Monthly Archives: October 2011

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #13


The work of the great pioneers in the art of photography have long been a true source of inspiration for me and have been a driving force in my design sensibilities.  Studying the simplicity and solidity of their compositions has had a profound impact on the way in which I view my subjects and played significant role in the composition of this painting,“Coffee”, (page 30) .

As I was surveying the subject while deeply squinting to prepare my approach to this work , I could almost see the veiled effect of light that the early photographers so keenly captured.  This “veil” softened the forms while pulling together the values, simplifying the shapes and created strength in the design that would have been lost had the shapes been broken up by more value transitions.

The challenge at hand was  to continue to see the elements in their simplest essence, so as not to disrupt the simple masses and to create a connected design with the lights as they weaved through the dark background.

While modeling the detail within the larger shapes, the photographs of Clarence White and Edward Steichen whose bold graphic shapes and simplified value patterns flashed through my mind as I continued the work to completion.

While ” Coffee” was the first of many works that had this influence, many more of the works within “Not Far from Home” were created in a similar fashion.  Some include, “Leica” (page 112) , “Scarlet” (page 99) and “A Simple Gift” (page 95).


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Adoration of the Christ Child by Carl Marr

The story goes that this magnificent work by Carl Marr was deteriorating in damp storage at the University of Berkeley, California before it was recently given the light of day and beautifully restored.  Now on permanent display at the Wisconsin Museum of Art, this painting (just guessing, roughly 8′ x 14′), is an excellent example of Mr. Marr’s incredible ability to capture light.  The artist’s lyrical arrangement of the heads of the numerous angels has also captivated me as I have studied the work.  The positive and negative interplay of shapes is exquisite as well as the warm and cool dance that was employed to turn the forms.  Notice the cooling of tone at the top and back of the heads which creates greater dimension by rounding the head with temperature.  This is truly a great work of Carl’s and will always be a favorite of mine.  However, his magnum opus, ” The Flagellants”, is an even greater achievement of design and scale, which I hope to share with you when I can photograph it upon re-installation in the new museum… until then, I am glad you are enjoying his work as much as I have.

Carl’s Mother and Father

The following post continues to share the amazing work of Carl Von Marr.

This portrait of the artist’s mother has always been a mesmerizing work to me. The draftsmanship impeccable, her glance loving , yet still the look of a parent keeping watch and the palette colorful, but still reserved.

One aspect of this work that I noticed early on is the dark, rich value of the shadow pattern that starts in her left eye socket and is connected down along the nose to the mouth and chin.  This value is nearly as dark as the darkest dark. So often in teaching, I find that a students reticence to go that dark in the shadow on the face often kills the work before it gets off the ground.  It is so important to get the initial values accurate right from the start.  Squint and ask yourself, what is this value, and most importantly, how does  it compare to the extreme darks.

Another exquisite, tender work of Carl’s father.   Notice how the darkest darks of any given value range always end warmer than the adjacent tone. The photos above are details of the full paintings which I hope to show on a subsequent post.  These two works, perhaps more than any others, have been enormously inspiring to me over the years… I hope they resonate with you as well.   Thank you Carl.  Enjoy!

Spoon fed by Carl Von Marr…

As I promised a few posts back, I would like to share with you the work of Carl Von Marr (1858-1936), American artist born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who studied and spent most of his professional life in Munich, Germany.  Growing up 10 miles from the museum that had a grand collection of a hundred or so Marr’s had a significant impact on my sensibilities as an artist.  I have greatly admired his amazing draftsmanship as he displayed his talents in so many different styles from the highly realistic, academic approach to the more impressionistic works of late in his career.  Perhaps his greatest strength, in my opinion, was his ability to capture a convincing effect of light, whether it be the mysterious quality of twilight light,  the blazing sun, or the soft natural effect of descending, cool studio light.  In my formative years as all of this was new, I would spend hours in front Carl’s works, absorbing all I could of his dramatic compositions of multiple figures intertwined with sensitive tonal transitions.  I would copy them, draw them, or study them to see how he might handle an area in a painting that I was currently struggling with.  The Wisconsin Museum of Art, located in West Bend, Wisconsin, which houses this great collection is currently poised to rebuild its museum to display his works on an even grander scale.  If you are ever in the Midwest on travels, this museum is a “must see” for art lovers.

The following works are a few examples of Carl’s diverse group of works that spans several decades.  More works will follow in the weeks to come…Stay tuned.

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