Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Very grateful to the organizers of IWS Mexico and the distinguished jury for including my two paintings; "Fog on the Tiber - Rome" and "Pacific Coast Highway - Los Angeles" in their 1st International Watercolor Exhibition to be held in Mexico City in 2015
Saturday, December 27, 2014
"Everything that is beautiful is not always pretty.” This is one of the little reminders that I carry with me always as I am searching for good subjects to paint. It’s an all too easy mistake to assume that if an object or scene is not immediately captivating or visually pleasing, then it is unworthy to be painted - that there is no “art” there. This is far from the case. In truth, sometimes the most scenically perfect places may offer more to a photographer than to a painter who’s real task is to interpret - not just imitate or illustrate - what is seen. More to the point, we try to express the feelings we have based on what we see. There are paintings just as fantastic to be had from the most humble and commonplace objects on your kitchen table, to the most bleak industrial landscape, to the most glorious mountain or seaside vista. It’s all in how you choose to see them. As painters, most of us have heard the saying, “There are no bad subjects, only bad paintings”. And while that may not be off the mark, I’m actually saying something a bit different. I’m suggesting that it is not the subjects we see that are beautiful or not - rather the beauty is in how we interpret what we see, and in how we learn to look in the first place. It’s fantastic to be able to travel to exotic and far away places in search of inspiration for paintings (and I wouldn’t turn down many opportunities to do so!). But it’s good to remember also that it is not just a simple matter of a beautiful sight being “inspiring”, it is the artist that has to see - and more importantly feel - that inspiration. Then we must “find the art” in that scene and convey the story - the compelling idea or feeling that we have had - to the viewer in our work. What is truly beautiful to me in any given painting can be found not so much in the specific object or scene the artist has depicted, as in the vision and feeling displayed in the interpretation of that sight. So in a very real sense, it is not simply an amazing sight that bestows inspiration upon us, but rather the other way around. We find the inspiration within ourselves to be able to react to that scene as an artist might. We then set about shaping that reaction - that feeling of inspiration - into the work of art to result. That process is truly beautiful to me. I often ask my classes to try not to paint the subject of their paintings so much as to try to paint the light that illuminates and gives them life. Thoughts of, ideas about, and reactions to the vast array of the effects of light are consistently what causes that sense of inspiration to rise within me. I try to see the world in patterns - compositions - of dark and light. And using my case just as an example, when we can begin to look at the world around us in a different way - realizing that we are the architects of our own inspiration - then literally, good paintings can be found anywhere. Outstanding works of art are all around us, everywhere, always - just waiting to be discovered. There is very little of the real world depicted in my quick painting “Industrial Landscape in Green" that could be described as actually “beautiful” in any classic sense. Much of the painting shows little more than forgotten objects in a state of decay on a gloomy afternoon. But it was in the pattern of lights and darks, and in the almost abstract juxtaposition of forms that I found inspiration and real beauty.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Saturday, December 20, 2014
"Our Voice" " We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” Buddha In my classes, I always remark that one thing I love about painting - in watercolor especially - and also about painters in general, is the fact that we all begin with the same few simple tools: a couple of brushes, paper, some pigments, and water. But a hundred artists could go out with these same basic tools and paint the exact scene. And by day’s end, there would be one hundred completely different, and completely unique results. Some might say that this can be explained by “talent” or by levels of skill, etc. And yes, those things can be factors. But that’s almost never quite what I see. I see one hundred individual artists shining through – one hundred different voices trying to be heard. One of the greatest compliments I can ever receive as an artist, is when someone says, “From across the room, I could tell that was your work. I’d recognize it anywhere.” If nothing else, it helps to confirm that I am on my own path. Possibly the greatest goal we can all have as artists is to learn to develop our own, individual voice - the only one that can express our personal inspirations and vision in a way that no one else possibly could. I get enormous support and inspiration as an artist from various philosophical and spiritual teachings - Buddhism among them - and that for it’s pragmatic simplicity, emphasis on the calmness and joy of the present moment, gratitude, and a sense of personal responsibility. One of its most fundamental teachings is that “ We ourselves must walk the path - no one can do it for us”. This is a joyful thought to me - not one that fills me with sorrow or loneliness. To me it says that I am in the driver’s seat of my life and only I can shape my present and therefore, determine my future. Another simple yet powerful quote by the wise man himself, and one that perfectly sums up my thoughts about living and painting is, "It is better to travel well than to arrive”. Absolutely. I would hope as artists we feel we are always moving and growing. There is always something new to learn and ways to grow. If we ever feel we have “arrived”, we are finished. Philosophy aside, when we are learning to paint, it is almost inevitable that we will be influenced by other more established artists doing work we admire. Up to a point this is understandable and perfectly OK. But sometimes - even without thinking - it becomes far too easy to then begin to mimic their ideas, their palettes, their compositions, etc. This is - of course - a dead end. It is also an insult to those artists we claim to respect, and worse, an insult to ourselves. It means we are not listening to our own voice, but trying to borrow that of another. There is no art to be found there. To be influenced is one thing, but to mimic or imitate - quite another. Back to the simplicity of Buddhism, it also teaches that “everything we need - we already have”. How I love that idea! As a painter, the trick of course is to be able to clear away enough useless and surplus noise and negativity to be able to accept and take full advantage of that. For me, practice is the thing. The more I paint, the easier I find it becomes to just get lost within that process and the world of the painting in front of me. For the time it takes me to do that painting, that is all the world I wish to know. It then does get easier bit by bit to be able to pay no attention to all that external noise; to tune out all those voices that tell us we need to get this or that commission, into this exhibition, or that gallery, or to get praise from this or that person or group. We tell ourselves we need these things to know that we are finally "good enough”. But if this is on your mind while painting, “success” will be a very illusive thing. And while all those things may be great in their way, none of them can ever hope to tell us convincingly if we’re actually good enough. Only we have the power to do that. And only when we can learn to listen more intently to that voice within - to take advantage of resources we already have - will we know if we’re on the right path or not. And we will know – since we already have all we need. It’s just in practice that we begin to realize it and to more clearly hear that voice - the one that already knows who we are and how we wish to express that unique individual we are by means of our work. "Kiyomizu in Snow" - Kyoto. Thomas W Schaller - 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
“Light” Often I am asked, “How do you paint light in your work?” Well, the answer is almost frustratingly simple. “I don’t.” "The light is already there: waiting for me on the blank sheet of paper . All I have to do is paint the relative darkness of shades and shadows to allow that light to have expression - to let it really shine through.” I like to think of painting in watercolor as a “subtractive” process. By that I mean, we start off with the maximum amount of light available and already “painted” for us by the untouched white sheet of the paper itself. We then set about subtracting some of it by the addition of shapes and areas of darker value . So it is the juxtaposition, the dialogue between these values in the final painting, that give the work it’s expression and identity. In almost all my work, it is easy to spot some area that has been left completely untouched - a bit of the pure white of the paper shining through. Often this area is offset by the proximity of the darkest dark in the same work, There is a tension and a dramatic expression to be had there. Also, I tend to break down my work into three basic shapes of value : “light”, “dark”, and “mid-tones”. These abstract shapes of value can be arranged in countless ways, but if clearly and simply articulated, will almost always result in a work that is more dynamic and expressive than one in which only one or two values are seen. Like most artists , I love color. I often say I can’t go into an art supply store without “adult supervision” because I will want every tube of paint on every shelf!! But I urge my classes and myself to keep our palettes as simple as possible - and to work more in value than in color. No amount of beautiful color can save a work if the values are too consistent and unvaried - or worse - when the light is lost. For this reason, I also encourage the completion of small, quick "value composition” studies before the final painting begins. These are not always necessary, but sometimes help remind us of the dominant importance of a dynamic composition of values. And more importantly, they remind us of where the light must be saved. For once the light in a watercolor painting is gone, the work begins to die , and it is all but impossible to get it back. In music - it is the space between the notes that set the rhythm and identity of the final piece. The silences are as important to musical expression as are the actual sounds of the instruments. It is just the same in painting. It is the “negative” shapes that give voice and expression to the “positive". Without the dark, the light has no voice. And so, the areas of a work that are left unpainted are at least as important and powerful as those areas that are. In my painting “Interior - Cathedral of Girona ;Spain” - as in most all my others - I am exploring the “stories of light”. I try to provide a compelling “path of light” to draw viewers in and allow them to imagine themselves inside my paintings. There, they can begin to tell their own stories - whatever those may be.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Friday, December 12, 2014
“Find the Art” Even when we’re not at out easels, painters are - in a sense - always “painting”. I’m hopeless to ride with in a car or walk with anywhere at all; “Look at that! Now there’s a painting!” seems to be my constant refrain. As I remind myself - and tell my classes constantly – an interesting or beautiful scene may or may not have the makings of a good painting. In truth, a beautiful painting can just as often be found in the most commonplace or unusual of places as in the most exotic of cities. But whatever we choose to paint, I believe it’s an artist’s real job to do more than simply illustrate the precise details of what a place or thing literally looks like. We should rather do our best to discover and interpret that thing’s true nature: discover a bit of it’s essence, and tell something of it’s story. Only then can we hope to express something uniquely personal in how it inspired us in the first place. Good paintings often ask more questions than they answer. So when our paintings begin to ask these questions – inviting both painter and viewer to become involved in those stories - we begin to get closer to finding the Art that exists all around us. As with most paintings, this one began with the two dimensions of the flat sheet - height and width. With shifting shapes of various values, my painting, “Pons Fabricius–Rome” (2011) begins to suggest the third dimension of depth and perspective. But it is with the choice of this ancient structure (the bridge : one of my favorite subjects) at an oblique, dynamic angle, that I begin to tell just a bit of the story of this ancient city, as well as a little of the forth dimension – the spanning of space and the passage of time.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
40 Russian and 40 International artists will be represented in The Masters Of Watercolor exhibition 20-31, January, 2015 at the Grand exhibition hall of The Artists Association, St.Petersburg, Russia. Welcome! Big big thanks to Konstantin Sterkhov for making this happen!!
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
"Just Paint" I am so grateful to have received over the years some of the best advice anyone could ever hope for. Words can have great power - if we can only learn to really hear ; let them motivate us, and give us strength. The great visionary Buckminster Fuller addressed our Uni class when I was far too young to grasp much of anything he had to offer. At the end of his talk however, he said something that hit me so hard that it has stayed with me always (to paraphrase). "I firmly believe that people are capable of doing most anything they want to do. The problem is that most people never take the time or make the effort to figure out what the hell that is. So I urge all you kids to find out. Find something you love and want to do with your life - and then just go out and do it!" I was shocked. But he was right. Years later I moved to NYC to "become an artist." Well I did, but with rent and food ,etc etc. it was all a bit more of a challenge than I bargained for. I had the starving part down - but not the artist part-) Still, in time, I was fortunate enough to turn my love of painting and watercolor into a great career as an architectural artist. This was fantastic, and enough for me for a time, but eventually I longed for more - I had higher aspirations. I wanted to be a "true artist" - a painter of my own vision - not an illustrator of someone else's. So about 5 years ago, I took a workshop with the one and only Joseph Zbukvic . Never did I aspire to paint like him (I mean - who could?) , but I did hope to learn how someone lived as a real artist in such a world as this. How do they define themselves? In those days, I would never even use the word "artist" to describe myself. But one night we were talking, and after politely listening to me and all my doubts and worries and excuses, Z said; "If you want to be a painter - Just Paint - all the rest will take care of itself." I didn't know how right he was at the time. But my life changed that day - changed from the inside out. And each day since, those words are more true to me than they were the day before. Here's an older painting - but one of the first I did after having at last the courage and conviction to begin to redefine and describe myself unapologetically as an "artist". Madison Square Park , NYC - Winter ; 2010
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
"Just Breathe" Another of my "Random Thoughts on Art" is that simple little bit of advice. Maybe it sounds obvious, but when I look back at my years as an architectural illustrator, I am surprised to recall - while trying to paint in as controlled and tight a manner as possible - when I would literally hold my breath for very long periods. My neck, my back, my shoulders were so tight, my head ached all the time. I was concentrating so hard as I painted, and I was not happy. How could I even hope to produce anything that was not also tight, joyless, over-controlled, inexpressive, and constricted? In our yoga practice, we study the incredible value of the breath - matching a relaxed , present, flow of in and out breaths with an equally alert but relaxed set of fluid movements of the body. I cannot stress enough how this practice has improved my life and my painting. Now I don't worry myself so much with final results, but I am just aware of loving the process of painting itself as it unfolds. This has allowed me to express myself in paint in a far more fluid, honest, and emotive way. This view of the dramatic skies over Northern Ireland - done earlier this year - was an exercise in loose and joyful painting.
Monday, December 8, 2014
"Think Less - Feel More" - In my teaching - and for my own work - I keep a running list of ideas written down; bits of advice, memories, fragments of philosophy, etc. that I have loosely named "Random Thoughts on Art" . Since I'm not a big fan of rules - especially in art - where "no rules" is often the best rule - these are more "rules of thumb" or just good things to remember as I travel on. So I thought from time to time, I'd share one from my ever-evolving list here; and this is one of the first and most important for me. While it's good to think about our work, about life, about art,etc. I've found that if I think too much while trying to paint - I can be my own worst enemy. When I pick up that brush, I'd better have all my thinking done. So then, my brush can "think for me" and I can paint more directly from the heart. Here's a painting I did earlier this year "Vertical Study" that began in my head as just an idea - but ended up on paper as a pure feeling.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Over the next couple of months, I plan to be posting new paintings and news primarily only on my "Artist Page" on Facebook, rather than on my "Personal Page".. So please join me there if you can. Interaction with me will be at least as easy and direct - and there's more art!! Thank you all so much for following. Much gratitude and all my best wishes, Tom. https://facebook.com/thomaswschaller
I'm very excited to announce a workshop for June 10-14, 2015 in one of my favorite places in the world - the magnificent city of Rome - with the group : ARA - Associazione Romana Acquerellisti . Just incredible plein-air locations have been selected all around this great city to thrill every artist - Hope you can join us! For info, see my website or contact Claudio Castiglioni http:thomasschaller.com