The Art of Seeing – Vermeer

I am one of the first to say that I learn more from contemporary artists than artists of the past. But, I should now change that. I just watched the most interesting documentary about Vermeer, and I hope you will, too.

Johannes Vermeer lived only some 42 years, and left no written details about who he was and how he lived. However, clues through a close inspection of his paintings show a man of incredible grace, someone who could project the image his viewers would see, guide their eyes like an illusionist and reward us with the tiniest, yet essential, detail. He also loved women.

Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson

The documentary provides expert opinion that digs deep into how Vermeer created his images. From the colour of the ground layer, and glaze upon glaze of thin then thick paint to build up forms without harsh edges to the finishing touches of light, he was a master of colour. Vermeer painted wet on wet and his paintings look almost out of focus. But, focus is exactly what he excelled at – the focus of the viewer’s eye into the painting to see just what Vermeer wanted the viewer to see.

He played with his surroundings. He brought in angles, took out shadows, emphasized some aspects, sent others into darkness. He took light and made it work, and didn’t need to be accurate to what was in view. He tilted mirrors, added in his painting easel, removed one of the easel’s legs because it just would have crowded the image, various changes that really could not possibly be accurate…all to narrate a scene and tell the viewer what he wanted the viewer to see.

I could go on. Suffice to say, please take one hour to watch the documentary. There is so much held in this description of such an incredible master that a beginner, intermediate, even a seasoned old great can learn the art of seeing and adapt future paintings to reflect this knowledge.

I hope you enjoy the documentary. Let me know what you think and whether it will change how you paint, even in the smallest of ways. I’m off to build up layers of glazes and soften some edges.


Almost every artist signs the face of their image. The signature, often placed in the bottom right corner, claims the painting to be by a particular artist. For me, I took a long time to feel comfortable taking a different tack.

For ages I agonized about my signature. Part of the worry was a slip of the brush and messing up my picture. Another worry was making my signature too big and taking away from the image. A third worry was not being able to control such a thin line…all these worries over something so simple.

I look at a lot of art and I look at a lot of signatures. Some are names in full, some just one name, some are just initials, and others are not signatures so much as unique marks. Sometimes, I cannot help but look at the signature that takes up a large portion of the image. I often find myself marvelling at the control it takes to make a signature look the same time after time, the intricate flare and detail some artists engage.

I got married 10 years ago and changed my last name. This meant changing my signature. I remember it came quite naturally to encompass my new last name into a flowing signature that was uniquely mine. I didn’t want to use the same signature on my art, however, so the process started again for coming up with something that I could feel was mine.

I ended up using a combination of initials and arrows. It’s a design that reflects me, reflects my last name, and is simple and easy to remember. My paintbrush – the 00 that I use for this – flows without too much trouble, and I use a colour that is already in the painting.

My biggest statement – to myself, really, as placement of a signature is purely a personal decision – is to place my signature along the side of my painting, always low down on the right. This works because most of my paintings are on deep canvases. However, I have made a few pieces on paper and then I have to place it on the front, but when I do my signature is tiny and hardly noticeable.

“I was here”
Acrylic on Evolon Paper 12″ x 18″

Here’s a challenge for you. This painting was created on Evolon paper and I framed it. Please excuse the reflections that are seen on the glass – it is on display at our local gallery. So, the challenge is: can you see my signature? It is on there, visible, but hopefully not too visible.

So, where do you sign your pictures and how do you sign them? Is signing your work a challenge for you? Have you given it much thought? I’d love to hear back.