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John's Blog

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paul Calle

"I'm not heavy, deep, or profound, but I have something to say, and I say it through my art."
Paul Calle

I learned just this past week that Paul Calle died of cancer on December 30th of last year, at the age of eighty-two.
I had the good fortune of meeting Paul and his wife, Olga, in 1984. I had been invited to accompany a group of artists to Spain and Portugal for two weeks of painting. There were 19 of us. Along with Paul, the group included: Ken Riley, Paul Strisik, Glenna Goodacre, James Boren, Ray Swanson, John Asaro, Nancy Boren, Dalhart Windberg, Dave Halbach, Dwayne Bryers, Roy Grinnell, Mimi Jungbluth, Mike Desatnick, Lowell Ellsworth Smith, Tom Hill, Gerald Fitzler, and Joe Bohler...a very talented group to say the least.
Some have since passed on...and now, Paul Calle.
When I was a young illustrator, I had a huge file containing many of Paul's illustrations, clipped from magazines.
His accomplishments are enormous.
Born in New York in 1928, he studied art at the Pratt Institute and served in the Korean War as an illustrator. he created 40 US Postage Stamps, the most famous being, "First Man on the Moon", of which 150 billion stamps were produced. We could say that Calle might be the most reproduced artist in history. Surely, more folks have purchased his work than that of any other artist.
In 1962, Calle was one of eight artists selected by NASA to "record for history, space exploration through the eyes of artists". He was later given exclusive access to the astronauts as they made their final preparations for the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon and when Russia and the United States worked together on the Apollo/Soyuz program, it was Calle who accompanied the US astronauts to Russia in order to document their training with the Soyuz cosmonauts. Later, he was named Chairman of the Department of Interior's "Artist in the Parks" program.
The Great Moment

His works have appeared in Time, National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, Boy's Life, McCalls and many other national publications.
Douglas MacArthur

He's the author of two books: "The Pencil", which has been translated into French, Chinese and Russian, and, "Paul Calle: An Artist's Journey", winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Fine Arts in 1993. Another fabulous book in which his work is well represented is, "Eyewitness to Space".
Hunting the Bighorn

He entered the fine art field in the mid-70's. Although his work remained somewhat illustrative, he rapidly rose to the top of Western Art through his highly detailed depictions of fur traders and mountain men of the American West.
Edge of the Mountain

"I have always likened the image of the mountain man John Colter, his moccasin clad foot first stepping on the newly fallen snow of Yellowstone Valley, to the Moon boot of Neil Armstrong, stepping in the dust of the moon's surface at the Sea of Tranquility...two worlds apart yet each at the edge of a new frontier."
Grizzly Claw Necklace

Calle's western paintings are in the permanent collections of the Gilcrease Museum and the Booth Western Art Museum. Other works may be found in the Aeronautics and Space Administration, The National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the US Department of the Interior.

Where Eagles Fly

"If I had to state a goal, a hope pertaining to my work, my aim would be to help keep alive that huge reservoir of our past, to draw strength and sustenance from it, and build upon it in ways that are new and different, but not to reject it."

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Color Concept

Color is an important part of painting. Some artists believe it is the most important part. I don't agree. The reason for my position is that masterful paintings have been achieved using just one color.
Having instructed many students over the years in the basics of creating a solid painting, I have stressed the importance of having a clear concept, a well organized composition, accurate drawing, a simple value structure, harmonious color, technical excellence...and even appropriate framing. All these elements are important, but concept needs to reign supreme. What do I mean by concept? It is what the artist chooses to communicate through the painting...and every one of the basic building blocks mentioned above, need to support that concept.
Color is no different.
This is the painting I've been working on this past week. It shows the very beginnings of the block-in stage, after having established the drawing. The canvas is 32"x 46". Normally, on large canvases, I begin with a full monochromatic value block-in. This time I decided to jump right in with color on the white canvas.
Before beginning the color stage, a set of colors {the palette) must to be chosen, and the selected palette needs to support the concept. The subject of the painting is a sunlit Italian coastal scene set in the month of May. Summer has not arrived, the foliage is still rich and lush.
Being able to create a wide variety of interesting greens was the starting point for palette selection. After experimenting with a variety of blues and yellows, I settled on Prussian blue and lemon yellow.
I have used a limited palette of just the primary colors since the mid-eighties, so that is always the starting point. You may notice from the color wheel, shown above, that the center of the wheel contains three values of gray. The darkest ring contains the three primaries mixed together, and the other two values have white added. I discovered this palette yields an almost pure neutral.
Additionally, for this painting, some extra yellows were added: yellow ochre, and cadmium yellow medium. As you can see, all of the yellows have been mixed with Prussian blue. Cadmium yellow light was also tried but was rejected because of its closeness to lemon yellow.
This is only the second time I've used Prussian blue. The color was first discovered in 1704 and widely used, but there has also been considerable controversy as to its permanence.
Winsor and Newton gives it an "A" rating (Permanent), equal to most of their cadmium colors...and more permanent than the popular alizarin I am comfortable with that.
Phthalocyanine blue would be a suitable replacement.
Beware however, Prussian blue and phalo blue are very powerful. Both are greenish blues and have tremendous tinting strength. Just a dab goes a long way.
Before finalizing the palette choice, I like to create a chart, like the one above, in order to make sure I have selected the colors needed to achieve the desired concept.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Amazing Italians

What is it with the Italians, anyway?
How is it that this tiny country has given us Leonardo, Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bramante, Gianni Versace, Enzo Ferrari, Sophia Loren, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Giorgio Armani...and pizza...and on and on? Art must run through their veins.
I've been to a number of European countries but it is Italy that has captured my imagination and affection, not for its politics or religion, mind you, but for its sheer physical beauty. I think the Italians are unsurpassed as sculptors, architects, and designers of products, including automobiles and clothing.
The French remain my favorite painters (not of houses but of canvases).
The Italian landscape is breathtaking. From the countryside to the mountains, from the coast to the desire to paint scenes of this amazing country will never fade.
John Pototschnik - Italian Estate - 18"x 24" - Oil

My wife and I have been to Italy twice. The highlight of the second trip for me was the time spent on Lake Como. It had rained for several days prior to the cruise, so to have perfect weather for the day on the lake was much so, I didn't even want to eat for fear of missing something.
The town of Como, where our cruise of the lake began, has a population of around 100,000 people. It is an important industrial center of textiles, metallurgy, food and chemicals. Most famous of all is what the Italians call the "industria serica", or silk industry. Today, Italy is the largest producer of finished silk cloth in the world. Como's closeness to the prestigious fashion capital of Milan favors the city's continued recognition world-wide.
Lake Como is 30 miles long and is the deepest of Italy's lakes at 1345 feet. Narrow and winding, it is divided into three branches: Como, Lecco, and the upper lake area. Already loved by wealthy Romans for their summer villas, Lake Como became an important part of the 18th and 19th century Grand Tour and the prime choice for the luxurious villas and gardens of nobility and potentates. Against a backdrop of steep mountains and coastline dwellings, the whole cruise was spectacular.
John Pototschnik - Coastline Dwellings - 20"x 20" - Oil

A few weeks ago, I revealed that I was beginning a new painting of Italy. The monochromatic block-in was shown along with a few progressive step photos. The painting shown above is the completed piece. It will be available through Greenhouse Gallery, but it first will receive a custom frame.
My desire was to capture the beauty of the Lake Como coastline along with its wonderful architecture. The Italians choice of color for the buildings harmonizes perfectly with the landscape, creating an almost idyllic environment.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Damned Soul - White marble - 1619

Italian Pizza - Natural ingredients -18" in diameter - 2011

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Still Life Painting

I have created a number of still life paintings during my fine art career. They were not only painted for my personal enjoyment, but also as a change of pace from landscape painting...and as something unexpected for my collectors. I have since come to realize their valued importance in the development of an artist.
Pieter van Anraadt - Still Life With Earthenware Jug - 26.5"x 23.25" - 1658

Still life painting has a long and valued position in the history of art. As I've stated before, I had virtually no exposure to fine art growing up, and even as a professional illustrator, I had little interest in the fine arts. But, my attitude eventually changed and I do regret my disinterest and insensitivity to the finer things.
When I converted to fine art from illustration in 1982, the first exhibit I attended was "Dutch Painting of the Golden Age", at the Kimbell Museum in Ft. Worth, TX. The exhibit featured many great artists of 1600's Holland, the age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The whole exhibit was an eye opener.
John Pototschnik - Things English - 11.25"x 9"

I still clearly remember the amazingly sensitive self portrait Rembrandt painted when he was just twenty-three. There were several still life paintings in the exhibit, all exquisite and typical of the period.
Two that really captivated me were paintings by Jan Baptist Weenix and Pieter van Anraadt. The still life tradition has also been evident in American Art and probably its most famous practitioner is William Harnett.
Jan Baptist Weenix - Dead Partridge - 20"x 17" - 1650-52

Why is still life painting such a great way to grow rapidly in one's ability as an artist, and why is it a valuable practice one should adopt throughout their career?
There are a number of reasons, but the number one, numero uno reason is found in the title...still life. The objects don't move or change...unless of course you're working with perishables like flowers, fruit and vegetables. But basically, under controlled light, nothing changes.
John Pototschnik - Knitted Friends - 11.25"x 9"

John Pototschnik - Fruits - 9"x 12"

William Michael Harnett - My Gems - 18"x 14" - 1888

Here are some reasons for valuing still life painting:
  • Light and composition can be easily orchestrated
  • You choose the objects
  • Set up can be as simple or complex as you desire
  • There are no time restraints
  • Objects are set and immobile, so drawing and accurate placement of objects in space, relative to one another, can be thoroughly studied and drawn.
  • Objects can be selected to communicate a narrative, a theme, and to aid in color harmony.
  • Still life provides a great opportunity for study of light, halftone, shadow, reflected light, and how light moves across objects to delineate form
  • There's more opportunity to explore various points of view (eye levels)
  • A thorough study of how light reacts to a variety of textures can be observed...and one can learn to paint those affects
These are some of the benefits. I'm sure there are more I haven't thought of.
John Pototschnik - Remembrances - 10"x 10"

There's nothing new about the benefits of still life painting. The same principles were taught for generations before the so called "modern age".
John Pototschnik - Fresh Fruit - 8"x 10"

I would make a few suggestions for those starting out. Simplify things by working with the most basic of shapes: cube, cylinder, cone and sphere. From there, when you have attained a good grasp of drawing, begin to add values (shading)...and from there begin adding color, more complexity, and so on.
You might even consider setting up a still life outside and learn to paint under rapidly changing light. Guaranteed, all this will help you as a painter, regardless of your subject of choice.
John Pototschnik - Plum and Strawberries - 9.75"x 10"

Finally, and this is huge, never work from photos when painting a still life. Why in the world would you want to do that? Also, there is a big difference in drawing from life and working from a 2-dimensional comparison.

Google was the source of images for Weenix, Anraadt, and Harnett.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jean-Francois Millet

Just one month separated the deaths of two of my favorite artists. One died wealthy and highly esteemed in the eyes of the public, art critics and fellow artists...the other died relatively poor, having been misunderstood by the public, ridiculed by art critics, and pretty much ignored by fellow artists. Both were French, possessing a reverence for God and His word, the Bible. Each had been closely associated with a group of artists painting in Barbizon, France during the third quarter of the 1800's.
Planting Potatoes - 32.5"x 39.87" - 1861-62

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1797-1885) and Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1885) were contemporaries with some of the greatest artists in history.
Corot was greatly admired by artists of his day. Monet accorded him high praise when he said, "There is only one master here - Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing". While Corot's landscapes were praised as being poetic, it was said that Millet's painting had a "brutish dourness" and that they "irked the smooth shaven bourgeois".
Man Grafting a Tree - 31.87"x 39.37" - 1855

Late in life Millet did finally receive some awards and recognition, but generally during his career he was largely ignored by writers and unappreciated by fellow artists. His one, unabashed supporter was Vincent Van Gogh and his closest friend was Theodore Rousseau, a fellow painter of Barbizon.
Shepherdess With Her Flock - 32"x 39.75" - 1864

Jean-Francois Millet was born on October 4,1814 in the seaside village of Gruchy, France. He was apparently very intelligent but because of his shyness, lack of glibness, aversion to the fashionable and sophisticated, and his strongly held beliefs...he was perceived as being a simple man. His stocky appearance and obsessive desire to paint the "common people" probably didn't help matters any either.
Millet may have been one of the first to truthfully capture the life of the peasant. Artists typically tended to sanitize and glamorize the life of these folks, but Millet showed them as people of the soil...toiling, sweaty, exhausted and dirty.
Peasant Woman Baking Bread - 21.67"x 18.12" - 1853-54

Everything about Millet's style contributes perfectly to the subject...the earth toned palette, the rather rough paint handling, and the dark, moody, melancholy atmosphere. His figures are very solid, possessing a strong, three-dimensional sculptural quality, reminiscent of his greatest influence, Michelangelo. Millet's peasants are people of the soil.
His work is also distinguished by its simplicity of value (light/dark), and color. He eliminated the unnecessary and grouped the subject into as few value shapes as possible. This gives his work the sculptural quality that is so distinctive, while also adding to the grandeur of the subject.
The very thing that makes Millet's work so appealing to me was a huge irritant to the critics of his day...they were wanting more detail and Millet wouldn't give it to them.
The Angelus - 21.75"x 26" - 1857-59

He also favored a subdued palette. One cannot find harsh color notes in his paintings. Andre Fermigier, author of the book, Millet, states that Millet had a keen eye for color. His studio contained "a collection of rags and bits of cloth, of different colors, faded and weather-stained, fragments of head-handkerchiefs, blouses, petticoats, etc., affording shades of color more exquisite than any dyer could produce. Millet made great use of these in his painting, taking from them suggestions of color which he said he could have got in no other way. The almost innumerable shades of blue, from the dark indigo of the new blouse or apron that had never been washed to the delicate tints of time-worn garments that had been bleached almost to whiteness, were his special delight".
Harvesters Resting - 27.25"x 49.25" - 1853

It was only after his death that J.F.M. became incredibly popular, and it was mainly because of just one painting, The Angelus. It may be the first indication of mass marketing, for images of the painting were just about everywhere. It was reproduced as prints, etchings, and embroidery, It also showed up on packaging, plates, even store signage.
Haystacks: Autumn - 33.5"x 43" - 1874

Summing up the life work of Millet, his close friend Philippe Burty wrote: "He painted the country and agricultural life as he knew it. With scrupulous accuracy he recorded the old peasantry still attached to the traditional implements and clothing, still the victim of manual labor, who will very soon be made unrecognizable by town-bought clothes and farm machinery. Combining as he did a deep knowledge of the human heart with a broad grasp of facts, Millet will number among the true painters of history, in the deepest and most literal sense of the term.

Sources for this article: "Millet" by Andre Fermigier, Rizzoli International, Inc., 1977; Art Renewal Center,

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