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A Succulent, A Bridge, A Sketchbook Too

August is here! And my birthday has gone by and I’m officially 28! Very crazy that I’m just a couple years away from 30. I can’t believe it!

I’ve been doing a decent amount of painting recently. In particular I have been working on a landscape plein air painting of a pond down the road from my house. I’m three sessions and about 7 hours in. I think two more sessions should finish it up.

I also completed a tiny 5×5″ still-life painting of one of Sarah’s succulents.

I was initially inspired by the blooming stalk. It appeared early in the summer and so I brought the plant inside and set it up on a box and did a quick sketch. Loose and gestural, it was a good start to the painting.

Before my second session, I scraped down the entire panel to smooth the surface and remove thick blobs of paint. This gave the painting a weathered look that I enjoy. At the conclusion of this painting I realized I was going to have to do some editing. The flowering stalk was growing too long and I could not fit it in the composition.

Succulent
5×5″

In the final session I shortened the stalk and reddened the flower buds in order to provide a complementary contrast to the green body of the succulent. Working so small gave me the opportunity to really rework the surface in ways that I often neglect to in larger paintings.

Last Friday I began the painting of the pond and then feeling the plein air bug, I went out on Saturday to do a coastal painting.

I wound up at Hilton Park in Dover, NH. I’d never been before but it provides a great view of the Little Bay Bridge into Newington. It was also decently busy for a park that doesn’t allow you to swim. There’s an incredibly fast current that races beneath the bridge. I watched several fishing boats motor beyond the bridge, cast their lines, and then be swept down current in ten minutes and have to do it all again.

With so much blue to work with, I began by toning my entire canvas in ultramarine. The bridge was my eventual focus, but I spent the first half of the session fiddling with every other part of the painting. With that out of the way, then I could focus my attention on the play of lights and darks along the bridge’s beams.

I’m glad I started the bridge by putting in the darks and greys. This established the back side of the bridge and allowed me to easily drop the lights in.

Little Bay Bridge
10×20″

Before I called it quits, I went around the entire painting and tried to harmonize everything. I also reworked the water, trying to replace white tinted colors with saturated colors.

Finally, I did a sketchbook tour of my latest Moleskin. Check it out!

In the video I talk about all the paintings and artwork I’ve drawn inspiration from during my museum visits. I thought it would be interesting to post the originals below and provide a little commentary on each one.

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Portrait of a Lady in Pink
William Merritt Chase

I have wanted to do a large seated portrait for a while. So I am often drawn to those paintings. This one had me contemplating how to deal with so much pink.

Arrangement in Flesh Color and Brown
James McNeill Whistler

Whistler’s Symphony in White is one of my favorite paintings of all time and when I saw this painting, I instantly drew the connections. Simple and strong.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens II
Anders Zorn

I know Zorn is one of the greats, I just haven’t seen too much of his work. However, this etching caught my attention with its ability to convey shadow and light.

Lake O’Hara
John Singer Sargent

It’s Sargent. I think I stared at the logs in the foreground for ten minutes. It’s such a perfect scene. I want to paint sunken logs now.

Bust of an African Woman
Charles Henri Joseph Cordier

The hair, neck, and cloth combo on this bust is amazing. Very regal.

Portrait of Fräulein Maria Wüsthoff
Wilhelm Trübner

I really do like mono-colored portraits. I was most intrigued by the translucency of the dress around the neck and collarbone.

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Self-Portrait in Tuxedo
Max Beckmann

Though he looks like a blockhead, I love the way Beckmann organized his facial structure. And the five o’ clock shadow comes off nicely through his use of greys and greens.

Negro Soldier
Robert Smullyan Sloan

I was really stuck on this egg tempera painting. It’s so delicate and precise. It reminded me of a Northern Renaissance portrait.

The Yellow Dancers
Gino Severini

Though I tend to like paintings that are more realistic, I do love the way how the impression of the dancers is conveyed through simple shapes.

The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The woman in this painting has such an attitude that fits well with the title of the piece. Great facial expression.

Racehorses at Longchamp
Edgar Degas

I marveled at the horse legs in this painting. And then because it’s such a dark painting, I really appreciated the pops of color in the jockey jackets.

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover
James Jacques Joseph Tissot

The sheer amount of work that must’ve gone into this painting is incredible. There’s a great balance between looseness and exactness that is not conveyed well through this photograph.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Until next time, when I hope I have my pond painting finished.

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Mount Lafayette

Towards the end of break I hiked Mount Lafayette with a few friends. It took us a good portion of the day, but it was a decent temperature and sunny. Along the way I took a bunch of photos to practice my winter painting. It still hasn’t snowed too much here in southern New Hampshire and winter painting isn’t quite the same when all you’re doing is freezing and not painting snow.

Over the summer I tried to do a plein air painting in Kennebunkport, Maine, but time did not allow me to complete it. So I used it as an underpainting. You can still see the bumps and lines from the previous painting, which isn’t the greatest, but it’s a practice piece.

I spent two sessions on the piece for a total of about 3-4 hours. My goal was to test out atmospheric perspective with the mountains, but I think it reads a little better in person. The closer mountains got turned too green by the camera and lost their blues.

Hoping it snows soon so I can get out and paint a winter landscape for real.

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Winter Plein Air Painting

Merry Christmas! Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I usually start off these blog posts by mentioning how busy I’ve been and this one will be no exception. I have been working on applications for an MFA in Creative Writing. All my free time efforts have been going to that and so my art and this blog have unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

This year I promised I would have no grading to do over the holiday break. Somehow I managed to keep that promise. Which means I have been able to dedicate time to things I enjoy. Like reading. I’ve got so much reading to do. The last few years I’ve been steadily increasing the number of books I read, but I’m not going to reach my goal this year. Don Delillo’s Underworld absorbed too much of my time.

And since I’ve had some free time, I went outside for my first true winter plein air experience.

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Though we got hit with some back to back snowstorms a month or so ago, we’ve had little snow since, so the we wound up with quite a brown Christmas. Last year we got the opposite. We had a mini blizzard on Christmas day.

Snow is the main draw of winter plein air and without it I had to turn to the second best thing. Ice. It’s been cold enough for that at least.

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I drove a couple towns over to Durham and did some reminiscing as I went through the UNH campus. They’ve added some large buildings since I graduated, but it still feels like home. I parked at Durham Landing and walked along the Oyster River until I found a spot that intrigued me. I was very excited. The view offered rocks, ice, and flowing water. I’m thinking of doing quite a few studies of that spot as the winter progresses. When the snow comes, I’m sure it will be beautiful. Maybe one of my New Year’s resolutions should be to turn those studies into a larger painting. Man I should’ve jumped on the Michael’s Black Friday deal and bought the 5 foot canvas for $33. 

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I wanted to try a new palette because my last few plein air paintings have felt too consistent. Maybe that’s not the right word. Basically, I want to try to vary my color. 

I dug through a box of my unused paints (ones that my mom gave me or came free with orders from Dick Blick) and found some interesting options. I settled on: Sap Green, Transparent Oxide-Red Lake, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Old Holland Yellow Light, Permalba White, Torrit Grey, and Ivory Black. Using the Yellow Light as my white, my hope was that everything would be a little dulled down since it is an off-white color. Then at the end I could come in with the Permalba White and make the lights pop. I especially wanted to try this strategy on the snow. 

But I waited too long and the Permalba White froze and wouldn’t come out of its tube. Which is fine, but definitely disappointing. I learned a few things from this session that I will carry forward to the next. Like: bring a lighter so that you can warm up the ends of the paints and get the caps off easily. Had to use my teeth. Which is something my dentist dad probably doesn’t want to hear. Also, getting carcinogens anywhere near my permeable membranes is not usually on my to do list. 

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The block in stage was quite enjoyable. Time has flown by and I definitely missed painting. I even talked to myself as I worked, getting hyped for my decisions. That’s not weird. Promise. But as the day went, I got colder and colder. It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun and I was in the shade. My feet and toes got the worst of it. The rest of my body was fine. Even with both gloves and mittens on, my fingers turned red. The problem is that the palette hand simply stays in one position the entire time and the painting hand needs to be mostly free for mobility. 

Some hand and toe warmers will fix those issues I think. And if not, well we’ll see how much I paint outdoors this winter and if it warrants getting some nice winter boots. I’m planning on doing a lot of hiking this winter as well, so perhaps boots would be a good investment. 

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Though I didn’t include the bridge in this study, I’m planning on adding it in the next. With the bridge in view, I believe the shadows and light will make more sense.

I’m thinking each study will examine different perspectives of this view and also try different palettes. Then I can use them to rough in a large canvas before bringing it on location. 

I’ve been searching for videos that go over plein air painting rivers, but have found few resources. If anyone has some suggestions, please send them my way!

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I was listening to Steve Atkinson talk about plein air painting yesterday and he said that honest painters will admit they fail all the time. It’s part of the learning process. I’m not saying this study was a complete failure, but it sure did challenge me on many levels. Looking at the painting now, I can see that I lost the organization of my values. Everything seems to be all mushed together and there’s little separation between the different planes of the picture. Definitely something to keep in mind next time. That said, I believe this study reads the best from afar. So go ahead and take a few steps back from the screen. Does it come together? Is it easier to understand the relationships of the shapes? If not, I think the on-site photo does a good job of distancing the painting. 

I’m considering it a decent success and I’m excited to go back and do another.

See you next time!

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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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The Energy in a Sugar Jar

Summer is here. It doesn’t feel real. A couple weeks ago I graduated with my M.Ed. and now my internship will be done in a week. It’s hard to believe I’ll be teaching in a few months and being paid to do it. Really the reason it feels weird is because I’ve been so busy with work. I was able to get a little reading done in my free time, but my art progress slowed. Occasionally I got to paint. And because I wasn’t able to devote large blocks of time to making art, it to took me several months to finish one painting.

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Sugar Jar

9″ x 12″

I started this painting right after I finished my Blue Winter Self-Portrait. I was inspired by the color variety I was able to explore in the shadows. Hopefully the pinecones are still readable as pinecones. Here are the progress photos:

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And the final photo once again:

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I’ve been finding and following a bunch of artists lately. Many of them have mentioned the difficulty of taking the energy present at the beginning of the painting and maintaining it until the end. I loved the looseness and playfulness of the self-portrait and wanted to replicate it. I did bring an energy into this still-life but I’m not sure I carried it through. I think I got caught up too much in the exactness of the sugar jar. Edges are my new focus. I have a feeling the movement and energy of a painting can die there.

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Week Old Cupcake

We had a friend over for food about a week ago and she left a cupcake for me, but I wound up not eating it. I forgot about it, honestly. Before bed that night I told myself to take it in the morning to work and then four days later I realized it was still on the counter and the icing was hard and the cake was starting to sag to one side. While I’d lost a chance to eat it, I’d gained an opportunity to paint.

Gouache Cupcake

Tilted Cupcake, 8″ x 5,” Gouache

I started sketching the dessert at the kitchen table this morning. The sun eventually moved and I was forced out onto our porch to chase my light. I set up at an old painting table surrounded by freshly potted plants. Still the sun was moving fast and I had to constantly push the cupcake back into the moving light. After a couple hours I wound up with the above sketch.

I’ve been having trouble retaining the lights in my gouache paintings. With that in mind, I purposefully started working in the midtones and shadows without touching the lit side of the cupcake. I follow Benjamin Bjorklund on Facebook and he’s posted a lot of interesting watercolor paintings lately, so I tried to keep his technique in mind as I worked. Not to say I was as successful as him, but I turned out a pretty decent sketch I think. Still not entirely comfortable with gouache. Nothing seems to beat the opacity oils can give me in the lights. Which reminds me that I need to return to that oil painting I let sit a couple months ago…

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Tulips and Portrait

Last weekend I was transitioning from April vacation into the last work-heavy week of my internship. I needed a breather. An unbelievable amount of my free time had already been spent doing projects. Though I suppose since the work needed to be done, it really wasn’t my free time to begin with. Anyway, I took the weekend to do a little gouache painting.

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Self-Portrait in Gouache, 8″x 5,” Gouache

On the 30th we were waiting to go for some beer tastings and I decided to paint a self-portrait. The end result came out pretty decent. Even though gouache is opaque compared to regular watercolors, it still does not have the ability to reclaim lights and highlights as well as oils. Therefore, I always struggle going too dark too early. Here I used the white liberally to dig into the tan tones and pull out some light. Despite those struggles, I think the portrait came out well. The forehead needs to be a little warmer, but it was only a 90 minute sketch.

The next day we went to a tulip farm down in Rhode Island.

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Wicked Tulips, 8″x 5,” Gouache

It was beautiful but gray that day. I set up on the far end of the pick-your-own field and painted the farm buildings and the flowers together. I only had forty-five minutes or so to work and I’d love to go back and paint with oils for several hours on a sunny day. The sketch was fun though and I like the contrast between the bold, saturated colors in the foreground and the grays and browns of the background.

Got all my internship work finished, so I should be able to turn my attention back to art again! Just gotta apply for some jobs first!