News About Jim Ebersole's Art
Slowing Down and Getting Back to Basics
Artist's Retreat Allows Time to Develop Skills and Open the Door to a Breakthrough
This January I was blessed to spend a weekend at the Saltonstall Foundation, a retreat for artists and writers near Ithaca, NY. Ordinarily I would never think of allowing myself the time and space for a nurturing experience like that but my wife and another writer were already planning to go and she didn't feel comfortable driving on icy upstate roads. I'd grown up in Central New York and was accustomed to driving in winter conditions. I was there to be useful but as long as I was there I thought I might as well do something to advance my artistic practice.
Lately I've been meaning to do the kind of exercises art students have done for centuries but that I'd skipped over. Granted these traditional methods weren't being taught at most art schools in the 80's when I was at the Pratt Institute, but I'd more recently had exposure to them while studying with artist and teacher Andy Reiss in Brooklyn. Every time I do one of these I notice an improvement in my abilities. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to makle the time to do them. One of the most basic of these is the careful rendering of light on simple forms in order to learn how to convincingly convey a sense of volume and space. I brought along a set of geometric solids; sphere, cube, cone and cylinder and I spent about ten hours over the course of two days drawing that one set up.
The resulting drawing may not be a masterpiece but I found when I got back to my usual painting practice I had much more confidence and was more willing to use my imagination instead of rigidly copying what was in front of me.
Towards the end of my first day at Saltonstall I took a long walk in the woods. It was beautifully quiet and serene. I would have loved to paint it but not having my easel I had to be content to just experience the moment. Upon returning to Brooklyn, I thought I'd try painting the scene from memory. Up to this point I hadn't had enough confidence in my abilities work without some reference material. I wanted to get beyond this dependency in the hope of creating something more artistic than just copying nature. I think the result was pretty successful but more importantly I think it represents a significant breakthrough on my artistic journey.
Continuing on the idea of remedial art studies, I've started making regular trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to copy master paintings. This is another time honored tool for those wishing to improve their skills. I'd made cursory sketches before but now I'm trying to be more thorough. In doing this I find I'm getting a better understanding of value relationships and composition. For now I'm doing pencil sketches. The Met has strict rules for copying in oils and my next opportunity to do that would be in the fall.
This is an 8 x 12 pencil study of "Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainbleau Forest" by Théodore Rousseau from 1852-1854
My time in the studio has also been productive and I think the lessons I've learned are having an effect on my larger paintings. Pictured above are a 30 x 40 painting of a view from Knocknagorna in County Limerick, Ireland that I started last year and finished only recently. Below that is a 36 x 48 monochrome painting of Prospect Park. The lessons I'm trying to employ here are to keep the overall composition simple and the tones within the larger shapes close together so the eye isn't bounced around by too many abrupt changes.