Archive

Uncategorized

A review of a book recommended by Robert Henri in his book “The Art Spirit”

Denman Ross’ book “The Painter’s Palette” is subtitled “A Theory of Tone Relations: An Instrument of Expression.” Ross’ primary purpose for writing the book is

Thinking of musical instruments and the laws of Counterpoint and of Harmony,
the question comes up whether it may not be possible for the
painter to convert his palette into an instrument of precision
and to make the production of effects of light and color a well
ordered procedure, a procedure which everyone can understand
and follow.
“After more than twenty
years given to the consideration of this question and to experiments
in the use of set-palettes, I am fully persuaded that it
is perfectly possible to make of the painter’s palette an instrument
of precision, an instrument which will serve him both
as a mode of thought and means of expression. He will then
use his palette very much as the musician uses his voice or the
violin or the piano.

Ross’ book is only sixty-four pages long and its main portion discusses the several palette systems or layouts possible for creating Ross’ desired “instrument of precision.” It is a technical discussion of the effects created by the artist’s pigments. The fundamental effect derived from the pigments is tone; a term including in its meaning both value and color: value being the quantity of light of a tone; color being the quality of the light of a tone.

Ross discusses in part one of his book the scales of values; in this case, he divides the scale between white and black into nine divisions: black, low dark, dark, high dark, middle, low light, light, high light, and black.

[ There are several sites on line where one can create his own scale of values; but
I prefer the RGB Gradient Maker.]

In my case,I have found that the scale of values used determines the focal distance of a painting; therefore, I use a twelve step scale; this gives me a four to five
foot focal distance for my paintings. I keep at my easel a printout of values
in relationships of one step, two steps, and three and four; really, it is five
as there is a white background. When painting, I will fit an observed value
into one of these relationships. My eventual goal is to be able to feel the desired
value step and not keep doing the mechanical comparisons: when painting or
drawing there is a perceived space from front to back of the overall scene and
between the object’s parts, between objects, and within the totality of the painting.

In part two, Ross breaks the color scale into the well known twelve step color wheel; he lays out two parallel lines of the twelve colors: one row is violet to yellow and below it is a row of yellow to violet. He does this in order to more easily to discuss values, warm and cool, and mixing pigments. Of the colors, violet is the darkest and yellow is the lightest; red-orange is the warmest and blue-green is the coolest; violet is neutral on the warm/cool scale as is yellow; the warm scale runs from violet through orange to yellow; the cool scale runs from violet to yellow through green.

Ross’ layouts of colors in its ultimate configuration, in my opinion, would
require a door size sheet of glass in order for there to be space not only for the
layout of pigments, the creation of the pure colors, and then the creation of
the needed tones; fortunately, Ross does provide progressively smaller palettes.

Personally, being a person of limited means, I prefer to layout my palette
according the areas being painted in the work session and the colors I anticipate
being used. Before reading The Painter’s Palette, in response to a video about Manet, I started laying warm and cool versions of each color I plan to use; I had begun a study of a figure in a painting using this system; but, upon reading Denman’s book, I changed my palette to a layout of two lines of pigments: on one side is the row of the warm pigments I want to use and on the other side is the row of cool colors. Hansa Yellow Medium is my warm yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow is my cool yellow.

Even though the study is not yet finished, the portions wherein I have used the dual row palette demonstrate a major leap forward in my understanding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am using Denman’s system on the legs.

One of the biggest problems I have encountered is that the color I am mixing changes color as I look at it. Also, I am taking Henri’s advice to focus on the dominant tone when determining the nature of the minor tones.

Advertisements

Recently, I was given Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit” by a member of an oddball group of elderly conversationalists: we meet every Sunday on the Tate St.
sidewalk at the flower pot for coffee and donuts. (The donuts are free as they
frequently are delivered by an employee of the Salvation Army who is tasked with
distributing to spots throughout Greensboro extra donuts that are left over from
feeding the homeless.) We are all retired or almost retired who have time to
blather on Sunday mornings./

Henri’s book is, as the title page declares, a series of “Notes, articles,
fragments of letters, and talks to students.” It is a book that belongs in every
artist’s permanent library – between the times of having to sell down one’s library to make ends meet. The book stands among those few books that are able to fundamentally alter an artist’s understanding of painting. As it is nearly impossible to immediately implement in one’s art work every new idea one reads, one out of necessity returns to the books to gather more understanding.

For over twenty years I have managed to keep in my permanent library two key books: John Sloan’s “The Gist of Art” and William Morris Hunt’s “On Painting and Drawing;” each of these books have numerous underlinings and margin notes which increase in number with each reading. My copy of Henri’s book already has several underlines and margin notes even though I have only sat down and read of it a couple of times.

The reader can read Henri’s book cover to cover or browse by sections that interest him or focus on sections and paragraphs that pertain to the artist reader’s painting difficulties despite having a laughable art degree from today’s post-modernist institutions. (I swear one can get a better art education by attending classes at his local artists’ guild.)

Henri is generous to other artists of his era by mentioning two books on painting which he himself thinks are vital for an artist’s understanding: “The Painter’s Palette” by Denman Waldo Ross and ” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhythm,” also by Ross, Both books are downloadable as PDFs with a Google search. The latter book written in 1907 and the former in 1919. These books are in the lineage of Kandinsky’s”Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and Joseph Albers’ “Interaction of Color.”

I will cover the two Ross books in later book reviews. The books are available in PDF format:
“The Painter’s Palette”
” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhyth,”

I have been remiss is posting; so, here is an update on what has happened since I posted in January.

I finished two paintings in that time in preparation for a one man exhibit at the Artery Gallery in November for a total of fifteen works. The show contained works from 1997 to 2017; the exhibit contained two sample pieces from my digital paintings. I sold one piece in the show: Boardwalk Jitney sold to a prominent Greensboro collector with twenty minutes of the beginning of the opening reception.

Seaside Heights Boardwalk Jitney

Another piece that was in the show was sold to an overseas collector; however, the collector saw it on my website  and not the show; and it was sold after the exhibit closed. He purchased the oil painting On the Pier. The collector Tighe O’Connor and I share an artist mentor Dr. George Weber jr.; Tighe studied with him in Ireland in the 1980s and I at Rutgers Newark in the late 60s and early 70s.

On-The-Pier

I shipped out on Black Friday via USPS after shopping around between FedEx and the USPS. Shipping via FedEx would have cost an arm and a leg; did this while schlepping around a thirty-six inch mailing tube attached to the rack on my bicycle in the rain: gave up on my rusted, New Jersey, GMC car.

Mention that you have to wait ten minutes to attempt to restart your GMC car and those who had one or have friends who had one burst out laughing.

Circling back to my opening statement, the two new oil painting completed since January:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Pier Fishing on the Toms River

and

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Arbor

I am somewhat of an outside artist in this town despite having been here from 1972 to 1997 and then 2014 to current; so, my opening was sparsely attended; however, I was able to have an extended conversation with fellow artist Bruce Shores. He and I were both T.A.s and studio assistants to Peter Agostini  at UNC at Greensboro in the 1970s and are very fond of our memories of studying under him.

When I picked up my works at the end of the show, I obtained a date for another one man exhibit in 2019; but I don’t know the month yet. The next two years will be consumed by doing at least twenty small oil paintings and studies.

 

 

I have been working on the same painting for over a year and it is going slowly; so, the other day I decided to begin a daily practice of doing transient Sumi ink drawings on gessoed canvas: at least three to four in the morning. The purpose is to keep an edge on my creative imagination as I ponderously work my way through the problems in the main paintings.

I create the Sumi paintings by holding an idea in my mind as I draw the piece; when I am satisfied with the piece, I photograph it and then wash it off the canvas; thus, the name Transient Drawings. The sponge and rag I use to clean off the canvas double as drawing tools as well as the Chinese brush; the result is very much like a charcoal drawing.

I have been stumped over the past three weeks as to how to portray choppy water of a river. I finally decided to base the sign on shallow scrolls and bringing any brush strokes out in the rhythm those scrolls: I did capture the energy of the water; but the result was so far out of my normal painting that I questioned its “truth” or even whether it worked: in my view, it looked too much as though it was made for comics. I had a trusted friend – who is an artist and a theater set builder – come over to look at it yesterday: the glyph did capture the energy; but it was like a comic book rendering; and it failed in terms of regression into space.

This morning, with my failed attempt in the back of my mind, I came across on Facebook a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection of Vincent Van Gogh. I followed the link to the collection’s online catalog and selected Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses.

What am I looking at? Van Gogh’s successful attempt at capturing energy in his brushstrokes and painting. He understood that the brushstroke carries the intent of the focused artist: One can perceive the wind blowing through over the wheat field, not just because he bent the image of the wheat, but because he held the form of the wind energy and the resistance of the wheat stalks in his mind as he put down the strokes. The same can be said of the tree in middle of the field. The strokes of cypresses convey their living energy. One can go through the entire painting perceiving his recording of the energy or vitality he perceived.

One has to stay on focus to be able to do this sort of painting: this is proof that he did not paint in a frenzy; rather, he painted slowly, as his pigment laden stroke reveals; and he painted each stroke meticulously as he conscientiously recreated the energy in each stroke.

Three Chord Ode Version II II

Digital Composition
October 2012


I began doing digital compositions as a way to make quick compositional and color decisions: Photoshop enables the artist to make rapid decisions over a few minutes that might take days or weeks when done in paint. I began doing compositions of arranged abstract elements put together to create a meaningful composition.
Doors2
Beginning in 2008, I was inspired by two musical references: the first was an off hand remark by some commentator that a renowned composer had recommended to the composer of “Porgie and Bess” the use of the diminished fifth; the second was listening to Leonard Cohen’s song, “Hallelujah” wherein he sings of “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift” (up to now, I thought that was “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fourth, the major fifth”; so my compositions were worked out accordingly).
August_Oxblood_III_small
I continued my experiments in composition and rhythm but now included using the color triangle to realize what I thought corresponded to Cohen’s musical reference. I began doing research on the musical chords using the piano keyboard as a guide. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a rocker musician, friend Tom Chaffee about the color chords. He quickly drew a circle and laid out the twelve chords around it. This was major revelation for me; I had never seen them laid out in this manner.
Tom explained how a musician might decide to play with the intervals between the notes to arrive at unique styles. I took this chart home and superimposed the color over the notes:
Chords_YisA_II
PianoKeys_colors
One can come up with a different layout, but I was interested in relationships and intervals.
After creating this color/chord wheel, I decided to experiment using my favorite country singer Emmylou Harris: I was curious about her statement about “singing the three chord blues” from her song “The Road.” I then located on line lyrics to a few of her songs and noted the chord changes and experimented with corresponding color changes.
Below: my most recent piece:
Composition-IV

The early twentieth century artist John Sloan wrote a book on art and painting titled The Gist of Art; it is a book which should be in every artist’s permanent art library.
For me the most important chapter in the book is “Painting”; specifically, the sub section labeled “The Color Triangle.” Sloan describes the color triangle as follows:

[He] “found the Dudeen color triangle introduced by Charles A. Winter, a very practical color diagram. The triangle represents color mixtures in pigment form more accurately than does the circle.” [page 119; The Gist of Art]

While the chart from Sloan’s book does not show the full range of pigments available today, it provides the basic information upon which the astute artist can build a representation of his newer palette. One innovation could be to create a similar chart using the color index name number now found on artists’ pigments (you will find a complete guide to these numbers in that indispensable tome The Artists’ Handbook by Ralph Mayer).

Mixing_Triangle

My former method of mixing a color was a tedious process of mixing to the exact top color then mixing down with its complement color: a time consuming process which made for very few colors bing put down in a painting session. Now, a series of oranges can be mixed up and down a color chord (e.g., orange to blue which can be understood to be one color) using mars violet and a range between yellow ochre and raw umber: you can see how to mix a color such as mars brown using mars violet and oxide of chromium. The line between two pigments is also a chord.

So, one now can walk into an art store and look at a mixed pigment, such as viridian in acrylics, look at the mixture, purchase the base pigments, go back to your studio, and using the color triangle create the commercial hue and, at the same time, have a greater range of greens.