Friday, March 29, 2013

More Questions + Answers

It seems we've elicited a few more questions. As I did last night, I'll interweave some paintings from the archives. BTW, I'm now on Twitter @donaldjurney for those of you more cool than I.

A Summer Storm in the Nivernais, 2010

First question is from a correspondent without a surname. We'll call her M.
I have some questions!
As I have never seen your (very beautiful) work in person I was wondering if 
1) you could go into detail about your brushstrokes (it seems you work with round brushes, smaller strokes (vs. broad strokes), broken color, mostly up and down? Do you use different strokes for the skies than trees?) 
M...This has given me some pause---I don't think I've ever thought so consciously about my marks. Yes, I do use mainly round brushes, generally hog bristle. I like having the ability to scrub with the brush. As they get older, and worn down, one can get some nice gestures painting with them, rather like drawing with a recalcitrant stick.
Ah, but the marks. I think that my marks are all over the place, every which way. There certainly isn't a 'vertical' or 'horizontal' pattern to them. I also tend draw 'around' forms,
meaning, in my case, that I tend to describe a form with my brush. Hmmm...size of marks. That entirely depends on what I'm painting, though they are never very large. Somehow I don't think they're much of a feature in my work, certainly not in a stylized way. The painting immediately below has very few marks over much of its surface (30x46", 76x116 cm), but it's largely about the foggy morning. It's the view across a valley toward a house my wife and I once owned in France. It's the nature of the atmosphere in this painting that brushstokes would be (to my eye) tremendously intrusive.

Between Chaumont and Tollecy, Fog  2004
The painting below, painted en plein, but very smoky, air, is a small (probably ca 10x12) on-the-spot study of a conflagration just around the corner from my old studio in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In this painting, the obvious and vigorous brushstrokes seem to underscore the urgency of the firemen's task. They'd be entirely inappropriate to the foggy scene above.
Taconic Lumberyard Fire, 1987

And here's a third specimen. This one is pretty smooth, except in the vegetation on the bank. It shows two kinds of paint handling, used to increase the illusion of distance within the painting.
Maudslay Brook, 2011 (16x20", 40x50cm)
 2) if you have analyzed any favorite landscape master's strokes and 
In the sense that I think you mean it, no I haven't. I've written on the blog about finding methods and manners that suit one's particular temperament. You will evolve your own system of mark making. If you like exercises, try the strokes that have worked for others, just to familiarize yourself with some of the choices. In the end, the manner that is correct will be the one that springs effortlessly from your conception of the painting. All great paintings choose the manner in which they are to be painted. Just accept your role as the brush operator.
3) then discuss how you think an artist still searching their way can find their own brushstroke style.
I think I just did, under 2)
I would really appreciate it! thanks!
You're very welcome. Hope it helps.

A question from D. d'E.,  a follower in Massachusetts:
I have a basic question to ask in regards to painting supports. I know you said you use Claessens #13 SP, mounted to a panel. How exactly do you mount the Linen to the panel? Is it glued? Forgive my ignorance on this subject, I have mostly painted on pre-stretched canvas and would like to explore using other painting supports.
First, I ought to make clear that I MUCH PREFER painting on stretched canvas. I love, and am used to, the bounce from the linen as the brush engages the surface.
That said, when traveling a long distance by plane, I bite the bullet and use my linen canvas laid to board. They require a fraction of the room in my luggage and are much less susceptible to damage.
I always wind up with extras so sometimes, when I'm too lazy to stretch a canvas, I'll use one of the panels.
Gin Lane, Southampton, NY, 1981, 12x16" (30x41 cm), oil on gessoed panel
I use Miracle Muck (available here) as the adhesive. Essentially (as I was taught by a fellow artist) you put some of the Miracle Muck into a paint roller tray, then apply it to the support with a paint roller (in my case the support is Gatorboard, about which here). Lay the canvas on top. Smooth out the bubbles and insure a good bond with a household rolling pin. When you've finished, stack up the panels and weight them with a pile of heavy books (or those sacks of gold from selling your paintings). 

Also, in your opinion what are advantages/differences in painting on a hard surface versus pre-stretched canvas.
And also advantages/differences of painting on Canvas versus Linen.

Hamptons, 1981, 12x16" (30x41cm), oil on gessoed panel

As I wrote above, I like the 'spring' of a taut canvas. I find it much more fun than I do a panel. But panels are sturdier, less prone to damage, and lighter. The hard, unyielding surface of a panel does require some getting used to after canvas. In a way, I feel like my depth perception (in this case it translates to 'touch') gets really confused when I move back and forth between them.

Canvas, in my lexicon, always means cotton canvas, as opposed to linen. Cotton canvas is generally not at all to my liking. Usually it is too coarse for me (I use a very smooth portrait linen, #13 SP Claessens), and the gessoed cotton surface is brutal on brushes. In damp weather it is much more reactive to the humidity in the air, and can become slack. Its saving grace, of course, is cost. 
If you can find a way to get a hold of some linen, do so. Try always to use the best materials in your work. They make all tasks easier.

La Fonte de la Neige, 2001, 36x54" (91x137cm) , oil on linen
If you have a question, put it in a comment, below, or write to me at



  1. Very interesting...and surprising. I have always considered your brushwork to be very distinctive and a principle element in the beauty and serenity of your paintings. I guess it stems as much from the build up of layers of thin transparent paint. Have to observe it in person, but there seems to be a very vertical, dense, build up of short strokes in your areas of vegetation which is unique to your work.

  2. Next time when I make panels, I will be using my gold blocks to weigh down the panels!

    I too, have been using Number 13 Classens linen. I switched from number 15. Number 13 is less expensive and softer to apply to Gator board. I think using transparent colors build up nicely upon linen surfaces. I especially like being able to see the linen slight texture through the paint surface.

  3. Thank you for your information. I think your brush strokes are major factors in the total impact of your paintings, Donald. I agree, though, that they are not at ALL 'stylized' or contrived for some cute effect. Just seeing you paint in person confirms that.
    I (so far.. but it's still early in the day) prefer very smooth surfaces. I think it's because I want any texture to be deliberately created by me, not the result of the weave or production qualities of the surface. I love serendipitous accidents but (my personal opinion ONLY), seeing too much of the weave or places where the white pattern shows through the paint somehow makes me think 'amateur'. Not sure why.