The Immersive Education within Art Materials

The idea behind this is actually very simple, but I often find many artists that don’t take the time to learn about their pencils, pens, paint, etc. which I find to be a massive oversight in their art education. For someone like me it was always intuitive to learn about new materials, but I’ve found over time that I am in the minority in that regard.

However, I don’t feel like it’s a “you have it or you don’t” mentality. Instead the desire to learn about your materials is something that for myself and for others I imagine develops over time. Early on in your artistic lives we just want to make art (which is very important part for sure) however you at some point will feel limited by a medium’s capabilities. At this point you can (and to some degree should at least for a time) change media, and learn more about other techniques, but again you may find yourself hitting mental walls.

So, how would one get out of such a rut? Thinking about what types of materials you use, and how you might use them more effectively I feel is where this exploration begins. Something like my choice acrylic paint for example has a lot more to it than what might be first understood. High quality acrylics are made from a polymer emulsion, water, and pigment. Lower quality paints add more fillers and water in place of more concentrated pigment loads. Then depending on the individual pigment it will determine the price of the paint, its opacity, its tint strength, and its glossiness. Then subsequently learning about pigments can allow you to start seeing the limitations as well as the limitless possibilities a single color can have. Not to mention how one pigment can be called by several names across brands, viscosities, and individual media (ie. oil, acrylic, watercolor).

While all of this may sound complex it is the core from of education that I have pursued in the past few years that has continued to drive my worth further and further. Breaking down my understanding of transparent vs. opaque acrylics as well as the subtle difference in hue between pigments is transforming my use of color and composition in every painting. Sure it’s not helping something like my line quality or rendering skills, but the understanding of what the paint can do even further than I already understand it brings about new ideas every single day.

For acrylics I’ve found that many paint manufactures take a great deal of care in showing off their products. Not only because they’re wanting you to buy them, but because for a creator of professional materials like Golden, they really care about artists creating the best work that they can. It was actually Golden’s Youtube Channel, which first introduced me to acrylic gels and mediums (a discovery that at the time transformed my work entirely). For nearly 10 years prior I just didn’t really understand my paint, but when I started putting the time in to researching it, I began to see new ideas for paintings erupting in my imagination.

For companies like Golden, Liquitex, Blick, Utrecht, Faber-Castell and many others, the promotion of new and interesting products doesn’t just sell product but it inspires artists to create something new.

If you do nothing else this week artistically, start looking into the composition, the production of, and the possibilities of your materials, and I can guarantee you’ll find new techniques and ideas right around the corner!

The Romanticism of Materials

So about a month ago I found myself watching more and more videos not from YouTube artists, but instead from paint (and other supply) manufacturers. Most intriguing was R&F’s history of the company, told from its founder and owner Richard Frumess. He described the journey from working in a small art store to creating for what was a time the only mass produced encaustic paint available in the world. In Frumess’ story he referred to a love for his craft as a “romance of (art) materials.” Like Frumess, I too have a great love for the raw materials that go into creating a piece of art.

It is a love that I find is shared with more often with experienced artists and professionals, and not so much that with beginners. When you just start out you might be inspired by all the different art materials, but it’s rare to find someone who is in love with the purity of color and the undertones of grayscale as much as someone like myself. It is with such artists far and few, that I can really talk about materials in such a way that gives meaning to their raw essence in such a unique fashion that others might find somewhat unhealthy.

For example when I get together with my friend and fellow artist RarithArt we can discuss the subtle joys of a beautifully transparent umber or the complexities of an opaque indigo, knowing full well we don’t have any idea what specific piece such colors would be used to create. It is in this type of moment where the romanticism of materials lay.

There are countless days I find myself not working on any specific painting in the studio, but instead pacing the floor looking at all the colors, tools, and possibilities at my disposal. That may sound a little conceited of me to boast in my many materials, but there is something beautiful in the collection that I have accumulated in the years since I first started drawing and painting. Much like wandering through the art store, I can look at the different colors on my painting shelf and start to imagine a pure blue sky, a blood red forest, or a shining gold city just by looking at the paint tubes.

This Romanticism of Materials, is an incredible feeling and philosophy within the fine art world. It is something that I really feel bad for digital artists regarding, as there is little connection with software than there is with the tactile sensation of squeezing out a fresh blob of a acrylic or watercolor on my palette; the sound and vibration of snapping a piece of chalk or charcoal through rigorous movements across the paper, and of course the sense of customization in stretching a new canvas and sanding down the thick gessoed surface.

I think as a growing artist, whether your materials are high class or student grade, it’s important to build a connection with what you use to create art. I am reminded of the many travel shows I’ve seen where cooks used the same pot to create the same dish for generations. Not only because it was all they had, but because the pot became imbued with the caked on flavors of the past. The same is true for many of my brushes. Sure, they may not be good for what they were first bought for, but over time as my needs changed, so did the brushes. I wouldn’t be able to create the same way with a new brush as I do with ones that are 10+ years old and beaten to hell. The connection I have with my brushes are easily the same as a great cook, or a mechanic with their 50+ year old wrench.

This may be hard for some of you to understand, but for some of us artists the romance of new and old materials is something that is just as inspiring to the process as travel, literature, or visual entertainment that many artists are driven to create new art from. As you continue to expand your own working set, never forget to enjoy working with your materials. Your paints both in their quality and in their color should inspire you to create just through their inherent properties.

 

What are your thoughts on this concept of the “romanticism of materials.” Do you have a deep love for your paints and/or pencils, or is this a new concept for you entirely?

The Amplification of Reality

About at month ago I was sitting in the studio pondering the concept of creating art, when I was struck with a rather profound thought. “Art is the process of amplifying reality in order to create an emotional response.” For a long time I wanted to build this idea into a live show, but there isn’t much here for that. Thus, I will expand on the concept here.

While this isn’t meant to take the place of my “What is Art” post, it instead should supplement it and give you greater insight into the creative mind. So what about this concept of “amplified reality.” Think about it logically for a moment. Whether we’re talking 2D or 3D, Traditional or Digital, Contemporary or Historical; art in every age, medium, and style from abstract to realism seeks to mimic and amplify reality into something profound. Even absolute photorealistic painters understand this very well. A brush stroke at it’s very core imitates reality. To imitate something and make it seem believable you often are using techniques to trick the brain into processing images into different emotional states.

Take for example optical illusions, most famously the work of M.C. Escher. Much of his work while yes is mathematical, still needs to have a visually artistic and aesthetic portion to seem relatable to the human eye. Escher’s work is primarily architectural and he knew how to bend the visual rules in order to change the perception of reality. Looking at one of his works you are forced to debate in your own mind if such a structure is even possible in the first place. Just when you feel confidant you’ve figured it out, your eye tells your brain it’s wrong again.

For a painter it’s often about using brighter or duller colors to create a mood within a painting. Such a mood of color, paired with complex psychological color theory, triggers the viewer in and emotional response of anything from joy to anger and everything in between. Scientifically speaking a painting is just an image and an image by itself doesn’t have meaning. However, as culturally educated humans, we give meaning to color, shapes, symbols, and forms that both as artists and viewers create a connection within the image.

Abstract art takes what is already familiar and distorts it. An abstract reality is distorted from one emotion and often works to make us feel another. Abstract landscape painters are often understand this well. Using texture in their paintings rather than details on the forms, they can manipulate emotion through movement. A textured horizon line in red and yellow, can be just as impactful as a details in a sunset if executed properly.

So I say it again... “Art is the process of amplifying reality in order to trigger an emotional response.” Let your art not simply be something that imitates reality, but enhances it in your own unique way. Being able to amplify, enhance, and interpret the world as you see it and then turn it outward to create art, is the core of being an artist.

Everything in the Studio

Artists are often asked what supplies they use. Being that I’ve collected a vast number of different media for my various artistic endeavors, I figured I was overdue to create a list of everything I own for creating one piece or another.

I have decided to forgo listing individual colors of things like paint, for the reason that colors are a preferential thing and not something that will likely be beneficial to other artists (at least for this list). I will be making brand notes where I feel it is appropriate, but not ever supply needs to be brand specific. Certain supplies like graphite and charcoal are pretty hard to mess up, so cheaper brands are usually acceptable. Additionally just because a supply is listed doesn’t mean that it gets regular use. Many of my supplies sit for months or even years before I have a project that can utilize them properly. Additional this list is not in any particular order. I simply stood in the studio and looked around. That being said, here’s my complete list:

Painting Media

·         Acrylic Heavy Body Paint (Golden, Liqutex, & Utrecht)

·         Acrylic Paint Mediums and Gels (Golden & Utrecht)

·         Golden Acrylic High Flow (1 bottle)

·         Water mixable Oils

·         1 Tube Gamblin Oil Paint

·         Liqutex Acrylic Inks

·         Acryla Gouache

·         Tube and Cake Watercolors (Tubes preferred)

·         QoR Synthetic Ox Gal

·         Masking Fluid

·         Black Gesso

·         White Medium Body Gesso

·         Gesso Brush

·         Paint Brushes (Flat, Round, Filbert, Fan, Liner, as primaries. Mostly synthetic bristles)

·         Glass Mixing Palettes

·         Painting Knives

·         Powdered Tempra

·         Bottled Tempra (Wet)

·         Spray Paint (Liqutex Professional Prefered)

·         Spare Spray Caps

·         Metallic Silver Spray Paint

·         Gloss Clear Coat (Valspar)

·         Cap Cleaner

 

Drawing Media

·         Liqutex Acrylic Ink (listed twice because they work for both)

·         Oil Pastels

·         Soft (Chalk) Pastels (Rembrandt & Blick Preferred)

·         Crayola Anti-Dust Chalk (Yellow)

·         India Ink (Speedball or Higgins)

·         Speedball Block Printing Ink

·         Drawing Pens (Micron, Prismacolor, Uniball, Pentel, Faber-Castell)

·         Sharpie Markers

·         Colored Pencils (Prismacolor Premiere Preferred)

o   White Prismacolor (single pencils used outside of full set)

·         Graphite Pencils (Wood & Woodless)

o   Ebony Pencils

·         Charcoal (Vine, Pencils & Compressed)

·         White Charcoal

·         Erasers (White/Plastic/Vinyl, Kneaded, Art Gum)

·         Blending Stumps

·         Tortillion

·         Feathers

·         Wood Drawing Stylus

·         Brayer (Rolly thing for block prints)

·         Compass

·         Circle Template

·         Chamois Cloth

·         Workable Fixative

·         Tacky Spray Glue

 

Papers and Supports

·         Canvas (Pre-stretched, Un-stretched/unprimed & Stretcher bars)

·         Wood

·         Cardboard

·         Sheet Metal

·         Illustration Board

·         Sketch Paper (White and Brown Toned, Canson Preferred)

·         Drawing Paper

·         Bristol Paper

·         Newsprint

·         Mixed Media Paper (Canson)

·         Light Drawing Paper/Tracing Paper

·         Black Drawing Paper

·         Dura-Lar Plastic Film

·         Watercolor Paper

·         Pastel Paper

·         High Gloss and Semi-Gloss Printing Paper

·         Sticker Paper

 

Hardware, Tools, and Misc.

·         Air Dry Clay

·         Sidewalk Chalk

·         Plastic Bags (for covering palettes)

·         Tool Box (For travel with painting supplies)

·         Bubble Wrap

·         Metal Stylus

·         Putty Knife

·         Picture Wire

·         Sawtooth Hooks

·         S Hooks

·         Screw Eyes

·         L Pins

·         Box Tape

·         Masking Tape

·         Duct Tape

·         Frog Tape

·         Needle Nose Pliers

·         Compressed Air

·         70% Isopropyl Alcohol

·         Wood Burner

·         Wood Carving Knives

·         Manual Hand Drill

·         Sandpaper

·         Staple Gun (& spare staples)

·         Box Cutter (& spare blades)

·         Rulers (listed here due to multiple uses outside of drawing)

·         Table Brush

·         Kleenex

·         Paper Towels

·         Glass Jars and Water basins

·         PVC Pipe, Bricks, Bolt, and Wing nut (live stream rig)

·         Paper Cutter

·         X-Acto Knife (for small paper cuts +spare blades)

·         Spotlight

·         Travel Telescoping Easel

·         A Frame Wood Easel

·         Nomad Art Satchel

·         Work Table

·         Stool

·         Mat Knife and Bevel Cutter

·         Rags

·         Backpack

·         Old Paintings

 

Tech.

·         Surface Pro 3

·         HP Pavilion Laptop

·         Performance Custom Build Desktop (Not in studio, but used for video and art)

·         Canon XA 10 Camcorder (+Microphone, lenses, and filter accessories)

·         Sony Handycam SR-68 Camcorder (Old camera shoots 480p)

·         3 Tripods

·         12” LCD Monitor (VGA connection 2004 era)

·         Microsoft Lifecam (Webcam)

·         AA Batteries

·         Old Drawing Tablet (Wacom Graphire4, new Intuos Pro used with desktop)

·         Photo Camera

 

I’m sure I’ve forgotten at least one or two things, so this list of course is always growing and ongoing. I want to make note that I did not create this list to brag. Far from it in fact. The point of this list is to show my working set of tools. If you have seen my videos you will know that much of this list goes untouched, so it’s not really about the “stuff” that any of us have but instead about how we make use of it. I’ve also been painting for over 16 years and have built up a this set out of my own purchases, gifts, and donations that have been made to me from friends over the years. I hope this list inspires you rather than intimidates you, and gets you excited to try out new materials!

Tutorial Addiction and the Pitfalls of Social Improvement

Ok, so you’ve got your 700 Photoshop brush packs from your favorite artists, you’ve downloaded all the free eBooks, you’ve got a black hole of bookmarks in your web browser, and a folder of 10,000 inspirational images. You’re ready for some serious artwork! Except you have no idea how to even begin a drawing or painting. “Wait, I’ve got all the resources at my finger tips don’t I? That’s the glory of the internet and social media! All my friends love my sketches and tell me what a great artist I am, but all I do is sketch on my homework and draw fan art of my favorite anime characters. Why can’t I just start a drawing?” Two words my friends, “Tutorial Addiction.”

This phrase came to me earlier this week and it’s been really festering in my mind. Even I fall prey to the illusion of social improvement, being both an avid watcher of art videos on YouTube and a creator of them too. However, at the end of the day everything still comes down to actually making something. This is where many young (and even old) artists get stuck. You think that after one tutorial you’re ready to create a masterpiece, and when your piece turns out less than expected you get frustrated. “Hey I watched the tutorial and understood it, why can’t I do it like they can?”

This is the difference between having resources, and properly utilizing them. Following a tutorial and doing the demonstration only goes so far. The catalyst for true improvement happens when you apply what you learned to your art and build up your own techniques based on what other artists have done. When you apply the concept behind your favorite paintings, matched with knowledge of the artists that came before you, then and only then can you start to improve your work.

The idea of social improvement through your art community isn’t a bad thing. I would sound like a complete hypocrite if I was trying to imply such a thing. However, focusing on your community rather than your own work can stint your growth as a creative individual. Additionally, hording resources doesn’t help you either. Having great tools only goes as far as your experience and skills. If you still don’t have a grasp on the human figure, no fancy Photoshop technique or type of pencil will help you master it (only time and determination will).  If you spend the majority of your time finding tutorials instead of creating art, then what you will master is your office skills not mastery of drawing.

Sure tutorial addiction isn’t quite as nasty as say substance addiction, but it is something that plagues many artists. At the end of the day, however, you work is more important than simply a bundle of free tutorials and inspirational images. Having a love for creating art is always the first stage in improving it. You have to love to create regardless of the quality of the finished product. You have to make the time to create your work too. Maybe you’re a busy student, maybe a single parent with a love for creative projects. Maybe you’re single and work 2 jobs to pay off your college loans. Regardless of your situation your time is precious, so finding the time for your art should be just as important as your day to day life. Create a schedule for drawing or painting if you have to. MAKE the time if your art is something you truly care about and want to improve on. When you have the time then you can work on your art and once you finish a project, start another piece learning from your mistakes on the last one.

What are your thoughts on this concept of “tutorial addiction?” Are you an addict yourself, or have you broken free of your chains of doubt? Join in the conversation about it in the comments below.

Infectious Creativity

“Infectious Creativity: The Key to a Successful Art Career”

To begin, I will give you this premise to consider: “Love your art until it becomes infectious!” This concept came out of a conversation I had with a friend and fellow artist early last month, but has stuck with me in principle. This concept of an infectious form of creativity is what I believe to be the driving force of what makes an artist successful or not.

The more I thought about it the more it seemed to ring true for my work, and the work of those artists that I admire. Creating your art should always start as a passion for something you love. For most artists that is what creating art is. However, in the process of being self-taught or taught in a rigorous program, it can be very easy to lose your passion for creation in the pursuit of perfection. While it is vitally important to your success to refine your skills and pursue mastery of the fundamentals, if you forget why you love creating in the process, then you will have lost the most important part of being an artist.

This idea of loving to create, and loving what you do, is what makes all successful artists stand out to us. While yes, the beautiful images they create are also important, ask yourself how many grumpy artists you follow? Would you want to learn from an artist who is indifferent about their work? Or how about an artist that hates everything they do? Ok, there is a certain sense of creative humility and realization that ever artist has, in knowing that their work needs improvement. However, if they continue to say “I suck, I suck, I suck,” then you as the fan will also start to think they suck as well. If you the artist are not passionate about the work you create, then what hope do your fans have to love the work that you do?

This is really the idea I want to drive home for all of you. Love what you do. Painting, drawing, writing, composing, whatever your creative outlet is do it because you love it FIRST, then worry about marketing and making money. Forget about client work. Forget what kind of art your friends and family like. Make art for yourself, because you love to! Maybe that sounds a bit selfish, but when you become crazy passionate about your work and your process, then other people will be excited to see, read, or hear your next great masterpiece! Yes, the first impression of a great piece of art brings people in, but what keeps them coming back is that they know you are an artist in love with creating.

It is only when we love to create that our passions infect others with creativity to create something of their own. Success isn’t a dollar amount. It’s not a number of shows or a single great piece of art. No, success is about community! It’s about sharing your creative love with the world, and having of the world answer back with their own unique creations. So in case you forgot along the way, “Love your art until it becomes infectious,” and then you will truly be successful.

I don't know who you are...Sorry.

So in looking back across the blog page here on the site I realized I haven't posted anything in nearly a year. Well, here's a post from another account of mine elsewhere from a few months ago, that I had forgotten about:

Like most of my posts, today I just want to get something off of my chest. While I was at a recent art show I ran into a number of my fellow artists, and as always we begin to talk about our ventures in the art world. One such friend (which will go nameless for various reasons) expressed to me the awkward displeasure of having someone recognize you, without you the artist knowing who they are. This I find to be a common problem among artists as well as any other public figure. In fact, I was reminded of my time in Catholic Seminary, when parishioners would know who I was without me knowing who they are.  

From the artist’s perspective, we are meeting fans and patrons of our work. Based on the artist, this may be easier, or harder, for some to remember a name or face. Either way though... they know you, but you don’t know them.

For me, this happens a lot online as well. While I may enjoy the conversations with many aspiring artists, there are very few of them who I will remember by name. On DeviantArt I’m lucky enough to recognize a user’s avatars, instead of their username. Youtube is just the same. I am of course operating on my best intentions, but sometimes I lose track of everyone.

So my point for today, is really a concern that I do wish more fans and patrons of the arts would recognize. Put simply, it’s that we (as artists) meet a lot of people, and can’t be expected to remember everyone. While it is very easy for a single person or a group to know one person, it is much harder for a single person to know all the members of a group. In regards to my seminary days...a church of people, will know a priest, deacon, or seminarian by name, but that person won’t know the names of 500+ people.

In general, I ask that you don’t hold the artist accountable for knowing your name, wanting to be friends, or treating you with anything more than awkward respect they already give you. Please, it’s hard enough already.

The Dangers of Artistic Relativism

I have a question for you. What is art to you?

No, I haven’t asked this already, I’m not trying to figure out what art is in general, I’m asking what art is to/for you. Have your answer? Good, because you’re probably wrong.

There is a nasty idea that has become the norm for how we view art in our society. It’s the idea of Artistic Relativism or the idea that as individuals we can all define art and we’re all inherently right in whatever opinion we hold. Not only is this idea dangerous, but it’s also something of a philosophical cancer that has become so accepted we don’t know it even exists.

So why is Artistic Relativism such a problem? It seems like it would be nice to have everyone define art for themselves, and as a fan of art it makes sense as everyone has different tastes. But personal preferences on styles aside, there can be great art that is great without you caring for the piece at all. For example many people love the impressionist movement with artists like Claude Monet. I however find the style visually disgusting. The lack of heavier contrast and brighter colors (not just pastel tones) is very unappealing to me. However, that doesn’t mean I stop acknowledging the genius behind the movement and how the style has influence other artist’s work in the process. However, Artistic Relativism creates fictional personal standards for an already established system. This system is of course is the Elements and Principles of Design as they relate to a piece of visual art. Yet if the individual defines their own system on which to judge art, we find a devaluing of standards already in place, and we then would need to redefine art (which is a problem all its own). In short, if everyone can define art for themselves, then no artist will be able to create something that as a collective art community we can find to be a pure example of excellence.

Where does this problem come from? If obviously hasn’t always been an issue within the artistic community, has it? While many of the greatest artists of all time challenged the system and foundations of what make a piece of art great, they still held true to what is compositionally and visually standard. The same uses of color, line, form, value, etc. paired with the concepts of unity, balance, movement, etc. runs like a vein of pure gold through every artistic movement in history. That is to say until we reach a more “modern” era of art. It is at a time after the movements of art deco and post-modern minimalism that we stop thinking about art as an unshakable idea, and start redefining the idea of what art is for us. Art at some point stopped being about the collective whole of both artists and patrons of the arts, to the elementary idea of “what looks good” or “what challenges other ideas.”

What you already may have guessed is what I believe to be the main cause of artistic relativism, and that is the oversaturation of images via the online experience. While I’m always an advocate for artists to share their work online, I also caution the practice of turning looking at art into simple “image browsing.” It is because of this oversaturation of images we experience daily that allows and encourages us t o treat are like it’s as meaningless and disposable as a day old newspaper. Simply looking at a piece of art and treating it with the same generic response creates a form of disconnect between the complexity of an art work and the reaction that we have to it.

Ok. Let’s boil things down to the main point here. Artistic Relativism creates a terrifying paradox for both the beginning artist and the professional alike, by reducing the craft into only what you want to know, what you like, and/or what matters to your feelings. Rather than a cloudy and weak idea of art that relativism provides, we should instead seek out the types of art that radically engage our visual, intellectual, and philosophical mindsets. Bland art that is “just trying to make a statement” or “just trying to break the rules” instead of engaging an audience; isolates, stupefies, and reduces such a viewer to a rat in a cage designed to stroke the ego of the self proclaimed artist and justify a selfish and bastardized view of the creative process.

When you create a piece of art you are designing something to be extraordinary. However, what is designed to be great should not exceed the ability for the artist (or patron) to understand that the piece is believable.

What is Art? Really?

No, really. What really is the distinction between art and non-art? It is not an easy question to answer. In fact it may be easier to answer indirectly. Rather than trying to wrap our heads around what can be considered art, we should first think about what art isn’t. So, in trying to understand an abstract philosophical concept like art, it would only make sense to do so.

Let me start by making one simple clarification. Art IS NOT EVERYTHING. This is what many artists and fans of the arts seem to say when the feel they have learned a thing or two about art. The truth is that without a distinction then what IS consider art will lose all value. Put simply…if everything is art then nothing is special and if nothing is special then nothing is art. It’s a bit of a paradox of creation and execution of the craft, but the meaning holds. If we consider every creative act and every result of that act a piece of art, then what is to say that any of it should be considered worth the time of the creator or the fan of such a project. While we may consider a great piece of art something special, if everything is given the same attention, then nothing will stand out to be considered great.

We should also discuss the concept of creativity and how it also is not the balance point on which all art is or is not created. Many people either think that they are not creative, but in truth they really just haven’t learned to harness their naturally creative side, or do not recognize it in action. First let’s look at those who haven’t learned to harness their creativity. Art is not the only creative field out there, and I’m not just talking about music either. In fact the fields of the sciences (in any capacity) are deeply creative fields. As discussed by Adam Savage at his keynote at SXSW this year, the act of coming up with a hypothesis isn’t always as simple as it seems. The example given was from an episode of his long running show on the Discovery Channel “Mythbusters.” Does someone walking or running in the rain get more or less wet? What sounds like a simple premise becomes more complicated when you start finding a way to test it, especially when knowing after a certain period of time you can’t get any wetter. Ok so what does this have to do with creativity and art? Put simply that just because the outcome may not be fancy or expected, that doesn’t make it any less creative. Maybe you’re not working toward an artistic masterpiece or a brilliant orchestral score, but the act of creating something or more accurately creative problem solving isn’t so elusive. Creative thinking is not exclusive to the arts and it never has been. If you can solve a word problem in math class then you can certainly be creative in whatever field you choose. You may not recognize your creativity, but I can guarantee that whether you’re at work or enjoying your favorite hobby, that you too are creative. 

Let us also have a look at those who may not know how to harness their creativity as of yet. This is often a very frustrating situation to be in, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to be. Finding your creative field can be as simple as playing a game. As actor and internet activist Wil Wheaton has become a voice for content creators around the web, his model of sharing his work and life has become a way for many creators both young and old to understand what it means to be a gamer. Again you may ask yourself what this has to do with art. Wheaton often expresses his love for games and how creative traditional roll-playing games can be. For him games are about building important relationships both with friends and with family, which may not seem very creative at first, but of course it depends on the game. Games for Wheaton are his time to be creative with family and friends. This creative overtone is used not to make art, but to create bonds with people (which I think is what every artist wants anyway).

However, we again should not confuse creativity with Art, and so we come to the question again…What is art, really? Have we even answered the question yet? Well, no. So if not every creative act can be called art, then what can we make the distinction. I pose at this time a slightly more complex question. What is an artist? This could help us answer our question a little more simply. If we define art as the creative product of an artist, we then must define “artist.” As you may already know art isn’t limited to just the visual arts. We must also include composers, dancers/actors, and writers. Again though not everything a visual artist, writer, etc. does can be considered art. This is where I believe that there are three vitally important factors in defining what can qualify as art.

First we have the artist factor. Is the artist trying to create something meaningful, something that tells a story, and/or has merit? If the person creating the piece just is throwing things together willy-nilly without the idea of a finished product, instead of a piece of art, what we have then is a mess. Even if someone finds meaning in what someone else has created then the person finding the meaning (or the fan in this case) is the true artist, not the creator of the pile of garbage. Massachusetts’ Museum of Bad Art is a great example of artists with the best intentions and falling completely flat on the technical aspects.  While many artists producing “good art” might find the fact that this gallery sells pieces a bit insulting, it is also intriguing that you could classify art to be “bad” and still be art. By this stand point the intent of the artist is a vital part in classifying what art really is.

Second we have a less important but still vital part of the world of art…Community! Between fans of the art, patrons, and gallery owners/curators, we all have the responsibility and right to know what we like and what should be called art. The core of the art community these days is an artist and his/her personal fan base. As a community it is important to understand and artist’s intentions and desires in creating his/her art. However contrary to popular belief, the community doesn’t solely decide on what art really is. This is why many people both misrepresent and misunderstand modern art. There are large communities of people that will buy a piece of something that isn’t made by an artist and call it art. This as mentioned in artist factor makes the community the artist instead of the individual. If the collective art community places value in a pile of trash, then it becomes the creative act of the collective that puts value and meaning into a piece, thus making them the artists. Perhaps this is why my and many others’ frustrations in the modern art market lay. At the same time, however artists that create something “before their time,” may not be recognized by a community in the present, but instead in the future validating their creations.

The final and often most important factor in what can be called art exist in the relevance to and relationship with the historical context of art. While many artists will have the best intentions and their communities do as well, the piece just may not have a place in art. Again we can very easily get into trouble with this idea saying that because it doesn’t fit into a category we can’t call it art. This often then becomes called avant-garde. This is often the most overlooked factor in the world of art, and it’s also the reason many believe the community takes the most dominant control over what art really is. However, if the community doesn’t take the historical context of technique, medium, intention, skill, design, and intent into effect, then the community is the factor at fault in deciding if something is called art when it shouldn’t be.

There is a video from Prager University and Artist Robert Florczak, which describes the historical need in analyzing Modern Art. The video is a bit biased, but the basic idea holds true to the three factors we’ve been discussing. The video dives into the difference between something creative and something that is aesthetically pleasing and artistic. Again, just because something is creative, doesn’t mean its art.

So, what are we left with between creativity, the artist, and the actual art? If we say that art is the physical, emotional, or auditory result of an artist’s creative process. Then the artist is an individual that creates something deemed of value by both the artist and the cultural community, while maintaining a place within historical context. Our understanding of the historical context of all art will allow us to build an ever expanding library of style, technical skill, design, and intent, which acts as the foundation to determine if the product of a creative act can be called art.

 

What are your thoughts on the matter? Feel free to thoughts and opinions share in the comments.

You are NOT an artist...

I have something difficult to tell some of you. You’re NOT an artist, but guess what? That’s ok. You don’t have to be a professional, or enjoy working on stuff all the time. You don’t have to be part of the “in crowd.” You can just be a fan. Or a drawer, or a painter…without being an “artist.”

This is something that I see far too often. While I for one will encourage everyone giving them the honorary title of “artist,” some people are only going to be drawers/painters. The biggest distinction to make here is that there is a difference between “artist” and “craftsman” or “artisan.”

We all want to encourage each other, but it’s important to make the distinction between the imaginative creative mind and the technical skill of a good draftsman/craftsman. This isn’t to say though that those with technical skill cannot be trained to harness their inherent creativity, but it should be noted that creative thinking is easier for some than others. While, there is some debate on whether creativity is nature or nurture, I will be one to say that it’s a bit of both. Most artists you will talk to will talk about drawing and being creative from an early age. However, the nurturing and fostering of creativity can indeed be taught.

Earlier this year, Sarah Urist Green (wife to author and youtuber John Green), partnered with PBS Digital Studios to create a series of creative projects for less or seemingly not creative people. The concept was fostered by the “nerdfightaria” community from John and Hank Green’s channel “vlogbrothers,” as well as great use of social media to spread the word. While the series features successful artists creating revolutionary and remarkable creations, they also challenge the audience to unlock their creative juices in order to produce something of meaning and value (aka. Art).

But what does any of this mean for you? I don’t want to be someone who will crush your hopes and dreams, far from it in fact. Asking these big questions of yourself should and hopefully will help you grow as or into the artist you want to become. However technical skill should never be confused with the same creativity and drive that backs the working artists of today.

What are your thoughts on this? Can everyone become an artist, or is it harder than just learning to harness your creative side?  Share your thoughts in comments.

Actual Texture and Paint Sculpting

We all know the works of master painter Vincent Van Gogh, but few know just how much texture is present his paintings. Last year photo of the day sites like “Twisted Sifter” brought us a closer look at Van Gogh’s masterpieces and blew us away at the rich texture these paintings have. His unique Post-Impressionist style gave way to inspire many artists that came after him, but those who have never and perhaps will never see his works in person can still appreciate what he had accomplished as an artist.

However, let us return to our initial topic of texture. There is a technique that often goes unnoticed in the painting world and that is the use of and difference between actual and perceived texture. Perceived texture is the use of value/contrast and color to create the illusion of certain textures (such as stone, wood, or metal). Actual texture though is very different. While many mixed media artists will be familiar with the use of various materials in a collage, there is also a technique for painters that is often referred to as “impasto”. The impasto style of painting uses thick areas of paint to create little “mountains” of the medium on a canvas (or other support). For example in my recent painting “Discovery” I used a heavy application of Golden’s Light Molding Paste, to build a raised section of the painting. While I realize in the use of such a technique is nothing new, I’ve started calling this technique “Paint Sculpting.” In short, it’s about how can I continue to use traditional 2D methods while slowly incorporating impasto techniques to create a more dynamic visual experience.

Remembering the master works of Van Gogh while still inspired by today’s concept artists, my work continues as I push for the next great idea as well as its execution. It is for this reason I suggest to any aspiring artist to brush on their art history. We may come up with new ideas, but it is still an important part of any artist’s process to understand and study those artists that came before us.

So whether you’re using a paste to build up texture, or just a generous quantity of heavy body paint, remember that a painting isn’t just about the 2D imagery but also about the textural technique involved in the process.

The Question of Style

There is a distinct movement among today’s young artists that focuses on one of the least important elements of the creative process. I am of course talking about style. When a young artist finds a talented hobbyist or working professional with a distinct and unique style, they undoubtedly uncountable want to learn what makes such a style so appealing. However the style, isn’t necessarily what is most appealing about the artist or his/her work. Arguably the most well known painting in the world is Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa,” and rightly so it has been parodied and remixed in thousands of new styles. The question is though has the message or impact of the original imaged changed? Usually…no… Her ambiguous expression and vague smile builds mystery in the piece. This image is not subject to just Leonardo’s painting style. It is equally as impactful in every single reproduction of the image. Therefore in  this instance style is hardly a factor at all.

What is it though that makes us focus so much on style and technique verses the foundations of light, color, and form? Perhaps it’s the way an artist bends and breaks those rules that makes their work appealing. However one must first understand the rules, before you can start bending them to fit your own individual artistic voice. This is where many people fall flat. With such an emphasis on style and not on the fundamental basics of design, one can only assume there will be a disconnect in the creative process.

So let’s look again at what makes a style appealing. Well, this is a difficult subject to analyze as with each person being unique, what they find appealing is also unique to them. In a recent interview with freelance illustrator Sycra Yasin, we discussed the idea of style in art. His insights into the concept of style allowed me to rethink my position on the matter. I like many artists out there who are more visually minded find that style comes naturally as long as you are working to create the best art you can. Sycra on the other hand talks about  “what you like in art.” He makes the distinction to remember what you “like” verses what you “admire.” Looking for the “that’s cool” mentality that kids have and become obsessed with their favorite game or tv show. Admiring and looking up to an artist is a different thought process. Admiring an artist is when you wonder how they could create such a masterpiece, while “liking” someone’s work, is taking what you admire and breaking down what you “like” about a piece. Recognizing things like dynamic perspective, high contrast, and/or bright vibrant colors, will allow you to recognize what you “like” in art, and what you can focus on creating in your own pieces to build your style.

For me the question of style is absurd. While I don’t understand the problem people have I do empathize with those who are “stuck in a rut” with their work. Perhaps because I’m such a visually minded person… I never focused on style, I just wanted to make cool artwork, and that was enough for me.

If nothing else think about it this way: “Will a unique style really make me better?” or are you using style as an excuse to not learn the fundamentals before you start breaking them.

Traditional Art in a Digital World

"The Importance of Traditional Art in a Digital World"

There seems to be an interesting trend in "Digital vs Traditional," as if there is anything to debate. Many traditionalists will say digital isn't really an art medium, and many digital artists are somehow afraid of traditional media. Granted yes both have clear advantages and disadvantages, the biggest one for most people is cost. Digital's high initial cost will often shy people away, but after the first investment in hardware and software, maintenance costs are minimal to none. While in Traditional the costs are low, but reoccurring, and can really add up over time.

Cost aside however, there are many who feel traditional media is some how "dying out" or "becoming less necessary." Well art isn't really "necessary" at all, but again it's all semantics.

First let's look at traditional. Traditional media builds a deep understanding of your materials and what you can do with them. It's easier to experiment with them (especially on the go) and you can for example rub a pencil on just about any surface to see the effect it creates. In the painting world, you learn to mix your colors rather than just picking one that works. You'll learn what green truly means when you mix a yellow with a blue and play with the ratios of color to make a warmer or cooler green. You will also be working on the idea of "one layer," thus you cannot change your brush strokes so easily, making things less forgiving. However this rugged unforgiving nature allows you to learn from your mistakes faster and work from your mistakes to build your own creative problem solving (I talked about this a little in the last post "100 problems..."). The variety of media is also such an amazing choice for both beginners and the experienced in the craft.

Digital is essentially only one medium. While yes there are different programs, that pull the color around a little differently, 99% of the time the outcome is a "digital" look. Rarely do I find digital artists who can truly replicate the look and feel of a traditional painting. There is also the issue with so many short cuts that exist. Sure traditional has some short cuts too, but nothing like what you'll find in Photoshop. Edit undo (CTRL + Z) for many is another crutch keeping them from just learning to "paint" rather than getting every detail right. Understandably those in the animation and design fields NEED this function and the thoughts of not having it would be crippling. However, for concept artists, illustrators, and digital fine artists there is less of a need for such a function. These short cuts often hinder an artist's ability to effectively learn ideas like color theory, line quality, and to do life studies away from a computer.

So what am I getting at here? Well mainly I believe it is easier to start in traditional drawing and painting media before moving to digital. Again traditional media teaches you the tangible foundations to 2D design/art. There is something truly magical about getting your hand covered in graphite or paint in the midst of a project. Many do not realize how important it is to actually feel a pencil in your hand and understand the immediate mark it makes based on how hard you push on the drawing surface. Granted digital has pressure sensitivity, but you don't really know how to adjust that until you know exactly what it is emulating. Learning your own traditional media also teaching just about everything about the tool you're using. For a pencil you can learn how it's made, on what surfaces it can be used effectively, how far you can push the minimalist and unlimited extremes of the media, and the true basics of blending and value.

Ultimately though it's about what works best for YOU the artist. As I've always said it's important to try new things and experiment with different media. However upon finding your choice media you'll need to stick to it. Then as you start feeling comfortable with it, the thought of trying a new media will often seem intimidating, but that the same time very liberating to explore the limits of your own creative process. Comfort is key to understanding your choice medium, but remember the TOO MUCH COMFORT can lead to lazy art. Lazy art is work that despite being done well is often flat and boring. Granted if your process is working, it doesn't need fixing, but if you're stuck in a creative rut, it may be time to try something new.

In short, traditional media isn't dying. It's still and will continue to be an important and vibrant part of the art world. Need more proof? Go to ANY gallery and look around. Usually you'll see nothing but traditional art, but occasionally you might just find a digital print. Digital art is still very new. Neither will cancel each other out, but in time you may see a higher proliferation of the digital media (even more than we've already seen).

Remember I work in both traditional and digital media, but I will never trade my paints
to only use a tablet.

100 Problems in a Painting

100 Problems in a Painting

 

A painting is a problem to be solved…WRONG!

 

    A painting instead is a series of small problems, each with its own unique solution. Every brush stroke, every value, every color choice/mix, is a question that crosses the artist’s mind. These questions are more subconscious than anything else. At most you may utter to yourself “what color next,” or “how about some of this?”
    So, why 100? Well, I just picked the lowest big number I could really. However, it’s not without reason. Every element, starting as a shape or line, built into a form in space with value and lighting… these are the basics, but also the process of building a 2D image. These are all problems to be solved.
    Creative Problem Solving… It is at its core the true goal of any artist. In school most people grew up hating word problems, but as an artist I thrived on them. It gave me context for the meaningless numbers to exist and a situation to actually solve the problem. Just like in math, art has word problems.  The only difference is that there are infinite variables and answers for the same problem.

 

If Jeff is making a painting and has some paint. A tube of paint is 2oz and covers a 9 square foot area. If Jeff makes a painting that is 18 square feet, how many tubes of paint did he empty by the time he finished it?

 

Answer? None! …Because he has more than one color and a pint of molding paste.

    Sure I set up the premise to be a trick, but the idea is still the same. Infinite possibilities begin in the sketchbook, and through a series of steps are narrowed down to an artist’s own style and thought process. Then with a series of challenges and simple problems, a piece is build from smaller more manageable problems.
    “Break it down into simple shapes,” is the advice many young artists receive when asking for advice. However, this is a very simple truth that is often overlooked. Break everything down, grab a brush or pencil, and solve those 100 simple problems!

The Problem with Photo-Based Concept Art

Photo-Based Concept Art & Why It Destroys Creative Development:

    Today I'd like to talk about something more serious, and what I've come to find as a problem not just on sites like Deviant Art, but on any site that artists show their work. I'm talking about one simple concept: "Photo Based Concept Art." In short, creating an "original artwork" built primarily from colors, textures, and often full images from other sources.
    So let's start with an example: http://bdbros.deviantart.com/art/Venetian-Dream-163839804 while this image creates an amazing scene and is in my mind a very inspiring landscape, the image itself isn't really a "painting" or "drawing" even by modern digital standards. What we have instead is a perverse creation of a "completed piece." Now don't misunderstand my critique of the industry. For skilled professionals to submit such a piece to a client is perfectly alright. As being a "concept" in trying to convey the base for something larger, artists will find that clients don't care how the product is produced, just so long as they get what they want. However, as artists we should hold our work to a higher standard that what is simply "acceptable."
    As an analogy, let's look at a fast food restaurant. If I'm sitting at a drive through window and behind that wall the fry cook drops my compressed meat patty on the floor, picks it up, then throws it on the grill anyway. I will never know, because it is out of sight and out of mind. However, if you put a gourmet chef in one of these fast food "kitchens" the will probably vomit at the sight of lack of respect for the creative process.
    In recent years I have begun to make a shift in what I give my attention to here on the internet. The obvious use of stock photos to build a concept has become so disgusting to me, I usually don't even give the artist the benefit of the doubt. I'm not saying it didn't take time or skill to "arrange" these images creatively, but I am saying "what's really the point?" Even with this analysis, I find myself looking for the "cheaters" that try to pass of a "digital painting" as a painting with textures thrown in at the beginning or end as a cheat. In another example artist and designer Feng Zu's work often starts with photo and texture based images. In his FZDSchool's Episode 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X0Npd5REQw he builds his base color with several images rather than choosing and building up the colors from scratch. Sure this process builds a fast design and saves time, but when you create an image not for a class or client, and try to call it a stand alone piece of art, what you have is (dare I say) a form of art theft at the deepest degree.
    The biggest problem with using these techniques and even teaching them to beginners, we find that it teaches them to steal images (even stock photos). Rather than pulling from these images, artists need to learn the skills of drawing in perspective, building color theory, understanding composition, and the other base skills of drawing and painting. Without knowing how to draw, you cannot fully utilize the "short cuts" many of these artists advocate.
   For these artists I've listed and others I have not, I have nothing but admiration for what they can accomplish without the use of a brush or drawing tablet, but I do take each "piece" with a grain of salt as while they are "concepts" they are not "completed."

Drawing and Painting: Two Sides of One Coin

    There seems to be a strange phenomenon among artists to think that drawing and painting are two very different media, when in fact they couldn’t be more similar. While there are many different types of drawing and painting for today let’s just think about acrylics and graphite pencils.     
    I have to admit that I didn’t always see things this way. I used to treat the two forms of art as very different both in execution and in the initial thought process. That being said I can understand the slight controversy that comes up from time to time. Of course they are different in media, but the same basic principles apply to each. For example a drawing without textures is flat, as is a painting without detail. Unfortunately for me, it took until just a few years ago to start making this connection and bringing more life into my paintings. So let’s take a look at some examples:

1. http://cinderblockstudios.deviantart.com/art/Untitled-Fire-Side-149826839

2. http://cinderblockstudios.deviantart.com/art/Rebirthing-412964503

    First we have an old but popular piece from 2010. While the color and composition are there, the detail and lighting are both significantly lacking. What I did with reds in the piece was heavily unfulfilled with the near solid black surroundings. Where’s the reflective light? The Detail? Well, there isn’t any (mainly since I didn’t really know any better). The second piece is a fairly recent one of a pleasant valley. Tons of detail, texture, shadows, etc., most of which can be seen in the making of video that accompanies the image.

 

    So when and how did I first make the connection between drawing and painting? Well a major player in understanding detail was getting my first liner brush. A liner (if you are unfamiliar with them) creates a thin line similar to that of standard sharpie marker. Essentially a thin for paint, but what would be a thick one for drawing. This allowed me to bring in a hatching technique that I previously could only do digitally or with an ink pen.

 

    Then in late 2012 I painted “The Source” http://cinderblockstudios.deviantart.com/art/The-Source-394479801 which paved the way for my recent line of paintings. High detail and a solid composition built from the ground up with ink techniques applied to the acrylic medium. Ever since that piece, I’ve pushed for the same (or greater) level of technique I captured with that piece. Sometimes you just need to find the right tool that works for you. For me, the liner is certainly my special touch to each painting.

 

    So in short painting is just a colorful extension of everything you learn when drawing. Knowing this, a drawer looking to paint for the first time shouldn’t see the new medium as different, but instead as a continuation of what they already know. Then, as you paint and learn new techniques you can find ways to reinterpret them into your drawings as well. Maybe your layering techniques with acrylics or oils will let you dive into colored pencils faster. Or your blending with chalk pastels will open new doors with wet media.