Missing the Muse Point

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“O! For a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”  William Shakespeare (from The Painter’s Keys)

Much has been written and will continue to be written on what the muse is or isn’t.  Do all artists have one?  Is it a person?  A place? A thing?  An idea?  Many writers on art, who do not think of themselves as artists, tend to view the muse as a person.  This or that person is the muse for this or that artist.  If an artist has a love interest, the love interest is thought to be the muse.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  The muse is far more and far less defined than anything physically describable.

The Wall Street Journal has an article titled, “Where have all the muses gone?” by Lee Siegel with a detailed account of the “so-called” muses of many famous artists through out the centuries.  Siegel makes a very enlightening statement midway through the article, “The original muse could not of been further from an exemplar of style.  Her function was not to inspire imitation but to create new insights and new artistic forms.  She was effectively invisible, a gust of divine wind that blew through the human vessel lucky enough to be graced by her attention.”

Perhaps, the muse is not the actual person, place, thing or idea.  Perhaps, the muse is the “Divine Wind” blowing through what is the designated muse.  The real muse is the inspiration itself.  The Divine Wind has highlighted the object with an aura of inspiration that draws like a magnet.  The Divine Wind is an amorphous thing explaining why some artists seem to flit from muse to muse gaining a reputation of fickleness.  What appears to be fickleness may merely be the following of the Divine Wind.

The Divine Wind for some artists may stay in one place or on one person for a lifetime.  To others it may blow steady in many directions.  The important point for artists is to remain open and aware.  The muse can’t be pinned down.  To place the muse label on any physical form is to miss the point.  The nebulous muse is everywhere.  All that’s needed is a bit of a windcatcher.

Colorful Fridays–Forays in Grey

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“There’s so much grey to every story-nothing is so black and white.” Lisa Ling (from Brainyquote)

A sojourn into the land of grey can be extremely painful for those who are certifiably color addicted.  Grey can quickly turn into depressing or dull or any other sad state you can think of.  Most people associate grey with negative connotations such as, “It’s a grey day.”  Or “Grey skies today.”  One of the worst associations is “Battleship grey.”  Who wants to paint a battleship?  Well, somebody might but that’s beside the point.  The connotation is still unfortunate.  These associations give the whole family of greys a bad name and especially the most widely used grey, Payne’s Grey.

Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 11.06.45 AM British watercolorist, William Payne (1760-1830), is believed to be the first artist to come up with this bluish grey, thus the name, Payne’s grey.  According to an article in Walker’s Quarterly published by Basil Long in 1922, Payne likely devised the color by blending a combination of indigo, raw sienna and lake.  Experimenting artists have come up with many combinations since to get the precise degree of bluish grey that is Payne’s grey.

Carol Gillot of the blog Paris Breakfasts states she combines ultramarine and bone black for Payne’s grey in her paintings.  Others have used combinations of Prussian blue and alizarin crimson for this particular grey. Personally, I have found the combination of viridian and alizarin crimson makes a nice Payne’s grey.  And there is always the straight stuff right out of the tube if you prefer to spend your time painting rather than mixing.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that all paintings with Payne’s grey must be negative.  A little play in the land of grey can explore new depths of shadow and form.  Painting strictly in grey can force the eye to see things that may otherwise be obscured by color.  So paint some grey skies and grey days.  Maybe even some battleships.  Have fun in the land of grey and see what happens.  Payne’s Grey could possibly break a total color addiction.  You never know, Payne’s Grey may even become a happy color.

Here are some artists doing wonderful things with Payne’s Grey:

http://keithhornblower.blogspot.com/2013/04/paynes-grey-blue-or-just-dull.html

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lorus_maver/2832181686/

Paintings by William Payne can be found at the Tate:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/william-payne-2225

In case you want to know more things you can do with Payne’s Grey, here is a makeup artist teaching you how to create Payne’s Grey eye shadow:

The Magic of Three

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“I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.” Mae West (from Brainyquote)

Is there power in numbers? Or more specifically, is there power in the number three? If so what does that have to do with art? It just might possibly be the number of success. “Myth,” “innuendo,” “hocus pocus,” some will say but they may be dismissing a powerful ingredient for success in art. New research is proving the number three to be a very effective marketing tool. The number three appears to hold fascination for people, consciously or unconsciously.

The New York Times recently featured an article that highlighted the research (here) of Kurt A. Carlson of Georgetown University and Suzanne B. Shu of the University of California, Los Angeles. The Times sums up this research as, “A new study finds that in ads, stump speeches and other messages understood to have manipulative intent, three claims will persuade, but four, (or more) will trigger skepticism, and reverse an initially positive impression.” The study appears to prove if you want to make a positive impact do things in threes. No hocus pocus here.

If three is a powerfully persuasive number in marketing, what can it do for art? Joshua Johnson of Design Shack, says, “as a designer any time you’re faced with figuring out how to logically group items in a visual arrangement, the number three is there to help you out.” The website features a number of examples of art, design and nature where the three comes into play. In art, three can be a powerful arrangement on the picture plane. A triangular formation or groups of three items will guide the eye and draw the viewer in. Create drama and interest by the use of threes.

Hocus pocus, myth, whatever, there seems to be truth in the benefits of the number three. Threes stick in the minds of the audience. It’s definitely worth a try, after all Mae West followed this principle and everyone knows what a towering intellect she was. But whatever you do, don’t go on to the fours. Fours are a whole different story altogether. Stay with the threes. The threes have it.

Here’s more Mae West:

Happy Thieving

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“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal” Picasso (from Austin Kleon)

Did you ever think you would like to own the work of a major artist, like say, Picasso? What would you do with your Picasso? Would you have friends over for cocktails and appetizers so you can show off your newly acquired masterpiece? Would you hang it in the foyer where everyone entering your home would be able to lay eyes on your Picasso as soon as they set foot inside your house? Would you decorate your home in a color scheme to match the colors of your Picasso? Before acquiring your Picasso, you must take these things into consideration. And there are other important details you must consider.

For around 100 euros you can buy a raffle ticket from a charity for the chance to win your very own Picasso. Imagine that! Say you are the lucky winner, what do you do next? Eleanor Steafel, writing in The Telegraph, gives you the details. The first step Steafel recommends is to get insured. Most homeowners or renters policies likely won’t cover a million dollar work of art so you’ll need a better policy. Why so much? There just happens to be a major international wave of art theft crime.

The BBC will be airing a new film by Alastair Sooke on the growing worldwide problem of stolen art and the black market it thrives in. Most of these major art works disappear into the black market never to be seen again. In an article for The Telegraph, Sooke explains why. When major drug cartels and other criminal gangs, can’t deal in currency, they turn to art. Art is often a better bargaining chip. Your newly acquired Picasso just became a target. Whatever security you have is not likely to equal that of a museum, so hopefully you have that insurance up to date.

Or you leave the real Picasso’s to the museums with their better security and just steal a fake one. How can you do that? If you’re an artist, Austin Kleon tells you how on his blog post, “25 quotes to help you steal like an artist.” “I don’t steal!” you say. Sure you do. If you learned any techniques in painting by copying another artist, you’re stealing. Only this is good stealing. Yes, there is good stealing! And good stealing is a whole lot cheaper than buying the real thing. Plus no criminals are going to want your “stolen” Picasso meaning you won’t need that extra insurance.

Once, I needed some doughnuts so I stole them from Wayne Thiebaud. I didn’t actually steal a Thiebaud painting. Just a few doughnuts. He didn’t miss the doughnuts and I didn’t have to insure them. Next time you are inclined to buy a multi-million dollar painting, don’t. You’re an artist. Steal it. And while you’re stealing it, you can smile at all the good you’re doing by stealing your own. No criminals will come looking for it. Your insurance agent is relieved. The new security system won’t be needed. Everybody’s happy.

Colorful Fridays–Red-less Monkey Yellow

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“Happiness is Gamboge, ennui is grey…” Jonathan Meades (The Times of London by Wordsmith.org)

The most beautiful warm glowing yellows in paintings are often the result of the liberal use of the orangey yellow Gamboge.  So warm and glowing is this color that it is said to be used to dye the robes of certain Buddhist monks giving the robes a rich saffron color. Gamboge is the color of the ripe wheat fields in Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel, The Elder”s 16th Century painting of peasants at the harvest.  Gamboge is the sun on a bright afternoon in late September.

Gamboge was originally derived from the resin of the Garcinia tree growing in Cambodia, Thailand and other Asian countries of the region.  The resin is collected in bamboo shoots until dried when the bamboo is then cut away. The resin of the Garcinia tree is considered a controlled poison in some countries due to the cathartic (according to Britannica,”drastic catharic”) properties of the fruit. However it is frequently found in small amounts in some herbal products used for weight loss and other physical issues.  It is relatively harmless in small amounts.Screen shot 2013-12-13 at 9.34.50 AM

Modern Gamboge paint is no longer made with the resin of the Garcinia tree.  Original Gamboge has a very poor lightfastness.  Daniel Smith’s New Gamboge claims an excellent light fastness, “more staining than Yellow Ochre and equal in tinting ability to Raw Sienna.”  New Gamboge lacks the fugitive properties of the original. Beautiful, glowing warm yellows can be “poured” over any paintings with no worries of fading.

RadioLab.org has a podcast titled “The Perfect Yellow” that tells the story of the origins of Gamboge along with some other interesting tales of the use of this versatile yellow. RadioLabs website discusses the use of Gamboge and other colors in experiments for teaching monkeys to recognize red.  One wonders why on earth we would want to teach monkeys to see red?  It’s bad enough when people see red.  Just image being overrun by rampaging monkeys seeing red!  And what if the monkeys start eating the Gamboge resin?  What a mess we will be in then!  Perhaps it is better to keep the Gamboge for paintings and leave the monkeys to their red-less vision.

Gamboge is the yellow of warmth and happiness in many paintings.  Its addition will add a beautiful golden glowing tint to many colors.  Today’s Gamboge is free from the potentially harmful side effects of the past.  Though today’s mixes lack the poisonous resin of the Garcinia tree, you probably wouldn’t want to eat it and please keep it away from all monkeys.  Otherwise you will be able to experience the “happiness of Gamboge” in any painting.

Some quotes from others about Gamboge:

Mcspiky says, “I would describe this colour as a form of mustard with little bit more zest and vibrancy to it (trying not to be pretentious here).”

http://mcspiky.blogspot.com/2012/08/gamboge.html

 Ferrebeekeeper says, “Here is a gorgeous warm color for Thanksgiving week.”

http://ferrebeekeeper.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/gamboge/

You can order your own Gamboge pigment for mixing at:

Kremer Pigmente

Cornelissen.com

 For more on Pieter Bruegel, The Elder:

 

 

 

Felt or Flat

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“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, but must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller (from Skinnyartist)

If a painting, a piece of music, a poem, a story, a performance, a photograph is so beautiful it touches the heart, it is considered a great work of art. That description is the ultimate validation for the creator of the piece. How does an artist get to the place of creating works capable of touching the heart of the onlooker, reader, listener? As Helen Keller says, it must be felt with the heart. The act of making art must be approached from the goal of creating purely from the feelings of the heart.

Marla Hoover at The Arkansas Artist says, “I always try to paint what is in my heart at the time and I see so many ideas that I can’t seem to get them all out fast enough.” Ideas come from the inner artist, the one who resides in the heart. Ideas from the heart are felt rather than reasoned. Hoover goes on to describe the difficulty of painting what some one else has suggested. Some one else’s suggestion is coming from that person’s heart, not the artist’s heart. Drawing that distinction can be problematic.

Taking the time to listen and to feel the heart before creating art, can open the door to the flood of ideas. It doesn’t necessarily mean another person’s suggestion can’t be felt, it simply means it’s best for the artist to be sure his/her own heart is engaged in the process, as well. Art without the engagement of the heart is likely to lack the energy of feeling, leaving the artwork on the flat side. There’s not much that is beautiful in flat feeling-less art.

Monet’s gardens at Giverny were where his heart and his art were deeply felt.  For more on Monet’s gardens and his life at Giverny follow the link here.

Weekend Inspiration–Looking to Each Other

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“You can look anywhere and find inspiration.”  Frank Gehry  (from The Painter’s Keys)

Dry spells, days without inspiration, lack of incentive can happen at anytime to any artist.  You show up at the studio, sit in front of an empty canvas or paper and nothing happens.  Nothing is working.  You looked to all your usual sources of inspiration and still nothing.  So what now?  You can give up and walk away or you can look to your fellow artists.

Stories are everywhere of artists who worked in groups.  The Impressionists were noted for it.  Monet and Renoir occasionally painted the same subjects.  Picasso and Braque explored cubism together.  The tales of artists gathering together in Paris cafes and bars are well known.  The Abstract Expressionists frequently met in New York at various locations.  Artists are gathering today.  Are you one of them?

Gathering with fellow artists today does not necessarily mean physically meeting in a restaurant or studio.  Artopia Magazine suggests, “Following artists on social media is a great source for finding inspiration on many levels.”  Taking the time to “like” other artists on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, read artist’s blogs and check out artists websites are all ways to gather with other artists in today’s internet world.  Artists are doing amazing things all over the world.  All it takes is a couple of clicks to enter a world of inspiration from fellow artists.

Indiemade.com suggests joining a local art group and if you don’t have one, start one.  Find a group of other artists and make plans to meet together.  You can choose to take a meal together regularly just to discuss art in general.  You could meet together for some Plein Air painting.  Another possibility is potluck once a month rotating at each other’s studios. Find your fellow local artists and make a plan.

When you are blanking out on inspiration, look around at other artists and see what they are up to.  If you find your fellow artist also in a blank place maybe you can inspire each other.  And if not, you can always commiserate with one another until new sources of inspiration can be found.  Nobody stays dry forever.  Companionship during the dry times may help move the dryness on down the road.