Art Studios

I thought I’d share with you the art studios here at the Cornelis estate – I always like seeing other artist’s studios so thought I’d share our with you.

This is my “new” painting studio – a TV room converted to a higher calling (many thanks to my wife for suggesting it!). I had not had a place for painting for a number of years so this comes as a welcome return to being able to make a mess and leave it there! You can see my table of monoprints in progress – the trick with these is to start a bunch at once and then refine them incrementally, so there is usually quite an array of them lying about. I’m still getting settled in, so it will undoubtedly get messier over time.

Below is my digital printing studio (aka Color Folio). This is where my day job happens – making large format fine art prints for artists all over the country. I’ve been doing this full time for the past 10 years. As you can imagine, I get to see all sorts of artwork during my day, both photography and paintings!

You can see my drum scanner (the monolithic tower in the middle), 60″ Epson printer and a bunch of computers. This is also where (in my spare time) I do my own photographic work, some of which you see on the walls. Lately, as you know, I’ve been taking paintings I’ve made and combining them on the computer with photographic work, mostly figurative.

Later this year my wife and I will be participating in our local open studios art tour in Sonoma County. I will be opening Color Folio (which doubles as a gallery) and my wife will also be showing her work. Here she is standing in front of her art studio:

As you can see, we’ve dedicated a lot of space to producing art!

When to Stop

“A work of art … is never really finished; it is abandoned.”

Brooke McEldowney

I love this quote – it’s so true. The hardest part of making art is knowing when and how to stop. Especially when you reach a point in a piece where you really like it but feel something else needs to be done. How often do these next steps spell then end of that piece? Eventually one gets timid and the pile of almost-finished pieces grows.

You may have heard the advice that when a piece is 75% complete, it’s done. Of course, the challenge is that it’s impossible to tell when that point arrives because it implies you know how much further you could go. The optimist in us believes that a few more little changes will make all the difference, while the pragmatic side of us wonders if we should just leave well enough alone.

In many ways I think it has become harder to know when to stop. Less representational work doesn’t give us much help in knowing when we’ve achieved a sufficient likeness. If your work involves digital tools, there are so many and so many capabilities, that the possibilities become endless. For photographers, in the old darkroom, there was only so much you could do with the limited tools you had. Now, one can go on and on, endlessly tuning, tweaking, testing, twisting… It takes a lot of discipline and good judgement these days to know when it’s done.

Like much of modern life, we have more possibility, more capability and more complexity in the art world these days. Not sure that’s better, it’s just the way it is…

Mindless Art

“Art has never been made while thinking of art.”

– Niko Stumpo

I’ve been thinking and writing lately about what you might call the artist’s intention in making art. What factors influence them, consciously and unconsciously, during their creativity. When you read about art history, it all sounds so organized and causally clear. This was happening in the world or in one’s life, so that made them think this or believe that, and that lead to them making this kind of art. Sounds logical. You can even read the artist’s words directly sometimes and it can sound as if they had a clear intention or thought when making their art. For some reason, this all fascinates me.

Perhaps because my own experience of making art feels different to me. As the above quote says, when I am actually making art, I’m not thinking about it. In fact my favorite work occurs when I get into that state where the mind actually ceases it’s chatter and you enter the “zone”. You can awaken from this hours later and realize you can’t remember a single thought – time has been suspended. It’s as close an experience as I know to deep meditation, where the same thing can occur. When reading the art history books we may get the impression that Picasso was actively engaged in mentally deconstructing reality and reformulating it while he was painting. Probably more likely he was in this suspended mental state while actually painting, like the rest of us.

Maybe all the thinking about art has to occur at other times, rather than while actually doing it. I’m sure some of that mental activity affects our art. at least unconsciously. It’s like an athlete doing drills, or a pianist doing scales – it’s useful to spend time doing these things, but once you’re actually performing the mind has to step aside. Or at least the logical, left brain mind needs to get out of the way. Many of the times I struggle in my work is when that side of the mind is still engaged.

The Dancer or the Dance?

“People call me the painter of dancers, but I really wish to capture movement itself.”

– Edgar Degas

I don’t have a name for this new series of images yet, nor do I really have a name for the type of artwork it is (as Miki has pointed out in previous posts it is hard to find the right name). The combination of photography and painting in this manner is a little unusual – it’s certainly neither of the two but what to call the combination? Mixed media is so overused as to be almost meaningless. While the computer plays a crucial role in putting the two together, most of my time is spent on creating the original paintings that are used as well as the photographic image. The part on the computer usually constitutes less than 5% of the total time. Any suggestions?

I seem to always be drawn to making artwork that is a little difficult to explain to people. I guess this has it’s advantages and disadvantages – maybe the uniqueness increases interest, but sometimes it just confuses people. I am often present when my work is shown and always struggle to find the right amount to say about how something is made.

I will be showing this work (as well as some monoprints) at the upcoming juried ARTrails Open Studios event in October. If you are in the area, stop by!

Making Sense…

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

– Pablo Picasso

The rate of change in modern life, starting with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, has continued to increase. The world began to be filled with more things, coming at a faster and faster rate, and the things themselves became faster and faster (cars, planes, trains…). A simple experience that we now take for granted, looking out the window of a car moving at 60 mph, must have been a revelation when people first started being able to do that. It is a unique way of seeing our reality, unlike any they could have imagined. Another everyday experience is seeing the world from a high place, the top of a skyscraper, from an airplane, etc. People not too long ago had never seen the world through these eyes, in these ways. A lot of the disruption that occurred in the art world around this time was strongly influenced by the realization that how we had been seeing the world for eons was limited and how we had depicted the world in our art was insufficient to depict the new reality.

Our world today is much more complex than 100 years ago, but I wonder whether we have undergone so radical a transformation in how we see things as occurred then? With the power of images and film and special effects, we are overwhelmed with every conceivable way of looking at our reality as well as other realities. It’s hard to imagine having an experience today that would fundamentally change how we think of reality, except perhaps in the inner spiritual world. We’ve exhausted the external world’s ability to amaze us. Maybe this is why more and more people in the world are pursuing a spiritual path.

I’m not sure how, or if, this will affect trends in the art world. There is a long history of combining religious subject matter and art and I’ve seen a lot of contemporary art that has some spiritual content. All of it seems to be a way to represent religious symbols – none of it that I’ve seen represents a different way of perceiving reality along the lines of the transformations that occurred in the art world a hundred years ago. I’d be interested in knowing about such art…

Changing Times

“People in motion are wonderful to photograph. It means catching the right moment… when one thing changes into something else.”

– Andres Kertesz

Andre Kertesz was a Hungarian photographer who pioneered photojournalism in the early 20th century but whose work also intersected in various ways with some of the modernist painters in Paris in the 20s and 30s who I am currently reading about. He became friends with and took portraits of many of these painters, including Mondrian, Chagall and Calder. He did an interesting series of nudes with two women posed in a house of mirrors called Distortion – in some of them you can only see random limbs. Maybe he would have found this series I am doing of interest (how’s that for artistic hubris?).

I’ve been creating a set of small abstract paintings using Sumi ink and gesso and then integrating them into recent photographs from a modeling session. One thing is changing into something else, but which is the thing changing?

I like mixing the spontaneity that this type of photography demands with the equally spontaneous techniques I use when doing these small paintings – pouring, splattering, scraping, stamping, etc. Then I play with different combinations, looking for those that complement each other.

The Concrete Jungle…

I read something recently about abstract art that intrigued me – it described such work as that which would otherwise exist only in the mind. In other words, it doesn’t contain any element that is recognizable as existing in nature, or the “external” world. This work becomes intensely personal as a result, in some cases perhaps too personal, making it sometimes inaccessible to others. It begs the question of whether the art is being done for the artist or the audience. And there is an educational element involved – with some background or explanation, the work without reference in nature may make sense to the observer. Usually such art is seen, however, without benefit of this information.

Of course, this is an extreme definition and much abstract art contains more or less obvious references to nature. The above piece would fall into the stricter definition, while the following piece would not:

In the first half of the 20th century there was a movement among some abstract artists to use the word “concrete” instead of abstract. Their sort of counter intuitive view was that abstract art without natural reference was more real than work that had a representational aspect. A painting of something else is always a mere “sign” or reference to that object and thus is less “real” in some sense than that object. Since the elements in a strict abstract painting don’t refer to something else, they are the things in themselves. So the artists preferred the term “concrete” to emphasize this direct rather than indirect reality of the piece.

I’m interested in the way in which things we see depict different levels of reality. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we learn and what it is to know. I have a feeling I’m headed down some of these paths in upcoming reading and contemplation.

I’ll end with another piece of “concrete” art. I’m interested in your thoughts about how you both see and make art and how this distinction between paintings that have reference to nature and those that don’t enters into your thinking.

Can You Hear the Music?

“How can we know the dancer from the dance? ”

– William Butler Yeats

I love to photograph and/or paint the human figure, but I particularly like to work with the body as it dances. I can’t think of another marriage of artistic mediums that works together so well to represent the essence of the dancer as artist. Capturing for a moment the human body as it propels itself through space, limbs dreaming their dreams, feet tapping out their poetry, the dancer as not just the artist, but the art itself.

Can you hear the music even though there is none playing? Can your mind fill in the blank soundless spaces because of what the eye sees? Can this one image contain what has come before and what will happen next? Can it inspire the imagination to recreate the dancing as it actually happened? There is a way in which the distillation of movement down into a single image interacts with the mind to cause it to play a more active role in how the art is viewed. It’s a little like listening to the radio vs. watching TV – your mind has more to do to create the desired experience. I think this is why I am so drawn to capturing motion in my artwork.

More Monoprinting

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

– Scott Adams

I’ve been continuing to explore my interest in monoprinting. So far, these are all fairly small (6×6″) pieces done using hand tools only (no big presses). One of the things I find most appealing about the process is the way in which so much of the result is unexpected – maybe that changes with more experience but, for now, I’m enjoying the unanticipated nature of it. It seems as if there are no “mistakes” in this process, just images that haven’t found their way to completion yet. Sometimes I even cut up my “mistakes” into pieces to use as collage elements in other work. OK, I admit, I have actually thrown a couple into the trash bin, but that was probably just being lazy instead of considering how they might be used, saved or resurrected.

Another aspect I like is that the best way to work on these is to start a bunch of them all at once – each time the brayer lays down the ink, an impression is created on it’s surface that can then be used on another or a new piece. Often these “ghost” impressions are the most interesting, containing shapes and textures from previous applications. In the past, I’ve sometimes become bored when working on one piece at a time – this lets me feel like I’m working on a dozen pieces all at once!

Here’s another recent effort…

The Unknowable

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”


To continue the discussion about art and it’s relation to reality (hopefully you won’t mind), the above quote implies that there is some perfect form or super reality of which art is a pale imitation. Shades of Plato’s cave!

If everything that we know is only an imperfect representation of another realm, how can we ever know that other realm at all? Western philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries. Some believed that since we, in fact, cannot really know the perfect form behind our perceptions, we have no right to say that anything exists at all except our perceptions – the empiricists (Hume, Berkeley) were in this camp. This rigorous doctrine leads to all sorts of problems, however, so Immanuel Kant tried to reconcile the dilemma by saying that the ding an sich, the thing in itself, was unknowable but that it indeed existed. We can only know our mental representations about it and there is a fairly murky relationship between these representations and the things in themselves. If you’ve ever read Kant, you’ll know what I mean by murky here.

A work of art is one of these mental representations of reality, perhaps it’s ultimate form. In light of all this questioning of to what extent we can actually represent the thing in itself, artists started paying more attention to their relationship to the painting than to the paintings relationship to the world. A lot of this philosophical dialogue was happening in the early 19th century, around the time when painters started moving toward more abstraction and when photography began. The rise of photography served as a counterpoint to this dialogue as well – the difference between a painting of something and a photograph of it was that the painting had something of the artist in it, while the photograph was just a simple and exact rendering of the world.

Even today, painting is held in general in higher artistic esteem than photography, perhaps because the painting reveals more about the mental imaginations and feelings of the artist than does a photograph. that’s a point for another discussion – since I’m both a painter and a photographer, I have some feelings about that one!