Saturday, August 29, 2015

Caribbean Diptych - A Commission

Studio Commission –
I have been immersed in the studio working on a couple of commission pieces the last few months, so I thought it a good topic for this blog. First off I have to say I recognize this type of assignment is not for everyone and have even spoken with artists who cringe at the thought. The whole thing about giving up their artistic freedom for monetary gain comes up. I get it, but at this point I start to hear a song running through my head, .. The times are a changing.. Yes do you hear the music? Anyway I know commissions are taxing and can really force you out of your comfort zone.

But this may not be a bad thing. 

Breaking Wave oil on canvas 24 x 36 inches

Detail - Breaking Wave
Many of the great artists through history worked on a commissioned basis, just think of those prestigious large historical and religious paintings hanging in the museum, the big narrative stories of Titian, Rembrandt’s, The Night Watch or  Gainsborough's Blue Boy, Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals, or Nelson Shank’s infamous Bill Clinton portrait. Point being this type of patronage is not new, it just may not be as common as in Titian's day. But as artists use the web and social media to build relationships with collectors directly, and nurture the dialogue between, I feel this type of patronage growing and becoming a necessary and welcomed part of an artist’s revenue stream.

Breaking Wave Sky Detail
After years of working with art directors and advertising agencies, I may have a thicker skin than most. And may have a little insight into how to deal with the clients or in this case the collector. The idea that someone wants commission work from you for their home is a great honor and compliment, so roll with that idea. They already like your work. So work out what it is they are interested in, what attracted them to your work and what they think they would like to see and live with. This is the sticky part of the commission concept, attempting to visualize someone else’s vision.

Sketches and Color Studies

In this case I had several plein air sketches from Mexico painted along the Caribbean Sea that they were interested in. With these we were able to dial into what imagery and the best subject matter they wanted, but in a larger format. This would actually be a commission for two paintings which would be displayed together. Using these pieces as a departure point I created several pencil and gouache sketches, employing them to reinforce the design idea and to let the studies evolve into original pieces in their own right.

Caribbean Dawn oil on canvas 24 x 36 

Caribbean Dawn Sky Detail
I presented the sketches, we talked about them and did a coffee table critic on what they liked and did not. This is important - Listen Carefully. I learned the hard way many years back doing advertising art, listen carefully to what the client or art director is saying and you will do fewer revisions. From those sketches I produced a series of small 5 x 7 inch oil color studies on panel. In these I worked out the color harmonies and imagery in a more comprehensive way. My goal was to paint from the sketches and studies and not resort to photos.

As a artist I am most concerned with developing a visual vocabulary through observational painting, having a genuine dialogue with the subject and showing my honest responses to it. I feel this is the only path to developing one’s own artistic voice. And from my experience photos get in-between all of that.

Caribbean Dawn Detail
I also feel if you work diligently at painting and drawing from life, you have created a storehouse of knowledge and memory to fall back on. And the need for photographic sources is a sterile alternative. That the art which inspires me relies on the balance of observation and memory, balancing the real with the invented, the abstract with the literal, and is more about the poetic statement rather than a journalistic rendering of the subject.

As far as commissions go, I have always stated - never take a job just for the money. Even back in the day when I was doing commercial and advertising art, if nothing in the project interests you, it will not turn out well. Besides there are easier ways out there to make money.

A commission is about good communication, sketches, thumbnails, patience and being upfront about expectations. Most of all, open minded and wonderful patrons who support the arts and your efforts. 

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Why We Should Draw More (and Photograph Less) or On the Importance of Drawing

Sketching is about thinking visually. I have always believe it to be the path to a higher conscience of the world and should be part of any education. All creative endeavors requires the ability to think visually, whatever the occupation or field of interest one has, drawing/sketching can help understand complex concepts simply. 

From conceptualizing designs and ideas to just doodling, there is great freedom in sketching. A piece of paper, a pencil and you, can be a transformational experience. It is a connection with life that forms an immediate and intimate dialogue with the subject. And yet sketching does not have be anything more than engaging our minds in play and fantasy, where we can enjoy the sheer pleasure drawing brings to our psyche.

A while back my wife and I visited Alaska, a great adventure with old friends now a much cherished memory. One of the highlights was the trip to Denali National Park. After an amazing journey through the park we stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center Denali that has a more than spectacular view of the mountain. It was pointed out to us by people from the area (sourdoughs) that this was an unusually clear day for viewing Mt. Denali. One gentleman telling me he has lived there for twenty years and never saw the Mountain so clearly. So as my compadres hiked around the area I settled down in an isolated corner of the centers patio and began sketching this amazing vista before me.

As I sat there in my little sketch spot one person after another stepped up to the ledge of the patio and shot a picture with a cell phone or camera. I sat there for about twenty minutes and not one person that walked up and snap a pic stood there for more than a minute. I did get a lot of sideway glazes as if to see what I was doing or if I had fallen down or something worse. I wondered then if any of these people actually saw this magical scene. Quickly snapping away, it was kind of as if that they had proof they were there but really they were not. Funny how the sightseers out snapping pics inspires me to paint outside more. Technology is good at giving us fast information but not at telling us what important and significant.

 With the sketch I feel an immediate dialogue with the subject and a personal interaction. I feel that with every drawing I learn something about the thing in front of me. I have to think about not just how I am going to draw this thing but how it fits together. There is so much to contemplate and consider. Drawing enables us to see more of the world around us and preserving those experiences this way makes them so much richer.

The video above from The School of life caught my eye and does a nice job of illustrating the points I am attempting to make. Have a look.

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

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The School of Life

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Seascape Sketches

The following are some of the materials I have been gathering for a pair of studio commissions.

The idea is a seascape diptych that would be hung in a specific space in the patrons home, and these drawings are part of working out the compositional concept. How the eye would travel from one panel to the next and how each individual painting will stand on its own have been the concerns.

I want to have a clear concept of the the elements in each panel. Where the sky planes are and the atmospheric perspective. What is in the foreground and middle ground, and still understand the whole. The best way for me to do that is to work out a series of thumbnails and sketches. Gathering as much reference material as possible.

Not only am I working out the technical aspects, but also the mood, emotion and harmony of the paintings. Exactly what I am trying to “say” with these two paintings.

Graphite and white gouache on toned paper. 5.5 x 8.5 inches

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Standing by Peaceful Waters

There are places we all go to escape, places that just let our minds wander freely at ease. Places that become part of our own psyche. For me those places are the lakes we hike and kayak through the seasons. Every time I stand next to a lake at sunset I find a inner calm. I have found peaceful waters.

Water is essential for life and is the major component of our bodies and the earth. It is tied to the spirit and mind of humans, in forms I am sure we may never understand. But we know, we are drawn to it. Be it seaside, lake or stream we have a deep connection to water.

I think that at the bank of every lake and in every sunset there is a story. I always wonder what this place was like 50 years ago, 100 years ago or before mankind found this place, what it was like in it's primitive state, what stories this place could tell? 

John Prine tells a story about an Indian tribe that finds two babies in the woods, they name two lakes after them, Lake Marie and Lake Elizabeth.  He precedes to tell the story of those lakes and the things that happened around them, colored by time and perception as well. Have a listen.

We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters
Standing by peaceful waters
Whoa wah oh wha oh
Whoa wah oh wha oh

John Prine - website

All three pochade's are 5 x 7 inches on canvas panel, check my  Etsy Store  for availability.

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Equinox

For us here in the lower Mid-west the winter has certainly been cold, but nothing like the bone chilling, snow thumping other parts of the country have received this year. No words sound as good as winter is gone and spring has come. But I will say that I have enjoyed the palette colors of winter this season, there is something about the tones of red and yellow earth under a dramatic sky. The landscape freed of its foliage exhibits a unique anatomy and rhythm, a hidden depth and perspective accented with the bared lace of trees.

A major part of being an artist is seeing things through different eyes; observing nature in ways others might overlook, and draw attention to the beauty of simple things. When we accomplish/connect with that, we can create a shared visual experience or artistic vision that can be more compelling and authentic than reality itself.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”

                                                                                                           - John Muir

Above art work:

Spring Equinox oil on panel 8 x 10 in
Spring Equinox oil sketch 5 x 7 in


Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim 

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lake Murphysboro

This little plein air piece has been hanging around the studio since last fall. I was after the sunset back-lighting the mass of trees, contrasted against the reflection of colors bouncing off the water. I just thought posting it might warm us all up.

Lake Murphysboro  oil on panel 8 x 10 in © Jim Serrett

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

To see more of my work, please visit my website or my blogs.
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please contact me or visit my online store.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thanks for Listening 2014

Wishing you peace, good health, and happiness in 2015.
Thank you to all my friends, colleagues, collectors, bloggers and loved ones who made 2014 such a wonderful year.
For all of you I am truly grateful.

To my wonderful wife, no words can express how thankful I am for you.

I look forward to sharing more work and ideas about the process of art in 2015!

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
-- Marcel Proust

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Last Gleam

I have been painting a lot of sunsets lately, there is something about the magical hour just before the sun disappears over the horizon that has fascinated people for eons. For good reason, when you get the bounce of light, the last gleam, under the floating clouds it can be incredible and mystical. I wanted to capture that random sense of order, the character of the light and convey that feeling into the painting.

The Last Gleam, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in, © Jim Serrett

"Paint a little less of the facts, and a little more of the spirit."

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn Sky

We've kayaked to and painted this location many times and each time the scene is different.
The division of light and shade is always interesting when on the water, it is a unique interplay of reflections and shapes. As the sky changes so does the water, the cloud cover and the time of day all influence the subject and present an ever changing play of light and shadow.  And as we move from season to season the transformations become even more dramatic.
There is a beauty and complexity in the simple subject of earth, sky and water that will never cease to inspire me.  There is nothing ordinary or boring in nature if you take the time to look deep into your subject.

“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.”― Henry David Thoreau

Jim Serrett, Autumn Sky Over Cedar Lake, oil on panel, 7 x 9 in.

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sunsets and Training the Visual Memory

The dynamic horizon at sunrise or sunset is the hardest to capture, you have either to chase the light with the brush or prepare yourself for the event. My approach has been both, to do pencil sketches and color studies on location, to use them, and my memory of the experience to create/finish pieces in the studio. The library of information I gather from observation helps me understand what I am seeing and hopefully interpret it in a meaningful way.  As I remember and conceptualize the landscape I attempt to make informed decisions, based on my observed details and the nuances of nature. However I try to be as truthful to the experience as possible, to keep in my mind’s eye that which inspired me in the first place. 

Waxing philosophical, I believe our brains are conscious of almost every experience in our life and every encounter we have, and that stored among those billions of neurons in the brain are endless images and impressions. That it is not only possible to train ones visual memory but a necessity for the artist to do so. Up until maybe the later part of the nineteenth century memory exercises of some type were part of most academic art educations. If it be as simple as practicing blind contour drawing or copying prints of sculptures as in the Beaux-Arts tradition. They recognized the importance of a highly trained visual memory as a skill an artist used in companionship with the direct study of nature. 

There are some fascinating books floating around on the subject. TheTraining of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist by HoraceLecoq de Boisbaudran is an interesting read and more current Memory Training for Painters by Richard Lack is well worth downloading. Also a book I have mention several times on my blogs, and on my highly recommended reading list, Harold Speed "The Practice and Science of Drawing" 1913. This is a link to his chapter The Visual Memory.  “Let us assume that you have found a subject that moves you and that, being too fleeting to draw on the spot, you wish to commit to memory. Drink a full enjoyment of it, let it soak in, for the recollection of this will be of the utmost use to you afterwards in guiding your memory-drawing.”  Page 262 Harold Speed

I see memory training as another tool in my tool box helping me interpret what I see in front of me.
Technically I've been able to slowly build glazes of color to explore those atmospheric effects I am after and was the initial inspiration.

I love this quote by Edgar Degas on the subject, “If I were to open an academy I would have a five story building. The model would pose on the ground floor with the first year students. The most advanced students would work on the fifth floor." I can imagine the advanced students dashing up and down flights of stair as they study the model and dart back to their easels to make their marks.

Explore - Question - Learn - - Enjoy, Jim


Jim Serrett, Lake Murphysboro Sunset, oil on panel 5 x 7 in
Jim Serrett, Perseids Sunset, oil on panel, 5 x 7 in
Graphite Sketch on toned paper. 
Sketchbook page


Memory Training For Painters by Richard Lack from the Classical Realism Quarterly 1990
Download pdf Here

The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist
Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran – Author

"The Practice and Science of Drawing" by Harold Speed

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