Stanley Meltzoff

Armand Cabrera

Stanley Meltzoff was born in Harlem in New York City in 1917; At eight years old he enrolled in a cartoon mail order school. He was allowed to go through school at his own pace an was enrolled in college by the age of 15. He attended City College of New York graduating with a science degree. HE then attended the Institute Fine Arts at New York University. Meltzoff was drafted into the army and was in Italy WW II 1941-45. He worked for the Stars and Stripes, an independent newspaper published for the troops.

After the war Meltzoff taught painting and art history first at New York City College then at the Pratt Institute. In 1949 Meltzoff took the plunge and became a fulltime illustrator. Hi first assignments were for Scientific American, but he would go on to work for just about every major publisher of the time including the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Sports Illustrated, Field & Stream, Atlantic, Colliers, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, National Geographic and New American Library for pocket book covers.

At a time when most artists were emulating a flat poster like graphic style with as few elements as possible. Meltzoff worked in oils creating complex scenes filled with people and things all fully rendered with a loose realism that set him apart from the crowd.

His successful career as an illustrator came to an end with the demise of the major magazines. Slowly photography replaced illustration in what was left of the market and at almost sixty Meltzoff struggled to make ends meet.

His second career was born out of this struggle and he turned to his love of diving and fishing and began painting the fish he hunted in their natural habitats. His work was unique at the time for showing fish underwater in their natural settings. His training as an illustrator gave him the tools and skills he needed to paint these pictures convincingly, using his visual memory of his dives, photography and specimens brought into his studio to be used to paint from life.
Collectors and sportsmen responded to his honest depictions and Meltzoff successfully created a new career for himself. That career was still going strong at the time of his death and he was considered one of the premier painters of fish in their habitats in the world. While working on the book of his life and work, Stanley Meltzoff passed away in 2006, he was 89. There is a website dedicated to his work which sells prints and originals and you can also purchase a copy of his book.
Stanley Meltzoff Picture Maker
Stanley Meltzoff, Mike Rivkin
 Silverfish Press 2010


Visual Equivalence is not transcription but translation. You cannot make a copy of the real world in a picture or a photograph, but only mimic some of its visible qualities and the feelings it provokes.~Stanley Meltzoff

All images and copyright belong to Stanley Meltzoff estate

Shapes and the Importance of Edges

by Armand Cabrera

Listen and watch this as a video

We all understand that a lone tree or a mountain against a clear sky creates a defining contour and shape that separates its boundaries from its background. These attributes are easy to discern and their edges are apparent no matter how soft or crisp.

Shapes and edges and the dependence on correct observation of their transitions are paramount to the success of representational paintings. It is not enough to try and make a literal transcription of what you see; the best art in my opinion comes from the design of shapes and their edges.

Let’s start with some definitions; basic shapes are quadrilateral, circle, and triangle. From these you can form any complex shape by combining their structural elements together in varying degrees. You learn to see their structure in more complex shapes and these in turn help to create the illusion of forms. You use the abstraction of them to compose your designs.

Edges play an important role with these shapes because where you see the transition of one shape to another is controlled by the edge and its quality. The concept of hard, soft or lost edges control shape. All of this is conceptual with no basis in reality, which makes it difficult when you are starting out.

When we start to paint, we talk in terms of the thing we are trying to paint as opposed to the shapes we are trying to make. This inability to conceptualize the world and abstract it holds us back as painters. In the beginning we are convinced that we are drawing or painting trees or buildings or faces when all we are making are shapes on a canvas.

Even the idea of solidity and form is based on making shapes that really only mimic form to our eyes. When working from life these shapes and edges are controlled by the angle of your view, move a little in one direction or another and how you see those abstract shapes will change. Everything we do in painting is translating a 3 dimensional scene or object into 2 dimensional shapes.

This move away from thinking in terms of the objects you see to the marks that you make , takes time. You are not only training your hand eye coordination when you are learning to paint. You are also reprogramming your brain to think in terms of shapes of color and value. Learning to see as a painter. And it takes a lifetime of practice and study.

How you see those shapes and their properties of value and color attributes; where they divide into other shapes and how well you translate them and the quality of their edges, not only decides your painting style but also determines your ability as a painter.

Paintings from top to bottom Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent, John Singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker, William  Bliss Baker, Peder Mork Monsted, Carl Rungius, Fantin Latour, Emile Carlsen.

Listen and watch this as a video

Red Wolf Demo

Armand Cabrera

This is a Step by step demo of a Red Wolf head study I did for an art forum I frequent. Someone on the forum was wondering how to paint fur. I thought I would repost it here too, so I apologize if you’ve already seen it. The photo was taken by me when I was out in California at one of the zoo’s there.
The size of this painting is 10×12 inches and I am working in oils; my palette consists of Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Permanent, Cad Red Light, Cad Yellow Light, and Titanium White

The first thing I did was draw the contour of the wolf with a brush getting the general shape down quickly.

Then I looked for the big color and value changes and blocked those in ignoring details and edge quality at this point.

Next I start to modify those big shapes by adjusting the smaller changes within them and paying attention to their edges.

The last thing I do is scrub in a background so I can paint the highlights and paint the details and refine the proportions where I think they need it. I am not really trying to paint any differently than when I paint a landscape. While there is a little more accuracy involved here, the approach is basically the same for whatever subject I tackle.

Complete time for this is two hours. These types of exercises are great for practice; changing subject matter is a good way to apply the ideas of picture making that you have developed. If your ideas have any veracity they should work for any subject matter. If not they are most likely a formula and should be re-thought or discarded for something more universal.

Thoughts on Failure

Armand Cabrera

No person gets to be successful without learning to deal with all the little failures and setbacks that are part of the experience of any worthwhile endeavor.

I have learned many things the hard way, most of my life. This comes from jumping into things too quickly. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I have always had a stubborn determination to finish what I start. This drive to paint through any difficulty has helped me to get to this place in my career but not without the pile of bad canvases that usually don’t see the light of day. As I have aged I’ve tried to be more thoughtful at the beginning of the process without sacrificing passion. This is easier said than done sometimes. While emotions are good they can also cloud ones judgment.
Last week’s painting excursion was one such trip. I had been out the day before with some other artists at Great Falls National Park and had managed a good little painting. While we were on the way to our location I spotted a scene in the road that I wanted to paint. I decided to come back the next day and work on a large 24×30 canvas of it at the same time of morning.
Arriving early the next day to get set up, I knew it was going to be one of those days. Meeting my friend Jack, the weather looked iffy. Although the weather was supposed to be clear and in the seventies it was cool and overcast. I waited around for things to burn off but it never happened. Jack got in two paintings while I fumbled around.
I decided to go ahead and paint the scene anyway even though it didn’t have the charm of the day before. About two thirds into the canvas the sun came out and ruined any chance of finishing the painting. I wiped it down and we decided to head over to the falls to paint one more time.
The falls didn’t go any better for me. I was tired from the first attempt and my mind was still on the first painting. Not a good way to begin a large painting of a complex subject. I have painted the falls many times but not with such a large canvas. I wasn’t focused on what I wanted to do. I didn’t think about the composition and I spent too little time on the drawing and jumped into the painting too quickly. Instead of showing nature I can’t be beaten so easily after my first attempt; it whacked me over the head twice to remind me never bring a knife to a gun fight, and always bring your best effort.
I didn’t wipe the second painting mostly to have something to show for seven hours’ worth of effort. It seems I still have to do things the hard way every once in a while to remind myself nothing is a given, success has to be earned one canvas at a time.

Painting Demonstrations and Other Events

Armand Cabrera
With spring and summer approaching fast, there are some things I want to let you know about  in the Northern Virginia Area. I will give a free painting demonstration On April 2 and again on April 9 At Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane VA.

I will start from a blank canvas at noon and complete a painting in about 3 hours.
Feel free to bring your dog, sit on the wonderful patio with incredible views, drink wine, listen to music, have a picnic lunch and watch a plein air painting being created!
I will also explain my process and answer questions as I paint.

I plan to do these free events as time and weather permit throughout the summer and I will post the information on my website and here as we lock down more dates.
These events are a lot of fun and I never know how many people will show up. I have had as few as 6 and as many as 100 come out to watch.


I also have a couple of workshops later in the year up and down the East Coast. These are already filling so make your plans soon if you would like to join me at one of these venues. More info can be found on my Workshop page on my website or using the links to the contact info below

In the fall I have a workshop in Maine at Acadia Workshops, the dates are Sept.19-23.  More info here
October 3-6 I will conduct a workshop through Anderson Fine Art Gallery on St Simons Island in Georgia this will precede my one man show at the gallery. Contact Anderson Fine Art Gallery for complete Info 912-634-8414
October 13-16 Northern Virginia Fall color Workshop. Come paint fall on my new home turf. More info here