Friday, April 28, 2006

Sail vs Power

When I was in high school, I had a music teacher (band) who loved to go sailing. He didn't have a big fancy sail boat but a small modest one. In the summer he would teach beginning sailing as part of a local summer recreational program. On his office wall at school, he had a cartoon up on the wall. It showed a man kneeling in prayer by his sailboat. The caption read, "Forgive me, I tried a powerboat and I LIKED IT!

That is sort of the way that I feel abouting painting and playing with digital images on my computer. The computer makes it so easy to manipulate an image and produce so many variations on a theme. There are so many filters available that producing painterly effects are so simple.

I took a photograph of a bridge in Grand Rapids, MI, not far from where I live. Your typical bland older concrete bidge, crossing over the Grand River. Once I had the image in my computer I twisted the color and texture every way possible. I soon came out with a pretty good image. I showed it to another painter friend and asked him if he ever thought of playing with images digitally. His answer surprised me a bit. He sai, "Oh no, I'm afraid that I would like it too much. It's almost too easy to do and I would probably give up painting." I know the feeling.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring Is For The Birds

After the dreariness of Winter I am always glad to see spring coming. Here, by Lake Michigan, we get what is called Lake Effect Snow and what seems like endless overcast. I have to work hard at fighting off seasonal depression. But now Spring is here. More days with sunshine and blue skies. The days are getting warmer and winter clothes and snow gear, for the most part, can be put away. And all the trees are in bloom.

Trees in bloom are the one part of Spring that I am not crazy about. I have seasonal allergies. I know that for the next month or so I will be sneezing like crazy. Even Flonase or Claritan, as helpful as they are, don't fully do the job. But still, I don't mind. Sunshine, blue skies, warmer weather, these are positives that outweigh the negative. But Spring also brings one more important thing, the birds.

Every morning, just before dawn starts to lighten the sky the birds slowly begin their morning song. With the windows now open I can again hear the beauty of their songs. It is a simple pleasure but one that I really enjoy. It is a wonderful way to be awoken in the morning.

These three pieces are done with Caran D'Ache artist crayons on Strathmore paper.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Old Friends

Just about everyday my wife and I get our dogs out for a walk at a nearby nature preserve. We do it for ourselves as much as we do it for them. It's a moderate walk, about 3 miles, taking us up and down hills on the various paths. Once we get out there, the dogs are so excited that they strain against their leashes. All except one, the golden retriever, Mia.

Mia, like all of our other animals, is a dog that we rescued. Someone had used her for many years to breed so they could sell the puppies (or so we speculate). When she got too old and had developed numerous, hard, and large breast tumors, she was dumped off in an area that she was not familiar with on a road. This was in the heat of mid summer and she smelled horrible. She had been forced to go down into drainage ditches to find any water to drink.

We never knew how old she really was, the vet estimated around nine. She seemed healthy and happy and she had a good appetite. If she had gone to the Humane Society, she would have been put down because she was so unadoptable. She is one of the sweetest and gentle dogs that we have ever had and we wanted to make sure that she spent whatever time was left to her in a place where she was loved.

Now, she is noticably slowing down. When we were out yesterday morning, my wife had to take her back to the van shortly after we started our trek. She was already lagging behind and she was panting. At home, she spends most of her time sleeping and doesn't seek attention or affection as much anymore. We have seen this in the past in our other animals. We know that now her time is really limited. We have a small pet cemetary on our property. She will be buried with her friends. So, we will just enjoy her company as much as we can for as long as we can.

As bittersweet as this is, we know that we will rescue another animal that was probably unwanted. We will keep doing this as long as we can. And when we die, my wife and I figure that we will be greeted by a large and varied pack because, there are dogs in our heaven.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Preparing The Surface

There are two supports that I use to paint on, paper and a hardwood panel. Years ago I used to use canvas but it is just too expense. I also have a very heavy hand so the flex and give of a stretched canvas just doesn’t work that entirely well for me. When I’m using oils I also incorporate oil sticks to either add additional color or get more of a drawing quality. For soft and oil pastel the rigid surface is a necessity. With oil pastels I can do them directly on a hardwood panel and not have to worry about framing them with a mat or putting it under glass.

For the hardwood panels, I buy ¼” X4’ X 8’ sheets at my local lumberyard. I have them make a couple of preliminary cuts just for my ease of handling. Once I get them home I cut them to the sizes that I want. If you have a heavy enough hand, you can also cut through them using a utility knife. For the cradles I use 1” X 2” clear pine. I cut them to length, put some glue on them, and tack the plywood down using a brad nailer, then fill in the holes with putty. Later, I give them 2 coats of sealer and finish with 2 coats of gesso. I use a foam roller for this because it gives the surface a little texture so that there is some drag for the brush. The last step is to cover the surface with a toned wash.

With paper I use pretty much the same process with a few variations. Many years ago I used watercolor blocks. There were really great for ease of use. I could gesso them without worrying about stretching the paper. Once again, cost became a factor. I have experimented with various papers over the years. I am currently using a paper made by Strathmore. It is not an art paper but one made for the printing industry. It has a nice texture, 2 deckled edges, measures 26” X 39”, and is pH neutral, which makes it archival. I got it through a printing shop that I used to work for, at cost. Because I bought a ream it came to $150.00 or 30 cents a sheet.

On the sheet, I lightly mark off the size I want to paint, usually leaving a 2-3 inch border all around. I next use a commercial painters tape made for delicate surfaces to mask the area. Any remaining area that is still exposed, I mask with brown craft paper (cheaper than using the tape). The clean borders give the piece a nice finished look without needing a mat. After that, I seal the surface and gesso the same as above. The only major difference happens if I am using soft pastels or artists’ crayons.

In the case of pastels and crayons, I add powdered pumice to the final coat of gesso. Usually 1 part pumice to 2-3 parts gesso and I thin it slightly (no more than 20%) with water. This gives the surface a wonderful sanded effect, much like using 600-grit sandpaper. In the case of soft pastels I can build up numerous layers without having to use fixative. I also stain the surface with an acrylic tonal wash before I start blocking in the painting.

The barn painting was a commission that was done in oil on a hardwood panel. The landscape is done in artist crayon on the paper mentioned above using the preparation mentioned. Both are finished with Kamar varnish.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


When I first got married I was working with oils and doing abstract paintings. Then we started to have children. I quickly found out that you could not care for an infant, change diapers, heat bottles, and do whatever while I had my hands soiled with paint. Like it or not I had to give up painting. I filled the creative vacuum with photography. When we would take the kids and the dog for a walk to the park, I would bring my camera and do close up photography of peeling bark on the eucalyptus trees and the peeling paint on the playground equipment. These photos became my way of still doing abstract art.

As the kids got older I was able to start doing some pen and ink work. Using a rapidograph was easy set-up and no clean up when I was finished. While I was in school I enjoyed drawing more than painting so this was a natural follow-up for me. This worked great for a while but I really missed using color. I tried using colored pencils, for a while, but I just didn’t like the results that I was getting. Then I tried giving pastels a try. Pastels have an easy set-up and clean up is minimal, what’s not to like?

When I first started using them, I HATED THEM! As a painter I was used to mixing the colors that I wanted. With pastels, I wasn’t able to rub two sticks together and get the color I wanted. I was frustrated and felt like a beginner but I am stubborn enough I wasn’t going to let them beat me. I promised myself that once I was successful and learned to use them I would throw them away. Well, it took me over 10 years to stop using them. During that time, I used pastels exclusively. I found out they were a truly rich and expressive medium. They also worked well while dealing with my young children and working full time outside the house.

Now, I don’t use them so much and that’s kind of sad. For all of the good qualities there were a number of problems with them. Framing was one of the biggest factors. Not only did I have to cut mats but also the mats had to be floated (have a spacer put behind it). Also, only glass could be used not plexi-glass. When plexi-glass gets cleaned, it creates a static charge and literally will draw some of the pastel off of the surface. Not only did it add extra expense but also it created problems in shipping. And it never failed that when someone was looking to buy the painting, more often than not, I was asked how much it was without the frame.

Now to take their place I use oil pastels or a wonderful water-soluble artist crayon made by Caran D’Arch that works much the same way as the oil pastel. There are no dust problems, framing is easier, and I can get similar effects. The two brands oil pastels that I prefer are the Neo Pastel made by Caran D’Arch and the ones made by Holbein, specifically the ones where each color has 5 different tones. They both have a rich buttery quality and are a pleasure to use.

In the above paintings, the blue mug with a lemon is done in traditional soft pastel, the calla lily is done with artist crayon, and the pear is done with oil pastel.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The subject matter that I like the most, the nude human figure, is the one I seem to have the most trouble with and it is my weakest area. I’m pretty good when it comes to drawing the figure but when I go to paint the figure it seems to fall apart on me. I keep going back and forth over how I should approach it. I have a vague sense of what I want to achieve but I still haven’t figured out how to get there. In a way, I don’t know what it is but I know what it isn’t!

This vagueness probably comes from admiring the figurative work of many different artists with varying styles and wanting to emulate them somewhat and to incorporate pieces and parts of their styles into my own work but not quite knowing how to make it work. At the same time it needs to be all of my style. I struggle with keeping the compositions and shapes simple yet giving richness to them.

The painters whose figurative work I admire the most are very different. I have always loved the work of Richard Diebenkorn. The whole Bay Area Figurative movement in San Francisco was still going on when I was in art school. Diebenkorn was the master but Elmer Bischoff was no slouch. In the second generation of that school was Nathan Olivera whose work bordered on the abstract while just retaining the figure. There was also the work of Wayne Thiebaud. His work was bright and bold yet controlled and he laid the paint down in a very luscious way. There are two contemporary artists, Milt Koboyashi and Joseph Lorusso, who both capture contemporary scenes much the same way that Degas and Lautrec did in their time. Both Degas and Mary Cassatt created wonderful works of the human form using pastel. The multiple layers, richness of the colors, and the simpleness of the forms. In the case of Cassatt, I think that her pastel work was really her strength. With Lautrec there was directness and a boldness that I really admire.

These are the artists who have influenced my own figurative work. They are the ones that I come back to over and over again. Still, there are others whose work I enjoy seeing. Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele, Edvard Munch, the German Expressionists, the Fauvists, and many more. The list is long and varied.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Portrait of Myself

Earlier this year, I was asked to participate in an exhibit at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, MI. The show was titled Self: Portraits and Narratives. The following is the statement that I was asked to submit along with my painting.

Direct, intense, concrete, loud, in your face, larger than life, intimidating, boisterous, these are all words and phrases that have been used to describe my paintings or me. These would all be pretty accurate. It was Pablo Picasso who once said that all works an artist makes are self-portraits. From my own artistic experience and philosophy, this is something that I do believe to be true. So, I took these words, thoughts, and ideas and combined them with my artist statement and used this as the foundation of my painting.

I knew that this was a good basis to start with but things are not that simple for me. I have a disability, it is a mental illness called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). One of the elements of this disorder is that I will mull things over and over again in my mind to the Nth degree. This is not always a bad thing because it caused me to look at other elements of my artwork and myself and to include them in the portrait. My artist statement was part of the foundation of the painting but I did add other elements to it.

I believe that as an artist, as I watch the world I see chaos swirl all around me. Every so often I reach out into this chaos and grab a piece of it and look at it and study it. Sometimes this one piece is a complete whole but more often than not I reach out and grab more pieces until I feel that I have enough to assemble them into something interesting. I sometimes add embellishments and sometimes I don’t. This is the main reason that I cut the portrait apart into squares. I was able to take the idea of shapes being small abstract paintings and combine it with the idea of randomness. I treated each square as a small abstract painting complete unto itself. Once the 12 individual panels were complete I reassembled them into the full portrait. With this I was able to combine the idea of abstracts and randomness or controlled chaos.

There are also other personal aspects from my life that I added to this painting. A lot of this comes from my OCD which causes me to have a very direct, intense, and concrete personality. The colors are basically dissonant because that is the way most of my life has been lived. I have also been told that my sense of color is very In-Your-Face. Even though I am short I have been told that I have a larger than life presence. All of these have been combined into this portrait.

This portrait is straightforward to the point of being blunt. It is large, bold, simple and intense. It does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. It looks simple on the surface while underneath there are layer upon layer of complexities, various complex microcosms coming together to form a completed whole.

Ed Maskevich
December 2005

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Artist’s Statement

For quite a long time I used to believe that the essence of my work could be distilled down to one word, strength. Strong color, shape, composition, light and so on. That slowly I was eliminating all of the unnecessary elements. I was trimming it down to bare and simple forms. The paintings were sleek and trim and could hold their own. The reality I discovered is something quite different.
My work is more about contradictions. There are simple shapes but they are made up of layers of colors and scribbles as I mix the paint on the surface of the painting. As much as I wanted to simplify everything I could not tolerate the shapes to be flat and lifeless. I wanted something simple yet I wanted it to be richly complex without it appearing to be that way. This was a throw back to my days as an abstract color field painter. I wanted each simple shape to be a small abstract painting working with other small abstract paintings on the same surface. Various complex microcosms coming together to form a completed whole.

“Jung has wisely said that if you are able to observe a quality that is characteristic of a person, you may be quite certain that somewhere in that person the opposite is equally true.” June Singer, BOUNDARIES OF THE SOUL