Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Red Buds In The Sunlight

I did the above painting a little while ago.  I wanted to show a very common sight around these parts: sap buckets hanging from lovely maple trees.  I painted the buds of the tree a nice happy red-- not because I saw them that way, but because my lovely Ellen told me that maple buds are red.  I've actually never observed red buds because I'm color blind.

Regular readers of Maine-ly Painting (and you know who you are, and yeah we get together to make fun of you who don't) know that I have never kept secret the little matter of my being color-blind.  I never really give it much thought, either.  Oh sure, sometimes I might wonder what it would be like to have full color vision, but I also wonder on occasion what it might be like to be taller, or maybe have some talent...  So it's never really seemed like that big a deal to me.  However, recently I have been stumbling upon some news items about some possible cures or treatments for color-blindness.

I read one that is touted as a cure for color-blindness is to have DNA, genes and what-have-you surgically inserted into the eye using a large, long and extremely sharp needle.

I think I'll pass...

The next day I read James Gurney's blog post about sun-glasses that help the color-blind.  I have to say, that one intrigued me.  I did a lot of reading about them and how they work, but I will leave it up to the manufacturer, EnChroma to explain.  I recently got a pair.  Of sunglasses, that is.

First off though, let me talk a bit about being color blind.

Yes, I can see color.  But what color I see is usually a different shade than what you may see.  As we all know, white light is a combination of three colors:  Blue, Red and Yellow.  Our eyes take white light and using things called cones, receptors, catalytic converters and nerve endings, (it's complicated...) break that white light into those primary colors.  Our brains then take those colors and transform them into objects.  ("I could tell that was Macaroni and cheese by its orange color!") As a By-The-Way, what color an object is comes as the result of what  color, or colors of light it doesn't absorb.  For instance, the molecules and elements that comprise our atmosphere absorb a lot of red and yellow, so what shines into our eyes is blue light.  Grass will absorb a lot of red, so blue and yellow come through and combine to make green.  The paint used on STOP signs absorb blue and yellow, therefore we see red.  And on and on for everything under the sun.

The cones in my eye over-emphasize the blue spectrum of light.  A couple of reasons I know this are because when I step out from a very dark place into an extremely bright sunny one all I see for about ten to twenty seconds is blue.  Blue grass, blue trees, blue dirt-- it's very disconcerting, to say the least.  Eventually, color will start to seep in as my eyes become accustomed to the light.  Another way I know about red being missing from my sight is when I have trouble mixing a color, I noticed that if I add a touch of red-- even when I don't see it in the color I'm trying to paint-- it will work.  So, as I said, I see color, but if you lower the red quotient a skosh, and up the blue a tad, you will get an idea of what I see.

How does this affect the way I paint?  And how can I paint at all, you ask?  Well, I get around the color thing in a couple of ways.

When people are kind enough to compliment me on my painting, I often am told that I "paint light so well!"  Thank you!  What I think they really mean is that my values appear to be true enough to make one think I've depicted a bright sunny day.  And make no mistake, I work very hard on getting my values as accurate as I can.  It goes with my painting philosophy that Values and Color Temperature are more important than just color.  If I can get those values and temperatures right, then usually I can get away with using some wonky color.  Folks will think I meant to do that-- Artistic Principle and all...

Another way of working around my color vision is a bit more problematic.  I call it Paint-By-Theory.  If I know what the local color of an object is, even if I don't exactly see it that way, (Oh, that's pink and not grey?) then I can theorize what color the shadows and highlights may be.  You know-- warm light, cool shadows kind of thing.  The problem is that I'm using guess work and not observation to determine color.  Which leads me back to my maple tree painting.

Since I have never observed red buds on a tree, if Ellen hadn't told me, I would have used some indeterminate dark color to paint them-- because that's what I see.  Yeah, the values would be right, but the color would be boring.  So after learning about those color-blind sunglasses and reading up on how effective they may be, I thought I'd try them.

The first morning I had them I went outside and looked around.  In short order I noticed how vibrant the colors are.  Yeah, I knew the towel we use to dry off our dogs is pink, but now I could see how pink it really is.  Before, it had a decidedly grey cast to it.  I wandered some more around the house looking at this and that.  Unfortunately we are having a late spring so everything has a boring late March muddiness look to it.  I sauntered over to my studio, turned around and looked at the big maple that looms over our back yard.  My first thought was, "Ellen was right!"

For the first time in my life I saw the bright red buds of a maple tree.

Now, will being able to see color a little better make me a better painter?  Hard to say, because a good painting is more than just pretty color.  There's drawing, and edges, and brushstrokes and a million other things that don't involve color at all.  So for now, let's just call it one more tool in the painter's tool box.

But I can't say I've ever had a tool that gave me new eyes.  And showed me what red buds really look like.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Think Spring! And Other Thoughts

Decoration Day 

Regular readers of Maine-ly Painting (which number as many people as are now watching new Colbert Report episodes, I'm proud to say!) are aware that winter is not my favorite season.  In truth, I eagerly await our week of summer here in Maine. Herewith are some thoughts pertaining to Maine's longest season and the picture I just finished.

I dreamed up a painting sometime last summer.  As always, I thought it would be great fun to paint nearly twenty figures in a street scene from back in the day in a painting four feet long.  I was all kinds of exited to do a full size charcoal study for it, and color sketches and what have you.  (And as always, when I was several weeks into the project I was wondering what the hell was I thinking?)  Knowing it would take up a large chunk of time, I thought I'd make it my winter project.  You know, something I could sink my teeth into while I waited for spring.  

I started the long involved process in early December of 2014.  I signed it on April 10th, 2015.  In between those dates we had the nastiest winter we had seen in ages.  The April day I signed the lower right hand corner was a cold, miserable day with at least a foot of snow still on the ground.  Since then we have had delightfully sunny and warm weather, and the snow is completely gone!

I should have signed it a lot sooner...

Don't get me wrong, I love painting these imaginative types of pictures.  It is a challenge to bring the past come to life, to say the least.  Let me show you the street these guys were marching down:

Lovely, isn't it?  Can't you just picture a parade coming down this street?  The difficulty is really of my own doing.  For instance, look at the yellow house on the right in the painting.  First off, what color was this house back then?  I made it yellow just to put a spot of color on that side.  But what shade yellow should I use?  What color will it look like on the shadow side? What color are the shutters?  What will they look like in the sun?  Or the shadow?  Multiply that by every element in this painting, and you'll get an idea why it took so long.  Good thing I don't have hair anymore, or I would have pulled it all out!

Here in New England, as I just mentioned, we have had to endure a brutal winter.  Maybe you recall that Boston had their worst winter in its history.  We've had more snow in the past, but this year it was the cold.  You see, we know winter is going to be cold-- no surprise there.  Usually a winter will give us a few nights when the temperature drops below zero.  This year below zero was the norm night after brutal night.  We had several mornings when I awoke to see the thermometer had fallen to twenty degrees below zero.  I lie.  The coldest was twenty-four degrees below zero.  Twenty-Four Freaking Degrees Below ZERO.  That's not wind chill, people. They don't call it "Wind Chill" any more, but rather "Feels Like".  Do you know what twenty-four degrees below zero "Feels Like"?

The frozen grip of Death.

One of my excuses the reason my painting took too long was the constant interruptions.  Namely, snow blowing.  In years past, we had a guy plow our driveway.  At thirty bucks a pop.  This guy would come and plow an inch of snow before it melted so he could charge me.  I will admit that he was useful after big snows, but I still had to shovel a lot of snow to clear out the piles he pushed into the wrong spot.  Year after year.  Even after I told him not to.  You may be wondering why I continued to use him if he caused me that much aggravation.  It's simple.  Everybody else charged $40.

So this year we bought a snow-blower in a "Damn it, I'll do it myself!" frame of mind. I was thinking that using it once a week or two (the average time between snow storms) wouldn't be too tough, and hey-- after a few years it'll pay for itself. 


After this winters two storms a week, I think it's paid off now...

This was a shot of my poor, buried studio.  As I looked at this sight day after day, I was reminded of a lovely day last year when my studio presented a far different look:

That my friends, is spring!  And it's all I thought of...


Monday, February 2, 2015

It's All Relative

People who say the Beatles weren't all that great-- and I'm speaking to you, you Millenials-- are of course misguided in their notion, because they lack objectivity.  Sure, they've heard Beatles songs, but they don't quite grasp as to why everybody says they are so darn good.  What is missing for those young punks is context.  You see, back in say 1965, were you to turn the knob on your transistor radio you would have heard songs by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs (Wooly Bully),  Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe), Tom Jones (What's New Pussycat), and then from the one-watt speaker, like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind, would come a masterpiece like Yesterday by the Beatles.  So yeah, the Beatles were great, but what is essentially forgotten these days was how much better they were over their contemporaries.

Far-out, man...

February 3rd is the anniversary of Norman Rockwell's birth in 1894.  Constant readers of Maine-ly Painting (which if you count individual eye-balls numbers near a dozen!) know that I have a long standing love of Rockwell's art.  I may have even written a post or two, or three about him.  But still, some people-- and I'm talking to you Millenials again-- have come to realize that no, he didn't really suck, but still can't quite grasp as to why he was and still is considered so great.  Again, a little context is needed.

When Norman first started painting covers for the premier weekly magazine of America called The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, he was just one among many cover artists.  There was JC Leyendecker and NC Wyeth to name a couple.  Sure, while Norm was talented enough to be a cover artist, there were still a good many covers done better than his.  Gradually over time though, he started to mature in his style and vision of the America that the Post wanted all their artists to portray.  His people were more convincing, the humor more appealing.  The art itself was more attractive.  By the 1930's more copies were being sold that had his paintings on the cover than any other cover artist.  Rockwell was becoming quite well known if not down right famous.

So what made his work stand out?  Why was Rockwell considered the King Of Illustrators? Well, because he was great, for starters, but also because-- like the Beatles-- he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries.  To prove me right, let's put him in context, shall we?

Here is a run-down of typical Saturday Evening Post covers through the 40's and 50's.  The artists were all top flight, no doubt.  But to see the difference I'll throw in the occasional Rockwell.  

Stevan Dohanos

Howard Scott

Norman Rockwell

Douglas Crockwell

Mead Schaeffer

Norman, again

George Hughes

John Falter

Yep, it's Norm

Amos Sewell

John Atherton

Really?  You need to look at this caption? 

Do you get where I'm coming from?  Week after week the Post had nice, pleasant covers and then-- like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind-- comes a Norman Rockwell cover.

That's what made him so great!

So, Happy Birthday again, Norman.  You'll always be the King in my book.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all the merriest of Christmases, and the brightest New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dear Kris K.

My Dearest Santa,

My, my-- can you believe another year has gone by?  The last I knew I was wondering if I should make a New Year's Resolution, and now here it is time to disregard another one!  Where does the time go?

How are you and Mrs K.?  Please give her my warmest regards.  I swear the woman must have the patience of Job.  What with the elves hammering and clanging and singing non-stop, and all that reindeer poop to take care of.  Is it true that that's what Chia Pets are made from?  Anyway, don't forget to say "hey" to the elves for me, as well.  Let them know I appreciate what they cooked up for me last year.  I know I asked for heat for the Winter, and that lump of coal came in handy, I'll tell you!  I used it to light my living room couch on fire so I could stay warm for one night.  Thanks.

Santa, I know this year has been an exceptionally trying one for all of us here below the North Pole.  What, with frightening disease, mass starvation, riots, war and over-all nastiness the whole World over.  And Santa, I just want to remind you of one thing:

None of it was my fault.

That should get me some bonus points!  Am I right?  Heck yeah!

So with all that in mind, here Santa is what I think I deserve for Christmas this year.  Mostly, it's the intangibles as opposed to specific items.  Like my first choice is Serenity.

Serenity comes with peace of mind.  And to an Artist, what can soothe ones mind and make the brush flow smoother than a whole lot of crisp, green serenity?  The kind with dead Founding Fathers on it! Let's have some Franklins, Hamiltons, a few Chase's, then throw in some dead presidents-- Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, McKinley.  To coin a phrase; For this Christmas, Serenity now!

I know it's important to support the arts, and one way of doing that is by buying work from other artists.  Since, I can't afford that, next on my Christmas list are sculptures by Jeff Koons.

Look, everybody knows he's playing rich people for chumps by calling his banal, worthless crap "art " So if I had one of his bright, stupid looking sculptures, like a Chia Pet covered in mirrors, or something I could sell it for millions of dollars to people who don't have a clue they are being laughed at!  Hey, a fool and his money, right?  What could be more Christmas-ee than that?

Keeping with my spirit of giving, Santa I want to help all those struggling galleries out there.  It's obvious they are having a hard time selling quality artwork.  So if quality doesn't cut it, they should sell mine instead!

This Christmas, while you're dropping by delivering all my goodies, pick up some of my paintings and drop them off to galleries around the world.  Hey, they can't do any worse, right?  Plus, it'll ease up some of the work-load for the elves!  You're welcome, Santa.

Well, that should do it Santa.  It's a short list and imminently do-able if I say so  myself.  Have a safe and happy flight.  I hope Blitzen doesn't have the same intestinal problems he had last year.  Or maybe you can just re-position him so he's not right in front of you...  

'Til I see you on Christmas Eve, Peace on Earth etc., etc.,


Friday, December 12, 2014

Taking The Plunge

Let me ask you;  Are you the type that goes charging head-long into every venture?  You know, "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!"  Or are you the more methodical, take-it-one-step at a time, no need to hurry type?

Here's a scenario:  Say you're at the beach on a hot summer day.  Do you creep up on the water, dipping one toe in a a time, slowly acclimating each body part to the chilly water?  Or do you just go plunging in without a thought-- just get 'er done?  Me?  I'm both.

Now first off a disclaimer-- The Atlantic Ocean here in Maine is not known for it's warmth.  We're not talking Miami Beach here.  In fact, we do our "Polar Plunge" on July 4th!  And have you ever noticed that the warmer the days, the colder the water gets?  There's a scientific reason for that, but this is Maine-ly Painting after all, not Maine-ly Oceanography.  But I digress...  Anyway, I will sneak up to the water, checking the temperature one toe at a time, gauging to see how cold it is and what shock to the system is involved by plunging in.  Then, I turn and high step it in, back arched, my shoulders pinned to my ears, water splashing until I dive in head-first.   Followed by my bursting out of the water, emitting a shriek reminiscent of a steam whistle.  Or a six year old girl...

I'm also that way when it comes to a new painting.  I pussy-foot around, taking a moment here and there doing little thumbnail scribbles on scrap pieces of paper-- no big deal, I may do this painting, maybe not, who knows?  Then comes the occasional glances at potential reference material, whether from my files or the interweb.  Still, no sweat, no commitment.  What I'm doing is trying to figure out what it will take for this painting to come to life.  How much of a shock to the system will it cause, as it were.  But also at this stage, the idea of how great the painting could be is still greater than the reality of the painting itself.  While it's still a dream it's the best piece I've ever done.  My Masterpiece!  All that changes as soon as I start to work on it in earnest.

But really, if I'm being honest the prime reason for my procrastination is because when I do high-step it and jump in feet first it will consume me for however long it takes to finish.  For that length of time I will live and breathe this picture.  It will follow me from my studio up to my house every night where I will spend evenings with one eye on the TV and the other eye on the painting as I analyze it incessantly.  I will spend hours each night lying in bed wide awake as I think of what the next step will be on the painting, what colors will work best, what method of applying paint will be more effective.  There will be no off days.  Every day for the duration will be spent in the studio.

There will also be the emotional roller-coaster, for sure.  The fire of inspiration, the enthusiasm of what can be.  The thrill of seeing my idea start to take form.  It will be followed by the inevitable "I've messed this all up" stage that usually is the half-way mark.  Then comes the drudgery.  The small, endless little detail work that I thought was going to be so much fun is now just a pain-in-the-ass, "what-was-I-thinking?" And "This doesn't look right at all!"  Maybe somewhere in there- if I'm lucky- will be a joyous, "Wow!  That passage came out great!"  But probably not...

At the end of it all will be a finished painting.  Maybe I'll be proud of it, maybe not.  But it will be done, and I will be emotionally drained.  So really, can you blame me if I beat around the bush a little before I do it all again?  It's kinda funny though, usually before the painting is done I've made a few thumbnail scribbles of a new idea.  I've glanced at some reference material.  In short-- I'm tip-toeing along the waters edge, nerving myself up for another plunge.  And maybe this time it will be different--

Maybe this time I won't come up shrieking like a six-year old girl...


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

J.C. Was God

In the first part of the Twentieth Century there was an artist whose work could be seen everywhere.  He graced multiple magazine covers, book illustrations, advertisements.  He was the highest paid illustrator of his time.  His skills were held in awe by fellow artists and his style was aped by many.

No, it wasn't Norman Rockwell, but Joseph Christian Leyendecker-- known as J.C. Leyendecker.

He was born in 1874 and lived until 1951.  If you want more biographical stuff head on over to Wikipedia.  This is Maine-ly Painting, not Maine-ly Biographies after all.  What I want to show are some of his beautiful paintings.

Last year I took a trip to a Newport, Rhode Island to visit a museum called the National Museum Of American Illustration.  They have work from Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, many Maxfield Parrish's, several Rockwells but it was a painting by Leyendecker (and they have many of his) that made my jaw drop.  I knew of his work, but seeing his colors, design and mastery of technique in person was an almost religious experience.

Leyendecker did not use photographs.  He painted from models only.  He made countless preparatory sketches and full-size studies before he tackled the painting.  He was not at all above trashing a painting and starting all over if he felt his first (second or third) attempt wasn't up to snuff.  That habit drove his art editors nuts, but they lightened up when they saw the finished work.  Work like this:

Take a closer look at that horse:

No one else did it like Joe!

No muddy colors on that one!  Every brushstroke was loaded with just the right color, chroma and value. 

Do yourself a favor and click on these to see how he incorporated his underpainting with the final color application.  You can see how he danced and played his local colors on top and around the umber color lay-in, then finished with perfectly tasteful highlights.  It looks super easy-- it is not.

I mentioned his countless studies a moment ago.  Here are a couple that show his thought process not only of the painting, but the best way to approach the subject.

I love this one-- The guy inadvertently looking like a Roman Emperor as he hails a cab.  Look how Leyendecker noticed he didn't have Caesar's right hand positioned correctly to hold the umbrella, so he painted a correct note there on the right of the canvas.  Above that you can see him working out the most effective way to have the guy's finger point to sell the joke.  Leyendecker always gridded these oil sketches so he could transfer them accurately onto another canvas.

Here's another stunning sketch showing his decision making:

Hhmmm... what works better?  The peeling knife pointed up?, at an angle? What about the thumb position-- would that work better?  Should I show the peelings falling into the bowl? It's this amount of prep work that he did that bought him fame and the mansion on the hill that was the envy of the other illustrators.

Along with many others, Norman Rockwell idolized Leyendecker.  But unlike most, Rockwell developed a friendship with the great master.  In his delightful book My Adventures As An Illustrator, he tells of his years knowing both J.C. and his illustrator brother Frank when they all lived in New Rochelle, New York in the 1930's.

There's more to Leyendecker's fascinating story; How his paintings became synonymous with the Arrow Shirt Man, his homosexuality, his dysfunctional relationships. But I'll leave that for you to find out.  Eventually, it was Leyendecker's iconic style that brought about his own down-fall. By the mid 1930's advertisers wanted something fresher and more realistic-- not associated with the Naughts and Roaring Twenties.  You know, more Rockwell-like.  Leyendecker got fewer and fewer commissions as a result and died penniless, alone and forgotten in 1951.  A sad end to a proud and extremely talented man.

Or is it?  Recently with the upswing in interest of paintings from the Golden Age of illustration, his work is fast becoming more and more desirable.  Studies like the ones I've shown here could have been yours for a couple of hundred bucks just ten years ago.  Now they fetch tens of thousands, and his finished paintings done for the Saturday Evening Post go for much more.  There is a whole new appreciation for the Artist that once upon a time everyone thought was the greatest of them all.

J.C. Leyendecker


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whoa Nellie!

Racing The Load

I've never really been sure if indecision was such a bad thing.  I had spent a number of weeks rounding up props, models and various ephemera for my next painting.  I had taken photos and had worked out a pretty complex preliminary drawing and everything.

And then a completely different idea popped into my head.  It's the painting I'm showing here, Racing The Load. I had no idea where it came from, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

One hundred or more years ago logging was a Winter activity.  Before large trucks and heavy equipment came on the scene to easily strip thousands of acres of trees off the land, it was done by man and beast.  Winter was considered the best time to do it for a couple of reasons.   One was that it was easier to get man-power at that time of year.  Many of the lumbermen did this as their Winter job, and spent Summers working as hired hands on farms.  The second reason was that snow and ice was easier to move the logs over than mud.  Spring, when the snowmelt swelled the rivers and streams, was used to float the logs down-stream to the mills.  So logging camps were set up in the forests, and the men went at it until the Winter broke into Spring.  Nowadays, we tend to romanticize those times.  You know, camping out in the woods, working in the clean mountain air.  Coming back to camp and having a nice meal and camaraderie around the fire.  Ahhh... that was the life!

In truth, it was brutally hard work in severe and often frigid conditions. It was also decidedly less than sanitary-- to put it mildly. Imagine a few dozen or more sweaty, stinking men who hadn't had a bath in weeks or months jammed together in small poorly ventilated log huts; You could smell a logging camp long before you saw it...

And the wood had to get down the hills to the rivers.  That's what this painting is about.  Quite often, an unlucky team of horses got run over when the load they were pulling down an icy hill came down faster than they could run.  The logs would roll over the poor beasts like a bowling ball, sending the teamster flying off into the woods, battering and breaking bones of all involved.  They could patch up the teamster if he lived.  No Veterinarians helped the horse.

I wanted to show that frantic, frenetic motion of a team running for their lives-- crashing through the snow, darting through the shadows of the remaining trees, plummeting down toward the dark bottom of the hill like an avalanche. To do that, I tried a couple different tactics.

First off was my point-of-view. Where are you (the viewer) positioned to see this scene swirl past you?  Up in a tree?  The next hill over?  Don't know, do you?  This is a nod to the "All omnipotent" point of view that the illustrators of the 30's and 40's used.  For instance, check out this illustration of Houdini by Tom Lovell:

Yup, there he is, leaping off a bridge-- but where are you?  Look again.  You are suspended in mid-air over the river to view this scene.  Yikes!  So it is with my horses; You are a part of my scene as a viewer, but you're not quite sure where you are.

Another way I tried to impart a sense of emotion along with motion in my picture is through the brush-work.  I will be the first to admit that I am a lover of well refined detail.  But if I had lovingly painted every rock, twig and log in my usual tight, crisp splendor it would have stifled the flow.  So in this case, to keep things in suspense, I went with loaded brush and knife to swirl and splatter the paint in thick impasto.

One last thing about this painting.  No photographs were harmed in the making of it.  That's right-- this is purely from my imagination.  Lord only knows how many years it's been since I did something that didn't have me sweating over a photo, trying to copy every last detail... But it's been awhile!

So there you have it, another Americana painting in the books. I think this makes about a dozen, and one thing I know--

I'm not reining them in!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where'd You Get That Idea?

Ever since I started this whole Americana painting series, I've been besieged by people asking where I get my ideas for scenes. Well,  I'm not saying hundreds of people ask me.  In truth it might even be less than a dozen.  Okay, maybe one person asked.

Apparently, I have a low thresh-hold when it comes to besiegers...

Anyway, since I keep no "Official Artist Secrets"  I thought it would be fun to chat about that aspect of painting.

Doing figurative, and even narrative scenes does require a tad more thought than zipping around the country side looking for places to paint, if I say so myself.  After all, the Americana paintings involve depicting scenes of 100 years ago.  But whether a painting is a landscape or Americana, first the inspiration has to hit me.

I have a pretty good collection of books pertaining to the 19th Century, and I'm always hunting for more.  I keep some of them in my studio where I love to kick back and go through them in search of ideas.  It isn't the photos that usually get me, but some description of an event.  If it's written well, a mental image pops up that might inspire me.

Take Day Dreamer, for instance.  I got the idea from a diary entry written by a young girl at the turn of the Twentieth century.  (It was in the dark blue book above, next to Hometown U.S.A.)  In it, she talked about her chore twice a week of trimming the wicks and cleaning the soot from the chimneys of oil lamps.  I thought that might make an interesting little slice-of-life scene, so I noodled the small thumbnail sketch I show at the top of this page.  But there it sat for months until I stumbled upon an authentic dress from that time period at an antique store.  I knew my grand-daughter Paige would make an excellent model for the girl-- and in truth I wanted to use her in some kind of picture all along.  So after a posing session with her wearing the dress, and sitting at a table with some old oil lamps, Voila!  There it was.

The painting Daily Commute was a different animal entirely.

That one started as a simple car trip through Bowdoinham, Maine on a glorious summer day.  I was passing over the Cathance River and saw a train trestle that is actually still in use.  In my minds eye, I saw a group of kids playing and swimming in the water near the stone trestle as a train chugs by.  I thought it was a marvelous idea.  In fact, it was so good Thomas Eakins almost did it for me...

Okay, I thought, what else could be going on in the river?  For some reason, a river ferry came to mind.  Why, I don't know-- I hadn't been reading or looking at any photos of one.  But hey-- why not?  So, a ferry traversing the river while a train goes by.  Oh, and wouldn't it be cool if I showed someone- maybe in a horse and buggy- waiting on the shore?  And that's really the skinny on how I do it;  I just start thinking up scenarios as I go along.  After my brain-storming session, I started in with the thumbnails:

Basically, these are just short-hand to get my thoughts on paper.  I finally settled on this one:

I don't know about you, but I really try very hard to make as compelling an over-all design as I can.  I might have one idea or vantage point when I first come up with an idea, but I'll try several thumbnails to work out any possible alternative.  You may not like the one I chose, but it wasn't because I didn't think of anything else.

Now, all of those were done without any reference material.  So the next step was to find locations, research old photos, you name it, anything I could find to look at in order to make this idea come to life.

Here's a screen shot of my reference file for this painting:

And I still had plenty more.  You can see that I have a mixture of here and now, and way back then.  The here-and-now shots are of places up to fifty miles from my home.  But also notice-- I didn't copy any of these in the painting!

I use photo reference material for one reason:  To show me how something looks so that I can make an informed depiction of it.  I can imagine a tree, or a river or a plank fence.  But seeing the real thing gives me those little details that I probably would not have thought of otherwise.  So while the scene is imaginary, all of the elements in it are based on real things, just reverted back to my imagination to fit in with the scene.  Don't be afraid-- It makes sense to me...

After all of that comes the painting part.  See?  Nothing to it!

So now you know how it all comes about.  Currently, I'm in-between paintings.  But not to worry-- I think I may be coming up with an idea!

And so the process begins anew...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mine Doesn't Look Like That

Back before the dawn of time, you know-- when I was starting to paint-- finding contemporary art to look at wasn't that easy.  By "Contemporary" I mean stuff done by living artists, not necessarily a style. ( Of course, the interweb didn't exist-- heck, TV only had four channels.  And no remote!)  In search of art, one had to view art magazines like American Artist, or try to find art books in the library.  Going to art galleries was out of the question for a kid growing up out in the sticks like me, and museums weren't exactly located just down the road from me, either.  But when I did manage to look at art, one thought kept occurring to me:

My stuff doesn't look like that!

What I was seeing was work done by more modernist types, or if they showed realism, it was by artists at the top of their craft.  As a fledgling artist wannabee, it gave me pause, but also a conviction to get better.

Nowadays, of course, not only is it far easier to see art, it's almost inescapable.  Web sites, social media, along with tried and true print methods mean I can spend hours and hours looking at what's out there in art land.  What do I notice the most?

My stuff doesn't look like that!

To be perfectly honest, there are times when that thought keeps me up at night.  Usually when I've spent time looking at art gallery web sites. Like you, I check out galleries for a couple of reasons.  One, to view some good art and gauge how I stand with my stuff.  Second, to see if my work might fit in for future representation by that gallery.  What I see is almost always depressing.  Not that the work I see is so good, and mine is so bad (Although unfortunately, that's not all that rare...) But mine is... different. So I question if the gallery would be interested in my depiction of things.

Then again, there are times when I view my style and voice as a good thing.  After all, aren't we trying to be different?  Aren't we supposed to try and stand out from the crowd?  I remind me of the kid who shaves half his head, and dyes the other half ultra-violet, has a fire-breathing dragon tattoo scrawled on his neck, then has assorted pins and chains dangling from his eye-brow, nose and lip-- and complains when people look at him.  It isn't lost on me that my choice of subjects done in a realistic manner has been done to death.  So, isn't using my own voice in trying a different slant on the tried and true a sign of maturity as an artist?  So yeah,  there are times when I inwardly puff my chest out and say to myself with pride:

My stuff doesn't look like that!

Then, with renewed confidence in myself, I go back to looking at gallery websites.  And begin the cycle all over again...

Because isn't it a double edge sword?  If you paint like the crowd, why would any gallery notice you?  After all-- they already have what you do.  If you are going to paint scenes like everyone else, you better be tons better than the average artist.  And that, I am not.  But then again, human nature being what it is, some galleries want the tried and true.  Why risk it- especially in this economy? So, they probably won't look at anything new either.

Now, I will say right here that I am blessed to be with the galleries I am currently in.  They have exhibited a willingness to try something new by taking me on, and for that I am truly grateful.  And truth be told, I'm usually too busy painting my latest, or coming up with ideas for my next to stop and care about where I stand in the grand scheme of art.

So, what's one to do?  Put the blinders on and paint with the conviction that I am doing what I believe in.  And for those occasions when that nagging bit of doubt creeps in to make me stop and say, "My stuff doesn't look like that!"  I guess what I should do is smile and remind myself, "Yeah--

My stuff doesn't look like that!"