Drawing in the Afterimage

Maya (drawing) - compressed

After completing the drawing of Tommy Kane (see my last post), I wanted to draw another artist who inspires me.  If you have followed my blog over the past year, you know that I am a fan of Artists Anonymous (“AA”), a group of artists in London and Berlin, who are known for painting in the afterimage.  You can read more about AA in my posts, “For the Love of the Game“, and “Artists Anonymous“.

AA’s paintings are impressive.  Even more remarkable is that the afterimages of their works often look more intentional than the originals.  It is rare to find contemporary artists doing something truly original, and yet AA is doing just that.

The members of Artists Anonymous prefer to remain anonymous.  They do so in part to see what happens if they take authorship away from their works.  As a result, AA is as much a social experiment as it is a moniker.  Nevertheless, one of their founding members, Maya van Malden, is their spokesperson, and the only artist whose identity we know.  So in order to draw Artists Anonymous, I borrowed a photo of Maya, and drew her portrait.  Given AA’s unique method of painting, I thought it only appropriate to draw Maya in the negative (see above).  Below is the afterimage of my drawing.

Maya (afterimage)

Artists Anonymous is among my favorite artists, and there is much more to their art than just their painting techniques.  To see some online images of their works, check out www.artists-anonymous.com.

P.S.  It’s been over two months since I wrote my last blog post, and recently, I had been thinking that The Hipping Post experiment had run its course.  But blogs, Facebook, and other social media, can serve a greater purpose than just throwing a voice into the void.  Used thoughtfully, social media allows you to share, collaborate, and connect.  THP has allowed me to connect with people I never otherwise would have met, and for that I am grateful.

I draw and paint for myself because I enjoy it, and I also write mostly for myself.  But I have enjoyed sharing this blog, so I am going to continue with it.  The posts may come more sporadically, but hopefully I will add some value to those of you who continue to visit and give me some of your time to read my posts.

Drawing Tommy Kane

Tommy Kane_smres

Tommy Kane is a New York-based illustrator and ad agency creative director who travels extensively, and draws on location wherever he goes.  His work has been profiled in a number of books, and he recently published An Excuse to Draw, his first full-length book featuring a collection of his drawings.  I ran across Tommy’s work almost exactly two years ago, when I saw this drawing of the Red Hook Yacht Club on the Urban Sketchers website, and I have followed his blog ever since.  Tommy is a talented artist, and if you are interested in drawing, particularly on location, I recommend checking out his blog.

Tommy is also on the  faculty of Sketchbook Skool, an online course that teaches anyone who is interested in drawing how to see the world, and to get the most out of their drawing and journaling.  Recently, Tommy asked his students to draw his portrait, and the result is an amazing collection of different styles and techniques, all based on the same subject (you can see them on Tommy’s Tumblr page).  Tommy also offered to send a high rez photo to anyone else who was interested in drawing him.  So I emailed Tommy and said that I would be happy to give it a shot.  The drawing above is the end result.  Thanks for inspiring me Tommy, and I’m glad you like the drawing.

Happy Canada Day

photo1

“…It wasn’t long before one, then another of the little shell brothers, timidly emerged.  Some of them immediately scurried back when they saw the immensity of the sea and the sky and the overwhelming blackness of the Raven.  But eventually curiosity overcame caution and all of them crept or scrambled out.  Very strange creatures they were, two-legged like the Raven.  There the resemblance ended.  They had no glossy feathers, no thrusting beak, their skin was pale and they were naked except for their long, black hair on their round, flat-featured heads.  Instead of strong wings they had stick-like appendages that waved and fluttered constantly.  They were the original Haidas, the first humans.” – Bill Reid

According to Haida legend, we have a lot to thank the Raven for.  So what better day to appreciate one of Canada’s finest artists, and one of his most impressive sculptures.  Happy Canada Day.

P.S.  I sketched this portion of Bill Reid’s The Raven and the First Men, while visiting the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.   If you are in Vancouver, I recommend you see this sculpture in person – it’s a national treasure.

Why I Sleep Better

Opa

My grandfather once told me that the hours of sleep before midnight were better than those afterwards, so he recommended that I get to bed at a reasonable hour.  In order to wake up early in the morning to draw, I try to get to bed before 10:00 P.M.  I always thought my grandfather’s suggestion was just some folksy aphorism, but when I go to bed early, I sleep better – go figure.  Thanks for the advice, Opa.

P.S.  My grandfather’s favorite expression was, “Courtesy costs nothing, gains much.”  He was a wise man, and I miss him.

Why I Sketch For 30 Minutes Every Morning

CJ

“We have failed to recognize our great asset: time.  A conscientious use of it could make us into something quite amazing.” – Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805)

In high school, my art teacher advised his students to sketch every day.  Even if it was just for a few minutes, he said that daily practice would result in dramatic improvements in our work.  It seemed like sound advice, but I could never last more than a few days before I got side tracked by some other activity.

In the last two years, I have been better about finding time to draw, but until recently, I have struggled with doing it every day.  But the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which I read based on Tim Ferriss’s recommendation, convinced me that not only could I manage my time better, but also that in doing so, I could draw and paint more often.

Mom

In Daily Rituals, Mason Currey writes about the habits of 161 creative people (writers, painters, scientists, composers, etc.), “to show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work, and vice versa.”  Currey just describes the respective rituals, and does not suggest which ones might be better than others – although, I would not advise adopting Jean Paul Sarte’s daily habit of chewing twenty pills of Corydrane (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin that was “legal in France until 1971, when it was declared toxic and taken off the market”) to increase your writing productivity.

Although some favored creating whenever they felt the desire, many stuck to specific schedules, and would work at their craft at the same time every day.  Some had other jobs or obligations, so they would have to create either early in the morning, or late in the evening.  For example, in order to earn extra money to support her six children and sick husband, Frances Trollope, mother of novelist Anthony Trollope, “sat down at her desk each day at 4:00 A.M. and completed her writing in time to serve breakfast.”  Since my evenings are not always predictable, I decided I would try to draw early in the morning.  Since the beginning of June, with few exceptions, I have woken up at approximately 5:15 A.M. and sketched for 30 minutes.

CB

My morning ritual looks like this.  After I wake up, I go to the kitchen and make coffee.  I could make it the night before, and set the timer to brew so it’s ready for when I wake up, but I like the process of making coffee in the morning.  Doing so also allows me to start my day by completing a simple task.

Then I make a smoothie, or bacon and eggs, and once I finish breakfast, I draw for at least 30 minutes.  After which, I pack up my materials, have a shower, change for work, and then join my family for 20 minutes or so before I leave to take the train to San Francisco.

Me

If you want to increase your creative output or productivity, I highly recommend reading Daily Rituals for inspiration.  And wherever you are Mr. S____y, thank you for your advice.  I wish I had followed it 20 years ago.

P.S.   “Be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Searching for Anders Zorn

B @ Legion

I am a John Singer Sargent fan.  When I first saw his portraits, I thought they were not only expressive, but also accessible – Sargent’s use of broad brush strokes seemed like a style that was within reach for this would-be-painter.

To learn how to paint more like him, I wanted to look at his portraits up close, to see how he put paint on the canvas.  Unfortunately, the de Young Museum in San Francisco only has a couple of Sargents on display, but earlier this year, the Legion of Honor hosted an exhibition by Anders Zorn, one of Sargent’s contemporaries, someone who also employed a healthy dose of bravura while laying down his paint.  On the last day of the exhibition, I went to the museum in order to convince myself that, with a little practice, I too could paint like Sargent and Zorn.

I took my eldest son with me, and before we left the house, he said, “Can we bring our sketchbooks?”

I thought the exhibition would be crowded, which would make sketching difficult, but I said, “Sure, that’s a good idea.”

So I grabbed our sketchbooks and some pencils, and off we went.

I was most interested in seeing Zorn’s large oil paintings: his portraits, and the paintings in which he captured Swedish life in the late 19th century.  I had heard his watercolour paintings were also stunning, but I wasn’t prepared for what we encountered when we entered the show.

Zorn.Anders.Fiskmarknad.I.St.IvesZorn.AZorn.AFiskmarknad I St Ives (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

 My response to seeing Zorn’s watercolours was similar to Emmet’s reaction when seeing Wyldstyle for the first time in The Lego Movie –  “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” (although my son enjoys visiting fine art exhibitions, he also likes going to children’s movies).  I was speechless.  Controlling water on paper is difficult even for the most accomplished painters, but Zorn’s techniques go beyond what I thought possible.  In Portrait of Cristina Morphy (my son’s favorite), the details of the lace on the girl’s right shoulder are so fine that I felt like reaching out to make sure it wasn’t real (I would have included a picture of the painting in this post, but the online images don’t come close to doing justice to the real thing).  And even after staring at a few landscapes, I still can’t grasp how Zorn captured the water’s surface and its reflections.

Summer-Fun-largeSummer Fun (courtesy of www.anderszorn.org)

It wasn’t long before I thought my view toward the “accessibility” of Zorn was beyond naïve.  But when we walked into the second half of the exhibition, where Zorn’s oil paintings hung, I gained renewed confidence.

Zorn’s oil paintings are impressive, particularly his self-portraits, and Midsummer Dance, which is a Swedish national treasure.

Zorn_Self-Portrait-in-RedSelf-portrait in red (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Anders_Zorn_-_Midsummer_Dance_-_Google_Art_ProjectMidsummer Dance (courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the river of visitors who strolled through the exhibition, stopping for only a handful of seconds to view these paintings, I crept up as close as the security guards would allow, to study the brush strokes of each one (here I must commend my son that after an hour and a half of such behavior, he never once asked me to leave or quicken my pace).  I saw the thick layers of paint.  I saw the different brush sizes that Zorn used to paint the faces and the clothing.  And after seeing touches of similar colour throughout a painting, I gathered that Zorn did not always clean his brush between strokes.  I was inspired, and I left the exhibition feeling the artistic thermals push my wings outwards and upwards.

After leaving the show, I figured my son would be ready for lunch, so I was surprised when he said, “Can we sketch now?”

So for the next hour and a half, we strolled through the rest of the Legion of Honor, and periodically sat down to sketch a sculpture that caught my son’s eye.

BB_LOH sketces

Finally my son said, “Can we go now?”

I was as impressed with my son’s staying power, and his genuine desire to draw, as I was with Zorn’s paintings.  I didn’t want the day to end, but after three plus hours of walking through the museum, I was also ready for a cheeseburger.  So we left, and over a plate of fries, we looked at each other’s sketchbooks and talked about drawing and painting.  In this post are a few of our sketches from the day (frankly, I like my son’s better than mine).

DB_LOH sketces

Later that night, after our boys were asleep, I told Stacie that I was going to the back room to start a portrait.  Zorn was fresh in my mind, and I wanted to get down to what I knew would be my best painting to date.

Zorn makes it look easy – he lulls you into a false sense of confidence that once you squeeze paint onto your palette, magic will flow.  That night, after only two brush strokes, I realized the foolishness of my thinking.  Zorn and Sargent are special, and no one should assume that he or she can paint like them.

I don’t paint like Anders Zorn.  I paint like me, and with practice, I will improve.  But artists like Zorn and Sargent motivate me, so I will also keep visiting museums and galleries to seek inspiration, particularly if it means I can sketch with my boys, and share a cheeseburger and fries with them afterwards.

P.S. Although the Anders Zorn exhibit at the Legion of Honor has come and gone, the exhibition is currently on display at the National Academy Museum in New York City.  But it ends on May 18th, so if you are in New York, make the time between now and then, and go see Anders Zorn’s works in person.

For the Love of the Game: On Artists Anonymous and Dan Witz

DB@OGN

“…many think of the Art world as a sort of free-for-all, where anyone of any level of mental stability, at the slightest whim and for any reason, can jump in and call himself an artist.  We sometimes fail to remember how extremely important high skill, craftsmanship, and passionate dedication were to painters of earlier times.  Those attributes were far more than just admirable qualities.  Art was a noble vocation and a way of life.  Their skills were assumed to be divinely infused.  Being an artist was their very identity, their reason for existing.”
– Richard Schmid, from Alla Prima II

When viewing certain contemporary art, you might say to yourself, “I could do that.”  But if you visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City this month, I promise that you will have a very different reaction.

For the rest of April, and into the first week of May, Jonathan LeVine Gallery is hosting solo exhibitions by Artists Anonymous (“AA”), titled Old Game New, and by Dan Witz, titled NY Hardcore.  I am not an art critic, but it is fair to say that both AA and Dan Witz remind me of all the qualities that Richard Schmid thought were reserved only for the best painters of the past.

In the Archive section of AA’s website, they state, “Digital reproductions of our works, especially reproductions of paintings are not representative.”  In a post last year, I wrote that I had a Stendhalian moment when I saw online images of AA’s paintings.  I wish I had reserved that comment for when I walked into Old Game New, and saw AA’s paintings and afterimages in person for the first time.

From a technical perspective, AA is a talented group.  In his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “It is impossible to attach the same importance to values and to colours.”  It’s clear AA thinks otherwise, as their works demonstrate their ability to capture form and light while using vibrant colours.  And after seeing AA’s art, I am even more astonished by their method of painting in the afterimage.

AA_Borderlands_LBorderlands, oil on canvas, 78.75 x 149.63 inches

For example, in their multiple canvas painting, Borderlands, it looks like AA uses simple brush strokes of white and two shades of yellow to create the eyes of the woman on the viewer’s right of the painting.  Yet when seen in Borderlands Afterimage, those same eyes are a realistic and piercing blue that stare straight into you.  And that’s just the eyes of one model – the rest of the painting is equally as impressive, and AA must have taken great care in creating it.

AA_BorderlandsBorderlands Afterimage, digital C print, 59.05 x 110.24 inches

When I first saw the images of Dan Witz’s mosh pit portraits on the Jonathan LeVine website, I thought, “Wow, those are unique photographs.”  Then I clicked on one of the images, and read the text next to the image: “Oil and digital media on canvas.”  Dan’s paintings are impressive, and as with AA’s paintings, the online images don’t do justice to the real thing.  When I saw Dan’s skills staring back at me from a six foot long canvas, I couldn’t help but appreciate, not only his attention to detail, but also his ability to paint in a realistic style without sacrificing the energy of the scenes he captured.

DanWitz_VisionofDisorderlyVision of Disorder, oil and digital media on canvas, 40 x 64 inches

But it’s not just AA’s and Dan Witz’s painting abilities that have sunk their hooks into me, it’s also their commitment and passion.  You don’t get this good by treating art as a hobby.

Dan Witz has been painting street art in NYC since the late 1970s, and his studio work encompasses a variety of subjects, including lamps, “nightscapes”, and portraits.  At the end of one of Dan’s videos on his website, he jokes, “That’s all I have to say about being old and doing street art.”  But you get the impression that there is nothing else he would rather be doing.

AA begins its artist statement with, “Art is always an A [Grade], otherwise it’s no art; you are either very very good, or you fail.  There are no shades of grey in art, no acceptable.”  That is a demanding standard, one I think they point at themselves more than they do at others.  Once you are that good, you set your own standards, and you don’t display anything less than your best.  As Jony Ive, the head of Design at Apple Inc. said, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”

Most people will see Old Game New and NY Hardcore and appreciate AA’s and Dan Witz’s talents.  But I draw and paint, so I now know how wide a chasm exists between me and them.  It would be easy to be discouraged, knowing what it would take to be that good.  But AA and Dan Witz don’t paint to haunt me.  They paint for the love of it, and they are an inspiration for those of us who also love it.  So instead of packing up my paints and brushes, I’ll admire the dedication that AA and Dan Witz pour into their art, and I’ll take the advice of another inspiring person,

“Modern man is conditioned to expect instant gratification but any success or triumph realized quickly, with only marginal effort is necessarily shallow.  Meaningful achievement takes time, hard work, persistence, patience, proper intent and constant self-awareness.  The path to such success is punctuated by failure, consolidation and renewed effort.  It is wet with the tears of emotional breakdown.  Personal reconstruction is art.  Discovering one’s self, one’s talent and ambition and learning how to express it is a creative process so may not be rushed.  What’s the hurry?  Pressure to succeed according to a particular timeline comes from outside.  If the goal is selfish self-improvement there is no schedule, no deadline.  One’s rate of progress is influenced by the intensity used to address the task.  Hard, intelligent work speeds us along the path.  Neurotic obsession and compulsion may steepen the trajectory but usually lead to illness and injury.  In the end, the process takes as long as it takes — you can’t push the river.”
– Mark Twight, from “Why

P.S. For a more detailed discussion on AA’s art, read this recent Studio International interview with Maya van Malden, a member of AA and their spokesperson.  And for an overview of Dan Witz and his art, read this Village Voice article.  But this blog post and those articles are just words.  For the real thing, visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery this month.

P.P.S.  As part of their exhibition, AA intended to have a screen that displayed a live recording of visitors as they walked through the Alice in Wonderland themed installation.  Instead of a standard feed, the screen would display the negative image, so that people would “see ghostly negative versions of themselves, while the video reverses their surrounding inverted environment into the positive.”  Unfortunately, when I visited, the monitor wasn’t working.  But Malena, who works at the gallery, offered to take my picture with my iPhone.  She then inverted the colours in the picture using an app called Negative Me.  The picture above is the “ghostly version” of me standing in front of AA’s installation.  Thank you for being such a kind host, Malena.  And thank you, AA and Dan Witz, for sharing your ideas and talents with us.