Sunday, June 10, 2018

I am a Compositional junkie

I am a Compositional junkie. I can waste an entire day of paint time following up on a will-o-wisp article with a minor mention of Visual Composition. I will studiously look up every artist mentioned, their website, read the bio and artist statement hoping to add a trivial amount of composition knowledge to my large and growing and sadly, only partially digested collection of articles, notes, images, and online references on Visual Composition.

In the manner of a beginner painter who asks endless questions about paint, paper, and brushes trying to discover that significant secret, tool, or technique, I pursue every reference found in the most insignificant note on Visual Composition. Just as the beginner painter knows that if he or she buys this signature brush, the one that will suddenly transform their paintings into masterpieces, I continue to look for the Philosopher's Stone of Visual Composition.

The beginning watercolourists should decided on a good quality paper, a few serviceable brushes, and some reasonable quality paints, and then should just get on and paint. In the same vein I already have a compositional framework that works for me: the Picture Planes 0-6. I have a process that gets me from an idea or view of a scene through a series of composition sketches, I use Notan, to a large value or colour study with detail, and finally to the scaled up drawing that is ready to paint. Why should I continue to search for some additional compositional techniques when I have a full toolkit that works for me?

I have finally decided to take the pledge and stop ‘Snipe Hunting’ and just get back to painting. It is time to stop searching the Internet and spinning my wheels in what may well will turn out to be a fruitless search. Am I going to stop learning? No! I am just going to go back to painting using to composition LRPGI, laws, rules, principles, guidelines, and ideas that I know and understand. LRPGIs that work for me. My LRPGI may only partially work for you or they may not work at all. I know that the LRPGI, framework, and process, that one adopts or is comfortable with, changes with: subject, time, evolving style, even time of day. 

By the way, there a very vocal group of artists/critics that deny that any LRPGIs exist. They are welcome to their own opinions. I pledge that I will not engage in debate as to whether or not LRPGIs exist or not. Nor will I debate whether or not LRPGIs detracts for one’s own spontaneity. It is sufficient that within my chosen genre/style/framework they work for me and I do not feel any constraints of my spontaneity. Your mileage may vary (YMMV) as they say in automobile adverts.

Friday, May 11, 2018

OCA is not for me!

The Open College of the Arts ( has been offering distance learning art courses since 1987 and they have been part of the University for Creative Arts ( since 2016. The offer 16 undergraduate degrees and a MA in Fine Arts.

I had bookmarked their website some time ago when searching out online painting and/or design courses. Right now I’m literally between two places. Our current house in Ypsilanti is for sale and I’ve moved most of my art materials to the new house in Plymouth but we haven’t moved there (yet). So my frustration of not being able to make art was moderated somewhat by browsing through my bookmarks and clearing out some of the junk and dead links when I followed the bookmark to OCA.

Maybe it was all ego, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been giving serious consideration to going back to school! Yes, a really old fart, is considering going back to school, no less University! Most university students would consider anyone 25 or older, really old. Really old in this case is someone that could have had their ‘Bus Pass’, 4 years ago.

Maybe it was all ego but the thought of earning a BA (Honors) in Painting is/was a big incentive. But the more I investigated the less the idea appealed to me. Firstly, I read through the curriculum several times and a first year course ‘taster’ that appeared to be the first couple of weeks example notes/assignments. Interesting, but it did not engage me and it did not make this a ‘must have’ course. This could just be my reaction to this subset of a full course.

Then there was to omission of a visual composition/visual design course. Perhaps elements of these subjects are incorporated inside one of other courses. The first course you must take is a drawing course. Nothing wrong with that except that you must complete this course before you can start on any of the other courses. As a mature student, I have reasonable facility at drawing and would embrace a drawing course to add polish to my existing skills and as a fundamental element to a painting course, it is a good idea. I do object to it being a gating function to all other course. I am here to learn painting. It why I’m taking this course. Don’t make me wade through 400 hours of drawing coursework before getting to do any painting.

Looking deeper into the course work description, I find repeated references to a ‘learning log’. Documentation of your work on each assignment, results, thoughts, musings, whatever. The suggestion is that you should spend 20% of your study time writing this ‘learning log’. You can not view the learning log documentation until you have registered, so you really don’t know what you are committing to. So do the math: .2 * 400 = 80 hours of writing a learning log.

Then I find that 2d and 3d year courses have a large written component in what appears to need to be written in ‘art speak’.

“You will need to undertake your own research into these areas by doing a lot of reading and researching, and by developing research strategies.”


“You will develop a broader understanding of your work within a range of contexts, including an awareness of the social or ethical impact you have on the world or how other contemporary practitioners operate”

This isn’t what a painting course is about IMOSHO. But I haven’t completely dismissed the idea of taking this course so I did a bit deeper digging and look over the tutors, their education, experience and art making activities. I surveyed more than 20 tutors connected with the BA (Honors) Painting course. Most of the painting tutors don’t paint as their primary art making exercise!

And then there is this statement: “you are expected to move towards taking more responsibility for your own learning and demonstrate this through more personal explorations and personally led project work, with increasing independence and through your own initiative.”

I’ve been have taken responsibility for my own art making and painting education and have been doing so for the past 8 years. I have to ask myself: “what could this course of study provide me that I could not find locally or online?”

The final blow came in a weekly e-mail newsletter from OCA that I had subscribed to in an effort to better understand why I should enroll and what I could expect from the instruction provided. The e-mail newsletter was titled: “What is drawing?” The following quote drove the last nail into the coffin of “not for me”:

“... he attached traditional drawing tools to the bottom of weeping willow tree branches and allowed the elements to dictate the marks created.”


Postscriptum: While reading Jackson’s Art blog I came across “Are Art Schools a waste of time?” (ref. Hugo Grenville says: "... right up until the late 1960s, anyone could go to art school and be robustly assured of being taught to draw and paint. From the mid 70s onwards, art schools abandoned their commitment to educate students in practical and technical skills, in favour of a conceptual approach. The result today is that anyone wanting to learn how to paint will have to attend a private art school."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The artist that has most influenced me

The artist that has most influenced my art is Ian Roberts and his book “Mastering Composition”.  Before I read his book, I did not know how to design a composition. Oh I knew about the 7 elements and the 8 principles, how to use a viewfinder, centres of interest, the golden rectangle, lead-ins, blocks and exits, tonal value and contrast, the oblique, and many many more LRPGI, laws, rules, principles, guidelines, ideas, but I realized that I lacked a design framework and a process to follow inside that framework to produce a painting.

I have worked on Internet projects from a time well before the World Wide Web became the Internet in most people’s mind, so quite naturally I start my search for this elusive framework there.  Over the course of many months I found many quality references to the 7 elements and the 8 principles. The actual number elements and principles varies, depending on the reference source you choose, but a framework and a process for composition remained elusive. The few online references, to visual composition, that I located, consisted of examples of good or bad compositions and a dialogue to support the goodness or badness of that particular example.

Ian Roberts' “Mastering Composition” is the only book I've found that provided a clear and usable (for me) framework for visual composition.  Before the first chapter of his book, he defines “What is Composition”. After reading those two pages, I knew I now had a framework for composition that I understood and could apply to my paintings.  The proverbial light bulb was lit. This is where I first started to understand visual composition. Ian’s five bullet points, describing the 5 Picture Planes, presented a nearly complete, visual design framework.
  1. The Dynamics of the Picture Plane. Each proportion and scale of every painting - square, vertical or horizontal - has its own special dynamic that affects and is affected by every mark or shape you put on it.  The edges of your picture plane are the four most important lines in your composition since they, in the most basic sense, define the foundation you are starting with.
  2. Armature: The fundamental lines of direction or flow that connect the main compositional movement to the picture plane.
  3. Abstract Shapes: The building blocks of the painting. Each shape is interacting with every other shape.  Resolving this interplay is the main arena of painting. This really is where the success or failure of the painting lies.
  4. Subjects: Bottles, mountains, people, a river...
  5. Details: Highlights, wrought-iron street lamps and almost anything else painted with a little pointed brush.

It is my opinion that the 5 picture planes should have been the 5 chapters in Ian’s book.  Somewhere along the line, he got sidetracked and wrote a book about painting landscapes including 30-40 page filler: “Gallery or Greats”.  Personally, I also don’t like Ian’s style of painting. IMOSHO, neither of these negatives, detract from the importance of his description of the 5 picture planes.

Does this framework work for all genres of painting? No!
Is this framework complete? No!
Does this framework work for everyone? Again No!

...but it does work for me, so it  is important to me, and I can honestly state, that Ian Roberts, through his book, is the artist that has had the most influence on my art.

Monday, January 1, 2018

When you are “in the groove”, stay there!

After a very long hiatus of almost 2 years away from art making, the new house is almost done, the old house has been sold, we have moved, my “art room” is almost back together, and for the past couple of days, or evenings, I’ve been getting back into painting.  First an abstract for Jill for the bathroom.  Not much thought. (sorry) And it didn’t really do much for my soul but it was a start/restart to painting.

Between arranging my supplies, hanging up some old favorites, and a little painting, I was back in my old habit of reading blogs, and articles about art and making art, and art education when I came across an article on recovery from artists block.  It offered simple advice: make a list.

Make a list of the art things you should be working on.  So I did.  About 10 small items to start with.  Before I even started on it I added 6 more.  Then the list took over. I was making art and enjoying the process.  So much so, I forgot to update the list for several days.  When I finally checked, big surprise.  I had to cross 7 items off the list as completed!

Reading WetCanvas: CafĂ© Guerbois: someone had asked about ‘Resolutions’.  I’m making a list and checking often, and revising it for completed items and adding new one.  Well at least for the time being.  It really helped be get over a reluctance to step up the drawing table and start painting.

So what has this to do with being in the grove?  My art making block is in the past. The make a “to do” art list, works for me and I am happy to say, that this morning, I was back in the grove or was for at least a couple of hours while I tackled the start of a new painting.  Then I decided to take a break and order some art supplies.  In retrospect this was a bad decision.

Googled my way to two different online suppliers both whom I have used in the past.  I need some new matboard to re-frame some paintings for the new house. I easily found what I needed, added a couple of items to being the total up to the free shipping level and applied a discount coupon I had recently received.  “Sorry, but discount XYZZY cannot be applied to your items”.

Alright, Internet chat with someone to find out why.  It seems that the major items I wanted to purchase were already “on sale’ and no further discounts were possible. All this took 20 minutes of back and forth and left me in a bad frame of mind.  I was angry at the retailer about the discount and similar events from previous purchases.  So much for being “in the grove’.  All thoughts of making art were gone.

If you are ‘in the grove’ and making art, don’t stop unless the house is burning down around you, or some other life changing event is happening or about to happen.  Keep making art.  After the grove concludes naturally, or you exhaust yourself, or some external event ends the session, then is the time to pick up those mundane task like ordering art supplies, but not while you have that “I must make art” mindset and tempo.  It’s hard enough to get there with the distractions of the day so don’t voluntarily end a productive session for any trivial, trite, tasks that can wait until later.  YMMV