Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 39, and broccoli

I don't recall having tried to paint broccoli before, which is odd since we always have it around because the parrot loves it. He alternates between liking the florets or the stems, though, and whichever part is his current favorite, the other part becomes anathema to him.

Day 37 and Some More Tomatilloes

Green is such a fun color to paint. Utterly frustrating and infuriating, but fun. And painting on a super-slick surface has its drawbacks, aswell. The paint goes down easy, but comes up just as fast, requiring some tricky brush maneuvering to keep it applying well. Sort of like trying to put down a long roll of fly-paper, or vintage chewing gum.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Day 36--Another Landscape

Just some fun with a layered landscape -foreground, middle-ground, background--in which the layers separate out completely and absolutely. It's also a view of my favorite marsh: Jacobs Point.

Day 35--A Landscape

I've realized that I don't often paint skies, which is odd since I love looking at them and constantly photograph and sketch them. This is a step toward addressing that lack, and a lot of fun to paint. It was just a really gorgeous late-winter day on the marsh with a lot of crisply-defined and clear-cut clouds. A fun mixture of blues, whites and grays.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 34--Tomatillos

I love tomatillos, and I love the salsa you can make with them. For painting, the contrast between the apple-green and incredibly waxy/glossy skin of the fruit and the papery translucence of the covering husk is enticing in and of itself. The board this was painted on had a very glossy surface, leading to the brush scraping off almost as much paint as it put down. Ordinarily the way around this is to pile on more paint until you're painting on and into paint (Sargent's maxim that the brush should never touch the canvas, only the paint), but I thought I'd like to use the scrapiness to try to depict the papery grain of the tomatillo husks, with limited success.

Day 33--Perfume

I love perfume. And cologne and eau de parfum and any and all manner of smelly stuff. I love it for the history, I love it for the chemistry, I love it for the sheer sensual enjoyment, and I'm learning to love it for the wit, smarts, and creativity of its makers. Perfumes: The Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is permanently installed in the bathroom library, and is a simply phenomenal book that critiques, in depth and with great precision and strong opinions, almost every perfume or scent available on the market.

This bottle came into my possession when it was deaccessioned by a friend who knew I like different shaped bottles to paint, as well. I used Dorland's Wax Medium to paint it with, as an experiment. Dorland's is a great, fun medium: a proprietary mix of beeswax and damar resin among other things, it's very smooth under the brush, translucent, and dries to a dead-matte finish that can be buffed to a semi-gloss if the wax is thick enough. I love painting matte, which is unusual for an oil painter, simply because I find it forces me to push contrasts and chroma more than when I can rely on a glossy surface to pump them. If ypu can make a painting look like it's been varnished before it's been varnished, you've got a decent effect there, and one that can actually be looked at in more lights without glare. I didn't quite succeed with this, hence the gauzy look, but it was really fun to try.

Unfortunately, Dorland's takes a bit of getting used to and dries very slowly, so I think I'm going to delay getting into it too deeply until I'm back to feeling more confident in my speed and skillz.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 32--Tea Tin

What does it say that when I do a good painting I almost feel guilty? I mean, I know I can paint metal pretty well, so it's almost a stunt of the sort that Robert Williams (of JUXTAPOZ fame) used to pull in the 1960's. Still, after tormenting myself with the skulls for the last couple of days, I thought I could use a little buffing of my self-esteem. Usually I buff it along with my shoes, since it's right down there and accessible. The fun part of this was the alternating bands of dull and shiny metal.

I'm a big fan of caffeine, but unfortunately allergic to coffee and mate, so I drink a lot of tea. I get mine in bulk from Upton Tea, and keep about six kinds always on hand and reasonably fresh in these tins. As such, the subject is near and dear to my heart.

Day 31--Coyote Skull (again)

A better result, at least in terms of finding the bone texture more clearly defined. It's always tough to paint thin, highly contrasting things like teeth in a decisive manner. You have to get it right on pretty much one stroke because any adjustment is really obvious and usually makes things worse, anyway. If you've thought ahead, or if it's really central to the painting, you can paint the teeth and other such shapes by using the negative space. In other words, put the small tooth down boldly, but then go back and make it smaller and clean up the edges by going around it with refining strokes that whittle away at it until you've got the right shape. Of course, this presupposes that you're using opaque paint (I usually do, but some colors, like some people, are more opaque than others) and that your shape isn't surrounded by other, equally small and tricky shapes, as teeth tend to be.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 30--Coyote Skull

Flush with success after the mango, I thought I might try another complex subject; this time a coyote skull. Of course I was somewhat overconfident, aka deluded. Naturally, I chose the most complex point of view: highly foreshortened, revealing lots of fine structures and concealing most of the flowing, larger forms. Oh, well. I got caught up in the interesting lighting on the turbinates of the nose. That's like saying that, in the commissioned portrait of the king, you became fascinated by the nose hairs.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Day 29--Mango

It's a mango. Trying something less intimidating this time, with grater success. I'm finding that the super-smooth surface I have on the canvas boards--I cover the too-grainy cotton duck canvas with a coat of white stain-killing primer--presents interesting challenges for painting. Namely, if I paint too thin, I pick up a lot of the paint that just went down. Paradoxically, I get more control the thicker the paint. The trick is in balancing the effects gotten through thin paint with the effects gotten through thick paint.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Day 28--Gateway to Day 29

A friend who knows my love of crania gave me a raccoon skull he'd found. Quite clean and seemingly demanding to be painted, and yet it's taken....three years? for me to get around to it. And of course it's taken its revenge by being a completely baffling shape. Cursed skull, you shall not win! Not like that damn squirrel!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 27--Starting Again

Otherwise known as "pulling teeth". I've gotten too caught up in doing big paintings, with all the concomitant psychological baggage of is-it-good-enough and who-do-you-think-you're-fooling-anyway. Rather, I've gotten too caught up in not doing paintings, so it's back to the dailies to try to restore a little sanity and devil may care joie de vivre to the process. As I write this, I've been at it for eight days straight, with the expected mixed results, but as the paintings build up there's definitely a feeling that might almost be akin to cutting myself some slack. It's rare, but appreciated.

I painted a bird's nest because I look upon them as a sort of good omen--they're fun to paint, and they have a sort of casual quality that belies the great labor it takes to construct them, which is something I'd dearly like to emulate.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gouache Sketch

I've loved gouache for years, but never had too much enjoyment working in it. Part of the trouble is how radically the colors change when the paint dries, but that wears off after a little while, and you start just accommodating the change automatically. The biggest part of the trouble is the beautiful, expensive sable brushes one uses to paint with it. The problem isn't the brushes themselves. Far from it. Sables are wonderful, responsive brushes capable of a wide range of expression. But they have a "right" and a "wrong" way to use them: drag, don't push; work from the elbow as much as possible, etc. I find that this makes me too darn precious. I tighten up, and the work becomes utterly tense.

So, I bought a couple of inexpensive bristle brushes, sawed them off short and urethaned the ends.I figured that it would be a good way to exploit my comfort with bristles from my work with oil. It worked. I had more fun doing this little gouache than I've had in quite a long time. We went to visit a couple of friends in Westport, Mass, and I got to take a little time to sketch some of the tiger lilies in their beautiful rented garden.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Winter Marsh

I've been trying to document how I paint. I'm actually kind of curious about it since in a very real sense, I'm not there. I've set up a webcam and an old laptop
running Linux Mint and the 'Cheese' application to do image captures at about five-second intervals, and assembled them into video using Blender. So, all free, open-source, etc. Here's my first attempt. I set it to shoot 600 frames, which unfortunately didn't go for as long as I painted. And, yes, everything is improved by the presence of "Yakety Sax".

And here's the painting. Several people whose opinions I respect have told me to leave it alone, even though it's not quite doing what I wanted it to do. Rather than mess with it further, I'm just going to paint the same subject again, and see if it's different and which I like better. Much more relaxing all 'round.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 26

Oh, boy, sometimes things are just irredeemable. I like the way peppers look with the smooth, almost car-like finish and seductively curved surfaces, but I think that should probably have cued me in to NOT PAINT ONE. Smooth, shiny, curvy surfaces are not hard to paint, precisely, but they require real attention to detail, something that's really tough to do in a half-hour study. So....yes, it's an attempt at a pepper. Bleah.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 25

White on white. A color scheme first proposed by James McNeill Whistler, but somehow I don't suppose he ever ate a clove of garlic in his life. He might have, though, on his continental travels. Personally, I love garlic, although I don't go so far in poeticizing it as the "stinking rose" folks. I just eat it. Lots of it. It's getting harder and harder to find the American variety around here, though, as it's being forced out by the sharper Chinese variety in the supermarkets. I love Chinese garlic in Asian recipes like Laab and so on, but it doesn't roast as sweetly as the California bulbs, to my taste. Still, they're all beautiful to paint and the papery coats are just gorgeous. In this one, I got really into laying the white on thickly to capture the soft highlights of the bulb. OK, now I've made myself hungry.....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Day 23

To quote the great philosopher Don Hertzfeldt, " a banana!" I love the color yellow, primarily because it seems to cheer me up, speaking as it does of things I like: Spring, Fall, and tropical fruit. Yellow is also a pain in the butt to shade, since you really have to keep a close eye on the color temperature of the shading as you go. Too warm, and it looks "glowy", too cool and it gets sort of dead and moldy looking. In these pieces recently, I've been using up a tube of Hansa Yellow Light as my base yellow color. It's not my favorite yellow, since its tinting strength is relatively weak, but it sure makes you think when painting, which is always a good thing when doing exercises like this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 21

A painting of a poppy from last Summer. I miss Summer and I love poppies, so it was just sheer self-indulgence to paint this. It's also a lot of fun to use knife techniques to suggest various textures. I still feel like it's cheating, but it does get effective results.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 20

Mangoes are wonderful. Besides being vividly colored and beautifully shaped, they make me think of the tropics--much appreciated in Winter. I'm finding that I'm turning into more of a painter than a draw-er. My previous dailies seem to be more like colored drawings to me than the current bunch. I'm not doing anything consciously different, but I think that my spatial perception has shifted oddly toward a more "solid" direction.

I've always held Velasquez's painting in very high regard, particularly his study/portrait of Juan de Pareja. If you look closely (and I have) there are no lines in the piece--it's all planes and splotches of color (to use the scientific terminology). I'd love it if some of that mojo rubbed off on me.

Day 19

More onions. I'm not sure why they're resisting me. I may have to eat them.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 18

Some onions. My old friends, those onions. Turning on me a bit. I wasn't aware of it, but the practice of painting larger has changed my approach to painting in a way that I couldn't have predicted--some surface effects are harder to get, partially because I'm more concerned with flow and mass, the two big elements of landscape paintings. I won't say I'm trying to paint onions like landscapes, but there's definitely different aspects of the onion structure leaping out at me now. I'm still trying to put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with trying to get the tactile quality down in priority over the visual. If I turned into Lucian Freud, I'd probably be happy about it. Fat chance.

Day 17

Another bug, and I'm back to 8 X 10. The scanning and combining of scans for the 9 X 12 was just getting too much. Maybe if I had a honking big scanner it would be easier, but....

I love painting iridescence and now that I'm once again thinking of painting a really big fantasy subject (for myself, of course) I'm thinking of armor again--articulation, shine, effectiveness and so forth. It's just an inkling of an idea along with a dozn others, but I've got this twelve by eight foot canvas in my studio just begging for an epic subject....

I've also been thinking a bit about the old "rule" of art that you should paint your highlights opaque and your shadows transparently. Mostly thinking about what a crock it is. If you're doing a huge painting that you're trying to get done in a hurry because your royal client is tapping his or her foot in the outer hall (metaphorically speaking) transparent shadows are great because you can cover big areas and you have less to worry about in terms of covering previously painted stuff. In other words, it's quick and pretty good, but to claim that it's the 'only way to get luminous shadows' is complete twaddle. When you really look into shadows you see that beyond the basic color they've also got a ton of reflected lights and variations and those are almost impossible to get transparently. Luminous shadows are the result of getting the apparent shades and edges right, whether opaque or not. It just takes more effort to get opaque shadows right, but when it works, it's a lot more luminous than a badly applied transparent shadow.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 15

A whelk shell from the collection. I'm getting terribly interested in subtlety, a luxury hardly available to the working illustrator and thus not something I spent much time on earlier in my career. In particular, I'm getting interested in how closely related tones can lend the appearance of all sorts of interesting natural phenomena; chiefly skin but also including such things as peach skin and the dusty but rich tones of a dry shell.

I was lucky enough to run into a colleague of mine a few days ago, Kathy Speranza. She was working on a portrait using a traditional pre-mixed portraiture palette sometimes known as the Reilly palette. I'd heard of it and been somewhat curious about it, but the labor of preparation always seemed somewhat daunting and extraneous to me, especially as I paint so few portraits. So it was a real pleasure to finally see it in action, and I begin to see its virtues. In particular, as Kathy said, it makes it very easy to lay down tones very close in value but differing in degree of warmth--the real key to getting flesh to look like flesh. I've been investigating this phenomenon as regards the Tonalist landscape artists, but it was fascinating to see how widely applicable it is, and I hope to make some real headway with the landscapes as I proceed.

In the meantime, a dry and dusty whelk is a laboratory in miniature. It also serves as an object lesson in keeping your brushes clean, as I was just scrubbing in a bit of background with a brush that turned out to be contaminated with yellow when my alarm went off and it was time to stop.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 14

This one's pretty funny--a pine-cone. A very simple form, but visually defined by great complexity. I figured I'd give a try to painting it with the knife. Of course, it all started to go pear-shaped almost immediately. I ended up having a lot of fun applying the paint like cake icing. Ugly, ugly image, but really fun to paint. What does that remind me of?

Day 13

Another sky, some light stanchions.

Day 12

Some sketches of skies. Mostly over Providence, rather than the marsh. I think there's something in the air there that makes the skies more regularly interesting. It used to be so quite literally--metals from all the jewelry foundries were all through the air and made sunsets very vivid. Nowadays, with the Clean Air Act and all, it's probably safer to breathe but a lot less pretty.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marsh Sunset

I think it's done. It's been on my easel silently berating me for about a year, since
I abandoned it after a one-day lay in to establish the color and composition. It's a pretty simple idea, but because of that a little scary to pull off. Sunsets are of course gorgeous, but it's far too easy to get all dewy-eyed about them and make pretty work. This is also the first larger piece I've completed since the Costa Rica Road Cut, and I really, really, really didn't want to step backward from that approach.

Mostly what this is about is how the foliage in the marsh reflects the sky. That's a little tough to see in the full light of day, but obvious in dimmer light. I was surprised, though, by just how much it reflects. My color mixtures for the ground are essentially the same as for the sky, just shifted a little darker, except where it's really reflective (the water, the sand).

I also had fun with painting the sky. Mostly I try to stay with opaque colors since I change my compositions so much as I go along, working transparently would really inhibit me. I needed a transparent effect of red in the sky, though, since the color really isn't mixable otherwise. I used to make my glazes by just adding a ton of medium to a transparent color and applying it like a stain. I've learned that this is wrong-headed (thanks, Rob!) and so I did the glaze a bit differently this time. I started by laying down a thin coat of my oil/chalk medium, then putting a stroke of full-strength Alizarin Crimson across the lower sky (slightly scary, but fun), and then rubbing it with rags and the heel of my hand until it was the right shade. It's a great way to apply color--physically fun, but also really controllable and the color result is somehow richer than that obtained by thinning the paint chemically. A game-changer for me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 11

Oddly, when I picked this painting up for scanning I was thinking "another dud", but find that after photographing it (another still wet picture) I find I rather like it. I have a suspicion that it may be because it was painted from a photograph, and photography is its natural metier. Usually I'll use the photography as a sort of mnemonic device to try to paint more or less as the original scene appeared, but in this case I was too intrigued by the dark and light areas of the trees and foliage and kept the value contrasts of the photograph. This gives it a slightly stark and tawdry appearance in the original, but works nicely in reproduction.

This is a painting of a beautiful eroded pool near Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica. The water is from the volcano and is actually that color from all the dissolved copper(?) salts. Quite safe to swim in, but I don't know if I'd drink it. There are cases of blonde and naturally light-haired people ending up with green hair from copper-rich water, but it takes quite some time to end up in the hair follicles.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 10

The parking lot behind my studio on a foggy, snowy evening (last year), and also a sort of homage to Isaak Levitan. I believe, along with Levitan, that what matters in landscape is not entirely what is there, but rather what you think/feel about it. Practically anything can be beautiful, however humble or prosaic it is, provided you see it as such. After all, it's all sort of a miracle, isn't it?

Day 9

Just a shell, but I kinda like the way it came out. I've been having a little difficulty with the colors I'm using in that the particular manufacturer's Burnt Sienna is slightly different from the Utrecht Burnt Sienna I commonly use. This means that it's difficult or impossible to achieve a truly neutral dark tone, hence my slightly bluish background colors. A stopped clock is right twice a day, however, and this particular shell has a color scheme eminently suited to the Burnt Sienna I'm using, in particular for the dusty purple spirals on the shell, a mixture of Sienna, Ultramarine and white. Mostly done with brushes, but with a few scrubby bits with knife thrown in at the end to try to capture the scratched, chalky suface of this old shell.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 8

This painting and the previous one were photographed with my phone (thanks, Apple!) and then straightened out and color corrected in Photoshop. This one is a small bird's nest, painted almost entirely with knife. Since I'm painting 9 X 12 I'm getting more interested in dealing with the placement of the subjects on the board, always something I like dealing with in my more finished work, but something difficult to indulge at the small scale of 8 X 10 boards. Although 9 X 12 is only slightly larger, it does provide a big enough stage to position smaller subjects away from the center and to attempt to deal with the white space around them. I've left the minimum of edges on the pieces to remind me to scan the pieces when they're dry enough and replace these place-holder images.

Day 7

I've been painting away, but unfortunately my studio is so chilly that it takes thickly applied oils more than a week to dry enough to lay on a flatbed scanner, even when I add drying alkyd mediums to them to speed the process. Back when I illustrated on a more regular basis, I used to use alkyd paints for a few colors, notably white which is usually used in the thickest passages of paint. This would pretty much ensure that the painting would be dry enough to ship within a day or two. Unfortunately, I don't have any immediately around so I'm using plain old oil white. I'm going to have to lay in a supply unless the weather turns markedly warmer soon.

This is a painting of another geode, a larger chunk this time. More crystals, more facets, more transparency over transparency.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 6

*sigh* The first dud, I think. A beautiful chunk of geode, with fascinating, long, opalescent crystals that fade from warm colors at the base to cooler ones at the tips. Unfortunately they're so long that the strokes needed to delineate them leave lots of opportunity to mess up the colors, the lines, or the layering. I managed to do all of that....

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 5

The back half of the geode. Technically, I suppose it's the less interesting side, but it's vastly harder to paint. This one is 9 "X 12"as I've temproarily run short of 8" X 10" boards. It's kind of fun to paint a little larger, as it's more along the lines of the larger stuff I've been doing at my studio.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 4

A geode I have around the studio. I love the way geodes look, and I love the idea that bland-looking rocks can be split open to reveal such neat crystals. This was painted with my usual palette, using Ultramarine and Cadmium Red (hue) as the violet and using a slightly green-biased mixture of red and Permanent Green for the base rock.

I'm posting a little earlier than my usual midnight/1 AM because I have a terrible, verminous cold that won't even let me paint--my nose is running so much I'm sure I'd forget and blow my nose with a painting rag and end up all sorts of different colors. Agh, just means I'll have to paint two tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 3

Another "simple" subject--a bottle. I thought this would be an easy warm up , especially as I had a neutral gray background to make the highlights easy to pick out. As usual, reality is never easy, but this was fun to paint and I let myself use the knife,as well. One of the fun things I've learned a lot about in doing the dailies and the big paintings is the contrasts between lost and found edges. Lost edges are a blast, and absolutely necessary for painting flesh and almost anything rounded. Since I hate the slick look that comes from using smoothing brushes to lose edges, I'm getting pretty good at softening edges through the application of similar colors next to one another. It's also possible to get softer edges with the careful balance of stiffer mediums (like Weber's Res-N-Gel) and more flowing ones (like M.Graham's Walnut Oil Alkyd). Basically, the flowing medium leaves the brush more easily, for flowing lines, and the stiffer mediums stay where they are put in a most pleasing way.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 2

It's funny. I never cease finding new ways to get in my own way. I had a lot of fun painting the turnip the day before, with brushes and painting knife, so naturally I felt vaguely guilty about it. "It's too easy...too fun...The knife makes it simple to contrast softer strokes with's got to be wrong." So, naturally, I had to paint the turnip again, just brushes. I did cover the board I'm using as a table with primer, so as to make a neutral ground where I don't have to keep worrying about painting wood grain, just to make that aspect a little easier. The result doesn't give me a headache or anything, but I wish it had some crisper bits.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Daily Paintings, Series 2, Day 1

Some years ago I started a series of daily painting exercises intended to loosen up my painting style and get me over the fear of really working with oil paint. It worked, and I ended up painting 600 of them. The rules were I could paint anything I wanted as long as I painted for only a half hour, by kitchen timer. The alarm went off, the brush went down, no exceptions.The point was that a half hour is an ideal time to paint if you want to keep from getting scared. If you do a half hour painting and it's good, well, it's a source of pride. If you do one and it's awful, well, what do you expect from a mere half hour?

I stopped doing them regularly a couple of years ago after I dislocated my shoulder and was forced to take time off. Getting back into it was hard. Nevertheless, I've missed doing them, both because of the fact that they keep teaching me things and because it's sort of nice to have a pictorial diary or as I like to think of it, a snail-trail left behind my daily existence.

Anyhow, this is the first of a new series. Same rules. This one is of a turnip I had a yen to paint because it was such a still-life vegetable. Painted in my usual limited palette of five colors plus white--Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine, Cadmium Red Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, and Permanent Green, all from Utrecht this time. I prefer the "hue" colors to the real cadmiums because they're somewhat more translucent, allowing for a greater range of manipulations (in my way of working). I used a brush for most of the painting, but added a few swipes of the painting knife at the end to establish the stubs of the leaves.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Hundred Acre Cove

A small study of Hundred Acre Cove in Seekonk, Massachusetts. 16" X 12", oil on panel. I've been driving by this marsh for years, but it's a bit of a pain to get off the highway and paint it, so in the end I just decided to paint from one of the photos I've taken from the car.

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