What a Difference a Museum Makes

Over the weekend my husband John and I, had the opportunity to visit the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena California

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Women Ironing, 1884, Edgar Degas

What struck me was the large collection of Edgar Dégas oil and pastel paintings there.

 It was interesting to get up close and personal with those paintings, really look into all the wonderful layering of color on color on color, the end result being indescribably beautiful.
When I got home, the goal on my next painting was to layer some intense, unexpected colors together and just see what would happen.
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 I started with some simple color studies just to get a feeling of what direction I wanted to take, then I did my “predictable beginning” , just starting with any color to block the masses in and get something started.
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Then I had some fun, seeing what paint would do. I was tempted to use burnt umber and sienna for the warm brown background but I reminded myself the point was to use bright color to achieve muted tones and shades, so I chose Cadmium Red light, Cadmium Orange and Viridian. I used the same mixture for the hair, plus white for the skin tones. I did sneak in Naples Yellow and Ivory Black in smaller amounts.
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I’ve painted this model before and I’ve always been bored with the outcome. But this time, not being concerned with the things, i.e. a dress, a chair a fold in the backdrop, but how “the things” existed as shapes in space, how one shape reacted to the shape next to it. I was much happier with the results .
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Paintings That Inspire Us

I saw this painting the other day by artist Mark Tennant, this visual image really excites me and makes me want to paint –

Mark Tennant painting

When I see something like this, I want to take a little bit of the magic and infuse it into my own painting, not copying, just harnessing some of the excitement for myself.

First I need to figure out what it is about this painting, out of all the thousands of paintings out there that grabbed me, really pulled me in. I could use words like beautiful, haunting, moody…which are all true, but don’t help me with my painting. If I instead think more along the lines of what he did with paint and design, I’ve got a tangible aspect to my inspiration.
  • The color it’s held to a bare minimum which makes all the wonderful texture really sing.
  • The Texture it’s not the kind of texture you’d expect to see, like the shine of glass or the reflection of a metal object, but broken paint areas within the skin tones and dress.
  •  Interpretation I try to imagine what the original subject looked like, and observe how Mark took it into his own fabulous world.
  • The Shapes, the large  textural shapes of the background are infused with the same muted tones as the girl, making everything come together in a wonderfully cohesive vision. Mark is given us so much entertainment in his varied shapes and staccato textures that you don’t miss not knowing what the objects are. Only a piece of white cloth in the upper left-hand corner is recognizable, but even that is used as a design element, pointing downwards towards the girls face.
  • Subject The super relaxed pose of the girl with her hair trailing downward echoes the loose paint handling which creates a wonderful unity of the pieces to the whole.

My challenge to you today… find an artist’s painting that inspires you to paint, how did that artist handle paint and use design to excite you, and take away a little of the magic for yourself.

Visit Mark Tennant’s website to view more of his fabulous work.