Saturday, December 31, 2011

Paint Storage

I hadn't thought of posting something as basic as this, but several people have commented on the paint storage system I use in my studio, and since I haven't seen it anywhere else I thought people might find it useful. Basically, I just got tired of having my paint tubes festering in drawers, getting gummy from leaking oil and impossible to find when I needed them. The "system" such as it is, is just hanging the tubes up on readily-available "handbag clips" (technically "Binder Clips" so you can Google them) so you can see all the tubes at once and tell what's there.I have a couple of them--one a shallow box, and the other just a board with nails to hang the tubes from. I attached a couple of picture hangers to make it possible to hang the boards and reposition them if necessary, although I suppose you could just screw the things into the wall (or just drive nails onto the wall if your landlord is a tolerant type). As you can see the method is cheap, easy, and really adaptable. The clips come in several sizes for different paint tube sizes, and it's easy to use the tubes while they're attached. Hope this is useful!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Dream Fulfilled....

OK, if you're like me, you love hanging out in graveyards. They're quiet, often beautiful places with sometimes moving, sometimes extravagant artwork and epitaphs all over. This past weekend, we spent some time in the Catskills region with some friends, and naturally our agenda included hiking around in the local graveyard, a more than usually gorgeous one in a striking hillside setting.

Now, if you're like me you also can't resist having a look through the little ventilation holes in or next to the doors of the picturesque family crypts that graveyards often have. I'm always curious about how the dear departed are disposed around the place--on shelves, in boxes, in boxes within boxes....all neat, squared off, and looking recently dusted, most of them. In fact, until now I haven't had the luck to find one looking less than well-maintained. Diligence, however has paid off.

Decaying wood and metal coffins? Check.
Stove-in or open parts of the coffins? Check.
Somewhat jumbled arrangement looking like the bearers left in a hurry on account of vampires/revenants? Check!
Visible bones and friable bits? Check, check and mate!

Anyhow, if you're like me you couldn't resist using your powerful little miniature flashlight and iPhone camera to record the scene for possible use in a future illustration or something. At the very least to record the fact that after thirty or forty years of hanging around graveyards, you finally found a crypt that had a worse housekeeper than you.

OK, you're not like me, but here's the photos.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My shirt--Up Now!

That is to say November 30th, since some of you may work for employers discontinuing email in favor of Tweets.

As some of you may know, I got asked to do a design for an art project by a Netherlandish T-shirt company and I rolled out an idea I'd been contemplating for a while: the Indulgences. The design and the Indulgence are attached, in case you're someone who's been within three or so meters of me in the last decade and I haven't explained it to you, in detail, with hand-waving and visual aids.

In any event, the day of its exposure draws nigh, and for those of you curious about the design, or for those of you with a spare $499.00 (Shipping Included) for a T-shirt of unparalleled artistry, or for those of you curious about what sort of being might actually contemplate the outlay of $499.00 for a T-shirt of any degree of artistry up to and surpassing Michelangelic if it didn't contain sufficient DNA evidence to guarantee a hefty out-of-court settlement,may I direct your browser to:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Road Cut, Costa Rica

I'm lucky enough to have friends in Costa Rica that I can go pester from time to time. To be honest, I find the landscape there completely overwhelming. Everything is very different from the New England landscape that seems to have gotten into my fingers. The air is a different color, the vegetation has a different texture and color, the sky is different, the land undulates weirdly....

I've tried some ambitious paintings already, with mixed results--other people like them as I did too, at first, but now they make me cringe. This is the first that's got me thinking i can maybe do this. Mostly, I think I understand the vegetable textures now. The only way I was able to do it was by limiting my approach to a small subject: in this case a roadside somewhere. I don't know where, because I just shot photos out the car window whenever we drove anywhere.

I like the idea of approaching landscape painting like that. As artists, we're supposed to bring something of ourselves to the subject, but I tend to think that if the subject is too grand, it's more than a little overwhelming. Does my opinion of Yosemite Valley really matter? I don't know that my opinion of this roadside matters much, either, but I thought it had a certain rugged charm.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 622

Out in the fields surrounding the marsh are a number of dead or moribund trees, mostly covered with vines to the extent that it's difficult to tell whether they're alive or dead, and what id vine and what is tree. It's an interesting challenge to paint, since they lack even the structure of trees to give them organization. In this case, I tried painting them almost like crayon-scribble, by laying down thick paint on top of the thinly scrubbed in sky and then cutting back into it with the handle-end of the brush..  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 621

Another hiatus.I'm truly sorry. Not for your agonies, dear reader, but for the fact that I've gotten out of practice with the dailies once again. A vacation to collect more landscape material, and a strong desire to get back into multi-day painting while the Summer lasts has derailed me. I have every intention of getting back to it--in fact, I'm commissioning a table to hold still life setups, but that will have to wait until I have some semblance of money. Until then...

...another view of Jacobs Point. The rill that flows into the bay there offers some fun high-contrast lighting effects.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 619

The outlet of a small stream that runs through Jacobs Point. There are often geese or, in the winter, brant hanging out there. It made a nice blue streak through the gray gravel.

Day 618


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 616

Póas was the first volcano I ever saw. It's in Costa Rica; a little north of San Jose, the capital. This is a painting of the bottom of the crater and the acidified lake at its center. The landscape there is an amazing gray desert of ash and lava rock, broken by slashes of vivid color caused by mineral salts dissolved in the water and evaporated out on the rocks. The effect is rather like a charcoal drawing with splashes of gouache color on it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 615

From Summer to Winter. I dislike the cold, but love what it does to light and form.

Day 614

More onions, this time painted on a 9X12 board. I'm getting much more interested in varieties of negative space and how white changes in a mixture of daylight and artificial light.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 610

Another image of Jacobs Point, this time looking offshore from the marsh. Less a landscape than a seascape, but still I love the light. I'm still not sure why it happens, but sometimes a simple Ultramarine blue/white mixture can appear more like a Cobalt blue effect. I think it may be the green from the foliage that shift the Ultramarine away from the violet end of the spectrum where it naturally lies.

Day 609

Bottles....onions....Why not bottles AND onions?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 608

Glass bottles are always fun. This was the first time painting them under the soft, white light of the studio windows. The shadows were so soft it was difficult to paint.

Day 607

I like painting onions almost as much as I like eating them. This was painted in the big studio. There's something about working in there that makes me more aware of the necessity for planning the areas around the subject matter, hence the more nuanced use of white-space.

I'm looking into getting a stand made to hold my still-life setups and my computer for when I use it as a slide-projector. I'm looking forward to being able to make still-life setups with different colored backdrops and different lightings.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 605, 606

A couple of studies of Queen Anne's Lace and Mexican glass. I love the cobalt rim on the glass, and the way the Queen Anne's Lace flower forms a soft, fuzzy basket with a few sharp accents that define its shape. I'm perpetually interested in the mysterious way we perceive so much of reality--as a sort of blur with small areas of focus. If you try to paint things all in focus, the effect is naive, or at best resembles a Northern Renaissance painting. Those were supposed to represent the world as seen through the eyes of God: everything seen with perfect clarity at all times. Optically, we only see sharp things when there is sufficient contrast, which varies across the field of view. The area where we actually perceive things at their highest level of detail, the fovea, accounts for an area the size of a quarter held at arms' length in our field of view. To capture this optical effect, much of a    picture can be painted with soft edges with only a few accents. The trick is to get the accents right, hence the studies.

I painted these a few months ago, as I'm playing catch-up with posting. Since then, I broke the glass when I bumped the painting stand, so these paintings serve as a sort of memento.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 604

From a photo of a local pond. Swans look quite gorgeous for such evil-tempered creatures. Did you know that swans can break your arm?

Ordinarily, I avoid painting things that can break my arm, unless they're paying me a lot of money for a portrait.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 603

Sort of a study for Jacobs Point August. Trying to get a feel for greens. Green is such a fun color to work with. Our eyes are physiologically adapted to see a broader range of colors as "green" than any other color, so there's a concomitantly larger number of mixtures required to keep reasonably faithful to reality. I love the variety of greens you can get from yellow/brown mixtures with blue, and almost never use green from a tube except to dull down reds and warm colors.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 602

Another "almost". I love the color and the way the horizontal direction of late-afternoon light changes the appearance of prosaic subjects. There's a graveyard across the street from my house that dates to the 1700's. It's well maintained and mowed and the newer sections are cleared from a stand of scrub, leading to the occurrence of a smooth, personality-free lawn dotted with gravestones right next to a wildly overgrown copse of trees. When the sun is low, it shines into the trees and allows you to get a really clear idea of the dimensionality of the space, rather than seeing it merely as a scrim or backdrop. This was an attempt to capture that. I like the upper portion, but it doesn't relate at all as I'd intended to the lower, so I think this will require a larger and more considered version.

Day 601

And sometimes they don't work. Still.

I've been looking at the pine trees belonging to a neighbor, and how they catch the light toward sunset. The contrast between the sienna of the illuminated branches and needles and the greeny-black of the shaded ones is pretty striking, in a low-key kind of way. This sketch isn't, but sometime I'll get it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 600

Just fooling around with some of the same reference photos as for the painting of Jacobs Point. The point of this study was trying to figure out how sunshine can light up warm tones while leaving cool tones relatively unaffected. It's not as though it's narrow-bandwidth light and only illuminates warm colors, but it acts that way sometimes. As in the Jacobs Point painting, I tried to make most of the colors in the picture a little more cool/neutral than they might otherwise have been. It's funny how making things wishy-washy in most of a picture can have the opposite effect on the overall composition.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Olsen's Yard, November

The newest larger landscape. It's of a friend's yard in Wakefield, RI, painted from photographs I took a couple of autumns ago. I'm loving the 4' X 2' panoramic format and have prepared quite a few canvases at those dimensions.

This is the first larger painting to try to deal with my new obsession: the subtle dimensional color of scrub plants, such as you see along highways, vacant lots and yard verges. The original point of this picture was the way the vivid yellow of those last few leaves provided a sort of depth-cueing for the subtler tones of the wood. I approached this by trying to build up paint and scrape it back repeatedly to add an organic dimension to color. The paint ended up being really thick, at least for me.

I was surprised when, midway through the painting, I realized that the broken lawn-chair was going to have to be a focus. Otherwise, the picture would become too "floaty" and oddly flat. It serves the same purpose as the little yellow flower in the blue Jacobs Point image. It's a little jarring, but the picture sort of revolves around it.

I was also surprised by how, at the end when I was adding the yellow leaves, I didn't have to use the very vivid yellow paint I'd planned. I'd been adding violet tones throughout the image since the beginning, in order to provide an optical contrast for the eventual leaves, and figured I'd be using cadmium yellow light for the bulk of them. As it turned out, cadmium was too intense and I had to tone it back to yellow ochre plus white with just a touch of cadmium in places.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 599

More winter. It's a lot of fun to scratch back into paint. It's also a lot of fun to figure out where/how you want to have some areas of focus and contrast in an otherwise relatively soft construction. Most of the effort here was in setting things up for the line of branches and bare shrubs across the middle.

The reference for this piece (what? You think I'll paint outdoors in freezing sleet?) was gathered on a day when I was trying out my new neoprene, waterproof hunting boots. The only thing I hunt is a better lighting setup, but it also leads to a lot of time spent standing relatively still in water with ice on it. This day I got some great shots by simply wading up the bed of the little river in this image. It allowed me to see angles that were previously inaccessible and also avoided messing things up with footprints in the snow.

Of course, I got overconfident and tried it on another little stream and almost sank above my boot-tops in mud and silt. It took until almost dark to extricate myself without losing my boots or falling over. 

Day 598

I'm finally reviving my daily work. Well, twisting my own arm to revive the daily work.

I've got a bunch of paintings produced over the last year or so that were done under the daily painting rules I'd established, but where I just couldn't bring myself to deal with the problems of getting them posted. Hence this blog. Hence still having to force myself to get started on doing the dailies again. I'm hoping to accomplish this by scanning and posting the older work, getting back into the rhythm, and getting my home studio (gutted by my move to the outside studio) back into shape for painting, at least on a small scale.

So....winter. Snow. I loathe them as the objects of shoveling, coldness, wet feet, and general annoyance. Unfortunately I love them as a source of imagery. Falling snow is better than fog for emphasizing the dimensionality of landscape. This is a painting of the same four or five trees I tend to return to in Jacobs Point marsh, only with snow and semi-frozen surface slush all over the ground. 

I've been looking a lot at the work of John Henry Twachtman, in particular his winter landscapes. I have always loved his painting Arques la Bataille, from the
Metropolitan Museum  of Art in NY, but lately I've become enamored of his later paintings of winter scenes. I love the way he manages to dial down the detail and contrast while not removing the focus. The paintings also feel...crunchy, in the way snow does. I'm sure it has to do with the spare, dry way he applies the paint (so different from the way he does in Arques la Bataille) and it's something I want to understand better. Hence the daily.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Levitan Again

Today I got up early to get another look at the Levitan show. Rather than circle through the pretty parts of town, I thought I'd save some time by cutting across on the main drags:Valovaya Ulitsa and Zhitnaya Ulitsa (it seems that "Ul" is short for "ulitsa" or "street", as in "Ulitsa Sezam" or "Sesame Street"). When traveling, everything is picturesque and engaging, so it was a nice walk in a light snowstorm.

I got there a little early, and there was already a crowd at the doors. Queueing up doesn't seem something we Slavs naturally do, at least without all the training I've received, so there was quite a mass of people at the door. I don't think it's an ill-natured thing, at least in most cases it seems to be an opportunity to chat while milling about, ever closer to the door.

On the second trip through, Levitan is as amazing as ever, or moreso. Everyone in the crowd was taking pictures, so I snuck a couple of HDRI images with my iPhone to try to record his impasto.

I was also able to confirm that one picture I'd hoped to see--a farmer plowing his field--had been removed for some reason. Darn. Have to schedule another trip ;-).

After the show crowded up, I went upstairs to the sadly deserted Russian Art of the 20th Century galleries, a sort of rogues gallery of appalling state-approved abstraction, Socialist Realism, various sculptures exhorting one to something or other and some really bodacious nudes, symbolizing "wheat", or "socialist youth" or something. I didn't particularly care. There was one really juicy portrait of a worker that I very much admired, especially in comparison to advertising art which it's equivalent to. I've uploaded a full-resolution shot for your enjoyment.

The standouts were work by Tatlin, much of which was reconstructed because it had been broken up (*sigh*) , a small collection of nicely done animal carvings, and some Kandinsky posters. Here's a link to a much more detailed and knowledgeable description of the galleries than my own from The Moscow News.

After that, I went to the Tretyakov Gallery proper to see the older art. The roomful of Repins and the roomful of Serovs were delightful--technically wonderful, with great narrative power (in the Repins) and an ability to flatter without seeming obviously to do so (with the Serovs). There was also a roomful of Shishkin's landscapes. I'm ambivalent on him--he's technically superb, and his sense of light and structure in a forested space is spectacular, but he veers a little sentimental for my taste. When I see his work, I'm reminded of Currier & Ives prints.

There were a number of beautiful landscapes whose painters I couldn't note due to my lack of Cyrillic, but I'm definitely going to look for them online. Among the painters whose work I really loved and whose names I could puzzle out: Vasily Vereshchagin, Lev Lvovic Kamenev, and Vasiliy D. Polenov. Russian art history doesn't dovetail perfectly with Western art history, so there's a lot of interesting archaisms and  prefigurings in there, and I'm definitely going to keep researching. Google has the Tretyakov as part of their gallery view service now, so I can visit whenever I want.

A couple of canvases by Aivazofsky were fun (he's tacky, but revels in it delightfully) and some giant historicals and fantasy pieces by Victor Vasnetsov rounded out the day for me. The icons were much larger than I'd thought, and utterly spectacular, but I don't know enough to comment on anything but their design elements, which were strikingly modern. A lot of the rest of the work left me feeling as though trapped in the older areas of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: too many sweet, sweet children and dark, stone faced patriarchs and matriarchs all slightly out of drawing or oddly proportioned.

Back home tomorrow. I can't wait to come back here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wunderkammers and Kremlin

After a slightly debilitating morning of the all-too-well-known gastric effects of travel, I decided that my limited time here would not be well-spent lying in bed and moaning. I had decided to see the Moscow University Museum of Zoology, and walk back to my hotel via the Kremlin and Red Square. To save time, I took the Metro, only naturally in the wrong direction. After a short wander in the equivalent of Queens, New York when you're trying to get to Lincoln Center, I figured it out and went back the right way.

I love old science museums. I pretty much love all science museums, but the closer they get to a wunderkammer, the happier I am. I grew up near the American Museum of Natural History, before the big makeover began, so when I think of museums I think of dim, echoing halls (mostly echoing with kids) and the tar-colored skeletons of dinosaurs looming in the gloom. I think it definitely put adults off, which was part of the appeal. To see a bit of the old museum, check out "Journey To The Beginning of Time", a Czech SF(?) film. I loved that movie as a kid, especially because I also knew the little cave that the kids go into in order to go back in time. Nowadays, I'd just like to go back in time to meet Zdenek Burian.

The Moscow University Museum of Zoology is an old museum. It dates from 1791, and is gorgeous, inside and out. It's full of what are now considered downers in museums--lots of slightly startled looking taxidermy, formaldehyded things from seas, lakes and intestinal crevices, large dusty cabinets and the smell of mothballs. In short, heaven.

The main hall depicted on the site is beautiful. My Russian is nonexistent, so I couldn't ask who did the murals. After buying my ticket (100 rubles~3 dollars) I was informed by the very nice and patient lady upstairs that I needed another ticket to take photos. And I needed to take photos. As you see.

I have ideas about why museums like this are so appealing, at least to people like me. There's a quality about them of incompleteness--of exploration needing to be done. Modern museums are spectacular shows of what has been figured out and accomplished, but they're entertaining, not provoking. The information is often laid out as a fait accompli. Old museums lay out what was brought back with an attempt at showmanship, but it's worn thin and seems more carny barker than James Cameron. It's allowing the viewer to imagine: what was this individual like? What was its life like in the wild? What sort of person collected it? Stuffed it? The process is there, not swaddled by video and interactive displays.

Another reason I love them is that they seem to share my brain's pack rat sensibilities--things are often where they are because of an odd shape or color, not rigorous systemization. Systemization was the word here, though, but of the organizational and dry kind that's easily disregarded. A cabinet of raptors could as well be together because they look cool as because of their genetic and cladistic similarities.

I walked back via a series of wrong assumptions of where I was along Kalashny Per (must look up what Per stands for) into the Vodzvizhenka Ul (note to self: look up Ul, too). Going as far afield as the Itar Tass news agency. The Kremlin was quite recognizable when I got there, though, even discounting the heavy police presence. I took my obligatory picture in front of St. Basil's cathedral.

Then across the bridge on the B. Yakimanka Ul, which I could swear featured in a Bourne movie, and a longish but now familiar walk home.