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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

In my last post, Nancy Van Blaircom commented on things 'that just scream extraordinary in the ordinary' in my painting. Nancy is an artist who posts her watercolor sketchbook online - you should check it out. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is something I've been thinking about a lot lately - specifically how this depends so much on the lighting, and how a scene changes so much throughout the day. It's such a cliché for an artist to talk about how they love the light and color, that I almost hate to mention it - but for a representational artist, what else is there? A good painting is a good painting because of the abstract pattern of values and color that's put on the canvas. The subject is almost incidental - it's just a vehicle for creating that pattern of value and color. As shadows move around, there's a whole new painting to be painted.

I spend a lot of time at the Artists' Gallery in Lambertville, so I see a lot of the nearby street corner at Coreyll and North Union Streets. It's a very ordinary street corner - there's nothing special about it. But at certain times of the day, it's pure magic the way the light hits a certain building or reflects off of a window. The ordinary can become sublime.

These next 3 paintings are all near the same street corner. Actually my last post, Lambertville Shadows, is just a half a block down Coryell Street and it's the same church steeple in that painting as in these.

I painted this view mainly because it's a charming street scene. So I guess the subject isn't completely incidental, but I like how the sense of sunlight on the church steeple and the distant trees is accentuated by so much of the painting being in shadow:

"South on North Union
24x18 oil on canvas

This is the same scene from a little further back and much later in the day. Here, I wasn't painting a charming street scene, I was painting how the last rays of the sun are hitting the red brick building. Having the church steeple there is a nice touch, but mainly I liked the red glow on the building, the red glow of the taillights, and their red reflection on the sides of the parked cars. For me, that's quite thrilling!

"North Union and Coryell
8x10 oil on board

Again, this is the same corner, but looking down Coryell Street. The church would be to my left. The main attraction here of course was the row brick building catching the light of the sunset. Any other time of the day, this street isn't much to look at. Or maybe I just haven't been paying attention. (By the way, the closest white building on the left side of the street is Joe Finkle's, featured in my last post.)
"Coryell Sunset
8x10 oil on board

The reason I show these three together here is because I think they help show how one can find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I found 3 paintings from one ordinary street corner. The red brick building on the corner is pretty drab, but it appears in all 3 paintings. And like said, the times of day when I don't see anything special here, it's probably because I'm not looking hard enough. Light is a great magician - it's always changing things on us!

I wonder if that's what George Lucas meant when he named is company Industrial Lights and Magic?


  1. Thank you Joe for mentioning my blog and the link, that was a nice surprise.

    These three paintings you've posted are so great (a)because they all show 'small town, USA', something the most of use are familiar with or at least have fond memorys of. (b)because each one draws your attention into them, you want to see every little detail of the painting - look at that door, look at that tree, look at the sun on that roof. (c) the light in each one is unique to the time of day you've captured. Absolutely great work... you inspire me! Also, you said "Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is something I've been thinking about a lot lately - specifically how this depends so much on the lighting, and how a scene changes so much throughout the day." I think you've always thought about this ... your painting reflect those thoughts.

    Would you consider showing us a step-by-step demonstration process of a painting... blank canvas, basic design applied, blocked in shapes, etc. I think everyone would enjoy this.

    You may be surprised to hear I've layed out my cardboard canvas, paints and brushes... I'm getting closer all the time to giving oils a try. I figure this is a start.. just setting them out where I can see them, ha ha.

  2. Nancy,
    Thank you so much for the kind words. That sounds like a great idea to post a painting demo - I'll see what I can do, but can't promise when. Or maybe I can find some old photos that would be suitable.

    And I'm glad you've taken some steps towards your own first oil painting. Just don't let that canvas collect too much dust now. ;-)


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