Friday, August 29, 2008

Hey, Duck!!!

Well, not "duck" as in "reduce altitude." "Duck" as in "mallard duck," "wood duck" and other assorted ducks.

I get a kick out of ducks. They're colorful, cute and clownish all at the same time. One of the few downsides of living in the desert is: there are only a few places with water where ducks might be found -- even that takes considerable luck.

I don't hunt ducks (or anything else), but sometimes I feel like I must be part duck. When autumn is near, I start feeling antsy and excited, as though I want to migrate or something.

Instead of wanting to paint deserts, I want to paint scenes where fall has reached its full glory. And since I paint better than I fly, I try to squeeze in some autumn landscapes along with the desert material. Fall landscapes are not my specialty, and I don't feel they turn out quite as well as the "vast spaces of the southwest" (my tagline -- it appears on every page on my Website: . But I am getting better at them, and painting autumn when it actually IS autumn seems to heighten the excitement I feel about the season.

The attached image is "Autumn Marsh" by David A. Maass, one of my favorite sporting art painters. The view is desert-like in some ways -- lots of space. When fall is here, the framed prints I normally hang in my studio come down, and a number of David's prints go up in their place. From around mid-September to year's end, the season in my studio is unquestionably fall. And ducks dominate the walls.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dutch in the Desert

In the Bio/Statement on my Website (the link is posted below), I mention some influences from the Golden Age of Dutch painting, particularly landscape artist Jacob van Ruisdael. He livened up the flat Dutch countryside by adding dark cloud shadows and spots of sunlight. The results weren't entirely naturalistic, but they certainly are dramatic!

The attached painting is an example of van Ruisdael's influence on my art. The scene is in Joshua Tree National Park, where smoke trees dot a wide dry wash that drains into the distant Pinto Basin. It's spring, and although you can't see it due to its small size, a desert cottontail bunny-rabbit sits, unconcerned with our presence as we gaze across miles of space.

I'd like to think this is how ol' Jake might have painted the scene had he stood at this spot -- "Dutch in the Desert"!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Art and the Church Part III

Nudity in art -- talk about a hot-button topic! And it's a tough issue for the Christian who wants to master traditional art. After all, the Bible tells us to dress modestly, to avoid all appearances of evil and all that. And for some, nudity (in art) = pornography -- period.

But, as always, exceptions exist. Most obvious: sometimes it is necessary to disrobe -- partially or completely -- the body when undergoing a medical examination or procedure. What about artists? Do we also have an exception?

Well, the Bible doesn't really say one way or the other when it comes to artists. But this is a case where if one wants to become the best traditional artist one can be, it means we MUST draw and paint the nude. In fact, traditional studies in ateliers called for mastering the figure, still lifes and landscapes, then -- if the artist desired -- specialize in one of those areas.

Any artist who has mastered the figure will claim the human body (and face) are the most difficult subject to get right. So if you do well with nudes, you can do well with virtually anything.

So to the Christian artist who wants to work in traditional realism I would say: you MUST commit to doing what you have to do in order to become great in your craft. As with those in the medical community, dealing with the body and body parts goes with the territory. You may prefer to look at nudity as a necessary evil -- then so be it -- but it is a part of becoming a great artist worthy of the talent God has given you.

Here's a quote by Michelangelo: "To copy each one of those things after its kind seems to me to be indeed to imitate the work of God; but that work of painting will be most noble and excellent which copies the noblest object and does so with the most delicacy and skill. And who is so barbarous as to not understand that the foot of a man is nobler than his shoe, and his skin nobler than that of the sheep with which he is clothed, and not be able to estimate the worth and degree of each accordingly?"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art and the Church Part II

I've dealt with Christians who believe if you're a Christian and you're involved in the arts in some way, the only subject you should be covering in your art is Christianity. This is especially true if you're a musician or singer, but I've heard it applied to the other arts as well. In fact, I know of one woman whose daughter was majoring in film production in college. The mom requested prayer for the daughter, that she would make only "Christian" films.

For some reason, this line of thinking doesn't apply to other occupations. Christian auto mechanics are not expected to engrave John 3:16 on the sides of engine blocks. Christian bakers don't apply the ichthus/fish design onto every muffin or loaf of bread they make. Double standard? Or do we have different standards for those who communicate via the arts and those who work in other fields, communication-driven or not? Are these standards biblical?

This entire notion is actually a relatively new idea in the Church. It used to be there was no distinction between Christian and secular creations. In essence, anything that fulfilled Philippians 4:8 was acceptable. Even today, one can hear organ preludes using works by J.S. Bach that are not overtly Christian or even "Christian" at all: "Sheep May Safely Graze" pays homage to the crown, not to God. Yet, because Bach is recognized as a composer who was Christian, anything he wrote is eligible for playing in a church service. Not the case with today's artists.

The sad part is: God has given creative skills and abilities to many who honor Him, and they have no opportunities to use those talents to God's glory.

"Art and Church Part III" will probably be my last post on this topic for awhile. It should appear tomorrow (Monday, 25 August 2008) or soon thereafter.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Art and the Church Part I

At one time, the Church was the artists' biggest patron. Today, for the most part, the Church (especially the Protestant Church) seems mostly uninterested in the arts, except for music. What happened?

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, church structures were, in a manner of speaking, "palaces for God." The elaborate architecture and decor, complete with paintings and sculpture, seemed to be a visual expression of the Glory and Majesty of God Almighty.

But after the Protestant Reformation, attitudes changed. Gradually, church leaders moved away from palaces for God, using the money instead to develop ministries to people in need. And today, since so many of us artzy types want to get rich instantly by doing what we love, even the Catholic Church doesn't pursue traditional art as much as in the past, 'tho' that may be more of an affordability issue than one of a desire to use art.

Many Protestants also see art as one of the worldly possessions Christians should renounce; after all, it's all going to burn someday anyway, and we can't take it with us, and it's "worshipping the creation instead of the Creator," and we're seeking the applause of men rather than the applause of God, and we can't serve two masters...on and on.

Thus, Christianity has left a huge vacuum in the field of art, and nature -- and artists -- abhor a vaccuum. Christian influence is now mostly limited to complaining and griping about the offensive art, movies and music that are out there today. Unfortunately, the Church doesn't seem to believe in taking a more positive approach -- encouraging its members to become active in the arts and making art for the sheer love of it, not simply generating proselytizing drivel that promotes the Gospel.

I tend to agree with a number of authors, including the late Christian philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer. Everything we do can be done to glorify God (1). God is beautiful, and so He created us with the ability to love beauty in all its forms. We're told to dwell on, among other things, truth and beauty (2); therefore, everything that IS true and beautiful falls within the realm of Christianity. In short, making art glorifies God; in fact, the creativity, desire to make things and the skills to do so come from God (3), and we'd be wasting His gifts by not using them.

Unfortunately, I and others like me are not in a position to take on the entire world of Christianity regarding this school of thought. But I have sold art to customers who identified themselves as Christians (often, Catholic), so: we're out there. We are among the Church's numbers. Maybe someday, we'll prevail!!


(1) I Cor. 10:31
(2) Phil. 4:8
(3) Exodus 31:1-6
Artwork: Michaelangelo's Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rest in the Midst of Art

I mentioned in a previous entry a phrase by Rolland May in his book, "The Courage to Create" that always seemed profound and accurate: something about how "artists confront their art."

I would rather work at creating art than work at a so-called "real job," given the choice. When things are moving along and the inspiration is there, creating artwork seems to involve a combination of being in a meditative trance and being on meth ('tho' I must admit, I have no experience with the latter -- I have to make some assumptions here). We artists zero in on what we're doing, oblivious to time or even to hunger. Yet, we're filled with energy to continue creating for long periods of time, and interruptions can be particularly startling and frustrating. When the artwork turns out well, we (or at least I) reach an emotional high that, I would guess, outmatches any chemical high a person can get.

At the same time, artwork IS, after all, work. We confront our art every time we work on it. And it's work that requires focus and energy -- we can't fly along on autopilot as we create that next masterpiece.

So when one paints for a living and one is tired, distracted, lacking motivation or just needs a change of scenery, making art can seem like the hardest job in the universe -- including all of the alternate ones!

It doesn't help, either, when artists like me feel like we MUST paint all the time, forgetting there is a business side that must be attended to. AND we need downtime, too -- maybe one day a week for some guilt-free relaxation, a lot to ask of a driven, type-A personality like me!

God Himself took a day of rest, and He told us to take one day a week to rest, too. Maybe I otta take him up on that!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sun 'N' Surf

Ahhh...California! Just the name conjures up scenes like this, doesn't it?

This state has it all when it comes to scenery -- sandy beaches and rugged coastline, mountains, deserts, redwood forests, the highest and lowest points in the continental USA, Yosemite, a theoretically active volcano, and a totally inept state legislature -- but we won't get into that. This time, anyway.

My wife and I lived in Colorado during the 1990's -- and we missed California terribly. We realized California isn't the perfect "sun 'n' surf" place it's made out to be, and it isn't always the "land of fruits and nuts," either.

But as a landscape painter, the variety of spectacular scenery would be hard to match anywhere else.

On the other hand, much of the scenery resulted from earthquakes and land movement. Someday, the area we live in will be devastated -- it's inevitable. It could happen in our lifetimes, or it may not. We prefer "not." We hope to continue enjoying the results of nature's handiwork, and I hope to continue to paint it for as long as I'm able to do so.

Someday, too, the cliffs on the right in the above painting will collapse, and this area (in Laguna Beach) will look quite differently than the way it looks in the artwork.

That's California for ya!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Confuser Day

No working on art today.

WHAT??!? How can this be???

Well, I picked up on a comment from another blogger and moderator for an online forum for artists: she said something about Tuesday being "computer day." And I thought (yes, I do think every so often): that's a great idea. I would still check e-mail, forums and other stuff every day, but I really could use extended periods of time to do the more involved items, such as updating the Website (, organizing and backing up files and things that, if I crammed them in between brush strokes, might not get done right , if at all.

By the way, I like to call this machine a "confuser." Sometimes that label fits better. You know I'm right about that, don't you?

The art business is definitely about more than just making art!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Art and the Olympics

Like billions of others, I've been spending too much time watching the Olympics on TV -- and I'm not even a sports fan! But there's something special (the idealism?) about the Olympics, so for me anyway, that makes it much different than a football game between the Minnesota PieKings and the Oakland Faders.

One thing that I, as a guy, notice in the Games is how healthy-looking some of the female athletes are, especially in the water sports. Some of the women seem thin and muscular, but others appear toned but filled out.

Now -- we older, married dudes aren't supposed to so much as notice other female human beans. (I'm sure my wife notices good-looking guys -- we're both only human!) But I will say I'm one of those who find the women who appear in Old Master paintings -- you know, women who were obviously overweight -- attractive, as those in the attached painting by Poussin. While I can't deny the health risks overweight people people face, I know I and many other males prefer that look, short of outright gross obesity.

The women athletes in the Olympics are not overweight, but -- for my personal taste -- are much more attractive to me than the "ideal" women we see in the entertainment industry. So many of them strike me as downright unhealthy and skinny, and I'd be hardpressed to think of any that compare to the Olympians. Some of the female actors and singers may have pretty faces, but from the neck down -- sorry, even if I were single, young and prone to teenage crushes on celebrities, I would say: "No, thanks!"

If I painted the human figure more than I do, I would try to contact some of those swimmers and divers to see if they'd have time for a sitting. I wouldn't call any of the Hollywood types.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Me N Bob Ross

I couldn't resist!!! -->

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go paint some happy little cactus now. (I'll have to confess -- I got the idea for the picture from another artist's blog!)

Actually, I always got a kick out of watching (the real) Bob Ross paint. His technique never changed, and while I don't think his paintings will ever hang in the great art museums of the world, I was intrigued that it was even possible to start and finish a painting in 1/2 hour.

Plus, the guy really encouraged his viewers not to be afraid and to give it a shot. I've known people who would be scared to death to "mess up" a canvas; sometimes, I feel that way myself.

But Bob told us to go for it, there are only happy accidents, his clouds and trees are all happy and they live in the places he assigned to them, and sometimes we have to make big decisions about adding new and imposing elements.

Life is sort of like that, too, isn't it?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Show Me the Art, If Not the Money

Art shows are funny critters. By art shows, I mean the outdoor kind that spring up like mushrooms for a weekend at a park, street, plaza or parking lot. Then by Sunday night, like a mirage, all evidence of bustling activity vanishes.

Shows can vary widely in the patrons who comes, from serious collectors to impulse buyers to people who want to walk their dogs and get a dose of culture at the same time. You can see a range of artists and their wares, too--some are "Artists with a capital A," others are simply self-employed individuals who happen to have some skill at creating artwork or craft items, and some who are not artists at all but who buy artzy-looking things wholesale and sell them retail.

Some day I'll have to write a collection of short stories based on what goes on at art fairs. I could show both the artists' and the buyers' viewpoints, having done both myself over the years.

However, I've decided to stop doing shows and focus on other venues, preferably galleries and a few select western (indoor!) art shows. But if you attend art shows (or if you show your art at them), don't be surprised if you see some guy with a pad of paper and a pen, looking around and writing things down. Who knows -- you may become a character in a short story some day!

I took the accompanying photo of a show I did several years ago at Fountain Hills, AZ, northeast of Scottsdale. (I obscured the faces and the signage to protect the innocent). You can't really see it "post-obscuration," but a female on the right in a red top looks like she's gagging herself. (Hmmm...was this how she felt about what she saw at the show...?)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Colorado Art

Did I mention I paint desert landscapes? Yes? Well, OK, you've got me. (I didn't really think I could fool you!)

Although I specialize in desert art, I paint other types of scenery as well -- most of it non-desert western scenes.

The piece on the right is an example of what you might find if you roam the mountains of Colorado in autumn and happen upon a small herd of elk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Surreal Desert -- and a Surreal Desert Painter

As a few of you may have noticed by now, I make mostly desert paintings. Most of these tend to be places within America's national parks and monuments, particularly Joshua Tree, Organ Pipe Cactus, Saguaro, Arches, Canyonlands, Death Valley and others.

Places like these seem to have an air of surrealism about them, more so than some of the national parks we've visited in the eastern states, beautiful as they are. I mentioned before: I like surrealism as an art form, and painting desert landscapes is a convenient way to "sneak" a little of the surreal into the artwork.

The painting to the right is one example of that. This scene is in Arches National Park, with Double Arch to the right of center. The lighting is pretty much the way it was that day, in late July as a thunderstorm was approaching from behind. (In fact, it poured rain soon after I left this spot and saw red waterfalls, tinted by the red-brown soil, tumbling down the rockfaces -- and across the roads!)

Ah...the surreal desert! Perfect for a lover of surrealism like me -- a rather surreal character, if I say so myself!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Colorado and Art

We used to live in Colorado Springs during the 1990's. Colorado is a beautiful state--lots of mountains, including many peaks that rise higher than 14,000 feet/4.3 km.

One of these "14ers" (as everyone there calls 'em) is Pikes Peak, which lies due west of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak lacks the jagged, rugged look of the mountains of the San Juan Range in southwestern Colorado, BUT it does have the advantage of having a road that runs all the way to the top. (The more physically fit in the area hiked or jogged to the top and back, but we were not among that group!) The "peak" is not peaked, but is slightly rounded.

If you're used to that elevation (or if you're not physically fit), it's difficult to want to stay there for long. We felt constantly that we were going to faint at any moment. A "black cloud" obscured our vision. Still, we enjoyed a fantastic view of the area; in fact, people there know the song, "American the Beautiful" by Katherine Lee Bates was inspired after she made a trip to the top.

I've made a few paintings that shows Pikes Peak and another local attraction, the Garden of the Gods (a painting of the Garden appears on my Website, I've included one of the paintings here, in early autumn with the Garden of the Gods in the middle distance and after snow fell on the mountain.

BTW--we HATED the snow with a passion! I guess you can't take a couple of southern California kids away from the beach and transplant them into snow country!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Well, good grief! I posted my last entry at 8:08pm, but the computer claims I posted at 7:26pm! Apparently there's something about this whole blogging service that I don't know about yet.

Well, anyway, I wanted to do a painting that would be bright and cheery, representative of the desert in the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area, and that would feature desert bighorn sheep. it is, along with a detail that shows the bighorns a little more clearly (although they are small on the painting--less than 2"/5cm long). The view shows an area typical of what one might see when hiking in the Santa Rosa Mountains east of Palm Desert, CA. Therefore, the title is "Vista de Santa Rosa."

And, of course, I wanted to show the vast spaces one typically sees in the desert. I've heard this referred to as the "mystery of the distance." Those of us who revel in desert scenery understand that feeling very well.

If you live in, or prefer, forested areas, all that distance and "empty" space can lead to the "wasteland" approach to viewing desert landscapes. I guess it's all a question of personal taste, of developing a certain aesthetic for different kinds of beauty.

We artists tend to find beauty everywhere. Sometimes we have to work at that a little, but for all its flaws and heartbreaks, the world is a beautiful place. And you'll find it both in the forests and the deserts.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pieces of Eights

Today is 8 August 2008, aka 8-8-08. Today is a special day for many, a day that translates to prosperity, new beginnings in married life and other symbols of what this date means. Apparently it means the most to the Chinese. Even the Olympics start today.

So in this spirit, I started a new painting today, one which will be highly reminiscent of my favorite Dutch painter, Jacob van Ruisdael (mentioned in a previous post). And I intend to post this entry at exactly 8:08 PDT (which would be 2008 hours in military time). It all works for me!

So, dear readers, whatever this day means to you (if anything), I hope it's the start of something great and amazing for you!

Posted 08-08-2008, 2008 hours

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Writing About What to Write

When one is a professional artist, one must paint whether one feels like painting or even if one is not sure WHAT to paint.

It's that way with writing, too. I'm not a professional writer, although I have sold some of my writing in years past. But as with art, I'm driven (a little, in this case) to write, too.

But ideas for art come quite easily. As a landscape painter, I only have to go outside into a beautiful area (and I live in such an area) -- then I'm inspired, which gives me the energy to "go to the studio and make stuff." (I have a watchface that says that!)

It's never been that simple with writing. Once I know what to write about, I'm fine. But thinking of what to write about -- that's always been a problem for me. I always hated it when some grade-school teacher gave us a carte blanche writing assignment. Of course, we had to fulfill certain criteria, but beyond that, we had to come up with our own ideas for a subject. Sometimes I didn't think of an idea until it was almost too late to write about it.

In his book, "The Courage to Create," author Rollo May made a comment about artists "confronting their art." Confronting -- that's an apt way to describe it. Art (which includes writing, in this case) can be a leisurely pasttime, but for many of us artzy types, art is work. Maybe that's why they call this stuff "artwork." And writers "work" on their manuscripts.

Funny, tho' -- musicians play instruments! Go figure.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Surreal Dude

I used to paint surreal scenes. In fact, I still consider it my favorite style of art IF it's well-done.

The image on the right is the second version of a piece I did for a class I was taking in the late 1980's. The assignment was to create a work based on a classical grouping or cycle; in my case, I decided upon earth, air, fire and water. At the same time, this particular image occurred to me as my wife and I were...well, uh, doing what it is husbands and wives do. (What a time to be inspired to do art!)

Thus, this image (to me anyway) represents earth (the earth-colored hand on the right), air (the blue sky), fire (obvious) and water (in the form of clouds). But (again, in my mind), I also tried to depict sexual passion, all without resorting to the obvious ways of showing this subject.

Some day I'll have to squeeze more surreal subject matter into my already overloaded schedule. But for now, I'll continue to paint landscapes with just a touch of the surreal in them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Googling Googling

Every so often, I Google my name to see how many other Mark Junges there are. I myself come up in several contexts: my Website, a positive comment about my site on someone else's site, and a review I wrote about an art-related seminar that appears on a third site.

However, I'm not the only Mark Junge in the universe! Other MJs include:

- a motorcycle racer;
- a Wyoming writer;
- a photographer;
- a 24/7 oxygen-dependent man who bicycled across the country to prove even people with lung disease can do something like that. (Good for him!)

But so far: I'm the only Mark Junge, Artist. Let's keep it that way! =)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I may have to give up television forever! Not so much because the programming is so stupid (although that's part of it, too), but because of the commercials!! Maybe it's because we live in a somewhat rural area, but it seems like there are a handful of commercials that are broadcast over and over and infinitum, ad nauseum. During the morning news programs, a certain commercial (Commercial A) will air, then a different one, then Commercial A is run again!! EVERY morning!!!

And some gal thinks we just gotta put Mercury (cars) on our list? NO!!! I don't gotta do NUTHIN! I'd rather make that female DRINK mercury!

Around here, we hear these commercials to death!! And to think--we have a limited, 'tho' large, number of brain cells. I hate the idea of them being used up and wasted on storing commercial jingles and copy! I still remember toothpaste commercials from my early childhood:

Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a
With the new Ipana,
Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a,
Ipana for your tee-eeth.

I even remember the tune this was sung to!!

What a waste of what might have been artistic genius. This is anti-art. And a depressing commentary of how we are exposed to sonic noise from birth to death--and end up being forced to remember it forever.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Breaking Storm

I mentioned last time I'm a fan of Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael and was working on a piece that -- in my mind, anyway -- is reminiscent of his style.

And here it is! The scene is in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, AZ, USA, looking south toward the Sonoyta Mountains of Mexico. I've shown the entire painting as well as a detail -- a Harris' hawk (a southwestern species of raptor), flying close to the ground, as they tend to do.

I didn't make the clouds shadows as dark as ol' Jake would have -- I decided to go with a more natural-looking scene -- THIS time! But this painting combines many of my favorite things about the desert: this view, organ pipe cactus, dramatic lighting, and a Harris' hawk.