"Blue" Gouache on board © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2009.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I admit it.  Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.  There are lots of reasons for it - it is a secular holiday, so you don't have to worry about offending anyone or leaving someone out, it comes with yummy food and none of the calories, it brings back wonderful memories of my family gathered around the table when I was younger, and it reminds us to pause and be thankful for what we have.  Kinda like a kinder, gentler New Year's Eve... without the calories.

So, what am I thankful for?  First, I am thankful for this wonderful recording of Satie's Gymnopedie in my music library.  I'm not a huge Satie fan, but sometimes he has the perfect music... like for stormy November nights,  with icy rain sluicing down the windows and thoughts rattling against the inside of my skull like the leaves against the glass panes.  Satie is a lovely, ponderous, purple sound.  Maybe next we can segue into Copland's bright blue Saturday Night Waltz and take flight.  (And in fact, we have...)

I am thankful for this studio I sit in, surrounded by my paintings, all waiting to be finished, full of potential and possibility.  I am thankful that I was able to attend one of the best art colleges in the country, and thankful that enough people were terrified of my second year painting professor that they dropped the class, leaving a class of only four students to receive 9 hours of personalized instruction a week.  I am grateful the aforementioned professor made us learn to mix our own gesso and stretch our own canvases, and I am thankful that I can now buy that crap already done from the store.  I am thankful that my career path has followed my "artistic" path very closely, and that whatever I've learned in one field I've been able to use in the other.  I am thankful that my parents never told me I couldn't draw, and thankful that years and years of practice have allowed me to be able to fake it fairly well these days.

I'm thankful for my subject matter.  The horse for me is a neverending marvel, the perfect blend of power and containment.  I'm thankful that there have been a wonderful herd of horses in my life, and that my "first" horse was an ancient Cleveland Bay.  I've never looked at a "plain" brown horse the same way since.  I'm thankful for the miracle of birds, and it's nice that they so often tend to live in those other awe-inspiring things: trees. And speaking of trees and the inherent majesty of Spanish moss and resurrection ferns,  I'm thankful for literally the entire state of Louisiana.  I think I could wander the wilds of Louisiana and Florida forever, dreamy and dazed, and never run out of things to delight the eye and inflame the senses.

I'm thankful for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and thankful that a public school music teacher told me I could and would learn to play it, and then made me do so.  (And I'm thankful for this marvelous recording by the ever delightful Anne-Sophie Mutter.)  Speaking of Ms. Mutter, I'm thankful for Anne Rice, both in literary and "fairy godmother" form, and I'm thankful I've been able to give something back to her for all the enjoyment she's brought me over the years.

I'm thankful for Rembrandt, Sargent, Mucha, Magritte, Leyendecker, Audubon, Parrish, Toulouse-Latrec, Rousseau, Mehl, St. Clair, Brenders, Pratt, Forbes, Hopper, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Gorey, Stubbs, Keane, Vettriano and Deja. And whoever came up with the whole Art Nouveau phase, Minoan art period and Byzantine iconography thing, you rock.  I love you guys.

I'm thankful for my best friends, for a litany of unsaids.  I'm thankful for my parents for their support.  I'm thankful for my family for their love.

And I'm thankful for my husband - artist/draftsman supreme, man of steel, head cheerleader, personal-demon slayer, and professional "pep talk" giver.  I'm thankful he knew me for 10 years and then decided he still wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

Finally, I'm thankful for you, whoever you might be, out there reading this blog.  Thanks for providing an audience, a challenge, a goal, a competition, an eagerness to share and talk and touch and explain and listen, and thanks for allowing me a platform to share with the world.  I was going to close with some crack about the pen being mightier than the sword but the paintbrush being mightier than all, and then I lost the thread.  So, instead, I close with what I am most thankful for - the art.  Happy Paintsgiving.

© Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bill, part II

Yesterday I posted a quick nothing on "Bill" my new, as yet unnamed and unidentified bird painting.  Since then, I've been both guilt-ridden over such a flippant blog post, and consumed with discovering the genus and identity of the aforementioned "Bill".  I've checked bird books, searched google, even drafted a letter to the aviary where the picture was originally taken.  All of which brings me to the question: why does it matter?

Because it DOES matter, at least to me.  Part of being a representational artist is that whole "representational" part- in other words, you should be able to identify the subject of your painting.  There are various arguments for and against this, ranging from freedom of artistic expression to the validity of photorealistic artwork to a postmodern deconstruction of the form.  All of those points are valid, and each artist interprets them in different ways.  In my humble opinion, you have to first prove that you understand a form before you can deconstruct it.  When people think of Picasso, they think of his heavily abstracted forms, his multiple povs and stylized figures.  What many don't know is that Picasso could draw like an angel by the time he was fourteen.  His early artwork was full of such fully realized nuance, technical skill and beauty that he was able to build on an absolute rock solid understanding of form to systematically blow it apart in his later artistic exploration.  Once you understand that about him, his artwork takes on added meaning.

We are taught as kids to color "inside the lines".  Trees are green, sky is blue, the sun is yellow.   (And there's a whole fascinating science to the progression of how children learn to draw, such as when everyone starts adding hundreds of fingers to hands or everyone is depicted on profile.  Absolutely fascinating stuff that follows a very set timeline in child development.)  As we get older, middle school art classes introduce the idea of photorealism, usually through he whole "copy half of a magazine picture" idea.  Your skill as a middle school artist is determined by how precisely you are able to mirror the magazine page, and some people become extremely accomplished at this.  (A big tip of the hat to my bff, whose graphite rendering of "Makeup Ad Girl in Sunglasses with Beestung Lips" on bristol board STILL hangs in a prominent place in my "memory" gallery.)  Some people take this photorealism to astonishing levels.  Carl Brenders comes to mind as someone whose artwork can literally make you weep with amazement and gratitude for his exacting "exactness" of hair and stone and grasses.  Unbelievable.

One of my childhood dreams was to be an animator.  Because of the demands of their work, an animator MUST have a rock solid understanding of anatomy to be able to move that character properly through space.  The work of really good animators (ANY of Disney's 9 Old Men or the newer greats like Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Andreas Deja, to name just a few) has such a purity of form and function to their line.  They can draw an anatomically correct arm in one line, with such fluidity and grace that it becomes the best one line rendering of an arm you've ever seen.  Animators know anatomy.

As an (primarily) equine artist, I know horses.  I also can look at someone else's art and tell immediately whether they know horses.  Whether they've spend time with a horse, laid their hands on a horse's neck, sat on their back, looked into their eyes.  That understanding of pure form transfers to the art.  Yes, some technical skill is required to accuratley depict the shading of bone and muscle, but the basic anatomy should still be seen to be correct.

So why all this fuss for "Bill"?  I've always loved animals, I've owned and studied and read about them most of my life.  My art has dovetailed (tee hee) perfectly with my desire to know and learn more about the animal kingdom, and part of that learning and exploring has been learning a smattering about my subjects.  Even if finding out what kind of food this bird eats (mostly fruit, is my guess) and where it lives (Central or South American temperate forest is my bet) doesn't have any bearing on the actual picture itself, I've learned something and added to the story behind the painting.  And that to me, is just as important as the finished piece.
Close up of "Bill- WIP"  ©Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com

Friday, November 11, 2011


I finally got back to the studio today.  It's been a crazy few weeks, and unfortunately, when life interferes, personal work sometimes takes a backseat.  No crazy deadline to rush, no looming publication date, just a few weeks at the end of the year to work on "fun" stuff.  "Different" stuff.  Maybe "Next Year's" stuff?

Anyway, here is "Bill" (working title only) after about 2 hours of purely pleasurable work.  Small-ish (for me) board, manageable subject, just a chance to cut loose and have some Fauvre-fun.  Sometime soon I have to:
1) identify this bird, because I don't think "Bill" will cut it, and
2) come up with a real title for this piece.  I have an idea or two, but I'm holding off until I feel a little more settled in it.
Next blog article will have something of great substance and profound importance, I promise.  Thanks for reading anyway.
"WIP"  © Joanna Zeller Quentin 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  www.MoosePantsStudio.com