(all images by Armand Cabrera)
I believe curiosity to be a cornerstone for success—in any field. More than anything else, it’s the fuel that drives us to know new things—the necessary requirement for the achievement of a goal. Stop for a moment to think about the question—“How do you do that?” Then ask —“Can I do that?” These are the thoughts that spark creativity.
All the artists I admire have a strong sense of curiosity about how things work. They tend to be voracious readers, seeking out knowledge wherever they can find it. They are not afraid to ask for help to solve a problem. Great artists experiment, they analyze, they question how and what they are doing—always refining or working to improve something about their art.
Curiosity can take you down dead ends, too. However, curious people seem to pull more knowledge from the experience than others would. They use the information, learning from their mistakes and incorporating that experience into their library of knowledge to avoid similar situations in the future.
The famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, signed his name, followed by a letter “Q” with an arrow through it. His symbol meant—“ask the next question”.
Want to be more successful at what you do?
Be curious. Ask the next question!
There is a sucker born every minute. The quote is attributed to PT Barnum although it has been disputed over the years. Another quote is a fool and their money are soon parted. Both quotes relate to the latest in a series of art books that have cropped up in the last few years asking artists to buy space in their pages.
These books claim to represent master painters in some genre of painting. For a fee of anywhere from 1000 to 4000 dollars you can be recognized as such a master. Forget about winning awards or having a successful track record of sales through galleries and shows. Now you can buy your master status. These books usually anchor the images with some quality painters to sell the rest of the books pages. Of course after they are printed no one would admit to paying for something that was given away for free to someone else so everyone will claim their spot was given to them.
I have made the list and receive one of these offers every three or four months, if not more. They of course want me to pay; I guess I’m not anchor material yet. The good thing is they usually arrive as an email so no trees were directly harmed in the making of this scam.
I guess this new crop of artists don’t realize that book publishers pay you to use your art not the other way around. And people wonder whats wrong with the illustration art market these days. If your work has any value at all, people will actually pay you to use it.
These books are nothing more than a new twist on the old vanity press publications, perpetrated to take advantage of large artistic egos attached to small talents. You know who you are… and now everyone else does too. You can hear them chuckling to themselves in the art section of Barnes and Nobles as they look up people they know when these books hit the shelves.
I have not always painted in oils. I originally started painting in acrylics at fifteen. Later when I was hired for my first job in the entertainment industry as a background artist, I continued to paint with acrylics. It wasn’t until I decided to make the jump to gallery painting that I switched over to oils and before I did I researched the proper use for oil paint and read up on materials and techniques. I talked to a conservator and asked about proper technique to ensure long life for my paintings. We talked about what to paint on and about sizing and grounds and pigment layers.
Basically the paintings that have the best chance of survival are ones that follow certain rules to insure anatomical strength for the physical painting. Paintings on hard surfaces have less chance of cracking than paintings on stretched surfaces. if you don’t use linen or cotton the surface must be prepared with a ground to hold the paint. If the surface is wood it must be completely dried to prevent warping and flexing as it dries. Kiln dried wood is best for painting. Gesso and oil prime are what most people use as a ground today. If painting on linen or cotton the fabric must first be sized or sealed to prevent rotting or allowing moisture to invade the layers of pigment. Animal glue was the preferred size for years but that has now given way to polymer sizes made with PVA.
Traditional gesso was made with glue and mixed with chalk or gypsum. Modern gesso is acrylic paint, usually titanium white and calcium carbonate with preservatives like ammonia and formaldehyde added as a preservative,
Oil prime was originally lead carbonate pigment mixed with turpentine this has been replaced with titanium white for safety reasons. Lead white is more expensive and carcinogenic than other whites and has fallen out of use as a commercial ground and as a paint for application although it can still be purchased.
After the ground applying the pigments should follow the fat over lean rule where layers of applied paint contain more oil in the later stages. Thinning your paint with medium or solvents breaks down the paint and makes it more prone to flaking and cracking. I was told the impressionist paintings were the easiest to preserve because the paintings were layered very simply. They usually contain a size and ground for the canvas and then pigments were applied and then a varnish was added. I have followed this advice for my career using oils and I have not run into any problems of permanence.
This is a different approach than more academic paintings which could have layers upon layers of pigments and glazes with different types of mediums and extenders to retard or quicken drying times for the paint. This latter type of painting has a greater chance of problems for permanence s as the painting ages. Extra care must be taken to insure the stages are preserved correctly when drying so the pigment doesn’t delaminate or crack over time. This includes using liquin which has become a popular commercial medium and homemade mediums of various mixtures and consistencies.
A trip to the museum will show the veracity of this advice. Paintings on stretched surfaces and paintings that have many layers of pigment and glazes show a tendency to crack and come apart even in as few as fifty years. This is especially true of the modern art movement where some painters introduced fugitive substance into their work that destroyed the integrity of the pieces and created a nightmare for restorers. Other paintings like some orthodox Russian Icon paintings on oak panels or copper look as fresh as the day they were painted.
The artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques (fifth edition)
By Armand Cabrera
Jack lorimer Gray
I have been in quite a few discussions lately revolving around a similar theme. That theme is an artist’s role in a project and should they have a personal style to their work. Depending on what part of the process an artist is involved in, the answer is usually yes they should have their own recognizable style to their work. The exception is in production art of a game or animated film where there is a project style already set by the concept artists or stylist on the project. Then the production artists have a responsibility to follow the project style.
To clear up some terminology lets be specific about some words; style is how you draw and paint something. It is how you make your marks and the choices you make about composition and color and value. Genre is the type of painting your style fits into. Realism, impressionism, abstract painting, photo-realism and all the other subcategories are all genres of painting. Subject matter is what you choose to paint. It has nothing to do with the tools you use or the medium you work in. I see a lot of people confuse the idea of style with subject matter and or genre and this is wrong.
Another topic in the discussions has been about the idea of gallery art and illustrative painting. There is only one difference between the disciplines and that is in the purpose for the creation of the art in my opinion. The purpose of gallery art is the selling of the art itself. Illustrative arts like illustration, concept art or production art, the art is in service of a product to sell, the art is not the final concern. Here is where it gets more complicated though and the lines truly blur. Gallery art can be used as illustration after the fact through the purchase of the image and illustration can be sold as a piece of gallery art after it has served its purpose and been returned to the artist, if the artist created the image traditionally. Even digital artists can sell prints of their illustrative work if they retained the rights to do so after the job. All art should be judged on it quality and impact, not its purpose.
Let’s return to the artist’s role on a job. I don’t think an artist’s role is to be a wrist when they are hired. That type of art creation is the lowest form of work for an artist and one I have always avoided. My paintings come from my ideas about solving a problem visually. A client provides me with the problem to solve or I make one up for myself but its mine to solve once it’s decided that I’m the one to create the image. While the process can be collaborative if both parties choose it to be, it should never be completely at the whim of a non-artist. That is the kiss of death for any piece of artwork.
If you are hired to paint a commission or create concept art or visualize a brief as an illustrator it is your job to bring your brain as well as your ability to the job. The two should be inseparable really. Working artists have a responsibility to educate people about the process and what to expect from you as the artist on any given project. The client has the right to expect you to fulfill certain requirements when hired but they don’t need to be in your head telling you every aspect of how to do your job. You must assume that if you are chosen for a job it is because the client is attracted to your work and style. Don’t let them go off the rails and have you create something completely devoid of your talents. While good art can be collaborative, great art is a singular vision controlled and executed by the artist only.
By Armand Cabrera
I have written about Andrew Loomis before on this blog, you can find those articles in the sidebar under Andrew Loomis. Now Titan Books has reprinted five of the six books written by Loomis while he was still alive. The seventh Eye of the Painter was published posthumously after his death and is more of a philosophical book than a how to book and has not yet been reprinted.
The books are beautifully reproduced and are quite a bargain at fewer than 30 dollars each. Even though I own a complete set of the original books I bought the reprints to use as working copies and they are exact large format hard cover books and reproduced down to the typos.
The last one, Successful Drawing was revised during Loomis’ lifetime and re-released as Three Dimensional Drawing with an additional 20 pages of information not included in the first book. I had hoped Titan would combine the volumes and release them but they didn’t. Still, Successful Drawingis worth the price for any serious artist.
If you are just starting out these books are invaluable for getting you on the right track. Support the publisher and family by buying these books. While some of the information is dated stylistically, the fundamental ideas are all sound and still relevant to this day.