Friday, December 13, 2013

How The Grinch Designed Christmas

I will admit I am a big kid when it comes to Christmas.  As a matter of fact, my beautiful Ellen will frequently say, "When are you going to grow up?"  Even when it's not Christmas!  Strange...

Anyway, one of the things I like about the Yuletide Season is sitting around the TV, mug of nog in hand and watching the Christmas Specials.  Not necessarily the singing and dancing ones, (Although I'd love to see a repeat of an old Andy Williams Christmas Special) but the cartoons;  Charlie Brown and Snoopy.  Rudolph.  And of course Chuck Jones' masterpiece, Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Jones was a Loony Tunes animator from way back.  He brought Bugs Bunny to life in some of the funniest cartoons ever made, but he was really the man behind Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.  If you didn't know that before now, go back and watch the Grinch again and see the similarities.  Jones once admitted that at it's heart-- especially in the scenes with the Grinch's dog Max-- it's a Loony Tunes cartoon.

The other night while I was watching the Grinch, I noticed one thing I hadn't paid attention to for all these years until now:  Every scene that had a static shot (you know, the ones where the camera is not moving along) was designed as if it were a painting.

One more reason for me to love the Grinch!

The design used over and over again was what I call "One Third".  I do not have a doubt there is an official Art Name for it, but it goes like this:

Divide your composition into three unequal parts with one part being the dominant large shape, another part being one third the size of the big shape, and the last piece being one third the size of the second.  Get it?

Here's a couple of examples:

In the one above, Max is leaning against the house which is the dominant shape, while the snow is secondary and the sky is third.

Below, The sky is the dominant shape, the Grinch second and the rock he's drumming his fingers on is third.

One thing to keep in mind was that Jones didn't use the biggest shape as his Point of Interest, but rather to draw attention to the Point of Interest.  Look at the two examples above:  The house envelopes Max at the window, and in the other the sky is larger than the Grinch.

Another thing that Jones's artists did was incorporate a value pattern into these designs. Jones went with a basic four value scheme:  A Dark, a Dark Mid-Tone, a Light Mid-Tone and a Light.  I guess I could use up a ton of precious internet space trying to put into words the concept I'm thinking of, but Andrew Loomis in his awesome book Creative Illustration diagrams it best.  Check out these basic value patterns, because Jones used them in the Grinch:

There are more combinations possible than what Loomis showed, but he beautifully gives the idea of how to make a  Value Plan.  Now look and see how Jones used a value plan for these scenes:

In keeping with the "One Third" look, he was very careful to mass his values and not break them up willy-nilly, making a cohesive and engaging look.  But whether he used a Light surrounded by Mid-Tones, or a Dark surrounded by Light and Mid-tones--  whatever the Value Plan and Composition being used for a scene, have no doubt that it was carefully thought-out first.

Do you think of these things in your paintings?

I mention all of this not so that we all can make a better cartoon, but to show how basic compositional and design elements can effectively be used in any painting.  Be they cartoons, or my own work! 

So thank you Chuck Jones and thank you, Mr. Grinch for giving me a lovely lesson for Christmas--

I think my heart just grew three sizes...


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hey, Hey Santa!

Maybe next year, if you don't mind...

Yo, Santa!  Guess what time of year it is?  Yeah, it's when all us good little boys and girls compile our list of demands to keep us happy on Christmas Day!  So, leaving no stone unturned regarding my own happiness and well-being, I thought I'd drop you a quick line again this year.

First off, though-- How are you and the little lady doing up there in the North Pole?  I bet that with all this global warming thing going on, you've got more beach front property these days.  Hey, mark my words, the re-sale value is going to be great!  Everybody loves a home on the beach.  Am I right?  And you know, I'm not blaming him or anything, but have you checked the thermal emissions from Rudolph's nose?  I bet that thing is an incandescent, and you know how hot they get.  Just sayin'.

And how's the elves?  Hey, don't tell them about those WalMart and Fast-Food workers going on strike and all.  We all know the elves love what they do, and would do it for free if they had to.

Oh- They do?  Nevermind...

Anyway, this year I thought I'd change things up a tad-- and not because I never get what I ask for, either-- and go with more manageable gifts for me.  Along with peace on earth and all that blah, blah, the first thing I'd like for Christmas is a better Eye.

You know-- an artists Eye like the one Richard Schmid uses.  I like the way he observes color and light, and I could stand to do that too in my paintings.  I mean, it seems like everyone else has got a good Eye, so I want one.  Dicky (all his close personal friends call him that) seems to see just what is needed and unerringly applies just the right touch.  This one has to be easy for the elves to make, and it'll fit nicely in my stocking.

OK, another thing I want is Taste.  No, not for food but in seeing what looks the most ascetically pleasing in my compositions.  And don't leave out the Design part from that.  Leaving out design is like "Battery's Not Included" and we all know what a pain-in-the-tush that is on Christmas morn!  Jacob Collins seems to have Taste in spades, so he doesn't need anymore this year. So, Taste and Design would look awesome under the tree!  And of course in my paintings too.

Lastly, (Because I don't want much-- which should rocket me to the top of the "Good Boy" list!) I have been using Ability for years and it's starting to wear thin, so this year I want Talent.  I read somewhere that Ability works best with Talent.  Who knew?  Everywhere I look I see enough Talent to make me want to puke.  Do the elves make that stuff in their spare time, or what?  Give me some!

So, in closing I wish you and the reindeer a safe flight.  I won't leave the fire going in the fireplace this year if that'll help.  And I don't want to brag, but I also have the world's best cookies.  So stop on by and try them!  And if you can't swing by Pittston Village, just send a drone, after all-- Amazon is going to.

Merry Christmas!

Most sincerely-- and I mean that--


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave...

As many of us are aware, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.  (If you are not aware, then come on out from under that rock-- it's a lovely day out here!) What happened on that day shocked and horrified the nation, so I find it strange that nobody younger than fifty can remember where they were when it happened.  I know I for one can sure recall the event like it was yesterday: I was just about to take my noon-time nap after finishing my lunch bottle (a habit I've retained to this day) when my Mom burst into my room to tell me what had happened.  She turned on the TV in time to see Walter Cronkite tell us the sad news.  I was so upset, I filled my diaper.

To this day, whenever I see that old clip of Walter breaking down, I have to clench...

In the ensuing decades-- five at last count-- it seems that many Americans are just not buying what the "Government" is telling us about the "Lone Gunman".  Who are they trying to fool?  What are they trying to hide?  Everybody knows that one guy with a gun can't cause that amount of upheaval on society.  Unless he uses it in a school, or a movie theater or something.  Poll after poll shows we Americans believe that there must have been some kind of conspiracy and cover-up involved, no matter how many times "Scientists" use "Evidence" to prove otherwise.  It's a God-given right that if Americans don't want to believe something, then it's not true.  It's in the Constitution.

And really-- If we don't believe the Government, who can blame us?  Think about it;  One guy with a cheap mail-order rifle fires three shots all by himself?  It's too incredulous to believe.  I, for one, don't.  We all know the bigger the crime, the bigger the conspiracy.

I firmly believe that the Mafia did it.  Follow me with this;  It's so simple, a child could understand.  You see, the Mafia was mad at JFK because they knew that his brother Bobby, The Attorney General, was coming after them.  So they knew JFK must go.  So they went to Dallas and found this dweeb Oswald to put the hit on Kennedy, but just in case, mafia hit-men were also positioned on the grassy knoll along the motorcade.  The mafia guys timed their shots perfectly with Oswald's to make sure Kennedy was killed, and to confuse all the by-standers as to where the shots were coming from, then the mafia guys got away scot-free, because mafia hit-men don't dawdle at crime scenes.  Oswald was left to fend for himself, because he was just a patsy whose use was done.  Unfortunately, the mafia had forgotten that Oswald still had a functioning mouth, so when he got arrested, the mafia was afraid he might spill the beans on them, so they sent Jack Ruby into the jail to kill Oswald and silence him forever.  The mafia also knew that Ruby would go to his grave claiming he acted alone, and would never implicate them because Ruby was a stand-up guy like that.  And for all those mafia types and hit-men who knew about the crime? That just shows how powerful the mafia code of silence is. It's common knowledge that no mafia man would ever rat on a fellow member.  Just ask John Gotti Jr. or Whitey Bulger.

Now of course the Government couldn't let on that they knew the mafia was behind the assassination.  So LBJ commissioned some dim-witted members of Congress, plus a Supreme Court Justice-- all of whom were masters in forensic and criminal science to investigate the case.  I'm kidding!  Actually, each member of The Warren Commission had a staff of around twenty FBI types who were experts in ballistics, fingerprinting, forensics, etc.  But they had to throw the evidence toward Oswald acting alone, because they knew that the mafia had incriminating proof of J Edgar Hoover's-- shall we say RuPaul-ish-- lifestyle.  So the investigating team had to cover for J Edgar, because if they incriminated the mafia in the assassination, then all that stuff about J Edgar being a sweet transvestite would come out, and he would lose his job.  Of course FBI Agents work for the Government, and therefore shouldn't be considered as real Americans.  That's why none of the dozens and dozens of them who worked on the case have ever come forward with a death-bed confession, or with certifiable proof of the mafia's involvement because fealty to the Government overrides any patriotic, or human impulse to right a wrong.  I mean, it's just common sense.

So there you have it.  As Sherlock Holmes would say, "It's elementary."  Can I get an "Amen!" to that?  Now, I'm not entirely wedded to the mafia conspiracy.  (Even though it's more logical).  Put a few beers in me, and I could see your point that maybe Castro was involved, or maybe even LBJ and the CIA had a hand in it.  My point is that it is easier to comprehend having hundreds, if not thousands of people involved (If you consider wives, girlfriends, and all else who might also know) in JFK's assassination than just Oswald acting alone.  A mountain of "Evidence" to the contrary be damned!  A multi-faceted, sinister conspiracy and monumental Government cover-up is the only scenario that works.

C'mon-- One lone young, messed-up guy all by himself firing three shots from a cheap mail-order rifle, singlehandedly changing the course of history?

You gotta be crazy to believe that.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Norman, They Hardly Know Ye

Veterans Day has double meaning for me.  On the one hand, I honor those who have served in the Armed Forces, (Can I get a big shout-out to all my Air Force Peeps!) but it's also the day that Norman Rockwell was buried in 1978. 

There has been a slew of Norman Rockwell news lately.  His painting Saying Grace is on the auction block.  When he painted it in 1954 for the Saturday Evening Post he got a few grand for it.  Good money back then, mind you.  This time around it's expected to get somewhere near the tens of millions of dollars.  It has been hanging in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts for several years. My hope is that whomever buys it is kind enough to let it hang there again, and not in some private room under lock and key.  But if it is under lock and key, and you the owner is reading Maine-ly Painting, waddya say you let me come over and see it every once in awhile?

As a result of this new found re-fame, new attention is being paid to his life and work.  People are beginning to re-appreciate the man and artist, but some of the old attacks have re-surfaced as well.  And as a Rockwell fan, they drive me nuts.

You know, I have studied American History for over forty years.  I have read hundreds of history books.  When the best authors like David McCullough, Bruce Catton and Doris Kearns Goodwin write biographies, they put their subjects in the proper context of the world in which they lived.  They understand that nothing happens in a vacuum; We are the products of the world around us.  Those that do not understand that concept make the mistake of isolating their subject in time and applying today's sensibilities and morals to their actions.  (ie; "It's unbelievable-- Abraham Lincoln walked miles to get to school!  Just imagine!"  What-- Everybody else took the bus?)  That mistake is true of the way most critics still think of Rockwell.

Now, it goes without saying, (but I will) I'm a huge fan of Rockwell, but when some slob prattles on with the tiresome and ignorant Norman Rockwell's Art is a saccharine, unrealistic view of the world bull, I think of one thing:

There is no such thing as Norman Rockwell's Art.

Now, I know that may come across as blasphemous, but hear me out; You can not judge the paintings of Norman Rockwell in the same context as an Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, Andrew Wyeth or any Fine Arts painter expressing his tastes and free-will in paint!

Think about it-- It's not like Rockwell painted all those pictures, then looked around to see who might use them.  Just about every painting he made was the result of someone else's vision.  Advertising, illustration, calendars, magazine covers; all of them were paid assignments.  Where are the paintings by Rockwell that were done for his own amusement?  Unlike fellow illustrators like NC Wyeth or Harvey Dunn, he left behind no nudes, seascapes, landscapes.  Nothing.  He was not a Fine Artist trapped in the body of an Illustrator.  He was first and last a commercial illustrator down to his core.

Quick bio note:  Rockwell was born in 1894 in New York City to a typical middle class couple.  When Norman was a child, his family would spend a few weeks each summer vacationing in upstate New York at small farms.  But just like how an all-inclusive vacation at some resort in St Lucia gives you no idea of how life really is on an impoverished Caribbean island, Rockwell's time on the farm gave him a distorted, romantic view of country life.  It worked to his advantage later, though.  His early paintings, which were commissioned by children's magazines, were of kids living the idyllic life in the country.  To paint them, he used his memories and imagination, because for almost all of the first half of his life, he lived in the suburbs of the city.

Illustrators got to be known for the type and style of their work.  If a company wanted a slick, good looking man they might use J.C. Leyendecker.  If a good looking girl was required they might commission Charles Dana Gibson or Coles Philips.  When advertisers wanted Americana, they would lean to Norman.

Rockwell got to be so well known as a painter of country kids, that Coca Cola, Orange Crush and others used him for their advertising.  Those companies were trying to appeal to the nostalgia of their customers, who by the 1920's had been born in the 1870's and 80's; Back before the devastation of WWI, and the avalanche of technology that had so altered the world of their youth.  So all those paintings of folksy, innocent kids that are thought of as "Norman Rockwell's America" were really more the vision of Coca Cola and other advertisers.

The same goes for the calendars he painted.  The Boy Scouts used him for 50 years.  Every painting he did for them had to show a squeaky-clean boy in a perfect uniform.  Rockwell could dream up the image, but the Boy Scouts had final approval.  Of course, Rockwell was going to come up with a visual idea that would appeal to them.  So for all those cute, perfectly handsome, All-American Cub and Boy Scouts, and those calendars of fetching, handsome couples engaged in dreamy, romantic- and unrealistic activities-- Oh!  And let's not forget those overly sweet Christmas Cards-- Don't blame Norman.  Blame the Boy Scouts, Hallmark and Brown and Bigelow Calendars.  Biographers and critics who merely look at those paintings as his depiction of the world without understanding why they were done look foolish trying to psychoanalyze them.

I guess the closest we can come to the concept of Norman Rockwell's Art would be the cover paintings he did for the Saturday Evening Post.  Those were not illustrations in that they were not visual depictions of the printed word, but told a story by themselves.  Rockwell loved doing them because he had full control over the subject matter and his treatment of it.  So in that aspect, can't we look at those paintings as his personal statement?

Well... Not entirely. 

The Saturday Evening Post was an immensely popular magazine during the Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties, with millions of copies being sold weekly.  To be a cover artist was considered by illustrators to be the pinnacle of the trade.  Rockwell grew to be the most popular of them all.  But to be popular meant not offending anyone.  The Post had a very specific idea of how they wanted to portray the American middle-class.  So the pressure was on all of their cover artists to conform to that ideal while trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.  (And to see what would happen if the editors thought the artist wrong, check this link out).  Rockwell had to not only come up with ideas that he wanted to paint, but with a subject the Post would approve and middle-America audience would like.  His years in the business had taught him what was expected of him.  He did admit that he painted life not as it was, but how he wished it to be.  

The Post used a formula for cover art.  One week, Nostalgia, next week, Pretty Girl, week after that Home Life or Cute Kids.  Check out the Curtis Publishing site, they have a line up of some of the Post's cover artists.  (It's a shame, though.  They used to have every cover by year, but don't anymore).  Look through some of those artists covers and you'll notice something.  It's not like every other cover was a dark depiction of urban decay, and then here comes a sunny Norman Rockwell cover.  All those wholesome genre scenes with cute kids and idyllic country life were being done by everybody!  They are not just a Norman Rockwell invention.  Although if truth be told, it's the quality of his paintings that puts him head and shoulders above the rest, not the subject matter. 

So having said all this, why is Norman Rockwell still so misunderstood some thirty-five years after his death?  While his paintings are gaining more and more respectability in the art world, there is still the "Rockwell was a hack" school of thought out there.  I think what confuses the art cognoscenti wasn't just his subject matter, but how he conveyed it.  Rockwell was supremely adept at realism.  (Artists understand what a great painter he truly was).  His people aren't cartoons, but portraits.  There is palpable sense of honesty in his people.  His settings are true-to life and recognizable.  The furniture was real.  The clothes lived in.  It all seems so right.  But you know what?  Stephen King figured this out and employs it frequently.  Stephen Spielberg understands the concept as well.  But they got it from Rockwell:

Make the settings as authentic as possible, and the public will believe the fantasy being portrayed.

Norman Rockwell really wanted people to like his paintings, and through them, him.  Make no mistake, he was justifiably proud of being considered "America's Favorite Artist."  So he knew he had an image to uphold as a painter, and he didn't want to stray from that image.  And it was a two way street:  Advertisers wanted a wholesome "Rockwell Look" and he was glad to give it to them.  In doing so he won the hearts of the public.  You know-  the folks who "Don't understand art" but know what they like.

Like I said before, those of us who admire Rockwell aren't concerned so much with what he painted, or why he painted it, but how he painted it.  And he was a genius as a painter. 

Everything else we leave to psycho-babble critics.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's In There Somewhere

Dedicated readers of Maine-ly Painting (which before the collapse of the Soviet Union once numbered in the millions, but now is down to about two and a half) will note that my posts are somewhat few and far between.  Now, there are two ways to address that.  One is to complain about how busy I am, and how all my painting shows and travel is keeping me from posting blah, blah, blah.  The other way is to not address it at all, as in "I've been here.  Where YOU been?"

I can't do the latter, and the truth is, no, I have not been busy at all.  The real truth is this:  For some unknown and unfathomable reason, my ancient ebook computer that I use in my studio won't allow me to access Blogger to write these posts.  Oh, I can add photos, but it won't let me type.  (WTF?)  It's been that way for months.  Therefore, I need to use the computer that's in my house to access blogger.  But the photo files I use are stored in the ebook in the studio.  Which means I write the text at my house, and add the photos later from my studio.  Then go back to the house to edit, spell check etc.

As Mr. Rogers might have asked, "Can you say Pain-In-The-Ass?  I knew you could."

So as you read this, keep in mind all the superhuman effort it takes for me to keep you updated about me and my most innermost thoughts!

You're welcome.

Now, on to the point of this post.

Like a small percentage of realist painters (98.99%) I use photos a lot in my painting.  As much as I agree with those who complain about them, I think that as a tool they are quite helpful.  Keep in mind I said as a "tool".  To snap a photo and then blindly copy everything about it only leads to a painting of a photograph.  But that being said, when I'm out taking photos of possible painting subjects, I try hard to compose the shot as I would if I were composing the painting.  I do keep in mind, as I've pointed out more than once, (twice, and three times) the human eye and the camera lens do NOT see things the same way, so when it comes to the painting, adjustments need to be made in perspective and spatial relationships.  Otherwise, I'm just copying flaws.

Quite often, the photos I took just don't do it for me.  Even though I was moved and inspired by the scene, I'm left cold when looking at my photo.  That's when the miracle of digital photography comes in to play; Because sometimes what I'm looking for isn't the whole scene, but something within it.

Case in point: This past summer, Ellen and I took a lovely day-trip to Monhegan Island.  I took a gazillion photos.  One of them was this one:

It's two "Fish Houses" on a spit of sand called Fish Beach.  Google "Fish Beach, Monhegan" and you will see a ton of paintings depicting these structures.  Who am I to turn down a well-worn painting subject?  Like many before me, I liked the boats, and the buildings;  Except I didn't like the old guy sitting on the step messing up my shot.  So I snapped the pic, and left it at that.  Back in the studio, I was looking at this photo and doing what I usually do: Playing with it.

The photo!  (Geesh-- get your mind out of the gutter...)

I don't use Photo-Shop, but I do use basic editing tools.  Mainly, cropping.  Sometimes the horizontal photo I took looks a whole lot better cropped and re-sized vertically.  On occasion, just the right side of the photo provides an interesting design, and not the whole photo.  In this case, the left side was what intrigued me.

But remember what I said about copying flaws?  I did take care to adjust some things.  I changed the angle of the buildings to establish a more realistic perspective.  I then moved the shadow higher up on the wall to point at the old guy more.  Also, notice in the photo that the skiffs occupy a rather straight line?  I felt that made the composition look too flat.  Thinking it would be more effective to have the shadows act as stepping stones, I altered their position.  Lastly, the guy with the wrap-around glaucoma glasses may be a nice guy and all, but for the fun of it I changed him into a gray bearded sea captain sitting on the steps.

There you have it.  Another painting notched on the wall.  Now, if I don't post for a while, it isn't because I don't want to, it's because I have 16,000 photos to look at, crop and re-size.  I know there's a damn fine painting waiting for me to find it.

It's in there somewhere...


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Reality Of Imagination

And now for something really different...

At the risk of sounding redundant, generally speaking, or rather to put it in broad terms; in other words, I usually get my painting ideas from what I see.  I snoop around the neighborhood and if I see something that strikes me as worthy of paint I either paint it then and there (rarely) or snap a few photos of it to use as references back in the studio (almost always).  Sometimes I have an idea before hand of what I want and actively go seek it, but mostly I let inspiration come crawling to me.

But then again, there's that ultra rare occasion where my imagination actually drives the whole painting.  This is the story of one of those times.

(Let's get this straight first off; when I say "imagination" I don't mean paintings of Amazon women on Saturn.  No, I'm sorry to say my imagination still tends to run along the mundane in that regard). 

A couple of miles from me is an old Maine farm house and barn.  I've actually done some paintings of it:

I didn't show the house in this painting.  This is it:

It's just a typical Maine farm house with an extension off the end we Mainer's refer to as an ell.  The ell is used for the storage of tools, or back in the day, wood for the kitchen wood stove.  Which, by the way, this place still had.  I had never really stuck my head in the ell, but one day when I was bored, I doodled a little sketch of what I imagined it might look like in there:

 I went back to the house a few days later to chat with the ancient old man who lived there, and whose father built the place back in '75.  As in 1875.  I wanted to see how close my imagination was to the real thing.  Close, but as I suspected-- reality always beats imagination.

I let the matter drop.  More's the pity.  That was over two years ago, and the old man has since passed on and new owners have the place.  (To their credit, they are fixing the house up.  It's painted all white with none of that rustic green trim.  The wood stove in the kitchen has been replaced by a functioning modern stove.  The admixture of furniture ranging from Victorian to Depression era has been replaced by some tasteful Ethan Allen stuff, I am sure.  In other words, it is hopelessly bland).

Last month I stumbled upon that old sketch, and for some reason, it wouldn't let me go.  Looking at it, I began to think, "What if I substitute the old guy for the chair to show the light streaming in?  And what if I had a person standing on the other side of the room?  Hey, maybe his wife.  What would she be doing?..."  And on and on.  The challenge was:  Could I turn a figment of my imagination into something totally believable?

I'm not trodding on new ground here, by the way.  The illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration- heck-- the academic painters of the 19th Century-- did the same thing.  I mean, did Bougereau really see those Nymphs struggling with that Satyr?  The trick is in the props.  After years of hitting up antique stores, yard sales, and barn sales, I've got lots of stuff -- I mean props.

Some I used to study the properties of light.  Others I posed and drew from life.  


Where did I get the idea for old newspapers as wallpaper?  From old photos:

And what about that raggedy chimney?  From my attic...

And the door?  The woman?  The bucket and tools?  The old guy?

From stuff I've collected.  Lots and lots of stuff.  Er... props.

After I set the scene, I sat out in my garage and drew as much as I could from life.

After all that came the normal routine of color sketches, preparatory charcoal drawing, then final painting.
I know that all this begs the question-- was it all worth it?  I mean, that's a nice path you hacked through the jungle (I hear you say) but does it go anywhere?  Well.... I guess sometimes it's the journey, not the final destination that's important.  I did all this really as an experiment.  Maybe the results won't show themselves until later; But now I know what it takes to hack through that jungle.
And besides, now that I've let my imagination loose--
Can Amazon women on Saturn be far behind?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Color, Shmuller


Back when I was growing up (a feat I have yet to accomplish) we got our learnin' from books, not some namby-pamby interweb!  That was back when I had to walk five miles to school.  Uphill.  Both ways.  Through blizzards and floods.  And then when I got there I had to teach myself!
But I digress...
Anyway, when I was studying art I cracked open many a volume about paintings and painters.  Most of the books had a small section of poorly colored copies of the artworks, but a larger portion showed the paintings in glorious black and white. 
Like this:

Beautiful as this is in black and white, I had no idea it actually looks like this:

Now the reason this painting looks so good whether in color or not, I have come to learn, is all about values.  You know-- how light or dark an object is depicted.  The editors of those art books from long-ago knew that what made a painting great was how the artist arranged his values.  That, plus the artists modeling of paint, along with edge-work and blending could still be seen and appreciated in black and white.  Color didn't really matter that much. 
Don't believe me?  Check out that gorgeous Sorolla at the top of the page.  Is it the colors he used or the interplay of lights and shadows that make this a masterpiece?  Wanna see it without color?
It still "reads" perfectly!  Who needs color?  You see, back from almost the beginning days of painting-- say, after the cave paintings of Altamira, but before the 20th Century-- a step that artists would make is called the Grisaille, or monochrome lay-in.  The painter back in the day would assess how well his design and composition was by using that step.  If the picture looked good in umber, or a gray scale, then it would look OK in color as long as the value of the color matched the value of the grisaille underneath.  So it didn't matter if a shadow was blue, brown, red or green or a highlight yellow or pink-- so long as the value was right.  Of course, there's more to a painting than that; The artists choice of colors and temperature and how well they handled difficult passages is what separates the best from the rest.  But in looking at a painting that looks great reproduced in black and white, you just know that no matter what the color choices are that it is still a damn fine painting.
Let me throw some other examples at you:
This is a lovely pastoral by NC Wyeth.

And I think this is just as good.

I can't forget my buddy Norm:

The above reads just as effectively as the color version below, doesn't it?

But wouldn't every painting look as good in black and white as it would in color? 
I'll show you:
Here's a Marsden Hartley that's rather colorful--
Take out that color, and it looks like a gray blob:
Below is a painting that I absolutely love.  It shows the colors of winter beautifully, and look how the artist uses atmospheric perspective to give it a strong sense of depth. 
I mean, I really like this picture!  But I wouldn't put this in one of those books I read years ago:
All that sense of depth is gone in black and white.
Now, before you think that I consider my work perfect, let me assure you that I am not immune.  Here's one of mine from awhile ago that I still kinda like--
In black and white it looks like a bland Rorshock Test:
Look, I know what you're gonna say next.  "But Kev," I can hear you say, "What difference does it make if my painting doesn't look great in black and white?  We see in COLOR, you pinhead!"
OK, first off-- lose that attitude!  And second, the way I think of it, it's kind of like music;  Musicians know that a well constructed song can be played on one instrument.  You can sing a song like Yesterday A Capella, on a guitar or piano, or even with spoons-- it doesn't matter, it still sounds good.  Now try that with Revolution #9.  See the difference?  Same with paintings; If the picture is truly well constructed, it'll be just as visually stimulating and interesting in black and white as well as full color.
And that's not all!  You can also use black and white to fix some flaws while you're painting.  Say you use a nice blue to make those mountains look far away, but yet-- they don't.  Try losing color and just assess the value.  Maybe that lovely blue is just too dark?  And why doesn't my sunny scene look sunny?  Again, take a photo of your painting and flip it to black and white.  You'll see in an instant what ails your picture.
One final thought:  It's not the number of values you use, but where you put them.  There are some awesome paintings with less than four values, and masterpieces with a dozen.  There are also plenty of duds with a little or a lot of values too.  That's what those old black and white tomes were trying to show:  It's the artists arrangement of lights and darks that matter, not just the color. 
Even those old TV test patterns knew that.  Does the pattern look Light, Dark, Light to you?
Guess again.
 After all, nothing shows you the truth about color than black and white....

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Absentia

What I did on my Summer Vacation;

Farm Lane

First off, I didn't write a blog...

Second, I got poison ivy three times from clearing brush.  Well, no-- twice from clearing brush and once from plowing through a thicket on Monhegan Island to get some photos.  I don't know, but it could have been this one:

But then again, whose to say?  Between Ellen and myself, we took over three hundred shots.  But do you want to know the worse part about getting poison ivy?

For the week or so it takes to clear up, I have that damn song Poison Ivy in my head!  You know how it goes:

You're gonna need an ocean
Of Calamine lotion...

Poison Ivy-e-e-e-e
Poison Ivy-e-e-e-e-e...

It's not so bad during the day, but when you're trying to sleep at night and the itch is keeping you awake-- That song can drive you nuts!

I want to bid a found adieu to my beautiful old parlor woodstove:

This old gal was the subject of this painting from earlier in the year, with Ellen as a model:

Stoking The Fire

We took it for a little restoration and clean up for use this Winter, and found out we were only twenty-five years too late.  It was beyond repair.  The place we took it to had another one identical to it, so we traded for it.  In truth, I'll feel a lot better about having a stove that won't burn the house down while we sleep.

We didn't go on any long trips this summer, mostly stayed around the house.  That afforded me an opportunity to do yet another painting of our little yard.  I call this one Summer Morning Dew:

Oh let's see, what else...  Oh, I was asked to participate in this years A Gathering of Maritime Masters show at Art Of The Sea Gallery in South Thomaston, Maine.  Thanks to Joan, Tad and Ruth for all the work they do to put on this successful and stunning show.

Speaking of galleries, I want to wish Casco Bay Artisans a hearty hello as being another gallery to carry my work!  Jen, Lori and Tina who are wonderful artisans themselves have a beautiful shop smack in the middle of the busy shopping district called the Old Port in Portland, Maine.  If you are ever in Portland, stuff that lobster roll down your gullet and head on in to see them.

I know that for most of the country, this Summer's weather has been a trifle strange.  It's been hellishly hot out West, and wicked cool here in the East.  But I must say that the plant life has loved it!  For us, it has been a great growing season.  The blueberries were a bumper crop.  The strawberries were bursting red and plump.  My lawn has loved it, too.  Mowing my field is an all-day event that in the past I would do once every ten days.  This Summer, I've had to take my long lawn ride every friggin week!    I also recall that this past Spring the flowers bloomed as large and colorful as I have ever seen.   

And as I sit here and scratch and claw at these little raised bumps on my arms and legs I'm reminded of another plant that has thrived this Summer...

Poison Ivy-e-e-e-e-e
Poison Ivy-e-e-e-e-e


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

To Real, Or Not Too Real

I know it sounds vain, and I don't know about you, but I love it when someone compliments me about my paintings.  Say I just finished a picture-- my lovely Ellen might say, "Well dear... if you like it..." 

Or, my Mom might exclaim, "Hmmm... it's.... interesting..."

And sometimes my own sweet children (who hardly ever gush over my stuff) might enthuse,
"Well, it doesn't suck as much as some of your other stuff."

I know what you're thinking;  And it IS hard not to keep from getting a swelled head!

Another kind of compliment I get is when someone says, "Gee, that looks just like a photo!"  I always take that as a compliment, because to most people, a photo is as real as it gets, even if you and I know a photo's image isn't the way our eyes really see things.  But do you want to know a secret?  While I always respond with a heartfelt and sincere "Thank you!"  Inwardly, I wonder what I did wrong.

The truth is, I really don't want my paintings to look like a photograph, but a realistic painting.  So, let's see what I may doing with my paintings.  First off, the objects in my paintings are recognizable.  Can't do much about that, can I?  It's realism.  Then, what about color?  Well, I do try to paint things in a naturalistic manner, so if a tree is green, then I'll paint it green.  If the sky is blue, I'll paint it blue.  But wait a minute--

Do I have to?

What got me thinking about this is when I stumbled upon a painting done by a modern Master named Mian Situ.  Check him out.  The painting that dropped my jaw is this one, The Golden Mountain:

Now, one might say, "Wow!  This painting looks so real!"  But does it really?  Look at the colors he used to depict this brightly lit, daylight scene:  Reds, browns, grays, blacks.  If we were standing on this deck and saw this scene with our own two eyes, it would look nothing like this.  Here, the overall tone is warm, from the beautifully painted highlights to the gorgeous deep shadows.  He doesn't do the Impressionist "If it's a warm light, it must have cool shadows!" 

This is a Traditional Oil Painting, as opposed to an Impressionist Painting.  If this painting was done in an Impressionist style, with its loose modeling and variations in color temperatures, it would look like a depiction of a holiday pleasure cruise.  If Mr. Situ had used a photographic color scheme, it would just be a depiction of people on a boat.  Instead, the Artist wanted to convey an emotion about the people; What they had been through, and what they are feeling.  His color scheme does that.  And yet, it still looks real.

I dig that.

So, when I did my own little painting of a lobsterman, I had Mr. Situ's masterpiece in mind.  I also had this painting as inspiration:

Winslow Homer's Breezing Up, or A Fair Wind.  There is nothing more about this painting that I didn't say about the other.  It looks like a truthful depiction of a sailboat on a summer's day, but yet-- it is not.  Again-- not an Impressionist painting, although both Homer was and Situ is perfectly capable of using that style when it suits their purpose.

So, I guess my point is, if I want my paintings to look real, I guess I shouldn't try so hard to make them too real.  If you catch my drift...


Thursday, June 6, 2013

To The Boys Of Normandy

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Allied Invasion Of Europe, on June 6th, 1944.  We know it as D-Day. 

By the way, did you ever wonder what the D stood for in D-Day?  Well, the truth is--- nothing.  The military loves double-speak; Every operation has a day it is planned to start and that day is called the D- as in Day.  But you didn't say, "Hey, when is the D?"  It would be said, "When is D-Day for the operation?"  Likewise with the hour.  It is called H-Hour.  So every invasion during WWII had a D-Day and an H-Hour, but history has designated June 6th as the ultimate D-Day.  It's kind of like how Civil War buffs know all about places like The Cornfield (Antietam) and The Peach Orchard (Gettysburg), like no other peach orchards and cornfields ever existed.

War is a game of cat and mouse.  If you are on the offense, your job is to surprise the enemy.  If you are on the defense, your job is to try to figure out every possibility the enemy can use so you won't be surprised.  We had a little secret against the Germans.  Actually, it was the Ultra Secret.  We had been intercepting German communiques for years, which meant we knew exactly what they were expecting of us.  Our job was to do the opposite.

The Germans expected us to cross the English Channel from Britain to France at its narrowest point: We chose a longer route.

They figured we'd choose a nice, flat area to land:  We chose bluffs and cliffs.

They thought we'd cross at high tide:  We chose low tide.

They were thinking we'd come over at night with no moon:  We chose a full moon.

The military brass also planned the invasion to the Nth degree.  The millions of young U.S. soldiers who'd been milling about England for two years were trained over and over again on scurrying into landing craft and storming beach heads and rocky cliffs and bluffs.  Each unit had a designated spot to land in Normandy and were given specific training for their spot.  After all, you couldn't just dump a few thousand soldiers on the beach and then say, "There you go, boys-- have at it!"  Each soldier had his responsibility, and it was drilled into him time and again.  So, that and figuring out boat assignments, air strikes, Naval bombardments and targets kept the Allied High Command busy for months.

The planners knew that they only had a three day window for the moon and tides to be just right.  If they missed that chance it would be months before they could try again.  What they couldn't count on was the weather.  After the troops had been loaded into thousands of all kinds of vessels, a storm blew through the Channel, stalling everything for two days.  But at the last possible moment, the weather broke for a spell, and the attack was on.

And from that point on almost nothing went right.

Ships had drifted off-course and landed the troops in the wrong spot.  Even after a shelling that was supposed to drive them out, the Germans put up a killing fight.  The soldiers who had been tossed about in their boats for two days, and who were mostly sea-sick, were weighed down with ninety pounds of ammo as they tried to wade through the bone-chilling water to get to the beach.  Many drowned in the attempt.  By the time the men got to the beach, they were disoriented, soaked, exhausted, and in many cases leader-less.  They were also pinned down by a murderous fire from German machine guns.  In essence, thousands of young men had been thrown on the beach and told, "Have at it, boys!"

What they did next wasn't a testimony on how preparation and training makes all the difference, but more on how quick thinking, initiative and bravery can overcome a seemingly hopeless position.  Quite simply, they did what they had to do to win the battle, whether they were trained for the task, or not.  Soldiers who had never been trained with certain weapons had to figure out in a hurry how to use it.  Dozens of men who didn't know each other, or have a moment of training together, coordinated their efforts to take out German bunkers.  It was as remarkable a feat as any trained Army ever accomplished.  Oh, and did I mention that for almost every man there, this was their first combat experience of any kind?

The rest, as they say, is History.

The generation who did all that-- for us-- are almost all gone now.  It dates me I know, but when I was a kid they were our school teachers, cops, barbers and such.  I remember playing a game of catch with an uncle and his buddy who were WWII vets.  They have since passed on.  If I live to a normal old age, I will see a day when there will be no World War II veterans left alive.

We observe and honor veterans on Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day and all, but I've always felt we should remember the dates that mean so much to our history.  Days such as Pearl Harbor Day, V-E Day, or V-J Day don't really mean much anymore.  But they should. 

And for what they did, we can thank the boys of Normandy.