Monday, August 8, 2016

How Do I Start a Painting?

©Theresa Grillo Laird

Well, lately I don't have any one way. Sometimes I paint on a colored ground, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I block in a value pattern and build the colors up on top of it. Sometimes I cover the canvas in colors roughly of the shape of the objects then let the objects emerge from the field of colors. Lately I've been starting with my area of interest and building outward. Each method has it's advantages and drawbacks. 

One thing that does stay constant no matter how I begin is that I start with a very loose sketch in thin paint. The sketch is so loose that often it's hard for an onlooker to see what's there. But I know what the marks represent and they're enough to remind me of what I intended. I don't do a detailed sketch because it's going to get quickly covered up anyway.

So, let's take a look at these starts. Actually, each of these paintings are just a little bit past their beginning stage.

©Theresa Grillo Laird
This painting is part of a year long project to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park System. Go here to read about that project. As you can see, the painting was started on a toned ground. I've been working with a warm undertone, playing it against the cooler tones of the outdoors. One of the distinct advantages of working with a toned ground is that bits of the color show through the finished painting. This is especially useful when you're aiming to finish the painting quickly in one shot. Untoned, you get a lot of jarring bits of bright white showing through. You can barely see the original reddish sketch lines in the bottom right and between the unfinished houses in the background. With the shadow shapes changing rapidly, I started with the fort since I want it to stand out more than anything else. As I finished the walls, I painted the colors around them to make sure I had the values right.
Working section by section, rather than all over the canvas at once, I'll have to check that it all still works together when it gets close to the finish.

©Theresa Grillo Laird

Here's one, again on a toned ground, that started with value shapes. After the sketch, I blocked in the value and shapes of the land and coastal brush. From there I started applying colors keeping the colors lighter and greyer in the background. Next I'll focus on the area around the tree using stronger colors and thicker paint.

©Theresa Grillo Laird

This was not started on a toned ground. The advantage there is that the colors look the closest to how you've mixed them. The white of the ground shines through giving them a bright clarity that you don't get on a toned ground.You can just barely see the outlines of the original sketch in the tree reflection area. In this one I started right in with color focusing on getting the value relationship between sky and water, trees and tree reflections accurate.

©Theresa Grillo Laird
Finally here's one on an untoned ground.You can see the as yet shapeless strokes of different greens. To finish this one, I'll start pulling shapes forward and pushing other back using warm, cool and greyed colors. It's a fun way to work! Bit by bit the sense of depth and dimension comes to life in the scene. Right now the vegetation on the dune in the back and the vegetation in the foreground, read as being equally close to the viewer.

So, try different approaches. Study artists who teach to see how they begin a work, and choose what works best for you in whatever painting situation you find yourself in. And if you want to learn with me, now is the time to sign up for fall classes at Pensacola State College Continuing Ed.Click here for information.

Happy painting!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bluebird Rules

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Canyon Trail - oil on canvas - 16x18
ask about here

When I joined the Campfire Girls as a 7 year old Bluebird, I was handed a 10 item list of Bluebird rules to memorize. Most of the rules didn't stick in mind, but the one that has always stayed with me is "Remember to finish what I begin".
As a patient and focused kid immersed in my own inner world, the rule mystified me. Why wouldn't I finish something I'd started?

Now, all these years later, that phrase has so many more meanings.

Remember to finish what I began for my life at 20? How easy it is to get off track with life's unexpected twists and turns! Some of those twists are opportunities. Some are deep canyons that you can spend years trying to find your way out of.

Remember to finish art projects that started with such enthusiasm only to feel like chores several months down the road? At that point, you need to pause to recall why you were so enthused about the project in the first place. Do the same reasons still apply but there were more obstacles than you expected? Or was the original impulse flawed from the start?

Remember to finish mastering that skill that you know you still need in your artist's toolbox? Well, daylight's burning! Get on with it!

Remember to finish walking the path you began on that feeds your soul and makes you eager for what each day will bring?
Sometimes it's beneficial to stop long enough to take stock, and remember where you were heading before all those beckoning side paths opened up before you. If your beginning still has any meaning, discard any accumulated baggage that's impeding your progress. Simplify everything down to your one personal most basic thing, and remember to finish what you began.

How about you? Do you need to remember what to finish? Or even what not to begin?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Not Just for Children

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Pensacola Pass - 14x18- oil on stretched linen
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Painting in the National Park all day in solitary union with the elements, is like being a kid again when your only business was to play and take in the impressions of your world. Maybe that's why I keep being reminded of the early incidents that pointed the direction to the future...

I looked up the hill towards the evening sun. The summer- tall weeds and wildflowers were lit up with golden halos. Alive to every tiny detail surrounding the dilapidated sand box I sat on, I leaned against the gray wood of a fence post, my eyes tracing a weathered crack in the grain.
I glanced at my dad who was in conversation with his sister and her husband. I was aware that they had forgotten about me and that was the way I liked it. I was still young enough to be sent off to bed if they'd remembered I was there. So I sat quietly and took in the show of light that enveloped everything.The hour was dazzling, saturated with a haze of warm colors and lengthening shadows. Everywhere was gold, red, yellow and faded green, shimmering in the heat. Against all the color, the weather-worn fence post stripped of it's bark, glowed like platinum. I sensed I was experiencing a moment I would always remember, a moment different from all the other moments.
Over the years, I've been gifted with more of these ultra-real moments both in waking reality and in my dream world.  They're the atoms of the impulse to create. The artist's job is to illuminate the wonder of these moments by finding the way to transpose them to concrete form. I can't think of a better job to have!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Going Off Plan

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Coastal Forest - oil on linen - 20 x 32"
ask here for information

Old habits die hard. And that's the only excuse I can give for going off plan. I just finished talking about getting organized to spend the rest of the year painting the National Park in my hometown. My intent is to sketch the possibilities, take photos for any useful info the photo might contain, and paint on site. My plan has been working well, enabling me to complete each day's painting on site, while working section by section through the park. Last week, I set out with a larger canvas than usual, 20x32 to paint a stretch of marsh. Once on site, the marsh looked dull. That should have been the time to dig in my heels, exercise discipline and remember what attracted me to the scene in the first place. But the view to the right of brilliant white dunes topped by billowing clouds, beckoned. Seduced by the beauty, I just jumped in and began painting. I guess it's not surprising that I experienced the same problems that have happened before. I had to work my way through unexpected issues rather than being able to concentrate without interruption on just applying the paint. 3 days and a lot of frustration later, I had my painting. As for the marsh, the part of it I liked best fit easily onto a smaller canvas.

Going off plan isn't always problematic. Some of the most exciting discoveries happen when you find yourself in some place completely different from where you planned to be. 
When I was 5 and came upon my 4 year old brother drawing in blue crayon on a freshly white washed wall, my first impulse was to threaten to tell on him. He was so unconcerned with my taunts that it changed my intent. If fact he remained so blissfully centered on the enjoyment he was experiencing, that the next moment found me joining him. You can read about that day's artistic discovery in (this post) from a few years ago.

Anything that throws you off plan can sometimes be beneficial. A long time back I was painting a still life of tulips. I carefully drew the petals in paint then proceeded to methodically fill in trying to capture the color and transparency of the petals. I thought my controlled and thoughtful work would best capture their upright buoyant nature. In the middle of painting, I got into a furious argument with my spouse. I kept painting through the traded barbs, my mind a thousand miles from what my hand was doing. All of a sudden I stopped and looked, and was astonished that the very soul of the flowers lay there before me on the canvas! They were perfect and all apparently without the aid of my careful hand and analytical mind.

The best way to work seems to be with a balance of planning and discipline, along with a healthy measure of openness to the unexpected. The best plans still need some room to go astray so you never close yourself off from the thrilling accidents and discoveries that happen in unpredictable moments. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Day I Met Dirty Harry in the Gulf Islands National Seashore

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Beach Marsh - oil on linen - 18x24"
contact here for information
My painting spot was a long walk from the parking area. I'm still searching for a plein air easel that suits my needs - one that will accommodate a larger canvas or panel and that will hold my paints and brushes. Got any suggestions any of you plein air painters? My current easel is a standard french easel which when loaded up weighs about 18 pounds. The best I've been able to manage everything is to put the paints, thinner, paper towels, water, lunch, sunscreen etc into a backpack and carry the almost empty easel, canvas and umbrella. It's better, but I still can't get more than about a half mile before it all gets too unwieldy. So, after choosing a good painting spot last week, I figured I'd unload my gear roadside before leaving to park. I didn't want anything to walk off in the meantime, so I looked around and spotted a bush 20 feet off the road that I could put everything behind. 

I love painting in the National Park! It's mere minutes from my house. I don't know what twist of fate brought me here. As Maria sings in The Sound of Music, I must have done something good.
Even though the land couldn't be flatter- the highest point in town is about 45 feet above sea level, it's incredibly beautiful. The sand is white, not tan like the east coast or volcanic dark like the west. It's actually pulverized quartz washed down from the Appalachians. In the twilight it glows like snow. And unlike the steel grey water of the east coast, the hues here are emerald green and sapphire blue and are crystal clear. Within a half mile in any direction you can find beach, dunes, marsh and coastal woods full of holly, pine and live oaks. In summer it's hot and very humid but there are always coastal breezes to cool things off. In short, it's a kind of Paradise. 

As I quickly unloaded in a spot I technically shouldn't have stopped in, a couple on a motorcycle came up behind my idling car. He looked like a long haired version of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry days. The woman with him seemed tailor cast as his perfect partner. He stopped, and with a Dirty Harry look of you better not be messing with my day, looked me straight in the eye and called out "Hey are you putting bags of garbage there?" The woman spotted The National Park Volunteer cap on my head and the blank canvas sticking out of the car trunk and quickly assured Harry that I wasn't up to anything nefarious.

Like most artists who paint nature's beautiful places, I feel a strong sense of stewardship and of ownership of the land. I'm ever ready to protect it. It's nice to know that the person you would least expect, feels equally fierce about preserving the parks that truly belong to us all. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Eliminating the Unexpected

©Theresa Grillo Laird - On the Tip of the Island - oil on linen - 18x24"
I stood in front of my chosen painting spot and turned slowly around 360 degrees. The abundance of possibilities was overwhelming. I was suddenly flashed back to the time when I was 4 years old and had been given a bewildering task with no clue of how to complete it.

..."Give this to your cousin George" the unfamiliar lady commanded me. It was Christmas time and I had just been handed a present and given my marching orders. The only problem was, I didn't have a cousin George. "You mean my cousin Eddie?" I asked, tossing absurdity back to her since I knew my cousin Eddie wasn't there. "No! George!" She turned away and I sat with the present on my lap and pondered the problem. Once again these troublesome adults weren't making a bit of sense. I knew better than to argue or disobey and obviously I was expected to know how to do what I'd just been told to do. People were gathering around me excitedly ripping open packages. One after another they held up their treasures shrieking "look what I got!" A smiling lady urged me to open "my" present. I hesitated.

What has this all got to do with plein air painting you might ask? Standing out in nature surrounded by an abundance of possibilities, can leave you feeling as bewildered and paralyzed as that 4 year old. How many times have you set out to paint, full of high hopes? You know you want to paint and the possibilities are everywhere. You set up and rush in hoping your painting will capture some of the kid-in-a-candy-store excitement you can barely contain. But too often, you fall short. You take all the steps you think you're supposed to but the result is not what you expected. 

..."Go ahead! Open it!" the lady repeated. I tore into the package and held up it's contents. "Look what I got!" I exclaimed, faithfully following the example of everyone else. Though I held up a pair of boys corduroy pants, I didn't expect was the chorus of laughter that followed.

When I decided to spend the year painting the National Park in my home town for the centennial year of the National Park Service, I realized I needed to get a bit more organized with my thoughts if I was going to get the result I anticipated. On my first day out, I stood at the ready surveying the beauty of white sand and emerald water, coastal marsh and live oak forest. The multitude of choices temped  me to open my paint box, but instead I used the day to walk around making rough sketches, and taking photographs. The sketches, like this one used for the painting above, were barely more than scribbles

but they were enough to know whether the scene would work in paint. The photos were to study at home to compare with my initial impression. They were disappointing because they flattened the scenes compressing the sense of depth. They were so different from what my eye saw that if I had to judge the worthiness of the scenes from the photos only, I wouldn't have painted them.

For the rest of the year, I'll take the time to walk, choosing spots and sketching first. It definitely helps eliminate some of the unknowns of outdoor painting.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Eureka! I've Found the Secret!

You remember how it was when you were a kid and the first day of summer vacation inched closer and closer. You could barely sit still at the thought of being freed from the dusty smells and confines of the classroom. Swimming, running free out in nature, family camping vacations - visions of all the possibilities of the coming months crowded each other out in the rush of joyous anticipation.

I feel like that right now!

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Sun Dance - 12x16" - oil on canvas panel
contact me here for information 

Is the change of season responsible for this expectation of good things to come? Or is it the gift of time that has given me renewed optimism? Like the school child released from the demands of study and exams, I've been relieved from responsibilities that took much more of a toll on creative energy than I expected. Yet even this isn't the reason for renewed energy. Neither is the excitement of returning to a project I had to abandon last fall of a year of painting the national park that's practically in my backyard. 

My joy comes from a lightening bolt of crystal clarity that hit me when I chose to listen to the voice quietly speaking from deep within, rather than heeding that insistent voice that seems to exist just to goad me with all the things I'd be missing if I didn't follow the course I  thought I needed. 

Freedom! Now with the enthusiasm of a 10 year old on the first day of summer vacation, I've again headed out into the national park, excited to take up work, confident of my path and certain that I'm not missing anything I need. I'll show you some sketches of possible painting spots I found last weekend, in my next post. Above is a plein air sketch from the day. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

How I Got into My First Gallery... and several since

Before I get every gallery owner howling, I need to preface this post with "kids, don't try this at home!"  
Galleries and marketing gurus will tell you that you can't just walk into a gallery unannounced with your paintings tucked under your arm. But that's exactly what I did. Well, almost.

I live in a casual coastal environment where big city rules of engagement often don't apply. There's a slower pace of life here, an unrushed gentility, and business is often still conducted with a handshake.

©Theresa Grillo Laird -Dunes and Fences -oil on canvas-30x40"
to purchase contact the Studio Gallery

When I started looking for gallery representation, I chose a city about an hour and a half away that had a reputation for being art friendly. I spent the day walking around visiting galleries to get a feel for each one. I wanted to see what kind of art they carried, how it was displayed and how the staff approached me, a potential art buying customer. I also wanted a gallery that didn't depend on a side aspect, like framing, to carry the gallery.

The first gallery I walked into almost looked like a garage sale. The paintings hung on dividers scattered about in a haphazard maze, and were so closely spaced that it made me dizzy to look from one to the next. The next gallery had beautiful art nicely displayed, but the staff, framing works behind a counter, didn't even look up to acknowledge my presence. The gallery I chose looked like a gallery. It had enough space to walk around and to step back to view the fine art . The art was hung in a way that had a kind of flow to it. Nothing was jarring or haphazard looking.Within a minute of walking in, the owner walked up to me, smiled and introduced himself. I knew I'd found the place I wanted to represent me.

When he learned the reason for my visit, I asked if I could show him a couple of pieces I'd left in my car. He agreed and accepted the pieces for the gallery. I wish I could say that this wonderful start to our relationship which resulted in sales to good collections, is carrying on to this day. But over time the owners started spending less and less time in the gallery leaving me in the embarrassing position of sending clients there just to have them come back and tell me the gallery was closed. I eventually pulled my art out. I guess that's the downside to casual environment galleries.

I've had my work in several galleries that I approached in a similar manner. For some, I followed the route for submission that they requested on their website. Others I just walked into. Of course I know better than to stroll into a big city glitzy gallery and expect the same thing to work.

The point is that there's no one way to achieve an objective whether it's finding your artistic voice, carving out a living in art or gaining gallery representation. Everyone's art journey, like their spiritual journey is unique and deeply personal. It's useful and interesting to see how others have done it, but ultimately you're on a solo path. And to me, not knowing what vistas will open up around the bend is what makes this fascinating journey so exciting!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Passion Without a Plan

©Theresa Grillo Laird -Twigs and Blossoms- 10x10 - oil on linen
Contact here to purchase
Washing dishes is seldom a rewarding task, but this week I've been entertained by a bird building it's nest 10 feet from my kitchen window. He works diligently and energetically in bursts, then disappears for hours. Twig by twig he builds, dropping like a rock to the ground then soaring almost straight up, carrying a stick bigger than he is. Sometimes the wind undoes his work as fast as he can do it. Yet each day he's back and the nest gets a little bigger.

It struck me how alike his activity is to an artist's practice. We also return to the practice daily no matter what the result of the previous day's work. We diligently build our knowledge base and our painting bit by bit. Sometimes, as when the bird carries a stick bigger than he is, we take on more than we know in an attempt to bring our vision into being. We keep trying despite the setbacks. 

Each day the bird returned, sometimes with it's mate. Undaunted, they went back to work rebuilding what the evening winds had undone. 
They had chosen a narrow ledge above the carport for their nest. It seemed ideal, being high off the ground and inaccessible to other animals. But on all but the calmest days, the wind swept under an overhang and blew their handiwork away. It reminded me of the times I've labored over a painting that seemed to be a good idea but became bogged down because of foundation problems. Yet I admired their tenacity and their certainty of the worth of their effort- qualities every artist needs! 

One night after a furious thunderstorm, I found the nest in pieces on the ground. I thought the birds had finally given up until I found them building a nest on the opposite end of the carport. It was barely better than their first spot and after a few days of rebuilding, they abandoned the effort.

When you paint enough paintings, you soon learn that some paintings need to be abandoned no matter how much work you put into them. Sometime taking a bit of time to check that you have a sound foundation, works better than passion without a plan.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Promise Kept

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Breath of Spring - oil on linen - 10x9"
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Three weeks, a tornado hit Pensacola about a mile from where I live. A week earlier, straight line winds missed damaging my residence by a much closer margin. Driving past 3 storey houses reduced to a heap of match sticks on the ground, I thanked God once again that no one was killed.

I've lived through the complete destruction of my home from a hurricane and tidal surge, so I know what people recently made homeless are going through. 
One memory will always stand out to me of the many remarkable things that happened in the aftermath of the storm that cleared away everything I owned.

All the trees had been stripped bare, so it looked like a northern winter even though it was only mid September. Wreckage of houses piled 8 feet high,
lined the sides of the road like strange snowbanks. Yards that had been enclosed by tropical vegetation were now open to the sky and water and were marked by toppled and uprooted trees. The evidence of people's lives lie twisted in the trees and swirled by receding water into moldy clumps piled against the remains of houses.

Yet in the middle of all the destruction, nature's life sprouted again, defiant in it's fresh beauty. Trees set out new flowers as if it was Spring. Sunflowers sprouted next to chunks of broken concrete. Children ran barefoot and shirtless in summertime warmth and sunshine that prevailed into late December. I marveled at this Creation that could give such beauty and hope to thousands who had lost all they possessed overnight. It was as if to say this is the real life!

Now, whenever things seem overwhelming in life or insurmountable in art, I remember that September Spring and know once again that all is well. 


Monday, February 22, 2016

The Road Artfully Traveled

A painting in progress that's undergone many changes with more to come
©Theresa Grillo Laird-oil on canvas - 24x36
One of my favorite things about a road trip, is exploring the unexpected side paths. The restored village that lies down a little traveled road in a tranquil valley, or the cliff top hiking trail in a woods full of golden light would never be found driving form A to B in the fastest way possible. My heart smiles remembering the sights that have filled my artist's well that I'd have missed if I didn't allow for exploration.

A painting in progress brings the same expectation of discovery. To watch a painting unfold under the brush with no demand of what it's supposed to become, is pure joy! What magical effects emerge so effortlessly! On the other hand, wrestling with a painting and with the pressure of measuring up to some preconceived notion of what it should look like, or what you should be able to do, can make you feel like you never want to pick up your brushes again.

The next time you you're ready to fling your painting into the bushes, take a deep breath and remember what a very talented artist told me-  painting is a great way to experience life! 
Embrace the experience!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Channeling the Greats

©Theresa Grillo Laird-  Coastal Colors - oil on canvas - 9 x 15
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The object isn't to make art, it's to be in that state that makes art inevitable. - Robert Henri

There is no one like you, and there will never be any one just like you, so there's no reason not to be original. - Sergei Bongart

Only mediocre persons are always at their best Somerset Maugham

Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do. - Edgar Degas

The only time I feel alive is when I'm painting. - Vincent van Gogh

There will always be a barrier between what I see and what I am able to portray. This barrier keeps bringing me back to the canvas, carrying on a never ending desire to express, in paint, what moves me inside. - Scott L Christensen

I come back dissatisfied - I put it away, and when I have rested a little, I go back and look at it with a kind of fear. Then I am still dissatisfied, because I have that splendid scene too clearly in mind to be satisfied with what I've made of it. But I find in my work an echo of what struck me. - Vincent van Gogh

It may have been accidental but you knew enough to let this alone. The intelligent painter is always making use of accidents. - Charles Hawthorne

A picture is a work of art, not because it is "modern" nor because it's "ancient", but because it is a sincere expression of human feeling. - John F Carlson

Art is, after all, only a trace - like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness. - Robert Henri

If you're any kind of artist, you make a miraculous journey, and you come back and make some statements in shapes and colors of where you were. - Romare Bearden

Bring something new, something beautiful and something filled with light into the world. - Ross Bleckner

Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world. - Pierre Auguste Renoir

Go and see what others have produced, but never copy anything but nature. You would be trying to enter into a temperament that is not yours and nothing that you would do would have any character. - Pierre Auguste Renoir

It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it. - William Merritt Chase

If you begin with the middle tone and work up from it toward the darks so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks, you avoid false accents. - John Singer Sargent

One can only truly be happy by being a painter. - Joaquin Sorolla 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Listening to the Muse

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Opal Beach - oil on canvas - 24x30
I look at the work of other artists and I see I still have much to learn. What a trap it is when you begin to know something and you start thinking that you know most of what you need to know! 
I know intuitively when I'm not hitting the mark. I'll bet most artists do. No matter the praise, I know when the visual meets or even comes close to the sensation that's the heart of the painting. 
So, why look at the work of other artists?

Here are just a few among the many good reasons. In the isolation of the studio, it's good to look at other artist's work both past and present to remind you that you are part of  a community of artists stretching back through the ages who have left their contribution on the earth for the enjoyment of all, past present and future.

In more practical terms, you can find or create a solution to a painting problem either by seeing how someone else solved it or just by being inspired by their work to a new direction of thought.

Often, looking at other's work rekindles the fires of dreaming that can grow dim with disappointments. Whether the dream is places you want to go, or new methods to try to bring your vision into reality, you need to dream. Without dreams there's no creation.  

When isn't is beneficial to examine the work of others?
It's probably not a good idea during those times of temporary insanity when you lose all belief in your ability. The solution to that sorry state of affairs is to keep working and eventually you'll have the proof in front of you that you do know what you're doing. 
It also not helpful to search elsewhere when you're in a negative state of comparing yourself to others rather than a place of open minded exploration.

I will keep studying the work of other artists, remembering to look forward to the exciting possibilities in front of me, and not banking on painting goals already reached.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Smoke and Mirrors

©Theresa Grillo Liard - Oil on canvas - 9x12
click here to ask about this painting

I was listening to an interview on NPR today of Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic. He commented that people today are getting their culinary information predominantly from sources like Instagram. He made the point that the pictures are beautiful but a misleading impression of how food is prepared and how it would taste. By the time all the minute touches are put on the plate for the sake of the visual impact of the photograph, the food would be cold and ruined. He lamented that social media sources like Instagram or Pinterest give people who are searching for an outstanding food experience, a picture that's presented with visual impact in mind rather than an understanding of the actual taste of the dish.

I was struck by the similarity of his complaint to the world of art. It's relatively easy and even necessary for artists to create awareness of their work through social media. That also means that for anyone with enough technical savvy and enough nerve, the sky's the limit for whatever picture of their worth as artists they choose to create and present to the world. Sometimes the autobiography is accurate and just. Sometimes it's as unreal as an instagram post of an amazing dish that can only exists as a photo. 

So what's an artist to do? Shameless self promotion knowing that the buying public will always choose a product that's packaged as a winner? Or work your talents and count on the world eventually noticing a good product? 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Around the Plein Air Lunch Table

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Across the Bay - oil on canvas
click here to inquire

I say it's high time we take back the definition of "plein air" from the multitudes of former illustrators who have hijacked it. 
"Plein Air" means painting outdoors plain and simple. No where has it ever been said - until very recent times - that you don't dare touch the painting again and that it must be finished quickly in one shot. 

Before the computer age, commercial artists had to work quickly and in a kind of painted shorthand if they expected to keep their jobs. Artists aren't bound by the same constraints. For well over 100 years artists have toiled in front of nature blissfully ignorant that the masterpieces they were turning out weren't legitimate plein air!
Imagine telling a Monet or a Redfield or Edgar Payne that they were unwelcome to exhibit or join an artist's association because their painting lacked the freshness and spontaneity that only something painted quickly in one go could have.  

Painting in front of nature is without a doubt the best way to learn landscape painting. Colors and values aren't very accurate in photos and photos completely lack the sense of air space between and around objects. Painting on the spot also gives you familiarity with the elements that a landscape might be made of. A tree isn't just any tree for example. Each tree and each kind of tree has it's own unique characteristics. The same tree will even look different under changed weather conditions. Nature is never a boring teacher!

So grab your paints and head on outside. Learn everything you can. And don't let anyone tell you that your work is less worthy because of when or where you chose to call it finished.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who's life is it anyway?

“To award prizes is to attempt to control the course of another man’s work. It is a bid to have him do what you will approve. It affects not only the one who wins the award, but all those who in any measure strive for it.” 
― Robert HenriThe Art Spirit

Robert Henri-Tam-Gan

New Year, new beginnings, new directions...

Recently I was talking with an artist friend. The recipient of a lot of prizes and honors, he surprised me when he said he was veering away from the competition circuit, to forge his own personal path to a successful art life. We talked about how disappointing it is to see the elitism that seems to have developed among some of the award givers and recipients and how this has led to a select few who are repeatedly awarded wins even when their work is less than outstanding. While recognizing that contests and plein air events work for some artists to bring their paintings to the attention of collectors and gallerists, he decided that he is not going to rely on the subjective opinion of judges to determine his critical and financial success.

When you look at all the variables that go into judging and winning art competitions, you could drive yourself crazy looking for the answer to why some paintings win and others don't. And you can throw yourself way off course trying to change everything you do in order to be includes among the honored. I admire my friend's clear minded pursuit of the direction that means something to him personally, individually.

Before jumping on the bandwagon with the rest of the hopeful crowd, it's worth asking what artistic success looks like. You may be wasting a lot of time, money and energy on contests and accolades that don't serve you. 

It's your own personal adventure. Don't let anyone else dictate it's direction.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why I changed my palette

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Winter Day on Navarre Beach - oil - 12x18"
(the first venture into using a 3 color palette)

Many years ago in Mr. Wright's high school painting class, he laid out a palette of colors for a lesson on portrait painting. The idea of a set palette of colors was new to me. Until then I had just squeezed out what ever colors seemed needed for the subject. Even afterwards, I still had such a poor understanding of color options that when I went to a workshop after high school, I struggled to remember the palette thinking that it was the one and only palette that anyone ever used.

As I gained more experience, I adopted a standard all purpose traditional palette. It had a cadmium red and alizarine crimson, ultramarine, prussian and cobalt blues, cadmium yellow light and deep, yellow ochre, burnt and raw sienna and raw and burnt umber, venetian red, viridian green and terre vert. I also used sap green a lot in those days- I just plain liked the color.

The next shift in my palette occurred when I moved to Florida and began painting much more frequently en plein air. I didn't deliberately start using fewer colors. I just chose colors I saw in front of me. I had also started teaching, and  a palette of 6 to 8 colors- a warm and cool of the primaries- was easier for students to handle. 
Since from my earliest painting days, I'd used both a palette knife and a brush, the look of the paintings came from both texture and the color.

The paintings were selling and buyers especially liked the color and the texture. You'd think I'd be off and running, but I wasn't happy. The paintings seemed overly bright and it became too much of a crutch to rely on texture to create vibration in them. 

So about two years ago, I started working with much less knife work and with only permanent red, ultramarine blue and cadmium lemon yellow.
The greys that result from combinations of these three colors give the paintings a more naturalistic range of color very different from the brights of the more extended palette. Painters who advocate using a three color palette say you can get a full range of colors from them. I think it's more accurate to say you can get the appearance of a full range of colors by balancing brighter mixtures against greyer ones.

I miss the pure pleasure of looking at a tapestry of saturated colors on the canvas but I like the greater sense of color harmony that comes with the smaller palette. I still haven't decided which I like better. Lately a few of my old favorites and a couple of new colors have made their way back, mostly varieties of red that are so useful for modifying colors.

It may be so soon to know if I'm on a wild goose chase that I'll abandon like Pissarro did with his pointillist period or Renoir with his hard edged portrait work. But I'd have never been satisfied if I didn't at least try experimenting with something that might work better to make a better painting. And isn't that after all what it's all about.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dona Nobis Pacem

©Theresa Grillo Laird -Christmas Light
It's Christmas, the time of year when thoughts turn to peace, joy and goodwill. Yet look around and the world seems so dark. The people in our country are polarized, standing immovably on one side of the line on every aspect of life that could possibly be argued about. Shallow thought and self indulgence are celebrated, and around the world, a savage mentality has been loosed and is viciously killing supposedly in the name of God.

I've been looking around at this world I barely recognize, and trying to perceive if it's always been in such turmoil and I just didn't see it, or whether this is something new, when I heard a message at Christmas service that resonated with me. I know that all my readers may not follow Christian teachings but this message applies to all who wish to live in peace no matter what their belief.

Those gathered for the candlelight service were reminded that Christmas song and Bible verse refer to a great Light that is seen in the darkness, and a Light that darkness can never extinguish. We were reminded to look for that Light that is always there no matter how dark the night is. The sermon continued while I sat in the glow of candlelight imagining myself seeking light where there seemed to be nothing but darkness and wondering in what guise I might find it, and then came the zinger- and be that light yourself reflecting the Light that darkness can't put out. Now that's a plan for the New Year.

Peace, joy and goodwill to you this season and throughout the year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Santa delivers the goods

 ©Theresa Grillo Laird, Late Season Snow, oil, 12x16
Interested? Talk to me here

Santa came early to my art studio this year in the form of a finished goals list and project list for 2016! Those who know me couldn't be more surprised than I am to have this task finished 2 weeks before the new year! Yay!! Usually it remains an amorphous cloud of thoughts still floating in the cerebral netherworld halfway into the year. I must admit I can't entirely claim credit for this early Christmas gift to myself. It came about from taking Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz Bootcamp class that wrapped up last week. 

I have my goals divided into categories of Art, Business, Health, Spiritual, Personal and, since I'm her full time care giver, Mom's affairs. There are 4 projects for the year that will keep me plenty busy. One of them is an exciting project to mark the centennial year of the National Parks. More about that in a later post.

I still have to divide the list into monthly  tasks, then I'll be off and running! Now to finish my Christmas shopping!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Is your studio equipped with one of these?

Gillian at 14
I pity the studio that isn't graced by the presence of a studio cat. I first discovered the affinity a cat has for the goings on of an art studio when I brought home a new kitten. Gillian was of course given free reign to roam the house. One day, in the throes of frustration with a painting that wasn't working, I stabbed away at the canvas with my brush and almost hit the ceiling when the canvas surface started jumping back at me.Like ping pong, this dance went back and forth for a few seconds before I realized Gillian had settled herself on the table behind my easel and was having great fun answering each poke of my brush with a poke of her own. For the next 14 years she was my constant studio companion.

Shadow and Oriental Art
My next studio cat was a much more sedate senior gentleman. I first made his acquaintance at my parents house in Florida. After a hurricane destroyed that house, Shadow briefly lived with me in a FEMA trailer before moving north to my parents new home.He came to my Florida studio late in his life, and made himself at home for the next year in a corner chair. Right about then, Kitty Cat began hanging out at my studio door.

Kitty Cat comes calling
No, I did not give him such an unimaginative name. He used to belong to the renters next door, but when they moved, he stayed behind. For the next few years he was on his own scrambling to survive while I traveled back and forth on lengthy stays up north. Each time I returned, Kitty Cat came running to greet me. Last Spring, after determining that his owners had no intention of caring for him, he became my cat. He's purrrfectly happy to hang out in my studio with me and only occaisionally complains about the choice of music!

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's on your bookshelf?

Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honore Fragonard

There are some art books I return to again and again. When looking for how- to information, I especially like the landscape painter's bible, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. A lot of other artists like it too judging by how often Carlson's information is repeated in workshops and classes.It's a terrific book for someone who doesn't have much painting experience. But what I really like about it is that you can find helpful information and solutions in it's pages at any state of your artistic progress. The language in it is a little dated but that doesn't diminish it's usefulness.

Another book often recommended for landscape painters is Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting. It has a lot of thumbnail sketches of composition options, as well as examples of faulty composition. I recently found a book from 1909 called Landscape Painting by Alfred East .It's interesting that it has some of the same descriptions of compositional devices that the Payne book does. I guess that just shows that good ideas get passed from one generation to another.

If I'm looking for technical information like what color the  pigment number for "delft blue" might be, I'll turn to Ralph Mayer's Artist Handbook or Ray Smith's New Artist's Handbook. Of course the info can be found online now but sometimes it's just handier to pull a book off the shelf.

Living the Artist Life by Paul Dorrell  and The Art Spirit by Robert Henri were two of the first books I replaced after a flood destroyed my 200- book art library. The Dorell book is both inspiring and entertaining. 

When I want to see how another artist solved a painting problem, I'll pull a few different books off the shelf. These might include books on the French and American Impressionists including the frequently neglected women artists. I also turn often to California Impressionism by William H Gerdts. A few others I like are Ilya Repin, , A T Hibbard, by John L Cooley, and for portrait and figure work John Singer Sargent by Carter Ratcliff.

Van Gogh was such an example of commitment and belief in his work, that it's interesting to try to figure out how he thought. My bookshelf has many books on Van Gogh including his Complete Letters. The last book added to that collection is Van Gogh The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. What's especially interesting about this recently written book is that it makes sense of all the loose ends and the  explanations of events in his life that just didn't ring true. It's sad but a very good read.

These books are a small part of the art library that I'm slowly rebuilding. Sadly a lot of the lost art books I'd been collecting since childhood, are out of print. I still hope to replace the books on World Impressionism, Russian painters, Chinese Brush painters from before the communist era, artists from the golden age of Dutch painting, and an amazing book on Valazquez I often referred to.

So, what are your favorite art books?

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