Friday, December 31, 2010

Godfried Teutonicus

At the time this portrait was created, Godfried Teutonicus was 343 years old. He was the patriarch of a respected dwarf clan, and the grandfather of the famous Hericus Teutonicus, the last dwarf on the Serbian soil.

From the book “Banished Demons”, Orfelin Izdavaštvo, 2010.
Text Copyright  © Petar Meseldžija, 2010.

Godfried Teutonicus and I wish you a Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

“High-tech” painting tools – Kitchen paper towel and Toothpick

It might sound a little silly and even awkward to talk about a kitchen paper towel and a toothpick as the painting tools, now when the whole world is moving towards the use of computer technology in creating Art. But the things are often not as they seem at the firsts glance. There is an important thought behind this.
When it comes to oil painting technique the first thing that pops up in our mind is fat oil paint, painting brushes and perhaps a pallet knife. A painting brush, being a tool that offers the most optimal handling of the slippery oil paint, is the most common painting tool. It gives the painter a good deal of control over the process of applying the paint to the painting surface. The pallet knife is mostly used for the mixing of the paint on the pallet, and being made from metal, it behaves in a different and much stiffer way then the brush. It can also be very useful as a painting tool.
But needless to say, nothing can and should prevent an artist to use all sorts of tools (or materials), either conventional or unconventional, in order to achieve his artistic goals. Painting with fingers, wooden sticks, paper, sponge, sanding-paper, sand, fibers and about everything else that the artist feels can help him express a certain feeling or create a desired effect, is quite common phenomenon in the contemporary Painting. My teacher of drawing at the art academy often used to say: “It is not important how you achieve your artistic goals, it is important that you achieve them”. In other words – the end justifies the means (Oh, no , no, my teacher was not Niccolo Machiavelli. I am not that old, and we are talking here about art, not about the politics or moral issues)
Just a few examples of “unusual” approach to the matter of painting tools/materials and their use.

REMBRANDT, Self-portrait, around 1628, Oil on wood, 22,6 X 18,7 cm

Pay attention to the way Rembrandt painted the hair with the backside of his painting brush by scratching into the wet paint. Most of the painters from the same period would use a special kind of brushes to depict the hair.

(German artist born in 1945.)
To the unknown painter, 1983.
Oil, emulsion, woodcut, shellac, and straw on canvas, 9’2” (2.8 m) square.
Here is any kind of question about the painting tool that the painter used to apply the paint + various materials, absolutely irrelevant
So, the idea of using the kitchen paper towel as the painting tool is absolutely nothing new. But within the certain art forms like illustration, and fantasy illustration in particular, wherein the idea of ‘ what is being painted ‘ is regarded as more important than ‘ how it is painted ‘, it might appear as something new. But it is not. I am quite sure that some, if not many, of the contemporary illustrators working in traditional techniques, use unorthodox tools and materials in creating their art. It is just not a mainstream thinking these days.
Anyway, how I came to the idea of using a piece of kitchen paper towel as the painting tool? Although during my studies at the art academy I was encouraged to keep my mind open and to use all sorts of tools and materials to create a painting, I found the old-fashioned ways most appealing to my artistic aspirations. I did occasionally used the painting pasta, sand and pieces of gravel, but never went too far in that direction, though these experiments were very useful to me.
Steel Bashaw 14

But a few years ago, while working on one of the paintings from Steel Bashaw book (see the image above) I was painting the stones that surround the female figure. I wanted to paint them freely and to suggest their texture and color through the expressive brush strokes.
And as it is often the case when I start painting “wildly”, I bring too much paint onto the painting surface. You can apply much oil paint to the painting surface in a wet-on-wet manner, and still be able to have sufficient control of the painting process. But sooner or later the surface will become so saturated with the fat oil paint that it  would be unreasonable to proceed with further work.  
From that point on there are a few choices left: to leave it to dry and proceed with painting later on; or to remove the wet layer of oil paint and start all over again; or to take a pallet knife and go on  applying more oil paint and try to come even closer to your goal, but eventually the layer of paint will become too thick and too disobedient even for a pallet knife.
Because I do not like to scratch away the paint from the panting surface (I somehow experience that as a “lost battle”, and I do not like that feeling) I did not take this solution into the consideration. I neither wanted to let the painting dry and then paint further on, on the dry surface, because I was doing alla-prima painting.
As for the pallet knife solution, in case of the above mentioned Steel Bashaw painting, I already did that but the results were still not satisfying. So I thought to myself, I need an in-between solution. In other words I needed to take off some paint, but at the same time to add some other paint in order to “mold” the rocks into the desired shape. It is a technique that I developed in order to achieve a certain pictorial effects. I call it “induction-deduction” method. This implies applying the paint to the surface as well as partly taking off the underlying wet paint with the same brush stroke. Most of the time I do this with a special kind of brushes, but in case of these rocks the layer of paint was already too thick for the special-brush-maneuver. So, I intuitively reached for the kitchen paper towel, which I have in abundance around me when painting. In fact I use the paper towel to rub off the paint from the brushes. It is soft but not too soft, it has a little structure and therefore it was quite appropriate for performing my “rock rescue” maneuver. So, I took the paper and through scratching off the paint, bringing on the new paint, and at the same time molding the slippery oil mixture into the satisfactory shape, I painted the rocks. From that moment on I introduced the kitchen paper towel into the arsenal of my painting tools.
The painting brush work

The kitchen paper towel work

This little trick with the kitchen towel paper is not very special, not original and certainly not something that has to be written down and taught at the art schools. The idea behind is what is important. In fact there are two important ideas:
First – Stay open minded and spontaneous, or in other words – be yourself.
Praise the rules for they will help you to develop your skill and your artistic personality, but don’t become their slave. Use them as long as they serve your artistic aspirations. Follow the rules and advices of the teachers and accomplished peers wisely. Do not dismiss them only because you think it is the only way to find your true artistic identity. Fighting against something you don’t want to become, does not necessarily mean that you would find yourself. When we truly find ourselves, the need to impose our own truth onto the others weakens and eventually disappears.
At the same time listen to your own artistic instincts and follow them. Find the time for experimenting with the tools and techniques. Use the knowledge of others as a springboard to your own pool of creativity.
Second – Beware of too much skill (or too much technology).
This might sound a bit strange, but it is not. It is in fact an important topic on the more advanced level of practicing Art.
In case of a good painting, it is obvious that we deal with a complex and multileveled phenomenon. If the artist focuses too much on a certain aspect of a painting, neglecting the remaining aspects, it is unlikely that such a painting would  become a good one, let alone a great one. Let us be honest; all of us artists do our best to make great pieces of art. Whether we are successful in that pursuit or not is another subject, but we definitely try and keep on trying to achieve it. So, having that in mind, and when talking about the problem of too much skill (under the presumption that the skill is something that interests us), by paying too much attention to that aspect of the painting we are likely to make a mistake of neglecting the aspect of the painting’s content, or its emotional dimension. Too much focus on the details, and the whole would suffer. Too much focus to the composition, and the element of surprise and unpredictability might disappear. Too much focus on the free expression, and you might end up with pictorial cacophony and chaos (which is not bad only in case you deliberately want to create that feeling in your painting – but this is not a subject of this post).
When the artist becomes too skillful in using his technique, he is likely to achieve his goals easy and without fight, which might produce a superficial art as a result. There is something important going on when the artist “wrestles” with his painting. Such process often leaves a trace which goes deeper into the “art flesh” of the painting, making its content richer, more complex and more evocative.
The last few years I often placed a question in front of myself: are my recent paintings really better than the older ones? Sometimes is my answer “yes”, and sometimes “no”. The fact is that I became more skillful in using oil technique, I paint with greater ease and much quicker, but does this makes my art generally better?
The last supper, 1994

This is a tricky question and the answer would depend on my current moods as well as the artistic aspiration I am preoccupied with at the moment the question arises. However, I bear this dilemma in my mind all the time, and therefore often try to use the painting tools (like kitchen paper towel and toothpicks) that will partly deprive me of my skill and put me in the situation wherein I have to search again for the right or new way to achieve the desired results.
Because I adore her so much, I am anxious not to become too enchanted by the sweet temptations of  the Goddess of technical skill and virtuosity, for I am afraid it might kill Art within my art. 
Sometimes, one spends much of his life in gaining skills and insights, and upon reaching a certain level, realizes that in order to develop himself further, one must forget (or detach himself from) the previously collected knowledge.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


And now, something completely different…!
My US publisher, John Fleskes,  recently commissioned me to do a drawing for his collection. When I asked him whether he had a particular theme on his mind he said: “I like the idea of a tree, a giant battling a valiant king, a beautiful woman...” In other words, he  wanted a kind of Steel Bashaw scene, a typical “Petar”, a current one.
There are people who spend a lot of time directing and composing a commission piece with an artist. I prefer to  work with people who say: “ The artist is an artist for a reason. We are not artists for a reason. Why get in the way of an artist’s vision. Give them a theme, then let them do their thing...”
The next day I presented the sketch of the composition to him.

The sketch

Upon seeing the sketch he commented: “ That is why you are the artist. I say tree, giant, girl, and noble hero and this is what you come up with - a splendid adventure scene of good vs. well-meaning giant just doing what comes naturally - except the damsel's husband objects. And you get a horse in there too... “
I wish more art buyers were so artist friendly and so insightful like John. His enthusiastic reaction was an extra stimulus for me to do my very best. I really enjoyed making this funny “UNK!” drawing, and because this is a piece conceived in joy and happiness, I thought it might be an appropriate Christmas/New Year’s present to all of you. Please consider this image as a small token of my gratitude for all your visits to my blog and for your kind comments.

UNK!, the detail


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Abstract + Abstract = Real

Yesterday I was passing by an old, quite dilapidated wall rich in texture and color. Its surface was bearing the scarfs inflicted upon it by the teeth of time. It was quite obvious that the wall was once white and that the weather and the passing of time have added a whole spectrum of various colors to it. The wall was rough, a kind of landscape in miniature of its own, with the chunks of old mortar fallen off allowing the gray-red bricks to become visible.
I stepped back from the wall and took a better look of it. The "miniature landscape” made by the rough structure and the shades of different color, made me see all sorts of shapes in it. My imagination was greatly stimulated and tried to find and define the shapes within the abstract structures. Then a thought crossed my mind: this looks like a perfect abstract painting - a kind of ode to the beauty of the traces that transience  leaves upon the material world.

The Dawn of the Day, detail

This experience brought back the thoughts about the importance of abstract elements in the figurative and realist painting, including illustration.
My meditation on this subject goes as follows:
There is a kind of magic in the notion of using the abstract elements as the building blocks in creating the real forms. In fact, this idea should not be too alien to us because of the fact that our material world, with its concrete three dimensional forms, consists of the molecules of different chemical elements that are , in their turn, built from the atoms. Being unbelievably small and elusive to the human eye and mind, in a certain way these tiny particles could be seen as the  "abstract" building blocks of our world. 
Following this principle and projecting it onto Art, and painting in particular,  it could be said that a painting consists of the brushstrokes of various kinds and sizes, and that these brushstrokes are the actual building blocks (the molecules) of every painting, especially the classic ones. If we now take the brushstroke out of the whole and give it the right to have its own unique character, making it/them more personal, so to speak, we would be able to create an image that would surpass a common depiction of an object in representational art,  making the picture more intriguing and more evocative.
Puzzled mind tends to be more open than the mind that thinks - "Oh, yes, I know this", or "I understand that". As we know, our mind has a strong urge to understand things and processes we are surrounded by, but at the same time the same mind finds itself intrigued by not-easy-to-solve riddle. 

The Dawn of the Day, 2001/2002

Try sometimes to think in this way when conceiving your art and you will probably notice that the familiar things will start to look differently.This will eventually bring the thoughts into your mind that  our world and our existence is perhaps much deeper, broader and richer place/thing  than we previously thought of.  This is the point where the act of true Discovery starts.
As Marcel Proust, the famous French writer, said - An act of true discovery does not imply the finding of new worlds, but rather  seeing the familiar world in a different way.
As a true artist one is obliged to oneself and to one's vocation, to the phenomenon of Art and to the outer world as well, to step forward and take the lead on this path of true Discovery. This is my sacred conviction.
The Legend of Steel Bashaw 10, detail

The Legend of Steel Bashaw 10, detail

The Legend of Steel Bashaw 10

The Legend of Steel Bashaw 15, detail

The Legend of Steel Bashaw 15, detail

The Legend of Steel Bashaw 15

The Autumn, detail

The Autumn, 2007

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Legend of Steel Bashaw, Part 2

Rembrandt and The Legend of Steel Bashaw
In one of my previous posts I promised to write about my “conversations” with Rembrandt. Well, there is no mystery about my contact with him or, better  said, with his art.  The truth is that I live quite close to  Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum, where they have a significant collection of his paintings. During the years I spent countless hours looking at Rembrandt’s  magnificent paintings and analyzing his glorious technique. Gradually I learned to tune myself to his art and was able to “hear” what he had to say to me.
As you probably know, Rembrandt van Rijn ( 1606 – 1669) was a famous Dutch painter, by many considered to be one of the greatest painters of all times. Rembrandt is often called “The painter of light”. Being the most prominent aspect of his art, the depiction of light is what he is most known for today. He adopted so called chiaroscuro technique (chiaroscuro means light-dark and  is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark),   inspired by the paintings of his great predecessor,  the Italian master Caravaggio, whose art had a profound impact on the Baroque style. A few years ago I have seen an exhibition, in Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, of paintings from both masters, hanging side by side. It was an amazing show that strengthened me in my  believes that,  regarding the impact of chiaroscuro  technique in both master’s paintings, I dare say that Rembrandt’s  mastery surpassed Caravaggio’s, and set the standard for generations of artists to come.
And indeed, when standing in front of one of Rembrandt’s portraits, or a historic/religious composition, or even a landscape painting,  the suggestion of light in the painting is dazzling. It is as if his paintings not only depict the light in a most convincing and dramatic way, but it appears as if the paintings themselves  emanate the light as well. I often stood mesmerized by this phenomenon in Rembrandt’s art, trying to comprehend the way and the procedure that enabled him to achieve such a breathtaking  effect.

Jeremiah lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, 1630.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Oil on panel;  58,3 X 46,6 cm.

After many hours spent in examination of and in meditation on Rembrandt’s technique, I came to the conclusion that, roughly speaking, there are three major kinds of light that Rembrandt used to depict in his paintings.
The direct light, the reflected light and the inner light (glow) of the shadows. Of all the three different kinds of light I was particularly drawn to the last one; the inner glow of the shadows, or glowing shadows.  In fact the basic principle for achieving this light effects  is simple; keep the shadows warm and transparent.  Easier said than done! Many painters from Rembrandt’s time used the same principle but were not able to achieve such a marvelous results as the master Rembrandt did.
That brings us to the question; how we are than to connect Rembrandt and The Legend of Steel Bashaw? How one connects a mighty elephant to a tiny mouse.  Well, I would say the following;  look very good to that elephant, copy him (learn from him) and try to understand the essence of the underlying philosophy. Than incorporate the collected knowledge into your own art, without trying to become another Rembrandt.  Although a Giant among the artists, ONE Rembrandt in this world is more than enough.
Beside a few other  aspect of Rembrandt’s mastery ( like for example; the glazing of the light(er) impasto parts of the painting, which is a kind of  art of its own), the glowing shadows aspect in particular, was often on my mind while painting the Steel Bashaw pictures. Although I did not adopt Rembrandt’s working method, I took great care of the glowing shadows principle, trying to achieve a similar effect by using  my own approach to the technicalities of painting in oils.
In order to get the desired results I always painted the shadows thin, using the radish/brownish ochre as the underpainting, letting it shine through the following layers of paint as much as possible. Then keeping the shadows transparent,  while applying the subsequent thin layers of paint, and avoiding the use of white paint in the shadows, I tried to bring more light into the paintings. The first three paintings from The Legend of Steel Bashaw, that I have presented you in the previous post, and the picture of the Giants (see below), show the influence of Rembrandt’s art. Later on, as the work on the book  project progressed, and as my interest and  attention shifted to the other great masters of painting, my paintings reflected less and less of Rembrandt’s influences. However I never forgot to keep my shadows warm and transparent and to avoid the use of white paint, as much as possible (white paint in the shadows tends to kill the light, as well as life in the painting, for there is not much life without light).
A few years ago I heard a curator from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia,  (they have there a big collection of Rembrandts, as well) said something like: “Although Rembrandt is often praised because of his juicy, thick impasto, expressively painted  light parts, Rembrandt’s power, in fact,  lies in his shadows!”
I definitely agree with this statement.
The Giants

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Legend of Steel Bashaw, Part 1

In November 1993, a little more than two years after my arrival to the Netherlands, I started a painting just to please myself. At that time I did not know that this painting would mark the beginning of a long and wondrous journey which would eventually find its haven in what is now known as The Legend of Steel Bashaw. A few months after the first painting was finished I did another one. Then forced by the necessity of earning the living, I had to abandon the project.  It took another seven years until I was able to proceed with the work on the project and make the third painting.
The Legend of Steel Bashawe is a retold version of one of the most popular Serbian fairytales, Baš Čelik. I rewrote the original folktale and painted 16 pictures. The process of creation of this book was long and uncertain and it took me 15 years to finish it. Of course, I haven’t been working on the project constantly for 15 years. There were many breaks of which the longest one, as mentioned,  lasted for seven years. Eventually I finished the book in August 2008 and a few months later it was published in Serbia by Zmaj. In 2010 the American publisher Flesk Publications published the US edition of the book. Compared to the Serbian edition, the US edition is an expanded edition containing 20 additional pages. It has a bonus section titled The making of The Legend of Steel Bashaw  that includes the sketches, preliminary drawings and a number of insightful descriptions of the process of making the book.  
November 1993




The US edition, 2010

If you would like to purchase the US edition of the book, please go to
Or go to
Thank you!