Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marsh Dawn

Marsh Dawn
Oil on Canvas 9" x 12"
This painting is available. Contact me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Flowers are not a commonly featured subject in my work, and while I don't anticipate making them a fixture of my future portfolio anytime soon, I thought it might be nice to make them a subject of a picture or two.

I have had very little experience depicting them flowers in any form, I looked at this situation as an opportunity to branch out a bit and experiment. A little research revealed that many of my favorite artists had tackled the subject, with widely varying techniques and approaches.

I envisioned doing several paintings, one looser and more expressive, the latter tighter and more formal. I decided to work on the more experimental picture first. This picture was based on a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and was a combination of real visits and studio work.

This picture came out very different than I expected, and I may work on it a bit more in the future. It did teach me a lot of things that turned out to be valuable in the more formal painting that I completed later on.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Walk Through the Woods

I'm currently applying the final touches to this painting-a walk-through the woods-themed landscape. Believe it or not, this picture was done in the middle of New York City, in one of the more "remote" parts of Central Park.

What originally caught my eye about this scene, was the flow of light and shadow along the path. The tension created between these two contrasts if represented correctly, should create a scene of drama and mystery. My goal for this picture was to better represent dramatic lighting than I have in the past. This picture will require a little more work.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Revisiting old Landscapes

These two informal pictures are of older works that were put aside unfinished for many years. For one reason or another I was dissatisfied with them at the time, and I am now in the process of revisiting them in the studio with the goal of finally completing them.

At the time I stopped working on these, I feel despondent and defeated. The picture of the ginko forest in particular was done on location, and represented a lot of effort in time and travel. In the case of the blue ridge landscape I was at an impasse.
In retrospect, I am very happy that I waited as long as I did. Perhaps my skills have improved, or the elapsed time has given me the right perspective to find solutions.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hemp Canvas

Artists are constantly presented with choosing from a huge array of different materials in their craft. Among these the use of canvas as a painting surface.

Canvas is commonly made from either linen or cotton. Linen is the best material, it is strong and durable. In comparison, cotton duck canvas is inferior in most ways to linen, but is less expensive.

Historically, another option existed for artists: hemp. Hemp predominated use in artists canvas up until fairly recently. Chances are that any Old Master painting on view in a museum will be made from this material. The word canvas itself even draws its roots from cannabis.

Jokes about smoking hemp aside, what differentiates hemp from linen? Regular linen canvas comes from fibers extracted from the flax plant. In comparison hemp is stronger than linen, and should be less prone to rot. Hemp requires fewer resources to grow, leading to a lower price for the material, and environmental advantages.

The major challenge of using hemp, was finding a weave of canvas suitable for painting on. Being a niche material, there were not a lot of options for suppliers, and information was lacking. I ordered several types of canvas from different companies, to try out. These experiments revealed many of them to be unsuitable. I had issues with the canvasses either not absorbing a size properly, or not tightening properly when size was applied.

There was one product that I used successfully, made by a company called Soho Urban Artist. This products was made specifically for artist use, and was a bit more expensive than other canvasses. It had a characteristic coarse weave, commonly seen in certain works such as those of Velazquez. I love the effect of the coarse texture, so I am pleased to be painting on it myself.
 A comparison of different types of canvas. On the left is the hemp canvas, the right a fine belgian linen. The coarse textured weave is noticeable.
Two types of coarse hemp canvas. The sample on the left failed to stretch properly when sized; it bound up That sample was discarded
The final choice of hemp canvas stretched and sized. It performed exactly as expected, accepting the size and tightening properly.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Goshen Pass

Goshen Pass
Oil on Wood Panel 9" x 12"

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Some Recent Experiments

One of the benefits of hand-made paint,  is the ability to customize paint any way one desires. Working with a fairly limited palette, I find myself frequently mixing the same colors in the course of a painting. Why not streamline things, by having these colors conveniently available, premixed in a tube?
 The first example was inspired by a tube of "Naples Yellow" I had on hand from Old Holland. This is not a true Naples Yellow, not even close. I found it very useful however, for painting flesh tones. Old Holland lists the pigments that makes up their colors on every tube of paint. The color in question was a mix of Synthetic Yellow Iron Oxide, and Titanium White.  My color was very similar, combining a pale French yellow ochre, mixed with white.
The next example was a different kind of experiment. My intention was to see if I could create an close replacement of Vermillion/Cinnabar, for situations where I didn't have the genuine article. The exact qualities of the color cant be duplicated so I would call this an approximation rather than a substitute.

Vermillion has the contradictory qualities of being both intense, yet capable of subtlety. This makes it excellent for the tints used in flesh tones. Cadmium red by comparison, comes on strong, yet fades much more quickly in mixes.

Modern imitations usually rely on Cadmium Red for the base color with small amounts of Synthetic Organic red to improve its chroma in tints.

My mix was a combo of Cadmiums for an orange red, with a bit of Synthetic Red Iron Oxide for earthiness. I was aiming more for Cinnabar than Vermillion. I mixed in a bit of Calcite to give the pigment some added transparency and body. I didn't have a sample of the raw pigment on hand, so the final result was based on my personal impressions of the color

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Copying at the Met

I recently had the opportunity to copy paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After a bit of paperwork and a long wait, I was invited to copy the artist of my choice, mainly in the European Masters collection.

The painting I chose was Velazquez's Juan de Pareja. One of his best portraits at the museum. It was an exciting opportunity. I have almost admired the work of Velazquez. Having spent so much time researching traditional materials, mixing my own paint, trying to decipher old techniques, I had a chance to work in front of the real thing.

I entered the room, set up and got to work with a bit of trepidation. I wanted my copy to do justice to the real thing, in a way that I never felt working from reproductions. After awhile, I settled down, and realized that the work ahead would be just like painting a regular portrait. This is testament to the grounded realism of the painting.  I would undergo the normal challenges of accurately representing shape and proportion. the final result is close, but not perfect.

Museum rules dictated that I maintain a bit of distance between myself and the painting, so that museum goers could still view the painting. I could not close enough to view the intricate details of the painting. This was one big reason I signed up to copy in the first place. The result was a more holistic summary of what I saw. What was most interesting to me: the portrait when seen from reproductions shows a man with a blank expression. Standing in front of the real picture a subtle phantom smile appears.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Natural Light

Having viewed at a lot of studios in recent months, I've been shocked by the often dismal quality of lighting. In particular, many modern studios ignore or waste the potential of natural light sources. Little work is necessary to harness natural light, and it is arguably the best studio light an artist can hope to have.

The Old Masters lacked good sources of artificial light, so their studios were oriented around the goal of getting the best natural light possible. Their knowledge on the subject was well known and understood, up until fairly recently, when cheap electric lighting became practical.

In most cases the best form of natural lighting is based on a simple northern exposure.

What makes north light the best? In the northern hemisphere, it is the only light source in which there is never any direct sunlight. Light from other directions will vary considerably through the day, depending on the position of the sun, and the weather. North light remains consistent and predictable.

The light that does enter through a north-facing window consists of reflected light, the majority of which comes from the sky. This light has been dispersed through the blue-colored molecules of air in the atmosphere, and trends toward the cool side of neutral.

This kind of light is very useful for gauging accurate color. Artists are often frustrated at how different their work can look under different kinds of light. A painting done under the warm cast of a sunset for instance, might look disturbingly cold viewed under fluorescent lights. North light comes closest to a neutral source that achieves good color balance. Paintings done by an artist in the proper studio tend to translate well to other venues, such as galleries or museums.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sargent at the Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is hosting an exhibition of 80 Sargent paintings this spring, almost entirely watercolors. I have been to see it a couple of times and can report that it is excellent, worth going to see if you are a fan of the artist.

I admit to not having a great interest in watercolors, so going into the show, I wasn't sure what to expect.

I was struck by several things after viewing the images. Sargent approached watercolors relatively late in his career, devoting himself and his consummate technical skills toward achieving unrivaled effects for the medium. He broke many of the typical "rules" of watercolor painting, letting the paint dry and layering very opaque paint in many places.

There was hardly a dud in these collection of images, I never got the sense that Sargent had an "off" day like most of us have from time to
time. This is even more impressive considering that by most accounts, these images were never intended to be sold or shown to the public.

Friday, March 29, 2013

After having completed the first oil sketch, I embarked on a larger one with the same sitter. I had a bit more time to work on this one, a few days as opposed to a couple hours. It was still a challenge to capture a correct likeness that did justice to the sitter in such a short time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

This was a quick oil sketch, done in an hour or two. The model captivated the group around her with her beauty, and even came with a full wardrobe to boot.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Safety and the Lead White Shortage

Lead white oil paint is gradually becoming a scarce commodity, as both artists and manufacturers slowly move towards alternatives. I was shocked to recently discover that a small tube of Old Holland Cremnitz white, now retails for the price of a dinner at a fancy restaurant.

The main reason for this development was the widespread phase-out of lead in paint products. While artist materials were exempt from these restrictions, the overall supply of lead carbonate has dwindled ever since. As I've mentioned before in earlier postings, artist paints are made from generic industrial pigments, with few exceptions. Art materials are a small fraction of the overall pigment market, thus they have little influence over industry trends.

Once of the last European manufacturers of lead carbonate recently ceased production. It is still produced in the US, but many artists feel the writing is on the wall. It is not uncommon to read about individuals hoarding large stockpiles of the pigment, in anticipation of the day when it is no longer available.

I don't think we'll see millions of obsessed artists, having the dedication mixing lead white from scratch. For one thing, the risks of poisoning oneself are far greater when handling the powder. Paints containing lead white tend to not keep well in the tube for long periods, unless stabilizers are included.

The best one can hope, is that in the future lead white will be a remain available, as a high quality niche product, at an attainable price.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A New Miter Saw

In recent weeks I have been busy preparing some of my artwork to be included in a show. There was a relatively short deadline to prepare the work to be ready to hang. I thought it best to frame the work, and decided to make the frames myself.

This marks the third time I have built my own frames. Every time I make a frame, I try to learn a little about how to improve the process the next time around. This includes the proper tools, although I would stop short of spending the small fortune needed to build a professional framer's tool kit.

This time around, I used a hand miter saw, equipped with a fine Japanese blade, to do my cuts. This produces finer and truer cuts than the table-saw method I used for earlier frames. A small amount of touch up work around the seam is still necessary.

Here I am using the new saw to cut a miter into one of the frame pieces. My hand is there to offer up some extra support.

After a frame was glued together and touch up work was complete, the frame was given a fine sanding. Finally, paint will be applied to suit.

Friday, January 18, 2013

This still life represents my first time painting flowers. The design and layout was handled by another artist. I probably would have done some things differently. Nevertheless, it was a useful exercise.

Monday, January 7, 2013

This is another recent oil sketch. The model was available for the short gap between Christmas and New Years, so I had to work quickly. This portrait developed a pensive expression from the beginning.