Hello Friends, I am recycling an old blog post here, because it seems so relevant to the struggle I have had in getting this new series, Voices, and Visions off the ground. It has taken me several months to get traction, but I finally have some sketches to share! At last! The series is about the human condition, and is inspired by poems, by writers such as Williams Wordsworth, who wrote the poem, “The World is too much with us.” Though it was written several hundred years ago, in 1807, about the conflicts between our connection to nature, and the pull of materialism driven by the industrial revolution in England during the 19th century, it still seems so relevant today. Anyways, on to the blog post, which is about the Artist’s Block.
What is Artist’s Block?
Art of Schmidt Blog Post
This year has been a difficult one with lots of transitions and changes. One of these big changes was my decision to drop out of the Human Services Associate’s degree program at Frederick Community College, after 18 months of double-mindedness between feeling like I had to finish it because I didn’t have any other solid plans for my career, and I had already put in countless hours writing papers, studying and completely fieldwork. I had felt burnt out and unmotivated to finish the program, and I also felt split in half between my desire to be a professional artist and the need to carve out a definite career plan for myself. It was a difficult decision but I finally decided to drop out after some soul searching and talking with my academic advisor for a variety of reasons. In addition, the workload that this academic program demanded left very little time for creating art. And if I am 100 percent honest with myself, I have always wanted to take my art to the next level beyond just a hobby, but felt unsure of how to pursue this goal after I graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Art in 2005, and it didn’t seem “practical” to pursue art as anything more than a hobby. I always felt somewhat unsure if Social Work was really the right path for me in contrast.
Lately, I have been learning that creative time is important to me and my well being. Creating artwork has been an outlet for me at various times in my life during stressful moments and personal struggles, especially during my father’s long illness and eventual death in 2011 from heart disease. Making paintings and drawings in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil has provided me with a safe way to process difficult feelings and emotions. However, lately, making art has been very challenging and more like a test of endurance and skill than the oasis or refuge it used to be. In spite of the difficulties, I have been pressing on with sketches and paintings to prepare for my October art show at the Frederick Coffee Company as Artist of the month. However, the joy I once felt in making art seems to have deserted me. I am making very slow progress with starting only 1-2 paintings a week, after looking at some reference photos I took of Catoctin State Park, here in Thurmont, MD. What is going on here? How can I go from feeling like creating artwork is my lifeline, to it has become my enemy and tormentor and relentless critic? After reading an article, entitled, “7 Types of Creative Block(And what to do About Them)”, by Mark McGuiness, I think I am beginning to understand that this lack of forwarding motion is the dreaded Artist’s Block that seems to afflict creative types from a variety of field from musicians, writers, and artists.
Back in September of last year, I posted about getting started with a new body of artwork, Voices, and Visions, based on the human condition. However, I am sorry to say that the work on it has not been going well. Not at all smoothly in fact. For a while, work on it has ceased as other priorities took center stage. But the biggest obstacle to getting any headway on this project has been that I have been afflicted with an artist’s block and a lack of studio schedule structure. While I did finally get to the oil painting version of my painting, Maslow’s Hierarchy, I hesitate to even post a picture of it, it was so disappointing. Although I usually love to work in oils, things in this portrait just did not gel, and the piece ended up being stale and overworked. Another challenge about this piece was that it came almost completely from my imagination and I had very few reference photos to guide me.
The Analysis: I am Afraid
Only recently have I taken the time to ponder why things with this painting did not work out…Kind of like the analysis one goes through after a failed relationship. If I had only done this or that, or not done that, etc. Perhaps part of the problem is that I have been wanting to work with different materials, using mixed media, rather than oil paints and working in a more expressive art journaling style. From time to time, I have experimented with mixed media, but never really made a study of what mediums work well together, etc. Most of my mixed media pieces have been made for the Box Show at the Artists’ Gallery in Frederick, MD. Quite simply, I have lacked the courage to put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas and try something new. Just gessoing a new canvas brought on waves of anxiety that were difficult to banish yesterday. But I persevered anyway because I do not want to let fear win.
The Inspiration: Bermudian High School Art Show, Adams County, PA
This past weekend I visited a new art show which opened my eyes to the possibilities of artistic representation, and I finally felt inspired to go back to the drawing board and make some art. The art show in question was an exhibit of mixed media artworks by 45 high school students from the Adams County, PA area and was housed at the Adams County Arts Council. Students focused their works on the theme of human emotion and experimented with a variety of media, such as cardboard, newspaper, colored pencil, magazine clippings, watercolor, etc.
The Breakthrough: Back to the Drawing Board
When I got home, I literally began cutting up color sketches of unfinished color sketches and began re-drawing and re-composing the artwork, The Dream of Time Travel. I have yet to tackle the Maslow’s Hierarchy painting, but maybe this new project will give me some ideas about how to re-think the artwork, such as what media I could use instead of oil painting, as well as what style I want to work in. I have limited myself to working in oils lately, and it’s been stifling. I’ve also been struggling to find my unique style of painting, which represents my love of expressive color and emotional content.
This is particularly apropos for this series, and it seems to be one of the main failings of the Maslow’s Hierarchy painting, it feels devoid of any emotion. One final thought for today, as the writer Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Because I am not a writer, but an artist, I am going to modify that statement for myself and say that if I don’t make time to look at the artwork of others, I am not equipped with the ingredients to make good art. So I am going to make it an intentional habit to get out there, visit art galleries, read art books, go on Pinterest, etc., and fill up that creative tank.
I have been taking a break from blogging after teaching two classes back to back in Classic Drawing and in Pastel at Frederick Community College. An unexpected side effect of teaching others art has been learning that I have room to improve my own art-making skills. Lately, I have been dissatisfied with my artwork, especially a poetry illustration series that I can’t seem to finish. I think my drawing and my painting skills need more refinement.
To that end, I have been scheduling in-studio days, in which I work on drawing from sketchbook prompts and also from oil painting tutorial books. The one I have been working with most recently is a text by Angela Gair, entitled, A Step-by-step Course in Oil Painting. I have learned a lot about color mixing, drawing with my brush and working in the landscape. I have a bad habit of being mean with the paint and I want to start adding more texture, which I am glad to see appearing in these new paintings. My drawing sessions are showing me that I need to slow and really observe my subject. I want to be the best teacher I can and so I think I need to start nurturing the artist in me so I will have more to give others and remember what inspired me to teach art in the first place.
This year I have taught five drawing and pastel classes at Frederick Community College! Its a dream come true, after many years of wanting to teach art, but not being able to find a job in this field. And it’s been a giant learning curve going from being a perpetual college student to an adjunct art instructor. My hat is off to teachers, you work so hard and your work makes such a difference in the lives of your students! I’m thankful for my many teachers who inspired my love of learning, especially at McDaniel College, and for my best teacher, my father, who introduced me to the world of reading and literature!
But, maybe being a perpetual student can help me be a better teacher because I am always seeking out new knowledge or trying new approaches to teaching art from including art history examples to applying art concepts in small activities such as value scales and color wheels… Every class I learn something new about myself and the areas I need to improve, or I learn something new about art that I can apply to my own work. My students keep me engaged by their passion to learn and their curiosity in learning about art. One of my growing edges has been trying to be brief in my lectures and to only give out small snippets of information so that my students can absorb and apply the concepts I am teaching and not feel overwhelmed. This month, I have been teaching a pastel class that focuses on color theory, and my most favorite thing about art is color, so I love this new teaching series! We’ve been working on concepts such as value, the color wheel, color theory, and how to draw from photos and real-life objects, using gesture and contour drawing techniques.
I have also learned once again how important it is to have a solid foundation in drawing from observation and have been adjusting my teaching lectures to include small nuggets about this important concept. If you want to make realistic art it is most important to work from photos, or from life, setting up objects for still life, hiring a model or painting on location for Plein art painting, (that’s French for painting outdoors, a concept that Impressionist painters made popular in the 19th century). My drawing professor from McDaniel really was right, I should be drawing every day! Here are some of the projects and exercises I have been teaching at Frederick Community College for my pastel art class. Note: Many of these projects are not my original art, and have been copied from art textbooks such as Pastels Made Easy, by Anne Heywood. These projects are for instructional purposes only, and not intended for sale or copyright violation. Thanks for reading!
I have been taking a break from blogging since I started teaching art classes and my posts have been somewhat irregular. It’s partly a result of not having much spare time to write, and also because I haven’t made much new work lately. But now I have something new to share! I have finally begun working on a new series of portraits based on the human condition, which I have been working on and off for quite some while. This new piece focuses on psychological needs for belonging, shelter, etc., which are expounded upon by Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs, and features self-portraits of me at different life stages, based on family photos. The oldest figure was one that I had to imagine though since I have not gotten to the senior citizen stage yet. These sketches are preparation for an oil painting I hope to get started on soon! Below is the artist statement which explains the inspiration behind this work. Thanks for reading!
Artist Statement: Constructed Realities
How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it derives from a memory, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to narrative or visiting an inspiring art exhibit. This series of paintings focuses on the connection between the human condition and stories described in the written word, through poetry and song lyrics, and other sources such as psychological theories. For example, these works may describe a feeling, a memory, a season, or the human condition, such as a search for love, broken relationships, and homes, uncertainty, belonging, stages of life, nostalgia about one’s childhood, etc. Using symbols such as rainbows, pregnancy, desert landscapes, storms, and ravens, and houses, I tell visual tales in oil and pastel paintings. In addition, I use muted color schemes to keep the focus on the content of the artwork and not the color. The subjects of this series are my favorite subjects to draw, including the human figure, portraits, animals, and landscapes, which I have previously explored in other paintings.
Two things have sparked this visual storytelling theme. The first was an art class that I took at Frederick Community College several years ago. In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem of my choice using pastels. A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines of Frost’s poem, Ghost House, griped me with an intense visual impression: “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago, and left no trace but the cellar walls…”
The second inspirational spark was learning about art journals and mixed media artwork. A new trend in popular culture is the concept of the art journal, in which the artist writes and illustrates specific things, feelings, seasons, etc., often in mixed media materials. According to mixed media artist, Dina Wakely, art journaling is a way to express your emotions through imagery and text, and no specific rules need to apply to this process. Like Dina, I find that creating narrative art can be a meaningful process, either to express difficult emotions or memories. This new series is entitled Voices and Visions. It was inspired by poetry that includes verses written by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, among others. Memories, feelings, and desires have also inspired this series.
Maybe you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to, or not. I haven’t written any new blog posts in months since I started teaching as an adjunct art instructor at Frederick Community College. Its been a really busy season. I’m no longer trying to sell my art, (although the occasional sale would be welcome nonetheless) and my focus has now been on teaching art classes and juggling my other part-time job. My lastest adventure in teaching has been in instructing a drawing class at Frederick Community Colege, where I have been teaching senior citizens the basic skills of drawing, such as how to draw simple shapes, create the form by shading and how to draw from observation. Here are a few photos of my teaching demonstrations. Enjoy! And thanks for stopping by.
This winter has been a busy one, and I haven’t been posting as often as a result. Two major events have taken place that has been keeping me busy. One was that I was hired to be an adjunct art professor at Frederick Community College this summer, and two is that I have been working on my annual box show project. I just completed the project, and that show will be starting on March 1. I will leave a link with all the gallery show details here: https://www.theartistsgalleryfrederick.com/box.
On another note, I will be teaching an art class on pastel this March which will run for five weeks at Frederick Community College. I will be working in the enrichment department, called ILR, short for Institute for Learning in Retirement, which is a senior citizen population. Its been a learning curve working on a syllabus, lesson planning and testing out the art projects I plan to teach. I need to start drawing more so I am ready to demonstrate these paintings. Sadly, my daily art practice has fallen to the four winds, but I am hoping to get back into it by working more in my sketchbook and also on the pastel projects. Thanks for stopping by!
An Artist I Admire: Eastman Johnson (29 July 1824-April 1906)
Why I Haven’t Been Blogging
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I am going to be writing a new series of blog posts about artists which I admire. It has been a while since I blogged, with the Christmas holidays, get together events with family, and various other things. This month, I have struggled to get back into some sort of routine, with art making and blogging. Now, I am starting to plot out the New Year and the things I would like to accomplish. One of my goals this year is to know more about art history and to apply my newfound knowledge to my current artwork, which is content based. In other words, I am seeking to tell a story in my artwork and to express feelings and emotions through color, composition, and symbols. My first project will be for a poetry series which I have been working on for several years off and on.
The second project I am working on will be for the annual box show entry at the Artists’ Gallery in Frederick, MD, which will be on display this March 2019 as part of the annual box show at TAG, and the show‘s name is called, Burning Desires. For more information, visit The Artists’ Gallery website at www.theartistsgalleryfrederick.com. My topic for this box show will be about the question, “What is an American?” It will investigate the dual identities of Americans as immigrants, African-Americans, etc. I am hoping to send a positive message with this work, especially in the midst of so much division about immigration and everything which it entails. Anyway, I digress. With that being said, I would like to turn my attention to the topic of Eastman Johnson, because he specialized in painting about themes such as the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, daily life in America, etc, within the context of the 19th century. Hopefully, I can glean some ideas and inspiration from analyzing and looking at his artwork, and blast through the artist’s block I have been experiencing lately.
This Month’s Blog Topic: Eastman Johnson
When I first started researching this artist, I was intrigued by the facts that I was able to uncover about him. For instance, I found an article entitled, Eastman Johnson: The Failure of a Successful Artist, written by Kenneth Ames. It seemed like an oxymoron to have a failure and successful included in the same sentence about an artist, and it made me wonder how one person could be both successful and a failure at the same time. As the article was an academic work, and I couldn’t get access to it because it required a subscription to the periodical, I decided to just focus on the content of Eastman’s work. I conjectured that I might see if I could find any answers there as to why it seems that his name is not as recognized as other artists in the world of art history, such as his contemporary, John Singer Sargent. Like Eastman, Sargent also painted portraits and figures of well-known personalities, such as Teddy Roosevelt, and Robert Louis Stevenson. However, before we get into that topic, I would first like to give some of Eastman Johnson’s back story, for the benefit of those who have never heard of him or his artwork.
Biography: Eastman Johnson (29 July 1824-April 1906)
According to the National Gallery of Art, website article, entitled, Eastman Johnson, American, 1824-1906, Eastman Johnson was celebrated as the “the foremost genre painter in the United States.” (Source: The National Gallery of Art. “Eastman Johnson-American, 1824-1906”, https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1423.html.
Early Origins and Home Life
Johnson began his life in Lovell, Maine, in 1824. However, he spent his childhood in the neighboring town of Fryeburg. (Source: ibid) A few years later in 1834, his father and family members relocated to Augusta, where his father held a position as a civil servant. (Source: ibid) In Augusta, he founded a “crayon portrait studio” at the age of 18, following a brief stint at a “Boston lithography shop.” (Source: ibid) Thereafter, he decamped to Washington D.C., where he created black and white portraits of celebrated personalities, such as Dolly Madison and John Quincy Adams. His ambition was to amass a portfolio of famous people. (Source: ibid) In 1846, he had the good fortune to obtain a substantial amount of patronage from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family of Boston. (Source: ibid)
Art Education Abroad
Johnson continued his advanced studies in art in Dusseldorf, Germany, and there he received an intensive education in drawing at the academy in that town. (Source: ibid) However, his time spent studying painting with the teacher Emanuel Leutz was far more enjoyable. (Source: ibid) A few years later, he ventured to London to visit the Universal Exposition. (Source: ibid) Afterwards, he moved to The Hague, staying there for more than three years. (Source: ibid) It would appear that his extended stay at The Hague was out of the ordinary “for an American artist.” (Source: ibid) However, his reasons for the extended stay may be explained by the fact that he was greatly inspired by the art produced by the “Dutch old masters, and that, he also had received patronage from the well to do, the American ambassador, August Belmont. (Source: ibid)
Thesis: Eastman Johnson’s Work was more than Pretty Pictures
According to the author, Kenneth Ames, Eastman Johnson reached the height of American success when he obtained an art studio in New York, and his career continued throughout the “second half of the nineteenth century.” (Source: Taylor, Ramsey. “Eastman Johnson: The Failure of a Successful Artist”, Art Journal, Vol. 29, 1969, volume 2, pgs. 174-182, 6 March 2015, retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00043249.1970.10794692)
Furthermore, prior to his death in 1906, he had completed numerous portraits of elite figures such as presidents and socialites, like his contemporary, John Singer Sargent. (Source: ibid) However, despite these achievements, his work remains obscure. (Source: ibid) I wondered why this is the case. (Source: ibid) Kenneth Ames argues that this is largely due to the fact that Johnson’s work which was most well-known was his “sentimental Victorian genre pictures.” (Source: ibid) However, I would pose the question, could it be possible that there is more to these paintings than meets the eye? On the contrary, could it be that his works also explored the controversial topics of race, slavery, inequality, and identity, which can still resonate with viewers today?
Indeed, I am sorry to say, the issue of inequality still affects us today, despite the passage of time and such notable movements as the Civil Rights movement, which made great strides towards inequality amongst blacks and whites. However, there is still so much more work to do. As the author, A.J. Jacobs states, we are still guided by an us- versus- them mentality and are quick to judge that which is unfamiliar or which we don’t understand, despite our apparent progress in scientific and technological innovations. (Source: Jacobs, A.J. Its all Relative. Simon and Shuster, 2017, Introduction, pg. xii, Introduction). Furthermore, he states, “We’re obsessed with us- versus- them thinking. Blue state versus red state, Americans versus foreigners. Believers versus atheists. Black versus white.” (Source: ibid)
Racism and all the problems it entails still exists today, and you only have to watch the news, read the newspaper or the latest internet headlines to see it is alive and well today. To be continued in next month’s blog post. Stay tuned for next month’s part 2 of Eastman Johnson, an artist I admire, to learn about how Eastman Johnson’s work explored controversial issues of race and equality.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I haven’t been painting much lately. This is a challenge because, without artwork to illustrate my blog posts with, I don’t know what to write about. Over the past few weeks, I have considered writing about art business related topics. However, since I have been having some doubts about whether I want my art to be made mainly for pleasure, such as a hobby or for profit, based on a business model. In fact, I sometimes feel that making art for profit, sometimes steals the joy of creating, and it often involves a host of other tasks I don’t enjoy such as marketing and bookkeeping, which also takes away the limited time I have to make artwork. To resolve this problem, I am going to return to an earlier topic which I had enjoyed writing about and that is, artists I admire. In this case, I will focus my discussion upon the life of John Singer Sargent, and his subsequent reinvention as a painter around 1900, in which he shifted his focus from creating oil portraits of high society figures to creating watercolors of people and places he visited in Europe.
Re-Invention of the Self: A pop culture staple
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, and imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The topic of reinvention is important to me because I am in the process of trying to separate others ideas of what they think I should be doing with my life, and my own conflicts between pursuing art, and what role I want it to play in my life. Is it a profession, a hobby or something in between? Along the way, I have also been sidetracked with other pursuits such as pursuing more practical lines of work, such as graphic design and social work, and even, art entrepreneurship. This is a process that began in 2005 when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree to the present moment.
That is why reading about Sargent’s journey to aesthetic reinvention, in the article, “Examining Sargent’s Shift from Oils to Watercolors”, by Judith H. Dubrinsky, of the New York Times, caught my eye and inspired me to write about him. I took classes in both graphic design and social work and after much ambivalence and indecision, decided ultimately that they were not interesting enough for me to complete a degree and change my career direction. It seems that I always return to making art no matter what other avenues for employment, volunteering or education that I have pursued. As I have been introspecting about this process of shedding layers of false selves, my truer self-seems to be emerging, and I am finding fulfillment in finally getting to pursue my dream of teaching art. Meanwhile, I am working part-time as a receptionist, who provides stable income and a sense of security, when art sales are low or the teaching contracts are not long-term, as is the case with my new contractual position at Buckingham’s Choice. The topic of reinvention, however, is not just limited to the past, as in the case of Sargent. Instead, it can still be observed in more current times.
For example, in popular culture, a good case in point of the re-invented self is found in the 2009 movie, Julie and Julia, a biopic about the life of the renowned chef, Julia Child, which is intermingled with the life one of her fans, Julie Powell who aspires to be a cook, but struggles with finishing things, like her novel. Powell gets inspired by Child’s book, The Art of French cooking, and takes on the challenge of cooking all of Child’s recipes from the book, and blogging about her adventures and mishaps during this journey. In addition, the writer, Georgina Del Vecho, in an article, Can You ReallyReinvent Yourself? States that, “Countless teen movies revolve around the plotline of a transformation—“The Princess Diaries,” “Grease,” “She’s All That” and “Clueless,” to name a few—which, even if the transformed character ends up realizing they’ve forsaken their morals in pursuit of popularity/fame/a man, still suggest that changing your appearance or other aspects about yourself can help you reach your goal.” (Source: Del Vecho, Georgina. “Can You Really ReinventYourself?”The Chronicle: The Independent NewsOrganization at Duke University, 09/13/2007, https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/09/can-you-really-reinvent-yourself, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
Another example of transformation, which is popular today, is the notion of changing your profession and seeking to find a dream job, such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business, especially during the retirement years. (Source: Freedman, Marc. “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention.” The Harvard Business Review, January 1, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-dangerous-myth-of-reinvention), accessed on November 15, 2018.)
These examples, however, opens up the question, such as, do these types of transformations really change who you are as a person, or not? I’m particularly interested in this questions and the journey of reinventing myself because I have been making some significant changes in my own life. For years I have wanted to teach art, but haven’t known how to go about it. For example, I have faced many roadblocks to getting qualified to teach after I obtained my baccalaureate degree in art. Despite taking the standardized teaching certification test, called the Praxis 1 test many times, I could not pass it. This test is required to obtain teacher certification in the state of Maryland, and it allows you to apply for teaching jobs in the public school system.
After that, I was rejected to four graduate degree art programs, which is a required qualification if you want to teach art on the college level. It seemed that all doors for teaching art had been effectively closed. I have driven down many detours and pursued lots of classes and volunteering, most of which not related to art, but seemed more “practical.” Making time for art and thinking about how I wanted it to be a part of my life got sidelined. For years, I simply focused on survival and paying my bills, which was important because I had student loans to pay off. However, after my father died in 2011, it was a catalyst to motivate me to find a way to make art a part of my life again. Initially, this began by taking art classes with Rebecca Pearl, a local Thurmont, MD artist, and teacher. Later, it grew to include a sideline as a pet portrait painter and exhibiting my artwork in local art shows. Recently, I have begun teaching art classes in an enrichment art class at the retirement community in Adamstown, Md, called Buckingham’s Choice, and I have applied for a position as an enrichment art teacher at Frederick Community College in the Institute for Learning in Retirement. However, this journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work against my inner resistance to change, even good change, and fears of the unknown, to get to this new destination in my life. But, upon reflection, I’m realizing that perhaps the biggest failure of all, would be not to pursue one’s hopes, dreams or ambitions and settle for the unresolved life, which is characterized by “what might have been,” or “if only.”
John Singer Sargent: Artistic Scope and Reinvention
I tend to associate Sargent with oil paintings of well-known entities such as Theodore Roosevelt and the robber baron John D. Rockefeller. But, little did I know that he had much more range and ability in the arts than I can imagine. In fact, sometime around 1900, Sargent abandoned his oil paints and picked up watercolor paints instead. (Source: ibid) According to the author, Dubrinsky, he abandoned painting portraits of high society figures and instead focused on painting “gardens, exotic locales, and people at leisure, at work and at rest, often on his travels in Europe and the Middle East. Experimenting with unusual compositions and new techniques, he reinvented himself aesthetically.” (Source: ibid)
Furthermore, later in life, he painted a series of murals for the Boston Public Library, with the theme of the Triumph of Religion. According to the Boston Public Library, Sargent, depicted several themes in his murals, including “early Egyptian beliefs, Judaism and Christianity”, in his murals, located in the McKim building of the Boston Public Library. (Source: “Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online, Mural Cycles at the Central Library in Copley Square”: Boston Public Library, https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033, accessed on November 15, 2018, and The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
He obtained his artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. (Source: ibid) Furthermore, some of his artistic influences included: the artists: Goya, Velasquez, and other contemporary Impressionist painters, and he quickly put into practice the lessons he learned from these masters. (Source: ibid)
What Made John Singer Sargent’s Work Exceptional?
According to the website, The Art Story.org, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated portrait artist who specialized in painting pictures of the elite members of society, such as the oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller, and the presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in locations such as Paris, London and New York. (Source: The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
What distinguished him from other artists was the way that he revolutionized portrait painting by utilizing impressionistic brushwork and nontraditional compositions to “capture his sitters’ character and even reputation.” (Source: ibid) And sometimes his models did not like the completed painting and even refused to buy it, perhaps because it revealed uncomfortable truths? (Source: ibid) The portrait, Madame X, painted early in his career is a prime example of this tendency. (Source: ibid)
Sargent’s Range of Artistic Projects: Watercolors and Murals
However, he did not limit himself to portraiture; instead, he also painted outdoors with his colleague, Claude Monet”. (Source: ibid) In addition, Sargent also created murals which were commissioned by government officials in the US and in the UK later in his career. (Source: ibid) He was a talented young painter and he created a “spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his twenties.”(Source: ibid)
Scandal in Paris Salon of 1884: Madame X Painting
Despite these accomplishments, in 1884 at the Paris Salon, his portrait, Madame X, created a stir amongst the leaders of the Paris art establishment, who found its depiction of the American ex-patriot, Virginia Gateau, too blatantly sexual, in her low cut black dress which showed a shocking amount of her skin for the 19th century time period and standards of the day. (Source: Baker, Harriet. “The Story Behind John Singer Sargent’s RA ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.” The Royal Academy, 13 February 2015, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/john-singer-sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose, accused on November 15, 2018.
After his debacle in Paris, Sargent moved to England “and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire”. (Source: ibid) At this location, he painted the stunning and timeless painting, Carnation Lily, LilyRose, which epitomized the innocence of childhood, and helped to bring him back into the arms of the art establishment. (Source: ibid) Sargent’s inspiration for this double portrait came from a variety of sources such as artwork by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists who painted en plein air. (Source: ibid) However, his initial inspiration for this painting can be traced back to “an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging from trees.” (Source: ibid) He began working on Carnation Lily, Lily Rose during a visit with Francis David Millet. (Source: ibid) The two girls who posed for the portrait were Polly and Dorothy, who were daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard. (Source: ibid)
Closing Thoughts: Why I feel a kinship with Sargent
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Sargent’s life story in a small way, such as his search to find success, his failures, and his desire to reinvent himself in his middle age. In a similar way, I am at a crossroads in my life and looking for ways to reinvent my life via teaching art. I’m also shedding old selves, perhaps influenced or invented by others or myself. I’m trying to be completely honest with myself about what I really want to do with my life and what I want my contribution to society to be. I am not even sure I want to be an artist-entrepreneur anymore, and I am re-examining what it means for me to be an artist. For now, I am finding that teaching others to draw and paint is incredibly rewarding, and it seems to be part of that answer. I admire Sargent’s courage to break free from his comfort zone, and perhaps from the expectations of others about what he should paint. I hope that I can grab onto some of that courage.
Readers, Please Note: The paintings I am posting to accompany this blog post include not only a portrait that Sargent completed, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, but also some other master artworks
which I have copied and which I intend to make part of an art history blog series. Thanks for reading! Next month I plan to write about the artist Eastman Johnson. Have a wonderful day!
A Response to Last Month’s Post: How to Re-Prime Used Canvases
This blog post is inspired by a blog post from last month, entitled: Artists: What Should You Do withUnfinished Artwork? dated August 12, 2018. In this post, I wrote about the artwork that had been abandoned for various reasons. I also added a list of various highlights from an article entitled, “50 Ways to Use Your Unfinished Art.” Several suggestions for completing your artwork were listed in the aforementioned article including taking pictures of your artwork to manipulate it, cutting up the artwork and re-assembling it, throwing the painting away, etc. However, one technique that I didn’t mention for completing art work is to start over from scratch. For example, this could mean re-surfacing an old canvas by using sandpaper or even a power sander, depending on how thick the paint has been applied to the canvas. The processes for re-finishing canvases are different, depending on whether acrylic or oil paint was used, which is a fact that I learned after reading two articles on The Painters Keys website- Re-priming OldCanvases, and How to Resurface an Old Painting by Ericka Lancaster. I really wish I had known this sooner, as I am not sure how my old paintings, which have been re-surfaced with sandpaper and acrylic gesso, will hold out over time.
Consequently, I plan to do more research in the future, before I am embarking on a similar project with older canvases. I want to be certain that I can create quality paintings which will pass the test of time. Ok, so now to what I learned from reading these articles. For example, in the Painter’s Key’s website, the author responded to a query from a reader about how to restore an old canvas, so that it could be re-painted. (Source: http://thepainterskeys.com/reprime, Robert Genn, date of access 08/24/18). In response, the author stated that to re-surface an old oil painting can create some concrete and creative challenges because if the re-surfacing process is not done correctly, it can cause the paint to flake off from the surface. (Source: ibid) Therefore, because of this possibility, many artists choose instead to use new materials, i.e. new canvases or substrates. (Source: ibid)
Here are some tips for re-purposing oil paintings from the article, Re-priming Used Canvases:
Sand the surface of your oil painting until it is completely dull in appearance. (Source: Ibid)
I used a power sander with 150-grade coarse sandpaper, because it is easier to use than individual strips of sandpaper, and it gets the job done much faster.
After you sand the painting, use a microfiber cloth to get rid of any excess paint chips. For heavily encrusted paint, you can give the canvas or paper another pass with the power sander.
When the canvas is completely clean and you can see the tooth of it, use an “oil or alkyd-based gesso or oil primer.” (Source: ibid) You can use a scumbled technique and a rag, to cover the offending areas you don’t like about your painting, and leave other areas, untouched that you like. Using this technique is a compromise between using the old surface and the paint which remains, and painting a new layer of paint. (Source: ibid)
As an alternative, you can use a mixture of titanium white oil paint and linseed oil. You may add additional colors to the mixture if you would like to add an underpainting; such as burnt sienna or yellow ochre. (Source: ibid) This step will provide you with a middle value, with which to compare your other values and help to create color harmony in your painting.
On the other hand, re-priming or painting over acrylic paintings is a completely different scenario and process. For instance, “acrylic molecules remain sticky forever,” and you need to ensure that there is “no final varnish remaining.” Instead, acrylic paintings should be “cleaned outdoors with household ammonia and well flushed with water before applying a water-based gesso, thick or thin.” And unlike oil based surfaces, paintings with an acrylic paint can be re-surfaced with gesso as a priming agent. (Source: ibid)
Here are some steps you can follow to re-surface an old acrylic painting, according to the artist, Erica Lancaster:
Clean the old acrylic painting with a soft microfiber cloth until it is free of dust or grime.
Use sandpaper to remove the old acrylic paint with a light touch, while you concentrate on “heavily textured” sections of the canvas. If you can’t get rid of all the texture from the acrylic paint, don’t worry about it.
Go over your sanded acrylic painting with a clean cloth to remove any additional paint particles.
Paint your canvas with Gesso and use even coats. Remember to let each coat dry at a time before applying a new layer of gesso. This can take up to 24 hours to “cure.” If you want to thin out your gesso, you can add water to the mixture. Test your canvas and check to see that it is completely dry, before applying any acrylic paint. As a general rule, you want to have at least two dry coats of gesso on your painting before you begin adding acrylic paint.
Go over your canvas with sandpaper again. As to how many times you choose to sand the canvas that is completely up to you. Deciding on what amount of texture to give your paintings is a personal creative choice, and it depends on what type of “look” you want your painting to have, such as photorealism or abstraction. If you want a realistic look, you would want less texture and thin smooth layers of paint.
So there you have it. Two different approaches to re-surfacing old paintings, depending on whether you have an acrylic or oil painting on your canvas. This week’s artwork
features the creative process of my latest painting in progress, a water lily. My next step is to combine all these sources I created to make a completed oil painting, which I hope to finish in the near future! Happy painting and thanks for stopping by!