I’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac. According to my mom, toddler-aged me loved to hold things against our living room lamp’s light bulb to set them ablaze. I actually ended up burning a hole in the upholstery of my Dad’s office chair once. I think it was a scientific curiosity more than anything- to watch the always unique distortion the flame provided to every victim I could offer up. I never would have thought that my proclivity for burning things would eventually coalesce with my art-making practice, but surprisingly, it has.
A common chestnut imparted by art professors is the idea of avoiding “preciousness” in your work. I was always warned not to see the work that I made, especially in class, as being too “precious” to mess up. It’s great advice, as you don’t want to let the fear of messing up a “good” painting through taking an artistic risk to prevent you from seizing said risk and, hopefully, arriving at a “great” painting. What bigger risk is there than providing the very real possibility of burning your entire painting to a crisp?
video of burning here . Diamond: Burn I | watercolor, crayon on burnt paper| 10×10″
I’d made a large-scale diamond painting on canvas a while ago, but I still didn’t feel that it really fit in with the rest of my work. I knew there was something else I needed to do to this diamond to make it say what I wanted it to say. Then I started to play around with some little sketches, and eventually the famous tagline “diamonds are forever” came to mind. Then I started to think about how my own work is, broadly, about beauty and the construction and maintenance of it, and how ephemeral those things are by their nature. Juxtaposing something that, at least through marketing, is thought to be eternal with a very obvious sign of decay seemed worth exploring. I applied this same general concept to my “Doe Eyes” series as well.
video here. Doe Eyes: Burn I | watercolor, gouache, crayon on burnt paper | 5×7″
I’m excited to continue to explore this series of experiments. There’s something so beautiful about watching the paper curl and buckle under the flame. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable- and I’ve actually ended up over-burning a few paintings that I had to throw away. After graduating (almost two years ago- hoo boy,) I’ve found myself drawn to approaches to painting and art-making where I relinquish a pretty high level of control over the final product- such as with my monotypes, water media, and now, the unholy power of the flame.
gif via tinarannosuarus
Okay, this isn’t a traditional artbook, per se. I mean, most art books cost upwards of $60, have 100+ pages, and tend to come in at above a 1st grade reading level. This book meets none of those criteria, but, yknow, Wayne Thiebaud. ‘Nuff said.
It’s exactly as the title suggests
This book is just too adorable to pass up. So, even though I have managed to reach the age of 23 with the ability to count to 10 (still working up to 20- I’ll get there,) I still love this simple little book.
It’s kind of funny how well Thiebaud’s work fits in with such a childish concept. I call him a “painter’s painter” all the time, as the subtleties in his approach to everyday objects tend to be more readily appreciated by fellow painters. But obviously, his bright color palette, along with his playful subject matter totally fits with a children’s book concept.
Thinking back, I realize that what I probably most remember from my favorite books as a kid is the artwork (I’ve talked before about my love for Leo Lionni’s charmingly simple illustrations in particular.) What better way to introduce children to amazing artists than through a counting lesson? I don’t need to count to ten to know that Wayne Thiebaud is number one in my book. (Sorry, that was terrible.)
Now, I’m a firm believer that absolutely, any 2-d artist should be able to work from life, and should whenever they can (these skills are essential in simply being able to paint well. Full stop.) BUT, there are always going to be those situations where it just makes more sense to work from a photograph. Now, some artists (especially the more “old school” ones) take issue with working from photographs as opposed to direct observation. But I believe that one can work from a photograph while still making a great painting that isn’t a mere copy of the reference image.
For example, I did a painting of a grenade using a reference photo. I found it simpler to do this because of the placement (flat on a table) and lighting I wanted would be easier to reference from a photo rather than having to do a setup where I would somehow have to position my face directly parallel to a table while trying to paint.
The photo gave me the key information I needed- things like proportion, angles, major color/value changes. But as you can see, the finished painting isn’t an exact copy of my reference:
Grenade, oil on canvas, 12×12″, by Megan Koth
I think a good rule of thumb is to not spend too much time looking at the reference itself. Especially once you’ve got the key information down, you have to look at the painting that you’re making, and make decisions based on how to make your painting a successful one- not a mere copy of the reference photo. Basically, as I go, I look less and less at the reference (it helps that all my reference photos quickly become obscured with paint smudges anyway.) The camera can be the enemy of a great painter, but it can also be a great asset. Like most tools, it’s all in how you use it.
Since I love playing with monotypes, and since I am so enamored with everything by Wayne Thiebaud, I immediately fell in love with this book while browsing amazon. Not many people know that Thiebaud actually has made a sizable body of work in printmaking.
Wayne Thiebaud, Sardines, watercolor over hard-ground etching, 1990
It’s interesting to see his trademark subject matter and aesthetic translated into this medium- a medium that is in many ways similar to painting. Interestingly, part of the “revision” of these works becomes apparent as Thiebaud works into the prints with other mediums, like pastel and watercolor:
Wayne Theibaud, Six Candied Apples, watercolor over hard-ground and drypoint etching, 1990
The forward, written by Thiebaud, starts:
“I think the most compelling part of drawing and painting is the continuing thrill of learning how they can be made. Working on prints is an extension of this constant search.”
It’s this clear enthusiasm for the formal, raw process of painting that makes Thiebaud so easy for me to admire. A true painter’s painter… Who also makes amazing prints.
Ah, the oft derided “selfie.” Those crazy kids these days with their shallow documentation of their own appearances! No one remembers that the (much longer!) process of immortalizing ones appearance in art is a longstanding, and respected, tradition!
Probably anyone who’s ever pursued art in some capacity has (maybe begrudgingly) had to face (get it?!) the challenge of depicting their own likeness from a mirror. Whenever I was given such an assignment, I seem to remember most of my classmates moaning and groaning while I was at least mildly excited. It just always seemed to me like such a cool, “artist” thing to do, to sit down and paint your own portrait.
Artist self-portraits are also great because you’re basically seeing the face, more or less, that you make when working.
Self portrait by Megan Koth, Oil on Canvas, 18×24″, 2014.
Apparently, I look pretty stern while working!
However, I understand how it can be scary. The portrait assignment is kind of the perfect challenge for students because it’s a great way of getting them to paint something from life that they actually feel personally invested in. It’s hard to get invested in getting a crumpled paper bag or some random kitchen utensils right (we had some pretty terrible still life setups,) but their own face? Now that’s something a student isn’t likely to want to mess up. There’s also a unique personal intimacy that comes with painting a great self-portrait. I mean, you have to look at your own appearance at a level you never had before- noticing every detail, including every “flaw.” I can see how the latter would make some uncomfortable, and that probably explains a lot of students lack of enthusiasm for the assignment. But I’ve found over the years that painting myself has made me more accepting of the “flaws.” In that way, the self-portrait can end up being much more than just an assignment, but a process of self-discovery and acceptance. Or, if you’re not an artist and just wanna take a picture of yourself because you look fly as hell today, you can do that too.
Hilarious top “Mona Lisa” image courtesy of Sangerous on Imgur
Sometimes thinking out of the box means painting a box! (sorry for that.) But really, painting small wooden boxes (like cigar boxes) can be a fun departure from the everyday canvas or panel. In fact, painting on a box is basically the same as painting on the latter, only the end result is something that you can put stuff in!
I originally fell in love with the idea when I saw these painted boxes Wayne Thiebaud did as gifts for his wife:
I just knew I had to do some for myself. Being cheap, I opted for the cigar box option. All I needed was my painting materials and some painters tape to cleanly section off the area for the image:
I don’t know what I’m gonna put in here yet, but I feel like it should be something dirty. Like vibrators.
Recently I had the privilege of watching this Chuck Workman documentary on Andy Warhol. It’s kind of impossible to be in any way culturally aware and not to have some sort of familiarity with Warhol and his work, but I wasn’t really familiar with who he was as a person, beyond the outlandish persona. The film offered some really fun, often intimate details about Warhol’s work and life that were sometimes funny, oftentimes incredibly sad.
For instance, I’d only been familiar with Warhol through his persona, which led me to believe he was kind of an ass. And I was right. In the film, it’s mentioned how, upon learning of the death of “friend” and colleague Edie Sedgewick, Andy replied “Edie who?” The other “superstars” and factory workers also lamented on how much of a tightwad Warhol was: they practically had to beg him for money, and Warhol would revel in their begging.
Despite these less-than-flattering details, I also realized something about Warhol during the film that made me sympathize with him. Apparently, Warhol lived, perhaps even entirely, a celibate/asexual life. He was also quite sickly (being described as “anemic,”) and this showed in his appearance. I saw this as incredibly tragic, and I even started to better understand his trademark obsession with celebrity culture. Celebrities offer us this very strange sort or relationship, in that we know them, but we don’t really know them. We often know very intimate details about their lives, but couldn’t even call them acquaintances. One of Warhol’s friends in the film mentions how Warhol didn’t like the “messiness” of intimate relationships. In some way, I think Warhol’s celebrity worship/obsessions acted as a sort of surrogate relationship. You can’t really be “hurt” by the ending of such a relationship. Their presence just sort of cleanly fades out of your life…
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962. Silkscreen on Canvas
Overall, a very compelling and entertaining documentary. Lots of very notable people also appear in the film (Grace Jones! Liza Minnelli! Fran Lebowitz!) Definitely worth the watch if you can get your hands on a copy (online or otherwise.)
Although known mostly for his sumptuous cakes and desserts (of which I’ve certainly admired), American artist Wayne Thiebaud also made a variety of simple, quiet images of everyday objects. These works in particular are interesting me at the moment.
Wayne Thiebaud- Bow Ties 1990
Wayne Thiebaud, Lipsticks 1964
Wayne Thiebaud- Yellow Dress 1974
I like these simple still lives that depict classically feminine, everyday items. The bow, lipstick, and dress are such blatant signals of gendered femininity- but Thiebaud’s works remind me that they’re just simple, everyday consumer items. I love Thiebaud’s ability to find great beauty in the everyday object, in the homogeneity of mass produced items. He handles them similarly to the way he handles his cakes and desserts. Usually displayed in orderly rows in such a way as to be very deliberately presented to the viewer, these still lives remind us of their existence as mass produced, consumer items. Regardless, Thiebaud’s use of bold brushstrokes, delicious color and eye for design make the resulting images more that the sum of their parts.
Thiebaud’s work, much like his cakes, are endlessly rich with inspiration for me.
I’ve always LOVED Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings. I think we’ve all admired one of his famous cake paintings:
Wayne Thiebaud- Cakes
They’re a delight. I’m not the hugest fan of still life- I always kind of just saw it as a tool- A painting skill I needed to acquire- rather than something that could be exciting, intriguing, and fun. He elevates the still life to something more than “just” a documentation of an object in space. Instead, his paintings of cakes and other confections harken back to lazy summer days at the ice-cream shop, or being a kid again at the bakery, face pressed to the glass, salivating over elegantly displayed baked delights just out of reach.
Wayne Thiebaud- Four Ice Cream Cones, collection of the Phoenix Art Museum
I really respond to the way he applies paint- liberally and thickly, but with intention. He seemed to apply the paint on his cakes much like a baker would apply frosting on said cake. His paintings weren’t textured for the sake of being textured- the texture highly enhanced the work itself. This is the way painting should be, in my mind. I love paintings that actually look like, you know, paintings. Don’t hide those brushstrokes! If I wanted something that looked like a photograph, I’d take a photograph. Anybody can photograph a cake, and anybody can paint a cake (not necessarily well), but not everyone can paint a cake and make the viewer feel like a kid at the bakery for the first time again.