More Than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte

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.

Mary Whyte’s Website

Artist Mary Whyte’s Labor of Love – CBS Sunday Morning Video

Sharing Skills on Skillshare

Well, I’ve gone and made myself a workshop. Aside from the Strathmore workshops I did earlier in the spring this is my first, and my first paid workshop. Its not long, about 53 minutes total running time for all segments combined. I hope you’ll go and check it out. (For Patreon supporters, this content has also been shared there for everyone at the $5 level or above.)

Here is my Skillshare workshop link and first time subscribers using this link to join will get their first 3 months for only .99 cents.

 

Why Skillshare?

In short, its reasonably priced and easily accessible for the participant plus user friendly for me, the teacher, making it a good workshop starting point. It doesn’t require that I design lengthy, involved classes, and likewise does not present you with a major time commitment for learning. Its right for where I currently am in this process of sharing my watercolor passion in extended format. This platform was recommended to me by several people and it also seemed a good fit for my YouTube audience who’ve been asking for paid extended content but don’t want to shell out a ton in expensive workshop fees. It also provides me the added benefit of being able to add class projects and allows students to share their projects and start up class discussions. The value is definitely there for my followers since you can also access tons of other instructional content, possibly not even related to art. Simply specify your instructional preferences and you’re presented with tons of learning options, all included for the same monthly price.

Patreon Supporters Please Note

For the foreseeable future this content will usually be duplicated on Patreon. Or I’ll provide free access to the Skillshare workshop. This access may vary depending on support level, so I’m not sure how that will play out exactly yet, but if you are a Patreon supporter and not interested in joining Skillshare for other content, wait a bit to see what I post as part of your rewards before also signing on to Skillshare.

Thanks for your support everyone and Happy Painting!

Steve

Do You Really Have Artist’s Block?

Staring at a blank sheet of paper and wondering what to paint is familiar and frustrating to any artist. So what’s artist’s block really all about?

For starters, I believe there are two types of artist’s block. There is what I’ll call “true” artist’s block, which I believe to be pretty rare, and the second more common version, which is simply “indecisiveness.”

Which One Are You?

True artist’s block could be defined as creative exhaustion. To be in this rare category, you’re probably a professional or practicing, prolific artist who has painted, drawn or designed their keister off and, for what ever reason, has reached a point of being out of creative gas. Read More »

What Exactly is a Painting Study?

Ok, so I hear this sort of confusion frequently, and I admit the term “study” sounds pretty stuffy and academic. It smacks of homework, research and other stinky school tasks many of us prefer not to revisit. However, in art it is very misunderstood.

Practice? Aww, Do I have to?

First off lets address the old joke: a study is any piece of art that failed. Yeah I know, ha, ha, ha! But not so fast. Truth my friends! Yeah, practice really is that simple. Try, fail, try again. I mean seriously, how many pianists have you heard of that can play through a totally new piece of music the first time without a hitch (pros and Mozart-like prodigies notwithstanding). One of my daughters was a college piano major and she would practice a single piece of music repeatedly in preparation for a performance. First few times was for technical mastery, that is, playing all the correct notes. The more she practiced a piece the more she concentrated on subtleties, changes in volume, tempo and style nuances that turned a collection of notes on a page into a beautiful, personal rendition.

The Talent Myth

So, why is the myth still floating around that a really talented artist can paint a picture right the first time and if YOU can’t, well you better cash in your art chips, honey, cause you ain’t got it (depression ensues). Is that even remotely true or do really accomplished artists practice, plan and work at producing really sensational art? You bet your sweet sketchbook they do! Yeah, I know some artists “get it” quicker than others, but substantial improvement is within everyone’s reach regardless of skill level or talent. Bottom line – why does improvement matter? It increases your joy and satisfaction in the results. If art is a hobby for your enjoyment (in other words you’re not a professional artist trying to please clients or an employer), then improvement is for you and you alone. You need not improve or set your art goals for anyone else. In the end improving for someone else’s sake is a set up for constant disappointment. Never the less, enjoyment increases with every improvement you make and thats 50 years of art experience talking ladies and gents.

Discovery Baby!

Oh, but now it seems we’re back to that stuffy, boring “study” task again. Or are we? If your goal is to draw and paint and that brings you joy and relaxation, then by doing studies, I just gave you an excuse to draw or paint much more often than you did before, and with very little pressure to turn out anything more substantial than a few rough brush strokes or pencil lines. Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t that the sort of fun we used to have with art projects in elementary school? Remember when the idea of a set of crayons and a blank piece of construction paper held nothing but promise and joy? No pressure, no unrealistic standards to follow. Just play and discover! HAH…wait a minute! Did I just possibly define what a study could be for an aspiring adult artist too? Why yes, yes, I believe I did. So back to the question. What exactly is a painting study? Why, playing and discovering of course…while adding the slightly more mature goal of honing skills which in turn fires up your enjoyment of the process. Sweet!

Here are some tips to take a more “studied” approach to drawing and painting.

  1. Draw, draw, draw – All artists should draw…a lot! Duh, right? Its the most basic type of study. Only one problem and I see it again and again. Artists somehow feel like their sketchbook should also be a work of art. Every page! WHAT?! Thats like hitting tennis rebounds against a practice wall and having someone photograph every swing for a photo album. I don’t think I have to point out the hesitancy that approach will generate. And then, as if thats not enough, artists go out and buy these beautiful, hard bound, leather-embossed, gilded edge volumes from the book store.  At first you’ll think, “now THIS beautiful book will get me drawing again.” Actually the opposite is usually true. Gorgeous sketchbooks make you even more apprehensive about sketching in it until you have found a worthy subject and then only if you’re confident enough to draw it. Buy the most basic, cheap sketchbook you can and just doodle. Doodle a specific subject from life when possible, but doodle and doodle often. Don’t concern yourself much with the results. Put it in a secret location and don’t show it to anyone if it makes you feel better. The goal is to get more comfortable with drawing period. Think of it as a book that you could happily toss in the trash and not think twice about.
  2. Go ahead and do a painting – If you’re confident enough to paint a subject fully from the start, by all means go ahead. If it fails, simply review the particulars and what needs fixing. Congratulations you just did your first study! Leave the pressure and feeling of failure in the waste bin. Take Thomas Edison’s more positive approach of discovering 1000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. “Hey, look everybody, I just discovered how NOT to paint a tree, yippee!” Make notes about it if you feel you’ll forget what you’ve learned. If you come away from a painting with nothing more than the idea that you failed, you missed an incredible opportunity. Go back and find at least ONE THING you learned from doing the work. Did you find one? Ok, look again, maybe there was something else.
  3. Get familiar – Do a study as a rough dress rehearsal for your final painting. Studies are great ways to get to know the subject in detail. They force you to look at every nook and cranny of your subject, thinking through all the particulars and asking questions as you draw and paint it.
  4. Address specific confidence issues – If you don’t feel confident enough to launch into a full painting then address the specifics. Is drawing the main subject of the painting intimidating? Draw several views of that subject until you feel more comfortable? Not sure what colors to use? Work that out. Have fun doing it. No pressure. Once again judge your studies more by what you learn than by the results. Do it again. Do it differently. Work on improvement.
  5. Set your own study goals – What do you want to fine tune? Value? Color? Composition? Scale? Perspective? Set that as your goal for a particular study. Do the study simply and roughly in a thumbnail if you prefer. Remove decisions from the final painting process that will just add to the confusion and stress. Its really amazing to me how even a good compositional thumbnail, for example, can increase the fun and enjoyment of doing the final painting.
  6. Study whenever and whatever – Don’t have a particular painting in mind? No worries. You don’t need a reason. I often have an idea come to me in the shower or in the middle of the night and it could be as simple as, “what does the shape of a nose look like from a high perspective.” I don’t need to be thinking of a painting. I just want to explore a simple idea. So I get out my sketchbook or paints or both and tackle the problem (no, I don’t do that in the middle of the night).
  7. Ask what-if questions – Studies can start for all sorts of reasons. You could be trying out a new brush or wanting to mix up a color you’ve never mixed before. Come up with some of your own “what-if” questions. What if that subject was lit from the other side or what if I mixed all my browns for the foreground instead of using browns from a tube. Then set out to learn the answer by doing it.

I hope this is a help. This is what studies are all about. For me, at least, studies add tremendously to the joy of the art process. The biggest benefit? Studies turbo-charge the learning experience. Just try it and see if it isn’t true

Finding Art Show Inspiration

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.

Subject Matter

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!

 

Watercolor Basics Playlist Guide

I’m often asked by beginners if I have any order or steps to viewing my videos. Well, not really. I started my channel as a way to post random tips and techniques and its a scatter shot approach. But now, almost 2 years later, I have enough videos that I can kind of direct you to the basics, at least in a more useful way. YouTube Playlists make this easier. So i’ve gone back and rearranged one of my first ever playlists in an order that might be helpful for first time watercolorists. Its not comprehensive mind you, so may not teach you everything you need to learn from start to finish, but it definitely has plenty to get you moving and I hope you beginners (or anyone wishing to review) find it helpful.

Here is a synopsis of the episodes, numbered as they appear in the playlist.

Materials

1-5: These 4 videos deal with picking your basic supplies. What you need to know, useful tips and even my own personal favorites as you gear up to paint.

Control

6-10: I call these the “control” videos because they teach you basic control of the medium, how to spread, apply and blend watercolor paint. The techniques in these 5 videos will make up the mainstay of what you need to know and practice to paint with confidence.

Misc. Techniques

11-15: 4 videos on other miscellaneous but important techniques to learn in your painting development. Here the videos get a little more random and far from being all inclusive. This section will hopefully expand as time goes on.

Brushes

16-19: These 4 videos demonstrate features of specific brushes that might be helpful in deciding what brushes to buy and use.

Color

20-23: 4 videos dealing with colors and color mixing. I’m just getting started on this section of videos, so look to see this part of the list expand in the future.

Inspiration and Motivation

24-26: 3 pep-talk videos to inspire, motivate and get your artistic enthusiasm moving forward. These were produced very randomly, so more may surface in the future as I think of them.

If you think of other videos on topics you would like to see covered that might fit well in this beginner’s playlist, I’m open to suggestions. I will open the comment section in this post below so feel free to leave suggestions.

26 Video “Basics” Playlist

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Sketching Fail? Yes and No!

If you saw the video in this post, my remarks beg a simple question – “Did I fail?” Well, for me the answer is yes and no. Many who commented on YouTube were gracious and said they thought the building sketch turned out great. And while I appreciate that, there is a deeper teaching moment here. If you’ve watched my other videos, you’ve heard me say it before. “Embrace failure as a teacher.”

Was the Sketch Good?

This is a different question than, “Did I fail?”  Ask 10 people differing in skill from master to beginner and you’ll get 10 different answers. Its really far from the point of failure or success. So… what am I saying? What is my teaching moment? I thought you’d never ask.

Set Goals and Reach High

When you’re learning (and that includes 100% of us), study other artist’s work. Reach for ambitious standards. As you do, you will quite often say with me, “this was a failure”. Get comfortable with it. You’ll say this a lot if you’re learning. And others may never understand what failed. So be it.

Set Failure on it’s Ear

Once you’ve come to terms with the failures, its time to redefine your work. This takes some analysis. As a beginner, you may not even know how to fix what you’d like to fix. Keep learning everything – technique, color sense, media control, process. Bit by bit you’ll understand what you can do differently. Redefine your “fail” in instructive terms just as I did near the end of this video. It was an awesome day, with awesome weather, and an awesome subject. The bonus? I learned something and I’ll always remember what it was when I look at that sketch. I tried a process that did not work well for me. Next time I’ll try again only differently.

Will I fail again? I’m counting on it!