Australian Fine Artist

Archive for October, 2013

The Fine Art of Assessing Artworks

Professional artists and teachers are often asked to judge at art shows or at demonstrations at art societies and guilds. If you have ever been a part of this process by bringing along an artwork to get an idea of how you are doing in your progress, you may have wondered what was in the mind of the judge as they looked at your work. You may have also, along with others wondered if there was any reasoning or process being applied as work was being judged or if it was a matter of the preferences and particular liking or disliking, prejudices or even alliances of that particular person doing the judging.

As I am now studying towards not only selling my work but also teaching in the near future, I thought it a good time to not only call on personal experience, but also training as a trainer and assessor and arts training to speak about how I would like to approach this subject.

First, it shouldn’t matter who is paying you or asking you to do the judging, your decision making has to be unbiased. You can not think about any friends you may have in the group, who is on the committee, who is going to be giving you your cheque at the end of the session. If you are going to base your decisions in any way with these influences you can not be considered a professional artist or art judge.

Second, If the competition allows for a variety of mediums, such as watercolours, oils, pastels, drawings in pencil or charcoal etc, you can not say that you only know about one or two of these and only judge based on what you feel you know. This leaves out other entries who may have better technical expertise and which may or should be selected for a place or win. Just saying “oh, I only work in watercolours so I can’t tell if those others are of high enough standard”, to me is a cop out. If you are there to judge all the work, you must consider all of them. If you are not qualified to look at all mediums, you either need to increase your own training or not take on the job.

Third, If there is a topic or theme, you must stick to it. If people have taken the time to create work to comply with the guidelines of the competition, it is an insult to their hard work to allow work to be entered that does not meet this criteria. You have to be strong enough in your convictions as a professional to disallow a work. This may annoy someone, but will gain you respect from others, and frankly you are not there to pick up friends as your main objective, you are there to judge professionally and respectfully.

After this follows the criteria that I use, and hopefully others do as well (of not more criteria that I am still learning about) which are:

  • Composition (understanding of the variety of methods)
  • Tone (understanding of light and shade and modelling)
  • Colour (use of)
  • Colour (understanding of colour theory)
  • Understanding of chosen medium
  • Style (understanding of the style used – such as impressionist or realist etc)
  • Subject (understanding of the subject – such as anatomy etc)
  • Perspective (understanding of single or multi point, understanding of colour perspective)
  • Materials (understanding of materials used)
  • Presentation (if framed, the selection of frame and/or matts, if unframed, the sides and back of the work and hanging mechanism)
  • Creativity and interest

Finally, I would add to all this an understanding by the judge of the general level of the group which you are judging. It is useless to apply the expectation of the level of ability and presentation of a thirty year veteran of painting to a group of beginners, social painters or kids just starting out. A lot of art groups have divisions for the different levels at which their members are working, which helps a lot but you need to make sure you understand what these are before you start.

Also, make your decision making clear. I have been at a lot of events where the winners have not known why their work was chosen. If you are allowed the time, and I suggest that you make it a requirement that you have it, tell the group what it was that made one piece stand out for you, and go through your process with them. Have a check sheet if you need it so that as you look at the works, you keep everything clear in your mind as you may be judging and presenting at different times during the session. Be prepared also, to tell others where you feel they can improve their works if you have not selected them. Some may want to know what they need to work on so they can do better next time. Offer to do that if it has not been made clear.

If you have been engaged to do a demonstration of your work, I understand that this adds to the workload of preparing what you will present, preparing the materials and probably doing some practice and preliminary sketches. It may mean that you are at the event a little longer than normal afterwards. You are, however, being paid as a professional, and can only gain in reputation as a solid, reliable and knowledgeable (and generous I might add) presenter if you apply these tips at every event you go to. I know that I have been very grateful for any extra time that demonstrators have taken to give me a few ideas on improving my work, after they had finished painting and talking to the group.

I know there are probably established demonstrators who may read this and disagree with nearly everything I have just said. I am OK with that. This is the basis of how I will be applying my arts practice in the future for any demonstrating and/or judging I may be called upon to perform. It will be transparent and hopefully done to the best of my ability and with all the training that I am now doing used as the foundation of my decision making (plus with a big dash of respect and kindness – and maybe a little humour to round it off).

Feedback and comments about this article are welcomed as are new follower to the blog site. The next article in coming days will be about the demonstration at McCelland Guild of Artists for the month of November 2013.

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Helene Seymour

Demonstration at Berwick Artists Society

Topic: Painting Horses in Oils

I have seen Helene demonstrate several times before at various venues. She is a very experienced artist with a great interest in painting animals.

Born in the United Kingdom in 1942, Helene arrived with her family in Melbourne in 1948. Drawing from early childhood, she studied life drawing and fashion drawing at the Caulfield Institute of Technology during the 1960s.

After marrying and raising four children she returned to full-time painting, and has won many awards and High Commendations which include the Victorian Artist’s Society ‘Artist of the Year’ Award in 1997. Judges have included-Sir William Dargie O.B.E. Alan McCulloch and Geoffrey Smith, then curator of 20th Century Australian Contempory Art, National Gallery of Victoria.

Helene’s work is widely represented in private and public collections throughout Australia and overseas, including Canada, Greece, England, Saudi Arabia, Jersey, India, Ireland and the U.S.A. She has accepted many commissions (although not her preferred method of operating, as she much prefers to paint as she feels rather than to the restrictions of a more realist brief from a client), and is to be found in various publications.

The background for the painting for this demonstration had already been painted in and the outline of the horse drawn up to save time and give a hint of the final look. Although originally intending to paint a black horse, it quickly became apparent that Helene was being drown by the call of her colours as she applied darks and then mids and lights of varying warm and cool colours to create the form of the horse’s body.

Over the space of only a couple of hours the outline became the spirit and movement of a horse as it burst across the canvas. Helene worked broadly and loosely with the brushes and paint to maintain a semi-abstract style to the painting. Proof that you do not have to copy nature to make an identifiable figure. We all know what a horse looks like, so as artists we can take the spirit and movement of the animal and make it into art and not just a copy of a photo.

The direction of the light was used to help give form to the legs as highlights and shadows were applied in various colours and the colour in the background was adjusted in a couple of spots to help the form of the animal pop off the surface.

Overall, another interesting session from Helene, who can always take interested students on a journey away from total realism and into the land of imagination and creativity.

Post Addition:

It is with sadness that I report that Helene passed away on Feb. 20, 2014, very suddenly. A creative mind lost to the art world.

Painting Cityscapes

Workshop Nine of the Course of Nine workshops in Painting by David Chen.

It is with a little sadness that we attended the last of our workshops with David for the year. Each month he has given us so much to think about and a lot of valuable information that I have not learnt anywhere else. His in thorough arts education and teaching ability along with his over thirty years of practical experience as an exhibiting artist make David the ideal teacher for my advancement and improvement as a fine artist.

Our last lesson was very apt as I have been working on a painting based around Princes Bridge in Melbourne. I took the photo earlier in the year and was waiting until I felt confident enough to tackle it. After doing a small pastel drawing and then a preliminary oil sketch on canvas, I was working out all the bits that I was not happy with and decided to take the project in to see what David had to say as I did another small oil sketch of the scene.

David began by talking about how important it is to study from the masters. Go to galleries, sketch from the paintings of other established artists and see how they have tackled certain issues in their work. He also said that we need to study our subject. Learn about perspective, learn to draw and practice it daily. Learn about composition, practice it and if you want to paint the city, go in and look at it. Walk around and see how the light and shadow is at different times of the day and how it reacts with different buildings. Look at reflections, look at the various ways you can divide up your composition and what you can include or leave out for artistic licence.

We looked at four common ways to divide up a canvas. The diagonal composition often has a canopy or porch covering running into the corner of the painting creating a triangular and dominant shape. The L-shape often has larger buildings to one side or the other balanced by shadows cast across the bottom. The Tunnel Vision layout is what you commonly see when looking down a street with buildings on either side to a distant focal point at the end of the road. The Golden Section or Golden Mean, is the composition style that most of us are most familiar with, dividing the area into nine equal squares (like noughts and crosses) and the focal points are where the lines intersect.

We then talked about the addition of foreground, mid ground and background to these compositional tools. With only one or two of these the painting tends to look a bit flat, especially when painting buildings and streets. Keep in mind that a foreground does not have to be composed of objects, it can be the cast shadow from objects in the mid ground, the colour creating the illusion of foreground objects.

If your subject is lacking in one of these items, you may need to consider adding it to the painting yourself, to make sure your painting will work.

Keep an eye on your values as well. Lack of highlights and shadows will also make a painting look flat. Like photos, you need a good dynamic range of tone to give depth and impact to your paintings. Remember also to put all the shadows on the correct side of the buildings by remembering where your light source is. Also allow your colours to “relate” to each other by using them around the painting and not just in one spot. If you have a particular colour in the sky, try to place it somewhere else as well for example (for my painting this meant using a few sky colours on the bridge and on the surface of the river).

Another important point for cityscapes was what you can leave out. We all know that high rise buildings have lots of windows. We don’t have to put them all in. The painting can look too busy and it may also take away attention from your real focal point. Look at the buildings as a whole shape, not as a bunch of intricate details. You can always pop in a few little marks later if you think it will enhance the work. As David said, just don’t get bogged down by details.

As Monet did when he painted in London, David said we need to keep painting, learn to use our materials and to use them to “see” the whole, and then translate it into our own vision. This can be with any variety of colours, complimentary, split complimentary, analogous, or a mix of these on the one work to create depth and colour perspective. Your palette then replaces reality and the painting becomes your own vision of the world.

Monet painted the same scenes at all different times of the day, to learn about light and colour and how he could master them. His work became less about the subject and more about how he transformed it into his own unique work of art. This is what helped to make him the master of impressionism that we admire so much and a good guide to how we can also learn to master the medium to create our own recognisable and unique artworks and not just poor imitations of the real world.

Stu James

Painter, Sculptor, Printmaker, Conservator

Artist Talk at Chisholm TAFE

Here is a little about Stu: Australian sculptor Stu James completed a TOP year at Box Hill TAFE and followed that by completing a Bachelor of Arts in sculpture at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1988 and has worked as a conservator at the National Gallery of Victoria. Stu has held solo exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney since 1990 and has been included in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia. He is best known for his sea sculptures, and has received commissions from the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Southgate in Victoria. He was awarded the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch travelling fellowship in 1992. His work is held by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and the Australian Museum of Sport, also in Melbourne. A master craftsman, Stu creates intricate, delicate works from beaten copper.

The Talk

Stu started off his chat by stating that for him his art is his business. With his obvious country background, by his speech, I knew I was going to enjoy listening to him straight away!

Stu doesn’t rely on grants for income, he relies on earning income. He creates art to sell and has been running his arts practice for near to twenty five years. He has had commissions, sold directly from his studio and has been represented by galleries. The most current gallery selling his work is Australian Galleries in Collingwood. They have a very good reputation for working with their artists so that everyone feels comfortable with the commercial arrangement.

With his background in the country, Stu works from what he knows and has experienced. His fondness for camping and fishing and the wildlife that brings him into contact with is beautifully shown in the lifelike characters of his seagulls and blue wrens. He brought in a couple of the wrens which we were allowed to pick up and examine. They were stunning.

For Stu the secret of his work is not over thinking it. He researches the safest and best way to work with materials or to use them to create an artwork and is aware of which materials are safest to use for OH&S reasons.

We looked at a lot of artworks photographed over the years and the standard was always very high. I also noticed that the themes of his works have returned over and over as he has revisited them for new pieces. Even with growth and improvement in technique, the love of his environment and fondness for family and his personal memories were obvious.

For me also living in a rural setting, the seagulls, magpies, water hens, wrens and marsupials were very familiar. They were also subjects which I could relate to and enjoyed seeing not only as an artists but also as an animal lover with particular regard to our Australian wildlife.

Stu talked about the isolation of working as an artist in the studio for hours at a time He said the friendly rivalry of a local artist who works with plastic rather than the copper he uses, and impending exhibition deadlines helps keep him grounded, motivated and socialising.

The work produced can be from very small pieces to quite large ones, requiring a filling to be poured into them to help make them strong and stable for showing outside. Stu uses a combination of welding and pop rivetting to join his moulded metal which is beaten into shape to match cardboard stencils made from wrapping them around wire frames, that are the inside structures (or skeletons) of the works. He has a special mix to add oil paint to to help it dry and be ready for sanding back to help reveal some of the copper underneath. This mix of colour and copper gives a depth and interest to the work that the metal alone would never achieve.

Stu has produced seagull in the masses, and says that when they are all set up in a space, all with their individual personalities, they create quite a response from attendees. The nice thing he says, is that once you are on a roll creating seagulls for example, it is easy to keep going and make a lot of them. Plus I think he likes making all the personalities and seeing them all together!

A finishing great point that Stu gave us was about taking breaks in between projects to help keep “fresh” and not burn out. He admits that he has pushed himself to this a few times but has learnt to take breaks in the form of a holiday or doing some different type of work. He spends a few days a week doing building and if you ever visit a Nova Cinema, you will see his creativity in the look of the inside and the bars. Not just constructing a plain room, but making a public space that inspires and is interesting as well as creatively built.

My Impression

I very much enjoyed listening to Stu. He is down to earth, straight to the point and professional. His work is beautifully presented and stunning to look at. It makes you feel happy. It is not bleeding edge, it isn’t in your face addressing some social issue, it doesn’t make me feel sad or offended. Even his reliefs with Junk like plastic bottles and a deflated football in them in them looked great, just by how well they were done. My thanks to our tutors for bringing in another interesting artist to speak.

Business Studies Week 9 Semester 2

Video: Waiting for Sugar Man”

We had a stand in tutor who presented a video which was a documentary film about a little known musician (especially in his home country of the United States) but well known and nearly cult status in South Africa. HIs name Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, who is a Mexican American folk musician based in Detroit, Michigan. His career initially proved short lived, with two little-sold albums in the early 1970s and some brief touring in Australia. The movie addresses his interesting life through those he touched and the myth around his short initial career.

Based in Detroit, a city that even in the 1970s was decaying in many ways, this musician wrote and performed his songs in small venues, dark and often smoke-filled and often facing away from the crowd. He lived on odd jobs as his main source of income and was a private and quiet person not letting on publicly of his gift for music.

Little did he know that as his album sales failed in the USA they took off in South Africa, a country torn up by apartheid and filled with people looking for music that reflected how they felt about their country and their lives.

Through one person bringing in a copy of his album, the word spread about this amazing musician and his lyrics. Even though banned in the country, his music managed to reach many people who became avid fans.

Suddenly in the mid 1970s word spread that this talented artist had committed suicide. He seemed to disappear and most thought he had died. Even with this the music lived on in South Africa to the next generation.

So, what really happened to him? Someone in South Africa wanted to find out the real story. He created a web site and began the search by using the words in the songs to lead him to the home of Rodriguez.

Outside of Detroit and from a message from someone saying that they were his daughter, came the answer. Indeed, Rodriguez was alive and well and living a life in the USA. Rodriguez had gone back to work over the years doing demolition, building and construction. He had married, had daughters and had been active in local politics, social welfare and making sure that his daughters received a good education and were exposed to galleries, museums, libraries and music even though very poor.

Which leads to an interesting interview with the USA distributor of his records to South Africa. Initially congenial when talking about what a nice guy and talented musician Rodriguez was, when asked about where all the money went from sales in South Africa, turned quite abrupt and aggressive. To me, a true give away of someone who had feathered his nest on income that may not have been due to him. The story didn’t follow up on that and Rodriguez comes across as the easy going sort of person that would, if he knew, let it all go.

Fortunately, as is often not the case for the nice guys in the world, during the 1990s, after all the investigating into whether Rodriguez was indeed alive, contact as made with him and he was given a fantastic reception in South Africa. He did several concerts there which sold out and he was in his “place” in the world.

Rodriguez still lives in his same home of many years. He has passed on his new income to family and friends and lives just well enough for himself. He still works doing other things.

He now plays his music to a wider audience and has the recognition that many of us as artists work so hard for and long for before we die. He was so well grounded, such a centred and sensible person, so willing to turn his hand to other important things in his life such as family and take what came with grace, that you can’t help but admire him.

He is a modest man, talented and driven to make his life meaningful in whatever way he can. It was just great to see that things came around in the long run to enable him to return to his passion of performing his music and enjoying sharing it with many followers.

My Main Lesson From the Movie

I started off life wanting to be an artist. I started learning and producing art until my early twenties. I then had to get work and pay rent etc so spent the next thirty years as a graphic artist/designer etc for the print industry in different segments of the trade. Not what I had hoped for but I worked and travelled, kept trying to improve myself and met a great man and married. After being made redundant in 2009, I thought we were in big trouble however, life was just turning around for me also. My husband encouraged me to return to my passion, to go back to school and begin again that journey to fine art.

I am on the way again. You just can’t think that the first red light in your life means that it is the end forever. It may be a necessary different road for you to come back even better than you would have been had you not taken it. It may be a family you may not have had, or meeting the partner you married, or learning the basic business skills that will now be a solid foundation for an arts practice. Like Rodriguez you need to be open to what happens and make the most of it.

Miodrag Jankovic-Semi Abstract Landscape in Oils

Subject: Demonstration of landscape painting in oils

Venue: McClelland Guild of Artists

Miodrag doesn’t do demonstrations as a rule so I was impressed with his professionalism by dividing his presentation into an electronic show of previous work to enable him to talk about where he has come from with his art, his progress as he has worked on is method and style and a little about where he was born and how it has influenced his art.

He also spoke about how he has worked in other industries over the years to support his family. Sometimes it allowed him to paint at the same time, but as the art bubble of the 1990s hit Australia, it prevented him from painting for several years. He was able to return to it full time around the year 2000.

One job which he said kept him close to practising artists and able to look at art close up, was working in a framing business. One thing that artists do if we need to bring in extra income is to find an associated job, where we can still keep our finger on the pulse, as it were, so that when we are able to get back to what we prefer to do, we are mentally prepared.

Miodrag enjoys calling on the imagery of his homeland, with memories of Roman ruins often coming into his work in some form or another. He has also learnt to love and adopt the seascapes and scenes of Australia. He now lives on the Peninsula and has now produced a big body of work centred around the beaches in Victoria.

Miodrag uses vivid colours and since he stretches his own canvasses, can produce works on any size he likes. With the horizon lines dropped for drama, Miodrag paints in big skies with loads of atmospheric cloud and splashes of colour. With little detail and large and bold shapes, beautiful blends and thick application of paint, sometimes straight out of the tube, the paintings are creative and inviting.

Using only an hour of the two hour demonstration, it was interesting to see that a beautiful painting can be produced without pain or complicated design and composition. It is a case of less is more. Colour can bring out emotions, a well designed painting can be calming, or exciting, make you happy or be thought provoking, facing a social issue.

Miodrag emphasised that we, as artists need to be confident in our creativity. We need to not be pushed into following fad or fashion in a desire to sell or be accepted. If you want to paint minimal and beautiful paintings, and that is your passion, that is what you should follow. Some of us may do that as our personal passion, with other methods for commercial application, but we usually do not neglect one for the other.

Miodrag also tries to draw and paint on site, as well as from photos and also paints a lot from his head, with no reference. Sometimes painting freely from your mind with not special reference to copy can leave you free to come up with ideas and compositions you may not come up with a photo in front of you. The painting done today at the demo was from a memory of beaches on the Peninsula, so was very loose and creative.

We had another enjoyable demonstration at McClelland today. Mostly artists who give these sessions, even thought paid, are very generous with their time and understanding of the production of artworks. Most are very approachable and I always come away with at least one important thing that I learnt. Even when you have seen an artist demonstrate before, you can learn something new, as practising artists are always learning, so they will always have something new to pass on. For me, as an artist who wants to teach, it is also an opportunity to see how presentations are done by a lot of different artists. What I like and can use for myself or what I can modify to suit my style of teaching.

The meetings are also a chance to meet with other artists and talk about what everyone is doing. Sometimes being an artist can be a solitary profession with many hours spent alone in the studio. I have come to like getting out and mingling with like-minded artists. It’s great not being the “strange” person in the room. You can also find encouragement from other artists when you are a bit down, or talk to others about issues or problems you may have with a project. At this demonstration we all had a good day doing all of the above and it was good to see the work of an artist that I have never seen work before.