Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Do We Paint What We Love or... Love What We Paint?

Rupunzel is an open studio 20x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
I love to paint rim light. It doesn’t matter if it’s a landscape or a figure, a horse or a house. I seek out rim light en plein air and in open studio. Why do I paint this same thing (though admittedly with different subjects) over and over?
Is it because I love the way it looks and want to explore it or is it because I feel competent painting it? In short, am I painting what I love or do I love it just because I think I can paint it in an okay way?

[Rim light is when an object is primarily in shadow but is outlined in whole or in part by light. Rim light often appears if you paint from the dark side of an object.]
I believe I love to paint it for both reasons. I do think I can often pull it off (perhaps because I paint it so often!). But I choose to paint it because I love the drama it imparts and also the anonymity. Paint something from its dark side and you lose the details. You generalize the specific and play up the contrast. Contrast often equals drama. And lack of detail makes it mysterious. The subject becomes not the exact thing painted but the light itself. The subject becomes light, shadow and reflected light.
I wonder what you, other artists, might love to paint and why. And of course, I wonder what you, art lovers, might love to own!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No Invitation to the Party...

The Card Players a 14x18 oil by Shirley Fachilla

Some paintings invite you in. There’s a path to walk, a glance that makes you a part of a crowd or an open book to read. Others, however, exclude and instead of offering the viewer a way to become a part of the action, offer a glimpse into a closed world. You’re welcome to watch but not participate.
Watching, of course, can be fun. Cezanne’s intense Card Players don’t invite us to take a hand but kibitzing their play is perhaps more enjoyable than sitting down at the table.
The communion between Berthe Morisot’s mother and babe is a vision of the maternal bond, and Vermeer painting his muse a lesson in visual art.

My card players are part of a closed world, too, each trying her best to outfox the others and with no time for us, hangers-on.

Detail from The Card Players

Monday, May 23, 2011

All Keyed Up!

One of the Domestic Arts a 24x12 open studio by Shirley Fachilla

Yes, my subject looks quite calm, even serene, but her values are all high key. Please let me explain. First a definition of value: in art, value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color without regard to its actual hue. Think of a black and white photo; it’s nothing but value.
The value range here is all in the higher registers to borrow a musical term. There isn’t much dark; it’s mostly medium to light. That’s the definition of a high key painting.
The lightness of high key work often creates a happy, carefree mood. Impressionist Cassatt loved high key as did most of her fellow Impressionists. In fact, the lighter values of the Impressionists may be one reason why most people like Impressionist art.
It, however, is not my natural range; I usually like it darker with more contrast. (Dark with contrast makes for drama, often a very good thing in a painting.) But in this open studio session, I opted for the lit side of the model which was virtually shadow-free. I needed the challenge; I’ve painted the dark side more times than I like to admit!

I couldn’t let a post of a model knitting go by without a link to Vermeer’s Lace Maker bent industriously over her work, a figure with still life, all in less than 80 square inches!

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Old-Fashioned View

Red Clover, Pink Pond is an 8x8 plein air by Shirley Fachilla

My little painting is of an ordinary Tennessee field and pond. It’s different from a hundred other such views only because of the red clover spread out like a blanket on the hillside.

The landscapist, John Constable, also painted ordinary scenes from his own little corner of the world. In fact, his insistence on painting what he saw is one reason he’s now considered one of the greats of landscape painting. In his day, imaginary and romantic views of far-away places (often places the painter had never been or that didn’t really exist anywhere) were standard fare.
Ironically, many of Constable’s paintings now seem quite romantic to us. Whether it’s a double rainbow over Stonehenge or a rickety hay wagon, his paintings can appear rather sentimental to modern sensibilities. But take a look at some of his oil sketches and you’ll see a Constable as fresh and compelling as anyone painting landscapes today.
By the way, there were telephone poles along that road in my painting. I took them out. I can’t decide if I did it because it messed up my composition or because it messed up the old-fashioned look of my view!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stuck in the Middle...

Just a Little Blue is an open studio 20x16 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

For all intents and purposes, she’s smack in the middle of my canvas. Ask any landscape or still life painter; a focal point (i.e. the primary subject is the focal point) shouldn’t be in the middle.

This middle business may be almost always true for landscapes and still lifes, but it isn’t always true for figurative or portrait. If you have a single figure in a symmetrical pose, the figure may work best in the middle.
To create another composition that works as well, I’d have to shift her, crop her almost in half and perhaps leave the other half of the canvas empty. Hmm, then I might have a Degas composition. Very tempting! If you’ve read this blog much, you know I do so love Degas.
This particular subject was inspired by Carolyn Anderson who said that the middle is sometimes the only place for a figure, especially one facing straight toward viewer. (Here are two quite different examples of just what Carolyn was talking about: a Bouguereau and a Chuck Close.)
Though Just a Little Blue isn’t looking at you, she makes up for it by being such a well-balanced girl. And by the way, she wore a black camisole under her white, semi-transparent shirt; it made for an interesting painting challenge.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Things I Learned in Carolyn Anderson's Workshop

Art Deco Girl is a 20x16 oil by Shirley Fachilla
Never shorten a neck… reserve a brush or more for your darks (misplaced white can destroy one’s values)… watch your angles.

Great things to know, but not the most important lessons I took away from Carolyn’s workshop.
For me, the lessons that resonated were:
Light and shadow define our visual reality. Light flows like a river and is the great unifier. Painting isn’t filling in the spaces. There should be a meaning behind each brushstroke.
The important lessons I only partially understand. I guess I’ll be trying to implement them from now on in every painting I do.
Art Deco Girl was painted on the second day of the workshop.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Form of Tribute

Vroom, Vroom Building, a 6x8 oil by Shirley Fachilla

The building has fallen on hard times. Mostly empty and very neglected, it sits on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee and seems to watch traffic vrooming by. But once it was on the cutting edge of design. When it was modern and new, my father spent some hours there. It was probably boring meeting time for he was a district civil engineer for the State Highway Department, and this building was its headquarters.
Now it’s on the list of Historic Nashville’s most endangered historic buildings. I painted it for the organization’s fundraiser, but I also painted it because of my dad, because he loved his job of building roads and bridges. I guess you could call it a tribute to him. Robert Genn did a newsletter about painting as a form of tribute. You might find it interesting whether you make paintings or appreciate them… or perhaps do a bit of both.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Coloring inside the Lines

Coloring inside the Lines 14x11 oil by Shirley Fachilla

I had a request to write about what Carolyn Anderson had to say about edges. (For those who didn’t see the last post here, I’m just back from an outstanding Carolyn Anderson workshop.)

An edge definition might be handy. To a painter, edges are those transitions between one color and/or one value and another. Think of a coloring book. The lines defining where to put one color and where to end it are a painter’s edges. The lines in a coloring book are also a primer on how not to handle edges when you’re a grown-up artist.
In representational paintings that attempt a “realistic” version of the world, there would be few "hard" sharp edges (think knife and cliff edges). And they would be used to call attention to something the artist considered important within the canvas. “Soft” edges (think folds in chiffon, shiny windblown hair) would be the usual rule with the very fun vanishing edge functioning as a way to marry one form to another.
Now Carolyn really said none of the above. She talked about edge variety and explained edges with pictures rather than words. She did this, I think, because edges are a nuanced skill. There are many different kinds of edges within the broad categories of hard and soft. Lots of soft edges without variety create a dull painting; lots of hard edges make a confusing one. To discover how to go about making the right edge, an artist needs first to study how it’s done in many good paintings. Carolyn used Sargent, Sorolla, Fechin as some of her examples. There are, however, some beautiful, illuminating and educational words about edges, on the first page of Carolyn’s website.

Coloring inside the Lines was done from one of Carolyn’s assortment of photos while at her workshop. One afternoon we worked from photos rather than from life. I loved and envied her many great photos of ballerinas.

Is it too early to send an invitation?

Pieces by (clockwise from left to right) : Susan Harlan, Janet Garner, Shirley Fachilla, Mike Martino and Topper Williams. So many ...