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One evening, at a literary gathering at my publisher’s house, it was my turn to give a presentation on a subject of my choice, and I decided to lecture on a topic that has inspired me and, at times, exasperated me. I called the lecture Rectangles: how they work for the artist. With an enlarged acetate-covered photograph of the face of Rembrandt’s The Old Jew on the easel at my side, I explained how I incorporate rectangles into every painting I produce, whether it’s a landscape, portrait or still life. Rectangles connect parts to other parts, echo other shapes, unify background to foreground and serve other functions as well. Rectangles are crucial to understanding Rembrandt’s paintings and all of the master paintings I have studied over the years.
This book is a summation of everything I have learned about painting. Rectangles are just one of the topics addressed in this book. Other topics are the expression of feelings, the power of the oblique, the importance of studying sculpture, the order of visual perception, how the artist guides the viewer’s eyes through a painting, the importance of squinting, and much more. What you are about to read is not a traditional “how to” book about painting. Rather, it is a book about what an artist should think about before painting and while he paints.
Sprinkled throughout this book are pictures of masterworks and also my drawings, paintings and sculptures. I talk about these works, and I’m not shy about pointing out things that can be improved in my work as I share my artistic journey with you. Mine was a long and very difficult apprenticeship. But thanks to the generosity of my gifted teachers, I came through wiser and more confident in my ability to create and express myself through the medium of painting. It is my fervent hope that my struggles and the techniques and secrets I have learned will speed you on your way, so that one day you too can feel the soaring joy of painting with confidence and ease.
Napa, California 2017
An artist shares insights into how to create better paintings.
Katz (Sparring with Rembrandt, 2010) used to worry that his daytime career as a dentist would affect his work as a visual artist. Dentistry demands methodical precision, but as an artist, Katz wanted to be fluid and free with his lines. Then one day, his late wife, Aileen—who was often a subject of his paintings—reminded him that when he was creating dentures, he used guiding rules, but after following them, he was free to twist and turn the teeth for a more natural appearance. Painting is similar, suggests Katz, because after an artist masters “Principles of Composition,” he or she can also make changes at will. The author offers many thought-provoking anecdotes while tackling such subjects as how to convey particular feelings on a canvas and how sculpting can improve one’s painting skills. Although this isn’t a step-by-step instruction manual, Katz does give solid, hands-on advice, such as how to guide a viewer’s eye through a painting and why it pays to squint at a scene before painting it. This inspirational work is also pleasing to look at, showcasing color photos of Katz’s artwork as well as images of paintings by his hero, Rembrandt. The clearly labeled photos flow smoothly amid the accessible prose. Katz’s gentle tone is like that of a patient teacher, particularly when he addresses the reader directly. There are moments of humor, as well; for example, Katz describes his first attempt at sculpting heads of himself and his wife: “my friend’s dog, apparently an art critic, chewed off the tip of the nose of the sculpture of me.” In addition, he shows himself to be unafraid to critique his own work, laying bare some of his mistakes. For instance, when he was painting his watercolor Fisherman Tending His Net, he says that a lack of compositional finesse left him “making mud.”
Words of praise
“Monroe Katz is not only a talented artist, he is an equally talented teacher and story teller. Instead of a lifeless, how-to text, “Dare to Create” is the equivalent of a gifted, experienced friend at your side, guiding you through each step of the artistic process, providing the necessary tools and information to dare to create beautifully.”
A. Cort Sinnes, award-winning artist and author
“Monroe is passionate about art. In portraits, he has a talent for capturing the spirit of the sitter. His landscapes are bold and painterly with perfect color balance. He follows artistic guidelines but is not hindered by them. Like the painter Whistler, he spends much time ‘effacing the footsteps of work,’ purposely making slick passages rough around the edges, and always focusing on The Big Picture.”
Julie English, master painter
“This book is a feast for the senses. We sense the author’s emotions and we learn to find emotions in a painting. We see what he sees and he illustrates that by sharing drawings and paintings that are a visual treat for the eye. If you don’t already paint, you will want to after reading this book and you will want to keep it with you as your guide throughout your own frustrating, wonderful, emotional artistic journey.”
Susanne Santos, gifted painter and teacher