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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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Midsummer Days

Summer is in full swing and that means a few things:
1. No kids. No teaching. So no need to shave, right?
2. Beach time.
3. Writing time.
4. Painting time.
5. Blogging time.

I’ve been dedicating most of my time this summer towards writing. In the fall I’m attending University of New Orleans’ online MFA Creative Writing program. Since I’ll be teaching at the same time, I want to make sure I have enough material prepared. I’ve been able to squeeze in art time as well, but it’s been mostly dedicated to filling out my sketchbook. It’s almost done, so a video tour will be coming out soon.

Last time I posted it was winter. And I still have two winter paintings to share before we get to the summer works.

After hiking Mount Lafayette, I hike Mount Cabot with my friend Mike. Cabot is the most northern 4,000 footer in NH. Here’s a picture of me at the top:

I’m sporting the hat I bought in Peru last summer. It’s perfect for winter hiking because it lets out just enough heat to prevent me from getting too sweaty.

The trees were absolutely covered in snow and frost when we were there and it was inspirational. I wanted to try my hand at painting the range of whites and regretted not even having a sketchbook. I took some photos and decided I would work on something at home.

The view above was what I settled on. I told myself to not get lost in the complexity and then did a sketch to work out the values and focus.

Cabot in White
9×12″

I only worked for a couple hours on the sketch and then put it aside with the intention of returning to it. I never did. Looking at it now, I’m actually very pleased with the result. I think it reads well, though it does look a little too illustrative, like it’s a still from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The reason I never returned to the sketch was because I moved on to doing a painting of my friend Dave at the top of Lafayette.

The block in was fun and I tried to maintain the looseness throughout the entire piece. My biggest struggle was separating the foreground from the background.

I spent too much time working on the jacket. It was fun to mix the oranges. In this second stage I adjusted his head and tried to make the foreground more cohesive.

King of Lafayette
9×12″

I’m happy with the final. I’m not the happiest with the photo, but I’m really limited with studio space at our current place. It is what it is. Let’s get to the summer.

Sarah and I spent the summer up at her parents’ place in Kennebunk. On the Fourth of July we went down to Mother’s Beach and spent a few hours in the sun. I forgot my umbrella so I slathered up in sunscreen and perched myself on the rocks to get a good view.

Because of the direct sun, I wasn’t able to judge the color perfectly. That’s why I have an umbrella usually. Yes, it helps keep the sun off me too, but mostly it helps me judge what the painting would look like indoors. That said, my colors came out a little too earthy, meaty, and dark.

By the end of the session, the tide had retreated quite a bit. This was a drastic change from the start when I had the water lapping at my toes.

Fortunately, we stayed up in Maine for a few days. The next day we went back to the beach and I set up shop once again.

Mother’s Beach on the Fourth
9×12″

My goal for the second session was to add a little more vibrancy through saturation. I tried to avoid including too much white in my mixtures. Still, I was working without an umbrella. I fiddled with waves for most of the time, not sure how to properly convey them. Several times I just stood and watched the waves and made mental notes. I still don’t think I got them right. Water continues to give my the most trouble in plein air paintings.

I did have fun with the figures. I kept them to simple and quick brushstrokes. Sarah makes an appearance twice. She’s floating with her cousin in the tubes on the left and then she’s seated next to the wall on the right.

I also managed to get in some sketches over the weekend. I’ll save those for the video, but for a sneak peek, here’s a look at the sketch I did last week at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI.

That pencil sketch took me about fifteen minutes. I was with my parents, so I did not want to hog all the time doing drawings. After the museum, we walked around Brown and Providence and I bought a bunch of 4×4″ and 5×5″ panels at the RISD store. This morning I got a chance to try them out.

After a little exploring on Google Maps, I decided I would go visit the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth. It is the historic home of colonial governor Benning Wentworth and was built by combining several buildings together. This is why it has such a varied and unique appearance. I love the angles. And though I went expecting to paint the water and islands around it, I quickly decided it was the more interesting subject matter.

I walked around for a few minutes, concerned I was going to be thrown off the property. The signs said the grounds were open, but I was the only visitor at 10 am.

I realized I would have to stand in direct sunlight in order to get a good perspective. The sun would be at my neck, but it would be worth it. I went back to my car, gathered my supplies, and returned.

It was nice to have an umbrella again! I took time to sketch out the entire building on the tiny 5×5″ panel and then quickly blocked in the colors.

Above you can see how small the panel was on my easel.

When I’m painting, I often only use one brush at a time. It’s not the most effective method. Many painters keep a brush for each of the colors they’re working with. I gave that a go and dedicated specific green, blue, red, and yellow brushes. I feel that this simplified my process and kept the painting fairly unified.

I wrapped the painting up in about ninety minutes, spending the majority of the time working on color variety and value.

Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion
5×5″

It’s not perfect, but it’s my favorite plein air painting in a while. I’m definitely going to do more in this size in the next week or so. They’re quick and allow me to concentrate my efforts on my weaknesses.

Before I left I snagged a photo of the water and islands that the mansion looks out over. Tomorrow I go on a Boston museum trip with my mother!

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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 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

8″ x 8″

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.

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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.