Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Calvin Nicholls: Magical Paper Art



Just when I thought that the lacy patterns and quilling were tops in what artists can do with paper, cutters and glue, Calvin Nicholls changes my mind!



Nicholls, a native of Canada, began in 1986 to create with white paper and glue. Yet, with this humble materials, his figures and scenes magically become 3-D sculptured art.


The way he stages the light and shadows give his subjects a sense of movement. His works are reminiscent of the Greco-Roman marble alto-reliefs as they reach out beyond limitations of the frame. 


 He uses archival cotton paper in order to avoid yellowing or fading.( He also minimizes his use of glue for that reason.) Other than that, equipment is a blade and some shaping tools plus many hours on a single subject. The time to complete each depends upon his familiarity with the musculature and skeleton of the subject. 

Nicholls is very generous in sharing his techniques. You can find many answers on his site and the YouTube Videos of his methods.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Summers at the Skagen Art Colony

 It was while reading that plein air artist were meeting in places like our beautiful lavender fields, that I thought of another time when summers brought out artists. No, it wasn't the French Impressionists, although they did informally come together. It was the Scandinavians. 


You see, in the summers from about 1870 until around the 1900s, Skagen, Denmark was where they gathered. It was mainly a fishing village with a long strand of beach and something known as "Blue Hour," when the color of the sky and the water merged. It had the effect of tricking the eye into a loss of horizon.

These artists of the Skagen Colony broke away from the strictures of their art education and embraced Impressionism and Realism as their techniques for portraying the local folks, the scenery and even their own gatherings.They stayed in local hotels and met regularly - no doubt to discuss their art.It must've have been a jolly and interesting time.



Beyond that, Skagen was the inspiration for artists whose works are highly valued to this day. One of them, Anna Ancher, was the subject of a blog post in August, 2020. There must be something about summer and Skagen that draws me!

Beyond the paintings of their own gatherings, here are examples of the paintings made during their time at Skagen: (Personally, the portrait of the lone fisherman in the mighty sea is my favorite. What's yours?)

Note the dog. There's that anticipation of something.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Felix Vallotton in Black & White



The artist for this week is very hard to categorize. He was a printer, painter, author and critic. Since his popularity was cinched by his woodcuts (that went against the grain of the times - sorry for the pun), he is our subject and his name was Felix Vallotton (1865-1925)


At the time that Vallotton was creating his woodcuts, the world of art printing was caught up in color lithography. He determined that he could make a greater impact with black and white. To that end,he would produce an impressive 120 woodcut black & white prints in 10 years!

.As happened with many artists of the 19th Century, like Van Gogh, Cassatt, and Monet, he was inspired by Japanese prints. For Vallotoon, it was not only for the flat appearance and mix of design elements, but also for the elimination of excessive details.



In his limited use of colors and his reduction to simple lines, Vallotton broke with traditional techniques of preparing a print. Instead, he used the high contrast to create dramatic tension and it brought him fame.



Vallotton's woodcuts are all about the tension between men and women, the almost caricature simplicity in his portraits of the famous, the mundane of the times, and finally,with age and marriage, a scene of an old man.

To this day, his prints are highly-regarded and are featured in the collections of many art museums.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Times in an Artist's Life: Z. Vanessa Helder

 Z. Vanessa Helder (1904-1968) was another artist, who was well-known during a certain era, and then largely forgotten as popular art styles changed.


Helder's medium was water colors. She didn't thin her paints to a translucent or dripping effect, commonly used with water colors. Instead, she used water color in a bold manner associated with the "Precisionist" manner. 


In that technique, (also used by Edward Hopper), houses, landscapes and industrial buildings are rendered in a certain combination of realism combined with isolation and a dream-like or surrealistic quality. In fact, Helder commented that these are a combination of what she sees and dreams from her childhood.(She started painting at age 9!)


Fame came to her pre-WW2 when she was the most well-known artist from the Pacific NW. She had exhibits all the way to NYC. She was also commissioned as an artist for the WPA. It brought her to paintings of the building the USA government was sponsoring. One of her most famous painted series being of the Grand Coulee Dam.

What happened to her place in the great 20th century artist? Post-WW2, the art style in vogue shifted to Abstract Expressionism. Helder lost gallery exposure in the East and at the same time in the NW, Morris Graves, Mark Tobey and Guy Anderson became the "Northwest School."


It is only speculation on my part, but I think if she'd have lived as long as Georgia O'Keeffe, who died in 1986 and is associated with New Mexico, she might have lived to see her artistic popularity revived as a top Pacific NW artist. She was considered that good.



If these images create an interest in Helder, there's a book titled: "Austere Beauty:The Art of Z. Vanessa Helder" by Margaret Bullock and David F. Martin.