Friday, June 8, 2018

Seeing abstractly and getting past the drag of realism

Sketchbook drawing by Titus Castanza, ©2018 Titus Castanza

*Homework exercises on the bottom of this post.

Class Notes 06.07.18
Today's class was about developing strategies to help us see more abstractly and to further build a repertoire of pattern making. We discussed how our emotions play an integral part of our imagination. We tried to let our imagination have a say and inform us – rather than just trying to replicate what is physically in front of us.

Hopefully, this exercise will help build authenticity and introduce more creativity. By refocusing our attention in this manner we’ll hopefully let go of trying to draw or paint well and, instead, refocus our attention on more important aspects of creating – producing better results.

A large part of painting is about breaking routines and challenging yourself to see things in a new way. This is where the critic can have a positive contribution. The critic has the ability to see thyself objectively and to identify things which do not work. At times, seeing things in a fresh way can be a challenge, so artists have learned over time to develop strategies to help with this.

It is this internal dialog which builds our individual language and proficiency as an artist. There is no right or wrong here. For some people, painting and drawing realistically may not be the best way to express themselves. I know from personal experience that there is a lot which cannot be expressed if I chose to paint the thing realistically. I'll only borrow certain cues from realism which help contribute to what I'm trying to express. I am more interested in expressing myself than drawing or painting well. I am concerned with being guided by my emotions and how this attitude allows room for making new connections, from an emotional intelligence standpoint. 

Try responding to what you are looking at emotionally and not just simply making a material evaluation based on realism. This has very liberating awareness to it. Maybe a better way of saying it would be: Feel what you see – then paint it. Paint how your imagination and emotions see things because this may be where your true authenticity resides. Admittedly, dealing with your emotions and understanding them is by far a difficult task. However, really try to seek accuracy of these qualities and let go of accuracy of trying to do things well. Let go and trust in your imagination. Takes time to develop further this relationship with your creative-self. It is up to ourselves to understand how to become more intimate with ourselves. This takes trusting ourselves completely, that no matter what we do, it is correct and right, and that it is in every way acceptable. Nothing we do – from a creative standpoint – is wrong. And that, it is up to us to reflect upon the thing we just did.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help build a positive internal dialog:
How do I feel in this moment?
How does this make me feel?
Am I relaxed?
What do I like about it?
What does this remind me of?
What do I want express?
What do I have to say, anything?
What do I have to express in the moment?
How does it look to me now, compared to how would I like it to look?
Am I going in to this with no expectations of self?
Am I allowing room for my creative self, my authenticity?
Are my influences high-jacking me?
What are my influences?

Here are some statements which help your internal dialog:
• Reflect upon my results well after their completion – not during.
• At all costs remain positive. Be positive of my abilities and my overall outlook.
• Anything I do is going to be great! You're gonna' love it.
• I have complete confidence in myself.
• Be the genius I am now.
• Let my imagination have a voice.
• Positivity promotes creativity and negativity hinders it.

©2018 Titus Castanza

1. Methods which will help you see abstract shapes:
• Simply look for shapes anywhere you see them. Look for big shapes, small shapes or any shapes, really.      
• Utilize the shapes made by light and shadow
• See the negative shapes along with the positive shapes
• Keep any construction lines you may have made. In fact, by reinforcing them you're making them in to more needed shapes.
• Create construction lines that aren't necessarily there, but you know logically (from experience) that they are there, you just can't see them. For example: a cube has six sides. Draw all six sides – as if the cube was transparent. By drawing through an object, you help give the object weight and the object a solid foundation. Try it, it doesn't hurt. Besides, you'll end up with some really cool abstract shapes. 
• Don't feel like you have to record everything. 
• Paint whatever your imagination dishes out, however you see it. The first thing that pops into your head is great – it's probably less conjured and less filtered.
• Take what you see, respond to it emotionally and give it a brush stroke, a texture or a pattern. Look at some of the Masters to see what different mark-making and patterns they came up with: Vuillard, Bonnard, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Klimpt, etc.
• Utilize your internal dialog.
• Look more deeply into the structural forms. For instance with a portrait, look for the side plane 
the head and differentiate it from the frontal plane of the head, the three planes of the
forehead, or the circles of the cheeks. See the side plane of the nose from the frontal top plane
of the, and the bottom downward facing plane. Slow down, paint these shapes honestly as you
see them from an abstract perspective – disassociate yourself from the fact that it is a nose, a
lip or an ear. You may see geometric or organic shapes. Be accurate about your honesty about
what you see. You'll see things differently from anyone else.

2. Give your abstract shapes a texture/pattern.
           This pattern may have some rhyme or reason to it, it’s up to you to figure out and what you may want to express. For instance, the sky/background could have thinly placed horizontal brush strokes. Or, the beard might make you feel like it needs swirly strokes with lots of paint. You may see the skin tone made up of small straight paint strokes (think Van Gogh). Don’t think too hard about it, feel more and just put down the first thing that pops in your head, no matter how crazy. The shirt should have a different pattern from the beard, the shirt and the face. Grouping patterns together is a great way to communicate which shapes are in the same family.

3. Paint from your gut. Appreciate the feel of the brush, the paint and the canvas. Paint with all of who you are in the moment. Paint with your emotional awareness.

*HOMEWORK (if so desired):
1.We are exploring pattern for this assignment. Compile pattern. Create 10-20 patterns in the form of swatches (squares measuring no larger than 3-4 inches). For example: look at a section of a master painting, specifically paying attention to an area of the painting that has pattern. I want you to replicate this pattern as accurately as possible so that it can be used in the future for your reference. If the pattern was done in paint then do it in paint – if done in pencil then do in pencil. Compile your pattern examples: on a poster sized canvas or board, thick paper, in a folder or three ring binder. Hang it in your studio or somewhere it is easily accessible when you paint.

Building your repertoire of pattern making with the paint brush is a crucial (and I mean crucial) part of painting. The lack of pattern understanding is often what kills a painting without the novice even realizing what's not working with a painting. A dead giveaway is when a painting is done entirely with the same brushstroke. 

Another way to go about looking for pattern is to investigate nature. Exercise: cut a vegetable (such as a cucumber) in to a slice and draw or paint the pattern you see (looking at the face of the slice). Do you see the seeds and the skin? That's a pattern. Paint it. It's inspiring.

2. Draw or paint abstract shapes from anything – utilizing all of what we talked about today in this blog post. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Thursday's class – Emotional Intelligence

Painting by Bill Scott

 Yesterday in class we talked about approaching art-making from an emotional perspective. We discussed, as a group, using our emotions with our art and creating strategies to do it. Hopefully, this practice will help you go deeper into your imagination and will help develop a stronger artistic process.

Developing our emotional selves will incite a more profound hunger for if, and when, the fundamentals are ever needed. Invest more intention in the emotional evolution of oneself and have it be a source of inspiration. It is my advice to you after myself having had experienced these failures personally in my career as an artist. It will help guide you in your process as an artist and you will experience a more profound journey. You will create a better line of questioning so that you may dive more deeply into your creative self. And ironically, it will render better art by paying less attention to technical skill and more attention to the emotional self.

Often I find, this emotional approach to art-making a commonly avoided one. Perhaps, technical skill is easier to obtain than dealing with our complicated emotions about things. Maybe this is why many of us ignore the difficulty altogether and preoccupy ourselves with what's easier. Perhaps it's easier to objectively observe and represent the physical world only as it is, than it is to deal with our messy inner emotions about how we perceive ourselves.

Look, technical skill is pretty simple, to an extent. The more you do something the more you get at it, through repetition. It, in a way, will develop itself as long as you simply just keep doing it –  hence, the catchy Nike slogan, "just do it.". Well...that's not to say you shouldn't be thoughtful when doing something. Being thoughtful could have helped Nike out with their campaign. That's ok, we'll use it for us artists, "Just be thoughtful". [Sorry, I digress.]

Repetition may work for technical acuity, however the same does not apply to figuring out how to develop as an emotional painter. So elusive is emotional intelligence these days, that many of us haven't even heart of the subject. Well then, I suppose it really is the burden of the artists to teach the rest of the population about who we really are.

Understanding your emotional self as a creative artist takes time and quite a bit of on-going self reflection. But if you stick with it, you'll have a better chance at understanding who you are, your authentic self. And your art will be loads better. You'll learn that your emotions and vulnerabilities as a person are important art making tools. And best of all, your focus won't be on how to go about marketing yourself, making money or how to impress your piers. Your concerns might shift from acquiring technical skill, toward something of much greater use to humanity – how to live your life and how to improve the quality of experience within it.

It may also be helpful to dispel any preconceived notions we may have about ourselves or who we think we may be as artists. In other words, allow ample room for the notion that we may not know fully who we are as artists – as we don't see ourselves as objectively as we should. Getting to know one’s expression is a lifelong task. The whole point is to express yourself as a human being. If identifying as an artist complicates the matter for you, then don't self identify with the title, artist. Simplify the matter and don't call yourself anything, be without titles. Doing just this thing might help you be that much less self-aware.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Perhaps, as artists, by examining ourselves more deeply, we are getting closer to realizing how critical this quote really is. Perhaps this is the purpose to art – to help us better know our emotions, which in-turn get us to better know ourselves. Maybe all we are are expressions. Know thyself.  

Formulate your feelings from your experiences, make visual sense of them the best you can, then find the appropriate means to express it.
Emotional Awareness –> Visual Intelligence –> Creative Intelligence


Opening-up Your Creativity – Creating helpful strategies to tap in to the emotional side of art-making (surmised by our group discussion, 5/17/18):
Please feel free to add to this running list as it may occur to you (you can write your comments in the comment section below each blog post). This is in no way academia, it is simply our educated opinions based on our being human. I’ll post them on the student blog and periodically update it.

I categorized the exercises in to two parts: Psychological and Physical.


• Brake your currently exhisting loops and thought patterns. You know the ones. They often sounds like a broken record and hold you back from effectively resolving issues.

• Identify narratives we may have created for ourselves, all of them. Keep only the ones which work. Keep in mind, what may have been useful yesterday may no longer be useful today. Be truthful with yourself – make sense of what thoughts are positive and negative, and what's useful and what’s not.

• Practice being in the moment when creating. You can’t do this if you’re painting for the future (hopes of where your art might go, or stuck in the past (your idea of who you think you are, idea of old self).

• Be very mindful of the language you use with yourself and others. Don’t be self defeating.
• Reject any negative thinking. Have zero tolerance with this.
• Positivity promotes creativity and negativity stifles it
• Be simple, it’s often easier said than done
• Get out of your own way
• Embrace change, change is good and acknowledge that you are always changing.
• Be purposeful and simple with what your ultimately trying to achieve, strive for richness and depth, and be authentic


• Make a list of subjects that have emotional power to you (relationships, mortality/death, disparity, extracting meaning from the mundane, portraiture, etc.)

• Write down a list of all the on-going projects you want to engage in. For example: a daily practice of drawing in your sketchbook, recording your dreams when you wake up, doing paintings from wooden blocks, paintings of chairs or houses or faces, daily drawing in sketchbook of paintings from artists who inspire you, paintings or drawings of your already existing photos, draw from pausing the DVD player (movies), write down and compile inspiring phrases, infusing mundane objects with emotion, etc.

• Practice activities which help you build authenticity. For me, it’s investing time in my studio, listening to music,      organizing my mess, drawing in my sketchbook, writing, or being out in by nature and just spending time alone.

• Harboring your environment: Do things that build your own personal power, that make you feel joy and appreciation for being alive. Take note and write them down or draw pictures (notes to self). Use these feelings to express yourself creatively

• Meditation, yoga and exercise, all work. Focus your creative energy
• Express feelings through the way you see
• Thank your mind for sharing and come back to breath

• Learn to accept the accuracy of your mistakes. They are not mistakes at at, leave them, you’ll learn from them later. This takes the pressure off of performing. Think of other things you can do to make things informal. I feel, informal is more honest.  I feel that drawing in my sketchbook is more honest than a fancy large canvas. I work to make my finished paintings as easy, free-flowing and honest as my idea that are in my sketchbook. 

• Spend more time in the blocking-in or drawing phase of a painting. Stay abstract and imaginative, regardless of how representational or real you intend the painting to be at the final. Really explore this stage of the painting. Push your imagination and watch the abstract world of your imagination present itself. Let go. Let the brush troll around on the canvas and see what it reveals. Clear your mind. Look deeply in to your subject and abstract it. Try not to paint what you see too literally. If it looks like something, you’re not trying hard enough.
No fear, relax, all this can be painted over later or covered up at any time, or some of it can peek through and end up being part of the design of the final piece. Allow your mistakes to happen, let them be broadcast – make sense of them later. Let the next thing happen. Be authentic. Be yourself. Be imaginative and let your imagination guide you on this journey where time does not exist. Stop trying to paint the object so literally. Instead of reiterating the usual fundamentals in your head while you are painting, brake that loop and maybe instead ask yourself, “How do you feel, exactly? What do you like, why? How are you going to use your brush (or whatever else) to best express these things?”. What you have to say about something is often what makes it visually interesting.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Photo taken by David Olsen, Zocalo Magazine

Class Description: Oil Painting and Art Fundamentals
The class explores oil painting techniques and art philosophy in a comfortable environment. Located in Titus' private studio on the top floor of Citizens Artist Warehouse building. Free parking. Class size is small and limited.
Where: Citizens Artist Warehouse, 44 W 6th St 85705 
             (NE corner of 6th St/9th Ave)

When: Two separate classes. Each class is once a week for four weeks.
                                                Mondays (10:30am - 1:30pm) 
                                                Thursdays (10:30am - 1:30pm)

Fee: $135 (four classes, each class is three hours)

For students who are intermediate-advanced skill level.  You may join at any time.

To enroll, please email direct:


Simplicity with Portraiture

Last class we discussed how to go about seeing simply as a painter. Simplifying what you are looking at is an acquired skill and takes considerable practice before it becomes second nature.
Why simplifying helps:

• It helps you identify what’s important and what’s not important (to you, the artist). This may help the artist immediately identify what he/she likes, or what he/she doesn't like about something, or what is meaningful about what’s being observed.

• It helps you identify when you are done with the current task and when to consciously begin the next task. This will have you identify the stages of a painting more easily, making short-order of them and – while doing so – exposing the process in which you’re working. It simply helps you identify when you have finished what you set out to accomplish before moving on to the next task.

• It helps you identify your issues. It keeps you clear and honest with yourself so that you may clearly identify your issues and strengths as as a painter. Learning how to solve your own problems is an integral part of discovering your process as an artist.

• It helps you make honest and clear decisions.

No matter which way you slice it, there is a good argument to be made for simplicity and its uses. Aesthetically, it's an age old philosophical argument as to what makes something more beautiful – simplicity or complexity. Ultimately, it is up to you the artist. But it is without question that simplifying works from a painter’s perspective and that it is a tactic employed by many of the greats throughout history. The next time you look at a master painting, see if you can detect how the artist may have gone about simplifying what you are looking at. It’s not too hard to do – but if you can, you’ll begin to decipher the language of painting.

Here's some philosophy on Simplicity & Complexity (if you’re interested):


Occam's razor ("law of parsimony") is the problem-solving principle that, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. The idea is attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, and theologian.
In science, Occam's razor is used as an heuristic guide in the development of theoretical models, rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models.[1][2] In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives. Since one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.[3][4][5]

principle (or law) of parsimony

phrase of parsimony
1. the scientific principle that things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way, especially with reference to alternative evolutionary pathways.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Building meaningful value

LESSON: Drawing without lines, Giving objects weight & Giving values meaning.

Let me just first point out by saying that I didn't begin this drawing by plotting contour lines around the outside edges of the blocks. Contour lines have a tendency to look flat, much like how an illustrated map of continents emphasizes borders. Remember, we want to have the object to have weight and to look as 3-dimesional as possible. Because of this, I began by drawing the blocks from their insides, filling them in – much like filling-up a glass with water. I also simplified what I was looking at – I saw the shadow of the object and its cast shadow as one flat shape.

 Afterward, I rendered two different value scenarios using computer.

These value studies are about exploring relationships. In the first sketch, the background and foreground are similar values – linking them together, like siblings or cousins. The viewer's attention is now focused on other elements which are perceived as being different from the majority (the light side and shadow of the blocks). The second sketch groups the foreground with the shadow. And finally, in the third sketch the background is merged with the shadow. Notice how I kept my values to only three (dark, mid-tone and light).

What if we matched the foreground value with the light side of the object? What would that communicate? Where would your attention shift? I think of the thing that stands out the most, the thing that is not like the others, as the ugly duckling. Look for the ugly duckling.

Use this as a tool to help express what may be important to you. Hopefully, you can see that drawing the object well is not as important as understanding overall value structure to communicate an idea, elicit an overall mood, or express an emotion.

What makes something appear heavy?

What makes something look heavy?
Lately, I’ve been a bit fascinated as to why and how objects appear to be heavy (dense, solid, weighty, massy etc. Much of the time you can’t physically lift up the item to get a sense of its weight, especially in the case of a building. All you can do is use your eyes and brain to make an assessment, an assumption. This is the conversation.

What gives an object weight:

- Paint only the details that help describe the weight of an object. Paint these details in a way which helps describe/capitalize on their weightiness. For example, make a light post slightly thicker in width or a weight-bearing post thicker or bigger. Think about the structure of things and how they work. If you make what holds up the thing thicker, then the thing it is holding up might look heavier.  

- Do everything you can to make the thing look 3-dimensional.

- Try building your objects using constructive anatomy. For instance, when constructing a house, the concrete foundation is first set, then the framework, and then the roof. Try to see things as there parts and how they might fit together – kind of like an explosion chart that only you hold the directions to. The delivery truck is first a large rectangle, then the rectangle gets four smaller wheels (two of the wheels you may not be able to see but draw them anyway.) Show your lines of constructive anatomy even if you won't see them later. Approaching things with this attitude will give the your painting more substance and weight. 

- Also, combine the shadow side of an object with its drop shadow and make them the same value. Keep this shadow shape flat and make sure no white of the canvas is poking through. Ignore the details inside this shadow area as much as possible, or just keep them mysterious.

- Paint blocky shapes. Blocky shapes imply mass and better describe the planes of objects as being flat.

-  Don’t use contour lines to draw the outside line of an object. Instead, think in terms of painting objects from their center, their core, working your way to the outer edges of the object. See the object, feel the object as a deliberate heavy mass. Contour lines on the outside of the object do not help make the object appear as a solid 3-dimensional mass. Quite the opposite. Using contour lines is a great approach to making objects appear flat, not heavy and 3-dimensional.

 - Don’t use contour lines to draw the outside line of an object. Begin blocking the shape in by painting from within the shape, its center – not from the outside contour line.  

- Make deliberate, confident marks. Psychologically, strokes made with confidence carry more weight than those made from insecurity.

- Physically, messy/sloppy paint can sometimes exude weightiness. Think, Ivan Seal. Thick paint definitely is heavier – visually and literally.

- Larger strokes carry more weight. I’ve noticed over the past week, painting things smaller in size (like thumbnail pencil sketches, 2x2 inches) simplifies what you’re doing. It also makes the strokes appear much larger. This can help to focus on weight, not detail or other non-contributors. 

- Details of Materials: Make certain materials look less see-through (such as windows). You can see through windows which gives the viewer a clue that the building is hollow inside. And things that are hollow don’t look as heavy. So, maybe make the windows less shiny, less transparent, and instead make them opaque. Another heavy material are rivets. Rivets are a detail that make an object appear heavier. Why? We associate rivets with steel and steel is heavy/dense. Just having rivets around make things look heavy and durable. We traditionally associate durability with heavier materials. Our younger generations will build different associations with this. So, you may want to include that detail if its placement or size could look like a rivet, psychologically.

- Try mixing the paint on the canvas. This marbling effect can help make things look solid. Marbling of the paint can be achieved by slapping a color on the canvas and immediately putting another color over it. They will mix together on the canvas, as long as you don't over mix or play with your stroke.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Art of Organization

My pencils were scattered all over my studio and I could never quite find this or that when I needed it. So what did I do? I put them all in one place. In an old box I inherited from my mother -- a box she had used in art school in the 70's.