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Showing posts from July, 2019

The Rhythm of the Studio

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One of the mysterious truths of making art is an artist has to discover the working methods that click with their particular brand of creativity.  You have to try just about everything until you stumble upon what is going to work best for you.

Above is a photo of my studio this morning. At the left is the blocked-in foundation coat of paint for my new 36 x 54 inch canvas that's based on a smaller composition I made earlier this year Beneath the Pine (that I wrote about in the previous blog post). It's an unusually detailed first coat of paint for me. It took many hours of staring and mixing. 

At this point I am putting the new painting aside for a few days. My excuse can be I want to let it dry thoroughly before plunging back into it, which sounds all good and rational. But the real reason is more an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" phenomenon. I need to refresh my thinking and my eyes for the painting. 

Leaning against my other easel on the right in the photograph…

Growing Art Takes Time

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Once when she was little I was showing my one of my daughters how I make my big paintings by building up layer upon layer of paint until I get the colors to behave just right. She asked "why don't you just paint the right color the first time? Then you'd be done real fast."



This is a detail of the 36 x 54 inch canvas I'm working on on my easel right now. It's based on the smaller oil below, Beneath the Pine, 19 x 28 inches, 2019 (at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art  in Ellsworth, ME). At this early blocking-in stage the painting has a flat look. But I'm just getting the lay of the land. Later on I'll be going back over 99% of its surface and repainting each area to give it a fine tuning. Some areas will need to be painted over 3 (or more) times to get them to behave properly.


I work with oil pigments in a wet-into-wet method that's made possible by the paint's slow drying time. Sometimes two adjacent colors need to contrast each other as sharply as p…

Pennsylvania Academy's Schuylkill to the Hudson Exhibition part 2

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John Frederick Kensett, Hill Valley, Sunrise, oil on canvas, 1851
Last Friday my wife and I had a personal tour from Curator Anna Marley of the major exhibition she organized, From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I wrote a previous post about the the show's first pioneers of the American landscape painting movement. Their works were centered in Philadelphia, preceding the better known Hudson River School. This is a look at some favorites by later Hudson River School artists. 

The John Kensett oil above is a masterpiece of seeing. Kensett is renowned for his diaphanous brushwork. But he corrals his strokes into solid cohesive shapes with inventive silhouettes. Our eye gets a wild ride tracing the outline of the tops of his trees at the left and over the lines of the mountain ridges at the right.

Our responses to art are highly subjective, including mine. I know one reason I'm drawn to this beau…

Major Landscape Exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts / Part One

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Albert Bierstadt, Niagara, oil on paper laid down on canvas, 1869
One of the things that sustains me as a landscape painter is understanding I am part of an historic movement of artists who took delight in our planet. Each generation of landscape painters adds their own contemporary voice to a chain of paintings stretching back hundreds of years. Especially in our time of impending climate crisis reigniting the deep strain of environmental sentiment that runs all through American landscape art is part of my personal mission.
This week Anna Marley, the Curator of Historic American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, very kindly gave me and my wife a personal tour of her major exhibition From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic shining a light on the earlier beginnings of landscape painting our country. Contrary to the usual understanding, Marley shows the much better known artists of the New York based Hudson River School…

Seeds from the Past

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Philip Koch, Late Autumn Sun, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches 2019
Here's one of my recent paintings. Just yesterday I was redoing the final varnish coat to give it the smooth and continuous skin that I love to see on a painting. I lay on the varnish very carefully using a smaller brush than I have to so I can keep the thickness I'm applying completely uniform. It takes longer doing it this way. Often it lulls me into a contemplative frame of mind.
I found myself drifting back to the first summer I took my oils outdoors to paint from the landscape. It was at the end of my first year of the MFA Painting program at Indiana University. I had spent that year experimenting with all sorts of surreal looking approaches to making paintings about "the look of the world." I had relied solely on my imagination to make them but was feeling some extra note of authenticity had been missing.
But June beckoned full force and I found myself out searching for panoramas of the southern Ind…

Edward Hopper: Poet of Loneliness or Master Colorist?

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Edward Hopper, Burly Cobb's House, South Truro, oil on canvas 1930-33
Every since I saw his paintings of bright sunlight and long, soulful shadows I've been a little obsessed with the work of Edward Hopper. It had such an impact on me when I was struggling as an abstract painter as an undergraduate at Oberlin College that I abruptly switched to painting realist oils. 
I know how we see art is profoundly personal- I tell my wife Alice that arguing about art is about as useful as arguing about whether of not artichokes taste good (though for the record, Alice is wrong and they taste bad). Still I'm puzzled about what art writers choose to say about Hopper. One thing they're sure comment on is loneliness or isolation. Well, I can see that, but for me his work resonateswith what I'd call solitude. But we project what we want to see onto his art. 


Hopper as a young man.

Almost nobody seems to want to write about how Hopper uses color. He's one of the best- right up th…