Mary Cassatt: Studying the Masters (Part 3)

28 Feb

My watercolor rendition of Frans Hals oil painting – one that Mary Cassatt enjoyed copying as well.

This week I read about Mary Cassatt admiring the work of the 17th century Realists, studying their work intensely then moving on to study the works of Correggio and Parmigianino (both Italian painters).  She learned intaglio printmaking at the local academy which she put to use later in her art career.  In the early years she worked primarily in oils.

Cassatt was living in Parma, Italy during this time.  She was about 26 years old and didn’t speak much Italian.  She kept a strict schedule but did take time to travel to Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands studying all the masters: Velasquez, Goya, Murillo, Rubens, Hals, and more.  The Parma locals must have found it amusing to see an American woman climbing up and down ladders to study the frescoes in their cathedrals.  Although I did read in an online biography that after her 1872 Salon acceptance and painting purchase, locals all wanted to meet her and see her art.

Cassatt kept some of her own favorite copies to show young artists when they would come visit her.  She encouraged them to learn the way she had, by studying the masters.

It would be difficult today, with the pandemic restrictions, to see the masters’ paintings in person but I’ve discovered many museums have online resources available.  The web is now our window into the museum and we don’t have to wait until museum hours or pay a fee – we are free to study these great paintings any time we please.  I’ve posted links to many museums in my “Free Inspiration with Virtual Tours” blog post from August 2020 which you can visit.

How important is it for today’s artist to study the masters?  I’d love to hear what others think about this.  Share your comments below.

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Mary Cassatt: Becoming a Professional Artist (Part 2)

14 Feb
Woman bathing at sink - my copy of Mary Cassatt painting.
My watercolor rendition of Mary Cassatt’s oil painting “Woman Bathing”.

Continuing deeper into my Mary Cassatt book, I discovered that she spent about four years in Europe transitioning from an art student to a professional artist.  I think this is REALLY quick.  Apparently this change happened when her painting “The Mandolin Player” was accepted into the Paris Salon.

 “The Mandolin Player”

The Salon was the famous art gallery in Paris, the center of the art world.  The Salon Art Show was the annual event the world watched and anyone who was anything would be there!  She was proud of her accomplishment but her father and her family were not so impressed.  Her brother even wrote the following letter to his fiancée:

              “Mary is in high spirits as her picture has been accepted for the annual exhibition in Paris.  You must understand that this is a great honor for a young artist and not only has it been accepted but it has been “hung on the line.”  I don’t know what that means but I suppose it means it has been hung in a favorable position.  Mary’s art name is “Mary Stevenson” under which name I suppose she expects to become famous, poor child.”

Cassatt did use her middle name “Stevenson” in her Salon submissions thinking it sounded more American than Cassatt and that it might help her acceptance.  To be “hung on the Line” meant your work was hung at eye level when many artworks were hung all up and down the wall, Salon style.  It was an honor to be hung at eye level.

I’ve often thought about the transition from art student to professional artist.  What makes the difference?  Is it being accepted into a prestigious show? Is it selling a piece of art?  Is it when you’ve completed your University degree?  Or is it more than that?  I like to think of it as an attitude and how you approach your creative calling.   There is a definite commitment – of time, of resources, of energy – and it involves passion and determination.   It’s also when you pursue your passion despite naysayers or roadblocks.  I’m finding Cassatt’s story very inspiring.

I’d love to hear others ideas on turning professional or overcoming negatives to pursue their calling!  Please share with me.

Here is another interesting article on becoming a professional artist.

On becoming a professional writer.

On becoming a professional musician.

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Mary Cassatt: American Qualities

4 Feb

Little Girl in Blue Armchair
My watercolor sketchbook version of “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” by Mary Cassatt, 1878, oil on canvas

I’ve been slowly reading through a very large pile of old art books that I’ve had in my studio for years and was inspired by a 1970s Swiss paperback by Jay Roudebush, “Cassatt”.  This thin book is wonderful with full pages of color prints and inspiring stories of Cassatt’s life.

Mary Cassatt has been listed as one of the three greatest female impressionist painters.  (The other two: Bracquemond & Morisot)  Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, PA which is now the North Side of Pittsburgh, in 1844.   She spent most of her adult life in France where she met with other Impressionist painters, including Edgar Degas. 

Cassatt came from a wealthy family which enabled her to travel and receive her art education in Europe.  Her father had actually objected to her artistic career choice early on as an unorthodox and scandalous thing during the Victorian times.  “I would rather see you dead,” he once told her before he later relented.

Cassatt’s mother served as an escort to Paris, enabling her to begin her formal art studies.  But she found her teacher to be a bland academic painter and abandoned the training, choosing instead to study independently at the Louvre and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

“One does not need to follow the lessons of an instructor”, Cassatt said, “The teaching of museums is sufficient.”

Cassatt sounds like she was a very determined and strong-willed artist with a serious focus.  This book explains these as “American qualities”.   I’m looking forward to sharing more from this old book.  Have you ever considered what “American qualities” you have that may influence your creativity?  I’d love to hear what you think!

More about Mary Cassatt .

Mary Cassatt Information.

Web Museum

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Making a Muddy Mess

22 Jan
landscape with lanky trees in foreground
“Small Trees”, Watercolor on paper by Katie Turner

It really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been painting, mistakes still happen.  As time goes on and I become more familiar with painting, I’ve become more fearless when I face those inevitable mistakes.  Some creative people would even go as far as calling these mistakes “great opportunities”!

Still, there are times when I’d much rather avoid creating that muddy mess that I’m talking about. 

Here are some ideas that may help to avoid the muddy mess.

  1.  Stop overworking.  Sometimes called “fussing” or “niggling” leads to flat, dead, lifeless paintings.  Try to avoid correcting – lay down your paint stroke and leave it.  Try not to focus on too many details.  Setting a time limit – maybe 15 to 30 minutes – is a great way to keep from overworking a piece of art.
  2. Wait for it to dry.  Muddy colors can happen when you paint on top of another damp layer.  Try waiting until the area is dry before layering.  Limit the number of paints you use and avoid adding a new color at the last minute.
  3. Stay positive.  When you are excited to get started and things are going well, its easy to stay positive.  When things get complicated or start to go wrong, it’s very hard to stay motivated.  If you feel you are hitting a low spot, maybe it’s time to stop.
  4. Working on something else.  Switching back and forth between different paintings or different crafts can help to stay objective.  I like to work on painting art journals or making zines. Sometimes when our mind switches to a fresh new project, it figures a way to solve the problem.
  5. Come back tomorrow.  No, I’m not saying to give up but simply come back later.  It can be quite amazing what a difference a day makes.  If you are starting to make a mess take a break – sleep on it – overnight may provide a clear perspective.
  6. Stop when the painting speaks to you.  Paul Klee, the prolific Swiss German artists, said “A painting is finished when it looks at you”.  (Klee created over 9,000 works of art, so he must have had a good idea about finished paintings!)  If you see the painting developing and it comes to that point it harmonizes and it is communicating an emotion to you, then you can say “It’s done”.  Sometimes we are much too busy applying more and more paint to hear it talking to us.

There are so many ways creative people can respond to mistakes.  This can be a great opportunity to learn.  Many years ago I recall Barbara Nechis spending an entire afternoon teaching workshop attendees how to fix mistakes.  Her fearless approach to fixing messes was an absolute inspiration.  Don’t let it get you down, just try some of these ideas to help.   Do you have your own way of dealing with the mistakes?  If so, I’d love for you to share them with me!

(Check out Paul Klee art at the MET online.)

And if you’d like to check out my artwork: KTArtStudio

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Questions for the New Year

31 Dec
busy and colorful brush with leaves

I have a dear friend who does a personal and professional end of year review.  Again this year she has pushed me to ask myself questions.  The questions help with reviewing past goals and gaining a vision for the future.  What is a friend for, if not to encourage us to be our best selves?

Needless to say, I wasn’t too excited to look back at this year.  There was so much loss, discouragement and disappointment.  I think it’d be easier to just not look but there is always something I can be grateful for, right?  I realize that I have many things to be thankful for, including just being here, alive, today.  I know many will remember 2020 for its dreadfulness, but maybe it helps to focus on the blessings. 

Now let me share my dear friend’s questions.  Warning: these questions usually require some in-depth writing.  Taking the time to write out your thoughts can really help with formulating a direction or vision for the New Year.  Although we really don’t know what the future holds we can be hopeful and plan for our precious time here. 

  1. What are your summary/thoughts about the year?
  2. What challenges did you face?
  3. What surprises did you come across?
  4. What books did you read to improve your career?
  5. What virtual seminars/workshops did you attend?
  6. What did you try that was uncomfortable but helped you to grow?
  7. What medium or skill did you attempt or master this year?
  8. What did you try that was completely new?
  9. How did you improve your studio habits?
  10. What submissions did you make?
  11. What honors or awards did you receive?
  12. Where did you save a lot of money?
  13. When did fear hold you back?
  14. When did you practice bravery?
  15. What techniques or skills did you learn or improve?
  16. Who were the top influential people you met this year?
  17. What art events, galleries or museums did you visit (virtually)?
  18. What resources did you discover?
  19. Have you done any good deeds?
  20. What did you discontinue?
  21. What did you discover about yourself?
  22. What organizations were you involved with?
  23. What are your accomplishments for the year?
  24. What are you grateful for?
  25. What goals do you have the coming year?

If you have found these questions to be helpful or if you have your own set of review questions that you use annually, I’d love for you to share with me.  Meanwhile, enjoy the process and may the future be brighter!

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When I Blog I Learn

21 Dec
snow and sea with dark rocks and green seafoam
“Snow & Sea”, Watercolor 2020, Katie Turner

I must admit, that when I blog, I learn.  I do a lot of research before I write my blog and in so doing I discover lots I never knew.

I learn so much about other artists when I research.  I learn about new and old techniques.  I learn all kinds of things related to art. 

I am no expert but I enjoy sharing what I learn.   I think I am obsessed with art!  I always want to read about it.  I read about art history and new art discoveries.  I read about creativity and how to increase it.  I read about overcoming difficulties related to art, and on and on.   I can’t help myself.  It seems I am obsessed.

Still, I hope I will always remain a student of art.  It keeps me searching, reading and learning.

With any luck, I hope to keep a curious mind all my life.

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I Left My Ego at the Door

5 Nov

I know a lot of my fellow artists are using their time to take classes, improve their techniques and hone their skills.  I decided to join their ranks and take a class.  I thought about some different classes I might enjoy, but remembered how important it is to push yourself outside your comfort zone.  So I rejected all the usual classes that I would find easy and decided to take an online college class with SVA (School of Visual Arts in NYC).  This class I’m currently taking is on drawing techniques used by the surrealist painters.   The class is geared for all levels (although there are a lot of MFA’s in my class!).  The professor, Peter Hristoff, is an award winning artist who immigrated to New York from Istanbul, Turkey.  Not only is he a skilled teacher, but I also find him inspirational and a wealth of artistic information.

The structure of the class includes one-minute, two-minute and three-minute timed drawings along with literal and imaginative drawing prompts.  Students produce anywhere between 30-50 drawings in each 2-hour session.   Students get to share their best pieces with the group and in the final class.

I’m finding there is nothing that brings me to stick-figures faster than a 1-minute timed drawing with word prompts like: democracy, justice, silence, honor, unity, war.   Drawing prompts that were simple, such as animals, material items, etc. those were not too hard to think about and draw. The more complex the word, the longer it took me to think about how I would represent the word.  I found out pretty quickly that I’m not a fast thinker.

After the second class, I was pretty discouraged with my horrible stick-figures.  I didn’t think I could go on.  To make matters worse, I spotted a post on social media by a dear friend.  She was taking a class and posting the most fabulous paintings she was creating in her class. 

Heading to the studio for the third class, I thought of how I really have to leave my ego at the door.  I kept an open mind and lowered my standards for myself.  I took a deep breath and sat down to my paper.  After that class, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the drawing that night.  I suppose the change of attitude was a good thing for me.  As I relaxed, I started to feel as if the ideas and images were coming to me a little easier.

As the classes continued, students were encouraged to mix their pictures up, adding images wherever they wanted.  We were given some artist’s names to look up between classes for examples of modern surrealist style art.  I’ve definitely learned a lot!  I still do some stick-figures in the shortest timed prompts but once or twice an evening I make something that might have some potential. 

My last class will be next week and now I don’t want it to end.  By leaving my ego at the door, I’ve accepted my own limitations and can embrace my absurd creativity without judging (at least not too much).   I know this has been a good thing for me to experience.

Have you ever taken on a challenging class?  How did things work out?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

To learn more about SVA: https://sva.edu/

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Drawing from Within

4 Nov
“Making Comics” new book by Lynda Barry

There are a few artists, a few illustrators, and a few musicians that I follow on social media.  Whenever I see an interview, a new song, a new piece of art surface on the internet, I’ve got to check it out.  One of those people is comic artist Lynda Barry.  Last year after she won the MacArthur Fellowship, she was interviewed by NPR (you can read the interview here:

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/27/782921983/cartoonist-lynda-barry-drawing-has-to-come-out-of-your-body).

Her interview was particularly interesting to me because she spoke about young children making  impressive art.  She also refers to how special kids’ drawings can be in her “Making Comics” book.  She spoke about how something happens around the age of 4 or 5 that shuts it all down.  She feels that when children enter school they begin to separate drawing and writing to elevate writing as more important.

Lynda Barry explains that drawings come more from the movement of these children’s hands than from intention and thus their works of art have originality and uniqueness to them.  As children age, they are expected and encouraged to move away from intuitive drawing toward intentional creating.

She explains in the interview that her task as a teacher is to help people overcome their fear and shame in creating and allow the drawing to come out of their bodies.  She states, “The trick is to show them that there’s another kind of drawing that is very different than representational drawing.”

The interview ends with acknowledging goals.  While an artist sometimes has a goal of creating a picture that has a specific look, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the resulting drawing is not that important and the real gem is the transformed mood or positive feeling that results from the creative release.  In my opinion, that’s the positive thing about creating – it has the power to transform not only the viewer but also the creator.

Have you ever created something just for the sheer joy of it?

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Three Kinds of Line

2 Nov

Three Kinds of Line

One of the most basic and fundamental exercises in creating art is drawing.  Drawing is simply the act of making an image with a writing utensil.  That could be a stick of charcoal, an ink pen, the tip of a sharp pencil or even a crayon.  Just about every art book I’ve seen starts with a drawing exercise.

The contour line drawing is when you use a long, thin mark that divides an object from the empty space around it and is usually the first thing an artist learns.  In time an artist will learn that line can express emotion, action and suggest volume as well as shape.

In addition to contour line there are two other methods of drawing I’d like to share.  They are linear tension and something called tonal outline.  Both are line but not in the traditional way.  Each produces different visual results that require a little different way of observing the 3-D form.

Here is a photograph of some apples in a bowl.

Photo of apples in a bowl.
Drawing 1: Contour Line

The first drawing (contour line) is done in a traditional way as an observational drawing.  I can measure it by extending a vertical pencil in my hand and compare shapes.  Then I can sketch in lightly, compare the shapes, make adjustments and finish with ink.  Drawing this way includes long contour lines to describe the overall shapes and I can use broken or dotted lines to suggest volume.  It’s a basic way to transcribe.

Drawing 2: Linear tension

The second sketch shows linear tension, which is a cross-contour technique.  Instead of a line circling around the apple shape following the outside edge, I’ve drawn a continuous line that moves back and forth across the form.  I can use this style of drawing to describe volume without shading.  This is more like bas-relief and can sometimes make the subject look like its projecting from the page.

Drawing 3: Tonal outline

The third way I’ve used line here is called tonal outline.  This is when I isolate and fill in shadows or mid-tones.  There will be gaps in the imagery but with imagination, the mind can finish the picture.  In my opinion this way of drawing shapes creates a more abstract and interesting piece of art.

It’s great to have these different ways of conveying form but many artists combine more than one in a drawing.   There are more types of drawing to investigate.  Just a few would include planar analysis drawing, sculpture line drawing, stippling, hatching and scribbled line, which I may write about sometime.  With so many interesting ways to draw, I believe each artist will find their own unique way to express what they see.  What is your favorite way to sketch or draw?  I’d love it if you share with me.

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Art As Communication

1 Nov
Art by Banksy

There are so many forms of communication but my favorite today is storytelling through art.  Art is one of the ways people can connect without using words.  It’s one way to express an idea in a way that’s more universal than speaking.

Although it’s not as important as basic needs, food, water, shelter, and such… communication does fill a need.  For an artist, there is an overwhelming desire to show what they see and feel.  Painting, sculpture, music, dance are all creative arts that connect people.  It’s a great way to express an idea regardless of what language you speak.

Art has three primary functions: for art to change the recipient, for art to change the artist and for its own aesthetic value.

Art is impactful, sometimes providing us with beauty and joy, bringing us peace and at other times it brings us to outrage, anger or fear to push towards transformation or action.  Take a look at Banksy’s art to see an interesting commentary on war, politics, people and compassion. Banksy, the modern graffiti artist, who is sort of a mystery man… he never appears in person.

Artists are storytellers.  Telling the story to the public or to a select group who react to the art.  Art is an open ended language – often left to the viewer’s interpretation. 

For instance, this snapshot tells me specific information – it is conveying captured information. 

Picture of Wisteria from one of my favorite garden catalogs.

This painting, on the other hand, includes subjective information through manipulation of color, light, composition, abstraction. 

Watercolor Painting “Wisteria” by Katie Turner

When comes to writing, poetry can also add meaning to ideas, using different methods to add unique meaning to words.

The only problem that seems to arise from these more creative forms of communication are mis-interpretations.  Sometimes meaning is misconstrued or even vague but still, there is no perfect form of communication – each form and style of communicating has its place and value.

Some folks say art is the ultimate language – the language of images.  Hey, even our dreams at night make use of this visual language!  Images are universal, some timeless and erase language barriers – even those who aren’t artistic can recognize line, shape, color and symbols.  It requires no previous knowledge or personal experience and maybe that is why some people say of a painting “I don’t know, it just speaks to me”…

Communicating through art is one of my deep interests.  My desire is to become a better communicator as well as a better artist! 

Have you thought about how you prefer to communicate?  Do you have a favorite way to communicate with other?  Feel free to share!

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