Ken Manninen
In pursuit of my inner artist


(posted on 6 Apr 2024)

It is hard to believe it is just under 4 months since my last blog entry, but I have really been enjoying working with the pan pastels and pastel pencils (Carbothelo).  The pan pastels offer the painterly feel for my art endeavours while the pastel pencils allow me to add detail, something I particularly like to do.  My objective of getting looser with my artwork is accommodated by the pan pastels while the pastel pencils offer me the detail fix that satisfies my analytical side.

In early February the Palette People (my art group) hosted a workshop featuring Graeme Shaw.  We selected a photographic image from a few Graeme had taken and we all used it as a reference for the workshop.  While participants painted the image in either acrylic or oil, I chose to use pastels.  While Graeme did not have experience with pastels, he was able to provide composition and colour choice advice. I gained a new appreciation for landscape painting, something that I have never found very inspiring, probably because I was overwhelmed by all the detail, seeing only trees, not forest.  Through Graeme's demonstration, I finally had an Ah-ha moment about simplification and embellishment in landscape painting.

The acrylic and oil painters glazed their underpaintings with some colour, something I could not do with pastels as I had started with a while piece of watercolour paper.  Graeme encouraged me to explore painting landscapes starting with a coloured piece of paper.  I ran with his suggestion and have been using coloured Pastelmat or Pastel Card as my substrate.  Using the photographs Graeme offered for the workshop that the participants did not select, as my reference material, I have been working through the references asking myself what the artistic potential is that each reference photo presents.  I have posted the paintings I have completed to date

My weekly Life Drawing group will be holding a show at the beginning of June.  I am hoping to develop an image or two I had captured during these sessions, into a more creative piece.  I hope to try some of the approaches employed by Dawn Emerson, the California artist whose combined pastel and printmaking artwork inspires me.  I'll post my submission for the show.

I am feeling quite inspired.  Maybe I've found my medium of choice....for now. ;)

(posted on 29 Dec 2023)

Once again, it is past time I provided an update of my latest creative endeavours.  You know what is said about what is paved with good intentions.

This year I happened across the California artist, Dawn Emerson, while investigating pan pastels.  I bought her book, Pastel Innovations, and was fascinated by her artwork.  Dawn creates representational abstracts using multi-media.  What particularly interested me was how she combined monotype prints and pastels.  This sent me down the path of checking out these mediums; both new to me.

I bought the set of pan pastels promoted by Dawn and started my exploration of this medium.  I was familiar with various drawing media, including traditional soft and oil pastels but was amazed how the pan pastels performed.  They are applied in much more of a painterly fashion, using specially designed sponge tools as brushes.  People seeing them for the first time comment how much they look like theatre makeup.  I have found them to feel like an amazing blend of drawing and painting mediums.  Some of my artist colleagues have commented that perhaps I have finally found my medium of choice.  I may have to agree as I am finding now I enjoy painting landscapes; something that has never inspired me.

I have experimented with various substrates and fixatives.  Thus far, I can report that Claire Fontaine Pastel Revolution fixative is by far the best workable fixative I have come across.  It has a strong perfume like smell that takes days to dissipate, but it truly freezes pastel drawings in place with nominal colour changes.  The substrates I have found to work with pan pastels range from bristol, drawing paper, Pastelbord and Pastel Card.  I have yet to try PastelMat.  I am currently trying them out for life drawing and am finding them pretty amazing.

Having had no experience with printmaking, I set out to wade into this new discipline to explore the possibility of incorporating it in future artwork.  Luckily there is a print artist, Maria Tratt, living on Gabriola.  Maria has a wealth of experience and joyfully shares her knowledge and coaches those wishing to learn this artform.  I have taken workshops from Maria in collograph, linocut and monotype printmaking.  This has expanded my artistic toolkit and opened the door to many new possibilities.

It is my intention to experiment with combining both newly learned mediums this coming year.  You will see my latest artwork that includes both pan pastel and printmaking, though not together on the same substrate.  But, that is coming.

I hope you enjoy what I have created and watch to see how I improve as I gain more experience.

(posted on 4 Feb 2023)

Once again, it has been far too long since I posted.  I hope you like the new look with expanded numbers of art pieces I can display.  You probably noticed my website is now being hosted by ArtSites instead of MyArtClub.  The folks at my MyArtClub have been very accommodating and they have decided it is time to close up shop.  They have been very gracious in facilitating moving my content to ArtSites who have in turn been so accommodating in helping to get me set up.  If you are looking for an art-oriented host for your website, I recommend you check out ArtSites.

Because I can post more of my artwork, I hope to create a Gallery of what I am currently working on so you can follow my journey of discovery.  I also am working on setting up a shopping page using PayPal but that is still in the works.  Until the shop tab is set up, if you are interested in a particular art piece, please feel free to contact me.

In the meantime, I welcome your comments about how I've set things up and about what I have posted.  Also, if you would like to be notified occasionally about new additions to the website, please leave your contact information.

....and the journey continues

(posted on 3 Feb 2021)

I just finished reading this short book (91 pages) about the teachings of Charles W. Hawthorne, the founder of the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899.  There are introductory sections by others, including his son, and then by Hawthorne himself.  The book is then divided into sections that capture Hawthorne's comments to students as they painted studies of human models indoors and outdoors, still lifes and landscapes.  So many of the comments resonnated with me that it is difficult for me to pare them down so please excuse this entry if it seems to go on and on.  While his teaching dates back to the turn of the 20th century, his comments seem to be as relevant today.  This is probably a reflection that art builds on what came before and that we as artists belong to an ongoing fellowship.  Buckle up and come along for the ride!

From the introductory sections.... The world is not interested in mere pictures but is interested in something that makes it believe in the glory and beauty of human existence.  Painters won't achieve this by merely painting pictures; they most show people more than they (the viewers) already see.  The artist must add to the world more than the sum total of beauty in it.  We must teach ourselves to see beauty in the ugly and common place.  It is greater to make much of little than little of much.  There are so many colour, but it is their beautiful combination that makes a masterpiece.  If the artist doesn't get a thrill painting, how does he/she expect to thrill others?  Good painting is an aesthetic emotion and 'reasonable' painting destroys emotion.  Painters don't reason, they do and subconscious thought counts.  The only way to learn to paint is by painting.  An artist is one who is eternally curious.  Great painters are always students.  Do many studies and stop when you lose interest and then start again.  Don't be in a rush to only set out to do finished paintings as that will come with time and practice.  If your colours are right, very little else is needed.

From outdoor model sessions.... Select a subject you can visualize as a painting.  Everything in painting is a silhouette so have light against light not light against light.  Draw a minmal amount and put down colour spots instead.  Many artists try to duplicate nature instead of expressing themselves in colour spots.  We analyze too much so try putting down your first impressions more.

From still life sessions...  Drawing and painting are best kept separated.  The big painter looks and does while the little painter tickles with a camel hair brush.  Don't fill in an outline but make the inside form the outline.  Concentrate more on interior the interior and less on edges as there is no such thing as an edge in nature.  If your colours are right, so too will be your values.  Don't paint objects, paint spots of colour relative to one another.  When white appears to go warm it loses its power so leave at least some part of white objects pure white.  Backgrounds are as important as the subjects.  Successful painters continually paint still life.

From landscape sessions....  Do the simple thing well.  We do well the things we see already painted in our minds so don't start until you see it or you will already be defeated.  The starting sketch should only ionclude the essentials as it isn't a drawing you are doing, it is a painting.  Paint for fun and practice and not always for exhibition.  The curse for painters is to do what the world calls beauty instead of looking out frankly with our own eyes.  Look at things as a mosaic.  Do not look as though you reasoned too much as painting must be impulsive to be worthwhile.  As a painter, there is aesthetic excitement about painting so put things down while you feel that joy.  Your work should show you have a great time painting.

From indoor model sessions...  Treat live models like a still life and go after big spots of colour (ie. figure vs background; light vs. shadow).  Establish the lightest light and the darkest shadows. Start by establishing the face against the background.  Half of the likeness is in the colours.  Three or 4 general spots come together as a protrait and your viewers can supply the rest if the colour spots are correct.  Don't approximate the first colour you put down as all that follows is keyed to that first colour.  Keep your canvas interesting all over at the same time (in other words, keep moving around your canvas).  Don't overdo accents as it makes the painting look spotty.  Eyes are important so study them closely and look at them with an attitude of surprise as all eyes are unique no only between individuals but also between eyes of the person.  See how few lines or spots you can use (less is more).  Express truth.  Being technically correct isn't enough.

On watercolours...  A good watercolour is a happy accident.  Watercolours are a messy, runny medium and hard to use to make studies.  Oil is a better medium especially for student painters.  The challenge with watercolours is to take care of edges and you are unable to see the final tones as they dry lighter.  Use good paper and work wet and be prepared the make horrible free studies.

From concluding remarks... Painting is about seeing not doing.  Beauty is a better name for art.  Work on seeing what others don't.  The spirit that moved the greatest master moves us as well today.

Did you survive wading through all the ideas?  If you did you may have noticed a bias.  That is probably more a reflection of where my artistic journey is at the moment rather than Hawthorne's thinking about 100 years ago.  If any of these ideas resonated with you may I suggest you read this book and see if there may be additional thoughts that pertain more to you?  It was a great, easy read and I highly recommend it.

Lisa Congdon, in her book Find Your Artistic Voice, recommends creating a list of artists whose work you admiire and who influence you.  She recommends writing down what it is about the artists that inspires you.  I created this list and I found it quite informative thinking about why I was struck by their work.  It helped me focus on what I am trying to create in my art.  Here's my list if you are interested: 

A.J. Casson

Jean Haines

Hazel Soan

David Lobenberg

Mary Whyte

Charles Reid

Jonas Kunickas

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Edouart Manet

Ewa Ludwiczak

Jack Vettriano

Norman Rockwell

Linda Kemp

Rose Edin

Suzanne Valadon

I just re-read an article from Watercolor Artist magazine from 2010.  It was called Watercolor Essentials - Tips to Achieving Luminous Colour by Rose Edin.  I really liked how her colours popped and how well her paintings held together.  Here's the points from the article that caught my attention.

Color Harmony - Rose paints with transparent pigments applying them directly from the tube to pape, allowing them to mingle or applies layers only after previous layers were dry.

Color Complements - Contain all 3 primary colours and enhance one another when they are next to each other.

Analagous Colors - Choose the pigment representing local colour as your primary hue.  Then choose the colour beside it that is the lightest for the light values and the other on the other side as the darker shadow values.  The warmer of the analagous colours will come forward in the painting and the darker will recede.

Mingling for Vibrant Color - Mingling creates exciting areas of colour instead of flat passages that are less interest to viewers.  For proper mingling, use colours that are of a juicy consitancy.

Color Temperature - One colour temperature should dominate in your painting.  Use the contrasting colour temperature to draw attention to an area of your painting; likely the centre of interest.

Harmonious Grays - Paintings should have some quiet muted grays to let the viewer rest his/her eyes.  Complementary colours create greys or neutrals.  You can control the temperature of the grey by adjusting the ratio of complements.

Layering - By layering one can darken hues or create vibrant new ones and thus play up or tone down areas.  Build layers slowly so as not to obscure the underlying hue.  It's a good idea to test layered colour combinations on a scap piece of paper so you know what to expect.

I applied the idea of analagous colours in a recent painting of a couple dancing.  The dress was painted using analagous colours for the light, local and shadow colours in the fabric.  This created a very nice effect.  I used Quin Rose for the local colour, Quin magenta for the shadows and opera for the light values.  I was pleased with the result.

You may wish to check out Rose Edin's website.  I really love the vibrant watercolours she creates.  She certainly practices what she preaches.  If you have access to the 2010 article in the Watercolor Artist magazine, it is a qucik, informative read with great watercolour painting examples.  I found it a good review.

....10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative' by Austin Kleon

I recently read this short book (140 short pages) addressing transformative principles to discover your artistic side.  Some of the 10 principles applied less to me because they were more focussed on gaining recognition.  More important to me at the moment is exploring my inner artist and creativity.  Here are some excerpts that spoke to me from the various princicples.  I've underlined those ideas that particularly resonated.

1) Steal Like an Artist.  An honest artist admits he gets his ideas by stealing them; Figure out what's worth sealing; All creative work builds on what came before; If we are free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something from nothing and can embrace influence instead of running from it; Every new idea is a remix of 1 or more previous ideas.

2) Don't Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started.  The act of doing our work helps us figure out who we are; Nobody is born with a style or voice; Learn by copying which is practice not plagiarism; Salvador Dali said "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing"; Copy your heroes and look where you differ then amplify this into your own work.

3) Write the Book You Want to Read.  Draw the art you want to see.

4) Use Your Hands.  Work that only comes from the head isn't any good.

5) Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.  What unifies your work is that you made it.

6) Do Good Work and Share.  To become recognized, do good work and share it; To do good work you need to work at it so put in the time.

7) Geography is No Longer Our Master.  Where we choose to live still has a huge impact on the work we do.

8) Be Nice.  Make friends and ignore enemies; The best way to get approval is not to need it; You have no way to control how people react to your work.

9) Be Boring.  It takes lots of energy to be creative so don't waste it; Inertia is the death of creativity so establish and keep a routine.

10) Creativity is Subtraction.  Nothing is more paralyzing than limitless possibilities; To get over creative block, place constraints on yourself.  While this may seem contradictory, limitation means freedom when it comes to creative work; What we respond to in art is the artist's struggle against his limitations; It's often what the artist leaves outthat makes art interesting.

Austin's book certainly provided me with food for thought.  If you are looking for permission to listen to your gut and express yourself on the way to finding out who you are as an artist, then this book is worth the read.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.  And, yay!  It has only been a short time since my last entry.  Maybe I am starting to hear the advice I instinctly already know.

As you would have noticed in my 'artist biography' section I am searching to find my artistic voice.  I just read Find Your Artistic Voice by Lisa Congdon and found it very helpful.  Lisa interviews a number of artists to get their thoughts about voice.  My key learnings from this book are: 1) artistic voice is your point of view as an artist and not some divine inspiration; 2) your voice in made up of your style, skill, subject matter, medium, consistency, your unique perspective, your life experience, identity, values, what matters to you and all combine to make your voice different from others.  Notice style is only one component of voice and some artists have multiple styles; 3) your voice comes over time by continuous experimentation, practice, inspiration and intuition; 4) the four predictable phases of finding your voice are spark, risk taking, questioning, and creative flow; 5) all creative work comes from what came before so let go of trying to be completely original; 6) it will help you in finding your voice to list your favourite artists and what aspect of their work you admire; 7) fear is a natural emotion to protect us from feeling bad but embrace it because it is an integral part of the creative process and motivates us to work harder; 8) the process of creating has a messy period and when you work through it the outcome is usually worth it; 9) embrace monotony as it will lead to creativity; 10) becoming an accomplished musician takes practice; so does art; 11) don't force your style or voice; 12) failure is part of the process and leads you to new things; 13) the creative process unfolds in solitary reflection where there is less chance of interruption; 14) talk to other artists about your work; 15) consume knowledge then channel what you learn into your art. 

I highly recommend this short book for those of you struggling to find your artistic voice.

(posted on 27 Dec 2020)

Apparently I haven't posted anything in quite some time.  I didn't realize just how long it has been.

I recently updated my art postings and thought I should update the blog as well.  I always have good intentions to add to the blog on a regular basis but you know the old saying, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'!  So here goes....

I'm still intent on working toward a looser style with some elements of detail.  I continue my journey in search of my artisitc voice.  I am just reading 'Find Your Artistic Voice' by Lisa Congdon and am finding it quite timely.  She makes a distinction between personal style and inner voice and while they are connected, I think my search is more about finding my artistic voice.

I've shelved my acrylic paints and am focussing on watercolour.  To ensure my artistic expression isn't hemmed in, I am keeping inks, pastels and conte close at hand.  I am also concentrating on the human figure and portrait for the time being.  Of course I am sure to be squirreled by images that may wet my creative appetite and I will allow myself to play them out as I know only too well there is no sense trying to suppress them as they will continue to resurface until I release them on paper.

I was inspired by a watercolour workshop I took at Art Escapes YVR in North Vancouver in June of 2019 with David Lobenberg.  David paints a style of portraiture he calls 'California Vibe'.  It was the right workshop at the right time and really connected with me.  I am inspired by the human subject and while California Vibe has the reality component of a recognizable face he uses vibrant non-local colour to render the final image.  The subject is recognizable but the painting is not a standard portrait and allows total expression with colour which I really love.

I have been using images of actors/actresses from the silver screen as the values are more important in B&W photography.  Values are also important in the California Vibe technique and while vibrant colours are used, adjusting their values is critical in achieving a satisfying outcome. 

In the past couple years I have been paying close attention to colour theory and have taken a few workshops from Lalita Hamill to reinforce colour theory.  I feel watercolour lends itself to relinquishing control and working with the medium for greater freedom of expression.  All of these factors have converged to throw a door open for me to experiment and play. I am excited about where this will lead.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, my life drawing classes are on hold and my art group sessions have been repeatedly interrupted over the better part of the past year.  I realize how important my colleagues are in inspiring me to create and I have been missing that spark.  I thought there would be more time to create with curtailed activities but other priorities have seemed to get in the way.  I am feeling my creative side tapping me on the shoulder reminding me that time is slipping away and it is time to re-engage.  Fingers crossed!

I am hopeful (yeah I know, the road to hell....) less time will pass before my next update of my blog and images with results of my explorations of the human form in vibrant colour.  Hopefully my artistic voice start getting louder.  Stay tuned!

(posted on 16 Nov 2017)

It is high time I got back to updating my site.  Watch for updates, including some of my recent artistic renderings.

I am just back from another workshop with Jean Haines at ArtEscapesYVR in North Vancouver.  I continue to be inspired by her work and her approach to painting.  Since the first of her workshops that I attended I have taken a few other workshops with other artists and have done some individual study that have really helped me to start to understand where I want to focus my art.

I have been practicing human figure drawing as well as Chinese brush painting and am finding I do appreciate art that tells a story and that is not photorealistic.  I do love painting detail but find it impedes my artistic expression.  That is why I am drawn to the work of Jean Haines as it has detailed components but is generally very free and expressive.

In summary I am hoping to focus more on paintings that incorporate human figures and that are freer and leave more to the imagination of the observer yet still have an area of detail.  Technically, I hope to be more conscious of incorporating a greater value range as well as a greater diversity in my brushwork.  Let's see how that goes.

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