How I Became an Artist
I became an artist by gradual happenstance and slow validation: a grandmother
showing me how to draw a bird, my mother praising a picture I did of a ship with
five smokestacks (I still have it), my loving a ‘paint by numbers’ horse a cousin
did for me when I was very sick (I still have it too), a salesman coming to our
house from “Famous Artists School” in response to my version of “Draw This
Pirate’s Head and Have a Career in Art” (not an option for a fourteen year old),
scribbling pictures endlessly in school notebooks, getting compliments from
friends for my artwork, getting detention from a teacher for undressing my
female classmates with a pencil, then making caricatures of such spoilsport
teachers, and thereafter more and more keeping a sketchbook diary as a
pleasant pastime, doing little pen and ink drawings and watercolors to enjoy
myself on vacation, selling some of them to interested strangers, beginning oil
painting to fill bare walls of my first apartment, taking art classes after work,
finding artists as friends, dating many of them, one of whom introduced me to
my artist wife Gail, encouraging me to make bigger pictures, join art
associations, enter shows, getting rejected, accepted, rejected again and
again, eventually winning some awards, being called an artist by other artists,
and selling enough to almost pay expenses in an ever entertaining, always
engaging, most meaningful way of life.
From a series of articles on this topic, in the Rhode Island Watercolor Society
Craig Masten Artist Website
About the Artist
In my artwork I’m trying as many ways as possible to engage the viewer, to find new ways of
experiencing the familiar. What does it require to turn our heads, raise a camera up, take a deep
breath, smell something, touch something, listen to a story? If I can get someone to stop for a
moment in front of one of my pictures, I’m pleased.
My approach is neither solely realistic nor abstract. I feel art is more interesting when grounded
in common, evocative images in the world rather than purely non-reprsentational shapes. But, at
the other extreme, I find painting unsatisfying which aspires to photographic verisimilitude.
That's the camera’s realm. Probably you could proudly count me into the impressionist/ post-
expressionist tradition of western art.
As for technique, I subscribe to the importance of value contrast, color harmony, draftsmanship
and composition--though with the caveat all the above rules are made to be broken when a
subject or situation requires. That said, you don't get a valid artistic license without significant
training, ample practice, and development of an individual style.
I use many tools and materials to get the apprearance I want in my artwork. With oils, I go back
and forth between a palette knife and a brush for effects neither by themselves can give. With
watercolors I'm prone to use both ends of the brush, scratching the paint to get rougher, but to
my mind, more natural looking detail than a rigger brush gives. A penknife is another favorite tool
to scrape textures into watercolor paintings--a kind of 'after the fact' drybrush effect--and a way to
get the whites back. I don't rule out anything that works for a particular painting. With watercolors,
I've been known to pick up twigs and leaves to apply paint, to dump and spray water, even to
drag the paintings across beach sand and stones. I've scrapped oils with sandpaper, applied
the paint thick from the tube or thinned to a wash, splattered, smudged, scraped, streaked and
blended--all in pursuit of the look a painting requires.
And whatever I do, I try to do it confidently . In this regard, I subscribe to the motto of the Special
Olympics: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be bold in the attempt." Many paintings are
impressive at a distance, but up close, the paint application is wishy-washy, fussy or tentative. To
me a successful painting should have appeal and surety of execution both from across the
room, and as near as its individual brush strokes.
Finally, good art should have lasting appeal. There’s an old adage where I live in New England
that firewood heats us three times: in the cutting, in the stacking, and in the burning. I’d like to
paraphrase this to the pleasures artwork provides: first, the joy in creating, second, sharing with
others in an exhibition, and of course, third, when selling to an appreciative buyer. Any artist or
collector knows this to be true. Art is not a luxury. The pursuit of art, whether through creation or
appreciation, gives profound meaningfulness to our lives.
Craig Masten has sketched and painted all his adult life, and in recent years devotes himself to art on a full time basis. He considers oil
painting his first love, but also enjoys watercolors, as well as various other mediums, including drawing and printmaking. He has studied
at the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts; the DeCordova Museum School in Lincoln, Massachusetts;
participates in a variety of art training programs, and teaches figure/life at the Providence Art Club in Providence, RI..
Since moving to Rhode Island in 2002, Mr. Masten has studied with a number of the area’s artists, including Mildred Kelleher, Al
Albrektson, Allen Johnson, Sam Rouslin, Richard Grosvenor, Carole Berren, Anthony Tomaselli, Richard Harrington, Joan Boghossian,
Betsy Zimmerman, Carol Fitzsimonds, Lisa Goddard, Carole Berren, and Gail Armstrong. He especially enjoys his involvement with
several plen air painting groups, spending many pleasant hours attempting to capture the memorable places of New England.
Additionally, he acknowledges other contemporary artists--notably Eric Weingardt, Charles Reid, Richard Schmid, William Thon, and
David Aldridge--as significant influences in his development as a painter.
Mr. Masten is an award-winning artist member of the Rhode Island Watercolor Society, the Wickford Art Association, the South County Art
Association, the Cape Cod Art Association,the Mystic Arts Center, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, and the Providence Art Club. He
has shown his work in numerous juried shows and exhibitions at these organizations, as well as at the DeCordova Museum, The
Warwick Art Museum, the Newport Art Museum, the Providence Athenaeum, and AS220. His work is regularly represented as an artist
member of Spring Bull Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island, Five Main Gallery in Wickford, Rhode Island, and Courtyard Gallery in Mystic,
Connecficut. He shares a studio with his artist wife, Gail Armstrong, at the Deacon Taylor House of the Providence Art Club.
Craig Masten Artist Resume
Spring Bull Studio and Gallery Deacon Taylor Studios and Gallery
55 Bellevue Avenue 9 Thomas Street
Newport, Rhode Island 02840 Providence, Rhode Island 02903
Five Main Gallery Courtyard Gallery
5 Main Street 12 Water Street
Wickford, RI 02852 Mystic, Connecticut 06355
B.A., DePauw University, Greencastle Indiana; M.A., Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts; M.S.W., Boston College,
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; the DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; the Museum School, Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Cambridge Art Association, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Brookline Art Association,
Brookline, Massachusetts; and Brighton Art Association, Brighton, Massachusetts. Later studied locally in Rhode Island
with artists Natalie Pfansteihl, Mildred Kelleher, Al Albrektson, Allen Johnson, Sam Rouslin, Richard Grosvenor,Carole
Berren, Anthony Thomaselli, Richard Harrington, Elizabeth Zimmerman, Joan Boghossian, Gail Armstrong, Carol
Fitzsimonds, and Lisa Goddard.
ART MEMBERSHIPS and AFFILIATIONS
--Providence Art Club, Artist Member
--Rhode Island Watercolor Society, Signature Artist Member
--Wickford Art Association, Artist Member
--Cape Cod Art Association, Artist Member
--South Country Art Association, Artist Member
-- Newport Artists Guild/Newport Art Museum
--Mystic Arts Center, Connecticut, Artist Member
--Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Artist Member
--Spring Bull Studio and Gallery, Artist Member
--Five Main Gallery, Wickford, RI Artist Member
--Courtyard Gallery, Mystic, Connecticut, Artist Member
--Deacon Taylor Studios and Gallery, Artist Member
RECENT PRIZES and AWARDS
--C.Gordon Harris Memorial Award, Third Place, 2016
--Ruth & Wm Findley Memorial National Atward, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2015
--People's Choice Award, Rhode Island Watercolor Association, 2014
--Milton Halladay Award for Best Watercolor, Providence Art Club, 2013
--Third Prize, Spring Bull Gallery,2012
--Honorable Mention, Mystic Arts Center, 2012
--Honorable Mention, Wickford Art Association, 2011
--Third Place, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2009
--Honorable Mention, Providence Art Club, 2009
--Second Place, Wickford Art Association, 2008
--Signature Member, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2008
--Stella Halit Awad for jBest Oil Painting, Providence Art Club, 2008
--Honorable Mention, Wickford Art Association, 2008
--Honorable Mention, Rhode Island ,Watercolor Society, 2007
--Honorable Mention, Providence Art Club, 2007
--First Place, Wickford Art Association, 2007
--First Place, Wickford Art Association, 2007
--Second Place, Cape Cod Art Association, 2006
--Second Place, Wickford Art Association, 2006
--Honorable Mention, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2005
--Honorable Mention, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2005
RECENT GROUP SHOWS
--2016--Providence Art Club, Points of View, a three person show with Gail Armstrong and Susan Shaw
--2015--Best of Watercolor Invitational Show, Spring Bull Gallery
--2014--Providence Art Club, "Something to Remember," a three person show with Gail Armstrong and Susan Shaw
--2012--Spring Bull Gallery, "Impressions, a joint show of a Providence Art Club print portfolio
--2012--Providence Art Club, "Three Interpretations," a three person show with Gail Armstrong and Susan Shaw.
--2011--Spring Bull Gallery, "The Breakfast Club: A group show with Al Albrektson, Bob Venditto and Jim Myette
--2010--Fluxus Book Project, co-sponsored by the Providence Anthenaeum and Gallery AS220
--2010--Providence Art Club, "Opposites Attract," two person show with wife, Gail Armstrong
--2010--Members Invitational, South County Art Association
--2009--Signature Members Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society
--2008--Portsmouth Art Association, "Rhode Island Watercolor Society Invitational."
--2007—Spring Bull Gallery, Special Exhibition of Rhode Island Watercolor Society Painters.
--2007-- Providence Art Club, Two Person Show with wife Gail Armstrong, “A Marriage of Two Artists.”
--2007--Rhode Island Watercolor Society, "Related Perspectives," with wife, Gail Armstrong, and uncle, Henry Budlong.
--2007—Spring Bull Gallery, Four Person Show with wife, uncle, and mother in law,“Related Scenes.”
--2006—Wickford Art Association, Narragansett Bay Plein Air Painting Group Show.
--2005—Spring Bull Gallery, Narragansett Bay Plein Air Painters Group Show.
--2005--Members Invitational, South County Art Association
--2005—Wickford Art Association,Four Person show with wife, uncle and mother-in-law,“It’s All Relative.”
--Open Juried Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts 105th Annual Exhibition, 2016
--Open Juried Newport Art Museum Annual Members Show, 2016
--Open juried Black and White Show, Mystic Arts Center, 2016
--Open Juried Lens Free Show, Wickford Art Association, 2016
--Open Juried Dreams Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Asslociation, 2-016
--Open Juried Show, Regional Exhibition, Mystic Arts Center, 2015
--Open Juried 21st Annual National WaterMedia Competition, Rhode Island Watercolor Society,2015
--JOpen Juried Show, Regional Exhibition, Mystic Arts Center, 2014
-Open Juried Show, Poetry and Art, Wickford Art Association, 2014
--Open Juried Show, The Blues, Mystic Arts Center, 2014
--Members Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Assoication, People's Choice Award
--Open Jured Portraits and Figures Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2013
--Open Juried Regional Show, Mystic Arts Center, 2013
--Open Juried Members Show, Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, 2013
---Milton Halladay Award, Members Show, Providence Art Club, 2013
--Open Juried show, "Reflections of New England," Spring Bull Gallery, 2012
--Open Juried show,Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, 101th Annual Exhibition, 2012
--Open juried show, "Show us your Best." Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2012
--Open juried show, "Self Image," Mystic Arts Center, 2012
--Honorable Mention, Mystic Arts Center Annual Members Show, 2012
--Open juried National Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2011
--Open juried Mystic Regional, 2011
--Open juried Mystic Regional Exhibition, 2011
--Open juried South Country Open show, 2011
--Open juried show, Cape Cod National Exhibition, 2011
--Open juried Providence Art Club Open Painting Exhibition, 2011
--Open juried Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, One Hundredth Annual Exhibition, 2011
--Open juried exhibition, Precious Water: A Personal Response, Mystic Arts Center, 2011
--Annual juried Artist Members Show, Wickford Art Association, 2011
--Open juried show, Printmaking and Drawing, Wickford Art Association, 2011
--Newport Annual juried Members Exhibition, 2011
--Open juried show, Celebrating Winter, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2010
--Open juried regional,”New England Exhibition,” Cape Cod Art Association, 2010
--Opposites Attract, Exhibition of paintings with wife Gail Armstrong, Providence Art Club, Dodge House Gallery, 2010
--Open Jured show, New England, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2010
--All Media Open juried show, Anything Goes, Wickford Art Association, 2010
--Fluxus Book Project, co-sponsored by the Providence Anthenaeum and Gallery AS220, 2010
--Open juried show, Organically Green, Wickford Art Association, 2010
--Members Invitational, South County Art Association, 2010
--Third Place, open juried show, Winter Wonderland, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2009
--Members Exhibition, Providence Art Club, 2009
--Open juried All New England Exhibition, Cape Cod Art Association, 2009
--Signature Members Invitational Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2009
--Open juried 14th Annual Art of the Ocean State, Wickford Art Association, 2009
-Open juried show, All Creatures Great and Small, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2009
--Open Juried show, " Open Chaos," Wickford Art Association, 2009
--Open juried all media show sponsored by Gov. Carceri and the RI State Council on the Arts, 2008
--Open Juried Avant Garde/Abstract/New Media Show, Wickford Art Association, 2008
--Open Juried All Media Invitational, South County Art Association, 2008
--Open Juried "National Show," the Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2008.
--Open juried "Regional All New England Show," Cape Cod Art Association, 2008.
--Open Juried "Paint Rhode Island." show at the Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2008
--Portsmouth Invitational for the Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2008
--Open Juried Regional, Cape Cod Art Association, 2008
--Rhode Island Artists for Save The Bay,2008
--Stella Halit Award, Artist Members Show, Providence Art Club, 2008
--Open National “Annual Juried Exhibition, “Providence Art Club, 2008”
--Open Juried show, Wickford Art Association, “Man or Beast.” 2008
--Open Juried Regional, “New England Exhibition,”Cape Cod Art Association, 2007
--Open juried "Scenes of Rhode Island, sponsored by Gov. Carcieri and the Rhode Island Council for the Arts, 1007
--Open Juried, National Watermedia Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2007
--Co-presenter in gallery program, “Artists Who Marry Artists,” Bert Gallery, 2007
--Honorable Mention, Rhode Island Watercolor Society Show, “Passion for Color,” 2007
--Three Person Show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Related Perspectives,” 2007
--Open Juried Regional, Cape Cod Art Association, 2007
--Open juried National, Cape Cod Art Association, 2007
--Four Person Show, SpringBull Gallery, “Related Scenes,” 2007
--Honorable Mention, Juried Artist Members Show, Providence Art Club, “Construction, Reconstruction,” 2007
--Open National “Annual Juried Exhibition,” Providence Art Club, 2007
--Two Person Show, Providence Art Club, “A Marriage of Two Artists,” 2007
--First Place, Juried “Spring Members Show,” Wickford Art Association, 2007
--First Place, Open Juried Show, “Interiors,” Wickford Art Association, 2007
--Presenter, Rhode Island Flower Show, “Art in the Garden,” 2007
--Open juried regional,”New England Exhibition,” Cape Cod Art Association, 2006.
--Plein Air Painting Group Exhibition, Wickford Art Association, 2006.
--Second Place, watercolors, Artist Members Show, Cape Cod Art Association, 2006
-- Newport Art Museum, Annual Juried Exhibition, 2006
--Newport Art Guild Show, 2006
--Open Juried Regional, Cape Cod Art Association, 2006
--Open juried Pen, Pencil and Colored Pencil Show, 2006
--Microworks Show, Providence Art Club.
--Springbull Gallery, Fakes and Forgeries Show, 2006
--Open juried show, “Scenes of the Ocean State,” Wickford Art Assciation, 2006.
--Open juried show, “Watercolor Magic,” Rhode Island Watercolor Society, 2006.
--Open juried all media show sponsored by Governor Carcieri and The Rhode Island Council of the Arts, 2006
--Three Person Show, “It’s All Relative,” Wickford Art Association, 2005
--Open juried show, RIWS, “National Watermedia Show,” 2005.
--Second Place, juried all members show, Wickford Art Association, “Member Watercolor Show,” 2005.
--Warwick Museum, “Warwick Shows Off,” an invitational exhibition of Warwick area Artists, 2005
--Open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Bon Voyage,” 2005
--“Open Juried I Exhibition,” South County Art Association, 2005
--Honorable Mention, “Artist Members Juried Show,” Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Members Annual,” 2005
--Honorable Mention, open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Interiors,” 2005
--Spring Bull Gallery, Newport,“Natalie and Friends Group Show,” 2005.
--Open juried all media show, South County Art Association, “Members Invitational,” 2005.
--Spring Bull Gallery, “Poetry and Art Show,” 2005.
--Open juried "Scenes of Rhode Island," sponsored by Governor Carcieri and The Rhode Island Council on the Arts, 2005.
--Member's Invitational, South County Art Association, 2005
--Rhode Island Watercolor Society,”New Artist Members Exhibit,” 2005.
--BFA StudioWorks Gallery at Pontiac Mills, “Natalie Pfansteihl’s Thursday Outdoor Painters Group Show,” 2004.
--Open Juried "Scenes of Rhode Island, sponsored by Gov, Carciere and the Rhode Island Council on the Arts, 1004
--“All Media Juried II Show,” South Country Art Association, 2004.
--Open juried all media show, Warwick Museum, “Eighteenth Annual Competition and Exhibition for Rhode Island,” 2004.
--Open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Autumn Colors,” 2004.
--Open juried all media show, Wickford Art Association, “Abstract/Avant Garde Show,” 2004.
--Juried all media “Members Show,” South Country Art Association, 2004.
--Open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Toys big and Small,” 2004.
--Spring Bull Gallery, Newport, “Summer Waters,” 2004.
--Open juried all media show, Wickford Art Association, “Art of the Ocean State,” 2004.
--Juried all media “Members Annual”, South County Art Association, 2004.
--“All Media Juried I Show,” South County Art Association, 2004.
--Open juried all media show, Wickford Art Association, “All Creatures Great and Small,” 2004.
--Open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Things Designed by Man,” 2004.
--Juried all media “Members Show,” Wickford Art Association, 2004.
--Open juried "Scenes of Rhode Island," sponsored by Gov. Carcieri and the Rhode Island Council on the Arts,” 2003.
-- StudioWorks Gallery at Pontiac Mills, “Holiday Jazz Show,” 2003.
-- Spring Bull Gallery, Newport, “Black and White Show: Works in Graphite, Ink and Charcoal,” 2003
--Juried all media “Fall Members Show” Wickford Art Association, “Water-Media Show and Sale,” 2003.
--Open juried show, Rhode Island Watercolor Society, “Scenes of New England,” 2003.jj_+_AAAAAA 1St2
Style is an issue of an artist’s uniqueness-- something developed over time as artistic choices are made and
repeatedly utilized as a most comfortable way of working. These preferences in media, composition, paint application,
color, variety of brushwork, et cetera, together in combination compose an artist’s style of picture making.
* * *
Another point about style. I believe an artist reaches a point when the work pleases his or her own eyes, regardless of
what others may think. This is what the Impressionists must have felt when they persisted, even though their paintings
didn't conform to prevailing public and critical tastes--lacking finish, using garish colors, colors, treating
unconventional subjects not considered saleable. Monet, Degas, Manet, Picasso, and many other great masters of
twentieth century art were great draughtsmen and technicians of the artist's craft, who could have produced paintings
acceptable to their time. They didn't do so because they liked the results the way they themselves worked, which
pleased their own critical sense.
So when an artist receives a critique, he or she would best listen attentively to suggestions made, but only use advice
deemed useful by the artist him or herself. Ultimately, the artist will develop a style of painting he or she enjoys,
wouldn' want to paint any other way--knowing what subjects and compositions to choose, which colors to use,
brushwork that gratifies, and when it is complete.
Could you be happy to produce atwork that sold but didn't give you pleasure to look at yourself? Personally I couldn't
imagine doing painting that didn't gratify me, regardless of whether others liked it. To say one must conform to sell is
tempting, but not convincing in the long term. There's a saying, "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your
life." Hopefully, the money will follow, but most important is to spend as much of the precious days of our lives in ways
that give us meaning and satisfaction.
* * *
Better art comes in painting what you love, not in pleasing others. ‘Picturesque art’ may sell better, but likely won’t end
up in museums.
* * *
Certainly human beings need to satisfy fundamental needs in order to survive, but I believe among these basic
wants—alongside food, shelter, safety, and so on--is an appreciation of art. In the most extreme circumstances, men
have had to find something inside themselves, beyond pain and suffering, and in addition to the requirements of
survival, to really live. The writer George Orwell in his book “Down and Out in Paris and London,” wrote that what set
him apart, when consigned to the soul destroying boredom of days in a poorhouse during the great depression of the
1930’s, were his memories of the books he’d read, the paintings he’d seen, and his training to use his imagination.
Love of beautiful things and ability to create a world of imagination are no less applicable in our difficult times.
* * *
I don't think money and the best of materials are so much an issue for creation of great art as some might believe.
Although good brushes, paints and canvas may make the task easier—ironically more so for a beginner who may
need more help in performing the skills—these things are less necessary for the experienced artist. I’ve heard of one
painter who made a series of wonderful drawings using only burned wooden matchsticks. A decorator once told me
you could give a million dollars to a person with no artistic taste and end up with a house full of junk, but put an artist
in a junkyard and end up with a home that looked like a million dollars. Who would doubt that if Rembrandt was
handed brushes and house paints from a hardware store he could do a masterpiece.
* * *
What separates a great from an good painting is how every inch looks well made and interesting at every distance.
* * *
I’m a fan of oximorons, and here’s one on painting technique I recently read in a book about artist and teacher, David
Leiffel. He says foreground cool colors recede, and warm colors advance; but background cool colors advance, and
warm colors recede. Strange how apparently irreconcilable statements are nonetheless true. Sort of a Zen thing.
Think Mobius curves, flying fish, and swimming birds, how an hour can fly by or stretch on and on. The list is endless
(infinity is another one). All unbelievable, but undeniable.
* * *
My personal guiding belief for successful painting is the same as the credo for athletes who compete in the Special
Olympics It reads: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
* * *
Too many fine paintings are ruined in seeking to correct one thing here, another thing there, until the freshness is
gone. The effort to perfect a picture ends by fussing and revising the life out of it. There's a saying in the art world that
two people are required to paint a picture: one to paint it, and the second to tell the first when to stop. Unfortunately
few of us take that good advice.
I believe if you've got about 90% of a painting looking OK, leave the last few bits alone. There are plenty of
masterpieces with parts of the canvas showing, unintentional stray marks, paint clumps or odd splots of color,
unfinished backgrounds, sketchy looking hands and other difficult parts to get right, and so on. The artists let them
be, and now we see those paintings hanging in museums. You will complete more good work by just finishing more of
your pictures instead of trying to correct every painting error in any one of them. Ironically, when painting more
pictures, you come closer to perfection than attempting to get each exactly right.
* * *
There are numerous ways figures inserted into a landscape can spoil an otherwise fine picture. They can look
awkward, amateurish, or "cut and pasted" incongruously into an otherwise pleasing scene. To me, the solutions
involve considerations of detail, proportion, and lost and found edges.
Often an artist makes the mistake of adding much more detail to figures in his picture than he devotes to the
surrounding landscape those figures inhabit. This has a tendency to make the background look unfinished and/or the
figures fussy and overworked. It's a jarring effect that takes unity away from the artwork. As a general rule, don't
devote more brush strokes to any figure or part of a figure than you have done for any other object in the painting. If
you haven't painted individual leaves of trees or pebbles on the beach, don't put in noses, eyes and ears, hats or
stripped shirts on your people. Facial features, hands, and particularly feet in a landscape painting are best left out-
especially with smaller background figures. These features are almost always painted too detailed for the rest of the
picture, made too large or too small, and usually glaringly stand out. If you squint, you don't see hands or feet of
distant figures in a landscape. They are like the individual leaves and pebbles. If you can avoid it, don't Don't paint
such inconsequential details. Just blend the bottom of the legs into shadow, and minimally indicate heads and hands,
if at all, just as you mass leaves into foliage and only roughly suggest pebbles on the beach.
Obviously defects in drawing people or animals in correct proportion cause another grating effect. Errors most readily
noticed are heads too big, and legs too short. For best results, try putting in the mass of the torso first, then add a
small suggestion of a head you can enlarge if necessary, and then put in the legs, erring on the long side.
Last, but not least, use lost or blended edges to avoid the "cut and pasted" look of figures in a landscape. People,
animals or other creatures should be integrated into the background by merging parts of the bodies into the paint of
their surroundings. This is most usually accomplished by blending the color of the figure with the shadow on the
ground. Other body parts also can disappear into background shadow, similar color values, or, for that matter, into
In summary, figures in landscapes should be done like any other object in the picture, painted along with those other
objects, not added as an afterthought on top of the rest, or given extra "fineness" of attention. Figures attract the eye
enough all by themselves. Avoid overmuch detail, draw the figures well, attach them to other objects with appropriate
cast shadows, and you'll have results that look more artful and natural.
* * *
I've been doing some reading about James Ceil Whistler lately, a painter I much admire for his work, but I was unaware
how he contributed to many of the conventions of art that we follow today. For Instance, he introduced and
implemented modern ideas of gallery hanging. He decreed no more than double hanging of paintings and generous
spacing between pictures, versus salon style-chock a block floor to ceiling artwork. He also arranged his shows to
have subtly painted walls in uncluttered intimate rooms similar in size to those in which he desired purchased art to be
displayed, versus giant halls which characterized the usual exhibition spaces or the grand and wall-papered homes of
Victorian collectors. He insisted gallery catalogues list paintings separate from the price list, versus the usual
convention of putting the prices next to the titles. As a result of one of many lawsuits in his career, he also pioneered
the legal concept of an artist's continuing rights to his work, even following a sale-especially reproduction rights. And
last but not least, in his famous lawsuit for libel against the art critic James Ruskin, he coined the much paraphrased
statement that artwork should be priced not according to the time and labor necessary to accomplish an individual
piece, but by the artist's efforts of a lifetime.
* * *
Confidence in brushwork is to me what separates a good from a mediocre painter—the virtuosity and confidence in
the application of paint. Pecking, dabbing, tentative strokes separate the amateur from the professional.
* * *
It recently occurred to me how important the business of art is to the very creation, not to mention to the sharing and
preservation of artists’ work. Without entrepreneurial and organizational efforts to provide spaces for art to be
presented, performed, and preserved, most of the art we know would be destroyed, or unknown, and actually, never
even created. How much art would exist without sponsors and collectors, concert organizers, book publishers, art
magazine reviewers, art schools, performance halls, art associations, societies and clubs, galleries and museums?
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, and most of the world’s great paintings and sculptures would
not have had occasion to be done except for a patron’s support and often specific commission of the pieces.
Shakespeare’s plays would be lost to us had not his art loving friends recognized the value of his works, along with the
willingness of a publisher to print them. How many artists could afford to live, or even would have created a particular
artwork, unless they had a public place to display their efforts, and received recognition by a public willing to support,
buy and preserve their labors? Do we really think a virtually unknown, unsold, Vincent Van Gogh’s canvases would
have survived and become famous had not his brother Theo, an art dealer, and others like him promoted the
paintings after his death?
The wherewithal to recognize artistic ability, to fund or purchase artistic achievements, to motivate artists to get
together, to organize an art event, to establish and run a gallery, to found or administer a theatre or museum, are
undervalued qualities and abilities fundamental to art. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The instinct which flames up to
create art may be universal, but the atmosphere which fans that flame into a fire, and the fireplace structure where
that flame is preserved to provide continuing, warming inspiration for other artists and art lovers is due to the
promoters and organizers, the businessmen of art.
Another oxymoron in art: for figure drawing: you need to follow the rules of proportion, but you also need wander away
from those rules to achieve accurate likenesses.
We all can learn from constructive criticism, but there is a difference between knowing how to choose advice that suits
what you want to accomplish and needing advise because you aren’t aware what you want to accomplish.
Here’s an important consideration for appreciating and collecting good artwork. Many paintings have an initial wow
factor which, like a physically beautiful person, can powerfully attract, yet the capacity for lasting appeal, a deeper
relationship, is also important. I once knew a woman who told me that, besides sex appeal, her minimum requirement
to sleep with a man was being able to imagine having a conversation at breakfast with him the next day. Keep in mind
such a “morning after” consideration when buying art too. Good art, like a good relationship, wears well.
Appropriate framing of artwork is as important as being well dressed. Your picture may be lovely, and so may you be,
but if your artwork shows up smudged, with smeary glass, missing a mat or with the mat too large or too small, the
frame cracked, chipped or perhaps either too gaudy or too cheap for the exhibition occasion, it’s like you showing up
smelling unclean, with unkempt hair, missing some article or clothing or with clothing either too large or too small, the
fabric worn or ripped, or perhaps either overdressed or underdressed inappropriate to the occasion. Clothing may
not make the man or woman, nor a frame a good picture, but each does enhance the chances others will want to get
close enough to see you or your work.
Some art conundrums to ponder,
if you had to choose,
(and NOT have your cake and eat it too):
---Would you rather be personally pleased with the work you’re doing, regardless of what others may think; or be
praised by others for work you yourself find unsatisfactory?
---Would you prefer to have your work go mostly unpraised and unsold in your lifetime, but later be collected in
museums; or be praised and sell well now, but after your death end up in consignment shops?
---In an exhibition of your work would you rather sell five painting to five different people or, for the same combined
total price, one painting to one person?
---Would you rather have a huge compliment about one of your paintings from the artist you most admire but not sell
it, or have it disparaged by that admired artist but sell it at a high price?
---Would you rather sell only one painting that becomes a masterpiece, or sell hundreds at a high price that are
collected and highly praised but never museum quality?
---Would you rather strive to express most truly what you believe in your paintings and fail to sell many of them, or try
to please the public at some sacrifice of what you would have otherwise done and sell many more at much higher
prices? How much sacrifice?
---Would success and fame as an artist be worth the sacrifice of a happy family life? Good times with friends? Your
health? Your own happiness?
---Are there some paintings you would never sell, or does everything have its price?
---You don’t want skies to be an afterthought, little considered in a painting. They are as important to a landscape as
background is to a still life, portrait or figure study. Skies set the mood, and help unify other elements in the work. I’ll
often blend touches of the colors in the rest of the painting into my skies, even add actual streaks of those other
colors into the clouds or sky colors to establish overall harmony. Remember, ground objects do actually reflect into
the sky just as into water. The sky color or shapes can also be utilized to establish dramatic contrast with other shapes
or colors important to the composition. A blaze of light, a sweep of cloud, a blast of color--to mention only a few
examples, lead the eye around a painting. Careful though. Skies are easy overdo and under do. Use complex skies
(sunsets, wild cloud formations, et cetera) to add richness to otherwise plain scenes, but simple skies when the rest of
the painting is already full of interesting things. That being said, however, also know when to ignore everything I’ve
just said. Be true to what you actually see. If your inner eye is good at inventing, fine, but otherwise trust what nature
provides. Maybe on a given day there is a complex sky in a complex city scene, or a simple blue sky over a simple
blue sea. Usually really looking at what is in front of you provides the answer to any painting.
Choose and use your colors like guests at a party—encourage them to mingle throughout, sometimes mix with each
other, and in general not be too dissimilar in order to avoid clashes, encourage compatibility and create an overall
Thoughts on Art And Artists
I’ll add to these musings when something or other
occurs to me I feel worth sharing. These are just my
opinions, mind you. One new year’s resolution was to
avoid being judgmental—an impossible task—but
whatever judgments I make are to be taken as
ingredients, rather than food for thought. Make of
them what you will, or not.
Copyright Craig Masten All Rights Reserved