Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On Location

In June, I will be participating in "On Location" a group show of plein air work at ARTWORKS - Trenton, New Jersey's downtown visual arts center located in the historic Mill Hill district. The show runs June 2 - 17, opening reception is June 2 from 6-9 pm. And since June 9 will be the annual Mill Hill Garden Tour, ARTWORKS will have extended hours to coincide with this event.

These are the paintings I'll have in the show - I think they're a good representation of the plein air work I've done over the past 2 years. (My work this year seems a little different, but those paintings need to dry a bit more before they go out in public).
Montgomery Woods
Montgomery Woods

Lower Creek Road
Lower Creek Road

Wickecheoke Summer
Wickecheoke Summer

Delaware and Raritan and 202
D&R and 202

19 Everett Alley*
Trenton NJ 08611

presents an exhibit of paintings and drawings
created ‘en plein air’ - outside & on site

June 2 thru 17

Artists’ Reception: Sat. June 2, 6 - 9
Gallery hours: Sat. & Sun. 10 - 2
Saturday June 9: open 10 - 5
(to complement the Mill Hill Garden Tour)
Readings by the River Poets: 1-3

* ARTWORKS is located in the parking lot on Stockton St.
across from the NJDMV

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Things That Want to be Painted

I've been having trouble finding the time to get out and paint on location lately, so I did this one in my studio one night last week, from a photograph:

"Howell Farm Walls"
10x8 oil on canvas on panel

I was really happy with that painting, and really anxious to get back to that farm house to paint it from life. I seem to be on a roll with painting white buildings lately. So, I had the time yesterday and went back to Howell Farm, but this scene really caught my eye so I setup to paint here instead:

"Howell Farm, Beginning of Summer"
8x10 oil on panel

Today I was talking to a wise old artist friend of mine, and he said he never goes out looking for a subject to paint. He goes out and listens for things that want to be painted. I do head out with preconceived ideas of what I want to paint sometimes, but it's always important to pay attention and listen for those things calling out to be painted.

Both of these scenes are at Howell Living History Farm, a public park and educational facility which tries to preserve some of the old ways. As I was painting this one, a farmer was coming back in from the fields behind me with a team of horses. He stopped to chat for a while, and for a moment, it felt like I was in the 18th century.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I've been tagged Tracy Helgeson. Tagged? This is new to me but apparently it means, that I link back to Tracy (done), post 7 things that people don't know about me, list 7 blogs that I like, and let those 7 bloggers know they've been tagged.

Posting 7 things about myself, which might possibly be of interest to anyone... this will be tough, but here it goes:
  1. I never knew what I wanted to do in life, so after high school I went to a community college to study architecture. I picked that because I really liked the mechanical drawing classes I had in high school. I had a lot of interests, but absolutely no direction I wanted to go in.
  2. With a 2 year architecture degree, I still didn't know what I wanted to do. So instead of continuing that line of education, I bicycled across the USA: 3 months and 4500 miles of cycling coast to coast from Virginia to Oregon with 8 other people. (I flew back home.) We carried everything we needed with us: tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, everything. It was the best experience of my life!
  3. I've always had some artistic hobby: painting, ceramics, woodworking, bonsai, wine making, music - I play guitar, and compose music on the computer.
  4. I am a social recluse - not a good trait for an artist trying to make a name for himself.
  5. I make wine, but never from grapes. I figure there are thousands of wineries out there making wine from grapes, I have no interest in doing the same. But, I've been curious about dandelion wine ever since I read Ray Bradbury's book "Dandelion Wine", so eventually I learned to make my own. I've made wine from dandelions, apples, honey (mead), wild raspberries that grow in my back yard, tea (you can make wine from almost anything!), mint (okay, that one is a little weird but it's nice in the summer), and I may try making an oregano wine this year - that will be for cooking with, not drinking.
  6. In 2nd grade I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. I had one line: "God bless us all" which I delivered while standing on one leg.
  7. I still don't know what I want to do with my life, but now I'm pretty sure it has something to with painting.
Seven blogs that I like:
  1. The Artists Gallery Blog - I hope this isn't too self-indulgent - I do all the posting to this blog, but it's full of news from our art gallery and it's 18 members. We're an artists' cooperative, and it's a great bunch of people, so it's a pleasure for me to be running this blog and posting news about the successes of my fellow gallery members.
  2. Deb Trotter - Cowboy's Sweetheart - I met Deb in one of Alyson B. Stanfeld's e-classes. I love Deb's Western Art with a sense of humor.
  3. William Wray - this guy's plein-air work is pretty amazing. His gritty scenes of urban decay are very far removed from my tranquil landscapes, but he's got a way with the brush and I love how he finds beauty in such very ordinary scenes. A quote from his own website sums it up: "if Thomas Kincaid is the painter of light, I'm the painter of blight".
  4. Peinando letras (Combining Letters) - This might be weird because this blog is in Spanish and I can't read Spanish, but I love looking at this blog. The imagery is really great.
  5. Jan Blencowe - Art & Life - Jan is a plein air painter who's work I really like.
  6. Danny Griego - Artist - Dan is another painter of urban California scenes, like William Wray, but stylistically pretty different. Maybe I need to move to California since I like this type of artwork so much.
  7. Scott Adams - The Dilbert Blog - Okay, it's not an a visual arts blog, but it one of my favorites. Scott Adams has such a unique way of looking at the world. If you look beyond the humor, you sometimes find some seriously good ideas there. And sometimes it's just plain funny.
Now I'll go let these bloggers know they've been tagged.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


In the post where I showed my painting process along the Delaware Canal, I started with a pre-toned panel but in the end, I had covered up most of that yellow ocher undertone. So it wasn't a great example of why I start on a toned surface.

Hopefully, this is a better example: I did this painting on an 8x10 panel previously toned with yellow ocher again. There are spots where the undertone is completely not covered with paint, and areas where the over painting is so thin and done with transparent colors that the ocher still manages to shine through. Oil paint colors can range from very opaque to pretty transparent, and you can take advantage of that.

The finished painting: And if the bridge looks out of scale, it's a small pedestrian bride built on piers remaining from larger bridge that washed away in flood - it's the smallest suspension bridge I've ever seen.
"Footbridge To Lumberville"
8x10 oil on panel

Some close-ups where the undertone really shows:

The undertone peeking through helps to unify the painting and pull everything together. If I had painted the same painting on a pure white panel, little flecks of pure white showing through would not have the same effect. Sometimes, it might work but usually it would just look like I missed some spots. It would look like a mistake! And if I had to go back and brush on more paint to 'fix' those mistakes, it destroys some of the spontaneity that I try to achieve in my brushwork.

I don't mean to imply that it's a lazy way of working so that I don't have to cover every spec of canvas - when it's right for a particular scene, I'll purposely use this effect, but when it's not, then I will cover it up completely with paint. Ideally, it would be nice to choose the starting color for every individual scene I paint, but as a time saver, I pre-tone my canvases and panels with either a yellow or reddish earthen color, because that works good with most of the scenes that I paint. And I really like a warm undertone because it can give the finished painting such a warm, cheery feeling - the feeling of sunshine in a way.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ongoing at Hopewell

My solo show at the Hopewell Frame Shop Gallery is over now. It went really well and was a lot of fun. Abby, the owner, has asked me to stay on and leave a few paintings for her permanent gallery. Downstairs is for the changing shows, but there is also an upstairs gallery where she keeps some regular artists up all the time.

So now I show in these 3 galleries:

8x10 oil on panel

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Delaware Canal at Phillips Mill

Here's an attempt to show my painting process. Maybe I shouldn't show the first few steps because most paintings go through an "ugly stage" - I know what intermediate steps are needed to achieve the end result, but some of those stages can look so "off", it can really make me question whether I'm on the right track. Anyway, here it goes, ugly stages and all:

Step 1: Choose the target. I was planning to paint some old buildings at Phillps Mill, Pa. But when I got there, a plein air painting class was in progress and although I knew the instructor, I didn't want to setup in the middle of his class. So I found a quiet spot along the Delaware Canal behind the mill. This scene really grabbed my attention. And it was nice shady spot in which to work:
Step 2: The sketch. I almost always start with a toned canvas or panel. This is an 8x10 masonite panel, with several coats of gesso, and a light wash of acrylic yellow ocher. I prepare these panels ahead of time, so the ocher wash was already there when I setup. Then I very lightly sketch the main lines with charcoal. Charcoal is easy to brush off to correct mistakes, so it's perfect for the initial layout:

Step 3: Blocking in. I like to get the panel covered with paint quickly. It's partly psychological because a blank canvas can be intimidating. The pre-toned panel helps with that too, but its' still good to get some paint down quickly. You might be wondering why violet when there's so much green? There is a lot of violet in the pathway shadows. And this is early spring where many trees are still budding out. It's hard to see from these photographs, but behind the surface green, there's a network of almost bare branches which are a sort of purplish grey. So I start with that background color, intending to let some of it show through when I paint the greens later. I've painted the concrete parts of the bridge way too dark - I should get the main value relationships down at this point - what was I thinking? This is one of those "ugly stages":

Step 4: Introduce more color. The previous step was really just the underpainting. Getting a few more colors down starts bringing it out of that ugly stage. That bridge is still way too dark:

Step 5: Continue refining. The path was underpainted a dark violet because that was the predominant tone I saw. Here I start adding some patches of sunlight to break that up. The physical surface of a painting usually looks better with lights painted on top of darks. I have no idea why - it just does. If I had painted the pathway light, then added the shadows, it wouldn't seem right to me. But maybe that's just me. You have to figure these things out on your own by trying different approaches, and taking note of what works for you and what doesn't. Here, I also introduce some warmer greens along the pathway, to contrast with the cooler greens in the distant trees, and start building a sense of space. I finally lightened up that bridge, but wow - that's way too blue - what was I thinking?

Step 6: Step back and look. Actually, that's something you should be doing constantly. Stand back and compare your painting to the scene before you. Up close, it's hard to see the big mistakes. Stand back, and errors in the drawing, color, or value relationships are easier to see:

Step 7: More refining. Here I add the bright highlights of sunlight reflecting off of the bridge railing and deck. This detail is very important to the painting - that little sparkle brings the scene to life - but you have to resist the temptation to add them in too early. Getting the main color and values right makes a solid painting, and if you add too much detail too early, it holds you back from getting the main harmonies right. Also, I must have finally noticed how wrong the concrete bridge parts were and I warmed up those blues, matching it a little better to reality:

Step 8: More refining. Another step back and I see I had left out some of the main reflections in the water, so I added the reflection for the right side bridge support and the big trees. Working on location, there is a lot to take in, and a short time to do it in! Compare this painting to the first one, and you can see 2 big changes: 1) the tree shadows on the pathway have receded and pretty soon, the shadows will be behind me, not in front of me. 2) the sun has come around and is starting to light the front of the bridge, when before, it was all in shadow. Time to pack up and go home.

Step 9: Refinement back in the studio. Almost all of the painting is done on location. But back home, I let the painting alone for a few hours, and then I can sometimes spot problems that were not apparent when painting under the time constraints of working on location. I don't think I added much, but I did warm up the concrete bridge parts more. It's still more violet than it was in real life, but I'll call that artistic license, and the bridge harmonizes nicely with the foreground shadows and a few patches of violet in the trees.

The finished painting:
"Delaware Canal Bridge"
8x10 oil on panel