I  am sending out a blog about this painting onApril 14, 2014

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I rarely paint the same subject twice, but I did a repeat yesterday. Both times I worked from the above photo from my trip to Peru.


I was interested in the dramatic mountain in the back and the reflected light from what I think are ground water pools in the foreground. 

                                              Roadside Stop



That was done in December, 2012. On March 22 I came across the same photo, and without looking at the old painting, I decided I would like to try it again without the raliroad tracks, and with more of the reflection from the water, and also paying more attention to the sky.

I included the brush in the foreground to start with, but later removed it. I liked the idea of a wider open field as a quiet pace in the middle of the painting. Below is the new version.



                                                           Open Field



I think I like the first one better. I have heard it said that a good way to improve your painting is to paint the same subject 100 times. I think I will stick to once.



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I have been thinking about the way we talk and perhaps think about painting. I am not sure that the visual images can be talked or thought about in verbal language, but we all try. One place where it breaks down for me is the discussion of style or genre.  Another is what do we mean in talking about the subject of the painting.


Starting with style, I think we use words to describe many kinds of painting. For instance “abstract” stands for a whole group of paintings many of which are not similar at all. In my mind every painting is abstract. No painting is the real thing, the ‘subject ‘itself. Yet we would usually recognize an abstract painting if we saw one. I admire someone who paints a good abstract, although I don’t find so many to admire. I certainly can’t define the term other than to say that it is an attempt to send us a message without giving a visual picture we can identify. All too often in my opinion the classification may be set verbally by writing or printing in the painting itself or in the title, or by the critics and promoters or detractors of the work.


When I was in school at Amherst College, Robert Frost used to visit the campus every year, and once I remember his saying that he believed that every poem needs to say something to the reader on the first reading. Though I don’t think painting and speaking follow the same rules, I do apply a similar rule to painting. I want myself and the viewers to have something meaningful at first glance. I often go to galleries and museums, and I pass by at least 80% of the work on display with just a glance. I usually need to see something I can relate to before I will take a closer look. Many times I have watched  viewers walk by my own ‘masterpieces’ at a show opening without stopping to look . It is hard enough to get someone’s attention to a painting even with something recognizable. I think the difficulty is partly due to the vast overload of visual information we are given on television, computers, newspapers, film, internet, etc., but this a topic for another day.


The recognized image in each painting, we might call the subject. However, I don’t believe it matters if the ‘subject’ resembles an actual scene or model, so long as I can recognize or relate to it. I can and do take great liberties;  rearranging, deleting, and adding to what I see. (Deleting what doesn’t belong is easy, but when you add something, it often creates more problems than it solves.) Mainly, I tend to rearrange the color until it looks like I think it should.  


I suggest that the subject is that part of the painting which draws the artist and viewer into the painting. This may change with time and reviewing the painting. I put things into the painting which I did not see at first, and which the viewer might not see until after looking at the painting many times. This is what makes it a painting. It is the thought and observation that goes into the work. If it’s the barn that draws my attention, the barn may be the subject I start with, but the light reflected off the barn roof may be the subject   in an hour or so. The subject may change for the painter and for the viewer. Maybe we don’t need to think about it in words.


However if you are interested, you can let me know what you think of as the subject of the attached paintings.

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Painting at Reagan Ranch


In May, 2011, I was invited to join a group of artists to do some plein air painting at the Ranch formerly belonging to Ronald Reagan.

We met in Santa Barbara, and with a little difficulty found  the ranch about 30 miles away. It is very lovely, and we worked there for a couple of days. The first day was windy, escpecially in the afternoon, and I found myself holding the easel in one had while painting with the other. The second day was perfect.


It was small enjoyable group, and I think we all had a good time. I have attached one photo to this blog. The others are in the plein air collection on my website. They are called Leaning Tree, Horsing Around and At The Ranch. 


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Value and Color

Going Coastal

Several years ago I became more interested in color which led me to the point of trying to more deliberately compose paintings based on contrast in color rather than value.


For those who are not painters, I will  esplain that by compostion we painters mean the design of lines and shapes which we take to be pleasing and which will hopefully lead the viewer into and around the surface of the painting. By value we mean light, dark, medium and all shades in between. For many centuries painting composition has been based primarily upon the variation of value in the lines and shapes, but some of us have tried to compose using the differences in color temperature and saturation. I will not go into the details of all that, except to say that different colors often have different values. Yellow is generally lighter in value than red or blue. The idea of color and value often gets mixed together, and I have found that I cannot avoid using value contrast even if I try to use only color contrast; so I don't try to use one or the other exclusively.


Recently I did a pastel seascape based on a trip to the Oregon coast, in my usual style of free color predominating in the composition, which I called "High Tide" I think it is a satisfactory and interesting painting.


However, I came across the photo on which it was based and it seemed to me that the scene was pretty much  value based as I had seen it and as the photograph reported it. I decided to paint it again. Although the composition is not exactly the same, I attempted to follow the values more as they actually appeared. I came up with "Going Coastal".


I think the contrast is worth thinking about. The sky is much the same in both, and there is a lot of blue green and purple in the cliffs and rocks in both paintings. The second painting has hardly any warm colors (red ,orange, and yellow), and is therefore what we call a limited palette painting. I am not sure how to put the other image in this space , but it appears on my website as "High Tide"


I still like them both. What I think I have learned is that it will be worth my while to think more about the the values in the original scene, to give more consideration to sticking with them in the painting , and to depart from them only after due deliberation as to where I will be going by changing them, regardless of what colors I may choose.



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Walk My Way

I have added the attached pastel painting to my website, but in the process of working on it some old issues have resurfaced. I was a little unsure about the painting, because it is not bright like most of my work. I often try to compose the shapes with color more than value, but this was mainly a value scene with a great  contrast between the white foreground and darker background. In fact I have lessened the contrast and lightened the dark areas, at least as far as I remember and as far as my photographs show.


I asked some friends about it, and most of them like it, but one consult seemed to feel that it is not finished. I have heard this kind of criticism several times in the past, and to be honest I am the type of person who may tend to stop too soon rather than risk going on too long. The best advice on the subject which I received from my first teacher, Sheldon Helfman, was that when the changes you are making stop making much of a difference, it is likely time to stop.


In this case, I felt that the more I went on the lighter the painting seemed to get. The painting was in my mind about when clouds, mist, or darkness make it difficult to really see what is going on. In this painting I tried to keep the feeling that one cannot really tell exactly where the hills end and the clouds begin. it is much clearer in the switch from water to land in the foreground, but even in the the foreground there is enough mist to keep me from being exactly sure of what is really there. It seemed to me that the more I went on the more I was risking the loss of mystery; so I stopped.


I am sure others would have handled it differently, but I am still happy with my choices  

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Fish Bowls

Fish Bowls

This is a figure done mostly in the last days of October, 2010.  I had some trouble with the composition, which led me to think about the fact that I always paint my figures as part of a group sharing the model. I have never given myself the luxury of having one model all to myself in the studio where I can control the setting, the costume, and the pose all to my own liking. The benefit I get in exchange is that I am not responsible for getting the model there, customing or anything other than painting. The artists are allowed to express our wishes as to pose, lighting, props, etc, but I usually don't participate much, for the reason that the more paricipants the longer it takes to get started on the painting. Also, I am not especially good at getting the last word.


One of the disadvantages of going to the group session is that I don't have my pastel paper, cutting material, and boards with me to choose from, and I usually take only one or two  prepared surfaces, which may not be the right shape or color to go with the pose. In this case, I would normally have turned my 18x24 suface vertical, and painted a larger figure, possibly eliminating the foot at the bottom.


For some reason, I chose to go with the horizontal realising that this might end up with an inconvenient space on the left side of the paper, which in fact occurred. I could have cut that space out, but instead I decided to play with it. I had added the orange windows at the top already , and perhaps this suggested the fish bowl, which came into and out of my head.


The point of this discussion if there is one, is that sometimes having an incomplete composition is not all bad. It challenged me to find a solution that might be more interesting than if I had gone for the easier composition which would fill the page without difficulty, but in very conventional way. 


I added the title after consideration that the model is also in a kind of fish bowl, not to mention the artist.      

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Cobimation Art Forms

Blanket of Blue

I read an article regarding an exhibit of the conceptual artists of the 60s and 70s. largely all live or recorded performances. The writer seemed to avoid the language of theatre or film reviews as long as possible, but eventually had to acknowledge that his response was mainly to the theatrical elements of the performances. It got me thinking about the differences in visual art and drama.

The theater involves much more verbal activity, but it includes much visual activity also. I thought of the stage sets and film scenery as well as the costumes and expressions of the actors. Oddly I remembered reading an Edward Hopper description of one of his paintings in which he referred to the painting in terms of a stage.

I have no objection to mingling of the arts, but I feel that painting and sculpture are different in that they involve a deliberate attempt to stop time for the viewer if not for the artist. While drama may make us stop and think in way, we kind of have to do it afterwards. The drama moves at its pace, and we are forced to keep up with it. A painting can be looked at as long as we please. If it is on our wall we can come back to it as often as we like.

I was told a few months ago that a young woman had stood an hour looking at one of my paintings, and I took it as a sign of success. I also realized how few paintings I really look at thoroughly, and how many I pass by with barely a glance.

All these thoughts are kind of obvious, maybe mundane. It just reminds me that we have to put in a lot of time and thought to fill the painting with enough to grab and keep our own attention as well as the viewer.  I think sometimes I unconsciously decide that the painting I am working on is turning out to be one of those that people will just walk by and get in a hurry to finish it. My best work usually gives me a feeling that I donít care if it ever ends; although sometimes there is that thought that I had better stop before I ruin it.

I hope you all are looking at or working on one of those special paintings that is always telling us new things or things we have forgotten to remember.

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new figures

Say Again

I have been trying to draw the human figure for over 20 years, but I have not painted figures very often. I think part of the trouble had to do with composition. I always used to look at figure drawing as only an exercise, trying to learn proportion, movement and expression, but not thinking in terms of a whole painting. Lately I have been painting figures every Tuesday at the S12 Gallery and Studio at least once a week.

I have decided that painting figures is not as different from painting landscapes as I had thought. I usually don't have too much trouble in deciding what parts of a landscape to put in the painting and what parts to alter or leave out. The same can be true for the figure. I was concentrating so hard on the figure, I forgot about the painting. Trying to paint the whole figure is in itself a troublemaker for the composition. The figure attracts too much of the attention. I think it is better to either include part of the figure only, or to partially lose the figure in the rest of the structure. 

A few weeks ago, I spent over two hours working on "Just Thinking", a full figure facing away from me. 

Then I moved around to the other side. I started with the forearm and hand, and in less than a half hour I painted 'Say Again', which I think is a much better painting. Using a smaller piece of paper to work on I managed a much more focused composition.

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