Saturday, April 18, 2020

Painter, teacher, mentor...and author!

I try to be upbeat and art-focused in this newsletter and I hadn't planned to write about the state of emergency and dread that we are experiencing now, but it's impossible to ignore. And that's OK because we need to be both vigilant to protect one another and grateful for the beauty, love and generosity in our world. On the subject of beauty, I think of the beauty of kind, generous acts and, as always, art. 

I have been painting of course, and hope you are also finding something creatively beautiful to enjoy. The art of baking?! A dangerously delicious, creative endeavor. Actually, the art of cooking is especially creative lately: combining staples to limit grocery store visits. (Working from home since my graphic design days, I tended to head out in the afternoon for one red pepper... or a latte, if I'm honest.) Oh, and I made a few masks for protected social distancing.

For a more painterly approach to art appreciation, I am pleased to wholeheartedly recommend an utterly enjoyable and enlightening resource: The Art of Still Life, by my friend, teacher, mentor and all around go-to art guru, Todd M. Casey. It's a beautifully written and comprehensive book that will be of equal interest to artists and art lovers.

This book is filled with everything you need to know about creating - or appreciating - still life painting. Concepts of light, color, composition and so much more are explained, described and illustrated with images and charts making it easy to understand. Here, the drama of color falling into shadow on a form, an important concept, is clearly described. And there are so many others.

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey 

But there is nothing dry about it. As Todd explains, "This book expresses both the scientific and expressive aspects of still life painting [and]... encourages you to heighten your senses and to use that heightened awareness when painting." It's inspirational as well as instructional.

In fact it was Todd's painting Bottles with a Book and Letters below that initially inspired me to reach out to him for instruction. The concepts in his book are those typically taught in a classical atelier - from color and value studies to cast drawing and rendering three dimensional volume in a two dimensional painting. Whether you have studied in an atelier program or not, this book is invaluable resource.

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
For me, the page below is a perfect example of instruction coupled with inspiration. An elegant, rich and subtle painting by Hovsep Pushman (which I had never before seen) illustrates an example of soft chroma along with a chart of oh-so-subtle color shifts flanking a row of neutral values. Just look at all the variations  between neutral and chroma and how effectively Pushman employs his subtle palette!

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
High quality images including historic masterworks and brilliant works by contemporary masters of painting are found throughout. My favorite juxtaposition of old and new is a trompe l'oeil by William Hartnet on the left and Tony Curanaj's contemporary version of trompe l'oeil. This historic genre of "fool the eye" paintings was made popular by Dutch painters in the 1600s and still holds appeal.

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
Many pertinent subjects are explored in The Art of Still Life including modeling form, perspective, foreshortening, organizing your studio - even understanding information on a paint tube! The chapter "Light, Illumination and Shadow" alone covers -
  • The Science of Light
  • The Terminology of Light and Shadow
  • Surface Reflection and Body Reflection
  • Light on Glass
  • Light on a Translucent Object
  • Light on Hair, Fabric and Wool
  • Lighting Your Studio
  • Thinking of Light Spatially
Don't know what it means to think spatially about light? No problem, it's explained and illustrated:

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
And below Todd shows how light is reflected differently on a matte, glossy or mirrored surface. Knowing this information adds to your conceptual knowledge making it easier to see and understand these differences in any composition. 

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
Although the book uses the genre of still life to illustrate concepts and methods of painting, all can be applied to any painting and there are examples of interiors (one by John Singer Sargent!) and gorgeous florals as well. Roses on the left is by Abbot Handerson Thayer (late 1800s) and on the right  is Paul Seaton's Old Roses, White Souvenir de la Malmaison and Glamis Castle (2008).

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
You don't have to take my word about the value of this book, Eric Rhoads, artist and publisher of Fine Art Connoisseur, agrees. His glowing review says, "It is one of the finest examples of a painting instruction book I've experienced in my collection of over 500 art books."  

In terms of a book review and recommendation, I guess I could have started and ended with that accolade... but you would have missed the pictures. And I would have missed revisiting it all too.

I will close with a personal accomplishment of which I am enormously proud: a few of my paintings are published in this book! Two are of basic sphere exercises that were utterly satisfying to paint. One is an image of my painting of cherry tomatoes with my palette adjacent. It's in the section discussing palettes. And my Dutch Apple Still Life painting is in the "Color Science and Art Chapter." Color me honored.

©2020 The Art of Still Life, Todd M. Casey
And a final personal note to report that our extended family is well and currently healthy. I truly hope this newsletter finds you well and healthy too. We have all been touched by tragedy on some level and are looking forward to a time of more mundane concerns. (Where should we go out to dinner tonight, my dear?) Meanwhile, as we manage emotions in this trying time, please be good to yourself. It's not easy to avoid worrying, so enjoy life's beauty wherever you find it.

Once again, thanks for joining me on my art journey.

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