Monday, December 29, 2008

There is a famous quote from Picasso that goes something like this, "When I was young I could draw like Raphael but it has taken me a lifetime to draw like a child." That sounds good, everyone finds children's drawings very charming. But on reflection is drawing like a child a desirable thing? Is he referring to the innocence or the ignorance of the young artist? He seems to be favoring ignorance, rejecting the knowledge and skills of Raphael. But do children really draw that way? Ask any child about the scribble they drew and they will tell you exactly what it is. "It's daddy" or "It's a princess in a castle" or "It's Fido playing with a ball." I've never heard a child say "I don't know, I was just expressing my feelings." They are drawing with all the knowledge they have and rather than avoiding or shunning knowledge they gather it in at a rapid rate and apply it to their drawings. Before long the princess has a face with a nose and eyes, and Fido has four legs. Knowledge doesn't bind an artist, it frees him. By this line of reasoning Raphael drew the way a child draws. He used all his knowledge to express what he wanted to say. A child is satisfied to draw a line to indicate a nose but Raphael wanted to express the character and dimension of the nose he drew. As the things you want to express in your drawings become more sophisticated your knowledge must increase to convey those ideas. Perhaps Picasso just wanted to return to the innocence of childhood, but is that such an enviable thing? There is an interesting passage in the bible that addresses this, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things." Let's try Picasso's quote another way. Imagine a poet who says "When I was young I could write like Keats, but it has taken me a lifetime to write like a child" or a musician who says "When I was young I could play like Heifetz, but it has taken me a lifetime to play like a child".....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jelly Donuts
8 x 10 Oil on Panel

I needed some new brushes and a few other supplies so I thought I give the old Santa Claus trick a try. I didn't want to give up Elizabeth's fresh baked cookies so I left a few donuts out in the studio for old St. Nick. I didn't really think it through very well. How was Santa going to fit through that 6" chimney pipe on my woodstove? "Well, why let a perfectly good donut go to waste" I thought the next morning. So I started to chomp away as I puttered around the studio. I opened a bag of handmade paints that one of my students had given me as a Christmas present. The alizarin crimson he made was a beautiful color and prepared perfectly. "That would be just right for the jelly in that donut" I said to myself. I reached in the bag and pulled out a few more tubes. Cadmium yellow light, ivory black, titanium white. Soon I was squeezing the paint on to my palette. These old brushes aren't that bad and that little canvas is ready to go. So I set to work."Why let a perfectly good still life go to waste" I thought. Oh, right, Santa. Well, I suppose next year I should go back to the traditional cookies and milk. A tall white column of milk, a few cookies, maybe something with a fruit filling and a dusting of sugar on top. Yeah, that would be great to paint.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

Moonlight in Vermont
Oil on Linen
Image 24 x 24 - Framed 31 x 31
$3200

Every now and then the neighbor's sheep get out and come to our place. My dog is usually the first to know they have arrived and in her enthusiasm to greet them sends them running in every direction. One day I saw them first. I gave the dog a marrow bone to keep her busy, grabbed my sketch pad and slipped outside to do some drawing. I didn't want to scare them off so I stayed a little distance away and made a few scribbles. Gradually I got closer and closer and my drawings started to capture more of their character. Suddenly they noticed me but didn't run because I wasn't threatening. They knew they weren't supposed to be there and they looked, well, sheepish. The five of them huddled together and moved as one behind the trunk of a small apple tree hoping to hide. I continued to draw, this one grazing, that one staring straight at me, another in profile. I gathered quite a bit of information before they went off down the road looking for adventure. When I came back to the studio I looked around for my moonrise sketch. The sheep were just what I needed to bring the scene to life.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Moonlight in Vermont, which retails for $4500, is being made available for $3200 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elizabeth has written such a profoundly beautiful post on drawing that I can do no better than refer you to her blog
On the Easel.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fall Colors
36 x 40 Oil on Linen

In Vermont we have two versions of fall colors, the famous autumn leaves for the tourists and the harvest for the farmers and gardeners. A comparison of the two gives us an excellent opportunity to discuss how artists mix colors. Let's take, for example, a pumpkin and a maple tree full of orange leaves. Both are bright orange but one is brilliant and the other, by contrast, somewhat subdued. The maple is in full voice, the pumpkin is singing sotto voce. To convey the intensity of the maple leaves the artist uses pure colors. You can make a wide variety of oranges by mixing cadmium yellows, from lemon to yellow deep, with the cadmium reds. If it is too gaudy reduce the chromatic value by using the less severe earth colors, yellow ochre, terra rosa, siennas and umbers. Stay away from black and white as much as possible as they will rob your tree of its color. When you paint the pumpkin however black and white are your best friends, we want the pumpkin to be a bold but less intense orange. By slowly adding white we can gently bleach, and thereby mute, the color in the lights. A touch of black will delicately drain the color in the shadows, be careful not to use too much or your pumpkin will start to look moldy. Combine the two and you will have a lovely gray to subdue the color in the middle range, should you wish to do so. I'm not fond of rules so take these thoughts as my observations, not as formulas, and use them as you please.....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oops. My pumpkin is starting to collapse. "It'll keep" I thought. I feel like a cartoon character caught in a dilemma with a good angel whispering in one ear and a bad devil whispering in the other. "It's okay Tom" said the good angel "you got a good start yesterday, don't be discouraged, keep going." "Don't be a sap" said the bad devil "the whole thing is ruined, wipe it out, ditch the still life and paint something else." "Think of the color" whispered good angel "and the design of the whole." "It's halfway to the compost heap already" sneered bad devil "just soak a rag in turpentine and get it over with. Who cares about beautiful painting anyway?" The little devil went too far there. So the pumpkin is collapsing, so what? Any good art student can paint a round pumpkin, where's the challenge in that? Try painting a convincing collapsing pumpkin. I accepted the challenge, the good angel sat on my shoulder to watch me work and the bad devil went off to see if he could create some mischief at the woodstove. So I set to work. Brilliant orange for the pumpkin, being careful not make it garish, a bit of reflected light coming back into the collapsed side. A rich, but not brilliant, yellow for the spaghetti squash, what a great chance to paint perspective. Colorful gourds in front. Drapery winding like a river around the pumpkins. "Not a bad days work" said the good angel...damn, why is the woodstove leaking smoke into the studio.....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Elizabeth set up a great still life for her last workshop. Squashes, pumpkins, gourds, it was beautiful. Rich, colorful, joyful, lovely rhythms, big sweeping motions, a late Mozart symphony. I knew I had to paint it. Our big still life table is on wheels so I moved it to my studio, then continued to work on other projects that were already started. "It'll keep" I thought. A week or so later I got started. There were two pomegranates, I love painting pomegranates. They were sitting next to each other looking in different directions, very nicely composed, but I couldn't resist breaking one open. A freshly opened pomegranate is so luscious and so juicy the sight of it makes your mouth water, how could Persephone resist eating a few seeds? I had to paint and I had to paint fast, before it started to turn brown. A few broad washes set the composition then I jumped in and painted the pomegranates. Beautiful cool whitish flesh dotted with a wealth of garnetlike seeds. What a marvel of nature, what a marvelous thing to paint. Surround it with a tough rich red skin, drive the knife through it for dramatic effect. How delightful, what fun, "lucky me" I thought "to be an artist." Just enough light left to put in that little gourd in the front. Wonderful, exhilarating, satisfying...not a bad days work.....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breakfast
16 x 20 Oil on Linen

Like most artists I've always painted the way I wanted to paint, but have been uneasy explaining why I paint the way I do. The recent political season helped me clarify my philosophy of painting. As I considered my vote I asked myself "How does someone raised in a conservative religion come to live by a liberal philosophy?" Which led to "How can someone with a liberal philosophy paint in what most people would call a conservative style?" I grew up in a middle class Catholic/Labor Union family, the kind that voted for JFK and later Reagan. I've always loved the kindness, gentleness and humility, the "love God, love your neighbor" aspect of religion. It was a good fit with the "look out for the little guy" view of the labor unions. My interpretation of the Bible is closer to conservative socialism than it is to social conservatism. I love the core philosophy of Catholicism, it is a wonderful guide to living, but I've never been big on rules and rituals, I'd rather apply the lessons in my own way, thank you very much. I seem to have approached painting in the same way. Looking for a solid foundation to build on I sought out those who could teach me the basic concepts of painting. Beginning with light and shade, creating the illusion of three dimensional form on a two dimensional surface, moving on to anatomy to make that form more convincingly human, then on to space and atmosphere, color and composition, the laws of harmony and of dissonance, the power of abstraction. These are beautiful principles, they are a wonderful guide to painting, but I'm still wary of the constraints of rigidity and orthodoxy, I'd rather apply these lessons in my own way, thank you very much. So there you have it, one part conservative tempered by one part liberal, one part classical moderated by one part romantic, and always a healthy dose of curiosity.....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fruit Basket and Peonies
30 x 34 Oil on Linen

Rejoice oil painters! Be happy! Celebrate your uniqueness! For you have the only medium in all the visual arts that is fat. Acrylics, watercolor and printing inks are all lean. Pastels, drawing and sculpture are dry. Oil painting has a distinct advantage. Grind your pigments in linseed oil to achieve the richest colors. Add some lead to your oil and it will dry faster. Heat it in the sun to thicken it. Cook it in a pot with lead, mastic and turpentine and it will become a gel. Use a loaded brush for a thick bold stroke or lay it on thin for a subtle glaze. Make it as solid as a rock or as transparent as stained glass. Use walnut or poppy oil for a more delicate effect. Blend it as much as you please or let each stroke stand alone. Beautiful, rich, voluptuous, lively, vivid, lustrous, fluid, dynamic. Use your oil, fellow painters, to your advantage...make it a part of your expression.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Studio 7 at the Art Students League has a unique and remarkable history. In the last 100 years only 2 instructors have taught the afternoon class there, Frank Vincent DuMond and Frank Mason. It is where I learned to paint. When I was a student in Mason's class it was sometimes so crowded that I couldn't see the model. I would use that opportunity to paint the other students as they worked or paint the plaster casts that were available for us to study. My favorite cast was Donatello's David. A heroic yet touchingly human version of the biblical hero. Since it was a white plaster cast against a gray wall it seemed logical to me to do a black and white painting. I did my best to create the illusion of form, of light and shade, of weight and atmosphere. Frank made a few kind remarks about my efforts then gently manipulated what I had done, making it both stronger and more subtle. He used the shadows in the background to create a composition and reinforced the lights on the figure. Then came the lesson that I never forgot. "The entire spectrum of light is coming in through the skylight" he said, "so why are you using only black and white?" He deftly added a few cool blues to my gray shadows and then splashed some warm reds and oranges to express the reflected lights. "Never let your painting die" he said.....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Apple Harvest
35 x 45 Oil on Linen

A few weeks ago someone came into my studio and complimented me on my "daring and courageous use of negative space" in The Apple Harvest. It may not have been a correct usage of the term but I knew she was referring to the area in the upper right hand quarter of the painting that contained no objects. "Thank you" I said, perhaps unconvincingly. It made me realize how much the language of modern art has permeated our culture. When she looked at my painting she saw diagonals and shapes, edges and tension. I saw depth and form, harmony and atmosphere. In the space where she saw nothing I saw light and air flooding into the painting. To reinforce the harvest theme I designed the blanket to fall from deep inside the painting and spill out to the front to suggest a cornucopia in which the apples rest. This moves the viewer's eye in and out of the painting, a pleasant journey over the blanket, through the apples, into the bowl, up the blanket to where it is nailed to the wall and back again. The daring and exciting aspect is not the negative space but the use of light in that space. The light surges into the painting and boldly crashes into the still life washing over the objects in a most dramatic fashion. Our pleasant journey has been hit broadside, we are taken by surprise and our hearts skip a beat. It is unexpected, bold, perhaps daring and courageous, certainly dramatic. The space is not empty at all but harbors the protagonist of our drama.....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

By the Sea
Oil on Panel
Image 9 x 12 - Framed 13 x 16
$900

You never know what's going to happen when you paint en plein air. Sometimes bad things happen. Like the time I tried to paint some cows resting under a beautiful old oak tree. As soon as I started painting they all got up and came over to the fence to watch what I was doing. Or the time I was painting an oncoming storm. I decided I was about to get drenched so I packed up to head home. Shortly after I got everything in the car a magnificent rainbow appeared, too late for me to get it into my painting. But sometimes good things happen, like when I was painting By the Sea. It was a rather uninteresting overcast day but I decided to paint anyway. As I neared the end of my sketch the clouds parted just a bit, just enough for the wind to caress the sea and whip up a bit of surf. Then the sun made a brief appearance, kissed the rocks, and disappeared again. It gave the scene an exquisite, subtle liveliness. Delightful. Sometimes good things happen.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month By the Sea, which retails for $1400, is being made available for $900 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nasturtiums
24 x 30 Oil on Linen

Still Life? I think not. Anyone who has tried to paint nasturtiums knows that they are anything but still. Action life, moving life, flowing life, rhythmic life, maybe. The first day everything seems great, the vine is doing an exotic dance, there are a few buds waiting their turn to open, the leaves are fresh and lively. You cheerfully start your painting, a flower here, a leaf there, place the vase and the pear, a few touches for the drapery. When you come back the next morning, however, your arrangement is barely recognizable. The little leaf that grew so nicely to the left has doubled in size and now turns to face toward you. The lovely blooms that were the focus of your piece have drooped to the tabletop. The bud that you were waiting to paint has not only fully opened but is hidden behind a fresh leaf. Everything on the right hand side of the painting has turned abruptly to the left, seeking out the light from the window. This is either a disaster for the artist or an opportunity. I chose the latter. Instead of copying what was in front of me I was liberated to pick and chose the most exciting moments of each day. Rather than rush to finish before it all moved again I anxiously waited to see what the next day would offer. My composition took on a natural liveliness. I was able to paint what happens over several days rather than capture one moment. Still life? Well this time it was more life than still.....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Any Given Sunday
36 x 52 Oil on Linen

Football season has begun. I like football. I thought of a few different ways to approach a post about this painting. The convergence of old master technique and contemporary subject matter. A commentary on texture in painting, the challenge of painting pizza and cardboard boxes, aluminum beer cans, nylon jerseys and faux pigskin. The importance of abstraction and balance in a still life. But this painting isn't about any of those things for me. It's about football. It brings back fond memories of my youth. Playing with my cousins in a clearing in my grandfather's orchard, later with the neighborhood kids in the narrow alley behind our house. I didn't like organized sports but enjoyed playing on an intramural team with my friends in high school. Growing up outside Philadelphia I would sit with my dad and my brother and watch the Eagles every Sunday. I still like to watch the games. It relaxes me. It's a kind of meditation. While others might concentrate on their breathing or employ some other meditation technique, I find watching a football game very relaxing. I generally could care less who wins or loses and most of the game is, quite frankly, rather dull with only an occasional exciting play. But it's familiar and comforting. It clears other thoughts out of my head and then replaces them with, well, nothing. Mental junk food, which is probably why pizza and beer go so well with the game. It's not profound or lofty, it doesn't nourish or enrich my life, it doesn't make me a better person. I just like it. So to my fellow football fans...this painting is for you.....

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Silver Bowl
34 x 30 Oil on Linen

I think of my palette as my piano. The colors are arranged from white to black. Each artist can use whatever colors they like but should set them out as if they were the keys on their piano. White at one end followed by the next highest color in pitch, or value as artists call it, then proceed down through the middle range of colors and finally the darks and then black. It would be impossible to play the piano if the keys were not arranged in a logical way and you couldn't find the note you want to play. So it is with painting. It is impossible to mix the color you want if you don't know where it falls on the scale from white to black. Mix your light colors at one end of the palette, keep the richness in the middle, play the dark notes at the other end. If you can control your palette from light to dark mixing color will be as easy as playing scales. At the end of the day your palette will tell you how well you've painted. If it is beautiful and organized and harmonious then your painting will be too. If your palette is a patchy confusing mess then your painting will look the same. Someone recently sent me this quote from Robert Henri, "Dirty brushes and a sloppy palette have dictated the color-tone and key of many a painting. The painter abdicates and the palette becomes master".....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

Primary Colors
Oil on Linen
Image 16 x 20 - Framed 23 x 27
$2600

Shortly after the death of Luciano Pavarotti I was listening to his recording of "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fĂȘte!" from Donizetti's La fille du rĂ©giment. As he effortlessly tossed off the aria's 9 high Cs I began to think what they might look like in a painting. Pure color obviously, but how to set off those colors? A naive artist, or one trying to shock the viewer, would throw as much pure color as possible at the canvas...COLOR,COLOR,COLOR,COLOR...but that screams at the viewer, the colors rob each other of their respective brilliance, and it is confusing and painful to the eye. A more experienced artist might set off the colors by placing them next to a grayer tone...gray, COLOR, gray, COLOR...better but rather monotonous, it is easier on the eye, you can see the colors, yet it lacks excitement. I hear the high Cs set off by something more like...gray, gray, gray, COLOR...each color is clear and distinct, it brings joy to the eye and quickens the heart. Now the pure colors can be effortlessly tossed off, perhaps as often as 9 times in a single painting. Primary Colors is the result of my colorful musing.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Primary Colors, which retails for $3400, is being made available for $2600 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Old Marble Quarry
30 x 36 Oil on Linen

Vermont is famous for its marble. Not far from us there is an old quarry that is no longer being mined. There are some abandoned blocks of marble about and the pit has filled with water. It's now everyone's favorite swimming hole. On a hot summer afternoon it's the place to be. How could I not want to paint there? But how would I go about doing it? There's not much shade so I was reluctant to set up and do an oil sketch on the spot. I don't use photography because it limits the experience and my imagination, so that was no help. Finally I decided to draw and work out the color from memory. I went out in the cool of the morning to sketch the trees and the marble formations, then went home and started an oil sketch in my studio. Later that day I went back and did some quick drawings of the divers and bathers. Nobody stayed still for very long so I had only 10 or 20 seconds to capture each figure, my favorite is the figure in the center of the painting pulling off his red tee shirt. I filled a few pages and returned to my studio to work on the oil sketch again. I decided to limit the number of figures in this painting and focus instead on the grandeur of the scene. After the sketch was finished I quickly began a larger version while it was still fresh in my mind. Since then I've done several paintings of the scene...how could I not.....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lemons and Mint
10 x 14 Oil on Linen

August. Friends chatting on the deck, dogs playing in the pond, sun tea brewing. A little down time, a million miles away from work. Unless you are an artist. I cut a few sprigs of mint from the herb garden and drop them in a glass of water to keep them fresh, start to slice the lemons, catch the blue napkin out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly I'm no longer thinking about iced tea for my friends. A little painting is starting in my head. Yellow lemons, blue napkin, a warm red tabletop. Primary colors. Perfect. A shimmer of light passing through the water glass, the dark greens of the mint, a neutral background to control the scene. Cool, refreshing, it can't miss. I return to my friends with the tray of iced teas but it's hard to hear the conversation. I'm listening to the painting. I'm hearing it as one of the 500 or so keyboard sonatas by Scarlatti. Delightful. I finish the painting in my head, tomorrow I will transfer it to a bit of canvas. Down time, relax. I turn to talk to Bill and am fascinated by the shadow that his hat is casting over his face. His eyes resting in the shade as the sun lights up his cheeks, a highlight lands on the end of his nose...Another painting...Down time, relax.....

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Moonrise
9 x 10 Oil on Panel

July. The Hay Moon. I went out 3 nights in row to study, to observe, to absorb. When you live near mountains the moon can rise very late, so late sometimes it seems impenetrably dark, you can give up hope of it ever rising. Then out of the blackness comes this powerful glow. Glorious. As the moon lit up the sky it made the trees blacker by contrast. The first night was cloudless, the second night just enough clouds to suggest mystery, the third night positively Gothic. I didn't want to paint the full drama of the last night and my mind went back to the middle night's effect. I thought about it for a few days then took out a small panel and let it rush forth. Within an hour it was finished. It wasn't a Chopin or Whistler nocturne. It was darker, deeper, Rothko's Chapel or Beethoven's late string quartets. Very compelling, there is a lot here to explore. I will be visiting this subject again.....

Sunday, July 27, 2008
















Building Sand Castles
9 x 12 Oil on Panel


Every time an artist paints he learns something new. It happens slowly, almost imperceptibly, but one day you suddenly realize that you paint better than you used to. I recently had such an epiphany. When it happens to me I am overcome with a desire to repaint every painting I ever did. The only paintings that are spared from this insanity are those that have been sold or those that are on consignment and in the protective custody of a gallery. Everything else is fair game. Building Sand Castles, painted en plein air 10 years ago, got caught in my most recent madness. It is a delightful little painting about youth and aging. The two boys are working hard building their castles while rising up behind them ancient rocks watch over the young architects. I was inspired by the contrast and painted a rather nice sketch. Now in my current frenzy I couldn't resist reworking it. Off came the varnish. I brought more sunlight to the rocks, more wind and clouds and atmosphere, the ocean now moves forward and will soon threaten to wash the sand castles away. I thought I was making a few subtle adjustments but within an hour or two the whole painting had changed. The story now has more drama. Then I looked around the studio to see who the next victim might be.....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

Rockscape
Oil on Panel
Image 10 x 12 - Framed 16 x 18
$1200

This is not a painting about rocks. Don't look at it, listen to it. Listen to the rhythms as the sun dances up and down the rocks. Feel the heat of the day. Let the clouds drift in and out. Think Monk, Thelonious Monk, improvising. His fingers floating about the keyboard, setting a mood with dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists. Now listen to the color. Tenor saxophone. Coltrane. Intense chromatic shifts, vivid, sultry. Beautiful.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Rockscape, which retails for $1800, is being made available for $1200 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cheese and Crackers
12 x 16 Oil on Panel

"I want my paintings to be looser" or "I want my work to look brushier" or "I need to jazz up my paintings a bit." These are some of the responses I get when I ask my students what they want to see happen in their painting. To me, however, "loose" painting is not a look or a style, it is the result of natural enthusiasm. The artist must have total control of every aspect of his painting to do it effectively, otherwise he is simply throwing paint around. Your drawing must be confident, your understanding of light and shade and color has to be sound and your mind, palette and painting in harmony. It can't be a guessing game. It's not a game at all. If it's not who you are, not how you see things, it's not honest. If you see the world around you, however, as living and breathing, dancing and laughing, make your paintings fit that vision. If you are able to glide up and down your palette, play the scales of color, easily find the half steps, the sharps and flats, able to put your stroke down with absolute certainty, then let your brush sing, piano here, fortissimo there, a bit of vibrato, allegro, con brio, vivace, gustoso, furioso...let it fly.....

Monday, July 7, 2008

Women in Art
30 x 24 Oil on Linen

Art history has been, almost exclusively, written by men about men. Not until late in the 20th century, when Germaine Greer penned The Obstacle Race, did a substantial account of the contribution of women artists exist. Those that were noticed fit into neat second rate categories, a student of so and so, or a follower of this or that movement. They were also allowed to do subjects that men wouldn't touch, mothers and infants for instance. There was occasionally someone, like Cecilia Beaux, who painted, they grudgingly acknowledged, as well as any man, or a Georgia O'Keefe who painted with an undeniably feminine vision. Elizabeth Torak, one of the most amazing artists on the contemporary scene, is one of those artists who can't be ignored. Women in Art is a tribute to her unique perspective. She paints women as no man ever has, powerful and independent, bold and confident. Here she is working on a life size group of women called The Maenads. It is a study for a larger piece, The Beat Goes On, a 6' x 7' masterpiece created from imagination and observation without the use of models. It is a unique portrayal, a delicate balance of power and grace, abstraction, design and detail, of the moment yet timeless. Her depiction of men is not the traditional view either. The French Fry Eaters, for example, are full of energy, lusty louts oblivious to their surrounding, they exhibit that raw sexuality so common in young men. It is not the way men see themselves, it is the way a young woman sees young men. For whoever writes the history of art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries Elizabeth Torak is certainly an artist to watch...dynamic, intense, expressive, feminine, unique.....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Simple Pleasures
20 x 20 Oil on Linen

This is a test. I deliberately set up the most amateurish still life I could. Nothing could be simpler. Anyone who has done a painting or two would probably look at this and be immediately bored, it is what most people think of as subject matter for a beginner. So here is the test. Can someone who has been painting for 30 years make a magnificent painting of daisies and fruit? The challenge here is not in painting the objects, one can quickly learn to do a recognizable painting, but to express them as fully as possible. The objects may be simple and common but they are still full of life. The daisies live and breathe, each stretching, reaching, trying to catch as much light as they can. The grapes float around like the corps de ballet behind the principle dancer. The apple sits proudly up front showing off its ruddy complexion. What a riot of color! Pinks, whites, yellows, reds, and the light passing through that green vase, all sitting on a beautiful dark wood table! What could be more glorious! What could be richer, fuller, more complex! Oh, right, sorry...I forgot that we were doing the simplest most boring thing in world.....

Saturday, June 28, 2008













Bread
16 x 24 Oil on Linen













Wine
16 x 24 Oil on Linen

I've always been enchanted by matching portraits. The Wallace Collection has a fine pair by Rembrandt as does the Metropolitan Museum. The Met also has a marvelous portrait of Herman Doomer but the portrait of his wife is far away in the Hermitage Museum. My favorite pair is that of Stephanus Geraerdts and Isabella Coymans by Frans Hals. Each portrait is a masterpiece, together they are stunning. He looks out of the picture and gestures to his left, she looks back at him delighted by the flower he has just given her. He has a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eye, she gazes at him with admiration, each confident of the other's love. Sadly they too are in separate collections. I like to think of my still life objects as my sitters so it was only natural that I do a pair of matching portraits. Bread and Wine are a much beloved couple. They have been painted many times by many artists but, so far as I know, this is the first time they have ever been portrayed separately as a pair. My companion pieces remind me, however, of the lovers in the final scene of the first act of Lucia di Lammermoor. Edgardo and Lucia meet secretly and in a beautiful duet swear their love and exchange rings, but circumstances make their union all but impossible, for she is an Ashton and he a Ravenswood and the two families are feuding. Bread and Wine make a lovely couple but circumstances have made their union all but impossible too. After going out to a gallery together one was purchased without the other. Perhaps one day some industrious curator will reunite the tragic duo. Until then I hope one of them does not go mad.....

Saturday, June 21, 2008




I enjoy creating works in pairs. These drawings were done when I was still a student and experimenting with craftsmanship. I made my own gesso with rabbit skin glue and whiting and applied it to some scraps of paper from a lithographer. When it was dry I sprinkled some ultramarine blue dry pigment on top and then brushed on rabbit skin glue to hold the pigment and spread it evenly over the paper. It makes a marvelous drawing surface. Terra rosa pigment makes a lovely pink paper, terre verte a nice green, yellow ochre and raw umber also work well. Sometimes I mix the pigment directly into the gesso and leave off the top layer of glue. The colored gesso alone makes a soft drawing surface, the glued surface is harder but the color is richer. I started my drawing with a red conte crayon, which, I learned, would have worked better on the unglued gesso. The problem was easily corrected by switching to a pencil and using a cross hatching technique. Then I went back with a white hard pastel to pick up the lights. This was done around midnight after working a morning job, going to school in the afternoon and working an evening job. The next night I decided to create a mate for my drawing so I repeated the same process, I knew the red conte wouldn't work well but I wanted them to go together. I matted and framed them with whatever I had lying about and hung them in my kitchen. When I met Elizabeth she loved them too and they still hang in our kitchen...where they have been for almost 30 years.....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

The Laughing Rabbit
Oil on Linen
Image 20 x 16 - Framed 26 x 22
$2200

When I teach still life classes I encourage the students to bring in things that they want to paint. One night someone showed up with a Russian figurine of a laughing rabbit (I thought it looked more like a pig) and some lettuce and carrots from her garden. “Okay” I thought “let’s not be judgmental. This is what she wants to paint.” Only one other person showed up that night. He loved the fauves so we set up a still life for him with very brightly colored objects and a contrasting brightly colored background. Neither of them really wanted a critique, they just wanted to do what they do and have me give them a pat on the back from time to time. So there I was with 3 hours to kill (back patting doesn’t take very long). Luckily I had my paint box and a good canvas. I thought I might paint alongside them as a demonstration, though I knew they could care less. It was a tough choice but I went for the pig-rabbit. I painted freely and rather effortlessly knowing that I would wipe it out at the end of the class. It looked ridiculous as a figurine so I tried to breathe some life into it. To my great surprise I painted so well that I didn’t want to wipe it out. I showed it to Elizabeth when I got home and she just laughed and laughed…..

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month The Laughing Rabbit, which retails for $2800, is being made available for $2200 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Peonies
24 x 20 Oil on Linen

My peonies are about to bloom. I can't wait. I've been watching them for weeks. First one stem groggily pushes out of the ground waking from its long winter sleep. It's so slow and tiny, it seems like it will be winter again before this little thing flowers. Then suddenly there is a second stem, then a third, then a fourth. Now it is an army on the march, pushing forth in formation, very impressive. Buds begin to appear and my anticipation grows. I feel like I'm seated in the audience waiting for the curtain to go up, eager to see the show. The black ants have arrived on the scene signaling the great event is about to happen. Finally the buds burst open as if they can't stand to be constrained for another minute. I cup my hand under them as if holding a baby. Now they are growing faster and faster. Each day they feel heavier in my hand. Soon it's as if I am cradling a plump little bird, each petal soft as a feather, yet collectively they have enough weight to bend the stem. Three or four buds on each stem blooming in succession. It's like watching a cluster of fireworks in slow motion. First one blooms, then as it matures the second begins to open, gradually the third bursts forth. By the time the last bud opens the first has dropped it's petals to the ground. Each year I cut a few and bring them into my studio to paint. This time I decided not to set up a still life but to paint the flowers alone. I painted a group of three in the middle of the canvas. I painted too fast because I was so excited. I didn't think it was going well. Elizabeth walked in and her jaw dropped, "Oh my God" she exclaimed. I said I was about to wipe out and start over. "Don't you dare" she said, "If you want to start over use another canvas and give this one to me." I finished the painting and it hung in our living room for a year before I was able to let it go. Now my peonies are about to bloom again. I can't wait.....

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cantaloupes and Grapes
16 x 18 Oil on Linen

Arthur Rubenstein described the music of Brahms this way, "Brahms was to a certain degree influenced by Schubert and Schumann, and his music is full of exuberance, but there is always the restraining hand of the classicist in him." Without comparing myself to either of these towering talents, I would say that this is an amazingly accurate account of my approach to painting as well. Cantaloupes and Grapes was started, as noted in the previous post, as a demonstration piece. I usually see demos as interesting but uninspired works and often wipe them out to save the canvas for another day. This one was different. I could see right away there was something compelling about the composition. It was begun so quickly, however, I didn't have time to hear the music. Now that everyone was gone, out of the silence came Brahms. I eagerly sat down to rework the painting. I had painted well the first day so there wasn't much to do. Reinforce the opacities, bring out the color a bit, clean up the drawing, add a little detail. There was a lot not to do. Don't force the color, don't let the expression overpower the structure, don't lose the rhythm and design. Romantic, exuberant, restrained.....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Open Studios weekend was created by the Vermont Crafts Council shortly before we moved here. It's a showcase for the state's craftspersons, from jewelers to potters, metal workers to furniture makers. A few years later those in the arts, painters and sculptors, were invited to open their studios as well. This year we decided to join in. We had converted our garage to a new studio last summer, more than doubling our work space, so we felt like we had a respectable place to show our work. Most of the week before the event was spent mailing flyers, handing out tour maps, waterproofing and posting road signs, cleaning and organizing, and hanging drawings, paintings and giclee prints in our two studios. Saturday morning started slowly but we had advertised that we would do a demonstration at 2 o'clock so we expected things to pick up later. I was going to do the demo and thought it would be fun for the visitors to watch as I prepared my canvas. I took out a couple of canvases that I had primed last year and began to restretch them. Rebecca chatted with me as I worked. Mike and Kathye wandered back and forth between the two studios trying to decide whether to buy my oil painting or Elizabeth's giclee print, they bought both. Bernice came by as I began to tone the canvases with rabbit skin glue and raw umber pigment. Now it was getting late so I quickly cut open a cantaloupe, grabbed a few grapes from the fruit basket and placed them in a stem bowl, tossed a kitchen towel and the knife on the cutting board, put on my smock and greeted those who were waiting to see me paint. For the next 2 hours I worked hard, painting with bold, broad brushwork, laying in masses of light and color, pushing the painting along much faster than my usual pace, all the while telling stories and answering questions. Some people stayed to the end, others left to continue the studio tour, new arrivals drifted in to watch or peruse the paintings on the walls. There was a lot going on, it was swirling around me but I was calm, happy, at peace...I was at my easel.....

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Passing Storm
12 x 16 Oil on Panel

This is the original study for Sorrel's Knoll in the previous post. Well, not exactly. I kept that sketch around my studio for years thinking someday I'll rework it, give it some life. I would pull it out from time to time and set it on a shelf hoping it would speak to me. Well apparently it was quite angry with me because it just sat there and never said a word. I tried setting a mood with music, some Bach keyboard pieces, a Mozart serenade. Nothing. A Bartok string quartet came on the radio, but it wasn't interested in that either. Maybe it was time to put it back in the rack for awhile. I decided to take a walk. I went down the hill past my knoll then up the other side before turning and heading home. As I came back toward the knoll the wind picked up and storm clouds made a sudden appearance. They blew in fast and dark, I braced myself for a downpour. It was raining hard in the distance but I stayed dry. Then just as suddenly it was over, the sun came back out creating a magnificent rainbow over the valley. As I looked back to my knoll, a burst of sunlight splashed in front of the remaining storm clouds. Stunning. Gorgeous. Romantic. The knoll just laughed, "Schumann" it said softly. When I got back to the studio my sketch was ready, "Let's do it" it said. So we cheerfully spent the afternoon together listening to Schumann, the sketch getting a complete makeover.....

Sunday, May 11, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

Sorrel's Knoll
Oil on Linen
Image 20 x 24 - Framed 26 x 30
$2400

I know this place well. Only about 100 yards or so from my studio, I pass by every day as I check the mailbox at the end of the road or walk the dog. We have a very good relationship, I always stop to admire her beauty and she nods a limb or waggles some grass to acknowledge my presence. I've seen her at all times of the day and through all the seasons. Delightful in spring and summer, magnificent in her autumn outfit. Like any good Vermont scene she embraces the winter, welcomes the snow and is refreshed by the cold air. We've shared quite a few dewy mornings though I prefer to stop by in the late afternoon after I've finished my day's work. A fence went up recently and now a pair of chestnut mares nibble at her grass and gently massage her soil as they play in her fields. She likes to turn in early thanks to the hill to her left but never slips into sleep without watching the afterglow across the valley. One day she agreed to sit for a portrait and I arranged to bring my landscape easel out the next afternoon. She sat perfectly still and I dutifully copied what I saw. When I got home I was disappointed because what I like most about her is her lively personality, my study was quite correct and quite dull. So I got out a fresh canvas and painted her as I knew her, with a bit of a breeze and drifting clouds. I painted quickly using no more paint than I needed...fresh, lively, lovely...one of my favorite pieces.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Sorrel's Knoll, which retails for $3600, is being made available for $2400 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is currently available to my facebook friends.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It isn't always easy. Mozart dashed off the overture to Don Giovanni the night before the premier performance. Beethoven, on the other hand, reworked the overture to Fidelio again and again, he left us with four versions. It isn't always easy. Gulley Jimson saw feet, big feet, small feet, pretty feet, gnarly feet, enough feet to fill a wall. He put everything he had into it. Finally, exhausted, he looked at his great mural from across the room, "Not the vision I had" he muttered to himself. It isn't always easy. I barely had to lift a finger to create Peaches and the Great Pot in my previous post. Now I needed a Herculean effort to create this painting. Originally set up to challenge the best of my students, it sat in the studio for weeks before I could find the time to paint it myself. The first day I painted well but the composition wasn't satisfying so I wiped it out. On day two the composition was better but otherwise I painted badly, so I wiped out again. A few days later I faced the still blank canvas. I finally got the painting started only to be knocked off track time and again. Deliver paintings here, a family illness there, teaching here and there. I soldiered on and some lovely passages began to appear, then a few more. Soon I was able to float over the still life and pass into the landscape. I worked hard, I fought for my vision. It isn't always easy...but it's always exciting.....

Monday, May 5, 2008

Peaches and the Great Pot
20 x 25 Oil on Linen

A few times each year I get to sit back and watch myself paint. I saw this earthenware pot in a shop while looking for a wedding present for my niece. It was obviously not right for her yet I kept going back to it. Elizabeth asked if I had found a present yet, "No" I replied "but I found a great pot to paint." Needless to say we bought it and the name great pot stuck. When we got back to the studio I was very anxious to paint, quickly grabbed a few things from the kitchen and threw a still life together. I took a canvas from the rack and started to work with the paint left over from the day before. From the first stroke it all seemed quite magical. The paint had an excellent consistency, rich and thick, not at all gummy or runny. The canvas took the paint beautifully, not slippery or dry, just the right amount of grab. Even the brushes, which I curse daily, did everything I asked them to do. It was fabulous, effortless. I saw my hand moving back and forth from the palette to the painting, yet I felt like it was not me doing the painting. My every thought appeared instantly, my every whim a brushstroke. I sat on my stool and watched the painting materialize. The peaches deliciously colorful, the grapes luminous gems, the drapery loose and free as it drops over the front of the table, the perspective of the basket magnificent, the great pot lived up to its name, the background effortlessly set off the objects before it. What a splendid show...and I just sat by and watched it all happen...then I walked over and gave myself a pat on the back.....

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I knew nothing about drawing when I walked into Hale’s drawing and anatomy class at the League. I was hungry, no not hungry, starving to be taught something. “If you draw what you see, wait until you see what you draw” I remember from his first lecture. When the model took a back view I would sigh to myself and wonder what I was going to do for 20 minutes. I drew what I saw, a rather lumpy outline. There were no facial features to fuss over, no nipples or bellybuttons to adorn my flat figure, so I was rather lost. Then, lecture after lecture, I was introduced to the bones and muscles that made up that lumpy outline, I learned about their form and function. Amazing. All of a sudden there were the seventh cervical vertebrae and the eighth rib, the graceful trapezius and the powerful latissimus dorsi. I felt the hand of knowledge caressing me and my heart began to pound in my chest. I became aware of light and shade, front planes and side planes, my circles became spheres, my squares cubes. The figure now had rhythm, mass and dimension, she sat in space and projected a presence. The rib cage began to breathe, I could see the shoulder blades spread as the model wrapped her arms around the front of her torso, the spine gently twist as she turned her head, the muscles of the leg and buttocks flattening as they rested on the seat. That lumpy outline now has a beautiful flow that I am aching to express. When the model takes a back pose I no longer sigh with despair, I take a deep breath of excitement and my heart starts to race again…..

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Easter Lilies
30 x 24 Oil on Linen

Spring brings out the altar boy in me. I always thought I wanted to do religious paintings but whenever I create a figure composition it seems anachronistic at best, or, at worst, insipid. Illustrating a story from the bible is one thing but bringing a sense of genuine spirituality to it is something else. When Easter season arrives however, and lilies appear, still lifes with religious themes come easily to me. Bread and grapes represent the last supper, a wicker basket could look back to Palm Sunday or ahead to the wood of the cross, the rising pure white lilies signify the resurrection of Christ as He emerges from the tomb. For me it is powerful imagery and I've painted it a few times. But this subject matter also appeals to me as a secular theme. It's difficult to see a crucifixion or a raising of Lazarus as anything other than a religious painting, but a still life enables me to broaden my audience. Easter Lilies, for example, won a prize at the Salmagundi Club in an exhibition of paintings with a floral theme. I don't know if the people who own this painting bought it for religious or purely aesthetic reasons...and it doesn't matter...it was created to appeal on both levels.....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Twinkies and Superheroes
20 x 24 Oil on Linen

Sometimes I go off in odd directions. Often I find myself revisiting my youth. Although I claim to have been bored by childhood I must have had some fun because all of the paintings that refer to my youth are cheerful and lively. Twinkies and Superheroes is pretty typical. How can you not love a painting with Spiderman flying through the middle of the piece? I wonder what art historians will have to say about this piece. “I see the influence of Warhol and the pop art movement. The comic books were obviously inspired by Lichtenstein and the cupcakes by Thiebaud. Of course Koons had a tremendous effect on his work.” Actually none of those things are true, although those artists have made such subject matter acceptable to those viewing my work. My work is indebted to the old Dutch still life painters, Claesz and de Heem; and to Hals and Titian and Velazquez and Van Dyck…..


I first posted this as a guest blogger at Elizabeth's blog On the Easel http://etorak.blogspot.com/ last June.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Gallery
12 x 16 Oil on Panel

Once an art student decides they have mastered the principles of painting they then have to decide on a course of action to get those paintings out into the world. The usual course is to create a body of work and then take them to the gallery of your choice who will, of course, lavishly praise your paintings and offer you a one man show. It seemed obvious to us that the galleries that would be most receptive to our work were the ones that were showing Frank's paintings, but we didn't think introducing our paintings into his market was the kindest way to repay him for teaching us to paint. So as we mulled over which lucky gallery should have our work we thought it might be a good idea to test various markets around the country. Juried exhibits are a great way to do this because you only need to send one piece and can disperse your work over a large area in a short time. In the back of American Artist magazine there are listings for shows so we sent away for prospectuses of any show that took oil paintings. Of those we took the 10 best prospects, filled out the forms, labeled the slides, wrote checks for the fees and happily painted as we waited for our acceptance notices to arrive. One by one they came back...rejected...rejected...rejected. Of the 10 shows we sent to we got 9 rejections. The only exhibit we got into was a small painting show in Wichita, Kansas. We humbly packed up our paintings and sent them away. A few days later the president of the Wichita Art Association called to tell us that my painting, The Gallery, won 1st prize and also a purchase award, Elizabeth's painting won 2nd prize.....

Friday, April 11, 2008

Peppers
8 x 12 Oil on Panel

One of the things I love most about painting is that, like music, you can continue grow and develop till death do you part. You don't just learn to play the violin and that's that. Jascha Heifetz didn't like recording because, he said, "In 5 or 10 years I will play a piece differently." So it is with painting. Once you understand the principles and are able to produce a respectable picture then you are ready to start painting. Gradually you stop being a painter and start being an artist. Facility creeps into your drawing and brushwork and you struggle more and more with expression, substance, communication, emotion, or in the case of some schools, eliminating emotion. When I sat down to paint Peppers however I knew exactly what I wanted to say and had the facility to say it boldly, crisply, succinctly. It was finished in a single sitting of less than 2 hours. Delightful, splendid. Sometimes at openings I'm asked how long it took me to paint a particular piece. As I try to force my clenched teeth into a smile I explain that artists are not paid an hourly wage, if they were the inept amateur would demand far higher prices than a master. Then I relax and tell the story of Whistler v. Ruskin. Ruskin didn't much care for Whistler's "daubs" and, making reference to Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, accused him of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued for libel. When he was on the stand, Whistler was questioned on the amount of time it took to finish the painting. When he replied that it took only a couple of days, the defense asked if two days of work was worth the 200 guinea price of the piece. Whistler replied, “No. I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime”.....

Saturday, April 5, 2008







People often remark how rich and lively my paint looks, how vivid the colors are, what beautiful quality the work has. It is always followed by "What kind of varnish do you use?" The answer is not in the top layer of the painting but on the bottom. Without a good foundation whatever comes on top will suffer. I don't believe in painting secrets so here is how I prepare my ground. Start with a good piece of linen. Stretch it by hand so that it is neither drum tight nor floppy. Gently heat rabbit skin glue, 40:1, 40 parts water to 1 part glue. When the glue is completely dissolved it is ready, don't let it boil or it becomes rubbery. I use 3 coats of glue to size the linen and isolate the oil ground from the fabric. The first coat can be applied warm with a large brush. Don't be stingy, you need to saturate the linen. When the first coat is thoroughly dry brush on the second coat, not hot, at room temperature. Allow it to dry then add a third coat. You are now ready to apply the lead ground. Since white lead has been banned as commercial paint you have to buy it from an art supplier or grind it yourself. I find the lead goes on easily if it is warm. I make a double boiler by putting some lead in a glass jar and then heating it in a pot of water on a hot plate. Lead fumes are toxic so do this with a lot of ventilation, I do it in my barn. Apply the lead to the canvas using a large palette knife, fill the weave and scrape off the excess. When this is dry add a second coat. Two coats are enough unless you have a very heavy weave then you may want to add a third coat. After it is thoroughly dry you are ready for the final coat of glue. Sprinkle some dry pigment (the one pictured here is terra rosa) on the surface and brush on the same glue that was used at the beginning. It's as easy as 3-2-1, glue-lead-glue. Beautiful. Now you are ready to paint a masterpiece.....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Harbor Sunrise
8 x 12 Oil on Panel

We were painting in Maine on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a brilliant sunrise. We both painted well, then cleaned up and headed back to the little cottage we were renting. After breakfast Elizabeth decided to take a shower, I turned on the TV. Why was Tom Brokaw on at 11 in the morning and what did that crawl at the bottom of the screen mean, "The World Trade Center towers have collapsed?" Elizabeth came out of the shower and asked if there was any news. "Yeah, big" I replied. We bumbled around in a daze for the next few days, trying to paint. I wanted to go to New York, my home for so many years, but I had promised to visit my sister after our painting trip. Finally, 10 days later, we made it back to the city. I had never known it to be so quiet. We made our way downtown. As we walked quietly down Broadway toward ground zero others passed us quietly on their way back uptown. We paused, gazed, prayed then turned away as new mourners quietly came to toward us. Profoundly saddened, we went to the museums for consolation.....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Kitchen
25 x 30 Oil on Linen

When we lived in New York our studio was less than 400 square feet, which included the corner kitchen. A desk in another corner served as our office, the drop leaf table indicated the dining area, everything else was studio space. I made a large open cabinet where we could store paintings, the top was our still life table. The counter space in the kitchen was no more than 2 feet square so when we had guests for dinner the still life table doubled as a sideboard. Visitors were routinely introduced to the food, "This is an appetizer", "Don't eat that, that's a still life I'm working on". There was a little bedroom in the back that was so small you couldn't walk around the bed, whoever was sleeping in the back had to climb over the person in front to get in or out. We had a big north window, however, so the light was good for painting, nothing else really mattered. We painted all day then went to work as ushers at the Metropolitan Opera at night. The Met has a beautiful production of Puccini's La Boheme, we must have seen it 50 times or more. After everyone cleared out of the opera house we would return to our cluttered little studio, like Puccini's bohemians...healthier...but just as romantic.....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

PAINTING OF THE MONTH

Harmony in Green and Gold
Oil on Linen
Image 20 x 30 - Framed 27 x 37
$3200

In the first post on this painting I said I heard it as a Mozart piano sonata. I still do, however on different days I hear different interpretations. The first day Alicia de Larrocha guided my brush, lovely, charming, delightful. Rudolf Serkin came to me the next day, structurally sound, beautiful phrasing. The third day was odd, wild, heavier, mesmerizing, Franz Liszt improvising variations on Mozart's theme. Not the vision I had for this piece but I followed along to see where it would take me. For the final day Arthur Rubinstein tied it all together. As his hands floated gently over the piano, my brush floated gently over the surface of the painting. A color wash here, a bit of detail there. Harmony. Joy. Beautiful...Finished.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Harmony in Green and Gold, which will retail for $4800, is being made available for $3200 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at thomastorak@gmail.com. Payment is by check only please, no credit cards. If you prefer you may make 3 monthly payments. This offer is available for 30 days from the date of this post.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Harmony in Green and Gold, day 3

Very exciting! Everything is moving! The whole painting is singing, dancing, swimming in atmosphere, filled with joy! All the masses boldly stated, each object beautifully realized, there is harmony throughout, sincere, simple yet powerful. Very exciting. Visual Poetry. When most artists sit down to paint a still life they approach it with the idea of copying what is in front of them as closely as possible. I prefer to see it as a portrait, a chance to capture the personality and character of my sitter. It's more important to me that the lace be gentle and flowing rather than counting threads to make sure it is reproduced with rigorous accuracy, that the pitcher, books and fruit are not just rendered but expressed. A poetic interpretation. To quote the pirate king from The Pirates of Penzance, "For what, we ask, is life without a touch of poetry in it?"... very exciting.....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Harmony in Green and Gold, day 2

Starting a new painting is a bit like falling in love. You are both new to each other, there is great excitement, you can't wait to learn everything there is about each other. I fell hard for this still life. That first day was quite magical, short though it was, and promised some delightful days ahead in the studio. But the next day I came down with the flu. I wanted to be at my easel, laughing with the grapes, enjoying the twinkle of the stem bowl, exploring the mysteries in the shadows, discovering the subtleties that made this still life so appealing. It wanted me there too, wanted to know how good an artist I am, am I sensitive and poetic, are my skills mature enough to put into paint just how beautiful it is. For 10 days we were separated. Finally, this morning after breakfast, we met in the studio. I fumbled with a few different brushes, attempted some lame brushwork, it was an awkward conversation. I went back to the fruit in the stem bowl which had so charmed me the first day. Before long the grapes were laughing again, the glass began to sing, we were back together again.....