Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transitioning to Winter Ops

Smithfield Orchard, O/C, 12x16
Fall is one of my favorite seasons since , in the early part of the season, there are numerous comfortable and luminous days that beckon the plein-air painter.  The painting on the left was an effort to capture the feel of the orchard in early-to-mid September.  I had originally painted a large tractor with an apple gatherer attached, but the painting then defeated my intention; it became the portrait of the tractor.  So now you see the rock grouping which has its place in the rocky New England soil.  The rocks become merely several of the denizens of the space with as much right to be there as the apple trees themselves
    One of the challenges associated with this painting was the fickle nature of the light.  It started out a cloudy day, but with frequent interruptions of sunshine.  One of my teachers (Ted Jacobs) had warned me to take two canvases out to paint a single scene.  The first canvas upon which you begin your painting can be set aside for the second if the light changes significantly.  If you persist with the same canvas, you risk making the contrasts too feeble -- or (and this is what I had attempted) you can use memory to freeze the scene mentally and proceed to paint.  

An Old Dutch Port, Oil on Linen, 11x14
And as the days become more frequently uncongenial to those of us who are spoiled by modern comforts, there is opportunity to exercise
studio skills.  The painting on the left is an example of this.  I used an old (circa 1930) photo reference and some memories of my painting harbor scenes to pull this one off from the comfort of my studio seat.  The painting was done in two sessions of probably two hours each.  During the first session I pretended that I was out at the scene and began in typical plein-air fashion (blocking-in, etc.).  The second session at the easel began with a certain amount of "oiling out",using a small amount of retouch varnish.  This brought up the colors that were beginning to sink in and enabled me to treat only those sections which I felt needed correction/emphasis/de-emphasis.  While I was pleased with the result of these studio efforts, it does not compare with the joy experienced in the experience -- of being there to register in the mind and soul the subtle hue saturations, contrasts, and surprises of nature.  Incidentally, this painting now hangs at Galeria United (200 Main Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island) which has a Grand Opening on December 12 at 5 PM. (Who can forget the date, 12/12/12?)

Jessica, O/C, 14x18
   Also, I have been more active in portraiture as the days darken early .  At left is the most recent portrait I painted at Kate Huntington's Studio.  Again this represents an effort completed in under three hours and so finish is, as usual, lacking.  It is always inspiring to paint a model like Jessica whose hair cascaded in curls and twists, picking up highlights and darker accents as well.  In addition, she wore an interesting fur hat which offered a variety in texture. I simplified the background considerably, biasing its colors to agree with the hues and tonality of the model's flesh tones.
  Of course, when there is no live model available for a portrait , then I resort to still life which can still exercise those seven principles that C.W. Mundy talks about: drawing , value, color, edges, design, composition, and paint handling! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Plein Air and Portrait

Wickford Front Yards, Oil on Canvas, 16x20"
In between the rain storms, a plein-air painter is able to tackle more complicated scenes such as this one painted from a viewpoint afforded by a seafood shop.  It was an afternoon with uncertain light, but the scene before had actual elements in place that drew attention to the tranquil scene.  First, of course the dinghy, moored where it was.  Such an element is not only inviting, but assists in adding dimensionality to a scene containing distant horizontal elements.  Note the presence of verticals that help here: the pilings supporting the dock, the tall trees, and the (lucky) appearance of the sail returning at the end of day.  This October painting was also blessed with some accents of autumnal color.

Becca, Oil on Canvas, 14x18"

 I paint portraits not only because I enjoy doing so, but also because they exercise many skills that are necessary for all painting, whether still life, landscape, or seascape.  Again, the process of painting a model in under three hours is akin to plein-air efforts in that (1) there is a time limitation, (2) subtle changes in the model must be detected before corrections can be applied, and (3) The value structure and preliminary block-in stages are very important.  The major differences in approaching the subjects of landscape and portraiture are the following (1)  The portrait demands for its completion a good likeness of the model whereas the landscape is more forgiving on that score to the artist, (2)  adherence to the nature (hue and temperature) of skin tones in shadow and light is required both to aid likeness as well as help convey the mood of the model , whereas in landscape these elements may be "designed in" to convey mood.  I find both landscape and portraiture, however, demand strong drawing skills -- at least for the representational lean of my own work.  Personally, I find both landscape and portrait wonderful exercises in the management of color and tone.  So the painting of a three-hour portrait can be likened to an etude on the piano, keeping the color and tonal senses sharp!  My thanks to artist Kate Huntington for hosting portrait and figure sessions on Monday and Wednesday nights in Providence!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October's Pace

The oil painting , 12 x 16 on canvas, on the left was conceived after I had purchased a small blanket with a colorful Southwest design.  I knew then that a small eggplant would lend a nice accent to a still life arranged on the blanket.  As you can see the other characters in this "drama" included my favorite green-glass wine bottle and a bosc pear.  (A still life sketched just before the one shown included three bosc pears supported by a tarnished silver lotus-shaped dish.  The still life shown here, called "Baby Eggplant"  is far more colorful.)  The fun, of course, in this exercise was in registering the chroma and its harmonies, observing reflected lights , and working edges and translucent qualities associated with glass and its shadow.  I carefully grew a patina of dust in some areas of the bottle which I think gives its texture more tactile quality.  Although the background is dark , the chroma of the blanket and objects keep the painting on the happier side in mood.  Now I can eat the eggplant!

Brittany, O/C, 14x18
 The portrait on the left represented another mode of escape for this plein-air artist.  The artist Kate Huntington started up her weekly portrait and figure  sessions upon her return from Provincetown, and I couldn't resist sharpening talents in this area.  The model was amazing in her coloration.  Skin a pearly opalescent and a full mass of red hair.  Others remarked how closely Brittany's coloring resembled a Renoir waiting to be painted.  The light airiness of that master was, I found, hard to achieve.  My only excuse ( and I'm good at finding at least one) in not achieving the quality of a Renoir in this sketch was that I painted in an area of the room with uneven lighting.  Usually low-level lighting, I find, forces chroma , but sometimes hues cannot be properly matched.  In the past I could have used the excuse that the model moved, but not here.  The model sat perfectly.

Late Afternoon, Narragansett, O/C, 16x20
 I show a few plein-ar sketches here to show that, despite some rainy days and days on which the light was variable, I tried not to let the weather "get me down" and surrender to the life of a still-life painter -- not that there is anything wrong with that! 
This painting was inspired by the gorgeous sky that happened to be playing above the shore that day.  It is really a cloudy day scene made happy by the colorful illumination from above.

October Trees, Oil on Board, 12x12
 October Trees, left, is a labor of love, since I do love trees -- and who doesn't?  Especially in the period of early October when the transitions to fall foliage are very subtle here in southern New England.

The Youngster, O/C, 9x12
  The Youngster, left, was painted later in October in the same area as the painting above (in Goddard Park).  The sapling seems to have grown more mature (in color) than the older trees around it.  Again such a grouping allows study of values, chroma, and atmosphere.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Roses and Apples

This unfinished oil painting, entitled "Roses and Apples" , was mainly  an attempt to study colors and values.  It was fun to play with hues and their complements under a warm light source.  Even in its present state (done ala prima in 2011), it was enough to attract a collector who admonished me "not to touch it".  (I still feel the urge to bring it more finish and have held the collector at bay, by mentioning it needs my signature before I part with it!)  The painting represents a few hours work -- not including the two-hour set-up time-- and succeeds, I think, in the intention of it being a study.  Bringing "finish" to a study does seem somewhat of an oxymoron.  Perhaps the best that can be done with a study is to make it more "presentable" as a painting if it is intended for exhibit.

  This "unfinished" oil is of more recent vintage and had as its object the study of the same observable factors; namely hue, value, and complementary colors under a warm light source.  In addition, I wanted to weave into the chroma and shadows the dimension of expression , still keeping the forms recognizable.  I think both paintings use light, spatial arrangement, patterns of light and shadows as well as chroma to express mood.  The mood in the earlier painting seems to be lighter, airier; whereas the mood in the more recent study perhaps seems deeper, more intense, without any note of pessimism.  Keeping the shadows on the  tablecloth transparent, airy, I think, helps. Note:  I put my signature (lower right) on this one, although I would like to finish it a little more before bringing it to a "serious" exhibit. The goal is to bring greater depth of expression to painting without becoming an abstract expressionist.

   As far as "finish" goes for any painting, we can say a painting is finished (to the painter) if it achieves the aim of the painter.  But anyone outside the painter-- say the collector, the art loving public, the non-family viewer--can help stop the disease of "over-finish".  I'm waiting for the vaccine!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


At left is a self-portrait done by my first teacher of oil painting.  Pat Corso, educated at the Art Students League in New York, came to Rhode Island around 1981 -- just in time for my return from a temporary assignment in Washington, D.C.  I remember seeing his photos of his realistic work in the local newspaper which also announced that he would be giving lessons for $15 a head at the Guild in Wakefield, RI.  Three of us showed up to take lessons from this outspoken artist, but two of them backed down, intimidated by his harsh, critical manner.  He asked me if I would be willing to take private lessons at the rate of  seven dollars for a couple of hours.  I agreed .  Surprisingly, he knew what I was after -- the knowledge and craft of Monet.  He yelled back that it would take years and years to begin to paint like that.  (At the time, I thought the words an exaggeration, but now I know better!)  His three dogs would often require his attention -- usually through his threatening to kill them when they misbehaved or had their family squabbles.  When I completed what I thought was my best painting, he barked, "You'll be a good painter -- in twenty years!"
       While instruction from him seemed to put this student on the edge of a razor for each session, his urgings were essential to the serious-minded. "What color do you see in that tree trunk?"  "Purple", I hesitatingly replied.  "Then paint it that way!!"  He was always prodding one to LOOK and COMPARE.  He was difficult, proud. " Father Sicilian, mother Jewish".  An outstanding painter up against the incursions of modern abstract art .  I can still hear his urgings in my subconscious, even though I could be called a rather poor student of his for only a year or two.  My mistake was to push his in-your-face instruction away too soon.  A greater artist, a greater soul would have stayed the course for at least another year, with the ability to ignore all the melodrama, acidic criticism, and insistent pessimism.  With all that, I am indebted to him for the strong start he gave me in painting. One other artist, Solace Loven , also counts Pat as one of her teachers.  Corso passed away in 1989, victim of a "routine" hospital procedure.

   After Corso, I had several other teachers, nationally known, and a few of which were his contempory artists at the Art Students League.  From each teacher, I have gained another way of looking at nature , of turning paintings into art.  Here are a couple of experiments inspired by some of my readings :

       .   At left is actually a painting of sunflowers, despite the presence of "my little teapot".  It's an oil on linen, 16x20.  Past still life work I have done was a little more "realistic" and perhaps had a tonal mood, but here I was after a little more expressiveness.  An artist must paint with emotion, according to the teachings of Sergei Bongart.   I have also done a still life with roses, with the same thought in mind.  ( I reserve this painting for the next blog opportunity.)


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Plein Air Productions

The image on the left , an 11x14 oil sketch, was done at Pt.Judith toward the end of day.  I found a wonderful perch , a circular concrete base for an old gun emplacement, where I could face the fishermen on the rocks across the way and paint/study fairly undisturbed -- until some youngsters came along to toss some of the rocks into the sea.  Such a spot is almost too good to be true for a plain-air outing.  The Point is usually breezy, so no worries about being bitten by pesky flying insects, and the hottest day can be pleasant here.  Since I was able to accomplish much uninterruptedly, very little, in my opinion, is necessary for "finishing".

The next image , a blurred one I'm sorry to say, is of an old fishing boat, Artemis II which I sketched in Wellfleet on Cape Cod.  It was a beautiful day with a mellow sun late in the afternoon.  The whole charm of the scene had to do with low tide which had the vessel pitched forward, her screw out of the water aft.  Of course, with the changing tide, by the time I left, the boat was afloat by the dock.  Plein air work is indeed a combination of observation, imagination, and memory work!
  Artemis II seemed to me more picturesque than seaworthy -- but that was its lure to this artist.  I think to help the composition, studio assistance might include some other boats in the harbor .

These last two images are oil sketches of scenes within one or two miles from my present studio in East Greenwich, RI.  The top is a view of the harbor in East Greenwich just as the sun is close to retiring for the day and the other image is the most recent sketch of one of my favorite local subjects , the Green Boat.  Again both of these remain as sketches until more thinking about them is accomplished -- before any "improvements" are made!  


Friday, August 10, 2012

By the Pond, O/C, 12 x 16

                     "By the Pond", above,  represents an afternoon I spent by Bellville Pond in North Kingstown, RI .  The painting is, of course, unfinished; many of the delicious details, such as the water lilies, grasses, etc.  must be clarified so they "read" unambiguously to the viewer.  At this stage of the sketch I have studied closely only a few factors such as overall composition, the ever-changing light, and hue and chroma matching.  Note that the view is a downward one.  The top of the sketch suggests reflections from a tree line and the hint of another area of the water surface dotted with water lilies.  
                                                               Cattails, O/C, 9x 12                            

In the sketch above called "Cattails", I took a similar viewpoint: a downward look alongside the pond that captured the reflection of a treeline and the suggestion of more water lilies in the distance.  Again, finish might be achieved with the clarification of a few details.  The sketch has a spontaneous look and I would like to preserve this in the "finished" version.

      There is so much to paint in these pond areas besides the larger view of the pond.  There are numerous opportunities to do "outdoor" still life studies which "cattails" above represents.

                                                            Coming In, O/C, 11 x 14

    The painting "Coming In", above, represents a departure from the previously done direct studies in oil.  The area depicted is that of the beach at Goddard Park in East Greenwich, RI.  I sat on the beach with my small watercolor kit and sketched shore, rock and boats.  At home in my studio I took out the watercolor sketches and, using my memory (fresh from that very day), painted the scene above in oils.  Tonal harmony was the result of the mellow light at the end of day.  Often I do the reverse of the above procedure;  i.e., do a watercolor sketch based upon memory of a just-completed oil sketch.  I find that such reworking of an image in a different medium , whether oil, oil pastel, or watercolor allows one more room for experimentation in delivering the emotional impact of the final work of art. 

  To see more of my work the reader of this blog may wish to visit Bill Krul Gallery in Narragansett and Java Madness Cafe at Salt Pond, Wakefield.  My work can be viewed the entire month of August at these venues.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Workshop Experience

                                                         Low Tide, Gloucester Harbor

        The painting above (oil on board, 12x16) was inspired by a workshop experience -- in particular, a plein air workshop hosted by David P. Curtis.  David is a rich colorist , concerned not only with veracity of drawing, hue and value, but also with the mastery of chroma (color intensity).  I urge anyone reading this blog to go to his website to enjoy -- and learn from his paintings.  A painter, remember, is really a perpetual student.  No matter how accomplished we fancy ourselves there is always something that (a) we need to master or (b) we must be reminded of.  In taking an arts workshop it is helpful to know your own shortcomings -- that can be the key for unlocking the treasure of a workshop  for you.  Another painting of the area includes this one:
                                                                Low Tide, Rocky Neck

   These paintings and this one
                                                          At Ft. Wetheril

will be included in the upcoming show I share with Katerina Stepanova, a photographer, at the Bill Krul Gallery in Narragansett, RI, with opening reception on Saturday, August 4th, 3 - 7 PM.
Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wet Works en Plein Air

                                          At Gloucester Harbor, O/C, 11x14

  A couple of weeks ago I visited Gloucester Harbor on a sunny day.  Wonderful subjects: dories in the sun, stuck in the wet sand at low tide.  Dramatic shadows help to make this an inviting scene.  I'll try not to overwork this one, but I may change title to "Gloucester Dories".

                                              Bellville Pond, Oil on Board, 11x14

  This one , painted a few days ago, is almost purely impressionistic in its approach.  I had to "slather" copious amounts of paint with painting knife onto a previously painted board.  (A portrait lies underneath.)  In the studio there is the fun of bringing out nuances of color.  Again, this was painted plein air and the danger is that of losing the initial mood of joyous tranquility -- another hazard of overworking.  But many of Monet's canvases show evidence of later reworking.  In the impressionist approach, this overworking at its best should add nuance and richness in color and texture and avoid the hazards of losing form and mood.

                                                South of the Bridge, O/C. 9x12

    This one was painted one week ago at the Bay Campus of URI, just south of the "Jamestown" Bridge.  The sun was getting low and there were enough clouds to notice some cloud shadows -- always a painter's friend.  Unlike the previous painting, this painting reeks more of the tonalist than of the impressionist approach.  The mood is one of quiet tranquility.  I look upon this small work as a study.  I would like to paint the scene, with some slight compositional modifications, upon a larger canvas so its mood could have more impact. 

   Since I must prepare (which means perfecting and framing works)  for two solo shows and one shared show in the next two months, I may not have time for the grandiose plan of reworking plein-air studies onto more appropriately-sized supports .  Such is the painter's life!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Before the Rains Came

About a month ago I was in northern RI where I sketched at the foot of this foot bridge in Esmond.  It was the early part of spring, showing only very few blossoms and buds.  The yellow buds at the other end of the bridge caught my eye, but I had no finished painting in mind.  Practice in values and what I call "spring grays" is what I sought for this exercise.

  After some rainy days -- in fact, two days ago-- I painted this sketch of a cove in Beavertail (Jamestown, RI).  Note that the canvas used was a round (12" diameter) that had been oil primed.  The cove is a favorite among people climbing over the rocks near Beavertail Light and it is also a favorite of mine to paint.  The distant horizon , a westward view, shows the coast of Narragansett.  Closer in, a fishing boat was passing by.  If I were to "finish" this plein air piece, I could add a figure at the cove -- or even a seagull.  But should I?  There is always the danger of introducing elements into a scene that might intrude into a certain mood set up by a simple design.  My fellow artists, you opinions are welcome!

 This second piece, an 11 x 14" piece was done on the same day and at the same place.  Again, the view is westward toward Narragansett.  At first I was attracted by the tidal pool in the foreground, but I am now attracted to the late afternoon lighting playing along the Narragansett coast.  The sketch is drying on my wall where it will suggest improvements, corrections -- or its own destruction.

     In the first sketch I used a palette modeled after one suggested by the British seascape painter, Borlase
Smart in his book Techniques of Seascape Painting.   Smart's palette uses just one blue -- cobalt blue --and one yellow -- naples yellow.  I did add to his palette ultramarine blue , which I think helps to recess distant areas.  (Borlase palette: naples yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, rose madder, viridian, cobalt blue, ivory black and flake white.)

   In the second sketch, I added (in addition to ultramarine blue) quinacridone red (instead of rose madder), cad yellow light, and cad red light.  The cad yellow light allowed me to suggest more brilliant, sunlit greens than I could achieve with the more limited palette.

  My landscape group must be worried about the rainy days ahead; then we must learn to paint rain!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Portraits and Landscapes

This is a portrait -- actually a sketch completed in about two hours-- I painted at M. Reznik's portrait session at All Saints Church.  At these sessions the model often has as a background a pale green wall behind her.  Some compensation from all the dull tones is the warm light source , shining from the lower right of the model.  These sessions are really helpful to those of us who wish to keep up our portrait skills.  Since I am currently teaching portraiture in Wickford (at the Wickford Art Association) these sessions force me to practice what I preach about beginning procedures, keeping to the larger masses, saving the struggle with detailed features for the last.

A couple of weeks ago, I braved some cool weather to paint a landscape.  This was at Arnold's Neck which boasts a rail bridge:

The Bridge is particularly interesting at low tide when some mud and a few rocks protrude as perches for gulls.  I pitched the whole key as if it were a snow painting, since it was a bright but cool day.  I had done a few paintings of this Rail Bridge, but I think this one comes closest to the statement I wanted to make. (The painting is now on display at the Bristol Art Museum -- until next Sunday, March 18th.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More unfinished work

In the winter I tend to concentrate on still life and portraiture, primarily to keep observational as well as motor skills well-oiled and ready for glorious plein-air opportunities, now only about two months away. Here in Rhode Island, there are several venues to accomplish these "warming-up" exercises through drop-in groups. One for still life occurs at the Wickford Art Association on Tuesdays and costs only $2. The other venues involve portraiture and figure: Kate Huntington's group for portraiture on Mondays (7 - 10 PM) and figure on Wednesdays (7 - 10 PM). One drop-in Group I often take advantage of for portraiture is Martin Reznik's sessions at All Saints Church in Warwick on Greenwich Avenue. Also a contribution of artist Norah Pfeifer is leading the senior Group that meets at the Senior Center in Wickford Mondays at 10 AM. Here are two portrait sketches, the first done at All Saints and the second at Kate's.

These and other images could in my next show "People and Places" opening at the East Greenwich Free Library on February 9, 5 -7 PM. I hope to see you there. ( The exhibit will be up from Feb. 4 - Feb. 29.)