The “what is art?” question comes up all the time, whenever two or more artists are gathered together. There is the school of thought which says it isn’t art if it has a function. There is the school which says it isn’t art unless it has a message. There are those who say it must be beautiful.There are of course those who say it must look like something and say “My four year old could paint that” of anything which is abstract. There are those who think that conceptual art is the only relevant form of artistic expression in the twenty-first century, and there are those who find most of it unspeakable offensive.
I have come to the conclusion that the one unifying factor, what separates good art from bad regardless of the medium, is composition. Now I am not sure that I know how to define “good” composition, it certainly isn’t always necessary to follow classical rules for the “golden mean” or fibonacci numbers, but it is the one thing that can make a piece of art stand out, whether it is a photograph, a piece of sculpture or an installation. There are many great works of art from many periods which have no obvious message, are not representational or which may have offended someone at some time or another. What makes them great is the fact that they are all brilliantly composed.
My paintings rarely have any kind of a message beyond “I liked this so much I wanted to paint it”, but sometimes perhaps I at least get the composition right. Composition is probably my greatest weakness, my work will consequently never be great, but it is something that I will always strive for.

What to paint?

Sometimes I think that the world conspires against us artists. It is so hard to find a suitable spot to paint or even sketch. All the best scenes need to be viewed from the middle of the road it seems. I went out at lunchtime today with the best of intentions. I had decided to sketch the lighthouse down by the yacht club. I had done it once before a few years ago and I remember sitting on a comfortable bench and having a lovely view. Foiled again!
NOTL Lighthouse

Peaches WIP

This is the first time I have done a true WIP for an oil. It is too bad it wasn’t something more successful. OH well, here it is

I was so unhappy with this that I actually went back and revised it slightly after it was posted (something I usually make a policy of not doing).

Another WIP

These WIPs are kinda addictive. Here is one for Thursday’s post.

For this one I did a tonal study on site as well as the photo. It was a bit awkward because I didn’t have anywhere to sit, and there was no shade.
Boats Photoboats study
I use a sharp white pencil to reserve small areas, it works quite well when I want to create light lines against a dark background. Like the railing on the dock, and the sailboats against the distant shore.

Boats WIP1boats WIP2boats

Trailer WIP

Here is another work-in-progress. The photo was first heavily cropped. The next image is just the pencil crayons before adding any water. After adding the first wash I work into it again with more pencil. I use several different kinds but mostly Derwent brand; Inktense, Graphitint and regular coloured pencils as well as aquarelles.

Trailer photoTrailer_WIP1Trailer_WIP2Trailer

Watercolour Pochade

This is the kit I use when I am doing plein air sketches, it contains:

  • my lovely W&N pocket watercolour box,
  • some extra brushes (old cosmetic brushes tend to be small but good quality)
  • a couple of pencil stubs and a pencil holder, eraser, pencil-sharpener,
  • a purse-sized kleenex pack,
  • a natural sponge,
  • and postcard-sized watercolour paper

Al Hirschfeld

Al Hirschfeld was a truly original artist famous for his caricatures of celebrities. He depicted stage and screen personalities, capturing the magic of American theatre with his line drawings.

He was born in St. Louis in 1903. When he was eleven years old, an art teacher informed his mother, “There is nothing more we can teach him in St. Louis.” The family moved to New York and soon he was enrolled at the Art Student’s League. By the age of 17, Hirschfeld was an art director at Selznick Pictures. He held the position for about four years and then in 1924 moved to Paris.

In 1943, Hirschfeld married one of Europe’s most famous actresses, the late Dolly Haas. They were married for more than 50 years. His daughter Nina was born in 1945, and ever after Hirschfeld hid her name at least once in each of his drawings. The number of NINAs concealed is shown by an Arabic numeral to the right of his signature.

Hirschfeld was initially attracted to sculpture and painting but this gave way to his passion for pure line. His devotion to line stems from his respect for absolute simplicity. He is quoted as saying:

When I’m rushed I do a complicated drawing. When I have the time, I do a simple one.”

Over his 82-year career Hirschfeld’s work appeared in nearly every major publication and on everything from book and record covers to postage stamps.

Although Hirschfeld’s work is described as ‘caricature’, he does not mock his subjects. He had tremendous affection for the people he drew and his affection is clearly communicated in his work. In fact, it is considered an honour to be drawn by Hirschfeld, and many celebrities own their Hirschfelds”.

He died in 2003 at the age of 99, he was working up until shortly before his death

Art (as in “what is”)

A perennial question that continues to come up in various fora that I belong to. Also one to which I, like most “artists”, have given a great deal of thought. I thought I would do a series of posts on the subject, as much to organize my own thoughts on the matter as anything. My first is just a quote from Wikipedia

Art refers to a diverse range of human activities and artifacts, and may be used to cover all or any of the arts, including music, literature and other forms. It is most often used to refer specifically to the visual arts, including media such as painting, sculpture, and printmaking. However it can also be applied to forms of art that stimulate the other senses, such as music, an auditory art. Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy which considers art.

Traditionally the term art was used to refer to any skill or mastery, a concept which altered during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as “a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science”.[1]

Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is
no general agreed-upon definition of art. Art is also able to illustrate abstract thought and its expressions can elicit previously hidden emotions in its audience.