Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Our Voice"

"Our Voice" " We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” Buddha In my classes, I always remark that one thing I love about painting - in watercolor especially - and also about painters in general, is the fact that we all begin with the same few simple tools: a couple of brushes, paper, some pigments, and water. But a hundred artists could go out with these same basic tools and paint the exact scene. And by day’s end, there would be one hundred completely different, and completely unique results. Some might say that this can be explained by “talent” or by levels of skill, etc. And yes, those things can be factors. But that’s almost never quite what I see. I see one hundred individual artists shining through – one hundred different voices trying to be heard. One of the greatest compliments I can ever receive as an artist, is when someone says, “From across the room, I could tell that was your work. I’d recognize it anywhere.” If nothing else, it helps to confirm that I am on my own path. Possibly the greatest goal we can all have as artists is to learn to develop our own, individual voice - the only one that can express our personal inspirations and vision in a way that no one else possibly could. I get enormous support and inspiration as an artist from various philosophical and spiritual teachings - Buddhism among them - and that for it’s pragmatic simplicity, emphasis on the calmness and joy of the present moment, gratitude, and a sense of personal responsibility. One of its most fundamental teachings is that “ We ourselves must walk the path - no one can do it for us”. This is a joyful thought to me - not one that fills me with sorrow or loneliness. To me it says that I am in the driver’s seat of my life and only I can shape my present and therefore, determine my future. Another simple yet powerful quote by the wise man himself, and one that perfectly sums up my thoughts about living and painting is, "It is better to travel well than to arrive”. Absolutely. I would hope as artists we feel we are always moving and growing. There is always something new to learn and ways to grow. If we ever feel we have “arrived”, we are finished. Philosophy aside, when we are learning to paint, it is almost inevitable that we will be influenced by other more established artists doing work we admire. Up to a point this is understandable and perfectly OK. But sometimes - even without thinking - it becomes far too easy to then begin to mimic their ideas, their palettes, their compositions, etc. This is - of course - a dead end. It is also an insult to those artists we claim to respect, and worse, an insult to ourselves. It means we are not listening to our own voice, but trying to borrow that of another. There is no art to be found there. To be influenced is one thing, but to mimic or imitate - quite another. Back to the simplicity of Buddhism, it also teaches that “everything we need - we already have”. How I love that idea! As a painter, the trick of course is to be able to clear away enough useless and surplus noise and negativity to be able to accept and take full advantage of that. For me, practice is the thing. The more I paint, the easier I find it becomes to just get lost within that process and the world of the painting in front of me. For the time it takes me to do that painting, that is all the world I wish to know. It then does get easier bit by bit to be able to pay no attention to all that external noise; to tune out all those voices that tell us we need to get this or that commission, into this exhibition, or that gallery, or to get praise from this or that person or group. We tell ourselves we need these things to know that we are finally "good enough”. But if this is on your mind while painting, “success” will be a very illusive thing. And while all those things may be great in their way, none of them can ever hope to tell us convincingly if we’re actually good enough. Only we have the power to do that. And only when we can learn to listen more intently to that voice within - to take advantage of resources we already have - will we know if we’re on the right path or not. And we will know – since we already have all we need. It’s just in practice that we begin to realize it and to more clearly hear that voice - the one that already knows who we are and how we wish to express that unique individual we are by means of our work. "Kiyomizu in Snow" - Kyoto. Thomas W Schaller - 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


“Light” Often I am asked, “How do you paint light in your work?” Well, the answer is almost frustratingly simple. “I don’t.” "The light is already there: waiting for me on the blank sheet of paper . All I have to do is paint the relative darkness of shades and shadows to allow that light to have expression - to let it really shine through.” I like to think of painting in watercolor as a “subtractive” process. By that I mean, we start off with the maximum amount of light available and already “painted” for us by the untouched white sheet of the paper itself. We then set about subtracting some of it by the addition of shapes and areas of darker value . So it is the juxtaposition, the dialogue between these values in the final painting, that give the work it’s expression and identity. In almost all my work, it is easy to spot some area that has been left completely untouched - a bit of the pure white of the paper shining through. Often this area is offset by the proximity of the darkest dark in the same work, There is a tension and a dramatic expression to be had there. Also, I tend to break down my work into three basic shapes of value : “light”, “dark”, and “mid-tones”. These abstract shapes of value can be arranged in countless ways, but if clearly and simply articulated, will almost always result in a work that is more dynamic and expressive than one in which only one or two values are seen. Like most artists , I love color. I often say I can’t go into an art supply store without “adult supervision” because I will want every tube of paint on every shelf!! But I urge my classes and myself to keep our palettes as simple as possible - and to work more in value than in color. No amount of beautiful color can save a work if the values are too consistent and unvaried - or worse - when the light is lost. For this reason, I also encourage the completion of small, quick "value composition” studies before the final painting begins. These are not always necessary, but sometimes help remind us of the dominant importance of a dynamic composition of values. And more importantly, they remind us of where the light must be saved. For once the light in a watercolor painting is gone, the work begins to die , and it is all but impossible to get it back. In music - it is the space between the notes that set the rhythm and identity of the final piece. The silences are as important to musical expression as are the actual sounds of the instruments. It is just the same in painting. It is the “negative” shapes that give voice and expression to the “positive". Without the dark, the light has no voice. And so, the areas of a work that are left unpainted are at least as important and powerful as those areas that are. In my painting “Interior - Cathedral of Girona ;Spain” - as in most all my others - I am exploring the “stories of light”. I try to provide a compelling “path of light” to draw viewers in and allow them to imagine themselves inside my paintings. There, they can begin to tell their own stories - whatever those may be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

"Find the Art"

“Find the Art” Even when we’re not at out easels, painters are - in a sense - always “painting”. I’m hopeless to ride with in a car or walk with anywhere at all; “Look at that! Now there’s a painting!” seems to be my constant refrain. As I remind myself - and tell my classes constantly – an interesting or beautiful scene may or may not have the makings of a good painting. In truth, a beautiful painting can just as often be found in the most commonplace or unusual of places as in the most exotic of cities. But whatever we choose to paint, I believe it’s an artist’s real job to do more than simply illustrate the precise details of what a place or thing literally looks like. We should rather do our best to discover and interpret that thing’s true nature: discover a bit of it’s essence, and tell something of it’s story. Only then can we hope to express something uniquely personal in how it inspired us in the first place. Good paintings often ask more questions than they answer. So when our paintings begin to ask these questions – inviting both painter and viewer to become involved in those stories - we begin to get closer to finding the Art that exists all around us. As with most paintings, this one began with the two dimensions of the flat sheet - height and width. With shifting shapes of various values, my painting, “Pons Fabricius–Rome” (2011) begins to suggest the third dimension of depth and perspective. But it is with the choice of this ancient structure (the bridge : one of my favorite subjects) at an oblique, dynamic angle, that I begin to tell just a bit of the story of this ancient city, as well as a little of the forth dimension – the spanning of space and the passage of time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Masters of Watercolor International Exhibition - St. Petersburg - 20-31 January 2015

40 Russian and 40 International artists will be represented in The Masters Of Watercolor exhibition 20-31, January, 2015 at the Grand exhibition hall of The Artists Association, St.Petersburg, Russia. Welcome! Big big thanks to Konstantin Sterkhov for making this happen!!