Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Apples

I worked hard to get the apples in yesterday in one go. I know they're not going to look the same in a couple of days. Working the red and green areas in this extreme lighting was quite challenging. Without planning to, I set up the entire painting around a complementary color scheme. I worked some of the reds into the greens and vice versa to try and get the shadows to scintillate and to get the complements to harmonize a little better. I'm liking working on the ebauche so I may stick with it a little bit. One thing that I did that's a little different is I stained the canvas with thinned raw umber and then after that was dry I put the ebauche over it. That gave it more of a "dead color" look such as the kind used in the underpaintings of Vermeer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lady Apples

"Lady Apples and Kettle" 11"x14" on oil primed linen.
The apples have been left blank because I'm going to try and paint them in one go and I didn't want to wait for an underpainting to dry. I did a rough ebauche (colored underpainting) so that I would have some context with which to judge the color and value of the apples. Even though the ebauche is kind of sketchy looking the inked drawing that shows through it is pretty precise. If everything goes according to plan, once the apples are in I'll be able to slow it down a little. I also set up a different kind of lighting than my usual arrangement. I was at home depot the other day and I saw a plug strip with about six outlets that was laying flat on a table with six screw in light bulbs sticking up from it. The light bulbs were screwed into a plug that could be inserted into the strip. Some bells started going off in my head and I picked one up along with four daylight flourescent bulbs. I placed it on the table next to the still life, and I blocked off the glare of the direct light with black cardboard. It has pretty much the same look as when I was placing my setup next to my studio window except I can work on it at night. In this case I decided to go with a "rim lighting" effect which I discovered by accident when I put the lights on the table while trying to attach them to a beam above the table. It's always fun to try something a little different.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Anatomy Lesson

"Anatomy Lesson" oil on linen, 8"x10". I picked up this copy of Gray's Anatomy probably thirty years ago, when I was obsessed with the work of Leonardo Da Vinci and I fancied that I too would memorize every vein and muscle of the body.(oh to be young and idealistic!). I think I got the fake skull around the same time. It has a really nice patina, thirty years of dust, and I used to cover it with ketchup and scare my kids on Halloween.
I decided to make a black and white poster study as well as a color one. I was looking at the painting demo that Doug Flynt has posted on his website. www.DouglasFlynt.com and it got me to thinking about how these poster studies can be more than just an investigation of the values and colors but also a chance to think about the direction that the piece is headed in. What should be emphasized, what should be left out, etc; One of the things that I really like about Doug's work is the way that he judiciously uses his shadows to tie his design together. You can see that he very often will downplay the effect of reflected light and ambient light if it will strenthen the overall composition and keep the focus on the light areas.
I was thinking about that when I made the b&w poster study. You can see how the cast shadow of the book and it's form shadow merge into one strong, abstract shape, which also links up with the dark background.In the color study I tried to keep that unity but I felt like I could push the shadows towards a little more variation without killing the overall effect. I also tried really hard to keep the logic of the value scheme.(I have to purchase or make a black mirror. One of my former instructors told me how to make one out of a cd case but I can't remember what he said.)
In the final painting I found it really hard to resist the jewel like reflected light that was splashing up into the shadow side of the book. I did underplay the wash of light, as in my studies, that was falling onto the table cloth, to keep the light ascending, step like towards my center of interest.(Mr. Bones) The jury is still out on whether or not this trade off has hurt the design. I'll take a fresh look after I oil it out and decide then. The rule of thumb is easy "whatever doesn't help your painting, hurts your painting", making yourself an objective observer is another story.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Still More Mannequins

I finished covering the canvas today. I'll wait a few days, look at it with fresh eyes, and then I'll oil it out and tinker a little bit here and there. My goal is to get it right the first time, to keep it fresh, and to keep the paint skin all of a piece. It doesn't always work out that way, but for the way that I work, the best ones usually do.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Mannequins

A little more progress on the mannequin painting. This is one of those paintings that I'm going to be sorry to see it end. I'm really having a blast. Probably because I'm not in any hurry, noone will shout as I fiddle about. Anyways, I'm starting to feel a little like Pygmalion, and I've been thinking about that Gerome painting in the Met, which is one of my favorites. This is a still life painting but it's getting closer to the direction that I'm eventually headed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mannequins and Cast

A bit of an update on what I've been up to. I'm making good progress on the mannequins (18'x24" oil on linen). I put the cast painting up because in a way they're kind of related. It's the lessons that I'm learning on the cast that I'm applying to painting the mannequins. Basically, it's to go as slow as I need to, to constantly conceptualize the position of the object in the light, and to paint each area as I go, up to a finish. The cast painting really takes a lot of patience because I only get to work on it for about three hours every saturday morning before I switch to the figure drawing class, so I'm proceeding in little inch bites at a time. But I'm having a lot of fun. I feel a little bit like an archaeologist slowly removing the debris from a dinosaur bone.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Exhibit Announcement

As a winner in one of last years group shows I was invited by the Smithtown Arts Council Stacarts.org to exhibit six of my paintings. This will be a chance for me to exhibit some of my larger still lifes. Most of them are 18"x24" or 16"x20". The dates are March 20-April 15 2010.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Heres the poster (8"x10" oil on board) and underpainting (18"x24" oil primed linen) for my latest project. I decided to try an open grisaille technique rather than my usual wipe-out method. Since theres nothing perishable and I have it setup on the far wall of my studio I plan to really take my time with this one and get the wash of light just right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cactus Final

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More Salad

I got the first pass in and now I'm waiting to oil it out and go to work tweaking and altering. Tomatoes are still hanging in but not looking too edible.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Salad, Etc;

Heres a couple of things that I've been working on. The tomatoes and pears are still hanging on, so maybe I can get one more touch up pass. I tried out a fan brush for the first time on the table cloth. I'd seen another artist using one and I thought "what the heck". I used it to tone down and unify the various value shifts that I used in delineating the tablecloth.
I've started to do grisaille figure paintings at my bi-monthly long pose group. Using one color and mineral spirits. I was inspired by some of the ones that I saw on the Studio Incamminatti web site. It's a lot harder than they make it look!
Finally, the poster and wipeout are for a new cast painting that I've started at the Grand Central Academy of Art. Theres a lot of intricate detail in the hair that's going to take me a while but I feel like I'm off to a good start with the poster study.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"En Salada"

Tomatoes on the vine and a cucumber from my friends garden. Should be fun if it all stays fresh long enough. Right now they're sitting in the fridge. 11"x14" on stretched linen. Umber is drying too quickly. By the time I get to the table top I can barely wipe the paint off. I'll have to go back to mixing in some ivory black Like I used to do. The only problem with that is that the paint takes a little longer to dry. aargh! Maybe with the perishables on the next one I'll just transfer the drawing to a toned canvas ala Doug Flynt and just go for it. Better chance of nailing the fruit while the colors are prime.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Cactus

I decided that the cactus leaves were too intense, and too viridian, so I repainted them. Enough of the viridian shows through to give them the look that's closer to the actual color and temperature. I had some extra leaves around so I put them in the cup because I knew it needed something, I wasn't sure what. But when I dropped those leaves in there, I thought "oh, yeah, that does the trick!". I will probably oil it out and tweak it one more time. Then I'm thinking about starting a self portrait. We'll see.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Upcoming Demo

This is the open grisaille or wipeout underpainting for the painting demo that I will be giving on Oct.5 at the Floral Park Art League. It's a small 8"x10" canvas because I'll have just a little over an hour to complete it. In order to control the lighting I have it setup in a cardboard "shadow box" with a spotlight focused on it. I'll have all my colors mixed up about an hour before I get there, so after I talk for a bit I'll be blasting it in. I'll basically be using the same process that I used last time which was to block in the entire painting alla prima and then quickly stitch it all together. Afterwards, I'll pop it into a frame and the winner gets to take it home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Cactus

I got the first pass in on the cactus. It's got this otherwordly neon greenish color that's different from the warm clorophyl green found in regular plants. I'll probably have to deepen the darks and warm up some of the lights when I go back into it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


This is another small 8"x10" stretched linen canvas. I've been doing a lot of these smaller paintings lately. They're a good way to get ideas out quickly and the gallery that shows my work has been selling them pretty well so I guess this is my version of economic downsizing. But I really do enjoy the challenge of trying to make a "big" image out of a small space. I know this doesn't look like a cactus but trust me, it is. It's not even planted in dirt, it's filled up with sand. I asked my wife how often I should water it and she said twice a year! I guess it's kind of like me, it doesn't mind hanging out in a dark studio without any sunlight.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Painting Demo

This was the result of a painting demo that I did at the National Art League Friday night. It's basically a painting club with a long history and a nice facility for members and non members to use. I don't think they get too many painting demos because you really only have about an hour and a half or less to do the demo. I thought it would be a fun challenge so I had a friend reccomend me and I got the job. What I did to save some time was to set up the arrangement at home about a week before and do a drawing and wipeout(underpainting). Then on the day of the demo I mixed up all the colors and value strings that I would need, on a large palette, at home. Before I started I briefly explained my Classical Realist training and how I was told to do a lot of these small 8"x10" one shot paintings to develop my eye and hand and to really get a feeling for dealing with the whole space of a painting, all at once. Anyway, when I was done, I was thinking "is this any good?", but they loved it and the woman who won the painting in the raffle was very happy. I used a nice but relatively
inexpensive frame, because I'd hate to see even one of my demos in a cheesy strip frame. As a teacher for twenty five years I'm used to public speaking, my real worry was whether or not I'd be able to pull it off in the allotted time, since this was my first demo. I have another one coming up next month so hopefully that one will go as well.

Friday, September 4, 2009

More Jug and Rope

I'm staying pretty close to the value and color scheme that I established in the poster study, except that I decided to up the intensity of the reddish jug color. I've been putting the bread in the fridge after each session and that seems to be working. I have an idea for a larger painting built around this one and it would be great if the bread could last for a few weeks.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Covered Jug and Bread

Canvas is an 8"x10" and the poster is on a 5"x7" board. I've always been drawn to the covered jars and jugs in the work of eighteenth century painters. Not really sure what the covering was for. Can't imagine it doing much besides keeping out bugs. It couldn't really have worked as a preservative. The hardest part was tying the little string around the mouth of the jug in a bow knot. I had to use a rubber band to hold it in place. It always amazes me how little info is needed in the poster study to give it a sense of reality. That coherence has to carry over to the finished piece or all the detail in the world won't save it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Limone" Redux

After looking at the painting for a while I decided that the mannequins weren't really working. They were too antropomorphic for my taste and the whole thing was just a little to cutesy for my taste so inspired by my reading about Luis Melendez and how fearless he was about reworking his paintings I decided to rework it. It's going to need some knitting together when I oil it out, but I'm glad that I did it. I want to push myself not too settle and to be able to paint things in and out without worrying about creating a "masterpiece"; a little more artisan and a little less "artiste".

Jug and Rope Complete

I wasn't sure if the flower was going to make sense in the end, but looking at it completed it I'm glad I left it in.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Figure Painting

There are some people who learn things the easy way. I am not one of those. If there is a hard way to do something I am guaranteed to discover it. This 9"x12" canvas was done over the course of seven, three hour poses. When I started the picture I had always planned to do a drawing and then transfer it to a canvas. So why did I decide to do a half length figure on 18"x24" paper, that took me four sessions to complete? See above. When I realized that there was no way I was going to come anywhere near completing a painting that size I decided to photoshop it down and use a smaller canvas. It was still going to be close. I didn't really care if I finished it or not, I wanted to learn things, not paint a pretty painting. Today when I got to the session I had the head and right shoulder painted in and that was it. I decided to go for broke and paint like someone was holding a gun to my head saying "finish or else". Why, I don't really know, I had a feeling that I would get more out of it even if the rest of the painting was only roughed in, at least I would be dealing with the figure in it's totality. Some things made it a little easier. One was that I pre- mixed and tubed a flesh string, three darks and three lights. Ideally, I should have mixed the string while looking at the model but there wasn't going to be time for that. I used a Jacob Collins painting of "Carolina" that was in Classical Painting Atelier, kind of like a Munsell scale. I mixed the colors and matched them to the reproduction. I thought that the painting had a similar skin color and lighting to the one that I was working on. I kept the palette limited to Zorn's of Flake white, Cad Red Light, Yellow Ochre, and Ivory Black. I used raw umber and ochre for some of the half tones. I'm glad that I still have a lot left because I plan to use it at my figure drawing groups sessions.All in all, it was a lot of fun and the Long Island Academy of Fine art is a great place to paint and learn.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More Rope

I'm making progress, slow but steady. My approach to chiaroscuro may be a little different from some. I don't squint away pieces of the form and deal with the parts illuminated by light. I prefer to paint up to the edge placing a dark value next to a dark value and in that way I can achieve a dissapearing edge effect without losing the shadow color. I don't rub the edges together with a fan brush or try to blend them, I let the values merge of their own accord. I have a mistrust of certain effects that I see abused in the work of so many painters that I try to stear clear of any mannerist tendencies. I'm not saying one way is neccessarily better, it's just my own personal preference.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"More Rope"

I'm just about finished with the rope. The hard part of the rope for me was getting it to look all of a piece, rather than a stack of forms. It's kind of like when you're drawing the figure and you look for forms within forms that link up one muscle with another, so they don't have that disjointed look. Their are little "light bridges " that connect one section of rope to another, they are just very hard to discern. Especially on an old rope that's got an oily patina that plays all kinds od optical tricks. For the most part I feel like I was on the form, but I won't be surprised if I have to go back in and do a little tinkering.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rope and Poster

The poster is on a small 5"x7" canvas board. If you've never tried using a poster study, I highly recommend it. It takes a lot of guesswork out of the process, especially if you don't use a colored underpainting. The rope in the painting (11"x14") isn't quite as dark as it appears here, it's a little closer in value to the poster study. It's just one of those digital camera glitches, every once in a while you come across a set of colors that the camera refuses to see accurately. It'll probably come up lighter when I paint more of the background. Painting the rope is a lot of fun. It's like painting a minituarized version of Van Gogh's hay fields. I've also been thinking about Leonardo's awesome knot mural, that covers an entire ceiling with one strand looped into intricate configurations. The arrangement is inspired by Luis Melendez. I like the way that the objects in his vertical compositions kind of diminish into the background.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Jug and Rope"

The people in the suburban town where I live are not too friendly. As I go along on my daily run I will generally say hello or wave. A lot of the time I get no reaction or the people turn away before I get a chance. I know it's not me because as soon as I cross the town line people are waving, asking how I'm doing, smiling, etc; My theory is that most of the people in my town, grew up there; they bought their parents house, or moved onto the same block, and anyone else is considered an outsider. I ended up moving here because my wife grew up here and wanted to move back. There are a few exceptions. One of them was this elderly gentleman a few blocks down who always seemed glad to see me in all of the six years that I've been in the neighborhood. I noticed in the last few years that he was wheelchair bound and his daughter came to live with him, I guess to take care of him. She seemed a little out of sorts, she reminded me of Little Edie from Grey Gardens. After a while I didn't see the old fellow and I guess he must have passed on, because little by little I started to see things put out on the curb that must have been his. The last time I spoke to him he jumped up out of his chair and said "it's good to see you, I've been watching you run past my house for twenty five years!" So I guess he was going a little senile. I was running past his house a few months ago when I saw this rope sticking out of the pile, I thought it would be interesting to paint, so I ran home with it. My neighbors are used to seeing me come running back with stuff; once I came running back carrying a couple of old saw horses that I used to make a bench. As I was drawing the rope I started to think what this fellow's life must have been like and how the rope had been worn smooth with use and how it must have calloused his hands as he used it to tie his boat or tow something or whatever. I guess he died the way most of us would want to go, in his own home, not in a hospital. I'm not the type of painter to do themed still lifes. I generally respond to light and color and form, and this one isn't any different. It's not a vanitas or memorial. It's just that I kind of miss seeing the old dude on my daily runs and I thought a little about him while I was working on this painting. Anyways, this ones for you, old timer, I hope you like it.

"Watermelon Slices" Completed

The black plate is placed on a piece of firewood that I brought home from my camping trip. I was throwing wood on the fire when I was about to throw this one on but then I looked at it and unlike the other pieces it was a square block and I thought "hmm, that might be good for a painting" so I brought it home. When we arrived at the campground the people across from us had some kind of family reunion going on, they had eight adjoining sights. They were leaving the next day so they gave us their remaining firewood, which was more than I could burn in a week if I kept the fire going all day. Usually our firewood supply barely manages to last the trip. Now that I had an unlimited supply, it rained almost every evening, except our last night when we had quite a bonfire going and still left quite a bit for the next campers. Anyways, I guess this painting is kind of an "ode" to summer with the watermelon, firewood, and black dinnerware.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Watermelon Slices"

I dispensed with my usual procedure on this one(8"x10", oil on linen), because I was worried that the melon would lose its color after the first day. So I laid the design out using vine charcoal and a small synthetic bright for erasing and refining the contours. Then I inked the drawing in. Next I washed in the background and other objects, leaving the watermelon untouched. After mixing my color strings I just went for it. I'm glad I got it mostly completed on the first pass because I don't know if I could have mixed those exact colors again, I was going on pure instinct. It's funny, because I had this one painted in my head before I'd even bought the watermelon or black plate. Sometimes it just goes like that. I've been looking at the paintings of Luis Melendez a lot lately and that's probably where I got the idea of the black plate. I was hoping the melon would be reflected in the plate but it didn't work out that way. Maybe on the next one.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Anjou Pears" and "Limone"

After being away for a week on an awesome family camping trip, these two paintings, "Anjou Pears" 11"x14" and "Limone" 16"x20", were dry enough to oil out and do some retouching. I don't use retouch varnish for oiling out. It dries too fast for me and it has a tacky feeling. I prefer to oil out with refined linseed oil mixed with odorless mineral spirits, six parts spirits to four parts oil. I use a sable brush to cover the entire canvas. Then I gently pat it down with a Viva paper towel. The thin coating that's left brings up the colors and makes the painting feel like you're still working wet into wet. I did quite a bit of retouching on these two, I'm never fully satisfied (is anybody ever?). In "Limone" my goal was to have the figures without losing the still life as the center of interest. That's the main reason why the front figure was darkened and the values compressed. I did the same for the green apron because again I felt it was too busy and competing with the lemons. In "Anjou Pears" I worked mainly on the vase and table. I altered the top of the vase. I felt there was too much of that viridian, making it top heavy, and I darkened the shadow area to make the lights fuller. After being away from my easel for a week I was chomping at the bit and I'm glad I was able to wrap these up because I have a new setup in my head that I'm eager to start on.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Photographing Paintings

I've seen quite a few blog discussions about photographing paintings so I thought I'd jump in with what works for me. I use a nikon coolpix digital camera. No special lens or anything. I tried a lot of different setups; outdoors in the shade, spots at 45 degree angles, white light settings etc;. What finally worked for me is that I discovered that my camera has a setting specifically for photographing art in a museum, low light, setting. In my studio I have a four foot long flourescent overhanging, work table light, about two feet over my easel. I have one warm bulb(pinkish) and one cool bulb. I place the painting directly under the lights, about a foot back from center, with the painting perfectly vertical. I make sure that I have no lights on in the background.(they'll throw the camera off). I have the camera mounted on a tripod. Although I have photoshop to touch up the photos most of the time the photo is already good and I don't need to fiddle with it. If you've been having trouble it might be worth a try.

"Pears Continued"

I got most of the painting blasted in. The seams in the background will dissapear when it's oiled out for retouching. I was having fun with the dialogue between the rose leaves and the painted leaves on the vase. The dark wood table seemed to absorb light like a galactic black hole. In order to figure it out I used a folded piece of paper and held it in position and then used that as a guideline.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Still More Pears"

I got the rose in pretty quickly this morning, but the brushed metal bowl drove me crazy. It's not as reflective as smooth metal so you have to follow the form, but it's still metal and the darks and lights range wider than they would on an ordinary bowl. I had to keep pushing down the darks and then I would squint and have to go even darker. I wasn't really concerned with the texture I figured if I got the light right, the texture would appear on it's own.It seems to have worked.Phew! I'm tired.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"More Pears"

These pears were literally changing color as I painted them. I don't know if it's the humidity or what, but I had to hussle them in before they turned completely brown. I suppose I could have bought more but I was locked in to this specific group. By the time I go into the studio tomorrow they'll probably be black but that's okay, at this point I can safely bring in the "stunt" pears.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Pears and Rose"

11"x14" on stretched linen. Hopefully the wipeout will be dry by tomorrow so I can get started on those yellow-greenish anjou pears before they lose their freshness. I have the canvas sitting out in the sun (finally no rain) and that usually works pretty well. The table is one of those old flip up sewing machine tables with a really dark awesome wood patina that my wife found on the curb while trolling the neighborhood. It weighed about a ton so I detached the sewing machine and threw it out, which probably decreased it's value as an antique, but I don't care I just want to paint it, not bring it on the Antiques Road Show!

More Lemons

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Stuffed Shirts"

I'm really having to keep my wits about me while painting these shirts. I think this is the most cloth I've ever painted in a single painting. It's good practice and I'm learning as I go so hopefully the next one will go a little smoother. The hardest part is judging the relative value of a given area, because surprisingly enough, my perception of it is going to change as I go along (or maybe not surprising). The other problem is that I have an image in my mind of what I want the painting to look like that doesn't necessarily correspond with what I'm seeing. I need to work from the object to get the "gravitas" I desire but if I copied it exactly as I'm seeing it, it would fall short of my goal. Hope that makes sense.