As mentioned, I learned much from Deborah Paris's presentation at TRAC earlier this month:
In her presentation, Paris reminded us of how memory works and how memory training was once considered a significant part of training for artists. Her presentation reinforced the importance of memory in loosening the contemporary reliance on photography as a reference tool and showed how memory provides a bridge to working from imagination.

The memory training method described by Paris is a logical extension of training made known by Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran along with new, contemporary techniques developed by Paris.

In a nutshell (and as I remember it), the basic steps in this training, when working from a master drawing for example, are as follows:

   The big stare - at least 10 minutes of focused observation

   Describe what is observed to another person (or yourself) and/or write about the observation

   Make an air drawing - trace the contours of the subject in the air with your pencil, brush, or finger. 

   Make a drawing based on the memory and compare it to the original. 

   Repeat the process to strengthen and develop observation and memory skills.

It may seem odd that writing about an observation or verbally describing it to someone would help, until you remember that memory works by association. The stronger the associations the more quickly and fully a memory can be retrieved. Associations can be formed from a variety of sensory and cerebral input. In training for a massage therapy license, a group of us had heard that scent aids recall. We agreed together to use peppermint, and so studied and memorized with peppermint oil and we all wore peppermint oil to our final exam.

George Innes
Other training methods include removing oneself further and further from the subject, in both time and space. A friend who long ago attended the School of Visual Arts recalls drawing classes where the model would be on one floor and the easels on another. One either sharpened memory skills or got more of a workout than bargained for.

Nocturne James Abbott McNeill Whistler
You can see how useful this training can be when you want to work from imagination, or consider the many subjects that do not easily lend themselves to a photographic reference, such as the magical hours of dawn and dusk or the constantly changing clouds and ocean, or the night sky, or stars, comets, lightning, and volcanoes.

I've just touched the surface of Deborah Paris's presentation, and the subject of memory training in general. Fortunately, I understand that her paper will be published at some point. Keep your eye on Field Notes  - Paris's teaching blog - for a two part post on her memory paper coming up in the near future.

In the meantime here are more resources:

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran's book is available online here:
The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist

Memory Drawing 2 Stapleton Kearns

Memory Drawing Techniques  Carol Allison

Deborah Paris's offering of online classes and field and studio workshops can be found here:
Deborah Paris, The Landscape Atelier classes and workshops.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Implied Narrative, Joshua Risner From TRAC 2015

As I mentioned earlier I got much from Joshua Risner's presentation, Understanding Representational Narrative Painting as Implied Narrative. He succinctly laid out historical definitions of what narrative is and why it is important, how ideas have shifted, and then explained how much painting is not narrative, but is actually implied narrative.

I've an interest in story telling strengthened by years of working in the visual effects for film business. One of the challenges of visual effects design and animation comes when handed a concept painting often depicting a culminating moment of a story, while asked to figure out/choreograph how the visual effects would support or move through a scene. This adds quite a new dimension to a highly technical job. A specific example that comes to mind is John Milius asking for animation around Conan in a rather long scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-umABjuNHo . His visual reference was Frank Frazetta.

In live action this is the domain of a team of actors, extras, directors, and choreographers. Storyboards help film makers pre-visualize their narrative. Storyboards, comic books, graphic novels and movies are usually narratives. On how this differs from an implied narrative, read on.

Some key points on what makes a narrative:

A narrative demonstrates cause and effect
A narrative shows how cause and effect are connected
A narrative moves through time
A narrative has a definite conclusion

Difference between implied narrative and narrative:

Implied narrative does not suggest a conclusion
Implied narrative allows viewers a more open ended perception
Implied narrative reinforces paintings inability to depict more than a single moment, instead lies somewhere between the spark and the outcome

"Unlike a book or a movie, a painting can only represent a static moment because it does not unfold over time."

Paul Barolsky makes case in his article that There is No Such thing as Narrative Art.

This difference is actually a strength in painting, not a weakness,
"Implied narratives emphasize potentiality which promotes free thinking, imagination and creativity."

So, if anyone is keeping score, it seems a picture is still worth a thousand words. Perhaps many more.*

To learn more about Joshua Risner and his painting visit his website:

Joshua Risner's paper Ethics of Implies Narrative Art  can be found on his page and covers the subject in much greater depth.

*To the writers whose evocative words conjure incredible visions and feelings - you know I don't mean you.

Monday, November 09, 2015

15 of the Best Quotes About Art

Study of a Tree Vincent van Gogh
"I am always doing what I can't do yet in order to learn how to do it." Vincent van Gogh, to Anthon Rappard, August 1885

"The things that go into making a painting—the scale of the canvas, the shape of the rectangle, the texture of the surface, the length and force of the brushstroke, the selection of colors—all those things are connected to the painter at the deepest level, the way he or she orders the world. " - Eric Fischl and Michael Stone, Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas 

"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun." - Pablo Picasso

Horse Bath Odd Nerdrum
"Light is good for the body, darkness is good for thought. Dusk is where they meet."  - Odd Nerdrum

“Don't worry about your originality. You couldn't get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.” - Robert Henri
"What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak to the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind." - Carl Jung

Seashore in Moonlight Caspar David Friedrich
"The artist's feeling is his law" - Caspar David Friedrich

"The reason people are so moved by art and why artists tend to take it all so seriously is that if they are real and true they come to the painting with everything they know and feel and love, and all the things they don’t know, and some of the things they hope, and they are honest about them all and put them on the canvas. What can be more serious? What more really can be at stake except life itself, which is why maybe artists are always equating the two and driving everybody crazy by insisting that art is life. Well. Cut us some slack. It’s harder work than one might imagine, and riskier, and takes a very special and dear kind of mad person. " - Peter Heller, The Painter: A novel

Red Rust Hills Georgia O'Keeffe
"Making your unknowns know is the important thing." - Georgia O'Keeffe

Spring Andrew Wyeth
"I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious." - Andrew Wyeth

The Goldfinch Carel Fabritius
“An individual heart-shock. Your dream, Welty’s dream, Vermeer’s dream. You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you." - Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch  

"Any great work of art revives and re-adapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world." - Leonard Bernstein 

Self Portrait as a Young Man Rembrandt
"Without atmosphere a painting is nothing." - Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn

"That is what perfect painting is: neither entirely dull water and stone, nor weightless representation. Not merely a wooden panel coated with cracked and abraded paint, nor entirely a madonna and child. Or as in Rembrandt, not just a slather of oil, nor simply a face. Perfect painting is imperfectly transcendent. Less interesting painters do not know what to do with the choice between substance and illusion. Poor painting does not push the equivocation as far as it can go, until the paint teeters on the edge of transcendence. An unsuccessful picture might have a passage where the paint doesn't matter at all, and the forms might just as well have been photographed instead of rendered in oil. Then in another place the paint might suddenly become obtrusive, and distract the viewer from the contemplation of some distant landscape, bringing the eye sharply back to the surface of the canvas. It may be that the human mind can only think of one aspect at a time: either a painting is what it represents, or it is a fabrication done on a flat surface. Or perhaps it is possible to think of both the surface and what seems to be behind it at once, in a "twofoldness" of attention that takes in both equally." - James Elkins, What Painting Is

"Art is a lie that tells the truth." - Pablo Picasso

These are some of my current favorites, the ones that are motivating, making me think, and look. A few of these quotes come from novels; fiction about art or that includes an art theme in the storyline. I think novels, like painting, can be "a lie that tells the truth". What would you add to this list?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A Piece of TRAC 2015

I was given the opportunity to go to TRAC 2015 by a generous friend who gifted me with her pass when at the last minute an injury prevented her from attending. I couldn't take advantage of every event, but caught some wonderful highlights. 

I arrived in time for Breaking In: 21st Century Museums and Representational Art, a panel discussion between Elliot Davis, Michael Zakian, Peter Frank, and Vern Swanson, moderated by Joseph Bravo. The content of the discussion was just as you'd imagine, as the panelists explained all the ways the deck is stacked against all artists and biased against representational artists in particular. Paradoxically, museum attendance is highest for representational artists, as Elliot Davis, Curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston explained, giving the Jamie Wyeth retrospective as an example.

Two other presentations I found informative and thought provoking were Joshua Risner, Understanding Representational Narrative Painting as Implied Narrative and Deborah Paris, The Training and Use of Visual Memory for Representational Landscape Painters. Both of these presentations put forth ideas that deserve more thought and I'll go into them in greater depth next week.

Between presentations I managed to scoop up a big bunch of Rosemary and Co's Brushes. I went for the synthetic ones, of course, to spare the animals. The synthetic brushes also seem to last longer and hold their spring and snap for longer.

Later in the afternoon, a line of shiny, black, limousine buses whisked us away to Thousand Oaks to California Lutheran University. One side of the bus had ocean views of the sunset through turbulent storm clouds turned red from the sun. The other side was a vista of mountains glowing gold set off by the deep, dark, blue sky and illuminated by a fat rainbow.

At the end of the rainbow was Brad Kunkle's Artist in Residency at the Kwan Fong Gallery, Michael Zakian's talk Meaning in Contemporary Realism, and Transmission, a group exhibition at the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art.

It was cold, the wind was nippy, the hors d'oeuvres disappeared quickly, but yes, it was worth it.

Detail of The History of Nature Brad Kunkle
A big part of the appeal of the TRAC events is the opportunity to meet other representational artists. Artists and educators travel from all over to attend so it is a unique opportunity to share ideas. It is also a pleasure to re-connect with TRAC alumni met during previous conferences.

I wish I could have stayed longer.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sky, Field, Sheep Sketch

Scottish Sky, Sheep in Field Sketch Katherine Kean
graphite 8 x 10 inches
"Whenever he could, he sought out a new road to travel. He had never been to that ruined church before, in spite of having traveled through those parts many times. The world was huge and inexhaustible; he had only to allow his sheep to set the route for a while, and he would discover other interesting things. The problem is that they don’t even realize that they’re walking a new road every day. They don’t see that the fields are new and the seasons change. All they think about is food and water. Maybe we’re all that way, the boy mused."  
Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Art for Youth L.A.

I'll have one piece of artwork in this art auction on Saturday November 7th at Bergamot Museum - G1. This charity event starts at 11am and lasts until 6pm. Reception is 2pm-6pm.
Sophia Deutsch and Noah Kennedy are co-hosts for a silent auction featuring both student and professional artwork. All of the proceeds from the event will go to the organization A Sense of Home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Storm, Eucalyptus Tree Sketch

Storm, Eucalyptus Tree Katherine Kean
graphite 10 x 12 inches

I'd like to make this a larger painting. I've been working on small and medium size work the past three months. I work in the smaller space under my house in the summer. It's much cooler! Now that the days are getting shorter and aren't as hot, I've moved back into the larger space, allowing me to scale up. 

 I was pretty happy with this sketch until I decided that the tree is just too static. Considering the wind that's pushing all the clouds around it ought to be moving, or bending. I'm looking at these Burchfield and Hopper paintings for inspiration. I'd be happier if I can get the tree to have the same feeling of wind and energy that I get from these paintings.

 March Winds  Charles Burchfield

Windy Day Edward Hopper

And then, just about the time I was wondering where to turn for inspiration, I got lucky.


The Santa Anas came. Above, a quick video of a neighbor's enormous Eucalyptus in the wind.

And last, a revised windy tree.