Monday, November 24, 2008

American Impressionist Watercolors

Watercolor can be a tricky medium to master because of its transparency. Maybe that’s why I stick to oils in my personal painting. But, in the right hands, watercolors can produce amazing results.

John Singer Sargent was reared in Europe by American parents. He studied at academies in Paris where he learned traditional, conservative painting methods. His career and reputation were built on portraiture of wealthy people. Between 1885 and 1889 he was immersed in Impressionism, befriending Monet and painting outdoors with the master impressionist.

By 1900, he tired of confining himself to portraiture, and turned to landscapes with the interest of depicting light and reflected light. He had grown up sketching in watercolor, and it was his medium of choice after 1900. He traveled all over Europe, always preferring to paint outdoors with watercolor. His exhibitions in America between 1907 and his death showed a majority of watercolors to oils, which sold to major museums such as the Brooklyn Museum and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Like Winslow Homer and James Whistler, Sargent broke the long, stodgy green-yellow-brown tradition of watercolor by adopting the impressionist palette and relying on the white of the paper to aid in giving the effects of light and reflected light. This is clearly evident in The Shadowed Stream, where Sargent used the paper to indicate the reflection of the sky. All in all, Monet and the impressionists would have been proud of works such as this!

For great collections of Sargent’s watercolors, follow these links to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitian Museum of Art.

Connections Across Curriculum - The shift from hand-ground pigments to commercially available pan and tube paints in the 19th century allowed artists to paint outdoors more easily. Students can follow in these artists’ footsteps, using watercolors to create studies of their surroundings, such as geography, animals, and plants. This creative process allows for detailed study and leads to discoveries overlooked by a passing glance.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Have you ever had your students try their hand at fashion design? Many non-western cultures have influenced western fashion. What cultures do you think would have an interesting impact on western dress? Can you point out non-western influences in fashion in the last twenty years?

I have always been fascinated by the evolution of fashion and how it impacts our lives, and the lives of people in the past. Having studied the history of fashion, it is quite easy for me to sometimes date undated paintings simply by what the people in the painting are wearing. One of the easiest periods to date is that around the time of the Titanic sinking (1912).

DID YOU KNOW that at that time women’s fashions were greatly influenced by fashion designer’s perceptions of what was “Oriental,” i.e. from the Arab world? This came about during the first decade of the twentieth century because of the wild popularity in Paris of the Ballet Russe, formerly the Imperial Russian Ballet. The most popular ballet they performed was “Shéhérazade,” (1910) by Rimsky-Korsakov. Shéhérazade was the heroine of the “Tales of a Thousand Nights,” a group of stories thought to have been written in Persia. The “Persian” costumes for that ballet influenced women’s fashions until the advent of World War I (1914).

This design typifies women’s dresses in the period before World War I: high waist and demi-train influenced both by the French Empire style (1804–1815) and the perceived Middle Eastern fashion, less emphasis on rigid corseting, and an unbroken line in the skirt. Such dresses were jokingly called “hobble skirts.” Although they were not that crippling, they were narrow enough to prevent a woman from taking normal strides. The diaphanous underskirt, and turban-like headwear are directly related to what European designers considered a “harem” costume in middle eastern countries.

This outfit is very theatrical in nature, and possibly itself influenced by a costume from the Ballet Russe itself, especially in the snake head form of the turban. Or could it be an allusion to Eve and the serpent from the Fall of Humankind story in the Old Testament? Hmmm.

Fashion-Era is a fascinating site chronicling two centuries of women’s clothing and includes social history along with brilliant costume plates:

Connections Across Curriculum - Fashion is a reflection of the way people live their lives, as well as the current events influencing those lives. The second decade of the 20th century was no exception, bringing with it war abroad, as well as more rights for women and African Americans at home. As the fight for women’s suffrage intensified, the physical restriction of the “hobble skirt” is an interesting reaction to this movement. As women entered the workforce during World War I, clothing styles changed dramatically to fit a more practical lifestyle. Today, fashion styles and trends change from season to season. What current events do you see influencing fashion in the 21st century?


Please share your monotype/monoprint experiences. Which do you prefer to teach your students? What types of surfaces do you use to transfer the colors? Have you ever tried doing one monotype over another like Mazur? If so, how did it come out? Did you ever try a large-scale monotype?

A monotype is usually conceived of as a small-scale, intimate medium, due to the tenuous nature of the original surface from which the print is taken. Because the surface of the plate is featureless (no marks made on it), only one print is available in this process. A monoprint uses a surface that has marks in it made with a burin or other tool.

Michael Mazur is an artist renowned for his monumentally scaled monotypes, who exhibits internationally.

Mazur’s complex monotypes are the result of multiple monotypes on one receiving surface, whether it is paper or canvas. The plate is wiped off after one image is transferred, and another design is printed over the initial one, creating a sophisticated depth to his work. He sometimes makes additions to the monotype in pastel or other media. Mazur brings to the printed image the spontaneity and immediacy of painting. Inspired by the monotypes of Edgar Degas, Mazur has used the phenomenon of “ghosts,” the pale residual images that monotypes can produce, to explore serial or narrative ideas in which the image evolves from sheet to sheet.

Wakeby Day II is part of a series inspired by the artist’s memories of Wakeby Lake on Cape Cod. Basing his composition on memories gives the work a lyrical quality. The inset panel on the two right panels represents a nighttime view of the same scene, a device through which the artist explores the passage of time, the rhythms or nature, and the multiple layers of a memories and a single experience.

You can see more examples of Mazur’s monotypes on his website at: