Probably the most renowned american portrait artist of all time, John Singer Sargent was born on January 12, 1856 in Florence, Italy from American parents. During his lifetime and much successful career, Sargent dabbled with extraordinary dexterity in the various techniques and styles of his contemporary artists in Europe, where he spent most of his life. He was, however, a very private man who never really fitted into any particular art movement in vogue. “I like what I like,” he was quoted when asked about his personal style of painting.
John Singer Sargent was a supreme draughtsman and colorist, a master of the “alla prima” or wet on wet technique. Like no other or very few, he was able to create a painting, even a portrait painting, with no drawing or underpainting on his canvas, though he indeed made pencil or charcoal drawing studies on paper. This “bravura” approach was both highly regarded and severely criticized. Sargent remained unfazed to those negative opinions of his style and work.
Though not actually a portrait, this head and shoulders study is my attempt at praising Singer Sargent as the master of portrait painting, specially his facility for making “everybody look glamorous”, like Andy Warhol once commented.
Is the cat there for a reason?
Love is a subject that recurs in the works of artists since the beginning of art. This painting is an ode to love in the setting of a landscape in Old San Juan. Puerto Rico, known as Paseo de La Princesa, a promenade that owes its name to the building dating back to 1837 that was used as a prison well into the 20th century. It now houses the headquarters of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. The walkway is located on the South Side of the walled old city and leads to the San Juan Gate. A detour takes you to the Paseo del Morro, a longer path all the way to El Morro Castle.
Sometimes landscape art can provide the visual context for a subject other than the objects normally associated with landscape painting, namely sky, trees, water bodies and so forth. Viewed as landscape art, the main subject of this painting is sunlight and the way it plays with the trees to form shapes and patterns of variously colored rays of light on the floor of the walkway, transforming it into a magical path for the loving couple to enjoy. The perspective of the painting reinforces this experience of idyllic delight, inviting us to enter and move along.
Artists of the past were educated in the humanities, and would employ devices from literature as visual metaphors for their subject matters. Nowadays, much of the allegorical elements included in paintings are not generally understood. I am not going to explain the rhetorical meaning of some of the visual elements I have included in this picture in relation to the subject of love. Some are traditional, like the young lady reading a book alone. Castles have been depicted as symbols of the strength of love or the courage it takes to conquer the heart of the beloved. In this painting, the wall of the old city of San Juan might have that symbolic connotation. Animals, such as dogs and birds appear in love pictures. I know the sleeping cat is there for a reason.
I am forever grateful to the enlightened client who gave me the opportunity to execute this painting.
I’m becoming ever more interested in the Russian approach to figure drawing. Actually, it’s not a method invented or used only by the Russian art academies, but they have preserved the best traditions of the Old Masters and come up with a strong output of highly skillful contemporary artists capable of executing fine realistic drawing in various media.
What is really the Russian approach to drawing and how it differs from other methods of teaching drawing? The Russian approach to drawing is founded on two very sound principles: observation and knowledge. Besides drawing what you see, you also draw what you know. Observation is key to making a good drawing, but having a thorough knowledge of the subject you are interpreting with a pencil on a piece of paper can make the difference between a drawing that is merely good and one that is truly great, capable of communicating not only the visual aspect of a subject, but its nature and character as well. Think of Leonardo’s botanical studies, the mechanics of the hands, the dynamic flow of water, and so on. Drawing becomes a tool for the acquisition of knowledge, without hindering in any way on its artistic value. Quite the opposite. Drawing that is both the result of careful observation and acquired knowledge can produce a highly emotionally charged piece of art, capable of stirring our imagination and uplifting the spirit.
It might be said that a drawing of the human form made with such precision as the Russian artists still do can render a cold, motionless picture. That is not the case with the Russian drawing approach, because it often starts with a gestural assertion of the general idea of what the drawing will become when finished. In gestural drawing, one does not draw the appearance, but instead the action of the subject. From this initial approach, the drawing is “constructed”, the gesture sketch is divided into ever smaller shapes carefully placed using multiple comparative measurements, building up volume through tone and creating the illusion of depth in perspective. In the particular case of the human figure, the shapes of the body are rendered with their anatomical function in mind. Tone is rendered by well-thought crosshatching, akin to a sculptor gradually chiseling the statue out of the block of stone.
The above drawings were made from photographs. Although realistic, the classical drawing of the figure and the human face is completely aesthetic and artistic and does not seek to recreate an image as a camera does. It is for this reason that the use of photographs as reference is discouraged. It’s preferable to rely on direct observation of the subject to render volume and space the way the human eyes see, different from what the camera lens capture. Most people will assume that a photo is more accurate than a painting of drawing, but the fact is that a camera lacks human stereoscopic vision and its lens can cause errors in magnification, such as barrel distortion, in which objects that are closer look much bigger than reality. That is the reason why some people complain that their noses look impressively larger in photos. Knowledge is very helpful in taking into account these distortions in photos and making the proper corrections.
Today I had the pleasant opportunity to finish a live drawing begun two days ago in the drawing and painting course I teach. To draw from life is an exciting adventure full of challenges, both for the artist and for the model. The result was very rewarding, and I share.
There was a time in my younger days when I wanted to illustrate the constellations. This one is Argo Navis, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece. The illustration is done in black ink, white ink and white pastel on blue toned paper. I had to study ancient ship design and use perspective to fit the vessel to the actual arrangement of the stars, quite a challenge.
Argo Navis was the largest of all the constellations. So enormous in size, it is now divided into three constellations: Carina (The Keel), Puppis (the Stern) and Vela (the Sail).
In Greek mythology, the ship was built by Argos. The goddess Athena placed in the prow a piece of the oak of Dodona, which had the power of speaking and therefore could guide and warn Jason and his crew of fifty sailors. After the voyage in search of the Golden Fleece was completed, Athena placed the ship in the sky.
The star marking the rudder is Alpha Carinae, known as Canopus, the brightest star in the night sky second only to Sirius nearby.
The group of constellations is best seen in the northern hemisphere from winter to spring.
Comienza el Miércoles 7 de Enero
Saludos: Con motivo de estar fuera de Puerto Rico del 9 al 13 de enero, iniciaremos el curso/taller de Dibujo y Pintura este miércoles 7 de enero. La segunda reunión será el siguiente miércoles 14. Luego continuamos el itinerario regular de lunes y viernes. Espero verlos a todos en este comienzo de año y les deseo mucha inspiración y dedicación en sus trabajos de arte.
Las fechas de clase para Enero son: Miércoles 7 Miércoles 14 Viernes 16 Lunes 19 Viernes 23 Lunes 26
–IMPORTANTE PARA PARTICIPANTES NUEVOS– Favor de traer: Libreta de Dibujo y lápiz para la primera clase Mesita y silla portátil Costo: $80
Teléfono Profesor: 787-210-0864
The painting uses as reference a photo I took of my son as a little boy during our vacation in Yosemite Valley. I was attracted by the morning sunlight hitting on his blanket while his sleepy head remained in twilight shadow. His posture reminded me of Leighton’s Flaming June, a Victorian painting in the collection of the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico. The main theme of the painting is “childhood innocence”, and I felt particularly fond of enhancing the colors of the original photograph to evoke the way children dream in their own fantastic world of color and play.
In my art class, I employ a system of art valuation based on five criteria, here mentioned in order of importance: CONCEPT, COMPOSITION, DRAWING, COLOR and TECHNIQUE. This system is derived from the book “Great Works of Art and What Makes Them Great” by American sculptor Frederick W. Ruckstull. Ruckstull’s “standard of art measurement” consists of six criteria, which he calls “elements”, the third of which is EXPRESSION. This particular element is, in my opinion, too vague an evaluator and even redundant, since the aim of any artistic execution is, in fact, to be expressive. The author himself mentions that “the highest standard of art valuation is Power of Expression”. The other five, when used skillfully and creatively by an artist, can indeed make a work of high expressive value, which in turn, determines its greatness, whether this artwork is famous or not. In other words, a great work of art can come from any artist, regardless of fame and recognition.
Every time one of the student’s painting is finished, we freely discuss how each of the five criteria has been particularly met for that work and suggest ways of improvement. Some interesting ideas emerge in these discussions, especially when it comes to CONCEPT, the most important standard of art measurement. Briefly, CONCEPT is the visual idea behind the creation of a work of art, and its of paramount importance in achieving the most powerful expression. Michelangelo’s conceptualization of the “Creation of Man” in the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo’s conceptualization of the “Last Supper” in Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan make these pictures surpass all other renditions of the same subjects, before or afterwards.
The second standard of art measurement, COMPOSITION, is also of supreme importance. It involves not only the correct arrangement of lines, shapes and values, but also the selection beforehand of what is relevant for the concept to be rightfully expressed as an image. These first two criteria, CONCEPT and COMPOSITION are the intellectual elements in the system, in other words, they happen in the mind of the artist before the work itself has begun.
DRAWING, COLOR and TECHNIQUE are the craft elements that all artists should master in order to create good art. Though not crucial in making any particular artwork “great”, they are very important, in much the same way that a furniture maker must be able to use his tools with dexterity to create a functional chair, whether a plain or a beautifully designed one. The ugly rendition of a beautifully conceived image is pitiful, yet we see it so often these days.
For students seeking to understand and learn the best practices for representational art, the “standard of art measurement” can be of great benefit, as it provides a broad and precise framework to guide the artist in the creation and execution of a work of art. .
My students can freely and honestly use the “standard of art measurement” in judging my own work. In fact, it’s fun and I value their input.
January 10 and 11
Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. — 4 p.m., with an hour lunch break
Crealdé School of Art Studio 1A
Registration deadline: Saturday, January 3 Members $235, Non-members $255 #WKP65
“Little Girl” by Ben Morales-Correa
In this two-day workshop, Ben Morales-Correa will teach that the human flesh color need not always be rendered “realistically.” He will demonstrate how to establish effective value relationships by means of color contrasts. Participants will learn to achieve the illusion of natural light by relying more on color contrasts to convey lights and darks. Students can work directly from a live model or from personal photos.
Register in person at the Crealdé main campus at 600 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park, FL 32792, or by phone 407-671-1886, or register online at www.crealde.org
Crealdé School of Art is a community based nonprofit arts organization established in 1975. It features a year-round curriculum of over 125 visual arts classes for students of all ages taught by a faculty of more than 40 professional artists. Crealdé’s main campus offers two galleries and an outdoor sculpture garden. Crealdé’s second campus, the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, pays tribute through its permanent collection to contributions of Winter Park’s historic African-American community, as well as hosting visiting exhibitions. A limited number of classes are also held at the Jessie Brock Community Center in Winter Garden.
Cosa Buena (A Good Thing) is a painting in abstract style inspired by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The title is more or less accurately represented in this painting by the use of signs which represent “thing or object” and “good or beautiful”.