Friday, May 31, 2013

Saving the Bones IV

It's Getting Later and Later

Here's another step in the process. I don't think that many readers are engaged with this, considering that the readership is down. Nonetheless, first is a detail of the sky. All the paint is transparent. Notice how the canvas weave makes the blue sparkle. In most paintings, I paint an opaque sky, but in moonlight I often leave the sky as veils of transparent color. I think it heightens the contrast between the ethereal and the material.

The next three are the last couple of days, and the fourth is the state as of this evening.

As you can see, it's gotten a good deal darker, and more saturated. You can also see that I'm avoiding the lit side of the house, though I did change it's value and color somewhat.

By the way, I think I'm such a fan of moonlight because one of the very earliest images I can remember is an N. C. Wyeth illustration from Treasure Island, featuring Blind Pew making his way down the road from the Admiral Benbow Inn.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saving the Bones III

Moonlight Madness

Thinking about the house up on the hill, with the scary old people in it, I wondered how much more scared I would have been, age 7, to see it in moonlight. That though offered a new direction.

Here's a re-cap of where this has been, starting with Lhermitte's original pastel.

This is where I'd left it on Tuesday---a reasonably sunny day. Now, in order to get to moonlight, I needed to unify it with a cool tone. Out came the trusty ultramarine, used transparently, and a 2-inch brush. Aside from getting muddy, it certainly was cooled down. I quickly wiped out some of the lights to adjust them for the moonlight value scheme.

It still isn't moonlight. Aside from anything else, it has too much local color. This means there is too much of the actual color of the objects rather than the color they would appear to be in moonlight. Though a patch of grass is a different color in shadow than in sunlight, the blades themselves nonetheless remain exactly the same color.

I had a lot left to do, and I needed to do it tout de suite, for the surface was awash in Liquin which would soon begin to set up.

I strengthened some of the value relationships, as well as selectively wiping off some of the ultramarine. I monkeyed for a bit with the front (lit) side of the house, deciding to leave it until all is dry.

The stopping point for today is below. It's half way to moonlight. It's a tricky thing is to determine not only the exact values but exactly how much local color to leave. On a true moonlit night, there is no color at all. Yet artists like George Inness often left some of the local color, perhaps fearing the effect would be too icy if he didn't.
I'll need to decide that tomorrow.

The wet manipulation of the last layer has left some accidental textures which are somewhat suggestive of pastel. And Lhermitte's painting is a pastel. 

Go figure.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Another Carcass

Exploring in the Dark Corner

Yesterday's work on Johanssen's grandfather's house wasn't entirely dry this morning, so I opted, instead of creating problems for myself, to delve into one of my studio's dark corners.

I came across a grisaille that I did for a Saturday class last October. It was a chilly but beautiful day, and the remarkable ensemble of trees at Oak Hill Cemetery was resplendent in color.

I chose to start, though, on a grisaille of two huge beech trees, growing just a foot or two apart. I posted about it here.

Subsequently, I painted on it in the studio, capitalizing on the rich, transparent red oxide tint. I made a kaleidoscope of autumn colors to back up the trees, with a strong light effect passing diagonally behind the two beeches. 

It was just dreadful. In fact, it was a good bit beyond dreadful. Thus it found itself rightfully in the dark corner.

I noodled around with it for a while, trying to organize the riot of oranges and reds. It was hopeless. The situation called for a radical rethinking. Despite the fact that it's almost June, I felt that snow was required. Covering up the woodland setting with some ultramarine and white, I made a basic sky color (which trended toward green because of the wet warm colors already on the canvas---not so obvious in this photo).

As you can see, I left a line of  possible trees. This is all quite rough. The trees are not as 'beech-like' as I should wish. But the important thing is that all that orangey-yellow is gone, save for the few 'leaves' at the bottom, where the (yellow!) snow has melted.

As usual, I don't know where it's going. I show you these, as you know, to demonstrate that the way is not always straight. I encourage you, tomorrow being forecast as inclement near Boston, to find some abandoned start on which you may do a wholesale make-over.

For me, these exercises are quite relaxing, and they help me explore new avenues of problem solving.
The next problem is to figure out how to paint the bark so it doesn't look like a potato.

Of course I could go back and look at the real trees, which are certainly much blue-grayer. But that would be too adult.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Saving the Bones II

What Happened Next

I spent some time today on yesterday's grisaille. Here are yesterday's stages.

This morning I began by adding some transparent color:
burnt umber, ultramarine, transparent yellow oxide, permanent brown madder, prussian green, and a little sap green. Some were added 'straight' and some in mixtures.

I can't decide if anyone's living in that big house. It sort of has the feeling of the house on the hill that was creepy when one was a kid. An old, old couple lived there, but no one ever saw them.  Shiver!

But no need to worry. As you may have guessed, it was Johanssen's grandfather's house, though, in his day, the whole front was an amazing garden, now sadly turned to grass.

What I did next was to add some solid color, still going gingerly, while I made decisions about what was what. This is where it was at the end of the day.

As you can see I eliminated the ground floor windows on the lit side of the house. I'll have to re-design that side entirely once it's dry, getting the drawing and perspective more true.
But there is already a glary, dry quality in the landscape that I like. In the late 19th c. there was a school of painting called the "glare aesthetic". This might have qualified.

Perhaps more tomorrow night.


I got an email today from Martin Jonsson, a blog-follower from Sweden, responding to the request for photos from far-flung readers. Martin sent two interesting photographs. He writes  I saw your request for pictures from places where we blog-readers live, well here are mine. I live in an small town called Akersberga 30km north of Stockholm, Sweden
the pictures are of the surrounding nature (the town it self isnt much to see) sort of reminds me of some of your paintings. I really like your blog its good mix of your work, paintings tips
and works by other artists of interest.

Thanks, Martin! You can see some of Martin's work at this link.

Send in your photos!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saving the Bones

A Borrowed Design

About ten days ago, I sent the following image to a student who is negotiating the delicate transfer from pastels to oil. The artist is Leon Lhermitte (French, 1844-1925). He was equally adept, and equally comfortable, in pastel, in charcoal, and in oil. As I wrote to the student, Lhermitte's oils often share a flickering light with his pastels, and his pastels benefit from some of the solidity and gravitas of his oils. 
(This was snapped with my phone, from a catalogue, so bear with it. It is pastel, about 15" x 21", 38x53 cm).

Today, an artist friend and I were discussing the tendency, shared by almost everyone, of almost always establishing the horizon, or at least the main motif, at the same distance into the painting. The pastel shows a way of dealing with a high horizon.

I proposed that we make a painting, stealing from Lhermitte's composition. I wouldn't paint his painting, but the same basic relationships might well yield something interesting.

My canvas is a bit more horizontal than Lhermitte's, 12" x 18".
I placed these marks in about the same places as his masses.

Among other issues, I got the horizon closer to the top than I wanted. But it gave me the general idea. I started by laying in a grisaille which was very much a loose copy of his painting. But I didn't do it very well and, after all, I could make my own subject. So I wiped most of the additions off, getting back to the basic scheme.

I substituted a house for his trees, and then just went on from there. This grisaille has become my made-up place, but there's probably more I'll do to it. The culvert was a late addition----don't know if it will stay. 

Those who've been in the workshops know that I'll be able to proceed with color tomorrow, without disturbing the grisaille.

The point of this, of course, is that there are lots of starting points that can help you when you seem to be stuck. Take a favorite painting and transpose its relationships on to a blank canvas. Then let your imagination go where it will. 

My students know that I might very well wind up painting the 59th Street bridge instead.

Nothing is ever for keeps until it goes off to market.

DJ, 59th Street Bridge, ca. 1980

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tales from the Crypt

Artifical Respiration

I had a look through a stack of painting starts that never found their way. All good candidates for the Dead Painting Society. I decided to perform some artificial respiration on one of them.

This painting was a studio confection which began life as a really nice grisaille. I then proceeded to drive every semblance of quality out of it. It wound up in the corner of the studio that is occupied by the halt and the lame.

I put in a sky yesterday, mostly slashing brushstrokes covering up a tall mountain, some snow, etc. I brought the sky down to form a new tree line on the horizon. Most of that edge was merely where the sky strokes arbitrarily ended. Then I set about repairing some of the sky, modulating the slashes a bit. Here's where it stands at the moment. It definitely has a mood of sorts, but it's not yet breathing on its own. 

The sky was originally a mixture of yellow and yellow ochre. I just went at it with a large brush. Here are two close-ups of the upper left and upper right.


Even if this eventually turns out to be an acceptable painting, once I've finally committed to the palette, time of day, actual terrain, it's unlikely to go off to market, even though it's 24" x 30" (61x76 cm).

In my experience, my galleries rarely want very dark paintings, probably because few clients have adequate lighting to display them. So I do this as an exercise, a welcome respite from all those large recent paintings.

As I noodled around in photoshop, doing this post, I came across a photo of some old friends. Although it's not apropos of anything above, I'd like to give them their fifteen minutes of fame. The cocker was Kim's, the springer was mine, and our barn owned the cat. Good companions!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A Lot to Remember

Looking through the catalogue of a 1982 exhibition held in Cleveland and in Brooklyn, where I saw it, I came across a painting that has long been a favorite. The painter, Jean Charles Cazin (French, 1840-1901), was also a museum official and a respected ceramist. 

In the MFA, Boston, there's a nice Cazin hanging opposite the information desk.

This photograph of the painting from the exhibition is shot with my phone, from the catalogue itself (I've been unable to find an image for it online, though it is in the Cazin Museum on the second-floor of the Mairie, at Samer, Pas-de-Calais).

Jean Charles Cazin, La Boulangerie Coquelin
I apologize both for the wacky color and the blurriness. The scene is an interior courtyard at the Coquelin family bakery in Boulogne. Cazin was great friends, and would remain so his entire life, with the two young Coquelin sons. The Coquelin brothers would go on to be great stars on the Parisian stage.

What particularly fascinates me is that Cazin painted this work from memory, quite some time after the fact. No drawings, no photos. It seems quite impossible, but it's true.
I particularly like the light from the oven's fire reflected on the side of the baker. Magical!

Cazin was a devotee, along with Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, Leon Lhermitte, et al, of the great 19th c. art teacher, Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran. Whistler was influenced by Boisbaudran, as was Delacroix.

Boisbaudran developed a system of memory training for his students. They would first draw something from life, or just study it for an hour or two. Then, in the absence of the subject, and of their drawing, they would draw the subject again from memory. This was repeated again and again, with the subjects getting more and more complex. At first, it might just be a nose, for example, which they would memorize. They would advance as they demonstrated the ability to master each problem. Along the way, tremendous powers of memory were trained, bit by bit.

Subsquently, Boisbaudran developed, too, a system for color memorization. His work is detailed in his The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist . You can read the book online, or download it at the Internet Archive website.

All of this relates in a wee way to the results from last weekend's workshop. (Parenthetically, I think I was the most pleased I have ever been by these students' progress over the two days.)  

Here are a couple of photos, thanks to two students.

But, getting back to memory training, most of you know that I'm a big fan of painting from memory and from imagination. At the workshop, I brought a panel which was tinted with Manganese Blue Violet (OH), just for fun. The first day I did my grisaille along with everyone else. It was a beautiful, soft day, in a riot of close-valued yellow-greens.

The second day started off gray, and when I did a bit to my painting, by way of discussing some things I wanted the students to think about as they essayed color on their canvases, this is what resulted. You won't miss the blue-violet!

Then on Tuesday, in the studio, I decided to turn this painting into the yellow green palette, along with the brighter light, of Saturday. I needed to try to remember, a la Boisbaudran, what it was like. I wound up with this, on top of the one above.

The real painting has some pale, pale blue in the sky. It's lost in this photo. Anyway, it's a pretty fair representation of the first day. But it's really boring.

Today, in thinking about what to do to jazz it up, I chose to do something which I once did, to the horror of the students, in one of last Spring's DPS session. I applied a lot of ultramarine and liquin to the painting: the sky, the far tree line, the far hill, and a strip in the foreground. It looked like this.

At least now it was getting some personality. I wiped most of the blue off the sky, and strengthened it in other places. I created a far light effect, and enhanced the the light in the mid-ground. As yet, I haven't figured out what to do with the water. But here's how it stood when I left the studio this evening.

Much to be done...or not
The paintings I do in the workshops almost never have a life afterward, only very rarely going off to market. They are the little pigs who stayed home. 

But this was a fun exercise. It was particularly welcome because it enabled me to stall on stretching The Vertical One 2, the stretcher bars for which have arrived.

Time for the Red Sox.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

News from the Front

Workshop, and Dennis Miller Bunker

We had a glorious day of sunshine in a lovely spot today. I'm pleased to say that a lot of good work was accomplished. The class, which was to end at 1 p.m., continued on 'til three.

Here's a shot of some close-up tutelage, featuring CS and CMJ.

I, for one, was a tired fellow by the end. I'll refresh myself tonight by watching others work in Minnesota.

But, before I do that, I want to remind some of the workshop's students of Dennis Miller Bunker (1861-1890).
Here are some of Bunker's paintings of motifs much like that we encountered today. Of special interest is how he dealt with the grass in the foreground.

Most of these, if not all, were painted in Medfield, MA. You may have noticed that Bunker died at just 29 years old, his death coming just 75 days after his wedding.

And finally, a Bunker of which I'm very fond, Brittany Town Morning, Larmor, and a John Singer Sargent sketch of Bunker painting, at Calcot in England.

What does Bunker have on his head...a handkerchief? Or is it a cap?

Get to bed early if you're one of tomorrow's students. Lotsa work to do!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Rembrandt Redux

 Flash Mob in Breda

Rembrandt's 12'x14' masterpiece, The Night Watch (more properly The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out), has been re-installed at the Rijksmuseum, part of a $400 million renovation of the Amsterdam museum.

In honor of that, a flash mob performed at a mall in Breda.

Apparently an attempt was also made to have a flash mob do Malevich's iconic modernist painting, below.

Kazimir Malevitch, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918, MOMA

It proved to be, understandably, ill-suited.


Tomorrow the May Two-day Workshop begins. For me it will be fun, with The Vertical One behind me, to once again be out with Mother Nature.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mission Accomplished

Fait accompli

The French lane has safely arrived in New York. 

I don't know about you, but I'm always a bit deflated when I drop paintings off at galleries. Because I've been so consumed with the work, often at white-hot heat, I'm hoping for a fanfare when I arrive with the newest masterpiece.

Of course, this is very unfair to the galleries. First, fanfares aren't cheap and, second, I'm not the only artist in the gallery clamoring for attention. So, next time you drop work off, remember that they have other things on their plate, and don't be quite so sensitive. (I haven't managed it yet, but when I grow up I know I'll be better at it).

On the send-me-a-picture front, we've received them from Belgium, France and Canada.

First, LA Colbeck sent a photo captioned "from where I paint"
Ms. Colbeck hails from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Sure looks amazing to me! Thanks.

Bruce Trewin, consistent blog-follower, sent a couple of where he lives in Graves St. Amant (near Cognac), in the west of France. Bruce is also going to be one of our happy campers on the French Workshop.
The first is sunrise from his bedroom window (one needs ask, of course, why he wasn't already set up, outdoors, ready to start a sunrise sketch?)

 Second is the road to St. Amant.

The vines remind me of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "and sunny clusters ripened for the wine".

Bruce sent, too, this shot of the Charente (river) at Jarnac.

Isabelle de Failly, from Belgium, has sent along several photos. Mme. de Failly, unable to sell her children in time, will not be with us for the French Workshop. Quel dommage!

But she keeps up her part with charming emails commenting on the blog, keeping me cheerful.

First is what I think is a long view of the stable block where Isabelle makes her home.

And here are two photos of the countryside:

And, finally, a Mauve-like view.

Isabelle has told me there's lots to paint in her locale. Perhaps we'll do a workshop there some day. Let me know if that appeals to you (

All for today on this rare, daytime post. Cheers!