Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Workshop in Great Falls Virginia

I've firmed up my teaching schedule for next year and for my first workshop of the new year I’ll be teaching a studio class in Great Falls February 3rd, 4th and 5th in 2012; the hours of the class each day will be 10am to 5pm. I will demo every day for an hour right after the lunch break. The price of this workshop is $425.

Registration is through the Great Falls Foundation for the Arts (GFFFTA)

Right now there are still spaces available. The workshop will focus on honing your skills for landscape still life and portrait painting. I will address drawing, color, and brushwork and good studio practices. We will also discuss what makes a successful painting and what step an artist can take to make sure their work has a focused idea from the start.

Students can work from sketches and photographs and I will discuss how to use each effectively to maximize the success of the final painting. We will also have some still life and cast set ups for those that want to work from life in the studio. The instruction will be targeted toward the individual student’s goals as a painter regardless of level of ability. The class size is strictly limited to 15 students.

This is the only completely studio workshop I am scheduled to teach next year, the other two are plein air landscape workshops. For those of you with a broader focus this is the workshop for you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Henry Ossawa Tanner

By Armand Cabrera

 Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania on June 21, 1859. He was the son of a  Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Tanner’s family settled in Philadelphia when he was five years old. At thirteen while walking in his neighborhood with his father he saw an artist painting. The young Tanner was so fascinated by the process he decided to become an artist. Tanner studied on his own and with some local artists for the next seven years.

In 1880 at the age of twenty one Tanner enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts and studied under Thomas Eakins and Thomas Hovenden for the next five years. At the academy Eakins gave Tanner the solid training he needed in drawing and painting and Hovenden taught him to infuse his paintings with emotion and sensitivity and to paint from experience. These two complimentary approaches would serve Tanner well as he matured as an artist.

Tanner left the academy before graduation in hopes of creating a successful photography gallery in Atlanta, GA. The endeavor was short lived and he sold the business and moved to the Blue Ridge of North Carolina where he sold photographs and painted.

In 1890, the Hartzells, his best patrons at the time arranged a show of Tanners work in Cincinnati. When the paintings did not sell the Hartzells bought the entire collection. This sale allowed Tanner to continue his studies in Europe.

In 1891 Tanner arrived in Paris and enrolled in the Academie Julian. Here Tanner studied under Jean Paul Laurens and Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant. In the summers Tanner spent time in Concarneau in Brittany at the American art colony there.

In 1894 Tanner had his painting The Banjo Lesson accepted into the Paris Salon. For the next twenty years he would have a painting accepted every year in the Salon. In 1895 Tanner won an honorable mention from the Salon for his painting, Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In 1897 he was awarded a third class medal from the Salon for The resurrection of Lazarus and the painting was purchased by the French Government. After 1897 Tanners work became more personal and his brushwork and color more post impressionistic. He developed a unique approach that mixed the modernism of the time with a solid academic foundation.

Tanner began to explore more religious themes after his success at the Salon. He infuses a sense of place and great emotional impact in these large canvases. They have a powerful authenticity that is usually lacking in this type of subject matter. His characters are not painted as the safe clichéd blond European bourgeoisie in robes walking through candy colored gardens. Tanner’s scenes are the real world experiencing the bibles miracles and by painting them as such they heighten the sense of the Divine for the viewer.

In 1921 Tanner was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor, The highest honor the French government bestows on nonmilitary personnel.

Tanner should be remembered as a great American painter for his accomplishments as an artist but it is also the courage it took for him to achieve his success as an African American man at the end of the nineteenth century that stands out from other painters of that time. Wherever he travelled in America he was controlled by the separate but equal laws of the time, especially in the southern states. The Pennsylvania Academy accepted him on the strength of his work but then delayed his entrance when they found out his race. He constantly suffered racial attacks by other students of his class at the Academy. Joseph Pennell was part of a group of racist students that tied Tanner to his easel and then left him outside in the middle of the street when Tanners ability quickly began to eclipse theirs. He constantly fought to be recognized for his ability alone and to eschew being tied to any type of racial style or aesthetic. His treatment in America was severe enough that he lived most of his life in France.

Henry Ossawa Tanner died in Paris, France in 1937.


Henry Ossawa Tanner
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Rizzoli Publishers 1992


My effort has not only been to put the Biblical Incident into the original setting but at the same time to give the human touch which makes the whole world kin and whichever remains the same while giving truth of detail not to lose sight of important matters- by this I mean that of color and design should be as carefully thought out as if the subject had only these qualities. To me it seems no handicap to have a subject of nobility worthy of ones best continued effort. There is but one thing more important than these qualities, and that is to try and convey to the public the reverence and elevation these subjects impart to you, which is the primary cause of their choice. ~ Henry Ossawa Tanner

Monday, December 5, 2011


Armand Cabrera

We’ve talked about practice and tenacity as essential parts of becoming a successful artist. The cornerstone of all good habits though is focus. Focus is the engine that drives all accomplishment. I’ve never met anyone who has succeeded without it. You may not have money or a helper or even talent but if you have focus there is no stopping you.

Focus allows people to take all their energies, resources and time and commit them to a single goal. This is not easy in my experience. People don’t like it when someone is committed to a goal. People will want to distract you and vie for your attention; don’t allow it.

Research studies show that people who multi-task get less done and the quality of their work suffers when compared to people who focus on completing one task at a time and finishing it before moving on to something else.

Tasks like painting, music and mathematics require long periods of focus to achieve successful results. If you want to improve your painting the best way to do so is to cut out distractions and work for as long as you can in an uninterrupted block of time. You don’t have the time you say? That is a matter of priority; you prioritize things everyday so choose to prioritize your painting time.

Here are some ideas for staying on track and keeping your focus.

Be clear about what your goals are decide what you want and how you will achieve it.

Don’t set arbitrary timelines or unrealistic objectives for yourself that is a recipe for failure.

Set a fixed amount of time for practice and study and make sure it is consistent and uninterrupted time. Keep distractions to a minimum and you will accomplish more in the time you do have.

Let the other people in your life know your intentions so they have a chance at supporting your plan.

Don’t victimize others with what you are doing. If you have made prior commitments to family, friends or employers, fulfill those commitments first.

Surround yourself with people who are supportive and respect what you are trying to achieve. It doesn’t matter what level of success you are after.

Always give any chosen task your full attention and best effort.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


by Armand Cabrera

When you plan your color and values carefully you can employ them to great effect with what I call weaving. Just like weaving a cloth, ¬the color and values are woven into the painting with intent creating a strong abstract composition. This is not the same thing as toning your canvas and allowing color to peak through the brush work in a haphazard way. Weaving uses the intelligence and creativity of the painter in service of an idea to introduce structure irrespective of subject. It is a powerful and effective design tool. This is why thumbnails and color comps created before the details and subject are overlaid onto the design are important. You cannot rely on motif and subject only to carry your painting. A good painting must have a good plan for all of the elements.

Below are some examples; I’ve varied the subject matter to show that any type of painting can incorporate the idea of weaving.

 Dean Cornwell

 John Carlson

 Aldro Hibbard

Joaquín Sorolla

 John Singer Sargent

 Emile Carlsen

 Jane Peterson

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered

Armand Cabrera

This week I had the pleasure of seeing the Howard Pyle Exhibit at the Delaware Art Museum. The Preview and show were well attended proving once again how starved the public is for this type of art. The exhibit really shows his range as an artist.
This is the largest showing of his work since his death 100 years ago. The museum also displayed the work of some of Pyle's students, showing his influence as a teacher. Walking around with the other artists we were all struck by his use of color and value and his great eye for unusual compositions.

5am. When I was younger I would've been coming home at this time

In Chads Ford, 10 miles away at the Brandywine River Museum they also had a tribute to Pyle and some of his students, plus all seventeen of N.C. Wyeth’s Treasure Island Paintings on display.

Margo, myself, Jeanette, James, Jean Baptiste, Lester

My trip started with a 5:30 am Friday morning drive up to the Brandywine River Museum to meet James Gurney and his wife Jeanette, Jean Baptiste Monge and his wife Margo and Lester Yocum when the museum opened at 9:30am. Jim had these little pieces of paper with 11 on them and at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 we took a picture of ourselves. I think it caused a rip in the space time continuum somewhere. 

Myself and Garin and our portraits

After seeing the show we went and had lunch and were joined by two other artists Kevin Ferrara and Garin Baker.While we all  talked James painted watercolor portraits of me and Garin.

At 5pm there was a 2 hour preview party at the Delaware Art Museum which was very well attended.
Afterward, we left James and Jeanette who had prior committments, and found a diner and talked art for a few hours.

                              left to right, Garin Baker Kev Ferrara, Margo and Jean Baptiste Monge

Saturday, I was back at the Delaware to get an early look at the show before James Gurneys lecture. People were waiting for the Museum to open when I got there. As I was walking around with James and Kevin we met Noah Bradley who was up for the Lecture and show as well as Patrick O’brien. I was also introduced to John R. Schoonover and Ian Schoenherr.  James Gurney gave a 45 minute talk on Howard Pyle and Composition Techniques to a packed crowd.

Kev Ferrara briefly eclipsed by Garin Baker and Noah Bradley

Afterward, a few of us took our lives in our hands trying to caravan to the diner we had been to the night before. After a few close calls we finally made it and enjoyed a simple lunch with more great conversation.

Heading home, I had plenty of time to think about Pyle and his legacy that still touches artists of all ages to this day.
If you are on the East Coast it is a must see show.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Painting with Electronic Media

Armand Cabrera

I’m going to rant a little; my comments are about process and fad, not about the quality of the images that are made or the ability of the artists making them. The medium has people who are great at it and those who aren’t, just like in traditional media.
The “new” craze is to take your IPad, other tablet pc or laptop and paint either outdoors or in a studio setting like life drawing. My reaction is why bother? Unless you work in an industry where the facility gained painting on a computer translates to your job, there is no upside to it as an artist.

 It isn’t even that new. When I was an in-house production artist we started painting with our computers in the early 90’s. I have been painting with my laptop since the early 2000’s. The industry and to some extent illustration has been digital for at least 15 years now. The fact that my aunt now has an IPad and paints with it, doesn’t make it new or very interesting. If you think finger painting on an IPad is difficult try painting with a mouse in index color using Deluxe paint.

But it’s cheaper than traditional media

Not really. A tablet computer will run you $400-800 for the tablet alone; double that for a usable laptop. Then make sure you add a 300-500 for some decent paint software and maybe a stylus with pressure sensitivity. If you have a laptop you will need to buy a drawing tablet like a Wacom Intuos, add 300. You will need an extra battery on your laptop after it runs out so add that second battery cost to the hardware section. The IPad doesn’t have a replaceable battery. So you have 5 hours of practical battery life for each charge. With traditional painting you can recoup the cost of the materials by selling the paintings when you’re good enough.

Where’s the image?

Oh yeah, right, there isn’t an actual painting. You could print out the image you do and make a giclee of it but those are just poster quality reproductions with no real intrinsic value to them. First you would have to buy a printer and inks and paper to print it on. Remember the file would have to be a high enough resolution to make the print acceptable. You might be able to get 20 bucks for it.

People are claiming that digital is closer to true color and light because it is additive, not subtractive like painting. Untrue, for it to be additive it has to produce white when you mix the colors together. All paint programs on a computer mimic subtractive painting; so it’s even dumber than painting with real paints because it takes an additive environment (the monitor) and makes a false subtractive output (the paint program) which is code written by people who aren't artists so other people can use it to paint with.

Don’t quit your day job

The biggest problem I see for practitioners is digital art leaves nothing tangible for the effort; no chance of selling it for any real money, which forces digital outdoor work to be a hobby or just practice. I think that mindset affects the outcome of the work. Part of the destruction of design, production and illustration wages can be linked to this attitude.

Digital image creation is geared for disposable art and massed produced and cheaply made prints. It has to do with the marketplace and the value of physical originals over prints that lack uniqueness. For it to be taken seriously digital artists must overcome that idea and create a paradigm shift in the thinking of collectors. I personally don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

                                                          All digital  images used in this article werre created by Armand Cabrera copyright 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Translating the Idea

Armand Cabrera

I constantly see people in my classes and workshops struggling to find the right approach to painting from life. In my demos I try to stress the importance of good drawing and accurate color and value relationships. These tools allow you to make the marks you want to make when and how you want to make them. This is facility but facility only gets you so far. Many people think if they can just copy what they see the painting will be successful. The problem is you can’t copy, ever. What you can do, once you have the facility to make the marks you want is translate what you see into an intended arrangement of shapes.

Translating is the key to a successful painting from life. Everything you do, no matter how tightly or expressively you paint when working from life, is always translating.

Translating is turning 3 dimensional objects into 2 dimensional marks on your painting surface. What separates the more successful artists is the ability to only use the information that enhances the painting and doesn’t detract. This is easier said than done.

Everything is relative- color, value, shape and edges. All must be used in service of an idea that you hold in your mind for the finished painting. Translation requires more thought and ability than copying which is why so many artists struggle with painting from life successfully. You must understand that you are trying to fool the eye for the viewer and at the same time be aware of the marks you make and how they relate to the whole as just marks of color and value. It is this last part that gives the viewer the emotional response to your work. This is especially true for outdoor work.

When you paint outdoors you are always keying the color and value. Keying is limiting the range of color and value available to you in pigment and observed in nature. It is your exaggeration and sublimation of the information presented by you in an intelligent way that leads to a finished painting with clear intent.

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition. Claude Monet

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tom Thomson

Armand Cabrera

Tomas John Thomson was born near Claremont Ontario Canada August 5, 1877. One of ten children he was raised in a rural area on a farm where Thomson developed a love of the outdoors and nature.

Thomson tried different jobs during his twenties apprenticing as a machinist for a short time , attending business school and working as a commercial artist. He tried to enlist for the Boer war in 1899 but was refused because of his health.

It was in 1909 after securing a job as an engraver for Grip LTD that he began to paint in his spare time. The other employees included Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, Frank Charmichael and Fred Varley. These men would later form the Group of Seven along with AY Jackson, JEH Mac Donald and Lawren Harris. Though Thomson painted with these men he was never officially part of the Group of Seven.

Thomson continued to work as a commercial artist until 1913 when he decided to try and paint fulltime. He never realized his goal and found side work as a guide, fire fighter and ranger to help supplement his income. Thomson painted many outdoor sketches of the untamed northern wilderness. It is this raw and rugged aesthetic that he is best remembered for. His strong graphic design and bold, sometimes crude brushwork captured the spirit of the places he painted.

Thomson died unexpectedly, in 1917 at the age of 39, of a possible drowning accident. Since his death his art has come to stand as Canada’s first national art with little connection to Europe and its influences. The work of Thomson and the Group of Seven still has a powerful influence stylistically on Canada and its subsequent generations of artists who respond to its bold honesty.


The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson
David P. Silcox
Firefly Books 2003


The source of our art then is not in the achievements of other artists in other days and lands, although it has learned a great deal from these, our art is founded on a long and growing love and understanding of the North in an ever clearer experience of oneness with the informing spirit of the whole land and a strange brooding sense of Mother Nature fostering a new race and a new age... ~Lawren Harris