Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

adult learning, art, bottles, butterflies, Creativity, Faith, flowers, Icons, Imagination, nature, Painting, pre-diabetes, purpose, risk, Stress

When faced with a complicated task, what’s the first thing we need to do? I usually vote to have a cup of coffee and sit down to think about it. Some may call this procrastination, but I call it contemplation. I need to settle my mind, focus my senses, and discern the most important parts of my task. This is necessary, for if I were cutting off a limb from a tree, I’d sure want to get my body placed on the part of the tree that wasn’t going to fall. Keep the most important thing the first thing in mind is always the best practice.

Manet: Chrysanthemums and Clematis

Once our youth group from church went to the Appalachian Mountains for a mission work project. Most of our kids came from poor homes and we arrived in a single church bus, which for some reason the license plate hadn’t got renewed. The group even let me be the navigator. Only by the grace of God did we arrive, for I’m known to be directionally challenged among all my friends.

The other group who attended this session with us came with another truck, complete with all their own tools. Our children were despondent at first, for they felt they couldn’t “compete.” Our adult team leaders reminded them, “We’re here to do the work God has called us to do. This isn’t a contest. Everyone has value and all our work counts toward the greater good.”

Cross Stitch Motto from my Mother

That big, well provisioned group got the job of replacing a front porch and a roof. They divided up into a porch and roof team. The porch team finished first, but then they got mad when the roof team had to destroy their work to put the roof on right. They had failed to talk out an overall plan first. If the roofers had started on the porch end, then the porch team could come behind them and work would progress along properly.

This is called team work in groups. Our small group was experienced in talking out the process before we began working, so we knew the consequences of our actions. “If…then” is always an important consideration, especially in our artistic endeavors.

If we’re familiar with the work of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he talks about putting first things first by organizing and executing around our most important priorities. We live and are driven by the principles we value most, not by the agendas and forces which surround us. Pleasing others isn’t God’s purpose for us, but to do God’s work of loving all and serving the least of God’s people.

Spider Plants in the Classroom

When we look at a landscape, we have to select the primary image to emphasize, and relate the other forms around this important image. In the still life, we might drive ourselves crazy trying to paint every single petal, pistil, and leaf of some flowers in a vase, or we could find the most important shapes, which give us enough visual cues to let the viewer say, “Yes, this is a flower painting.” Not every leaf needs to be given the same attention, since our goal is to make a painting, not a rendering of the subject before us.

Cornelia’s Spider Plant Painting, 2020

Some might ask, “Why do we return to this well worn theme from time to time?” The best answer is we continue to learn from our repeated exposure to this theme. For another, our drawing skills improve over time, so we can see our progress. Also, our ability to handle the paint gets better, so we are more comfortable with mixing our colors and planning our composition. Besides, the great artists over the centuries have found this discipline fruitful, so if it benefited them, most likely we’ll get some good from it also. My nanny’s wisdom comes clear here: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

Beauty Berry Plant

When faced with so many shapes of leaves, a central stem, and a glass vase with ridges and reflections, our untrained brain wants to explode. We have to catch our breath, inhale, and exhale to cleanse our nerves. This is the point we begin our first simplification. If we note the proportions, the leaves are about the same height as the vase, and we can set the vase on a plane (the table) so it has depth. We can mark these off on the bare canvas with light pencil or a light wash of yellow paint. We’ll paint over it later.

Cornelia’s Beauty Berry Painting, 2020

The next step of simplification is to get the basic lines and shapes down. These don’t have to be perfect, but give you an idea of where you’re going to paint. If you do this in a pale wash, you can paint over it with the heavier colors in the more exact form. In sculpture, Michelangelo was known for chipping away from the stone everything that didn’t look like his subject. In painting, we add color, tint, and shade until it looks like our subject.

Cornelia’s False Wild Indigo

The final stage of simplification is to get the background in. Here you can paint up close to the individual shapes and “clean up the edges.” You can add highlights in places to bring out the foreground shapes, and add a shadow in the background for variety. By this time, the vase ought to be dry enough to put highlights on it also. Notice the leaves aren’t all the same color and they don’t bend the exact same way. Nothing in nature is perfect, for each part grows according to the amount of sun, shade, and nutrients it receives. As one of my old teachers reminded me, “Nature has no straight lines, so you never have to worry about that.”

Daffodils from 2019

To show you how sustained effort and intentional looking over time can helps student’s work improve, I offer the following examples from February, 2019, and September, 2020. One was the spider plants and the other the daffodils. I’m not sure who did these, so I won’t identify them.

Daffodils from 2019

I merely throw these in here because Gail and Mike have been working with me for several years. If practice hasn’t yet made perfect, it certainly has made improvements, and that’s all anyone can ask for. After all, we’re not asked to be perfect, but to go on to perfection (in love of God and neighbor).

Spider Plants from 2020

For history buffs a side note. Wild indigo is in the genus Baptisia, which derives from the Greek word, βάπτω, which means “to dip” or “immerse,” just as our baptism (βαπτίζω) does. North American indigenous peoples and early settlers would extract yellow, brown, and green dyes from the leaves and stems of wild indigo, notably blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) and other species. Indigo dye was extracted from yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), but it proved to be an inferior source compared to the treasured true indigo (Indigofera species).

For years, wild indigo remained an obscure historical relic, its ornamental and ecological contributions undiscovered and under appreciated. Yet, in the springtime, wild indigo produces tall spikes of pea-like flowers that rise above the gray- to blue-green three-lobed leaves to provide nearly a month long display of color. The flowers sustain bumblebees and other winged pollinators, while the leaves feed the larvae of a variety of butterflies that include the wild indigo duskywing, frosted elfin, eastern tailed-blue, silver-spotted skipper, and various sulphurs. If you want to encourage butterflies in your garden, this is a hardy, drought tolerant, and deer resistant plant.

Gail’s Wild Indigo

Gail found the plants with their unique seed heads on a hike last week. This subject matter was received with more joy than my suggestion of apples. Evidently, what was good enough for the great master Cezanne is an acquired taste for my students. I might need to bring apple pie to soften them up. I’m not above bribery for a good cause. Besides, pie would be a great still life. Gail got a very detailed drawing of the leaves, the vase, and the grouping’s placement on the table. She sketched in the counterbalanced stick with its mossy growth. This was the quickest I’ve seen her work, for she’s usually very deliberate in her choices.

Mike’s Vase of Leaves

We had a full house last Friday, so Mike sat at a different table. He had to paint with the added burden of looking over his shoulder periodically to check his work. He began to paint more from emotions than from sight, which isn’t a bad choice. As long as his work carries enough of the vocabulary of the image to speak its message, he’s good with it. It’s the energy, the experience of painting, and using his mind to solve a problem in his own creative way that engages his interest. So if his painting looks “less real” than Gail’s, it doesn’t mean it’s less successful. He began from a different place, so his destination is also different.

Sally’s Vase of Leaves

A new member of our group, Sally is experimenting with techniques and tools, as well as the paint itself. This week she came with heavy body Liquitex paints, the professional quality paint, which has more pigment than binder. She was so used to the thin bodied paints, however, she watered down these excellent colors. When she asked why they weren’t working like she thought, I pointed out, “You’re supposed to use them straight out of the tube, thick.” This is why we have a group session, so we can learn together. Sally also had a new fan brush, which she used to make brown decorative marks all over her canvas. “I just wanted to try it!” Now that she knows, maybe she’ll plan ahead. I really like the swaying energies of her leaves. They’re happy and full of life. If this were in bright colors, Matisse would be proud.

Lauralei’s Vase

Lauralei brought an interesting solution to our subject this past week. The clear vase was a little intimidating, so she, like several others, colored it solid. When we first learn to swim, we want the security of water wings or the proximity of the edge of the pool. We all take small steps before we take bigger steps. She got the stick and fringed moss down and the many leaves of the plant.

Making all these decisions takes a lot of energy. Our brains use about 20% of our calories, so if we’re engaged in a new challenge, our blood sugar can dip if we’re not careful. If we aren’t aware of this, we can run out of energy or make careless choices. As someone who has prediabetes, I get low blood sugar easily. Stress and excitement can cause my blood sugar to dip. I always bring a small snack as well as eat a good breakfast with whole grain complex carbohydrates, like old fashioned oats. That snack is important, since I test my blood sugar before I drive home.

I’ve learned the hard way if my blood glucose reading is under 80, it’s falling and my driving skills will be going south too. I usually know I’m having trouble, for I can’t string two thoughts together and I begin to overwork my painting. I can’t make the good decision to stop while I’m ahead. Not everyone has this problem, but learning to recognize when you’re tired or just painting with no purpose in mind, is also an acquired skill. Taking care of our bodies so we can fully enjoy exploring a new adventure is a gift we can give ourselves. We only have one body in which to live out God’s purpose for our lives.

Dusty’s Icon of Vase and Leaves

Dusty concentrates well and gets a good shape on his canvas before he sets out to paint. I can’t read his mind, but it seems as he draws, the steps he needs to paint his image come into his mind. This is contemplating at a deep level. It’s not surface thinking, but an inner, deep knowledge that percolates up from within. I mention it’s an icon, for the tablecloth is tipped upward as if it were a background, not a flat plane on which the vase sits. This isn’t something he did by choice, since we haven’t done a lesson on perspective together. In the language of icons, the four cornered shape represents the world and its cardinal directions, or all creation. So we have one plant and all creation, as Paul said to the Romans (8:19-21):

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

We’ll take Friday, February 4, off due to the frozen roads. On February 11, we’ll do paper Valentine collages. Y’all stay warm and safe. Eat hearty soups and enjoy the beauty of the snow.

Joy and peace,

Cornelia

Manet: Chrysanthemums and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, 1882, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®: Habit 3 – FranklinCovey
https://www.franklincovey.com/habit-3/

Wild or False Indigo | Home & Garden Information Center
https://hgic.clemson.edu/wild-or-false-indigo/

Still Life with Bottles

adult learning, apples, art, bottles, Creativity, Faith, Ministry, Painting, picasso, renewal, shadows

One of the best genres of painting is still life: it doesn’t move, it never gets tired, and it never fusses about sitting in one place for a longtime. It’s only drawback is it might rot if you take too long to do your art work. Most of us won’t have this problem, since we’ll either take a photo of the piece or go on to paint something else before that happens.

Jan Davidsz de Heem: Still Life in Glass Vase

Still life painting as an independent genre or specialty first flourished in the Netherlands during the early 1600s, even though parts of earlier paintings paid detailed attention to flowers or fruit within the whole. The rise of still life painting in the Northern and Spanish Netherlands, mainly in the large city trade centers, reflected the increasing urbanization of Dutch and Flemish society, which brought with it an emphasis on the home and personal possessions, commerce, trade, learning—all the aspects and diversions of everyday life. These still lifes featured imported flowers and fruits plus expensive objects such as Chinese porcelain, Venetian glassware, and silver-gilt cups and trays, all of which were usually rendered in a glistening light and with a velvety atmosphere.

Cezanne: Bottles and Apples

A noted Flemish master of the 17th century, Jan Davidsz de Heem, enjoyed combining multiple flowers from different seasons along with ears of corn, a spider, a ladybird, ants, and butterflies in a glass vase on a slate ledge with red currents, a violet, a snail, and a caterpillar. Photorealistic paintings like this were in vogue then, but as the years rolled on, modern artists began to explore other directions. Cezanne retains the luxurious drapery of earlier still life paintings, but simplifies the forms of everyday objects. He’s the father of the cubist painters, represented by Picasso’s bottle still life.

Picasso: Cubist Still Life

Another artist shows us how to handle the reflection of the background in a glass vessel. Matisse freely paints the colors and shapes of the plants, the window, and the bright goldfish plus all the highlights from the light sources. He even lets some of the white of the unpainted canvas show throughout his work to add to the feeling of airiness.

Matisse: Goldfish

A current painting from Pinterest is a quieter and more sedate rendering of the goldfish theme. The overall drawing is good, but it lacks energy. There’s no vibrancy in the light coming through the window and the shadows on the goldfish are too dark. Muting the values of the colors toward grey and brown will decrease the “pop” of a painting every time.

Artist Unknown: Goldfish Bowl

We also looked at a painting of a clear bottle with lemons in the background. Objects behind a glass will often be displaced by the surface, just as water also shifts the position of anything underwater. We’ve tried bottles and jars before, but this is the first time we’ve focused on them entirely. As a collector of ancient and odd things, these are old beer and soda bottles I’ve found over the years. They aren’t THAT old, with the oldest being about 1905. They’re all mould blown and have distinctive air bubbles and seam lines.

One is from the bottling company of my hometown, the Star Bottling Company, which first produced the Uncle Joe and Aunt Ida soft drinks, before becoming part of the Coca Cola bottling family in 1904. Before the Coca Cola Company created a line of flavored drinks, most of the bottlers created their own brands, with orange, root beer, strawberry, grape and fruit-flavored drinks. Because they weren’t allowed to put them in bottles with the “Coca-Cola” script, the bottlers developed their own “flavor bottles.”

The writing on many of these bottles indicated they were property of the local Coca Cola bottling company. Collectors can find an enormous variety in flavor bottles, and most are very inexpensive to collect. Mine are of the nondescript, ordinary variety, but I have fond memories of the experience of finding them. Plus the excitement of a field trip to the bottling plant, which both got us out of school for a morning and introduced us to the wonders of industry.

Shreveport bottling plant

The earliest known man made glass date back to around 3500 BCE, with finds in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia. Discovery of glassblowing around 1st century BCE was a major breakthrough in glass making. Archaeological findings in Egypt and Eastern Mesopotamia indicate the first manufactured glass dates back to 3000 BCE. The oldest fragments of glass vases found in Mesopotamia date back to the 16th century BCE and represent evidence of the origins of the hollow glass industry. Beside Mesopotamia, hollow glass production was also evolving in the same time in Egypt, in Mycenae (Greece), China and North Tyrol (now part of Austria). The first glassmaking manual from the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (669-626 BCE) dates back to around 650 BCE.

Because glassmaking was slow and costly, it was luxury item and few people could afford it. Around the end of the 1st century BCE, Syrian craftsmen discovered the new technique of “glass blowing.” This revolutionary event made glass production easier, faster and cheaper, so that glass, for the first time, became available to ordinary citizens. The tools and techniques of glass blowing have changed very little over the centuries.

The Romans traded glass across the vast RomanEmpire and beyond. They were the first to use glass for architectural purposes when clear glass was discovered in Alexandria around 100 CE. Venice was the center of the glassmaking craft.

The art of glass making flourished during the Roman Empire and spread across Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Glass was one of the most important items of trade beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. The Romans were the first ones who began to use glass for architectural purposes, when clear glass was discovered in Alexandria around AD 100.

THREE ROMAN GLASS VESSELS
C. 1ST-4TH CENTURY A.D.


Other examples in the image above of the Roman expertise in glass blowing include a pale green bottle, with the four-sided mould-blown body with rounded shoulder and tapering cylindrical neck, the wide strap handle attached to the shoulder and curved under the lip, 5¾ in. (14.5 cm.) high; a pale green jug, the squat spherical body with diagonal ribs, a pinched handle attached to the flaring neck with trailed ring, 4¾ in. (12 cm.) high; and a pale yellow unguentarium, 4 5/8 in. (11.8 cm.) high. These were from an auction lot at Christie’s.

A flourishing glass industry was developed in Europe at the end of the 13th century when the glass industry was established in Venice by the time of the Crusades (1096-1270 CE). Despite the efforts of the Venetian artisans who dominated the glass industry to keep the technology secret, it soon spread around Europe. Eventually all the great gothic cathedrals of Europe would have stained glass curtains or large windows of colored light illuminating their interiors.

Because stained glass is translucent, we see both the color and the light. When we paint with acrylic colors, the light reflects back from the pigments in the binding medium. In watercolor, the white paper adds brightness since the colors are transparent. This means we have to “fool the eye” and use highlights plus color values near to the background colors to give the illusion of clarity.

Artist Unknown: Blue Bottle

Gail is getting good at analyzing the shapes and setting them down on a small canvas during our short class period. This still life had both the extra solid apple and the very clear bottles in contrast. It was more challenging than it sounds. How do you balance the heavy with the light, the solid with the transparent, and the cool blues with the warm reds? Adding a strong background color helps tie the two together.

Gail’s Apple and Bottles

Another way to bring everything together is to ignore the apple all together, as Mike did. This is called artistic license. He included the red in a cloth crossed by another golden fabric. He uses multiple viewpoints, for the base of the bottles are on one plane and the tops are flipped forward. I don’t know if he changed position or just sat up straighter when doing the bases. I also gave him one of my brushes to use in class, since he’s been using the same one forever. He wants to paint a straight line, but is using a round brush. He needs to take a lesson from Tim, the Tool man Taylor, and “use the right tool for the right job.” Of course we all know that means the one with “more power!”

Mike’s Bottles

“Here, use this flat edge artist’s brush. I think you’ll like it.”
“Wow, it really paints a smooth edge.”

“Yep, I been suggesting you get a better brush, but you keep using the old one. I finally decided you needed to experience what a real brush feels like in your hand.”

“If I go in the store, do I need a special license to buy a real artist’s brush?”

“They’ll take your money. That’s the only license you need.”

He laughed. I’m glad he has a sense of humor. We’ve been doing this class for about two years now. It takes us a while to learn from each other. We have to learn how to be transparent and open to one another, much as a clear glass bottle is open to light shining through it. The greatest challenge for any of us as adults is accepting any instruction or critique at all. In seminary, I always opened my tests and papers after I repeated my mantra, “I am not my grade.” If I got a good score, I didn’t let it go to my head, but worked even harder on the next effort. If I didn’t score well, I took that grade as an opportunity to define my arenas of insufficient knowledge. I could work on that for the next time.

Cornelia’s Bottles and Apples

As we read in the scriptures, the apostle Paul writes:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient,
equipped for every good work.

~~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

If we weren’t willing to be transformed, why would we read our Bibles or attend to the teachings of God’s holy word? If we let the good word go in one ear and out the other, and it never makes an impact on our hearts, minds, or lives, we’re dead in our faith. We’re called to have a living faith, one full of hope, and actively bring that same hope to our hurting world.

Johnny Nash, who recently passed away, had the number one song on Billboard’s Hot 100 song list in 1972, called “I can see clearly now.”

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

I think I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

Look all around, there’s nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead, there’s nothing but blue skies
I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

Oh what a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

I hope you have a bright, bright, sunshiny day,
Cornelia

Johnny Nash
https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/33799733/Johnny+Nash/I+Can+See+Clearly+Now

History of Glass
http://www.nissinkglass.co.uk/info/history-of-glass

Historic Bottle Website
https://sha.org/bottle/

Manufacturer’s Marks and Other Logos on Glass Containers
https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/ALogoTable.pdf

Star Bottling Company
https://www.fohbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/UncleJoBottling.pdf

Body and Mold Seams
https://sha.org/bottle/body.htm

Read about an early bottle filling machine here
https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Brewers_Journal_and_Barley_Malt_and.html?id=9hwxAQAAMAAJ

Homage to Morandi

adult learning, art, Children, Creativity, Faith, Love, Ministry, nature, Painting, shadows, Spirituality, trees, United Methodist Church, vision

Morandi: Still Life

My students in the art class at the church have shown much progress since we began last year. I’m proud of them for sticking in there and taking this journey down a path less traveled by others. Most art education classes begin with the idea of a model and the students should all try to match it. This is typical of “right answers” in most schoolwork, such as math. Indeed, 2 plus 2 should equal 4, and not 3 or 5. We can’t get creative in our answers in math class, but we can have room for creativity in art class. If we have a still life to render on a page, we should have something that’s recognizable as the objects, but Cubism has taught us the objects don’t have to be painted as Realism. We can paint them different, emotional colors, as in Fauvism, or in a monochromatic scheme, like Georgio Morandi.

Mike’s Most Recent Work

Another growth area we have is continuing to observe the subject while we draw and paint. Children draw the idea or symbol of the thing they’re representing. If we’re attempting to render a realistic subject, we need to constantly check back to the objects to notice the negative spaces and the shadows, as well as the forms themselves. This is a matter of discipline, which all artists have to undergo. I spent many an hour in art school drawing models without ever being able to look at my work—this is how you train your brain to connect to your hand. The first efforts are pretty goofy looking, for sure. You have to leave your ego at the door if you want to become an artist.

All beginning artists try to make a shape perfect first and then color it in, much like filling in the black lines of a coloring book. This year we’re working on losing our need to be perfect from the start, and begin to paint from the first. This lets us have more emotion and feeling in our work. We do this by drawing with a brush and a light, yellow wash on the canvas. We can easily paint over it with our thicker paints. If we don’t get it right, we can scribble over it, or use a pale pink wash to make a different line. 

Gail’s Most Recent Work

About the age of nine, children begin to draw what they see, but still have no real sense of perspective or scale. The most important object is the largest. About the time they become teenagers, they show an interest in realism and the artistic skills needed to produce these tricks of the eye. More precocious children will begin earlier, and others may never show an interest at all. Some naive painters will retain childish forms, but have strong pattern and design elements, such as Grandma Moses, who painted the memories of her childhood. 

Last year I started the class on basic perspective. It might have been too difficult for some, or too uninteresting for others. Yet basic perspective is a building block lesson for any art lesson that is more than decorating a flat surface with pretty colors. Likewise, making a shadow study of basic geometric forms is important because all objects in nature can be reduced to a geometric form: tree trunks are cylinders, fir trees are cones, oak trees are spheres, houses and churches are rectangular solids and pyramids, and bridges are rectangular solids supported by piers, which are more of the same. A complex landscape becomes easier to sketch out in block shapes if the artist can identify the basic components of what he or she sees.

Last Year: Boxes on Top of Boxes

People think art is “Just something I can do when I feel like I’ve got nothing else to do.” This is the description for finger painting for kindergarteners, if you think about it. Art is for both thinking and feeling, since both the brain and the heart need to be active at the same time. Some say only the heart needs to be active, but the head is exercising choices and making decisions to limit the red or to add more yellow or to rip a huge black down the side of the canvas. Only the artists who are unintegrated will contend they work only from the mind or from the heart. We actually work with both, even if one is diminished in nature.

Cornelia’s Homage to Morandi

If the great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” means anything in the art life, it’s we aren’t meant to separate any one part of our experience from any other part. In our art expressions, as in our faith expressions, our heart, soul, and mind needs to be fixed on love of God, as well as love of neighbor, for loving our neighbor, in whatever form, fashion, or fix our neighbors find themselves in, is the same as loving the image of God in which they were also made. By loving our neighbors, we love ourselves also. If we hate our neighbors, we hate ourselves. God didn’t mean for us to hate God’s image.

These are the wonderful spiritual truths we learn in art class. It’s more than learning how to mix colors or draw a box in perspective. These are art skills. Life skills are way more important. Take a look at the work from last year and this year. You can still join this class. You aren’t competing with anyone, but you will be working to improve over time. Going onto perfection takes time. Now is a good time to begin!