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.


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:

sugarjar - 1

sugarjar - 2

sugarjar - 3

sugarjar - 4

sugarjar - 5

And the final photo once again:


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.


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…


Plein Air Competition in Portsmouth

Ten or so months ago I was crouched beside the magazine racks at the Barnes and Noble when I plucked out Plein Air Magazine. I thumbed through the entire issue and read most of the articles until my bent knees and crunched toes told me it was time to stand up. Though I’d read most of it, I purchased the issue for its wonderful artwork. I figured they would make great references.

In Italy I painted en plein air almost every day, sometimes turning out two or three paintings. It was great fun and the ridiculous heat did little to staunch my enthusiasm. It’s possible I was energized simply because I was in a different country, for when I came back stateside I did little plein air painting. There was not motivation or incentive. On occasion I’d wander outside with my oils, but what little plein air work I did mostly came in the form of watercolor, pencil, and ink sketches.

My lacking personal experience with the harmony of the arts and the outdoors did not prevent me from marveling at the artists who call plein air paintings office work. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the painters I follow. I’ve watched video after video on Youtube of artists showing their processes. When I finally saw that the New Hampshire Art Association was holding a plein air competition, I signed right up. (Side Note: I commonly refer to the New Hampshire Art Association as NHAA, but it turns out that’s actually the New Hampshire Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m trying to avoid the abbreviation now so people don’t think I paint alcoholics or I’m an alcoholic painter.)

The seacoast is a haven for plein air painters and I knew it would be a tough competition. Still, I have a good amount of self-confidence and believe I’ve made substantial progress this last year. Though I have not been able to dedicate as much time to producing art as I’d like, I have made several museum trips and studied paintings intently. In the past I would just paint. Now I try to make decisions in my work.

I got to the New Hampshire Art Association’s State Street gallery a little past 7:20 am on Friday. Inside I was greeted by Lennie Mullaney and she signed me off the registration list. I was officially participating. We talked for a short while and I found out that I had seen her work several years before. She had been an MFA student at UNH while I was getting my undergrad. Her work had been displayed at the end of the year show. She has some absolutely lovely recent artwork focusing on bridges, houses, and ocean scenes around Portsmouth.

From the gallery I did a little fast walk sprint to Prescott Park to claim my spot. A couple days before I had scoped out the city with a camera, trying to decide on locations and subject matter. During my exploration I stumbled upon an almost surreal view of the Prescott Park gardens. It was as though the painting was already created and all I needed to do was copy it down. I had to paint it first.

The day before the start of the competition I had purchased a $5 umbrella from Five Below to keep the sun off my canvas. Though my setup was by far the least expensive and the most jerry-rigged of all the contestants’, it worked and that is all I needed.


For my last few paintings I have used burnt umber or burnt sienna toned canvases. There’s something intimidating about a completely white canvas and the tone diminishes that aspect while also contributing a base dark to work from. Additionally, with plein air painting the reds of the tone provide a nice complement to the greens of nature. Here you can see I also brought a level to avoid accidental tilts or skewed perspective.


A couple hours into the painting my parents showed up with some surprise drinks and snacks. They were on their way to Nova Scotia and wanted to say hello. For the next three days I chomped on the pretzel thins they brought.


While I worked on my painting the gardeners worked around me, pulling weeds and laying down loam. They’d told me early on that I may get wet when they turn the sprinklers on, but thankfully I was done before that happened. I may have been motivated to work fast because of that potential threat.

Prescott Park

Gardens at Prescott Park   8″x10″

Towards the end of the painting other artists began showing up and I directed a few towards the gallery. I had an older couple walk by and tell me that they’d seen quite a few of the other artists and that I was the youngest one, and the only male so far. Which wasn’t surprising. That’s been the reality of all of the classes and programs I’ve participated in. Only one other male student went on the Italy trip and in most of my undergrad classes I was one of three guys. Even in my English classes the proportions were female heavy. It’s great that love for the humanities and the arts is still very much alive, but it is kind of sad that I don’t have many same-age male artist friends to share experiences with.

I was satisfied with my first painting and ready to move on to the next one. I packed up and hiked out of the shade and into the heat. A couple blocks away I found another spot and plopped on down.


It was around noon at that point, with the sun directly overhead. It’s hard to paint at that time due to the lack of long, deep shadows. But I knew which way the sun was setting and figured I could get the painting started and wait for the shadows to come to me. So I sat in the sun and was shortly back in the shade as the sun creeped down to the west.IMG_3170

Telephone poles have a paradoxical beauty that fluctuates between the complex and the simple. There’s not much to them besides a pole, a transformer box or two, and wires, but the sheer number of wires can make them appear complicated. It’s this beauty that has me mesmerized. In the fall I did a two day paint of a cluster of telephone poles that really got me hooked. Since then I’ve found myself staring up and thinking of how to include them in more paintings. The competition was a perfect opportunity to see what I could do.


The view I chose for my second painting looked down into the heart of Strawberry Banke. The buildings I painted were hundreds of years old. Did the people who originally built them ever think that someone else would find their homes picturesque? I certainly love old colonials and I wonder if our current homes will ever be seen with as much interest and nostalgia.


By the time I’d blocked in the painting the sun had lowered enough that some interesting shadows were appearing. I quickly threw them in, knowing that they’d soon change.


Nest 8″x10″

Four hours in I was ready to call it done. My eyes had spent enough time on one subject and the light was changing to a point that I couldn’t continue. I later decided to call this painting Nest due to the tangle of wires that dominate the upper third. It was a fun view to paint and the American flags brought me back to my days working on my Bennington Flag painting Hammer to Fall.

All wrapped up I headed into the center of town to meet up with my girlfriend and paint her portrait at Market Square. Since the sun was disappearing and I only had her as a model for two hours, I hurriedly painted her in and saved the background for the next day.


Day two began with me waking up to torrential rain at 5:30 and deciding to hold off on painting for a bit. It lessened up in a couple hours and I drove through the showers into Portsmouth around 8:30. Amazingly it cleared up and the weather held off for the rest of the day. I can deal with overcast. I don’t exactly have an umbrella large enough to protect all my stuff from hard rain.

A short distance from my car I looked up at the telephone poles, saw the church steeple in the background, and found my spot. I’d told myself I wouldn’t paint the steeple because it was too generic. Everyone has photographed or painted it. But I felt the lines and poles added something new to it. Partway through the morning I met New Hampshire Art Association photographer Michael Sterling, who took the above photograph of me for the association’s Facebook page.


As the days and hours went by I took fewer progress pictures. I’d always remember to do it, then see something that needs to be fixed in my painting, postpone taking a photo, paint away, and then forget to take the photo. It was an endless cycle.


Overcast  12″x16″

This piece was my largest of the weekend by far at 12″x16″. It took me until four in the afternoon. I spent a solid chunk of time working out the composition, eventually going with a triangular approach with the tip of the steeple being the top of the triangle. There was a lot more I could have done, but like I mentioned earlier, I tend to tire of a subject if I spend too long on it. If the contest was a week long I would have let it sit for a day or two and then returned to it.

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square 9″x12″

With a few hours left of daylight I returned to Market Square and worked on the portrait of my girlfriend. It was a bit frustrating because I could not place myself in the original spot. Other people were sitting there. I was also battling a sore shoulder from holding a palette all day. I painted quickly and went home to a hot shower and some quesadillas.

IMG_3194Day three was crunch time. I only had until noon to work. Three pieces needed to be submitted at that time for jurying. I got into the city at seven, hiked a short ways, and found a spot without fuss. Despite all the preplanning and city exploration I did before the contest, I never used any of my pre-picked spots besides the first one in Prescott Park. I just walked and was fortunate to find subject matter quickly. It helps that the city is gorgeous.

11705612_1465958913704497_7893740499672882910_oTwo-thirds of the way through the morning I met another New Hampshire Art Association photographer: Bill Moore. We talked for a little while, he snapped the above picture, and him and his mustaches and smile went on their way.

To the Side

To the Side  11″x14″

With excitement and satisfaction I finished my final painting of the competition at eleven. I met my girlfriend at my car and she helped me carry my paintings to the gallery. I selected the three pieces with telephone poles: Nest, Overcast, and To the Side. I felt as though they would exhibit well together.


The competition was juried by Carol Aronson-Shore, a local artist who has done a lot of paintings of Portsmouth and Strawberry Banke. I did not get to meet her as it seemed she was not at the awards ceremony afterwards. Which I understand. No one wants to be confronted and questioned about their decisions and berated for making the wrong ones.

The final showing of all the pieces took place at three and I was happy to find that I had received an Honorable Mention for To the Side. There was certainly a part of me that was disappointed though. I had almost been expecting to place in the top three. I’ve always had a lot of self-confidence in my work. In undergrad classes I’d go around the room and look at everyone’s work and mentally try to calculate if I was one of the best students. I usually thought I was. That’s not to say I was cocky though. Simply, I am always proud of my work. This outlook has been beneficial and encouraged me to continue on with my art. I look back at my old paintings and drawings now and I question what I was thinking. Did I really think that was good art? But the self-confidence in the moment kept me going and so I continued to improve.
11728846_10153447834790903_7496215124281956325_oAfter the show was over I took a hard look at my paintings. I can see where I need to improve compositionally and more than that, I can see where I need to improve with color. When I first started painting I put varying color in every part of my paintings. It was very Impressionistic. Since then I have gravitated to a blockier, single color style. However, I need to find the happy median. There needs to be more color and variety in my work. Part of the problem is my earth tones palette and the fact that those pigments dry dark. I will have to take more time with my paintings and realize that the moment I feel done is the moment that real painting begins.

As a final note, all the paintings here are up for sale. I will eventually have a shop set up for prints and originals, but for now here are the prices:

Gardens at Prescott Park – $150

Nest – $250

Overcast – $400

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square – $200

To the Side – $300

If you would like to purchase one of the pieces, please email me at thewritingmann@gmail.com.


Pocket Sketchbook

One thing I took from reading An Illustrated Life is that a great way to improve as an artist is to carry a sketchbook everywhere. After finishing NaNoDrawMo I went out and bought a 4″x6″ pad just for that reason. It’s been great being able to draw whenever I see something that inspires me.

ScanWhen I went shopping with my girlfriend I had a few moments to draw one of the store’s mannequins. It was a little weird, but I suppose less weird than drawing actual shoppers. Mannequins are designed to accentuate the flow and form of clothing, making them ideal models to practice drawing movement.

Scan 1
We went to trivia on Monday and I ordered a glass of cider. It came in a pretty cool jar so I pumped out a sketch before trivia started. The reflections were hard to render in ink, but I think I did a fair job.

Scan 2On Thursday we watched the Bruins game at the local bar. Originally I wanted to draw all my friends around the table but I couldn’t get them all on the page without drawing quite small. Instead I focused on the tables and drink glasses and kept one friend in the frame.

I’ve been working on an oil painting these last few days and it should be done by next Sunday. It’s a new subject matter, so I’m excited to share it.


Four Artists to Follow on DeviantART

I’ve been on DeviantART since 2008. At first I only submitted poems and short stories. I was still in high school at the time, and I didn’t draw as much as I do now. For a long time I used the website to keep track of artists I liked. I’ve since transitioned from submitting literary works to submitting artwork, but I still use it to follow artists. I watch hundreds of painters, illustrators, stencilers, and photographers from around the world. Here are four artists I think deserve a little more attention:


Franco has a style that is reminiscent of Disney concept art. He works digitally, using soft brushes and bold shapes. I’ve been a Disney fan since I could walk and talk, so I am naturally drawn to his art.


Pink Lady

Thankfully, Franco is not merely a Disney school cutout. There is not always a storybook lesson attached to his illustrations. His works explore a range of subjects, people, and places.


Coddy and the…

There is plenty to ogle in each of Franco’s works and I often zoom in to see just how he worked out a particular finger, tree, or shirt sleeve.


Looking at the Sky

I’ve been following Franco for a while now and it’s been interesting to see how he develops. At first he was posting mostly single characters sans backdrops. Now he’s moved on to beautiful spreads that incorporate characters and backdrops seamlessly.


The Butterfly Collection of Mr. Emmerson

Franco updates often on DeviantART and can also be followed on his website.


Lois van Baarle goes by loish on DeviantART and is one of the first artists I started following on the site. She works digitally, mostly drawing portraits of women.

glow in the dark

Glow in the Dark

 A couple years ago when I was taking Intermediate Drawing I was talking to a fellow student about our favorite artists. After discussing a couple artists, the other student turned on her phone and said, “Hold on. I wanna show you someone I think you’re really going to like.” When I saw her phone screen turn the classic DeviantART green I asked “Are you looking for loish?” Turns out she was and we spent the next few minutes discussing van Baarle. I’m not sure this story has much of a point, but it’s something I always remember whenever I see a new van Baarle piece. I suppose it shows how art can unify people and spark discussion.



While van Baarle tends to focus on drawing long-haired women (she is truly great at painting hair), I enjoy more her pieces that explore large environments with muted palettes. She is great at using color harmony to evoke emotion.



Like Franco, van Baarle’s illustrations remind me of children’s books. But there’s a darker, more emotional quality in her works, as though her illustrations belong in a picture book for adults.



Lois van Baarle can also be followed on her website.


Francois Beauregard is an architect who posts both his real world drawings and his fantastical sketches to DeviantART.


Design Sketch for House #56

I’ve always been fascinated by architecture and it’s fun to follow an architect who is able to make his drawings become reality.


Original Design for a Hilltop Village

Beauregard’s drawings feel as though they’d be right at home in a fantasy novel or a video game’s loading screens.


Castle-Village Number Four

Every time Beauregard posts a new sketch I am reminded of the cross section books by Stephen Biesty that I used to read when I was little. Perhaps because they both draw medieval style buildings and perhaps because they both love to incorporate crazy detail.


Portrait of House Number 500

Francois Beauregard does not seem to have a permanent website besides DeviantART, but if you’d like to have your next house designed by him you can reach him by email: beauregard.francois@yahoo.com.


David Cheifetz goes by turningshadow on DeviantART, a name that evokes the image of a round object being rendered or described by the sculpting “turning” of a shadow across its surface. Quite the artistic name.



Cheifetz paints a variety of subjects. Portraits, cityscapes, and landscapes are all in his repertoire, but he really shines through his still life paintings.


The Spire

I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Cheifetz, particularly for this painting. He has an incredible eye for composition. Additionally, he plays around with techniques, creating paintings that analyze color, value, subject, and composition.


Value v. Color

Most of his paintings are done with a palette knife, though he also uses brushes. Cheifetz is one of my main inspirations due to his ability to live off his original artwork.



David Cheifetz can also be followed on his website. I highly suggest subscribing to his mailing list. He sends out biweekly updates that break apart his painting process step-by-step.


End of NanoDrawMo

The notebook my mom brought back from Italy is now full. Through the last minutes of November I sketched away on its toothy pages, pursuing my goal of 50 drawings. But when I got to the end of the notebook I only had 32 sketches. I ran out of paper and time. Still, I’m happy. Completing 32 sketches is better than doing none. (If you’re lost right now and don’t know what I’m talking about, go back a couple blog posts.)

I scanned all the drawings and combined them into one large picture in order to show my progression over the month.


After the 14th drawing I started to focus on the motion of the figures. I watched several Youtube drawing videos that emphasized the movement of the figure. Successful drawings embody movement, flowing in a specific direction. Having flow in a figure drawing is what gives it life and prevents it from becoming stiff. Since the notebook is a little larger than pocket-size, I had to work fairly small. You can see how cramped I was in the first few drawings. But I got used to it.

I’ve been drawing a lot and neglecting painting, but I think it will benefit me. Drawing forces me to focus on line, something I don’t normally think a whole lot about when I’m painting. When I go back to the canvas, I’ll definitely be using more line.

Here are all the individual drawings that weren’t uploaded in the last NaNoDrawMo post:




I love this pose. I’m gonna have to come back to it some other time and try to loosen it up. I think it would be better to have her arms follow a more exaggerated swooping, bowed line of movement.















Here you can really see the flow I was talking about. The whole figure curves out from top left and back down towards bottom left. The eye is forced to follow this movement.









Probably my favorite sketch of the whole lot. The forms of the body have a roundness to them that accentuates the sweeping motion of the body.


















I’ll definitely be doing NaNoDrawMo next year. It’s excellent practice. And because I spent so much time drawing on small sheets of paper, I went out and bought another small drawing pad for my chest pocket. That way I’ll always have a drawing pad to use when I’m out and about and have nothing to do.