Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews Carolyn Anderson on:
How working at Disney’s Imagineering workshop influenced her artistic path, and her obsession with art books
Why we have such a hard time with edges in painting
The important book written for artists by a neuroscientist “Every artist should love it.”
Bonus! Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, shares advice in this week’s Art Marketing Minute: Find out when you should start marketing your art for the holidays and the best way to market your art if it’s considered “unusual.”
Listen to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads and Carolyn Anderson here:
Painting by Carolyn Anderson
– Carolyn Anderson online: https://www.carolynanderson.com/
– Realism Live: https://realismlive.com/register-now
– Fall Color Week 2020: https://fallcolorweek.com/white-mountains
– Eric Rhoads on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ericrhoads/
– Eric Rhoads on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eric.rhoads
– Sunday Coffee: https://coffeewitheric.com/
– Plein Air Salon: https://pleinairsalon.com/
– Value Specs for Artists: https://streamlineartvideo.com/products/paint-by-note-red-glasses
– Paint by Note: https://paintbynote.com/
– The Great Outdoor Painting Challenge TV Show: https://thegreatoutdoorpaintingchallenge.com/casting-call
FULL TRANSCRIPT of this PleinAir Podcast
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the PleinAir Podcast. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.
This is episode number 190. Today we’re featuring the legendary painter Carolyn Anderson.
This is the Plein Air Podcast with Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of Plein Air Magazine. In the Plein Air Podcast we cover the world of outdoor painting called plein air. The French coined the term which means open air or outdoors. The French pronounce it plenn air. Others say plein air. No matter how you say it. There is a huge movement of artists around the world who are going outdoors to paint and this show is about that movement. Now, here’s your host, author, publisher and painter, Eric Rhoads.
Eric Rhoads 1:03
Thank you Jim Kipping and welcome everybody to the Plein Air Podcast. I am so excited because I love painting fall color. I don’t live where there’s a lot of fall color. I live in Austin, Texas. But we have been spending the summer and the fall in the Adirondacks this year. First time in 18 years I’ve seen the color up here because the kids graduated high school and they’re in college. But I’ve been tuning up on my fall color painting and the color has been spectacular. I mean, the hills, the mountains are glowing red. It’s incredible. And I thought I was gonna have to mute it back. But man, it really works. It’s really fun. Anyway, I’m kind of tuning up for fall color week and that’s my retreat, I do an annual retreat every fall this year. It’s in the White Mountains to New Hampshire it starts on October 12th goes through the 20th or 19th or something. Anyway, we basically just get together and we paint and we haven’t been able to do any in person events, live events we’ve done but live online but not in person this year. So this is the first and only time and so if you’ve been quarantined and you want to get in the car and drive up to New Hampshire and join us for this event it’s all inclusive right your hotel room your meals, everything is inclusive in the event and of course you got to come it’s just incredible and we have seats for the first time ever because we because of COVID right we had some seats drop out anyway, if your game just be be bold, have fun with it come to fall color, fallcolorweek.com. If you happen to see the Plein Air Salon awards last Friday night the grand prize winner $15,000 in the cover of the magazine went to Dave Santillanes. We did it online because we couldn’t do it in person. And Dave cried It was pretty cool. Anyway, beautiful paintings and all the finalists. I mean, just absolutely. Really, really tough calls so many good ones. So congratulations to all the people who were finalists. Congratulations to all the winners. You can learn more about it at pleinairsalon.com. By the way, while you’re there, enter because the monthly deadline for this month, September is the 30th. And so just go to pleinairsalon.com. And speaking of deadlines, our big virtual conference Realism Live has a price increase on September 30. Now we had plein air live and that’s all about plein air painting. But we realized when we were having that event that a lot of people are doing a lot of different things they’re doing, you know, still lifes and portraits and figures and flowers and architecture and all this other stuff. So we decided to put together a conference and we have absolutely incredible lineup. And the big enchilada really huge is we got the great Odd Nerdrum from Norway. This is unheard of. I mean, this doesn’t happen. And so that’s a big feather in our cap so to speak. And of course we’ve got some incredible landscape artists Marc Dalessio is joining us he’s gonna be doing plein air Kathie Odom is doing plein air Eric Koeppel. And dozens of others you know the great Daniel Graves from Florence Academy many many many many just look at the website go to realism live but just know that you can save 200 bucks it’s still reasonably priced even if you don’t want to save the money but why not save it then you can. You can use it for art supplies anyway. Right? So go to realismlive.com before the 30th as it’s taking place in October. We also have a new event coming up in January. It’s called watercolor live and we’ve got the great Joseph Zbukvic and many many many other great artists and you can find that at WatercolorLive.com also the deadline for our artists and selfie competition, which is self portraits, portraits of other artists or paintings of other artists, paintings of artists and plein air paintings of art studios. We’re going to be giving those away during realism live and as a result, you want to get your entry in if you were doing so. portraits or have done them or these other types things. You can learn more about it here. Alright, and this week’s plein air today newsletter we have an incredible roundup of cloud and sky paintings from our readers. Remember to tag us on Instagram at plein air magazine so we can see your work and maybe use it in our newsletter. So check out Plein Air Today it’s a newsletter you can find it at outdoorpainter.com to sign up. Now also in this coming issue of Plein Air Magazine, there’s a feature why pastel is perfect for plein air five top artists reveal how to make the most of the medium outdoors and why you should consider adding pastel to your your collection. All right. Anyway, coming up after the interview. I’m going to be answering art marketing questions in the marketing minute. But first we want to get right to our interview with a great I mean the great Carolyn Anderson. Carolyn Anderson, welcome to the plein air podcast.
Carolyn Anderson 5:57
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
Eric Rhoads 5:59
It’s rare that I get a legend on the podcast, you know, so this is pretty cool, right? How’s it feel to be a legend?
Carolyn Anderson 6:08
I didn’t really know I was one. But thank you.
Eric Rhoads 6:12
Well, you certainly have developed a fabulous reputation your painting is second to none. It’s just absolutely fabulous. And so I really thought it’d be kind of fun just to talk about painting and not necessarily about plein air painting and just painting. And you and I have had some interesting experiences together. I remember one of the first times I met you, we were in Vermont. Do you remember that?
Carolyn Anderson 6:40
Oh, sure. Yeah, at Peter Miller’s place with CW Monday.
Eric Rhoads 6:43
Yeah, that’s right. And I don’t know how I got invited to hang out with you guys. But we had a rain day. And so we all hung out in Peters studio, and I had done this horrible painting. And so I have you guys all worked on it, because we had nothing else to do. So you worked on it for a while. And CW worked on it for a while. And I think Peter Miller worked on it, and Todd Rifers worked on it. And then I made you all sign it, I still have it.
Carolyn Anderson 7:12
Did we really all sign that?
Eric Rhoads 7:14
Carolyn Anderson 7:15
Oh, I didn’t remember that.
Eric Rhoads 7:16
You signed the back.
Carolyn Anderson 7:18
Oh, I don’t even remember what it looked like. That’s what you know, having multiple people paint on something they aren’t even viewing is a disaster waiting to happen.
Eric Rhoads 7:31
Well, it certainly was fun for me. And you know, my level of experience. It’s time was pretty low. And so it was just kind of fun.
Carolyn Anderson 7:39
Anyway, yeah, that was just a great time hanging out with those people.
Eric Rhoads 7:43
Well, that’s the best part about, all of this is that you’re living your life as a creative being, and you’re meeting and hanging out with other wonderful people.
Carolyn Anderson 7:54
Eric Rhoads 7:56
So how did this journey begin for you?
Carolyn Anderson 8:05
I’m just one of those people who was always interested in art. I was into it, I always drew, I grew up by Chicago. So we used to go to the art institute a lot. And I think those early experiences at the Art Institute, they’re some of the work probably had a pretty big influence on me, eventually. I don’t know I just decided I want to be an artist. My parents said, No, you can’t do that. You have to go to school and, actually be something. So I went to college for a while for teaching, decided that isn’t what I wanted to do. And then just went out on my own, eventually moved out west and worked part time raised a son on my own and built an art career out same time.
Eric Rhoads 8:52
Really, what was that like?
Carolyn Anderson 8:53
Yeah. poverty stricken, would be about it. I came out west originally as a VISTA volunteer and worked on Indian Reservation. And so when I decided I wanted to leave Illinois, I just came back to Montana where I’d already been and, I worked for years and did art on the side and then went part time and did art on the side. And the year that my son turned 18 and graduated from high school, I quit my job. And then I was just on my own, you know, just doing art.
Eric Rhoads 9:30
That was pretty gutsy.
Carolyn Anderson 9:33
And it was scary. Yeah.
Carolyn Anderson 9:36
Yeah, there’s just times you can go for a long time and not make any money. But things would things always just kind of seemed to work out just when, you’re wondering where the next money’s coming from and how you’re going to pay a bill but all of a sudden, it’s a miracle a check shows up in the mailbox or something, and then, I started teaching workshops out in Seattle. I think that was probably in the 80s So that was good. And then I start taught workshops for a while for Disney Imagineering in California. And that was a big learning experience. And so I’ve probably been teaching workshops and traveling around for art for well over 30 years.
Eric Rhoads 10:21
Well, I’ve come up with a whole bunch of questions from the last couple of statements. And so I’m not sure where to go with it. But the first one that comes to mind is, what was it like living and working on an Indian Reservation? Are we even allowed to use the word Indian anymore?
Carolyn Anderson 10:38
Sure. Yeah. Native Americans? Yeah. It was interesting. Coming out of Chicago, it was a real eye opener. So, when your only experience with Native Americans has been from TV shows, like the Lone Ranger or something like that, to actually, live and work with the people on the reservation, was a real eye opener, real educational experience, and just gives you a lot of respect for different cultures.
Eric Rhoads 11:14
Absolutely, I would think so. That was fascinating. Now, the other one was about Imagineering. So I’m assuming that they probably came to you, because you’re so good at the at the whole idea of creativity. The idea of, not falling into a routine when you’re painting.
Carolyn Anderson 11:39
Probably; a friend of mine was a Disney Imagineering artist, Tom Galeon. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tom’s work. But Tom lives here in Montana. But he was a full time Disney artist. And he was the one that got several of us involved in working with Disney. So Tom started it. And at the time, Disney was doing a lot of or just benefit for their artists to you know, open up their horizon, so to speak. And so they bring in different kinds of painters to teach different workshops. And then in turn, we also had workshops here in Montana for a lot of the Disney artists. And so that was a great experience, it was one thing that just always impressed me was when we’d go there to work. And we’d go across the road to their, their separate art studio, which was just for regular painting stuff, not the workspace. The setup, of course, was just Primo, of course, you’d get these models in there, just dressed to the nines, and –
Eric Rhoads 12:51
They have access to a lot of costumes.
Carolyn Anderson 12:54
Well, yes. And then, of course, just the lighting. And the model stand was his big huge model stand in the round, everything was just really kind of exciting, especially coming from Montana. So, but the biggest thing that probably the most impactful thing that happened there was I got to use the Disney Imagineering library, which was basically, like a small town library, except it was just all filled with art related books, the whole library. It was phenomenal. And of course, that was before the internet. So, if I wanted art books, I’d go to the library loan, and I’d get I get books from the library, but you had to number one, know what you were looking for, be able to give the title. Well, in that library, it was just all art books, and I could just wander around forever. And then I got asked to do a paper on visual language. And so then, that kind of all keyed into flying back and forth to Glendale, California just to go to the library and hang out for days on end to do my work. That was the big start to what I incorporated into a lot of my workshops later on about teaching visual language.
Eric Rhoads 14:19
So you probably have a fairly substantial library of your own now.
Carolyn Anderson 14:23
Yes. Pretty decent. Pretty decent. I try not to add any more. My bookshelves are full.
Eric Rhoads 14:32
Oh, I know. It’s an addiction. I went over to Russia in March…Well, the first time I went to Russia, I brought a suitcase full of books home, a suitcase. And that suitcase weighed double what three probably probably weighed 250 pounds and I had to buy another suitcase and divided into that suitcase and then I had to pay the weight overage and I had to pay the extra bags. And then I had to pay it from, from Russia to Sweden and then from Sweden home. And I think I ended up spending $1,000 for probably $200 worth of books. But the were books I couldn’t find anywhere else. And so when I was back over there I swore I wouldn’t do it. But of course I did. And I bought another suitcase full of books.
Carolyn Anderson 15:22
I’ve gotten good at being selective anymore.
Eric Rhoads 15:25
Yeah. Well, they’re such a wonderful tool – I’m not. How do you use them? When you’re like struggling with a particular thing, do you flip through the books and try to figure out how sometimes…
Carolyn Anderson 15:38
I do that. Sometimes I’ll just be flipping through, I find something that I like, and sometimes I’ll lay books out on the floor. And it’s not, particularly because it’s subject or anything, there might just be something in that painting that grabs me, it could be color tone, or maybe a value pattern. And it’s not that I’m going to, try and impose that on the painting I’m working on. But it’s just there for inspiration…if you’re going to study art, you want to study some of this stuff that has stood the test of time, you know?
Eric Rhoads 16:15
Absolutely. So would you let us in on some of the concepts that you might have taught at a Imagineering workshop? What are you trying to get these people to think about? Or do when you when you do a workshop with them?
Carolyn Anderson 16:32
Well, the imaginary that was the start of it. Because at that point, I realized that while other painters were interested in my looser approach, let’s say to painting, that I really didn’t have a good way of explaining everything. And so we’re that using that Disney library was kind of the start of my whole interest in trying to figure out not just why certain things are important, or how this works. And that doesn’t work. But then also, how do we explain it. So it just kind of formed the whole basis of what I went on to teach after that point. So for example, the use of edges, and color, and blind shape any of that information. So I keyed it back into visual language and how we see because how we see is a big part of what we’re seeing when we paint. So I know that kind of sounds a little off and Whoo, lamb, but it’s not. So for example, I’ll just give you a quick example, because edges are one area that a lot of artists have a hard time with. And the reason why we have a hard time with edges, is because we’re wired to basically see things as edges, we’re wired did notice the dimension of something and where something is and what it is. And so we tend to think that we see edges where we aren’t really seeing them. So it’s more of a seeing problem than a painting problem.
Eric Rhoads 18:14
Interesting. So, that raises a question, there’s kind of a debate between some painters, and I don’t suppose there’s a right or wrong, but, you talk to somebody like CW Mundy, who would say, his line is there’s a star there supporting actors. And so in other words, your focal point, that’s getting your lightest light, your darkest dark, your sharpest edge, your highest Chroma, and then everything kind of gets softer and blurrier and grayer, and so on from proud from that point. That’s one philosophy. Another philosophy would be Joseph McGurl, who would say, I put everything in focus. Now, he still does edge work. But if, he’s like, the way we work and you know, as humans, look at one area, and that’s in focus, and then we move our eyes and we look at that area, and that’s in focus,
Carolyn Anderson 19:10
And that’s in focus. Exactly. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s a range of perception.
Eric Rhoads 19:19
What do you do?
Carolyn Anderson 19:23
I don’t put much of anything in focus. But then if I need to punch something up, I’ll go for the tried and true, which is your lightest light and dark is dark. But I usually work my edges all the time, in all ways. So I don’t go in and paint and then go back and modify edges necessarily. I’ll be doing the same thing from beginning to end.
Eric Rhoads 19:54
And you’re painting everything kind of very softly. Is that? Is that a correct way to describe it?
Carolyn Anderson 20:06
Because I suppose it’s a word problem, I guess you know when you’d say, Well, if you just think that paintings can lie on a scale, just like you described with two other painters, from fuzzy, let’s say, to detailed, we’ve got a sliding scale in there. So ultra detailed to no detail at all. And so you can kind of move that little slider back and forth. And I suppose if you pick the middle, I would be from the middle towards the fuzzy side. Yeah.
Eric Rhoads 20:40
Well, that’s pretty good. I seem to recall that we, you and I had a very deep conversation one night, I don’t remember where or when, but it may have been at the FACE conference. And you were telling me about some authors, some books that you had read, that changed how you think about painting or changed how you think about edges and so on. Do you recall what that was? It was something about how we –
Carolyn Anderson 21:09
Vision and art, and the biology of theme? Does that sound right? By Margaret Livingston. Excellent book. Everybody should buy it. Here’s the deal on the book, though, because I get some students that will say, there’s too much science in it. Well, to this day, I’ve read parts of that book. I don’t know how many times and I still can’t grasp the exact science that she’s talking about. She’s, a neuroscientist. I mean, I’m sorry, her learning scale and mine are two different things here. However, this is why the book is important. She connects it actually to art. She does it deliberately. She uses lots of illustrations. So it’s a large book with lots of pictures. And so every artist should love it.
Eric Rhoads 21:55
And and was there any particular primary point that you pulled out of it that you could share?
Carolyn Anderson 22:03
Oh, not just one thing really seriously. But there’s that part about edge detection, you can find it in other books. So edge detection is a big thing. Peripheral vision is a really fascinating concept. And I think she explains it pretty well. And peripheral vision explains a lot of the Impressionist paintings. So when we talk about detail, and as you said, McGurl said, well, we move our eyes from, one place to the other. So our, central vision or foveal vision that the little area where we actually see detail is really tiny. So if you held your arm out, and stuck your thumb up, it would be about the area of your thumbnail. That’s how small or detail vision is, really, and everything else. Everything else around that space is peripheral vision. And what happens is, we notice the detail vision. And the peripheral vision is what I call the app that’s always working in the background. So it does lots of things. But we don’t particularly pay attention to it. So that peripheral vision, in a sense, explain some of the Impressionist paintings in the sense that you get maybe a feeling of movement. So that in preciseness that you’ll see in some of the Impressionist paintings, give them a quality of before now and after, so to speak, kind of like a time lapse thing, instead of just a fixed image. So that’s partly relies on the effect of peripheral vision. But one of the most striking examples that she used in her book was the painting of Mona Lisa. And so she took the advice of the historian Ernst Gombrich, that we should take, we shouldn’t take paintings like that for granted. You know, we’re so used to seeing them, we just don’t really look at them anymore. You don’t really see them. And he said, You should go and look at the painting, and pretend like you’ve never seen it before and figure out what’s going on. Well, Margaret Livingstone figured out well…just that with her background in how we see. And so she went and she studied the painting. And she realized that Mona Lisa smile as we see her smile, and it kind of gives that painting an elusive quality. You know, almost almost like movement, you could say, not a fixed smile, but, one minute she’s smiling and one minute she’s not. And so she realized that what was going on, is we were looking at the painting with a mixture of detail vision or foveal vision and peripheral vision. And so they’re different. They’re good at different things. Obviously, the detail Vision is fairly explanatory. So as you move your eyes around the painting, let’s say perhaps you look towards the top of the painting, her mouth then is going to be look differently, because you’re then seeing her mouth area with your peripheral vision. And peripheral vision is better at detecting. Well, in art terms value, better at detecting light and shadow. And what makes a mouth smile or not smile is the information around the mouth. It’s the muscles around the mouth, that create just lights and hints of shadow, we’re better able to see that with our peripheral vision than we are with our detailed vision. And so as your eyes move around the painting, the mouth is in effect changing.
Eric Rhoads 25:49
Alright, so if it was a painted as if peripheral, or is it painted as sharp or detail?
Carolyn Anderson 25:58
No, it’s a combination. Yeah, it’s a combination. But when you look somewhere else on the painting, then like I said, when your eyes focus somewhere else on the painting, not focus in the mouth, she discovered this by just looking at it, and then just looking at the mouth. And she realized that when she stared at the mouth, just at the mouth, wasn’t really smiling. She lost that whole enigmatic quality.
Eric Rhoads 26:28
So this is because we read faces, and it’s the muscles in the eyes and the eyes that make the smile. So it’s the whole picture.
Carolyn Anderson 26:39
It’s not the detail. It’s the elements of shadow. Yeah, the light shadow is the form changes. Interesting, if not the detail. The peripheral vision is way better at scene, light and shadow.
Eric Rhoads 26:59
So which, if that’s the case, color is almost irrelevant.
Carolyn Anderson 27:05
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. detail, vision is really good at color, and detail. But peripheral vision is better at seeing those slight shadows. So when you’re looking directly at the mouth with your detail vision, you aren’t necessarily seeing those slight shadows around the mouth, that give her that faint smile. It’s only when you move your eyes somewhere else. And that’s why when viewing the painting, and as your eyes move around the painting, she can kind of look like she’s smiling and kind of look like she’s not smiling.
Eric Rhoads 27:39
So that’s the – she appeals to everybody.
Carolyn Anderson 27:43
Very much. But peripheral vision. So and that’s the other thing that in painting, it’s one thing that people can take advantage of. So there’s another technique it’s called, this comes to us from horse trainers called soft eyes. So when you’re looking straight ahead, what you want to be able to do is, pull up your focus, like, I’m looking right now at a light switch on the wall. But then relax your whole body so to speak, just relax. And let your eyes, I wish there were a different term is let your eyes go soft. Well, basically, you aren’t focusing, it’s kind –
Eric Rhoads 28:24
It’s kind of a myth. It’s not a squint, it’s kind of a, you’re pulling back a little bit from –
Carolyn Anderson 28:31
It’s not even that really, it’s just a total relaxation. Right. Okay, totally relax your eyes. And then you will notice that you will see more off to the sides. Now, you won’t necessarily see that detail in the same way because you aren’t focused on the detail. But you will see more to the side. So you’re you’re aware of a larger part of your surroundings. And it’s a good technique to use when you’re painting also.
Eric Rhoads 28:52
So how do you employ that?
Carolyn Anderson 28:58
Well, it’s it’s similar to the idea of – it gives you a different perceptual information. So if you squint when you’re painting that’s better at seeing values. Yeah, not good for color, right? Because like I just said, detail vision is what sees color. So when you squint, you’re minimizing information, you’re more easily able to detect patterns. Now, when you use and then it some people, you know, like take off their glasses when they start a painting. So they aren’t seeing so much detail, they aren’t getting caught up in all the detail. I mean, that’s a technique. Of course using a mirror changes up the image, we’re kind of all working on the same types of things. But using that technique of relaxing your eyes instead of just concentrating on the detail allows you to see the information is slightly different way. Not so much the things you know, but to see the whole pattern.
Eric Rhoads 29:56
The more I paint Carolyn, The more I realized that less is more. Yeah, and what I mean by that for instances, if I put the big shapes in, then that’s almost all I need. And, I can put a tiny little sense of what’s inside that big shape without really putting a lot there. And it reads. And, it kind of goes to what you were talking about, about that peripheral vision. I mean, the goal here is to create an illusion. And I assume, you do want to draw the eye somewhere, I assume, maybe not.
Carolyn Anderson 30:42
You need to hold someone’s attention. That’s the big thing about a painting. So it can be overt, or subliminal, almost, it doesn’t, it doesn’t all have to be overt. To hold someone’s attention. Here, again, sliding scale of perception. So, you need to hold the viewers attention, in some way, shape or form. Otherwise, it’s just a once and done kind of thing. Oh, yeah, that’s nice. And then, you do engage the viewer. But the problem, so the simplicity, that’s exactly true, because that plays to that whole idea of peripheral vision, number one, and then the idea that most of our vision and how we respond to a visual world is information we aren’t necessarily aware of, like I said, it’s, it’s all the stuff playing in the background. That’s, working hard to let you see the world as it is. And so when we just focus on certain things, and take them out of context, we mix miss the big picture. Because we actually, like I tell my students sometimes to stop and think if you see someone that you know, across the street, walking away from you, how do you know it’s that person? How do you recognize it is, you know, Bob, Sue, or Mary? Bob, it’s certainly not because of detail is it? So, there’s something else going on there. But we pay attention to the detail things because this gets fascinating. It’s language based. And so our language actually directs what we see and how we see.
Eric Rhoads 32:36
Yeah, yeah. Well, and, it’s that language is telling us that a tree should look like a tree.
Carolyn Anderson 32:45
With green leaves. Brown ground, green leaf. That’s the symbol information. And that in, to make, like a short story of it is what I call, you know, the A for apple thing. So just like kids learn those early symbols. You know, A is for Apple B is for banana, we have symbol information, for things for everything we see, which is layered into our whole world. So we can, we can rapidly glance at something and go oh, yeah, that’s an apple. Oh, yeah, there’s my coffee cup, without particularly paying attention to all the qualities that we use when we’re painting, which is the quality of the light, where’s the shadow? What’s the shape? Is there an edge is there not an edge, if something’s some other light bouncing off of that, there’s all that other information that gets layered on when you’re painting. But when you’re just, motivating or moving through the world, you don’t pay attention to that stuff. And that’s because of that symbol information. So the letter A, is just as much a symbol as a child’s drawing of an apple. And when we carry those throughout our whole life.
Eric Rhoads 33:57
And they’re hard to abandon.
Carolyn Anderson 33:59
They’re very hard to abandon. Yeah, because we are language based, right? That’s the dominant part of our brains.
Eric Rhoads 34:08
I still fight that battle. 25 years later, I’ll lay out a tree truck automatically as brown even though I don’t see brown. It’s a bad habit. So based on your three-400 years of painting, and, what you started out as and where you have ended up today, how do you teach differently today than you would have say 10 or 15 years ago?
Carolyn Anderson 34:45
I try and try to make people think more about what it is that we’re seeing and maybe how one wants to express it because the problem is with here’s a big problem. Teaching art, obviously, is that if if you teach someone to paint, like you do, for example, or let’s say I teach someone to paint like I do, which I don’t think I could to tell the truth, I could give them hints, but, there’s so many decisions being made all through the process, that it’s kind of difficult for someone else to step into your shoes, but you could teach some of the, I could teach some of the basics of how I approach a painting. But even if they could get a handle on that information, then, it’s very difficult to for them to make it their own. And what you want to be able to do is teach people what they need to know to move forward. But also to find their own vision.
Eric Rhoads 35:53
Well the last thing we want is to create 50 more Carolyn Anderson’s or David Leffels or, or whomever exactly.
Carolyn Anderson 36:02
Right, there’s no point.
Eric Rhoads 36:03
But there is that other person, there is a lot of that you can see a lot of that you could you can see the clear influence of another artists work in the in the works of their students. And sometimes those students never get beyond it. They just say, well, I want to paint something as beautiful as that person, and they never get beyond it.
Carolyn Anderson 36:25
Well see that’s the problem. And maybe it’s just in personality, because some people maybe are looking for answers, and some people are looking for process. So if you’re looking for a journey, then you should be open to exploring and wandering down a little path that goes off in a different direction. So there’s nothing wrong with you. We all have influences were all influenced by other work. The problem is when we get influenced by only one, let’s say one painter, we should have lots of influences.
Eric Rhoads 37:01
So I’m gonna guess I don’t think we’ve ever discussed this but if I had to guess who had a dominant influence on your work? I would say Nikolai Fechin. Yeah, is that right or wrong?
Carolyn Anderson 37:15
Definitely. It’s pretty – The main reason because he was probably one of the first painters that I came across that combined abstract painting imagery with realism. So that to me was impressive. It’s still impressive.
Eric Rhoads 37:41
You know, Monicelli. Maybe I have the name wrong. I’ll have to think of it. But Italian painter from the probably the eight early 19th century probably.
Carolyn Anderson 38:00
Eric Rhoads 38:02
That’s it, Mancini.
Carolyn Anderson 38:03
Yeah. Well, obviously, Fechin had to have been influenced by Mancini.
Eric Rhoads 38:09
I would think so because I took I went over to see Nikholi Blokhin, in Russia, who paints very, very much in a fashion, kind of a field template completely different. And he had never seen Mancini’s work. I took him a book of his work. And, he teared up, when he saw that work, he teared up and Mancini crossed that line between complete abstraction and yet, realism, the faces were typically, in focus, but everything else was just brushstroke
Carolyn Anderson 38:42
Some of his faces, even though there were very realistically drawn, he did some strange things.
Eric Rhoads 38:50
He was in an insane asylum, you know,
Carolyn Anderson 38:53
Well, Sergeant called Mancini, the greatest living painter. And Sargent, because Mancini had definite issues. You know, I’m not sure what, but he, and lots of people over the years tried to help them and Sargent was one of the people because Sargent just thought he was this wonderful painter, and so he would periodically try and help him but like, all people who were, off the spectrum, just a little bit of normal. He could be hard to deal with. And so he would end up alienating everybody. And I think eventually he alienated, started to, which was a shame.
Eric Rhoads 39:35
Well, you wonder, no, I mean, he, the guy was genius. He if you think about the landscape painter, Blakelock. I don’t know if you know his work. But there was a period of time when Blakelock was the highest auction price, highest selling artist. This was at the time of the Hudson River school painters, and his stuff was completely abstract, just totally he went and lived on Roosevelt. With the Indians, unlike Bierstadt, who went with the military, this guy actually went out on his own. And, he went insane. So you wonder today, what is the impact of Prozac on artwork? Because these people who are absolutely tortured manic souls, who are brilliant, whose brilliance might get squashed if they’re put on these drugs.
Carolyn Anderson 40:31
Who knows, but I don’t know that any one of us would have wanted to be mentioned he despite his artwork, I mean, he would, when he run out of canvases, he’d be working in an unheated space, because half the time he didn’t have any money, he’d be wearing like six layers of dirty clothes. And when he’d run out of canvases, he paint on the walls. So I mean, the idea of a tortured soul, is definitely his paintings. Oh, my word. And are you familiar with his graticola? Well, that’s a fascinating story. So his early paintings were definitely, I’ll just say a little slicker than his older paintings,
Eric Rhoads 41:19
Probably because he was fresh out of school. And he had to overcome –
Carolyn Anderson 41:23
I just don’t, he, his later paintings were more tortured, let’s say, but they were incredibly powerful. His earlier paintings were smoother, a little more slick finish. extremely beautiful. There’s just no, just gorgeous paintings. But his later paintings were something else entirely but incredibly powerful. Well, in his later years, or at least, he didn’t use it at the beginning. But his graticola was the system that he use, it was basically horizontal and vertical wires in a frame, big grid. Now, here’s where it gets strange, he would put it in front of the model. You know, there’s pictures of him doing this. And then he would put another one right up to his canvas.
Eric Rhoads 42:15
And this is kind of like indoor grid.
Carolyn Anderson 42:18
Well, here’s the catch. This is what people miss about his gradicola, what he did was stringing most strings or pieces of wire, at angles, it was all about the angles. And you’ll see that in sessions work too, you’ll see that exact same thing. It’s like making connections, let’s say from the top of the models ear, to the elbow, or you know, whatever. It’s all those angles that you could make connecting the form. So he would criss cross this graticola, which was Dino horizontal and vertical is only going to get you so far, that’s good for beginning drawers and, or maybe scaling up for a mural or something like that. But that’s about it. Because you lose the dynamics of the image by following a horizontal and vertical grid, but by using the diagonals, and all these angles, criss crossing each other. Now all of a sudden, you start to end up with a really dynamic image. Now, when people questioned him why he did that, so he would paint through the granicola that was on his Canvas, and a lot of his later pinions, you can actually see the imprint of the wires on the painting. But his paintings also got more frenzied, thicker application of paint. Sometimes he’d even break up pottery pieces and embed them into the painting.
Eric Rhoads 43:39
So he’s actually putting the wires on the canvas.
Carolyn Anderson 43:43
Yeah. And painting through it.
Eric Rhoads 43:46
While we were talking, I googled that. It turns out, we did a story in our newsletter Realism Today about his graticola. And there’s a photo of him. Yeah.
Carolyn Anderson 43:59
Yeah, I had, I had done something in one of my posts about his graticola. And I was going to do something else on it. So I’ve been piling up some new acquired articles on it, because like I said, the big thing that people miss, is that whole angle thing. That’s where the dynamics come from?
Eric Rhoads 44:18
Well, and that’s something I was going to ask you about related to this is that, a lot of people let’s say Kevin MacPherson, for instance, Kevin will put a fairly complex grid system with a lot of angles, he’ll grid it out, corner to corner, and then center to corner and so on and create these fairly dynamic angles. And he’s always looking to make sure that he has, I think he’s always looking to make sure he has these really great angles in his painting is important is that to you?
Carolyn Anderson 44:51
That’s how I draw. But I don’t map that stuff out. But I don’t I try not to most of the time, draw things I draw spaces, and shapes and angles. So for example, if I’m painting a horse, let’s say, because, there’s kind of strange animals with those four long legs. I don’t start out by worrying about whether or not their legs, look at the angles. So you can go from knee to knee, for example, or the shape of the negative space, or whatever it is that you’re working with. So I don’t draw a horse with four legs and a tail, I go for the angles. And then if you’ve got a ride around there, it’s the same thing, you’re looking at the angles. So for example, wherever the writers leg may be, you can make an angle from there to somewhere else, it could be the horses hook, I don’t, you know, there’s lots of ways you could do that. But that’s how I draw. So I don’t draw the things.
Eric Rhoads 45:54
But you’re, intentionally looking to make sure that you’ve got good angle work in your, in your copies.
Carolyn Anderson 46:01
Yeah, and then as you work that up, you can revise your drawing, obviously, make some changes. But that immediately puts some kind of dynamics into your painting, because you aren’t drawing things and filling them in, you’re starting with the basics of visual information. So you’ve got line shaped value and color. Yeah, and so it makes drawing really easy, actually. And so it’s somewhat like Mancini’s graticola, except the course of using a wireframe. But you can do the same thing. When painting just about anything, you know, it’s told you brush up and sight line it and see, is there an angle here? What’s the angle, and we’re amazingly good at telling what what an angle is, you know, we can get a pretty good handle on that.
Eric Rhoads 46:56
Well, that’s something else that as I’ve started to kind of bring myself to a new level of sophistication. And I’m far far from big, sophisticated, but that’s the one thing that I really have started noticing is that if I can get some really good angles in my work, it really makes it brings it alive. And so, I’ve been gridding some angles in not necessarily following a specific pattern, but just the idea of, I need a big, I’ll just take a brushstroke, and I’ll say, Okay, how do I accomplish this kind of angle? How do I make this into make make my composition have this angle in it just so that it has some interest?
Carolyn Anderson 47:41
Well, think about it, and the whole idea of using shapes to create things and granted, rectangles can be kind of handy. circles are worst enemy, because they go nowhere. So circles and, and arcs are not very interesting. squares, obviously, not very interesting, because they’re all the same rectangles. Now, a rectangle has some possibility, because it can be kind of a variety of shape, right? So it offers possibility, but the shape with the most possibility of the triangle. And the triangle has, I don’t know, to me, it has a sense of movement. It’s unlike, a rectangle, or a square, which are stable. Yeah. So the idea of teaching people to draw with those elements is kind of a looks like using a horizontal vertical grid, it’s just not very interesting. But if you can use angles and triangles, to define your shapes and spaces, I think you’re way ahead of the game. And then the other thing that it forces one to do is to interact with your canvas. So when you go in, and let’s say you’re making an angle mark on your canvas, you’re engaging with the space of your canvas, which is really critical, instead of imposing some kind of outside structure onto the space here campus. You’re, you’re becoming part of your campus when you make that kind of mark, right? Yeah, so it has a it’s a positive, positive.
Eric Rhoads 49:23
Interesting. So the big dilemma for so many people listening is trying to figure out the right way to learn. And, there’s guys like me out there who are peddling art instruction videos and things like that. There’s people with books, there’s people doing workshops, there’s 1000 different approaches. People get very people tend to get very discouraged very fast, because there’s this How could I say this you know, in in our society, we will tell ourselves That an artist is someone who has natural, inborn talent. But we’ll tell ourselves, of course, a musician has to learn their scales and has to, has to learn to play a piano and you can’t just go up and pound on the keys, you got to know rhythm, you got to know, timing and so on. And, if you’re a surgeon, you have to go to school and learn how to cut and you got to learn a lot of stuff before you get to that stage. So we have this, this belief, and, people constantly say to me, Oh, I can’t draw a stick figure, I don’t have any talent. I can’t do this. And that was me. I’m not an accomplished painter, but I’m happy, at least the direction I’m going. But how do we get people to a point where, they’re actually engaged and learning and happy about it?
Carolyn Anderson 50:54
Well, I think the first thing is for people to realize that there is first and foremost, there is no right or wrong here. Some things work better than other things. That’s a given. But there’s no right or wrong. So it’s one of those things that just if it’s somebody else’s rules, you know, it’s, you should consider it as somebody else’s suggestions. For the most part, I say they’re the only rules in this game are the ones that have to do with science. And there are a few of those having to do with light and color and things like that. Others Other than that, it’s a little bit of a free for all. So if you accept first and foremost, there really are no rules. At the same time, there’s no answer. See, that’s a big thing. That’s where people get discouraged because they think there’s some kind of answer at the end of this rainbow. No, there’s there’s no answer what art is a reflection of life. And life is a journey. That’s what makes art great. That’s why we build museums art, because it’s a reflection of our lives on this planet.
Eric Rhoads 52:07
Well, when you think about it, it truly is something that is part of our nervous system. We’ve got that brush in our hand. That that’s kind of that’s coming, through our eyes, through our brain, into our muscular system into our, our movement of our hands, and we’re responding to our nervous system, we’re responding to what we see. There’s nothing like it. I mean, music would be like it if you’re, if you’re ad libbing.
Carolyn Anderson 52:37
Embodied cognition is kind of what you’re talking about there. And that’s basically just realizing that we aren’t just a brain, we aren’t just an eyeball, we’re more than that. So everything comes into play. But here’s the here’s the other thing is that a person is capable of doing. Interesting, and I would say, powerful imagery, without a lot of extensive knowledge, as long as they is kind of like force a wheel thing. Does that makes sense? So for example, we’re perhaps all slightly different at some things. I mean, I can draw, okay, but I’ve never considered myself really, really good at drawing. I’ve seen some people that are amazing at drawing. But then other people will say, Well, I can’t draw that, well, that’s fine. Because here’s the thing, if you have a weak skill set, for example, let’s say it’s a drawing, you will probably end up compensating somewhere else. So something else might become your strong suit. Could be color could be pattern. There are other visual elements that you can use to compensate for not very good drawing skills. And when you recognize that you have certain problems, then you can work on those problems. No, that’s no, here’s the problem.
Eric Rhoads 54:13
I have to challenge that for a second, I do hear a lot of people who will say, if you can’t draw, you can’t paint, that drawing is the foundation. But if if you’re doing a painting of me, and you don’t nail the likeness, everybody’s gonna know that it’s not me if I’m publishing it. So isn’t that essential that you have that drawing skill?
Carolyn Anderson 54:39
Well, drawing is drawing is handy. You can measure your way through something.
Eric Rhoads 54:46
So you’re drawing you’re drawing with a paintbrush, but you’re still drawing you’re you’re doing some fun,
Carolyn Anderson 54:52
– Saying you could you could measure your way through something I’m not saying. People definitely have to be able to draw some. That’s a learning skill, drawing on the right side of the brain for heaven’s sakes, they’ve been doing workshops for years where they go in with people with no ar