Little Lies

                    A 1914 watercolor by Edward Hopper.

As I was out this morning I was struck at the remarkable complexity of what we usually see in the world. Honestly it's a bit overwhelming to the eye, which is why we wear mental blinders most of the time. 

Artists give us energy by creating an "alternative universe" that is quietly simpler than reality. When it's done right, viewers are too busy drinking in a painting's energy to notice.

In the watercolor above for example, Hopper paints what in real life was a maddeningly busy rocky foreground. He radically edits out much of the detail (the bleached-out immediate foreground). He prunes it down, adding a powerful wind to the painting's sails.

 Inland, oil on canvas, 45 x 60" at
George Billis Gallery, New York

My own painting above also delivers a simpler reality. Its focus is the contrast of the vertical stripped-bare tree trunks against the rest of the painting.

Originally the trunks poking out of the water ran the whole gamut of warm light brown colors. I realized they were getting lost in the surrounding warm yellow and orange grasses. So I turned the trunks into cool white birches. The painting immediately jumped up to a higher level.

You have to tell little lies to get at the larger truth.


  1. I just found your blog again, after having lost it. It really has a lot of information in it, and your work is so lovely and surprising. Thanks for sharing your thought processes-the white birch trunks, that was a good idea, and such a great example of how artists have to not be slaves to what's actually there, but what should be there to make a good picture.

  2. Mockingbird- thanks for your comments! Years ago when I was a student at the Art Students League of New York my favorite teacher used to love to say " Artists aren't reporters, we are poets". I always remember his line and smile.


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