Tag Archives: learning from the masters

Carl Marr… Far from Home

At the young age of 16, Carl Marr left his home and family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to study art abroad in Munich, Germany.  The story goes that this homesick lad had shared his feelings of  sadness with his maid when he left go visit friends for a Christmas eve gathering.  Upon his return, Carl had been beautifully moved by the kind gesture of his maid friend who had set up this tree in hopes to lift the boy’s spirits.  In fact he was so inspired, he set up his easel and recorded the scene for generations to enjoy.  This work of Carl’s has always been one that I have been taken by and when visiting the museum, I make it a point to soak in its ambiance.

Apart from its general beauty, I have noticed several technical things that may be of interest…. Notice that every square inch of the canvas has an influence of red and green in it to balance the harmony.  As he did this from life, it makes seeing all of the color and attaining that  harmony much easier.  In terms of value, notice how much darker the tablecloth is compared to the candle flames.  This is necessary in order for the light effect to read.  In terms of edge, I have taken note of how Carl has softened the “architecture” of the furniture so as to keep the interest on the focal point.

Lastly, included below is a work that I  completed that features a stable or creche that my great-grandfather built for his family many, many years ago.  Enjoy… and Merry Christmas!

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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.

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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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #11

To Copy or Not to Copy…

During the days of my preliminary studies in art, I seemed to remember hearing the notion that copying art was definitely frowned upon. I believed this mindset was birthed from the flawed misconception in the visual arts popularized in the early twentieth century that originality is the one and only virtue in art and that copying another’s work would only hamstring your attempt to be completely unique.

As I have taught through the years, it has been interesting to me that so many have heard the same and almost apologize when they have admitted to copying another’s work.

To me this has always seemed ridiculous.   Can you imagine an aspiring concert pianist never playing Mozart, Chopin, or Beethoven for fear of not being unique?

Clearly, in the visual arts one does not want to plagiarize another’s work and sell your copies, but what a loss to not learn from them.

I have copied many works for study and have seen exponential growth in my work as a result of understanding harmony, edge, and value control to name a few aspects.

Early on I had several tendencies in my work that lessened the quality of the overall image. One of them was hard, inappropriate edges on the lips that made them look like the wax lips we used to get at Halloween, pasted on the face.  I overcame this repeated error by spending days at the Metropolitan Museum in New York drawing and copying in pencil the delicate transitions of the lips Sargent achieved in his portraits.

The image above shows a copy I did of a Carl Von Marr painting which helped me understand the prismatic effect light has as the sunlight hit the ground.  As I studied this, I did not just take his harmonies and copy them into my work, but they taught me what to look for in a similar light effect to produce a more spectral sense in my own work.

(Speaking of Carl Von Marr, I will share more of his amazing work in weeks to come.  His paintings have had a major influence on me as I poured over them as a youngster.)

The image below shows one such work featured in “Not Far from Home” where the lessons learned from Marr proved fruitful.

Lastly, what do I mean to copy another’s work?  Again, it is not to simply steal ones harmonies, designs, etc, etc…, but rather to learn from them by studying paintings in part or full.  This can be by painting sections of or by executing drawings of tonal ranges or edge transitions, whatever your area of weakness may be.

So with a clean conscience go ahead and copy works to increase your understanding and bring your work to the next level.  There is so much to be learned from the Masters!!!

For more info on “Not Far from Home”, click book.  Thanks!

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