Three Different Kinds of Work Cooking in My Studio

Philip Koch, Acadia, oil on panel, 8 x 9", 2009

Just returned from the Maine painting trip, I took a look at a small oil I started way back in 1982 on my honeymoon with Alice in Acadia National Park. It looked good to me but just a touch too subtle. Breaking all personal records for going back into older pieces to repaint them, I went in and added new color choices.

I know there are some artists who feel art from previous decades has its own unique voice and shouldn't be tampered with. Yet I have learned so much about painting in the intervening years. They almost always get stronger when I go back in- probably about 95% of the time. In a perfect world we'd all know just what to do from the get go. In this world I welcome insights, even ones that come in late.

Philip Koch, Night Moon II, pastel, 8 x 10", 2009

This is a new pastel drawing I did from memory (regular readers may recall the vine charcoal drawing I posted a couple of weeks ago upon which this is based). This pastel was drawn on Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper, which is sturdy enough to accept a coat of an orange acrylic wash to serve as a ground. This was an experiment for me and I liked the process so much I'm continuing to use it. One can see the color sensibility I came up with in the studio influenced the color additions I put in the first image, Acadia. The trick with this pastel is to evoke the mood of the night without employing its actual hues. As my old favorite teacher Rudolf Baranik used to tell me in his class at the Art Students League of New York, "your first goal is mood." My color inventions aim toward that.

Philip Koch, Mountain Forest, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2009

And above is a third way of working, a vine charcoal plein air drawing I did last week on the south side of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia national park. If you look closely you can see I've moved the background around a few times, ultimately eliminating a big mountain. I had intended the drawing to focus more on describing the far distance, but as it progressed the middleground took on a momentum I liked better.

One of the wonderful attributes of vine charcoal is its unrivaled flexibility. Taking out a mountain range can happen in under a minute, whereas even with oil paints this is a lengthy undertaking. It is tricky as vine charcoal smears all too easily. For a left-handed artist like myself, it means learning how to hover over the drawing's surface with the hand that holds the implement as if you're in a tiny helicopter. But the rewards of learning to do this far outweigh the costs.

My students think I'm something of a cultist about vine charcoal, as if it was personally presented to me by The Muse who appeared one night in my studio on a glowing cloud with harp music swelling up in the background. On second thought, wasn't that the way it happened?


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