Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Night Birds

12x12 oil on panel
The Birding Life
at Ferrin Gallery, Pittsfield
October 8 ~ December 31

they do look better than this.   I have so many coats of varnish on them that they don't photograph well. each one has many layers of paint/varnish/paint/varnish/paint/varnish....

Thursday, September 8, 2011


day 4 (32x23)
day 3
day 2

day 1

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I've been painting enormous kites for a party.  4 in total - they are painted on Tyvek - the material used to wrap houses - it is very good to paint on.   Just regular house paint and a black sharpie oil paint marker for materials. Tyvek is very strong and durable, takes the paint immediately and doesn't rip either, so it can take some abuse.

You can see the skeleton of one of the frames next to me.

here are a couple shots of them in progress:

the 4 kites are:  fish, gorillas, jaguars, and hares.  
I'll follow up with more pics as they are finished and mounted to their frames.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Showing

I will have my painting Balance Rock (above) and Tattooed Jesus on display at the Lichtenstein Center as part of the Pittsfield Art Show Invitational from June 10~July 17.  I was happy to be asked to show work as part of this event.  The opening reception will be on Friday the 10th from 5-7. come on out and say "Hi" if you are in the area.

Because these two paintings are so very different, I have asked that they not be hung together, but rather on opposite sides of the space.  we will see how that goes....

more to come!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Plein Air Adventures - Melville's Hills

Cloudy days present consistent light, but not direct light, so everything is lit equally from all over.  Not necessarily ideal, but I want to do it learn what to expect.  I set up off of Holmes Road, overlooking a field and the mountains that inspired Herman Melville to pen Moby Dick (seriously)  it wasn't supposed to rain this day, so I figured I had 4+ hours to get this done.

This is what I spent most of the time doing.  sketching the composition in Cobalt Violet.  I do this so I don't have to worry about my "drawing" while I'm painting.  I do this first and then add color later so that I'm not suddenly moving mountains out of the way half way through the painting.  It also gives everything a nice warm tone (and looks great in shadow areas)  I really pushed my content together horizontally to fit my panel (16x20)  As you can see from the photos above, there were quite a few things I left out of the painting (trailers and random debris), and a few things I added (notably the foreground)
I snapped this just as it started to rain.  Oil paints don't really care if it is raining - oil and water don't mix.  but I got wet.  and a wooden easel doesn't like to get rained on. note to self * keep rain gear in the car.  I was able to work for about two hours on location before the sky opened up.  heavy rains.

brought it home and worked on it for a couple hours the next day because it didn't stop raining for 3 days.  all in all, I think this one came out pretty good.  I'm painting thicker and more confidently.  my mixing has gotten better too

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Plein Air - Magnolias

Following the State Forrest adventure, I headed into Williamstown after seeing a picture a friend took of a Magnolia tree by a small brook.  It looked so lush.  After finding out the secret location, I packed up the car and headed out shortly before 1pm.  

Armed with deet (because this was in high grass) I set up underneath a very high in the sky sun and got to work.  Note to self *start paying attention to the sun more in relation to where you set up because it moved from behind my easel to shining directly on it.  I was blinded by the light within an hour.  Everything got washed out and looked light blue.  I'm not ready to get an umbrella - no way - not yet. A nice woman from a local paper snapped some pics of me working.   

I had to leave after two hours because of blindness.  when I got home and propped the picture up, I was not pleased.  I hadn't realized how off my colors were in the bright sun. I tried to tweak it that night, but got nowhere.  very frustrated with it.  hardest thing I've tried to paint in a while.  seriously.

Two days later I was back, slightly earlier in the day, and determined to get it right.  

I didn't spend enough time working out the drawing/composition initially, so I had to re-do quite a bit of what I had done previously.  Plus my color choices were piss-poor.  but I stood there and got as much in as I could before snapping a couple pics and bringing it home to the studio for finishing.

Even at home, I spent a lot of time trying to get this to look right (or at least better). 

Very strong sun on half of my body for 2+ hours left me a nice shade of red, but eventually turned to tan.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Plein Air Adventures - Looking West

Equipped with my new table saw to make panels, new colors and rigged easel, I have been trekking around the Berkshires looking for places to paint.  (well, looking for interesting elements to put into paintings at least)  I'm not trying to copy what I see - instead I'm taking it all in, choosing the parts that I want to include, then arranging it into a composition.

This trip was to the lookout at the Pittsfield State Forrest - looking west into New York state - the little lights in the top left are Chatham (I think)  This was a two part painting.  The first trip out was extremely windy and all I could get was a quick sketch on the canvas. This picture is only 15x15 so it was like a sail.

With one hand on my sturdy easel, and the other holding a brush, I sketched out my composition using Cobalt Violet (thanks Stape) before eventually being blown over.  I snapped a couple pics before I left because the light was gorgeous.
Never-the-less, the light changed so fast and dramatically (as sunsets will do) that I only had about half an hour to get the sketch done.  end of day 1.

Two days later I went back.  I had written down the time that I was there, so I planned to get there an hour and a half earlier to get set up and cracking.  It was cold.  A few people came by now and again, and they only lasted about 5-10 minutes before getting back in their cars.  It took me a bit to get the canvas covered, but once it was, I was able to really start shaping/describing with color what I was perceiving.  I was in the zone.  I worked solid until about just before the sun dipped below the horizon. all in all, I was there for just over two hours.

The trick is to pick your "time of day" and stick with it - even as the light changes.

I also snapped this picture in the middle of working to show that shadows are indeed cool (in sunlight)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Table Saw

I bought a table saw finally!  Buying stretcher bars gets expensive, plus I want to start painting on panels when I go outside.

Now I am in production mode creating panels for my Plein Air painting trips.

I bought a $120 Ryobi- it does the job.  I bought a 4'x8' sheet of 1/8" masonite and cut twelve 16"x20 panels plus a few odd sizes.  I oil primed all of them (3 coats with a roller).  I then cut 2 of the panels in half to make a few 10"x 16"

This saved me a bunch of time by preparing them all at once.  I can also build my own stretcher frames too!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to Rig a French Easel for Working Outside

Last year I bought a French Easel for $50 bucks - the same one with a "brand" name costs three times as much.  It does what it needs to do and I have taken it out in the field about a dozen times.  The first few outings were disastrous because the legs would collapse in the middle of me working. The last straw was when it collapsed right after I set up and the fall broke my turpentine jar.  Needless to say, I was forced to go home early. 

The problem is that most of the appendages and bars have a little bolt you hand tighten to keep it in place, but it never stays tight enough and they slip.  So I drilled holes in the legs and slid a nail through so they cannot collapse. The holes are a hair larger than the nails, so the fit is easy, and they go in and out smoothly.   The nails are 2" so they hang out the other side.  I keep a bunch inside the easel, and in my bag when I go out, so I don't worry if I loose one or misplace one.
 I did this on each leg - just above the extension of the slide out leg. This way the easel is "locked" in its most open position.

This works perfectly. 

It is very stable -

This picture is of my first day out painting this season.  Woods Pond in Lenox. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Happens

My painting "Marla" got juried in and will be on display as part of the O Solo Mama Mia Festival. This will be the first time this painting has been on display.  I wish I could get a good frame for it in time.  I think it would look x-tra sharp. I'll poke around and see...

I also put the finishing touches on the Caravaggio study I did called "Tattooed Jesus"- and a nice coat of varnish over the top.

I have another opportunity coming up next month as part of a group show.  I have to determine what I want to put in. I think a landscape might be in order, so I should get out there and get painting soon. 

I did an inventory of what I have for paints/brushes/canvas today.  Need to replenish a few colors for my Plein Air adventures.  I'll post a pic of how I rigged my easel so it doesn't collapse in the wind, and what I will be taking with me outdoors to paint. This year I'll take some pics out in the field too.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caravaggio Study

I have been studying and reading quite a bit about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, or as he is more simply known: Caravaggio.
I wanted to learn about his painting techniques in particular.  I have heard many rumors about this; he never made a preparatory drawing; he worked directly on the canvas; he used mirrors or camera obscura. whatever.  no one will know.  He has been dead for 411 years.  my job is too try and learn how he did it in paint.

I was able to deduce his palette: mostly earth tones (they were the most available) like yellow ochre, raw and burnt sienna, ivory black and lead white (but I use titanium). He also used intense reds too.

Supposedly he toned his canvas with a mid-deep pigment.  I chose burnt sienna.  one coat.  This was painted on linen too (my first time using it- I didn't stretch it as tight as I could have...)  a very smooth surface.*

The secret: tie for first: excellent drawing skills and superb composition. Then: hit your whites first and build your glazes off this.  let the canvas color (burnt sienna in my case) fill in your midtones for you and then layer in the shadows slowly and let the canvas color come through.  When you have areas settled (you are sure of the placements) hit the darks and lights again and define your volumes.

After I was working this up for a bit, I was thinking about the narrative I was creating, and it seemed like the 'wise men' in my canvas were oblivious to the dominant Jesus above them.  He also looks a bit distraught in my version.  I started to think what it would be like if he were incarcerated in a modern prison, and given a tattoo.  I decided on a solid black cross. only fitting. It made him look more human and less like a super man.  also more a bit more bad ass and a little like a thug. I REALLY like this idea of adding tattoos and will explore it further. I am thinking about giving him a few more- need to do some research on symbols...

I will go back into this and glaze it more.  I want to give it a more "jeweled" tone that can only be achieved through glazing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Thanks to everyone who read the step x step posts.  I got some great feedback.  I'll try to do it again some time soon.  "Autumn" is finished and you can see it here.

I thought it would be fun to show an evolution.  This one is 4 years in the making.  The above image was "finished" today - it measures 12x24"  but it is a re-paint of a much older painting.

If you click on the image you can get a better view of it.  But the real reason you should look at it is because of the texture on it.

Texture?  The texture on there is made up of about 5 layers of thick latex paint from 2007 when I was "spinning" canvases.  I built a steel rig out of the "free wheel" gear off a 10 speed bike and would bolt a 4' canvas to it and spin it like mad while dripping paint on it from above.  It was fun.  they would look like this:
After doing this kind of thing for a few months I decided to become a more "serious" painter and start using oils- and stop spinning canvas.

When I moved into my new studio, fresh canvas was hard to find, and I had all of these spinners stretched and doing nothing. 

* So I scavenged them *

I kept 4 of the better ones, but took the others off the stretchers and used them for my first forays into oil painting.  I cut up the lame ones and stuck them over new stretcher bars, gessoed them up, and started painting.

I took an orbital sander to them to try to knock down the texture, but it was serious stuff...  and I didn't want to go through the canvas.  besides. it was practice.

Needless to say I found one of them the other day.  And I painted over it AGAIN!

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I had a picture of what it used to look like.  I put all 3 images next to each other so you can see what I mean. It is all on the same canvas...

The middle face was painted very early in 2008 just as I was getting into painting.  I was happy with this at the time. I remember I spent some time trying to get it to come out...

Long story short.  I was cleaning out the studio the other day, found it, popped it on the easel and re-did it.  I had to rummage around a bit to find the source photo I had used.
I gave it a little Caravaggio treatment and pushed the black.  I suppressed my colors and kept it basic to focus on form.

Ivory White, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Ivory Black
- what a difference a few years make...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Skins

No. this isn't a new abstract painting....

I was about to varnish the entire image today, but I knew deep down I wasn't ready yet.  There are parts of this piece that I am not happy with and I want to resolve them.  It would be like quitting before you took your last turn, because once you varnish, it seals the surface.  Sure you can paint over the varnish, but that defeats the purpose.

Varnish is used for two reasons.  One is to protect the surface of the painting by creating a protective layer and the other is to unify the surface (it re-saturates all of the colors and gives everything an even *shine* - it eliminates the "dead" spots that can occur when oil paint dries.  Not all artists varnish- it can be an aesthetic choice.

The above photo is a detail of a varnish test I did on the top left corner of the painting. You should be able to see a clear line of where I varnished and where I didn't.  The deeper "dark" color has been varnished.  It makes this color very rich.  trust me. 

So instead of getting out my varnish brush, I took out my usual brushes and got out some new paint and I repainted the face again today - for the final time.  4th time is a charm.  It is a major focal point of the piece, so if it isn't good enough, the rest of the piece will suffer (and I like the rest of the piece).  This is the final paint job.  I am happy with it.  I was not hitting the right marks in it before.  I wasn't following the form nor keying the right values.  When I say repainted it, I mean the whole thing.  not just the ear or the cheek.  Now I am happy with it.  It is very cohesive.

My new flesh tones that I mixed up were much more accurate than the previous batch - plus I didn't over brush or "noodle" it to death.  Lay it down and move on -  I should make a giant sign to hang in my studio.  If you overbrush and overwork, you kill it.  You loose all sense of energy and life in the brushwork, and worst of all you muddy up the color.  I will apply a simple glaze to accentuate a few parts though.
I used my new batch of skin colors to add some much needed form to the fingers as well.  They seemed a little flat and simple before.  A little extra modeling here and there...

so here we are today.  I'd say I'm about 96% there.  All I want to do is tweak a few of the objects and throw a little glaze on the figure and we are ready to varnish.
I'll talk about the varnish in the next post.
(you can click on this one to get a bigger version too)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Glazing and edges

I intended this painting to have glazes applied, so here is a picture of what glazing can do.  A glaze is essentially a small amount of pigment in a larger amount of medium (like oil) so that it becomes more transparent.  In my case I am using Liquin because it dries quickly and creates a very durable paint layer.  A transparent glaze allows the paint layers beneath it to show through, thus creating subtle tonal shifts.. In my case I am using Alizarin Crimson (a transparent color on its own) and Viridian (a cool green) to create a warm but dark brownish color (they are complements).  The crimson adds a nice depth.

I applied the glaze on the edges where the back of the figure meets the dark shadow behind it.  I also used it to bring out the shoulder blade from the rib cage and show the fleshy mid section between the ribs and the "hip" bone. The idea is to blur the edges to create a more rounded appearance as it approaches and gets lost in the shadow.  aka "lost edge" - Some edges should be "hard", some should be soft, and some should be lost.

You can click on this one to make it a little bigger.

more to come, and this one is getting close to getting varnished.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Days 5-6

I'm not counting the passing days, but rather my full working days- at least 3 productive hours = one day.  A few days have gone by where I've made minor tweaks or simply walked away after an hour or two.  Sometimes you got it and sometimes you don't.  I've learned that when I "don't", to do something else.... because I start painting over things....

The above photo is where I left things today.  This one in particular looks the most accurate in terms of color (at the moment). From here on in, the majority of changes are most likely going to appear subtle in the photos.  The dark area in the top right is wet paint from me beginning to lay in more opaque paint (Ivory Black, Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson) to make a dense dark.  I want to create visual push and pull.  This is how the much of the darks in the top region of the image will look. Some areas need to be pushed way back and some areas need to be pulled out.

I have repainted the face and neck twice in three days.  I don't like to do that because it creates a lot of paint layered on top of each other.   It is best to scrape it off if you don't like it, that way you get the underpainting (the Raw Sienna wash in this case) popping through all over and creating visual harmony.  If there is too much paint down, you can loose this effect.  - It is a conscious decision to allow it to come through.  This is the golden color you can see in the arm and lower abdomen- I used very translucent cool colors that were carefully placed next to it. You can see a bit more in the pic below.

Game plan:  A friend of mine gave me a nice complement and a good idea.  I think I was already leaning this way, but now I'm going to be a bit more deliberate.  He said he really likes the juxtaposition of the highly finished passages and the untouched or loosely painted areas. So I'm going to be leaving parts unfinished, and I'm going to keep my drips - I like the effect anyway.
What I'm doing now is working with Titanium white and Raw Sienna (plus a touch of Manganese) and giving some volume to the unfinished areas, pulling out a few bits here and there and hitting a few highlights.  I really like working with this kind of limited palette and focusing on form. A true underpainting would have all of the volumes rendered. Below is a pic from where I left off on Day 5....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 4 - Show Me Some Skin

We have had a few snow storms this week, so it has been a great time to hide out in the studio and work. I know- the face is blurry - I blurred it out because I like the arm/hand passage at this stage, so I took a picture. The face needs some work, and will get it at a later date.  

I thought I would explain what I'm using for my paint, so I took a picture of my palette.  I work on a piece of glass with a white piece of paper underneath it.  The glass measures 14" x 22".
I am breaking my own rules by showing you this disaster.  I really do try to keep my paints in order and on the perimeter of the glass, but ironically not while I'm doing this "step by step" - so don't do this.  I usually keep my earth tones (siennas, naples yellow) and red on the left, with my white in the corner.  I labeled it "warm" because I use two piles of white.  the other is on the right hand side but didn't make it into the picture.  I use one for all warm tones, and one for all cool tones so I don't contaminate them...  Along the top of the palette I usually keep my greens and blues, and put my Ivory Black in the right corner.  Below that I put my Alizarin Crimson, and then my cool Titanium below that.  Alizarin is a cool red, so I keep it with my cool colors. 

So here we are today.  I have started to paint more of the objects in the top of the image and have begun to finish off the legs.  I am spending most of my time in the top of the painting right now to make sure I am getting things right.  This is where most of the "stuff" is, so I want to make sure they look like they exist in the same space.

I am finding that the most important part of this piece is going to be the reflected light.  I think this is why i like the arm right now.  It shows good reflected light.  The rear end will do this, as will the feet and a portion of the legs, plus I'll bounce it around throughout the image to unify.

The reflected light is Cadmium Red with a touch of Naples Yellow.  it glows.  It will glow more because I'll put cool colors next to it.

...til next time

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Flesh on the Bones

I have started to paint some of the flesh and a few other elements in the picture.  I am painting rather loosely at this stage, trying to get as much paint on the canvas as I can, focusing on building form and keeping my tones near the middle range.  I am not working on fine details yet,  just blocking in - (although I can't resist sometimes...) For the figure, I am focused on getting the thing to look solid - that there is meat and flesh there. I will go back in later to finness and model it a bit more. 

Colors being used for flesh: 
  • Naples yellow
  • Cadmium Red light
  • Manganese Blue (hue) - not 100% sold on this one...  but using it for the cools
  • Titanium white
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Raw Sienna
  • Ivory Black - also being used to cool - see this post

My pictures are not the best.  There should not be such a major difference in the tones from pic to pic.  I try to lay it down and move on. I'm working with three brushes, small, medium, large (ish).  the larger brush has my warm tones - the medium has my cool tone - and my small brush bounces back and forth as needed. This way I keep my colors "clean".

As I get more paint on the surface, I will be able to evaluate my tones and start to push things around.  There is still a lot of surface to cover. In general, I am painting a bit bright because I know I'm going to glaze it all down later.