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.

Web Museum


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


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!


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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