For many years I had dreamed of going back to Italy to spend dedicated time painting plein air. This June 2017 I attended an artist residency in a tiny village in Umbria where I was free from any other obligations and painted daily. This experience filled my tanks in so many ways. I can't wait to go back, sooner not later!Read More
For a painting trip to Italy, I need to pare down my equipment and materials. Where can I cut down on weight and volume?Read More
Looking as an antidote to high-tech glancing. How looking to paint or looking at a painting may save your mind.Read More
A primer on the benefits of varnishing an oil painting.Read More
Happy anniversary to me and Ella Yang Studio! 15 years ago I made a deal with myself: try making art on a full-time basis for five years and see how it goes - by any of many possible criteria, e.g. how I improve/develop as an artist, can I get my art exhibited, will anyone buy my artwork, might I get any recognition from anyone in the "art world" (which was quite mysterious to me). I also was new to Brooklyn, not aware of or part of any artist community. I told myself that I could always go back to what I used to do by staying in touch with former colleagues. This gave me a (somewhat delusional) feeling that I had a back up plan. I put my trust in myself and "the Universe," and thanks to the whole-hearted support of my husband, started off on an incredible journey. What a ride it has been!
Pretty quickly I found a tiny, windowless studio in the northern part of Gowanus. Every nice day I went outside to paint, otherwise reveled in having an art studio for the first time in my life. . Rooftop views became my "landscapes" and, given that the Gowanus Canal was near my studio, it also became a natural subject.
While painting outside, I met other plain air artists. I also pursued my interest in figure drawing and painting at a couple of studios in Manhattan, where I met other Brooklyn-based artists.
That first year I participated in my very first Gowanus Open Studios and sold a painting. What a thrill! The next year I volunteered to work on the committee organizing the still somewhat nascent open studios event. I started to meet other artists in Gowanus. Over the next few years I joined various artist organizations in search of more "colleagues" and to contribute my business knowledge and skills. I had opportunities to show my work in juried group exhibitions, participated annually in Gowanus Open Studios which grew in size and public notice, and sold a few paintings pretty regularly.
In my 4th year the Universe spoke, or rather Cynthia M. Dantzic included me in her amazing book, "100 New York Painters" (available here). Right around the same time I was accepted into the Vermont Studio Center, a renowned artist residency. But just before I left, I partnered with a friend and we found a well-price, large studio space farther south in Gowanus, which we built out into three spaces - each with tall, north facing windows, perfect for painters. Turned out that the five year horizon was longer than I needed.
Since that incredibly fulfilling and fateful year, I've been on a path full of adventure, getting to know wonderful artists, fans and collectors; growing and developing my portfolio of paintings; finding entrepreneurial ways to show my artwork; trying to keep up with social media; and continuing to volunteer my time and business skills to the community of artists in Gowanus. I have had incredible studio mates who have shared with me their art education and moral support. And, I am forever grateful to my husband for being "the wind beneath my wings."
Here's to the next 15 years!
Some people have said that my paintings in their early stages look like Fairfield Porter's. (But then they become Yangs!). Given my relatively meager art history education (it was never a favorite subject, to be honest), I hadn't seen a lot of Porter's works until more recently, say in the last 10 years. A collector/friend pointed out to me that Tibor de Nagy has an exhibit now (through December 3) and I gladly went to see it. This exhibit comprises a mixture of genres - portraits, landscapes, still life, and includes a few older works that I would never have guessed were even his. In any case, there were a handful that really resonated with me.
This little one caught my attention right away (and my terrible cell phone camera does not do it justice). He clearly painted it swiftly and confidently. The colors in the sky are remarkably luscious and luminous.
He applied the paint in the sky in thick, oily swaths of luscious, melding subtle pastel colors ranging from blush of pink to barely gold to a pale green-tinged blue. These colors stand out against the muted, mid-tone, and relatively thinly applied colors of the rest of the landscape, making the sky and atmosphere the center of attention. This painting just glows! (I would have loved to bring it home, but I was short about $250,000).
Then there was this very different one which I might not have guessed was a Porter given the hectic brush marks and odd little figures. The path between the figures and the table and chairs to the right seems almost dangerous, as if the shadows themselves are spikes or thorns and scratchy! My eyes search for the "safe" places, the areas between the things. But the light has his signature luminosity.
I'd like to end with this one, as it seems to embody what makes Porter's paintings so interesting and informative for me. Even with a somewhat muted palette, he deftly manages to keep his lights bright and his shadows deep. What intrigues me about this one is how the main subject of this painting is the space between the many different objects - house, sheds, fences, shrubs and trees - and not one or more of the objects themselves. In fact, the trees nearly dissolve into the sky with their branches barely articulated. You know they are trees, but they are more like symbols. Ingeniously, the space is not static because the objects are located in planes that recede from the picture plane, but you remain contained within the frame thanks to the tree branches that end at the edge of the canvas. The viewer's eyes, thus, contentedly may rove around repeatedly, noticing the diverse brushstrokes and subtle variations of color. Yes, this would have been nice to cart home, too, if I had recently won the lottery!
Don't miss this quiet gem of an exhibition.
Painting "en plein air" as a collegial experience is energizing and inspiring. A few days on the CT shoreline this past summer with two painting friends was a welcome relief during a very hot summer in Brooklyn.Read More
Unfinished, the Met Breuer's new exhibition raises the question - When is a painting finished?Read More
A plein air painter friend of mine recently told me about her encounter with a passer-by when she was outside painting in the West Village this past summer. This stranger pointed out to my friend, "You're a dinosaur!" In other words, this person believed that not since the late 19th century when the Impressionists launched their movement had there been any artists painting on-site. Either that, or this person was hallucinating and really believed she had sighted an ancient reptile! The fact is that even while all sorts of artistic trends have come and gone, there have always been artists interested in and pursuing their passion for painting what they see on-site, out-of-doors, and I am one to continue on that path. Sure, people are often surprised to see me with my easel in a particularly grimy neighborhood (as by the Gowanus Canal has been for years!) or even on a neighborhood sidewalk - "Are you painting that bodega, miss?!" "Are housing projects your specialty?"
We paint from life outside for various reasons. For me, it's the combination of my love of being outdoors and the challenge of capturing the colors and shapes I see before me in a pleasing and interesting composition. I do what I love, especially finding beauty in small, everyday details. And the process is meditative; I am rarely as calm yet energized as when I paint en plein air. Am I carrying on a tradition? Am I stuck in the past? Does it make a difference?
In the end, I have my own voice and make my own mark(s). Let the sun shine!
I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, a few years actually. After a painting session at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the other day which entailed many interactions with passers-by, I thought it was time to do this. And, maybe consider getting a t-shirt made of these Q's and A's!
1) How long does it take you to finish a painting? This has to be the #1 question I am asked - ALL THE TIME. I find it to be kind of an odd question. Why would that matter? Maybe it's the easiest one to ask?
Not to be snide, but "It depends" is the answer. Mostly it depends on the size and complexity of a painting. However, there are some paintings that seem to paint themselves with hardly any effort from me; almost as if I had known all along about this painting and how to put it together. Then there are some which are agonizingly time and energy consuming. These often involve multiple composition and/or palette alterations, and occasionally I might even give up. Yes, there are paintings that I've either painted over or are sitting in a storage shelf never to see the light of day. But, I manage to resolve most of my paintings to my satisfaction. Probably the most extreme example of this is the 72"x48" Lily Pads with Two Trees. I worked on that one (on and off) for almost three years and it underwent major changes.
2) How do you decide when a painting is finished?
That's a hard one to articulate. Technically speaking, I'd want a painting to have a good balance of light and shadow, an interesting composition (although that needs to be nailed down early on, it's not something you can easily correct), and it's captured the original excitement I had when I first saw the view. There's always the tension (for me anyway) of having a painting looking done, but not over-worked. Often, I seek the input of a trusted artist friend (usually my studiomate!). Usually, I just know, partly from not knowing what else could be done and partly from liking what I see.
3) Why did you pick this scene to paint?
Now that's a good question! Also, a very hard one for me to articulate. I am attracted to a lot of different views - landscapes to close-ups, but I suppose the things that matter the most are the existence of: an interesting composition, created by or complemented by an interplay of light and shadow, juicy colors, and often the interaction of man-made and nature. I look for patterns, angles, proportions, and then the time of day and season can have a big impact on an outdoor scene. Some days I'm in the mood for urban and gritty, other days I want peace and a lot of nature. Inevitably, I find "beauty" in every scene I paint.
These are the most common three. Let me know what questions you have for me!