Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nancy's Eyes

I decided to do the portrait using the grisaille (neutral grays) method. I've always admired grisaille figure paintings and I haven't tried one yet so I figured "what the hell". The yellowish cast is due to the small 15 watt bulb that I have over my easel. My wife has an Ott light placed about two feet from her head which is causing her skin tone to take on a coolish tonality which is another reason I decided to go with the gray palette. I'm working with a very small brush paying attention to each micro form in addition to the larger forms, trying to finish each section as completely as I can, as I go. Hopefully I'm asking the right questions that will allow me to paint the forms in a sculptural way rather than just matching values.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I badgered my wife into posing for me this week of my vacation. I originally wanted to do three hours a day but we compromised on two hours and very short breaks. I started directly on the canvas with vine charcoal which I refined with a hard synthetic bright. The canvas already had a rubbed in umber tone. Then I went over the charcoal with thinned down umber and black. I proceeded to model the forms in a thinned down grisaille fashion using hatched strokes almost like a brush and ink drawing. Tomorrow if all goes according to plan I'll begin to paint using a window shade technique. I'll probably start somewhere around the eyes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lemon and Jug almost completed

Almost finished. Right now the previously painted areas are looking a little hazy because they need to be oiled out. I don't oil out when I'm painting on successive days because I don't want to risk ruining the areas that may not be completely dry. I try to remain true to the vision in my head as I paint each area and hope that it will all turn out right in the end. Anyways, after it's dry I'll spray it with retouch varnish and possibly touch up a few areas. I realy tried to ratchet it up a notch on this one and hopefully it shows.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More Lemon and Jug

Finished backdrop and got started on wood base.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lemon and Jug continued

Another day's work, and I must admit I'm pretty tired. I decided to paint up the wrinkled sheet background, contrary to my usual practice, figuring if I don't like it I can push it back down again. One problem I'm having is that any of the earth color mixtures I'm using are drying up towards the end of the session when i'm looking to apply a few finishing touches. I may have to start using clove oil or poppy seed oil to slow down the drying time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"Lemon and Jug" Form Painting

Two more steps in this small still life. Both done on the same day, painted wet into wet using a small size 8 Raphael round and no medium. The shadow of the lemon isn't quite as dark as it looks here. The only problem I'm having so far is that theres a tendency to make the halftones look overly fussy because that's where most of the detail is likely to appear. Usually after my first pass I have to step back and view painting and setup from a distance and push in the details that are showing more in my painting than they do in the setup.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Colored Ebauche

This is the underpainting for a new still life painting. It's on an 8" by 10" linen canvas. Normally I don't paint on linen but everyone at the GCA swears by it so I thought I'd give it a try. I can't afford to buy a roll of the Claessen's so I bought a Utrecht pre- stretched that's (for some strange reason) triple primed with acrylic gesso to which I added a fourth layer of very thinly scraped on oil primer. I hate painting on gesso, it's too absorbent. I'm fiddling around with a variety of different types of underpaitings. This is the method favored by the Ryder studio school and was used by a lot of the French academy painters in the tradition of David. Hopefully I'm off to a good start.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Small Works

I have a friend who for many years made his living as a building superintendent. When he was laid off he decided to go into business for himself. He specialized in doing the jobs that the homeowner couldn't do but were too small for the larger companies. He calls his business "Charlie Small Jobs". During the winter when my converted garage-studio becomes too cold to heat with my little electric heater, I move my paint kit into the house and work on a variety of small paintings. The two featured here,"White Vase with Oranges" and "Black Vase with Potatoes" both measure 8" by 10". I decided to push a little harder into picking up some of the detail with these two. Probably the influence of the cast drawing and the atelier where I've been studying. I've been trying out these Raphael synthetic rounds that I saw mentioned on Tony Ryders website and elsewhere. I'm really growing to love these brushes "they take a licking and keep on ticking". I'm also experimenting with different types of underpaintings. In "Black Vase.." I used a pretty detailed thin, colored ebauche directly on a white canvas and then painted directly over this after it was dry, using a window shade technicque. In "White Vase" I rubbed a thin stain of raw umber and let it dry. I made a detailed charcoal drawing, outlined it and then I went directly into window shading without an underpainting. So far I'm getting a big kick out of doing these small works in this manner and I'm forcing myself to really slow down and justify every brushstroke. I had a fear in the past of becoming overly "tight" but I recently read this great description of Dutch master still life painting which basically said that they managed to pack in a lot of detail while never losing sight of their broad manner. I'm starting to realize that that pretty much describes most of the paintings that I generally respond to.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It's been a while since I've made a painting with a mirror in it. Generally I use a mirror to paint a self portrait or to check for accuracy(reverse image). This painting actually started as a self portrait. I placed the mirror on the table with the intention of painting myself holding the bowl of objects. I placed the bowl on the table for a minute to set up the lighting and something just clicked. The light was a bit different because usually I have it pointing directly at the setup but in this case the light was at an oblique angle because it wasn't really meant for this arrangement, it was purely accidental.
"Blue Bottle and Egg" 18"x24" 2008
I've been painting long enough now to know that when something unexpected comes up that sometimes it can be a good idea to roll with it. There was something very mysterious about the way the reflection related to the setup and I wanted to highlight that without killing it. I also had in mind that famous Degas painting of his Aunt, Madame Bellili and her family where the mirror in the corner just goes off into this abstract whiteout that serves to anchor the composition and make the mirror more mirror-like. I still want to do another self portrait (I'm the only model I can afford or that's available) but holding a bowl of objects may be too Symbolist, we'll see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Traveling Man

This is a recent still life using some items that I had purchased at an antiques fair in Farmington, Connecticut. I purchased the dippers because I had been intrigued by the idea of using them in a painting after I had seen them in paintings by Andrea Smith. The suitcase is actually made out of wood and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it but it has this really cool patina and the inside has this bright red varnished wood tiger pattern (which I'll probably feature in another painting).
Originally I had intended to paint it with daylight streaming onto it from the left side but as usually happens with me, it was a cloudy day when I was ready to start so I set up a lamp and got to work. Usually I don't have any concept in mind when I set up a still life, just a vague notion of possible objects and I look for the arrangement to kind of suggest itself. After setting up the dippers and suitcase I new it needed something on top, a horizontal element of some kind, but I was stumped as to what. Thinking about it for a few days when the sea shell image just kind of popped into my head, maybe because I work near the beach, and so I went through the house looking for shells and finally ending up with these few that my daughter had brought back from the beach a few summers ago.
When you live with a still life painter you have to hide your treasures because you never know what's going to catch my eye. Whenever my wife is missing anything the first place she looks is in my studio.
I can see by looking over these last few paintings that my work is definitely undergoing some kind of change. I'm not sure where it's headed but so far I'm happy with the results so I'll just go with it and hope for the best. I've never been one to try and cultivate a signature look or style; I just try to make honest work that's well crafted and hopefully inspired. I guess every artist has their own "handwriting" and if you don't try to hard to be unique eventually it will come about of it's own accord.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


After completing this painting I realized that I had inadvertently set up the two bowls to look like a nautilus shell. I'd been wanting to use the wooden bowl in a painting for some time but I didn't want to fill the entire thing up with fruit, hence the bowl within a bowl arrangement. I really pushed the rounding of the forms in this one,I'm not sure the photo does it justice, but it was the best I could do. I just spent three hours fiddling around with photoshop trying to get something close to the painting. I've never had this much trouble before. I couldn't get the color and highlights on the oranges to look right and when I finally did the background became a problem. What I finally ended up with was a bit of a compromise between the two. Anyways I think it turned out to be one of my more interesting compositions and I really had a blast painting it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Bamboo and Saki Cups"

This is my latest effort in my series of daylight paintings. The background is actually a little darker than it appears here, but otherwise it's pretty close. The hardest part about this one was getting the cups to have the right tonality and temperature. One of the interesting things about working in layers is that you can change the temperature by glazing or scumbling. A light color over a dark will appear cool and the reverse is true to get warmth.
I purchased the saki cups at this auction that I occasionally attend. It's run by this small church that I told my wife I suspect they may be "moonies".The auctioneer "Bud" is quite a character and has a pretty fierce scowl when he feels a piece is being undersold. It's actually a lot of fun. I have a rule to never bid more than ten bucks for an item which has caused me to lose a few bidding wars.
One item in particular that I wanted was this antique pool cue, that came with a worn down plush leather and velvet case. When the bid started getting up to my limit, I knew that I wasn't going to get it. Eventually it went for 25.00. The saki cups I got for a dollar! I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them but then I saw this bamboo plant in a store and something clicked. After setting up the composition I could tell something was missing so I went looking for a blue cloth but ended up grabbing a tie instead. I'm not sure why I wrapped it around the cup but it sort of reminds me of when I was a kid taking karate lessons and how I would knot the belt around my waist.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sleeping Cast

This is a recent painting using a cast that I've painted several times. I wouldn't actually call it "Sleeping Cast". I think of it as a still life so the title will probably be "Cast with Pillow and Sheets". I'd rather let the viewer decide what the cast is doing.

The cast is a copy of the "Dying Gaul". Theres something about this image that has made me want to paint it more than once. It depicts an enemy of the ancient Greeks and Romans and even though the face is somewhat idealized the moustache keeps it from being overly so.

When I first made the drawing I had planned to put it on an 18"x24" canvas but I grew impatient to work on it and since I had a 16"x20" primed and ready I decided to see how it would look on the smaller canvas. I liked it better cropped because it seemed less like an intimate portrait of someone actually sleeping and more like a still life. This painting marks a turning point in my recent work because I decided to slow things down a bit and push harder to get things right. Normally my procedure is to draw directly on the canvas with charcoal and then make a thinly colored underpainting (ebauche). Instead I made a drawing on paper, transferred it and then did a wipe out using thinned down burnt umber, pulling out the lights with a rag. After this was dry I mixed my colors and proceeded to use a window shade technicque painting with small brushstrokes using the "tiling" method mentioned in "Classical Painting Atelier". After the first pass was dry I proceeded to paint everything all over again, glazing and scumbling as I went, which gave the painting a much richer look than some of my previous paintings which were more alla prima(one pass).

Originally I had intended to have the head partly wrapped in a sheet but then I saw my daughters coat in the closet and I knew I had to paint the fur collar next to the plaster surface. I was a little hesitant thinking maybe the idea was too silly. If the title was going to be "Sleeping Cast" than yeah, the idea would be silly but as a still life with no intended subject other than light on forms, it's just another object.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Life Drawing

Last night I went to a life drawing session after half a day of heavy yard work and then a couple of hours in the studio. I was debating whether to go or not but I hadn't made the last couple of sessions so I toughed it out and went. It's three hours on one pose so it's a pretty good chance to practice some of the fundamentals like the block- in, shadow shapes etc;
It's a great bunch of people that I draw with there and you can't beat the price, ten dollars. Theres plenty of room, usually theres only half a dozen artists. The only problem is with the lighting. The room is covered with flourescent bulbs and spotlights because it functions as a gallery space as well. Usually one weak spotlight is placed on the model which adds to the problem rather than helping. The overall effect is of washed out values and shadows filled with halftones. Noone seems to mind because they're into working in a linear fashion and using modeling as more of a textural idea rather than revealing form. I finally got them to try turning off the flourescent lights and letting the ceiling spots shine on the model. Everyone complained they coudn't see their drawing so I set the spotlamp behind them, shining it towards the back wall. What a difference. I don't think people realize how important a single light source is to figure drawing. Even if you're not doing much shading it still helps to get the proportions and gesture right. Without shadow shapes it's too easy to get caught up in what it is you're drawing rather than what it looks like. ex; this is a head so I guess it goes here and looks like this rather than this is a light plane bisected by a dark triangular plane. There was a marked improvement in everyones drawings, including my own. But I guess they just didn't see it because last night they were back to using the same old washed out light. Sigh!
I decided to try out some of the things that I had learned in the Jon DeMartin workshop, so I drew using nitrate vine charcoal on toned paper. I began with an envelope because the model took a compressed pose, kind of hugging his knees. Then I looked for and drew the inner gestural curve. Things seemed to be going as planned so i switched over to charcoal pencil. Bad idea! Like a greased pig the drawing got away from me. Most likely because I started to detail the face rather than developing the overall block-in from larger to smaller shapes. I think i was in a rush to draw the portrait because I recognized the model. I've seen him painted and drawn by quite a few artists and I guess I wanted to compare myself. See all of the crap that can enter into your head when poor lighting doesn't allow you to concentrate on the abstract nature of what you're drawing. Oh well, I'll get him next time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008



This is not my first blog post (I've been posting on my website for over a year now) but it is my first posting on this forum. I am a high school art teacher and a professional artist. I love teaching and it does give me enough time to paint every day and all day on the weekends. I mainly focus on still life paintings but i also do quite a few landscapes and interiors and the occasional portrait.

The summer is usually the time when I can get a leg up on my work and this summer I've been pushing ahead on a few different areas. Usually I paint my setups using a spotlight but I recently started experimenting with daylight. I've found it to be quite a challenge. The forms turn slower and more subtly. The shadows tend to melt into each other and theres more "paysage" in general. The warm and cool color relationships are different as well. Anyways, this is an example of one of my recent daylight paintings "Soup Tureen and Onions" 16"x20". I have it setup right next to a window with a white window shade drawn down. It does diffuse the light somewhat but it keeps it constant, allowing me to paint longer than if the shade was up. With this painting I used a burnt umber wipeout and then began to paint "window shade" style painting each object to completion.(well sort of, I went back and repainted each area several times to get the effect of daylight rolling across the forms.)
Another area that I've been concentrating on is my drawing. Usually I draw directly on the canvas with charcoal, but lately I've been making pencil drawings on paper and then transferring them to the canvas. I don't know if it makes a noticable difference but it does give you a last minute reprieve because you can shift the composition slightly when making the transfer.
Usually, I take a workshop over the summer because the classes that I'm taking at the Grand Central Academy of Art go on a summer break and it gives me a chance to try something new. I recently completed a week long drawing class with Jon DeMartin called "short and long pose figure drawing". I highly reccommend it. Having been trained in the straight line drawing and block in method, I found Jon's emphasis on gesture and inner curve lines very refreshing. He doesn't disavow the Bargue method but shows how gesture drawing can be a great tool to use along with the block in.
Well, I'm about to go in the studio so heres the end of my first post, Ciao.