Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nocturne #19, Winter
16 x 16   Oil on Panel

We made sure we had packed everything, clothes, gifts, cookies, food for the road. Then we settled in for the trip to New Jersey and Pennsylvania to see our families for Christmas. We hadn't gone far before I decided to turn back. There was a light snow falling, I thought it was going to be a beautiful drive. But the car slipped and slid, even though we were going straight and only 20 mph. It would take many extra hours at that pace, if we made it at all without sliding off the road. So we returned home feeling glum and a bit defeated. But now Elizabeth is happily reading a book by the fireplace and I will soon join her to read a few more chapters of the out-of-print biography of Sargent that I recently downloaded from the internet. Nature has intervened to slow down the hectic pace of our lives, giving us time to leisurely watch the falling snow, feel the warmth of the glowing fire, and spend a quiet evening together. Perhaps there really are Christmas miracles. We will repack the car and head out again tomorrow to visit our families but tonight is ours. Merry Christmas my love.....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nocturne #8, Winter Solstice
16 x 16 Oil on Panel

Most people think of December 21st as the shortest day of the year, I prefer to think of it as the longest night. The sun goes to bed early and the moon and stars come out to play. Moonlight dances on the gnarled branches and slides between the barren trunks. The stars reach out yet never quite touch their neighbors. They seem more brilliant than ever as they nestle into the velvet darkness, they shine with a youthful expectation that this night will never end. Winter will never grow old, there is no thought that the cold nights might begin to thaw. No thought that tomorrow night will be a bit shorter and the next one shorter still. No thought of moonlight dancing on grassy fields and squeezing through leafy trees. No thought of June 21st ever coming, the day most people think of as the longest day of the year, but I think of as the shortest night.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nocturne #5, Snow
16 x 16   Oil on Panel

Normally when I step outside to study the night it takes a little while for my eyes to adjust to the change of light, but not on this night. The moon was low and full and big. It illuminated the sky and bounced off the new snow. My shadow suggested it might not be nighttime yet. I began to wonder if it would be cheating to call this a nocturne. I waited and watched as the moon ascended. It had only been an hour or so since the snow had stopped falling. The clouds were gone but there was still a lot of moisture in the air. The thickness of the atmosphere beneath the celestial dome gave the sky a lovely violet hue. I could feel the cool moisture all around me and began to consider the possibility that I might see a moonbow. After a while the moon was far enough away from the earth and the reflection from the ground sufficiently subdued, that I felt confident when I painted the scene it would indeed be a nocturne. Still, when I went to bed that night there was so much light coming in the window I got up to make sure I hadn't left the porch light on....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In the two previous posts we discussed painting physical and psychological portraits of our subject matter and of the light falling on it. Now we must consider a third portrait, the space that our subject occupies. As a simple example of how space affects a painting let's consider a couple of well known masterpieces. Imagine the Mona Lisa without a landscape behind her. If she were portrayed with the same pose and clothing, the same enigmatic smile, but in front of a blank wall, how different the painting would be. Or perhaps Whistler's Mother seen rocking, not in her gray room, but on her front porch or in her garden. Only the space would be different but now we would have a new picture of her. Let's go back to studio 7 at the League where the classroom portrait shown here was painted. There is space between the portrait and the background, in this case a very shallow space. We can't see or feel the space yet we know it exists and we must paint it. If we fail to paint that space our figure will look as if she were glued to the wall. The quality, a portrait, of the space must be expressed, if it is dry or misty, shallow or vast, crisp or gloomy. Now our painting has an excellent chance to succeed, we are painting everything we see, physical and psychological portraits of our subject, the light that falls on that subject and the space it occupies.....

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In the previous post we painted a physical and psychological portrait of a female figure. When we paint a landscape or still life we do the same thing; capture a likeness and the character of the trees or fields, or mountains or clouds, or apples or flowers before us. We also want to paint a portrait of the light that illuminates our subject. The figure shown here is a classroom critique that I gave in studio 7 at the Art Students League. Studio 7 has a marvelous skylight so our figure is lit by natural light. Now imagine that you are in the night class in the same studio. You are painting in the same spot, with the same model in the same pose, but with artificial light. The only difference is the character of the light falling on your figure, yet you will have a very different painting. Any plein air landscape painter can tell how frustrating it is when you are doing a sunny painting and the sun moves in and out of the clouds. Each time the sun appears or disappears your painting changes. The light has changed, it has a different character. Now we've become aware that what attracted us to the subject of our painting was not only the scene or the object but also the way it was lit and the quality of that light. So we must paint an expressive portrait of the light. We are now painting two portraits, one of the subject and one of the light, but there is yet one more portrait to consider for our masterpiece.....

Sunday, February 19, 2012

When I teach I like to work directly on the student's painting. If I tell them the figure in their painting needs more light or weight, or the drawing is off, they usually understand what I mean. However if I show them how to mix the paint and apply it to the canvas the lesson is seen as well as heard. When they see their painting change the lesson has more resonance. The image posted here is one such classroom critique. Everyone who walks into the classroom wants to learn how to paint what they see. One of my first lessons is to help them understand what they see. "To paint what you see" I tell them "you must paint three portraits at the same time." The first, obviously, is a physical and psychological portrait of the subject before you, in this case a magnificent nude figure. Everyone sees the size and shape of the figure, her proportions and features, the colors and harmonies of what is before them. We don't see weight or character or attitude but we know that is something we want to get into our painting too. But there are two other portraits we must paint in order to paint what we see, a portrait of the light falling on the nude and a portrait of the space she is sitting in.....

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Oil on Panel
Image 10 x 12 - Framed 15 x 17

I often paint what I hear in addition to what I see. When I was painting Muffins I heard a rather whimsical woodwind quartet in the style of Prokofiev. I heard the oboe gently dropping chocolate chips into the dough, a playful flute signified the muffins rising in the oven. A bluesy clarinet played the muffins cooling on a rack while a witty bassoon indicated a dollop of jelly being spread on the half eaten muffin. I've never actually heard a woodwind quartet by Prokofiev or even know if he ever wrote one. But if he did, and someday a musicologist finds it in some dusty archive, I'm sure there will be a notation calling it the Muffin Quartet.....

The Painting of the Month is a special offer to my blog readers (click on the image for a larger view). This month Muffins, which retails for $2200, is being made available for $1200 (includes shipping, VT residents add 6% sales tax). To purchase this piece contact me at 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, January 17, 2012

Nocturne #4: Midnight
16 x 16    Oil on Panel

At midnight on a moonless, cloudless night, I turn off all the lights in my house and use a flashlight to guide my way to the middle of an empty field. Then I turn off the flashlight, lie on my back and stare straight up at the sky. I am alone, there is no evidence of human existence. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I become vaguely aware of a distant hillside and an arboreal phantom in the blue-black void. But I am drawn like a magnet to the heavens. I reach out my hand and feel like a giant next to the tiny stars. Then watch the distant stars getting smaller and dimmer as they recede into the vastness of space, and suddenly feel very small. The twinkling stars make the heavens seem like a lovely, sensitive living thing, and it's strangely comforting to lie here alone in what feels like the womb of the universe. I contemplate the infinite possibilities of time and space, and dream about my next life, when this fetal existence ends....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nocturne #3: Winter Moonrise
16 x 16    Oil on Panel

The moon was a bit tardy tonight. It was nearly full last night and was expected to be the star of show this evening. I was sure it would have made its entrance by now. Perhaps it had a quarrel with one of the constellations last night and was refusing to go on. Was Orion the hunter a bit too aggressive, or Cassiopeia the queen making unreasonable demands? In the midst of my silly musing a glow began to appear in the night sky. Before long the moon made a dramatic entrance, choosing to appear behind the branches of my favorite apple tree. The glow was so bright it obscured the edges of the lunar disc. Rising slowly it highlighted one branch then another. Some of the branches made gnarly silhouettes while others reached out to catch a moonbeam. There was the excitement of anticipation in the air. It was a grand entrance indeed and I couldn't wait to see it join the stars for tonight's celestial performance.....