Monday, November 30, 2015

Impressionist Color Study

    Studying color is, of course, much easier during mid rather than late autumn, and painting what you see can be a joy.  Here are two studies completed on two different days --one cloudy and one sunny.  My purpose here was to perceive and paint color as influenced by the ambient light key:

    Cloudy day near sundown, oil on bookbinder board, 11x15(appr)

   Near Sundown (sunny day), oil on bookbinder board, 9x15 (appr)

The paintings above were done at a local Audubon sanctuary in early November.  I was not disturbed by anyone walking the path and I was able to simplify the scene in order to observe color and temperature changes more closely.  The area itself was a lowland with not many trees in the marshy field.

   The following oil sketch, again essentially a color study, hangs now at Spring Bull Gallery in Newport as part of the Gallery's Little Picture Show:

   Beavertail Light, oil on Masonite, 8x10

   Beavertail is a painter's paradise, especially when the light is consistent, as it was on this November day.  Another subject which is always appealing, even when the colorful leaves are sparse, are the houses of Wickford.   Here are two basically color studies done within the last two weeks of November:

   The Red House, oil on wood, 11x14

  A Quiet Corner, oil on wood, 11x14

Both these houses encouraged bold paint handling, enabling me to push the chroma in impressionist fashion.  In this last painting forms seem on the verge of dissipating.  The stone bench and nearby path are near the corner of a small graveyard adjoining Narragansett Church.  It was this light of late afternoon that was the challenge to capture.

   Finally, last week I was curious to see where this paint handling would lead in portraiture.  I had the opportunity to find out at the senior portrait session given at the NK Senior Center:

   Naomi, oil on bookbinder board, 11x15

The sketch is a likeness of the model and reveals certain of her personality traits.  The spontaneity was aided by the fact that only two hours are allocated in these sessions to capture the likeness of the model.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Autumnal Beauty


  With my last class (under the sponsorship of the South County Art Association (SCAA)) I had briefly described to my students of Plein air some of the working methods of a few of the post-Monet impressionists.  These artists included Hawthorne, H.Hensche, and, more recently, Lois Griffel whose Provincetown workshop I was lucky enough to have attended some years ago. To properly convey their methods, of course, requires the discipline of "block studies" on different light keys.  Without the time available to practice this discipline, we could only stress the importance of identifying the light key, establishing the scene as spots of color, color masses of the right temperature -- I.e., at least attempting to establish the "first notes".  With second notes, " holding to the masses", use of palette knife was stressed.  I hoped to expose these students who were primarily trained in traditional painting approaches to the importance of color observation-- and, basically, that there is a lot more to color than identifying hue.

    Color is a driving force for me to paint, although most of my work would look out of place in the "Provincetown School".  I appreciate that it takes most of a lifetime -- or two!-- to begin seeing sensitively enough the color truths held by the first masses.  Here are some practice pieces I attempted to exercise the color sense in specific light keys:

    November (Wickford), oil on wood, 8x10

     Sheffield Cove (Jamestown), oil on wood, 9x12

   East Greenwich, oil on canvas panel, 11x14

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

From Summer's Sizzle to Fall's Fizzle

  Here in southern New England we managed to dodge a hurricane that tracked out to sea.  That was a relief to the property owners, but there were some severe rains, spin offs of the storm.  When that happens, of course, this Plein air painter turns to indoor subjects -- in particular, still life and portraiture.

   Floral Still Life (study), oil on WC paper, 9x12 (approx.)

       The still life shown above is a quick study done on watercolor paper.  I find that 300-lb watercolor paper, gessoed with at least one coat of acrylic gesso makes a wonderful and economical surface for an oil sketch.  I was interested in just getting practice in drawing, value and color perception.  So the concept of this painting was color and light as a statement of form.  Also, I was experimenting with a limited studio palette consisting of cad yellow light, quinacridone magenta, ultramarine blue, burnt umber,  raw umber, pink ( Rose Julia from Charvin oil paints), and titanium white.  The sketch was done in a few hours.

   Cape Verdean Woman, oil on canvas, 14x18

    The portrait sketch shown above was done at the studio of Kate Huntington.  If anyone reading this blog is seriously interested in portraiture, they should consider attending Kate's session running from 7-10 PM on Monday nights.  This likeness was captured in two hours since the model arrived late -- and I left a tad early.  I'd love to finish this portrait, but not without another sitting by the model.  I have found that any attempt at finish without the model present results in a loss of likeness.

    Mr. Hoist, oil on canvas panel, 12x16

This portrait was done this morning at a local senior center.  The gentleman wore a western style shirt and sat against a bland background of  stained wood.  I converted that background into something that complements the ruddiness of his flesh tones. Incidentally, the location is the North Kingstown Senior Center which is lucky enough to have Prof. Ray Finelli, a retired RISD art instructor as the leader of the Tuesday portrait group which relies on volunteer models.  Ray often rewards these volunteers with a portrait sketch.  I feel very fortunate in living only about a 20-minute drive from the center to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to practice portrait sketching skills each Tuesday from 10 AM- 12 PM with a talented group led by Ray.

   Wickford, oil on denim panel, 9x12

      Of course, there are some beautiful fall days too and yesterday was one of them.  On the early afternoon I set up my easel at a corner off Bay Street in Wickford Village.  I didn't carry the sketch as far as I had intended.  I fell prey to one of the hazards of paining in public on village streets.  An old acquaintance came by , bringing up stories of what transpired before I became a full-time artist.  I found myself tracking off the concentration required for finishing the picture and ended up closing my easel after my friend walked off.  Fortunately, I at least carried off the essence of the village street in this small sketch.  Working on the denim panel was also an experiment.  It seems to present a grainy appearance despite the fact it had two coats of gesso applied to it.

    Wickford Village is tomorrow's destination for the small Plein air group I teach for the South County Art Association.  Let's hope for a continuation of this sunny weather!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Waning Light of Summer

    Shrinking Lily Pads, oil on denim, 9x12

        I sketched the oil above primarily as a color study yesterday.  At this pond (Belleville Pond in North Kingstown, RI) one could see the marsh grasses turning from green to gray-green to golden yellow and ochre.  I began the painting with three under washes of pale blue, violet blue and a deeper violet blue from top of the canvas to the bottom, respectively.  Some rubbing out in selected areas of the wash was done before the addition of a first layer of color.  The sun, the source of light was at the upper left in the sky, and as it began its westward journey, more color and value secrets were revealed.  I noticed, for example, that the pads became almost translucent at their turned-up ends, allowing in some cases a yellow/orange passage of light. The most hardy swamp blossom was still lovely, one standing tall above the water, but another, seemingly exhausted, was sprawled upon a lily pad.  Some buds were like triangles piercing the surface.   In the foreground there were very small pads, perhaps children to the larger, more mature pads.  Even in this waning summer spectacle, the pond is a joy to paint!

   A Gusty sundown, oil on board, 9x12

     The painted sketch above was meant to be finished in situ, but the wind --which gusted to about 35 mph or more-- had other ideas.  Sunsets at West Ferry in Jamestown usually allow the painting of tranquil scenes.  In this case low hanging clouds, ominous and threatening , moved in over the background allowing a rather dramatic strip of light along the horizon and some cloud shadow.  In addition the Dutch Island light almost blended in mysteriously with the background.  All these elements must be quickly put down since the light changes rapidly toward the end of day.  But in the bursts of wind I had to use one hand to steady the easel.  So now the painting rests on my studio easel where, hopefully, a Mahl stick can help me toward a steadier finish.

    Scarborough View, oil on linen, 9x12

     At sScarborough Beach it was a pleasure to attempt the small sketch above.  This was again a somewhat experimental piece using a classical palette initially followed immediately with a more colorful  version.  This method of working is difficult since the under painting is not quite dry when the more vibrant colors are added.  If one is careful to avoid too much mixing with the earth-toned underpainting, colorful and yet realistic effects can be achieved.

   Fox Hill Salt Marsh, oil on canvas, 9x12

Another joy to paint was the late afternoon light at Fox Hill Salt Marsh at Ft. Getty in Jamestown, RI.  Here,again, the experimental approach mentioned above was attempted.

  The painting sites and approaches described in my series of blogs will be on the menu for a plein-air workshop I will begin conducting next Wednesday (23 Sept, 3-6PM) under the sponsorship of the South County Art Association.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Beauties of Low Tide

,    As a coastal painter, I find that low tide offers richer possibilities for picture-making as compared to high tide-- unless, of course, other factors, such as an energetic sea, are present.

    Rocky Neck, oil on linen, 9x12

       The oil sketch above, rough and unfinished as it is, was begun at Rocky Neck, famous for its artist colony, in Gloucester.  This old boat has been painted many times by many very good painters, but I find it an ever-fresh subject, particularly at low tide when it sits in a purplish muddy shore.  The boat rests in a shadow cast by a nearby building and the waning light of early evening falls gently on the Gloucester harbor background.   The painting was a side benefit of travel to Essex to participate in the Essex Paint Out.  (Unfortunately, I do not have photos of the two paintings that went up for auction -- and are now gone to happy homes!). Here are some shots of the area:

    Photo taken from the Essex River Motel

     Another photo taken from the same bank of the River.

      The area becomes almost a tidal flat during low tide, the mud and its sky reflections becoming both a challenge and a joy to paint.  Other exciting painting areas include the surrounding salt marsh.

    Before leaving for this weekend event ( Essex Paint Out and auction), I did manage to get some local practice:

    Near Sunset (Beavertail), oil on birch panel, 8x10

    A Beavertail View, oil on wood, 8x10

Thursday, August 6, 2015

More Making Use of Summer

    Reader on the Beach, oil on linen, 12x12

       This oil sketch was done plein air just a few days ago.  I often travel to Ft. Getty in Jamestown (where I now reside) to capture an impression of this wonderful beach.  The beach itself is primarily sandy, but, on one end is this remarkable rock outcropping, complete with passageway through a small arch, through which more water and rocks may be seen.  I estimate that another hour on the easel may help in correcting some deficiencies.  For example, the foreground plant may be too green.  This may be a consequence of my employing an "upgrade" to my usual palette.  The palette for this painting and others you see on this post consists of a modified "twentieth century" palette first successfully used by Robert Gamblin.

    Waning Light (Beavertail), oil on linen, 9x12

       At the tail end of a hot summer day I often set up on the eastern side of Beavertail Light to study the effects of the last rays of the day.  There is a resigned, peaceful mood at this time, despite the mild roar of waves rolling in.  Here the support was linen glued to birch panel.

    The Coming Rain, oil on denim, 12x12

     As an experiment I used this denim canvas to sketch my picture.  The surface, though gessoed, had a coarseness somewhere between burlap and medium grade linen.  The rain cloud formed as I got busy laying in the bridge at Colt State Park in Bristol, and ,in fact, I had to rush to the car to save what paint I had on the support!  If you have ever attempted to paint under a rain cloud, look up overhead.  There in the cloud you will notice veils akin to torn and rippling silk, an awesome but ominous sight.  Take cover!

    The downpour lasted about half an hour, my Soltek easel getting drenched.  The ground was covered with puddles and the light had changed too drastically to continue.  The picture here has been  worked over on the easel for another half hour.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Just in Time

                                             Beavertail Light, Oil on Board, 8 x 10
        My move to Jamestown came just in time to enjoy the summer season of painting and sketching on this beautiful island.  The image above shows a painting I had done during the first two weeks of my arrival.  The day was fickle in its light, flirting with cloudiness but not quite overcast . ( A larger painting of a truly overcast day (at nearby Ft. Getty)  is currently on display at the Jamestown Town Hall.)  The start of summer has been challenging at times for the plein-air painter due to the changeability of the light and at times stiff breezes.

                                         Beach Roses (Ft. Getty), Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20
     I have always wanted to attempt a kind of outdoor still life, the subject being the beloved sea roses.  (These hardy beauties, I learned,  are looked upon as a kind of weed in other parts of the world such as on the coast of Holland .)  Well, it seems what I carried back from this beach at Ft. Getty is a landscape featuring beach roses, not an intimate study.   I must yet paint a true still life of these roses!
                                                       Beach at Ft. Wetherill, Oil on Canvas, 14 x 18
      Note that the last two works shown are larger sizes than my usual smaller oil sketches.  Once in a while  I think it is good for painters who continually do smaller work to "stretch themselves" and have fun with a bigger canvas or board.  The Beach at Ft. Wetherhill shows a wonderful small beach often populated by scuba divers as well as sunbathers.  It has this remarkable rock formation with what looks like a small grotto carved into it and always scaled by youthful bathers.  No diving is allowed from these rocks, but not everyone heeds the warning.  Again, the challenge here was to include the salient elements without allowing the other equally beautiful aspects of the place to intrude upon the focal area.
                                                               Trail below the Lighthouse (Beavertail), Oil on Board, 8 x 10
         The oil sketch above is, like most of my outdoor work, slightly unfinished.  I looked down upon this trail which was bordered on the left by rocks and on the right by a slope having some threadbare trees filtering the late afternoon light streaming from the right.  I had set up on the east side of the island where the shadows ,to me, are more helpful in establishing mood.  Most visitors to Beavertail flock to the west side in the late afternoon to watch the often spectacular sunsets.
                                         Wheeler Beach, oil on canvas, 14 x 18
     Off-island, I am at the beaches, particularly in the late afternoon.  In the painting above I captured the particular markings of this subject well.  In the far-to-middle distance is a breakwater, there are the rocky outcroppings joining shore to sea, and the lifeguard chair.  This painting will receive more attention in the studio, particularly with respect to the rendering of the figures and the life guard chair with resting surfboard.  Most of these later elements were in a state of flux-- not only the figures moving as they packed up and left the beach, but also the life guard who went off duty at 6PM-- and took the surfboard with him!  I think the sketch did succeed in coloring and atmosphere; indeed, it was a joy to paint.
                                                             Along the bank, oil on board, 8 x 10

    Another subject that I love to paint is the growth along ponds.  Although the oil sketch above shows the joyful waterlilies in the foreground, the song of the sun continues to the leaves of the green pond plants behind them and the sunlit and dappled large rock before the tree.  Again, such subjects--even if they "fail" as paintings --  are foods for the painterly soul.

    Enjoy the season with a brush in your hand!

Sunday, May 24, 2015


The oil sketch shown here was a bit of a change for this primarily coastal painter.  Thanks to the Circle of Six artist Connie Greene, permission to paint at Windmist Farm in Jamestown, RI, was secured.  Although the farm is indeed a coastal farm, bordered by a salt marsh with a magnificent view of the bridge to Newport,  I was charmed by this gathering of rooster and hens at the foot of a curvaceous tree adorned with a few birdhouses.  The sketch, 8x10, was done on gessoed illustration board.  This farm certainly challenged the artist's ability to both simplify and select subject and areas of interest.

    Remains of the Day, 11x14, oil on canvas

      In the oil sketch above, although there are figures on the beach, it is the mass of seaweed catching the mellow light of a late afternoon sun that is the actual subject of the painting.  Scarborough is a favorite beach for me to paint on, but occasionally I search for a change from the standard beach scape in which the sand and foreground are the least important elements.

   East Greenwich Harbor, oil on board, 8x10

      One of my favorite views of the harbor, the oil sketch above was done in early May.  In my recent move to Jamestown, this may be one of my works missing in transit or destroyed. (I will check the contents of my studio in Kingston in which I placed some of my paintings temporarily.) I will revisit this same view in the future and execute another plein-air sketch that may be quite different from this lost painting--and perhaps not as successful!

   At Beavertail, oil on canvas, 9x12

   The plein-air sketch above was done a few days prior to packing up for my move to Jamestown.  I think of this piece as a kind of personal celebration, a looking forward to being closer to the motifs.  Last Wednesday I painted another Beavertail Rocks scene, but the work was taken by a collector before I could capture its image.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Warming Up

  The title of this post refers less to the vagaries of our New England weather and more to the artist who must do the preparatory exercises for the upcoming Plein air season.  This first painting , an oil sketch of a split cedar tree, was done a couple of weeks ago-- during the start of the welcome spring thaw:
   The Split Cedar, oil on board, 5x7
     Outings like this during the severe winter were rare for this artist;  I salute all those hearty outdoor painters who are impervious to wind and wind chill.  The next two paintings were done last Saturday, a breezy but wonderful day to paint, sheltered as I was by some small firs at the edge of the marsh:
    Edge of the Marsh, oil on canvas, 9x12

    This peaceful marsh adjoins Bissel's Cove, a favorite painting spot of mine.  For the second oil sketch I moved my pochade easel a few feet to the east:

   The fisherman's House, Oil on paper, 8x10

    It is always a delight for me to paint coastal scenes during low tide.  Although this scene was flooded with frontal lighting, the underside of the upturned dock provided some contrast.  I don't know why the dock looked the way it did; perhaps it was the victim of one of our windy days!
    The Birch-lined Trail, oil on canvas, 8x10

The oil sketch of the trail above was done today.  Again, I found shelter among the trees from the wind.  Bissel's Cove is just on the other side of the tree line.  The attractions here were the birches and sun-dappled path.

    The Lost Boat, oil on board, 8x10

    The oil sketch here reflected the scene on the other side of the birch-lined trail.  There was a small sailboat seemingly abandoned on the opposite shore.
  Obviously most of the oil sketches I do are meant as practice, especially in the seeing and handling of color.  Another benefit of painting even hasty sketches like these is that one builds a store of motifs which may be developed into finer expressions in a larger format.

  Perhaps by the next posting I will have sketches showing the signs of spring!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Intervention

       The painting shown above, a still life involving roses in a violet glass vase, is typical of this painter's activity during periods of wintry weather.  The snowstorms and harsh cold discouraged my attempts at plein-air painting. Still life, however, represents the "etudes" of a painter, a real necessity in keeping observational skills sharp and technique honed.  This little sketch, 9x12, accomplished in a few hours, was done on linen.  In this setup, I used primarily back- lighting.

 Since the weather, for once, allowed me to
Travel safely to Providence, I was able to attend Kate Huntington's Portrait session.  She managed to get the locally famous Tish Adams, jazz singer and radio show host, to sit for us.  The portrait shown here, sketched in little more than two hours, was an oil on board, 16x20.  I was pleased with the design, but I think a few corrections are necessary before I consider this a finished portrait.  Next Monday I hope to interrupt these wonderful sessions at Kate's studio by showing up for a Figure Drawing session given at the Warwick Art Museum in Apponaug,RI.  The Museum offers figure drawing every third Monday of the month for a low $8 fee.

       The sketch above is a watercolor copy of a scene by John C. Pellew, a painter born in Cornwall, England, but resided in Connecticut.  The scene above was based on a scene Pellew painted at Rockport, MA.  Turning to watercolor (and pastel) is another strategy I use to avoid the "plein-air Blues". I have even fallen back on sharpening drawing skills.  Here's a self-portrait done in charcoal on gray paper heightened with white Conte crayon:

One day I was able to get to my Kingston studio on a sunny but bitterly cold day.
The rear window afforded a rather upbeat snow scene which I hastened to record in oil as the tree shadows lengthened.  The 9x12 sketch could seve as the basis of s larger format.  The result of my efforts :

The road to the house could use a couple of figures, but it was so cold outside, despite the sun, that I didn't have the heart to have even imaginary figures suffer on my canvas!

  Today (March 11), the temperature reached 50 degrees (F) and so I leaped outside, traveling to the Hummocks in North Kingstown to rapidly sketch in the 9x12 oil on canvas which upon finishing will be called March Thaw.  Although it is not yet officially Spring, today was a kind of intervention by the gentler forces soon to replace this memorable winter.

March Thaw, oil on canvas, 9x12

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Perils of Winter Shows

    Kingston Rooftops, oil on linen, 18x24

           The image above is that of a painting now hanging at the Bill Krul Gallery in Narragansett.  I painted this late afternoon scene before my eastern-side studio window.  In s way, I wish I had waited for the roofs to wear some of the snow that has fallen over the last few weeks.  That same snow, I fear, has discouraged a number of visitors to the Krul Gallery exhibit.
    Early Winter Wickford, o/c, 6x8
   Kumquats and Lantern Blooms, oil on linen, 16x16

   A similar fate awaited my earlier January show (part of an Invitational Show) in the beautiful gallery space of the South County Art Association at the Helme House in Kingston, RI. The Opening was blessed by a cold but clear evening and was well attended. Within a week or two the Real Winter set in with a sequence of days that threatened both travel as well as parking.

   I was never keen on winter art exhibits and, perhaps, I will return to my usual hibernation mode next year.  If you are an artist, please let me know your opinions and/or experiences regarding January and February shows.