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The Onion Chronicles

We keep our onions in a box and safe from the mice. The mice are all dead now. We trapped them in the early days of spring. But still we keep out one trap (just in case). And still we keep our onions in a box. Some nights they stay out on the counter. And some times they spend weeks in the dark cabinet sitting atop my boxes of homebrew. In that darkness they grow and sprout green and white shoots. We can no longer cook with them, but they’re perfect for painting.

A month and a half ago I found two of these onion sprouts and pulled them from their box and placed them on the dinner table in the warm window light. They needed to be painted. I chopped up an old cardboard box to craft a makeshift backdrop. And going back to the way I painted a few years ago, I sketched out the onions in pencil on an 8×10″ panel and then inked over the pencil with a Sharpie.

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In the first session of painting, I focused on covering all of the white. Now that summer is approaching and I’ll be doing more painting, I must spend some time prepping panels with washes of color. That way I won’t have to worry about white spots peeking through.

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Originally I tried to match the background colors with the actual color of the cardboard backdrop, but quickly gave that up. I focused more on incorporating purples and yellows to match the onions. Eventually this lead to what my college professors would call a “meaty” background.

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Once the entire surface was covered I really honed in on the front onion. I wanted to render the peeling skin.

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Unfortunately, because I took too long between painting sessions, the background onion began to rot and dissolve. I had to change the painting around and wound up not being able to put as much time into it as the foreground onion. Still, it came out decent. It makes me want to do some more vegetable paintings this summer.

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A Portrait of a Friend

Last year I started my first teaching job. I met Matt a couple weeks before school began at a faculty party. I’m not a particularly extroverted guy and I was keeping mostly quiet as my girlfriend talked to some of the other teachers. I remember Matt saying, “I like that you’re quiet. I think we’ll get along well.” I wasn’t too sure of what to make of the comment at the time and it took a couple more months of knowing him to figure out it had probably been sincere.

Several months into the year I began stopping by Matt’s room in the morning before the kids got in. The rest of the building would be dark and he’d be there with an energy drink or coffee in hand, staring into his computer and planning out a lesson. Sometimes we talked about teaching, sometimes we talked about writing, sometimes we just talked.

Over the summer Matt and I started a two person book club. He’d always wanted to read Underworld by Don DeLillo, so we picked up two copies and met every couple of weeks at a Starbucks to talk about DeLillo’s genius lines. The book is massive and we made slow and steady progress. Eventually school started back up and we had less time to read. But at least we got to hang out in those quiet morning hours again.

On December 10, 2017, Matt passed away. I remember every moment of that day. To recover, I took the next day off and spent some time writing and thinking. Matt was a musician and loved being creative. I’m not a musician, but I decided I would honor him with a painting. Below is the step-by-step process.

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The painting is 8 x 10″. I worked on it off and on for a couple months. It’s not perfect, but it was time spent with Matt.

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Holiday Update

I’m brewing beer on the kitchen stove and it smells wonderful. It’s my third batch and I think I’ve found a new hobby. As I’m bringing the wort to a boil, it’s time to update the blog with the art I’ve been working on over the past couple months.

Early in the fall I went down to Newbury Street in Boston with my parents and Sarah. We were walking around and looking for a place to eat when I decided to stop in one of the art galleries. Since taking the painting class with the Pulidos in 2013 (gosh it’s been over four years) I have been looking for their art in Boston. I knew they showed in one of the galleries and I finally found them.

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I really enjoyed Shirley Pulido’s small painting above. There was not much information provided, but my mother and I could easily identify Numael in the background. So we assumed that is Shirley at the table. The style of the painting is loose and blocky and I love its contrast to Numael’s refined and smooth style.

I apologize for the bad photos here. I was a little nervous the gallery attendant would yell at me for taking pictures.

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The gallery was having a competition and Numael Pulido’s above painting won first place. It’s such a wonderfully constructed painting. While I’m not usually one for smoothed features, Numael’s paintings always balance smoothness with firmer brushstrokes. My favorite sections are the crossed forearms and face. It makes me want to do two things.

  1. Take another class with the Pulidos.
  2. Practice portrait painting this coming year. Sarah and I are moving into a new apartment and there are going to be bare walls, so why not cover them?

Anyway, it’s time to move on to the work that I’ve done.

Around Halloween I went out and bought a bunch of gourds and set up a still life in the spare bedroom. Due to space constraints I kept the gourds pretty small but that didn’t stop me from finding some great variety.

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I set a drawing board down flat on top of some wire shelving and that served as the base surface. Then I popped off a wooden tray from my art cart (yes, Mom I know it’s your art cart) and used that as a second level to give the still life height. Above you can see the setup along with my burnt umber block in. In the background, right above the easel, you can see the bottom portion of a painting by Sarah’s brother, Matthew Pearsall. Find his art on his Instagram.

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After the initial sketch, I put in some color. I was thinking about Van Gogh and Cezanne at this point. The blue shadows and complementary colors felt like Van Gogh and the firm outlines on the gourds reminded me of Cezanne. I really loved the simplicity at this point of the painting.

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Next I went through and worked a couple gourds at a time. i didn’t want to focus on one gourd and lose the fluidity of the painting, therefore I picked two and painted them and the area between them and around them. The first two I picked were the red and green gourds on the upper level.

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The shape was hard to get on the green gourd and it wasn’t until later that I realized it all depended on the placement of the brown bellybutton (stump? base?).

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Above is a zoomed out view after working on the red and green gourds.

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I moved to the bottom two gourds afterwards and had fun playing with oranges, yellows, and greens. It never fails to interest me how darker yellows turn green.

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The final painting was finalized when I went to paint one day and some of the gourds were rotting. Still, I think I reached a good completion point. The black gourd was especially fun to work on. Though it was also challenging. Its pitted stem brought good variety to the painting.

I struggled with keeping my painting and palette lit throughout the painting, so afterwards I bought a clip on lamp. It helped with the next paining.

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Halloween and Thanksgiving went and it grew close to Christmas and I was not sure what I wanted to give Sarah’s parents. I knew I was giving her dad some homebrewed beer (also, finished my beer and now it’s the next day and it’s fermenting away in my closet) but I wasn’t too sure what to give her mother. A couple weeks before Christmas weekend I decided I would do a painting for them both. Her mom likes pear paintings, so I had my subject matter. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of papers to grade for school and I was unable to get time to paint until the day before we went up to their house. Because of how wet the paint was, the above photo has a bit of a glare. I will get a better photo next time I’m up at their house.

I set up my GoPro on timelapse to film the painting, but when I viewed the footage afterwards I found that the camera had refocused on every shot and thus the video was jarring. Next time I will have to do a full video.

Finally, here is another presidential sketch that I almost forgot to include.

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New School Year

School is back in session. The past three weeks have been pretty hectic and I’ve barely had any time to draw, paint, or write. Hopefully these two paintings will hold y’all over until I have more free time.

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Now that I think about it, I’ve been working on and off again on the above painting for the past ten months. Whenever I felt an urge to paint, I sat down and focused on a particular section of the still life (which has been collecting dust in the corner of our spare bedroom). It’s not the most cohesive painting but I’ve been using it as practice. It kept my painter’s brain exercise over the winter so I wasn’t rusty when summer came and I was back outside to paint. Though it’s a sketch and I’ll likely never finish it, I thought I’d post it because it’s unique in that it shows a painting in flux. Some of my favorite paintings in museums are unfinished works. They have more energy. And they also show how the artist worked. Here you can see how I struggled with the jar on the left and resorted to redrawing it several times, which has left a blue outline around the entire thing. You can also see how I didn’t spend us much time on the black and gold vase or the orange box. They just didn’t interest me as much as the left side of the painting.

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On Labor Day I had some time and I decided to paint my girlfriend’s new succulents. I had to work quick in the dying sunlight. I was able to work for about 2.5 hours. Originally I wanted to focus solely on the pyramid succulent planter, but I decided to include the entire window space, including the glass table beneath the planter, the curtain, and the hanging plant. It was fun to push my colors away from earthy tones and towards purples and pinks.

That’s it for tonight. Hopefully I’ll sneak in a few more plein air paintings before it grows too cold.

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Wet Paint Out Weekend 2017

Today is my birthday! I’m sitting in the local Barnes & Noble sipping at an iced coffee and organizing photos of my art. Still recovering from a year of not updating social media. And to make matters worse, I just spent the last few days painting like crazy. I guess that doesn’t really make things worse, but it does mean I have even more to organize. And tomorrow is a plein air meetup day and figure drawing night. At least I’m taking advantage of the summer.

Over the weekend the New Hampshire Art Association had its annual Portsmouth plein air competition: Wet Paint Out Weekend. This was my third year participating. Still can’t believe that. In 2015, when I first participated, I had only done plein air painting a handful of times. I did it in Italy during my study abroad semester and I did it a couple times in the weeks before the competition in order to practice. Now three years later I’ve done quite a bit of plein air painting. I’d say I usually go 10-15 times a summer. Looking back on my previous years I can definitely see the improvement. Maybe in a couple of months, when I have a lull in productivity, I’ll do a retrospective.

Last year I was unable to take full advantage of the three days of the competition due to my job. This year I made sure to get into Portsmouth every day between 7 and 8 and I didn’t leave before 5. I’m still recovering physically. It’s odd how tasking standing in the sun can be. Even when I was in the shade I was constantly moving on my feet. I went to bed every night with a loud sigh as my muscles and bones relaxed.

On Friday I began in beautiful Prescott Park.

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About an hour into my painting one of the gardeners came over and told me that they were about to water the flowers and I would get drenched if I remained. It was already incredibly hot out and I weighted the pros and cons and decided I’d sit out for the 45 minutes it would take to water. While I waited I did a pen and ink sketch of another section of the garden. I’m thinking that as I finish up my sketchbooks I’ll do sketchbook tour videos so that I don’t bog down the blog with a bunch of tiny drawings. I’ve been watching different sketchbook tours on youtube and they offer interesting behind the scene views of the artistic process. I find the mistakes and failures just as intriguing as the successes.

Anyway, the above painting took about four hours and offers a cross garden view towards the entry gate. I’ve been thinking more consciously about composition while plein air painting and for this weekend I was specifically focusing on making my paintings contain some sort of window or frame device. So in this painting I used the dark foreground frame of the flowers and trees to create a doorway or window in the distance where the viewer can see a square of sky coming through.

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In the afternoon I walked into town and began painting the buildings. The last two years I spent most of my time doing cityscapes and as I worked this year I realized that I am growing tired of painting the red brick. I’ve just done it too much. The painting didn’t turn out too bad, but I wasn’t excited by it. I spent a few hours on it and called it the end of the day.

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Saturday I woke up and it was muggy and sunny and I wanted to take advantage of the nice lighting so I walked past Prescott Park and headed towards Peirce Island. Yes, it’s spelled peirce not pierce. Across from Peirce Island is Four Tree Island and I set up on the walkway out. As I blocked in the basic shapes the clouds rolled in and the day became gray. It stayed that way all morning long.

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I think the final painting does a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of the morning. Again, I used the foreground to create a frame for the background. I also used the snaking water to lead the viewers eyes to the bridge.

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In the afternoon I settled back into Prescott Park and did a small painting. I popped my easel down right next to the flowers and tried a top down view. I was thinking of Cezanne’s close up still lifes as I worked. The painting turned out quite abstract and challenged me to mix a variety of greens, which is something I really struggled with in my early plein air paintings.

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Sunday was the final day of the competition and I had until noon to work and then submissions were due. It was a cold and windy morning. I wandered for a little bit and decided I would try another bridge painting since the early morning light was bouncing some nice greens and blues off the steel. As I wandered I walked behind another artist’s van and knew that was what I needed to paint. The back of the van was glowing and I wanted to try to capture its contrast with the surroundings.

I think the final painting is interesting but not the best compositionally. I’m not a fan of the way the trees in the background run into the van and I don’t think I quite captured the entirety of the van’s glow. But because of how cold it was in the wind I finished fast and then went off to submit.

I walked around with my family and my girlfriend and her brother (who also participated in the competition) and we got some food and waited for the final results.

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I wound up winning an Honorable Mention for the painting I did that morning! That makes it the third year in a row with an Honorable Mention! Not too shabby I suppose. I keep thinking it would be nice to actually place, but I can’t complain too much. If I’ve been noteworthy to three different jurors I must be doing something right.

Alright, I’m on my second coffee and I’ve been here at Barnes & Noble for a while and I’m starting to get hungry. Time to get birthday pizza or something.

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A Year Gone By

It’s been basically a year since I last posted. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been painting or drawing though. I managed to squeeze in a few things. So here, let me walk you quickly through everything that’s happened since last summer.

If you follow my Facebook page then you probably saw me post some progress shots of a self-portrait. Well, I finally finished it.
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I wanted to create a portrait that was earthy and gave me practice with my reds and skin tones.

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I took a reference photo and made my life a little difficult with the angle of my head. It’s slightly cocked and it was difficult making sure everything worked to properly show that angle.

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You can see in these early shots how my glasses are ridiculously askew.

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I went too detailed with the face from the beginning and should’ve spent more time focusing on proportions before worrying about tone variations.

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I enjoyed painting the checkered shirt and mixing up the differences in values between the lit and the dark sides.

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The hat was the thing that gave me the most trouble at the end. It’s a straw hat but I didn’t want to put too much detail into it and take away from the focus of the face.

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Here’s the final version. I’m gonna have to retake this photo due to glare.

It took me a few months to finish the portrait working on it off and on when I got a little time. While I was working on that at home I was out doing plein air painting as well. When my friend invited a bunch of us to Star Island for his proposal to his girlfriend I went early and spent the morning painting the buildings on the island.

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The annual plein air competition hosted by the New Hampshire Art Association came up shortly after and I spent the whole weekend running around Portsmouth painting buildings.

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This first painting is of the main downtown area. I got halfway through it and wasn’t happy with the way it was turning out. I used it as a learning experience and moved on to a different location.

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I moved down one of the side streets and decided to paint the cars parked in front of all the old buildings.

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I painted it over the course of two mornings and I feel like I did a good job of capturing that early light. My favorite part of the painting is the right side where I experimented with different greens for two trees leaning out over the sidewalk.

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For my last painting of the competition, I went to the residential area and painted a house. While I was working the owners came out and were kind enough to talk to me about their house and even offered me the opportunity to come and paint their backyard garden whenever I wanted.

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I finished the house up and had just a few minutes to spare before the deadline. There is one more painting I haven’t included here, because almost a year later I sold it and forgot to photograph it first. It was the painting I won an honorable mention for. I’ll see if I can get a photo from the owners.

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After the competition I continued painting outside and spent one weekday in Newburyport painting a junk heap.

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There it is in the background in all its glory.

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I particularly enjoyed the jumble of this painting and having to pick out what shapes to paint.

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Later that summer I joined a plein air group to paint the tall ship that had docked in Portsmouth.

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I was playing around with a new canvas board and the painting came out very soft. Again, I will try to get a better quality photo.

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There she is!

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At the tail end of last summer I joined my friends for a beach trip and painted the coastline of Hampton. Just a quick sketch and study of the rocks. I was trying to be as simple as possible with my shapes.

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During the winter I went with my girlfriend to Boston and while she went to the Museum of Science with a friend I went over to the Museum of Fine Arts and found a sculpture to draw. It was Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii by Randolph Rogers.

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In the spring I had a booth at an art show in Exeter alongside my girlfriend’s brother. We both wound up selling a good amount! It was a positive experience though a lot of work. While at the show I painted a small rose bush I’d bought.

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Finally, last Wednesday I returned to joining the plein air group. I met them at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth and painted an old boat lying beside a house. I really focused on composition in this painting. I attempted to use the darks of the foreground to frame the lights of the background. I think it was decently successful.

That’s all for now. I have a couple other things to share from my sketchbooks, but I’m pressed for time. Tonight I’m going down to Lowell for an open figure drawing session. Hopefully now that my first year of teaching is out of the way I can be more consistent with this blog.

Oh! I’ve also made some more cheese recently. I’ll have to post about that. And my trips to Paris and NYC. Guess I still have a lot more to write about. Stay tuned.

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The Muted Tones of Cupcakes

The cupcake in today’s painting lasted over a month in my still life set-up. Yeah, that’s a little gross to think about. But it was great for my art. I first painted it in gouache for Tilted Cupcake and noticed it was still holding up, so I put it together with a coffee mug. I wanted to focus on the purples and pinks while keeping everything fairly muted.

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I started with a blue-gray background and tried to keep the colors tonally similar to that starting gray. From there I was able to deviate into darks and lights.

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I spent a good amount of time rendering the cupcake and its frosting swirls. It became the basis for my lights. Nothing could be brighter than it.

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Muted Cupcake

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With the cupcake started I could branch out tonally and with color. My goal was variety from that point on. I introduced complementary colors into the shadows. You’ll notice that the perspective is also from my other still-life set-ups and that was because this was my last one before I moved. I wanted to try something new before I had to put together a new studio space.