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January 26, 2009

Brantley Phillips' Art Workspace

Brantley Phillips' art workspace has grown to fill an entire room. It looks comfy, spacious, and well-lit. He says it's "messy" because he uses it! Quoting Brantley:

"I think back to all the pictures I see of other people's [art workspaces], and things look so organized ... and I think, is that what your room looks like after you've been working in it for several days? What does it look like the moment you just got through with a huge project? Where's the mess on the floor? Don't you have like, a bunch of pencil shavings everywhere? Where's the little wad of eraser crumbs that you've swept off to one side of your table?"

Hmm. Brantley, if I didn't clean up before taking a picture of my workspace, you wouldn't be able to see the workspace, as it's so small; it would be buried under the mess! I salute Brantley for being the first of the "messy" artists I know to show us the truth! (Did you see my post showing artists' workspaces in videos? Some are super neat and some -- okay, many -- are messy. All are what the artists feel comfortable working in.)

Brantley draws a lot with charcoal and with pencil, but he also paints with acrylics. The reason you don't see his painting equipment in these pictures is that he does most of his painting away from home.

"That, and I don't have any more room on my table. :) Actually the arrangement on my table changes depending on what I'm working on, but this is pretty much what it all gravitates back to."

Note that he has a stack of CDs on the table. Music to listen to while drawing?

"Yes, definitely...I love to have music playing while I'm drawing or painting. It gets the wheels in motion. Sometimes it's the more sophisticated flavors of music like Andrea Bocelli or Miles Davis, but it could drift off into Led Zeppelin, Creed, Linkin Park...heck, it could be the Muppets Christmas CD, who knows. But sometimes I work in silence. It's then that the brain seems to work on autopilot and the art starts creating itself."
It looks like he has everything at his fingertips -- All he has to do is swivel around in that comfortable looking chair.
"Yes, it's like being Captain Kirk on Star Trek...I sit in my little chair and navigate the universe before me."

Brantley and his wife live in Alaska where they enjoy fishing, boating, camping, hiking, motorcycling, and getting together with friends -- among other things. What a great place it must be to live, if you don't mind the cold.

"Actually the cold's not that bad. But then again, I like cold weather. The dark gets old sometimes in the Winter, but then you get paid back in Summer with eternal daylight."

Brantley's first art space (the kitchen table)

Brantley doesn't have a website or blog so I'm going to show some of his artwork and tell a little more about him in upcoming posts.

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January 14, 2009

Brian McGurgan's Art Workspace

An artist's workspace, insofar as he or she has anything to say about its location, contents, and arrangement, tells an awful lot about him or her. It may also give us ideas about some things we may want to try ourselves. (It also may make us quite jealous.) It's always interesting, therefore, to observe the conditions under which different artists do their drawing or painting (or whatever they do).

Now and then I'll be featuring the workspaces of some friends of mine. I'm beginning today with Brian McGurgan's art workspace in his apartment in a large city on the east coast of the United States.

I'll let Brian do most of the "talking."

"The windows visible in the photo above face east and are unobstructed so we get very strong morning light on clear and partly cloudy days. There are two windows on this side of the room and two that face south, although the trees from the park block out some of the light - especially in spring, summer, and fall."

Brian works with Unison Pastels (he has virtually every color they make), Conté Crayons, and Conté Pastel Pencils. He also paints with watercolors.

I'll let Brian speak for himself again:

"My workspace takes up a little more than 1/6th of the space in the room, and we also have a computer desk here for my wife's computer and printer, a couple of bookshelves, several large ficus trees (7 feet and taller), my orange tree and other plants, a clavinova, and an area with my meditation things set up on a small cabinet.

"My work area stays set up all of the time but the pastels are usually covered (you can see the box lids stacked in the lowest shelf on the kitchen cart). I've been using small boxes with little pieces of Conté crayons, even when working indoors, and have a Roz box with my stockpile of at least two sticks in every color stowed to the right of my drawing table. The plastic drawers beneath the drawing table contain supplies - the top has various miscellaneous extra pastels, pastel pencils, Conté crayons, paintbrushes, etc., and the bottom drawer contains pads and blocks of pastel and watercolor paper.

"Larger pads of paper and individual sheets of handmade papers are stored in a stack on top of the plastic drawers. The largest sheets of handmade paper are stored in flat cardboard and craft paper and are leaning upright against the wall behind the drawing table.

"You can see that all of my soft pastel sets are out and open. I sometimes shuffle them around - for example, putting the grays, browns and other neutrals on the top of the kitchen cart and moving the boxes with the primary and secondary colors below when working on a drawing with more subdued color. I keep the smaller boxes of orange, dark, light, and other colors (that are on the drawing table next to the table top easel) out even when I'm working on drawings where it is unlikely that I'll need them since I may need a touch of these colors from time to time and they are also nice to look at.

"The drawer inside the table top easel contains erasers, stumps, chamois, sharpeners, and vine charcoal. I keep a couple of cans of fixative nearby (on top of the Roz box to the right of the plastic drawers).

"Beneath the small folding stand that the pastel pencils and Conté crayons are on is an air cleaner. I run this at a low speed while I draw and turn it up stronger after spraying with fixative (I usually leave the room for thirty minutes or so after spraying and prefer to do this outdoors when the weather is nice). Until recently, I hadn't been using much fixative but have been working with it more these days to allow for better layering and nicer textures in my work.

"The bookshelf has a shelf dedicated to books on individual artists or sets of paintings or drawings around a given theme. Another shelf holds art technique books and language-learning texts (for Japanese and French). One shelf holds National Geographic magazine, Rosetta Stone software and Berlitz tapes (both for French). The top two shelves have some of my wife's books and decorations on them.

"I have several drawing boards that I rotate use of (or leave drawings on that I have grown tired of working with but expect to continue on at some point). At times, I'll set up my field easel indoors in the area in front of my workspace, especially if drawing plants from life (the orange tree and ficus trees are in the area to the right of my chair in the first photo) or when drawing the view out the window.

"The space works pretty well for the things I'm doing now. I would like to get some kind of foam mat for the floor, though. The wood floor is easy to clean but is brutal on pastels when they get dropped."

Not only is Brian's workspace beautiful, well-stocked, and comfortable looking, but he has done a wonderful job of describing it. I have no more words to add...except that I am very impressed!

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January 3, 2009

Degas and Photography - More

In an essay in his book (which I have been reading), To The Rescue of Art, Rudolf Arnheim (1904-2007) explains how the composition of a double portrait by Edgar Degas affects how we think about the relationship between the couple portrayed. Here is the portrait:

Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli, 1867
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Source: The Athenaeum

Degas painted this picture of his sister and her husband in 1867. Arnheim points out Thérèse's fearful expression, her hand on her face and the other hand barely touching her husband's back as if she's afraid of him, the shadow of her husband on her face, the fact that she is behind him and taking much less space than he does in the picture, the "reserved and suspicious" look on his face, his knee thrust "forward against the viewer," the spreading out of his elbows to take over as much room as possible (as she, in contrast, shrinks away), and "the almost brutal insensitivity of the husband's domineering right hand." As Arnheim says, "The message could not be clearer." I think we can all agree with that; this is not the kind of marriage that a woman hopes for.

Arnheim goes on to say that this type of pose was new to art, and the reason behind it was photography.

Degas did not begin taking photographs himself until he was sixty-one years old, in the mid-1890s (at which time he became a very enthusiastic photographer); however, he had been interested in photography for three decades by that time. See my earlier post on Degas and Photography.

Arnheim explained that in earlier times painters (and sculptors) portrayed their subjects in conventional ways utilizing conventional gestures; but when people who were not aware of or didn't see the need for or didn't have the patience -- or their subjects didn't have the patience -- to follow those conventions started taking pictures with cameras, there were endless examples of "unposed" or "accidental" poses. "What is new here," writes Arnheim about this painting, "is that the telling constellation is caught in the kind of accidental pose that may come about when the visiting brother asks the family to let him take a snapshot."

In other words, as I understand it, he meant not that Degas caught them in such a pose and got it down fast; rather, Degas was aware of what an accidental pose could reveal and so he invented a very un-accidental "accidental-looking" composition in order to say what he wanted to say about the couple. The result is that it looks very real to us and we feel a great deal of uneasiness when looking at the picture.

I don't mean to imply that what we "know" about this couple as a result of seeing this painting is the complete truth about them, or even that it our interpretation (or Arnheim's) of their relationship is necessarily completely accurate. The point is that how we feel about them is a result of how Degas painted them, and he was quite aware of what he was doing.

As an interesting aside, I want to add another painting, of the same couple, that Degas painted a year or two earlier. It is nothing like the painting discussed above.

Edmondo and Thérèse Morbilli, 1865-66
Edgar Degas
Source: Source: The Athenaeum

In this painting of the same couple, Degas' sister and her husband, it is his sister who is dominant and the feeling is extremely different. Between the time Degas painted this portrait and the one in 1867 the couple lost a child, and this might help explain the change in the way they felt about themselves and each other and the way they were seen by Degas, and it also might help us interpret the "signs" a little differently.

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