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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Picasso in A Coruña – 1891-1895

Rightly or wrongly, all the studies on the life and art of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) tend to divide it into stages or periods, perhaps in an attempt to make more understandable and accessible his vast career. So much has been written about his origins in Malaga, on his training as an artist in the same city, his hard beginnings in Montmartre, Paris, and his later success as a famous artist in the French capital. However, there is a stage in the life of Pablo Picasso that remains, at least for the general public, as unknown, a sort of loophole in the popular career of the great genius of the visual arts of the twentieth century: his brief but decisive period in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain (1891-1895), a key time in the artist’s formation

We have defined this period in A Coruña as “almost unknown”, although this is a definition that is certainly risky to be offensive for many experts in the artist’s life and oeuvre, and so we apologize in advance. But it’s true that this stage remains a bit “anonymous”, at least for the general public. Therefore, we are going to approach the readers to this period from a well known point in the painter’s career, from which we are going to go temporarily back to our starting point, aiming in this way that the reader could locate Picasso’s stage in A Coruña in the huge and complex artistic life of the artist

The context: A Coruña in Pablo Picasso’s life and career

We are in 1937. A 55 years old Pablo Picasso is in his full artistic maturity and has just completed his most famous painting -The “Guernica”- that would become the eternal symbol of protest against the barbarity of the war. Just a few years back, we find Picasso immersed in his very personal understanding of Surrealism, embodied in the figure of the “Minotaur” and the sexy and colorful portraits of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter. Immediately prior to this period is an approach to classicism, with such famous works as “La Flute de Pan” (Paris, Musée Picasso) or the “Harlequin with mirror” in the Thyssen Museum in Madrid

Let’s go back to the period immediately preceding the First World War. A Picasso in his early 30s creates, along with Georges Braque, the most decisive of the vanguards of the past century, the Cubism, which began with the painting that can be considered as the most important and revolutionary of the twentieth century, “Les demoiselles d’Avignon”. We are now in 1907. Immediately prior to this period we find Picasso’s fascination with African art, a brief period, but of enormous importance to the artist’s later works

Let’s go back even further. The Rose and Blue periods, with their melancholic figures of harlequins and guitarists, moves us to Montmartre in early twentieth century, where a very young Picasso portrays the nightlife of the cabarets and nightclubs he frequented. It’s the time of the dances and long nights in the “Lapin Agille”, the unfortunate “Family of Acrobats” or his sad, but full of vitality self-portrait. Even today, the blue and pink periods remain the most fascinating of all phases of Picasso’s artistic career

We have retreated to the last half of the nineteenth century, when a teenager Picasso creates in Barcelona some of his early works, quite well known today for the art lovers, starting with “The First Communion” (1895), an incredible realist canvas that make us understand the words of the artist: “It took me 12 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. Picasso was then 13 years old and had just arrived in Barcelona with his family, from a city where he had spent the last 4 years of her childhood: A Coruña

In the city of the “Tower of Candy” – Picasso’s works in A Coruña

The young Picasso joined the School of Arts and Crafts of La Coruña, where, accompanied by his father, he began to draw in charcoal and ink the models he found in the streets of Coruña, especially pedestrians who frequent the beach of Riazor, and the fishermen from the port. He was also fascinated by the landscapes of the environs of the “Torre de Caramelo,” the name by which father and son identified the Tower of Hercules, an ancient Roman lighthouse in A Coruña. As the technique of the young genius was becoming more refined, his father encouraged him to make some oil paintings

“The barefoot girl”(1895) is the masterpiece of this period, a lively and fascinating portrait that seems to predict some of the most famous works from the pink and blue periods. As a curiosity, note that this painting appears in a chapter of the animated sitcom “The Simpsons”, where Marge tries to instruct Homer during a visit to the Museum

“The man with the blanket” or “The Old Man of the blanket” (1895, Museo Picasso in Málaga) is a small work that portrays the artist’s father in a depressed, almost pathological, attitude, which can be understood if we consider that the change from the sunny andalusian climate of Malaga to the moist and wet Galician weather caused a large depression in José Ruiz Blasco. A work that is often associated with this one is “Old couple”, in which we can highlight the enigmatic expression of the elder woman

The second key work of the period Coruña (along with the already discussed “The barefoot girl”) is the “Portrait of Dr. Perez Costales” (1895, Museo Picasso in Málaga), physician and former minister, and a personal friend of Picasso’s father. The young artist portrays the doctor in calmed attitude, as a venerable sage. The work is almost a prologue to later portraits such as the “Angel Fernandez de Soto” or even the self-portrait of the artist.

Picasso in A Coruña – present and future

Of all the cities in which Pablo Picasso lived throughout his life, A Coruña is the only one that did not have a museum dedicated to the genius. The City Council decided years ago to end this with the restoration of the Casa-Museo Pablo Picasso, the artist’s former home in the widening Coruña, conserved with few changes from the time of the artist. It also exhibits 27 reproductions of the works that Picasso painted during his stay in the city. However, the absence of original works (which may be understandable due to the absence of bequests from the artist’s heirs) makes it impossible to place this institution to live up to other museums dedicated to the artist in his native Málaga, Barcelona, and Paris.

That the name of Pablo Picasso is a bonanza for the now so fashionable “cultural tourism” is undeniable, and there may be opportunities to incorporate the city of A Coruña in the most important “Picassian” map with no need of huge financial outlays. The completion of “the Route Picasso”, proposed a few years ago, is one of them, or the temporary exhibitions of works by Picasso. Private initiative can be the key to the success of these operations.

Art of Vandalism

It’s almost a cliché to say that art should make us think, but if we stop to consider graffiti as an art form, there’s plenty to think about. Maybe there’s a required shift in our thinking in order to call graffiti art? This street art, made by artists who may not be known to us, is often in fact well known in the artist’s inner circles on the streets. Can we say that we don’t see it as art when it’s on a train or the side of a building, but if that same design is put on canvas it then becomes art? Can we say the murals adorning city walls across the city are art because they were commissioned or sponsored, critiqued and vetted by a committee, but the designs that have been thrown up on a wall at night are not?

Scouting Art

Recently I headed out with my camera along a nearby trail, the Valley View, and I passed a handful of runners, some kids and people out walking their dogs. I continued on, heading to a spot known as a teenagers’ hangout and a popular destination for photographers looking for that model-on-the-railroad-tracks picture. I’m here to photograph the graffiti, though.

Is it art?

The tags (graffiti) at the tracks were not inspiring. They were more a mash-up of initials, off-color words and scribbles. I thought Jamie would shake his head and tell me to move on, so I did. I headed to a water culvert to find the better graffiti writing.

Later that day I saw this on the Cincinnati Art Museum’s website:

Graffiti Palace, New York by David Hockney (British, b.1937), photographer

So is it art now—now that a famous, well-respected and studied photographer has photographed the graffiti?

Do you see where I’m going with this? When is it art? Who says it’s art?

One thing I do know about the work of graffiti writers—it makes me think.

FOOTNOTE: Think graffiti is just for young artists? Check out how graffiti is helping those with dementia- yes, even grannies do graffiti!

How Safe Are Oil Paints?

Q. I’ve heard people say that painting with traditional and water-soluble oils poses health hazards for the painter. Some say even people with whom the painter comes in close contact, such as family members, are at risk. Just how safe or unsafe are oil paints?

A. Traditional oil paints are basically a drying oil and pigment. Manufactures also add stabilizers because modern paints need to be stored for a considerable length of time before use. Stabilizers keep the oil from separating from the pigment. Let’s consider the safety of each of these components:

1. Drying Oils

Drying oils used in artists’ paints are mainly linseed, safflower, poppy or walnut. We know that linseed oil is safe to work with because we can buy specially processed food-grade quality linseed oils in health food stores as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The health food industry uses the term flaxseed oil in reference to the plant from which we derive linseed. We use both safflower oil and walnut oil in cooking. Poppy oil doesn’t appear to be popular in the health food realm, and references point only to its use in paints; however, manufacturers do use it in skin care products.

2. Stabilizers

The stabilizers, if used, are metallic fatty acids. Because they’re mixed into the paint, they do not pose an independent threat to a person using an art material.

3. Soaplike Substance

Water-soluble oils contain an ingredient that would be considered close to soap, which makes water combine with the oil for assistance in cleanup.

Regardless of the origin of the oil and any additives, you should not consider paints safe to ingest. Keep them on the palette and the painting, and they’ll pose no unusual health risk.

Pigments can be as benign as common dirt or as harmful as many other chemicals are to the human body. Many of the paints used by artists from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century had varying degrees of toxicity. Even today, while the most highly toxic pigments have disappeared, no pigment should be considered nontoxic. The one property that makes oil paints so safe to use is that the pigment is bound in a liquid vehicle (the drying oil). Therefore the problem of dry powder finding its way into artists’ lungs or flying about and landing on their families’ food is eliminated. Even the nastiest of pigments, which no longer are readily available, wouldn’t give off toxic vapors or be otherwise harmful unless taken directly into the digestive system by mouth or, in the case of some pigments, they came in direct contact with unprotected skin.

Safe-Use Practices for Oils

Q. What safety precautions should I follow when painting with oils?

A. My recommended safety precautions fall into two main areas:

1. Keep paint and solvents off your skin.

I would remind artists that repeatedly allowing oil paints to splatter on their hands and arms is a bad practice. That’s especially true when an artist removes paint from the skin with a solvent. Skin, the largest organ of the human body,
is a sponge for taking in substances. Unbroken skin may be good at repelling germs, but an artist negates that protection when he or she tries to remove paint from skin using a solvent-soaked paper towel. Skin absorbs solvents, and when you mix paints with a solvent, the paint can enter the body as well. When using oil paints, slathering paint on oneself and cleaning it off with solvent poses the greatest risk.

Common sense and careful studio practices are crucial to keeping the paint on the painting and off the body. My advice to painters who display a tendency to get paint all over themselves is to wear disposable gloves and to protect other areas of the body with clothing or an apron. When oil paint does get on the skin, remove the paint with plain soap and water. Painters who hate gloves should at least use a barrier cream, sold in art stores, that provides some degree of protection against paint components entering through the skin.

2. Paint in a well-ventilated area.

Use extra caution with paints classified as alkyd quick-drying colors. Unlike traditional oils, these contain a small amount of odorless solvent; you should not use these in a closed studio space unless you outfit that space with continuous airflow and exchange. When you use alkyd colors outdoors or in a well-ventilated studio, handle them in the same way as traditional oil paints.

Many artists, of course, don’t have studios, and some admit to painting in their kitchens. This is one place where food and painting materials have too great a chance to interact. In addition, the potential for fire rises when solvents come into close contact with cooking appliances. If possible, set up a painting area in another part of the home where you can establish ventilation that constantly changes the air in the space. As I’ve explained, when it comes to poor ventilation, the problem generally isn’t so much with the paint as with the solvents the artist uses for cleanup and paint dilution.

Most artists use oil paints for many years without ill effects. Follow the few safety precautions I’ve mentioned above, and all should be well.

Waste Management for Oils

Q. How can I safely dispose of oil painting materials?

A. you can easily and safely control the disposal of unused paint and solvent in a home environment. Use a closed metal solvent can, just as plein air artists do outdoors.

How to Use a Solvent Can

Open the can only when necessary and close it immediately after use. Wipe excess paint onto disposable paper towels before using solvent to clean brushes. This makes your solvent less prone to becoming overly dirty with paint. The solvent not only lasts longer, but you decrease your exposure to the solvent because you can clean your brushes quickly. Place the used paper towels in the closed metal can.

What to Do When the Solvent Can is Full

When the pigment waste in your plein air solvent can accumulates to the point of coming close to the bottom of the inner basket, it’s time to clean the solvent can and dispose of the pigment in the container. Let the can sit for several days until the pigment waste has settled to the bottom and some clear solvent remains on the surface. Slowly decant the clear solvent into another container for temporary storage. (You may want to purchase a second solvent can to use in tandem with the first one.)

Remove the inner basket from the solvent can containing the pigment waste. Pour the pigment sludge onto a flat piece of aluminum foil folded around the edges to create a shallow pan. Make sure you support the foil with a palette or sturdy piece of cardboard. Let the sludge dry outdoors in a safe place that won’t be disturbed. Fold the aluminum foil around the dry sludge, and take it to your local waste processing facility for disposal. Many counties have paint and hazardous waste reclamation programs for properly disposing of these types of materials.

Another option is to let the paint waste dry and then mix it with an alkyd medium to make a paint-like material that you can use to tone canvases or panels for future paintings.
With an adequate, well-ventilated space and a waste disposal method that limits solvents escaping into the studio, a family can live safely with an oil painting artist.

Tips The Importance of a Good Photo Reference and What to Avoid

1. Small image

Often, the photos people send are candid shots, taken just for fun. While these photos have a lot of sentimental value, rarely are they large enough to do a quality rendition, particularly if you’re painting a person’s or pet’s portrait. (I often say, “I’m an artist, not a magician!”) You simply cannot draw what you cannot see. Being able to see all of the small details is what makes you able to accurately obtain a great likeness. If you cannot see the small things that make up the individual, you then have to fake it. This makes it “close” to the person, but that is not good enough. A good portrait must be spot on!

2. Blurry image

Even though someone may give you a photo reference that’s large enough, sometimes the photo is a bit blurred or out of focus. Again, you can’t see the details well enough to capture the likeness, and you cannot draw what you cannot see.

Free Download! How to Draw a Picture from a Photo: A Free Portrait Tutorial

3. Poor lighting

Having a large, clear photo is not all that matters. I’ve received reference photos that have extreme lighting to them, making the highlight areas wash out and the dark areas fill in. These lighting problems hide the very important details that you need.

4. The colors are too pale

Sometimes a photo reference will have a dull color, making a good likeness hard to achieve. Every person and every animal has colors that are unique to them and only them. To draw a person or a pet with colors that don’t match them naturally alters how they look. Even a great likeness will appear “off” if the color is not exact to them.

While this is a cute snapshot, it’s not a great photo reference for portrait painting. The colors are off, so making it into art would be difficult, and would appear unrealistic.

5. The colors are too intense

This is one of my pet peeves. Often photos can be altered to enhance the colors, often making them appear unrealistic. I hate it when I see a butterfly in a photo whose colors have been altered away from its natural beauty. (A purple monarch, really?) People and animals are the same. Altering the colors by making them more red, or too yellow, ruins the reality of the subject.

This drawing shows the effects of nature’s shadows and how they alter the look of the facial features in a portrait drawing. It takes close observation to keep it looking real.

6. Outdoor lighting and shadows

I have done some cool portraits of people outdoors. But, often there are a lot of shadows involved. These shadows should be used as a part of the story being told by your art. This drawing of my son in the woods (above) is a good example of using shadows for interest. Sometimes people will give me a photo reference similar to this, but they want a traditional portrait. My answer to that is, “Get me a different photo.” It’s often very difficult to try to remove unnecessary shadows in your work as you go, for shadows often distort the details.

7. Printed copies

Often in my classes, people will bring in great photo references. However, they have printed them out from their computers and lost some of the clarity. ALWAYS, have the photo printed out as an actual photograph. That way the colors stay true and the details are crisp and easier to see.

8. Too many subjects

People will often send me a group photo, and only want one of the people drawn. This can work, but only if the other subjects are not altering the look of the desired subject. For instance, is there a shadow of the person next to them altering the lighting? Or, are the people next to them cutting off vital info, like their hair and ears? Look closely, before you say yes to this!

9. Combining photos that conflict

If someone wants a group shot, it isn’t always necessary that everyone is in the same photo. Combining photos, however, isn’t easy. When choosing reference photos to combine, you must address the lighting. You can’t put two or three people together in one drawing if the lighting is different for each one (for instance, one lit from the right, one lit from the left). Be sure to have neutral lighting that is not in conflict before you begin. I’ve seen some beautiful portraits that are very well rendered, but the shadows are in conflict, making the subjects look disconnected. Epic fail!

10. Altering photo references

Often, a person will give me an unflattering reference photo, then tell me everything they want me to correct. For instance, one time I was given photos for an oil painting. The photos were great! Clear and large. However, I needed to add eyeglasses to one subject, (they did provide a photo of them, but they were from a different angle!) They wanted me to remove some of the wrinkles and fullness of a double chin. (Yes, become a plastic surgeon!) They also wanted the color of one sweater changed from red to blue, and their hair needed to change color, for they had gone gray. I also had to remove and add jewelry (again from different photos) and take away a birthmark. They also wanted a scene behind them, depicting a trip they had taken with palm trees and water. I was able to pull this off and they loved it, but each alteration was an additional charge. I ended up charging them twice as much as I had originally quoted. Moral of the story: Do not give a firm price until you fully understand what will be involved. People have a tendency to change the plan and want to add things at the last minute!

This is a much better photo reference. The clarity, size, and colors are great!

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider if you choose to take commissions based on photo references. The best art is always done with the best photos. If you’re a photographer, I recommend doing a photo shoot yourself because you have the artistic eye and know what you need. If not, always tell your client what you need, and don’t be afraid to say no if the photos just aren’t good enough. The worst thing you can do is to go ahead and work from inadequate photographs. Your art is only as good as the photos you use!

I hope this helps!
I wish a very artistic and creative New Year to you all, and I’m looking forward to being your guide for many more years!
Happy 2017!
Lee