Friday, September 15, 2017

Observing color and brushstrokes

This summer of travel and art adventures has been great. A recent trip to visit family in North Carolina and Georgia included a stop in New Jersey to deliver artwork to the John F. Peto Studio Museum* and a quick tour of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond. I especially enjoyed their McGlothlin Collection of American Art and since I'm about to embark on some serious, color study with Todd Casey, I found myself focusing on the kinds of color and value subtleties that make master paintings so compelling.

The collection includes this rather dark portrait by John Singer Sargent of Madame Errazuriz. Ignoring the light glare above her head, the brightest area appears to be the tip of the lady's nose. But, in Photoshop you can sample specific areas of color and then make larger squares of that color to compare with other areas of the painting. The lightest, pink square in the close up corresponds to the tip of her nose. The square below that is the darker pink of her cheek. The vibrant pink rectangle is a tiny highlight on her lip and the dark red is the overall lip color, yet her lips seem brighter than that! Her earlobe looks similar to her nose, but its actually darker than the nose and duller than the cheek.
classical 19th century realism
Madame Errazuriz by John Singer Sargent circa 1883
That hierarchy of value and color is not what I first thought I saw, but it makes sense because areas closer to the light source should be lighter - and something to remember when painting.  

Finally, to find the lightest area overall, I compared the nose highlight to the painting's background. The nose-highlight-pink is in the circle on the light area of the background (not the glare). It's quite a bit darker as you can see in this grayscale version below - so the lightest area of the painting overall is in the background, not any of the highlighted areas of her face, even though those areas draw your attention. Surrounded by darker, duller colors, they shine!

One of the things I love about visiting new museums is being introduced to artists I don't know, like Seymour Joseph Guy. The description by this painting says he is a "British-born, American artist working in the Victorian style of academic painting... during the era of Impressionists"! Not exactly a trend follower, this guy. I loved his sweet painting, At the Operaat first sight. Then saw the many colors and values of "white" in the close up - from her gloves to the fur trim on her dress. Plus the opera glasses with their "white" mother-of-pearl veneer are quite dark because the luminescent, pearly nature of nacre adds color and shadow to their white surface. So interesting.
Classical 19th century realism
At the Opera by Seymour Joseph Guy, 1887
 There is so much information to be gained about the artist's brushwork and technique seeing the work in person. Subtleties are not lost. The beautiful painting below is by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (also new to me). The energy of his brushstrokes and subtle variety of color can best be appreciated in real life, but you can get a sense of it by looking at the detail here. Amazing! You just want to touch that fabric!
portrait painting, realism
Portrait of Lydia Schabelsky, Baroness Staël-Holstein by Franz Winterhalter
I've been fortunate to see a lot of artwork this summer but have been missing my painting practice. I am back in the studio now, focused on improving my craft, armed with information gathered from so many masterly paintings and reinforced by color study drills in Todd's color wheel class. We're a determined group and working hard at this important classical practice. (More to come.)

Through all this, I'm thinking about what it takes to make a compelling, representational painting. Much of it has to do with observing and interpreting the qualities and character of the subject. These words of wisdom from a brilliant old master and a wonderful contemporary realist that seem especially true this week.

All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions. (Leonardo da Vinci)
I feel as though I haven't seen an object until I actually start painting it. (Janet Fish)

*If you'd like to see some challenging realism you can visit the John F. Peto Studio Museum where the concepts of perception and reality might possibly fool your eye at the Tri-state Invitational Tromp L'oeil Exhibit. The show runs through through December 10th and I'm honored that two of my paintings are included. The Peto Museum is about two and a half hours from northern Westchester in a quaint, quiet neighborhood in Island Heights on the Jersey shore (there's a really nice B&B close by in Tom's River). If you go, stop in Point Pleasant along the way for antiquing. At least that's how I travel - always a vintage scavenger hunt for painting props along the way!

I hope your summer has been full of wonderful adventures!
letters and papers
Noteworthy (left) and Ticket to Ride (right). Both ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze

Thanks for joining me on my art journey.

Monday, August 21, 2017

How did you get here

Sometimes you make a decision and see the impact immediately and sometimes it's gradual, you have to look back to see how it evolved. Like... how did that happen?!

Early in my oil painting days, I decided to keep trying new things - to learn more and expand experiences to further my art career. It wasn't about trying new media or techniques because I already knew that painting realism in oils was my thing. It was more about taking chances. Because it felt like saying "I wish I could do something like that" was just a cop out.

And I decided some experiences were actually possible and it was me that was holding me back. So I took workshops in interesting places - the south of France... a prison in Philadelphia - joined national arts organizations and looked for new opportunities.

Mainly, I started whistling in the dark when something came along that intrigued and made me anxious at the same time. So when an artist friend said, "you should apply to the residency at Weir Farm," I figured, why not?

Spending a month with only art as a focus sounded both idyllic and nerve-wracking. What if I run out of excuses and still can't create anything worthwhile?! But the most daunting obstacle was that residency artists are asked to have a public talk at the end of their stay. Power point presentation and talking about yourself. How uncomfortable is that, I ask you?!

artist residency at Weir Farm, artist talk at Wilton library after a month at Weir Farm

It was a challenge, but I actually found the process of gathering talking points to be interesting - and useful. When you try to explain what you do and why, you begin to understand it better yourself. Articulating it creates a clearer focus.

These slides from my presentation outline some of the aspects of composition and technique that go into my paintings. We tend to take for granted that people can see what goes into our art making, but there is more behind the scenes and honestly we don't always realize it ourselves!

essence of painting an interior, patterns of light and shadow

first steps in painting

Many experiences and challenges preceded my time at Weir Farm, including an interest in vintage objects and historic locations. That interest had led me to visit, and ultimately paint at, Seven Hearths, the home of artist George Lawrence Nelson. And the reverential experience of painting in the studio of this American Impressionist painter also influenced my decision to paint interiors of Julian Alden Weir's studio and home.

So...when I was told the National Historic Site wanted all of my Weir Farm interior paintings for their collection, I was more than thrilled. 

And when I'm asked, "how-the-heck did that happen?"... the story starts with deciding to say yes to new opportunities.

This Friday there is a new "Art at the Park Festival" at Weir Farm to celebrate the park service's anniversary and Julian's birthday. Art-lovers and art-makers are invited to participate and more information is available here.

Also, if you're interested in applying to Weir Farm's artist residency, go for it! Start now to get your project description and letters of recommendation in order because the deadline is October 10th. If you have questions about my experience there, please comment and I'll get back to you.

The fall is an important time for art shows and experiences. I hope you take a chance and try something new.

Thanks for following me on my art journey. Here's to taking chances!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Rembrandt and Capturing Carpets in Oil

Ah, I'm back in my studio (home-sweet-home) having returned from Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges where we were immersed in the creative milieu of these medieval cities and literally walked in the footsteps of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Eyck.

First we dropped in on Rembrandt. It's impossible to explain what it feels like to stand in the home of a master artist. His studio is on the fourth floor, reached by an extremely narrow and steep, winding staircase which may be why there was no one else up there. That quiet peace added to the sanctity of the space. It actually took my breath away.

artist studio

This still life hangs above a glass case with Rembrandt's actual still life objects which were discovered in rubble beneath the house. Imagine seeing the actual objects with the painting!
still life objects

I have to admit I spent a good bit of time in Amsterdam searching for a version of an old Rembrandt-esque jug or stein. No affordable antique pottery was found, but I did get an old, pewter coffeepot with a wonderful patina - to be featured in a painting soon, I suspect.

After struggling to paint oriental carpets recently I appreciated seeing how textiles were painted by the Dutch masters. Some were very detailed and others had just a suggestion of pattern. An example is this section of Gerbrand van den Eeckhout's painting, The Wine Publisher's Guild. I'm sure the guild members are meant to be the focus... but look at that pattern. Van den Eeckhout was actually apprenticed to Rembrandt in the 1660s. I admire the detail here - fabric, barrel and copper - but then you look at Rembrandt...
segment of van den Eeckhout's Wine Publisher's Guild
... and this is poetry. Rembrandt's painting is a similar theme, called The Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild. Ironically the job of these syndics is to judge the quality of cloth samples. Yet, the exotic fabric seems like the least important element here. It's painted very simply but still conveys the richness and texture typical of classic tapestry fabric. The vibrant color speaks volumes against the black suits and white collars.
painted tapestry
The Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild by Rembrandt van Rijn
In this close up you can see how simply the pattern is rendered. Still, the contrast of bright color and muted shadow describes the richness of the fabric beautifully. It's more passive than van den Eeckhout's fabric but more compelling. And I know... the fabric is not supposed to be the important part of the painting, but at the moment, for me, it is.
Close up of above painting by Rembrandt
My quest to examine tapestry began with the struggle to paint oriental carpets at Weir Farm last month. The first one is Weir's living room and while I have said that being at the residency provided a "new perspective" unfortunately, my first version of this painting also had a "wrong perspective" because the right side of carpet was totally off. By inches. Fixing it meant repainting the entire rug since the angle of the edge also changed the angle of the pattern on the rug. That was not a happy realization. But it's much better now.
painting patterns, genre painting
Julian's Parlor at Weir Farm © 2017 Dorothy Lorenze
The carpet in the next painting is bit more developed which I think works because there is less of it. You may have noticed in my still lifes that I can obsess over detail (!) so it was hard to decide how much pattern to include - or more importantly, leave out. Even so, I really enjoyed rendering all the patterns on carpet and wallpaper in this painting. The bust on the table is actually Julian Alden Weir, hence the title "Weir, Waiting in the Foyer."
Multiple patterns in the carpet and wallpaper were the challenge for this painting which features the interior of the home of Julian Alden Weir at the National Historic Park in Wilton CT
Weir, Waiting in the Foyer © 2017 Dorothy Lorenze
So, after a month at Weir Farm and two weeks of traveling, the current "new perspective" is about getting back to a comfortable, productive routine in my own studio. Lots of ideas waiting to be realized. I'm anxious to get back to it although it does feel like another new start. So, wish me luck.

And one additional happy update. During the residency, I had displayed my painting East Meets West in the studio as inspiration since the Weir dining room includes lots of blue china that I hoped to paint. One rainy day a family admired the painting and, much to my surprise, contacted me later to purchase it. So I delivered East Meets West to a proper Scotsman visiting his family in CT. They were very gracious, offering tea and biscuits. And now the painting is going "home" to Scotland. Jolly good, as they say!
East Meets West © 2016 Dorothy Lorenze

Thanks for joining me on my artistic journey.