The Sublime

The other day, I had a view of the most incredible clouds at sunset. It was a huge sweeping expanse of dark greys with bright oranges and pinks reflecting upon them against a pastel sky. Even the mountains looked small in comparison. It was incredible. It was sublime. There was no better word I could think of to describe what I was viewing from my castle in the sky (a.k.a. the apartment).

Seeing those incredible clouds and thinking about the sublime transported me back to my university art history lectures. I decided it would be fun to go back through my old notes to refresh my memory…

The sublime is a concept, state or thing of high spiritual, moral, intellectual or artistic value. In art, it is an awe-inspiring image that creates terror or a feeling of insecurity. It’s the sense of something well beyond your control when you are confronted by an image or a view of nature and its vastness; it’s meant to inspire a feeling of being overwhelmed and/or vulnerable. The romantics explored these emotions in their art and wanted to share the sublime with their viewers and they believed that it was good experience these emotions.

Here is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think of the sublime:

In these images, the fog and mists create mystery and a sense of limitless space, making the viewers experience no security and ambiguity. Where is the horizon? Visibility is limited and sound would be skewed. The fog could be seen as a metaphor for an unclear future. The figure in Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is the focus, surveying a murky landscape while at the same time, insignificant the grand landscape he is surveying.

Nebel especially, Friedrich created an image that is meant to transcend rational structure and inspire a search for narrative. For me, these images create a sense of smallness in the world. It’s also disconcerting to try and see what is right in front of you. He is enveloping the viewer and the image in fog.

In other images of the sublime, nature is threatening. They don’t celebrate the power of the individual but rather express man’s vulnerability; for example, Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps by Joseph Mallard William Turner. The storm in this painting is of cataclysmic proportions and threaten to destroy the figures.

Another, more subtle depiction of the sublime can be found in Antoine-Jean Gros’ Napoleon Bonaparte visiting the Plague-Stricken in Jaffa. Here the sublime is expressed through the contrast in colours, the horror of disease and the mystery of the Far East. It invokes a sublime response to neoclassical subject matter. Here, neoclassicism comes together with romanticism through subject and reaction.


Art history really is fascinating.



The Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios: Movement by Nature

When I was in Paris last fall, I decided to explore the city in a different way this time. I chose to wander and walk with no real aim. While many visitors scramble to the Louvre (worth it of course) to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, I decided to go to Art Ludique Le Musée.

Nerd alert: I went there for a Disney art exhibition. Yes, that’s right. I was in Paris, la ville de l’amour, and I wanted to go to a Disney art show. It was chilly – more than chilly – with a frigid fall breeze blowing and I nearly wiped out on the slippery sidewalk in my hurry to get out of the cold and into the magical world of Disney artists. Continue reading “The Art of Walt Disney Animation Studios”

William Morris – Master Study

“I determined to do no less than to transform the world with beauty.” -William Morris

Creatives of the 19th century always seem to be triple threats – no, quadruple threats! In any case, they often excelled in several creative endeavours. It wasn’t unusual to hear about artists who were also architects who were also orators/singers/writers/poets/politicians… You get it. There were many creative powerhouses. William Morris was no exception.

William Morris 

Born on March 24, 1834 (we share the same birthday!) in Essex, England, William Morris was an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist. Wow! And on top of that, his work in textiles contributed to a revival of traditional British textile arts and production methods while his writing helped to establish the modern fantasy genre. He was also a trained architect. Talk about a creative powerhouse!

In 1861 Morris formed a decorative arts firm with Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Phillip Webb and others. This firm was very influential in the interior decorating practices of the Victorian period. Morris’ contributions to the firm were his designs for tapestries, wallpapers, fabrics, furniture and stained glass windows. He was very much influenced by medievalism, which can be seen in his design work. The firm also sought to return to Medieval-Gothic methods of craftsmanship as well.

In my personal sketchbook studies, I decided to fiddle with gouache paint and practice wielding this medium by copying details of a William Morris floral pattern. It had been my first foray into gouache painting for a long time and I was definitely out of practice. I never really found the balance between paint and water during this session. I think it turned out okay but I still prefer to see that paint sketch from a distance!

Next I chose to go back to my favourite mediums of watercolour and ink.

Again, I copied this image as an exercise to practice watercolours and painting creatures. In university, I studied costume design which meant focusing more on people and characters. Even as a kid I liked to draw characters (there are lots of fairies in my old sketchbooks). I realized recently that I didn’t paint very many creatures. No time like the present to try something new.

This rabbit is a close up from a tapestry designed by William Morris. It was a good way to practice bringing texture to a watercolour painting. I also included two of my favourite quotes (he was a writer after all) that I think summed up the relationship between beauty, art and life quite perfectly.

To create is to bring beauty to the world and that is a necessity of life!

Edmonia Lewis – Master Study

In university, I was fortunate enough to study something I really loved: art history (although it took me a while to get there from engineering; but that’s a story for another time). It was a fabulous degree to have taken. More recently, I was inspired by a video Minnie Small made on master studies for your sketchbook. In an effort to bring some of that educational spirit back into my life, I’ve decided to follow suit and start creating master studies in my sketchbook. First up:

Edmonia Lewis

Born in 1844 New York, Lewis was the first woman of African-American/Native American heritage to achieve international fame for her work. Against incredible odds, she dreamed of being a sculptor and she succeeded.

She lived during a time when slavery was a norm and during the American Civil War; she was accused of trying to poison two white women and theft of art materials(acquitted both times), and, because of the legal drama, she was not allowed to graduate from Oberlin College. None of that stopped her though. She made her own path and funded her journey to Rome in 1866 by sculpting medallions and busts of Civil War heroes such as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and abolitionist John Brown.

She went on to learn and work with marble, eventually setting up a small studio in Rome in the former studio of 18th century sculptor, Antonio Canova. Inspired by her surroundings, Lewis worked in a primarily neoclassical style.

In the Sketchbook

Primarily a sculptor, reinterpreting her work in paint gave me a chance to practice gouache and work in a primarily monochromatic palette. For her portrait sketch I used pencil and tested out my new Pilot G-Tec C. For my paint sketch of her sculpture, Hagar, I chose to work off a dark background, using ink to add some texture and colour to the page.

Painting Hagar was an excellent exercise in painting shadow and light. I painted her face at least three times before I was satisfied. I’m not going to lie, I nearly chose to just leave it blank! Now I think her head might be my favourite part of the entire piece. Goes to show perseverance pays off!

It was also a good exercise in colour mixing. I have a small set of Gouache paints: black, white, the primaries and green. Even though this piece is monochromatic, a little bit of each colour went into creating that neutral.

Overall, I’m really quite pleased with how this master study turned out. She was an interesting woman to learn about and I need the practice with gouache!