December 18, 2014

Return to the Canadian Rockies

I started this painting of the Canadian Rockies a while back.  I wanted to get back to it and today I had time.  I have a photo to look at for a reference, but a lot of what there is to capture about July in the mountains is the clarity of the air, the majesty of the mountains, the force of nature.  Those intangibles are the challenge.

December 17, 2014

Flowers and more flowers

I got one last small painting out of the bouquet I brought into the studio last week.

The roses were painted based on an arrangement on the table at Rose's Luxury, a very wonderful restaurant in DC.  I took a photo of them and between that reference and my warm feelings/memories of a big family/friend dinner, painted them as lush and loose.

December 11, 2014

Flowers, finished

Well, I didn't think I'd end up here, but there was something about the rhythm of the petals of the chrysanthemums that kept calling out to me.  

December 10, 2014

Work in progress

This painting started out as a closer view of the bouquet I started painting last week.  There was a shadow on the wall of the slats of a rocking chair that I particularly liked.  I was working on a black ground, so the painting quickly took on a very high-contrast, sharp-edged look.  Not what I really wanted.  I gave the painting the wipe-over today and I'm working back into it now.

this is how the painting looked before the "wipe over"

this is where it is now 


I bought these flowers and stuck them in a shapely, hand-painted Italian pitcher, but as I was painting them, the handle shape, the pattern on the pitcher and pitcher curves seemed to take on a life of their own and simply overwhelmed what I was trying to do with the flowers.   So the "vase" is really a representation of the light below the arrangement and put there to support the painting's focus.

   The bright blue in the background is the jacket I was wearning and hung on a chair behind the flowers.  I liked the color there so it became part of the background.

December 3, 2014


The latest iteration of the portrait I've been playing around with came to me today. Unifying and dividing the portrait at the same time.

November 21, 2014

Simplicity vs Detail, Round 3

Left some detail, simplified again… and tomorrow, round 4.  I think it's getting better.

November 20, 2014

Branches in "Batik"

The ongoing battle, simplicity vs. detail, is being fought yet again in my studio this week.   I wanted to capture a smaller, more intimate view of the light through the trees I've been painting this week and last.  I started with the cyan-magenta-yellow palette that I've used for this series, but I didn't feel like my first stabs at this were adding to my understanding of the scene.  Depth, check. Contrast, check.  Warm, cool, yeah, got that.  So what was it?  I was thinking about the image and the batik-like lace branches that broke up the sky and the shadows.  I'd been ignoring them as fussy details.  And so they may be.  But they do give the painting a lively dance that was missing before.

November 12, 2014

Light Through the Trees & Color Mixing

I returned today to a subject I've painted before, the early morning light through trees, inspired by sights while walking the dogs on a beautiful fall morning this week.    The painting is not done, I'm going to work on thicker paint areas. I also have some adjustments to make once the paint is a bit drier and I can see just how transparent or opaque it really is.

In my studio, I have a new light that's broken -- it strobes for about 45 minutes to an hour before settling down -- and until it's fixed, I have to do something other than paint while it's flashing.  Today I decided to spend some time mixing paint.  I've been reading The Secret Language of Color (a great book!) and thinking about mixing paint according to the cyan-yellow-magenta trio.  As the book points out, you know your computer printer mixes every color from those three (plus black) so you should be able to as well.

So this is my palette -- to which I added burnt sienna (not on the palette in this photo), white for tinting and "black" mixed from oriental green & alizarin.

November 7, 2014

Abstract Distraction

I was in the process of obliterating a painting -- yet another that I thought was dull, conventional, uninteresting -- and in painting out the recognizable forms,  and then playing with the color, this is the result.  It's got the luminosity I couldn't get to, trapped by the tyranny of the objects I was painting, and there's depth created by the contrast in value, more than the warm/cool transitions.

Is this why people paint abstract paintings?  Maybe it's one reason -- but it's also why the paintings I consider especially great have both the paint qualities I like in this and have some recognizable elements that tie them to the real world.  There are paintings of mine, those I count as successes, where I get that balance right.  I seem to be mired in the other, frustrating works right now.   The solution has to be to keep painting.

November 5, 2014

Abstraction and the Portrait -- work in progress

I was working on a portrait and it was yawningly conventional.  Choices I'd made about limiting the palette didn't energize it, I was feeling frustrated about it.  Competence at capturing a likeness wasn't a satisfying result.

I tested out the idea of pulling out colors into geometric shapes and it did bring a certain zip into the painting.  I'm working on taking that idea further, changing the way the eye moves through the painting through a pattern of bright vs subdued color.  This is where it is so far.

October 17, 2014

A little breakthrough on the Vuillard-inspired painting

close up detail of the face & flowers
 This painting went through a lot of stages. It was inspired by a Vuillard painting I saw this summer and wanted to see if I could set up a painting in that spirit (it's posted earlier in the blog).  I started with a model in a dining room in Maine and a sketch.  After a second round on the painting a month later, I had added paint and lost the loose feel of the sketch and hadn't really come closer to my goal.

Today I simplified the space by eliminating the view into the room beyond on the right and darkening the doorway on the left.  The dark doorway was in the Vuillard painting and (no surprise) had a vital role to play in the composition.

I loosened up the whole thing again, what an improvement.  The detail close up on the left really shows what a great change that was.  One funny thing about cropping an image to show a detail is that it also highlights another way the painting could have been set up and suggests where I need to be thinking next.  The expansive room has its advantages, but I can see how the close up painting is pretty appealing.

When people ask me about how my art has changed from working in a studio in the last 10 months, I think I can now point to this series of painting stages to say -- I could only do this with the dedicated studio time I now have at Studio B.  It's made a huge difference in the way I work.  While I still enjoy the immediacy of a painting done "alla prima," I now can rethink work and take it from that first impression to a more considered and (I hope!) better result.
the finished painting

an interim step

the original sketch, painted in a dining room in Maine

October 16, 2014

Still Life with Oranges

Seeing the objective view of the way I'm set up right now... makes me realize I need to clean my studio.   The unfinished paintings leaning against the wall need to go somewhere.

I had a bag of oranges in the fridge and the first one I cut open to eat was dry, which is what inspired me to cut them up for the still life.  Of course, the second one was juicy.  But nevermind, I had flowers leftover from the weekend and a straw hat in the studio.  

The camera in my phone sure makes the wall look like it's a really warm yellow.  I started the painting that way and it was, well, too warm, so I changed it to blue.

October 10, 2014


 The detail at left shows the grapes in the still life I painted tonight.  Not that I haven't painted grapes before, but they have given me plenty of trouble.  I was very, very happy with the way they came out tonight!

The whole painting is close, but not done.  In spite of the change from light left side to darker right side in the vase and the dramatic shadow of the arrangement, the flowers are too evenly lit. I'll go back into it tomorrow (the flowers should still be perky) and fix that.

October 9, 2014

Studio Puzzles

I've been messing around with two paintings, just to work on some ideas.  I don't have a finished painting in mind for either of them,  but here they are.

 The Maine painting is worked with a limited palette and I've been playing with getting the mood of late afternoon Maine light diffused by the angle of the sun.  So far I've scraped it down 4 times to change the level of detail (too much, too little...) and I've done a lot of mixing up what's warm and what's cool.  I had some foreground plants in a blur that I've removed, they just didn't add anything.
These portraits of my daughter, niece and her son are making their way through some facial expressions.  Smiles and teeth are a challenge to paint!  But I keep on adjusting it and the likeness comes and goes as I do.

October 1, 2014

Revisiting an interior painting

This Vuillard was the inspiration
Earlier this summer, when I saw a Vuillard interior painting in Seattle, I was just enthralled.  I couldn't stop thinking about it. When I got to Maine in August, I asked my friend to take seat at the dining room table so I could try to set up a scene inspired by the Vuillard painting.

I got home with the sketch and it's been sitting in my studio for the past month.  I went back into it today -- I decided against keeping it and painting on a new canvas -- to see if I could make the sketch into a real painting.

I'm not done yet! As always, I like the looseness of the sketch, but I think I've solved some of the issues in the sketch and will keep working on it.

This is what I worked on in the studio today
This was the quick sketch in Maine

September 18, 2014

Maine Marsh & Meadow

I spent some time hanging out at this spot in Acadia National Park both last summer and this one. Last summer, I brought paints with me a few mornings and sketched for the hour or so while my daughter went running on a nearby carriage road.  This year, I took some photos, so coming into the studio now I had both the old sketches and photos to work from.  

The sketches had little detail and I had purposely tried to focus on large areas of color, but they seemed, looking at them one year later, like they lacked a sense of deep space.  Some of that can come from details you see up close and the lack of detail as things get further away.  The photos had too much detail in the further away spaces (cameras seeing things so much better and crisper than eyes can), so I had to merge the two in my mind to end up with a painting that had the right sense of space.

September 11, 2014

Larger Rose Painting

The roses I got yesterday were a bit more open today.  I got out a larger canvas (18 x 24) to paint them again.  This is where I left off when I was done at the studio today.  I included the shaft of the brass floor lamp in the background, but left the otherwise busy studio backdrop out of the picture.  With an imagined background, I opted for the cool blue-gray to fill the space as a starting point.  I think tomorrow I'll go back into the background to decide whether to add more shapes or colors.

September 6, 2014

Tea Set in Maine

In my slow unpacking from August, yesterday I came across these paintings I'd stored in a pizza box.

The silver-plated tea set was a find at the Bass Harbor Library book & white elephant sale.  Whatever its original price, it was left behind after the sale was over, on a table with a "pay what you want" can for donations.  It seemed like a great subject for a still life on the porch, so I bought it and a plastic tote bag to carry it and left my $ in the can.

The intense sunlight on the porch made for some strong contrasts on the reflective metal.  I added some flowers and painted it while standing and sitting.

I left it at the house for another go at painting it next summer, I hope it will still be there.

Also in the pizza box -- painting of the ocean from a gray morning.

September 5, 2014

Eastern Market Metro

I started this painting in late July, finally got back to it yesterday and I think today it's done.

Maine Summer Paintings

Painting this summer in Maine I didn't have a set-aside week to focus on getting work done.  I was too "busy" reading, cooking, playing with rocks on the beach... so this is most of what I got done.  I need to spend some studio time looking at the paintings and seeing if there's something to be done to finish the paintings or if they will be the sketch I use for a future work... or if they will be stacked up against the wall for the next few years.

July 24, 2014

Whitehurst Freeway update

I've been working on this on and off for a few weeks now. Yesterday I worked on the x-shaped trusses on the underside of the freeway.  I think it's time to let this sit again and think about it.

July 17, 2014

More Sunflowers and "Courbet Green"

I got a sample from Williamsburg paints of their handmade oil color "Courbet Green."  I don't think it's just the name that inspired me, but the color seems just right for painting sunflower fields.

This one needs work -- I ran out of time after roughing it in

July 14, 2014

Sunflowers at McKee-Beshers

The sunflowers are in bloom this week and I was not going to miss them... even though it's close to 100 degrees out.  I did a very hot, very quick painting in the sunflower field this afternoon.

Although I was focused on the flowers right in front of me, in the photo it looks like out in the field one flower is head above the rest, "look at me!"

I worked on this a bit more in the studio to deepen some of the contrast -- necessary because painting in the sunlight blinded me to some of the flatness of the values.

July 10, 2014

Under the Whitehurst Freeway, from sketch to ...

About a month ago, I did a small sketch while I was in Georgetown, looking under the Whitehurst Freeway.  Today I decided that I'd head back to Georgetown to work on a larger painting, and as a first step, repaint the sketch in the studio onto a larger canvas.  My plan was that I'd take that partly-painted work and bring it with me to finish on site.

The weather isn't cooperating, so for now, the painting stays in the studio.  I may keep working on it there after all.

this is what I'm working on in the studio now based on the sketch

this is the sketch I did last month, painted outside

July 5, 2014

Reflection in Sunglasses

It's hard to resist looking at the images in mirror sunglasses.  This morning, I was struck by this one and had to paint it. Here's the painting in progress.

The final is on top. The big changes between its "almost done" stage and finish were: the change in the sunglass reflection to minimize the dark trees that looked, dead center, like an angry eye;  returning the slope of the chin to the original sketched in shape; a fuller lower lip; and refinement of the chair straps so they wrapped more fully around the metal bars.