Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In The Rearview

First, let me wish all of you a Happy New Year, and may 2011 be the year that's too good to be true for all of us!  As we all know, tomorrow is it for the first decade of the twenty-first century.  I don't know about you, but I still feel like it's 1990- something.  21st Century... really?  Anyway, to say good-bye to a so-so year, I thought I'd post some of the paintings I did this year.

I did a little over forty paintings this year.  Take away a few weeks where I had to travel, and a couple more weeks to remodel my studio, that's almost a painting a week.  In no particular order, may I present a sample of the year gone by.

December Afternoon

December Afternoon II

Tin Roof

Sugar Maple

Blue Hill

Slack Tide

Morning Note

Secret Spot

Party safely and enjoy the new year.  See you in 2011.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Memories Of Winter

I'm illustrating today's musings with winter paintings by Willard Metcalf and Aldro Hibbard, two of the finest painters of winter scenes. 

We had a blizzard roll through here yesterday.  Forty mile per hour sustained winds drifted fifteen new inches of powdery snow into six foot snow banks.  Visibility was less than three hundred yards all day, and the wind chill was somewhere around zero degrees.  I cleared a walkway out to the garage three times, and every time I went out it looked like it had never been shoveled.  Just another winter day in Maine...  As I sat by the wood stove, listening to the wind howl, I got to thinking of storms gone by.  Here's what I remember about a few of them.

Back in the sixties, local television news didn't have meteorologists, they had "weathermen".  These were guys who basically read forecasts provided by the National Weather Service, and scribbled the forecasted high and low temperatures with a marker on poster board.  In black and white, no less.  The late sixties was a mini ice-age around here, and during one severe winter storm, one weatherman kept reporting the heavy snow would soon taper to flurries.  Day after day, he read the same Weather Service prediction as the snow piled up.  On the fifth day he was right.  In our current times of "question everything", it's nice that back then, people said what they were told no matter how wrong they were.  After all, if the Government said it was so...

Back in my school days, we rarely had "Snow Days".  Unlike today, where school is called off if the clouds aren't happy looking enough.  No, back in my day I walked through waist deep snow, three miles each way to school, and both ways uphill!  Maybe I exaggerate.  Anyway, we got hit with an unexpected ten-inch snow storm one day, but school was not called off.  Buses went off the road, teachers were stranded.  It was a mess.  The very next week, the forecasters called for a major Nor' Easter to hit us with twelve inches of snow.  The probability of precipitation was over ninety percent.  Having learned their lesson from the week before, administrators called off school the night before the big storm was to hit.

It never even clouded up.  The next day dawned a bright, sunny, perfect winter day.  And a free day off from school to enjoy it!

My last fond memory involves a local meteorologist named "Altitude Lou".  Lou saw a snow storm approaching, but predicted it would blow out to sea before getting to Maine, leaving us with just some light snow and flurries in the air.  He should beware those flurries!  That storm is still remembered around here as the "Blizzard of '78".  The next night, Lou was outside in a live shot measuring the record setting twenty-four inches of snow that had fallen in twenty-four hours.

Times have sure changed since then.  Forecasting the weather has gotten much better, but the thrill of uncertainty is missing.  I do know this, however:  Shoveling snow is the same as always!


Sunday, December 26, 2010


When you get your Artistic License in Maine, you are required by law to paint two things; The Portland Head Light, and Monhegan.  Now, Monhegan Island should be well known to any artist out there, and if the island isn't known, the paintings made by countless artists of it should be.  It has attracted painters to it's rocky head lands for one hundred thirty years.  Artists as diverse as Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and Robert Henri painted there, along with countless other professionals and amateurs.

Monhegan is about forty miles away from me as the sea gull flies, but to get there I need to travel for about an hour down winding coastline roads to get to Port Clyde (the summer home of the Wyeth's) then another ride of about an hour on the mail boat to get to the island which lies ten miles out to sea.  If you go, be prepared to walk when you get there, for the only vehicles on the island are old trucks owned by the local lobstermen.  No other cars are allowed.  As you walk the unpaved roads and trails, be extra careful of where you step because artists cover that speck of rock like ants on a picnic blanket.

I had studied many paintings of the place before I went, and I enjoyed seeing the sights made famous by the paintings of so many;  Gull Rock, Manana Island, Christmas Cove, Burnt Head and Cathedral Woods.  I recognised every single spot on that island because I had seen them all in paint.  Of course the reason this island has been painted so much is because it is drop-dead spectacular.  This is a painting that came out of my trip.  It's of Monhegan Harbor with Manana island in the background:

I also painted a picture of Black Head.  (Every square foot of that island has a name.  Along with the ones I've already mentioned are Swim Beach, Fish Beach, and Pulpit Rock.)  I was hiking up and down the massive cliffs on the east side when I saw this view:

I may not have painted this as a plein air, but I did do it in one go.  Does that count?  Yeah... I know it doesn't.  Anyway, I was looking at paintings recently when I saw the works of J. Perry Wilson.  I admit I had never heard of that gentleman before, but I discovered he was an excellent plein air painter.  I invite you to click this link and see for yourself.  What struck me was that he loved Monhegan too, and had made countless trips out there to paint.  Here's one that really hit a chord with me:

Look familiar?  What tickled me was that I did my painting with no idea this one, made in the 1930's, existed.  Mine is oil on canvas board 12X16.  Wilson's is oil on canvas board 12X16. 

So, I invite you out to Monhegan Island, Maine to paint.  Enjoy the serenity, the grandeur, and the fact that there is no painting you can make that hasn't been done.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I must confess:  I am terribly lazy, and I constantly put things off for later.  As a matter of fact, I never did get around to making my New Year's resolution last year to quit procrastinating.  I'm so bad, that what some people put off 'til tomorrow, I put off 'til next week.  I swear, one of these days I'm gonna join a support group...  One of the side effects of being a procrastinator is the inevitable running out of time.  (Gee, really?  I hear you ask).  Today at noon I started my Christmas shopping.  Now, on the one hand I'm pleased that I started a whole day earlier than usual, but on the other, I have to be satisfied with what I got done today.  The ultimate result of procrastinating is always having to say "good enough."

When it comes to painting, I regret I say "good enough" way too often.  But it's not always the result of running out of time, it can be noticing too late that I didn't do something right, and to fix it would mean repainting the whole damn picture.  I showed the painting above in my blog Value Is A Valuable Thing.  I wasn't exactly thrilled with certain elements, but I kept at it by refusing to say "good enough".  Some passages I considered done I completely repainted.  It may not be my masterpiece, but instead of being good enough, it's as good as I can do it.

But repainting a few elements is nothing when compared with what my hero Norman Rockwell would do if he wasn't satisfied with a painting.  You may be acquainted with the painting Freedom Of Speech:

Doesn't look familiar?  That's because this is the first version.  Rockwell posed and photographed all of these people.  Then he made a full scale charcoal drawing of the scene, the same size as the canvas.  He had this painting completely done when he realised he wasn't happy with it at all.  So he got his models back, and did the whole thing over again in this version that everyone knows:

He did the same thing with the painting Freedom Of Worship.  I have seen the original version, but I couldn't find it on the web.  I found another case of his repainting in an illustration for The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.  Look at the first version of the kid holding up a dead cat:

Rockwell went to Hannibal, Missouri to do research for his illustrations.  That's Mark Twain's hometown in the background.  But Rockwell didn't think the kids stood out enough.  He obviously felt there was not enough contrast in the scene, so he made another attempt.

This time he silhouetted the boys against a dark woodlot.  It makes them the sole object of the painting, with no distractions.  I could show even more examples of his re-doing a painting, but these were the most extreme, in my view.  But now ask yourself, would you completely repaint a picture the way he did?

I'm sure I might-- as soon as I got around to it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Painting to All!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Value Is A Valuable Thing

It's a little known fact that Abraham Lincoln always read aloud to himself.  When asked why he had this rather irritating habit, he responded, "When I read aloud two senses catch the idea; first I see what I read; second I hear it, and therefore I can remember it better."  That's what this blog is, really.  Sometimes it may look like I'm passing along helpful painting tips, but in reality I'm just talking to myself, trying to catch hold of an idea so I can understand it. 

The idea I've been grappling with recently concerns values.  Of course, we all understand values, right?  It's generally speaking how light or dark something is.  But as painters I think we're often more concerned with the color of an object than it's value.  I know I often think if I get the color right, the value takes care of itself.  But I can't tell you how many times I'd look at a passage I was painting and wonder how come it doesn't look right?  The color is wrong, I'd tell myself, and proceed to intensify the chroma, thinking that will cure it.  Wrong.  99 out of 100 times, it wasn't the color, but the value that was off.  It could have been the background was wrong, or the object itself was too close in value for it to stand out.  Whatever-- I just simply had not spent enough time establishing the values of my painting. 

Here's how I came to understand the importance of value; another analogy!  Keeping with the season, here goes.  Think of the tune Jingle Bells-- You know, Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way...  It is really just four notes played in a pre-determined spacing that identifies it as Jingle Bells, and not The Star Spangled Banner.  You can play those four notes anywhere on a piano keyboard.  All white keys, or all black, or maybe a combination of black and white.  As long as you play the notes at the proper intervals it will sound like Jingle Bells.  This next part is tricky-- Whether you play the notes all white, all black or a combination of both is called the Key.  The key is the overall frequency that harmonizes with the notes.  If you try to play the notes in two different keys at the same time, the intervals will be wrong, and it will no longer sound like Jingle Bells.  It will, however, sound just like the noise my son listens to.  Now, to bring this concept back to painting.  Color is the notes, value is the key.  If your painting has competing values, no bright color is gonna help you.  In other words, having a dark and pretty looking color in a shadow area won't look right if it's lighter than an area that's supposed to be in the light.

I decided to take this concept to the extreme with the painting I've been working on lately.  It's a scene from a spot I used to live in Cundy's Harbor, Maine.  This was the view from my kitchen, if I recall.

Or maybe this was the view from the bathroom.  Anyway, it was a typical foggy summer day.  So, to start I blocked in the rough shapes of the scene on a masonite panel.

So I could get the values as close to right as I could make it, I converted the image to black and white, then did my underpainting in B&W also.

Doing this helped me see how close I was to obtaining proper values.  All I had to do with this is apply color. 

I will undoubtedly tweak a few things with this painting as I sit back and asses it.  Even now, I can see some things I am not entirely happy with.  Each night I sit back and stare at the painting I'm working on and write notes of what I need to fix.  I still have a couple things on the list, like the bottom left hand corner.  Maybe I'll repost this painting when it's done for good.

Anyway, I hope this whole concept hasn't been too tough to understand, or would you rather Abe Lincoln read it to you?


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ice, Ice Baby!

                                               Who's woods these are I think I know.
                                               His house is in the village, though;
                                               He will not see me stopping here
                                               To watch his woods fill up with snow.

It is a lovely winter's night here in Pittston, Maine.  The moon is high and full, and the air is crisp and clear.  The temperature is a balmy 25 degrees, just perfect for a moonlight ice skate!  Now, for you folks reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, I am sure your summer moon is just as lovely, but it's rare when winter conditions are this good up here.  So, tonight I couldn't resist lacing up my skates and heading out onto the little river that borders my property.

I know that the river may not be properly frozen as we just had a flood on it last week.  However, the field that borders it was flooded out too, and now is coated in three inches of flat, hard ice.  I figured if I fell through I should only get my laces wet.  So after partaking of a nice warm glass of Gluhwein, I bundled up and laced up.  Too bad I didn't smarten up.  It took me just a few moments to realize that the lame excuses I made of why I shouldn't do this were in reality perfectly rational and sound reasons for staying inside.  An eight year old body-- heck, a twenty-eight year old body does not impact the ice the same way as a forty-eight year old body does.  I could give you details, but suffice it to say that it was really all about gravity, and bodies in motion, etc.

So, as I sit here with an ice pack on my right elbow, and my left buttock in a sling, I think I'll pass on any more moonlight ice skating for the time being.  Not the Gluhwein, though.  I'll keep that coming.

                                           The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
                                           But I have promises to keep;
                                           Like the one I just made
                                           To stick to painting as soon as I heal. 


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Climb Every Mountain

Here's an inconvenient truth for you:  Painting is hard.  Now, I can hear some folks saying that I'm a wimp to think that.  They'll say that there's no heavy lifting involved in painting, no boss yelling at you.  All you do is put some pleasant music on the stereo, swish some pretty colored paint on a canvas while you let your muse create whatever comes to mind.  Then you call it Untitled Dreamscape #184 and sell it for a million bucks.  To that I call B.S.!

This month marks my third anniversary of painting full time.  Back when I decided to jump off the cliff and see where I'd land, I thought it would be easy.  I mean, I'd been painting for thirty years and sold almost everything I painted, and I won some awards.  So why not just throw myself into doing what I've always wanted to do?  How hard can it be?  I admit, I've had some success, and some setbacks.  But the one thing I've noticed like a zit on the tip of my nose is that I need to get better.  In these three years I've immersed myself in the study of other artists and what they do to create their beautiful paintings.  What I've found makes me feel like I'm flying a crop-duster by the seat of my pants, while they captain 747's!

As a lover of analogies, let me use one to describe my Artistic Journey.  Let's say I want to climb Mt Everest.  I fly to the mountain and start heading on up. When I get to the first camp, I'm told I need a thick, warm blue parka.  So I go back down, and though it was hard to find, I get one.  I climb up past the first camp to the second, where I'm told I need more orange rope.  Back down I go to get it, where I notice it's really expensive.  But I get it.  Then back up the mountain even higher, where now I find I need a bottle of oxygen if I want to go on.  After going all the way back down, then all the way back up to the top, I look and see that I was on a false peak, and I still have more mountain to climb!  But I've also learned that I didn't really need a blue parka, any color would do, and green rope works just as well as orange.  The one common denominator was that everyone on the mountain had a parka, rope and oxygen.

And that's what I've found in studying my craft.  The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know, and how much more there is to know.  But each nugget of information is another step up that hill.  Every artist I've studied uses a different technique.  Some artists use extensive studio prep work, others plein air.  Some glaze while others might paint wet-in-wet.  So what I look for are the commonalities, which are; superb drawing skills, awesome design skills, and a scientific knowledge of colors and what they are capable of.  Another thing: while they may have been born with more talent than I, they worked countless hours at all of those phases to be what they are.

So after three years of living the life, and enjoying every moment of it, I can safely say I have now reached the bottom of the mountain.  I guess I'll start climbing now.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"X" Marks The Spot

I want to thank the fine folks at Fine Art Views for taking an old blog of mine about what I learned from studying the technique of Norman Rockwell and posting it to their site.  (Go here to read it.  It's great!)  And while you're there, I think it would be fun if all of you who read this blog were to write a little comment with a secret phrase that only we know.  How about, "This is the best blog ever!"

You know, writing and posting a blog by yourself can be something like singing "Happy Birthday To Me" alone.  With a bottle of vodka.  And no glass.  But having someone else take your blog and post it is like being invited to a party!  By someone who knows your name!  And having nice people take the time to write a comment is like having a group of folks gather around the piano and sing, "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow!"  It's a wonderful thing.

I have great admiration for Norman Rockwell, and a lot of the other great illustrators of days gone by.  The more I see the works of guys like Rockwell, or N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle and even Tom Lovell, I think that studying them can be helpful to all of us.  Of course, an illustration without the context of the story it represents leaves us with a picture that makes us scratch our heads and say, "huh?"  But I think the best thing we can learn from them is design. 

Here's a "Huh?"  by N.C.Wyeth.  It's from the book Treasure Island.


What is this guy doing?  If you read the story maybe you'd know.  But anyway, just look at the design, and how everything leads you into the painting.  The hat lying on the ground with the shadow running through it connects to the figure.  The extended walking stick runs a diagonal line up to the roof top in the upper right hand corner.  The hand starts a line down to the hat , combining to make a big X through the scene.  Might be neat to incorporate that design into a landscape somehow. 

Next is a Tom Lovell.  I love this guy.  Wyeth's work is romanticised, while Lovell's is straight-on accurate history.  Here's a depiction of General Knox bringing artillery through the snow during the Revolutionary War.

What I think is interesting is that it's another design with an X for a composition.  And if you super-impose Wyeth's old Blind Pew (the painting above) on this scene, the lines are the same.  Both of these guys bring you into the picture and create movement by the placement of their figures.  There is nothing horizontal, nothing stagnant.  I think I could swap out the artillerymen for more trees, and it would be a good composition for a landscape.

Lastly is the Dean of American Illustrators, Howard Pyle.  N.C. studied under him, and Lovell studied under an artist who learned from Pyle as well. 

Remember, I'm a history buff.  OK, so look at this design.  See the X?  And again, notice how your eye goes into the picture?  Substitute a dirt road for the English soldiers charging up Bunker Hill, and it's a William Merrit Chase-style landscape.  I don't think I ever want to paint another horizontal painting again!  I could go on about the handling of values, and the brushwork by these superb artists.  My point is that we can learn from them about how to interest the viewer by using design and composition, and try to do that with our paintings.

Next subject:  How Synchronised Swimming can help us with our brushstrokes...


Monday, December 13, 2010

I Gotta Be Me

Spring Oak

I have at long last come to an obvious conclusion about my art:  I paint what I paint the way I paint it, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it!  Oh, don't get me wrong, I try to change my style all the time.  I see lovely paintings by so many talented artists and I say to myself, "I want to paint like that!"  But by the time I sign my name in the corner, it looks just like a painting I would do.

What brings this to mind is that today I thought I'd have some fun and copy a Sargent painting.  It's a great exercise to try and figure out how a great painter worked.  And just like exercise in a gym, I felt like the ninety-eight pound weakling next to a body builder!  His painting was an exquisite little gem of a young girls face.  His color, values, modeling and drawing were perfect.  My attempt at copying it was...well... let's just say that no future museum curator is going to wonder who did which... It just looked like a Kevin Mizner version of a John Singer Sargent painting, if you get what I mean.

Of course, I have influences.  Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Homer, Sargent-- the list is a long one.  And I want to paint just like them.  I also want to golf like Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, and I can't do that either.  My problem is that I try.  Nothing wrong with trying, but there is a mountain of frustration in trying to do what you're incapable of.  There is an adage in sport that I need to transfer over to art:  Stay within yourself.  You know-- you can't hit a five-run home run, or a hole-in-one on every hole--so don't try.  Same with painting.  I don't think Winslow Homer ever struggled painting a still life of flowers.  He just didn't paint them.  Norman Rockwell would probably be unknown today if he tried to paint society portraits like Giovanni Boldini.   I can't paint pictures like a Homer or a Rockwell.  All I can do is paint the type of pictures that I like in the style that best suits me.

So with a heightened sense of resolve to just be myself, I head out to my studio to work on my next painting.
I've got this new technique I've been dying to try out. 

Who knows, maybe it'll look like a Corot!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

Kevin here.  How you doin?  I bet you're really busy this time of year, huh?  You probably have the elves working overtime (hey, at least somebody's working, right?) busting out the toys and greasing up the sleigh.  I know it's only one night a year, but I bet the reindeer aren't nearly as cute from your point of view from the sled, if you catch my drift...  I am sure you noticed how extra good I've been this year.  It's no accident on my part, I can assure you.  So, I don't mean to bother you with more to do during this very busy season, but if you don't mind one more stop on the 24th, I have a few items I'd like for Christmas this year.

First, I'd like some new oil paints.  The ones I have are flat and dull.  I want the ones you made for Sorolla.  They are beautiful and bright, colorful and clean.  I need those.  I know it's been awhile since you made them, but I'm sure the elves still have the recipe.  Just have 'em hold up on making Chia Pets for awhile and get 'em to work on the paints.

I also need new brushes.  I really want the ones you gave John Singer Sargent.  NOT the Picasso ones!  I think the elves made those on a Friday before a long weekend, if you get what I'm saying...  Anyway, Sargents brushes made spectacular paintings with a bravura style that my brushes just don't do.  I don't care if they are flats, filberts or round, just make them work like old J.S.S's.  Thanks.

Oh, and I need canvas.  What I'm using now is two dimensional, so I need the three-dimensional ones like you bring to Jacob Collins.

And what kind of pencils did you bring to Andrew Wyeth?  I need a lot of those.  They had to be special- made from your best elves to work as well as they did for him.  I don't care if they are number two's, they are number one in my book!

One last item to ask for is a little more artistic ability for me.  The artists I mention in this letter have a boat load of artistic gifts.  And gifts come from Santa right?  I thought so.  So if you could slip some in my stocking, I'm sure I could use it.

I think that's about it.  Like I said, I don't want to burden you.  My stuff won't take up much space-- just ditch a few Wii's overboard, and you'll have plenty of room.  So, have a safe, speedy flight.  Hope the weather stays calm.  Lord knows how long Rudolph's nose will last, right?  Oh yeah, one more thing while you're at it:

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward Amen.  That should do it!

Your best good boy,
Kevin Mizner

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Whatever Floats Your Boat

My brain is like a sponge: wet with a lot of holes in it.  But like a sponge, it only absorbs certain things.  A sponge doesn't soak up a whole lot of sand.  When I view art, I'm always trying to absorb ideas.  A great interior scene?  Ooh, I want to do that!  A lovely seascape?  I want to try that!  A great landscape?  I can't wait to give that a whirl!  A spectacular nude?  Uh... not so much.  A nude is sand to my sponge.  Now, don't get me wrong, I've nothing against nudes.  As a matter of fact, some of my fondest memories involve nudes-- but that's neither here nor there...  It's just that I've never really had a compelling need to paint them.

I love to play piano.  I may not play well, but I devote some time to play it each and every day, and I've done that for over twenty years.  (I play by ear, but most days it sounds like I play by left foot.)  I also play guitar.  I have three of them and they stare in silent jealousy at me when I'm at the keyboard.  Months can go by before I pick one up and strum a few chords.  (Just don't ask me to play F.  I hate that chord!)  Guitar is OK, but I have a need to play the piano every day.  That's the ambivalence I feel about nudes.  When I see a painting of a nude beautifully done by great artists like Jacob Collins:

Young Woman In Bed by Jacob Collins 2004

Or Daniel Maidman:

Integrity by Daniel Maidman  2010

I'm appreciative of their talents.  When I see a Winslow Homer seascape, or a mysterious landscape by Andrew Wyeth I'm in awe.

Now, one can argue I don't do nudes because I'm lousy at them.  True enough.  But if I was truly inspired to paint them, I think I could do a lot better.  I mean, ask yourself, are you really good at things you don't care to do? 

So what inspires you to paint?  To me, nothing stirs my soul like a wide open farmers field, maybe with some cows and a nice old barn.  Ah...glorious!  Or maybe the sea; twisting, swirling and pounding on the rocks of the Maine coast.  Spectacular!  A lobsterman hauling in his catch, a farmer plowing his field; these things fire me up and make me want to rush to the studio and get painting!  And best of all? 

I don't have to ask anyone to take off their clothes!


Monday, December 6, 2010

What Would Charlie Say?

In A Charlie Brown Christmas (The best Christmas special ever, with the possible exception of Pee Wee's Christmas), Charlie Brown was lamenting to his best friend Linus (who grew up to make air-conditioning units) about the commercialization of Christmas.  Ah, kids.  What they didn't know was that Christmas had gone commercial long before 1965.  Even the image of Santa that we know and love is the result of advertising.

It's ironic that Christmas commercials always seem to mimic Currier and Ives Winter in New England scenes.  You know, images of snow falling on quaint, old fashioned homes while a team of Clydesdale horses make beer runs in an old wagon using their Garmin GPS units to the music of The Nutcracker?  Stuff like that.  But it's a little known fact that Christmas was thought of as a Pagan Holiday and was not celebrated in New England until well into the 19th Century.  It didn't really get into the swing of things until the 1830's.  Then, it was up to artists to give us an idea of what St. Nick looked like.  So what kind of jolly old elf did Santa look like back in Victorian times?  Something like this:


Yup, nothing says Merry Christmas like some gaunt old dude who looks like he's stealing your Christmas tree, don't it?  Here's a guy that would definitely leave a lump of coal in your stocking.  Christmas was becoming very important to merchants by the time the Civil War was over and on into the "Gilded Age".  Shop keepers were using images of Santa to spur on retail sales, and relying on artist interpretations of how he looked.  Thomas Nast was an editorial cartoonist in the last twenty five years of the 19th Century.  It was he who thought up the plump, jolly Santa that is close to what we know now.

Gotta love a Santa that keeps his pipe lit even when a little cherub is jumping on his back!  Nast's version of Kris was in use all the way into the 1920's until Coca Cola decided to jump into the holiday sales racket.  They needed to show that Santa wanted more than milk and cookies to get him through the night.  So they hired a marvelous illustrator by the name of Haddon Sundblom to tweak the Nast image a little.  Now, this is the Santa Claus we all know and love!

Funny thing about Haddon.  He not only made the iconic Santa holding the distinctive Coke bottle, but he was also well known for his depiction of other curves.  It's funny that Coke used the guy that painted this to put a glimmer in Mr. Kringle's eye:

Now, that's an elf Santa can live with!  Or maybe she's Mrs. Claus.  After all, something has to keep Santa warm through the rest of that cold North Pole Winter!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Moonlight Ride

Moonlight Ride

This is what I've been working on this week.  All my talk about moonlight got me to thinking--hey, something has to!-- anyway, as I am a lover of history, I tried to imagine what it might have looked like back in the day when we got about by horse.  (It's a little known fact that here in Maine, sleighs were used in the winter time well into the 1930's.  Winter roads haven't improved much since then, but snow tires help).  I also thought it would be fun to paint a nocturne.

So I quickly jotted down my idea:

I'll use any scrap of paper handy, I'm not proud.  I thought this idea had some merit, so I made another sketch-- this time in my small sketchbook.

You know, if I can repeatedly draw an idea without a whole lot of changes, then I think I may have something.  If every sketch strays away from my initial idea, it's almost certain the concept wasn't clear in my mind.  Having a clear mental image doesn't necessarily mean it'll be a great painting, but it sure helps keep me on track. 

Next, I grabbed a 12X16 inch masonite panel and went at it.

What intrigued me about this idea was how to portray the moon light.  In my mind, the full moon is almost directly overhead, as it would be in December or January here in Maine.  The challenge is to make the light right.  Moon light is not just like the sun, only blue-green.  It's reflected light, and it doesn't light up the shadows like the sun.  So what isn't in direct moonlight is uniformly dark.  It also washes out color.  It can lead to a very monochromatic painting that lacks depth.  So, the trick was in trying to balance the highlights against the deep shadows.

What I tried to do was put a shadowed form against a lighter surface, and a lighter surface against a shadow.  Now for color.  Like I said, moonlight doesn't show color.  Only white light does that, so I introduced color by having a light in the window shining on the figures and tree.  I used the lamp on the sleigh to light the horse.  Having multiple light sources was also a fun challenge.

So there you have it.  Is it a great painting?  Nah.  But it was great fun to do.  I'll probably tweak a thing or two here and there, but this is basically it.  You know, the great thing about painting is we can create our own little worlds.  In this case, I got to go on a moonlight sleigh ride and never have to leave my nice warm studio!