Part of my daily sketching practice involves interaction with people around me.
Sometimes the people involved notice they are being drawn , curious about the outcome they come up timidly asking permission to have a peek.
Other times people just curious about the creative process as it happens live and ask permission to watch over the shoulder.
As a n art teacher for many years, it is usually not a problem for me and in fact, I am actually enjoying the showmanship and the performance.
This is something that every cityscaping, street or pleinair artist is well familiar with and in fact, the ability to tolerate and even like the interaction with audience is part of being a successful outdoor artist.
I have some colleagues, friends who would never be caught dead doing something so intencely exposure intensive as painting outdoors or having to interact with live audience. For them the creative process is a deeply internal and personal work and being alone in the privacy of the studio is a must. I guess it is a question of where on the scale of the extrovert-introvert continuum you find yourself.
Personally I find myself leaning towards the extrovert,a bit exhibitionistic side.
This specific digital drawing I was drawing yesterday, attracted a very nice tourist couple from the beautiful medieval city of Bruges.
We had a lovely conversation during which the table which I was drawing has left, so another inevitable consequence of communicating with people while you creating outdoors is allwing yourself to be interrupted once in while. Since it doesn’t happen very useful often I am quite open for this kind of interruption where I believe that having great conversations with complete strangers and perhaps making some new friends is as much important as the creative process.
Inspiration plays an important role in re- enchatment of the Arts.
In writing this post, I am using few presupposed and self evident truths about the current state of the Arts.
One, is the need for re-enchantment of the Art.
I have taken this term from Suzi Gablik’sbook by the same name where she criticises some of the basic tenets of the Modernist movement that led directly to much of the confusion left by the Postmodernism. Part of this confusion left the artist without a philosophical background needed to establish a basis for relevant correspondences between the personal and the universal principles of creation. At the same time this lack of philosophical support opened a gap in communication between the artist and his audience.
Second, is the need for Inspiration as vital source of revitalization of the current confused condition of the Art. The extreme relativism of the late Post-modernism has left a scorched field where the traditional values of excellence have been replaced by purely personal, anecdotal and many times accidental views that left the Art without it’s Muse .
Inspiration according to full definition of Merriam- Webster dictionary is: “a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation “In other words, an inspired person is one who is touched by his Spirit. That sacred part of his being that communicated the feeling of the Devine.This kind of definition tends toward somewhat religious interpretation which I believe tend to distort the real meaning of Inspiration as a direct heart felt feeling that is totally natural to all of humankind and not only to artists.
I have many sources of Inspiration.
Some come from my daily observations of life around me. Be it an interesting form of simple objects that can turn into a still-life drawing,like this Moroccan tea pot done with silverpoint technique.
In the beginning of my artistic development I was enchanted by the magic of Jan Vermeer’s intimate interiors with their delicate balance of composition and the luminosity of his colors.
Here is a composition that was influenced by the Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Another great influence on my development as an artist is a more contemporary American Andrew Wyeth who’s hunting and mystical connection with landscapes of rural Maine and Pennsylvania resonates strongly with my own view of Nature. Wyeth’s choice of the tempera medium which requires contemplation and slow visual meditation on the subject matter, invites from the viewer equally slow contemplative viewing. In today’s hasty world it is in itself a huge accomplishment.
With time, my themes have varied and mutated according to context, time and places I have found myself.
At certain point I have found that many of my themes tend to converge into one recurring theme that has accompanied my creative work and that is the theme of the cafe.
I have found that besides a great opportunity to exercise my powers of observation, this theme of the cafe, allows me to combine all other themes in a very simple, elegant way where the spontaneous interaction of all the forms untie to create a unified and sometimes totally unexpected message.
The theme of the cafe is enough in itself and need no other justifications for painting it but as it happens, it has the power to combine a wide variety of objects and themes that seamlessly fuse into each other allowing the mundane everyday objects to interact and create a whole new possibilities for flowing in different artistic directions.
Let’s say, a couple sitting around a table, with a dog playing at their feet, with some messy still-life on the table, with cups of coffee and perhaps some food, in the background. I can paste any landscape or cityscape that doesn’t even have to be in the original composition. This way I can eliminate accidental architecture or replace any other object that feels more meaningful and more appropriate for the final purpose .
In this age of photoshop aid with the cut and paste ability, I can substitute any and all of the components to create a more meaningful and more interesting composition then the original conception.
All these themes and objects, appearing in the context of a cycle of creativity that is inspired by a wheel of The Five Elements taken from the Chinese Wu Xing theory.
On this wheel of creativity taken from the Chinese philosophy of Dao i will write later in a different post
About a year ago I have escaped or so I thought,the war zone of Middle East only to find that terrorism doesn’t confine itself to one region anymore.
As I was sketching this French couple in the cozy atmosphere of my regular place, I had some thoughts on how creativity and art are influenced by hard times and wars.
Maybe they came for the weekend to escape the aftershock of the Paris terror attack two weeks ago.
The fact that cafes have become a target for terrorists attacks, gives my sketching in the cafes a sort of additional dimension of danger almost as being in a front line. I am joking of course but still, the fact that popular and crowded places have turned into a possible target all over the world, creates a heightened sense of tension adding a feel of urgency and danger to otherwise a very benign activity.
My approach to working in cafes as a meeting ground for a diverse and sometimes absurd happening representing the fragmented World in which content got badly skewed out of it’s context got an additional boost from the fact that terrorists find the cafe a legitimate target for their violence.
I find solace in the fact that many artist in the past have created their best work during times of extreme tension and war. One of such artists is Jan Vermeer of Delft who created his masterful works during one of the worst periods in Dutch history, following the Franco-Dutch war.
It is true that Vermeer was not oblivious to the suffering and destruction around him caused by extreme economic hardships and has died quite suddenly after a short illness but the fact remains that some of the greatest art was produced during such an extreme circumstances, gives some strength and hope that it is possible to create beauty even in the middle of chaos and hardship.
August is ending and I am back at my favorite cafe. It is bloody hot in Budapest makes me wish I would be somewhere in Alaska.It was a very busy summer with continuation of renovations of our apartment, visiting Viena , making arrangements for the arrival of my son , vacationing with family in Montenegro
and preparing for the end of my two months exhibit in If Jazz Cafe. For one reason or another, August tends to be a very busy month in my life. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was born in this month.
Looking forward for the arrival of Autumn.
Apart from the sheer pleasure of doing it, here are some of my observations after doing it for quite few years.
Eye -hand coordination
First and foremost, I would say that sketching generally and not only in cafe has a very beneficial influence on gathering confidence trough proficiency with a gradual enhancement of eye-hand coordination .This coordination is the very heart of being able to concentrate on the Whole Form before going into the specific details.
The Whole is larger then the sum of it’s parts and preceding them in appearance.
This basic gestalt principle is where many of the art teaching of the past with the emphasis on the realistic-academic drawing went wrong for very long time and it is still used unfortunately to this day by many followers of the academic training.
There is nothing wrong of course in mastering the tools of a good craftsmanship but the usual approach of the academic teaching emphasising , right proportions and “correct” angles by following the obsolete system of linear perspective is everything but the reality of how human eye looks at the world. The great revolution of the 20th century in Art, with the advent of Cubistic perception of the World has finally released us from the confines of the Brunelleschi’s perspective and I believe the illuminating concepts of the great British painter David Hockney hold a great significance in the way he interprets the Cubist approach to looking at the world.
In his memorable photo collages he shows how we actually look at the world from different points of view, scanning our visual field utilising much more then just one, two or three vanishing points.
In this short video Hockney shows why the old traditional view of the Brunelleschi’s era is not only wrong but actually makes no sense in theological sense as well.
So another great benefit of sketching the ever changing moods and subtle movements of people in cafe is allowing to focus on the whole rather then the details.
Many of the beginning students in my cafe sketching classes have great difficulties in giving up trying to construct the figures from the usual linear approach but once they are able to let go and the gesture is grasped, the Whole emerges with details fall in they right place.
It doesn’t matter what is the choice of the medium. Be it watercolour, pencil, charcoal, crayons or any combination of all of the above. With any medium, the main thing is being able to concentrate on the theme, which can be anything from a way someone holds a cup of coffee in their hand, a face that has something telling about it, a general gesture or something more abstract like an animated conversation between two or more people.
Many times there is a group of people interacting with each other and it can be a real challenge to find the central focal point that captures the individual movements and at the same time gives a sense of a whole.
One of the well known paintings on this theme is the masterpiece Luncheon of the Boating Partyby Pierre-August Renoir.
I am using this great work of art as an example in spite of the fact that I personally do not like Renoir’s style of painting .This is perhaps the only painting by Renoir that is not totally boring in his usually excessive sweetness of colours.
There are many articles and books written about this specific painting so I will not go into interpretation of the meaning but here we have a nice illustration of the theme of group of people in a casual interaction with each other in the context of a cafe held together by brilliant composition in which the table with it’s magnificent still life is the common ground from which the individual figures emerge and unified.
Renoir apparently didn’t use any sketches for this composition, so in my opinion it was done either from one or several photographs
There is usually not much talk about this issue of the Impressionists use of photographic images in their work but there is much evidence for it in much research on the subject.
I haven’t found any evidence for my speculation about Renoir using photograph for this particular painting but I think it is not too much to assume that if most of the artists did use it then why would be Renoir the only exception.
I personally do to think it matters much for the fact that it is a great painting and obviously neither Renoir’s not any other famous painters greatness is diminished by the fact of their use of then available photographic equipment. All I try to establish here is the fact that by using sketches and gestures we can get away from the limited one point perspective and thus get closer to breaking the barrier between the felt and the purely optical.
Summer is here and with it the opportunity to do some cityscaping. One of the privileges of living in a beautiful city, I guess is the fact that the eye can feast in almost any direction it looks.
In the photo above, I have started a new composition yesterday in my neighbourhood of Rose Hill in Buda.
I must admit that I love the challenges of the cityscaping.
One is finding the right spot.
In my opinion, finding the right spot is more then just finding what pleases the eye. There is of course the obvious sight that draws attention of the eye. Then, there is the special angle that is not too conspicuous and is a little of the main flow of the pedestrian flow. Yesterday, I was lucky to find a balcony of a restaurant that is in renovation so I had plenty of shade and even got a chair from the renovation workers.I guess luck is also a very important element in life and it is truly so in finding the right spot for the right composition.
Roaming the streets, exploring the place one lives in, looking for points of interest that go beyond what meets the eye is a very enjoyable preliminary action that creates a nice workflow with initial sketches and first impressions.
In my case, since I am new to my neigbothood, this kind of search for the right spot has an additional value of getting to know the place where I live.
Second, is having the right gear.
Well, there is the obvious stuff like the portable easel, the paints and the materials but there are the less obvious stuff that many times can make a significant difference between a pleasant work session and a disturbed one in which you look for a paper towel to clean either your hand or a paint that was dropped and cannot be left on the pavement.
I mean, there is an absolute need to leave your place without a trace of your activity .
It is more then being considerate. In case of oil painting with all the hazardous materials of turpentine and paint thinning mediums, it is important to have a disposable trash plastic bag that will keep your used paper towels from being scattered all over by the wind. I was lucky yesterday cause I didn’t have a trash bag but there was no wind so my used paper towels didn’t fly all over the place.
Since I am planning to make a video tutorial about the whole subject of landscape and cityscape painting, i will not go into details about it right now but just wanted to mention these obvious prerequisites .
The third challenge, in my opinion is the most important and it is a need for a fair amount of tolerance for being distracted by the audience.
No matter how secluded is your spot, there will always be an audience. I mean,if your spot is not in the flow of the daily routine pedestrian traffic most people will not notice you and go about their usual business.
Some people, take a peek and sometimes smile since a street painter is not a very common everyday sight.
Some people will stop by and will ask your permission to watch .I personally do not mind and usually agree. I know some artists become too self conscious and cannot work with an audience watching over their shoulder.
I guess , years of teaching have thought me to be able to concentrate on my work without feeling too self conscious.
Sometimes if you are open for it, there is a conversation that develops and sometimes it flows into a real interest either to see more of your work or even buy. In this case ,painting outdoors is a kind of promotion of your work. Once in while, though there is the one or two exceptional people who will start tell you their life stories or about their uncles, grandma, children, spouses paintings, seasoned with anecdotes of personal details. Personally, I have found that the best way to send them away is by simply ignoring them.
All in all, there is a need to develop a bit of exhibitionism in order to enjoy the outdoor painting. Without it, the whole experience can be an unpleasant encounter with a crowd that disturbs your creative flow.
Here is a video of the famous Spanish artist Antonio Lopez Garcia trying desperately to disperse a crowd blocking his view on the Puerto Del Sol Square.
Of course one can always ask what is the motivation of an artist to paint outdoors in one of the busiest and most visited by tourists square in the world with full knowledge of the conditions.In early spring, I had an opportunity to do some plain air watercolour sketching in the north of Hungary at the Balaton , Kaptalanfured area.
There is a nice complementary relationship that exists between the two modes of outdoor painting.
The plain air, landscape painting as an independent theme exists from the early Romantics for whom Nature with all her glory was more then just an interesting subject matter. It was an anchor point to escape the stifling constrains of Neo Classicist era with the emphasis on moralistic , historical subject matter with greys and browns as the dominant colors.The beginning of the modern era had a need for a fresh, new philosophy that today we would call ecologically conscious philosophy with the Noble Savage at it’s core.
Budapest is an amazing city for cityscaping and almost any location you choose, you can find many interesting angles from which to start a composition.
I am not referring of course to the obvious tourist postcard vistas like the Parliament house, the Chain Bridge or the Fishermen Bastion, even though, I am sure it is possible to escape the obvious postcard view with the right kind of orientation.
Here is an old painting where I have incorporated an element of the Chain Bridge and combined it with my ongoing theme of the cafe.