Monday, October 4, 2021

Green, Symbol of Hope or the Harbinger of Death

The word green is closely related to the Old English verb growan, “to grow.” In some cultures, green symbolizes hope, fertility and growth, while in others, it is associated with death, sickness, or the devil. It can also describe someone who is inexperienced, jealous, or sick. More recently, green symbolizes ecology and the environment.

Green is considered a secondary color created by mixing yellow and blue. Green pigments have been used since Antiquity. The Egyptians made green from natural earth and malachite.

Greeks introduced verdigris, one of the first artificial pigments. Copper resonate was introduced in European 15th century easel panting, but was soon discarded.

Green was once considered a secret color by the Chinese and more prized than gold, with only a select few able to obtain the dyes for it. In central Asia, celadon was for centuries thought to have secret magical powers. Celadon is a term for pottery denoting both wares glazed in the jade green celadon color, also known as greenware, and a type of transparent glaze, often with small cracks, that was first used on greenware, but later used on other porcelains.

Longquan celadons produced in Longquan, Zhejiang, China in the 13th century.

Muslims believed the color green to have alexipharmic (antidote for poison) powers. If celadon tableware was used to prepare and serve food, the family was thought to be protected from poison. William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, owned a sea green cup that may have been given to him to protect him from poisonous food, since he was a taster for official dinners.

Green was associated with Indian mysticism, and was found in Asian poems and Buddhist artwork. During the Romantic period, green was considered akin to the beauty of nature. Chinese Wallpapers popular among the nobility from the time of Mary Queen of Scotts show green vines creeping up walls with all manner of exotic green plants and birds.

But there was a sinister side to the green paint used by artists during this time. A chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele patented a new brilliant green paint he named Scheele’s Green. He came upon it accidentally while experimenting with arsenic in 1775. Though he privately noted that the new color might be toxic, it didn’t deter him from obtaining a patent. Soon manufacturers were using the new pigment for paints, wallpapers and all types of household items.

Green wallpaper was thought to contribute to the demise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Longmont estate where he was being held in exile on the island of St. Helena was subject to dampness. It is believed that the mold that formed on the walls reacted with the arsenic in the green patterned wallpaper, causing the air in the house to become infused with the poison. A strip of wallpaper was torn off of a wall and recently scientifically tested. Traces of Scheele’s arsenite was found in the patterns of green and gold fleurs-de-lis.

Around the same time, a sample of his hair was tested and shown to contain a level of arsenic twenty times the safest amount. Though at the time of his death he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, it’s possible that what led to this diagnosis was Napoleon’s exposure to arsenic, which is believed to be one cause of gastric carcinoma. Six years after his arrival at St. Helena, Napoleon died.

As it turned out, not only green, but yellow, blue and magenta held traces of arsenic. In 1888, Henry Carr reported that arsenic found in artificial flowers, carpets, toys, and fabrics as well as in paint and wallpaper was responsible for the deaths of children and adults. Still, the allure of bright greens over the dull grays and browns of that time was too strong and its use continued well into the 19th century before it was replaced with the safer cobalt green.

“It’s not easy being green.”

-Kermit: Sesame Street frog puppet, singing about identity 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Watery Reflections

Reflections give dimension to a picture, add color and depth, and suggest a mood. A reflection is not a mirror image of the object, though it may seem that way. When you paint a reflection, you are painting a distorted version of the reflector and its environment.

There are a few things to keep in mind when painting reflections. It’s important to determine the perspective of the reflectors, and your distance from them will determine the size and shape of the reflections. The type of surface of the reflector is also important. Is the reflected surface rough or smooth? A rougher surface gives a rougher, more distorted reflection, while a smooth surface’s reflection can be very clear.

Reflections are commonly found in water ways of all types because of the very nature of water. They also originate in inert objects like mirrors and shiny objects, like metals, and transparent objects like glass. The following are some considerations when painting subjects in water, such as buildings, the sun and the surrounding scenery and sky.

Reflections and Color

  • Dark colors in dry land become lighter when reflected in the water
  • Light colors on dry land become darker when reflected in the water.
  • The colors of the sky appear slightly darker on the surface of the water


The distance of the viewer to the water affects how clearly the image of the earth and sky are reflected.

  • When painting objects next to the water, the shadow cast by these objects usually makes it easier to view down below the surface, as the object blocks the reflection of the sky.
  • When standing close to calm water, the viewer will see only a weak reflection. Farther away, water will reflect details, acting nearly like a mirror.
  • When observing dirty water from a close distance you will be able to see the overall color of the water itself.

Shapes & Angles Reflected in the Water

Reflected images should not be rendered exactly as a mirrored object. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The reflected scene in the water is the actual object reflected from two different angles.
  • The reflected image in the water bounces off the surface of the water.
  • What you actually see is the reflected scene below the surface from an angle for as far as your eyes can see.
  • You are actually seeing more below the reflected objects and even reflection of objects that you cannot see at all when you look directly at them.

Painting Ripples

Ripples combine the reflected colors from light and dark areas.

  • Use quick, energetic brushwork with side to side strokes of a thin brush.
  • Drag paint from dark reflected objects quickly into the light areas, clean the brush, then drag the paint from the light areas back into the dark.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. “   

-         Charles Dickens

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Three-Point Perspective

Most of the time, one- or two-point perspective is what you will use when drawing. It’s often the view that you will see when you are observing something from a normal eyesight level. However, when you are viewing a scene from a more extreme position, you’ll want to use three-point perspective.
For example, you will use three-point perspective when you want to give the impression of looking up at a subject from a low position or down at it from a higher position.

A word of caution: your eyes can play tricks on you when you are trying to determine the perspective of an object. Remember to always use some form of measurement when deciding where to place your vanishing points and to determine the size of your subjects. It’s helpful to use a straight edge ruler when working with perspective and to practice drawing it on paper before you commit to other media.

Drawing a Three-Point Perspective

The following is an example of how to draw a three-point perspective.

First, start with a two-point perspective: Mark two vanishing points on a horizon line. Then, draw a line from each vanishing point to a point that will mark the bottom corner of a set of blocks, forming a “V”. Draw two more lines from the vanishing point to the first lines.

Directly below the front corner of the nearest rectangle, put a mark. This will be your third point.

Now, draw a line to the bottom corner of rectangle block, ending it a bit above the third point.

Connect the lines from the top edges of the rectangles to the third point.

Draw a line that begins at both vanishing points and ends at the bottom of the line of the nearest block.

The green line shows the group of blocks with the three-point perspective.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Passing of a Legend

On April 18, 2021, the art world lost a modern legend, Richard Schmid. Richard Schmid was and will always be an artist that I look up to and one that I have learned a great deal about art and how to paint. I have almost all of his books and DVDs, and I refer to them often, their pages well-worn and many sections streaked with yellow highlights. Now as an art instructor, I often turn to them for inspiration for art instruction. Some of you may have seen some of his work, heard me talk about him or read about him in my past art emails.

My admiration for Richard Schmid goes back several years when I was just beginning to look for alternative art education. In 2007, I was searching the Internet for artists who were hosting workshops in the New England area and came across an artist named Albert Handel. I loved his style, which was modern impressionistic, and I wanted to learn his methods. He worked both with oils and pastels, and his paintings would sing with color in a relaxed manner that belied years of practice. 

I saw that he and Anita West were going to do a five-day workshop in Putney, Vermont at the Village Arts of Putney, a reclaimed New England barn turned art studio, so I decided to sign up for it. The first four days were spent at the barn and on location with Handel and West with demonstrations and plein air painting. I was in heaven! On the last day, we were all treated to an indoor still life demonstration by both Handel and the secret bonus artist: Richard Schmid. I had heard of Richard Schmid, read a lot about him and loved his work, but my painting studies came a little late and I missed being able to take instruction from him.

 Nancy, Anita, and Albert.

I couldn’t believe my luck when they told us that he and his wife Nancy, who is also a fabulous artist, would be there that day. He and Albert painted, each from their own angle, and the class took up positions behind them and watched in awe as both of them turned out terrific paintings, each in their own style, in less than four hours. Richard spoke about his love of his craft, intertwining serious thoughts about art with delightful jokes as he worked, but Albert was mostly quiet and took Richard’s occasional ribbing with graceful ease. They were lifelong friends, so as he worked, Richard regaled us with wonderful stories of their adventures painting together.

 Richard painting a floral still life.

Albert's pastel rendering.

I consider myself very lucky to have met Richard and be in his presence as he constructed another masterpiece in front of a enthralled group of students. From my notes of that day: “But the best part was meeting Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik, and getting to watch Richard paint-what a treat!” and, “When Richard painted, all of his strokes were deliberate. He never repainted over an area, and he thought out every stroke.” As you can tell, I was captivated by his methods. I was also entranced by Albert’s pastel rendering, which was so deceptively casual and bursting with color.

Village Arts of Putney

At the end of the session, Richard, Nancy and Albert answered questions and signed books and prints. I bought two beautiful prints, one of Nancy’s and one of Richard’s, and a signed copy of Richard’s first book, Alla Prima, Everything I Know About Painting.

In 2008, I drove up to Putney, Vermont on Saturdays to take classes at the Village Arts of Putney with one of Richard’s students, Jack Keledjian. It was a fun place to gather with like-minded artists and to share our thoughts on art and painting, and it’s a memory that I will always treasure.

Additional reading: Richard Schmid

“Each one of us is here to make this world a better place through our art. What you create is important and who you are is to be treasured, and that together we can fill this world with beauty and make it a better place for all.”                                                                                        -           Nancy Guzik

“The most enjoyable experience for me is still plein air painting … and its natural companion, alla prima (painting from life),” writes Schmid. “What could be more exhilarating than getting out under a great sky and feeling a fresh breeze while I paint the delights of nature? Painting on the spot from life is the method I learned from the start of my training, and the one I regard as the most challenging and therefore most rewarding.”                                                                              - Richard Schmid

Monday, May 10, 2021

Two-Point Perspective

Recently, I presented an example of one-point perspective that uses one vanishing point. This week, I’d like to talk about another type of perspective in the Linear Perspective group, the two-point perspective. Two-point perspective is mostly evident in street and building scenes, as well as interiors. However, whenever there is a need to project depth and dimension, you will find that understanding two-point perspective will help in sizing and drawing all of your subjects.

The “two point” in a two-point perspective grid is referring to two different vanishing “points,” where each becomes an anchor that we use create a 3D object on a 2D plane (your canvas or paper).

Typically, these two points are at the opposite sides of the composition, with one on the far left and another on the far right.

Create a Two-Point Perspective Box or Building

To create a two-point perspective box or building, draw a straight line on a sheet of paper. This will be your horizon line or sight line. Place two points at opposite sides on the line.
Now, draw a line where the corner of your box or building will be in relation to the horizon line.

Connect the top and bottom of the corner line to both vanishing points.

Draw more lines that begin at the vanishing points and end at the lines that connect the corner line.

Draw perpendicular lines to finish the outlines of your box or building.

You can use this method to draw street scenes, such as this one. In this case, the vanishing points are off to the right and left of the scene, the horizon line cutting through the building horizontally.

“Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

More on Perspective

Last week I wrote about how, with linear perspective, an object appears to diminish in size as the distance from the viewer increases. Linear perspective is a way to create an illusion of spatial depth in your artwork. It enables you to replicate a 3-D object on a 2-D canvas or drawing surface.

There are three types of linear perspective drawing: one-point perspective, two-point perspective, and three-point perspective.

One-Point Perspective

One-point perspective is a type of drawing created on a 2D plane that uses one point in the distance (the vanishing point) from which everything in the drawing is set out.

One of the best illustrations of single-point perspective is to imagine that you’re looking at a straight road. All of the elements of the composition—particularly the road itself—will converge at a single point on the horizon line.

Single-point perspective can be at any point along the horizon line; the only stipulation is that all lines lead to the solitary point.

 “Art happens-no hovel is safe from it, no prince can depend on it, the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about.”

-James Abbott McNeil Whistler

Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Horizon Line and Linear Perspective

 Linear perspective is a method of representing space in which the scale of an object diminishes as the distance from the viewer increases. Essentially, objects that are farther away from us appear smaller than those that are near. 

A horizon line is the intersection of where the ground or body of water meets the sky. The point at which diminishing directional lines meet on a horizon line is called the vanishing point. A city street is a great example of linear perspective. 

On this photo, you can take a ruler and run a line along both sides of the sidewalk into the distance to where they converge. The red dot in the second picture represents the sidewalk vanishing point on the horizon.

Skyline Vs. Horizon Line

Be careful not to confuse the skyline with the horizon line.

The skyline is also where the sky and land meet, but is generally in reference to mountains, which are almost always above the actual horizon line/eye level. The red line in the second photo shows the horizon line.