Tag Archives: art inspiration

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: 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


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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Seeing Things or Learning Pareidolia

29 Oct
“Night of the Dog Attack”, watercolor, Katie Turner

As a child, did you ever gaze into the sky and see clouds shaped like rocket ships, fish or buildings?  Have you ever looked at the moon and seen a face?  Have you seen a face staring back at you from your toast bread?

The phenomenon of seeing faces in objects is called pareidolia (pair-ee-doh-lee-ah).  It’s a psychological phenomenon which the mind responds to a stimulus, image or sound by perceiving a familiar pattern where there really is none.

Seeing patterns and using the imagination to develop shapes is an active exercise.  It requires you to be in the present moment and be attentive.  Drawing shapes and faces you see into your sketchbook as a response to what you see can allow for further development later on.

Using the phenomenon of pareidolia can add to an artist’s visual inspiration, particularly if you are having trouble maintaining a creative momentum.

Next time you are out in nature, take a photo of an old stump or of tree bark, then head back to your studio and practice sketching the patterns that emerge from the picture.  If you are having trouble seeing a shape try turning the images upside down or zooming out or in to change your perspective.  Watch for textures, lines and patterns.  Once you start looking for these patterns, shapes and faces, you will start to see them everywhere.

I’ve even had friends tell me they see dragons, dogs, cats or birds in some of my large paintings – images I never intended to portray. 

Nature isn’t the only place to practice pareidolia.  It can be found on city streets, with cracks in the sidewalk, patterns on the sewer drains.  You can also find creatures and face shapes at home, amongst the wrinkled sheets, stacked items on the shelf or the rain on the window. 

What makes pareidolia so fun is the possibility of adding the patterns to your paintings.  Pareidolia could lead you into exciting abstract or surrealist painting styles!  Have fun with this exercise and really make it your own.  The way you translate what you see is what makes you unique. 

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Put It in Reverse

14 Feb

seascape painting

“Waterways” 16″x20″ watercolor on paper, Katie Turner

There are times when an artist might get stuck in a rut.  Maybe you are beginning to tire of creating similar items day after day, week after week.  There may be times when you’re quite comfortable with what you’re doing.  You are even doing quite well financially but there is a seed of unrest within.  Whatever your condition, change and growth are calling.  Experimentation and exploration are the answers.  Experimentation and exploration may even lead to new innovative discoveries.

There are many ways to get started with experimenting.   One particular way that artist Edward Betts discusses in his book “Master Class in Watermedia”, piqued my interest.

Reversing the sequence was Betts suggestion.  A normal painting sequence would be to observe a scene in nature, then set about sketching, drawing and finally painting the shapes until you arrive at the desired scene.  Reversing the sequence would be to paint from abstraction toward nature, thus being intuitive and spontaneous and relying on chance.  Betts encourages all artists to do experimental exercise and adapt techniques that help with improvement.

Experimentation and exploration can be exciting and fun.  Have you been experimenting lately?  Have you ever tried reversing your sequence?  Thanks for reading.

~ Katie Turner


Art Park Inspiration

20 Jul

metal sculpture by Arlene Abend

Arlene Abend “Aggression”

metal ant sculpture by Arlene Abend

Sculpture by Arlene Abend

Inspiration can come from many places but this past weekend I found inspiration at the Arlene Abend Exhibit and Reception.  The event was located at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York and hosted by the Cazenovia Counterpoint.  The Stone Quarry Hill Art Parks grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk and has unique outdoor art throughout the 104 acres.  There are four miles of trails with breathtaking views.

Land was purchased in 1958 by Dorothy and Robert Riester and the house and studio at the top of the hill are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Arlene Abend’s reception included a documentary film by Courtney Rile which I found entertaining and inspirational.  Abend is a small woman with a big personality.  She has spent the last four decades creating her wonderful sculptures.  Some of her favorite tools are the welding torch, plasma cutters, vices and grinders.

I found her large sculptures captivating and thought-provoking.  Her story of overcoming challenges was inspiring to me and I was very happy to watch the film by Courtney Rile.  Abend worked as an artist in the field of metal work which was pretty much dominated by men.  She was not deterred but forged ahead with new ideas and techniques.  She has great enthusiasm which motivates me to continue on with my art.

If you are in the area, I would invite you to stop in at the Stone Quarry Art Park to walk some trails, look at some art and then head into town to visit some of the great little shops and restaurants in Cazenovia.


Video link   https://vimeo.com/241040476

article: https://www.syracuse.com/good-life/2016/11/woman_of_steel_with_a_welding.html

website link: Stone Quarry Hill Art Park

Paint Chip Challenge

14 Jul

Landscape painting of low moon rising in woods, purple flowers dot the landscape

Low Moon 20″x 16″ watercolor on paper by Katie Turner

Sassy Lilac color

Sassy Lilac #4003-9B

There are two weeks left to view the CNY Art Guild Liverpool Library Show.  “Paint Chip Challenge” will hang until the end of July 2017.  For hours and location click here: www.lpl.org

This challenge was an interesting project and it was fun to see what each artist came up with.  The color was given to me by the show organizer.  It is not a color I would have chosen.  I primarily work with transparent watercolors. This particular color required me to use Chinese white to make it opaque.   After painting several different paintings using this color, I settled on entering the picture above into the show.  It was done on watercolor paper using wet into wet techniques and a palette knife to scratch in some of the texture.

Having parameters can make painting more of a challenge but some rules also fuel creativity.  I enjoyed this challenge and would definitely participate in another one.  I highly recommend a challenge like this for healthy art exercise.