Saturday, January 24, 2015

211 Painting like Van Gogh, Part 2

Pen and ink sketch by Vincent Van Gogh
In previous entries I noted elements that made Van Gogh's work different from other painters. Another difference was the way Van Gogh drew. The short distance from his drawing to his painting strengthened his work. Once you see how his painting was inspired by his idiosyncratic drawing style his methods become more transparent. His drawings had a rhythmic calligraphic syncopation. The energetic dots and dashes of his drawings allowed Van Gogh to instinctively translate his vision onto canvas.

Van Gogh had an inimitable style and I would never suggest expropriating his techniques. Yet the unique nature of his drawing style and the kinship between his drawing and painting are so obviously interconnected we might ask ourselves if our drawing has achieved its own unique nature. And if not, why? I suspect too many students are in such a hurry to paint they neglect fostering a unique drawing method. Unique drawing indicates a unique way of thinking about the visual world. Those qualities can then be applied to achieving a unique effect in paint.

Yellow Field by Vincent VanGogh
To the right is the painting Yellow Fields from The Kroller-Muller Museum from a photo by Erik te Kamp. Note the use of cloisonnism to contain the close values of the distant hills and mountains. Rather than using value Van Gogh uses line to delineate the distant houses as well as the sun.

We see evidence of dry brush– where he let the paint dry and added touches of paint at a later stage. Once again we see little evidence that he loaded his brush–as all the strokes are of one color–the mixing taking place on the canvas at the edges of the strokes.

This extreme close-up of a virtuoso clot of paint in the lower right quadrant seems to have evidence of glazing–another sign that Van Gogh thoughtfully modified his paintings back in the studio after the initial alla prima session. I'm impressed with the abandon embodied in this passage–any other color combination would not look as impressive–the muddy yellows and purples make the opposite color come alive.

In this last close-up we see another example of dry brush and possible glazing in the lower section. The green line work most likely was painted after the initial paint had dried. The slightly purple pastels strokes offset the high saturation of the yellows and greens.

Once again many thanks to Eric te Kamp for these excellent photos.

Brad Teare–January 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

210 Art Hurts–the pain of Deliberate Practise

In blog 205 I wrote about Deliberate Practise. Much has been written about practising deliberately for musicians and athletes but what form would it take for painters?

The kind of deliberation depends on what kind of art you practise. If you paint in an academic tradition a portion of your practice should include a focus on muscle memory–just like an athlete. This means you will devise a routine to rehearse the physical techniques required for the genre–how to hold the brush, moving the hand in a graceful sweep, applying the exact layer of paint to canvas to achieve a precise surface.

Rustic Sentinels, 10" x 10", 8 color woodcut
Other genres–those that depend less on procedure–will require a different type of exercise. If your technique is highly original you will have to create your own series of exercises.

Doing what you normally do to create a painting is not Deliberate Practise. You have to set aside time to practise specific techniques. I accidentally discovered this process with my abstracts. Initially I was making small paintings with massively large strokes to experiment with different ways to apply broken color. If I were to devise Deliberate Exercise to replicate such experiments I might buy 100 small panels and do five paintings a day before I start my regular painting session.

I would augment these sessions by keeping a journal and recording what I'm trying to accomplish. What did I discover that surprised me? What disappointed me? How can I use what I learned in today's painting?

You isolate your weaknesses and devise experiments that strengthen those weaknesses until you have evolved the expression that satisfies you. You keep a list of obstacles and experimental solutions. You have to be brutally honest. Then you practise until you notice improvement. Anything else is a waste of time.

Deliberate Practise is harder for artists because you have to invent the type of practice that will yield your unique style. If you follow the practice pattern of John Singer Sargent you will end up painting like him. Which is a productive path only if you honestly feel you can surpass his genius. Or if you suspect his technique is a necessary step in finding your ultimate style.

Such experiments require highly individual decisions and need as much creativity as your paintings. It is unlikely your path will be a linear progression to your final style. Most likely you will make many false steps forward. It will seem like much of your invented practise was not an efficient use of time. But such is the path of the artist.

Deliberate Practise is not expressive. It is analytical. You are trying to achieve a deliberate objective. It is not fun because you are trying to achieve virtuosity*–a kind of thoughtless excellence–which you have as yet not achieved. You have to bear the boredom and pain of repetition and failed effort. A part of you will insist you are wasting your time and that you need to get back to the fun of painting gallery-ready work.

A patron sitting for a portrait noted that Sargent would paint a section of the portrait, step back to observe his work, step forward and remove the passage, paint it again, remove it, and repeat this process multiple times. The idea of Deliberate Practise had not emerged in Sargent's time but it's a good example of the theory. We can guess that Sargent had a specific image in his mind each time he painted the passage. But each time he failed to realize that vision. So he removed the paint and tried again. This is the kind of persistence and deliberate effort that is a part of Deliberate Practise.

*By virtuosity I mean a mastery of your medium no matter how controlled or spontaneous your paint application.

Brad Teare–January 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

209 The Art of Transformation

Blue Dream, 36" x 36", acrylic on canvas
The art profession generates lots of controversy. But recently there has been an increase in articles declaring everything has changed in the art world. Certainly many artists are having to reinvent their careers. Many causes are cited–digital technology cheapening the artistic process, the crash of 2008, new entertainment technology, as well as internet connectivity.

A recent blog post by gallery owner Jason Horejs analyzes a recent article in Atlantic Monthly provocatively entitled The Death of the Artist. It's an interesting article that articulates a suspicion of many–that the internet has changed what it means to be an artist–and much of the change is not good. The responses were quite interesting–many mentioning that the role of artist has always been changing. I posted a response to the article which I quote here:

The author misses one important idea–that art is a transformative experience. If there is no transformation there is no art. One of the reasons people connect less with art is we no longer have the collective sensitivity to experience subtle transformative moments.

Everyone can make an object or write a story but how many can induce a transformative experience? Those that trigger such experiences are geniuses. But their genius is dependent on perception. This is the missing element in today's environment. People are conflating entertainment–the pleasing passage of time–with timelessness–the inducement of a transformative state. Such unique states of mind are why people often conflate artistic experience with spiritual experience.

It is not democratization of art that is destroying art but the inability to communicate the subtlety and importance of authentic artistic experience.

It is this ability to transform the viewer–even in subtle ways–that gives art its power. The change we should seek is to encourage more to esteem aesthetic experience–those transformative moments that enrich our lives.

In the communication revolution those who communicate best prevail. It might be a matter of communicating to more people the pleasures of aesthetic experience. But it also might be a matter of physiology. Stehndahl syndrome–hyper sensitivity to art–is experienced by a small percentage of art enthusiasts and suggests a physical component to art appreciation.

The problems faced by most artists could be solved by an expanded art market. Improved communication is the way forward as we attempt to convince others of the transformative pleasures of the visual world.

Brad Teare–January 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015

208 Connecting with an audience

 Vestige of Sky, 12"x12", acrylic
Getting attention as an artist is not easy. It requires dedication, persistence, and luck–which according to Seneca is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. The internet promises to foster more encounters between the prepared and previously illusive opportunity. My experiments with YouTubeand more recently Saatchi Onlineprove that opportunity is expanding and easier to connect with.

Yet something is missing. It might be the sense of respect and mystery described in Lovemark Theory. Perhaps I haven't paid as much attention to such theories as I should. I rely instead on a very simple business idea–work with people who are honest, professional, and fun. By fun I mean generous–with exuberance for life and the creative process.

I've had the pleasure to be one of the early adopters of Gbox–an online alternative to YouTube–that promises to exceed the potential of YouTube while maintaining connection with content creators. They offer several models to fine tune video distribution. Early adopters receive 100% of all proceeds. I opted for the pay what you want option keeping my videos free yet allowing for donations should viewers be so inclined.

I'm currently preparing a series of videos about painting highly textured, acrylic abstracts. If you have video content to share with the world I highly recommend Gbox. Check out my Gbox channel below:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

207 The next best step

Cliff Shadows, 9" x 11", 8 color woodcut
I keep a journal. One of the advantages of a journal is tracking success of goals you have made. I've learned through the years that I'm not good at accomplishing long lists of goals. My aim changes too quickly. It's an artist's prerogative to change direction as often as inspiration requires.

Yet I still need a way to ensure artistic progress. For the last few years I have used a method where I list all the possible moves forward at that particular moment. I pick the one I'm most excited about and the one most likely to move my artistic project forward.

The list in my journal is much like goal setting–I generate a list of possibilities–but the intent is different. I select only one aim as the next step forward. I focus solely on that step. The list remains in my journal and I may return to the other possibilities but only as a resource to determine the next best step.

Wishing you the very best in 2015.

Brad Teare–2015

The box I made to store my journals (my wife added some of her trompe l'oeil props).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

206 How to improve

Summer Light, 11" x 11", 8 block woodcut
When reflecting on how to improve in the coming year we might come up with the usual ideas: practice and study. But if we are already pursuing this double tracked course are there other factors that might help us move forward at a faster pace? Here is my list for accelerated improvement in 2015:

I learned a lot by doing small abstracts which originally were not finished pieces of art but experiments in field effects. I hope to do more experimental work in both abstracts and landscapes in the coming year. No matter how busy you are denying yourself the growth experimentation promotes is simply not worth it.

I intend to paint with more focus using the principles of deliberate practice. Basically this means that when you paint a sky, for example, you make an extra effort to communicate a unique experience. It can take the form of asking a series of questions such as "Am I relying on past formulas when I mix my colors? What could I do differently that would add more to this passage?"

Having successfully tamed much of my anxiety disorder I found I paint better when I'm totally relaxed. Even for those who do not suffer such disorders relaxing is a proven way to boost performance. I intend to follow my anti-stress regimen described here with greater diligence. Anything you create in a hurry will be marred. Anything you create calmly will be enhanced. Hurrying rarely has a positive result.

Brad Teare–December 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

205 Practice deliberately

When research psychologist Anders Ericson was young he played chess competitively with classmates. One day he played against a boy he had beaten decisively in earlier games and who was known as a mediocre player. Yet this time the formerly mediocre player–considered one of the worst players in the class–decisively beat Ericson. The boy went on to win every game.

Ericson became obsessed with the transformation. How did the worst player become the best? He knew the boy had been practising and attending a chess club. But what was the mechanism that transformed his playing ability? Ultimately Ericson wrote the book The Road to Excellence that details his answer to such perplexing questions.

In my recent blog about the genius of Van Gogh I outlined what I thought were reasons Van Gogh was able to paint with such thick paint. I opened with his quote about his willingness to grapple with what he presently could not do. Determination was another trait that allowed Van Gogh to learn a difficult skill at a rapid rate.

Door Like the Sky, 6" x 11", 8 block woodcut
Ericson describes another aspect of accelerated learning: solitude. But why is solitude an essential element? Ericson states that only when you are alone can you indulge in what he calls Deliberate Practise. Deliberate practise is identifying skills just beyond reach and striving to improve performance, recording progress, and then recalibrating the process. Exercise that is not deliberate reinforces existing negative patterns and fails to deliver the desired progress. Deliberate progress requires motivation, intense concentration, and focus on individual challenges. A final ingredient is described in the book Quiet by Susan Cain. Quoting Stephan Wozniak, cofounder of Apple Computers, the author writes:

I acquired a central ability that was to help me through my entire career: patience. I'm serious. Patience is usually so underrated. I mean, for all those projects, from third grade all the way to eighth grade, I just learned things gradually, figuring out how to put electronic devices together without so much as cracking a book....I learned not to worry so much about outcome, but to concentrate on the step I was on and try to do it as perfectly as I could when I was doing it."

We are not limited in our art by our native ability. Thinkers such as Anders Ericson prove that what one artist can do, others can do.

I hope this coming year is filled with improvement and success.

Brad Teare–December 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

204 The Artist's Mark

If we envision a continuum with the artist's physical presence on one end and manufactured objects on the other where does a work of art fall on that spectrum? Researchers at Yale and The University of Chicago recently concluded that works of art are conflated in the observer's mind with the physical presence of the artist. This phenomenon–known as magical contagion–is one of the reasons people esteem art more than replicas or manufactured objects.

Although there are negative aspects to this phenomenon–celebrity worship for example–the concept gives strong reasons to maximize the mark of the artist's hand.

As I explored abstraction I have found myself attempting to minimize marks considered accidental. But research–as well as intuition– suggests it is best to surrender absolute control of one's medium.

After years of experimentation I realized that woodcut is the art of imperfection. If I obsessed over getting every stroke cut with absolute precision the emotional impact of the woodcut vanished. The miscuts and errors added texture and energy. I learned that, paradoxically, a perfect work of art is a weak work of art.

River Rocks, 10" x 12", 8 block woodcut
I actively promote imperfection with my abstracts and am beginning to infuse such abandon into my landscapes. I have a high regard for technical competency so it is not an easy transition. I have to remind myself that imperfection makes art perfect by revealing the artist's hand.

Brad Teare–December 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

203 The Genius of Van Gogh

I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. -–Vincent Van Gogh

The reason you don't see many painters painting thickly in the style of Van Gogh is because it is extremely difficult. The fact that he perfected his technique at such a young age is astonishing. Here are a few reasons I feel Van Gogh was successful painting with thick strokes:


Van Gogh's habit of surrounding his shapes with a bold outline–which he borrowed from Japanese woodcut–helped to simplify some of the frenetic nature of the thick strokes. The outlines gave a linear boundary that helps the viewer deal with form that otherwise might have succumbed to chromatic chaos.


Imposing order on chaos is the challenge of thick paint. Van Gogh designed his compositions so that each component of the painting became a well connected series of shapes. He gave each mass a simplified yet highly designed silhouette.


If paint gets too thick it can be difficult for the eye to navigate through the picture plane. Van Gogh solved this problem by using long dash-like strokes to give a very prominent direction to each area of the painting. Such strokes give the composition an additional unity that counteracts the potentially overwhelming activity of the thick strokes.

Below is a short video about field effects and why they are important. To read about field effects go here. To watch a video on how to achieve this effect go here.

Brad Teare–December 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

202 Selling Art Online

Saturday I received a call from an art collector and sold a painting he had seen on this blog. Although I consistently sell paintings via my traditional gallery this was the first painting I've sold via the internet. Many assume I have a thriving online art business since this blog has had over one million visits. I have received benefits that transcend finances but I remain astonished at how difficult it is to turn online presence into monetary success.

At my recent opening Alpine Art gallery director Susan Bohmholdt told me that several of her abstract artists are posting via Instagram and selling their work. She showed me how to set up an account, emailed me a montage of my work composed on her phone, and within minutes I had an Instagram image–with hashtags–that represented my work in a positive and extremely sharable way.

Later I downloaded some montage apps for my phone and began creating Instagram images. I have to admit I found this visual approach very appealing and harmonious with how most artists think.

Coincidentally I had been considering creating an account with Saatchi Art–one of the more prestigious art sellers online (read more about them here). I created an account, posted four images, and began my online sales efforts. Time will tell if this is an effective strategy. Intuition tells me there are many missing ingredients to this business model that are yet to be discovered. If you like what you see at my Saatchi site please click the heart button.

There are many positive aspects to the Saatchi site. But in many ways it still seems like an awkward way for collectors and artists to connect. Let me know what you think of the site.

UPDATE: I saw this ad in an unrelated page. I'm not sure if it was targeted or if Saatchi is actually randomly advertising images from its site. The latter scenario would mean Saatchi is truly interested in leveling the playing field for artists. The image below is a screen capture and is not clickable like the original banner.

Brad Teare–December 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

201 Selling art

I'm currently at the Harmons City Creek gallery open house. I'm sitting in front of a wall of paintings with a bunch of my newly minted magazines waiting for art buyers to come by. A few people have stopped to look but I've been unable to come up with any salient comments. It seems I've been in this position dozens of times—at a gallery opening where all intelligent comments evaporate from my mind.

So what should I say to prospective buyers? The first thing that came to mind is to simply introduce myself saying "hello, I'm the artist. Do you have any questions?" It seems a little lame but in the absence of any alternatives I'll give it a try with the next potential buyer. I could expand on the subject and list reasons to collect art (read 5 Reasons to Collect Art here).

Please add your suggestions in the comment box. Many thanks as usual.

UPDATE: I tried the first approach above with two congenial art enthusiasts. It went well and the woman took a postcard. I was fairly relaxed in my presentation and I think that's probably the main thing. But I still felt a little awkward. I'm still trying to think of better approaches.

I put so much of my personality into my paintings I have little left over for selling. It makes openings an exercise in preserving my dignity. I really believe that if you communicate effectively selling art shouldn't be so hard. The problem is that it's hard to communicate effectively.

AFTERWORD: I used many of your ideas and had a better than usual show. Many thanks to all who helped out! I appreciate your generosity.

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