Kandinsky Abstraction

14 Jul
colorful abstract art
My Version of Kandinsky’s Improvisation 26, Watercolor & Watercolor crayon by Katie Turner

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) a Russian painter and art theorist was one of the first artists to move into non-objective painting.  He based his content on emotions and used his materials to trigger like-minded response from those viewing it.

He took what once had been material subjects for a painting, such as a motif from nature or, as the Impressionists did, painting a perception and moved on to painting the absence of object, subject or representation.  Kandinsky focused primarily on spiritual reality he termed “pure painting”.  His art is non-objective abstract art that conveys universal emotion or ideas.  He felt it his mission to share this ideal with the world for the betterment of society.

As a spiritual, intuitive creator he experimented and investigated all the tools, finally coming to a whole new form of abstract art. 

After reading several books about Kandinsky and learning about his development, I zeroed in on his theoretical writing concerning the spiritual side of art.  In my own simple understanding, he defines three types of painting: impressions, improvisations and compositions.  He compares the spiritual world to a pyramid with the artist having the responsibility to lead others to the top through their art.  The theories are very interesting and go into the physical and spiritual effects of colors which I found fascinating.  Of course there were others who had written about color theory, such as Johann Goethe who wrote “Theory of Colors” in 1810.  I read there also was a possibility that Kandinsky had some form of autism that might have contributed to his artistic abilities.

Although I wasn’t impressed with his personal life choices, I did admire his dedication to his art and his exploration of theories.  An updated version of his book is available if not at your local library, then on www.bookdepository.com.  In fact, they have many different books covering Kandinsky at reasonable prices and they even carry stickers and cards with Kandinsky art.

There are many online resources if you’re interested in reading about Kandinsky here:







“Vasily Kandinsky” by Thomas M. Messer, 1997 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, NY

“Kandinsky: The Journey to Abstraction”, 2007 Taschen, CA

“Kandinsky: The Path to Abstraction”, 2006 Tate Publishing, London

Mary Cassatt: Onward

3 Jun
My watercolor version of “Lilacs in a Window” 1889 Oil by Mary Cassatt.

Reading on in my book “Cassatt” by Jay Roudebush (1979 Bonfini Press Corp., Switzerland) I was surprised to read that Mary Cassatt didn’t have her first solo show until age 46.  The solo show (1891) was at the Durand-Ruel which had several galleries within.  She had worked long and hard to prove herself and considered herself equal to her male contemporaries.  She felt gender was irrelevant when it came to art. Unfortunately, a group of artists (many of whom had exhibited with her in the past) formed an organization “Society of French Painters and Engravers”.

Their organization, which still exists today, only allowed French artists, thus excluding both her and Pissarro.  While they had their group show in the large gallery of the Durand-Ruel, Pissarro was in one of the smaller galleries and Cassatt in the other.  Pissarro wrote to his son before the exhibition opened saying “We open Saturday, the same day as the patriots, who, between the two of us, are going to be furious when they discover right next to their exhibition a show of rare and exquisite works.”*

Cassatt’s exhibit of four paintings and ten color prints received praise and a subsequent exhibit in New York.  Soon she was offered a commission to create a mural for the 1893 Chicago World Fair.  It was a project larger than anything she had ever done.  She created a magnificent work with a wide ornamental border all around and divided the composition into three panels.  The panels were labeled: Young Women Picking the Fruits of Knowledge and Science, Young Girls Pursuing Fame and Music and Dance.

Unfortunately the mural was hung 40 feet off the ground which was nearly impossible to see.  Even more disappointingly was the news that at the close of the Fair, the murals were either lost or destroyed and to this day there in no trace of them.

Cassatt never again attempted mural work but she did start painting larger paintings.  In 1893 she held another solo show with 98 works at Durand-Ruel’s Paris galleries and found a lot more success in France than America.  In 1895 Durand-Ruel opened a New York gallery and she had her first solo show in America.  The response was disappointing.

After some time, Cassatt decided to focus her energies on helping her friend Louisine Havermeyer and her husband build a family art collection.  They traveled together through Italy and Spain collecting bargain art that included Goya, El Greco and Titian.  Many are on display at the MET.

Mary Cassatt continued painting but after her mother died she decreased in output.  Her reputation in America continued to grow and she was awarded some prizes which she rejected.  Cassatt declined awards on principle, which all who joined the Independents (Impressionists) had agreed: no jury, no medals and no awards.

Cassatt’s story has many analogies for artists (and all creatives) today.  She was focused and determined to create her art as well as sharing art with the world through great collections.  I find it a positive story in many ways.  Do you have a favorite artist or writer that is a good example for you?  I’d love to hear from others.


 *Pissarro, C., Letters to his Son Lucien, John Rewald, p 158

Mary Cassatt: Favorite Mediums and Subjects

19 May
My watercolor version of Mary Cassatt’s Oil painting “Young Woman Sewing in a Garden” from 1886

By the late 1870s Cassatt was producing a body of work that was far from the Salon conventions.  She was using strong brushwork and color in the Impressionist style and selecting a familiar theme of young women or children in relaxed or quiet poses.  She had a passion for structure in her compositions.

Cassatt, like Degas, enjoyed the freedom of pastel, creating a number of works.  The two artists began experimenting with layers, steam, turpentine and fixative to keep their layers pure rather than chalky.

In 1880 the Impressionists were planning to publish a journal of original prints called “Le Jour et La Nuit”.

Cassatt spent time working on engravings which she hadn’t done since her studies in Parma ten years earlier.  Unfortunately funding ran dry and the journal was never published but the preparation had pushed Cassatt to once again delve into intaglio printmaking.

Mary Cassatt chose women and children as her primary subject for her work.  What is your favorite subject?


 “Cassatt” Jay Roudebush, Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY 1979

Mary Cassatt: The Degas Friendship (VI)

16 Apr

My watercolor version of Mary Cassatt’s “The Cup of Tea”

Degas and Mary Cassatt had an interesting friendship.  He could be extremely condescending at times, particularly to women.

I read (book: “Cassatt” by Jay Roudebush, Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY 1979) about a time when Degas and Cassatt were checking out a painting by a mutual friend. Cassatt told Degas she felt it had no style.  Degas laughed at her and shrugged his shoulders as if to imply that women know nothing of art or style, how could Cassatt even have an opinion on art!?

After that stinging gesture by Degas, she decided to teach Degas a lesson.  She found the ugliest model she could find – a vulgar looking servant, placed her in a pose wearing a shift next to a dressing table.  She had the model pose as if preparing to retire with a stupid expression.  Then she painted a beautifully harmonized painting with a strong composition.

When Degas saw the painting “Girl arranging her Hair” he exclaimed “What a drawing!  What style!” and promptly bought it for himself.  He kept it until his death in 1917.

Despite this story, Degas still would make remarks but did recognize Cassatt’s abilities and dedication to her art.

Have you ever held back stating your own opinion? Or experienced someone doubting your abilities?  Maybe you’ve doubted your own abilities and then surprised yourself?

“The Cup of Tea”


Stone Canoe: Hot Off the Press

1 Apr
“Rising Trail” watercolor by Katie Turner appears on page 144 in the latest edition of the “Stone Canoe”.

I am thrilled that one of my paintings was included in the “Stone Canoe” Issue #15. The “Stone Canoe” is a journal of arts, literature and social commentary published by the YMCA Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, NY. It showcases the work of established and emerging artists and writers with ties to upstate New York. It promotes greater awareness of the cultural and intellectual richness of the extended upstate community.

If you are interested in submitting your writing or art for the next edition be sure to check out the rules and deadlines here.

To purchase your own copy ($18) *Issue #15 will be up shortly* Click here.

Now I will relax with a cup of joe and enjoy reading through my copy!

Mary Cassatt: What Influences an Artist’s Work? (Part 5)

31 Mar
My watercolor rendition of “Poppies in a Field” Oil by Mary Cassatt 1874-1880.

It was only a matter of time before Mary Cassatt met Degas.  She was so inspired by his work that she encouraged other collectors from New York to purchase his art.  Her own art was now incorporating many of the Impressionist styles that lead to her rejection at the Salon.  She realized at that point that she was either going to embrace the new direction the Impressionism was taking her art or return to the old acceptable art she had been doing.  Breaking away from the Salon meant that her art would not be supported – it would be deemed unacceptable by the official art world of that time.  Of course we know which she chose.  And thank goodness, for what a great contribution she had for the art world!

In 1877 Degas visited her studio and officially invited her to join the Independents (as he called the Impressionists – since Degas detested the term “Impressionist” and never applied it to himself).

“I accepted with joy.  Finally I would be able to work with absolute independence and without concern for the eventual judgment of a jury!  I already knew who my masters were.  I admired Manet, Courbet and Degas.  I rejected conventional art.  I began to live…”  Cassett said.1

Cassatt and Degas had an interesting relationship which was fun to read about.  Degas had a reputation for being testy and cynical, easily offending other artists but Mary Cassatt felt she could look beneath the crusty behavior to see the sensitive human being underneath.  She felt he had uncompromising standards and he was honest no matter the cost.  They both had devoted their lives to art and recognized that in each other.

Have you ever considered what influences an artist and their art?  Have you thought about what the conventions of today’s art are or what is acceptable or unacceptable for art?  If you are an artist, how important is it for you to be accepted by a jury or to follow conventions?


  1.  “Un Peintre Des Enfants Et Des Meres, Mary Cassat” :  Segard, Achille, P. Ollendorff, 1913, p8
  2. “Cassatt” Jay Roudebush, Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY 1979

Mary Cassatt: What are the Conventions of Today? (Part 4)

10 Mar
My watercolor and pencil rendition of Mary Cassatt’s The Parrot, 1891.

While continuing to read about Mary Cassatt in “Cassatt” by Jay Roudebush, Crown Trade Paperbacks, NY, 1979  I learned there were a lot of changes going on in Paris with the Salon, Art Critics and the Impressionists.  Mary Cassatt went back to Paris in 1874, after her stay in Parma, Italy.  Her sister joined her sharing an apartment together.  The big “Salon de Refuses” had happened a decade ago but its influences were loosening the stranglehold the Salon had on art.  Artists were defying the Salon’s convention, showing their artistic freedom. 

Cassatt joined with Impressionist artists with her criticism of the Salon’s conventions and its politics.  They still dismissed female artists, treating their art with contempt unless she had a friend on the jury or flirted with the jurors.  Cassatt refused to play those games, voicing her distaste and moved away from the Salon conventions.

She was invited by Edgar Degas to show with the Impressionists in 1879 and she was thrilled.  She admired Degas and his art.  She was happy joining the Impressionists and their causes yet she was unable to attend their café meetings with them since she was a woman.  She instead met with the artists privately and at various exhibitions.

I like how Cassatt had her own principles and was so determined.  She managed to navigate challenges to move her art career forward without compromising her art or person.

We’ve all been rejected at one time or another, but how has that affected you?  Have you changed your direction to follow convention? Or have you joined with those “refused”?  How important is convention?

Bonus: Did you know that the Impressionists labeled themselves  “The Anonymous Cooperative Society of Artists, Sculptors, Engravers, Etc., Endowed with Variable Capital and Personnel”? 


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.


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.


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.

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