Monday, December 30, 2013

Most Popular Posts of 2013

The most often viewed posts from this blog of 2013 have turned out to be mostly drawings instead of paintings, not surprising perhaps, considering the slow pace for me that 2013 took on. The most popular from this past year though, is about storing oil paint. Here they are:

5. A Fine Day: Drawing

4. "One Brief Moment Caught From Fleeting Time..."

3. Pencil Appreciation

2. Faster Than Speech

1. Keeping Stored Oil Paint Fresh for the Palette

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Reaching Through by Katherine Kean oil on linen diptych trees branches birds
Reaching Through © 2013 Katherine Kean
diptych, oil on linen   12 x 16 inches each

Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Building Clouds

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." 
Henry David Thoreau

It looks like putting in "foundations" is the next order of business. In the dark area at the very bottom I'm imagining an imaginary path leading down imaginary steps to an imaginary beach.

While waiting for all of that to appear, below are close up views at the cloud detail and the layers of color.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Traveling Art Returns

Vent ©2012 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 10 x 10 inches
Maine Tides and Rocks  ©2012 Katherine Kean
oil on linen   8 x 10 inches
Rapidly Changing Conditions  ©2012 Katherine Kean
oil on linen   20 x 30 inches.
These three paintings recently returned from exhibiting with Paint America. As part of their Paint the Parks exhibition they went to the Jefferson National Expansion Monument, a 91 acre memorial that is part of the National Park System and receives approximately 2,500,000 visitors annually.

For the exhibition the paintings hung in the Old Courthouse, afterward traveling to the Coutts Museum before returning home.

All of the paintings in this exhibition depict one of our nation's 390 areas supervised by the National Park Service. Rapidly Changing Conditions and Vent are portrayals of Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, and Maine: Tides, Rocks represents Acadia National Park.

All three paintings returned unscathed, safe and secure, each in it's individual strong box and in probably the most pristine condition I've ever received work back in, no doubt owing to the expertise and professionaliam of the National Park and the Museum staff.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Small Crowd to Watch A Bigger Picture

I sat down with a small group of art friends and watched “A Bigger Picture” a David Hockney documentary, which made for a very pleasant evening, followed up with even more enjoyable discussion and debate.

There is much to appreciate; the free, intuitive work of the hand, the sense of ease and playfulness, and of course the color, witnessing his process as it evolves from relying on photography to exploring nature in person, how he deals with the challenge of completing a large scale 50 panel modular painting for The Royal Academy of Arts in a brief two week period. Luckily he has the means; resources that include hot and cold running assistants to set up easels and supplies, move canvases, and record, digitize, and catalog every piece.

I am intrigued with Hockney’s exploration of alternate forms of perspective, the “moving focus” that Hockney describes – very evident to us in Eastern art, in scroll painting, where the eye is always moving, traveling as the scroll unrolls, rather than locked on a single point. ”Clearly, human eyes do not see in the same way as a single camera lens does.“  How we perceive, how the eye sees, is an ongoing and very basic question for artists, and possibly different for everyone and part of what makes art so interesting.

Watching this documentary may have raised more questions than answers. At least one person didn’t wholly believe that the idyllic English countryside Hockney is painting is real. Fortunately one of our guests grew up there, and validated that the lush pastoral landscape depicted does in fact, exist. We wondered whether the effect in person of the size of the painting is as impressive as it is made out to be. How important is spectacle in art? Is it more than just a method to draw a crowd?

We all wanted to know what happened to Margaret, Hockney’s sister, who moved out of the family home when Hockney and company moved in? And where can we find our own “Jean-Pierre” an essential assistant who seems to take care of all the details that threaten to obstruct the creative process.

In making this large , “difficult” piece, that as Hockney declares, ushers us into the “post photographic age”, is Hockney sincere, or is he thumbing his nose at the art establishment? Hockney himself says, "It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Circling Storm Clouds, Angeles Forest

Circling Storm, Angeles Forest II ©2013 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 6 x 6 inches 

 "Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail." John Muir, Our National Parks

Living on the edge of a National Forest, and the steepest mountains in the US,  I am often reminded of John Muir, the "Father of the National Parks" and a person who considered the mountains his true home. Muir Woods in Northern California is well know and more locally is Muir Peak (elevation 4688') in Angeles National Forest north of Altadena.

On a Sierra Club Outing, author Albert Palmer tells of a conversation he had with John Muir on the trail. He asked Muir, "someone told me you did not approve of the word "hike" Is that so? His blue eyes flashed, and with his Scotch accent he replied: " I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, 'A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them." - John Muir, as quoted by Albert W. Palmer, The Mountain Trail and its Message (1911) pages 27-28 - excerpted in A Parable of Sauntering .

Monday, October 07, 2013

Horses and Freedom

I had the pleasure last weekend of visiting Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in Lompoc. These horses come from various herd families and many of them are quite unique, such as the Sulphur Springs herd with their distinctive dorsal and leg striping, resembling the horses painted on cave walls dating back to 26,000 B.C.E.

I took part in a Photo Tour lead by Kimerlee Curyl an accomplished equine photographer. There were many amazing photographers in the group and everyone there seemed to share a love for horses. For my part, the discussions about ISO numbers and F stops flew right over my head. Yet even though I am not a photographer, I got plenty of images of horses in the landscape. Some may reappear in future artwork. In the meantime here are some images from the day.

The horses themselves ranged from the cautiously shy to curiously playful to bold. We stayed with each group for about 45 minutes. Some stayed quite still, clustered together. Anytime one of them so much as perked an ear, the sound of dozens of shutters releasing filled the air. I began feeling like paparazzi to the horses.

We moved on to a group of mostly mares, who in spite of the heat, with a little prompting from Kimerlee, were willing to gallop around us so that we could take action shots.

All except for one, who seemed more inclined to join the photographers and stand in the middle watching everyone else run around.

We visited the stallions last and what a difference. Bold. Fearless. Curious. Inclined to walk right up and see what was going on.

For more information about our wild horses, their dwindling numbers, and current issues about their management, please visit the American Wild Horse PreservationCampaign.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Raindrops and Twinkle Lights

Raindrops and Twinkle Lights Sketch Katherine Kean
graphite on paper
 "My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Here is a sketch, enhanced in PhotoShop to emphasize contrast, that I'm making to map out the trajectories of raindrops at night as they are lit by holiday twinkle lights. In one of the neighborhoods where I walk they start putting up lights early. Even though summer officially ended less then 10 days ago, they are in fact already up, have been up, albeit in orange. I suppose that the orange is meant to signify Halloween, although I'll never get what twinkle lights have to do with Halloween, no matter what color they make them. Halloween, to my way of thinking, has nothing at all to do with little, sparkly, twinkle lights. Cobwebs and crypts, bats and crows, yes. Little, sparkly, twinkle lights, no.

 Once it seems like I have a satisfactory plan on paper I'll start this painting. The drawing will be a guide for when I get lost in the drops, as is bound to happen. I can't wait!

In the meantime, savor the first days of fall. The early days of fall. No need to run out and start decorating your trees just yet. Wait, at least, until after the leaves fall.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Favorite Questions and Answers From Twitter's Ask A Curator Day


Wednesday was Twitter's Ask a Curator Day. Once a year, museums of all kinds around the world make their curators accessible to the general public. Anyone with a Twitter account can ask questions by using the #askacurator hashtag. More than 500 museums registered officially to answer questions. This global online event took place over a 24 hour period and due to the time zones it looks like New South Wales got to go first.

Here are just a few of my favorite questions and answers from the day:

Bluemooie, "Regarding your collections, how do you ensure that you're not purchasing stolen works?"
ArtGalleryofNSW,‏  "Great question! The gallery has a rigorous process for researching provenance. Read more here "

All About Art, "How do you come up with new exhibition themes? Market research, a curator's vision or...?"
Tyler Collection, "Great question! We look carefully at our collection & think about new ways of interpreting it."

Jessica Cham, "What has been the most outlandish request from an artist involving the installation process of their work?"
ArtGalleryofNSW,  "The relationship between artist & curator is sacrosanct! Often the most outlandish ideas are the best!"

Steve Puttrich, "As a Curator, what's your #1 pet peeve?"
Museum of Inuit Art, "Seeing "the Inuit people" anywhere. Honestly. Inuit means "the people" so it's redundant but so prevalent."
Orphan Train Depot, "People getting offended when we decline an object that has nothing to do with our collection."
Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Stop,‏ "When people leave objects for the museum with no information about the history of the artifact."

CaFE, "What advice do you have for an art student (both undergrad/grad) just starting their career?"
Boca Museum of Art, "Best advice for art students: have good quality images of your work for submitting to museums, galleries, etc."

Steve Kahn, "What is the best advice you would give an artist?"
Whitney Museum, "Don’t judge your success as an artist by success in the market—it’s not the same thing."

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Guggenheim Museum, and The Museum of Fine Arts Houston all got together to answer questions directed to their JAmes TUrrell exhibitions. You can find the conversation here: .

It was as much fun as last year. Just as it ended I realized that I neglected to ask a lighting question that's been on my mind. I guess it'll be first on my list for next year....

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is It Done Yet?

Marsh House 2013 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 6 x 6 inches

How do you decide when a painting is done?

 For me this has always been something that's mostly intuitive, but as I go along I realize that these days I spend a lot more time thinking about it - especially as I'm approaching the end. Lately it seems to be a matter of whether I feel 've reached clarity on what I think the painting is about.

What do other artists say? Here are some quotes on the subject:

"To put it as simply as possible - and this is a simple answer, not a total answer - I know when a painting's finished when I understand why I wanted to do it in the first place." James Elkins

"The painting is finished when the idea has disappeared." Georges Braque

"One always has to spoil a picture a little bit in order to finish it." Eugene Delacroix

"That's the terrible thing: the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it." Alberto Giacometti

"When a painting is done I feel it actually recedes from me. Everything coalesces and moves away, and I can no longer focus on a single part of it. It suddenly does this gestalt." April Gornik

"It can be difficult to assess when a painting is complete. For this reason, I often set aside the painting to prevent overworking it. When I am unsure, I ask myself if doing more would add or take away from the purpose of the painting." Mary French

"I paint until I become the audience staring at the painting staring back at me. It’s how I know the painting is done." Eric Fischl

"When nothing is wrong anymore, then I stop." Gerhard Richter

Monday, September 09, 2013

Watching Clouds Float By

Clouds Sailing Over Tweed River Valley small original contemporary oil painting 6 inch square
 Clouds Sailing Over Tweed River Valley ©2013 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 6 x 6 inches
"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."
John Lubbock

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability." Sam Keen

Cloud watching is high on my list of ways to not waste time, along with reading, bird watching and gardening. What are your favorite ways to not waste time?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Smooth, Dark, and Fast

I wrote previously about the end of the original Blackwing pencils and how disappointed I was when Eberhard Faber stopped making them. At the time I didn’t know that I was far from alone in my admiration for this particular pencil, and it seems to be a particular obsession here in LA.

My pencil supply has been dwindling, so knowing that other than the name, and a reputation and quality to live up to, and that the Palomino Blackwing and the Pearl have no connection to the original, I went ahead and ordered and have tried out both.

From top to bottom: the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602, Ebony,
Palomino HB, Palomino Blackwing, and Palomino Pearl

After working with them, I’m starting to lean towards liking the Pearl the most. It seems a little smoother and blacker. They both live up to the slogan, are smooth on the paper, dark, hold a point a bit longer than most, and they smudge and erase well. For now I’m happy to have the familiar shape (not round, so they don’t roll away) and the removable, replaceable (and customizable) eraser. These are made by the Palomino Company, the same company whose pencils I turned to when I first ran out of the original Eberhard Faber Blackwings. The tagline printed on the original and new pencil is “Half the pressure, twice the speed” – clearly the choice for anyone with a light touch.

Another plus in my estimation is hearing back from Customer Service at that "No animal tallow is used in the manufacture of our pencils. Some lead suppliers used to dip their graphite leads in the fat from whales, but this practice ceased a long time ago. Pencil leads are now dipped in a petroleum-based liquid."

Will it live up to its predecessor? Seems promising. I guess we'll see.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Tree Against the Sky

Tree, sky, drawing, graphite, dark sky, nocturne
Tree, Sky Sketch Katherine Kean 2013
graphite approximately 9 x 9 inches

 Georges Rouault said, "A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human."

I've always thought so, and think the same of mountains, plains, rivers, and oceans.

"Here is the deepest secret nobody knows.
Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
Which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide.
And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart.
I carry your heart.
I carry it in my heart."
E E Cummings 

Monday, August 12, 2013

"One brief moment caught from fleeting time..."

Clouds, Valley, Drawing, Scotland, graphite
Clouds, Valley Sketch Katherine Kean
graphite 8 x 10 inches

"There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment. And yet it eludes us completely. All the sadness of life lies in that fact."
Milan Kundera The Art of the Novel

But must the moment elude us? John Constable's artwork sought to give "one brief moment caught from fleeting time a lasting and sober existence." Can the making of marks blend the present, future and past, connect the moment with the memory, and bring the past to a new present?

Or in the words of William Wordsworth: "Praised be the Art whose subtle power could stay, Yon cloud, and fix it in that glorious shape."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Reading The Art Forger

I found "The Art Forger" another fun and entertaining read, and almost as obsessed with surfaces, brush strokes, layers of luminous color, and compositional strategies as many how-to books on painting. The plot weaves art history with the contemporary, and references the mystery surrounding the Gardner Museum heist, in which two men disguised as ­police officers conned their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied the guards up with duct tape, and made off with 13 artworks, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, and a Manet, altogether valued at $500 million. 

Pondering reproductions, copying, and forgeries tends to make one ponder basic questions about the value of art, doesn't it? If experts can not tell an authentic painting from a forgery, then what exactly are art buyers paying for? Is it status? Authenticity? Is it a look or a signature or a name? Or is it the participation in a unique and original vision that ownership provides?

Written in a first person narrative, the protagonist delves into details about forgery techniques, as she employs the famous art forger Han van Meegeren’s methods of painting. Van Meegeren used synthetic phenol formaldehyde resin dissolved in a spirit such as turpentine and/or an essential oil which would then be mixed with hand-ground powder pigments. This was then baked to change its chemical composition permanently, becoming insoluble in alcohol, or other common solvents. The results are described as so beautiful that I'm almost tempted to try it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Resting, Recovering, Reading About Art

 While recovering I’ve had plenty of time to read, starting with Richard Schmid’s “Alla Prima” and Steve Martin’s “An Object of Beauty: A Novel.” I figure if I can’t make art then I might as well read about it, right?

Reading Schmid’s how-tos about direct painting when you can’t paint, but really, really want to is some experience. Normally I wouldn't have the patience, I'd much rather do it, even if it's wrong. Schmid reduces painting to the essentials, the simple steps that may not necessarily be easy to accomplish. He does a great job of breaking down a lot of valuable information into bite size pieces; selecting subject matter, palette choices and management, execution and finishing, and then smoothes it all out with some memorable tips. Squint at your subject matter (not at your painting), what to learn from your failures (figure out what is wrong and don't do it again), how to keep it simple (beware the lure of ostentatious techniques) and how to manage color to create harmonies (light does not lighten or darken without changing color). If you don’t already have this book, and are considering buying, know that there is an Alla Prima II coming out this fall – an expanded version.

Steve Martin’s novel takes the point of view of a collector. In that framework, it’s interesting to read some of his thoughts on what sparks an interest in a work, or erodes it. Along with the story, the dialogue is witty and relatable. “There is art in Los Angeles that rivals New York’s, but to see all of it you would need General Eisenhower to plan the attack. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is miles from the Getty, which is miles from the Hammer, which is miles from the Norton Simon, which is miles from the Museum of Contemporary Art, and if the dots were connected on a map, you would see a giant circle running around the periphery of Los Angeles with no convenient route connecting them." And, trying to pinpoint the current non-art movement state of contemporary art: “There are a hundred categories. There’s ‘pale art,’ faint things with not much going on in them. There’s ‘high-craft OCD,’ you know, those guys who take a thousand pinheads and paint a picture of their grandmother on every one. There’s ‘low-craft ironic,’ a fancy name for wink-wink nudge-nudge.” Plus, there are reproductions worked into the narrative adding to the vicarious thrill of the "winding path that leads a collector to his prey."

One good read leads to another and I'm moving on to The Art Forger, Modern Art, An Almost Perfect Copy, and Eric Fischl’s Bad Boy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Painter Interrupted

What’s on my easel?

I had to push through cobwebs to get in this week and take a photograph. What I found is this partially finished raindrop painting. This year started out strong but this spring I encountered one health issue after another. Not all mine, first they were my dog’s issues, then those of family members. In spite of all the worry I was enjoying the trips back east and seeing family, including siblings and nieces. Then I was diagnosed with Shingles and that more or less put a stop to all the fun for me.

Six weeks later and I think I may be starting to recover...

This kind of an extended time out has often served as a creative catalyst to me. Something about having a break in routine or being forced to rest seems to stir up even more ideas.

I’m looking forward to being completely recovered.

Any day now...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Goodbye to Bear

Bear and Tashi in the studio
Bear and Tashi in the studio

I’m so sad to report that Bear passed away Tuesday night. Up until a few days ago I was still entertaining the idea that I might be able to have him with me for many more weeks, even months. Nothing about his illness has been linear, and after a few bad days his energy and spirits were up and he had been steadily regaining strength. He finished with crate rest and  was once again free to go about the house, having no trouble getting around, albeit slowly, even on the slippery wood floors. Then abruptly his illness changed course and he became so very tired, sleeping most of the time, and then seeming terribly weak. His breathing became irregular and suddenly this was bothering him – so much so that I took him again to the animal ER. They confirmed that the cancer was starting to pressure his throat, and it was time to peacefully let him go.

Bear was a steady companion, following me from room to room as I went about my day, or more often, anticipating what was next and leading the way. He liked to adhere to a strict schedule and would always prompt me when it was time for a meal, or a treat, or a nap, or a walk. Vocal, intelligent, and with a sense of humor, he made every activity he could into play. He would jump up on the bed so I could chase him off it while trying to make it – repeating as necessary, play tug of war with vines in the garden while I was weeding, chase the cat just because the vacuum cleaner was coming out of the closet and the cat was probably about to run, chase squirrels because they were chewing on the house, or chase squirrels just because. Without vacuums or squirrels present, it was fun simply running over  there in order to spin around and run back here – zooming back and forth. He was excellent in the studio, always supportive, never judging. He had a skill for kitten herding and supervision, and he was a great help in the kitchen.  He protected everyone from all the creatures trying to get in through the television, including dogs, cats, horses, and every other animal, as well as animated cartoon characters – he held them all at bay by barking at the screen until they went away. He was remarkably sweet and his loyalty was unfailing - I feel privileged to have had all the years of love and joy.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hill, Field, Clouds Sketch

Hill, Field, Clouds - Sketch, Scotland, Katherine Kean, drawing, atmospheric, clouds
Hill, Field, Clouds - Sketch (Scotland)  ©2013 Katherine Kean
graphite on paper approx 8 x 10 inches

"Discipline in art is a fundamental struggle to understand oneself, as much as to understand what one is drawing."

Henry Moore

Monday, May 06, 2013

Faster Than Speech

Tree, Field, Sheep. Clouds - Sketch, Scotland Katherine Kean graphite on paper, drawing, contemporary landscape
Tree, Field, Sheep, Clouds - Sketch (Scotland)  ©2013 Katherine Kean
graphite on paper approx 8 x 8 inches

“I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.”

 Le Corbusier

While I'm not sure that drawing is faster than talking, for me it is faster than writing, or even texting, and I like that it bypasses linguistic translation.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Fine Day: Drawing

Katherine Kean, drawing, graphite atmospheric, Scotland, trees, field
A Fine Day - Sketch (Scotland)  ©2013 Katherine Kean
graphite on paper approx 8 x 8 inches

"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

Monday, April 22, 2013

What Can Be - Marsh Labyrinth 3 in progress

The Great Marsh, atmospheric, stormy,labyrinth
Marsh Labyrinth 3 (work in progress) ©2013 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 10 x 10 inches

“Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.”

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Bear is feeling better, perhaps temporarily and perhaps because he's not doing any chemotherapy, at least for the time being. The procedures have put his lymphoma into remission, yet the last two rounds have been too much for him - either because of his age or maybe he's just a sensitive dog. The idea of chemotherapy for dogs is to make them feel better with any side effects expected to be minimal or non existent. I have certainly met dogs who have sailed through chemotherapy, but unfortunately Bear is not one of them.

Another aspect to his current well being is the improvement in his spine. He only has another two to four weeks of crate rest left and the activity restriction has served him well. He's off pain killers and not hurting and his energy levels are starting to rise. I've been gradually extending his restricted area from crate, to crate plus pen, to crate plus pen, plus office, to crate plus pen plus office plus hallway. Hopefully by the end of the rest period I'll have figured out how he can enjoy most of the house without having access to the hazards of furniture he can jump on, while also providing traction over these slippery hardwood floors.

Monday, April 15, 2013

In the Making: Marsh Labyrinth 2

The Great Marsh, atmospheric, stormy
Marsh Labyrinth 2 (work in progress) ©2013 Katherine Kean
oil on linen 10 x 10 inches

“Is it a world in the making 
that turns as it whistles to the depths of my being 
It is burning 
Suppose it were to appear 
A bleeding rosary at the window 
a sun setting on the marshlands" 

 Paul Dermée, Silver Clasp, The Cubist Poets in Paris: An Anthology

Bolton Hall Museum Gift Shop

The Bolton Hall Museum Gift Shop   is a great place to do your holiday shopping! Carrying a wide range of unique items, all are created l...