Mixing It Up

Philip Koch, The Sentinel, oil on panel, 28 x 42", 2010

I wanted to show you a little of my working process. Above and just below are two paintings I was working on just this morning. The Sentinel was begun a number of years ago from direct observation out in the town of Tomball, Texas (you may think I'm joking but I actually chose the location based on its name when I was looking at a map of the state. I confess my love of cats, including males, swayed me). I've moved back into the studio to finish the painting.

These days most of my moves come either from memory or my imagination. What I'm aiming at is a kind of painting that exists just a bit beyond the ordinary, as if perhaps I'm showing you the landscape as it might appear in one of your dreams.

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

You'll notice the two paintings are radically different sizes. Northern Sky was completely invented in the studio with me imaging the a reverie of the day coming to a close. Painting from direct observation is hard I know well from the thirty plus years I worked that way exclusively. But inventing one's forms and colors out of one's head I find to be an even greater challenge. I only do it because I know no other way to get the results I desire.

It helps me enormously to work on one painting for a while and then set it aside to let my mind rest from all its strenuous imagining of how a scene might look. Instead I go and work on another painting for a length of time, and then set it aside as well.

Even when working on something else, in the back of our minds we keep chewing on the bone we started with the original painting. Our unconscious side needs time to mull things over. The advice to "sleep on it" contains a certain brilliance. When I return to a painting after a day or two, or even better longer, my hand seems to have a few good new ideas of its own.

Here's my studio late this afternoon, with Northern Sky up on the easel at the left with The Sentinel below it. At the right is another work in progress that has been part of my active rotation. It's 72 inches wide and employs a quite different palette than the other two paintings.

Switching from one to the other, and then to a third canvas keeps me going. I've never understood artists who insist on working on only one piece at a time. For me that would mean a less fertile frame of mind and would lead to painting a dull painting. Maybe for others it works, but an artist's job is to find how to play to his or her strengths. "Put it aside" is a watch phrase in my studio. It has served me well and I recommend it to others.


  1. That big one, sitting vertically on the left looks real hot. How about posting that? Does iot come with a headboard?

  2. Oh gee, I meant the right,its wicked early here.

  3. Yes, I'd like to see more of that one too! There is a solid monumental quality in your forms that reminds me of Rockwell Kent.

    And I really like your explanation of what you are after-the kind of landscape you want to depict. I work from memory and imagination a great deal so its very interesting to see what others working this way come up with.

  4. Stapleton and Deborah,

    Thanks for your encouragement.

    My fear of angering the art gods makes me want to wait until the piece is finished before I post it.

    I know I'm guilty of frequently posting a "finished piece" only to decide once I look at it on the monitor that the left side really is too dark. And then I go back into it again. But this one really really isn't finished.

  5. To stay organized, do you have a separate palette and brushes for each painting? I'm so impulsive that I know I'd get muddy fairly quickly when switching, especially in size of painting, large to small. I think I'd enjoy switching though, to dwell in the new colors of each one.

  6. Hi Pat,
    I when I do switch from painting to painting it's usually from one day to the next or from morning to afternoon, so I stay with the same palette (a very large sheet of masonite nailed to a table top). Sometimes I will have a special group of brushes for each of the paintings. I like having LOTS of brushes. I have a home made grooved brush holder that accommodates about 10 brushes that keeps wet brushes from rolling into each other and messing up their colors.


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