No Shave November: Hirsute Art History Edition

Or, Should We Say Art Hair-Story Edition?

I must-ache you a question: Are you familiar with No Shave November, also known as Movember? It’s an entire month dedicated to not shaving your facial hair! So, because we are a community of artists and art lovers, we want to conclude this celebratory hairy month with an artful twist: art history meets No Shave November.

So sit back, relax and wax your staches. Here is a hair-raising roundup of famous artists and artworks that would make the creators of No Shave November proud. Enjoy!

Long Locks Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1512

Presumed by most historians to be a self-portrait, the sketch above shows that Leonardo da Vinci had some seriously long locks going on — from the hairs of his chinny, chin, chin to the top of his head. It’s doubtful that this bad boy beard was grown in 30 days, but da Vinci’s facial hair definitely reveres the mission of No Shave November.

Striking Stache Salvador

Salvador Dali | | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989), New York, circa 1950s. (Photo by Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images)

Salvador Dalí’s artwork is truly remarkable, but his mustache is also pretty “on point.” This surrealist knew how to make a statement, both on canvas and in life. His art and facial hair are both recognizable to this day.

Seductive Stache

Gustave Courbet | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, oil, circa 1844–1845.

Gustave Courbet? More like, Gu-stache Courbet. We love the dramatic look, and we are sure the ladies dug it, too! If there were hipsters back in your day, Courbet, you probably led the pack.

Very Haired Hermit

Nesterov Mikhail | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

The Hermit by Mikhail Nesterov, circa 1889.

A stark landscape from Nesterov shows why anyone would want to grow their very own face scarf. The beard of this figure known only as the Hermit sure looks mighty warm. The added bonus of being a cold-blocker is a solid reason to take part in No Shave November.

‘Put a Fork in It’ Stache

Chase William Merritt | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

The Wounded Poacher by William Merritt Chase

Even with a head wound, William Merritt Chase’s poacher looks positively debonair. Gotta be the stache. There’s only one word to describe it: glorious. Can you picture him twisting the ends of that luxurious face pelt as someone refreshes his bandage? We can! Talk about a most manly stache perfect for Movember!

Stache d’Élégance

Peter Paul Rubens | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Self-Portrait by Peter Paul Rubens, oil on canvas, circa 1639-1640. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

From his beard to his expertly coiffed stache, Peter Paul Rubens knew how to dress to impress, and we aren’t talking just his wardrobe. He probably went through a container of wax a day to get that facial hair so pristine. And all we have to say is, worth it.

Feminine Facial Hair

Frida Kahlo | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Frida Kahlo (1910-1954). (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)

Kudos to Frida Kahlo for making facial hair so gosh darn gorgeous! From her fabulous brow to her subtle stubble, she knew how to make female facial hair a work of art in its own right.

The Scrooge Stache

Chase William Merritt | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Elderly Man Wearing Large White Collar by William Merritt Chase, circa 1875

William Merritt Chase clearly loved his staches, as you can see in The Wounded Poacher featured earlier in this lineup. Here’s another of the artist’s impressive beard depictions, this time of a grump of a man in a giant white collar. The mad gaze and mad locks come together for a terrifyingly impressive portrait.

Bearded Blanket of Emotion

Vincent van Gogh | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas, 1889. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Against his iconic brushstrokes and blue color palette, Vincent van Gogh’s bold beard positively glows. It even helps lead the viewer’s eye into the composition, as you take in the radiant beard and let your gaze move up to those intense blue eyes of the artist. Yowza.

High Class Upper Lip

John Singer Sargent | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Gabriel Fauré by John Singer Sargent, oil on canvas, circa 1889.

What makes the subject for this painting appear more hoity-toity: his upward glance away from the viewer that just about screams snobby, or neck injury, or his furiously furry mustache? You be the judge.

The Monet Stache

Claude Monet | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Claude Monet (1840-1926). Photograph by Nadar in 1899. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)

But really, Monet is so much more than just a pretty mustache. Just take a quick gander at that killer beard! Picture him now, walking through his beloved Giverny gardens, dressed in an all-white, three-piece suit and sporting his signature green shades — oh, and of course meditatively combing his fingers through those lustrous locks of his chin puff.

Serious Stache

Edmund Tarbell | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Portrait of Benjamin Rush by Edmund Tarbell

Have you ever seen a mustache look more unyielding? The subject’s firm expression is perfectly matched by his finely styled mustachio. The portrait screams “power,” so if you want to look as if you’re a key playmaker, then rock a formal facial hairdo like so.

Wondrous Whiskers

George Frederic Watts | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Portrait of Thomas Carlyle by George Frederic Watts, oil on canvas, circa 1868

Can you picture it: ol’ Thomas looking in the mirror, a small pair of scissors in hand as he trims his sideburns and tailors the edges of his beard? The grooming is worth it because the final look is straight up class.

Soulful Stache

Rembrandt | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Self-Portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1669. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Because who doesn’t love a good soul patch — especially one accompanied by a curls-for-the-girls mustache? Now it is crystal clear why Rembrandt van Rijn loved making so many self-portraits. With locks like that, wouldn’t you?

Beautiful Bristles

William Merritt Chase | Art History Staches | Art History Beards and Mustaches | No Shave November | Artists Network

Self-Portrait by William Merritt Chase

And to conclude this list in true bewhiskered fashion, feast your eyes on this self-portrait of our facial hair-loving friend: William Merritt Chase! I just want to stache this one away in my pocket for later. (Get it?)

Which one of these famous art hair-story examples is your favorite? Tell us in the comments!

And, be sure to check out the facial hair of our very own modern-day favorite, Johannes Vloothuis, in his video workshop series streaming now on Artists Network TV.

The post No Shave November: Hirsute Art History Edition appeared first on Artist's Network.

Painting Tips: The Value of Hard and Soft Edges

Johannes Vloothuis is back with more expert advice that will help you better understand how to paint. This time he is tackling the timeless subject: painting edges.

Learn how to handle edges within your paintings in a variety of mediums, and then see Johannes in action in Paint Along: Landscape Painting, All About Edges.

Painting Edges: Tips on the Value of Hard and Soft Edges

by Johannes Vloothuis

Handling edges is a skill that all fine artists will need to learn sooner or later. Edges that are out of focus are vital in paintings in order to create the 3D illusion of making things look like they recede in a landscape painting, for example. Edges that are blurred make things appear they are moving.

The handling of edges is to be applied in all mediums, although some are more cooperative than others. For example, with pastels all you need to do is massage the dust with your finger and you can achieve any degree of softness, whereas in acrylics the paint dries too fast and it’s impossible to blur, like with oils. Watercolor requires experience to know exactly when to apply the pigment to the wet paper.

Painting tips | Johannes Vloothuis,

Painting Tips for Artists

There are three kinds of edges in all mediums:

Diffused Edges
The contour of forms can become completely lost, leaving little or no definition. Use diffused edges for the following to:
• Indicate foliage in the last plane in your background
• Create ethereal cumulous clouds
• Create realistic waterfalls that appear to be moving
• Indicate crashing waves in seascapes

Soft Edges
The edge is recognizable, but blurry.
• Distant trees and evergreens in backgrounds
• Distant hills
• Things in the peripheral areas of a painting
• Water reflections

Hard Edges
Clearly defined with no sense of being out of focus.
• Rocks
• Buildings
• Rocky mountains

Advice on how to achieve soft or diffused edges:

Oil and Pastel:
Massage the paint to the degree of blurriness desired. These two mediums are very easy.

1) Apply water to the paper.
2) Wait about 5 minutes for the water to be absorbed and/or until the paper is no longer glossy.
3) Add just enough water to create pasty (not runny) pigment. If necessary suck the excess water out of the brush by squeezing the bristles where they meet the ferrule while holding the brush vertically to the paper. Note: Rough paper is more cooperative than cold-pressed paper when it comes to controlling soft edges.

Scumble the adjacent color (such as the sky on the edges of trees) and lightly feather it in until the transition creates the blurred contour.


The post Painting Tips: The Value of Hard and Soft Edges appeared first on Artist's Network.

5 Breakthrough Watermedia Artists to Watch in 2018

Emerging Watermedia Artists You Should Know

These five up-and-coming artists have caught the attention of some of the top watermedia artists and instructors. What do they all have in common? Passion. The passion to take risks, accept challenges and make an artistic statement.

Each one of these watermedia artists has made our must-watch list for 2018 for not only their passion but for their talent as well. And we are confident you will love their artwork and dedication to their craft as much as we do. Enjoy!

Bird | Baltimore, Maryland

Artists Network | Watermedia Artists 2018 | Matthew Bird | Once Upon A Time

Once Upon a Time by Matthew Bird, watercolor on paper

For the first of our five must-see watermedia artists, Matthew Bird, the way to inspiration is found in the light. “In Once Upon a Time, the light creates depth and mood,” he says. “The figure recedes into the background with just her legs and the top of her head in the sun.”

Bird continues, “We all know that watercolor isn’t a forgiving medium. For my style, it’s very important to have it all worked out ahead of time. Once I have the drawing on the paper, I still stare at it for a long time. I’m sure I look like a crazy person, but I’m painting in my head, planning the steps.”

After a light pencil drawing, Bird applies a mask. This will protect the areas where he wants to preserve the white paper. “It’s common for watercolor artists to paint light to dark, but for me, I’m more comfortable establishing the deep values first, often the background,” he explains.

Expert Insight

Matt’s realist approach to watercolor stood out to me from the moment I first saw it. His sense of composition and subject is superb. He’s able to edit his scenes with a clarity that eliminates all but the necessary elements to set the narrative. Yet, he allows certain passages to remain understated.

–Iain Stewart

Kathleen Mooney | Lowell, Michigan

Watermedia Artists in 2018 | Artists Network | kathleen mooney | Sunflowers for Vincent

Sunflowers for Vincent by Kathleen Mooney, watermedia on paper

Kathleen Mooney likes that Sunflowers For Vincent always seems to produce a smile or a laugh. “It’s so anthropomorphic,” she says. “Each sunflower head has attitude.”

Mooney used color symbolically for the piece, selecting a palette that evokes colors we associate with van Gogh. She describes them as “the colors of sunbaked southern France — past its prime harvest, faded yet exuberant beauty.”

Color is clearly at the forefront of Mooney’s aesthetic. As an artist who also licenses designs for rugs, clothing and consumer goods, she’s exposed regularly to new color trends and cutting-edge combinations that constantly feed her color enthusiasm.

“Color can take my breath away,” states Mooney. “Two or more colors working with each other can produce an audible ‘hummmmm …’ when I can see that they’re simply right.”

Expert Insight

Kathleen’s mixed watermedia work is absolutely bold and colorful, as well as influenced by her history of studying indigenous people’s artwork.

–Kathleen Conover

Nicki Heenan | Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England

Watermedia Artists in 2018 | Artists Network | nicki heenan Roman Bridge

Old Roman Bridge by Nicki Heenan, watercolor, ink and dry pigment on multimedia board

At the heart of Nicki Heenan’s paintings are a love and respect for the natural world. “I want to convey the preciousness and transience of the landscape,” she says.

The river Avon, which passes through the artist’s garden, inspired her painting, Old Roman Bridge. “The ancient bridge has stood since Roman times,” explains Heenan, “and the light that’s suffused through the trees seems to whisper of stories past. My challenge is to create the evanescence of form so it becomes a place you feel exists in a memory.”

Heenan is captivated by light — specifically, in this case, by the way light “filters through the trees with droplets of water that glisten in the sun,” she notes. “It’s this elusive moment that I wanted to share, which is — as Whistler put it — ‘like a breath on glass.’”

The artist uses inks and watercolor in a fluid manner, and dry pigments, to add textured form. A closer look reveals the subtle textural differences between the various paints and color washes.

“It’s these elements that make you look at a painting twice — from a distance and up close,” says Heenan. The artist’s approach to color involves carefully mixed neutrals that create notes of color that vibrate until they’re “singing in tune.”

Expert Insight

Nicki is a risk-taker. She experiments with watermedia and takes her work deeper, probing to find her personal approach and expression. I feel the elements when I view her work.

–Stephen Quiller

Martha Wakefield | Belmont, Massachusetts

Watermedia Artists in 2018 | Artists Network | martha wakefield DreamCatchers

Dream Catchers by Martha Wakefield, opposite; mixed media on paper

It was Martha Wakefield’s brother who first introduced her to Native American dream catchers, and she became captivated immediately by both the design and symbolism. In her painting, Dream Catchers, the cups and bowls appear to float while still remaining connected by lines “as if in the web of a dream catcher,” she says.

The tangled containers become part of a graphic language, expressing the artist’s ideas about vessels and the things — perhaps dreams — that they hold. The colors and lines, the submerging and emerging shapes, they’re all part of that language. In Dream Catchers, “the touches of bright colors, juxtaposed with the cool whites and gray, add just enough tension,” explains Wakefield.

When Wakefield first began to paint, her work was more representational, but she felt it was restricted, that she was blocked from emotionally connecting to her subject. “My work slowly morphed toward abstraction,” she continues. “Now I use abstraction to bring order to the disorder of memory and remembering.”

Her goal is to make lines that are expressive, as well as “bold at times and other times poetic,” notes Wakefield. “I’d like my marks to appear random and spontaneous, but never as a second thought.”

Expert Insight

Martha’s well-considered color palette, along with the marks in her abstractions, make them strong personal statements.

–Katherine Chang Liu

Chris Nelson | Malvern, Pennsylvania

Watermedia Artists in 2018 | Artists Network | chris nelson founding fathers

Founding Fathers by Chris Nelson, watercolor on paper

Chris Nelson’s interest in historical subjects is clearly evident in Founding Fathers, a portrayal of two trains — a Chesapeake & Ohio and a Baltimore & Ohio, meeting at the newly built Cincinnati Union Terminal around 1949.

“Anything that has interesting architectural features and design captures my eye,” says Nelson. “I love the challenge of painting subjects to scale and authentically reproducing them, whether they’re landscapes, buildings, trains, cars or people. Just about anything in the American History Museum could be the subject of a magnificent painting.”

In Founding Fathers, Nelson created deep, colorful shadows and reflected light on the engines, allowing the sunlit areas to glow. “Likewise, the reflected light on the engines defines and shapes the magnificent design,” he explains. “The sunlight is everywhere, even in the shadows.”

Expert Insight

Chris’ work has strong compositions, descriptive and elegant brushwork, and a wonderful feeling of light.”

–James Toogood

Follow these watermedia artists throughout the year to see the new directions and exciting developments that will take place in 2018. And, be sure to tell us which of these artists is your favorite in the comments!

Subscribe to Watercolor Artist for the latest watercolor art inspiration, interviews with the best of the best watermedia artists, expert advice and tips, art instruction, and so much more.

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11 Famous Artists Who Paint with Acrylics

Andy Warhol to Thomas Hart Benton

When it comes to hype, nothing works better than bringing out the big names. Acrylics have some very big names behind them. Why? Well, for one, acrylics have a very interesting “secret life” that make them appealing to painters.

But acrylics were also a modern solution to painting that cutting edge artists craved. Brought to market in the 1940s, acrylics started out as house paints but their easy usability and quick drying time caught the eye of many modern painters.

Liquid Texture

In 1955, to meet the demand from artists, Permanent Pigments Company developed the first water-based acrylic gesso called Liquitex, named for what it was all about: liquid texture. A year later Liquitex put out the first water-based fluid acrylic paints, called Soft Body acrylics, which you can still reach for today at your local art shop.

Since then hundreds of thousands of artists have chosen acrylics as their painting medium, including so many iconic masters of modernism.

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200 Versions and Counting

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, acrylic, charcoal and graphite on canvas

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic? The painting no one gets and we all had to study in art history class? Yup, acrylics…at least some of the 200 versions that he made on this theme. Talk about commitment.

He mixed his paints with graphite and charcoal for those signature shapes and startling blackness.

“I’d Rather Sink Than Call Brad for Help”

Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein, acrylics on canvas

Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, the man who brought comic book Ben-Day dots and pop culture drama to canvas? Yup, did it in acrylics, including his best known work, Drowning Girl.


Fields of Color

When you start an art movement with acrylics, people take notice. Kenneth Noland was a leader in the Color Field movement, one of the most mesmerizing modern art trends of the 20th century. Noland spearheaded the Washington Color School movement that bubbled up in America’s capital city in the 1960s. His works usually focus on painted depictions of circles, chevrons, stripes or shaped canvases. The latter especially showcase Noland’s fixation with the power that the edge of a canvas has overall.

Beginning by Kenneth Noland, acrylics on canvas, 1958

Beginning by Kenneth Noland

Colors Do the Twist

Zing 1 by Bridget Riley

Zing 1 by Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley — yet another art movement maker — this time of Op Art — did it with acrylics. Riley’s geometric-shaped lines of paint produced wild optical effects. Zing 1 was one of Riley’s breakthrough paintings, in which she used vertical stripes to create (borderline) mind-bending horizontal bands of color.

Significant Stains

Canyon by Helen Frankenthaler, acrylic painting

Canyon by Helen Frankenthaler, acrylic painting

Helen Frankenthaler made some very significant marks in her day. They came as drips and splatters. They came as stains and blots.

According to The Phillips Collection: “In 1963 she began using acrylic paint as opposed to turpentine-thinned oil, resulting in the expansion of form and the production of bolder, more saturated colors. Canyon (above) of 1965, painted in acrylic, exemplifies Frankenthaler’s paintings of the 1960s as it flows out from a boldly colored center, in this case red.”

Mixed Media Awe

Just opening his latest powerhouse exhibition at the Hirshhorn, Mark Bradford lives big at 6’7″ and paints that way too. He started out painting with cans of remainder paint sold for $1 at hardware stores and hasn’t altered from that course, simply adding dimension with layers upon layers of cut paper (construction paper, newspaper and photographs among others) along the way.

The Grace of Simple “Space”

An artist of subtlety, contemplation and harmony, Mark Rothko made the act of painting a mindful, meditative experience. Mixing oils, powdered pigments and acrylics, he created large scale canvases that brought grace to simple forms. He explored color exhaustively and the look and feel of his works is almost always conveyed through color and pattern.

No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow) by Mark Rothko

No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow) by Mark Rothko

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Late in his career Barnett Newman created paintings on a massive scale. He painted them in acrylics. The four works from his series Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue are all well over life-size and were made with pure, unmixed primary colors.

Heartland Artist

The Bicyclers by Thomas Hart Benton

The Bicyclers by Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton’s The Bicyclers is a tour de force from this American modernist. From the composition to the style, this painting indicates all that Benton would become famous for. Interesting to note in this context, he created several studies of this painting in oil and watercolor, but he decided to do the final version in acrylics.


Poolside Paintings

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney

One of the most famous Brit Pop Artists, David Hockney painted several iconic California swimming pools — including his own — in acrylics. He started painting poolsides around the same time he came across acrylic paints in the 1960s. Their fast-drying ability (rather than the slow drying of oils) was most appropriate to the easy, breezy, clean and sunny landscapes that Hockney was depicting. A match made in California dreaming you could say.

Soupy Acrylics

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, acrylic painting

Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, among others, were painted in acrylics. He is yet another example of a modern artist who found his modern medium in acrylics.

Maybe because they were easy to use? So that the artists could spend time building their legends and attending amazing parties (Andy, this means you!).

Maybe because they were fast and they were easy and the artists using them were modern, cutting edge and brand new as well?

Warhol, like all of the listed artists, craved newness because he was living in a new age. The modern 20th century defied historic precedence. Every artistic foray felt brand new. All eyes were looking forward into the ‘now’ and looking back simply wasn’t in the plans. Acrylics gave these artists a way forward into uncharted but exciting territory. The results, obviously, are well worth recognizing. 


Do You Want to Join Them?

Hundreds of thousands of artists, both famous and unsung, have found that for their painting process, acrylics are the answer.

Now the next evolution of acrylics has arrived with Liquitex’s new cadmium-free colors, the world’s first non-cadmium acrylic paints with the same brightness, color strength and opacity as cadmium paint, offering artists a safer option in their practice.

Acrylic 12 artists cadmium free



Try them for yourself!

The Liquitex brand prides themselves in creating and delivering a best in class product with ingredients that are the most safe and effective for you, the artist.

Enter your information HERE to receive a sample of Liquitex cadmium-free and cadmium paints and see if you can tell which one is cadmium-free!

Act quickly, as sample quantities are limited to 500!


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Liquitex was the first water-based acrylic paint created in 1955 and since then we have partnered with artists to ensure that we continually evolve and innovate – resulting in a long history of acrylic innovation. Today, Liquitex offers the largest array of vibrant acrylic paints, mediums and tools to enable acrylic artists to continually explore their art and take it to new and unprecedented boundaries. With our innovative drive, our creative passion and our intense desire to share the joys of artistic expression through unparalleled education and community outreach programs, Liquitex is and will continue to be a strong partner to help artists explore their art for decades to come. 

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Abstraction 101: How to Turn Realistic Art Into Abstract Pieces

Abstraction opens up a world of limitless possibilities for artists. Below, Margaret Davidson shares her tips for transforming an artwork into an abstract piece with a simple grid exercise.

By following Davidson’s simple approach, you are well on your way to creating abstract masterpieces. Enjoy!

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

by Paul Klee, 1923, oil and gouache on paper bordered with gouache, watercolor and ink, mounted on cardboard, 17 1/2 X 11 1/2. Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

The Origins of Abstraction

Abstraction in art is a fascinating thing, as it is both quite young and very old. Some abstract images — such as grids, squiggly lines and patterns of dots — have been found in prehistoric caves and are roughly 30,000 years old.

But artists in the Western world did not actively promote and pursue abstraction until the late-19th century when, thanks in large part to the influence of Cézanne (1839–1906) and the Impressionists before him, artists began to pay attention to something other than the subject.

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, artists have continued to explore these questions by delving deeply into concepts of abstraction. Artists such as Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), Paul Klee (1879–1940) and later Chuck Close (1940– ) explored one method for arriving at abstract images: They reinterpreted realistic images through a grid.

There are many ways to do this, and those three artists produced very different work even though they started from the same general idea. In this articl, we’ll learn one particular way of starting with a recognizable image and reinterpreting it through a grid to produce an abstract image.

Really, as soon as you apply a grid to any image, you are entering the world of abstraction, which is only slightly different from the world of realism. Both are full of beauty and subtlety, and both are worth spending time in.

Realism is a world of illusion, and one reason artists pushed their art into abstraction is because they were searching for truth, as opposed to illusion. They found that truth in flatness, and you can too.

Reinterpreting Realism through a Grid

Let’s begin with a basic still life I drew showing two pears and a small patterned vase filled with leaves. I set up the still life high enough so it was nearly eye-level, shined a light on it from the left and drew it in graphite.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 1: This is a fairly basic still life, set close to eye level and lit from the left with a desk lamp.

Next, I drew a 1- by 1-inch grid on a piece of clear acetate and laid it on top of my finished drawing.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 2

This view, through the grid, showed me what to do next. I took another piece of paper the same size as my drawing and lightly drew another 1- by 1-inch grid.

Then I went square by square through my original drawing and chose a single value to be the sum of all the tonalities in that square. I filled the corresponding square in my new drawing with this value.

This is when the fun began. On another piece of paper, I lightly drew a matching grid. I then shaded each square with a single tonality that represented the sum of the tonalities that reside in that square in the original drawing. Figuring that out is actually quite interesting.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 3

I did not limit the number of tonal choices — many values are represented over the entire gridded drawing.

You can see that the gridded image is no longer recognizable as a vase, leaves and pears. All of that is gone, replaced by a flat network of squares of various values.

However, you can see that something has determined where the different values go; there is an influence coming from somewhere.

Repeat the Exercise on a Larger scale

To make things even more removed from the recognizable image, I made a 2″-X-2″ grid and laid it over my original drawing.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 4

Then, when creating a gridded version of my original drawing, this time I applied even more restrictions. I reduced each square’s collective tonalities to one of only four values: black, dark gray, light gray or white.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 5

The larger grid leads to an even less recognizable image, putting us firmly in the realm of abstraction. The main structure in Illustration 5 is its flatness; it certainly inspires no more thoughts about vases or pears, and not even about space or depth.

The rules of composition apply but just to the balance of the values of the various squares, and the thoughts this drawing inspires all concern values and the relations of the squares to one another.

Adding Color and Pattern

You can take this gridded abstraction exercise further by substituting other elements for the original tonalities. They can be different colors or patterns — anything as long as the value relationships remain the same.

I made two more pieces based on my larger gridded image. The image below is composed of squares of colored paper, with the values of each corresponding to my limited four tonalities, discussed above.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 6: You can continue this exercise by turning the gridded abstract drawing into a cut-paper assemblage, with different values of colored paper that correspond to the values in your gridded drawing.

You can even substitute other images for the tonalities, as long as the values match. In the image below, I used photocopied textiles as my source for squares of paper in four values.

I created these photocopies myself, but you could use pictures cut out from magazines, wallpaper samples or anything that creates an understandable visual tonality.

Approaching Abstraction in Art | Paul Klee | Artists Network

Illustration 6: This piece is made from squares of photocopied textiles, again keeping the values consistent.

What we like about drawings by Rubens and Wyeth is that they take us away from the truth of the flatness and out into fields and trees. Realistic art takes us into a beautiful illusion.

Abstract art, meanwhile, keeps us right here with the paper and the marks. It gives us a chance to understand, if we take the time to look, that there is beauty here, too. Interpreting your own drawing through a grid is one way to explore this for yourself.

This article first appeared in Drawing magazine. Peruse through past issues here. 

Are you an abstract artist with any tricks up your sleeve? Tell us in the comments below!

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From Dark to Light: How to Use Pastels on a Dark Surface

Make Pastels Pop on a Dark Surface

James Kasperek’s expressive light-filled pastels are informed by his graphic design skills — and a dark painting surface. His work spans a range of subjects, from landscape to still life, figures to florals. But, he says, “I focus not so much on subject matter, but more on design, light and color.”

Below, Kasperek chats with Pastel Journal about his journey to pastels and his tips for working on dark surfaces.

Pastels on Dark Paper | James Kasperek | Artists Network

Foxglove and Poppies by James Kasperek, pastel

The Perfect Blend

About 40 years ago, Kasperek studied fine art at the Columbus College for Art and Design,
in Ohio, and at the Center for Creative Studies, in Detroit. As a student, he began using graphite and charcoal. He then moved on to color, eventually settling on pastels in the ’80s.

“My early work in pencil and charcoal was highly rendered, with a strong emphasis on value and modeling,” he says. “As I moved into oil, my style became looser, and I grew more interested in color and the placement of shapes. I loved the texture and surfaces I could achieve, but found drying time frustrating.”

He continued trying different media, but couldn’t get the richness of color he was after with watercolor, gouache or acrylic. “Because I always had loved to draw and was more comfortable with a pencil than a brush in my hand, I moved into colored pencil.”

He tried working on textured linen surfaces with Prismacolor pencils, but gradually wanted to work larger with more expression and intensity of color. “So, I moved into pastels,” says Kasperek. “They’re the perfect blend of drawing and painting for me.”

Pastels on Dark Paper | James Kasperek | Artists Network

Impression Street Market by James Kasperek, pastel

Working From Dark to Light

Kasperek begins most of his pastels with a photography session. “I take several photos of my subject and crop, color-correct and sometimes manipulate objects to my desired composition in Photoshop.” He then prints the photos at approximately 8×10 inches.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Kasperek’s method is the painting surface. He uses Richeson’s 140-lb. Premium Pastel Surface in black almost exclusively.

“Working out from a black surface comes from my early years of oil painting,” he says. “I was taught to first tone down the white canvas by applying washes of dark, neutral values and bring the painting out from dark to light. When I first started experimenting with pastel, I naturally sought out darker colored papers and eventually settled on pure black.”

Pastels on Dark Surface | James Kasperek | Artists Network

Four Trees by James Kasperek, pastel

He begins his pastels by quickly sketching his composition in vine charcoal on the paper. “Even though it’s black charcoal going over black paper, the drawing stands out enough for me to see it and then basically disappears beneath the pastel.”

He then starts to apply his preferred Sennelier soft pastels. “I work very deliberately, with little or no blending, going after my middle tones first, while leaving the black of the paper as my darkest darks,” he says.

“Once I establish the backbone of the painting, I’ll then go in and place my lighter values, all the while considering balance of shape, movement and color. The Sennelier pastels offer a beautiful, rich color range. I love the way they feel — and how they jump out from the black surface.”

Pastels on Dark Paper | James Kasperek | Artists Network

Mia at Samye Ling by James Kasperek, pastel

Do you work on a dark surface? Share your secrets in the comments below! And, if you want more pastel tips, techniques interviews with top pastelists, step-by-steps and more, be sure to subscribe to Pastel Journal!

Bonus Tip: Preparing Your Surface

The right surface makes all the difference for your pastel strokes. Watch this quick video tutorial to see how artist Christine Ivers prepares her painting surface!

You can find more of Ivers’ pastel tips and techniques by streaming her video workshops on

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Don’t Miss the 10 Best Watercolor Paintings of 2017

This Year’s Best Watercolor Paintings

Every winter, we look forward to putting together this article of the best watercolor paintings of the year. Of course, “best” is subjective, but one way a painting earns that distinction is to stand out in competition.

So with that being said, we turn to art societies — from the West Coast to the East Coast, Florida to Canada — to bring our attention to some of North America’s best watercolor paintings of 2017. Enjoy!

Brightness Burning on the Heart Within

Ali Cavanaugh Brightness Burning on the heart within watercolor society winner 2017 | Best Watercolor Paintings of 2017 | Artists Network

Brightness Burning on the Heart Within by Ali Cavanaugh, watercolor on Aquaboard

Artist Inspirations

My oldest daughter, Neve, was the inspiration for this piece. She’s been my graceful muse for many years. Neve is poised and reserved, and in this composition, I was able to catch her in direct profile. A striking diagonal was created with her downcast head and hand placement.

The two primary elements in my work are bold compositions paired with
a delicate application of paint.
 I had hoped to achieve a sense of elegance, beauty, thoughtfulness and intimacy.

Ali Cavanaugh, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri | Missouri Watercolor Society

Juror’s Response

I wanted to give an award to this particular piece because it exhibits a broad range of techniques, skillful handling and interesting subject matter: the gesture; the angle or position of the body; powerful, stunning color; and a large area of negative space. A painting like this is hard to forget.

–Dongfeng Li, Juror

Carrie Mae

Carrie Mae Dean Mitchell watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

Carrie Mae by Dean Mitchell, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

Carrie Mae has been a friend of my family’s since before I was born. She’s a kind, brilliant human being. She’s 97 now, and was born in Boston. She graduated from A&M as valedictorian in 1941 and received her master’s from Columbia in 1945. She got her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1958.

Her mother owned a hotel in the Boston area for 35 years called “The Mother’s Lunch.” It was one of the few — if not the only hotel — where African-Americans could stay. The list of people who stayed there is a “Who’s Who” in American culture — Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Sam Davis, Mary McLeod Bethune and many others. She’s talked about her sister doing Ella Fitzgerald’s hair just before she went on stage to perform.

Dean Mitchell, Tampa, Florida | Florida Watercolor Society

Juror’s Response

Carrie Mae is a masterful example of design, foresight and capability possessed by very few contemporary artists. The muted colors are utilized with a delicacy and deftness of brushstrokes that emphasize the sense of dignified tranquility that clearly indicates the subject is a character of strong positive influence in the artist’s life.

The subject’s pose at the edge of her chair and the slight lean of her head suggest a natural listener, reinforced by her face, with its somber expression, and her clasped hands. If the painting could speak to me, it would say “wisdom.”

One thing that caught my attention was the little bit of red nail polish. Once I saw that bit of red, the muted tones of the seat and wooden furniture began to reveal a repetition of the same color placed throughout the image.

–Iain Stewart, Juror

Glass on Glass on Fabric

Glass on Glass on Fabric Laurie Goldstein Warren watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

Glass on Glass on Fabric, Laurie Goldstein-Warren, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

Painting glass in watercolor makes for a unique set of challenges, beginning with the importance of seeing the various reflections and refraction in the glass and drawing them accurately.

When I composed this painting, I wanted to use the taller glass pieces. After setting up the still life, I realized it needed a horizontal element, so I introduced the fabric with its more organic design.

Laurie Goldstein-Warren, Buckhannon, West Virginia | Califonia Watercolor Association

Juror’s Response

Glass on Glass on Fabric possesses a fanciful, magical quality. The effects of light on glass are mesmerizing. The sparkling highlights contrast with deep, rich darks. The luminous, complementary color scheme and skillful composition are beautifully orchestrated in this powerful watercolor.

–Donna Zagotta, Juror

Morning in Paris

watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork june webster morning in paris

Morning in Paris by June Webster, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

The view from my hotel balcony in Paris near the Luxembourg Gardens inspired me to paint. The city was so quiet in the morning, and the painted lines on the street created beautifully defined shadows.

I wanted to capture that feeling of calm, as well as the color and value changes created by the shadows.

June Webster, Cheshire, Connecticut | Transparent Watercolor Society of America

Juror’s Response

By simplifying the image and illuminating the subject, the basic design and divisions of space are balanced and keep the viewer’s eye moving. It’s a well-designed and evocative image that makes one feel a sense of being alone within a city full of people.

–Jean Pederson, Juror

Insomniacs Dreamboats

Cathy Hegman Insomniacs Dreamboats watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

Insomniacs Dreamboats by Cathy Hegman, acrylic on paper

Artist Inspirations

My paintings are always about my life or some aspect of my life. I work from my imagination, not models or photos.

My inspiration was constant bouts of insomnia. I’ve done a long-running series of paintings called Insomniacs with which I try to convey the feeling of needing to do something but being unable to.

Cathy Hegman | Holly Bluff, Mississippi | American Watercolor Society

Juror’s Response

Stars represent the night. There are sheep, ships passing and a fantastical hairpiece, which could represent a cloud or the dark night.

The painting possesses good graphic qualities, strong vertical and horizontal movement, contrasts light and dark values, and has good color and competent technique. Plus, it captures and conveys a message beyond surface appearance that we all can relate to.

–Antonio Masi, Juror

Summer’s Reflection

Sidra Kaluszka watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork Summers Reflection

Summer’s Reflection by Sidra Kaluszka, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

Summer’s Reflection depicts a couple of persimmons that I picked in a park while walking with my in-laws, and some purple basil from my mother’s garden. I constantly seek new challenges, like incorporating the mirror behind the fruit. I wanted to capture the interaction between the subjects, the mirror and light.

The viewer doesn’t have a straightforward view of the reflection. I painted the focal point off center, with lines weaving in and out, because it invites the eye to explore.

Sidra Kaluszka, Radford, Virginia | West Virginia Watercolor Society

Juror’s Response

This painting is so dynamically strong. Design and composition are important to me as an artist, and this piece displays great composition. There’s a wonderful use of contrasts: value, temperature, shapes, and hard and soft edges. Although it’s a realistic painting, it has a nice abstract feel to it.

–Chris Krupinski, Juror

Backstage Adjustments

Bev Jozwiak watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork backstage adjustments

Backstage Adjustments by Bev Jozwiak, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

My youngest daughter is a professional ballet dancer, and I grew to love the art form. I helped out a lot around her dance studio — everything from designing tutus to making tiaras — and painted four 20- by 40-foot backdrops.

My ballet paintings are always near and dear to my heart. Dancers are extremely close to one another because they spend so much time together, and dance is intimate. I wanted this piece to convey that closeness and willingness to help each other.

Bev Jozwiak, Vancouver, Washington | Northwest Watercolor Society

Juror’s Response

This work caught my attention with its bold use of colors and brushwork that’s both unique and evocative. I gave the work a high point in design elements and composition.

While Jozwiak employs a variety of traditional techniques and knowledge of art, it’s also evident she’s not afraid to push the envelope of water media, which I admire immensely. As a result, her work looks pleasing from an academic point of view, but also has an edgy, modern appeal.

–Keiko Tanabe, Juror

Family Walk

Antonio Masi family walk watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

Family Walk by Antonia Masi, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

I have about 16 colors in my palette, but I tend to select two that will set the mood. I explore value combinations I can create with my two picks, and use the other colors to augment the purity, warmness and coolness of the original two I’ve chosen. This way, I can control the values in my painting.

Normally I find compositions in real life — texture, chain-link fences, graffiti and figures, like the tiny ones silhouetted under the arch in Family Walk, passing from darkness into light. At first, it appeared as a mass of confusion and excitement, so I exaggerated the smallness of the figures into this massive state of confusion and tried to bring order into it. I was thinking of a colorful quilted blanket; it has many patterns, but, at the same time, it’s still one unit.

Antonio Masi, Garden City, New York | North East Watercolor Society

609 Main

Ron 609 Main Thurston watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

609 Main by Ron Thurston, watercolor on paper

Artist Inspirations

The white staircase in 609 Main is one of my dog’s designated stops on our daily walks. The house nearby also made the cut. I couldn’t resist including it, but the real one is white and situated too far away.

Experimenting with value choices, I decided to make the house blue and black as a support to the black dog. Milton Avery was my color muse. It’s his unusual color combinations that inspire me.

Ron Thurston, Coraopolis, Pennsylvania | Penn State Watercolor Society

Purely Spectral

Brenda Benson purely spectral watercolor society winner 2017 ArtistsNetwork

Purely Spectral by Brenda Benson, watercolor on paper on matboard

Artist Inspirations

I was preparing paper for another piece using dour color and dark, depressing neutrals in shades of brown and gray. Suddenly I felt the need to cast off that burden and do something bright and joyful. I thumbed through my sketchbooks until I found something that would celebrate the joy that color can bring, and settled on a rough sketch of a quilt. A quilt and an open box of new crayons were my inspiration.

“I cut the paper into rectangles, then scored and folded them into squares. Meanwhile, I painted mat board with acrylics in the design I had worked out in my sketchbook. Taking a folded square of the painted paper, I used scissors or paper punches to cut a random design and then glued it down to its spot on the matboard grid. I chose bright primary and secondary colors for the joy of opening a new box of crayons. Colors transition gently from one to another with analogous hues.”

Brenda Benson, Monroe City, Missouri | Springfield Art Museum

Juror’s Response

One of the central reasons that the Springfield Art Museum created Watercolor USA was to recognize innovation in the use of watercolor. I love that this painting uses multiple pieces of paper, instead of the standard two dimensions.

–Laurin McCracken, Juror

What do you think is the best watercolor painting on this list? Do you have any others to add to the lineup? Tell us in the comments!

Peruse through past issues of Watercolor Artist here. And, be sure to subscribe to Watercolor Artist for more examples of the best watercolor paintings, interviews with top artists, the latest trends, and watercolor tips and techniques.

The post Don’t Miss the 10 Best Watercolor Paintings of 2017 appeared first on Artist's Network.