Advice to Young Artists

I haven’t reviewed a book in ages – quite simply because I haven’t read one. Swamped with study unfortunately, and as enlightening as it may be, it has it’s downside, in what I get to read. That’s not to say that required reading is bad or boring (did I imply that…), no, no, no. It’s just acknowledging that you don’t want to hear about text books. Today’s waffle is about a book that has been mentioned here before. This time, however, since I’m finally getting near the end of it, I can say something more complete. Three months to read a book is something of a record for me – it used to be like three each week…

So here we go with Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era. The author, William V. Dunning, is a professor in fine arts at Central Washington University and his book is published by Syracuse University Press. Now normally, as you may know, I don’t bother with that sort of formality, I just give you a link to Amazon or somewhere, so you can go find the boring bits yourself if you’re interested. OK, I have still gaven you a link to it but that’s only because if anyone buys a copy I get a 6 cents credit or something like that. Which I then put toward the books I buy which keeps me supplied with things to write about. I promise I won’t spend it all at once. Alright, don’t let that stop you buying a copy – I’ll keep writing anyway – just to spite you. Oh, I forgot, my point in giving you the dull details was to say that the guy has cred.

You can, in fact, be grateful the commission is so small because it stops me reviewing books that are no good. Can you imagine the rant? That’s because I don’t bother to finish reading books that are no good (unless the lecturer makes me…) and thus I have nothing to say on them. So there.

I also don’t do proper book reviews, there are lots of those out there. I just tell you what I think and then ramble on about irrelevant stuff. If you’re looking for a normal book review – try Google. I promise you there’s nothing normal on this site because… OK, we won’t go down that side track either because that one was covered last week…

A few posts back, I praised Mr Dunning for bagging writers who re-hash stuff they’ve read without bothering to check their facts. It happens a lot, especially in rose books – I know a lot about books on heritage roses. I also grow a lot of heritage roses (mostly hidden under weeds at the moment…sniff) but in growing them I know about them. Some things become darned obvious when you grow a particular rose: like how big it is and whether or not it has a scent. An author might make a mistake and say that Monsieur Tillier is a puny thing that struggles to make three feet and the Dark Lady doesn’t smell good. Shame on you on both counts. Monsieur Tillier in my garden makes a good 12ft in all directions and The Dark Lady will perfume a entire room – no need to stick your nose in that one. What’s criminal, however, is all the other authors who come along and repeating it! Where’s their credibility? What does all that have to do with art books? Aside from “not much”, of course. I’m getting to that.

The similarity between rose books and art books is in all in the description. A with roses you can find out an awful lot about a painting by standing in front of it and looking. One thing you may learn when standing there looking is that what you see may not be the same as stuff that has been written and copied ad infinitum by writers who didn’t go and stand in front of the paintings they wrote about…

Mr Dunning blew the whistle on lots of books that describe Seurat’s work… I could kiss him. Colour theory is a pet interest. Seurat’s work likewise. The difference between what Seurat did and what we are often told he did is, well… amazing. Go back and read what I wrote on that or better still go find a copy of Advice to Young Artists to read for yourself, check the library. Or, even better still, if you’re really lucky go look at La Grande Jatte with a fresh eye. It’s in the museum at the Chicago Institute of Art. Look for the red, yellow and blue dots that are supposed to mingle in the eye…

OK, so what else does he write about? Mostly about how to get the most out of being an art student. He also has a fair bit to say to and about being an art teacher. Or how to be a better teacher. He doesn’t bag teachers, not good ones anyway, but he does point out interesting things that might raise a collection of eyebrows. Things like: good teachers are those that spend more time learning about their subject area rather than learning about how to teach. In fact he thinks that too much education theory makes them worse. Oo wah.

He also reckons that crap is a technical term. I might just use that in an essay some time seeing as I can quote an authoritative source.

On art students too he has radical thoughts. There’s one where he tells the story of a guy going off to art school already a pretty accomplished realist painter. (I think, I can’t find the page, details don’t matter, the message is the same). The school wasn’t teaching much that he could learn. Ignoring the cries of his fellow students that he was selling out, he thought about it long and hard, picked up his brushes and knuckled under to study the abstract painting being taught. What the… At the end of doing his time (yeah, I’m well aware that makes study sound like a sentence…) at that school he was able to combine what he had learned with what he’d already known to make something entirely new. He didn’t sell out. Nor did he waste his time. An interesting thought for any student faced with a seemingly irrelevant class. (OK I could learn from that.)

For me however, William Dunning’s most important message was right up front in the first few pages of the book. He talks about what makes it likely that an art student will make it as an artist. It’s not the ability to solve problems – as we are often told – it’s in the rare ability to ask questions and find problems worth solving. That’s the difference between good and great.

And that’s something worth thinking about. Amanda

Seurat & errant authors

The bulk of this post is more or less a copy of an email to an artist friend a few days ago, slightly edited to suit a blog post. My feeble excuse for such a shortcut is that the pressure of study is such that I’m lucky to be able to do this much!
What has me so excited is partly the new light on Seurat’s work, partly a new way to think of colour usage but most importantly a fine example of writers writing what they have read, not what they know. Enough to make me rant…

Another words, it’s about the perpetuation of fiction peddled as facts. For students the continuous regeneration of errors in book after book is a serious disservice to their learning and that of the students some of them will go on to teach. I don’t for a minute blame those teaching, now or past, they too have been hoodwinked by books written by those claiming to be expert. It’s simply of matter of those who would be published making reasonable effort to check their facts. Please.

Rant over. The story begins (quoting directly from my email, as stated above):

Right now I’m reading (for myself – not uni – in between the crippling loads of required reading…) a book called Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era by Williams Dunning. Don’t let the title put you off – no way is this book for truly young artists. It would be completely wasted on them. Besides which, we are all young artists – if not might as well give up.

I’ll quote, rather rather than paraphrase, in case I miss something (aren’t scanners wonderful!)


Studies of students from all fields consistently indicate that art students in general have read less than those in most other disciplines. But when successful people in all fields are compared to successful artists, the artists register as among the best and the broadest read of all the professionals. The implication for artists here is quite clear: don’t read, don’t succeed.
Gilmore also argues convincingly that “the higher the level of creative activity involved, the more compelling the need for a cohesion of studio practice, awareness of art history, and critical analysis, as well as [a] general education” (Gilmore i991,37)•
Furthermore, those who read little can seldom discuss art intelligently, and an ability to discuss the ideas in your field is indispensable…

Now, the good bit:

But never allow what you read or what you know to blind you to your own vision, and never allow what you have read or heard shape what you see or experience. During my years in art school I read in several books, and I heard from several art history instructors, that the pointillists, especially Seurat, mixed their pigments additively. I was told that when Seurat and the pointillists wanted a green, they did not use green out of a tube; instead, they placed small dots of blue and small dots of yellow next to each other and let the color fuse additively in the eye to create a green that was livelier than any that could be mixed subtractively.
Josef Albers, the patron saint of color, wrote an inspired book, Interaction of Color; I believe this to be the best method ever devised to teach color empirically rather than theoretically. But on the mixing of green in pointillism, he made the same mistake everyone else was making. He tells us what he has read rather than what he has seen, and noting what he has seen is usually his strong point. About the impressionists (pointilists were originally called impressionists) he wrote: “Instead of using green paint mixed mechanically from yellow and blue, they applied yellow and blue unmixed in small dots, so that they became mixed only in our perception-as an impression” (Albers 1963, 339). Albers has just reiterated the classic misconception about retinal (actually partitive) color mixing.
When I was working on an M.EA at the University of Illinois, I visited the museum at Chicago Art Institute. I specifically wanted to see Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, the painting that is usually named as exemplary of the theorizing mentioned above. I stood in front of that painting and looked carefully for tiny intermingled dots of blue and yellow that would mix additively in the retina to make green.
There were none!
There was no place on that canvas that I read as green where I could find blue and yellow dots intermingling. Seurat had used dots of several different shades of green to depict the lawn and the foliage and those areas he wanted green (which generated a more vibrant green). Among these different shades and colors of green dots, he placed here and there a dot of red, which tends to make the green seem even brighter and more vibrant.
He chose red because the impressionists and the pointillists still used Brewster’s by then outdated red, yellow, and blue primary colors to construct their color wheel; hence they believed red was the complement to green, and they had learned correctly from M. E. Chevreul’s Laws of Simultaneous Contrast that adjacent complements create supersaturated color that is perceived as brighter (more saturate) than any pure color alone.
In the bright sunlit areas on the lawn, Seurat interspersed dots of yellow to make those areas yellower (lighter and warmer); and in areas of deep shadow he interspersed dots of blue, which made the shadows darker and cooler.
This came as a shock to me. I wondered if those writers and art historians had ever looked at pointillist paintings.

A bit of an eye opener? The guy who wrote this is professor of fine arts at Central Washington University. The book is published by Syracuse University Press. Another words: he has cred. It is certainly enough to have me off looking for decent reproductions of Seurat’s work.



Notan book

I already knew of notan or rather I thought I did, when I picked up this book. If asked I would have said that notan was used in Japanese art and that it’s about creating balance between dark and light.

Having now read Dorr Bothwell and Marlys Mayfield’s book Notan, the Dark-Light Principle of Design I realise that my explanation, while correct, was rather short of the mark. Notan is in fact far more interesting and more powerful.

Bothwell and Mayfield’s book was originally published in 1968, and has seen a number of editions since, none of which are particularly expensive. Even better, for the modern art student of insatiable curiosity, struggling under a limited book budget, this classic has been republished by the ever affordable Dover, making it is easy to find and in my opinion well worth the effort.

The first surprise for me was that it’s more of a workbook than a reader since each chapter finishes with an exercise in cutting and gluing. I was also surprised at it’s stature – after ploughing through some hefty books on colour theory I was expecting something bigger and more boring. This one however packs an impressive mind shift into a small format, running to just 79 pages, which makes it an easy weekend project at a leisurely pace. Don’t rush it mind, this is one to play with. Be warned too that you’ll be needing a few sheets each of black paper, white paper and then toward the end a couple of mid grey. I wasn’t unaware and was caught out, an hour from a likely store and had to manage with blue and brown and… thankfully it still worked.

Each chapter builds on the previous and as with many such books it’s real worth is in the doing rather than the reading. It looks simple and the principles are simple, to be sure, but understanding comes from doing the exercises not just reading and thinking “yeah, I got that”. It’s about stretching the imagination just a little. It’s fun too!

(That point about doing the exercises reminds me of an episode in class one time. Michael Wilcox’s book Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green was mentioned and someone said that it was good book but it didn’t help her much. I was surprised and curious. I asked if she had done the exercises. Her answer: “Oh, no.” with a note of surprise implying that something like that would be far too much work. Right then. One more time, just for Shirley, it’s all in the doing! One doesn’t get fit looking at the pictures of the push-ups in the book.)

Ok, back to nitty gritty on notan. First up are some interesting exercises on symmetrical and asymmetrical balance, which are then combined with a look at positive and negative spaces and how they might be used together. The first exercise was to design a simple symmetrical image based on a square. The only method involved cutting shapes and flipping them to create mirrored positive and negative shapes. Below is one of mine. Very simple design. (The examples in the book are more complex than this but you get the idea?)

Simple notan

Notan image – symmetric

Taking the same process further we then try an asymmetric design. I know – it would look more punchy in black on white. but blue was on hand. (I’ll fix the rest of the images in Photoshop!)

Complex notan

Notan image – asymmetric design

Next came the exciting part which is creating a sense of movement and tension.Have you noticed that some images have an uncanny ability to be two pictures in one – a sense of flipping from the positive to the negative depending on how you look the picture.

I’ll use one of mine as an example (I had fun with this and did a few…). If you focus first on the white (ok it looks grey here… but the paper was white) the image appears to be a series of wiggly white bands on a black background. If you then focus on the black instead, the image becomes a black square with wiggly cut-outs. Then you can go backwards and forwards flipping the image by focusing on one colour or the other – thereby creating said tension and movement.

When a design has a balance of dark and light that achieves this effect of movement, then it has notan. Cool, yes?

Notan with 1 colour


Next is a slightly more difficult example using an extra colour. In this instance the aim is to design in such away that the grey bands always stay with the black as the image focus is flipped back and forth from the black to the white. Not so easy – the balance really needs to be right to get what Bothwell and Mayfield refer to as “predominance and subordination”.

Here’s mine: focus first on the grey/black shapes and then on the white, making each come forward in turn to create a different image.

Notan multi colour

Notan image – 3col

That is pretty much the end of the notan exercises and the book then covers some design principles (with a few more opportunities to play with the scissors and glue) then a bunch of examples from different art styles.

I have found since working through this project that I look at things differently. The variations on these themes are endless and the application to many types of art limited only by the imagination of the artist. The question would be how to apply these principles to colour… worth pondering.


Bargue and sight-size

Over the past couple of months (holidays, yay!) I’ve been tackling the Bargue-Gerome Drawing Course using the sight-size method of drawing. The drawing course, to quote, “is a complete reprint of a famous, late nineteenth century drawing course. It contains a set of almost two hundred masterful lithographs of subjects for copying by drawing students before they attempt drawing from life or nature.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done quite a bit of “drawing from life or nature” but sheesh! it’s never too late to learn how…

The plates are a great exercise in understanding classical taste and are conveniently graded from easy starting ones through to arrgghhhh…

The impact though has come from using the sight-size method – my drawing has improved remarkably in many facets: patience, accuracy and the ability to spot mistakes – all of which transfers very well to all kind of drawing.

Sight-size drawing is done from a position about six feet or so back from the easel continuously looking from the object to the drawing, side-by-side, comparing point to point. A measuring devise is used – traditionally a piece of thread held between the thumb and fore-finger of each hand. Other implements that work are a knitting needle, skewer or dividers. I prefer the dividers. Measuring the object, then the drawing, always comparing. Walking forward to make a mark. Back to check, then foward to fix. Back and forward, back and forward – always to the same spot – marked with a piece of tape on the floor.

The whole point of sight-size is nit-picking accuracy. It trains the eye like no other practice. It also drives one stark raving mad! It can take upward of ten hours to copy one of the simple plates from the Bargue book. And the end drawing – is so ruined with erasing and correcting – it’s not worth squat! However, if you stick with it and can see it through the results will never leave you. Quite simply, one learns to see.

I have many, many plates to go and doubt that it’s necessary to do them all but when I decide I’m done: I’ll never, ever do another sight-size drawing again. Well, not for a while anyway…


Anatomy for artists

I’ve talked before about my ongoing interest in anatomy study. A quest pursued through books and life drawing. In general, I’m comfortable with self directed study – actually more than comfortable – it’s probably my preferred way to learn. I can go as fast or as slow as need be and work through as many different books as I feel I need to until whatever-it-is clicks. And I like books. A lot. Anatomy however has been something of a hurdle for me – sitting staring at the intricate pictures in Stephen Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy simply made me feel overwhelmed. Even trying to draw them didn’t help much. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great book – probably the best book on the topic for artists. However it’s a *reference* book not a learning tool.

I also tried Bridgman, Loomis and Vanderpoel. I read them, copied the drawings and followed the suggested exercises. Sometimes several times. Until I thought I got it. My drawing improved a bit but I still didn’t feel I understood the nuts and bolts. I haven’t actually given up on any of these books, in fact, I’ll be returning to them as follow up exercises.

Follow up to what? I decided that what I needed was a course. College level, several semesters, intensive, directed study. Unfortunately I couldn’t find one in Perth… certainly not one I could get to or afford the time for – since I’m studying full time already.

I looked around the net. Read reviews. Asked friends. The result was a fairly even division of fans between two teachers – Hal Reed and Glenn Vilppu. Both have produced a series of videos – each about 14 or so – covering everything from the head to the feet. Now any set of 14 videos isn’t going to be cheap – so buying both was not an option. Certainly not all at once. (Thinking about it – they’re less than a course or workshop… and in my humble opinion better.)

The decision was made for me by finding I could borrow the Vilppu set from a friend and then buy the Hal Reed set myself – I get to return the favour too. Now, after the fact, I’m thinking that I’ll be saving up for the Vilppu set too because they are so different.

Glenn draws everything – fluidly and beautifully adding the muscles to action figures and naming them as he goes. He’s in demand for teaching animators – even Disney brings him in – but his background is as a painter too. He’s fun.

Hal on the other hand is more serious. More to learn. More muscles. More serious tips. He draws some, points at charts and points at casts. Over and over again. Forcing the names to sink in. And as I discovered on the second video he also has a gorgeous young body builder as a model! (Woo hoo. Hey – I’m married – not dead…)

I really couldn’t choose one over the other. Glenn has loosened up my drawings – Hal has given them muscle. Glenn first, then Hal. Maybe. Ultimately they both have a lot to offer and for me I really think it’s the repetition that is making it sink in. Anatomy is a complex subject – with a lot to learn and remember. The videos for me have made all the difference. And now the books make sense too.


Applied Munsell

Frank Covino – Controlled Painting

Frank Covino Controlled Painting

Sometime ago I came across a reference to a book by Frank Covino called Controlled Painting. It was published by North Light Books back in 1982 and while it is showing its age here and there it is still an absolute gem for anyone interested in applying Munsell theory to realistic painting. At the time I was looking for a copy it was reasonably expensive (no doubt reflecting how valued it is) and was a bit beyond me – then I discovered I could create a “Want” on ABE books specifying a maximum price so I would get an email when a copy came up that matched. (You need to be signed on and then take a look on your members page – it’s right there on the sidebar menu.) It took a while but I have it. I’ve since discovered that a copied version is also available direct from Frank Covino.

Frank has been using and teaching a method of painting with a controlled palette based on Munsell values since the late 60’s – just goes to show that this Munsell thing isn’t some recent novelty!

I have to say I enjoyed reading this book just to gain an insight into the ideas and opinions of someone who has been painting for so long. And Frank is bold with his opinions – on everything from teaching methods to the use of photography as an artists tool. His explanations of the Golden Proportions and composition are as good as any I have read, and even though I know this stuff, I benefited from the refresher.

Another point of interest is that he doesn’t appear to require the user to have a Munsell book on hand. He explains how it works and then has the user work it out from grey values. It’s easy enough to follow and if you’re not trying to match paints to absolute accuracy for some outside purpose – just your own paintings – I don’t see anything wrong with the method. In fact it helped me lighten up a bit on my own use of the charts – realising that I don’t have to be perfect no one is going to manufacture 50 zillion cans of spray paint from my rendering of any given colour. What a relief.

Frank also gives pretty good guidance through making up a set of colour charts (which are used instead of the Munsell book) and a palette – either glass or acrylic with the grey values underneath – just as some of us have been making for ourselves. A little better than mine too – on his version the strips of values aren’t just a patch off to the side they are as big as the palette.

His notes on which colours to use to get close to particular hues and values are useful too – even though they’re a bit swayed to Liquidtex which aren’t readily available down here – there are enough suggestions of substitutes to be able to work it out. (And if all else fails – know which colour to mail order…) Also this shows how long Liquidtex have been making Munsell numbers available on their paints – very impressive.

All in all, I’m happy with this book (ignoring the chapter on SLR cameras..) and reckon it’ll be keeping me even busier for a bit. Even though I do have and use the Munsell Student Set I’m going to make up a set of colour charts following Frank’s guidelines. Hmmm, and a new underlay for my glass palette while I’m at it.


Another book…

Back to the Big Smoke yesterday. A combined trip for the family – most importantly for the kids to pick up their Harry Potter book plus I was booked into a workshop at the WA Printmakers Association on embossing taught by Hilda Klap. With time to spare after that the family headed off to make it a really Harry day by taking in the new movie too while I picked up a few last minute things for school – which starts back in a couple of days (groan…). Thankfully the movie lasted long enough for me to look again for the book Studio: Australian Painters on the Nature of Creativity by R Ian Lloyd and John Macdonald. I got lucky – this time I found one at the Art Gallery Bookshop – without the stupid plastic wrapper – and yes, it came home.

It is beautiful: hardcover, 280 pages and full colour throughout – with double page spreads showing the studios of 61 artists as well as other photos and text for each of the interviews. It raises and attempts to answer the question as to whether the artist creates the studio or the studio creates the artist. The result is fascinating.

I am struck by the similarity of the studios to the work of the artists – the clean graphic quality of Marion Borgelt to the eclectic and colourful belonging to Margaret Olley – truly looking like her painting come to life. There’s James Gleeson’s cave-like haven – who needs natural light to explore the dreamworld? Then there’s Tim Storrier’s space: large, clean, well-lit with everything in immaculate order. I have to say that I’m not surprised.

Does that phenomenon give a clue for those of us still trying to find our footing? Should I go study my studio as I might someone else’s painting. Would that give me a clearer picture of my nature than anything coming from my head? A sense of direction. A realness behind the layers of learning. Hmmm, better go clean up.

The interviews throughout Studio feel candid, offering thoughts on painting, being blocked, keeping working and how it all fits into life. The answers are as varied as the work of the artists involved but there are common threads. It is in recognising those threads I found a new sense that my own struggles are valid, not just another figment of my overactive imagination. I particularly related to Peter Churcher’s comment:

“Without wanting to to sound corny,” he says, ” I think it’s very important to stick to that old adage: ‘Unto thine own self be true’ because that’s all you’ve got. An artist has to have their vision, their relationship with the world, and that’s all you can really paint about.”

Colour theory unscrambled

I just finished leaving a comment over at All the Strange Hours (a blog that’s now disappeared) in response to a great article on Munsell and colour theory in general. Then realised I could actually say as much as I liked on the subject and even go off on a tangent now I have my own blog – old habits and all that. I’ve been fascinated with colour since I took a class in Colour Theory a couple of years ago. Prior to that I’d mostly dealt with colour as it applied to print not really thinking about it much – just using it to get the job done. Of course I knew the basics – like any kid who has ever had a box of watercolour, I knew that red and yellow make orange.

It became more interesting as an adult with the oil paints. No longer happy with just any shade of orange I wanted to mix the one I could see in the landscape before me – OK so I could just buy a tube of Australian Sienna – but really…

The colour class I took merely whetted the appetite. From there I picked up a book called Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green by Michael Wilcox and read it from end to end. Pretty good. Unfortunately it didn’t help much until about six months later when faced with a college level paint class the desperation forced me to pick it up again and actually do the exercises. Yes, mix all 2500 colours. It was worth every little dollop of paint. I’ve had no colour mixing issues since. Yes, it did add up to a lot of paint. And rags. And lots of little MDF panels that I used for the task. Still it was worth it. I will save far more than paint in my coming years of painting – and a lot of frustration too.

Then I came across Munsell theory which Graydon Parrish has been working with and teaching as a practical painting tool. I sent away for the Munsell Student Set, read it first and then having learned my lesson previously immediately began working through the suggested exercises. That fixed any hue and chroma confusion…

Now, of course, I’m still painting grey cubes but that’s just continuing the experiment. The nature of the beast is well understood. Hey, I can mix the eight shades of grey between black and white on the Munsell Value Scale – pretty darn accurately in about 30 minutes… OK so I’ve had to mix and paint the scale quite a few times. I’m not that fast a learner. Making the cubes and then painting the still lives of them as Graydon suggested is one incredibly useful exercise. Just ask Paul.

Still asking questions, I’ve been reading about Wilhelm Ostwald’s theories and their practical application in book by Faber Birren called Creative Color. Ostwald, a Nobel scientist in chemistry, corresponded with Munsell but at some point took his study in a different direction. He identified what he called the “uniform chroma scale” – or shadow series – which he says is the secret behind the richness and luminosity of chiaroscuro. Instead of mixing black and white to a given colour to change the values – a touch of the original colour is added too so the proportion of hue content is kept constant. So yes, now I’m mixing chroma scales too. More paint. I like theory that has practical application and experiments so I can see for myself.

As I said, I’ve had practice working with cyan, yellow and magenta in the print industry. Then a few more years mixing oil paints on the basis of red, yellow and blue. My husband is an electronics engineer and has explained really well how the red, green blue of my monitor works. Three different systems – all of which work – differently. Grrr…

Always the kid wanting to know “why”, “just because” won’t do – I had to keep reading.

Recently I came across a thread at Wet Canvas written by WF Martin – that really made my head spin and essentially solved the problem for me. It does fit together! Not for any particularly practical purpose – I’m still playing with Munsell greys and Ostwald chroma scales – but it settled the whole issue in my head. So go read this man’s explanation (and do the exercises!) with an open mind. It’s an eye opener.


Book Shopping

I don’t get enough visits the city book stores and I really do make the most of the occasion when I do. Today was one of those occasions. In reality a kid-related event, my two boys were due a reward for a big effort at school this last term, so it was off to the Big Smoke for a couple of country kids. I excused myself from the cinema part of the day – since Transformers really isn’t my cup of tea – and headed off to browse books for nearly 3 hours. Bliss. The result was expensive but like I said this doesn’t happen that often (not including mail order…) so I was splurging. Once I get stuck into school again in ten days time there’ll be time for nothing.

So what came home?

Odd Nerdrum

The big one was a copy of Odd Nerdrum: Paintings, Sketches and Drawings by Richard Vine. I’ve been wanting this book since I read the little book On Kitsch, of which Odd himself was one of the authors.

On Kitsch is a collection of essays and speeches looking at the history of kitsch as well as Odd’s insistence on calling his own work kitsch. Possibly he’s right if the original meaning of “kitsch” is used – a work that’s beautiful or academic in a world that doesn’t value those things. (Unfortunately I can’t review this more completely with quotes and stuff because I’ve loaned my book to a friend. I’ll come back to this when the book comes back because I think it’s important.) I was drawn to the book because some of my work had been criticised as kitsch by a teacher – after reading I can add that I’d be proud if it were!

So on that positive note, I was curious to see what Odd’s paintings were like. I looked around online to get an overview but was left wanting more. So was pleased, when I saw a copy of Odd Nerdrum: Painting, Sketches and Drawings at Borders. I say saw because that was two months ago. I spent an enjoyable hour with it then but didn’t buy on account of the Aus$140 price tag. Books are expensive here but that was extra ouch. Yesterday I went again with the intent of bringing it home if was still there. I just about ran down that elevator…

So what can I say about it. It’s heavy and hardcover with over 400 pages. It is beautifully reproduced. Many of the images flow right to the edge of the page making it feel like it’s all image. And images are what it’s about. There’s not a lot of text and what’s there is readable rather than academic, admitting here that I haven’t read it all yet. Each time I sit with it I start reading and am then drawn to the pictures. Fascinated. I can’t say that I love his subject matter so much as the way he paints. Some pages I turn quickly because I really don’t like what is shown. Obviously that didn’t put me off entirely. I ended up wanting this book so badly because there’s just so much there that is worth looking at.

So is his work kitsch? He can paint that’s for sure. In a manner more akin to the old masters than the modern. There’s narrative too, which could also date it. Narrative, realistic and well crafted. Odd’s premise was that these things are what make a work kitsch. He does all of them well.

Virtual Pose 2

Virtual Pose 2 is a book and CD set promising to be a “virtual life drawing studio”. I have to admit it was an impulse buy at Borders, again ridiculously expensive at $76. I was really hopeful that it would help with life drawing and anatomy – study areas that I’m spending a lot of time on this year. Not the book, I could see that the pictures were too small to work from. Are there any books in the genre that are a decent size? I was hopeful that the CD would be good. In the pages at the back of the book describing installation, the screenshots look promising.

Virtual Pose book

Virtual Pose book pic

And yes, the screen really does look like that – except that’s been cropped – in reality it’s about 14cm (4″) high… and on my screen looks like the screenshot below.

Virtual Pose screenshot

Virtual Pose screenshot

What did I learn? Don’t impulse buy something I can’t look at properly. If I had my time again on this one I’d treat it like an online, sight-unseen, purchase. Read reviews. Get opinions. Gather as much information as possible before committing.

On Shrinkwrapped Books

Strangely, I did apply the “get more info” rule a few hours later at Dymocks bookshop. There, I saw Studio: Australian Painters and Creativity. The cover looked interesting but I couldn’t look at it properly because it was wrapped in plastic. I found a store clerk and asked if it could be opened. Unsure she found someone else to ask. He then checked their computer to see if there was another copy already open. No, this was it. More delay as he then goes to find someone else to ask, clearly I’m being a nuisance… at that point I saw red. With gritted teeth politeness, I said, “Don’t worry about it. There’s another bookshop at the Art Gallery. I’ll go see if they have it.”

The next thing I’ll no doubt get some bookshop emailing me to complain about not being able to return books to the publisher that have been opened and that the internet is killing their trade. To which I’m unsympathetic. One of the advantages that bricks and mortar shops have over the internet for this customer is that I can see more than the cover and make impulse buys based on what I see. There’s no opportunity for me to read reviews and do my research, so I have to base my decision on what I see by looking. I do pay for that privilege – the prices are higher.

Australian Impressionism

My last buy of the day was Australian Impressionism written by Terence Lance. It is brand new on the bookshop shelf and is actually the catalogue for an exhibition recently held at the National Gallery of Victoria.

I saw this book a couple of days ago but didn’t buy then because I wanted to take another look at a book I have called Golden Summers, Heidelberg and Beyond to make sure that I wasn’t doubling up too much. After all, the Heidelberg School pretty much is Australian Impressionism, yes? Alright, I have more to learn. Anyway the decision was that the new book would add something to my library, so it was on my shopping list should I come across a copy.

I had to chuckle to myself when reading the Director’s Foreword:

More than twenty years have passed since the National Gallery of Victoria’s hugely successful Golden Summers exhibition, which delighted audiences around the country through the panoramic view it offered of the art of the Australian Impressionists, justly celebrated as the first truly national School of Art.

Australian Impressionism has been conceived to take up the story again, but this time concentrating on the five key initiators of the movement and limiting the timescale…

So what’s it like? Soft cover, 352 pages, lots of pictures and fairly readable essays. Keeping in mind that I haven’t had a chance to read it properly and I do have a habit of starting to read and getting distracted by the pictures… all I can say is that I’m looking forward to spending some hours with it.


Life drawing – a struggle

Life drawing portrait sketch

Life drawing portrait sketch

This week’s effort at life drawing group showed little improvement in my figures but yet again an acceptable portrait sketch. I even managed a likeness. Obviously I have no photo to show to prove that since cameras are a no-no. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I have to wonder about this, why faces are fine but I still struggle with everything else. I’ve drawn more faces. Maybe. I’ve certainly seen more faces than unclothed bodies. Absolutely. Measuring. Anatomy study – or the lack thereof. I really do think that is where the problem lies.

I’ve read and copied the drawings in Bridgman’s Life Drawing. I started working through Loomis’ Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth during the last holiday break. I should finish that. I also have Stephen Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist on the shelf. Maybe I need to read it again? The truth is the books don’t seem to be helping that much.

Thinking about it, I realise that I’ve never actually had any instruction in anatomy or drawing for that matter. Yes I’ve been in art college for two years. Drawing though isn’t actually taught. We have a class called Formal Drawing which entails a still life, or on three occasions per semester a model, and we just draw. No instruction.

We were encouraged to buy a book on anatomy. With no suggested title, I (in my utter ignorance) looking over the offerings at Borders chose Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth. Big mistake. It has inspiring drawings but no instruction. It’s much too stylised for a beginner. The teacher wasn’t offering any praise for my choice, but still no indication as to what would be better. How would I know? I wasn’t even sure how to use it. Copy the drawings?

Under guidance from internet friends (who really can draw…) I did eventually end up with the Stephen Peck book, which is the one to get. Plus during this past year I have bought or borrowed Bridgman, Loomis, Vanderpoel and absolutely everything from the library on the topic. And for the most part read them carefully. And copied the drawings. Something is still not sinking in. What to do? More books isn’t the answer.

Maybe I need to find a teacher. When? I’m already studying full time, spending 16 hours a week commuting, caring for a couple of kids and a small farm. What do I do?