Thursday, March 29, 2012

Keeping It Real

If truth be told, I have a love/hate relationship with plein-aire painting.  It's kinda like how I feel fixing a flat tire:  If I do it right, everything will be OK, but I'd rather not have to have a flat to begin with.  Don't get me wrong, every once in a while, I saddle up my old french easel and head out into the great outdoors and have a go at it.  And surprisingly, I usually enjoy myself.  Go figure...

But I have noticed something about plein-aire paintings that I have seen in galleries or group shows, and that is they all seem to say, "Look at me!  Look at me!  I'm a Plein-Aire Painting!  Can't you tell by my non-existent edges, and clumps of broken color?  Just like Monet!  And that crooked box thing?  It's my impression of a house!"  (Between you and me, even when I squint and look over my shoulder at an angle, my first "impression" of a house is that it has straight lines.  Just sayin').  In other words, there is a bit of sameness that one sees in paintings done out-of doors; an expectation of how plein-aire is supposed to look.  It's my own personal taste I admit, but I'd rather a painting say "What" instead of "How"  if you know what I mean.   Then again, I'd be lying if I said that I haven't fallen into that trap myself once or twice.  Like with this:

I am at heart a studio painter.  Even more:  I'm a studio Landscape painter.  Now, there are those who will tell you that being a studio landscape painter is like being a virtuoso on the air guitar.  Whatever.  I like the familiarity of my work space.  But that doesn't mean I don't like the authenticity that painting from direct observation brings.  I just approach it in a different way.

I have been known to grab a studio piece and go outside and paint a passage from life.  Skies mostly.  It doesn't matter what or where my subject is, I can paint a sky from life just by stepping out of my studio door.  Kinda like what I did with this:

Even though this is my own damn back yard, for goodness sakes, I painted it in the studio.  I didn't like what I had for a sky though-- which was a plain old boring blue.  So I set this up outside and painted these clouds and sky from life.

Studio pieces aren't the only ones to get this treatment.  Check out this painting from last fall:


This painting was actually done plein-aire, even though the location is miles away from where I live, the sky was done one morning from my driveway. 

But I'm also not against fixing a painting in the studio that I've started on location.

I did a plein-aire painting of a blueberry field last summer that I've never been completely in love with.  It always seemed half done to me.  As a plein-aire, maybe it worked, but I wanted a little more finish, so a few days ago I grabbed it and went over every bit of it in the studio.  I didn't really re-paint the scene, but I carried what was there a little farther.  Here's where it was after three days of painting on location last summer:

And here it is this week: 

Tune in next week to see how it will look then...

All I'm saying is that I want my paintings to have a similar style and "feel", and to me it matters not how I accomplish that-- whether I paint it all out doors plein-aire, or all inside the studio, or a combination of both. 

I'm just trying to keep 'em real. 



Friday, March 9, 2012

Taking The Long Way Home

Theodore Roosevelt's favorite game to play with his five children was "Follow The Leader".   Teddy would take the children on a jaunt around their summer home on Long Island, but not by a nice, normal route.  No, Teds would take the kids through bogs, over walls, cutting through dense brush and weeds and fording small creeks.  What fun!  I can only imagine what post-traumatic stress went through their minds at the future mention of "follow the leader"...  (As a side note, TeeDee did the same as president, except instead of his children, he took his cabinet through a killer walk around a local park in Washington D.C.  What a card!).  I guess Teddy was the kind of guy to take the road less traveled.  Suffice it to say that he and I would not see eye to eye on that.  I'm not going to admit I'm lazy, but if you add up all the miles in my life, there's not a whole lotta extra ones.

Knowing my proclivity for calling it "good" a bit prematurely, one would think that my painting technique is a quick find-the-color-and-slap-it-on style. 

It is not.

I actually prefer the old fashioned traditional realism method of glazing.  That method involves a lot of patience which, not surprisingly, I was not blessed with an abundant reservoir.  So why do I do it?  Because I like the way glazing brings rich, deep colors with a jewel-like enamel surface.  I simply find it appealing.

Where my technique and personality clash is when I think a passage is good enough, but yet still doesn't have the finish that I like.  Now, most painters have the common flaw of not knowing when to quit.  Hell, I'm sure even Jackson Pollack has said to himself  "You know, maybe that's one drip too many..."  So I know it sounds crazy to say that I think my problem is I don't know when to keep going.  After all, isn't a painting all about how it looks?  And if it looks right, isn't it done?  But yet, I still am concerned about the "look" of the painting, if you know what I mean.

One more fly in the ointment:  I'm freakin' blind as a bat.  Well, actually, I'm far sighted.  That means I can spot a golf ball at three hundred yards, (someone else's, I don't hit 'em that far) but I struggle with seeing objects within eighteen inches.  It is a common enough malady with people my age, and fixed easily enough with glasses.  And I wear them.  Actually, I keep a different set at every place I may need to use them.  Well, that's the plan.  Usually after a day or two I wind up with four sets by the couch, and none near the computer where I now need  a pair.  But I digress...

So when I'm painting my tight little detailed passages, I think they look alright-- but that's only because I can't see them clearly.  So the path of least resistance is to leave it as-is.  The other route means to take a photo of the area, blow it up, and look at the results.  If it looks okay at that point, I can leave it alone and move on to the next passage.  If it doesn't, I keep going.  That means more work and more patience, more laborious steps before I can safely call it "good", but ultimately it's worth it.

It's the long way to go, but I think T.R. would have approved...



Thursday, March 1, 2012


Sorry for my sparse blogging recently, but I've been as busy as a one-toothed beaver trying to finish some paintings to be scattered about.  I've also had some trouble with this blogger thing in that it's been difficult to upload photos.  I also have a new computer that I've been trying to get used to, but it hasn't been easy.  And my motto is: if it's not easy, why do it?

Well, here we are in March.  Now, for some, March is the first month of spring. 

Not in Maine. 

Here, March is the last month of winter.  But for some reason, the big eastern syndicate that controls the calendar has decided that every once in a while we need to prolong February before we start March.  Let me tell you:  February is the worst month of the year.  Cold.  Dark.  Cold.  Snowy.  And cold.  Why extend it?  I for one would be happy to have an extra day in June, wouldn't you?  How about an extra fourth of July?  You know, July 4th II.  Hell, I'd even take an extra day in September.  But February?  No thanks.

I'm not a paint-slapping kind of guy when I paint.  My glazing style isn't really messy, so I stay fairly neat when I'm working.  Except when it comes to Prussian Blue.  I don't know why, but whenever I'm near that damn color, it leaps off my palette and attacks my hands and clothes.  Any stain I have on my clothes is Prussian Blue.  I guess it could be worse, it could be Viridian.  That stuff's too damn expensive to waste!

I usually work on one project at a time.  I've never been much of a multi -tasker.  Heck, I remember my ex-wife used to give me a stick of gum for birth-control.  But I digress....

Anyway, recently I've been splitting my work day between two paintings.  One is a big painting shown at the top of this page which is about 70% done.  I work on that in the morning, and in the afternoon I work on this one:

I admit, the amount of detail I've put in this is insane.  But to tell the truth, I find it more fun to draw than paint.

A chore I do at the end of my working day is to stock the wood pile in the house by bringing it up from the garage.  When I was a teen living at home, my folks used wood heat because they'd be damned if they were going to pay 28 cents a gallon for heating oil!  My chore then was to split the wood by hand and stack it it to dry.  It was a job that had to be done in the summer so the wood would be dry by the winter.  It was a hot, sweaty, brutal chore, and I said to myself then that I'd be damned if I was going to use wood heat in my home!  Now, years later, I enjoy a nice fire in the woodstove, and it's better than using heating oil, but it is getting a little old lugging those logs around.

And thanks to this leap year, I get to do it for an extra day...