Dramatically Simple

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“When you lose your simplicity, you lose your drama.” Andrew Wyeth (from The Painter’s Keys)

Many of the greatest artists, writers, poets, and creative people in general comment on the importance of keeping it simple. For some artists, this can be a difficult task, especially for those drawn to the dramatic. Although, at times, complicated fussiness has been popular, the simple is what is more often remembered. A look at a few of the great master’s work would seem to bear this out.

Rembrandt painted a number of complicated scenes such as the famous Night Watch paintings yet he is most often associated with the soft, unique light of his many portraits. Leonardo Da Vinci painted the complicated famous Last Supper mural and many more yet is most often connected to the Mona Lisa. What could be more simplistic in subject than the Mona Lisa? Michelangelo painted the fabulous intricate Sistine Chapel. While thousands flock to see the Sistine Chapel every year, the marble sculpture, David, is the image most often connected to Michelangelo.

The list could go on and on throughout the history of art but how often do artists think about keeping it simple? The problem for many may be in knowing when to quit. There is always something more to do. A little more color here. A dab of paint there. Eventually, the simplicity is lost and some of the drama with it. Perhaps, an alarm can be installed above the easel that can be programmed to know when the point of no return has been reached where simplicity will soon be lost. This alarm could send out a resounding, “Put down the brush, and step away from the paint!!” That could work but it might be simpler to keep it simple by making a simple effort to enforce simple self-restraint. If the self-restraint fails, there is always the alarm to fall back on.

 

Here is a Flash Mob performance of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. What fun! I wish these guys would show up at my local mall!

Colorful Fridays–Basically Black

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“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the cat is going somewhere.”  Groucho Marx

Artists are divided on the use of black in painting.  Many artists prefer to mix black from complementary colors believing this mix to have more depth than actual black from a tube.  Some artists use no black at all.  Rembrandt used black heavily in all of his paintings.  Impressionists used very little.  The most common and widely used black is Ivory Black.  Ivory Black, in some form, has been available to artists for centuries.

The other name for Ivory Black is Bone Black.  Rembrandt referred to the black he used as Bone Black.  Both blacks are one and the same.  This black can also be known in some places as Char Black or Bone Char.  The obvious reason for the name of this black is the source.  It was originally made from burning animal bones to charcoal using the powder residual as pigment.  Early versions were made from the charcoal of ivory, thus the name Ivory Black.  Ivory Black has not been made from burning ivory since the nineteenth century.  The original Ivory Black was almost as expensive as the Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis Lazuli.

Gamblin’s website reports “Ivory Black is a good, all-purpose black,” but cautions that its use in a painting may cause the painting to look grey.  Gamblin also says Ivory Black has good transparency and mild tinting strength.  According to other sources, the use of black will create flatness in a painting.  Ivory Black or any black may not be a good choice where more fullness is wanted in a painting.

To use or not use black in a palette is a personal choice for artists.  The idea of painting anything out of animal bones may be a bit trying on the nerves.  All current sources for Ivory Black say animals used for Ivory Black have died of natural causes.  Maybe that helps!  Still for those wishing to use black without the burned bone thing may prefer to mix their own blacks.  Some say Pthalo green and Alizarin Crimson make a nice black.  As do Viridian and Alizarin.  And these mixes have a greater depth without the flatness of plain black.

Basic black comes in many forms. For depth, use the mixes.  For flat black, go with Ivory Black from the tube.    The choice depends on the artist.  But it is still basically better to stay out of the path of the black cat unless wishing to press your luck.

More Rembrandt, (because you can never have too much!):

note: painting image is a licensed free use image

The Middle Ground

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“A great artist is always before his time or behind it.” George Edward Moore (from Brainyquote)

Are most artists before the times or behind the times? Many art schools push students to explore new avenues, try new and different ways of creating art. Or they push students to seek new and different ways to say what’s been said before. Artists are striving to keep moving either backwards or forwards. No matter which way an artist is moving, the point is to keep moving.

Suppose an artist is fascinated with a particular time or place in history but currently most other artists are working to break new ground, make new history. Going backwards is one way of separating from the pack. The artist going backwards may break new ground, as well. A subject may be explored in ways it hasn’t been explored before. An artist may choose to paint in the style of previous artists but with a modern twist. Or perhaps, an artist is drawn to paint today exactly as it was done in past eras, recreating that style for the modern audience.

Artists seeking to break new ground can be moving fast toward new goals, doing new things. Artists behind the times are moving fast in the other direction. Art lovers of both directions are close on the heels of the artists. What of the people in the middle? They are standing still, not moving in either direction, stuck in their ways.

Whether an artist is ahead of the times, or behind the times, is a good thing. To live in the middle is to stagnate. Celebrate either direction. Just stay out of the middle ground mud or you may get stuck.

Photo by Sacha Goldberger. See more of his Rembrandt inspired photography here and here.

Colorful Fridays–“Green” Rose Brown

“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” Sir Frances Bacon (from the Painter’s Keys)Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 10.50.11 AM

Mix cinnamon, ginger and chocolate and you will come up with a color very close to Burnt Sienna, (not to be confused with the rock band, Burnt Sienna).  However, you may not want to paint with this mixture.  For paint, you will need iron oxide and manganese oxide.  Then you will have to set it on fire, unless or course, you are looking for the more yellowish Raw Sienna.  In that case, leave off the fire.

Burnt Sienna is an old paint color dating to early cave paintings..   The rose brown of Burnt Sienna was originally called terra rossa or red earth in accounts from the Renaissance period but later came to be known for the Italian city of Siena where the minerals were first mined.  Today it is mined on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, in the French Ardennes and American Appalachians.

Rembrandt favored Burnt Sienna as is evident in the warm rosy glow so characteristic of his paintings.  Burnt Sienna is favored in most Renaissance paintings as well.  Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro was likely achieved with the liberal use of Burnt Sienna in the rich deep shadows that became his signature style.  Burnt Sienna was a popular paint of many of the old masters and continues its popularity to this day.

Most makers of Burnt Sienna today give a light fast rating of one as extremely light fast.  Golden classifies it as semi-transparent.  The Gamblin Company states today’s Burnt Sienna is more opaque than 200 years ago and recommends Van Dyke Brown or Gamblin Earth Tone Colors as better choices if seeking greater transparency.  Daniel Smith, speaking of the watercolor, says Burnt Sienna combines well in glazes as a semi-transparent pigment that won’t “sully or stain the other pigments” in your glaze.

Artists seeking to become more earth-friendly in painting can buy natural pigments of Burnt Sienna for home mixing from EarthPigments.com.  If you would like to be more “Green” with your browns, try mixing your own earth tones from actual earth pigments.  What could be more natural?

Order natural pigments from Earth Pigments here.

Burnt Sienna, the band, talks about their music on You Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulMrP5tyn30