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I recently found a post I had written for the Nicoles Classes blog when I was teaching a Watercolor 101 class online there. Normally I would not share “tips” on painting on this site but I thought that these observations were helpful for me to read through again and thought you might like them too!

I am so excited to share these shots I took at the John Singer Sargent exhibit at the MFA in Boston a while ago. I was thrilled they let us use no-flash photography so I could use his work to help illustrate the answers to some questions I get from students. First of all, I wanted to show you how Sargent addressed  white in his paintings. Painting white is one of my very favorite things to do because most of the time, white is not really white! In the first two paintings, he used the white of the paper along with varying shades of purple, blue and gray to indicate shadows on white. This is how he could display the architecture of a building and the stunning white laundry. Who knew laundry could be so captivating? You will see that the light washes of cool color make the white of the paper sparkle with highlight. Tip: Use color when painting white!

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In the painting below, he painted a dark charcoal gray background, making the white petals of the flowers stand out. Sargent was known for using what we call Chinese White, which is an opaque paint that can be painted on top of darker colors for highlight. If you look closely at the top flowers and the sparkly white spots, he could also have used wax resist. Using a white wax candle or white type of crayon makes the darker paint resist adhering to the paper leaving it white. I believe that is the technique he may have used on these gorgeous branches. Tip: Try wax resist when painting white!

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I chose to include the bottom piece of the man napping for two reasons. First, to demonstrate how Sargent handled the white sheets. You can see shadows of indentation where the sleeper is lying on the sheets in light purple, but Sargent also includes some light browns making the painting cohesive. Secondly, I wanted to point out that John Singer Sargent is a master painter and he left the pencil lines in his paintings! I know this bothered some students when they do a drawing on their paper and then realize that once you paint over the pencil marks, they often cannot be erased and are still visible. This masterpiece should help put the matter to rest. It is all a part of the medium of watercolor and loose and effortless pencil lines can even be a compelling part of the composition. Tip: Don’t sweat pencil lines!

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I cannot say enough about this exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum! The thought behind it, the craftsmanship, the story, even the layout (although I did miss a section and have to go out and back in again). Ok, not the layout, but the space and lighting and ambience were fabulous. If you are able to get to NYC or are taking a vacation there and have an already been the the Met attitude,  go again. I have been to the last couple of the fashion exhibits that open with the Met Gala and this one is really good. I found this video explaining the idea behind the exhibit and it prompted me to fit it into my schedule. I completely enjoyed the haute couture craftsmanship as it was positioned next new techniques in fabrication. The entire exhibit made me want to come home and create something 3 dimensional!

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This piece below was done with 3-D printing technology, it was so incredible to see this up close.

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This one creeped me out a bit, silicone coated gull skulls. It was such a mix of everything, leather, laser cut, pleating, embroidery all at it’s very best. Just incredible.

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deaef09357621b2d2a80bd14490a2c0f  This embroidered dress was featured in the center of the exhibit, it was stunning. Basically, the room was set up like a cathedral and this wedding gown was set in the center. There may have been music playing or that may have been in my head,ha!  Needless to say I was in the moment, espeically since my phone and camera went dead right as I arrived at the Met.

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I ran across this painting of Leigh Viner’s when I was putting together mood boards for my bag line. As many times as the products and boards changes during production, I couldn’t get away from the colors and emotions that I felt when I saw this image. It captured my romantic love affair with Europe. I was born outside of Venice and my mother very fondly talked of Italy and Venice my entire life (I left at an early age, sob). I like how Leigh has all sorts of mediums, even photography. There is almost a stark sensuality to it all. Naturally, I love her fashion work too! Her website says. “I am a freelance all around Artist/Photographer.  I am never settling on one thing or the other. I have always been the curious one in that I need to continue to grow, you will see a lot of that in my various pieces of work.  I also worked as a Makeup Artist which has influenced my work greatly.” 

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I wanted to feature the graphic posters of Pierre Bonnard. Though mostly know for his paintings, if you have been to Paris, you certainly recognize these posters. They are sold on every surface and product you can think of, maybe it was the birth of licensing, haha!  Pierre’s use of flat color and decorative line helped establish the Art Nouveau look of the late 1890’s. Art was becoming more decorative and public and it helped establish the new field of advertising. Crazy to think of advertising as being new at one point, right?

I wish every painter would dip into advertising work a bit and bring their eye into more of the everyday world. I particularly like the hand painted lettering in these posters.

Bonnard also designed furniture, developed textile patterns, painted screens, created stage sets, and illustrated books. I wonder if stretching his gifts like this was something he had to do for income or part of a calling of sorts to bring art into public spaces. I have always been a fan of the posters of this era.  I even had some hung in my apartment several years ago, I like the organic decorative shapes and graphic feel of them.

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This one, below, is my personal favorite. I like the line quality and use of white space.

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This lithograph was not used for advertising but it  has the same organic and graphic feel to it.

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As long as we are talking about details (oh, you didn’t realize that we were?) I have a huge appreciation for the work of  Australian  born,  Kelly Smith from Birdy and Me.  I simply love her work, her ability to edit herself in composition and in  color. I once ran across a blog post describing  how she complies her drawings and how she draws everything out by hand, using the grid method. She has a unique perspective and it shows. She says she likes to mix fashion and fairy tale. I like a girl who knows who she is, don’t you?

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