Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A teapot and a visit to the Louvre

The Teapot - oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

The Louvre from the Tuileries Garden in Paris

Monday, 29 December 2008

Educational resource on modern art from the Centre Pompidou

As I was carrying out some research on a piece of modern art, I stumbled upon a site from the Centre Pompidou in Paris (home of the National Museum of Modern Art) with some interesting material on modern artists and modern art movements.

These educational art files have been put together to help art amateurs prepare for their visit. They contain reproductions of works by artists in the collection as well as some biographical and historical information. These files are worth reading and provide a good introduction to key modern artists.

Here is the list of 13 files available in English (they are also available in French):

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Parisian breakfast and a visit to Versailles

Paris would not be Paris without fresh croissants... Hard to paint while resisting the temptation to eat it.

Parisian breakfast - oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

We went to Versailles on Monday, but the castle was closed to visitors. I had the time to sketch one of the statues at the entrance, as we were waiting for everyone to arrive.

We had a good walk in the park of the castle. No flower at this time of the year, but still an impressive estate with its water canals, lakes and buildings.

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Texture in oil with painting knives

When painting the oil on canvas Chrysanthemums and apples, I used painting knives for both the background and the flower petals. In this post, I will give you more details on the techniques and material used.

Painting the background

I changed the colour and aspect of the background many times for this painting, finally choosing a cool neutral background to make the warm colours of the composition resonate.

To build the foundation, I used a square shaped painting knife. Both the end and the side of the knife create interesting effects. By varying the pressure and the angle the edge of the knife makes with the canvas, you leave more of less paint on the canvas. I also scraped some painting to reveal the original background. I like the contrast you get between heavy sleek applications and the rough texture of the canvas.

If overused, painting knives can give your painting a cheap look. I think this is because you may end end-up with a mosaic of bright pure colours. On the other hand, there is nothing like a painting knife to build texture and give your painting a sculptural feel.

One way to get both texture and subtle colour variation is to glaze over the texture created with painting knives. This way, you re-introduce nuances in tones and colours while keeping the benefit of a strong texture.

Glazing over pure colours also achieves another goal: beautiful transparent and luminous colours.

The process takes time because you need to let your work with the painting knife dry before you can glaze over it. You can speed-up drying time if you mix your paint with Alkyd impasto medium or gel.

I used a technique that decorators are familiar with: On a light textured background, I laid some dark transparent colours mixed with painting medium. Then, I rubbed off the paint with a rag, leaving the glaze in the pits of the textured under painting. By doing this repeatedly with different shades of dark colours, I obtain an interesting background. If you leave the glaze to dry a little bit, then more of the colour stays on the background. The same technique can be employed to weather old wood of building walls in landscape paintings.

Painting the flower petals

For the impasto on the flowers, I mixed the paint with Lefranc & Bourgeois Flemish Medium paste (clear) in tube. It is composed of mastic resin, linseed oil, Aspic spirit and cobalt-zirconium siccative. It takes quickly (2 hours) and becomes hard when dry. It is glossy and transparent and allows precise and profound brush strokes.

A thin rounded knife is ideal to paint flower petals. Note how the shape of the knife blade actually mimics the shape of the petals.

For maximum effect, the thick application of pure light colour is laid on top of the thin darker under painting (see Thick lights over thin darks ). The contrast is also increased by opposing the cool shade of the further petals with the hot colour of the thick petals in the foreground.

I have reposted the photograph of the
Chrysanthemums and apples painting in a larger format, so you can see the details of the brushwork and texture created with the painting knives. To see the larger photograph, just click on the photograph in the post and the larger version will open in a new window.

Related articles

Thick lights over thin darks

Paint fat over lean – oil technique

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Even Matisse struggled at times

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – October 2008.

In a poignant, yet interesting letter to his friend the painter Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse expressed his frustration on the path to finding a new way of painting. This letter is dated 13 January 1940, during the war. Matisse describes how he feels paralyzed and cannot find a good way to express himself in his painting, as he has with his drawing (« My drawing and my painting are parting »).

Portrait of Henri Matisse 1933 May 20 - Photographer: Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-103699 DLC.

At this time in his career, Matisse was exploring painting with flat planes of colours and found it hindered the spontaneity he had found in his fluid drawing technique: « But my painting is constraint by new conventions of flat planes by which I have to express myself entirely, of local tones exclusively without shadows, without relief, that have to react one with another in order to suggest light, a spiritual space. »
Paintings from this period now seem evident to us because we are accustomed to see them in museums and art books, but Matisse was exploring new avenues and paving the way to abstract painters. He was trying to transpose what he had found in drawing into his painting, but he was conscious at the same time that this new venture was not easy : « I found a way to draw which, after some preliminary work, has a spontaneity that release me entirely from what I am feeling, but this mean is exclusively for me, artist and spectator. But a colourist’s drawing is not a painting. One should find some equivalence with colours. This is what I fail to do. »
Matisse’s quest would come to an end when he produced his gouache-painted cut-outs, a medium where he could reconcile drawing with colour in a perfect balance.

Related articles
The Art of Ordinary

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Morning break

A cup of coffee and a newspaper... ready for a morning break.

Morning break - Oil on panel (6" x 8") by Benoit Philippe

Monday, 8 December 2008

10 Reasons to keep an inventory of your art works (Part 2)

In 10 Reasons to keep an inventory of your art works (Part 1), I discussed why you should keep an inventory of your works. Let’s see now what information can be recorded.

What information goes into your inventory?

How much information you put in your inventory is up to you. My rule of thumb is: the more, the better.

  • A reference number: not mandatory, but may be convenient if, for instance, you what to link the entry to a separate library of photographs of your
  • Title of the work

  • Dimensions of the work. I may indicate the dimensions in inches or centimetres or both (it depends whether I buy the support in France or in England).

  • Date of completion. Personally, I use the month and the year and, if the work has been created over a long period of time, I would register it at the end with the indication of both the starting month and the end month.

  • Medium: watercolour, oil painting, graphite, etc.

  • Support: canvas, board, watercolour paper… Personally, I indicate the details of the support used in the comment section. This is important as, if I like the effect I can achieve with a particular paper, I want to know exactly what sort and brand it is. Same thing for a canvas I am using for oil painting. A typical example would be: “Winsor & Newton Artists’ Quality Stretched Cotton Canvas – Triple coated Acid free sizing” (I make sure I keep the label of the canvas until I transfer the information into the inventory)

  • Material used. This is important in particular if you use unusual material or techniques. But even if you use traditional technique, some information may be useful if the work needs restoration of repair (for instance the type of varnish you use on your oil painting)

  • Price (if the work is for sale): I indicate is the price is for the work with or without the frame.

  • Costs information: I try to track the cost of material, such as canvasses and frames. This helps when you set-up the price of your work.

  • Information on the subject of the painting. Are you going to remember the exact name of that place you painted five years ago if it is not in the title of the work?

  • Details on the creation of the work: If I write a blog entry on a particular work, I would cut & paste the text in the “comments” section.

  • Exhibitions where the work has been show.

  • Juried exhibition where the work has been submitted (even if it has been refused)

  • Publication record. Has the work been featured in the press or in a book?

  • SOLD”… with the date when it has been sold.

  • Name of the collector who purchased the work, as well as her or his details

Tools for your inventory

If you are low-tech, pen and paper work well. Just prepare a table with as many columns as necessary for the information you want to capture and photocopy your template.

On a computer, you can use a simple spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel) or a table in a Word document (use the landscape format) to keep your inventory. The key is to keep your inventory up-to-date as you go. I learnt the hard way that trying the re-create the information several years after the facts is almost impossible.

You can also invest in a professional solution. A number of vendors propose some software that helps you to keep your inventory, but also to generate price lists, catalogues and even manage your mailing list. See Related articles below for more information on existing artist software solutions.

Some practical considerations

If you keep your inventory on your computer:

  • Print it from time to time, just in case

  • Always back-up you information (on a disk or on another computer, of both)

  • Print a couple of blank tables where you can write down the information when you have it. At the end of the month, you can transcribe your notes into your electronic document. Batching in this way will save you time and you won’t have to switch your computer on to update one piece of information in your inventory.

Related articles

Updated database software for artists by Alyson Stanfield from Art Biz Blog

Template for inventory record

Friday, 5 December 2008

10 Reasons to keep an inventory of your art works (Part 1)

Keeping an inventory may seem a waste of your time. What use would it have? I would rather be creating and painting. See keeping an inventory as an investment to save you time and tears later. Let’s put it this way: when you realise you really need an inventory of your works, it is generally too late to reconstruct it for the past.

Why should you keep an inventory?

1. Measure your output and keep track of your goals. The best way to progress is to paint on a regular basis, everyday if you can. Seeing how many work you’ve already produced will give you a boost of energy.

2. Keep key information in one place (see “What information goes into your inventory” in Part 2 of this article)

3. Make your life easier. When did I finished this oil painting – Is it dry enough to be varnished? If you keep track of completion dates in your inventory, it will take you only seconds to answer these questions.

4. Get ready for the gallery. Could you answer questions like: how many works do you produce each year? How many paintings have you sold? What was the most expensive painting you’ve sold?

5. Know where your work is (In the studio /exhibition / consignment / loan / work sold)

6. Know where your work has been exhibited. Enter the details of all the places where the work has been shown.

7. Build a personal history file for each painting. You can document the circumstances around the creation of a particular work, the history of the place, the reason why you painted it. I have a comment section in my table where I can record miscellaneous information on a particular piece of work (for instance, if it was inspired by the work of another artist). I have a comment section in my inventory table where I can record miscellaneous information on a particular piece of work (for instance, if it was inspired by the work of another artist). Having this information will help you when you prepare for an exhibition or when you discuss a particular work with a potential buyer. Buyers love stories and having one at your finger tip (or ready in your mind, since you recorded it in your inventory) will remove the stress of having to find on the spot something interesting to talk about.

8. Keep track of your evolution: With each new work, you grow and evolve as an artist. Over the years, your work will take different direction, you will explore new avenues. It is therefore important to be able to retrace the path you took and see which painting came first.

9. Particular notes on material and painting techniques used. May be you tried something new or a particular work is the beginning of a new path in your artistic quest. In both instances, you want to be able to go back to your records and find out about this.

10. Curators will thank you. If your work gets to a museum curator, they will thank you if you can provide the information you collected in your inventory. See what Picasso had to say on dating and numbering his work:

«I never do a painting like a work of art. It is always a search. I am always seeking and there is a logical connection throughout that search. This is why I number them. I number and date them.

May be one day someone will thank me for it. »

(Picasso – in Alexander Liberman, Extract from « Picasso » in Vogue, New York, 1956)

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Tidying up art – a TED Talk by Ursus Wehrli

I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you. Just let me say that it is a hilarious take on modern art and art in general. Very Swiss.

If you have troubles with the embedded video, please visit the TED website.

Related resources

Books by Ursus Wehrli:

Tidying Up Art

More Tidying Up Art

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Monday, 1 December 2008

Creativity under constraint

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – September 2008. Follow the link to subscribe to the newsletter .

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, said that “Obedience to the law that we prescribe to ourselves is freedom” (“L’obéissance à la loi qu’on s’est prescrite est liberté.”). This statement was made in a social and political context, but it applies equally to an individual artist.

Creativity and innovation thrive on constraint. An artist does not create outside constraints but transcends them.

At an initial stage, the artist assimilates the rules of his craft and art. He discovers the material he his using and the rules of good conservation. He learns, work after work, to get the best out of the material and how he can use particular effects to shape his artisitc vision. He studies the masters and learns from other artists.

After mastering the rules, the time comes to break them and see what happens. This is the wonderful journey of discovery.

Finally, the artist recreates the rules, he writes new poetry out of old words. He makes the craft look effortless, he creates his own constraints to stretch his artistic boundaries and express himself. It is like a game of constant renewal, while still being trully personal and particular.

The truth is that limitations encourage creativity. The mind needs focus to excel. Give your mind a centre of attention and it will respond. Leave him into the wild and it will wander with no aim and no result.

How can you get your mind to react creatively:

1. Paint or draw something you never painted before.

2. Chose an unusual format to work with (a square canvas or a very long one for instance).

3. Paint with only three colours.

4. Remove from your palette your favourite colour.

5. Try a new medium.

6. Listen to a piece of music and paint what it reminds you of.

7. Make a drawing or a painting of a childwood memory.

8. Paint a canvas with only one big brush.

9. Take a small canvas, set a timer to 60 minutes, and aim to complete the painting within that time.

10. To find new painting topics, take a piece of paper, write the numbers 1 to 10 vertically on the left side, followed by the words “I will paint…” and complete each sentence. Your mind crave for completion and this will force your brain to come-up with answers (this is the technique I used to draft this list of ten items).

Related articles

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