The Delicious Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple, watercolor, Edward Hopper

This Hopper was up at auction this last week (I didn't buy it). Found myself thinking about it and going back to sneak peeks several times over the last few days. There's its dazzling sunlight. Nobody paints bright sun better than Hopper. 

But he's also a master on other levels. For me one of the delights is
the feel of his pigments. His paint is gracefully pulled over a smooth grassy hillside. But Hopper uses a more agitated brush describing the textures in the maple tree. Hopper is so good he gets these radically different surfaces to complement each other. Robert Barnes, one of my painting teachers in grad school once told me you knew a painting was good if you found yourself wanting to taste the paint. This one looks pretty appetizing. 

There's a mystery to paint surfaces. They can entice you in extremely different ways. Some artists make them dry and chalky. Others go for a more fluid look, rapidly drawing their brush through creamy wet pigment. I'm in that second camp.

Here's my latest painting, Mirror, oil on linen, 36 x 36", 2013. I spend a huge amount of time working to make my paint handling make a little music of its own. Mostly it's about layers- letting a shape's edges sometimes rest on top of their neighbors, other times letting the neighboring shape have the upper hand.

Trace your eye along the left edge of the darkest shape above. Usually it's on top of the lighter adjoining layers. But in a few places I've pulled the lighter "underneath" colors back up over the dark color. It's about keeping the viewer's eye a little off balance.  Often I'll paint and repaint the edges of my forms many, many times. What counts is to leave footprints that feel like your hand was dancing as you painted.

A good painting is like an exquisitely prepared dish- its spices surprise your tastes but your mouth just knows they work together. 


  1. Of course I love this post, Philip! And again, you're teaching me to see more in a painting that I know well; thanks for that. Also wonderful to read how you work--and you write almost as well as you paint!


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