Rob Ross: The Joy of Painting

No series of posts on English for artists would be complete without mentioning Rob Ross and his PBS TV series, The Joy of Painting (’83-’94). I’ve been fascinated watching the shapes emerge, and have laughed tears listening to the painter, all down-homey, talking about his little old messy brushes – but that’s ok – just sort of touching the canvas – see how easy it is? – that easy – have a good time deciding where those little rascals the trees or the snow are going to live – and build a happy little cloud – just have fun and drop it in – you can do it – relax – let it flow – and we don’t make mistakes, they’re just happy accidents – we’re not worried – we can do anything and we’re doing ok here – all kind of beautiful little things will happen…
Smiling? Yeah, me too. Wide open to parody, and very much to his credit, Rob Ross participated in a sweet mashup poking fun at him and his show.

Tom Keating on Painters

Tom Keating (1917-1984) was an art restorer and a famous art forger exposed 1976, and tried and let off for health reasons in 1979. In the early 80s he had a TV series where he demonstrated the painting techniques of the old masters. Considering the art world rotten, he painted time bombs into his fakes. He is better known for his copies of 19th century works, but I find it particularly entertaining how he went into business faking Expressionists:

The artists he chose to Sexton – the German Expressionists – he deemed the opposite of Degas. “It may be unfair, but I have never liked them all that much,” he later explained. “You only have to look at the self-portraits of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff with his barbaric fizzogg and monocle, to see how arrogant they were.” But the Expressionists were in vogue with collectors, and Keating found them easy to mimic. Cribbing from “a little paperback that cost a few bob” he turned out twenty-one paintings in a weekend under bankable names including Kirchner, Nolde, and Pechstein. To save money, he simulated passages of thick impasto by mixing poster colors with house-painter’s emulsion. He rendered everything else in acrylic. As usual the canvases were old potboilers, sealed with rabbit-skin glue, and sometimes underpainted with assorted rude words. For those he used lead white, a traditional oil pigment he reckoned would show up in an x-ray due to the heavy metal content.

Masterpieces for everyone? The case of the socialist art forger Tom Keating (book excerpt)

Language note: to Sexton is a Cockney rhyming slang expression based on “Sexton Blake”, a British comic strip detective. So to Sexton is to fake.

Here are his TV appearances. These are very simple, rather underproduced affairs, where you stand behind the artist for 30 minutes and listen to him demonstrate his techniques. English for artists and art historians.

John Myatt: Forger’s Masterclass

John Myatt is known as “the master forger” and the perpetrator of the “biggest art fraud of the 20th century”: “The crime: In 1986 John created a painting for (Professor) Drewe in the style of Cubist painter Albert Gleizes. Drewe called Myatt to tell him Christie’s had valued the piece at £25K…” which resulted in Myatt producing some 200 fakes up to 1993. When the fraud was uncovered, he went to prison on a relatively lenient and brief sentence. He has since had two TV series, one of which was called Mastering the Arts or Forger’s Masterclass – the latter name is used in the videos I’m sharing from YouTube, yet the former name is mentioned in John Myatt’s website. It involves him teaching amateurs how to paint in the style of  a different great master each lesson. I find the series highly engaging. It’s wonderful to watch people rise to the challenge and leaving their comfort zones, and to talk about painting in this very hands-on way. It may be standard painting class, but it’s fun to watch a forger share insights. Each episode is about 28 minutes.

I could see basing an English course for Artists and Art Historians on these videos. What I like about them is that each is a springboard for the history of the artist and his times, each has three different art students from a wide range of backgrounds discussing what they want to get right, and they’re responding to their teacher encouraging and cajoling them. What do you think?

Episode 1: Edward Hopper
Episode 2: Alain Derain
Episode 3: Vincent Van Gogh
Epidode 4: Claude Monet
Episode 5: David Hockney
Episode 6: Georges Braque
Episode 7: Pierre August Renoir
Episode 8: John Singer Sargent
Episode 9: Amadeo Modigliani
Episode 10: Paul Cézanne

exec. producer for Granada: Jeremy Phillips
for sky arts
executive producers John Cassy + Barbara Gibbon
producer/director Emma Jessop
series producer Amanda Starvi
A Granada Production for Sky Television
British Sky Broadcasting Limited 2007

English for Artists: Virgina Peck’s Buddha paintings

I would love to write a course for English for Artists and Art Historians. Art was my first love, before I decided to go into history and then later into language teaching, and I still go to art galleries every chance I can.
To realize my dream, I’ll need to win some artists as clients first.
Today: Virginia Peck’s process for painting the Buddha.

start with a white canvas
apply the underpainting
let loose and have fun
make a gestural, abstract underpainting
inform all the successive layers to come
use a statue for reference
take charcoal to sketch in the face
heavy (or light) on the canvas
brush away the charcoal
“until there is just a faint indication of the face, so the charcoal won’t be mixing with and dulling the paint.”
(Use future continuous to anticipate and preview future processes)
indicate the shadow areas
depending on whether I use oil or acrylic
I add marble dust or modelling paste into the paint
give it volume and texture
layer complementary colors on top of the underpainting
use pallet knives of different sizes to apply
the paint sits up on top
show through in places
decide what marks to keep or get rid of
enhancing or distracting from the overall effect
glaze parts with thinned-down paint
define or pull together an area
later go back in and add
give it more life and interest
use a belt sander to take off the highest peaks of paint
reveal interesting colors or patterns
the painting is done
give the painting a title

Designed by Apple in California ad

In my English classes today at Metadesign, we watched and critiqued Apple’s Designed by Apple in California TV ad . This ad, which I stumbled on in Fast Company’s CoDesign blog, has bombed with consumers.

The participants gave this feedback:

  • It’s all emotion, they could be advertising anything, which is a turn-off to the more critical viewer, who doesn’t want to be manipulated.t
  • the (old) man’s voice-over evokes paternal, moralistic wisdom, preaching to us, telling us how we should feel; this will only appeal to those who are already, or want to be, true believers
  • You can’t even tell which handheld device is being advertized, as the Apple logo is generally hidden.
  • They’re focusing on the experience, and have crowded out the cutting edge technology that made that experience possible.
  • It’s almost too inclusive, multicultural, young and old – very un-hip to those who want to be a class apart
  • It’s in slow-motion – no change in dynamic, and dark, with Chinese chimes – one of my students said it reminded her of a Chinese funeral

TV ad text:

This is it
This is what matters
The experience of a product
How will it make someone feel?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
We spend a lot of time on a few great things
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches
You may rarely look at it
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature
And it means everything

Mark Wilson in his CoDesign blogpost, In 20 Years, We’re All Going To Realize This Apple Ad Is Nuts, says that the key line “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product” should read “…The experience of a person,” because “the experience of a product will never be what matters to a great designer. It’s always been about the experience of a person using that product.” He criticizes the way the ad focuses on people engaging with the product, and says the ad “consecrates” how “people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology”.

I understand that in principle, but don’t agree with the practical application of that maxim. Apple is a technology company. Full stop. The gadgets are still lovely, even if Samsung and the rest are stealing and fast catching up and will perhaps beat Apple in sales one day. But can they beat Apple at design (unless Apple loses its edge) ? To me, a straightforward celebration of intrinsically interesting design and craftsmanship is still the more appealing proposition. Do we really want to see people enjoying gadgets? Especially if seeing them enjoy it is not always a pretty sight? No, come on, geek masters, just show us the damn thing in all its glory.

Launched on the same occasion, the excellent Designed by Apple – Intention ad focuses on design and craftsmanship. Atta boy. It contains the great lines:

If everyone is busy making everything
How can anyone perfect anything?
We start to confuse convenience with joy
Abundance with choice
Designing something requires focus
The first thing we ask is
What do we want people to feel?
Delight. Surprise. Love. Connection.
Then we begin to craft around our intention
It takes time
There are a thousand no’s for every yes
We simplify. We perfect. We start over
Until everything we touch enhances each life it touches
Only then do we sign our work
Designed by Apple in California


I’m learning about typography for a client. The first video introduces several designers. For me, Paula Scher sticks out. I particularly enjoyed learning about her work for the theater and the music industry.

Follow this link to learn more about her work on Jazz and her logo for CitiCorp – Artists at Hillman Curtis. And here’s a link to her inspiring talk of 2008 at TED on “serious play”, where she contrasts serious (which children are, she says, when they create) and solemn (which adults are, she says, when they apply what is expected).  Redrawing her career, she describes going through cycles of creative play to solemnity and the death of a model on back to regeneration and a new phase of play, which she says she has gone through four times.

“Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.”

The second video is a quick history of typography.

Street Aesthetics

Christian Andersen has made a beautiful series of three videos about the street aesthetics of New York, Paris and Berlin. Still thinking about city planning after last week’s seminar, and where the similarities and differences in the urban experience lie. We were in Paris recently, live in Berlin and love visiting New York. Of the three, Berlin is by far the most affordable. It’s easy to see why real estate is cheap by comparison when you contrast the population density of the three cities. Just think in terms of area, and history. Paris is a compact walking city, and has a fantastic subway system, charging just 1.50 a ticket to anywhere in the city. Berlin, by contrast, is a complete mess, I never know whether I’m still in a zone covered by my fare, and it takes forever to get from A to B. Tracks are constantly being repaired because the city and its environs are so huge and still somewhat disconnected.
New York:
Population: 8.245 million (2011)
Area: 1,213 km²
Population: 2.234 million (Jan 2009)
Area: 105.4 km²
Population: 3.52 million (Jul 2012)
Area: 891.8 km²

The Street Aesthetic of New York City from Christian Andersen on Vimeo.

The Street Aesthetic of Paris from Christian Andersen on Vimeo.

The Street Aesthetic of Berlin from Christian Andersen on Vimeo.