A Peek Behind the Studio Curtain

I've always enjoyed other people. But as the years go by, I seem to be getting more and more private when it comes to working in my studio. Partly I believe this is because I'm realizing how incredibly difficult it is to paint something with any sort of genuine and original vision.

A quiet place free of all distractions helps stack the deck in my favor. Corot, the amazing 19th century French painter once likened the difficulty of painting to that of carrying a soap bubble in one's hand. He was onto something. Before you've given the image solid form it exists only as a whisper or a hope in your imagination. It's fragile. That's the incredible beauty of it when an artist pulls it off successfully.

Here's a peek at some of the things I've been working on this last couple of weeks. Above is the pastel drawing I did from my imagination of the Porcupine Islands up in Acadia National Park in Maine. I've had this image stuck in my memory of the time years ago when I stood in the spot where I first saw these islands. It had been raining and heavy fog covered everything. Late in the morning the breeze changed and this view opened before me. It seemed pure magic to me back then, and the feeling of that moment is what I'm reaching for in the drawing.

It's actually one of several pastels, each only 5 x 10". I like starting out my ideas small and feeling my way in little baby steps as my mental images come more and more into focus. Keep at it and before you know it you've gone a real distance.

Philip Koch, The Sea, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2010

The pastels are often a first step for me in producing oil paintings. They're faster and I find myself willing to try color mixtures that I are outside my usual comfort zone. Above is an oil version I completed last week. It will be a launching pad for a larger oil version I'll be completing in the coming months.

Below is another vision of that same memory of the Porcupine Islands, a pastel measuring 6 1/2 x 9 3/4". It's mood is quite different than the first image's. Now the foreground plays a bigger role and reaches up to grab more of our attention from the sweeping distant spaces.

And finally below is an oil version that changes once again, adding more diagonal movements to the waters and the sky. It casts more the moody spell I wanted. It too will be the basis for a much larger oil I'll be working on in the next period.

Philip Koch, Ocean, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10", 2010

These small pastels and little oil paintings are how I explore new territories. I start out with an only partly defined image in my head and then flesh it out a square centimeter at a time. A small surface can be just the right stage to discover what is it you're trying to say. Paintings are like people- they don't spring into the world full grown. Rather they are born and grow over many months in my maternity ward.


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