Tuesday, April 3, 2018

EMOTIONALISM - Defining and explaining the philosophy and style.

Emotionalism-  I began using this word when defining my specific philosophy on art a few years back.  I had been reading about Claude Debussy who is my favorite pianist and stumbled upon a description in which his music was described as being both a blend of impressionism and a sort of emotionalism.   Emotionalism has been used in the English language sporadically since the 1860's to describe various art forms from music to art and film.    In most contexts it seems to have a simple definition that sets it apart from impressionism and other "isms" so to speak.

Emotionalism (definition)-  A philosophy and modern style of art which blends classical and modern techniques and aesthetics while putting a primary focus on evoking an emotional response in the viewer as opposed to representing nature faithfully and literally.

                                         (Whisper- 12x24, oil on linen, in private collection)

So essentially I use this term as I have found no other term to accurately describe what I'm after in my artwork.    Emotionalism to me represents the desire to use art in all forms as a way to evoke an emotional experience within all of us.   The emotional response becomes the primary goal and not a secondary result of the process.

I feel as though in the modern day and age, with so much technology and distraction. Representational Art should start to sort of have a rebirth in purpose.  Instead of going out and copying a scene you see literally, we should instead focus on why that scene makes us feel intrigued internally and meditate on that emotional response that we have with nature. .   Lastly when it comes time to paint that scene we should focus on how to recreate that "feeling" and "emotion" that we felt as opposed to copying the scene literally and hoping that feeling is translated through the technical process.  (The secondary result I spoke of earlier)

An example of emotionalism can already be found in the early work of Picasso and George Inness.  Picasso's blue period is a perfect example.  Picasso found a color that evoked a certain mood and began exploring how to create the emotion of sadness and pain through paint.   That is a simple example of emotionalism. His intent was emotion from the start.

I generally do literal sketches and plein air paintings of a scene but I will write down the emotion I felt at the time.   Later in the studio I then take the words combined with the sketches and I meditate on it for sometimes up to a year or more.   I will pull it back out and think about it and then set it aside again.  I let it sit in my subconscious mind and sort of ferment.   When it comes time to paint the scene I'm working more from memory which means the scene has become less literal and my emotions and subconscious mind have turned the scene into almost a dreamlike memory.

When trying to compose a piece, much like composing a piano piece, you can use certain song keys such as a major or minor key or in the case of painting you can use visual symbols that can aid in representing an emotion to the viewer.  An example is the moon.  The moon is a great symbol that for most people immediately causes an emotional response.    For instance, if you want to convey Joy you probably wouldn't choose to put a moon in your scene.  Instead you might choose a sense of warm light and shadow.   However if you are after a somber feeling or a dark feeling in the piece adding the moon as a symbol might aid in that pursuit much like choosing to compose a piece in A minor would aid in composing a darker or more somber piece of music.  I have found that I have to be really careful not to rely on Symbols too much though and lately I have tried to focus on how to bring about emotions without having to rely on putting a moon or something easy like that in the piece.  Its a difficult task and in my opinion one worthy of pursuit.

Some might say that it's better just to paint a scene and at the end of the pursuit hope that emotion comes out.  Yes you will succeed some of the time with this philosophy however when I look at those pieces and I compare to a piece by Levitan or Inness in my opinion the emotionalists win out every time because they create a piece I can come back to and look at over and over and over again.  It's hard to explain but I see a real difference between the two schools of thought.

.This is a philosophy and style that I'm still working on and trying to develop further.   I call it a philosophy because it can apply to many styles.  Abstract, realism, tonalism etc.   Some forms are more subtle in the emotional response they illicit than others.

                                          (Lightning, oil on panel 18x18 inches)
This is an example of a piece I've recently completed that is designed more to illicit emotion rather than to represent a specific place or location.  I generally do not tell people what to feel when viewing the work, it is up to you to decide how a piece makes you feel and it also may change from day to day.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Painting Sunsets

Sunsets speak and reach more people than any other form of landscape painting.    The vivid color and sense of light will spark the interest of even those people who are not interested in art. For this reason I have always felt a bit guilty about painting them.   When I was younger and performing in bands we had a term for it.  We called it  "selling out".    Painting something just because I know it stands the greatest chance for being sold or gaining praise is not something I am or have ever been interested in.    For this reason I have tried to stray away from being labelled a sunset painter by making sure I'm not just painting a sunset for no reason. 

Over the last couple years my process has changed when it comes to selecting a scene to turn into a studio painting.   With sunsets in particular it has to really speak to me in some way before I will begin the process of turning it into a finished piece.   Lately I will create a folder on my computer where I will have all my references.  I will let these images digest slowly for months, periodically making miniature oil painting versions of them.    This process of allowing a concept to sit in your mind and gestate for an elongated period of time goes all the way back to the technique of George Inness.   Inness believed it was best to let a scene sit in your memory for a long period of time before attempting to paint it.   This way your memory becomes blended with reality and thus your emotions and view of the world will inevitably come out in the final piece. 

The photo above features the transparent wash under-painting stage on a large 30x40 inch oil on panel Sunset.   

This painting came from a video I took in Kansas a few years back.   I have explored this scene in a smaller format and decided it was finally time to try a large version.    I began by doing several sketches of the simple composition.   I wanted a sense of rhythm to it so I chose curvy lines for the foreground hill.   It kind of lifts you up into the sky.   I then mimicked the rhythm of the hillside by mirroring the cloud formation in the same way.   The composition essentially lifts you up into the sky through a series of opposing diagonals. 

I begin by doing a simple color wash, this is pure colors on the brush dipped in a generous amount of mineral spirits.   I'm concerned only with covering the white of the panel at this point and getting the drawing and placement accurate.    This will all be covered up with opaque paint and will not show through the under painting except for in the foreground. 
The next stage was to simply go in and start the main paint layer.   I knew I wanted to go for a smooth look to this one so I was very conscious of keeping the surface uniform in gloss.  This means as I paint the sky I blend using fingers and soft brushes but also use a large soft brush to wipe back any glare that is caused from brushstrokes not being uniform in placement.    Sometimes I forgo this technique and go for a more loose application where I dont "finish" the surface as I move around. 

The thing to remember about painting a sunset is that the colors are very gray and brown in reality.   The only pure color in this painting is the yellow spot where the sun is.  That is a pure cadmium lemon and medium yellow.   If you were to take the darker orange areas and put them on the palette you would realize how  gray and almost greenish they look by themselves.  However when added in addition to the blue and green grays at the top and bottom, these other "cool" colors make the orange and purple areas look much warmer and brighter.    This is the most important aspect of sunset painting.  Color relationships.   You dont make bright red clouds look lit by simply using pure color.   You make them look lit  by having the proper balance of cooler darker colors. 

This painting is still not complete.  I have another session of glazing and minor details.   I will post a follow up soon.

Thanks for reading

Saturday, September 30, 2017

How I design a painting with mood in mind.
Devin Roberts

                     When I create a studio painting I'm really searching for a way to move things around and manipulate the scene in a way that will bring out a certain specific emotion within the viewer.   This is in contrast to creating a studio piece with the idea of representing nature faithfully.  I'm less concerned with that in my studio work and more concerned with engaging the viewer in mood and emotion.  Creating a painting like this is almost like putting a puzzle together.   Specifically an almost abstract puzzle where things may look good put together one way but once you rearrange and try it slightly different with a piece over here or there it really comes to life.     

Over the last few years as I have developed I have searched endlessly for ways to create a process that best aids me in this endeavor.   I use to start with a word, I would write down the emotion I want to begin with (I sometimes still do this but now I tend to think its not necessary).    I would then create sketches and ideas that I felt described that mood.   Over time I think this helped me to understand how certain colors, certain forms and lines can illicit different responses in the viewer.    

Lately my process has finally reached a point where I am beginning to be happy with the results.  I thought I would share a bit of it with you.  

Step 1.      I begin with my source.  For me it starts with a real place, none of my pieces are purely from imagination although many use a lot of imagination and memory work in them.    For the scene I am featuring here this was from my trip to Sonoma Plein Air Festival.   I spent the entire time out at Bodega Bay.    I did many plein air studies and chose to use a blend of that knowledge and also a video reference I took of the ocean and cliffs on a cloudy morning just as the night began to fade.  It had an eerie spooky feel to it but most importantly the vastness of the scene made me feel so small.   So the idea behind this painting was to represent those feelings. 

The first thing I did was I began pencil sketching many different compositions, I would try different types of cropping.  12x24.  20x30 etc.   The final dimensions I settled on were 24x36 inches.    Or 4x6 for the sketches.    

Step 2.           This is where my process has really changed.  Instead of doing oil sketches I have begun to use digital paint programs to take the pencil sketches and create quick color sketches that I can reaarange on the computer or phone.   The advantage here is that you do not have to worry about or be hindered by materials.  So if you have a burst of creative energy you can quickly move a rock here with the swipe of a finger, change the color scheme, crop it differently etc.   It allows you to free flow creatively without being hindered by oil paint or watercolor etc.     

 In this picture you see the pencil sketch I settled on in the foreground and you also see Step 3, which is the under drawing in the background.    

The photo below shows one of the 4 little quick 4 minute digital sketches created using auto desk sketch on my phone. 

This digital sketches are generally not faithful completely to the composition I chose in the pencil sketch.   They really are a way for me to try many different versions and colors of the scene so I can find which has the best chance of expressing the mood I am after.

Step 3.      If you look above you can see the black and white underdrawing in the photo.    This is usually done on a surface of lead primed cotton canvas.   I learned a while ago from a friend that army duck cotton can be sized and lead primed and textured and it will be virtually no different to work on in any way than linen.  The advantage here is price, you can buy foot after foot of army duck for less than 20 dollars.    In this specific painting I have taken a piece and glued it to a 24x36 inch cradled wood panel.    I like to work on a rigid surface so that I can really play with the palette knife and get good textures.

I have taken the sketch and really spent time making sure to draw everything in accurately with a paint brush.  I do not use pencil or charcoal on the canvas.   The reason is that it helps to see this in shapes and not lines. 

Step 4.   Once the underdrawing is done I go right in with full color and begin the process.    Here is a photo of that step.

I begin the full color process by mixing a big pile of a base bluish gray color on the palette.  This will serve as the sky.  I also do the entire first layer with one brush.   Usually a large flat bristle brush from Robert Simmons Signet series.    I love the lead primed cotton canvas because it is unlike any other surface in that you can take a paper towel and wipe it and it will disperse the paint without putting scratches or making it look sloppy.     You have to see the way the surface behaves to believe it.   Later on after the first layer dries I will go in with smaller brushes, palette knives and glazing tools as well.   

Step 5.   This is another step in my process that I have added recently.   At this point I take a photo of the painting, I crop it to see how it is starting to look.    I then take that cropped unfinished photo and put it into my paint program again and fill it in and complete the rest of it in digital paint.   This allows me to see if the areas I have already painted are off or need to be adjusted.  It also helps me to start adding little details in and figuring out where I really want the center of interest.

Below is a photo that is half oil paint and the right hand side plus the moon are done with digital paint.

Here you get to see what it will look like when it is complete.   I will essentially strive to continue the oil paint portion so that it matches up closely with this half digital half oil paint version on the computer.    However it is important to add that I will continue manipulating that dark foreground.   I will put a small amount of variation and detail in it as well as continue to refine the composition, specifically the rock formations on the water.   It can be tricky to pick perfect spots for the rocks so that the composition keeps your eye engaged. 

So to summarize.   I begin everything at the source.  It is important in your studio work that you have a foundation of knowledge gained from painting and observing nature while out in nature.   So I advocate outdoor painting as much as possible.    Once I have that knowledge I free myself from it so that I can focus on the more emotional and abstract ideas that I love within landscape art.     At the end of the day for me its all about creating a piece that makes someone first say, wow, look at that, look how calm it makes me feel, or look how spooky that is.    When I sit back at a gallery show and hear someone say something to that effect it gives me a rush that I can find in no other endeavor.    Painting is truly spiritual for me.

Here is an example of another piece that I used this process on.  This process seems to be paying off because this piece won first place in the Plein Air Magazine Bi Monthly contest for June and July 2017.  It also was purchased by a fellow professional painter which is the biggest honor any of us can get.  Peer approval.

"Eulogy" Oil on linen 20x24

Thanks for reading folks, if you liked it be sure to share it across social media.

Devin Roberts

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Using “En Plein Air” painting as a means to an end

It is important as a landscape artist to figure out what works for you and to utilize whatever that is to your advantage.   You will find that many of the artists on the scene right now have very divided opinions when it comes to how a Landscape painting should be composed and where the artist’s priorities should lay.    Instead of people just focusing on themselves and what works for them they want to impose their techniques and standards on other painters.   Do not let yourself fall into the trap of caring what these people think.  All that matters is whether you are happy with your work and whether or not the work is speaking to collectors as well.

The Plein Air Scene is very divided between those who believe all paintings should be painted outdoors and from life and those who believe outdoor work is just one of the many tools we can utilize in order to strengthen our art as a whole.   Many artists will indeed fluctuate between these two extremes throughout their entire career.   They may spend 5-10 years painting exclusively outdoors only to have a change in philosophy that brings them back into the studio and vice versa.

  I believe that for me the best route and what seems to work is the idea that direct study from nature is essential to development and that it should be combined with studio techniques in order to create well thought out and composed pieces.   Painting outside has its own unique set of problems.  One of them is time and size.   Only a select few painters in history have been able to paint large almost studio style paintings completely outdoors.  Jouaquin Sorolla comes to mind.   Most of us are not nearly as accurate (some of us think we are) and quick and instead paint smaller or medium size works when outdoors.   So this means that in order to create a large painting I need to be a studio painter as well as a plein air painter.
I see nothing wrong with this.   Working in the studio is a very different experience than outdoor painting however it is just as rewarding.
When I set up outdoors I am more or less recording a light effect or color effect .  I am essentially studying nature and recording how it made me feel.   I do not look at my plein air paintings as composed complete paintings.  I view them as studies and sketches.  The only time I will spend a lot of time composing and arranging a scene outside is when I am competing in a plein air festival or preparing for one.  So putting that aside, the vast majority of the time I’m translating the feeling a specific moment and place gives me.   
Back in the studio I have many of these smaller paintings lying around.  I use them as color references and sometimes will use the topography for a larger painting.  I don’t agree with the painters out there who simply view the studio paintings as sized up larger versions (essentially copies) of the smaller plein air paintings.  I would really advise any serious painter to avoid this trap.  What inevitably ends up happening is the that the larger versions of the small plein air paintings lose that spark because the artist is just sizing it up because they feel they have to have larger versions of paintings.  So they are painting large for the sake of painting large.   This is always a bad idea.  

Instead a landscape painter should look at his smaller plein air paintings as educational experiences. 

For instance, this painting below was painted outdoors in early winter during the last hour of daylight.  When I look at this painting I can see all the discoveries and knowledge I learned from the experience.   The specific discovery in this painting was the balance of warm and cool colors in the grass and how it makes the entire scene vibrate with reality and life.   I was struggling trying to get that rich early evening light into this painting but when I began really analyzing the scene before me I realized how much cool and grayish color was in the grass.   Once I began layering warm on cool and cool on warm the grass began to vibrate and look real.   What also helps is using a complimentary color relationship in the same warm and cool relationship that you utilize-  a warm red orange against a cool bluish green.

So now when I go back into the studio to do a an early evening winter scene I will be able to draw upon this experience and will be able to reference the actual plein air painting.   How this normally works is I will use a variety of imagination, photos and video as well as my plein air sketches and will take these and create about 10 little thumbnail compositional sketches.   The final studio painting will generally be a combination of imagination, observation and topography from visual references such as video or photography.   In order to get the color to look real I rely on my knowledge from plein air painting.

In short, some of my favorite landscape artists were studio painters who utilized direct study of nature.  George Inness and Isaac Levitan are two that come to mind.  Yes they painted directly from nature but the vast majority of their notable pieces were created in the studio with a blend of imagination and reality.    
Thanks for taking the time to read.  All of these words are simply my opinion.   Many will disagree with me and hey, that is totally okay with me!  
Check out my website if you haven’t already.

p.s.  I will post a follow up to this showing how I create a studio painting while using the small barn painting featured here as a reference.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tips for Beginning Oil painters.

I figured I would write a short little piece about some of the lessons and methods I have learned over the years.    Things I wish someone would have told me in the beginning.    Some of these many of you may already know.  All of this information is based on my personal opinions and experiences.   I do not believe in one approach.  If it works work it!  

     1.       In the very beginning do not limit yourself to one motif, genre or style.   Paint everything and learn everything.    If you are concerned about getting as good as possible in as short of a time as possible, spend at least 1 hour everyday painting from life in your studio (ideally 3 hours a day).   A simple apple on a tabletop, or a vase of flowers etc.   

     2.       The best way to get good at anything quickly is to dedicate all your waking hours to it.   Regiment your day and plan everything out.   Spend 1 hour working on your draftsmanship, 1 hour devoted to painting from life, 1 hour devoted to study the human form etc.    If you write a schedule out and stick to it you will notice results much faster.    Be organized and be disciplined. You cannot fail by working hard, it’s simply impossible! 

     3.        If you have the ability to attend an atelier or fine art school, do it!   But if you do not, do not be discouraged.   I have essentially taught myself everything I know.    I attended Gage Academy of art very briefly and have also taken some workshops from painters I admire, but I basically taught myself the vast majority of the knowledge I have obtained.   Even in art school, you still are the one teaching yourself.   The difference is that in an art school you have access to an artist above you who can critique your work and guide your schooling more efficiently (a benefit I never had).   Knowing where your mistakes are and recognizing them can be very hard in the beginning.    I recommend using the internet and books as your primary tools- even if you are taking workshops and classes.    (The gallery world and art world do not care about education, they care about one thing, the final product.)

     4.       Do not focus on the actual paint brands and specifics about materials in the beginning.   I spent so much time intrigued by paint materials and pigments that I wasted hours of my life that could have been dedicated to the actual craft of painting. Paint is paint, do not listen to the artists out there who get all technical about brands and pigments.   The difference between a cheap tube of Windsor Ultramarine Blue and an extremely expensive tube of the same color by Old Holland is virtually indistinguishable to the common eye.   Also, purchase CHEAP paint in the beginning because you want to use a lot of it.  If you buy expensive paint you will start focusing too much on not wasting it.    Always squeeze out big piles of paint.  NEVER put out a little tiny dot of paint.   This brings up another point-  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WASTING PAINT! 

    5.       Put a lot of focus on your drawing ability.   People always want to jump right into color because they do not realize that it’s actually drawing that makes a painting succeed.  Spend time copying drawings from Sargent, DaVinci and the greats.   This will help you with your ability to compose later on down the road.     For every 1 hour you spend on color spend 4 hours on drawing and composition.

    6.       Paint from life AND from photos. I once heard an artist say “you just cannot learn from painting from photos”.  How absurd of a statement.  Of course you are not going to learn about color and light but you can still learn about composing a scene, putting parts together, editing out information etc.   Use painting from life as your platform for studying color, temperature, and value as it correlates to color.  ___ Do not listen to the artists out there who tell others not to work from photos or that they are cheating.   As Norman Rockwell once said  -"Painting from photographs can be a wholly creative performance if the artist himself is creative.  To 'copy' the form, tone and color of a photographic print certainly is not creative.  But one can be creative by modifying drawing, values and other aspects of the photo to realize the creative needs of the subject.  The camera is no substitute for those creative faculties of mind and hand which have always produced art - and always will.  The artist who can't draw or paint will never get anywhere trying to work from photographs."
  It’s great exercise to paint from a photo.   Especially a black and white photo.   It allows you to create/invent color and experiment.   If you use a photo to "inform" your decision making instead of relying on it, you will quickly see that photography is a great tool to be utilized.
A lot of the painters out there who constantly pat themselves on the back by saying they only believe an artist should paint from life.  They very often have work that looks great at first but bores you over time.   I won’t name names but instead on your own go compare the contemporaries out there who claim to only strictly paint from life, and compare that work to the artists who do not limit themselves and paint from memory, imagination, photo.  Decide for yourself who you think has more depth to their work.    Also I  think these anti modern classicists who exist right now would be very surprised to find out that many of the masters of the last 150 years used photography to some extent.   Never for color but to aid in composing a scene or to gain inspiration and ideas from.  Zorn is known to have used photography and Sargent is rumored to have used it occasionally as well.  We know for a fact that Bierstadt, Moran and Inness  gathered information and ideas from photography.  Not to mention Schmid and all the modern masters who utilize it. 

    7.    Visit museums and art galleries frequently.   Both modern abstract work and representational. It’s extremely important to see paintings in person.  This way you can see the surface texture and it will help inform you on how the paint was actually applied.  I struggled so much the first couple years because I didn’t look at paintings in person, I only looked at photos of paintings.  So my surface textures were horrible, I was applying the paint way too thin and using too much sticky medium.   The surface had shiny spots of glare and looked like a mess.  It was only when I began really studying works in person at the galleries or museums that I began to really understand paint application.   That being said, my number one struggle remains surface quality.   I really struggle with achieving a surface that isn’t picking up glare in unwanted spots.   The reason for this is that I paint very fast, sometimes too fast, instead of slowing down and really taking the time to check the surface and finness it, I lose patience quickly and begin neglecting areas.  (This will be addressed in number 9.)

     8.        Create a data base on your computer of all the paintings that you browse online that you find    interesting.   Save them in specific folders such as :  Contemporary Landscape,  Thick Paint,  Paintings  with cool edges,  Paintings with nice color,   Sorolla painting etc.  
You will use this database more than you would ever think.  I spend 2 hours every single morning browsing my folders and gaining inspiration, studying edges, values and color.  

9.       Know your limits and know the level at which you paint.   Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced student.    Often the best way to figure this out is to ask for a critique from a known artist.   Contact an art school and send them a portfolio of your work, ask them what level you are at.   Always remain cognizant of your deficits.   If you struggle with painting too quickly and losing patience, be aware and make a conscious effort to slow down in areas.   Painting with speed is a better problem to have than painting too slow.   You want to paint fast but not so fast that you become sloppy.  

     10.   Sell your work in amateur online platforms such as etsy.  If you are worried about putting out amateur work under your name just use a different name in the beginning.  The reason this is helpful is because selling a piece of work- even if you just started painting- is the most rewarding experience you will ever have.   Knowing someone paid money specifically to hang your creation on their wall will give you the push and drive to continue growing.  At least it did for me.      Continue selling work your first 2-3 years this way before you ever begin contacting galleries.    

Thanks for taking the time to read folks.  Here is an example of a recent landscape.
This one first place in the Plein Air Magazine June/July 2017 contest. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How can you be a tonalist and a colorist?

Why I paint both Tonally and in Full Color.  ]
(As with everything I write, this comes from my personal philosophy, others approach art in the complete opposite way and make incredible pieces in doing so)

So I have had people ask me about my description as a tonal and impressionist painter.  It’s an odd description to have considering many consider them to be the exact opposite of each other.   I decided the best way to explain it is to actually do it in a blog with examples of the work. 
The best short answer I can give is that nature itself is both a tonalist and a colorist.   Light and it’s relationship to atmosphere create endless possibilities in nature.  We have warm tonal sunsets, dark nocturnes and bright colorful full light days.  A full bright color piece serves a different purpose and exudes a different set of emotions than a more tonal piece of work.   Tonal images often are close in value and thus require a more intimate close up look by the viewer.  The opposite is true of a full color impressionist piece.  A full color piece often will read from far across the room.  They can easily serve as the mantel piece in a large room of a collector’s home.   The more Tonal pieces I paint not only require this intimate view but they also often have an intimate more solemn message as well.   

My goal in painting is to bring about emotion within the viewer.  In order for me to do this successfully I need to be open to the many moods and emotions of nature.  Another thing to think about is that even the impressionist had a large body of technically tonal works.   Having a bunch of bright colors on your painting isn’t what defines it as being impressionist.  The impressionists had plenty of work in which all the colors if isolated would look gray to most people.  Take the Monet piece that the whole movement was named after, “impression- sunrise”
This piece is a tonalist piece.  It’s largely just two colors.   You have the completely tonal blue of the entire scene, a dash of it’s compliment for the sun and a blend of the two in the upper quarter of the scene.  Monet does use a couple blues or a blue and a green in this composition but I would still consider it a tonal piece.   In fact you can use a full palette of 20 colors and still create a tonal piece

I find it funny that the piece the movement of impressionism is named after wouldn’t actually fit many modern peoples definition of impressionism.  Let’s remember that impressionism isn’t really a specific “look”.  On the contrary, it’s more of a range of techniques coupled with the philosophy of painting the impression of something.  Not getting over detailed and classical with the look.  

(On a side note, I never get tired of this painting, it's by far one of my most favorite pieces of all time, and I'm not typically a large Monet fan)

So let's contrast this more tonalist Monet above with a typical Impressionist piece.    The piece below is a Henry Hensche.  

This painting fits most peoples definition of Impressionism.  It's high in key and value, full color and really captures the feeling of light in an almost abstracted sort of way.   When you choose to work with in a certain value key, like high key for instance, it really allows you to abstract the scene.   You have to view the darks before you in nature and translate them into a higher key color.  When you do this you can take a lot of liberty with the actual color as long a you get the temperature correct.   The purplish shadows work perfectly in contrast with the yellow and gold look of the grass and foliage. 

As you see both styles of painting can be extremely beautiful.   A lot of the Russian painters I admire are also what i'd consider to be blends of impressonism and tonalism.   If you look at Isaac Levitan, he has a lot of really colorful work that he painted outdoors.  However he also has many beautiful tonal pieces.   

This Levitan painting is a very tonal piece.  If you look at the grass and foliage it's all largely one color.  It's very isolated on one side of the color wheel.   

To contrast that, this is a Levitan piece in which he explores more of the impressionist high key saturated color look.   

Levitan would paint in both styles periodically throughout his whole career.   So it really shows me that my favorite artists generally do not limit themselves by working in a specific manner or philosophy.   If you have the primary concern of translating emotion all of that other stuff becomes secondary.   

Thanks for reading my thoughts on art. 

Check out my studio at 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Analysis of the Russian painters Isaac Levitan and Ilya Repin.

If I had to choose a favorite group of painters my favorite would be the Russian school of the late 19th and early 20th century.   That time period brought out some incredible painters such as Levitan, Serov and Repin.    
Russian painters have a very unique quality to their work in which emotion just pours out of both the design and the application.      To put it plainly they are the masters of emotionalism.
Let’s take a few minutes to analyze a couple paintings.  One from Levitan and one from Repin.   
This piece is perhaps Isaac Levitans most widely known image.   It is called “Eternal Peace”.  

Mr. Levitan did multiple studies during the creation of this composition.  You can still find some images online of different versions of this.   This tells us that Levitan spent a lot of time, perhaps a year sometimes redesigning a composition until he felt it was just right.
In this piece he has really succeded in evoking an almost heaven like “awe”.   By placing the house low in the composition it gives us an anchor from which to view the scene.   This is a very important tool in landscape painting.  You want somewhere within the piece where the viewer imagines themselves.  This helps to break the barrier between the canvas and the viewer and allow them to enter emotionally. Without an anchor it is much harder to evoke emotion within the viewer.
Mr. Levitan has also very nearly split the canvas in half by putting the horizon towards the middle of the composition.   In order to soften the transition into the sky he overly saturated the blue there as well.    By keeping this horizon in the middle it allows plenty of room for him to add the big sweeping crescendo going on in the clouds.  
Notice the cloud that almost touches the top of the canvas is to the right of the house.   This helps keep the balance within the piece and also helps keep the eye moving throughout.   If he would have put a lot of clouds on the left it would unbalance everything.   Also the little spit of land in the river is perfectly balanced against the house and dark tree.  
In fact just to see how perfectly balanced this piece is, you can take this image into photo shop and erase the spit of land or erase the tree in the foreground.  As soon as you erase or even alter any part of this piece it immediately loses it’s emotional quality.   This is the true sign of genius.  When a composition is so perfectly composed all of the parts work together to create the whole.  
Levitan has also played with the values in the clouds (light against darks) and warm against cool- creating a rich set of visual dynamics.   This is further enhanced by the relatively warm cloud in front of the blue clouds.   All of this adds to the drama goping on in that sky. 
When it comes to the actual drawing you can clearly see how expressive the design is.  Just look at the actual house, it’s almost like a cartoonish version of a house, the lines are exageratted up  just enough to make it seem almost haunting.    But it also lifts you up into the sky the way the gesture of the house is designed.  
This is what truly set the Russians apart.  They knew that expression wasn’t just color, it wasn’t just value and textures.  Expression should show itself through every discipline.  Especially the design, gestures and drawing.  
Most of us in the west forget that “gesture” isn’t just for portraits and figures.  Gesture is relevant in landscape painting as well.   A tree has a certain gesture and as Levitan has showed us, even a house can have it.
Most artists in the west lose sight of this fact.  They will draw a scene exactly how they see it in real life, and will then try to add emotion in by manipulating texture and color.   While this can work too, it’s not nearly as effective as the Russian school. 

This piece is an Ilya Repin painting.   It is one of my all time most favorite pieces.   The emotion is just oozing out of it. 
Repin has utilized several tools which aid in transfering the sense of haunting doom.  
Compositionally he has cropped the image so that the larger figure is cut off at the head.   This tool of cropping an image helps to create a more intimate feeling.   We are brought into the composition by the cross laying on the ground.  It draws us in from the bottom right, the dash of bright red paint (blood) leads us to the main cross and figures.  (A similar technique in portraits can be seen when the painter uses a dash of bright white paint on the collar which leads us into the head of the portrait)   He has even kept the bottom of the feet and legs toned down, almost the same color as the wooden cross.   This makes it appear as if they figures are growing out of the wood.   Subtle transitions like this add mystery to the painting.  
By taking the background and adding the smoke and fog he has also further aided the haunting feeling of this piece.  
Let’s take a moment to talk about “mystery”.   Notice the doorway is dark and violet.   Inside the doorway he has added the hint of a orange light.   This is a great tool for adding mystery.   The viewer doesn’t know what the light is, they do not have to, in fact the mystery of not knowing what it is helps the viewer use their own imagination.  Whenever you get the viewer to “fill in the blanks” so to speak it will always help in aiding the transfer of emotion.  
Mystery is perhaps the biggest thing missing from modern landscape painting.  When we become to literal the true purpose of painting is lost.   However when we keep things suggestive, when we force the viewer to think we almost always will succeed.  

For instance, if you are painting a landscape scene, remind yourself that not everything has to be visually clear and rendered.   If you have a grove of trees in the background, perhaps block it in as just a shape of blue with some warm accents.    When you do this you increase the chances of the piece being something that has lasting value.
As Robert Henri say’s in his book, some paintings will wow us the first time we see it only to become boring to us the 2nd and 3rd time.   Usually this is because the painting is to literal.  A painting should be a visual poem of sorts.  It should be something that the viewer see’s differently each time they look at it.   This is what we should all strive for.

Thanks for reading once again folks.  
www.devinrobertsstudio.com to see my work!  

EMOTIONALISM - Defining and explaining the philosophy and style.

Emotionalism-  I began using this word when defining my specific philosophy on art a few years back.  I had been reading about Claude Debuss...