Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guitar Solo

Some rock and some Bach. Turn up the volume!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Larissa Does New Math

The world's only eight-year-old who knows every Tom Lehrer song!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New Interview

I received a very flattering interview request from an art student in Russia, with a number of unusual questions.

Dear Nicholas,

I decided to send you a letter because I’m really fascinated by your works and I’m dreaming one day to paint at least a bit as beautiful as you do. However at the moment I’m just a student at the Institute of Design, Applied Art and Humanitarian Education in Saint-Petersburg also I’m the participant of the editorial staff in our new student magazine, Про искусство. Now are working on the first issue which will be dedicated to watercolour painting. The subject of the article will be the technical aspects of watercolours which can be useful both for novices and more experienced artists.

My idea is to base the article on the review from the best and brightest watercolour artist which I know and whose works I sincerely admire. So without any hesitation I came up with your name in my head. To make the long story short here comes the request part of the letter. Could you please briefly answer the questions below basing on your experience and knowledge so we could quote your expert opinion in the article.

Thank you very much in advance for sharing your ideas and experience. I’m sure all your recommendations will be a great help and inspiration for many young artists in Russia!

Best regards from your passionate fan,
Vasilisa Sokolova

1. What are your key principles for better more consistent watercolour painting? 

That's a difficult question, and perhaps depends on the kind of artist one is, or the work one is doing. Certainly consistency will result from doing the same type of paintings in the same technique/style/handling, but I find this approach, after a while, rather boring. I'm more interested in art and artists that surprise me. I particularly like work that imparts a sense of danger, the feeling that the artist took a chance. This approach probably does not serve the interests of consistency with respect to the overall quality of the work. However, regular risk-taking is a type of consistency of its own.
2. What should the progression of exercises  look like to achieve the best results?

I don't know, I've never done exercises. I don't do value studies, or work out much of the painting in advance. Part of what I like about watercolor is its elusiveness and tendency to change quickly; plans don't always agree with that unpredictability, and rigidly sticking to a plan can make the work suffer. With regard to values, color, etc.,  I see all of that in my head. I know the painting will not be quite how I imagine it, but I have learned that the unexpected detours and adaptations might well be better than the original idea, anyway. 

3. What are the biggest mistakes novices make when practicing watercolours? What are the biggest misuses of time?

There are two that seem most devastating to me; one is physical, the other, mental. In my opinion, most beginners paint much too small. I think it is better to start large, as one learns to handle paint when there is a lot of paint to be handled. On a large scale the tolerances are greater, requiring less precision. More space allows the physics of the water, paint, and paper to do more interesting things. One can still learn about control and detail on a large scale. Another consideration is the option of cropping; if you crop the best section out of a small painting, you will likely have a tiny painting as a result. If you crop a large work, you can still come up with a decent-sized painting. I've noticed that starting small also builds fear in people of painting larger, a fear most never overcome in watercolor. That is unfortunate, and unnecessary. I always wanted to do paintings that could hang in big spaces with some impact. 

Size is the easy problem to fix. The more difficult problem for people in the beginning, and even for many  experienced painters, is letting go of preconceived ideas about how the work will progress and ultimately look. This is especially true in watercolor, as the medium is liable to do something unexpected. The saddest thing is when people cannot, or will not, let go of those ideas at the expense of something that might be better. There is an arrogance to this attitude that says "my idea is best." The medium has always been a better artist than I am, always doing something I wouldn't have thought of on my own.  "Listening" to the painting is crucial, and I have no aversion to changing direction. Instead of insisting on attaining what's in my head, I've come to accept what I get, and time after time that has been superior to the original intent. I think watercolor painting is like playing jazz, it's very improvisational. Over-planning a performance is not only the antithesis of improvisation, it is the death of it.
4. Even at the pro level, what mistakes are most common?

Expanding on this subject, that would depend on what one considers a "mistake." I see all kinds of work that I feel is a mistake before the paint ever hit the paper. Or to put it another way, something not worth doing is not worth doing well. Apart from the philosophical, actual technical or design mistakes usually announce themselves. Then, I often see work by accomplished technicians who appear to be trying to see through the eyes of another artist. That's a serious situation that cheats everyone involved -- the original, the perpetrator, and the viewer.
5. What are your favorite instructional books or resources on the subject? If people had to teach themselves what would you suggest they use?

There are so many good books and videos I hesitate to name any, as I'll no doubt omit something important. I suppose the best resource for teaching oneself is drawing on all of the things in one's personal experience. For me, a lot of that came from music, film, literature, photography, and, of course, studying the work of artists I admired.
6. If you were to train me for four weeks for a competition and had a million euros on the line, what would the training look like? What if I trained for eight weeks?

That's a fun question! Four weeks would involve rolls of huge paper, lots of paint, large brushes, and putting you through the entire range of emotions. Some people do their best work when at their at emotional extremes, others do better on an even, objective keel. Eight weeks would allow a lot more time to put the work away and take it out later to analyze with fresh eyes.
7. What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in watercolour painting? What are the biggest wastes of time?

Learning too much about the materials is a mistake, in my opinion. I've noticed the people who become preoccupied with all of that are often not very good artists. I see an over-reliance on value studies and planning as largely a waste of time. Worrying about what others will think is very bad. The idea of "purist" watercolor has nothing whatsoever to do with art, so obsession with that is obviously a mistake. There is the notion that painting everyday has some inherent value, but I don't agree. I'm not saying it's bad, but painting for the sake of painting does nothing for me.
8. Do you know somebody who is good in watercolour painting despite being poorly gifted for it? Who is good at this who shouldn’t be?

The first question is strange. I'll just say that I see many people who have great technical skill, but in my opinion are not artists in the way that I think of artists; that is, exercising the imagination and creativity, exploring uncharted (if only for themselves) territory. Related to this might be the people who can draw but can't paint, and the reverse - those who can paint but can't draw. A curious situation that raises questions about their assumed interdependence. There are many analogies that can be drawn there, such as the example of musicians who don't really know theory and harmony, but produce great music anyway. I'm not really sure what the second question means! 

9. Who is the most unorthodox watercolourist or watercolour teacher? Why? What do you think of them?

Oh my, what a difficult question. I have been described as unorthodox, but then I see all kinds of other artists who do things that seem quite unusual to me, things I would never think about painting. Regarding teachers, I probably haven't been exposed to enough of them to be able to make comparisons. 

10. What makes you different from other artists? Who trained you or influenced you?

I was influenced early by many well-known watercolorists, most notably Valfred Thelin and Barbara Nechis, and of course people such as Sargent, Sorolla, Wyeth, Mauricio Lasansky, etc. My favorite contemporary painter is Alex Kanevksy, but I also admire Lita Cabellut, Jose Parla, and too many others to mention. If I'm different from other watermedia artists, perhaps it is my music background and general aversion to authority that somehow emerges in a way that has a certain vibe. And while I have tremendous respect for many historically great artists of the past, I have no special respect for tradition or the politics of art. Many artistic institutions are weighed down by things that address artists collectively, and I see art as purely an individual endeavor. I don't care much for team sports, I prefer to see one person out there winning or losing on his or her own abilities.

Thank you very much for your time and most of all for sharing your ideas and experience. Your letter was like a breath of fresh air for me and I'm sure my fellow students would feel the similar effect :). In fact you've managed to ruin a couple of ideas I sacredly believed in for years...
Thank you again and best regards from Vasilisa.