Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists. Classic examples might be seeing a face in the full moon, or imagining that cloud shapes represent a dragon or dolphin.
Cloud-gazing sounds so good today!
I think that we are hard-wired by our survival instincts to identify subject matter in abstract shapes. Who hasn’t imagined a shadow in the woods to be a bear or some other predator? This subject came up in two of my recent workshops about abstract art. Viewers often ‘find’ subject matter that the artist did not intend. Once an image is identified, it is hard to ‘un-see’ it.
It Happens to Us All
Pareidolia is natural, but a sophisticated art-viewer knows that it is more acceptable to ask questions than to volunteer what their imagination has come up with. For example, a viewer might ask the artist “Am I meant to see a figure implied here?” If the artist says yes, great! You can discuss what you see, what it means etc. If the artist says no, an appropriate response is to keep your perception to yourself and discuss the artist’s intentions further. Viewers can follow up with another general question such as “What was your intention for the work?”
Interpreting art is a delicate balance between the artist’s intention and the viewer’s response. Both are important, and sharing our viewpoints can be mutually satisfying. In fact, artists love it when viewers are interested enough to ask about the work. Share your experience: does pareidolia inspire or frustrate you?
The internet has many good articles about understanding abstract art. The Collector’s Corner of Art Mine summarizes it this way:
The most important thing to understand about abstract art is that it does NOT have to have a meaning, narrative or even a singular explanation.
The main purpose of abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.
Therefore, it is really up to the viewer to decide whether the painting in front of them has any meaning or provokes any emotion. As we mentioned, abstract art is all about freedom.
That’s a fitting subject for Independence Day!
Click here to read the whole article from Art Mine. You’ll also find a list of Do’s & Don’ts for discussing abstraction. I’ll have another vocabulary post coming up soon. Watch this space! New workshop listings coming soon too! I’m always interested in your reaction to new work. Leave me a comment, and don’t forget to share with friends.
One way I work at avoiding fear is using digital exploration in my painting process. Using my IPad to try out changes before I make them in paint removes the fear of failure that I see many students encounter. If you’re reading this post on email, you might want to hop on over to the blog and view this Ted Talk about failure by Ken Robinson:
One reason that many of my demonstration paintings are successful is my habit of putting on a ‘brave face’ when I’m demonstrating. I want to be an example of a painter who will try anything that pops into my head. I’m not painting by rote habit: I’m exploring. I know that I may fail and I continue experimenting anyway. This leads to exciting breakthroughs in front of my students.
I help students learn how painting without fear leads to more creative work. Digital exploration with works in process helps students avoid fear by allowing them to experiment in a ‘sandbox’ using the Apple Pencil, IPad and Procreate app. Below, I have a painting that I feel could have gone a bit farther in creativity if I hadn’t ‘played it safe.’ (The painting is sold, so it is an easy one to experiment with – I know I won’t have to take it out of the frame and change it!)
Finishing an abstract work can be particularly challenging. The artist often risks taking something good to a state that’s over-worked. That’s when digital experimentation can be extremely valuable. Without changing the actual work, the artist can try out different ideas. For instance, below I’ve added a blue with more temperature contrast, to see if I like the work better.
Digital experimentation with cropping, color temperature and direction
This special place is the ultimate art retreat. Small class sizes and up to 7 workshops filled with creative people fill the camp with energy. Delicious meals are provided, so all you have to do is paint and enjoy each others’ company and the inspiring setting.
See what I mean in the photos on Menucha’s site, and sign up before it’s too late! Many of my workshops fill quickly.
The View of the Columbia River from Menucha
Inside Historic Wright Hall
Happy Artists Return Year after Year
“Menucha” means Tranquility
If I already have an IPad, will it work with ProCreate? – Yes. You will need the newest version or an IPad Pro to use the Apple Pencil, but a regular stylus and an older IPad will also work.
Is there a program that will work with my Windows based tablet or computer? You may find a similar app or program, but this workshop will focus on using ProCreate for ios. I think it is one of the best out there!
Will we be printing our finished digital creations? No. We’ll be learning to use the tool as a way to sketch out ideas and applying these ideas to works in progress. The class will divide its time between learning the tool and painting on paper or canvas in water based media.
Is this class suitable for artists working in landscape, portrait, still life, abstraction, etc? Yes! Whatever you’re interested in painting, this process will help you to make braver, more creative decisions.
I’ve just spent the last month taking and teaching art classes, and it is surprising how often I see artists hampered by these bad painting habits.You may find yourself frustrated if you don’t kick these habits asap!
1. Leaving Your Brushes in Water or Solvent
This weakens the glue that holds brush bristles in the ferrule and damages the paint sealing the handle. Eventually the ferrule (the metal part holding your bristles) gets loose and wobbly. Working with brushes that are damaged is frustrating. When you rinse your brush, make it a habit to dry it and lay it down flat. Avoid storing the brush with the handle end down until the water or solvent is completely dried.
2. Thinning your paint too much
Watercolor artists are notorious for using very thin washes. I’ve observed many artists having a difficult time mixing a dark enough paint because they rinse between colors, adding water each time. Watercolors tend to dry lighter than they appear when wet. Your work will look freshest if you apply your washes at the proper value on the first pass.
3. Working constantly at close range
I, myself, am guilty of this one! We tend to get so absorbed in our painting that we forget to view it at different distances. Cultivate the habit of stepping back frequently. Giving yourself the perspective of your viewer is important. Work is rarely viewed at very close range.
4. Using your reference photo or drawing to make all your decisions
Part of the attraction of art is seeing how the artist uses their imagination. Translate your subject through your own design ‘filter’ to allow viewers a glimpse of your creativity.
5. Starting without a plan or value sketch
I often hear artists saying ‘I’m just playing’ when they talk about planning. Planning can also be playful… actually more playful than trying to make a painting work without a plan. Quick sketches are the sandbox of playfulness. Enjoy the process of trying out different ideas before you actually start painting. Sticking to a plan is easier if you jot down your ideas for dominance, color and values.
I hope these tips will keep frustration at bay for you! I find myself constantly reminded of them during my painting. Here are a few new images I’ve been working on recently. Do you have other suggestions of bad painting habits that need kicking? Let me know your thoughts.
August 12 – 18, 2018 – Creative Arts Community at Menucha, Corbett, Oregon: Painting with Digital Exploration:
Learn how digital painting can expand your creative process. Students will use the ProCreate app and and IPad to plan and alter works in progress. Learn to use this inexpensive app to try out ideas before you execute them in paint. A few spots remain: Click here to register
September 24-28, 2018 –ISEA Exhibition and Workshop, Newport, Oregon
Gathering – “What matters is the gathering, the pockets filled with remnants of the day evaporated.”
I’ve decided to start a new series of posts called “Art Is.” As a kid I loved the comic strip “Love Is…” It was corny, but so true. So each post in this series will explore a different facet, inspired by different quotes about what Art Is. If you’re not subscribed to updates by email, this would be a great time to add your name to the list on my contact page or in the sidebar on my site.
Workshops are for Gathering
I think of workshops as opportunities to spend time gathering. I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few art classes recently, and I’ve also enjoyed being a student. I found myself as a student making detailed notes about everything the instructor said. I even asked a friend to write down the instructor’s thoughts during the critique of my work. When I teach it is gratifying to see students writing down the thoughts and methods I’m introducing.
But, I think the most important part comes after a workshop. This period when an artist is incorporating the ideas they learned into their art practice is crucial. I’m struggling with that a bit right now. My workshops with Skip Lawrence and Fran Larsen gave me a chance to take a look at adding more realistic images to my work. I’m still debating with myself about whether that feels like a good fit for me. I’m sure time will tell. One thing I do know, I must paint to please myself, not any instructor.
It can be tough to rise above the urge to please an influential teacher. My goal is to balance what I’ve learned with what I want to do in my work.
In other news, my work is ‘gathering’ awards and recognition! My painting “Do Not Hesitate” earned an Award of Distinction in the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s Spring Show. I’m honored thanks to juror Fran Larsen! Also, I’ll be sending off “Gene’s Fiddle” to the Red River Watercolor Society show, which runs June 18 – August 4, 2018 in Moorhead, MN. Thanks to juror Mark Mehaffey!
Here are a few photos from my most recent workshop in Springfield and one from the workshop with Fran Larsen. She was energetic and inspiring as a teacher.
What a great group of painters!
My Demonstration for SWA
Fran Larsen Workshop
This week and next I will have the opportunity to jury 2 local art shows: Lake Area Artists and Society of Washington Artists. It will be good to keep in shape for the big job of jurying the 27th Annual International Society of Experimental Artists Exhibition. I feel honored to be asked to jury this fantastic exhibition. They have a lot of prize money to give away! Entries are due June 1st on the Cafe’ Entry System. You can register here for the symposium and workshop that will be held September 21-28, 2018 in Newport, Oregon.
Additional Summer Workshop:
Finally, I’ve decided to offer one more workshop this summer. Demand has been high! Most of my classes have been filled with a waiting list, so if you are interested, register today.
Moving Toward Abstraction – All Media June 28, 29 & 30th, 2018
Join Ruth to explore taking your paintings to a more abstract level. You may choose to work in Watermedia, Oil or Dry Media. Ruth will demonstrate in Oil & Watermedia. Held in Ruth’s Oregon City Studio: Class size limited to 8. $325 Register on my workshops page.
See why Cold Wax Medium has captured the fancy of many contemporary artists. Join me for a hands on, interactive workshop that meets you where you stand on the journey of discovery in this sensuous medium.
I’ve found Oil and Cold Wax to be workable, flexible and consistently attractive to students and collectors alike. Unfortunately, I don’t offer many workshops in Wax, simply because of the space and infrastructure required.
What’s involved? We begin by preparing our painting surfaces and talking about subject matter. Even with abstraction, I find it very helpful to have an idea, emotion, or subject for each work of art. Painting in Oil & Wax involves the application of many layers of paint, with drying time between each. We’ll work on several different surfaces each day in order to keep muddiness at a minimum. You’ll learn different application techniques and see how they apply to design elements and principles.
A Small Group Setting
Class size is limited to make sure you receive personal attention and individual help in a safe and supportive environment. There are many advantages of learning in a small group atmosphere like this. You’ll not only learn from the lessons presented, but also from observing the progress and questions posed by fellow students. This dynamic ebb and flow of information is one of my favorite things about teaching workshops. I also love the immersion that happens in this concentrated 3 day session. No distractions – just time to focus on art.
You’ll have a chance to slow down, focus and connect with your inner creativity. I find that in these workshops, the enthusiasm in contagious. Watching the demonstrations and seeing how each person interprets them gives each student a deeper appreciation for the creative process. Not only that, but it allows students to free their minds of stress and worry and focus on their own personal expression.
Here are a couple of comments from recent students:
“Thanks for the great workshop today. You created a lot of motivation for our members to stay and paint. GOOD JOB!!!”
“We all had a wonderful experience! Thank you!”
Last Friday I spent the day with an experienced group of painters, the Buffalo Grass Watercolor group. Here are a few photos of my demonstration in progress. As you can tell, I was in a ‘purple’ mood!
Need more inspiration to join us? How about this quote by Mary Oliver:
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver
I know I’m so glad that I decided to study art and become a life-long learner.
If you’re in the Salem area, you can catch a free lecture on CCTV channel 21 – I presented this lecture on Abstraction to the Institute of Continued Learning at Willamette University on February 3. It will air 2/14 at 12 pm, 2/16 at 8 pm, 2/19 at 8 am, and 2/22 at 2:30 pm.
Call to Artists:
I’ll be jurying the Spring 2018 Show of the Society of Washington Artists. Watercolor, Oil, Acrylic, Pastel and small 3-D subjects accepted. Click here for entry information.
Yesterday was “Groundhog Day” in the United States, and those who are enduring a long harsh winter may be wanting to get a jump on Spring. There’s not a finer way to do that than to experiment with an Abstracted Floral!
My painting above “Wild Daffodil” was inspired by fields of daffodils that dot the countryside in Oregon. You can see where abandoned home sites were by scanning the beautiful green fields for waves of bright yellow, naturalized daffodils. The cheerful yellow always seems at odds with the fact that a home once stood there and now is gone.
I love the flowers that come from the fields – they are often tattered by weather, and many have grown away from their cultivated lineage to be wild, multi-petaled and blowzy. This painting would brighten up a bedroom, office, library, dining or living room. I love the drama that the dark background adds.
I used an app called IArtView to show how this work would look in a couple of different settings. A wonderful feature is you can also upload a photo of your wall and visualize how it would look in your home! Try it out!
Inspiration for Abstract Floral Paintings
If you’re looking for other floral inspiration, check out my Pinterest board. You’ll find interesting abstractions by some of the following 6 talented artists:
Jimmy Wright: This artist emphasizes the fluidity and motion of petals, and comes up with some pretty unusual and subtle color emphasis too.
Winifred Nicholson: I love the unified color in this simplified still life. You can almost smell the lily of the valley.
Jake Muirhead: Converting a colorful Iris to black and white, Jake also adds drama and personality using line and simplifying the setting.
Scott Conary: Scott’s textural paint application and emphasis on pure vs. subdued color make me want to touch his work. They also touch me!
Ophelia Pang uses bold and repeated shapes to create entertaining and playful abstractions.
Networking page for students of Artist Ruth (Art is Truth). This is a place to share recent work, networking opportunities and feedback.
“There is no abstract art. One always has to being with something. One can then remove all appearance of reality; one runs no risk, for the idea of the object has left an ineffaceable imprint. It is the thing that aroused the artist, stimulated his ideas, stirred his emotions.”