Archive for the ‘art reproductions’ Category

Drawing with Robert Landry

November 24, 2008


Had I left five minutes earlier, I would not have been caught in the hail storm that tumbled out of a rapidly darkening sky.  The hail was followed by a gust of driving rain, pelting, melting the ice crystals on the tarmac. It pounded unmercifully as I packed the car with folding easel, drawing board, a few drawing supplies and my evening garb for the musical concert which came after the drawing workshop. I slammed down the trunk lid, lifted my coat jacket over my head and dashed for the drivers’ seat, then sat and waited until the squall had lost its fury.

It only took ten minutes, but when you don’t know that the force of nature is just teasing, it seems like it will go on forever.  “Ha, ha! Could’ve drowned you with all this if I wanted!” Mother nature seems to say, a little maliciously. But I’m just reminding you. You’d better be good. Remember Noah?”

So I turned on the wipers and drove down a perfectly slick, black road – black like dark evening – but it was early afternoon. The wipers flapping furiously at full speed just managed to provide a driving visibility. The traffic lights ahead shone in the pavement in long streaks of colour, red or green accordingly, but peppered, textured with lighter rain sparkles shooting back up from the road.

When I arrived at destination in the underground parking of the community centre, the rain suddenly stopped – I was inside, after all – and the wipers flapped frenetically with nothing to do until they grimaced with the wiper-on-dry-glass, nail-on-black-board grinding sound and I hastened to shut them off.

My destination was the 2-D studio on the third floor where Robert Landry, a sculptor from Detroit, Michigan was about to deliver a six hour drawing workshop. Kathleen Tonnesen, an artist and actress who lives in our community, organizes art events from time to time to bring established artists to our small community. She has high praises for Landry, so it became our privilege to meet him, discover his work and spend an afternoon being inspired by his drawing and teaching skills.


The participant group was a diverse one – several in the late teen, early twenties age group, a few in their mid adult years and four of us old geezers – active retirees ready to draw. Myself having previously taught, I was curious to see how he would bridge the years of experience sitting expectantly before him; and he did this effortlessly. Art is, after all, eternal, and the infectious quality of it knows no boundaries of age, race or gender. Those who get it are held by it for life.

Landry was a young student on an athletic scholarship when he discovered his affinity for art and sculpture. He studied under a classic Italian master, was mentored by him over a number of years as Landry worked for him and now he is a Master sculptor in his own right. In his home page message, he offers his guiding philosophy this way: ” Ultimately I strive for the point where the physical, the mental, and the emotional converge to project the life of the spirit through the beauty of human anatomy.”

His work is grounded in the Classic discipline of anatomy. He uses his highly developed technical skills, whether in drawing, painting or sculpture, to elicit images of life and beauty. In counter-reaction to the commercially advertised ideal, he seeks beauty in aging and emotive faces, in figures living real-life dramas and in events that challenge the human spirit.
One body of the sculptural work has roots in the manner of Rodin. The portraits and figures in this genre carry the imprint of his hands modelling clay, roughly, directly, energetically into anatomically readable forms. It’s realism with a deep dose of spirit. In a more recent mode, he has turned to semi abstraction. If you take the time to look, you will see that his underpinnings of classical anatomy are still there, but the forms are elongated, polished, shiny. The thumbprint may be gone in these, but the spirit has taken solid form, as if the body is less important now than pure spirit made visible.

robert-l-landry-addressing-the-public-bronze robert-l-landry-strength-of-perserverance-bronze

Addressing the Public; and Strength of Perserverance – two classic bronzes by Robert L. Landry

Immediately below, : The Joy of Selflessness by Robert L. Landry – polished bronze


In this workshop, he demonstrated how he takes a waxen clay mix carved into his desired figure, molds it in a plaster cast and prepares it for the lost wax process of casting in bronze. Then it was our turn to draw. We explored the anatomy of human face, following along in vine charcoal with his method to explain classical proportions. This was not new to me, so I did one to follow on and enjoy the process and then did a second on one fine paper that looked more like some of the psychological characters that I’ve been working on lately.

These drawings are ones I did in the workshop:

276-small1 275-small

Later on in the session, a live model posed and we had several stances to work on. I’ve not been figure drawing now for over seven years. I must say I was thoroughly rusty, but on the third try,  I got something quite reasonable, but it’s out of proportion and the legs – well, I don’t think anyone could walk on them.  It is good encouragement for me to get back at it. Life drawing is really the “scales”, the technical work-out for artists. I’d just rather not publish the result!

It was a long afternoon for me. I haven’t stood so long for such a long time that I packed up a little early and headed home. The storm had passed. The sky was opening wide and the last light of day was colouring the clouds with a faint warm grey that contrasted with the deep, deep blue of coming night. The streets were still slick with rain, but the sky was promising better weather for tomorrow; which is now today.

It’s brilliant outside my window. Carpe diem. I must go and seize the day –

I encourage you to take a look at Robert L. Landry’s his sculpture on his web-site at

And many thanks to Robert Landry for his willingness to share his vision, to teach and to spread the beauty of art.


Mentors – Les Weisbrich – a lesson in perspective

July 13, 2007

I had a number of mentors during my young art days who pushed me to attain more refinement in my work than I had before.One was Les Weisbrich, a wonderful illustrator and watercolorist of the realism school. He taught me some things that still awe me and they are so simple. When he said them, I wondered why I had missed observing them on my own. For example, when things are nearer to you, they are more detailed, the colours more discernible in their nuances; when they are further away, the details blur, the colours diminish in intensity.

One example he cited was the clear blue sky. At the horizon, it was pale and hazy; looking up above, it was darker in tone, more saturated in blue. The corollary was that the top of the picture plane would be darker and fade evenly towards the horizon to provide an illusion of depth.

Les Weisbrich did paintings of stands of birch with every detail of the branches,and leaves and bark rendered with a delicacy of colour and a fidelity of form. He illustrated his observation of how distance works in an incredibly detailed painting of a bird’s nest. If you hadn’t seen him paint it, you might think that it was photographed.

He achieved the feeling of space by just this same observation, that the colour in things close to oneself is more saturated and stronger in hue; and those that are farther away are lighter, less saturated in colour. In this instance, since the subject was all so close, in the painting as it would be in real life (from one side of a bird’s nest to the other) the far side of the nest was still very detailed. There was no blurring or softening of the forms. The entire illusion of distance was established by the gentle graduation of the saturation of colour.

Les Weisbrich passed away last year. He was a dear friend and mentor, and his spirit carries on through those so fortunate to have had the gift of his time and knowledge.

At the dentist

July 6, 2007


I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair today, one for cleaning by the lovely Asmeet, a young Sikh woman who is about to be married just next week. “A big traditional Sikh wedding,” she beamed, and she blathered on about it and her fiancée and her honeymoon while she dug her sharp cleaning tool into my gums.

“Oh, does that hurt? she says, a bit concerned.

“It would hurt you too,” I replied, “if someone was poking a sharp instrument into your gums who hadn’t been poked at so vigourously for a year.” I said it kindly but I really wished she would pay just a bit more attention and not poke into the soft tissue so pointedly.

I don’t like going to the dentist much. It usually involves pain. So I set my mind to looking actively at my environment. Since my visual memory isn’t very good at all, I think about how I could get a picture of the dental hygienist from that angle that the patient sees her. I try to think how I might crop the image so that I had a good painting. It would have to be a realistic painting or nobody would understand what they were looking at.

The dentist offers an even more space age image with his magnifying glasses perched above his regular glasses, his mask covering his face. His mask was baby blue coloured; his assistant was sporting a baby pink one. I can remember these details, including the very interesting hand positions the dentist makes to proceed through the various stages of his work. I remember them in words, but if I wanted to paint them I’d be missing all the details that make it “readable” – the texture of the mask, the angle of the goggle like shapes viewed from head on.

When the going got rough, I closed my eyes and started looking at the colours that are behind my eyelids. It’s mostly red generously speckled with greens and magenta, but there are floaters in a stong purple ground that swirl around like lava lights. Just close your eyes and look at your colours behind the eyelids and you will see! When one does this over a two hour dental appointment, the time goes faster, one can ignore the more constant pain that the dentist knows how to maintain.

So here’s a question. If I could get the perfect photo of the dentist peering over his patient, and then I use this photo as reference material for a painting, then is this considered “cheating”? I think using photos, as long as it’s not slavishly copying the image exactly, is simply a good tool as an aide memoire. I would expect to work along with the image, altering the composition to draw in the viewer, finding textures, rhythms and forms to enhance to make the picture.

Contrast this with the artist who takes the pictures from National Geographic (NG) and tries to reproduce it. What I find wrong with this approach for a serious visual artist, is that the painter has no experience whatsoever with the NG reproduction. He has no feel for the landscape, situation or the people involved, and is not bringing a personal perspective to the artwork.

So the question is, what is your opinion on the use of photographs upon which an art image is being created? What do you consider is a valid use of photographs in art, if any?

‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’

July 3, 2007

I sometimes think it would be lovely if the idea one has for a piece of art simply made it self, manifested in solid form,  once one thought of it. I get what I think are brilliant ideas, get out my paints or drawing materials and then about ten minutes into the execution of said idea am grumbling to myself, “what on earth did I start this for”.

I find myself labouring over some pointless or pointillist detail that is going to take hours to do and there I am making dots. Or texturing a large space on a painting that has gone wrong and “needs something”. I decide on a way to cover over or integrate an unsightly blurp in the paint surface, to merge it with the rest – really it’s a technical challenge, often work intensive – to save the painting.

In the end, it’s the process that has made the painting as well as my idea and the limitations of my abilities.

Sometimes there are happy accidents that occur, you leave them and the resulting work is brilliant. Everyone loves it. But can you do it again? Or is it a one-off? Is it valid for your work? And if so, can you reproduce it, play with it, learn from it, take off in a new direction? Add it to your repertoire?

Sometimes the idea just paints itself, in a sense. It goes well. It looks great and I’ve only spent an hour on it. I don’t have to go back into it except to give it a good coat of picture varnish once it’s thoroughly dry. There’s no struggle to it.

I remember doing a wonderful portrait of a little girl from memory, after the style of Eugene Carriere while studying in France. It was sweet but not saccharine. It felt as if the painting had been given to me and executed through me by an external power. I was awed at myself. I was only a student and my skills were not so great or sure then and to have succeeded so easily, so well, was a surprise, a delight and a breakthrough for me.

But I got to thinking that the painting didn’t represent my work, was outside of the theme I was currently working on and it would be false to present it the world as if it were mine. I stewed over the ethics of presenting it as part of my work. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the style. Maybe it was, after all, a bit too sweet. Certainly it was sellable, but was that the point in doing art? Or was the meaning for me, conveying a message about something more profound than making portraits of people that were somehow like rubber stamps.

For example, I could do a “template” face over and over again. It was easy. Put a coloured  ground on a canvas, paint in a beginning sketch of where the eyes, nose and mouth should be, sketch out the volume of the hair or hat or whatever went on top, then come back in with sufficient tone to firm up the semblance of a face, any face, that would pleasingly occupy the middle of the picture plane. But how vapid that was! There was no substance. The interesting thing about portraits and figure drawings was the particularity of a certain person, the lift of their eyebrow when they were animated, the curl of their mouth that differed on one side from the other side, the way the person held their head, or the way the shadow fell across their brow, like when a straw hat leaves little points of light where the sun gets through. If only I could maintain that particularity and maintain the effortlessness of that oil paint sketch that  somehow, gratuitously, was painted through my hand.

I decided that substance was important to me in paintings. There has to be something deeper, more meaningful for me.

So in a pique of moral indignation at this lovely painting that had come to me gratuitously, and in a pique of poverty, where I didn’t have enough money to go out to buy supplies, I covered over this little ochre face of a dreamy girl that was more handed to me as a gift than done by my own volition. It’s somewhere under another “masterpiece” of student art.

Wait till the conservationists one hundred years from now get hold of my work and scan it, finding this lovely little head of a girl. That’s the only way anyone is going to see it now or hereafter. I can’t even tell you which of my subsequent oils it’s under!  “Dream on, my lovely painteress,” I say to myself.  The subsequent work wasn’t worth keeping, much, though I have a hard time throwing things out.  And from time to time I remember that lovely little oil paint drawing that succeeded.

I’m hoping with this new blog of mine, to share my experience in painting and to generate discussion, so if you wish to comment, I’m hoping for something a little more substantial than “good post” or “nice”. Please share your stories with me. Give me your opinions. Add substance to the discussion.  And I promise to provoke, question and share my  ideas

That’s all for today folks.