Let me start by fully acknowledging the debt of gratitude the recreational art world owes Mr. “Happy Trees” Bob Ross. He got people painting who never would have dared pick up a brush on the best of days. Why? Because he made art technique accessible. He deciphered the complex with “light-bulb” art moments and gave aspiring painters…wait for it…a formula. Aah yes! The notorious painting “formula”, heralded by hobby “fun” artists as genius and scorned by the high brow “fine art” snobs as cliché and misleading.Read More »
If you’ve frequented the fine art or painting section of your local book store, you’ve likely seen one of Mary Whyte’s Books. At least here in the Southern United States her books are a common sight. Watercolor Artist Mary Whyte may not be on the lips of every professional art connoisseur drawing breath, but something tells me that she will be spoken of more and more in years to come (If only by us “real folk.” Sorry art snobs. That probably doesn’t refer to you.) And in those years to come I wonder if we may one day speak of Mary as we now do wildly popular American artists like Andrew Wyeth. You know with that same reverential, wide eyed, understanding nod that makes us feel like we know at least a little something about art. “Oh yeah. that Andrew Wyeth, he’s the best.” But lets not trivialize her work. I have my reasons why I think the air around Mary’s work is rare. I may not be an expert on what makes notable artists notable in the years to come, but it won’t surprise me if Mary ends up as one of them. Who am I kidding, she’s probably half way there already.
Mary Whyte began her artistic life as many of us aspiring artists do, displaying evident talent early on, accompanied by an idealistic passion to pursue it, but thats where the similarities end for most of us. While real life and distraction often brush our grand art dreams aside, Mary persisted, was prolific and sought to infuse her work with key ingredients, namely story and meaning. Her art journey has been almost relentless in that pursuit. Ironically, she found some of those stories strewn right across her path, not because they were obvious, but because she was looking intently for them. Does art like this ring a bell? Oh yeah, thats right, Andrew Wyeth. Ok, so the styles are completely different and perhaps there are many other artists I could more closely compare her to, but both Mary’s and Andrew’s work present visual narratives that vibrate with intimacy and authenticity. Iconic artists that elevate past obscurity, past snobbish pretense and stroll unapologetically across the popular art stage, have discovered that telling meaningful stories with art, about places and lives we never knew existed, embeds those images into our souls. And when its done as prolifically and masterfully as Mary does it, a pedestal rises up to meet that body of work.
More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte is the latest of books about her work. While the other 6 books either present artistic process, instruction, or focus on a specific collection of works, this book is a larger overview of her life, her artistic journey and a good cross section of her artistic projects through the years, not to mention deftly voiced descriptions of the images, compositions and sources for her inspiration thanks to art historian Martha R. Severens. In short, its a good art read, especially for anyone ever wondering what sets apart merely good artists from really important ones.
Spring has fully sprung and with it comes a springboard of festival and art show opportunities right on through Fall. Its a great way to get out and get in some walking, but also a boon for artistic inspiration.
Here are some tips to take full advantage of the opportunities.
All Genres are Game
It doesn’t matter that all you do is draw, or that you draw or paint a particular subject or in a specific medium. If you are looking only for the same genre and medium you prefer, you’re missing a lot. There is motivation to be had in every artistic genre and medium. I’ve been motivated to paint by looking at ceramics and even jewelry. And if the work itself doesn’t provide that inspiration, sometimes the artist’s dedication and unique approach to their craft will.
Composition and Design
I made a big point of this in my video (below) but its a huge part of creating good art. A part that all too often is totally ignored by lesser artists. I love good art shows for this because I’m so often taken to school in the area of composition and design. These two artistic qualities are tightly intertwined but I would define composition as the artful balance of the elements in the piece. Design takes that a step further by the careful choice and arrangement of shapes, use of negative and positive space and combining those elements into a dynamic, graphic visual that moves the eye or interacts in ways that may have nothing to do with the realistic depiction of the subject. For me, a piece with great design can dispense with the realism entirely and still end up with an abstract that is artistically compelling.
Colors and Textures
Being primarily a watercolorist I frequently look for this type of inspiration. In addition to paintings and drawings, great colors and textures can be found in abundance in works like woodworking, ceramics, sculpture or jewelry. Art exhibits can provide a prime opportunity to visualize various color combinations and palettes you might not have thought of otherwise.
A good art exhibition often times sends my creative imagination off in unexpected directions with an artist’s unique treatment of certain subjects. Not just choice of subject but the point of view, scale, lighting, placement, crop, combination with other subjects or objects, etc. Interesting treatment of a subject can also supply clues as to how you might treat a totally different subject. Let your mind roam free with the ideas you encounter. “Hey, I never thought of combining a flower and vase with pruning shears in exactly that way, maybe I can do a similar thing with…”
Talk to the Artists
This is perhaps one of the most fun and engaging activities at an art show. You’ll learn a lot and strike up some interesting conversations in the process. Its true a few exhibitors are hesitant to talk or share. If they’re sitting in a chair behind their booth reading a book, its a good bet they prefer to be left alone (hmm, not so good for sales either unfortunately). Most artists, however, are anxious to discuss their work and some will even talk your ear off. Take advantage of it, but talk to them about THEM and their work, not about YOU! I like to engage an artist by complimenting them on something I specifically enjoyed in their work. This is a great conversation starter. Being specific is important! Realize that good artists are used to general compliments on their overall exhibit. Its ok to do that, but try to point out something specific that particularly impressed you. That tells them you are really studying the work and engaged with their art. Want to know how they did it? Naturally. A few questions about their chosen medium and technique is ok, but avoid a long list of very detailed questions about their technique and process. Some artists are very protective of those details. Let them bring it up if they are willing. Other great conversations starters are usually questions about the subject of their work, why they chose it and what about it appeals to them or what inspired a particular piece. Finally, be considerate. In shows such as the one in this video, some of the artists can be quite busy selling, answering questions, explaining their work, etc. Wait your turn, talk to them briefly then get out of their way. If you want to talk more, come back later and engage them when they aren’t busy.
How to Find Art Shows
If your area has any arts organizations, thats a great place to start. Greenville, SC has at least 3. Our Metropolitan Arts Council for example lets anyone get on their email list for free. I get notice of any upcoming arts related events and call for entry notices as well. Google-ing “Arts” and your closest and largest metropolitan area is a good place to start (i.e. “arts Greenville, SC”).
If you really want to get into the show circuit and perhaps even travel to a few, check your local book store or magazine stand for Sunshine Artist Magazine and pick up a copy, or subscribe online. This is the premier publication for art and craft show listings across the US and Canada. You can also access listings on their website.
Also check out ArtFairCalendar.com. Although I found the site a bit confusing and difficult to use, they seemed to provide a ton of links and listings for arts and craft shows across the US and Canada.
Get out, enjoy some great weather, exercise and ART!
I love outstanding children’s book illustrators and authors, so why not honor our Blue Moon Season by taking a look at William Joyce and his book, The Man In The Moon. Great story and the art is simply delicious as you can see by the excerpts below. The movie, Legends of the Guardians is based on Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series and character designs, the Man In The Moon Legend being one in that series.
A useful “Look Inside” preview of MiM at Amazon.
William Joyce’s Official Site