Artworx Gallery | Contemporary Art & Gifts | Goolwa SA

Artworx Gallery - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is a regular award winner and the finest contemporary art gallery on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula.

THE STUDIO

The Studio

Artists can worry unduly about having a studio, and while it is a lovely thing to have, a palatial studio does not always equate to grand work.

I have only recently acquired a studio - a granny flat that has been occupied by quite a list of family inhabitants but now dedicated to paintings and storage of such.  Storage really is the big thing!

Before this it was done on the front or back porch, the shed or dining room.

My best award-winning painting was produced on the front porch on a hot windy day.  I'd already had a painting marred by it blowing off the easel and was aware of the conditions while I painted the next one. I was engrossed in the process when my neighbour decided to take a look and I didn't see him coming until his head appeared from behind the canvas.  His quiet "hello" had me jumping out of my skin - I'm sure it nearly killed me!

It made me think though, that the small distance between artist and canvas is holy ground.  This applies to working in a spacious studio or on the porch, this connection between the artist, the palette and the work is intense and private - it becomes a kind of sanctuary.

The very mention of the word studio though, somehow conveys the idea of a public place of worship. Some just want to drop in, hang around, chat and be a co-inhabitant for an afternoon or two. 

The artist's workspace, wherever it happens to be, is best utilised when there are no distractions. The process involves the whole person - body, mind and spirit. A disruption to any part of this will be a loss to the artist and the work.

Background noise that is unavoidable can be blocked out, but another person demanding friendly attention will spoil the circle of creativity.

Many of us have to set up our equipment every time we want to paint. I know how arduous this can be, but at the same time, the setting up is preparing our minds for that which is to come and painting time is even more precious. 

Of course, there is a lot to be said for a space that we can just walk into and start painting. But in the end it's the magic that takes place mentally and physically in and around your easel that counts.

While we might dream enviously about some of the pristine large studios we see, it's worth considering that some of the best works have been produced in less than ideal surroundings.

Mike Barr

 Caption: Ten years ago I painted in the shed at the back of the garden for a while. There was barely enough room for storage but the little space between easel, artist and palette was all that counted.

Caption: Ten years ago I painted in the shed at the back of the garden for a while. There was barely enough room for storage but the little space between easel, artist and palette was all that counted.

JUST ONE THING

Just one thing….

Whilst looking at Turner's Snow Storm painting the other day, it struck me that there is one thing that sets up the whole work.  The painting is wildly dramatic with its swirling snow storm and heaving sea, but the one object that makes it really work, is that little mast on board the steam ship. The slender pole is slightly bent in the gale, and of course, the flag is outstretched to its limit.

In the overall painting, the mast is a small object, but really it is the star attraction that draws us into the painting's drama! Not only is our eye magnetised by it within that seemingly small visual break among the clouds and waves, but it also indicates the ferocity of the conditions.

This painting by Turner contains secrets for every artist.

Drama - not every scene we wish to paint has built-in interest and drama, but I believe we should think about putting both elements in the paintings we produce – whatever the subject.  Just one thing can transform a work from being okay to outstanding, and in some instances, just one or two brushstrokes can do it.

Interest - interesting subjects don't always make interesting paintings, and often it can be as simple as there being too many things to look at.  Recently, I came across a painting of New York City and every single window in every single building was carefully painted in, including the Empire State. It was a monument to the patience of the artist, but it said nothing about the city. The drama of this amazing city was lost in the attention to detail.

Having detail in the whole painting will have us observing the detail, but it can block us from entering into it. It is better that viewers become participants rather than just observers.

In Turner's painting we are visually dragged into that point of interest on the boat, with the swirling blurry storm helping us in, without halting our little journey. It really is a masterpiece.

Like Turner's bending ship's mast, it’s worth our time to figure out what will change a painting for the better. It could be an addition, a subtraction, a splash of colour, or light, deeper darks, or simplification.  Don't be confined to painting what you see – paint for added interest. Paint the drama of life, whatever it is.

Mike Barr

 Caption: Turner’s  Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth – oil on canvas 91x122cm.  With this work who could deny that Turner was the father of impressionism.

Caption: Turner’s Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth – oil on canvas 91x122cm. With this work who could deny that Turner was the father of impressionism.

THE PORTRAIT VOCATION

The Portrait Vocation

Portraiture, unlike most other painting genres, is very unforgiving! During our combined painting demonstrations every year, dear friend and portrait artist Gerhard Ritter reminds us that compared to landscape artists, portrait artists have it tough. Some friendly banter usually ensues at this stage, but of course it's true!

There are different styles of portraiture from broad impressionism to realism, but if they don't represent the likeness of the sitter, then they have failed. It's a tough world in which almost catching a likeness just doesn't cut it.

There aren't many casual portrait artists that are good at it. The stand-outs tend to be passionate about it all, and I would go far as to say, it's more of a vocation than any other painting genre. They are expert observers of the human face - they never stop looking at faces and they wish they could stop every interesting one they see on their daily travels. They see human faces in portrait format without even thinking about it, and they sense deep loss when a fleeting potential masterpiece of a face passes them by, but they also triumph in finding the most interesting faces and characters.

Oils are the preferred medium for portraits, but amazingly some artist are successful in watercolour, acrylic and pastel. Almost all of the processes that these artists use have a degree of mystery about them, and often, the likeness appears in the very last part of the painting. A likeness that is obtained too early can be hard to get back.

Portraiture is an old tradition and I remember seeing my first Rembrandt at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool as a young teenager. I can still feel the impact of those dark backgrounds contrasted with the light and shadows of the faces. He was a true master.

There are many portrait masters living today, but compared to the millions in the world that claim to be artists, there are but a few.

Thankfully, good portrait painting doesn't mean it has to be photographic or perfect. However, it does need two things at least. First, and importantly, is the likeness, then there is character.

Every portrait artist talks about capturing the character of the sitter. Recently, during a portrait event three artists revealed their works of the same sitter. Each of them spoke about the importance of capturing the essence of the person being painted. All three paintings were well done, but just one had a likeness of the physical and the character of the person.

There is a spark in good portraiture that goes missing in the ordinary. It is a spark that painters of all persuasions and genres love to attain, but don't always achieve it. Portrait painting, like other painting, is not about photographic detail, it's about catching the essence of a person or place. If we can translate that into a painting we have everything!

Mike Barr

 

 Caption: A quick, unsophisticated acrylic sketch of former President of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, James Raggatt. I'm not a portrait artist, but was lucky with this one as it did capture James's likeness and infectious smile. December 2008.

Caption: A quick, unsophisticated acrylic sketch of former President of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, James Raggatt. I'm not a portrait artist, but was lucky with this one as it did capture James's likeness and infectious smile. December 2008.

CONNECTING

Connecting

Painting can be quite self-indulgent - it's just the nature of it.


Our subject matter is often stuff that we love and therefore we paint it. It all makes sense until we start exhibiting our work, and then we may realise that not everyone shares the same passion.

We get no sales and we wonder why some other artists are selling and we aren't. Many of us have felt this and it can result in sharp feelings of rejection, not just of our art but of ourselves.

A few artists come to the realisation that we don't paint just for ourselves, particularly when we exhibit.  Really, we don't want our paintings to be liked, but loved. In a strange kind of way, when paintings are loved, the artist feels loved too.

The easy path to take, is to paint what and how we like, and to the devil with anyone else.

In reality, it is not even what we paint, but how we paint it that counts. Some of the most mundane subjects have been painted in dramatic ways that emotionally affect a viewer.

There is no greater compliment for an artist than to hear expressions of love for their work. In conjunction with phrases like: "I feel like I'm actually there, I can feel the rain, I can feel the cold, I can feel the heat, I can smell flowers,” are all proof that your work has connected with someone.  

Careful and expert craftsmanship does not always translate into connection.  So, what does?

Light and shadow play a large part in attraction.  The surest way to make a painting unnoticed is to have no shadows, no darks and no lights. It's amazing how many paintings just don't have any of these things. Calmness is also attractive - not everyone wants to be assaulted by glaring colour or disturbing images. The calmness of a limited palette can be very alluring.

As well as light and shadow, the illusion of space and distance can draw a viewer into the work, and even though it may not be photographic, the illusion makes the painting believable. There is such a big difference between photorealism and believability because the broadest impressionism can be so very believable. The tonal road to distance is one that every artist should travel.

The bottom line is to make people feel our paintings, not just see them. Let them feel the drama, the quietness, the light, the dark, the calm, the rain, the surf, the happiness, the sadness and the joy. It's not enough for art to be seen - let it be felt!

 

Mike Barr

 

Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board.
Can you sense that after-rain feeling?

 

 Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board. Can you sense that after-rain feeling?

Caption: After the rain - Largs Jetty - acrylic on canvas board.
Can you sense that after-rain feeling?

THE SECRET TO PAINTING LOOSER

Many of us wish to paint looser and I think this is because looser paintings have more appeal to them. They look like they are painted with a brush, and a tight painting can look quite photographic.

Loose paintings have movement, and to me they are the painting equivalent to a movie, as the eye moves along with the visible, bold brush strokes. In contrast a highly worked painting can be more of an achievement than a work of art. A thousand-hour canvas is certainly epic, but it doesn't make it a better painting than one which took a few hours in a loose style.

There is a real interest in being able to paint in that looser style, but the question is, how is it possible?

Firstly, the subject matter must be simplified in the imagination of the artist. We must be able to simplify it in our minds before we can in paint, whether it is from a photo or real life. Our natural instinct is to copy everything and painting looser requires that we leave out stuff, smudge, blur and leave in some edges and contrasts. It's a true education in art to paint this way, even if we only do it occasionally.

Big brushes, especially in the early stages will help a lot. It's hard to be fiddly with a 2-inch brush! Actually, the size of the brush should be in proportion to the size of the canvas and a bit of experience should be the teacher here. The very last part of the painting might need a bit of small brush, but not much.

If you have a million colours on your palette, you will be at a disadvantage. Concern about colour can tighten things up because we are thinking about the mechanics too much. Colour doesn’t make a painting, but feeling and movement certainly does and this often comes from tones rather than colour.

The biggest contributor to successful loose paintings is confidence and there is no way around this.

Painting is an acquired skill and skill is a product of repetitive practice.  Confidence is the product of this practice - many hours of practice and learning from mistakes of our own and those of others.

In a conversation with a fellow artist and teacher recently, we discussed how many artists wanted to paint looser, as if it is a thing you can just do. We agreed that actually that looser style comes largely from confidence.  That untouched brush stroke that looks just right is probably the product of years of experience.

Can you speed things up? I think you can and it's done by painting lots of pieces but with the initial intent of them not being finished works. This mindset will help you from being too careful, after all a practice piece is just that. You will find that a carefree practice painting might just present itself as one of your best!

Mike Barr

 

   Caption: Sometimes those small quick brushy paintings just work.


Caption: Sometimes those small quick brushy paintings just work.

IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN

Almost as soon as we take-up painting we start hearing rumours about the colour green. The main two are that it’s difficult to use, and that green paintings are hard to sell. Firstly, the difficulty aspect of green is true.  So few artists can handle green well, and despite that there are more green paintings that you can poke a tree at.

Discovering good greens is a triumph for a painter, and mostly, they don’t come straight out of a tube. Many artists don’t have a tube-green on their palette, preferring to mix the greens from other colours. Other artists, like myself use a base green but always mix it with other colours. Veridian is a great traffic light green mixed with white, and used in conjunction with other colours like yellow ochre or Sienna it can produce wonderful muted greens. Mixed with cadmium yellow it can make vivid sunlit greens.  Every artist has their own little favourites.

Even though green may have a bad reputation there are artists that can make it sing. While walking around the recent Camberwell Art Show I was asked by a group of artists if I had seen anything I really liked. I had, and green figured largely in it.  I have attached the painting in question (Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street) by Melbourne artist Joe Blundell.  Joe has only recently begun life as an artist and has a great story about that on his website (joeblundell.com.au)

Joe's painting at Camberwell combines the green with the greys of buildings behind them, and it is superb. Greens are on their best behaviour when they have a grey backdrop, and this is borne out on a grey stormy day when a sunlit tree is back-dropped by a grey brooding sky. For me it was the stand-out painting of the show. Notice the subtle greens within the shadows of the walls too.

Green paintings don't sell?
Well, Joe's did, and at 168x122cm it didn't come cheap. I think we can say that good green paintings sell! As far as greens go, Australia is the lucky country. We have all the greens seen in Europe but also the wonderful grey-blue and golden greens of the gums and other growth. Getting greens right is a journey that is well-worth undertaking, and it takes some experimenting - this is one of the joys of being a painter.

Mike Barr

 

  Caption:   Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street   168x122cm - Joe Blundell.

Caption:
Sundance 2 - No 1 Collins Street
168x122cm - Joe Blundell.

YOU'LL ONLY BE A PAINTER IF YOU PAINT

One of the biggest hang-ups about painting is having to think too much about it, while we do it. Of course, we have to think about what we are doing, but it can easily overtake our artistic side and in the end, artistry can drown in theory. All said and done, no one is going to be a painter because they know all the theory. Skill grows from the continual process of painting itself. No one has ever learned to drive without actually driving.

For example, colour theory isn't just learned from reference to colour charts and wheels, but by the use of colour on the palette and canvas. It is a personal journey that is different for everyone. Very early on I discovered by myself that red was toned down by green - actually, I didn't even know what tone was, but I knew that by adding a bit of green to bright red and some white, I could get the terra cotta colour I wanted.

Referring to colour charts and wheels while we are actually painting, can halt the flow of our work and growth can be stunted. The fewer colours you use, the easier it is to comprehend the amazing reach of colour mixing, and you will learn more about the subject than swarming over a 100 charts.

Composition rules can also be a needless worry. Recently, I read an artist's take on DaVinci's Last Supper painting. They drew red diagonal lines all over it, indicating the intricate compositional pattern. It looked impressive but made no sense at all, and is of no practical help to artists. Composition, like every other aspect of painting will develop in time. A sense of balance will become second-nature if we are continually aware of it, even when we are not painting.

Painting Plein air is the greatest teacher because everything has to be done on the fly, such as colour, tone, composition, and perspective. It's the best learning process there is, because it demands that artists to take control by making their own decisions.

Read the books, view the videos, and go to the workshops to learn as much as you can, but remember you'll only ever be a painter if you paint.

Happy painting!

Mike Barr

 

 

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Sunspot Reflections - acrylic on canvas - 100x75cm

BENDING THE RULES

If you've been painting for a while you would have heard about some of the age-old 'rules'  that regularly do the rounds, and it seems for every rule there is always an artist ready to enforce it.

As time goes by we realise that there is no law enforcement when it comes to art. We can rest assured that the police won't be at the door if we bend or even fragrantly break some of the rules of painting.  A self-proclaimed sleuth may reprimand us from time to time, but they can't harm us, fine us, or send us to jail.

When we see a painting we love, we don't give it the third degree.  We tend to love art for what it is and thank goodness, because art would have died out long ago if its success depended on whether the artists followed all the rules in making it.
To be fair, a lot of rules are tried and true procedures and ways of doing things that have proved their worth over time.  However, rules regarding composition, tone and colour are all there to be broken if we dare.  
Black paint was virtually banned by the impressionists, preferring to get their darks from mixtures rather than use black in any way. John Singer Sargent certainly used black, as did Turner (who is widely regarded as the father of impressionism), and Renoir is quoted as saying “I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colours is black”.
 Even today, many artists will not consider using black paint, and it has become one of the 'rules'.  The comment is often quoted - 'black is a dead colour".  I don't know who first used the phrase but it is so well-worn it has become gospel.
Black is still in the palette of many portrait artists, and interestingly the Swedish artist Anders Zorn famously often only used a palette of just black, white, vermillion and yellow ochre. His paintings are anything but dead!  Look at this link - a self portrait of Zorn painting, and notice the colours on his palette! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Zorn#/media/File:Sj%C3%A4lvportr%C3%A4tt_av_Anders_Zorn_1896.jpg
I tend to use black in my rainy cityscapes, but nearly always in conjunction with other colours. My favourite colours to use with black and white are yellow ochre, ultramarine, alizarin and veridian - some amazing greys are possible without too much complication.  The rain tends to rob any scene of colour and more so into the distance. The brightest colours are those that are illuminated like traffic lights, car lights and neon signs.  The technique of blueing off distant objects does not work the same in rainy-day works.
The rebellion has already begun, and black paint is being squeezed out of tubes all over the world.
Are you coming over to the dark side!
Mike Barr
 

casablabla.jpg

Caption: Casablabla - is one of my favourite little paintings and all done using very few colours including black.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARKS

Don’t be Afraid of the Darks

 I’d been painting for a few years when I was given some advice – pay attention to the darks.

We can be painting for years and not recognise things that are lacking in our work. We can go through a lifetime of painting and miss things if we are not told about them.

I was thankful about the comment on the darks because looking back, they were certainly lacking most of the time.

Lack of darks is common in a lot of work and especially in water colours, where just when you think the darks are good, it all dries lighter. Darks in water colour take some boldness, but it does with other mediums too.

In oils and acrylics, putting in the darks at the beginning of a painting is a statement of boldness and confidence and those initial confident darks will set up the rest of the painting.

There is no better way to portray light than to have contrasting darks, and many a drama-filled painting has this feature. Landscapes, portraits, still life and abstract works come alive with contrasting darks and lights and often without this, paintings can look flat and uninteresting.

The most gripping example I can think of is Sir Arthur Streeton's 'Victoria Tower, Westminster'. I have seen this painting in the flesh at the South Australian Art Gallery and the link to the photo provided does it no justice at all - https://www.cutlermiles.com/the-victoria-tower-westminster-sir-arthur-streeton.html

This work draws you in to its atmospherics because of that cloud shadow on the tower.  The shadow is exaggerated perfectly in colour and darkness, to give it real guts and it makes the tower an imposing object full of awe. The bright light in the foreground is but a foil to make the tower even more dramatic. It is surely one of the most powerful shadows ever painted, and had the shadow been painted lighter, the work would not have had half the power.

Exaggerated darks can beef up an otherwise boring scene, and is one of the best tools available to artists, that can make the painted version of life so much more interesting.

The photo of 'Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne' is another example of exaggerated darks in the foreground, that gives depth to the more distant objects, as well as giving the overall painting some substance. The extreme darks also allow the tail lights of the cars to shine.

As a matter of interest, black was used in conjunction with other colours to achieve the deep darks in the foreground - more on black paint next time!

Mike Barr

burkeroadrain.jpg

Caption - Late Afternoon, Burke Road, Melbourne is available at the Artworx Gallery - 50x50cm oil on canvas.

THE ENERGY OF A BRUSH STROKE

 

The amazing energy of unamended brush strokes was certainly a hallmark of the early impressionists. Today many artists use them to convey energy and interest in their paintings. The visible brush stroke speaks of intent and confidence. In other words the strokes are deliberate and bold.  Painting in this way is not every artist’s thing, but trying it every so often will help our confidence and work. It means that you will paint with larger brushes than you normally would, especially the flat variety and at the end you can embellish for a little while with a small brush if you feel you need to.

The broad brush method of painting helps in a few directions.
It will force you to simplify
Detail will become implied only - the best detail possible. It is amazing how striking things look when produced with fewer strokes rather than being fiddled with endlessly.
It will stop you from striving for perfection
Striving for perfection is the ruination of art and the hopeless striving for it can make us give up. A painting’s worth more for its feeling than its perfect likeness.
It will make you appreciate the 'accidental' effect
You will fall in love with some strokes that you thought you didn't mean.  The more you paint broad the 'luckier' you will get and in the end you realise it is not luck at all - just confidence.
Your paintings will take on a new life
There is no denying that brushy work has built-in energy with each mark and stroke looking lively and immediate. It almost turns a painting into a movie.
You will finish your paintings quicker and they will have more interest
This is a real bonus, particularly if you are painting outdoors.  The very simplest of paintings done with large brush strokes can have more in them than works done over days. The eye is more attracted to the obscure and to dramatic brush strokes than to photographic detail.
It will allow you to finish without needing it to be perfect
Striving for perfection is the bane of many an artist and we have all felt it in one form or another. With a bolder brush, perfection is taken out of the equation. The purpose of untouched brushstrokes is to give life - not to have it sapped away through the attrition of process and detail.
Why not give the bold brush a try and spark up your interest and enjoyment at the easel.
Mike Barr

Caption:
Clare 1920s - came as a bit of a surprise. The surface I had prepared for this oil painting was slippery and had a red/brown underpainting.  The brush flowed and I left many parts alone after the first.

Clare1920s.jpg

THE COLOUR OF SHADOWS

 

Shadows are rarely just darker colours than the un-shadowed colour, and the impressionists used this to great effect.

The easiest way to see the colour of a shadow is to see them at the beach or in the snow. You will notice that shadows on a sunny clear day are very blue or purple, particularly late in the afternoon or morning. Some of us may never have noticed this, but it's quite a revelation when you spot it.

Many impressionist artist’s really exaggerate these coloured shadows to great effect, and even though they are more coloured than in real life, they look believable, simply because we are used to seeing those coloured shadows without even realizing it!

The blue in shadows on a sunny day are there because the yellow of the sun is being blotted out by a solid object. With the yellow of the sun not there, the only thing left to illuminate is the blue sky and hence the blueness of the shadow. Of course, it is not all blue but a combination of blue and the original colour of the object in shadow.  It is the subtlety of these combinations that need to be worked on to get it right. There is no real formula - it takes persistence, observation and patience!

Not only is the shadow a combination of the original object’s colour (untainted by the yellow of the sun) and the sky but can also include colours from sources nearby.  For instance the shadows of sand dunes have the colour of sand, the sky and the reflection of sunlit sand that may be nearby. Quite frankly, there are so few artists that think about this third source, and it's a triumph when we get it right.

Still life shadows are particularly susceptible to colours of local objects and understanding this can transform your work.

I remember one evening leaving the Cathedral Art Show in Adelaide and there were two sets of street lights at play. Some strong white spotlights were casting deep shadows on the pavement, but the shadows were very orange. The orange came from the street lights above that were illuminating the shadows cast from the white spotlights.

For sure, the colours in shadows are very subtle most of the time, but as artists we can enhance them and when we do, it will add another dimension to our work and bring them to life. A study of how other artists handle shadows can be an eye-opener and well worth the time to consider and then implement the knowledge in our own work. 

Happy observing and painting

'BEACH SHADOWS'

The blue-purple in the shadows are very visible at the beach and on things like white sails.

 

beachshadows.JPG

Sky Blues

Not long ago while painting outdoors at Goolwa, a fellow artist dropped by and we had a chat about the colour of the sky. It was a partly cloudy day and the blues were distinctly different as they popped through the clouds in different parts. It's on these kind of days that the variety of blues in the same sky is most apparent and it's quite remarkable.

Landscape artists are among the keenest observers of the sky that can be imagined.  Translating that observation into our work will certainly give it an edge that can only be obtained from direct observation as opposed to working from photographic reference alone.

Depending on which direction and elevation of the sky you look at, the blues can be dramatically different. Directly above can be a very deep colour and almost a deep grey blue. Often near the horizon the blue can be almost turquoise, particularly in the winter. The main thing though is that the blues are always lighter as they travel from overhead toward the ground. At certain times of the day and depending where the sun is the blues can turn to yellow, pink or purple near the horizon.

Capturing these colours in a painting can transform it, but it takes some work to get it right, but once you get it, you will always be able to take advantage of it. Getting the sky right, especially near the horizon will give your work tons of aerial perspective and this is what can make or break a painting.

Of course, there is not one particular sky blue, simply because nature's palette is far more extensive than that. We all have our favourites though! Cerulean, Ultramarine, Cobalt and my personal favourite, Pthalo blue (red shade) are the main ones and combinations of the above are often used.

In most cases the sky sets the tone in a landscape painting, particularly a seascape. It's also an opportunity to get out the bigger brushes, because a big-brushed sky will always look more lively and floaty than one done with small brushes and careful strokes.

Personally, I almost always add clouds to a sky even if they aren't there in real life. It just seems to add volume and interest to the sky. In most of my seascapes I have a lot of sky, mainly because this is what hits you as you walk onto a beach.

So, as an artist never miss an opportunity to look at all those blues in the sky and all those delicious coloured greys in the clouds - just don't do it when you're driving though!

Happy observing!

Mike Barr

 

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A photo I took of Goolwa Beach many years ago. The different blues are easily seen here as well as a hint of turquoise near the horizon and a belt of dusky purple right on the horizon -  the belt of colour on the horizon is really important.

Finding Your Painting Style

I've heard many artists say that they are trying to find a style - particularly those who are new to painting.  Also, many of us that have been painting for a while think they have don't have a style yet. The thing is, we already have a style - it just needs to be recognised.

Sometimes, what we mean is, we want to paint like someone else  and we are looking around to see who we might emulate.

 Eventually though, even though we might take on someone else's style we nearly always revert back to what we do naturally.  Unfortunately, some artists actually do become clones of other artists, both in style and content, but they are never quite the real deal as artists.

An often repeated comment is "I would love to paint like you"  and some attend workshops of artists they like in the hope that this might come true. The fact is, if tutor artists thought that their students would end up painting like them, then workshops would quickly become a thing of the past!

It's true that during a workshop, students  will come up with paintings that resemble the style of the tutors, but generally it ends there. Once we are at home we find that we paint like we always did.

The point of workshops is not to change your style, but to get better at your own style.  One of two things picked up in the workshop or demonstration and always put into practice at home, will make the experience invaluable.  

Painting style is as personal as handwriting - we are all taught how to write but we all do it differently.  We all know how to walk but every single person has their own unique way of doing it - the same goes with painting.

Learn to recognise your own style, embrace it and love it - it's you!

 A run through a mixed painting exhibition will show how each artist is different in their own way. This is because each of them has their own style.  Some artists like John Lacey from South Australia  (his work can be seen at Arworx Gallery) paints traditional and contemporary work,  but his own personal style shines through in both forms of work.

Over time our styles will develop and grow as we improve our painting skills, but this will come naturally and not as a result of wishing to change our style - it just happens.  

Enjoy the journey!

Mike Barr

 

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 Mike Barr

Burnside Showers - 100x100cm acrylic on canvas

The Wonder of Watercolour

Despite being the most difficult of all painting mediums, many people are drawn to it when first taking up painting. Perhaps it is the seeming simplicity of it all. Drawing, then painting it in..  or is it the almost instantaneous set up that attracts people to the medium. Whatever it is, water colour has beguiled many an artist into its fascinating world!
Of all the mediums, water colour is the most unpredictable and you often don't get a second chance. What you see on the palette of a set of oils or acrylics is pretty much what you will get on the canvas and the same is true of pastels. When it comes to water colour though, the variables of pigment and water are almost limitless, and then it dries lighter too! Then there is the untidy and often unwanted effects of placing colour on top of other colours that are either to dry or too wet - there is always something you need to think about when applying the paint.
A little while ago I saw a photorealistic painting of a street scene which had been done with water colours. It was so close to the photograph, that it was hard to know which one was which. A short video clip of the process showed an artists hand with a small brush making small careful strokes - the whole painting would have been done this way. It showcased great craftsmanship, but not a lot of art - the painting was an exact imitation of the photo. It is my opinion, that water colour is meant for better things than careful photorealism, but the trace and paint method seems to be growing in popularity and is presented as the pinnacle of achievement. A look at some of the masters of the past and present will show how amazing the medium is at conveying mood and movement. I have chosen a painting of Edward Seago to illustrate the true wonder of water colour with  Marsh and Sky.

Even though this work is a study of simplicity (the key to good watercolour) it oozes mood and light. Confident washes and brush strokes give the painting a vibrancy that is lacking in the careful, small-brush method. His beautiful darks and use of white paper, makes the light shine and the use of a dry brush gives the impression of sparkle and texture. This is water colour in its true glory and a relative handful of artists emulate it today. It is well worth looking up Edward Seago on Google and considering his water colour and oil
paintings. It is time well-spent. A visit to Artworx Gallery and Gifts will show some wonderful examples of the water colour medium too.

Happy painting

 Mike Barr


Marsh and Sky (14 x20 in) Edward Seago

Edward Seago, Marsh and Sky, Watercolor, 14 x 20 in.jpeg

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO PAINT THAT

 I'd love a hot dinner for every time I have heard that question! We almost feel as if the enquirer will be heartily satisfied if we tell them to took six months of hard labour to complete a painting, and that anything less might have them thinking it's unworthy of attention.

I know from experience that onlookers are almost in disbelief that an artist can produce three or four paintings in a few hours while painting plien air (outdoors). The general consensus is , that paintings take days, weeks or even months to finish.  Of course, some paintings do take that long but it depends on size and the amount of small-brush detail, but it's not a general rule.

 Many artists can paint several good works in a day, but does that make them any less valuable than one that has taken days or weeks to paint?  Paintings that take longer to complete are not necessarily better or of more value because of it. Artists are not just worth an hourly rate like a plumber or even a lawyer. Bear in mind too, that good artists are harder to find than a good lawyer or doctor.

For a lot of professional and semi-professional artists, output is important and under normal circumstances a painting every month or so just isn't going to keep you in bread and jam, unless you are selling them for tens of thousands each. Speed and continuous output is a great advantage.

An artist who can complete a work in hours, is able to do so because of accumulated skill and confidence in their whole process, including colour mixing, drawing, application of paint and knowing when to stop. 

Artists should not be phased by the question - "how long did it take to paint that". Often, it’s just an expression of interest by a passerby with no intent.

If the question is asked we can truly answer by adding the number of years of experience we have had - "it took me 20 years to learn how to paint this in three hours".

Happy painting.

Mike Barr

Caption: This plein air painting of Victor Park Adelaide, was completed in about an hour and a half. As you look at it you can see everything was put down without too much fuss and the figures are nothing more than a few strokes.  It takes time and practice to do this with some success.

 VIC PARK 1

VIC PARK 1

Letting Go

From the minute we delve into art, we understand that each piece we produce has its own little character.  They are like our offspring and we have a special attachment to them - we love them. If and when we start to sell our work, it dawns on us that they are not just ours - they belong to the world and to one person in particular and that doesn't include us.

Some of us never get passed the possessive stage and our work becomes jealously guarded and treasured - sometimes to a fault. Just like our children, our creations need to be loved and not just by us. 

Letting go of our art and allowing it to be loved by another person or family, completes it. The process in itself should be enjoyed and it is satisfying in a way that only artists understand. 

There is the largely hidden process of the birth and nurturing of a piece of art. Conceived in the mind and created on a canvas, all away from the public gaze. There may have been troubles along the way, which we overcame with patience and perseverance and the finished product is unique. There is nothing exactly the same in the whole world and it's time to introduce it to a new life.

We dress it up in a frame to make it look the best it can - after all, it may be about to meet someone who is going to fall in love with it. Isn't that what we want!

Sometimes, it's love at first sight or there might be quite a courtship as the prospective buyer visits several times, getting to know the painting before making a commitment.  Either way, your work is about to enter the life of someone else and will become part of another family.  It will be looked at, pondered, admired, discussed as well as being witness to the joys and sad times that come upon every family - it will become a rock as it lives through several generations.

So, next time you are tempted to just keep that special piece, maybe it's time to let go. As I always think - a painting is not complete until it is in the possession of someone who loves it, and mostly that means it has sold!

Happy painting!

Mike Barr

 The Lat Wave

The Lat Wave

Making Paintings Interesting

 

Some artists have an amazing knack of making their paintings interesting. Actually, it’s more than a knack, they have learned how to do it and they know what to look for in the most ordinary of subjects.

It’s not something often talked about among artists and perhaps it’s because most of us churn out paintings that lack real interest – me included. The problem is that it’s really easy to miss and we don’t purposely do it and that’s because we don’t think about it much as we paint.

When we first take up painting, we can be more concerned about trying to get it looking the same as the reference rather than making it interesting. Unfortunately, this trait can stay with us for as long as we are painters, simply because we don’t think about the alternatives.

I always think that looking through an open art exhibition will teach us many things and one of them is what makes certain paintings more interesting than others. Some works draw onlookers like magnets – be an observer at the next open art show and see what people are attracted to and why.

So here are a few things we can help us generate interest in our work and it often mean escaping from the reference we use to paint from.

  • Contrast – contrast alone doesn’t make a great painting but it can certainly add interest. Also, there are many interesting paintings that have limited contrast but other things come into play like mood and serenity. Contrast often means good darks, which in turn can make the light pop.

  • Selective use of colour indiscriminate use of bright colour all around a painting can have people walking quickly to the next work. Using colour as an accent really works in generating interest.

  • Colour harmony – this can be really effective in all genres. Paintings with colours that are comfortable with each other are very attractive and liveable – they are interesting and deliberately so.

  • Atmospheric perspective – this is missing in an awful lot of work. The greens on distant hills should not be the same as those in the foreground. The same applies to all distant colours. This one aspect alone can transform a painting from one of limited interest to one that viewers can walk into.

  • Focal point – not every painting needs one, but it does help to promote interest.  Having the eye of the viewer drawn to a single point in the painting is a great way to grab attention. Not, every bit of a painting needs to be in focus or competing for attention. Most of a painting can just be a prop for that ‘star of the show’ which people just can’t help looking at.

  • Add life!  Signs of life are the easiest way to give draw attention.  Many artists avoid it at the cost of interest. A beach with no people, birds or boats – a jetty with no sign of life whatever, a landscape with not even a bird can make it look like a depiction of how life on earth could like the day after all life has been eradicated. Signs of life such as people, birds, houses and boats will have viewers identifying with what you have painted and they will be making up their own story about what they are seeing. That is what you call interesting and it is the work of an artist and not just a practician.

Happy painting in 2018!

Mike Barr

                                     Autumn Shadows – Middleton                                         Oil on canvas – 120x60cm  Interest is invited first by the fact that you will not see yachts at Middleton, but you do in this painting. At last the viewer is drawn by the cliffs and beyond as the depiction of distance takes hold.

                                    Autumn Shadows – Middleton  

                                     Oil on canvas – 120x60cm

Interest is invited first by the fact that you will not see yachts at Middleton, but you do in this painting. At last the viewer is drawn by the cliffs and beyond as the depiction of distance takes hold.

Painting to Music

Nothing stirs the heart and emotions like music.  It can make us happy, it can make us soar and we all know at least one piece of music that can bring us to tears and not necessarily from sadness. Many artists have learned how to harness this power when they paint and some even blog what music they listened to when they painted a particular work. Music can elevate our mood and can free our timidity with the brush too and of course this will depend on our personal taste. Music while painting isn’t everyone’s thing, but it’s well worth a try to taste its potential magic. I believe there are several benefits to combining music and art.

  • It can lift our spirits so much that it can expand our perceived capabilities. Simply, we can believe we can do things beyond what we thought possible. It’s true!

  • Music can distract us from thinking too much about the process of art. It can free our minds to do art. This state of mind is otherwise called being in the zone and we can find that art has rhythm as well as music. It’s true!

  • Importantly, music can blot out the distractions and worries of life that beckon us constantly. Someone once commented that to paint well our life needs to be in order and without stress. Well, I’m still yet to meet such a person! Let music sooth your soul and let it help you to immerse yourself in the moment. It works!  

As for what kind of music is best, it must be stuff that you love. I have a regular dose of Enya while painting and enjoy its ethereal themes. Sometimes while painting rainy street scenes, I will turn to popular songs that mention the rain, such as: Have you ever seen the rain – CCR, Kentucky Rain - Elvis, Rainy days and Mondays – The Carpenters, Why does it always rain on me? – Travis and my favourite, I hear laughter in the Rain by Neil Sedaka.  I know that I’m preaching to many who have converted – so what do you listen to while painting?

Merry Painting and a Happy New Canvas

Mike Barr

 

                                  A White Christmas on the Torrens This Year? (2004)

whitechristmastorrens.jpg

Painting With Mud

I saw a post on Facebook recently showing artists how to avoid their colours turning into mud on the palette. The argument was that it was important to keep colours bright and fresh. I thought about that and realised that a lot of my paintings and palettes are certainly muddy - particularly those of the rainy-day kind. Of course, it depends on what you are painting and what you intend your finished painting to look like.

If you are after a bright floral painting, then mud is not going to get you home. There are times when you need clean colours that are not tainted by other colours. Having said that, it should not be the universal aim that all paintings should have bright and fresh colours and sometimes, we can just be too careful.

Not long ago I was watching a famous oil painter at work. He only had half a dozen basic colours on his palette and he didn't mind in the least that some colours were being tainted by others. In fact, the landscape he produced was magnificent and unified. Having bits of the same colour on the ground and in the sky can be very effective. It just depends on what kind of painter you are and what kind of painting you are hoping for.

Some of the world's best watercolourists love the mud or dirty colour left on the palette from previous paintings, whereas other artists wouldn't dream of using it!

Greys can easily be misnamed as mud, and are often the heart and soul of a painting. Colour will sing when it is supported by greys and darks and paintings can lose complete focus if everything is bright and colourful. Many beautiful paintings have been produced both abstract and traditional just using greys and perhaps a few highlight colours. Greys can be mixed by using complementary colours and white or by mixing colours with black and white - both are good.

I know for instance that the palette for my rain paintings can look like a pigs wallow, but my highlight colours have to be kept clean and used with a clean brush. My beach palette is quite different and some of those main colours of sky and sea need to be clean and fresh. To suggest however, that every painting needs clean colours with no 'mud' is just wrong. 

A painting full of colour can cause visual agitation and serenity in a painting with so little of it. It is a worthwhile exercise to look at the works of many artists both abstract and traditional and see how colour and greys work  together. 

Sometimes, mud is good!

Mike Barr

townhall.jpg

The story of a thousand paintings

It's nearly that time of year again when Victor Harbor Rotary Club will play host to hundreds of artists and some 1200 paintings in its annual art show. The show attracts artists from around the country with its alluring prize money and amazing percentage of sales. 

This big event in the Australian art calendar has artists presenting their best works - some that have been saved all year just for this particular show. The amazing thing about having those 1200 or so works in one giant marquee, is that everyone of them has a unique story. 

I'm not talking about the story that the painting portrays but the story 'of' the painting itself. It's largely a hidden story and parts of it is a mystery to both the artist and the buyer.

The buyer has little knowledge of the conception, birth and early life of a painting. The artist of course knows all about it!  The artist first knew what they wanted to paint and they visualised how it could look as a finished piece of art. They even thought how they could improve on it to make it more appealing by giving it a focus that may not have been there in the reference. Then there was the size to consider, the colours and maybe the frame.  This is where the story begins and there's more. 

The finished painting on the wall doesn't tell us about the possible dramas in production - the times we couldn't do anything right, the times we just gave up or wanted to give up. It may have even been discarded completely, but then revived some time later when it all came together! Then there's the hauling - artists always seem to be hauling paintings to shows and in an out of cars, all the time concerned about the damage that may happen along the way. Then we worry about how it's going to look at the show with all those other great artists there. It's a story that may be repeated often before the painting sells, if of course, it ever does sell. 

I know most artists love the excitement of the opening day and we get to see our work and those of other artists that we have long admired. All the dramas that may have happened in production are soon forgotten as we see our babies on display.

The life of a painting is now mostly out of the control of the artist. A buyer loves a piece of art and they purchase it, often a person unknown to the artist and because of privacy issues they may never know who now owns it.

It is here that art begins a new life. It is a mystery to most artists what happens to it next, but paintings live on in the lives of a family through good and bad times. It becomes a part of the fabric of a family in which it may be loved for generations. 

The latter part of a painting's life may be a mystery to the artist, but what a privilege it is to have created something that has such an enduring story in front of it.

Artworx Gallery has five rooms full of paintings waiting right now for their stories to continue - come and have a look!

Happy Painting
Mike Barr

 The big marquee is ready for the display boards and the paintings with a thousand stories to tell!

The big marquee is ready for the display boards and the paintings with a thousand stories to tell!

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