Friday, May 1, 2020

Canadian Artists, Part II – Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté


His name is quite a mouthful.

Monsieur Suzor-Coté – like M. Gagnon from my last post – was born in the province of Quebec. From the town of Arthabaska (modern-day Victoriaville), he began his artistic career working on interior decorations for churches. Later, he studied in Paris (with Léon Bonnat) and returned to Canada in 1908 and maintained a studio in Montreal. where he sculpted as well as painted.

(Biography on National Gallery of Canada site.)

Mauve and Gold

Levée de Lun

He drew influences from the artists Henri HarpigniesFrits Thaulow and Jean-François Millet. It is said that he put paint down very thickly with a brush and then flattened it with a palette knife to get the effect he wanted. Even from online images, some of his paintings look to have very heavy paint application.

His color handling and the texture of his work really knock me out. I would love to see a work of his in person.

the man himself – looking dapper


After the Breakup

Sunset Arthabaska


Friday, April 24, 2020

Canadian Artists, Part I – Clarence Gagnon

Time to share my enthusiasm for some artists that have recently come to my attention.

I am a fan of members of the famous Canadian Group of Seven painters, and they led me to other great Canadian artists. Specifically two, one of which I will show off in this post.

Clarence Gagnon

French Canadian painter & engraver

Brittany Goose Girl

Baie Saint-Paul
c. 1914-1917

Clarence Gagnon was born in rural Quebec and studied art first in Montreal. He later also studied in Paris and returned to Europe many times. He lived most of his life in Baie-Saint-Paul, not far from Quebec City, downriver along the St. Lawrence.

Even though he lived and worked in Europe for long stretches, his subject remained almost exclusively his beloved Charlevoix region of Eastern Quebec.

En Novembre

Gagnon_Le Ruisseau, Baie-Saint-Paul

I just love his work. He had a great color sense and a wonderful looseness in his painting technique. All that, and then I saw his engravings – whoa. They are absolutely stunning and full of mood.

The National Gallery of Canada has a nice biography of him and a bunch of work online.

Gagnon_Jardins du Grand Séminaire, Montréal

Overlooking the Vallée du Gouffre, Charlevoix

Summer Day, Les Andelys, Normandy

Summer Scene, Baie-Saint-Paul

A little analysis of the above painting:

– wide, panoramic format (ratio of 1:3.3)
– cool color scheme of blues overall, with the house being the only overtly warm area
– groups of blue trees form 3 points of "rest," with the eye tending to move between them
– most saturated area of color is foreground center group of trees, also a very high contrast spot from trees to river behind

Next time: Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Online resources for artists and art-lovers in this cloistered age

Well, the world sure has changed since I last posted here in.... November?

Last week I did an Instagram takeover of the Lillstreet Drawing & Painting account:
In preparation for that, I compiled a list of new and ongoing worthwhile art-related online resources. Some specifically created for this cloistered age we live in. I never ended up posting them and so they are now a blog post.

Free excerpts of Streamline art videos on FB:
They keep adding more and they are not small excerpts. More like 1.5–2 hours long.
These videos are mostly quite expensive to purchase and so this is a great thing. Lots to be learned here.

Philip Mould’s Art in Isolation videos on IG:
Mr. Mould is a gallery owner and one of the hosts of Fake or Fortune on the BBC. In these daily (weekdays) videos, he shows you around his home in the English countryside and goes into detail about pieces in his art collection.

Andrei Taraschuk's Twitter art bots:
Andrei Taraschuk creates art bots on Twitter. They are code that pull images off the internet and posts them to Twitter. They feed my eyes and brain with tons of beautiful images every day. It's one of the major reasons (for me) to even get on Twitter:

Online auction catalogs:
The link goes to  “Art Impressionniste et Moderne” at Sotheby's but there are a TON of these online and a great resource to browse/search for inspiring images. You can look through catalogs of current and past auctions.
Of course, there are plenty of other auction houses with great images online. Like Waddington's in Canada:

Waldy and Bendy's Adventures in Art:
Waldemar "Waldy" Januszczak (left) and Bendor “Bendy” Grosvenor host this art podcast. Well, not a normal podcast, as you listen in a browser window on the Times site. The plus is, that when an artwork is referred to, the image shows up. In that respect, far better than an audio-only podcast on the visual arts. Both of these gentlemen have hosted art programs I have enjoyed.
Just the other day, Mr. Grosvenor started a new podcast, Art History at Bedtime. I have as yet to listen to it.

Just the other day, I saw an article about the best museum web sites to while away your time on. The author wanted to make a list of ten (I think), but only two (!) made her cut. (I can't seem to find the original article right now.)
Anyway, the 2 were The Rijksmuseum and The Met. I have spent a lot of time on the Met's site. Not so much at The Rijksmusem's site.
You be the judge:

Line of Action drawing reference tool:
Figure, animal, landscape reference site. You can just draw from something you like, or do a timed session to practice starts. Learning to start strongly and with a plan is key.

ARTFIXDaily email sign up:

Daily news compendium of art-doings. New exhibits, discoveries, etc. Some days ho-hum, other days quite fascinating.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Good advice from John Carlson

I have decided to thoroughly read John Carlson's Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. When I first got the modern reprint version a number of years ago, I think I only got through about half of it. I now have a 1950s edition and intend to go through it in depth and take notes as I have for Birge Harrison's and Edgar Payne's books.

But prior to starting that task, I happened upon some passages that really clicked with me and relate beautifully to an exercise I am currently having my landscape painting students do with composition. We are sketching about 4 differently arranged compositions from a single photo. I want to push my students a little to look beyond working verbatim from photos.

Now let's hear direct from Mr. Carlson himself:
(Excerpts from pages 48–49)

"Don’t paint “direct from nature” when all elements of organization and beauty or design are palpably absent.

The artist must look to nature for his inspiration, but must rearrange the elemental truths into an orderly sequence or progression of interests. By “sequence” is meant giving primary, secondary, or tertiary importance to such forms and color masses as are needed for an end and leaving all others out. In speaking of composition the use of the word “need” may sound enigmatic to the beginner. Let it be understood, then, that since nature is rarely perfect in design quality, the artist, in rearranging his “natural” elements upon the canvas, is creating a picture. This may involve moving objects to left or right, raising or lowering the horizon, slanting a mountain’s contour in a direction opposite to that of nature, enlarging or reducing various masses, strengthening or reducing certain lines, introducing minor elements such as stones, bushes, fences, flower-patches, etc., to give a desired line; “placing” clouds in a manner to emphasize their sweep and movement to coordinate with the other lines of his picture. He is really using nature and her forms, while he manipulates the natural truths to suit his artistic needs. Were this not so, the man who could slavishly imitate or copy nature as he saw her would be the greatest artist; but he never is.

No law or formula can be concocted by which good composition would always be assured. I can only suggest that the student experiment with charcoal and paper (with any given motif in mind) until he feels that one arrangement out of the several made embodies his idea better than all the others combined, and that he then try to decide why it is better."

Carlson shows this with some reproduced sketches in his book:

And I do this myself as preparation work for many of my paintings:

These were sketched from one photo and I played with format (landscape, vertical, square, etc.) and the arrangement of elements).  I personally like the look and quick results of working with white and dark pencils on toned paper.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Marc Hanson workshop

A few weeks ago I attended a 3-day plein air painting workshop led by Marc Hanson, a painter I have followed online for a few years now. I've wanted to do something like this for a while, but none of the ones I was interested in were held anywhere near me. Marc's was in Lowell, MI about a 3.75 hour drive away, just east of Grand Rapids.

We painted 2 of the 3 days in a park where a stream fed into the Flat River (which then flows south into the Grand River, which is the Grand Rapids river), and the last day in downtown Lowell. This was a great experience and I'd certainly do it again.

Marc doing his monochromatic study - big shapes & limited values

Marc's completed color painting

Day 1
Marc painted a demo - he did a monochromatic study of a scene, adjusting the composition and learning the value structure and then painted a full-color, large version
We did the same 2 type of paintings as Marc did. I did my 2 on one board, with a taped divider down the middle.

my take on this exercise
oil on 9" x 12" panel

Day 2
We did the compass rose exercise, wherein we each had a board divided into 4 equal sections. We then painted in each square for 15 minutes, turning 90 degrees for the next one, and so on. Our challenge was to find something interesting in each area.
We each painted from the same view, a tree on the bank by where the rivers met

oil on 8" x 10" panel

Day 3
We did a memory exercise where we looked at the scene we were painting for 3 minutes and then painted for 12. We did that 4 times. After that, we painted the same scene it for an hour in a normal fashion.
Marc did another demo painting in the afternoon.


Major points/lessons learned:

– Marc paints with essentially a split-primary palette and I did so for the 3 days. In recent years I have been "designing" limited palettes for each of my paintings. It was nice to get back to the arrangement I started painting with, and stick with that for 3 days. I think I will work more in that way going forward. Not switching it up all the time helps.

Marc talked about how paintings can tend to work better if they are weighted towards having more light or dark areas, and not an even split. He suggested about a 70%–30% balance, whether the larger figure is dark or light values. I have been reading Edgar Payne's book The Composition of Outdoor Painting lately and he makes a similar suggestion.

Marc stressed keeping shadows transparent and "mysterious." Save the opaque areas for things in the light. He generally addressed large shadow masses first and manipulated them to find interesting shapes and simplicity.

Marc usually paints on a warm-toned support. He began by drawing in the big shapes and wiping and re-drawing them until he had an arrangement he liked. He used a brush with thinned paint for this. Then he addressed shadow areas, and started working on the largest/most critical masses. He found warm colors wherever possible, and stressed them to counter the overwhelming dominance of greens before us. He also emphasized pulling the brushstrokes in the direction the light moves over forms.

One of the key lessons is that he designs his painting using the worthwhile elements that are before him. He is NOT painting an exact replication of every leaf and branch. The view before him contains raw material that can be used for a painting. It is not the painting itself.

Monday, May 13, 2019


In one of his excellent newsletters John MacDonald outlined an exercise that intrigued me very much.
(July/August 2018 issue: link)

He combined the color scheme of a painting with the values and subject information from a photo. This struck me as fascinating, and a very valid pathway to an interesting final image. I decided to try it and started working on this painting last fall.

This past Saturday in class I finally finished it. (It lay dormant for many months – I'm not that slow.)

My source photo was one I took in Oregon a number of years ago. I am fairly sure it was in the area of Salt Creek Falls. I liked the forms of the hills rolling away into the distance, but the sky was blown out (as often happens in photos) and offered no color or value information to draw from. What the photo is lacking made me think I'd have to look well beyond it to make something out of it.

source photo taken in Oregon

My source painting was LaSalle Street at Close of Day by Alfred Juergens:

I found it in a book of art relating to Illinois put out by the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. (The book is Chicago Painting, 1895 to 1945 by Wendy Greenhouse. The painting is actually on the cover.) I believe I chose it because it's a color scheme I've never painted with. I suppose I am not a huge fan of violet, and this is all violet, blue, and orange. Regardless of that, I do love the painting, so something there was attracting me.

I did a handful of quick sketches on toned paper to move things around and help me better imagine a painting:

I also decided on a limited palette of Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Red, Cobalt Violet, and French Ultramarine Blue. My assessment of the Juergens painting led me to believe I could get the colors he did with this palette and it worked out fine.

Here's the final image:

oil on panel, 11" x 11"

I further decided (to get me out of my comfort zone) to apply color in a broken, impressionistic manner (except in the lower right shadow area).

I am fairly pleased with this final painting. I would not have normally chosen this palette. The violets and oranges seemed to push the scene to a late-in-the-day, golden light kind of thing, so I went with that. All in all, a great learning experience, and one that I have suggested to my students to get away from an overly straightforward reproduction of a photo in paint.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Birge Harrison, part 4

Birge Harrison, part 4

A Puff of Steam

Concluding my methodical re-reading (and note-taking) of Mr. Harrison's book Landscape Painting (1909). What follows are my notes from each chapter (I skipped some that didn't really resonate with me).

All this is me attempting to distill the most important points from this insightful collection of lectures he gave.

Chapter 5 "Values"

"... the most important thing to consider is the value-key of our picture."

This is pretty critical. As important as determining the color scheme of a picture, as value has ascendancy over color. I am going to attempt to take this to heart myself in future. (I do make value sketches at the very least before starting any significant painting.) I think Mr. Harrison's point is to ask yourself when making a picture: what part of the value scale best suits your intent? Use as little as is needed (see next quote).

"An outdoor picture motive is complicated indeed if it cannot be divided into four or five dominant values."

Chapter 6 "Drawing"

He somewhat surprisingly suggests NOT drawing from the landscape as much as from the human figure to gain precision:

"The articulation of a limb upon the trunk of an oak. for instance, might start a foot higher up or a foot lower down and still be in character, but the articulation of a knee joint, an elbow, or a shoulder of the human figure must be true to the inch."

He is correct that drawing the human figure is more exacting, but I would not forgo drawing from nature. Get a feel for the landscape and its components and character. Especially for when the time comes that you need to invent something in a landscape picture. That drawing experience and your familiarization with natural elements will pay off.

One of his final remarks suggests that "drawing by mass" translates to painting more directly than linear drawing. I can't disagree with that. One of the transitions I had to make from years of drawing to painting, was to think and work more in terms of masses of color and value, instead of linearly.

Chapter 7 "Composition"

"In my own opinion, about all of the rules of composition which are of any practical value to a painter, are negative rather than positive, and can best be expressed in a series of don'ts."

I find composition a tricker aspect of art to explain and teach than others, and it always seems to make more sense to show students what to avoid than what to specifically employ in their work. And there are often exceptions.

"Don't try to say two things on one canvas."
He names some other rules to follow this, but calls this the one rule that cannot be broken, while occasionally the others can be broken.

"... don't confuse your audience with irrelevancies."

I would personally say that a canvas CAN have more than one area of interest, but that one in particular HAS to predominate.

Chapter 8 "Quality"

He discusses surface quality of paintings in this chapter. His overriding point here is that surface quality, whether smooth or rough has to suit the painting and subject/mood as a whole, and not be inappropriate or distracting.

Madison Square

Chapter 10 "On Framing Pictures"

Birge was a fan of gold or metal leaf on frames.

He believed in the formula of:
Simple picture, intricate frame.
Intricate picture, simple frame.

Chapter 15 "The Importance of Fearlessness in Painting"

"Always dare to the limit of your knowledge and just a bit beyond. You must show conviction yourself, if you would convince others."

Chapter 16 "The Subconscious Servant"

"A picture painted direct from nature must necessarily be hasty, ill-considered, somewhat raw, and lacking in the synthetic and personal quality which is the distinguishing mark of all great art - unless the work is really done from memory while the painter is standing before nature - which might be the case if he had had time and opportunity to ripen his vision."

"... true synthetic beauty is not within the reach of the mere copyist."

This is a fascinating chapter and one that I am not completely sure I understand. He talks about the use of memory in painting. One must see through the mind and not just the eye. Painting from nature feeds the "subconscious servant" and stores up information that helps down the line with one's work. So that as an artist matures he or she is not just copying nature but taking in what is there and using and rearranging it to make an effective picture.

Chapter 19 "What is a Good Picture?"

"Art is natural beauty interpreted through human temperament."

"The highest form of sincerity is truth to the artist's own personal vision of beauty."

Chapter 20 "The True Impressionism"

"... technique is not the difficult thing in art ... but it requires many a long and weary year to learn to see."

"... students learn much more from each other than they do from their masters."

I have been in classes for which this was true, and many where it was not. I suppose it depends on the quality of instructor, and mix of students you wind up with.

Chapter 21 "The Future of American Art"

Birge wraps up with an optimistic outlook for American art going forward. As in, this is OUR time now! He also muses about the possibilities of modern structures like steel mills and skyscrapers as subject matter for paintings.

Summing up:
This is a fantastic book, especially if you love American Landscape painting and Tonalist painters like Inness, etc. Birge's words really resonate with me and this book has a permanent place in my recommended reading list. I now want to get a hardbound earlier printing for my library. I wish someone would reprint this with color reproductions, but I also with that about John Carlson's book...
I plan to re-read Carlson's landscape painting book as carefully as I did this. Also upcoming is Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting.

Inn at Cos Cob