Monday, January 26, 2015

Changing Mediums for Inspiration

Armand Cabrera

 We as artists can fall into painting things the same way all the time if we are not careful. Artistic scrutiny gets traded in for symbols. We do this when we start painting unconsciously but we can also do it for expedience after years of working. Instead of observing what we see and trying to honestly record that experience, we use shorthand; it’s the symbol we’ve made for water or for trees or for the sky or clouds. These symbols get repeated too often and they are used without thoughtfulness because we know they work.

opposite bank watercolor

 Professional artists have deadlines and client expectations that can work against growing as an artist. It’s hard to turn down jobs to continue to do exactly what we've always done in favor of risking the quality of our work in the short term for becoming a better artist in the long term. As hard as it seems I think it is essential for an artist to force those changes over the course of their careers to avoid burnout and stagnation.

red roses watercolor

One of the best ways to break this habit is to switch mediums. When I am learning to control another medium the change forces a more thoughtful approach to painting. Switching to transparent watercolor, acrylics or digital painting help me take a break from oil painting and they always force me to slow down and see more carefully. The new medium makes things that have become unconscious patterns to be dissected and thought about in a more purposeful way because those oil painting symbols won’t work. Ultimately this reprogramming helps me to be more thoughtful in a way I couldn't have without the change. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Fine Art of Offending

Armand Cabrera

Grigory Gagarin. This Russian painting from 1840-1850 shows prophet Muhammad preaching

I feel I must comment in the aftermath of the tragic events in France The murders of French cartoonists by extremists who took offense to their depictions of Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad. 

As a society consenting adults should be able to engage together in whatever they want as long as those decisions don’t infringe on other people’s rights. We should define for ourselves as adults what we can and cannot say or do.

 It seems in the days following the tragedy people are now criticizing the cartoonists as racists and islamophobes. At first the gut reaction to choose the side of the victims but in the immediate aftermath this stance put some people in a position that has left them uncomfortable.

 Free speech it seems, is not really what most people want here or abroad. That’s why colleges here regularly cave to groups of students who complain about guest speakers to their campuses. Speakers like Bill Maher, George W Bush, Bill Ayers, or Sam Harris. It is why media outlets like NPR refused to show any of the cartoons in their reporting. They were afraid they would offend some of their supporters. In much of the world free speech now means I’m offended so you can’t do, say, draw, play that musically.

Throughout history, mostly religious zealots have been decrying the end of morality and society, it seems these kinds of people have a hard time dealing with their own finiteness. They look to impose their will on as many other people as possible seeking comfort holding power over others.

 Like it or not the world is a better place now than it has ever been in history of mankind. By any measure, more people live longer, eat better, are more educated and have a better quality of life than at any other time. There is no external punishment for equality, progress and  a personal freedom of expression for all human beings. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Color Opportunities in Painting


Armand Cabrera

I've talked about looking for color opportunities in your paintings in passing before but people ask me how do you go about seeing more color? Like everything else color sensitivity can be acquired with focus and practice. The best way to learn about color is to paint directly from life outdoors. While working indoors is better than working from photos, it is still constricted to the variety nature has to offer.
an example of manipulating hues

The intensity of the light and its direction, the quality of the atmosphere outside provide so many more choices for your paintings than any other way of working. In fact there are so many choices  outdoor work forces them to be made and it informs us about relationships of colors we could never calculate in the studio on our own. By focusing your attention on color and color relationships outdoors you will become more sensitive toward seeing colors.

an example of manipulating chroma and hue

For you to introduce color opportunities into your work the structure of the painting must be well grounded. To do this you must prioritize the aspects of color for each image you paint. Be aware that colors and their aspects are not isolated but that they interact with everything else in the scene. The success of your color depends on your ability to recognize what you see and translate the essence of that experience, filtering out the unnecessary or unimportant. This is where designing the idea of the painting helps you. Design is imposing structure and limitations on what you see to create a more powerful statement than just strict mimesis would allow. By consciously deciding what approach is best for a particular subject you improve its impact.

an example of manipulating values

The aspects of color you have at your disposal are Value, Hue and Chroma. If you understand this you can decide which aspect dominates the scene you are looking at. This is where the decision process allows color choices to be made and insures your choices are unique to your way of thinking. If you decide the values need to be maintained then the opportunities for color are with your hues or chroma; if the hues or chroma are being maintained then the opportunities are with values.  In my opinion a good painter reveals their process of seeing the world through these decisions.  Outdoor work gives you the largest possible set of combinations and relationships to pick from and prioritize with and that is why field work is important and must be continued throughout a career.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Larry the Cat

Armand Cabrera

Two weeks ago today I had to euthanize my cat Larry.  This is very painful for me to write and share publicly and I have always tried to avoid letting this art blog become a diary, nothing could be more boring and trite than that. I've held back posting this for these fifteen days for exactly the reason that it is personal but writing it isn’t enough. This is a part of my life so intertwined with my art. I find posting this to be my only real outlet for expressing the sadness I feel for the end of the symbiotic relationship I shared with a creature I could never fully understand but was completely responsible for.

I also want to call attention to the abuse most animals suffer as pets. People discard and ignore them as if they are inanimate objects to be played with when bored and they are ignored the rest of the time. Millions of animals are euthanized every year because people feel the need to own other living things. People breed them for visual traits that cause the animals all kinds of health issues and shorten their lives.

Larry has been my constant companion in the studio for the last six years. He was a rescue. He was probably around 6 years old at that time. He and another cat Burt were abandoned in an apartment in New York when the owner left the apartment and moved in with his girlfriend.  The person who abandoned them had a sister responsible enough to take the cats to a rescue instead of a shelter where they would have been euthanized immediately and they came to us through the rescue as fosters.

We took both of them in since they had been raised together from the time they were kittens and we thought it better to not separate them. Unfortunately Burt was already dying from neglect when we got them and he only lasted a month.  He had stopped eating when they abandoned them and was already in late stages of organ failure because of it. Larry on the other hand was 25 pounds and his belly dragged on the ground when he walked. He was unsocial and was quick to bite and scratch. He had respiratory problems from his weight. He liked to lie on his back, probably to ease the pressure on his spine and legs the excessive weight caused him.  The first things we did were start to regulate his food intake and try and give him more exercise. Eventually we put him on a strict diet and kept him to two hundred calories a day. To help him exercise, I would grab his back toes when he was lying around. He was too heavy to get me with his front claws or teeth but it forced him to do involuntary crunches with his attempts at reaching me.

Within two years we had him down to 16 lbs. and within two more years 14.5 lbs. (normal weight for his size) where he stayed until he got sick. His respiratory problems went away. He became much more playful and we fostered two other younger cats, Trigger and Sammy for him to be around.

After all of the things I put him through, Larry decided he was my cat. He started to hang out with me in the studio when I painted and would let me scratch him on the head every once in a while. Cats aren't as domesticated as dogs yet. Dogs have about ten thousand years on cats in that area but still there is some interaction and empathy cats are capable of. Larry liked to play and I could role a ping pong ball at him and he would hit it back to me for as long as I was willing to keep doing it. He liked his catnip and we grew it for all the cats. He also liked to eat the other fresh herbs we had in pots on the deck. 

Every animal has a unique personality and Larry was sort of a cranky older guy compared to the other younger cats. We were alike that way and so he was mine. He didn't like to climb or jump up on things, which is odd behavior for most cats. He didn't like to be picked up or sit in peoples laps. He was curious and had a sense of humor though. He would sometimes run into the studio like he was being chased (he wasn't) and then would run back out, and then peak at me around the corner to see if I would follow him.  He liked me to chase him and he would chase me back.

Whenever I would leave on painting trips he would hang out in the studio or sleep on my side of the bed until I got home. When I painted he would position himself near me, if I was on the computer in the studio he was close by my side. When I would read at night in bed he would lay on me and I would scratch his ears for him, it became his little ritual, if I lay down to read he wanted his ears scratched.

When he became sick this November I took him to the vet and we found out he had late stage cancer, the doctors said he would live much longer and asked me if I wanted to put him down right then. I asked if he was in pain and they said no.  After discussing options, I took him back home with some pain meds for any discomfort he might have and kept him comfortable and pain free for about a month. Things almost seemed normal for a few weeks I treated him as if there was nothing wrong with him even though I knew most likely the cancer would overcome him no matter what we did. The last day I had him it was obvious he was in discomfort and I arranged to bring him back to the vet for the last time. 

At almost sixty I've seen my share of death and disease with my friends and family. For me euthanizing a pet is much harder than the death of a human being. In most cases with people you can explain what’s happening to them, and while that might not ease their suffering, if they are lucid, it does allow them to prepare as best they can for the end of their life. Pets depend on you for care and wellbeing and in the end you are also responsible for their destruction, except you cannot explain to them what their suffering is or convey to them what you perceive as an intended kindness by ending their pain and so they still suffer some confusion at the very last. Larry was a good cat and will be missed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New paintings

Armand Cabrera

After my trip out west to the San Juan Mountains in October and lots of time in the field during November I’ve spent the last few weeks painting in the studio for my galleries in Vail CO and Pasadena, CA. These paintings are some of the studio work I've finished  from my reference of those trips. 

For me outdoor time is all about getting the mood and feeling of the place I’m in. Because I finish my sketches in one sitting my goals are different than studio work. Outdoors I don’t design too much on the fly while I paint. Instead I work to absorb as much of the experience as I can. Of course I’m also subject to weather changes and time constraints that may interrupt the process and prevent me from finishing the painting. 

I don’t mix outdoor and indoor work if I need more time for an outdoor piece I bring it back to the studio and get out a new canvas and paint it from scratch. For me this preserves the integrity of the painting process and my mood at the time I paint.

 In the studio I can be more contemplative and think about how to make the sketches into a more focused statement. I’m free to redesign elements or edit them more than I would outdoors. When I get a complete statement onsite I pass it on to my galleries otherwise they are the basis for studio work.