Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steps in the Process

Through the Dunes - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - oil on canvas - 12x16
Walking a pathway to where ever the road leads!

I remember when I first tried to learn how to paint in oils. I was 12 years old and had been given a Christmas gift of Grumbacher paints, bristle and sable brushes, canvas boards and an easel. What a treasure! But no one in my family was an artist. Nor did my parents know any artists. I assumed I was just supposed to plow ahead, so I did.
The first 3 of those canvas boards were covered with a still life of a bowl of fruit that my mother had set up for me, a painting of white and red flowers that I copied from a postcard, and a scene of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh that I painted from imagination, placing them on a footbridge crossing a brook in my town. I found these first paintings again years later. The first two weren't bad at all, especially for an absolute beginner. But the last one was my undoing. Not knowing anything about perspective, the bright blue brook flowed vertically from the top of my canvas to the bottom. I remember being disgusted and frustrated that the vision I saw in my head was so far from what appeared on the canvas.

When I teach, I see the same frustration, and the same unrealistic expectation that an intended vision will immediately appear on the canvas despite the student having no experience with the materials, and sometimes no experience drawing. Often a beginning student feels more confident copying a step by step demo rather than trusting themselves to apply whatever knowledge they've gained. Copying rather than learning to see, unnecessarily deprives you of the pleasure of traveling your own path of learning with all it's joys and discoveries. 

In high school I finally received the instruction I'd been longing for, when I took a painting class taught by a teacher who was actually a working artist. From there on, as I wrote in my last post, I had to be my own teacher. And let me tell you! There's nothing like the excitement of traveling the road from knowing little, to being capable of expressing your artistic intent. I wouldn't choose to shortchange any portion of it. Each step delights you like an stunning vista that opens up unexpectedly beyond the curve of a path.

I tell my beginning students that if all they are capable of in the beginning is to divide the shapes of their subject into correct values with a light and dark side, well then, revel in it! Do 50 paintings like that, and what you learn will guide you to your next step. Be patient. Be attentive. Be sensitive to the little gifts that are dropped in your lap in return for your efforts. You will be repaid with a way to experience life unlike any other!   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Should You Look at the Work of Other Artists?


Though I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist, art school- or any college for that matter- was not in the cards for me. Books became my art teachers. This before YouTube and the world of everything at your fingertips. At one time, I had an art book library 200+ strong, and I'd read every one of them.The large coffee table books with full page illustrations were the most useful. Later, for some reason, publishers started printing just the inside area of the paintings for their full page illustrations. They should have asked an artist first since any artist could have told them that cropping a painting in any way completely changes the composition and the painter's intent. 

I poured over these art book treasures, trying to fathom the mystery of how an internal sensation or vision becomes a concrete reality with the capacity to lift a viewer out of their ordinary experience of day to day. How did these artists with just a few tubes of paint and a flat surface manage to make so clear a picture of the channel they experienced the world through?

The large pictures in the art books made it possible to see the actual brushstrokes and the layering of paint. After wandering through that tapestry, I usually turned the pictures upside down or sideways to better study the design without my mind telling me what it thought I was seeing.

For several years, each of my days started in front of a sunny window with an art book, a cup of coffee in hand, and my cat Gillian curled up beside me.  I worked my way from Rubens, Hals and Velasquez  to the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Sargent, World Impressionism, Russian painters, American painters, California Impressionism, and even ink painting of the Chinese and Japanese artists. I studied the works of individual artists. I studied about pigments and about using archival materials. Sometimes I read books for inspiration, following an artist's struggles and explorations. All the while, I kept painting. Eventually I had more paintings that were OK instead of awful.

I'm not sure when the tipping point occurred, that looking at other artists work became limiting rather than helpful. Maybe it was when I started looking more at contemporary artists. The inevitable comparing that's bound to result from too much looking, began to sap my confidence and eat away at the excitement  that art making had always brought me. It was time to pull back and spend a bit more time looking inward.

These days I limit the time I spend looking at other artists work. I've been spending a lot of time painting solo outdoors or in my studio. The resurgent sense of focus is liberating!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Waiting for Perfect

Waiting.
Waiting for the perfect time to embark on your dream.
Waiting for the perfect conditions to paint.


A lot of us dream about the perfect studio. I can see mine. It would be as spacious as the ones in a William Merritt Chase painting, with room on one end to gather and sit. It's huge windows overlooking an inspiring vista, would flood the room with light . My perfect studio has high ceilings, plenty of room to step back while painting, a gallery, and storage space. While I'm dreaming, I might as well dream up an assistant too to help with the mundane studio tasks!
But back to reality. My studio, though mostly adequate for my present needs, doesn't remotely resemble my dream studio. If I waited for my perfect studio, I'd have never started painting.
Water Cave-© Theresa Grillo Laird - oil - 9x12 - (sold) 

This painting, Water Cave was selected a few years ago for an Oil Painters of America exhibit. Let me tell you how it was created. My parents has become unable to manage their household, so I left my home and traveled north intent on staying with them for a few weeks until I could find a permanent caregiver. The weeks turned into months, each day filled with the tasks of daily living and caregiving. At night after my parents went to bed, I would break out my paints. My work space was the corner of a desk already filled with books and a computer. Dark paneling lined the room giving my dim little corner the ambiance of a broom closet. To paint Water Cave, I pushed back the computer keyboard and monitor, clamped a light to the desk and started working. At about 3:30 in the morning, I'd finished. In the morning light it just needed a few small adjustments. No one seemed enthused about the result but me. So, I submitted it, and it got in! If I'd waited for perfect conditions, nothing would have happened. So, wait for perfect? Not me!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Winter Exhibits

Setting up, K.C.Williams, curator at Mattie Kelly Art Center


It's been a busy two months. I've barely been out of my studio, preparing works for shows and art festivals. One of those shows is the Southeast Regional Fine Arts Exhibition being held at the McIlroy Gallery at the Mattie Kelly Art Center in Niceville Florida.  After the excitement of seeing the pieces of artwork arrive, the exhibition opened two weeks later on a night of unusual winter thunderstorms. The weather didn't stop the crowds who were also treated to a beautiful photography exhibit of last year's first place winner of the Southeast Regional. This year the curators cast a wider net for the exhibition, including artists from California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia and New York as well as artists from the southern US. 


awarding prizes

Jennifer McComas , curator of European and American art at the Eskenazi  Art Museum in Indiana, served as juror. With each prize she awarded, she included her impressions and reasons for her choices. I love when a juror takes the time to enlighten the audience with their thinking process! I felt honored when my entry, The Stillness of Winter, was awarded honorary mention! You still have time to see both exhibits until March 3rd. Here's the link for information. http://www.mattiekellyartscenter.org/Event-ArtGalleries.cfm


I guess my studio time was paying off because the next bit of good news I received was that my painting Gulf Islands National Seashore-Coastal Path, has been accepted into the American Impressionist Society exhibition Impressions:Small Works Showcase in Costa Mesa California. I'm honored and thrilled!


Gulf Islands National Seashore-Coastal Path
Each season in a coastal environment has it's own special beauty. Now that Spring has arrived in Pensacola, I'm eager to be back outside painting in my favorite local spot, Gulf Islands National Seashore.
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