Once or twice a year I like to do a grisaille painting; a method used by the old masters where a painting is started in black and white and then to which glazes or transparent color are slowly added a layer at a time. This builds up depth and can often look very nice. However, for some reason they are very hard to photograph accurately. I wish I could post a better representaion of this painting but this seems the best I can do. I intentioanlly wanted to do this one quite small and did so partially because of the antique frame I had which I thought would fit well stylistically.
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 adding something to the reference photo. I was concerned that the entire picture looked too cold and uninviting so I turned the lights on upstairs at the town hall (our local Grange Hall) and added some smoke rising from the chimney. This tiny bit of warm color not only added a highlight, but also a human touch. You know someone is in there and hopefully with the title (again resulting from that change) one might feel like coming in from the cold and joining the fun. By the way, in that very room in the 1920s, a young Robert Frost read some of his poems to the folks of our town. Hmmm... that makes me wonder if I should change the title now.
My model, Pingping, was able to get a traditional Chinese gown for our photo shoot and since it was too large for her, we decided to use it as a prop, spread across the couch. Once there I felt like the whole thing looked like a large flower with her at the heart of it. I loved her pose and the turn of her head so this became the favorite of hundreds of photos I took that day of her. I added a bit of a framed picture on the wall not only to break up all that wall space but also to act as an "arrow" pointing to her face. Pingping means apple in Chinese and so I added a very small apple to her necklace.
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.
Going out to photogrpah on a rainy day yielded some good reference pictures. I especially liked this one right at the state line. Those bluffs in the distance are in Vermont while all else is New Hampshire. To give the impression of falling rain, I waited until the whole painting was done and then lightly drug a clean, wide, soft brush through it with vertical strokes. This softens all edges and is a quick and easy way to give that appearance..
Although it was well into the day, I was amazed at how much color there was in the sky, even as a light rain fell. So even though this reads as earlier in the day, I'm happy with it.
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!
I felt powerfully compelled to paint this even though at times it was hard because of the tragedy it represents. To learn about that, I hope you'll visit this link and learn about it.
I feel like I learned a significant lesson this month and I am very happy about that. For years I have been happy with some landscapes while others seemed uninspired and I didn't know what made the difference. But late in the month I think I figured it out. With these I used a larger brush and laid down color quickly, not being too careful with where the edges of a tree or road were. Once the canvas was covered with thin pigment, I went back in with a somewhat smaller brush (but thicker paint) and worked to imply more details. The painting went faster, was more fun AND I'm happy with them. Having said all this, I realize that the difference may be too subtle to see here. But I love learning and improving!
While working on "After the Shower" this young man named Zion, came in with his grandfather. He had been watching me through the window for some time and wanted to better see what I was doing. This was a good indication that he is interested in art which was confirmed quickly. He came at just the right time. If I'm in the early stages of a painting and a young person comes in who likes to draw and paint, I always ask if they'd like to sit and paint an area. He jumped at the chance and did a good job on a corner of the sky. Sometimes they're too shy or too scared they'll ruin it but Zion couldn't wait.
I remember very well when I was 8-10 years old on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado where we saw an artist sitting by the river painting a watercolor. I was entranced, never having seen a real artist work. I could have stayed there all day. While neither of us said a word, it still it left a huge impression. So at the least, I try to engage young people and whenever possible invite them to join in. I hope it makes an impression on them and is an encouragement too. And I enjoy seeing these kinds of smiles.
Going through some old photo reference I came across one that I had previously missed. I really liked the way the shadow of her antique hat came across her face and allowed light to filter through. The light and her porcelin complexion were gret to paint.
I have a client who has a very unusual and beautiful frame and wanted a painting to put into it. After much consideration, we decided on this image which actually utilizes the frame INTO the painting. The architectural element behind her IS the bottom of the frame turned upside down. So once the two were put together they became a cohesive unit. I need, however, to adjust the colors in the frame to better match the actual frame.
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.
It is VERY rare that one scene will have everything just right so often I will make "adjustments". So the landscape you see here, for instance, had no cows in front and no barn behind. Those were additions to make the scene more interesting.
From a recent photo shoot with Hannah, there were so many good shots and I wanted to do a series of small head studies. In this group, I felt there was an almost cinematic feel to it; like frames in a film. It seems to convey movement to me.
I have driven past this bridge a hundred times but I never saw it until last winter during a storm. I am a proponent of not driving "blind" but observing all the time. But sometimes I'm guilty too.
Clouds in the summer here in NH can be very dramatic and so much fun to paint!
I'm still working on the series of "Retro Cowgirls" in preparation for next year's Celebration of Fine Art in Arizona. I've been fortunate to find several models with just the right look and you'll be seeing more of them in the coming months.
When I got to this point on "Rodeo Girl" I thought I was done but I think in the near future I may fill in the rest of the canvas with the horse's neck and a big sky and cloud behind her. Speaking of those models; there is none better than Hannah who has the capability to be anything and is a great collaborator, often coming up with ideas and poses better than mine. She was perfect for "Rodeo Girl" but also for "Sweet Dreams" also.
About once a year I do a self-portrait, usually when I find myself ready to paint in the gallery but short of short of other reference. So I'll find an old photo from the past and give it a try. After finishing this one, I felt like I was sitting across a card table from this guy while he stared me down. Thus the title.
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.
One of the things I've learned about painting landscapes is to mix a wide variety of greens, no matter what you see in front of you. Making a good painting often goes well beyond the mere duplication of the reference. One can change the angles of roads, heighth of trees, colors of clouds, mountains or anything to make the picture more interesting.
"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.
Livia Hanel came into by studio with her mother and impressed me with her knowledge and maturity. She is only 16 and art is her life. I saw some of her work on her mom's iPhone and was astounded. She may be better than any college student I've known. She is such a nice young lady too and so much fun to talk to. She also has a vast knowledge of very old movies and TV. I asked her what her favorite TV western was and that gave this painting its name. She mainly paints rock stars and is already getting commissions. Yes, I said 16 years old! She is WAY underpriced and I encourage any or all of you to get something of hers NOW! Here's a couple examples of HER work, not mine.
If you would like to contact her, please email me and I will be happy to give you her info.
This is the largest painting I have ever done, other than a mural and it represents a true story which is very tragic. The event, which took place in 1931, was national news when it happened though almost no one knew the whole story. I grew up hearing a little about it and then chose to research it extensively just a few years ago. Through Google and newspaper accounts found there as well as interviews with a couple people close to it, I was able to piece together the whole story. It involves almost superhuman strength and faith. It is a long story but one that deserves to be told. And though it is very sad (several have burst into tears on hearing it) the point is not the sadness, but overcoming it.
The woman in the painting represents Ella, who with her husband, Elmer, and her mother, are raising seven children on a farm near Parks in the southwest corner of Nebraska. The country is deep in the Great Depression and these farmers, like everyone else are struggling to keep afloat. Added to their concerns was the drought affecting the mid-West leading to the Dust Bowl. It seemed things couldn’t be worse. And yet this family was known for singing wherever they went.
One evening in March, they are rushing around to finish dinner so they can make it to a service at their Pleasant Valley Friends Church. For some reason, Goldie, 15 and the oldest daughter, is especially clingy to her mom and as the time nears to leave, Ella says, “What’s wrong with you? We’ve got things to do and we have to go!” Goldie responds, “I just love you, Ma.”
But there is no time to even put the dishes in the sink. They must be left on the table, coats put on all the kids and hustle to the car. The car, a Willys Whippet, is a dependable , though smaller car; especially for a group of ten. In the front, Elmer slips behind the wheel, 10-year-old Glen is next to him and on his right, his mother holds the youngest child, Eugene, who is just three. In the back seat are, the oldest boy, Herman at 13, Goldie and their grandmother, Nancy. Each have one of the youngest three girls on their laps. They are Hazel, Mildred and Fern, ages ranging from eight to four.
Just a hundred yards on they stop to give some eggs to a railroad grading crew who were camped there. They don’t even know these men but are glad to share the little they have with them.
Just beyond that, lies Colfer Crossing and the railroad tracks. The family is singing as they bump over the tracks when suddenly a eastbound passenger train hits the Whippet on its right side just behind the door post. The car is spun clockwise as the right, rear wheel is crushed. Glass is shattered, wood splintered and steel reduced to shards. All six in the back seat are killed. Those in the front are alive but unconscious. The grading crew rushed to give whatever aid they could as the train screeched to a stop and passengers streamed out to help. Glen is thought to be dead and his body placed with the dead until someone saw his hand quiver. As he is being carried to be put with the survivors, he regains consciousness and tells the rescuers who the family is and where they were going.
Little Eugene has a serious head injury and is not expected to make it through the night.
Ironically, the quickest way to get them to a hospital is on the train that hit them. They are wrapped in blankets and loaded onto the mail car and taken away.
The parents, Elmer and Ella, are unconscious or sedated long enough that they miss the funerals of their children and her mother.
Eventually well enough to return home, they are taken back across those same tracks. It must have been a painful reminder every time they crossed them as that was the only way to and from their farmhouse. As they opened the door, there spread before them were ten place settings on the table just as they had been left. Ella wept openly as she washed these and put them away. Six of those plates representing someone she loved and had lost. Goldie’s plate may have been especially difficult, remembering how she had been hustled off when she was trying to express her love for her mom.
Somewhere in another part of the house, Elmer is mourning in his own way. Both he and Ella know this accident was his fault. There was nothing to impair his view of the train. Either he didn’t look or thought he could beat it.
No one would have been surprised if this event would have destroyed the marriage and a cloud would have forever hung over the survivors. But Ella decides at some point that this tragedy will not define her, that she will not be in mourning forever. She makes a decision to be happy and to forgive Elmer. And for the rest of their lives, they virtually never mention the accident.
In less than a year, she gives birth to another child and in a remarkable display of her indomitable spirit, she names that baby Joy, knowing she will bring happiness to them.
Even later in life, when Ella is severely crippled with arthritis, very frail and in near constant pain, she is never without a smile, always cheerful and always happy.
Though she was so frail, she was the strongest woman I ever knew. She was my grandmother. Eugene, who wasn’t supposed to make it through the night grew up to be my father.
So in this painting, the model representing Ella is looking to heaven, getting her strength from God. You will see six broken roses for those she lost. She holds one of the four “surviving” roses and it is different, being that she is carrying that new “Joy.”
The plate stands for all those left on the table, though broken as was the family at that point.
The white bird, an Egret, is those souls departing. I wanted a white bird and not one as obvious as a dove.
The moon and the morning light on the cliffs represents the passage of time.
The tracks were painted from a photo I took years ago when I stood at Colfer Crossing more than 50 years after the accident.
Just below the train’s window is a number; 3931; the date of that event. March 9, 1931.
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.
Last March, while in AZ, I saw this woman with her horse at a park and (with her permission) took some photos. About the same time I was asked by a gallery owner in Virginia to send some of my work to them, mentioning that Virginia is horse country, especially with English saddles. So the two worked hand in hand. This painting is available now at the Berkley Gallery in Warrenton, VA. www.berkleygallery.com
In October, with all of the toursists who come in, it is harder to work on larger paintings. So I usually do a series of small ones, 8x10 or smaller that I can knock out quickly. I really enjoyed doing a series of old copper tea kettles.
I've been wanting to paint this nearby round barn for years but it seemed every time I went there the conditions were bad, mostly due to light. But this year I hit it just right with the light and foliage all coming together.
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.
Here's an example of how I revise a photo to make a better painting. Rarely does the actual scene look just right in all aspects.
-The farmhouse is blue in reality but that made it almost disappear into the shade of the trees. So I made it white and gave the barn a bit more color as well.
-I eliminated the barn at the far left as it demanded too much attention which I didn't want drawn away from the focal point (the farmhouse).
-The creek looked like a blob so I gave it some more shape curving it back into the painting.
- I preferred the rail at the bottom to be wood instead of metal and turned it to follow the road which I also reshaped to lead your eye into the scene.
- I added a tree in the lower right so that the foreground as a whole would be less symetrical.
- I generally lightened and brightened the whole thing to give a more atmospheric, colorful look; mostly with blues and violets.
-With all those cool colors I wanted something a little hotter so I added a few dots of red and orange back by the farmhouse as if there were some flowers there.
- I considered making it look like one light was on in the house but this can be a crutch and if too often used can be too formualic. So instead I put a wisp of smoke coming out of the chimney to make it look like someone was home.
I'm allowed to do all this because I recently had my Artistic License renewed.
I posed this beautiful young lady looking into an antique mirror from the 1830s. Then I removed the mirror and painted on a panel exactly the same size. When finished, I put the panel in place of the mirror so now the mirror in the painting serves as it's own frame.
At the same time I posed the girl looking into the mirror, I also got some other good reference shots of her and in this case, thought I'd show the process to get to the final of a quick study. Here I used a toned panel and painted directly onto it without doing any pencil drawing first. In this method, I make corrections as I go. this is called the Alla Prima method where it is all done in one sitting.
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).
Some of you may recognize Allie from some past paintings. At thirteen, she has a perfect, glowing complexion and beautiful hair. And all this color in her face with NO makeup at all! Because of this, I wanted to try to portray that radiance and the best way to do it is with the grisaille method. The painting is completely done in black and white first and then several layers of transparent glazed color are applied over it, day after day after day. The result gives a softness and depth that cannot be achieved with the Alla Prima style.
The first day I began work on this I happened to put on a soundtrack by Mark McKenzie, the second track of which fit the painting perfectly. It became forever associated with the painting in my mind, they are inseparable. To hear the music and see the process, please click or copy the link below to watch a very short film I made.
I had her family come into the gallery for an unveiling at which time I put on that music and turned off all lights other than a spot on the painting. Here they are as they saw it for the first time. Her grandmother cried and her mom was "very emotional" seeing it. Her grandfather "couldn't stop talking about it the whole way home."
And true to her nature, Allie was very quiet throughout but the smile may have given her away. She will turn up again in my work. She is a joy to paint!
When the "Dreamscape" series ran in the Orange County Register Newspaper it was a contest for our readers. Using the three "clues" of the illustration, title and caption they wrote their own stories and submitted them. We would then publish the five best with a photo of the top writer. It proved to be the most successful reader response project in the long history of that paper, with more than 9,000 stories submitted over the course of the entire series!
Years ago, when I worked for the Orange County Register Newspaper, I had a series called "Dreamscape" which combined an image, a title and a caption. These seemed to indicate a story but the story was up to our readers to write. And they did. For the nearly 40 chances we gave them over 20 years, they wrote and mailed in nearly 9,000 stories. We would print the five best the month after each first appeared. Here's one of my favorite examples.
These paintings usually combined several photos that I already had on hand. So for example, the two in front came form a photo I had of my kids during a picnic (though I added the blindfold). The diver is Greg Luganis from a picture I took when he competed in Irvine, CA (again with an addded blindfold). The distant mountains were from a picture I took from out backyard when we lived in Colorado. The three guys in back were playing a different game at that same picnic; I just added a hoop and the calves and feet of the diver who had just gone through and into the quicksand. I wanted airships in the sky for an ominous feeling so I bought a model of one, built it and photographed it for this purpose. I always loved the surreal in art and in the coming year I plan to return to some of this. Maybe a "Dreamscape" Book might be fun!