Saturday, July 25, 2015

243: The Role of Symbolism

Sketch for Reflected World, Graphite
FINDING your way as an artist is not easy. As I look back over my career I wonder at all the techniques and styles I've explored. I always admired artists who seemed to know exactly who they were and how to express that identity.

In retrospect I see I had a propensity for symbolic representation yet rejected it in favor of a more realistic approach. Fortunately, one of the great things about an art career is that it's never too late to recover lost ground. All the styles and techniques we explore can be plowed under to make rich soil for future work. The ruins of past projects become the stable foundation for future creations.

An overview of my career shows a willingness to divide the world into individual, symbolic chunks, while simultaneously resisting such division. The cloisonnism of Van Gogh seemed too prosaic in a world infused with poetic subtlety. Or was infusing symbolism via delineation a necessary aspect of his artistic project? Previously I thought delineation was simply a technique to differentiate areas of color with similar values.

The work of Rockwell Kent and the Group of Seven had the same tendency toward symbolism, often using linear calligraphy–and their paintings projected a similar power as the work of Van Gogh. My woodcuts had a type of symbolism lurking beneath the surface although rarely expressing themselves using the overt outlines of Van Gogh's woodcut-inspired cloisonnism. I now see his delineation as a way to infuse symbolic content into form.

So I find myself at a crossroads reconsidering the form of my work–perhaps seeking a synthesis of woodcut and painting–to create a more personal and complete visual world. I feel a new phase of artistic experimentation coming on–allowing prosaic symbolism to step forward, swapping poetry for power–a phase that for the first time I will not resist.

Brad Teare– July 2015


Monday, July 13, 2015

242: Woodcut Show in April 2016

Woodcut, 9" x 6"
I'm currently preparing for a woodcut show in April 2016 at the Alpine Art Gallery in Salt Lake City. It will be the first time I will have a one person show entirely about the art of woodcut prints. I think it will be a great show and am enthused to make it the best show possible. In preparation I'm planning a series of smaller, more affordable prints. My color woodcuts are outrageously difficult because of the multiple blocks and so most people can't afford them. I plan to make a series of smaller, simpler prints (possibly hand colored), especially for the show that I hope will appeal to a wider audience.

As I create the woodcuts I intend to post images of my studio as well as the printmaking process. If you are interested you can follow the process on Instagram. The slideshow widget below links to my Instagram site. Let me know what you think of the new project.

Brad Teare –July 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

241: One Million YouTube Views

On the evening of 7 July 2015 the Thick Paint YouTube Channel clocked over a million views since the first video posted on 20 November 2009.

What does 1,000,000 views mean for the Thick Paint channel?

One million is just a number–but it's a huge one! I guess it means there are lots of people interested in art and looking for information on how to paint–and that video is a preferred venue for learning.

Is there any evidence that interest is slacking off?

Not as far as I can tell. If you look at the chart the last year has enjoyed a fairly dense clustering of views. That section doesn't have excessive highs or lows but views are consistent and averaging slightly higher. I view that as a sign of greater access for artists around the world.

How did you get the idea for the Thick Paint YouTube Channel?

I was on a painting trip to Sonora, Mexico to paint the missions of Father Kino and attended an exhibit of local art in the village of Magdalena. I detected in the very enthusiastic artistic expressions a similar yearning I felt growing up in Kansas–the wish for better access to art information. The desire to provide more information to a wider audience provided the inspiration for both the blog and the YouTube channel.

Have you been successful in providing the information your viewers need?

My only feedback is the numerous emails I've received expressing thanks for the channel. I've received letters from nearly every country on the planet that has internet access. It has been very gratifying.

You say nearly. Which countries haven't you heard from?

I haven't heard from North Korea or Cuba. There are a handful of countries in the interior of Africa that don't appear to have internet access. I've never gotten an email from Iceland which logs in with 604 views. Iceland has the highest ratio of artists per capita of any country so I had expected to hear from an Icelandic painter (especially since Icelandic is one of the 53 translatable languages. Plus giving a woodcut workshop there is on my creative bucket list). With so many artists I suspect there is already enough art info in Iceland which is awesome.

How about from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan?

Artists of Kazakhstan have visited the channel 758 times, which I think is pretty amazing especially considering the videos are all in English.

After visiting your YouTube channel do people go to your blog and translate the additional material into their native languages?

Unfortunately the conversion rate from YouTube Channel to blog is not very good. It hovers around a ratio of 2:1. I provide free videos on my Gbox channel as well but the conversion rates are even lower.

Any reason why so few people jump over to the blog?

I think it's just so easy to access YouTube videos and go from video to video. I suspect most people don't think they will get much additional info from the blog which is unfortunate. With translation the blog has a greater potential to reach a larger audience (see translation drop-down menu in the upper right corner of this blog). There is also a search function that is very useful (right under the translate drop-box). Artists can use it to find all the articles about sketching for example but few avail themselves of that feature.

What are you most proud of?

Numbers do count and I think it's amazing that so many people have enjoyed the videos and possibly become better artists. That is tremendously satisfying. I never had any other intention for the channel and blog except to help other painters. Both have exceeded my expectations. The channel has over 4,400 subscribers which I think is pretty amazing too.

Any tips for those thinking about starting a similar channel?

Be patient. It took two years to get over 400 hits a day. In the beginning growth was slow. But if your content remains consistent viewers will show up. If you think you have something to offer jump in and give it a try. I'm an introvert and it was hard to be in front of a camera at first. But I've grown both from trying to communicate better on camera as well as gaining greater personal insight from articulating half-formed ideas. Many fellow painters have sent me great tips and painting suggestions. It has been really amazing. I discovered that if you want to grow–and you try to grow–you will grow. That's one of the few things I can guarantee.

Brad Teare –July 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

240: Painting with Gouache

I HAVE never experimented much with gouache–probably from bad experiences using the chalkier, less versatile version known as designers gouache back in art school. I was therefore surprised and intrigued with James Gurney's new video Gouache in the Wild.

This new offering is a perfect companion to Watercolor in the Wild which I thoroughly enjoyed for its innovative approach to painting in the field (read my review here). 

This new video further explores Gurney's approach to plein air painting using professional grade gouache. Most painters would profit from watching the watercolor video first as I felt it covers in more detail Gurney's kit–although there is ample detail in the gouache video to make it enjoyable in its own right.

The video records six painting sessions. A favorite was the Liquor Sign session. Watching Gurney layer on the gouache and gradually building up detail using both transparent and opaque pigments was an eye-opener. For those who have already watched the video note the early haphazard overlapping of color that belies the later impression of exactitude.

Another favorite was the Convenience Mart painting where Gurney uses a quick value/color thumbnail to lock down color and value relationships before starting to paint. It's a brilliant idea I hope to try soon (I suspect the underlying black bars were painted in acryli-gouache, a water insoluble variation of gouache).

The painting of a still life of antique toys was intriguing as Gurney used a venerable yet arcane technique using a transparent grid (borrowed from Durer) to transfer the image. In typical fashion Gurney expands on the technique with an ingenious plastic sheet transfer method making the session invaluable for that tip alone.

Gouache in the Wild simultaneously respects traditional techniques while infusing them with a spirit of invention. I've already ordered a handful of gouache pigments to add to my watercolor kit and will soon try the innovations Gurney suggests. If you need new ideas to expand your techniques and a reminder of how fun painting in the field should be don't miss this video.

Brad Teare –July 2015


Monday, June 29, 2015

239: The Improvement Cycle

A common obstacle for new painters is to get blocked in the improvement cycle. This means we have trouble closing the gap between the frustrating phase of being a beginner–knowing little about painting–and the stage where we begin to enjoy painting. This is equally true for experienced painters who add new skills to their repertoire.

The goal is to get to where you enjoy the process as soon as possible. It is no fun painting one bad painting after another (although I did that for a year. See video about it here).

Once you get to the point where you enjoy the act of painting the improvement cycle becomes self perpetuating. We love to do what we do well. Many artists struggle with eliminating the obstacles to enjoyable competence. An understanding of the phases leading to competence can be helpful.

The first step toward competent painting is unconscious incompetence, a stage where you are blissfully unaware of what you don't know. This phase is relatively painless. The next phase is conscious incompetence. You know your paintings aren't working but don't know why. This phase is painful and most painters, being highly sensitive, need to get through this phase as fast as possible or they will give up. The next phase is unconscious competence. This phase starts to get rewarding–you are painting a good painting once in a while–but you may not understand why the painting is good. Finally you reach conscious competence where you understand why your painting is working and can replicate your success. This is the phase that is most enjoyable. 

These phases are like seasons and conscious competence will arrive just as spring follows winter–if you persist. To get to that level faster you can rely on the critique of fellow painters, learn as much as you can about basic principles, as well as brainstorming for possible flaws in your work, and analyzing what you want to say with your particular style.

Like the seasons you will cycle through this process many times as you continuously evolve your work. I have made this blog with the hope it will be a resource for painters who want to be actively engaged in the improvement cycle.

Brad Teare–June 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

238: The Mechanics of Beauty

I was walking along the foothills of my neighborhood and reflecting on how a large tract of untouched land at the eastern edge of our community has recently been marked for development. I mourned the future loss of such beauty that I have often painted and which has added so much enjoyment to my daily walks.
Morning Solitude, 9" x 10", eight block woodcut

Musing on the futility of preserving such beauty my mind turned to how I could deal with such a loss. I was reminded and encouraged that everyone responds to beauty. Not everyone responds equally, of course, but response to the beauty of nature is innate and will not disappear. Science fiction of the 50s predicted that we would live in communities of steel and glass and eat pills for dinner. Neither of which has happened because the aesthetics of such experiences are out of harmony with human nature.

Even the developers who bulldoze the land will likely build their own homes on land in an isolated and beautiful spot and grace them with paintings of nature much like the land they developed. So how does an artist make peace with such a process? One notion to keep in mind is that beauty is a function of rarity. As more and more people have a variety of cosmetic surgeries to look beautiful more pressure is placed on professional models to transcend that ideal of beauty. The commonality of beauty erodes beauty; the rarity of beauty promotes it. In like manner as beauty is relegated away from our communities more people will cherish natural beauty.

There will be tragic and irrecoverable losses along the way (imagine Central Park being developed for condominiums, or Arches National Park strip-mined for landscaping boulders). But artists must protect our sensitive natures by embracing strategies that will allow us to live peacefully in a world we can't control.

Focusing on the transience of nature helps. Like the feeling of nostalgia we subconsciously know that the arrow of time speeds in one direction only. The ephemeral aspect of nature is why an amazing sunset is so heartbreaking–its beauty will never be repeated. The theories of Nietzsche aside, every beautiful moment is a unique event. If it could be repeated and beauty were a common experience there would be no need for artists.

Brad Teare–June 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015

237: Art Tools

Autumn Color, 24" x 24", oil on canvas
I regularly use two tools from Accurasee– an extremely well designed pencil holder called the SketchCaddy and a compositional device called the Art Gridding App (free here or see on iTunes here). The grid app is available for iPhone or Android.

Both the pencil bag and app are indispensable tools for the studio and in the field. Watch the video below for a demo on how I use them. Additional items I mention in the video are listed below.

Let me know what you think.

Brad Teare–June 2015


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

236: Getting better faster

Close-up of large acrylic
LEARNING to paint embraces a wide array of skills. It requires motor skills, or the simple act of applying paint. It requires intellectual skills, such as how to manipulate two dimensional space. There is an emotional component as well requiring the harnessing of profound creative impulses. This combination of traits makes studying painting different from the examples most books on learning offer. Most studies examine chess, basketball, languages, or the most common–golf.

In the book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast the author, Josh Kaufman, describes a learning process uniquely relevant to painters (although he doesn't specifically address painting). In addition to being a great review of learning practices reviewed in past blogs he expands on a few basic yet novel ideas.

Kaufman understands that a baseline proficiency is necessary before you can enjoy learning anything. I remember trying to learn the violin. I tried but I never enjoyed practicing. If you can’t get to that point in a reasonable amount of time you will abandon your project. The First 20 Hours acknowledges that critical threshold and offers methods to get there faster.

In order to get to the point where you are good enough to enjoy painting you have to understand what skills you need. It is counterproductive to simply say you want to be a great artist. You need to define your goals with precision by breaking the process into skills and sub skills.

For example I recently began trying to improve my ability to glaze. I carefully defined what skills it would require–which I had mastered and which needed more development. To this list I applied research, that is, I looked for additional information via books, videos, or experimentation. Experimentation in my case was a series of small abstracts on which I tested a variety of substrates and mediums for glazing. Such research helps eliminate distractions and allows you to focus on specific problems.

The last two stages of The First 20 Hours program relate to execution–removing barriers to practice, such as having a permanent place to paint with all your supplies handy.

The final step is committing to practice. The book claims you can achieve a baseline of ability (a level where you enjoy practice) within a surprisingly short amount of time. He states that forty minutes a day for one month will get you to that level.

Painting differs from other disciplines by requiring cognitive skills (creativity and intelligence), motor skills (dexterity of eye and hand), and an optimal emotional state (achieving a state of flow). This odd combination is what makes studying the art of painting so difficult. But Kaufman insists that the barriers to excellence are not physical or intellectual but emotional–meaning we create our own barriers by our lack of optimism and emotional buoyancy. I agree with him.

Brad Teare–June 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

235: The print market dilemma

Thumbnails from
showing four of my woodcuts and five paintings.
In the 90s a type of mechanical print became fashionable called giclee prints. They were mechanical reproductions printed by computer technology. Giclee prints were not hand-made like traditional fine art prints and were in no way limited–once you had a digital file you could print an unlimited amount of indistinguishable copies.

Unlike giclees each hand-printed woodcut has distinctly beautiful nuances. The giclee option confused fine art print collectors and the ability to sell fine art prints became increasingly difficult. Up to the late 90s most large cities had fine art print galleries that sold only hand-made prints. Today such galleries are extremely rare.

On the positive side hand-made prints are selling for prices never seen before. And highly collectible, multi-color woodcuts by artists such as Gustave Baumann are selling for record prices.

From time to time I've been approached by reproduction companies offering to sell my work. So far I've only agreed to one company, TurningArt, on one condition–that the reproductions have significant differences from the original woodcuts. This means that all my TurningArt offerings have been cropped in a way that differentiates them from the originals. Plus the originals have paper and ink texture that is impossible to reproduce in a mechanical reproduction further ensuring that each woodcut is a unique and inimitable piece of art.

Unlike the TurningArt reproductions I sign and number each woodcut and keep editions low (usually under 40). Every print is hand-deckled and hand-embossed on acid free paper following traditional techniques. With rare exceptions I cancel each block–preventing future editions.

I feel these efforts are necessary to preserve the line between mechanical reproductions–the only way some people can afford art–and the more rarified market of fine art prints, a market that is probably one of the smallest art markets in America.

Let me know about your experiences with the print market.

Brad Teare–June 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015

234: How to succeed in art

GhostWoodcut, 1.5" x 1"
Due to factors beyond my control I've recently experienced a creative low ebb. To use the time productively I've embraced this fallow season to reflect on accomplishments of past years and discover possible paths forward. As I ruminate on what has helped in my journey and what has slowed my progress I confess that my mental state has been the main factor accelerating or diminishing growth.

It is with regret that I look back and see how I allowed negative individuals and events in my life to become obstacles to growth. Some of these obstacles have taken considerable discipline and force of character to counteract. Above all there is my own innate weakness that has come into play. In earlier entries I have mentioned my anxiety disorder as a key factor in slowing my progress.

Early in my career I felt I could use moodiness to good artistic effect especially as a writer because I could harness that brooding spirit to create profound artistic creations. But recently I've found such moods to be less productive and am less willing to submit to them. There are romantic notions surrounding the life of the artist that encourage a dramatic, if negative, mindset. So why should we challenge this tradition?

One reason is that negative thoughts inhibit flow. In the groundbreaking book by the same name author Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi describes the optimal state for maximum creativity. It is a book well worth reading and more complex than I can cover here but negative self-talk, moodiness, depression, and anxiety are all impediments to flow.

In my illustration career I frequently have to deliver illustrations on deadline regardless of my state of mind. If I'm depressed or anxious the illustrations suffer and are artless, inanimate shadows of what they could have been had I been in a better mood. The reason is the state of flow is inhibited by such negativity. Positive mental states provide direct access to deep emotions that allow for nearly effortless and profoundly authentic creation.

Paradoxically, in a state of flow one can access the dramatic and tragic more easily than in a negative state. In a state of flow it is easier to express empathy and respond with authenticity to deeply moving events and states of mind. Focus shifts from the self outward and communicates a more universally meaningful experience.

Painter Robert Henri wrote that the artist's chief goal is to achieve a state of mind where great art becomes inevitable. I agree–and embrace that challenge.

Brad Teare–May 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

233: Green Screen test with free book promo

I recently downloaded an app called Veescope Live. It allows for filming with a green screen with iMovie. This means I can put a video or still image behind me as I film. The book cover image you see in the video below was a digital image I used to replace the green screen behind me (which is a green sheet of muslin cloth). As a test I decided to make a small promotional piece for my new book on Wattpad. Take a look at the video and I think you will agree that the app did a pretty good job. It is very easy to use. My compliments to Veescope Live.

If you haven't checked out the Wattpad book please take a look and let me know what you think. Many thanks to fellow painter Annie A at Wetcanvas for the heads up about grammatical and structural errors. Corrections are on-going and I really do appreciate your help.

Brad Teare–May 2015

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...