Sunday, April 30, 2017


It is funny how one thought leads to another.  This is probably my job rubbing off on me, but I have to know how to access the MSDS for the cleaning chemicals we use.  MSDS stands for material safety data sheet.  They tell you possible health concerns about the chemical, and what protective precautions should be taken.

Well I was thinking about how I have never come across MSDS for artist supplies.  I guess in my mind suppliers should have them listed and available for print out on their web sites.  I was looking around in Health Hazards for Artists and it said while manufacturers are required to have a MSDS they are not required to give them to people buying their products.  I am hoping this has changed; my edition of Health Hazards is from 1985.  Perusing Dick Blick's catalog I did see an attempt at a warning system.  I guess I am confused though as to how flake white in one brand of paint has a warning mark, but not in a different brand.  I guess my primary concern is for the person looking to pick up a hobby and assumes it is safe to use without any safety precautions.  I have also heard of art majors eating art supplies before.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Better Science Education for Artists

I will be the first to admit that I did poorly at high school chemistry.  These days though when I think back on my college art classes I find myself wishing that there had been a chemistry class geared towards artists.

After all we handle chemicals as artists.  As a printmaker I have worked with ferric chloride, nitric acid, and dutch mordant (seven parts water to one part hydrochloric acid with a little potassium chlorate)  We were taught some basic saftey stuff, but a little deeper understanding I think would be a good thing.  That being said I think I got more information than what the painters did.  In the one painting class I did take there was no mention of saftey issues with the oil paints we were using.  Even though the cadmium colors are listed as hazardous inorganic pigments.  In fact the painters where I went to graduate school were being pushed to use flake white (i.e. lead white).  They were easily able to bypass this by just having a tube of flake white sitting out.  The professor could not tell that they were actually using the much safer titanium white.  That professor could stand to read A History of Color.  Then maybe she would know that lead white is not only unsafe it is also unstable as a color.  Over time lead white can turn to black, so personally I don't see the point of using it at all.  Unfortunately I have heard of oil painters who have to switch to acrylic because their frequent use of oil paint leads to toxic build up and overload in their system.  Maybe if people had a better understanding of what they are working with and proper saftey precautions this would not be happening.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Edmonia Lewis

In honor of April being women's history month I would like to introduce you all to Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907).  She was part African American and part Native American, but more importantly she was a sculptress.  She lost her parents at an early age, and was brought up by her Native American aunts.  She was allowed to run wild, and when she was eventually sent to a girls' school she was deemed to be to wild for them to handle.

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She then went on to Oberlin College.  At any rate she studied art while there, but she did not have an easy go of it.  The college had accepted her, but the community at large had not.  From there she went to Boston to pursue further education in sculpting.  While in Boston she sculpted a bust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.  It was the success of this piece that allowed her to move to Rome to continue studies. 
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While in Rome Hiram Powers allowed her to work in his studio space.  She focused primarily on African American and Native American subject matter at this point in her life; representing them in neoclassical style.  She was very successful in Rome, and her work fetched high prices.
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Perhaps her most famous work was the Death of Cleopatra.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Not Too Late for Black History Month

Because there is a popular misconception that 19th century art was the domain of dead white men.  I would like to introduce you to Robert Duncanson (1821-1872) of the Hudson River School.  Born in Seneca County, New York it was not until 1841 that he decided to be an artist.  Contrary to Constable's admonishment that "An artist who is self-taught is taught by a very ignorant person indeed." Duncanson taught himself how to paint by studying prints, and I think did better than Constable.  He went on to travel throughout Canada and Europe.  Years ago when I was in school, and this will date me, I worked in the art department sorting slides.  What tended to happen with this sort of job is that faculty would retire and would give their unlabeled slides to the university.  The art historian wouldn't feel like sorting through them, and push them off on to me.  This guy had me stumped.  At the time I thought they were by Thomas Cole; in my defense none of the art history books I had access to through the library mentioned Robert Duncanson.  Years latter when I was out of school I read an article in art journal at the public library that was about Duncanson, and there was the image that had stumped me.  
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Monday, February 20, 2017

Picturesque vs. Sublime

Drawing with auditory hallucinations can be an interesting experience.  The drawing Queen Elizabeth I Pushing Fish  on the Naked Beast is a direct result of talking with them while drawing.  Following figure drawing they were questioning me about beauty, and they seem to be hung up on art should be beautiful.  So that resulted in a conversation about the 19th century ideas of picturesque and sublime.  They thought it was wishy washy BS that was out of date.

Picturesque originally started as a travelogue sort of thing in England.  Gilpin was the first in this crowd.  The idea being to paint these landscapes as places a person wants to be.  Other words that come to my mind when I think of picturesque are quaint and pretty.  Cottages make frequent appearances.  These images push back against the industrialization and burgeoning science that was taking hold in England at that time. 

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William Gilpin


The following was a before and after by the gardener Reypton.  Reypton was critical of the picturesque as a passing phase, but he still employed it in his design work.  This is a before and after of his own backyard.  Notice he got rid of the homeless one-legged war veteran.

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 It is also an idealized classist view, farm life was difficult in the 19th century.  Farm animals were often underfed, but these paintings typically do not show that.  Constable comes to my mind for picturesque.  Most of his career was spent painting his family lands in the Stour Valley, although he was not well liked by the London Academy.  He was criticized for his humble subject matter, and one critic described one of his paintings as "a nasty green thing."  Constable did appear to have sympathy for the poor as seen in his painting Dedham Vale, but latter in life he would say the Reform Act of 1832 was giving the reigns of government over to "the rabble and dregs of the people, and the devil's agents on earth."  The Reform Act of 1832 was a bill that expanded voting rights.  There was some variability within Britain.  In some parts all men could vote, but in others only land owners.  Often landowners (which Constable was) were basically just picking the MP for their borough for Parliament, and people working their lands had no say whatsoever. 

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The Haywain

Sublime paintings on the other hand are about awe; they are about pointing out how small we humans are compared to nature.  Pretty is not a word I would use to describe them.  Sublime has it's origins as philosophical idea by Edmund Burke.  He thought pleasure would be gained from viewing terrifying situations.  In my mind the painter who best exemplified this is the German painter Friedrich.  Below are some of his pieces.  Friedrich's thoughts on art were "Art stands as the mediator between nature and humanity.  The original is too great and too sublime for the multitude to grasp."
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Monk by the Sea

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Abbey in the Oak Forest

Turner as well I believe is counted as a sublime artist; he is also one of my favorites.  He was often offensive to people with his brash cockney manners; he also had interests in science ranging from optics to geology.  He was also quite crazy.  One story I heard about him in grad school was that he had himself tied to the mast of a ship during a very bad storm at sea, so he could see what it was like.  Another point of consideration with Turner's work is that he wasn't always good at selecting color fast paints, so consequently his paintings would often change after only a month.  So what we see is not what he painted.

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Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

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Rain, Steam, and Speed

Now does this have bearing on modern times?  I think the popularity of Thomas Kinkade (in particularly in doctors' offices of the 90's-2000's), whom I would describe as bad picturesque, would indicate that the picturesque is still present.  Note the cottage.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

River City Image Works

I got to go to figure drawing last night for the first time in quite awhile.  I am putting this here instead of the Naked Beast because I don't like cluttering that one up with words.  I practiced my silverpoint.  The little first two drawing were just three minutes, but I liked the first one.  The larger blue grey one unfortunately did not photograph well.  I have read online that silverpoints tend to be hard to photograph/scan because photographing them won't pick up the detail, and scanning tends to lose the metallic quality.  Fortunately though I have an ace up my sleeve that every artist should have.  A person who specializes in photographing/scanning artwork.  This would be a plug for Ken Bernstein of River City Image Works.  The last time I had him do work for me he was charging $20 an hour, but he is well worth it.  He is a genius.  He is the one who came up with the digital images for me of the Genesis prints.  Aside from the issue of the size of the prints he told me they were difficult for him because the embossment only shows well when photographed, and the tiny detail of the inked areas only worked well when scanned, so he ended up combining the two and piecing them together.  I don't think the silverpoint will be quite so difficult, but I do think he's the guy for the job. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Condition of the Times

Well my not so super secret identity is hospital/clinic cleaning lady.  It always amazes me and ticks me off when people leave material behind.  For example a few years ago there was a lawyer, who kept leaving advertising material in the bathrooms of the main lobby.  I've also come across detox crap, but by far the most are little religious booklets.  I came across one last week that I think was  frightening sign of the times.  It was another religious one, but it was also extremely Islamaphobic.  It was not just targeting ISIS it was going after all of Islam.  In particular it was going after immigrants and refugees.  I really do not understand how a hospital is the proper place to be leaving hate propaganda.  I do not think that the person who left that understands that some of the people working here are Muslim.  In particular there is a neurosurgeon here who is Muslim, he is the reason we are stroke certified.  I do not understand how they can view him as a threat.  I have even been in his office to clean it before.  There were no weapons of mass destruction; the dude likes growing peppers in his office. 

I was intending to scan and put these pictures on before, but I am quite lazy and easily distracted these days.  There was more to the little pamphlet, but I am not crazy about paying this too much lip service.  Of course it did not bother to go into how Mohammed eliminated female infanticide in the Middle East.  In Pre Islamic society it was also possible for women to have more than one husband, but they were not allowed to own property.  Due to the more than one husband thing cost of upbringing and education of children fell to the woman's family.  Consequently female babies were often killed.  Mohammed shifted the culture though to where women could own property, and due to not having more than one husband cost of the children shifted to the male.  I got that info from an audiobook from the library, The History of Islam or some such thing.  Unfortunately I do not remember the title from eight years ago, and nothing looked familiar on the library catalog.