After trying for a long time, I finally found a great Native American model. He is the real deal with authentic gear he mostly made himself. I wanted to paint him as an icon representing the entire Sioux nation, in this case standing like a stone column, proud and defiant. I intentionally put my tripod low as I shot these so the viewer will always be looking up at him. Also, I saw the blanket in his car during our shoot and asked him to wear it as he would. By doing this, it adds some nice color and breaks up the huge amount of detail that was his buckskin, fringed outfit.
A square format in a painting is helpful when you want to convey a feeling of power so that is why I chose an 8x8 canvas in this case and cropped the photo in tight. I had him raise his chin and look down for that nearly arrogant demeanor and I love the cool, violet light on the edge of his face.
Even though I'm in Arizona, my thoughts often return to home in NH. This month most of the thoughts deal with the joy of not having to shovel snow. But snow is fun to paint as are the bucolic summer scenes of New England farm life.
One of my favorite places to paint in California is the area called Big Bend in Laguna Canyon. Just over that distant hill is the Pacific Ocean and its mist often adds to the scene. One way to creat the illusion of depth is with atmospheric perspective. All that moisture in the air lightens shadows and pushes the hills further distant. There is very little difference between the highlights and the shadows on that hill and consequently, it looks far away. Sometimes, I will add this to a painting even when the photo reference does not show it just to add to the feeling of depth.
I wanted something a little different for an otherwise traditional portrait and so I had Jessie hold her necklace out to show it off. I like her attitude in this picture as well as the combination of antiquities. She is wearing a hundred-year-old sailor dress and sitting in a chair made in the 1770s. She is an excellent model and a young lady who conducts herself with class; something very unusual for someone 14.
I love big cumulous clouds and ecen more when the late day sun hits them and adds some color. And what could be better than a bolt of lightning blasting out of the darkness. And though that is the focal point, I want to direct your attention to the large tree in the lower left. I feel it is the best tree I have ever painted. Done with just a few strokes, it says all that I needed to say about that tree. Brevity of brushstrokes is something I have been trying to work on for years.
While in Tubac, AZ a few years ago, I saw the sun rise on some distant mountains and was amazed at the color and beauty. So I made it a point to be out there closer to those peaks the following dawn. Waiting in the desert cold for nearly a half an hour was very peaceful and entirely quiet. Finally, when the sun 's first rays hit the tops of the mountains, it became an almost holy experience! I felt like I had the this mountain all to myself and marveled in the variety and intensity of the color. I shot photos as fast as I could all while wearing a big smile. It was just breath-taking and I hope I caught a bit of that on the canvas.
In the photo from which I worked on this painting, it was a general gray overcast. I thought it might be better if there was a band of bright sunlight in the middleground. I also moved some elements to improve the composition and widened the creek as well.
With this series of Native American paintings, I intend to collaborate with bronze sculptor Paul Rhymer. He has made a group of actual size feathers. Some of these will be attached to the frames and I think will be a nice addition. I'll post one next month to show. I'll use one of Paul's owl feathers for this painting.
I've mentioned in the past that I sometimes catch myself painting too dark. With this one, I attempted to raise the brightness and lightness from the start, forcing myself to make the darkest areas lighter from the mixing on the palette. It worked to a degree, but, honestly, not as much as I expected.
When I saw this hat in a store recently, I immediately saw it in a painting on this model's head. She seemed somehow fitting of the era. Apparently, someone else liked it too as it sold before it was dry.
I only post the paintings of which I am proud and sometimes I may paint 5 or 6 in a row that I am unhappy with. When this happens I will often do something smaller as it seems to right the ship. Here's an example of one that broke the spell. It is easier to get good brushstrokes in smaller paintings for me.
This is Stephanie Revennaugh, and amazing sculptor here at the Celebration of Fine Art. She does incredibly powerful bronzes of horses. I got together with her to photograph her horse for some paintings I wanted to do and one of my favorite images was this simple one of then walking back to the barn.
To be honest, I was concerned a bit about the reaction I might get to these "Retro Cowgirl" paintings, thinking some might be offended. I was relieved to see that my concerns were unwarrented and pleasantly surprised that the most enthusiastic viewers were women.
Almost always, a photo can use some improvement to make a better painting. In this case, I made up the path curling into the picture. I sometimes will do this or a fenceline or tracks in the snow to lead one into the painting. It is a good idea to direct the eye in terms of composition.
Originally, I did this painting at 24x24 on canvas but was never really happy with the face. So I Photoshopped in a picture of my own face and enlarged the photo of that painting. Then I drew a grid on it and cut it into one inch squares. Each of these squares was then painted onto a 6x6 inch piece of masonite and later reassembled. I used to do this process with my middle school students years ago and also did a huge (8x8 foot) my myself that is now in the Reagan Presidential Library.
With Museum director, John Langolier when the Reagan mural was delivered.
Most of November was a month to paint California scenes for the Vanessa Rothe Gallery in Laguna Beach. I love painting California as the light and color there is so appealing. The Early California Impressionists have been a big influence on me and I was once told by a New Hampshire gallery owner that I paint New England like a Californian. At least for him, it was a positive and I am happy to take it that way.
This painting was originally done over a year ago and when I saw it with fresh eyes, I couldn't believe all that needed to be changed in it. The foreground was too dark, it lacked depth and overall, just seemed uninteresting. So, as you can see below in the before and after shots, I changed the ridgeline, added a distant mountain (and thus added some violets), raised the heigth of the main tree, made more interesting clouds and added better color.
This is actually a combination of three different reference photos to make an imaginary landscape so no one can go to a specific spot and see this. It used to matter to me to be much more "accurate" in terms of painting a certain spot but over the years I've come to realise that making a better painting is primary. And whether or not that had anything to do with it, this I believe is the best California landscape I have ever done.
I was able to do one NH landscape this month and it was done as a demo painting for my workshop at the Landgrove Inn. The point was- how to work with atmosphere or fog in this case. As I was doing it and about to put the sun in the upper right, a student asked if it might not be better in the upper left. After considering that, I realised she was right and told her, "I don't know whether to thank you or tell you to get out!" Those who know me will know that I was joking. But by my putting it in the upper right would have split the focal point between the sun and the main tree at left. By putting them in the same vicinity, there is no doubt where the center of interest lies. So, thank you again, Judy!
During October, I worked on three major commissions and while greatly appreciated, that kept me from having more here to show for the month. I rarely post commissions here. So these are the others I was able to do in the remaining time.
This is a little different for me in that the palette and light are out of my comfort zone. And that's good. It is too easy to just keep painting what is safe and comfortable. This is likely a study for a larger future painting. See photo reference below for that one.
I had a great time with this one and its lighting from directly above. It gives a mysterious feeling with eyes shaded to me. And with that stern look, it definately has a mood. Also, other than the signature, this whole painting was done with the single brush shown below. It is wide and shaped like a chisel which allows it to be used like a caligraphy pen. I can get a fine line with it, fill in broad areas and when needed, just use the corner to get a dot.
About once a year I do a self-portrait and at the risk of seeming like a meglamaniac, it is a good thing to do. It gives one a chance to see how one is progressing , regressing or plateauing in terms of ability. And it makes one aware of the ravages of time. Maybe this isn't such a good idea!
I met Jean about three years ago when she came into the gallery and I was so immediately taken by her that I asked rught there if I could paint her. This is the third of her and maybe my favorite though it is the simplest.
Great scenes can also be found often in more intimate settings and always as a result of the play of light. A while back I saw this wonderful spot lit with the low shaft of light (like a spotlight) coming through a clearing to illuminate a group of birches at the peak of their autumn splendor.
I'm still painting Retro Cowgirls in preparation for the Celebration of Fine Art in Scottsdale next year. Some like the above, are quite small while others (see below) are much larger. I think the one below is my favorite of all of this genre I have done. That infectious smile really makes it fun, in my opinion.
I often say, "Every Painting Has a Story" and this one is a little embarassing. As we sped from one city to another on our trip to Spain, I shot several photos out the window in hopes of painting from them when we returned home. When I began painting from this one, I felt it needed a more interesting sky so I make it rain. As soon as I had that idea, I thought of the title, "The Rain in Spain" and was kind of pleased with myself, thinking it pretty clever. After finishing it, I posted it on Facebook with that title. A week or so later I realized that the reference photo was actually from a trip a few years back to Italy. "The Rain in Italy" doesn't have the same appeal, so I'll leave it even though it is on the wrong end of the Mediteranean Sea.
I met this young this young lady on her first day of work at the general store two doors down from the gallery and knew immediately that I wanted to paint her. She is, at the same time, very shy and very mysterious. I think the latter is that nearly half of her face is often hidden from view. I asked her dad if we could set up a photo shoot, got permission and was painting her in three days. Of the 252 photos taken, this best showed her nature, at least as I percieve it.
I have painted the Minot Farm quite a few times over the years. This one comes with a little feeling of melancholy though as the old couple who lived there both passed away within days of each other. He was a direct descendant of the man who built the house and barn in 1807 and 03, respectively. His son and grandson still live there so the line goes on. I have many memories of Alden and Betty and their passing was a great loss to the town as they were so dedicated to the town. He was town treasurer for 55 years! The fog of this morning carried the same melancholy feeling to me.
I painted virtually the same scene at the same time of day several years ago; something that I generally don't like to do. But the morning I shot this last winter seemed especially beautiful and I hoped that in the years since doing the first one, I had improved enough to warrant revisiting it. In the distance you may see the covered bridge. Our home is just the other side of it, thogh mostly hidden here. That first painting was called "December Morning" and I couldn't call the new one by that name. I thought maybe this one could be January or February which led me to think of Feb. 2, which is Groundhog Day. When that occurred to me, I immediately recaled the movie of the same name where the main charactor relives the same thing day after day. It seemed appropriate for revisiting the earlier painting.
As I have mentioned before, I love doing atmospheric paintings. They have a definite mood. But in this case the photo reference I had lacked a focal point. That was easily fixed by adding the sun filtering through the fog and its reflection in the water. This addition gave the painting a title.
Here's another example of artistic license at work. Often times it is not what to add for the sake of composition or interest; it is what to take out. In this case, there was much to clean up. There was a LOT of branches cluttering the photo but I could still see through to the important stuff behind. I did add a birch tree on the right too for some more interest. I also took the existing layers of hills in back and emphasized them for more depth. Lastly, I "cut" a path through those weeds on the far shore. When there is something in a painting that would prevent you from walking easily to the focal pint, it is also harder for the eye to get there. This path opened that up. A little change but a necessary one.
Composition is so important to good painting and I don't talk about it enough. Part of good composition is leading the viewer's eye into the picture place. I often do that with fence rows, footprints in snow or roads as shown here. And even though that barn is small, it is where i want your eye to go eventually. Though some of the rad is obscured, it is implied and leads your eye to it. Normally, I have to alter reality in a scene to accomplish this. But this scene was nearly perfect as it was. I just needed to remove some pesky power lines and poles in the foreground. Originally, I called this "Wet Pavement" but a comment from my niece Katie, spoke about that smell that is so evocative and so I had to remane it. Thanks, Katie!
Originally to be called simply "Swans", I thought of this title as I was working on the painting. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean but I liked the the way it sounded and created a bit of mystery or at least a question in the viewer's mind, I think. I'm not sure I have ever put so much time planning a simple painting as this one. I even had a completely different pose drawn on canvas and ready to go. But I kept coming back to this image. Also, I had to duplicate the single swan that is on the mantle to create a second one, believing that two are more interesting than one. Then I adjusted light a bit and finally tweaked the bottom of her sweater to give more of an angle to her hips which makes her pose a bit more casual.I think I'll make the bricks at the bottom darker eventually but overall, I'm very happy with this.
Sometimes painting is a joy with the pigment just flowing easily out of the brush and doing just what I want like magic. This was not one of those times. From the start this one fought me and kept fighting me right up until the last half hour. The texture of the canvas seemed to drag rather than glide, the paint felt gummy instead of creamy and proportions and likeness were off. Nothing was easy but eventaully, it came around. I decided to try something a little different from the beginning. Finding the skin colors used by my favorite living artist, Jeremy Lipking, I thought I'd give them a try even though they were nothing like what I normally use.
I was nearly done and at that point, not unhappy (but not thrilled) with the results. It seemed a bit dark and lifeless. I decided I'd add one warmer skin tone in the highlighted areas and that made a huge difference also making it seem more three-dimentional. So the final piece was a variation of his colors and my own. I think I'll do this more often!
While it may not look like it, this painting was a revelation for me. Something I probably should have recognized before but I guess I wasn't ready. For some reason, painting subjects who are lit dramatically from below are easier to paint loosely for me. Painting looser with more bravura brushstrokes is a great desire of mine for some time. So this together with the pose of outstretched arms makes this one of my favorite paintings of the year thus far. Painting loosely here was like letting go.
As an art teacher in the 70s and 80s, I occasionally gave the class an assignment to make a mural out of several pieces and then assembled into a larger whole. Usually they didn't know what the final would be, just working on individual tiles. It always worked and the kids loved the outcomes. I decided to do this entirely on my own from a painting I did a couple years back.
I first enlarged a photo of that old painting and then cut it into 48 pieces, all 2.5 inches square (at left above). Then I would enlarge that onto a 5x5 piece of masonite, trying to loosen up as much as possible.
As each was done, I'd lay it in its place on the floor.
Over several days, it all came together. The lines on one piece did not always quite line up with the next but they were close enough for your eye to "assemble" them into a coherent whole. The same thing happened as I was mixing the paint from one panel to the next. But if one was slightly darker or slightly different color than an adjacent piece, it still worked.
"I love your work but we just don't have any wall space left and we're down-sizing." Realist artists have heard this for some time and it seems like there was no solution. But I think this may actually be a good way to deal with the issue. Grandparents LOVE their grandkids and are more likely to commission portraits of them than are their parents who DO have the wall space. Once this ball started rolling, I was happy to get several more commissions in the space of 10 days.
I like paintings that have some mystery or possibly an open narrative for which people can make up their own stories. The danger in this one is only apparent if you know that those are lightning rods that she holding while in the midst of a storm. In reality, I only have one such lightning rod and so I had to move it around the model and then combine those photos together with others of sky and mountains to put this all together.
As you can see, we had her mother postition her other hand as if there was another lightning rod there. Also, I set a fan on high to blow the robe while the lightning rod itself was placed on top of a box to give it the elevation I wanted. Later the fan was moved higher so it would blow her hair. Of the hundreds of photos I took, I selected the best for each hand, robe and face and then sorted through hundreds of other photos I have of clouds and mountains for the best possible image.
I picked up an old curio cabinet at an antique store last month and thought I could use it as a frame. The idea then evolved to thinking it could frame two paintings that would relate to each other. So I photographed a great, new model, Molly, with a hood shading her eyes for a look of mystery on the front. Then for inside, I had her pulling the hood back to reveal her beuatiful eyes and face. To be effective, it had to be lit from inside or it would be to dark. So after much work and even more frustration, I finally was able to attach a small light under the front, top surface and hook it to a button to light up the inside as soon as the door was opened. I am very happy with how this came out. So much so that I may take it home and hang it there.
And here are better pictures of the paintings themselves. I really like how her eyes are just barely visible in the shadows of the top one and LOVE how everything came out in the lower one.
I also wanted to do a larger piece with this model. I gave her some extra space here as I liked the feeling of openness. It also gives the impression of being in an empty room by yourself. (at least to me).