Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Tips on portrait painting
FAS Instructor Hank McLaughlin has had many portrait commissions over the years, including a painting of the former archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan. That portrait hangs in the Archbishop’s Residence in New York City.
Recently, Hank had an inquiry from one of his FAS students regarding how to handle values in the background of a portrait. As he often does, Hank answered by citing several relevant anecdotes. The first came from a painter who was commissioned to paint a portrait of John D. Rockefeller. For three days, Mr. Rockefeller sat for the artist; and for those three days, the artist painted only the background, not the sitter. An interested observer asked the artist why he had bothered to have the sitter there at all, if he was just going to work on the background. The artist answered, “I wanted to paint the background as it would look to a viewer who was concentrating on the subject of the painting—the center of interest. In order to paint it that way, I myself had to be looking at the subject and not at the background.” Hank went on to explain that, in order to be sure that the face is the center of interest in a portrait, you use brighter colors, sharper edges, and more contrast in that area. The human eye doesn’t like to look at blurred images or low contrast, so will pass over those areas to get to the center of interest.
The student also wondered about whether the colors in the background should merge with the figure. Hank answered that you should always try to include some colors from the background in the figure, and vice versa. This creates the effect that both are bathed in the same light; it pulls the painting together. Hank’s second anecdote, this one from Monet, touches on this point. Monet said that if you paint a landscape with blue sky, green grass, and a red barn, there should be some red and green in the sky, some blue and green in the barn, and some red and blue in the grass.
Good advice from Hank—and the masters!
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A lifetime of creativity for FAS graduate
Yesterday’s mail brought a wonderful surprise—a letter from Rita Altman, who graduated from FAS in 1957 (she sent a copy of her graduation certificate to prove it!). Here’s what she wrote:
I thought I would send a little surprise letter to you after all these years. I was 21 years old when I got my certificate from you and now I am 74-1/2!
For about the last 40 years, I have my own business, Country and Wood Crafts. I taught my daughter Julie and three granddaughters the fun of art work. We do on the average of 28 to 30 craft shows and festivals a year, and also do orders here at home for folks wanting personal art works. We have won many awards at the various shows over the years; just this week we won a first place blue ribbon at a Fine Arts Festival in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. I hope this will encourage any students now studying with you that the future can be wonderful! Thanks to your school from me!
Rita sent photos of some samples of her work. In addition to creating charming pieces, she’s also recycling items that might otherwise become landfill—she’s green as well as creative. Here’s to many more years of fun, Rita—we’re delighted to hear from you!
Friday, June 10, 2011
Making art together—Surrealist painters Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage
A new exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in Westchester County, New York, poses an interesting question: can two artists have a balanced, equitable marriage and each produce meaningful art without stepping on each other’s toes? During their lifetimes, Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage took pains to keep their art separate, insisting on separate galleries when their work was shown together in 1954. The current show is called Double Solitaire, an apt metaphor for the companionable rivalry that seemed to describe their life together. In fact, when you look at images from the exhibition, it can sometimes be difficult to guess which artist created which painting. An article in the New York Times explores some of the background of the artists’ relationship and compares the similarities and differences between their art. Unlike other artistic couples, these two seem to have been fulfilled by working side by side.
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