30, January 2014 § 2 Comments
In the spirit of sharing our brush stories here are some of my own. This post will focus on my watercolor and ink brushes. You can follow Aegean Center for the Fine Arts painting teacher Jane Pack’s brush stories here.
I get very attached to my brushes. Like actors in a play each brush has its own role. Some are used far more frequently than others, but if I’m missing a specific brush for a specific task I may just scrap the piece altogether. When a brush starts to wear down or even fall apart it can bring an irrational amount of stress and dismay. At times I talk to my brushes like a coach would to his players, alright kiddo, go out there and get the job done. What can I say, they are more than just tools, they’re the means to express myself. I usually take them for granted but I love my brushes. Here are some descriptions of my main team.
A 1 inch Hake brush. Soft and wide, it’s great for washes: skies and seas. The softer the brush the easier it is to move a watery wash over the the paper without affecting the surface.
A goathair Chinese ink brush. It’s a very versatile brush, useful for washes and moving the color into small tight corners: negative space!
My Taking Care Of Business brush. Like “Big Timer” another Chinese ink brush, but because of it’s smaller size I use it very often for washes, tight detail work, and just about everything else. I could do a whole painting just with this brush.
I love using this brush–The point can get very fine and the bristles splay out in a very natural manner, perfect for leaves, water, rocks, hair, etc.
A half inch square brush with a firm shape and bristles. I mostly use this brush to lift color off the painting. Useful for editing and lightening up a passage of color.
A plastic brush with synthetic bristles that you could fill up with water. Holds a great shape and makes a very thin line. Very effective for detail work.
I never use this brush but I like that I have it. Rigger brushes are traditionally used to paint the riggings of boats in maritime paintings.
A round brush that I once used very often but has since been worn down a bit. I almost never use it anymore but when I go out to paint I always have to bring it out of habit.
Do you have brushes that you love? Share them with us on Twitter, @aegeancenter, #brushstory.
13, January 2012 § 3 Comments
During the holiday season in Paris there is a multitude of art exhibitions on display to tempt tourists and locals alike. As I was fortunate enough to be in Paris during the New Year’s festivities, I was able to enjoy a number of the shows and museums, indulging in artwork of all kinds. I will be writing three reviews of exhibitions I visited while in Paris, “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the Mona Bismark Foundation, “Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde” at the Musée d’Orsay and “Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light” at the Musée Jacquemart-André.
If one is determined, in a week they can cover a lot of ground in a city like Paris, where strolling is pleasant and the metro is easily accessible. The first exhibition I saw was “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the small and charming Mona Bismark Foundation, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The show features the works of painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew, perhaps the most important figurative American painter of the 20th century, and his grandson Jamie. The draw is quite rightly Andrew, but from the collected works we get an idea of the evolution of one of the truly great American artists and his family legacy.
The exhibition starts with bright, dramatic paintings by N.C. that were used to vividly illustrate stories such as Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and King Arthur. N.C.’s paintings are bold and direct, depicting the tales of swashbuckling pirates, soldiers and knights. There is no ambiguity in NC’s pieces and his brushwork and color are always sure and confident. Perhaps the lack of subtlety in N.C.’s works may be cause for criticism, but it is clear that he was a painter of suberb technical skill and range. NC’s work is a helpful introduction to the formation of his son, Andrew. We could even find Andrew drawing in on of NC’s paintings, “Eight Bells” hunched over his drawing in N.C.’s lobster boat off the coast of Maine.
In contrast with N.C.’s colorful, almost theatrical paintings, Andrew’s works, mostly in egg tempera or watercolor, are by contrast subdued, still and personal. There are no classics in this exhibtion, no “Christina’s World,” but instead intimate depictions of Andrew’s immediate surroundings: his neighbors, his studio window, his barn, his boots, etc.
Around the time of his father’s death from a car crash in 1945, Andrew’s color palette changes, and gone are the vivid blues and reds of his earlier watercolors, replaced with muted browns and grays. Andrew’s ability to capture his subjects in fine detail is breathtaking. Yet, in their balance, design and tone, it is the compostional arrangements in Andrew’s paintings which sustain the viewer, elevating his pieces from being simply well observed landscapes and portraits, to poetic and intensely personal works. When we see his paintings we get a sense of seeing not just through the eye of Andrew Wyeth, but through his temperament and sensibilities. In so doing we get a sense of the man himself.
After Andrew, the show continues with the paintings of his son, Jamie. If the Wyeth show were a three course meal, then N.C.’s contribution would be a spicy beef tataki appetizer, Andrew’s would be an aromatic and delicately prepared salmon fillet with herbs and Jamie’s would be a cheeseburger, some fishsticks, and a cheesecake for dessert. That is to say that there is a whole lot of Jamie’s work in the exhibition, and the range is wide, most of which are a far cry from the paintings of his father and grandfather. Jamie is a competent painter and he has works of true merit but they would do better in a personal retrospective only. In “The Wyeths” exhibition, it is a bit like having cheesecake after one has reached a sufficiency.
“The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” is a show that doesn’t have enough work from its star draw, but his pieces alone are worth the trip. N.C.’s works are enjoyable and Jamie’s portraits are worthy of note, but ultimately, “The Wyeths” highlights Andrew Wyeth as the supreme painter of his renowned family. The exhibition is a fine example of the power of the subdued. N.C.’s paintings are dynamic. Jamie has many of all kinds. Yet, Andrew with only a select few watercolors, egg temperas and drawings makes the biggest impact.
11, August 2011 § 7 Comments
As Paros is an island, you’ve got to take a boat. I didn’t immediately realize the significance of this until I was on board the ferry and motoring away from the hazy landmass of Athens. Out in the middle of the Aegean– long, long before the sea appeared to me as brushstroke washes of ultramarine blue and viridian green– I felt as though I was not only traveling but emigrating.
Surely I knew what I had signed up for: I wasn’t leaving an impoverished, famine stricken land carrying all my portable property for a chance at a better life on Paros. I was vacationing from New York City to learn how to paint. Yet, there was a palpably different feeling to this trip.
Our incredible professor (and my friend of some years from Minnesota), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, collected us individually from the ferry port as we arrived. We were taken to our quarters, a small set of apartments only 200 paces from the sea. I was shown the cafe in town were we would receive our free student meals. I was shown where to shop for our own groceries. I was shown where to walk to reach the classroom. I was even taught the particularities of the Greek toilet. These basic instructions heightened my sense of emigration. I wouldn’t only be taught how to paint, I would be shown how to live.
During our first classroom session we had received an outline detailing our expected arrival time for each day, the topic to be covered during the day’s class, and the start time and subject of the evening lecture. Still, many details were omitted– would we paint indoors or on excursion? If we are going out, where are we going? What will we be painting? Can we choose what to paint? The intentional vagary bothered some of our fellow students. Answers to these questions were occasionally demanded. I was exhilarated.
Each day unfolded magnificently. Early in the morning we had time to do as we pleased. I would wake early to take a dip in the sea, sketch or paint, and take a walk to town for a fresh baked spanikopita or Greek yogurt with honey. Classroom time was dynamic. Jun-Pierre would instruct on a topic of focus and provide a variety of hands-on exercises. For example, on the class period focusing on color Jun had us create a variety of color wheels using a particular color family and using a variety of wet and dry brush techniques. After creating these wheels he had us wash over them with various colors to understand their effects. We would break from one in the afternoon until four-thirty. We could do whatever we wanted during the break. Many of us chose to eat lunch at our designated cafe, Cafe Distrato. Some of us would then swim, shop, or nap. Often for the resumption of class we would take an excursion to someplace on the island such as a superlatively beautiful hillside, monastery, or windmill overlooking sea and rock where we would practice applying the day’s classroom instruction. In the evening there was often an optional lecture offered by a professor at the Aegean Center. Night would mean dinner on our own, perhaps a final night swim under moonlight and then sleep. Sleep! The kind of sleep that comes quickly to those who are satisfied, exhausted, and content to be lulled by soft breezes and the sound of the sea.
After our second week of studying, exploring, and tasting something wonderful happened. We were more relaxed, our personalities had settled in to one another. I gathered the distinct sense that it became less about what we expected from the class and more about being able to absorb everything we were being offered. Our work reflected this. Our conversations and deportment reflected this. We had a rhythm and a little livelihood on Paros, no matter how transitory. Rather sadly, following our student show it was time to leave.
We came by boat and we left by boat. New York and the old life were calling. It was time to strip myself of my Greek sandals and my responsibly cultivated tan to once again return to pushing my plow through fields of ones and zeros. And after so much! I had eaten incredible locally grown food. I had mastered zigzagging from shadow to shadow in order to avoid the summer sun. I had learned how to draw, to paint, to see. Now, it was time to return. I may not always have fresh urchin roe, but I’m forever changed. I know because I did not merely visit, I had emigrated– even if it was only temporary.
The ferry approaches on the horizon. Hot people queue haphazardly in bunches, luggage awkwardly in tow. Up until the last moments there are kind words, embraces, and well wishing. It is unlike air travel: the airline security acting as a hermetic seal between your destination and airport-land and all airport-lands connected by flying tubes of recycled air. With air travel you enter on one side of the tube and come out uncomfortably on the other. This produces an illusion that destinations belong to differing neighborhoods within a grand scale world-metropolis. Objects seem closer than they appear. Traveling by boat is different. Up on the deck of the boat you can see the land and your loved ones standing there, all getting smaller and receding slowly into the distance. They recede just as slowly as the thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could stay forever?