art ideas

There Is No Gray in Nature

An idea I hear tossed around fairly often about color is that while the morning and evening are great times to paint, during the middle of the day color "flattens out" or "dies." I would like to suggest something entirely different: the color does not go gray, it merely changes. The middle of the day has beautiful color just like any other time of the day, though it may be more subtle  than a sunset. Same with an overcast day (see Dan Pinkham's painting below). We can still see the relationships (and hence forms) in nature nonetheless, and since we as humans experience the world in full color (there is no such thing as a gray or neutral in nature's color spectrum, only in your paint tubes and color theory classes) I think it is a greater struggle to attempt to find these subtleties of color. Every plane change is a color change.

The issue I have with using terms like "gray," "brown," "neutral," "washed out," etc. is that it starts to get the brain thinking along those lines. Akin to shooting yourself in the foot before starting a race, you need your brain to make a painting - it makes it even harder to find, say, a quiet violet tone (like the top plane of the wrist in Bongart's painting above) if you're thinking of grays. Also, I think this is perpetuated by color being taught too literally, trying to "match" one's paint colors to that of the landscape or your model (see Delacroix quote below).

Here are a few other ideas about color:

- Every color note that is gray, muddy or chalky is a missed opportunity, and - Every missed opportunity detracts or weakens the overall color of a painting (think of an orchestra or band playing - what if the trumpet or guitar player hit just one sour note!); - When you put the final spots of color onto a piece, it should all come together and create the sensation of light.

The general conception of color seems to imply a high saturation or intensity; i.e., when I say "red," you automatically think of an incredibly bright red, like a sports car. But "red" could also mean a pale violet, made to feel like red by placing it next to a colder color. Look at that warmth in the shadow above in Hensche's still life (and how different it is from the red flower). Painting with color doesn't mean intensity at all - it means painting good relationships. Sorolla used a yellowish-orange to paint that little girl's back - but it relates to all the other colors and reads like sunlight. I think color painting in particular highlights how deficient language can be with describing our experiences. Another note about the images here, check out all the color used to convey "white" - they really aren't white at all, but every color under the sun.

Here are a couple of quotes that may help with the idea too:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” - Aldo Leopold

“Art begins where nature leaves off.” - Oscar Wilde

“Nature serves the artist as a dictionary only, and ‘Realism’ should be defined as the antithesis of art.” - Eugene Delacroix

Tony Peters, San Diego

TP-TP_s I drove down to San Diego recently to scope out some new locations and paint with fellow artist Tony Peters. Tony and I went to Art Center together awhile back, and have been in a couple of exhibitions together, so it was great to catch up. We talked quite a bit - the journey of art, ideas and inspiration, artistic philosophies, etc. - when your work demands that you spend most of your time working solitarily, it's great to have a meeting of the minds (and some drinks). Tony has a lot of great ideas that he puts into his work, and has been developing a very personal approach. He's also a collecting nut when it comes to art books. If you don't know Tony or his work, check out his blog when you have a chance, as there are a lot of good thoughts to peruse.


Looking Outward, 32″ x 48″, Oil on canvas, © Tony Peters

We sketched over at Torrey Pines State Park most of the time and stopped by the harbor too; I did a sketch around sunset overlooking Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve before I made my way back home.

The California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

aspirations-of-man Aspirations of Man, 22" x 28", Oil on canvas, © Eric Merrell

You've probably noticed by now that I exhibit with and write quite a bit about the California Art Club. I first encountered the group sometime in spring 2000 when I took a term off from Art Center College of Design where I was enrolled (and later graduated in 2001). Luckily for me, there was a landscape class at ACCD at the time I was there, and I had a great time painting at all sorts of locations with Mike Hernandez (unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge and from a couple of first-hand accounts, there are no landscape classes there currently). I must have taken this class a couple of times as an independent study just to allow me time to work outdoors. Anyhow, I began to get involved and exhibit with the CAC before I left school and soon realized that many of my goals were paralleled by theirs. So, almost nine years later, I'm excited to announce that I've been elected to Artist Member of the California Art Club! Their idea of juried membership levels are loosely based on the National Academy of Design in New York City (fun fact - William Wendt (1865-1946), the 2nd and 4th President of the CAC, was elected as an Associate member of the National Academy [ANA] in 1912, the only member in Los Angeles at the time, but he never reached Full Academician [NA]). I've always thought that one of the best aspects of groups like these is the camaraderie one encounters, the myriad artists, gallery and museum directors, framers, historians, collectors, patrons, art lovers, etc.; it's an incredible network of people.

Along these lines, I've just learned that my painting Aspirations of Man has been accepted into the California Art Club's 98th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition, to be held at the Pasadena Museum of Art April 26-May 17, 2009. (See a history of the Gold Medal Exhibitions.) This piece is from a solo painting trip I took to France from September through December 2002, showing the 14th c. Pont Valentré at Cahors. It was really cold by the time I got to the city (I spent Thanksgiving there, which is somewhat depressing without friends and family, with only a Sandwich Americàin and a bottle of wine instead of a turkey...the "sandwich" consisted of a hamburger and two eggs stuffed inside a pita, topped off and overflowing with french fries(!)). I had bought myself a jacket by this point, since the warmest layer I had brought with me from home was a sweatshirt. Three months is just about the right amount of time to spend working alone, you really get to know yourself and only start to get homesick towards the very end. It was an awesome trip, and I ended up coming home with 60-70 sketches.

I keyed the painting really cold to strive for that crisp air and chilly wind. The type of weather that lets you know snow is coming.

Local Color - The Movie

Nikolai Seroff [Armin Mueller-Stahl] and Johnny [Trevor Morgan] in Local Color

A new movie, Local Color, by artist and director George Gallo will be hitting theaters nationwide on November 7th. Modeled on real events in the director's life as he struggled to learn to paint, it follows an 18-year old in the 1970's who desperately wants to learn representational painting, albeit during a period when an unsympathetic art world considered it passé. After learning that an old Russian artist lives locally, he eventually convinces the old man to mentor him, and the younger artist sets forth to tackle the trials of outdoor painting. The humor, frustration and pursuit of passion put this film on a level of humanity that anyone can relate to. Click on the image above to go to the official site of Local Color to watch trailers, read reviews and more.

The California Art Club will be hosting special previews of the movie on October 12th at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, as well as on October 26th at the Women's City Club of Pasadena. Visit their website for more information. Director George Gallo is an Out-of-State Artist Member of the California Art Club.

This is a great time in which we are living - there are many art forms which are embraced, and which inform each other - and there is relatively little struggle between the forms for superiority, as was the case in the past. The elusive criteria sought by the viewer to understand and judge a piece for themselves, though - this should be the level of an artist's integrity, or lack of, visible in every artwork if looked for in the right place.

This movie can be viewed in many different lights - but is also important historically. It documents a time not too long ago when representational painting literally fought to stay alive by the efforts of a small handful of artists, represented by Nikolai Seroff. I don't believe the movie is saying "We need to reinstate the status quo of representational painting as it was before," but rather "This is our history, we still have a seat at the table, and representational painting still has much more to say."

Jill Bolte Taylor and How We Think About Art

This video was forwarded to me by my friend, artist Amy Sidrane (Click on the image for the video). It features an amazing talk by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor about her own experience having a massive stroke. Taylor describes the experience chronologically in details, and explains it in terms of both the left brain and right brain and how they, as separate entities, understand the stroke differently as it unfolds. 

Most fascinating is what this reveals about our understanding of and approach to painting - Where are we mentally when we begin a painting?  What is our awareness while actually creating? Ultimately, we want painting to become as intuitive as possible (the least amount of mental "static") so that we can react specifically to all of the stimuli being received. It is this mentally exhausting challenge, working to exist only in the present (right brain, macro) while quieting distractions about life's details (left brain, micro), that I believe initially imposes a huge roadblock to creating art - but reveals a clear approach to creating, once overcome.

Robert Henri, paraphrasing: Every painting is a record of the artist's mental state at the time it was created.