Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Authority Article

"Authentic art is the sacring bell of the artist's experience,"  Casey Klahn.

This new article, at The Scribbler newsletter, is about your authority as an artist.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012


You can feel the skull, smooth here and rough there.  The antlers are heavy, with  the age-worn bases, but smooth beams.

A marbled sky appears smooth, while the knotty upland pine appears rough.

Texture is a portrayal of how objects might feel and it adds an imaginary tactile dimension to a painting.  The illusion can be created using all of the methods at the artist's disposal: line, pattern, style of applying the medium, etc.  Scumbling and glazing are methods that the pastelist uses to make the surface of a painting more lively, and perhaps rough.  I also enjoy blending with my fingers to create smooth areas.

See Richard McKinley's Pastel Pointers on these basic techniques.

With the advent of Modernism, artists began to introduce textural qualities to the surface of paintings.  A new dimension!  Of course artwork had surface texture before, but there now became an interest in focusing on the two dimensional plane for its own sake.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Value Scale

The value scale is best thought of as a gray scale and can be 
directly related to color value.

The value scale, as illustrated below, is often shown as an eleven point scale, with black at the zero point and white at the ten.  But, I want you to consider selecting only a few to compose your values in a picture.  For instance, you may choose a three or a five value set to keep your painting simple.

As an example, you may want five values only, and perhaps they would be numbers 3,4.5, 7, and 8.  Notice that you may skip numbers in the sequence, because this creates depth and interest.  You may choose 3, 4 and 6 instead for an even simpler composition.

Another way I keep it simple is to assume the polar values that will be in my painting.  Have only 3 values in your range.  Say 2 is darkest and assumed, or put out of mind, and the lightest value assumed is 7.  Then, I am free to work with any three values within those parameters.  3, 5 and 6, for instance.  You get the idea - it is a mental trick I use to focus on fewer details and provides for me a very basic composition.

See the video in the sidebar that covers this topic.

Five values, represented as gray, may be used 
to compose a unified painting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


By now you have caught on to the dual nature of particular 
elements of art.  Space can mean the 3-dimensional illusion in a picture, 
and it can mean the division of areas within the 2-dimensional format. 

Space - the illusion of dimension.  Ask yourself if you feel like you can move around inside the painting.  Also, space can describe the division of the area into parts, such as the positive and negative space in a picture.

I use space as a compositional tool by dividing the paper into threes or fives.  This asymmetric division of space, by number, creates tension and interest.  It also prevents the space from becoming too complicated, as with 7 or 10 areas.  

Let's keep space and form properly understood, since they are both dimensional by definition. Remember with form, we had three dimensional shapes and also the deeper formal aspects.  The unified nature of all the elements of art is the form. With space, we have divisible areas within the picture, and a sense of the interior area within the painting.

"The air one sees in the paintings of the masters is not the air one breathes," Edgar Degas.

The best use of negative space in recent memory can be found in Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.

There may be less negative space, by proportion, in an Andrew Wyeth painting than you might first think. The figure takes up one third of the horizontal space in the foreground, or field. 

While it is common for artists to add larger areas of negative space to format their pictures, it is also a common pitfall among contemporary artists to use so much negative space that they seem to forget that proportions matter.  

Look again at Christina's World.  Draw verticals at her feet and head, and see that she takes up one third of the horizontal area in the foreground, or field.  Now draw horizontal lines and she takes up about a quarter of the space considered on the vertical axis.  As a consideration of mass, how many Christinas would fit in this picture?  Maybe ten.

My observation is that many contemporary artists will overdo the negative area of space, and this without any consideration for what they are trying to say.

Space is the area provided for a particular purpose. Space includes the background, foreground and middle ground. Space refers to the distances or areas around, between or within components of a piece. There are two types of space: positive and negative space. Positive space refers to the space of a shape representing the subject matter. Negative space refers to the space around and between the subject matter. Space is also defined as the distance between identifiable points or planes in a work of art.  Wikipedia.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Box Wars

Guerrilla Pastel Carrier - Judson's

Dakota Deluxe Traveler

To be ready for many upcoming road and air trips, I decided to upgrade my travel system for carrying the sticks.  Now I own one each from the two competitors, the Judson's Guerrilla Pastel Carrier and the Dakota Pastel Carrier. I have already taken the Judson's box on one trip to California.  It worked brilliantly as a carry-on and did the job of protecting and organizing my pastels.   

One thing I liked better about the Judson product is the long, narrow aspect of the box.  It fits better on my Mabef Field Easel, given that the narrow box allows me to stand closer to the task, and seems plenty stable.

The plastic inserts are a good idea, but I always vote for wood over plastic.  Call me an aesthete, but wood is gentle on the soft pastels.  Plastic attracts dust and hair, and is, well, cheesy.  But, I allowed that a guy could ditch the plastic boxes if he needed to.  These plastic boxes are well made, and I really enjoy the finger hole cutout design. The Judson boxes (I have a ThumBox that I took to Italy) are light and strong.  They have heirloom-quality niceness.

Next, I bought the product from Dakota Pastels, who are my favorite cataloger for pastel needs.  The Deluxe Traveler is a thick, beefy, Beech wood box.  I chose the smaller size of two options, to save space when I go by air.

The Dakota product uses the older method of securing the sticks under a foam-lined lid which is held down by thumb swivel latches.  I have seen artists who lose these over time, so that is one of my theoretical problems with the design.  Can't complain about the quality, though.  Always top notch from Dakota.

Usually my Dakota cartons arrive from across state in superior condition.  They positively know how to pack pastels, paper and equipment the right way.  Except this time, they didn't!  The box was slightly too shallow to accommodate the pastel carrier, and so one end of the shipping carton was caved-in a little.  The worse thing is when your pastels are floating around in transit, which is the way I found my new Senneliers (on sale this month in open stock). The tape had come unhinged and the Sennie boxes were loose in the carton. Fortunately, the three-per boxes, which are foam lined, did the job of protecting my new sticks.

After the next couple of trips, I will let you know how these pastel carriers perform.  I know I'll be having fun using these great pastel boxes!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Color - A Thematic Essay

Pink & Green.  Sometimes more meaning can be portrayed visually than verbally.  Consider this my entry on Color for our elements of art series.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Big, horizontal elliptic shapes, like pear quarters or lips, create a repeatable pattern in this landscape.  The rounded shapes in this picture's land-forms are also mirrored by the rounded shapes of trees and bushes.

Pattern is the way you would compose your picture if it were a quilt top.  Lay it out in some discernible motif.  Often, patterns in art can be repeated shapes, and may involve the comparison of shapes, lines and colors. Think of the word: counterpoise.  One shape predicts another.

The Golden Ratio is also a pattern found in nature.

The first artist I think of when I think of pattern is Henri Matisse.  Born and raised in a textile producing region in northern France, he constantly described patterns on wall paper, dresses, and carpets.  Then, he would create an elaborate design, weaving the whole picture into a pattern.

Let's review the elements of art so far..

Consider the image posted at the top of this post, Upland Fields.  The elements we have covered so far in our posts are pattern, line, shape, and form.

Long, horizontal lines are obvious, and the shapes are long pears or lips, which are very organic.  They are repeated to create a pattern. As respects form, there are five horizontal shapes from bottom to top, and three masses of trees or bushes.  The asymmetric, or odd numbered, quantity work to suggest the randomness of nature and the aerial feeling of faded colors, encroaching over the ridge in places, establishes a feeling of upland atmosphere.

Friday, February 10, 2012


  The illusion of 3 dimensional shape is called formShading, perspective and color properties are all in the toolkit artists use to "form" objects.  

  Color temperature is a good way to suggest form.  Warm plays next to cool to create vibration and separation.  Cool can recede and warm proceed towards you, except where other drawing tricks overcome these "rules."  Note how the color temperatures, along with shading, create form on the trees in this pastel.

But wait, there's more!  Form relates to the formal aspects of painting, which is our broader topic in these lessons.  The form of an artwork is the piece in its rudimentary state: unified, visual, and independent of the meaning or context.  Take away Norman Rockwell's narrative of a family at Thanksgiving (pregnant with meaning) and observe the way his objects work together to make a fine painting.  These are the formal aspects, and the holiday sentiment is the informal aspect of this iconic painting.

Study Hall:

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Shapes:  organic or non-organic and geometric shapes are
lines with identities.

Shape is a 2-dimensional outline of your subject, sometimes described as the contour.  To be more specific, a line drawing of a shape may include both the interior and boundary lines of a subject.

Shape is the line become something identifiable.  It is an important genesis for making representational art.  However, Modernists focused on shapes as a way to organize the flat plane of a picture.  As with all the elements of art, in these definitions there are deeper meanings than what is evident on the surface of things.

Pay attention to the shapes created on your surface, and use them to harness the dynamics of your picture plane.

When we add dimension, then form begins to emerge.  That we will save for the next post.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Pastel Workshop will be posting some basic art elements for the benefit of workshop and art students. Today, we look at the basic line. 

Fluid Corner, Pastel, Casey Klahn.  
The line in art directs your attention and expresses movement, perspective and compositional elements.  Along with the point, or dot, it is a basic component in art.

"A line is a dot that went for a walk."  
Paul Klee.

The line in art is a construct of the basic thing:  the point or the dot.  Lines do not occur in nature, we are told, yet artists still make much of them.  Is this an abstract thought?  Yes, I think so.

We use lines to suggest and stand in for other things, and we use them to be expressive.  Other dynamics in art that fall from the line are gesture and linear perspective.

Lines restrict and bind.  Just ask Johnny Cash.

Further reading: 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012