Friday, January 19, 2018

How Important is Eyesight to a Painter?

Degas Painting, 1867
Degas was 33

Degas, who fretted about problems with his eyes all his life, suffered from retinopathy.  We don’t know exactly what the problem was; 19th century ophthalmology didn’t have the tools we have today for diagnosis.  And his doctors could do nothing.  By the time he turned 40, he had to limit his working time so much that he complained to a friend:
My eyes are very bad. The oculist…has allowed me to work just a little until I send in my pictures.   I do so with much difficulty and the greatest sadness.
By 57, he was more or less blind and couldn't even read.   This news startled me since I, like many, consider the paintings made during his later years to be his best.  His pastels especially are full of brilliant color and beautifully-handled edges.  Eyesight, it's clear, isn’t as important as vision—that is, artistic vision. 

Degas Painting, 1876
Degas was 42

The creative impulse doesn't stop when the tools to express it wear out.  When his ability to paint lessened, Degas added sculpture to his repertoire, along with printmaking and photography.

Degas Painting, 1894-1899
Degas was 60-65

Degas wasn't alone among the French Impressionists to suffer eye problems.  Starting around 65, Monet began to suffer from cataracts, which cast a yellow glare over the world and diffused edges.  His work gradually became more abstract and more dependent on shape and color rather than drawing.

Poor Mary Cassatt suffered from not just cataracts but also diabetic retinopathy.  She underwent several operations, but they only left her worse off. 

Monet, hearing of Cassatt's failed surgeries, had surgery on only one eye, and he was so disappointed with the results that he refused to have the other eye done.  For a time, he convinced himself that he liked the effect cataracts gave him, but in the end, at 82, he said:
I was forced to recognize that I was spoiling them [the paintings], that I was no longer capable of doing anything good.  So I destroyed several of my panels.  Now I’m almost blind and I’m having to abandon work altogether.
As with Degas, many critics believe that the work of Monet and Cassatt improved as their eyesight worsened (up to a point.)  Was it becoming blind that improved their work, or was it the constant practice of the craft?  It doesn't really matter.  The facts give those of us who are aging artists the hope that, even with failing vision, our work will just get better.

If you’d like to read more about vision loss and artists, check out this website.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Send a Painter to Bonnie Scotland!

Highlands Cottage, 12x16 Oil
Studio painting based on a plein air sketch I made during my 2016 trip to Scotland.

This June, I'm joining several other painters in Scotland in a painting retreat.  The retreat will be based on the Isle of Skye, but when it ends, Trina and I will wander up to Inverness and beyond, ultimately making our way to the Orkney Islands.  Would you like to help me get there?  If so, read on!

For me, the trip is more than just about painting.  It's about family, too.  I learned not too long ago that I have roots in Scotland on both sides of my family.  From my father's line, I have the Bains.  Hugh Bain was born in 1764 in Inverness, but left Scotland to settle in North Carolina and die there in 1810.  From my mother's line, we have the Harcrows—or the Halcros, as they are called in the Orkneys.  Magnus Halcro was born in Orphir on the Orkney Islands in 1729.  I know a little more about his arrival in America.  With his wife, Elizabeth, and son, Hugh, he emigrated to Savannah, Georgia, on the Marlborough, under master George Prissick, in September 1774.  He worked some years as an indentured servant for a wealthy landowner before dying in Franklin, Georgia, in 1789.

All this is very interesting to me, but perhaps not to you, my reader.  The initial point of the Scotland trip wasn't to research family—I learned all this family history after I'd made plans—but to paint the Scottish landscape.  So I'm very excited to be spending two weeks in Scotland, roaming about with a painter's eye.

So here's an opportunity for you:  you can both support my trip and get a very nice painting of Scotland!  When I return from the trip, I'll start working on a series of 6x8 oil paintings on the Scottish theme.  These will be only $200, including frame and shipping to the continental US.  First come, first choice on these, but I get to select the subject and scene.  Or, if you'd prefer something larger (9x12, 12x16, 12x24 or even bigger), I will do a custom scene, so long as it is of a place I visited on the trip.  (I'll be posting my itinerary at a future date.)  Let me know, and we can discuss size and subject.   Castles, moors,  crashing waves or sheep—it can be yours!  (You can see one of my paintings from the 2016 Scotland trip above.)

To get one of the 6x8 paintings or a custom size/subject, you must reserve in advance.  My goal will be to paint all of these pieces before the end of 2018.  For the 6x8s, I will post images of the work on my web site and notify patrons in chronological order.  So, for example, if you paid first, you get first pick.  For the custom paintings, of course, you will have your very own painting that you commissioned.

Help me get to the Orkney Islands (and back again!) If you'd like to help, below is a PayPal button to reserve one (or more--just change the quantity) of the 6x8 paintings.  I'll let you know what number you are on the list!  If you'd like a custom painting, contact me here.  Thank you so very much!  You won't be disappointed and you'll be supporting one of your favorite artists.

Some scenes from my 2016 trip:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - 10th Annual in 2018

Sunrise, Grand Canyon

This week, I'm lost.  I'm wandering the rim of a vast canyon, taking any trail that offers the least promise of finding a special place.  But I'm not outfitted with hiking boots and water bottle; instead, my gear consist of computer and sketchpad.  I'm exploring Grand Canyon in a virtual way from my studio, sorting through all my past paintings and photographs and making little sketches, seeking inspiration for an important painting.

As you might remember, I've been invited back to participate in the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art this fall.  For the event, I need to create a studio painting that will go in the catalog and be exhibited along with my plein air paintings at the show.  The task of creating a painting that is 1) different from everyone else's so it stands out and yet 2) traditional enough that it will attract a buyer is a real challenge, considering the high caliber of artists invited each year.   During a time like this, I take many walks.  I find that a long, solitary hike—or maybe several—helps me discover the bright, shiny nugget of an idea in my personal landscape of images.

Some of Myy Paintings of Grand Canyon

Over the course of this research, I've learned that I've painted over 120 views of Grand Canyon.  This does not include the casual sketches, but only the serious efforts.  Most of them are plein air, painted either on expeditions to the Canyon or at the Celebration of Art .  (This will make my fifth time as an invited artist.)  During the course of painting the outdoor pieces, I've experienced hammering rain and explosive lightning; chilling snow squalls that rattled sleet down onto my palette; awesome, billowy clouds piling up before a storm; the Canyon filled with impenetrable fog; rosy sunrises and golden sunsets of which one cannot fail to make a postcard-perfect photo; and wind powerful enough to rip brushes out of your hand.  Looking through my images brings all of these moments back to me, which is a very pleasurable thing.

I'll be posting updates on my blog as I go through the process of creating the painting.  In the meantime, I offer you some photos of me painting at Grand Canyon over the years.  I'm also hoping to get up to the Canyon this winter to paint snow, if we do get any snow this season!

By the way, if you are an outdoor painter, the Grand Canyon Association, which hosts the Celebration of Art, reserves a few spots on the roster for new artists.  You an apply on-line at   Good luck!  I hope to see you there September 8-16, 2018.