Social Media for Painters

Traditional media tends to ignore contemporary traditional painting. When I was first starting out as an artist I found this really frustrating. I was searching for art training which did, as it turns out, exist but it was there was no mention of it anywhere. Today the internet and social media have really changed things for the better. There are a lot of great traditional painters working and we now have a myriad of ways to see the work of these artists, as well as network, sell paintings, and discuss issues relevant to realism with painters from all around the world.

Screenshot of Pinterest.

Pinterest is my favorite online resource for art. Google Images and Bing are both stunningly awful for any generic art search, and even refined searches quickly descend into irrelevance. Looking for 19th-century Italian artists, for example, starts to turn up soccer players and starlets very quickly. When you first go to Pinterest, all the images are of clothes and furniture. The trick is to set up an account, unfollow all the boards they start you with, and begin looking for painters you like. From there you pick boards you like via the ‘this painting is also on this board’ link, and follow them down the rabbit hole of great artwork. The way I have it set up now gives me a large number of inspiring artwork to peruse, and it’s usually a wonderful mix of historical and contemporary artists. It’s also great for finding a very specific genre of work, as generally the people curating their boards do a good job with it. I don’t post work much myself, but my profile is here.

ArtStack is similar to Pinterest, but focused on art. I’m new to it, and the art is mostly Contemporary with a big C. The layout is very elegant and clearly made by people who understand looking at artwork (they even convert from centimeters to inches for you, and list both). Currently they are having a crowd-source art contest which I’ve entered, and if you have a free moment you can ‘stack’ my work here.

Wahoo Art, on the other hand, has to be one of the least elegant sites on the web. They make up for it with a ridiculous amount of work on display by historic artists. Here are the results for a search of Isaac Levitan’s paintings, for example. My wife actually just showed me that link yesterday and many of those works I had never seen before, despite having seen a large number of his monographs.

Other online catalogs for paintings that I sometimes use are the ARC Museum, Wikiart, and Olga’s Gallery.

Facebook is the social media platform where there seems to be the most activity for artists. I’m personally very thankful to the site for getting me in touch with old friends I wouldn’t have found again otherwise. For painters there are some good groups worth joining to see historic as well as contemporary realists, and participate in some interesting discussions. I find it is also an excellent way to get in touch with painters around the world before I travel there to paint. Having a local artist show you around is the best way to work. Unfortunately Facebook has a limit of 5000 ‘friends’, but you can follow me here. I only post painting-related things these days, and it’s always set to public.

All the cool painters use Instagram these days. I really dislike everything about it. I rarely use my cellphone, and if I’m looking at paintings I prefer a big, color-calibrated screen. It’s also really snooty about what phone you use and my old Nokia didn’t make their cut. After recently inheriting an Iphone I’ve started using Instagram more, though I find the quality of photo that can be taken with any phone to still be seriously lacking. Photographers sometimes use Dropbox to get their high-quality photos onto their phone and then upload to Instagram from there, so I’m trying that.  Another clever social media trick is to use IFTTT to automate your posting with ‘recipes’: This one, for example, posts anything that goes on Instagram to Facebook, this one does the same to Tumblr, and this one posts it as a native Twitter image. So, after that rant, you can follow me on Instagram.

Twitter I find to be very useful for specific things. When I was setting up this blog I started following all the ‘how to start a blog’ twitterers and found tons of useful links and information. If I need to find art materials in a new city I can just tweet to the company that makes them and they’re usually good at responding. I know of other artists who use it to great effect for finding clients, commissions, etc. and it clearly can be a powerful tool for those that understand how to use it. On that note, here is my (rather uneventful) twitter.

The online world has also opened up access to new markets for painters. I personally still do most of my sales through brick and mortar galleries, but I’m a big fan of the Painting a Day movement. It was originally pioneered by artists such as Julian Merrow-Smith, and has now been taken up by lots of great still-life and plein air painters. The premise is simple: Have a blog, paint every day, and sell the works one by one as they’re finished. I think it’s great that so many artists around the world have used the internet to find a new way of making the daily act of painting interesting, and that so many clients are able acquire beautiful, original works of art at the same time.

There are some good forums for artists, though nothing really stands out since RationalPainting went full Munsell (edit: I was informed that Rational Painting is no longer Munsell-only, it was just for a brief period after they changed servers). Natural Pigments has a good materials forum, Wetcanvas is very active with every style and technique, and ConceptArt has a good fine art section, among its various offerings.

The only podcast I know of for painters is the Suggested Donation Podcast (I was interviewed for it in November).

The most comprehensive list of painting schools is the ARC Approved Atelier List.

And finally, the online media on art I subscribe to are Plein Air Magazine (it’s a real magazine, but I read it online), The Artist’s Road, Artists on Art, and Underpaintings. Stapleton Kearns, Painting Perceptions, Lines and Colors, The Hidden Place, and Fine Art Views are some of the free blogs I peruse when I’m not arguing on reddit.

Edit: As Maike mentioned in the comments, I use my Flickr account to host large images of all my paintings. I do this since Lightroom has an easy upload system for Flickr (for some reason, there isn’t a similarly functional way to upload into Adobe’s own image-sharing website Behance). I didn’t list it as social media simply as I don’t use it as such. The one thing I did do for a while, which I’ve discussed before, is to use geotagged photos from my phone to keep a database on Flickr of some of the places I’ve painted so others can use them. For more ideas of locations, Paintmap does the same thing but with artists from all over the world.

If anyone has any suggestions to add, please list the in the comments.

A Dennis Miller Bunker Quote

Oil painting by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Meadow Lands (1890).

Dennis Miller Bunker is considered to be one of the greatest American painters. He died tragically young, at age 29, in 1890. He studied with Jean Léon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was one of the first ‘American Impressionists’, and he painted with John Singer Sargent.

Portrait painting by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Jessica (1890).

One of his best students was William Paxton, who taught R. H. Ives Gammell (who taught my teacher, Charles Cecil). Gammell wrote a biography on Bunker, published in 1953, and in the book there are a number of personal letters given to him by Bunker’s widow. I reread the biography earlier this year, and the following letter from Bunker to his then-fiancée struck me as being particularly insightful into the working life of the artist:

You must try to realize how dull and monotonous an artist’s life is. There is absolutely nothing but work, work, work. And there is nothing in the work of an artist that shows his personality. You are marrying a man whose highest ambition is to conceal his identity, to remain above his work and apart from it, not to appear in it in any way – to be as cold and calm as a machine. Oh! if I only could, I might some day learn to paint! What I am trying to tell you is not to nourish any any ideas of an artist people whom you see may expound to you. Don’t think, as they do, that the charm of an artist’s work must be found also in his own personality. It is always apart, or should be, should have nothing to do with it, and that is what makes it such an infernal trade. Never to play on ones’s own twopenny flute but to keep the big end in view always; to remain patient and cold and quiet and work like a dog from morning ’til night; there is no other way of arriving even at talent, unless one is cut out of larger stuff than I am.

Oil painting of a tree by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Tree (1884).

That’s it really. That’s all I wanted to say. Since you took the time to get here though, I’ll leave you with this passage from the book as well. In it Gammell beautifully express the idea of breadth and detail in painting:

People untrained in the art of painting often believe that finish is attained by simply adding detail to detail and consequently they dismiss it as a mere by product of industry and patience. Unfortunately this view does not correspond with the truth. For an essential characteristic of all fine painting is unity of effect and this unity is destroyed by any detail stated in a false relation to the other component parts of the picture. This is particularly true of the type of painting we are here discussing, the purpose of which is to recreate on canvas the impression made on the painters’s eye by the landscape before him. To achieve this end, each detail must be set down with just the degree of definition and coloration which it holds for the eye when the focus of vision is adjusted so as to include the entire scene depicted. Piecemeal notation of individual detail immediately destroys the requisite unity of impression and turns the canvas into a compilation of separately observed visual facts. This invariably results in a hard, dry look, destroying all breadth of effect and offensive to those who are quite unaware of its technical cause. It is, in fact, one of the most serious defects which a painting can have and perhaps the most difficult defect for an earnest painter to avoid. The ability to carry a picture to a high degree of finish without losing its unity of impression is the mark of a master and requires artistry of the highest order. It is the central problem of the type of painting which takes for its main theme the interpretation of the beauty of the visible world.

Oil painting by Dennis Miller Bunker of a beached boat.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Beached (1882).

For those of you noticing the wide range of style in the posted images of Bunker’s landscapes, Darren Rousar has an interesting post on Bunker’s move from the more Academic influence of Gerome, to the Impressionism of his later style.

Enough about Me (Part II)

Let’s talk about some other living artists for a change. There is a lot of great painting being done at the moment, and I often feel that my colleagues and students in Europe aren’t aware of many of the great contemporary painters working in America, and vice-versa.

This post is mainly about the contemporary artists who have most influenced my own work. Before the internet and social media it was often hard to see work by contemporary naturalistic painters, but I was very lucky to stumble across shows from time to time.

I studied and taught on and off for ten years with Charles Cecil, so the technical side of my painting was most influenced by his training with R. H. Ives Gammell, as well as Cecil’s own research into historic painting methods. I later taught at the FAA for Daniel Graves, and they are producing both great work and great painters.

Joseph McGurl is probably the living landscape painter who most strongly influence my own landscape work. I saw a show of his at the Hammer Gallery in NYC when I was first starting out, and up until then I wasn’t aware that this level excellence in landscape painting was still possible.

Of the plein air painters working today, Joe Paquet is the one who’s work I like the most. We painted together this August in Ireland and in our discussions in the evenings I feel we have very similar ideas about the state of landscape painting today, as well as the direction in which we would like to see it heading. T. Allen Lawson is another painter who’s work I really admire.

The other landscape painters working in America today who I always looked at are Clyde Aspevig, Donald JurneyKevin MacphersonMatt Smith, and Skip Whitcomb. For anyone on Facebook, some of them are in an association called the Plein Air Painters of America, and they have regular updates on these as well as lots of other great artists. You can follow (or ‘like’) them here.

Stapleton Kearns has far and away the best painting blog on the internet.

Over on this side of the Atlantic, the painter who probably influence my work plein air landscapes was Julian Barrow, who passed away this week. I also saw a show of his in New York and was amazed by the variety of his work. In that exhibition I never saw a remotely similar light-effect, subject, or composition twice. The man never shied away from any subject, no matter how complicated or unusual, and it really showed me the vast range one could achieve with plein air painting.

The big realist painters over here who were on my radar from early on would be Odd Nerdrum and Antonio Lopez Garcia.  Though American ex-pat and, until recently, neighbor of mine Richard Maury‘s work always appealed to me much more.

Trevor Chamberlain and David Curtis are two great contemporary English plein air painters whose work I’ve always enjoyed.

Last time I did this, there was a valid complaint that I didn’t include any women. There are a lot of great female artists working today, but I only discovered them recently, or they didn’t paint landscapes. A very incomplete list would be Elena ArcangeliJuliette AristidesDaniela AstoneKim Casebeer, Kamille CorryKathleen Dunphy, Louise FenneRose Frantzen, Jill HooperSarah Lamb, Kate Lehman, Jennifer McChristian, Hazel Morgan, Lori Putnam, Roos (pronounced ‘Rose’) Schuring, and Alexandra Tyng. A good resource for researching others is the Women Painting Women Blog.

There are lots of other great painters out there who I look at regularly. These are just the ones who I came across early enough for them to influence my own work. If anyone has any others to recommend, please leave them in the comments.

Wind Turbines at Aachen

Wind Turbines at Aachen. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Traveling across Western Germany recently I was amazed at the number of wind turbines they’ve put up. When I was a kid I remember seeing a farm of them outside of Los Angeles and thinking they were spectacularly ugly. These new ones are much larger, and more spread out, and they’ve started to grow on me. I’m also aware that we probably need to be looking for alternative sources of energy, preferably clean ones.

Often I’ve wondered why we are attracted to beauty. Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Are we biologically hardwired to feel the direction our lives should take based, even if only a little bit, on individual aesthetics? Can there be a collective human aesthetic? And can it change over time? Is it controlled in some way by a rational understanding of the direction we should be taking as a society?

I was thinking about these turbines driving past. I once saw them as blights on the landscape, now I find them fascinating in a way. Is it possible that our sense of beauty can be changed in a subtle way by the rational part of our brains?

And what is the artist’s purpose in this? To reflect society or guide it?

I was back in Holland for a day to pack up the house, so I went over to the German border at Aachen to paint the wind turbines and think about it all.

Copyright

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, (though I did have the text checked by my lawyers).

In the ‘Blossoms’ post below I had wanted to add my favorite example, Primavera by Adolfo Tommasi in the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Florence. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent image online. The Italian Culture website has a small, terrible image of the painting with watermarks all over it from a private company which controls the image databases of Italian museums. It begs the question: Who is this for? The tagline on the government website is ‘a patrimony to explore’, and in the charter of most museums there is something about their job being to disseminate the works to the public. But the online images are often small, cropped, and covered with watermarks, rendering them all but useless except as ads for the database company. For important paintings, a quick Google-search produces high-resolution images in abundance, but for lesser-know paintings there is no way to get an image from an Italian museum online. I contacted the archive company representing the museum’s collection, Scala Archives, but they want €120 for a 600 pixel, 72dpi blog-ready digital image.

It got me wondering though: Who owns this image?

Adolfo Tommasi died in 1933, so the painting is in the public domain. Yet in this case, and in museum collections worldwide, archiving services such as Scala have photographed the work, and now claim a new copyright exists on the photograph of the painting.

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