Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Favorite Impressionists

Claude Monet

It seems like today when we think of realism in painting, what we are referring too is actually impressionism.  Realist are guys like William Bouguereau, or Frederick Church, painters that depicted nature almost as scientists in their observation and depiction of color and form.  Truth be told, true realism is really hard to accomplish.  I mean, if it was easy everyone would do it!  But to some, real Impressionism, now that's a different story.  To many, all it means is slap some green down, and there's your tree.  Swish around a couple different shades of blue, and voila!  Water.  It's not how nature really looks, the painter might say, it's my impression of nature!  To me, that's like sitting down at the piano and banging it with both fists.  It's not Jingle Bells, you might say, it's my impression of Jingle Bells! 

The first really great Impressionist painter, in my opinion (And from here out it's all my opinion!) was Claude Monet.  Before him, painting was done in the slick and tight Classical style.  Those paintings didn't suck, but Monet and a few others thought that they didn't depict Nature accurately.  So they dragged their easels outside, and painted what they saw.  It wasn't too long before that whole style came across the Atlantic Ocean to America, where American artists embraced it.  Here's my favorite practitioners of Impressionism.  Not a paint slapper among them!  They broke down Nature's colors, and reassembled them in a fresh way.

In no particular order, let's start with William Merritt Chase.

This one is a pastel, and what a great job he did!  That gray is really the paper.  But his style epitomized Impressionism:  Broken bits of color our eyes assemble to make a coherent whole.  He didn't scribble one shade of green, he broke it up with blues and purples, yellows and reds separately.

Here's another great, if somewhat under appreciated painter, Willard Metcalf.

Metcalf painted in New England primarily.  When I see a Metcalf, I think I'm home.  No comfy studio for Will, this guy was an outdoor painter all the way.  In my forays outside to paint, I try to channel his spirit to flow through me.  Apparently my psychic skills are as bad as my plein air skills.  Now, here's a Frank Benson:

Frank posed his daughters and their friends for this one.  He did paint outdoors, but wasn't against finishing things up later in the studio.  But Benson was a genius at depicting bright sunshine.  I don't think you could pull this off solely outside.

The painting above is by a true plein aire painter by the name of Daniel Garber.  He did his thing around eastern Pennsylvania.  I love everything I've seen of this guy.  This is how a plein aire can really look.  It's honest, it has great atmosphere, and it is as far from slap-dash as Catherine Zeta-Jones is from ugly!

Another American painter, but I'm sure he spoke with a decided French accent from spending almost his whole life in Europe was John Singer Sargent.

If Sargent had never existed, we'd probably know this next guy better:

Anders Zorn.  Zorn and Sargent are the Patron Saints of the current American Realism movement.  You can see their influence in artists from Jeremy Lipking to Richard Schmid.

One last great American Impressionist before I go.  I don't know about you, but I think he was the best one of them all:

Rich Little!

Friday, October 29, 2010

And Now A Word From 676 Lisbon Rd...

WARNING: The following contains actual voices from the dead.  Do not read this blog alone at night.  We will not be responsible for any soilage of underwear.

 Click Play to listen:

I had to admit, I was intrigued when my daughter called me up and gave me the breathless details of the latest goings-on at 676 Lisbon Rd.  I had moved out of that house a few years previously, but she was still there off and on while she went to college upstate.  Apparently, some vandalism had occurred to some of her photographs, and she was upset.  At first she thought that some of her dorm mates at college had marred a photo of her that she had posted in the lobby by making a scratch on it across her throat.  She took that photo down, with a rather low regard for any of her classmates who would do such a thing.  When she came home to visit, another damaged photo of her caught her attention.  This one was pasted on her bedroom armoire door.  It had a scratch.  Directly across her throat.  Intrigued, and alarmed, she searched around her bedroom for more  pictures that had been tampered with, finding another.  This one was of her and her friends, and even though her image in the photo was tiny, across her throat was yet another scratch.  So when she called me, she was beside herself with fear over what could possibly be doing this to her photographs, and why?  I went right over.

When I got to the house, she brought me up to her room to show me the pictures.  Except for the one she had back at school, the ones that were damaged were on her armoire door as part of a typical teenage girls picture collage.  While I believe in ghosts, and if you read my last blog you'll know why, I always tried to find a rational explanation for those occurrences.  "Well," I said in my most reassuring Father-Knows-Best voice, "these pictures are all at shoulder level.  Do you think that you may have scratched them by rubbing against them as you walked by?"  (Far-fetched, I know, but hey--I had to calm my frightened girl down)  But always the guy to ruin a good thing, I said, "Now, if something was up high, it would be a different story."  So we both looked around for more pictures.  I spotted one of her and her friends that was up over her closet door.  It's the one posted at the top of this blog.  I had to pull quite hard to get the photo down, as it had been glued above the door for years.  My jaw dropped.  Imagine the shock I felt when I saw it-- A deep gash ran right across her throat!

I contacted a paranormal investigation team.  No, not the guys from Rhode Island; we have more than enough ghosts in Maine to keep our own ghost hunters happy.  The investigators toured around the house for about a hour or two, snapping pictures, and asking questions into their little digital recorders.  It was a delightfully sunny August afternoon, not exactly the middle of a dark and stormy night.  They said they'd get back to us later with what they may have found.  Well, it turned out the other residents of 676 Lisbon Rd are a talkative bunch.

For those who may be new to this ghost thing, EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomena) are voices picked up on audio (digital or tape) recorders that weren't heard when the recording was being made.  There are differing theories as to how these voices may have manifested.  Some think that a spirit actually talked into the microphone.  Others surmise that the ghosts manipulated the electronics of the recorder to imprint a voice.  Hard to say, because some EVP's sound incredibly metallic, while others sound like a regular voice.  The main problem with an EVP is that they can be difficult to translate.  Not all of them are saying, "Get out!"
(Although if there is a ghosts rallying cry, that would be it!)  But two people listening to the same sound can come up with two different interpretations as to what was said.

In my daughters room, the question was asked  about the pictures.  This was a response:

If that voice doesn't give you the creeps...  Did you hear it the way I did?  But why did Joseph do that?  Only Joseph knows, and he didn't say. 

I mentioned yesterday about the Dark Man.  One ornery cuss.  I'm sure that's his voice you heard in the audio clip at the top of this page.  In response to this question, "Do you have any messages for the family?"  He snarled:

You know, I can just see him in my mind's eye leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs, arms crossed, waiting for the "jerks" to leave.  But you know, if ghosts are really just people who are dead, then in my opinion they sure weren't the best and the brightest!

The investigation team came up with dozens of EVP's.  It's like the ghosts were lined up at the mic like it was Karaoke Night down to the VFW!  I'll leave you with with a sad one, though.  Remember, I mentioned a young child I had seen in the house.  He seemed to be an inquisitive little soul.  I have heard him playing in the hallway when no one visible was there.  I spotted him going through my bureau.  My daughter caught him playing with her toys.  I think it's his white legs darting up and down the stairway.  Who was he?  What was his name?

What did Jason want?  What was keeping him at 676 Lisbon Rd?

This Sunday night for Halloween, the living little ghouls and goblins will stop by 676 Lisbon Rd, never knowing that maybe from an upstairs window, a young boy is looking down on them, just wanting them to stay and play with him. 


Thursday, October 28, 2010

676 Lisbon Rd

The following is true.

"Who in the hell is that?" 

The man in dark clothes was standing just behind my wife as she stood in the dining room facing me.  She was talking to me while brushing her hair before going to bed.  It was a Saturday night, around ten o'clock.  I was seated on a couch in the living room about fifteen feet away, reading a book.  The dining room light was off, but I could see them plainly from the light cast from the living room lamps.  At first, I thought an intruder had broken into our home, but I hadn't heard anyone breaking in.  But there he was, a man about six feet tall with dark hair.  He looked at me, then at her, and then unbelievably, he started to make gestures behind her back.   His arms flailed about, he grimaced his face-- he was making fun of her!  My mind was racing; who is this guy?  What the hell is he doing?  Where did he come from?  I was just about to jump up and rush him when I noticed he was standing through the dining room table.  Not beside the table.  Not behind the table.  Through the center of it.  Then he was gone.  My wife continued on with her conversation.  I just sat there.  I'd seen him before.

The house at 676 Lisbon Rd was an unassuming little dwelling in a small town that, like every other mill town in Maine, had seen it's better days.  Around one hundred years old when we bought it, it was on the small side, with four rooms on the first floor and three small bedrooms tucked under the eaves upstairs.  It sat so close to a very busy street that I felt I could reach out and touch the cars as they whizzed by.  It also filled up its house lot the way a turtleneck clings to a double chin-- not a whole lotta space.  A car parked in the driveway couldn't open both doors all the way without hitting the neighbors house and mine.  But it was the house we fell in love with.  (Maybe because we could afford it)  And it's where we raised our two children.  And it was haunted.

I was with my eight year-old daughter, walking our dog around town one late afternoon, when she turned to me and said, "Daddy, I think I saw a ghost in my bedroom last night."  I did recall hearing some thumping noises coming from upstairs the previous night, so I asked her why she thought that.  "Well, I thought I saw Tom [her little brother] in my room playing with my toys in the corner, but when I kept looking at him, he disappeared!"  "And that's not all," she went on, "sometimes, when I am looking up the stairs, I see two white legs without a body or anything turn and run into my room!"  I hope it's needless to say that I never mentioned the strange things in the house with her or her four year-old brother.  But, I too had seen those white legs.  The TV in the living room was against the half wall that the stairs ran behind.   Many times while I sat and watched another night of scintillating TV, I had seen a pair of feet start to descend the stairs.  I would think they belonged to one of my kids and would wait expectantly for them to come down, when the legs would turn and zoom back up the stairs in a flash of white.

Maybe those legs belonged to the youngster I saw with the Dark Man one night.  The three bedrooms opened up to a small area at the top of the stairs.  We all left our doors open, and night lights from the kids' room lit the landing in a soft yellow glow.  I awoke in the middle of one night when my wife got up to go downstairs to use the bathroom.  I blearily looked and watched her step into the hall-- and past the Dark Man as he leaned, inches away from her, against my daughters bedroom door frame.  I could see his eyes follow her with an ominous gaze as she went by.  Beside him stood a young child.  Doesn't she see them?  I thought.  The child looked over at me and walked up to the side of my bed, standing right next to me.  I didn't get scared by the spooks often, but that time I rolled over, and pulling the blanket over my head, willed myself back to sleep as fast as I could!

What makes a ghost?  Is it some traumatic event that occurred, trapping the soul of an individual here on our Earthly plane?  Could it be someone loved a place so much they didn't want to leave?  Who's to say.  But I think that if you're a jerk in life, you'll be a jerk as a ghost.  Just like the Dark Man.  I was alone in my bedroom one bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, sitting in a chair beside my bed when I saw him walk in.  He strode along the wall not six feet from me, heading toward the bedroom closet.  Just before he walked through the closed closet door, he turned and gave me a look that said, "Yeah, I'm here.  Waddya goin' to do about it?"  I left the room.

I lived in that house for fourteen years, and experienced many, many more episodes other than what I have just related.  I have since moved.  My daughter is grown and living in another state.  My now ex-wife has moved, too.  She rents the house to our son who splits the rent with some friends.  He called me recently.  "Hey, Dad"  he said, "Funniest thing happened the other night.  I was watching TV with my friends, when I noticed a pair of white legs coming down the stairs!  You ever seen that?  I didn't say anything to them, but I watched as my friends eyes would just start darting around...."

And so it continues.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I remember I was about five and was watching my older brother draw an old fashioned sailing ship from a model he had built.  He did a darn good job of it, and made it look easy, so I wanted to give it a try, too.  I sat down and worked on drawing that model, and although my attempt was nowhere near as good as his, I was hooked.  Since that day, I've loved drawing.  I drew on anything I could.  Paper.  Walls.  Floors.  But I never drew on a ceiling--that would be wrong.  I used up reams of notebook paper in school, and never on a note in class.  I drew.  When other kids were out experiencing the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 70's, I was alone in my bedroom...drawing.  The drawing at the top of the page was done when I was eighteen.  I copied an old photograph showing the room where Abraham Lincoln died.  What a teen party animal I was...

I always make a sketch prior to beginning a painting, but I don't really draw as much as I did then, nor should now, for that matter.  But sometimes, I just like to whip out the old charcoal and go to town.  Here's one of Charlie Saunders, the Captain of the lobster boat I worked on.

Charlie wasn't doing needlepoint, he was doing something to the riding sail he used on the boat.  I like texture in my drawings, to see if I can portray how something feels, like this old house:

I treated each clapboard as a portrait, much like this depiction of a raft of old wooden lobster traps that had been left to rot on a rock ledge on the Maine coast.

And speaking of portraits of rotting things, here's me:

The only reason I did this was because I was having a good hair moment, and I wanted to immortalize it!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

En Plein Err'd

Acadia Rocks--En Plein Air

Every year I make the same New Year's Resolution:  Take up smoking, and drink more.  That, and also to do more Plein Air painting.  Plein Air is french for "Making a complete mess of a painting outside".  Or something like that.  All I know is, Plein Air is THE thing to do in the Art World right now.  There are support groups, magazines and special shows all geared for the outdoor painter.  Here in Maine, where if you shake a tree an artist falls out, you can't step out your door without knocking over a Plein Air painter with their fancy little easels.

I couldn't really work on my studio painting today because it's still too wet.  Now, I know there are a whole lot of painters who only work on wet paintings, but I'm not one of them.  I let my layers of paint dry, then apply another thin coat of paint.  And let that dry.  And put on another thin coat of paint.  And let that dry...  Get it?  It's called glazing, and I feel it gives my colors a little more luminosity.  But it is rather laborious and time consuming.  I have to admit, putting on the right color right off the bat does have its appeal.  So doing a one-shot look and paint it type of picture is not easy for me.

I was walking my dog Champ this morning out in my hay field when I thought I'd paint this:

This old one room schoolhouse is now a private residence, and is my next-door neighbor.  I thought the cloudy sky and the shadow of the school set off the autumn colors of the trees nicely.  So I grabbed my French Easel and set up.  In about two and a half hours I did this this 12X16:

(Please excuse the poor photo job, I took this in bad light)

I think you can see why I paint indoors, but hey, it's a start.  I plan on tightening and tweaking this up a bit in the studio.  I think I can turn this into a decent little painting.

Every year I participate in the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust paint-out and art auction.  It's a charity event for a good cause.  They want to buy up land to keep the area around all the gazillion-dollar waterfront mansions looking rural.   So I do my little part.  Here was the location I painted last year:

And the resultant painting:

Truth is, I'll never be a true Plein Air painter.  I like the creature comforts of the studio too much.  I do plan on using more out door work to better help my indoor paintings.  I want to rely on my visual skills more and photos less.  Hey, I'll do anything if it'll help my painting.  Even keep New Year's Resolutions!

What'd I Say?

Did you know that many artists are musical, and many musicians are artistic?  Now, before you jump on me and say, "But, Kev-- music is an art, and musicians are artists!"  Yeah, I know that.  But for example, John Lennon went to art school.  John Singer Sargent was actually an accomplished pianist.  Tony Bennett is a painter, too.  Stuff like that.  I don't think that having those abilities are extra special, I think of it as just variations on the same creativity gene.  Not to brag, and I'm no John Lennon Sargent, but I'm also one of those painters who plays music.  I play piano-- not classical stuff--Rock and Roll.  As a result, I often think in musical terms when I am painting.

You see, I taught myself to paint.  Still learning, really.  (I also taught myself to play the piano).  And although I know and understand the basic tenets of art, I phrase them in my own way, which can be confusing to fellow painters.  So, here is a little glossary of my artspeak.

The wrong pitch.  Means a painting with incorrect values.  In music, the pitch is the vocal harmonizing with the key of the song.  If you're "pitchy" you are not staying within the musical key.  Same thing in painting, say, if your darks are too bright or your highlights are too dark.

Tone it down.  Either reduce the chroma, or lower the values.  When I think "tone it down" musically, I'm thinking I am too forceful in my playing, and I need to add some nuance and feeling.  In painting, I would be assaulting your eyes with my intense colors.

Take it down a half-step.  On the piano, a half-step is going from a white key up or down to the nearest black key.  It can be the right note to play, but that half-step could be sweeter or add a little more tension than the obvious note.  My painting definition also means reduce the intensity of the chroma, but not a whole lot.  Maybe tweak it with a little nuetral color to make it a more interesting, or even poignant.

Out of tune.  The obvious for a musical instrument, or a total mess of a painting.  It seems like all of my paintings get out of tune somewhere along the line, and I have to work hard to tune them back up!

Jamming on a riff.  That's when a passage is coming along particularly well.  You're just letting it happen and enjoying the results!

I've got more, but you probably get the idea. So, here's hoping that when you tune up your pallette you get to really jam on those riffs and keep it tight!

Trust me, that's a good thing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Random Acts Of Musing

A sign of things to come...

Here are some thoughts I've had about painting, life, stuff or anything else that came to mind while I waited for my studio to warm up enough to work in.

  • I really feel bad for the rest of the country for the bad weather they had this year, but here in Maine, it's been a year for the ages;  The Winter was extra mild, and Spring came a month early.  The Summer was perfect, with temp's not too hot, or too cool and just the right amount of rain.  The only draw-back is that the fall colors aren't as crisp and bright as in years past.  But, I'll take a great summer over two weeks of pretty colors.

  • Leaves are so much prettier on trees, unless they are scattered over an old cemetery.

  • Every time I think I am ruining a painting, my brush work starts to get stiff and tight.  Ironically, I've never ruined a picture by having my brushwork be loose and painterly.

  • I know I'm halfway done on a painting when I think I've screwed it up beyond repair.

  • Most artists inspire me to work harder.  Some make me want to hang my brushes up, because I'll never be that good.  Jacob Collins, for instance, makes me want to quit.

  • I waited twenty five years before I painted full-time.  Now, every day that goes by when I don't paint feels like a wasted day I'll never get back.

  • The amount of candy you buy for Halloween is in inverse proportion to the amount of Trick-Or-Treater's you'll get. 

  • Is having a stellar resume` really important as an artist?  No matter what great Master you painted under, or the multitude of education you've accumulated, isn't it really your paintings that define you?

  • Is it strange that I get the same feeling of satisfaction from seeing those cool stripes on my freshly mown lawn, as I get when I finish a painting?

  • If I don't think my painting is good, a thousand people telling me otherwise won't change my mind.  If I think my painting is good, a thousand people telling me otherwise won't change my mind, either.

My studio is warmed up now!  Well, at least to 55 degrees, and that's manageable.  But why is it that 55 degrees outside seems so much warmer than 55 degrees inside?  I guess I'll have to answer that question in another blog...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Off To The Island

There are misfits everywhere.  You know, people who look like they should be doing anything else other than what they are doing.  And I'm not just talking about politicians.  I'm thinking about guys like Mugsy Bogues, a five-foot three inch NBA player in the 1990's.  Or Jim Abbott, who was a Major League Baseball pitcher, yet only had one hand.  Jim kept his fielding glove under his armpit, and put it on his pitching hand as soon as he released the ball.  Me?  I am a color-blind painter.

When people with perfect color vision think of us color-blind folk, they almost always think we see in black and white.  They love to play little games with us.  "Oh, you're color-blind huh?  What color shirt am I wearing?"  (By the way, would you ask any one else with some form of a handicap to prove it?  "Oh, you're blind huh?  How many fingers am I holding up?")  I actually can see color.  It's just not the color you see.  Take the color you see, and remove the red from it and you'll get my version.  Throughout my life I have learned to cope with that.

My earliest memory of my color definciency was in Kindergarten.  I recall we had to color a drawing of apples.  Other kids looked at their array of Crayolas and chose an appopriate shade of red.  Apparently, I grabbed some ugly-ass brown and went at it.  I'll never forget the look of mortification that appeared on Mrs. Palmer's face.  For the green leaves, I may have chosen some off-shade of blue.  In short, it looked like I was trying Post-Modern Expressionism.  After that, I figured out that the drawings had the color name printed on them, and all I had to do was match the word on the crayon to the word on the drawing.  So, at least it taught me to read!  Other adaptations to color have been a little trickier.  I still have a hard time driving through a city at night and figuring out the red stop lights.  (I do know red is on the top, green is on the bottom, and like everyone else, yellow doesn't exist.)  Out in the country-side, at least a blinking red light has a STOP sign on the corner.

But how does this affect my painting, you ask?  Well, for one thing, the tubes have their names on them.  But once I squeeze out the color, all bets are off.  I remember painting an ocean scene where I thought I had nailed that deep, muddy green of a turbulent sea.  A friend walked up and asked me why I painted it brown...  So I try put the colors in the same place on my palette every time.   But my real trick is why I try to be a realist painter.  You see, if I can manage to paint the color exactly as I see it, then I'll not only see my color, you'll see yours too.  Invariably, whenever I have a hard time getting a color right, all I do is add red, and presto!  There it is.  Or, I just do winter scenes...

So you see, even mis-fits like myself can overcome and go on to do whatever they want to in life.  Just like the greatest mis-fit of all.  Remember, Hermie the Elf wanted to be a dentist!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Redundancies Repeated

Some folks will tell you that I repeat myself.  That I say the same things over and over again.  That I'm repetitious and redundant.  I don't agree with that, and I don't think they are right.  I like to think that I think in recurring patterns.  And I am not alone.

I've been painting pictures for a long time.  Landscapes and seascapes mostly, with the occasional portrait thrown in.  And in all these years I've done a great deal of just sitting and looking.  I think one of the most important skills one can learn as a painter is the skill of observation.  If you don't really see it, you can't paint it.  So as soon as you're done reading this blog, get outside and stare at something.  In my countless hours of endless gazing, I have noticed that Nature, much like myself, likes to repeat herself.  Now, we have all heard about the "endless variety of Nature".  Not quite so fast, now... it may be true-- to a point.  Because I've noticed Nature has slipped some redundancies right under our noses!  Don't believe me?  Take a look at this sand dune:

Notice the striations of the wind blown sand?   Now here's a sample of tree bark:

I don't know what that white thing is, but the pattern of bark sure looks like a sand dune, doesn't it?  Hey, Nature's not stupid, why waste a perfectly good pattern?  Wanna see it again?  OK.  Look at this picture of water ripples:

Whoa, now!  It's looking like a sand dune and tree bark.  Surely, you say, I must have reached the limit to these coincidences?  Then what do you say about this:

I don't know who R. Thumb is, but I thank him for this photo.  Anyway, it seems even human skin has the same patterns as water, sand, and tree bark! 

So, when you are painting, look for these little redundancies yourself.  Rocks and boulders are miniature mountains, a bare tree is an inverted lightening strike.  Heck, even from hundreds of miles away, the mountains on the Moon look like skin, which looks like sand which looks like bark which looks like water:

 Oh, I'm sorry!  That's not a mountain range on the Moon--  it's Morley Safer!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Handful Of Sand

I guess anything is possible in this world.  After all, we watch "Reality TV".  (So, Survivor is really a documentary?)  We worship self-esteem more than money.  Heck, the kids in Little League aren't even given the scores of games, lest some poor little tyke thinks he may be a loser.  Art students are taught that Picasso is a God while Parrish is a fraud, instead of vice-versa.  So, I'm sure there is an artist out there who is entirely satisfied with the outcome of every one of his paintings.  He can perfectly realize in paint any vision his mind can conjure.  To him, his works of creation are so perfect, even God is jealous!  (No doubt, this artist would love to bottle his flatulence and sell it as a perfume).  In case you're curious, no, that would not be me.  Actually, I think I am with the vast majority of artists who are always left a little disappointed with the results of their paintings. 

You see, as I mentioned in this blog, inspiration is a powerful drug.  It makes you hallucinate.  When I am inspired by an idea for a painting I see it in all it's glorious perfection.  In my minds eye I marvel at the beautiful colors, the bravura brushwork, the perfect design and composition.  I am overwhelmed with the prospect of making something so awesome!  But then something happens.  I start to work on it with whatever ability I may possess.  And then somehow, my colors don't seem to glow like the colors I saw in my vision.  The bravura brushwork I saw are now frozen and tight little dabs of paint.  My design is skewed, and the composition I thought was so dynamic is really a Rosburg.  And there I am, faced with just another painting.  Others may like it and think it's well done, but they didn't see the vision I saw.

Someone once asked that over-hyped talent-less dreck Picasso which one of his paintings was his favorite.  "The next one," he said.  Possibly because he couldn't actually think of a good one.  But, I digress...  But that's the reason we paint.  We keep thinking that we will capture that dream in the next painting!  The next painting will show those beautiful colors and sparkling brush-work! 

You know what paintings really are?  They are souvenirs.  The remembrances of what the artist once saw.  But instead of a beautiful sunny beach in the tropics, with the turquoise-blue water gently caressing the pure white sand as golden clouds glide majestically across an endless blue sky being pushed by the warm whisper of a breeze that lightly nudges the palm trees, all we have left to remind us of all that splendor is a handful of sand.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hurry Up And Wait

I may have mentioned that I do not have an unlimited attention span.  Actually, I think of myself as patience impaired.  Whatever I want, I want NOW.  I am all about the destination, not the journey.  I was the kid in the back seat asking, "are we there yet?" as soon as the car left the driveway.  I wonder why instant oatmeal has to take so damn long to cook, and how come text messages can't go faster.  I blame this on being stuck in a womb for nine months earlier in life.  Geez, it was boring.

When it comes to my painting, I'm in a hurry to see how it's going to look when it's done.  Other painters might complain about not knowing when to stop working on a painting, I'm thinking, "what-- I have to do more?"  I read a quote from a great painter that he wished he could take a couple of years to work on one painting.  Are you freakin' kidding me?  A couple of years?  Delayed and gratification are mutually exclusive words as far as I'm concerned.  But it does remind me of another quote: Genius is the ability to take infinite pains

Now, rest assured, I am not now claiming, nor have I ever checked off the box that lists me as a genius.  (As a matter of fact in a recent NBC News/Gallup Poll of the Mathematically Impaired, 71% said I think "genius" is the original Trivial Pursuit game, 44% said I wouldn't know genius if it came up and kicked me in the ass, and the remainingg 29.8% said they weren't sure, but think we should throw the bums out.)  But I do wish I had a little bit of that trait.  Not genius per se, but being able to slow down and take my time.  Knowing my tendency to hurry it up, you would think my painting technique is a direct, wet into wet approach.  It's not.  Actually, my technique is rather labor-intensive.  I make preliminary sketches and perspective studies. I use glazes, layer upon layer.  I scrumble, noodle and scrape.  But I do it as fast as I can.  It generally takes me less than a week to go from idea to finished piece.

Now, I have often thought that I should take my time, and not be in such a rush. Maybe not take a couple of years, but however long it takes to exhaustively investigate every angle to ensure I have made the best painting possible.  It's an attractive concept.  And you know what?  I can't wait to start doing it!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is And About

I've just spent two full days doing preparatory work on my new painting.  I know me.  I've lived with me for years, and I know I have the attention span of a gnat.  As a matter of fact, if a gnat and me were in a staring contest, I'd blink first.  So, I don't like to expend too much energy on endless sketches and prep work for a painting.  I like to keep a little in the tank and save some guess-work for the main event.  It keeps me interested.  But sometimes these things need to be done, and when that's the case, I roll up my sleeves and get cracking.

Here is a thumbnail idea for my latest:

My concept is this:  A lobster boat getting ready for the day as the sun comes up.  Pretty simple.  The foreground will be cool shadows while being back-lit by a warm, glowing sunrise, like the color sketch I've shown at the top of the page.  It's a scene I've witnessed many times when I did this kind of work.  I didn't have a photo specifically of it, so I posed myself and my beautiful partner Ellen's son Luke for the characters.  By the way, I think it's perfectly fine to work from photos that one has complete control over.  The scene is from my imagination, but I will use plenty of photo aids to get the details right.  Here we are posing:

That's me on the left reprising my sternman role.  I always loved dressing up like an orange Butter-ball to go to work!  Luke is on the right acting as the dock-hand. 

Why are we lifting dumbells?  Because I wanted to show the strain on the muscles accurately.  The trays they are lifting in the painting are really close to 150 pounds.  Even though these wieghts are just thirty pounds apiece, it does help to show us lifting instead of pretending.

My canvas size is 3 feet by 4 feet, so it's imperative I have the proper placement of figures.  So, I sketched it out like this:

But something happened to my idea.  I changed what it's about.  In the thumbnail, my idea was a sunrise scene with a lobster boat.  In this sketch, it's a lobster boat with a sunrise.  And that's the difference between is and about.  The painting still is a sunrise and a lobster boat.  But it's not about a sunrise.  It's about lobstermen preparing to head out.  I didn't really plan it, that's just the way it turned out.

OK, last picture.  Here's where my canvas stood when I called it a day.  Sorry for the poor photo, but I was running out of light, plus the figures are very lightly drawn in.  I still have miles to go before I even touch it with paint. 

And as some folks are fond of saying:

It is what it is.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thank You!

Sugar Maple

Don't you love getting compliments?  I do.  When I play golf and someone says, "nice shot"  I say "thank you!", hoping they were talking to me.  If someone says to me, "Gee, you don't look that old"  I say, "thank you!" even if they are lying.  Hell, even when I know they are lying!

My paintings are usually whisked off to some public location as soon as the paint is dry, so I very rarely get to hear what others may be saying about them.  I always hope they are being well received, but I don't always know.  So when someone pays me a compliment in person, I find it very special.  But it is interesting how people compliment.  Here are some authentic compliments I have received:
  • "That looks just like a photo!"  To which I always say, "thank you!"  Even though I really try not to copy photos.  I try to make my work look like how the human eye sees.  In my view, if my painting is too photographic I failed.  But to 99% of non-painters, photos are the ultimate in realism, so if in their eyes my paintings look real, then I'm OK with that.
  • "Gee, that's Norman Rockwell good!"  To which I always reply, "thank you!"  Technically, Rockwell was an Illustrator and not a Fine Artist, and a landscape or seascape is not an illustration.  But since Rockwell is my idol, and a great American Painter, if someone wants to compare me to him-- cool!
  • "That's just as good as the pictures my Aunt Bertha used to make!"  To which my answer is, "thank you!"  If Aunt Bertha was the only artist that person ever knew, then that's their yardstick to measure the quality of art.  Hey, if I'm Aunt Bertha good, I'm happy.
  • "You could be as famous as Picasso someday!"  To which I smile and say through gritted teeth, "thank you!"  Even though a Picasso is the opposite of everything I stand for, he was famous--I'll give him that much.  And again, if that's the only famous painter this guy knows, then what can I say?
You may have noticed that the common denominator here is that I said "thank you" to each and every compliment.  They may be wrong in their assessment, but who am I to say?  I have actually witnessed "artists" chastise a person for giving them the wrong compliment!  God has made a special place for people like that.  It's called Hell.  The least I can do is thank someone who goes out of their way to make me feel good.  Of course, the sweetest compliment is when someone opens their wallet and hands me a whole lot of hard earned portraits of presidents.  But between you and me, I don't paint for the money.  To me, payment for a painting isn't a reward for my efforts, it's a reminder that every day I get to do something I love.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What Size To Make A Painting

OK, so I've got an idea for my next painting.  I feel like depicting a scene from my lobstering days.  I was a "sternman" on a lobster boat in Maine for one season.  Hardest job I have ever done!  Sternmen do all the work while the captain just steers the boat.  Captains will tell you that they are responsible for every part of the operation, and the sternmen just stuffs the bait bags and bands the keepers.  Hard to say whose right...  Anyway, I'm all kinds of excited about starting the new painting.  I plan on doing multiple sketches, color studies-- you name it, whatever it takes to make this one a great painting.

I always want to paint a great painting.  You know, the masterpiece that someday art students will stand in front of in awe.  (Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?) But, who doesn't want to paint a masterpiece, right?  I used to think that "Important" paintings were large.  I mean, artists are always talking about making the BIG painting.  And small is... well, small.  Unimportant.  Insignificant.  Or so I thought.  I have since altered my thinking on this.  I have come to the conclusion that size ain't what it's cracked up to be.
If you ever have the chance to be fortunate enough to stroll through the corridors and galleries of the Louvre Museum in Paris, you'll find masterpieces of every size.  From the house-sized The Coronation Of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David, to DaVinci's more manageably sized Mona Lisa, and all sizes in-between.  But why were they painted that size?  Artist ego is one reason.  You know, the desire to paint a picture that someday art students would stand in front of in awe.  Another reason is complexity of detail.  The Coronation is certainly packed with detail, namely about a hundred life-sized portraits.  Couldn't very well paint that one 11X14, now could you?  Meanwhile, Mona would have looked silly at any other size.  Another consideration pertaining to size was where was the painting going to hang?  Huge, cavernous palace walls, or more humble environs?  But does that stuff matter in today's world?  Do huge paintings sell?  Do people want an over-the-sofa painting that's twenty feet by thirty feet?  I know alot of galleries want smaller works so they can hang more paintings on their walls.  But can you put alot of emotional impact into a picture that's 8"X8"?

The formula I use to determine what size I'll paint a picture is a simple one:  If the painting is full of details, I'll paint it on the smaller side.  I have a tendency to try to paint the hairs on an ant's ass if given the chance, so I try to minimize that trait by going small.  Conversely, if the picture has wide open spaces, I can paint it bigger and not worry about getting bogged down in details.  So, what size is my new one going to be?

Well, I'm thinking of naming it The Coronation Of Kevin, The Sternman.

Dude, You Suck

Good Or Bad?

When is it appropriate for someone to tell a painter that their work isn't quite up to snuff?  You know, drop subtle little hints that maybe their work is horribly amateurish, and if you were them you wouldn't show it in public without a bag over your head?  The answer:


But, according to a recent blog by Finearts Views writer Lori Woodward  Simons (at ) let the galleries do it.  To sum up Lori's insightful post, if you can't get into galleries, maybe it's because your work isn't good.  Go back and really assess your paintings, and always strive to get better.  Good points and sound advice.  But there is a problem with that.  Yes, we should always try to improve and make our paintings as good as possible, but who holds the all-defining yardstick that everyone can use to measure their work?  Who's the final arbiter to say what's good?

I was recently looking at paintings on the internet with my daughter when I chanced upon an artist whose work I didn't like.  I thought that the colors were horrible, the design was atrocious and the execution sloppy and entirely unappealing.  Beyond that, they were lovely.  I pointed them out to my daughter who holds a degree in Art History, would love to open a gallery someday and in general has rather conservative tastes in art.  She disagreed with me wholeheartedly.  She loved them.  The very elements I thought were poor, she thought were well done.  If I ran a gallery, that artist would never get in.  On the other hand, that artist would be welcomed with loving arms in my daughters gallery.

So what should the painter do?  Keep painting.  Keep trying to improve.  And keep putting your work out there.  Let me be the first to say-- Ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cooped Up

Home and Studio
I was born into a family of do-it-yourselfers.  My Dad was a master mechanic and jack-of-all trades.  He was one of those types who could break down and re-assemble anything with more than two parts.  One of my brothers owns his own automotive repair shop.  My eldest sister has re-wired, plumbed and reconstructed her house so many times, she can't remember where she put the bathroom.  So how much of this did I get?  Suffice to say, this apple not only fell far from the tree, but rolled down the mountain side and into the neighbor's yard.  Many has been the time when I sat in a broken down hulk of a car while stranded on the side of a highway and willing to exchange whatever slight artistic ability I possess for something more mechanical.  Instead, I sketched while I waited for the tow-truck.

Last year when my beautiful partner Ellen and I were shopping for a house, one of the items on our wish list was a building or place that I could use as a studio.  Over the years, I've painted in stairwells, corners of bedrooms and kitchens, and I wanted a place to call my own.  We found a home in East Pittston, Maine that is perfect for us, and it has an out-building that was ideal for my studio.  It is a fairly good size building, 27 feet long and 12 feet wide.  The drawback was that it had a ceiling barely six feet high, sheathed in ugly, water and mold stained fiber board.  Three naked light bulbs hung down, awaiting full contact with my forehead at any time.  The building is at least seventy years old, and was used as a carpenter shop before me, and before that, I'm thinking it was probably a chicken coop.  Here is how it looked:

I still moved in and set up shop and actually painted in there for about nine months when Ellen said it was finally time to fix it up.  She is the handyman of the house, and was chomping at the bit to get cracking on the demolition.  I was always a little more reluctant, knowing my complete lack of ability with tools. 

We knew that above that nasty ceiling was at least five more feet of space that would make a nice cathedral ceiling.  But first it had to go.

Now, doesn't that look like fun? The space above was loaded with wasp nests and the insulation was ancient fiberglass that itched on contact and was filled with mice droppings and assorted bug carcasses.  We chose the beginning of September to start this project, figuring that the worst of the summer heat was behind us.  Except that the worst heat wave of the summer kicked in just about then with temperatures reaching ninety degrees daily for a week.  The temperature in the studio reached to near one-hundred degrees!

After the ceiling and some unnecessary beams were all down we started in on the reconstruction.  We reinsulated all the walls and ceiling, then sheathed the inside in pine boards.  I sawed, hammered and in general tried to stay away from any career-ending mutilations while Ellen did all the rewiring.   

Here I am swinging a hammer and wearing a really cool tool belt!  I did learn a few things about construction during all this.  Some do-it-yourself maxims, as it were.

  • Measure twice, cut once.  Then wonder how the hell that measurement was so wrong.
  • Having the right tools for the job does not guarantee doing the job right.
  • The thrill of the job being done is greater than the satisfaction of a job well done.
  • If my carpentry skills were like my paintings, I'd be an abstract-expressionist. 
Here are some views of the completed job.  Not bad, if I say so myself!  I have plenty of space, along with new lights and outlets.  I have a storage loft, and below that, a nice little nook where I can sit and relax.  Quite the man cave--I mean studio...

 I hope I don't lay too many eggs in this chicken coop!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Was It Cave Art?

Way back in the year 1880, some intrepid hikers roaming around the hills near Altamira, Spain came upon an opening to a cave.  They did what intrepid hikers do: they lit some torches and went on in.  Rather far in, actually, until their flickering torches lit up a fantastical scene on the rock walls that surrounded them.  Our intrepid group had stumbled into a giant art gallery.  The walls had amazingly beautiful paintings of animals done in clear, bold color.  Some animals were easily recognizable, while others were not.  All were painted in a fresh and lively realism, using the very texture of the rock wall itself to add a level of three dimensionality to the beasts.  Our friends the hikers were the first, but not the last to ask, "who did this beautiful art?"  Followed by, "And do I have to pay gallery prices?"

Scientists have since come to the conclusion that the paintings were over 10 to 15 thousand years old.  Think about that.  That is almost older than the ages of the Rolling Stones combined!  At first, no one believed that ancient man could have produced such stunning visual works, but after finding several more caves bearing similar paintings, the proof was in.  Apparently, Man has been making art for a long time.  Then came the question, "what were these painted for?"  The scientists surmised they may have been painted for some religious ceremony.  By the way, why is it that whenever science has no clue about an old object or site (Stonehenge) they automatically assign it a religious meaning?  I can imagine some future archaeologist ten thousand years from now unearthing one of our modern toilets and exclaiming, "Ah!  Here is the alter the ancients used to pray to the porcelain god!"  Maybe the site was used as a classroom.  Imagine about twenty young, pencil necked, pimply Cro-Magnons sitting down and facing a big, gruff, Drill Sargent of an elder Cro-Magnon who says something like, "Listen up!  This here is a Cave Bear, and is to be avoided at all costs!  If he views you as either a meal or a mate, it could RUIN YOUR DAY!"   

OK, probably not.  But what if early man was more like us than we think.  By that I mean, we modern humans like to relax and be entertained, don't we?  We invented TV.  We go to the movies.  We listen to music.  And we go to museums to look at art.  Suppose for a second that just maybe those ancient paintings were nothing more than a Cro-Magnon version of a theater or Art Gallery.  Purely for entertainment value.  Just to please the eye.  Would it make their achievement any less remarkable?  Wouldn't it make those ancient Cro-Magnons a little more like us?  Except that as a tribe they sat around the fire and viewed art while we sit around the TV and wonder who is gonna get voted out of the tribe.