Sunday, March 29, 2015

223 Learning to paint, Part 2

Artists might think that sheer repetition is the means to improve their paintings. We often hear reference to putting miles on the brush. But according to the latest neurological research in the book Make It Stick this metaphor is incorrect. Using repetitive practise as a means to move forward is a strategy called massed learning–a strategy basketball players use when they spend endless hours shooting free throws. But this type of practise induces only short term learning–much like when you cram for a test and forget everything you "learned" within a week.

A better alternative is interleaved learning or spaced learning. This means that you alternate between diverse activities to allow the mind to shift gears. This is a counterintuitive way to learn because to students the massed practise method seems like they are learning at the maximum level. When the same students try the spacing or interleaving method it seems as though they are not learning as fast. However research confirms that the perception of faster learning with massed learning is an illusion.

Massed learning can be likened to binge eating. Getting massive amounts of information into the brain does not equate to retaining the information. Without spacing or interleaving there are no desirable difficulties, that is, an interval of time that makes retrieval of the newly acquired information difficult but not impossible to retrieve. A fixed practise ritual of massed learning is an impediment to learning. Here are the steps to maximum learning:

ENCODING- This is accumulating the experience necessary to begin making associations. For example, in order to learn which consistency of paint is best for you you need to experience various mediums. Reading about mediums is a start but not enough. It is best to accumulate hands-on experience to form practical knowledge from which your subconscious mind will later form a myriad of associations. New learning depends on prior learning.

CONSOLIDATION- The information accumulated is condensed by deep processing, often subconscious, where connections and relationships are explored. Resting the mind is critical as is adequate sleep. If stress levels are too high cortisol is released into the bloodstream diminishing the consolidation process. The techniques of interleaving and spacing help to create desirable difficulties in the consolidation process.

RECONSOLIDATION- At the right interval, using interleaving and spacing, review what you have learned by retrieving the new observations. Mistakes are assimilated and reconfigured. Mistakes are not a necessary evil–they are a critical component of acquired information. They are integral to the building blocks of experience. Analysis and reflection on mistakes as well as successes is a form of retrieval that strengthens learning. To be continued

Brad Teare–March 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

222 Learning to paint, Part 1

Dream of Light, 44" x 44", close-up
In the book Make It Stick authors Peter C. BrownHenry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel explain how we learn. And many of the answers are not the intuitive ones advanced by many new-economy gurus. Many popular ideas about learning are either poorly researched, or worse, simply intuitive notions.

Two of the three authors have exemplary credentials as scientists and I found their ideas compelling. They outline how we actually learn and it's NOT by following the dictum practise, practise, practise that many theories advocate.

So how do we learn? According to the aforementioned book we learn not by cramming or incessant repetition but by a process involving exposure, retrieval, interleaving, spacing, and testing.

In an experiment that demonstrates the counterintuitive nature of the learning process two groups of kindergartners were asked to throw beanbags into boxes. One group had the box placed at three feet. The other group had two boxes placed at two feet and four feet. The children practised tossing the beanbags into the boxes for an hour. The children were then tested an hour later to see which were more adept at hitting the target at three feet. Not surprisingly the kids who practised at three feet were better. But two days later when tested again the kids who practised at 2 and 4 feet scored better than the kids who practised at only three feet.

Why did this happen? One reason is that the repetition of throwing the beanbags into the three foot box did not challenge the brain in the right way. For learning to take place myelination must occur in cells in the brain called axons. Without the right kind of stimulation myelination does not occur. In the aforementioned experiment the repetition of tossing the beanbag into the single, three foot box did not provide the proper stimulation to create maximum myelination. The brute force of Practise, practise, practise is not a superior learning method.

In a previous blog I wrote about what I called creative contrast. This is actually a proven method of learning known as interleaving. Although my intuitive approach worked to some degree the method can be enhanced and tweaked, which I will elaborate on and formulate a regimen specifically for painting in future blogs. Read part 2 here.

Brad Teare–March 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

221 Creative Bucket List

Swallow's Nest Rock, Pen and Ink, 14" x 12"
I was intrigued by a recent blog entry by Lori Woodward expressing frustration with the current art market. In the article she describes a radical shift in her career. She suggested that rather than pursue the usual path for artists–find galleries and hope they believe in your work and promote you–she will be pursuing a different path; a less aggressive strategy of pursuing a creative bucket list.

I like the idea. To cease striving to get into galleries, shows, and events is a refreshing idea. Is it possible that the minutiae of art marketing actually distracts artists? Would a more project oriented model serve artists better? In her article Woodward reflects on the oft-heard but depressing suggestion that artists spend 50% of their time with business promotion. Is it possible that such advice becomes a self-defeating burden for many artists?

In my approach to my career I’ve always been more project oriented. Plus I have an eclectic skill set that is hard to sell following traditional business models. Devising projects to accomplish seems a more productive path than the interminable and seemingly trivial detail of typical business solutions. Now that the idea of a project oriented career occurs to me it seems obvious that artists need to pursue a radically different business model than typically suggested.

As a way to shift from the typical business model to project oriented promotion I’m starting a Creative Project Bucket List. Here’s my list so far:

Get a large acrylic into the Salmagundi Club Acrylic show.

Visit museums in England with J. M. W. Turner paintings.

Visit Scotland with the express purpose of collecting sketches and photos to create an exhibit of large acrylic realist paintings. Have a one man show on return.

Be a guest artist at the Golden Colors artist residency.

Have a one man show at my Alma Mater, The University of Idaho, covering all facets of my artistic journey.

Get a return invitation to The Door County Plein Air Festival. But this time do plein air pen and ink drawings in addition to paintings, and possibly a woodcut or two.

Do a Thick Paint workshop in Dubai.

Participate in the Florence Abstract Biennial.

Get a return invitation to The Maynard Dixon Studio for another week long artist residency.

Go to Antarctica for two weeks. In the tradition of 19th century exploration create a series of sketches, woodcuts, landscape paintings, and abstracts while blogging and posting video accounts of the experience. Upon return mount an exhibit in conjunction with The Leonardo (a museum dedicated to the exploration of art and science).

Will I accomplish all these goals? Possibly not. But I like the list because it energizes me to contemplate the possibilities. Conversely when I think about contacting galleries and buying ads in magazines and all the other ideas suggested by art marketing gurus I feel depleted.

As artists we need to be as creative in our careers as we are with our art. If a business approach seems out of harmony with who we are we need to find a more authentic solution.

Brad Teare–March 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

220 Upload your videos to THICK PAINT

Dream of Light, 44"x44", Close-up
As many of you know I'm an early adopter and enthusiast of Gbox–the superior alternative to YouTube. They have a new widget that allows readers such as yourselves to upload videos on this site. The videos could take the form of a demo, or you could show a painting problem you would like Thick Paint readers to diagnose, or you could show a recent painting you have completed

Sharing ideas has always been the heart of this blog. I have long wished readers could post images in the comments but I think this might be a better alternative. In the next phase of Thick Paint evolution exchanging ideas will be easier and more valuable.

In order to post a video you do need to make an account at Gbox. My preference would be to use the Donation Option so we all can watch for free. Making an account is easy. I hope you will give it a try.

Brad Teare–March 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

219 Make your [own] mark

Recently I've been impressed with the absolute necessity of developing a unique style. While it's tempting to follow a current fad–especially if it appears others are enjoying financial success pursuing that style–such imitation is a diversion from the more important pursuit of developing a personal signature.

Except in the early phases of a career such imitational strategies are bound to fail, especially in today's saturated market. It might have been possible to have a semblance of a career imitating other's work in the past but those days are long gone. But ultimately all artists need to ask why they would pursue such a course. We should be grateful the current market is forcing us to choose the correct path of fostered individuality.

In light of the need to pursue a radically individual path I'm currently painting large acrylics in a highly textured style. Both the technique and the compositional approach are departures from my previous work. With such a radical shift there is the possibility of failure. But my current axiom is:


Without failure your work will be derivative. Failure gives you the feedback to make the necessary adjustments to evolve a personal style. Failure forces you to deal with personal idiosyncrasies which are key to developing a unique style. Your quirks reveal your distinctive strengths and weaknesses.

From the seeds of failure grow the fruits of success.

Above: Work in progress, Dream of Light, 44" x 44", acrylic on canvas

Brad Teare–March 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

218 The Challenge of color temperature

Study for Venetian Doors, 48" x 36"
I was reading past comments on this blog and came across the following from fellow painter Tom Waters:

I was at a plein air event recently in the lush green mountains of Vermont and watched a very good painter paint a dominantly green landscape. He was using lots of colors and not trying to match the greens at all. The result was great and I talked to him after. He advised me to look at the color temperature. Representing the changing temperature was what he focused on, not the hue.

Is color temperature like other art principles–easy to grasp superficially but difficult to understand profoundly?
While ruminating on the possibility I saw some paintings by Albert Bierstadt and noted a color scheme in many of his paintings that resembled the Kelvin Temperature chart–a scheme that used oppositional oranges and blues.

Temperature wheel from
Color and Light by James Gurney
With renewed curiosity I reviewed the chapter Warm and Cool in the book Color and Light  by James Gurney (page 112). Gurney observed that the oranges (warmest colors) and blues (coolest colors) are opposite on the temperature spectrum. That might seem obvious but Gurney tellingly adds that "the greens and violets seem to have divided loyalties". Note that there are no greens or violets on the Kelvin Temperature scale. Such observations suggest there might be more to temperature than I previously thought and that my struggle with greens might reflect an incomplete notion of color temperature. Could I find a remedy by thinking of temperature as primarily an opposition between orange and blue?
Kelvin Temperature Chart

I'm gearing up to do a major acrylic painting–see rough above–and have resolved to more fully explore the interplay of warm and cool colors. The exploration is ongoing. Please add your observations below.

Brad Teare–March 2015

Saturday, February 21, 2015

217 The Art of Thick Paint Book

I've been toiling for months writing a book about the art of thick paint. Although many chapters are finished I haven't finished the book. However I decided to publish the unrefined manuscript on Wattpad and evolve as I write. Frequent readers will recognize some topics from this blog but many chapters are completely new.

This type of creativity is often referred to as frictionless creativity and is a method increasingly used online. It allows for online readers to create momentum for the project as well as encourage efficient project management  since you can write and edit from your phone or tablet.

I enthusiastically welcome your feedback. Feel free to add comments to the manuscript (via the Wattpad app) or in the comments section. I will make corrections and add clarification and topics based on your suggestions. In a year I hope the have the manuscript finished and will publish it with color illustrations.

I hope you will share this project–your vote and comments on the Wattpad site will boost its ranking. I appreciate your help .

Brad Teare–February 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

216 Painting acrylics like oils

Painting with 4 preliminary sketches
Even if you use a heavy bodied acrylic pigment (which I recommend) painting with acrylics is often disappointing if you are used to the thickness of oils. Also as acrylics dry they become thinner dimensionally because much of the mass of the pigment is water. As it evaporates the film shrinks to have less texture. Oil colors dry by oxidation so do not lose mass as they dry.

The secret to making acrylics feel like oils as you paint and dry with thick texture is to add a medium.The medium I use in the video is Golden Paint's Extra Thick Gel because of its extremely thick yet creamy texture. In some mixtures to further increase the thickness of the gel I add chalk. I demonstrate the process in the video below, available gratis exclusively on Gbox.

The extra thick gel added a very oil-like feel to the acrylic paint. Plus it didn't take much pigment to tint the gel. Since the gel is much cheaper than most pigments (like Cadmium Red for example) it's a good way to paint thickly yet conserve expensive pigments.

Another cool paint from Golden is High Flow acrylics. I used Raw Umber pigment in my Liquitex Acrylic marker to do the drawing on the canvas. It has an ink-like consistency and in conjunction with the marker is a great addition to any acrylic painter's tool kit.

In the photo at the top of the page you will see four 5" x 7" paintings I did as preliminary sketches previous to the larger painting. In a future blog I will outline how I used these roughs in a deliberate practice routine.

Brad Teare–February 2015

Thursday, February 12, 2015

215 Dream of Light

Work in progress, Dream of Light, 44" x 44"
"I spin a cocoon around myself; let others do the same. I shall leave it to time to show what will come of it: a brilliant butterfly or maggot."

    —Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich was a German romantic painter whose work bordered on the surreal. The accompanying image is a work in progress entitled Dream of Light. It was this painting I saw in a dream I wrote about here.

May your vision be clear, your rendering faithful.

Brad Teare–February 2015


Saturday, February 7, 2015

214 Creative contrast

Islands on the Bear River, 13" x 23", acrylic on canvas
While studying deliberate practise I've come to realize that a critical aspect of learning is maintaining a calm state of mind. Stress and worry do nothing but derail the learning process. Recently it has become obvious that in addition to crafting beautiful art we need to craft lives that are worth living. We love what we do and it is often too easy to push too hard. One of the implicit but erroneous tenants of deliberate practice is if we aren't honing our craft night and day we are losing ground.

Hitting the wall of exhaustion and burnout not only defeats our purpose of creating amazing art but leads to an impoverished life. One remedy is to craft a life that does not adhere to formulas or expectations but is adapted to our unique nature. Surprisingly this can be done in a variety of ways and has been practised by many artists through the ages.

One of the best books on the subject of creating a unique life is Refuse To Choose by Barbara Sher. It is subtitled A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love. It advances the nearly unique idea that we do not have to submit to the tyranny of specialization. The author acknowledges that many creative people love doing a variety of creative projects and that to limit them makes them less efficient, less creative, and most importantly, less happy. She outlines practical strategies that do not rely on supervisors, companies, or society. Essentially she advocates using our creativity to become our own patrons.

In recent experiments with deliberate practice I found that intertwining divergent creative activity with focused practice is extremely productive. The commingling allows me to decompress mentally and rest physically. It is a counter intuitive process that probably won't work for everyone. But for me it is a step forward as I focus with increased effort on the Thick Paint project.

While painting Islands on the Bear River I took intermittent breaks and wrote on a book project I postponed for years. The book is not about art or creativity–it's a fictional novel. Its complementary nature gave total respite to the part of my brain heavily taxed by the deliberate painting process. It is hard to describe the positive effects except to say it opened my mind and allowed me to relax more fully. When I returned to painting I had a definite sense of increased mastery over the medium and subject matter. I assume it altered my brain chemistry and allowed for a heightened mental state.

I'm writing my book on Wattpad because it allows for erratic workflow. Erratic being an unfortunate but inescapable aspect of my current life. If writing is part of your creative repertoire I highly recommend trying the the above process.

Brad Teare–February 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

213 State of the Art Market

Trinchera Sky, 11" x 11", eight color woodcut
I get many emails covering a wide range of topics. A recurring question is how the art market is doing. I don’t consider myself an expert but I have contacts with many in the field and have tried to cultivate a wide view of trends in a variety of genres. Here is my analysis of what is currently happening in the art market:

Due to a series of global economic crises the traditional art market has contracted significantly from the 80s and 90s. Many patrons who used to buy regularly are now waiting for the market to improve. Some, like second-home owners, have downsized their assets and simply do not have the demand for as much art as in previous decades. Artists whose reputations were established previous to the new economy continue to connect with markets forged during the old economy. Newer markets, such as online gallery Saatchi Online, are proving difficult to exploit by the average artist. Traditional galleries are scrambling to exploit the internet economy but most are finding it easy to expend resources with little measurable return.

The amount of people creating art has expanded significantly. Opening any art magazine is to discover a new crop of artists with amazing talent and impressive work. This expansion of available art is partly demographic as Baby Boomers finally have time and resources to develop their talents fully. Although much has been written about the increased division of the rich and the poor the reality is that the middle-class has never been larger and its expansion is a world wide phenomenon. Widespread prosperity is allowing more people the option of pursuing a career in art. Previously local markets could sustain local artists but now the markets are not local but global.

Not only are more people practicing art professionally the overall quality is improving with each passing year. Information about how to paint better and improve faster is passing easily and quickly across the globe. Anyone pursuing a career in art has easy access to the best art instruction ever available in the history of the planet. This is an historic and unprecedented phenomenon and its ramifications are not fully realized.

Some genres, like woodcut, are no longer viable due to the confusion caused by digital printing. Works on paper, especially under glass, can no longer be easily determined to be handmade. Any work of art that is not easy recognized as handmade will be devalued in the post-computer printing market. Digital disruption will continue with the advent of 3D printing and reproduction of textured paintings further confusing the concept of original art.

This analysis might be viewed as somewhat pessimistic. But with every obstacle there is a countervailing opportunity to expand the artistic project. In times of change it is difficult to blaze a new path forward. But that is the ultimate function of creativity.

Brad Teare–January 2015
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