Sunday, October 8, 2017

Loss and creativity

Dear Friends,

As you know, this newsletter/blog is where I write about art, what inspires me, my painting process, upcoming events and all things art-wise. And although it’s not so much about family, sometimes that’s inescapable. I will try to stay focused on the art-side of life.

For most artists creativity seems to ebb and flow rather rhythmically and we know how to reignite the creative fire when it smolders. Sometimes it’s only a matter of going through the motions and being in your creative space to get back into that rhythm. Generally speaking I’m pretty good at staying fired up about my next art adventure. Right now, it’s so much harder.

My mother very recently died at the age of 93, and although losing her was not unexpected it has been unfathomable. I have written about my mother’s creative influence in the past, but what I will miss most is her laughter and her insights about humankind – as sarcastic as they often were!

Mom sharing her wisdom

So, I just have to say that it’s been a bit difficult to paint lately. Especially because I’m working on a personal subject, my first attempt at a "vanitas" painting. And vanitas paintings are a classic genre that, through symbolic elements, reminds us of the fragility of life. My composition is focused on the stages of life for a woman. Of course, since the references are my own, it centers on my mother. Although started months ago, it’s taken on a greater significance now. I hope I can do it justice.

Just setting up the composition and deciding what to include took a very long time. I must have photographed 10 or more variations of the elements – gathered, arranged and rearranged over many weeks - trying to make a decision.

So far I have drawn the “final” version three times and transferred it twice. I’ve completed the poster study and begun the 16 x 20” painting... which is going very slowly.

This is the small 5x6” poster study. It's a sort of trial run to check out composition and values. (symbolically the pocket watch, snuffed candle, antique doll's head, 1950s gloves, pearls, vintage photos, etc., all allude to the passage of time ... and relate to my mother's life)

vintage dolls head, old gloves, pocket watch
It’s a complex painting made more challenging by my current state of creative inertia. I've had some help easing into painting practice since a group gathers in my studio creating color wheels with Todd Casey each week. We compare pigments by various brands, make charts and totally geek out on color, mixing gradations of hue, value and chroma. It’s a meditative process with a fine bunch of fun, funny and determined painters. And it's been a perfect way to keep my hand in the paint these days.

There is good news to share, as well. Some weeks ago I was interviewed by Southwest Art magazine for their feature “Artists to Watch." I was a bit anxious leading into the interview, not knowing quite what to say. Fortunately their editor, Kim Agricola, asked interesting questions about my process and my subjects. She made me comfortable and there was a lot of laughter. You can read the article online... or pick up the October issue of Southwest Art at Barnes & Noble, it's full of inspirational artwork.
artists to watch, still life painter, dorothy lorenze
"Artists to Watch" in Southwest Art magazine, October 2017
Being professionally interviewed about my artwork: that's a first for me. I think my mother would have been proud.

As always, thank you for joining me on my art journey... and my sincere appreciation for all your kind words of sympathy and support.

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!