Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Hi everyone.  Thanks for coming to my blog to read the interview I did with Fred Kaplan.   It has gotten a good response from my readers and thanks to all who followed part one last week.  If you have not yet read part one, just scroll down the page to the end of this post and you will see the banner for it.  Also, don't forget to take a peek at Fred's work on his very cool website.  It is full of info and material advice for artists.

Last week I talked with Fred about his childhood and when he developed an interest in art.  We also talked about his college education and his career as an illustrator in the advertising world.  Fred gave some pretty interesting responses to my questions and I hope you are learning some about him as a person, artist and educator.  Part two is as interesting as part one. so stay checked in...

Let's get started

on teaching...
I know you teach at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine arts as well as at Fleisher Art Memorial.  
Fleisher has the only free tuition art classes in the country.  It’s an awesome place to learn, create, and have some fun and to feel a sense of community.  I must say myself that I have had some times in my years at Fleisher, when I was out of sorts, the Fleisher classes kept me in the loop and helped me from being isolated. I often wonder how many people it has helped in a deep, deep meaningful way? Fleisher offers workshops for kids and adults and has just won a national award for excellence.

* What is your experience like teaching at Fleisher?

Fleisher’s is a terrific school and an affordable alternative to an art college. There is hardly a decent artist in Philadelphia who has not taken classes at Fleisher’s.

One of the things that drew me to teach there is the fact that a majority of students are quite serious about making art. For an instructor, that is important.

* How long have you been there and why?

I began teaching at Fleisher’s in 2008.

* You take your teaching very seriously and I have seen it in every class I’ve taken with you.  Some times teachers don’t invest a lot of themselves in each student and you do.  Why and how do you make this happen?

When a person is ravenous enough to drag him or herself to a class after an exhausting workday, I owe it to that student to provide a wholesome and delicious banquet, including dessert. So I cook up a meal that satisfies students’ hunger to learn, and supply knives, forks, and spoons so students can eventually feed themselves.

* You mentioned in class last cycle, that women artists are only recently being taken seriously and being respected in the art community.  What advice would you give to women artists that want to pursue a career in painting or the fine arts?

It is a different world today than it was not all that long ago. In the recent past white males dominated most everything. Now women, blacks, gays, and others are able to hold their own, in society in general as well as in the arts. There is still a ways to go – there are still inequities and unfairness – but we are well along the road.

The advice I would give to a female artist is the same as I would give to anyone pursuing any profession. Learn your craft well, work diligently and persevere, put into what you do all that you are, and let no one discourage you. You should also learn the business aspects of your profession. Make yourself aware of what other artists are doing and what they have done in the past so that you can find your own place in the contemporary art world. Get to know people in the professional community: other artists, dealers, collectors, curators, and so on.

* How does a student painter know that they have crossed the threshold and are ready to pursue painting as a profession?

Professionalism is an attitude or way of thinking more than anything else. Once you acquire a professional mind-set you will know it.

* I’ve noticed that in most classes you teach, there are mostly women students. Do you have any thoughts about that?

I’m not sure of the reason for this. You see the same thing at art colleges, as well. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are few African-American students. This seems odd in a city like Philly with its large Black population. Again, I have no explanation.

* Where else do you teach and how does teaching crossover or help you with your own work?

Besides Fleisher’s, I teach at the Pennsylvania Academy and at Cumberland County College. I also occasionally run classes in my studio and workshops for other institutions. You can find information about open enrollment sessions at the Classes & Workshop page of my web site.

Teaching at Fleisher’s or anywhere is a gratifying experience. It means a lot to me when I see a student achieve something or have an “ah-ha” moment. I also learn from my students. They have interesting concepts, try things I haven’t thought of, and discover ways of making pictures that haven’t occurred to me. I have to admit that I am not above “borrowing” from my students. After all, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, Pablo Picasso, was also one of its greatest thieves.

FKAPLAN      Electron Exchange                                    2010        Oil On Canvas            18x48

Save Fred’s studio…

* Some months back, you launched a campaign (an advertising phrase) to save your studio, and you did.  It was a good idea and it worked.  Do you think you used some of that old fashioned advertising creative thinking to make that happen?  What was the whole experience like for you and how long will it keep you going?    Do you have any thing else in your “bag of tricks”?

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and I had a necessity. As you say, it worked and I was able to keep my studio, and any experience that helps me keep making pictures is a good experience. My goal, the goal of most artists is to make enough money to allow them to make art. So, whatever it takes to achieve that I will do – within legal boundaries, of course.

* I wanted to mention this because it has opened in my thoughts.  I think it is often to bad that artists have so many struggles just to create. It is not looked upon as a necessary part of our culture, even though it is absorbed and desired by everyone to enlighten and enrich lives.  Art and artists are not valued in our country. In some European countries, art and artists are valued and respected as an integral part of their society and they are helped and subsidized, so they can work as artists.  One country I think of is Holland.  There, art and design is not looked upon as a hobby or pastime, or that one is “lazy” but as a genuine and legitimate career choice. Beautiful art and design are desired by the people who live in Holland and there country puts there money where there mouth is!  Just a thought….  What are your thoughts about the differences in other countries?

I’m not sure that I agree with you about attitudes toward art. When I tell people my profession, they don’t leap up and accuse me of being a loafer. Usually they are curious and in some cases they are delighted to meet a “real artist.”

Although some other countries provide more financial support for their artists than the U.S. does, private organizations and governments at all levels – national, state, local – provide quite a few grants and subsidies to individual artist. Still, it is a difficult struggle for many.

Now most important, let’s talk about your work…

* Let’s talk about the recent work you have been creating?  What’s going on in the studio now and what do you want to share with the readers?  I would like to talk some about your work and the thought process about it?

For the past few years I have been making pictures related to physics. But I am getting an itch to explore a new direction, which happens from time to time. My daughter was considering a career in genetics for a while. That got me interested in the subject and that is likely to be the new direction in which I head.

Whatever kind of work I happen to be doing, there is almost always a fair amount of research involved. For instance, to develop a painting that addressed genocide, I read extensively about the issue in order to make a meaningful image. Right now I am starting to learn about the science of genetics.

* Recently, I saw your work exhibited at the Cerulean Art Gallery.  How was the experience in that gallery? 

Cerulean has been developing a fine reputation over the past few years, and I am proud to have been invited to participate in one of its exhibits. I like the owner, and admire him for the risk he took in opening the gallery and for his inventive ideas for making his gallery more relevant. 
FKAPLAN             Ion Storm              2010                                    Oil On Canvas   20x72

* Is their any inside scoop about what you are working on currently?

* I have always wondered about this question…I’ve heard that some artists do this…Do you feel protective over a body of work before it is completed.  I mean do you hold back some from presenting your work before the entire collection is finished?

In some cases, yes, and in others, no. If it is a group of works in which every piece is an integral part of the whole, then I really don’t want the series seen until everything is complete. Otherwise, I am not particularly secretive about what I am doing.

* Why are you taking the specific path creatively that you are going down now?

I am not quite sure what you mean here. If you are talking about the kinds of pictures I make, then I think I’ve already addressed that.

* Where can the readers see some more of your work?

Tyme Gallery in Havertown has some of my work. People can also see images on the Gallery page of my web site, or subscribe to the site in order to receive exhibit announcements. Sometime during the next year I will be having a one-person show at a venue in New Jersey; the dates haven’t been set yet.

In closing….

* Are you doing what you want to be doing now and are you where you want to be?

Sounds like another job interview questions.

* Besides the visual arts what other creative arts influence you?

Literature and music mainly. Some of my ideas come from musical works.

     * Favorite artist/painter
     * Favorite music (do you have any of your daughters musical ability?)
     * Favorite author (that’s if you have the time to read)

As you well know, since I have talk about her in my classes, my daughter is a fine musician. She is first chair cello and first chair French horn at her high school, as well as being a member of an elite group of 16 vocalists. She has done a few semi-professional gigs so, if any of your readers has a wedding or other event coming up, her string ensemble is available.

As to artists, musicians, and authors, I really don’t have a single favorite in any category, although there are a few that I especially like.

Artists would be Caravaggio, William Bailey, Mark Rothko, Wayne Thiebaud, Casper David Friedreich, and Frederic Edwin Church, plus a few others. Neil Diamond is high on my list of popular musicians; along with Peter, Paul, and Mary; Elton John; and Simon and Garfunkel. In the classical sphere it’s Wagner, Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and of course Beethoven. There are a great many authors that I admire. Dostoevsky, Hugo, and Poe are a few.

* If you could live the life of any artist in history, with all their hang-ups, neurosis and shortcomings, what artist would you want to be and why?

Frederic C. Kaplan. I have my own problems, why would I want somebody else’s?

* And lastly, if you could own one piece of art ever created, irrespective of the money it may have sold for or generated, what piece would you want to own and why?

This is a tough one, but I think it would have to be Moorish Chief by Eduard Charlemont in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I wouldn’t turn my nose up, though, at most anything by Dali, Vermeer, or Rothko.

Well, that wraps up a great question and answer interview with Fred. Thank you Fred for your generous time letting my readers know more about you and your art.  Please check out Fred's website to see his work and for questions you might have about art materials and advice.  It's well worth the time to experience Fred's paintings.

Keep checking in on my blog to read more about my experience on art and painting.  Feel free to leave a comment.  Again, thank you everyone.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


FKAPLAN   A Curious Place             Oil On Canvas  2011  32x48

Hi everyone, thank you for coming to my blog to read my interview with Fred Kaplan, artist and teacher.  I'm so excited to have Fred talk about art and creativity. 

When I was thinking about doing this interview I tried to focus on questions that 'you the reader' would like to ask Fred, if you had the chance to.  I wanted to know things about Fred as a painter, as well as a teacher, and I thought you would, too.  Follow along as Fred takes us through the journey he has been on to arrive at the place he is today, as an artist and teacher.  I've decided to post most of the interview since I liked Fred's answers, so I will split it into two parts.  Check back for the second part next week.

Let me mention that I met Fred 3 1/2 years ago when I signed up for my first painting class at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia.  I develop an interest in painting after I was "clunked" on the head with a ceramic vase that fell off of a shelf (read the story here).  Fred walked me through the process of painting as I struggled with my issues of using color, as well as using very thick paint.  I have taken Fred's class often because I am still learning from him every week.  I really love his class because I have seriously seen growth in my work and it has been enhanced from learning painting techniques from Fred.

Fred does have some funny antics and he might be thought of as a little eccentric by some, however, he is an effective teacher and and awesome painter.  Fred has a very cool website which features his work.
It also is chockful of information about art and art materials for students and artists.  Check it out..... www.kaplanpicturemaker.com

So let’s talk with Fred...

* I always find this question interesting even though it is always asked.   When did you first recognize that you had the gift of artistic skill and creativity?  How did it reveal itself to you?  I mean, did you start drawing, painting or coloring outside the lines?

Drawing was just something that I’ve always done and enjoyed. One day, my fifth grade teacher talked about this guy named Rembrandt who was The Master of Light and Shadow and I decided at that moment that I also wanted to be a master of light and shadow.

* Were your artistic skills encouraged when you were a child?

My parents boasted of my skills and showed off my pictures to impress others. Other than that, though, thoughts of an art career were discouraged. As with many parents, mine believed that it was impossible to earn a decent living as an artist. They were not wholly incorrect, for it is exceedingly difficult. Instead they urged me to pursue medicine or law or some other high-paid and socially prestigious profession; the dream of every Jewish mother is, I guess, to have a doctor for a son.

* Where did you get you college education and what was your major?

While still in high school I participated in a Saturday program run by the Philadelphia school district and attended evening open figure drawing sessions at Fleisher’s. Unfortunately, the Saturday program is no more, although the school district now has its High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which I very much wish existed when I was a public school student. After high school I went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts while I continued to take occasional classes at Fleisher’s. At that time all evening classes were free, which was just the right price for an extremely poor student. Eventually I earned a certificate and MFA in painting from the Academy.

* What kind of student were you?

I am told that college transcripts are confidential, and I don’t want to violate any laws, so I think I’ll have to withhold that information.

* What field of art did you pursue after college?

My first art-related job actually came while still in high school. I worked on the advertising staff for a now defunct supermarket chain. Although I didn’t get to do much in the way of actual artwork (mostly I was a go-fer), I did learn a lot. After college I got a position as an embroidery designer, which was pretty interesting, and later as a trade show exhibit designer. Through the years I’ve driven taxis, sold shoes, did telemarketing, worked at a couple of art supply stores, and had a variety of sales jobs as I struggled to build a clientele for a illustration and graphic design business. Eventually I was able to go off on my own and earn a decent living as an independent artist.

* I know you were an illustrator for some time.  Tell me about what that profession was like and if you were you passionate about it?

Commercial art is a feast-or-famine type of business for the independent artist. There are times you have so many assignments that you get little or no rest, although you earn plenty of money, and other times when you have next to nothing to do at all and little income. While I enjoyed doing illustration, I resented the creative restraints, which ultimately led me to give it up and make a go at being a fine artist.

* What medium did you work in?

As an illustrator a range of media were used: acrylic paint, gouache paint, watercolor, pen and ink, and scratchboard, along with a variety of dry drawing media.

* What were some of your clients?

Most of my clients were medical, manufacturing, and publishing concerns. Medical clients included the American Red Cross, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Merck & Company, and American Academy of Periodontology. Some publishers I’ve done work for are DAW Books, McCrae-Smith, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In addition, I’ve created designs and illustrations for QVC Shopping Network, Eagle Air, and Lawrence Factor.

* I have noticed that you also have the gift of creativity, which is evident in your website, handouts in class etc. and also there is the give away that you worked in the advertising world. I believe that artistic skill and creativity are very different and a person can possess one without the other.  What are your thoughts about the two?

This is an interesting question to me, and one that confuses many. In my opinion there is a huge difference between artistry and skill. It is possible, for instance, to teach a person how to be a skillful drawer, painter, sculptor, or writer, but it is not possible to transform a person skilled in one of these areas into an artist. That is something that comes from within the individual. For instance, I’m sure you have had the experience of admiring a painting for how skillfully it was done, and yet remained unmoved by the picture. On the other hand you have probably come across a picture executed with marginal facility but one which is nonetheless exciting to look upon. In the first case the “artist” possesses mere technical facility, while in the second the artist has impregnated the picture with an individual creative vision. Naturally, those pictures that we most admire are ones done with superb technical skill and a profound creative spark.

FKAPLAN        Rider In The Dawn     Oil On Canvas   2011   24x36 

* When and why did you leave the corporate world doing illustration to pursue painting as your profession?  What was your thought process if you can remember it?  Have you always wanted to paint?

Yes, I have always wanted to paint and that is one of the main reasons I turned away from doing illustration. It simply wasn’t satisfying enough, plus the industry was being increasingly dominated by digital art, something I found alien and off-putting.

* What are the differences between illustration and painting?  Do they sometimes cross over with a small amount of difference?  I mean, sometimes a painting can look like an illustration and visa versa?    What is your opinion about the differences and similarities between the two?

The main differences between illustration and fine art is that illustrations are made to be reproduced, something that is not of great concern to a painter, and fine artists can make any kind of pictures they want while illustrators must meet the client’s requirements.

There is certainly some cross-over. It is not unusual, for instance, for a publisher or company to use a fine art painting as an illustration. In fact, many fine artists have created paintings on commission that were intended for use as illustrations. Pierre Roy is one such, as are Rene Magritte, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Philadelphian Robert Riggs. Nor is it odd for an illustrator to market his original illustrations through galleries as fine art. Frederic Remington did this, as did Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.

As to whether a painting can look like an illustration and visa versa, that is another issue. Because of the process involved in reproducing illustrations, certain factors must be taken into consideration. For example, purples and browns are generally avoided or minimized since they are difficult to reproduce accurately. Illustrations need to be more hard-edged and have stronger contrasts than is seen in many paintings. Color in illustrations needs to be strong and vibrant because of limitations of the reproduction process, so much so that illustrators have been known to use to use day-glo fluorescent-type colors on occasion.

* Most people have this notion that to be a great artist, your need to have angst and neurosis which makes creativity possible.  What do you think about this and what is your angst if you have one, or maybe two, three or four?

My angst and neurosis is that people think I need to have angst and neuroses in order to make art.

* Some creative people are driven by something internal that they can’t seem to describe, which enables them to create and to be prolific.  What would you say drives you if you were to put it into words?

The need to eat. Salvador Dali said that art should be edible, and I agree. So I make my own food.

* This is a thoughtful question that I feel compelled to ask?  How are you inspired creatively? I mean, what does it look like or how does it take you to a creative place? How does an inspiration enter into your consciousness? Is it by thoughts, dreams, daydreams, etc?  Is it an obsession or rumination over an idea or concept? Is it that “light bulb experience? Is it by feelings? What else brings inspiration in your life in general, that transfers over to your artistic skills and your ideas?

There is no “light bulb” of inspiration, just – the words of Thomas Edison – 90% perspiration. If I sat around waiting for ideas to strike I would do nothing but sit around. I go looking for them in books, along the street, by doodling, and sometimes just by starting to paint.

* Is there anything that you would like to pursue artistically besides painting and why?

I’d like to learn to work with wood. My father was a skillful carpenter, as is my brother. Me, I just make a mess.

* Do you have any other passions that rival the drive and desire you have to paint?

Yes. Not painting; just loafing.

* How do you over come obstacles painting when you are alone in your studio, with no one to bounce an idea off of?

But there is somebody to bounce ideas off of: me.

* Do you find it difficult or how do you deal with the motivation and isolation of being in your studio all day painting?  Do you ever go “bonkers”?

Being alone makes me hungry, which motivates me to make food.

* Would you recommend painting to some one as a profession, knowing that it can be a real rollercoaster ride and success is no where near a sure bet?

Unless a person has an enormous appetite, I wouldn’t recommend art as a profession. One certainly doesn’t do it for money, since few artists ever earn enough to feed themselves decently. As to fame or celebrity: if that’s what you want, learn to sing and try out for American Idol.

* What does a successful artistic career look like to you?

It depends on what you consider success to be. To me it means making ever better pictures, some of them hopefully being compelling enough to attract the attention of at least a small public. The height of success, I suppose, is to be picked up by a premier gallery or see one’s work displayed in a major museum.

* I have found that a lot of painters and artists have a nagging sense of insecurity or doubt in their skills, do you think this is true and why? Also, do you think one needs to be eccentric to be a successful artist?  Do you think of yourself as eccentric?

This is really two questions.

All artists have doubts about their work. If they didn’t there would be no reason to strive to improve it, and that spells death for an artist, death for progress. To endure those insecurities I think that one has to, indeed, be eccentric.

FKAPLAN     Dark Energy                 Oil On Canvas     2011   20x24
That wraps it up for this PART ONE of this interview.  I hope you found Fred's perspective on art and creativity interesting and enjoyable?  Check back next week to follow along with PART TWO where Fred talks about teaching, saving his studio and most important, his work as a painter. 

Please leave a comment if you would like to and pass along this blog interview to friends.  Also, don't forget to take a peek at Fred's recent work on his website www.kaplanpicturemaker.com.  It is also full of information for artists on materials and advice.  

Thanks a whole bunch for coming to my blog.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012



I've been struggling a lot writing this post about memories, creativity and how they work together. This is such an important subject to me, since I've always had an interest in the brain and science as a whole and I am fascinated by the way our brains work. To a large degree,  I am interested in how we generate ideas for our artistic endeavors.

First let me say that memories are so important in our lives and loosing them would seriously disrupt our functioning and mostly our sense of self. We need memories to know where we've been, where we are and where we are going.  Essentially, our memories and storage and recall of them, are what we call our identity. Although I have some ideas about how our memories and creativity, work together to create art ,  I am however in no way and expert on this matter. I'm just an artist on the journey to discover and enrich my creative spirit.  I would however, like to share what I believe is the way that our memories are so intertwined in our brains and when we create art.

If you are an artist or a creator of things, you may have had the experience of creating something and when finished, you do not know where you have gotten the idea or subject matter from.  This has happened to me when I am painting. My theory is that I think that we store all of our memories from our entire life in different areas in our brain, and we then access them at different times for a variety of purposes in our life.  When creating art, however, I think that we search our minds unconsciously when we begin our creation, and we make connections between a lot of different memories that come in the form of images. These rapid fire images link together so fast and it causes the "light bulb"or "Ah, ha" experience in our mind.  I believe that it happens at such a deep level that it escapes our conscious awareness.  This may explain my way of coming up with ideas by using words to trigger images in my mind.

I will share how I work to come up with my ideas.  This is in no way the only way.  It's just a way that has worked for me.  If you are struggling or looking for ideas, one way to generate them is to think in terms of pictures in your mind. Imagine them, bring them close to the fore front in your mind. Then think of words and play around with them, repeat them and try putting one word with another. Keep saying the words over and over. When you do this, it is important to close your eyes, relax and go inward as far as you can go.  Don't force it.  Let it flow into your awareness. Let yourself daydream...This is a way helps block out external noise such as sound and sight.  Although there are many ways to come up with ideas, these suggestions can be one way of controlling the ideas you generate in your consciousness.

I hope this helps you to become more aware of how to generate ideas.  Leave a comment if you find this to be helpful in your art?