Sunday, January 27, 2019


I recently made some unkind remarks about portraits in the New York Times Magazine.  I asked, "Is there a shortage of under employed, hard working, innovative illustrators out there?"

It might be a better use of this blog to show some young talent that I think is superior to the selections in the New York Times

I really like the work of Lindsey Lively, a 31 year old illustrator and fine artist working in North Carolina.

Lively originally trained to be a sculptor.  This seems to have paid off for her because her paintings have a structural strength absent from so many other artists today.

After graduating from college, she learned about faces by drawing live caricatures on the Vegas strip.  Customers lined up on the sidewalk behind her to watch her work, eager to take the place of her most recent subject as soon as a caricature was finished.  She also paid her dues drawing caricatures at Star Trek conventions and comic conventions.

For the most part, Lively has taught herself to paint-- very impressive when you consider her appreciation  for color and for the importance of brush strokes.  She's an observant and hard working artist who currently makes most of her income selling her work through Instagram .  I think the New York Times  would've been much better served if it had turned to an artist such as Lively.


al mcluckie said...

Looking at her work is like stepping out from a stuffy room into a forest , and drawing a deep breath of clean air .

I love B.Fuchs work , but the tracing of a photograph , even as skillfully as Fuch's and others did , as a basis for an oil painting , just does not draw from within the artist as purely as what she is doing .

Al McLuckie

MORAN said...

Awesome work.

chris bennett said...

Absolutely agree with you David on both counts. Thank you.

kev ferrara said...

Delightful heads.

chris bennett said...

Al McLuckie;

I have found that artists who use photography well are those able to intuit a sense of deep structure underlying the reality upon which the reference material is based. This of course holds true for the act of painting from reality itself, the difference being that the sensual immediacy and vividness of what is involved in these circumstances will more readily induce this vital haptic sense in the imagination.

Richard said...

Lively needs to finish some pictures.

Odutola's Aretha Franklin is kinda lame, but in general her work has been taken to its logical end and has had the bravery to make its statement without reserve (as shallow as that statement may be). Odutola’s crime is in trying to jump straight to the Art while ignoring the craft, but she clearly believes in each picture. She's bought into a larger artistic goal.

Lively’s crime is quite the opposite. Where is her love of Art? Of making a stand-alone Visual Communication? It seems, at least for now, Lively's Art is suffocated under study after study.

Whatever you think of his pictures, Carder is always talking about "painting your masterpiece", and I think he’s so right, it's critical, and it’s something that young classical artists really have to take to heart. Lively included.

Quit it with the studies, you've already proven you can do that. Step it up. Spend a month working just a handful of canvases and see who you really are as an artist.

al mcluckie said...

Chris - I completely agree . I believe if an artist maintains some kind of direct drawing/painting from life , working from reference - preferably the the artist's own , will be infused with the sense of direct work . As a working artist yourself , your statement is based on experience .

Richard - as a non artist , your opinions , which you have every right to express , are not based on experience . Lively's paintings are finished to the degree that she feels they do what they are supposed to do . If Carder purchased one of her oils , and proceeded to "finish" it - make it a "masterpiece" , the result would be like most of his work , dead and over rendered . The over renderer does this out of ignorance and fear . Ignorance that the viewer's perception can complete a painting in their own mind when allowed to by not overworking - and fear of leaving an inch of unfinished work will be regarded as laziness .

What she does is deeper than Carder is doing . Many artists I like - Jeff Jones , Richard Schmid ,Kanevsky have stated that setting out to create a masterpiece is the worst thing an artist can do . What you want to do , is your "best". She is on a path that will take her a lot further than Carder , whether she decides to do some polished pieces that would meet your requirements .

Your comments on wanting "more" from Frazetta . Like what ? Maybe a tightly finished landscape with a beer can lying near a tree, commenting on mankind's abuse of the environment ? Maybe Conan handing a flower to a policeman ?

Al McLuckie

Chris James said...

What is an "over-renderer." Did Van Eyck over render? Was Holbein the Younger ignorant that the viewer's perception can complete a painting in their own mind? Did Raphael have a fear of leaving an inch of unfinished work?

If not for Lively in particular, "studies" , loose stroky ones in particular, are a safe harbor for many young and amateur artists, which is why they produce so many of them while any finished statements are absent.

As far as setting out to create a masterpiece being the worst thing an artist can do, no one told Rubens that. Not only did he set out to create masterpieces, he set out to excel all those who came before him. This mindset, to improve on what came before, was not exclusive to him either. But today's artist's spend their lifetime thinking "one day I'll be half as good as [insert artist they are a fan of who is nowhere near a master]." And they only accomplish just that.

al mcluckie said...

Nor was A.Wyeth an "over-renderer" , but Carder is .

Doing your best is different from setting out to create a masterpiece - sometimes doing your best can result in one that people might designate a masterpiece . In another artform , films , I doubt Gary Oldman set out to do an oscar winning masterpiece as Churchhill - he's done any number of roles that deserved one . I think he just did his best , and he finally got one . Jim Carrey strikes me as an actor who is desperate to be acknowledged as a serious oscar worthy performer , not just a comedian , looking at some of the stuff he's done .

You can regard loose studies as a "safe harbor" for the young and amateur , but doing the blending and smoothing and finishing as Carder does is a much safer harbor , and easier to swim in, than making decisive strokes that capture the essence and form of the subject . And she's only 31 ! I look forward to seeing her evolve whether she tightens up or not .

Al McLuckie

Chris James said...

Your description of Jim Carrey sounds like what we call a "try-hard." Generally I agree it can be counter productive for most people to aim for a masterpiece or 'perfection,' but some people are of such high ability and confidence (or to some people, arrogance, lack of humility, etc.) that aiming for a masterpiece is not an unproductive mindset. Their mindset is like the athletic contender who believes they can be the world champion.

And I do regard much finished work to be safe harbor, as many are easily wow'd by blending and detail, correctly defined form be damned. Both approaches can be used to mask what the artist doesn't have. Tight/finished rendering exhibits this lack easier, exposes every bit of where an artist falls short. Why many stay away from it to begin with.

"The only reason to fear such hardness as this is that one has nothing to say which is
worthy of such expression. Such definition is cruel, and exposes the least emptiness of thought, the smallest and most momentary hesitation. It may be well for most of us to take refuge in a little merciful vagueness; but let us admit this as a concession to human weakness, not plume ourselves upon it as on a virtue."
-The Classic Point of View, Kenyon Cox

As far as one being easier than the other, they are both a wash to me. Lively uses far too many strokes when far fewer would suffice, and not enough when more are called for. Far too many tones too, which is sadly common among modern realists. And her rendering of form, and possibly her understanding, are cursory.

"In the hands of the rank and file of modem painters the attempt has led
to lamentable results. The obsession of the big brush has led to the attempt to
use it where a smaller one was obviously called for, to the omission of all forms less
than an inch wide, and the reduction of ears to jug handles and of the human face
to a diagram. The desire of freedom and looseness has led to the stroke which slashing whether it is right or wrong and which, in the worst examples, comes to represent nothing but so much paint. The attempt to do everything at once leads to
doing nothing well."

Chris James said...

But to give credit to Lively, her drawing and placement of all those strokes is generally sound. She's not the painted equivalent of Todd McFarlane.

al mcluckie said...

Is that second quote from Cox ?

I appreciate the artists you mentioned . But if I came upon two art museums next door to each other , and one was stuffed with the earlier guys , and the other had a Sargent retrospective - and it was the last day for both , I would be in the Sargent retro . Maybe we could wave to each other from the buildings and grab a coffee when they closed .

Al McLuckie

Anonymous said...

"Lively needs to finish some pictures."

Richard what makes you think these aren't finished? Do you understand what a finished picture is?


Clavve said...

very talented.. all are beautiful..

Allentown Private Investigations

Richard said...

> "loose stroky ones in particular, are a safe harbor for many young and amateur artists, which is why they produce so many of them while any finished statements are absent. "

Which is why it's such a damn shame when you see a talented artist like Lively falling into that trap. I've had friends go both ways, and I've seen how lesser artists who open their work to "cruel definition" progress much farther than those who've found safety in vaguery. I realized that my finding easy and early success in vagueness was partially to blame for a stunting in my artistic growth that lasted nearly a decade. If I could fake drawing a hand in charcoal by strategically losing edges where i wad not sure, I didn't have much immediate incentive to learn to draw one correctly.

Appreciate the Cox quotations, that's choice stuff. Haven't read him but it certainly seems worth it.

al mcluckie said...

Anywhere we can see your work ?

Richard said...

No, Al, as you rightly pointed out, I am not an artist and don't have "work".

I grew up poor, and drawing was merely the only toy my mom could afford when I was a kid, so I did a lot of it. That's all. Add to that growing up in the Wyeth's backyard, and liking pictures just comes with the territory -- but I have no pretensions about my pictures being serious or of quality.

These days I'm far more interested in looking at, collecting, and discussing art than making my own terrible pictures. You could say I'm one of those people who has opinions about Art without being an Artist, the villainous "Critic".

Tom said...

Nice Heads David. Thanks for finding these.

al mcluckie said...

Well , two points - although I completely disagree with many of your opines , that you explain that you are not an artist, which many would not , and that Roger Moore is not in fact your favorite 007 , you come up a couple of big notches . Certainly out of the villainous status .

Thomas Fluharty said...

Dear Richard, "Lively needs to finish some pictures"... Just curious what your skill level is? Do you realize how difficult it is to make it look easy like Lindsey has done?
Your remarks are callous and your use of negatives is very sad. Words like, suffocating, crime, and "see who you really are" are demeaning and accusatory. Your conclusions feel wrong almost like you are trying to bring her down. Is there a more constructive positive way to get to your point? How about rejoicing in the beauty of her work and the amazing skill level she is for 31 years old, and let studies be studies. Are you aware of her whole body of work? Do you even know who she is? Or are you making comments based off of 6 pieces? Casting judgements to bring down an artist better than yourself is shaky ground.

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

These are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing, David. Hadn't seen her work before and they've completely floored me.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie wrote: "I love B.Fuchs work , but the tracing of a photograph , even as skillfully as Fuch's and others did , as a basis for an oil painting , just does not draw from within the artist as purely as what she is doing."

Bernie would agree with you. He used to say that once he developed technical skill, “it took a long time to really study and control looseness.” After he had won all the awards and made bushel baskets full of money, he was free to pursue quality as he, and not the art directors, saw it. The resulting paintings were often far looser than Lindsey Lively's painting. ( See, for example, the football players at:

MORAN-- I agree. Follow her on Instagram.

Chris Bennett, Kev Ferrara-- I'm glad you see what I see in these.

al mcluckie said...

Thomas , big fan of your work - were you as good at 31 as Lively is ? Thanks again to David for posting her work .

Non artists giving advice to artists is often laughable . In the same way , if someone fancied themselves to be an expert on swimming technique , and enjoyed sharing their conclusions and theories in debate on forums . But their experience in swimming came from laying down a tarp on their living room floor , donning swim trunks , doing a plank on an ottoman with bungie cords attached to their wrists and ankles to simulate water resistance , and practicing strokes . Perhaps they have a friend splashing their face from a water bucket . Then after watching youtube tutorials on swimming tech. they voice their opinions and advise . Except they can't fucking swim .

Thomas Fluharty said...

Thanks Al! Oh my, you are funny. So spot on!!!!!!! Drop the mic!

I now wish to exit and will not be commenting anymore, lest the wonder of Lindsey's work be hi-jacked by the back and forths.

David Apatoff said...

Richard wrote: "Odutola's Aretha Franklin is kinda lame, but in general her work has been taken to its logical end."

There is an old Turkish proverb: "No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back." I think that each additional detail that Odutola added to that fundamentally flawed structure merely compounded her mistake. All those fine lines on Franklin's face are indeed the logical extension of her choice, but that head belongs in Aertsen's "Meat Stall With the Holy Family Giving Alms."

Richard also wrote: "Lively’s crime is quite the opposite. Where is her love of Art? Of making a stand-alone Visual Communication? It seems, at least for now, Lively's Art is suffocated under study after study."

I see no such crime here. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to highlight Lively on this blog is that her love of art seems so palpable to me. I see it in the quantity of art she produces, the way she applies so much energy to her work and digs into fresh approaches, looking hard at each fresh face. None of these are done on automatic pilot. I wish I loved drawing enough to gamble my survival on doing live caricatures on the sidewalk.

I don't view any of the portraits I chose here as unfinished. The most you could say is that some of them are unpolished, which is very different.

Chris James-- I agree that "loose stroky [studies] are a safe harbor for many young and amateur artists, which is why they produce so many of them." I find such work boring, and I find the artists who produce such work to be misguided. They usually don't recognize the qualities in good "loose" drawing (by artists such as Rodin or Topolski, for example) so they assume that anyone can draw. (It's a little like those irritating people who can't carry a tune but who listen to Bob Dylan and think, "I could do that.")

However, I think that Lively does something completely different from those "loose, stroky" artists. For one thing, one of the hallmarks of those artists is that they don't understand the structure and form of what they're drawing. Lively clearly does. Her strokes seem purposeful and smart to me-- the opposite of the random squiggles of the loose, stroky crowd. From my perspective, Lively is far more talented and conscientious. While I agree we should be skeptical of loose, stroky artists, we should be equally skeptical of technically skilled artists who paint eyelashes and fingernails with great precision. I would prefer to have a painting by Lively than one of the detailed, polished paintings in Carder's video.

As for Rubens, yes he aimed at what Carder calls "masterpieces." So did Michelangelo, so did Velasquez, so did Rodin. And yet, some of Rubens' preliminary studies are deemed superior to some of his grand, finished paintings. Similarly, Rodin took delight in his loose, airy sketches and held them up as "the key to my work." Michelangelo's David was a hugely ambitious project but can anyone say that, measured on an objective scale, it is of higher quality than Michelangelo's preliminary drawing of the Libyan sibyl? Or that the Velasquez court painting of the Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress is of better quality than his warm up study of his slave, Juan de Pareja. A "masterpiece" was originally a work that was presented to your medieval guild to qualify an apprentice for the rank of master craftsman. All kinds of professional advantages attached to that status back then, but today we are free to focus on quality in a broader sense.

Richard said...

- “Non artists giving advice to artists is often laughable”

Non-artists saying that a piece is unfinished is much more like a diner saying that a dinner is not yet cooked. No matter how beautiful your mirepoix and bone broths, if you haven't yet clarified one into a consomm√© you'll not yet be a chef. (Consomm√©, coincidentally, means ‘finished’ I believe.)

I'm surprised this was taken so personally. To say that you're impressed with someone's sketches of floating heads and that you hope they make a finished painting seems no more personal an attack than saying that an aspiring chef's cutting skills are great and that they ought to try a soup.

I'd wager that if Lively heard me say it, she'd agree that it's something she already knows. In fact, if you look at the most recent painting on her portfolio, it is itself the first painting of a scene in her portfolio (although I'd argue that it is unfinished as well.)

-Art is not like swimming.

Richard said...

And in that unfinished painting I posted above is my argument made more concrete. When young people have little to say they focus on execution and stylistic concerns over content. One way to hide that one's art isn't spiritually full, is lacking in content, is to execute vague painterly trivialities.

Not to say I much like Odutola, I don't, but I'll take one of her naive but finished paintings, done with some amount of love and sincerity , to a blurry copy of a Polaroid of two bike punks on a squat couch.

Tom said...

David said

"I wish I loved drawing enough to gamble my survival on doing live caricatures on the sidewalk."

Now why does everything have to be life and death? Such Drama. I believe Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens both work successfully in the insurance business.

Just in case there is any doubt.

Richard said...

Let me, lastly, add that 31 year olds shouldn't have much to say, that's a good thing and I'm happy for her.

Richard said...

Oh, also, a second lastly. In defense of Carder, he's an excellent educator if nothing else. I went from doing okay pencil studies for an amateur, but having never really painted, to painting something I was fairly happy with (one painting later) in about a week. (~one week progression)

Anonymous said...

Calling Kev Ferrara

Laurence John said...

there are ‘painters’ and there are ‘image makers’....

‘painters' produce portraits, figure studies, still lives, landscapes. they’ll paint their socks on the floor, a slice of cake on a plate, or a crumpled up duvet on the bed, just for the joy of translating what they see in front of them into paint. they often describe their working process as ‘meditative’. the painting process (observation - translation) often seems more important to them than the finished painting.

‘image makers’ are motivated to produce a fictional reality they see in their mind. they want to create a staged fictional world from nothing, via thumbnail, via working drawing, via reference (if needed). the power of the final image is the most important thing to them; how well the concept, narrative idea, or mood is realised in a specific form. the process of creating the final painting is usually more arduous for ‘image makers’.

Lively is an example of the former. Norman Rockwell is an example of the latter. before chastising the former for not producing a more complex, finished ‘masterpiece’ or for having nothing to say, i’d look for evidence they even show any interest in that direction. for a ‘painter’ studies may very well be enough.

Laurence John said...

p.s. another defence of Mark Carder: the work he shows on his youtube channel is rarely over-rendered or over polished. he even has some memorable aphorisms to ward against those very things: "abstraction everywhere”, “leave it messy” and “paint ugly” by which me means don’t over-blend, or try to paint overly literal.

that he himself has failed to heed his own advice and produced several over-worked portraits looks to me, like the age old curse… over reliance on photo ref. i also suspect he’s nervously second guessing what the client will think if he gives them a portrait that’s 'too loose’.

this is all assuming, of course, that alla prima is the finish you’re after; as Chris James hinted at above, highly rendered, fine detail in painting isn’t synonymous with ‘bad painting’ or ‘overworking’. witness much Netherlands and Dutch painting from 15th - 17th centuries.

Anonymous said...

I think these are very well done. The second one down looks like it is just a quick study, but the rest look complete to me. I do think these are superior to the work of the artist's chosen, but they may have been trying to be edgy, or controversial, so competent depictions of the subjects wasn't important.

I think any art that is done for reasons other than a commercial commission (when that isn't important, say selling tooth brushes), should try to evoke an emotional response of the viewer. It doesn't have to be so dramatic that you weep, but it should move you in some way. I think that is what most serious artists are going for in their work. The style or technique shouldn't matter.

Try this logic and take a good look at the paintings shown here and see if the above works at all for you.

PICTURE 2. I can imagine a ballerina; mid-performance; ready to move to the next position.
PICTURE 4. This man certainly looks as though he is asking forgiveness, maybe at church, maybe not.
PICTURE 5 I get the feeling this man just finished saying "What troubles you my child ?"
PICTURE 6 This one is my favorite. Head and shoulders above the rest. This woman looks like someone we have all seen
at on time or another. Maybe the lady working the cafeteria line, an aunt you don't see often, or maybe a
neighbor. She is looking right at you and listening, and thinking "Ah! Optomistic youth. He has no idea what
pitfalls may lay ahead, and I won't discourage him, because he looks like he may take them in stride." The
smile is captured perfectly, and I would be happy to happen upon this one in any museum, or have it hanging
on my wall.

I am a retired professional artist. There really isn't such a thing. We never stop painting. I wish this artist the best, and from these shown a successful career awaits. Bravo!

Tom said...

Al McLuckie said,
“ I believe if an artist maintains some kind of direct drawing/painting from life , working from reference - preferably the the artist's own , will be infused with the sense of direct work .”

And where does a sense of life come from? Life! The more one works from life the more one becomes disappointed, I might even say disgusted by the lack of clarity of a photo as a reference for drawing or painting. It’s hard enough not to draw flatly while looking at the real world. Almost all the answers for an artist’s question regarding how to do, well be found in three dimensions. The more one is “infused”with a sense of life, the less one wants an intermediary.
As Menzel said of drawing from photos, it,‘’is diametrically opposed to my belief in the responsibility of the artist to art and his self-confidence; and even the continuation of such a method must necessarily lead to the loss of discipline in certain important powers of the eyes, the hand, the memory, and the imagination concerning animated nature.”

Chris James said
“uses far too many strokes when far fewer would suffice, and not enough when more are called for. Far too many tones too, which is sadly common among modern realists.”

That was well said Chris, it’s the kind of thing one needs constant remaining of.

Richard said,
‘I've had friends go both ways, and I've seen how lesser artists who open their work to "cruel definition" progress much farther than those who've found safety in vaguery.”

I liked your point Richard. Facing difficulties is the best way to advance as an artist although it may not be the fastest way. It remains of the work of Edward Vuillard and George Bellows who both approach form with a new found interest in the paintings of their later years.

I liked your diner example also, people who have nothing at stake in something often make the most objective and insightful comments.

xopxe said...

As someone who actually can't go beyond a study sketch, those are fucken awsome complete as they are.
OTOH, I do enjoy watching studies.

Richard said...

"there are ‘painters’ and there are ‘image makers’....
[..] Lively is an example of the former. Norman Rockwell is an example of the latter.
[...] i’d look for evidence they even show any interest in that direction. for a ‘painter’ studies may very well be enough."

I think most people would agree with you, and that yours is a useful (if not guaranteed) dichotomy.

Where people seem to diverge is around what that dichotomy actually means.

I've heard three primary theses:

1. For the hippy lady who taught Painting 101 at my College, only "Painters" were truly artists. All "Image Makers" should bugger off to the Commercial Arts department.

2. For many people, an open definition is allowed. They are both artists, so long as they are good enough. That's popular on this blog.

3. Only the latter is an Artist. The former is a craftsman. Learning to paint is the craft. Making images is the Art.

I take the 3rd stance. If your interest lies only in painting, not in image making, you may be the greatest painter in the world, I'll love studying your paintings, but you'll rarely make Art.

Anonymous said...

At what point would one of her portraits become Art , for you . When shoulders and clothing were added ? A background , some element that suggested a narrative ? Andrew Wyeth related how , when his father looked at a painting he had done of a man walking in a field , he told him he should add a dog and a dead game animal , to make it salable .

Richard said...


I'm not sure of the name of the informal fallacy you're using there but I'm pretty sure it is one...

Going back to cooking, apply it to something else:
At what point do ingredients become a soup? When the mirepoix is cut? When the bone broth is added? When they are put in the pot with the Bouquet garni? Must the consomme be clarified twice, or is once enough? Escoffier once said that Brunoise must be garnished with Chervil to make it fit for serving -- the nerve!

That sort of Zeno's Paradox of the Arrow can be applied to anything, and it rarely provides anything of use.

That you can infinitesimally "gradiate" between two qualia does not mean that they have no distance.

Red is not Green just because colorspace is continuous. High is not low. Art is not craft.

Anonymous said...

Did not suspect you were a gourmand . With Lively's work as an example of mere craftsmanship , what are a couple of examples of what you would regard as good/great art ? Also , any favorite recipes ?

Richard said...

“Lively's work as an example of mere craftsmanship , what are a couple of examples of what you would regard as good/great art ?”

Maybe “mere” isn't exactly the right word there.

Art-to-Craft and Bad-to-Good are two independent dimensions when graphing the qualities of an image.

My position might be more easily understood if I compare it to “Literature”, which is a slightly less emotional term. I argue that some types of writing are formally Literature, some are not. Dan Brown makes Literature, it's just very bad. Carlyle's the French Revolution is not exactly Literature, yet it is one of the greatest books ever written. If one is measuring books only on the dimension of Literature-to-Writing as a Craft, “The French Revolution” lands closer to the “mere craftsmanship” side of the scale.

On the scale of Art-to-Craft, I would say that the most singularly Art-y Art is Rubens’ multi-figure paintings. This wouldn't automatically make them the best, but it would make them the most Art-like Art. I might say that Repin or Isaak Levitan are greater, but that their pictures are less purely Art-like than Rubens’.

Anyway, I'm gonna shut up now so that someone else has a chance to get in an argument. Cheers.

Chris James said...

David - Yes, Rubens did some fine studies of heads that have a plasticity and energy some of his finished figures didn't have.

And I find myself looking at his drawings more than his paintings.

And Michelangelo's preliminary drawings were full of more anatomical detail than his finishes, while also having the qualities of drawing and unfinished works many admire. I would say without question his drawings have it all over his paintings. I rate no one higher when it comes to rendering the figure or form in general. The sculptor's advantage probably.

Al - While not a fan of Sargent myself, he was one who could get a lot of information out of the fewest brush strokes, or so he made it seem. I generally find his color choices more pleasant than many of today's alla prima painters. I believe that there is far too much use of white and complimentary color mixing in painting today, leading to dead color, but that's another topic.

Tom said...

Chris James said,
"I would say without question his drawings have it all over his paintings."

I don't know where you live Chris but how often does one get to see the actual paintings of a Rubens or Michelangelo? Everything is reduced to book or screen size now which must have some influence on how we view art works. Drawings are often close to actual size in reproduction while a painting by Rubens for example can be 10 or 12 feet long and 8 to 9 feet tall.

"I believe that there is far too much use of white and complimentary color mixing in painting today, leading to dead color, but that's another topic."

That sounds like an interesting subject, if you have anything else to say about it.

Richard said...

Very much agreed re: Rubens, Tom.

I was ambivalent to Rubens until I made it down to The Ringling Museum in Sarasota FL. I've been going back every year since, as seeing them in person was life changing.

Chris James said...

"1. For the hippy lady who taught Painting 101 at my College, only "Painters" were truly artists. All "Image Makers" should bugger off to the Commercial Arts department."

So she just discounts centuries of art history where the image was the point, got it. It's like these kind of people read from a script. Just exchange Image Makers with Illustrators, and we've heard it all before. And it's always a hippy. Take joy in the probability that the commercial arts department probably stole all her department's shine.

I also think Laurence's dichotomy is agreeable. I know I fall on the image maker side, as both a a viewer and a doer. For one, great images aren't bound to paint, brush, and easel, see Hokusai, see Giraud, see Giger. I care about the ideas of the artist made visual reality, more towards the intellectual than the emotional. And I don't find much satisfaction in process until a semblance of a successful result is in view, although it does wonders for making time go by. I would go mad working like Shohei Otomo does. Btw, everyone should go look at Shohei Otomo, if you have a stomach for manga influences and urban culture.

I think seeing Rembrandt portraits in person broke painting technique for me. Where do you go from there? What can be exciting anymore? No one has made such novel and gorgeous use of the oil medium since, and of those who came before, only a few like Van Eyck compare in technical expertise and beauty of surface. But he didn't make the paint dance like the Dutch master did. A highlight on a Rembrandt is literally the highest point of the painting, in value and projection. Glowing transparencies, sculpted opaques. Sculpted opaques with glowing transparencies laid on top of them than wiped back in certain areas. Beads, strings, and nobs of paint for those highlights. The economy of how he used paint body to change value rather than color mixtures. Whew. Well if you've seen one in person, I don't have to go on.

Yeah, so I could hardly care about some hippy's flat painting of her cat.

Chris James said...

Tom - Well that quote was about Michelangelo. And yes, I have only seen reproductions of his frescoes. I don't know how much of his drawings made it into the paintings, but the detail and rendering seem much more vivid in the former and even the best reproductions of the Sistine Chapel don't seem to show evidence that the finished work is on the same level. Plus I've grown to love line more than painting.

Rubens I can see the paintings being just as great or greater than the drawings. 'Raising of the Cross' is one of my favorite images ever, and I would say none of his drawings can compare.

As far as too much white and complimentary colors - white is known to lower the intensity of many colors as well as cooling them off. And compliments are used to neutralize colors, and in a lot of painters' minds neutral = realism and there is a fear of losing control of color harmony.

Complimentary colors meet in the middle at grey, so you can see the potential issue there. Also with complimentaries, they often add a third color to a mixture that already has at least two, and there is a rule that every color you add to a mixture compromises it's vibrancy. These are practices that old painters did not engage in, as either complimentary color mixing as we now know it didn't exist or they chose not to. This is why the color of, say, a Hudson River School landscape is much more saturated than the typical modern landscape, while being just as if not more realistic. You just don't get Bierstadt color with complimentaries or heavy use of white. But you can if you mix the right yellow and blue, or the right green and yellow (although according to what i read, the HRS painters didn't have green on their palette). Blue and yellow don't lower each other's tone, they create a new color, green. You can get all the greens you need out of having one cool and one warm blue and a cool and warm yellow on your palette. Then it takes only a bit of pale yellow (e.g. Naples) or touch of white to raise the value if necessary.

kev ferrara said...

I will be repeating myself here, so if you've read me on these topic already, sorry...

An imagist is a specific kind of scenario painter where poetic expression of meaning (through the use of any number of subliminal tropes manifested into the work) is paramount, yet without compromising the sense of the reality. Such artists produce work with a pervasive strangeness accompanying their realism which causes a haunting kind of beauty. The literalist may reject such painting because it frustrates their need to surface all meanings. There is also a particular kind of symbolism that an imagist will use which does not require literal decoding. It is very much worth reading the Imagist poet Ezra Pound on this, (even though what he has to say was already a part of imagist art and poetry long before it was named.) Also T.S. Eliot.

An allegorical scenario does not function in the same way as an image linguistically, because the allegorical elements function in a word-like way, in that they require decoding based on tribal knowledge. An Image, definitionally I think, requires no decoding, as it is a communication built for transmission into the imaginative faculty.

Many a scenario painter only wish to achieve something akin to 'illustrative realism', uninterested in the imagistic per se. They want to make the moment look like it might have, with accuracy of weather, lighting, costume and set. Although any visual illusion is necessarily poetic; so to make a painting look real it must be full of visual illusion and thus poetry anyway. The difference is for the strict realist scene painter, the range of poetic effects is almost entirely based on physical experience with minor nods to imagist ideas among the best practitioners. Whereas for the Imagist, thoughts are helping to shape and relate everything.

Portrait painting actually falls under the heading of imagism, with the poorer kinds tending toward realism of the photorealist kind. A photorealist being a meticulous renderer overpraised for hugging the shore, who doesn't even realize there is such a thing as Aesthetic Forces (that not only have meaning, but can be controlled.)

The expressionist is an Imagist willing to forgo integrity for the sake of unbridled "creativity." Which, in my view, gives away poetic creativity for the sake of theatrical fireworks. This takes cartooning to the surface, whereas in imagism the cartooning is subliminal.

Some of the greatest painters will combine any number or all of the above linguistic styles in a single painting. Some lesser artists will try and the result is work that clanks and clunks against itself; the contradiction lacking harmonization into the whole.

The vignette form is tricky because what constitutes 'finished' is something most artists only feel unconsciously, although I believe there are pretty clear principles for how and why a vignette completes that have been articulated down through the years.

The "painter" - the artist who loves the act of painting so much they will paint anything joyfully, can be an imagist, an allegorist, a scenario-for-its-own-sake-illustrator, a portraitist, or an expressionist. I studied with Hong Nian Zhang and he was as pure a painter as I've ever seen, and he created all five types of artwork.

There is also ample evidence that Imagist, Allegory, Scenario-Illustrating, Portrait, and Expressionism have been successfully accomplished in the vignette form.

My two cents.

Richard said...

"in a lot of painters' minds neutral = realism and there is a fear of losing control of color harmony. "

Neutral doesn't = realism, but neutral does = an improved illusion when applied to pigments on a surface.

As you probably know, given technological limitations in our current dark pigments, the entire value range has to be condensed in value to create a readable image. (It’s currently technologically impossible, e.g., to make actually black paint.)

That means that you'll need to desaturate most colors to keep their values correct in the new value range.

At least for now. One can conceive of a future where dark paint is filled with carbon nano-tubes, like Vantablack, so you don’t have to condense the the low end of the value range at all. Having true-blacks in our paint set would be a huge change to realism.

Maybe throw some backlighting on the canvases of the future, or self-illuminating pigments, and you could even image a future where the high-end of values is more realistic too. No more 50 lux suns on this painting of a sunset – maybe not the full 50000 lux, but painting a 1000 lux sun on a painting would make a big difference.

Pigment-wise, mankind is still in the dark ages.

[Obviously I have failed to shut up.]

al mcluckie said...

Where do you go from there ? What can be exciting any more ? I agree with your observations about Rembrandt's technique , and have spent many enjoyable hours staring at originals in the USA and Europe . A real example of how inadequate reproductions in books are , especially for him . For whatever reason , he probably won't be equaled let alone surpassed . Given that , I doubt you sit around piles of his books and prints lamenting that there are no equals to him - so how does Odd Nerdrum and David Leffel strike you , being two artists who were inspired by R. and worked for decades at their craft ?

Tom said...

Hi Chris
The Sistine Chapel is beyond words in its size alone. It must be 70 or 80 feet to the ceiling from the floor. Your neck starts to hurt from constantly looking up. Isn't the rule the further away the viewer stands from the painting, or the larger the painted surface becomes, the less detailed the work should be? Details are for smaller pictures which invite close inspection.

Anyway, I do like what you are saying about color. I also like the Kenyon Cox quote you posted earlier about trying to do everything at once with your brush which results in not getting much of anything. All I have ever heard is the complimentary approach to color and what your saying about everything moving to gray has been my experience and I really don't like mixing more then two colors in a mixture. I think Degas said "never trust the color white." I like line a lot too, or drawing, and the complimentary approach does not seem to work will with that kind of outlook.

As most of my learning has been via books, one of my favorite artist author's is Vernon Blake. He seems to agree with you, "Always try to use a color pure and alone; and another if you are obliged to; but only take refuge in the mixture of three colors in cases of force majeure; thus doing you will avoid the colorless muddy grey that we see so often produced..."

Do you know what constituted Bierstadt's palette?

Chris James said...

"That means that you'll need to desaturate most colors to keep their values correct in the new value range."

Indeed. But it's the method of desaturation that leads to different color character, for reasons I specified. I think there are more pitfalls with 'modern' color mixing for painters to fall into. There are color things you can achieve mixing complimentaries you can't otherwise, especially outdoor scenes (which the Impressionists kind of proved, although I'll take HRS any day), but with more options comes more complication. It's actually easier for nearly anyone to get rich, beautiful color, saturated or neutral, using older palettes and methods. I think this is something Cox and others point out, that painting thinly over a pale ground or under-painting has an inherent quality that is near impossible to screw up. Need a more neutral red? Grab venetian or red ochre, they're already desaturated. Or glaze carmine lake over a grey undertone. Add an umber or sienna to vermilion.

"I doubt you sit around piles of his books and prints lamenting that there are no equals to him - so how does Odd Nerdrum and David Leffel strike you"

No, my interests in images are too varied to be consumed with the lack of competition in one arena, and Rembrandt is king in a particular dimension of oil painting, not everything. I'm not even sure what I was trying to go for when I brought him up. Something about the painter vs. image maker thing. Maybe he's the only one that could paint something mundane like an old shoe or potted plant and the painting alone would make it dazzling. Everyone else has to give me something grandiose,fantastical, or narrative.

Odd Nerdrum is an heir to a certain style of Rembrandt's, one that I am less fond of. I don't think his drawing is as good, of course. But I think he and Leffel are good, as good as any that come to mind today. I went to a Leffel workshop. He's a painter of mundane things, but his lighting and color sense are formidable. I don't think he uses complimentary color mixing much, and his color is rich and glowing. They really are handsome paintings. But his method is also disastrous in lesser hands.

For reference, this is the Rembrandt I've seen most often up close. I wouldn't consider it his most impressive, it's rather simple for this phase of portraits he did. But it has all the qualities I mentioned:

He's not just painting with mixed values. That's beginner stuff. He's manipulating the paint substance to behave as the actual light does, best way i can describe it. 2D sculpture, before ZBrush

I suppose the color was different hundreds of years ago. Probably didn't look like That Yellow Bastard. I think it was also Kenyon Cox that made the case that Rembrandt's paintings aged into a golden harmony, so that the effects of such an oil rich and complex technique weren't as deleterious as they commonly were. An accident or another stroke of genius?

Chris James said...

Tom - no I don't know exactly what Bierstadt used. But painters at this time were still using whatever European painters were, although Impressionism and synthetic pigments were right around the corner. According to a note from Asher B. Durand, Thomas Cole requested the following colors for a sketching trip:

Lead White, Roman Ochre, Lena Sienna(?) Raw and Burnt, Chrome Yellow, Burnt Umber, Antwerp Blue, Madder Lake, Van Dyck Brown, Naples Yellow, Ultramarine, Light Red, and Vermilion

Artist's magazine, in an article about the various palettes of the HRS painters, offered a modern variation of a standard palette used then. I think it went :

Titanium White (which I disagree with and would replace with Flake White Replacement), Prussian Blue, Ultramarine blue, Cadmium Yellow and Cad Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Cad Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and I think Venetian Red.

These kinds of palettes, btw, require no complimentary mixing and are ill suited for it to begin with without some adjustments. Someone with enough experience can point to any passage in a Bierstadt painting and it can likely be recreated with the above.

Apparently Frederic Edwin Church did use two greens on his palette.

By the way, a strong argument and prescription for the use of complimentary colors can be found in The Painter in Oil, written by a student of Bougeureau no less*

*Not to imply I have a high opinion of that artist, but that academic painters aren't exactly known for their progressive use of color.

David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "Now why does everything have to be life and death? Such Drama. I believe Charles Ives and Wallace Stevens both work successfully in the insurance business."

I agree it's important not to dramatize things, but it's equally important not to let our obtunding comforts and diversions distract us from the genuine drama in life. I followed your link to the rather sanitized biography of Wallace Stevens, but Stevens' choice-- to become a lawyer because he craved financial security more than being a poet-- came at a price. He led a "largely stolid suburban life," treating his wife badly and drinking heavily. In between writing verses (which he did beautifully) he spent long evenings and weekends staring out the window.

I confess I've experienced my own forks in the road which convinced me that choices are real and their consequences are, indeed, dramatic. But if you prefer a more reliable authority, just ask Shakespeare, Churchill, Whitman, Blum or a thousand other great thinkers who wrote about the significance the big choice.

Perhaps none were quite so "dramatic" as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote the following advice to artists who are tempted to take a safe boring job rather than draw live portraits on the sidewalk on the Vegas strip: "When you shall say, 'As others do, so will I: I renounce, I am sorry for it, my early visions; I must eat the good of the land, and let learning and romantic expectations go, until a more convenient season;'— then dies the man in you; then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men. The hour of that choice is the crisis of your history; and see that you hold yourself fast by the intellect."

By comparison to Emerson, I thought I was being pretty tame.

Richard-- I'm really enjoying your gastronomic metaphors. I don't believe we've had that talent represented here before, but it adds a useful vocabulary to the discussion.

I am, however, a little surprised by your willingness to give Odutola such a break for making pictures with "love and sincerity." I'm guessing that most of the immature "loose and stroky" artists that Chris James describes are equally sincere but that doesn't rescue their art from badnicity. As Oscar Wilde wrote, " A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it."

Richard said...

I'd say that it didn't rescue their *craft* from badnicity. It may have had little bearing on their artnicity at all, unless their art would have made use of that additional skill. (In Odutola's case, unfortunately, it would have.)

I made this picture when I was 14, no doubt a subconscious expression of my young fear of women, and while it's extremely naive, I'd rank it more artful than more mature studies I've made since. (Funny note, you can see where the principal made me redact a cigarette before he'd let my teacher hang it in the hall.)

While I think the art establishment has pretended craft makes no difference, the representational reaction has pretended feeling or creativity makes no difference. Both sides are wrong.

Odatula has ignored the Western tradition of sculptural rendering, which favours white skin, in favour of an obsession in specularity, which favours dark skin. Her execution is extremely off, but what she has alluded to is interesting. In terms of idea, it has more going for it than, say, an Art Renewal tromp l'oeil.

Richard said...

Or, here's another example. My great grandmother made this one one winter in the 40's, and while she was a fairly naive painter as well, I'd take it over all sorts masterworks.

Richard said...

"Both sides are wrong."

This is my favourite operative investigatory principle. Apply it to anything, it's great.

Pick a topic, okay, health care.

Decide both sides are wrong -- check.

Now work backwards to find out why. Okay, so conservatives say that the market is elastic, should be free market, they give the example of preventative medicine. Hmm.

Liberals say the market is inelastic, and should therefore be nationalised, give the example of ambulance rides. Okay.

Crunch crunch crunch.

They're both wrong! Catastrophic health care should be nationalised, preventative medicine should be free market. Get cancer? Taxes pay. Need reading glasses, cold medicine, and a trip to the chiropractor? Cough it up. Ez pz.

Tom said...

David said
“By comparison to Emerson, I thought I was being pretty tame.”

Well that’s the truth! Emerson might as well of said, “there are many acorns and a very few oak trees.” And how does he know that “…then the man dies in you…”? Maybe at the time it was exactly the right decision. “Each an every snowflake falls in its appropriate place.”

I wasn’t looking for any authorities on the subject I was just saying there are many ways of doing things depending upon one’s personality and outlook. I’m sure many artists would not even perceive a choice as they are so solely motivated by their urge to create. Getting a job doesn’t mean you have to give up your art. Both Stevens and Ives immediately popped up in my mind when I read your comment, as artists who navigated the problem of letting their art develop on its own terms without forcing it to provide them with a living.

As far as Stevens personal actions they reflect the human condition more then anything. Why criticized him for drinking and treating his wife badly and staring out his window all day? It seems like you want to disavow him for being a bad person or something when really it’s an aspect of human suffering. How many illustrators, of the golden age, “hit the bottle.” How many people even those who make no compromises, choose what they want, get what they want and still end up treating themselves others badly? Churchill had his own demons, “his black dog,” and how many non-white people of the world suffered the real consequences his disdain?

Drama loves to separated things into us and them, me and you it seeks to created an identity through opposition.
It’s great fun.

Richard said...

> "Maybe at the time it was exactly the right decision."

Quite right. I'm reminded of the story of the Buddhist Monk who, in an effort to further his nekkhamma (giving up of worldly/ideological attachments), left the monastery, got married, had children, and got a job as an accountant.

If Emerson honestly thinks that "Doing as others do" and "eating of the good of the land" makes the man dead in you, then it sounds like he had a pretty empty internal life.

David Apatoff said...

Richard-- Hah! My principal thought I couldn't possibly redact enough from my student painting to make it appropriate for display in a school.

I agree that "both sides are wrong," at least eventually. One of the recurring themes of this blog is that we must constantly navigate between the extremes of scylla and charybdis because neither side can provide a permanent home. The questions may remain the same but the answers eventually change.

But there are moments in time when one side or another can be right. So, for example, I would agree that "love and sincerity" do make a difference in the art when you're talking about Kathe Kollwitz or Henry Darger or Goya. With work like that, the passion and honesty isn't just a back story, it sets the work on fire. On the other hand, I've seen beautiful work done with neither love nor sincerity, but on a deadline, for money. There are exceptions to the "rule" on each side of the spectrum.

In my view, your reaction to Odatula is very generous. If there is "love and sincerity" there, I only see it in her written comments. For me, there's a disconnect between the words and the image. Of course, there are plenty of good uses for grotesque and offputting images in art, just as there are times when an insane amount of fine line detail makes an important contribution to a picture. In this case, given the artist's expression of love and sincerity, I just find these, to use your term, "wrong."

David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "I wasn't looking for any authorities on the subject."

Sorry if it looked like I was arguing by proxy. I didn't mean to substitute other authorities for my own reasoned arguments. It's just that when some of history's most sensitive, insightful observers of human nature express a belief that key moments of decision (what Shakespeare called "the tide in the affairs of men") are genuine, important, and filled with drama... well, it might be worth listening.

I understand that "Getting a job doesn’t mean you have to give up your art," but at the same time we shouldn't delude ourselves that we don't pay a price for our priorities. We have to sacrifice the lesser to achieve the greater. Stevens wrote some great poems but his choices left some holes in him that the life of an insurance lawyer just couldn't fill. In my own case, I put myself through school as an illustrator and cartoonist but when I came to that fork in the road, I didn't like the future I saw for the field of illustration. Publications were dying right and left, talented illustrators were scratching around for work, photography was in the ascendancy, and the incoming style of illustration was less to my liking. I love to draw and if I were willing to roll the dice and make a living like Lively, sitting on the sidewalk drawing portraits and hoping to be paid by people passing by, opportunities might very well have turned up. Me, I wanted to eat on a regular basis. You might call my unwillingness to pay the dues a failure of courage.

In Robert Frost's famous poem, The Road Not Taken (another sensitive observation of the human condition) he rightly says that we all retain the notion that we might come back and take that other path some day, but knowing how "way leads unto way" we rarely make it back to atone for our early compromises. I think I understand some of the forces tugging at Lively, which is why I applaud her courage in responding to them the way she did.

Richard said...

I'm not familiar with what Odutola says about her art, or anything else for that matter. I must admit I'd never heard of her.

I'm just going by what I see, which is a black artist who wants to turns black people into celestial beings. That's a beautiful thing, whether or not the execution is. For a race with next to zero visual heritage, any attempt at producing an elevating racial art is a lofty goal.

And while I'll be sitting at home angrily reading Breitbart next week when Adam Levin takes a knee at the Superbowl halftime show, I have two young black siblings so I have sought passing familiarity with black culture, and the ways it nobly attempts to elevate African heritage. I see these pictures as a poorly executed Alex Grey applied to black nationalism. That's love and sincerity.

It reminds me of other black nationalist works, like Mike Ladd's song/poem "For all those killed by cops":

All I know is Jesus, Vishnu, Mohit, Taurus, Osiris, Odin, Muhammad all wait in line for seconds just like me
That we are put together by masses of eternal trinkets of matter from the cosmos in the bathroom
And that they disappear and reappear like worlds between matter
That mountains, seas, and sidewalks won't justify this
But they will serve
Serve like universes

Somehow bullet holes in steel doors look like a collection of constellations trapped to catch the wrath of idiots
And we are the size of constellations in the path of wrathful idiots
And all these heroes we will map the sky with come across arcane next to off duty demons in denim

And you would think that Cambridge would finally buckle under its own ego
That the Himalayan stones would melt and somehow drown the right people
That Shona ghosts would rise and fly vengeance
That the very matter from every crossed path would turn resolute and shatter themselves for justice

(Instrumental Interlude)

But no, the world is too beautiful for that
Too beautiful to let go pain
Too confused to leave out the stain
But if days are numbered, the day will come, and they will serve

Is it a Rubens? No, but it's theirs and they're trying to make their own New Art and that's well worth applauding, despite the particular craftsmanship of the results.

Richard said...

(And if you're looking to triangulate the geometry of that particular example of "everyone is wrong", the formula works out to:
-Cultural Progressives say only brown people should have a racial consciousness
-Cultural libertarians say we should be post racial, adopting white culture defacto
-I'm saying everyone deserves a racial consciousness that is their own

Tom said...

David Said
"I put myself through school as an illustrator and cartoonist but when I came to that fork in the road,"

What did Yogi Berri say, "when you come to a fork in the road, take it!"

I think he also said, "Predications are difficult, especially about the future."

Silliness aside, I wasn't aware that you started out on the path as an illustrator. So I have to ask (only if you are inclined to answer them) what was your art education like? You must have had to take drawing classes. Where the teachers modern or traditional? Could they themselves draw? And where you able to maintain your "drawing," ideals in the face of modernism ? Not that I know exactly what your drawing ideals where, but I think I have a sense from your blog.

comicstripfan said...

Thanks for the interesting illustrations and educational comments from everyone.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gianmaria Caschetto said...

In response to your question "Is there a shortage of under employed, hard working, innovative illustrators out there?", I've just discovered the work of artist Pablo Lobato via William Wray's facebook feed.
Personally, I think it's brilliant.the composition, the sense of fun, the choices of shapes and colors.
What do you think?