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Monday, July 25, 2016

Painting tips

Painting tips--good, bad, and downright ugly.
In some ways this may seem to be a rather foolish topic in that there's no way, even as an experienced painter in three different media, that I can adequately impart all the little tricks and tidbits having to do with painting in any format short of a ten pound book (that's pounds as in weight, not pounds sterling). In lieu of that, I will be posting additional items in this vein over the course of the next few weeks, months, and (who knows?) perhaps years. For simplicity, I have broken these tips down according to the three basic painting media--oils, acrylics, and watercolor (I, for one, don't consider pastels a painting medium). Some (perhaps several) of these tips are applicable to more than one, even all three, types of paints. Some tips involve mitigating common artists' frustrations such as recalcitrant paint tube lids. Others are so basic, experienced painters in that medium should merely glance at them and move on. Others get downright technical yet are, at best, just "teasers" aimed at eliciting curiosity and further investigation by artists interested in cross-media exploration.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Anybody Home?, 1980, Jim Lane. Here the underpainting was
a blue-gray while the windows were left white to be glaze in
using warmer tones.
When I start a new painting, I sometimes begin by painting it with acrylics, (above) which, of course, dries quickly (usually some light tint to tone the canvas or suggest different areas such as sky and water). Sometimes its merely a coat of transparent matte medium which seems to hold pencil graphite better than primed canvas. If there's a lot of detailed drawing involved, I follow that with a second coat of matte medium to "lock down" the drawing, being careful not to smear the pencil lines. Then I fill it out using oil paints, particularly for light and shadow, and glazing.
Glazing in oils by Will Kemp.
Speaking of glazing, try it sometime. First use a light-colored or white ground, which helps reflect light, rather than a dark one, which absorbs light. A glaze is basically a thin, transparent layer of paint used in building up colors one of top of another. Each layer subtly changes the color of what’s already been painted on the canvas. Thus the color is mixed optically giving a deep, rich effect. How many layers you apply depends on the results you’re after and comes with practice. A glaze works best when each color is made from only one pigment, not a mixture of two or more. The more pigments or colors you use, the sooner you’ll end up with a brownish or grayish color (better known as "mud").
Transparent oil colors
ideal for glazing.
Glazing is all about putting down thin layers of paint, so the paint should be fluid so that you can brush it on evenly. Glazing med-iums are available for both oil and acrylic paints. Oil painters com-monly us a 50:50 mix of tur-pentine and oil. Some oil painting mediums (such as Liquin) will help speed up the drying time of oil paint. If you try glazing and don’t get good results, be sure you’re not glazing over a layer of paint that hasn’t completely dried. Also check whether you are using transparent, single-pigment hues. Start with a blue and a yellow, glazing to make various shades of green. By the way, if you’re a painter who needs instant grati-fication, forget about glazing.
If you try to apply a glaze over oils that are not quite dry to the touch, the layers will tend to mix together. Glazing takes time and patience. How soon an oil glaze will dry depends on the climate you live in and your studio humidity. The paint must not be sticky. I sometimes work on several paintings at a time so I can move from one to another while you waiting for a glaze to dry. When the painting is finished, apply one final glaze over the whole painting so as to unify all the parts of the painting.

A visual painting tip.
One final tip in using oil paints--you don't have to put the cap back on straight away. In fact, you can even jettison the damned cap in you like. When you're done painting for the day, light a candle and create a pool of melted wax. Dip the end of the paint tube into it. This forms a seal which is easy to peel off when you are ready to use the paint again. It has the added advantage of reducing profanities in case children are around.

If this looks a little too neat as compared to your palette, you might
want to spray paint a pizza pan, storing it in a garbage bag.
To remove dried acrylic paint from a palette, soak it in fabric softener. The stuff works like magic on stiff paint brushes too. If you wish to keep acrylics from drying on your palette, try reinventing your palette. I found that a six to ten-inch, round, ceramic, dinner plate works well. By placing colors around the edge there leaves a small space in the center in which to blend (above). Then, when finished for the day, place a wet sponge cut to fit the space. Store the plate/palette in a gallon-sized plastic food storage bag with a sliding closer. The paints will stay moist and ready to use the next time. Removing dried paint is just a matter of spraying the plate with window cleaner, allowing it to set for a few minutes, then wiping it clean with paper towel. Do not try this with a plastic plate, which tends to bind with the acrylics.
A sample only. Ideally, the artist should use
two glazes, one yellow, the second blue.
Glazing is not just an oil painting technique. However, when it comes to thinning acrylics, guidelines vary. Acrylics (above) are water-soluble when wet, so water can be used to thin colors. some sources say not to mix acrylic paint with more than 50% water as more than this amount of water may cause the polymer in the acrylic paint to break down and lose its adhesive qualities. This results in peeling or flaking or a lifting of the paint when you paint subsequent layers. Many paint manufacturers suggest that you use no more than 30% water in combination with acrylic paints when painting on a non-absorbent surface such as a primed canvas (they sell more paint that way). When painting on an absorbent surface you can use an unlimited amount of water because the fibers of the unprimed canvas, paper, or wood will hold the pigment and absorb any excess water. (This is sometimes called "staining.") Mixing acrylic paint with a high amount of water makes it more like a watercolor paint, giving it a matte finish. Unlike watercolor, since acrylic is not water-soluble when dry, glazing is much easier than with oils in that the layers of thinned color go on without disturbing the underlying layers.
With acrylics, it's all in how you "lay it on."
I've never been a great fan of acrylic painting mediums, but to change the viscosity of the paint dramatically while still retaining its chemical integrity, there are many different mediums available. Each gives a different effect, such as thinning, thickening, adding texture, glazing, or slowing the drying time. Unlike water, there is no limit to the amount of acrylic medium you can use in that they all have the same acrylic resin which acts as a 'glue' to make the paint adhere to a surface'. One manufacturer describes their mediums as "colorless paint." Let me add a note of caution here though. Some acrylic mediums are, in fact, additives. They do not have the same acrylic binders of paints and other mediums, so be sure to follow the directions on the container when mixing them with your paints. Retarding medium and flow improver are two such additives not containing acrylic binders. They often warn that using too much will simply cause paint not to dry.

Frisket masking allows the painting of the background first.
When using masking fluid (above), try diluting it with a little water before use so as to cause it to go on easier and rub off easier. Having said that, other experienced watercolor artists advise that a little heavier coverage of masking fluid makes it come off the paper more easily, with less damage. Who knows? Most of the time I've always used it straight from the jar. Also, lightly rubbing your brush over a bar of soap before using it for masking fluid makes it easier to clean.
Stunning eyes, pink-blue watercolor portrait--
drip, dribble, splash, and splatter on neutral white paper.
When buying watercolor paper, take its color into consideration just as you do its finish and weight. Traditional paper colors can range from a warm, rich cream to a cold, bluish white. A watercolor paper with a cream color can make your colors appear muddy. A paper with a blueish bias can give yellows a greenish appearance. Besides the tint of watercolor paper, there is also a difference between the two sides of each sheet. One side is usually slightly smoother than the other. The smoother side is better if you're dealing with a lot of detail, while the slightly coarser side is better if you're wanting to build up color by using use lots of glazes (often called "washes" in watercolor). As one might expect, a rough watercolor paper has the most surface texture (called tooth). It's sometimes referred to as having a pebbly surface, not unlike a pebble beach. On rough paper the paint from watery washes tends to collect in the indentations in the paper, creating a grainy effect when the paint dries. By the same token, if you whisk a dry brush lightly across the surfaces, you'll apply paint only to part of the paper, the tops of the ridges and not in the valley indentations. Rough paper is excellent for a loose, expressive style of painting.

Choose a paper which matches your style and watercolor technique.
To the opposite extreme, hot-pressed watercolor paper has a smooth surface with almost no tooth. This surface is idea for painting fine detail and watercolor washes. However, beginners sometimes struggle with the paint having a tendency to slide around on the smooth surface. On the other hand, cold-pressed watercolor paper is in between rough and hot-pressed paper, having a slightly textured surface. Cold-pressed is the most commonly used watercolor paper surface as it allows for a good amount of detail while also maintaining some degree of texture.
The above papers are white but the image has been
adjusted to better show the texture of each weight.
As if color and texture weren't enough to deal with in choosing a watercolor paper, the artist also has to deal with the paper's weight. The thickness of a sheet of watercolor paper is measured by its weight--the greater the weight, the thicker the sheet. In the U.S. paper weight is measured in pounds per ream. Elsewhere it's in grams per square meter (gsm). The standard weights of paper are 90-pound, 140-pound, 260-pound, and 300-pound. Thinner paper needs to be stretched on a stiff board using tape around the edges to prevent it from buckling or warping when painted upon. How thick the paper needs to be depends on how wet you tend to make the paper as you paint. Experiment with different weights, though you'll probably find that paper less than 260 pounds needs to be stretched. Not having to stretch it is not the only reason for using heavier paper. It'll also stand up to more abuse, and takes a greater number of washes. Watercolor paper is also sold in "blocks" where the edges are bound together as with a pad of paper only on all four edges. This means the paper doesn't have to be stretched to avoid buckling before you paint on it. You'll pay for this convenience though. A watercolor block usually costs more and the various sheets may vary in texture within the same block.

When each watercolor is dry, an opening in the binding allows
for the sheet to be cut from the block. I always used a butter knife.
And finally, many people believe that you can't fix mistakes in watercolor. That's not true. There are many different ways to fix errors if you really can't live with them. You can blot off watercolor with a damp tissue, sponge, or clean damp brush. In more recent years, many watercolorists have been delighted to find that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser allows them to change an area dramatically by applying another wash. In a worst-case scenario, if need be, you can even wash the whole painting off under running water. In that watercolor is water-soluble, it remains workable to some degree with just a little bit of water added to it even several years after it has dried.
Is all this necessary?


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Avigdor Arikha

Don't go looking for this painting in any catalogue raisonne
listing Arikhas' life's work. It's an image I composed emphasizing
the artist's two major strengths--self-portraits and interiors.
In recent weeks I've stumbled upon a number of painters whom one might assume specialized only in self-portraits. Some of them would rival Rembrandt and van Gogh in that regard. In selecting an artist to write on, I routinely look for self-portraits in that they offer sensitive insights into the artist's personality and self-image. And, one has to assume, some of them have to do with the image the artist wants to project to the public. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, most of mine would tend to fall into that category. I'm not exactly the most sensitive or insightful guy in the world when it comes to painting my "inner self." On the flip-side, there are some artists for whom I can hardly come up with a blurry photograph taken early in their careers. It seems to be either feast of famine. However, in the case of the Israeli painter, Avigdor Arikha (I'm doing good to spell his name, much less pronounce it) I came upon an astounding number of many I've decided to concentrate primarily on them, especially in light of the fact most of his other work is rather bland, to say the least. I have no idea how many self-images the man did over the course of his eighty-one-year lifespan, but I've mounted 21 just below (25 if you count the one above and the drawings of himself further down). I don't think I've ever displayed that many before.

Honing one's portrait skills through self-portraiture.
As you might guess, Arikha was a portrait artist, and among his dozens of self-portraits, he managed to work in a few paintings of others, his wife, Anne (below, upper-left), and an etching of his friend, the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett (below, lower-right). Avigdor Arikha was born in 1929 to German-Jewish parents in what is now the northeastern town of Rădăuţi, Romania, However he grew up in Czernowitz in Bukovina, Romania (now southern Ukraine). In 1941, Avigdor's family was deported to the Romanian-run concentration camps of Transnistria, where his father died. The twelve-year-old boy artist survived in part thanks to the drawings he made of deportation scenes, which found their way into the hands of delegates from the International Red Cross.

Except for that of his wife, Anne, most of Arikha's portraits are
rendered with relatively subtle and sparing use of color.
Independence War,
1948, Avigdor Arikha
Avigdor Arikha and his sister eventually made their way to Palestine in 1944, where they lived in a kibbutz until 1948. Arikha was severely wounded in 1948 while fighting in Israel's War of Independence. During that time, starting in 1946, Arikha attended the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem. Then in 1949 he was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he was trained in fresco painting. In the late 1950s, Arikha evolved into abstraction and established himself as an abstract painter, (below, right), but around 1957 he came to see abstraction as a dead end. Arikha married the American poet and writer Anne Atik in 1961. They had two daughters. In 1965 Arikha stopped painting altogether and began devoting himself to drawing from life, completing all his works in a single sitting. Until 1973, Arikha confined himself exclusively to drawing and print-making (below).

Arikha's work from the period before 1973 when he produced only
drawings and etchings.

Experience, 1957,
Avigdor Arikha
Eventually Arikha felt the urge to resume painting, touted by some as the best painter from life in the final years of the 20th century. He continued to paint directly from the subject in natural light only, using no preliminary drawings. Whether painting, drawing, or working in pastel, print, ink, Arikha always completed each piece in a single session. He drew and painted exclusively from life, never from memory or photographs, aiming to depict the spontaneous truth of what lay before his eyes, at any given moment. Arikha was noted for his portraits, nudes, still lifes, and land-scapes, rendered realistically but in their radical spatial composition, clearly bearing the lessons of abstraction, and in particular the influence of Mondrian. Arikha's deep under-standing of so many art techniques and mastery of draughtsmanship enabled him to work up to the very end of his life.

Apart from portraits of himself and others, Arikha's greatest strength was in his still-life paintings, always of common, everyday objects.
Arikha painted commissioned portraits, of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the Queen Mother in 1983, as well as other portraits including one of the French motion picture actress, Catherine Deneuve, for the French government. Working as an art historian, Arikha produced catalogues for Louvre exhibitions on Poussin and Ingres while also writing for the Frick Collection in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Arikha died in Paris of cancer the day after his 81st birthday in 2010.

Two of my favorite interiors by Arikha.

Autumn, 1990, Avigdor Arikha.
Taken as a whole, Arikha's
landscapes are almost entirely
bland and boring. This one I
kind of like.


Saturday, July 23, 2016


Alexander the Great and Campaspe in the studio of Apelles, 1725-26, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
How do you write about a painter whom few have ever heard of; who lived more than three-hundred years before Christ; and who, not surprisingly, has not one, single example of his work which survives? Yet, the man was a legend in his own time, perhaps the first great painter of whom we know very much about. His name was Apelles; and he was born in the fourth century BC (sorry, that's as close as I can come to a birth date). We can thank the famous first-century Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, for the fact that we even know this man's name, not to mention the fact that what little we know about his life and work comes from the same source.
Tile 18, Apelles Painting a
Picture, Nino Pisano, 1334-1336,
Apelles was probably born at Colophon in Ionia (west coast of present-day Turkey). He first studied under Ephorus of Ephesus, then later became a student to Pamphilus at Sicyon (near Corinth), Greece, his work said to have combined Dorian depth with Ionic grace. At an early age, Apelles was attracted to the court of Philip II, King of Macedonia, whom he painted along with the young Alexander (the Great) with such success that he became the official court painter of Macedonia. Although Pliny the Elder was obviously a great fan of Apelles, several hundred years later, the Greek philosopher, Plutarch, was not. He faulted the painter for rendering Alexander's complexion as too swarthy. The closest we have to a surviving work by Apelles was discovered in 1830-34 with the excavation of the House of the Faun in Pompeii (upper image, below). The painting had been described in some detail by Lucian. In any case, Apelles' life's story often sounds more like one from Greek mythology than biography.

Reconstruction of a mosaic of the Battle of Issus 
found in the House of the Faun at Pompeii
said to be based on a painting by Apelles.
Apelles' skill at drawing the human face is related in a story connecting him with Ptolemy I Soter, who became ruler of Egypt after the death of Alexander. As a general under Alexander, he disliked Apelles while they both were a part of Alexander's entourage. Many years later, while travelling by sea, a storm forced Apelles to land in Ptolemy's Egypt. Ptolemy's jester was urged by Apelles' rivals to convey to the artist a fake invitation to dine with Ptolemy. Apelles's unexpected arrival enraged the king. Ptolemy demanded to know who had given Apelles the invitation. Apelles took a piece of charcoal from the fireplace and drew a likeness on the wall, which Ptolemy recognized as his jester from the first few strokes of the sketch. Presumably, the jester had some explaining to do.

Apelles and Protogenes (detail), School of Athens,1509-11, Raphael.
The image of Apelles is a self-portrait. The image of Protogenes is thought to have been posed by Sodoma, Perugino, or Timoteo Viti.
Apelles (as portrayed by Raphael, above, left) lived about the same time as another Greek painter, Protogenes, (above-right) whose work he much admired. The two are often cast as rivals. Pliny tells another story from the first century AD, for which there likewise can be no historical verification. According to the Roman historian, Apelles travelled to Protogenes' home on the island of Rhodes to make the acquaintance of this painter he had heard so much about. Arriving at Protogenes' studio, he found only an old woman who told him that Protogenes was out and asked for his name so she could report who had inquired after him. Apelles, observing in the studio a panel Protogenes had prepared for a painting, approached the easel. He then took a brush and drew in color an extremely fine line across the panel, telling the servant to tell Protogenes "this came from me." When Protogenes returned, and learned what had taken place, he examined the line and pronounced that only Apelles could have done so perfect a piece of work. Protogenes then dipped a brush into another color and drew a still finer line above the first one. He asked his servant to show this to the visitor should he return. When Apelles did, in fact, return and was shown Protogenes' response, fearful that he might be bettered, Apelles chose a third color and drew an even finer line between the first two, leaving no room for another display of painting prowess. Upon seeing this, Protogenes admitted defeat, and went out to seek Apelles, meeting him face-to-face. Pliny claims this painting became a part of the collection of Julius Caesar, but was destroyed when the royal palace on Palatine Hill was destroyed by fire.

Calumny of Apelles, 1496-97, Sandro Botticelli
In another story told by Pliny, Apelles, while sketching one of Alexander the Great's concubines named Campaspe, the artist fell in love with her. As a mark of appreciation for the great painter's work, Alexander gave her to him. This tale, whether true or not, was the one latched onto by a series of Italian Renaissance artists chief among whom were Botticelli (above) and Tiepolo (top) in paying tribute to the one whom they considered the greatest painter who ever lived. Apelles is said to have been working on a painting of Aphrodite of Kos when he died. The painting was left unfinished in that no one could be found skilled enough to complete it.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Doggy Art

Poodles seem to make the best painting surfaces,
what we might call a "shaped" canvas.
Very often as I cast about in my mind for an interesting topic having to do with art, I bounce the ideas off my wife. Today, I suggested "doggy art," then explained to her that I didn't mean paintings of dogs. I'd already been there in dealing with canine art some time back. I had in mind to expose the relatively new art of painting on dogs, using canine hair dyes. Her response: "No, that's too weird." Having learned years ago to respect my wife's critical judgement, I had to agree. I dismissed the idea. Later, on a whim, I checked out the image possibilities. WOW! I'd hit the motherlode. Man, the things people do to dogs in the name of art...many of them could use a good lawyer. Using a dog in place of a canvas to "paint" on is, I guess, art. It communicates creatively. But that doesn't mean it's in good taste. Some might even say it falls under the heading of animal abuse. That's probably a stretch, so long as the owners keep their pets away from mirrors. In any case, if you haven't had a good laugh yet today, now's your chance.

Dying your dog is far less of an imposition than
forcing it into a costume.

This whole bizarre art form started with professional groomer, Jerry Schinberg, of Des Plaines, Ill. Schinberg held the first-ever “regular” dog grooming competition in 1973. He is credited with introducing the art of creative grooming in 1980. He claims to have gotten the idea from going to hairstyling shows for women. Today, dogs are transformed in various ways with the use of vegetable-based dyes, or child-friendly products, such as colored chalk. In recent years, because of the popularity of extreme dog grooming, there are even color products made specifically for dogs. Critics have long claimed that the practice of creative dog grooming is not just "tacky" but also degrades the dogs. Schinberg disagrees: “People who say that it’s demeaning and embarrassing to dogs don’t really know about dogs. They prance and carry on after they’ve been groomed. They love the applause and excitement."
If you want a pony, why not just buy one? Okay, dogs are a
little less trouble than tigers, buffalos, pandas, and camels.
At first glance they look like pandas, buffalos, and camels, but mostly they are poodles, which have been hilariously sheared and colored in the name of art. Amazingly it takes just two hours for an experienced creative groomer to carve their masterpieces of out of dog's coats, then add a few props as finishing touches. The artistic owners--almost entirely women--color their beloved dogs with powdered paint sprayed on using blow pens. The dye is not permanent. They seem to love the artistry that's involved. These are masterpieces, commissioned by "artistic owners."

Something for every doggy the French Cubist look.
Doggy art can basically be divided into about three or four categories--cuts (above), disguises, painting (below), and if you need a forth category, try "just plain weird" (bottom). Each year, art loving, pooch lovers turn their beloved pets into walking works of art at the Intergroom competition, which takes place in Somerset, New Jersey (a western suburb of New York City), as part of the world's largest international dog and cat grooming conference. Using brightly colored hair dye and clippers, these furry friends are being snipped and coiffed within an inch of their lives. I wonder if participants take their inspiration from the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City?

From Sesame Street to Disney...
Creative dog grooming is definitely a Postmodern art form, so radical artists even fifty years ago could hardly have imagined its popularity today. But then, it would have been equally hard for them to imagine the kind of primping and pampering so many pets receive. When I was growing up, I had a black Cocker Spaniel named Roberta. The only difference between then and now was that "Bobbie" was kept tied up outside and never...ever allowed in the house. Today, some of our pampered pets rarely go outside. In doing so, given some of the over-the-top grooming we find here, they'd likely be embarrassed to death.

Some of the more extreme examples of pooch painting.
There's more to grooming that hair dyes and silly
haircuts. There's also doggy pedicures. This
one must be a rather patient pup.

Cats, don't think you're immune to
all this silliness. What's it like being
the world's only dragon cat?


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Stefan Pabst

Click the white triangle above.
There was a time, probably centuries ago now, when drawing was a respected art form. I'm not sure just when it happened, perhaps it was so gradual as to have gone all but unnoticed by artists and everyone else, but in any case, all that has changed. Drawing today is all too often perceived, even by artists, as simply something you paint over. Perhaps it's because sketching and drawing has largely been replace as a conceptual step by photogra-phy...especially digital photography. Although I've done hundreds of pencil portraits, except for those which I paint over, drawing is but a small part of the creative effort that goes into my work. Moreover, few artists today draw with a brush. I almost never do. Yet some of the best drawing I've ever seen involve little or no pencil work. That's certainly the case with the Russian-born, Stefan Pabst. Maybe you've seen his video on YouTube (above). You wouldn't be alone. Over 1,648,587 others have too.
Which is the drawing, the mouse or the tarantula?
Stephan Pabst's work blurs the line between drawing and painting. Even though most of the great painting masters of the distant past were expert draughtsmen, it has only been in the past couple hundred years that artists took pencils to primed canvas to outline their images. Before that, some used charcoal, but most simply laid in their preliminary compositions with a brush loaded with paint. I suppose the overall art market may have a lot to do with the fact that few artists draw and sell drawings. Art in color has become the norm. Anything rendered in black and white is seen as...well, second rate. Play the video again and notice how little of Pabst's work is done in pencil. The secret to the three-dimensional super realism seen in the artist's work is that he uses oil paints and a dry-brush drawing/painting technique. What appear to be drawings are, in fact, really paintings.

From Vladamir Lenin to Harry Potter.
Though most commonly
rendered in black and
white, dry-brush also
works with color.
Pabst began learning dry-brush painting tech-niques while still a teenager in Russia. According to Pabst, this method of painting developed during the early days of the Communist regime almost ninety years ago as the party sought to develop a cult following of its leaders through the use of gigantic public posters up to twenty feet (6 meters) tall. Photographic and other means of printing were quite limited in size at the time so the government began recruiting artists to create photo-realistic portraits of leaders such a Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin. Traditional painting methods proved to be too costly in terms of paint and canvas as well as too time consuming. They were also too technically demanding, considering the number of such works required. Instead, Russian artists developed a technique using soft brushes (what we'd call watercolor brushes) and oil paints without thinning to a liquid state. Hence the term, "dry-brush" (something like watercolor without the water). Using this method, propaganda images could be rendered on paper or cardboard (in sections) on virtually any scale, providing there was a solid surface for their mounting. Even after the Soviet printing industry belatedly caught up with the West, large scale dry-brush portraits continued to be produced inasmuch as artist had little choice but to work dirt cheap. Today, most Russian street artists use a dry-brush technique, which has now started to spread around the world.

Pabst, using oil paints as a dry medium.
Stefan Pabst is young, born in 1980. He's now only thirty-six years old. He's been painting professionally for about ten years. Pabst was born in western Siberia where he spent his formative years before his parents moved to Germany around 1995. Except for high school art classes and some art instruction through a community youth group in his hometown of Minden (Northwest Germany), Pabst is self-taught. It wasn't until he decided to draw a portrait for a friend's birthday party that Pabst's career initially began. There was broad encouragement for his art as guests asked why he had not made his hobby his profession. Over the next week, the young artist began advertising his work online and immediately started receiving commissions. Since then he has created his own business and currently works at it full-time. He now receives orders from clients all over the world and has drawn a number of singers, actors, football player, and politicians. His videos are used by art schools in the U.S. which present images of his dry-brush paintings as learning material.

Most Pabst's paintings take less than a day.
Dry-brush painting is nothing like traditional oil painting. Brushes vary in size, though the smallest ones often used by hyper-realistic artist lack sufficient body for detailed work, given the pasty consistency of high-quality professional grade oils. (Student grade oils usually have too much oily vehicle for dry-brush painting.) As might be expected by most painters, it's the shading technique that is most difficult to master. The brush must be soft, the paint, as dry as possible, should be evenly distributed (no globs whatsoever). This is painting transparently using only the whiteness of the paper (yes, paper) to mitigate the dark values of the paint. The idea is to shade the paper, not stain it, building up dark values slowly as if shading with a pencil. As with watercolor, which uses a similarly, transparent mindset, this technique is almost totally unforgiving of even minor errors. I should also note that, as with all 3-D drawings (such as sidewalk art) each piece has only one optimal viewing angle. Consequently, they  photograph well, but the illusional qualities are often lost when seen in real life. Pabst's three-dimensional dry-brush drawings should be thought of as an advanced painting technique.

Quite often Pabst crops the edges of his painting surface
to heighten the three-dimensionality of his images.
Quite apart from getting his start by using the Internet (sort of a painting Justin Bieber), in response to the many artists who contacted him with questions about his painting technique, Pabst uploaded as series of homemade videos of his work to YouTube. Pabst's three-dimensional drawings are so striking it’s hard to imagine how he’s been able to master this technique while making it look so simple. Yet, the technique is complicated with imagination playing as large a part as technique. His videos have been exceptionally well received by viewers, which he often finds surprising. Pabst notes that, "For great art, you have to perceive the object, the situation, and watch the everyday lighting. You have to see something like you did the very first time you saw it, with a completely open mind, like a child. That’s what I try to do with my 3-D drawings."

Notice how the three-dimensional qualities are enhanced
by the artist's choice of surface material and the tail extending
"off the surface."

Not all of Pabst's subjects are
quite so cuddly.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lizzy Ansingh

The Source of Life, 1916, Maria Elisabeth Georgina ('Lizzy') Ansingh
Occasionally, as I go in search of an artist to write about, I stumble upon another, more important, more talented, and more prolific. Usually that means I choose the more accomplished of the two to pursue. That happened today, except in this case, I decided to stick with my original choice even though the second artist, her aunt and tutor, was somewhat more famous. The difference this time is that the Dutch painter, Maria Elisabeth Georgina Ansingh ("Lizzy"), was the more interesting of the two. Her Aunt, (her mother's sister) Thérèse Schwartze, was a well-known, successful, Amsterdam portrait artist born in 1851, a rather late addition to the long line of outstanding Dutch portrait artist going back even before Rembrandt. Therein was the was the problem. Though she was good at what she did, as Dutch painters go, she was in no way outstanding. Her niece, Lizzy Ansingh, on the other hand, who died in 1959, left behind a modest body of work consisting almost totally of paintings of her extensive doll collection. Moreover, taking her cue from her aunt, her paintings tended not to be still-lifes but portraits of her dolls. Many, many artists have painted portraits. A few have painted dolls. However, none but Lizzy, so far as I know, have painted doll portraits.

Self-portraits during her student years in Amsterdam.
Born in 1875, Lizzy Ansingh came by her talent and interest in painting as the daughter of a painter, Clara Theresia Schwartze (her father was a pharmacist). Moreover, she was also the granddaughter of a painter, Johann Georg Schwartze. However it was her aunt, Thérèse Schwartze, who began teaching her to paint at an early age. Lizzy later lived for some sixteen years with her aunt, who encouraged her to develop an artistic career. She introduced Lizzy to numerous other painters, among them several French impressionists and the famous Dutch painters, George Hendrik Breitner and Piet Mondriaan. Starting in 1894, Lizzy studied at the Amsterdam Royal Academy of Visual Arts. There she studied with the professors August Allebé, Nicolaas van der Waay and Carel Dake. While At the Academy a lasting friendship was formed among a group of female painters, later called the Amsterdamse Joffers: Lizzy Ansingh, Marie van Regteren Altena, Suze Bisschop-Robertson, Coba Ritsema, Ans van den Berg, Jacoba Surie, Nelly Bodenheim, Betsy Westendorp-Osieck and Jo Bauer-Stumpff (below). The importance of the Amsterdamse Joffers lies not so much in their reputations as Dutch painters, but primarily in their being role models for younger women painters in the Netherlands, during and after the 1970s.

Kunstenaars or Amsterdamse Joffers:
Ritsema, Surie, Osieck, Ansingh, Van den Berg,
Van Regteren-Altena en Bodenheim
Thérèse Schwartze,
Self Portrait, 1888
Although Lizzy Ansingh, like her aunt, painted portraits, she gained most of her reputation as a painter of dolls. Once more, her aunt encouraged her. During her teenaged years, Lizzy often modeled for her aunt as seen in the portraits below. Lizzy purchased a dollhouse from 1740-1750, in which she arranged her dolls for inspiration, as well as furnishing it with numerous other articles she collected. However Lizzy's Amsterdam studio, along with the doll-house, was severely damaged on the night of April 17, 1943, when a British bomber was shot down, destroying the Carlton Hotel and much of the Reg-uliersdwarsstraat along side her studio. The fire which followed was the most devastating in Amsterdam since 1659. The dollhouse has since been restored and can be seen at the Museum Arnhem.

Just a few of the many portraits of Lizzy by her aunt.
Still-Life, Lizzy Ansingh
The rooms and the inhabitants of Lizzy's dollhouse, took a prominent place in her studio. They were an unmistakable inspiration for her. She chose not to depict these dolls as if they were objects. Lizzy Ansingh brought her dolls to life and showcased them in her painted plays. These paintings are, in fact, a unique genre within the history of Dutch art. The paintings of Lizzy Ansingh are often considered to be 'alien' in that the dolls she portrayed are puppets with a soul and not merely lifeless toys. Ansingh often painted scenes from ballets with the audience throwing flower wreaths, as the dancers and musicians are giving one last bow. Curious birds glance at the stage. Her paintings have a somewhat fore-boding undertone, however, the subject of music and dance is quite contradictory, being full of life and gaiety. She also painted the occasional still-life (above, right). Apparently she painted very few of them though, or she would have had to come up with a less generic title.

Lizzy Ansingh was especially fond of oriental dolls.

Lizzy Ansingh died in 1959 at the age of eighty-four.
The Child on the Back of a Carp, Lizzy Ansingh.
Who knew? Dolls like to take joyrides.