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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!

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Peabody Essex, Neptune, and a Sold Painting

A couple weekends ago we traveled down to Salem, MA and went to the Peabody Essex Museum. I’d never been inside, but a little less than two years ago we were in town for a variety of activities (ghost tours, boat tours, house tours!) and we walked past the museum a few times. I’ve wanted to visit since then.

Sarah and I met up with my parents at the museum. We had few expectations. We just wanted to see what was inside. While buying tickets for general admission, the Yin Yu Tang Chinese House, and several local colonial house tours our admissions man found out that there were no more tickets for the house tour he’d promised us. He felt bad for misleading us, even though it was no setback, and he gave us all free tickets for Yin Yu Tang. We hustled over there to catch the next tour.

Yin Yu Tang is an 18th century Chinese house that was imported bit-by-bit to Salem and reconstructed at the Peabody Essex. It is breath-taking. Now I know superlatives and exclamations are overused, but not when applied to this house. This is a building heavy with history from a culture I have little experience with. I stepped through the front door into the courtyard and it was impossible to know Salem was outside. It was total immersion. I listened to all the stops on the audio tour. Even if we had seen nothing else that day, Yin Yu Tang was worth the trip.

After seeing the Chinese house we explored the rest of the museum and wound up at the special exhibit on Thomas Hart Benton. Here are a few of my favorites from that exhibit:

Self-portrait with Rita

Self-Portrait with Rita

Negro Soldier

Negro Soldier

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The Kentuckian

Benton was strongly connected to Hollywood, producing posters for many films throughout his life. He also created many pieces of anti-Axis propaganda during WWII. He liked social commentary for sure.

It’s hard to see how visceral and strong his style is from these photos. From his first paintings I knew I’d found a new inspiration. His figures just pop. They’re muscular and sculptural. Comparing his paintings to the photos I’m reminded of my first time seeing van Gogh’s work in person. Five or six years ago I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and was really overcome by his paintings. The posters I’d seen in art class didn’t hold up to the real thing. There’s so much life in every van Gogh brushstroke. While not done with as much impasto as van Gogh’s, Benton’s brushwork evokes the same sort of feelings.

I’ve been thinking about Benton off and on and the power of his figures. And perhaps subconsciously that came into play when I chose a subject for my plein air painting this Wednesday.

I went to Prescott Park to meet with the NH Art Association, though I didn’t see most of the other painters as they were on the other side of the park in the gardens. I was posted up in front of the Charles Hovey Fountain, which depicts a young Neptune catching a fish.

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I was umbrella-less that day, having accidentally left it at home, and when the sun peeked over the trees I had to end the session. I couldn’t see the canvas and my neck was melting. When I came back on Thursday the park was covered in a dense fog. This changed the lighting slightly, but surprisingly not too much. Though the highlights were not as strong on the figure I could exaggerate them in my painting to match the previous day.

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Neptune’s Catch   9″ x 12″

My favorite part of working on this painting was the pedestal. On the first day I had painted everything below Neptune that dark green color  When I finally worked on the pedestal on the second day I simply cut out its shape by painting the water lighter around it. Then I added a few shadows and highlights. It left the pedestal loose and impressionistic.

I wish I could’ve spent more time working on the background. I was held back. After two paint throughs of Neptune I realized I’d made his head too big and that was throwing the perspective off. I had to chop his head almost in half and repaint the whole face. That was a bit of work.

While I was working I talked to a man who told me the rod Neptune holds is a trident and that the triple-pronged end was stolen several times.They kept replacing it until they submitted to the thieves and just left it off.

On the first day, Wednesday, I was walking back to my car when I caught a good view of an old colonial on Court St. I set up in the shade of a tree and hashed out a quick 5″ x 7″.

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Two thirds of the way through the painting I met a nice woman who expressed a great interest in the piece. We agreed on a price and exchanged info. I delivered it the next day!

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Mustard    5″ x 7″

I almost forgot to snap a photo before I delivered the piece. This one was a little rushed and doesn’t show the depth of the yellow on the right.

I enjoy painting 5″ x 7″s a great deal and I’m contemplating building a body of fifty or so of them and then renting a booth at a large art or craft show.

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The Trestle at Bedrock Gardens

A short ride from my apartment is the expansive and unique Bedrock Gardens. I met several artists from the NH Art Association there for a plein air session. For the first thirty minutes I walked around searching for a subject. There was just too much to see. To avoid becoming overwhelmed I finally just picked a subject and went with it.

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Trestle 5″ x 7″

This trestle was standing in the center of a long stretch of grass lined by two parallel rows of young trees. I imagine that in ten years time, once the trees have grown, the trestle will sit at the end of a beautiful, tall, and leafy alley.

There was a lot of information to squeeze into my tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panel. For twenty minutes I wrestled with the perspective drawing until I got the trestle constrained. I knew if I didn’t contain it at the beginning that it would only get harder to work with.

I hit my rhythm early on with this painting and had it done by noon. Everything seemed to fall into place.

Trestle is for sale at $70. If you’d like to purchase this painting, please send me an email at thewritingmann@gmail.com.

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Beside the Thirsty Moose of Dover

Last week I began an ambitious painting on a 12″ x 16″ canvas. I wanted to commit myself to a multi-day piece. My time spent in Portsmouth and Kittery made me want to paint major scenes from several seacoast towns. Since Dover is right down the road, I went there first. Dunno why I didn’t just stay here in Newmarket.

Due to morning errands, I had to start in the afternoon. I puttered into Dover around one and walked around for half an hour looking for a spot. Originally I had wanted to paint the mills and the Cocheco River, but I couldn’t settle on a view I enjoyed. Lugging my easel a couple blocks north I found something that would work. Standing beneath the awning of the Thirsty Moose I had a direct view of town hall.

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It was overcast the first day and very cloudy. The painting was a concentrated labor. I tried to stay positive knowing that the clouds would eventually move and the sun would give me some fun shadows and lights to play with.

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When the clouds did move I found my spot was incredibly hot. I put up the umbrella, but that didn’t mitigate the heat that rose up from the pavement. Additionally, I was standing at the middle of what was essentially a wind tunnel crossing. The streets behind me and to my right were lined with multi-storied buildings that funneled the air violently straight down, causing my easel to shake and rattle and in one instance fly up into my chest. I weighed it down after that with my bag of paints and luckily the worst of the winds were only on that first day.

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The canvas was still wet from some last minute toning when I began. This caused some of the colors to muddy as the color I mixed on my palette smeared together with the burnt umber background. Day one involved a lot of perspective work.

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Once I had the trees, light posts, roads, and buildings in their general positions I hammered in the lights and shadows. Part of this process involved developing the background and rendering clouds. I needed the lights in the sky figured out so I could use them as reference and compare them to the lights in the foreground. At first the clouds were much bolder, blocky, and meaty. That style pulled them too far forward. I scraped them down and it gave them a necessary softness.

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With the painting mostly finished I focused fully on color. I had pushed the shadows too red previously and needed to bring them back to the cool side. I’ve been watching a lot of James Gurney‘s videos on YouTube and taking notes on how he works en plein air. In his video on painting a taxidermic Galapagos tortoise he mentions how he paints the shadow under the tortoise blue in order to give it the appearance of being outdoors in natural sunlight. After watching that video I really began to see how blue shadows were outside. I tried to incorporate that into my painting.

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Dover Crossroads 12″ x 16″

The painting took 5 days to complete with me working three to four hours each day. I met a lot of people on the street and handed out a good number of business cards. If you’re reading this cause you took a card, well thanks for stopping by and talking! I do enjoy it.

I decided to call the painting finished after five days because it was beginning to feel that way, but also because I was beginning to tire of working in that spot. Honestly, I still think the perspective could use some work. I’m not sold on the depth in the painting. I’ve always struggled with that factor. Probably because I’ve mostly only painted in the studio. I remember being in Italy and painting and one of my professors explaining atmospheric perspective to me and just not having it click in my head. Of course he showed me one of the grad student’s paintings, as she was situated right behind me and had a similar view, and I could definitely see how her painting looked better. I could see how she’d made the mountains blue in the distance. I just wasn’t sure of how to go about doing that. It’s something I’m still working on. I just don’t often get a chance to practice painting from a point that has clear and defined atmospheric perspective. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in the last couple years, and when I get to the top I sit and look at the layers of mountains receding into the distance and think about how simple it is to see the atmospheric perspective now, and how simple it would be to paint those mountains. But depth and atmospheric perspective works a little different at ground level. It’s still there, just much more subtle. And I know that exaggerating that effect could give my paintings some nice depth. I tried it a bit with this painting, blurring the buildings in the background and painting them mostly blue. I’m just not sure how successful it is.

I’m thinking of expanding my palette a bit. I’m using alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, raw sienna, gold ochre, cadmium orange, ultramarine blue, sap green, and a bit of cerulean blue. This limited palette has kept my paintings feeling unified, but I’ve noticed that painters on YouTube usually organize their palettes by having a warm and a cool version of each color. I might try this out and see what effect I get.

If you’re interested in purchasing Dover Crossroads, it’s for sale at the low, low price of $325. What a steal! Get it now! There’s a limited supply of only one! Hurry! Send me an email with your order to thewritingmann@gmail.com!

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By the Lake in Webster

This past weekend Sarah and I went to Webster, New Hampshire and stayed at a cabin for a night. Her aunt and uncle had rented a place on Lake Winnepocket and invited us up. It was a cute town on a nice, quiet lake. We got there around 8 on Friday night and spent a few hours playing games and sitting by the fire. In the morning I woke up to paint.

The sun wasn’t above the tree line yet and it was hard to find a subject that wasn’t entirely in shadow. I decided to paint the neighbor’s cabin, knowing the direction the sun was heading and hoping I would get some interesting lighting. I worked for around an hour and realized there was some heavy cloud cover above. Everyone was up at that point and getting ready to check out the local flea market. I set the painting aside and joined them.

Halfway through our excursion the sun burst through the clouds and the day took a positive turn. We got back to the cabin and I was able to work the painting to a point that I was satisfied. The lake was calling. It was time to go swimming.

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Lake Winnepocket Lodge 9″ x 12″

The lack of sun was tricky, but even worse I was also dealing with an ungessoed, smooth panel as my painting surface. I’m used to the texture of canvas. My brushes did not act as they normally do. I wanted to try the panel because I sometimes don’t like the repetitive woven texture that shows through cotton canvas paintings. The panel painting only began acting as I’d hoped after I’d painted several layers and I was starting to paint over semi-dried paint. I also noticed that my brush was much more likely to pull paint away from the panel. The tackiness of semi-dried paint played a much larger role on panel. Perhaps I’ll try linen or some sort other sort of smooth, woven canvas.

Like this painting? Buy it for only $150! Email me at: thewritingmann@gmail.com!

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Wagon Hill Farm

Grabbed an ice coffee this morning and met the NH Art Association at Wagon Hill Farm for a plein air session. The farm has a lot of land and I only saw a couple other artists before I set up. I imagine people were spread around the property.

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House at Wagon Hill Farm  7″ x 5″

I painted from 9 am until noon and got this small painting done. Now that I’m back home I can see that the colors are a little washed out. The roofs could use a little more color and a little less white. I probably should’ve spent more time on location, but I was out in a field, hot, and being attacked by horseflies. But it was a good day nonetheless. I will have to go back and do paintings from other perspectives. It’s a great place.

If you like House at Wagon Hill Farm, it’s for sale for $70. Let’s talk about it. Send me an email: thewritingmann@gmail.com.

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How to Paint a Wedding Gift

It’s Sunday, the clock has just passed 10pm, and my eyes are only open because I drank a little coffee with dinner. I’ve been trying to fill out this post since five, succumbing to short bouts of sleep along the way. The last four days have been long and tiring, but most importantly fun! Thursday night my girlfriend, Sarah, got out of work and we packed up our cars and drove down to her parents’ place in Massachusetts. Her sister was getting married! And she was co-maid of honor! She was meeting up with the bride and the other maid of honor for a relaxed night before the pre-wedding activities on Friday. I tagged along and gave the bride my wedding gift. More on that to come!

In the morning I got up and drove into Newburyport to do a 5″ x 7″ panel painting of historic downtown.

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Across Merrimac Street 5″ x 7″

It was a cloudless and blue sky day and the sun was tucked low by the water. The town was mostly empty. As I readied myself to cross a street, I looked up and found my subject: a modern street light superimposed on a town of centuries-old brick. Like in Portsmouth, I was drawn to the contrast between old and new.

The early stages of the painting were irritating and I was upset with my slow progress. Then I realized I just needed to go empty the bladder. I was able to stay relaxed with that issue out of the way.

By noon some clouds had drifted in and I decided to include them. But with the clouds came rain and I was forced to pack up. Needing a change of pace, I met up with the groom and one of his groomsman for some burritos and coffee.

I’m selling Across Merrimac Street for $70. If you’re interested, email me at: thewritingmann@gmail.com!

It’s now Monday morning and I’m back at work on this post, having failed to finish before losing my fight with sleep. But I’m awake and ready today. On to the next painting!

I wanted to contribute a unique gift to the pile of wedding goodies and it was an easy jump in logic to realize I should do a painting. I weighed the idea for several months and I was still undecided when Sarah told me I should go ahead and do it. Next step was to figure out how to make it meaningful. I did not want to go too symbolic, incorporating items that are traditionally associated with marriage. Being the younger sister, Sarah has a lot of the bride’s old stuff, and I searched around for something to use. I settled on a patterned vase.

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I stuck the vase full of flowers and propped it atop an Ionic column prop my mother had. It’s the same column that can be seen in Hammer to Fall.

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My main concern for most of the painting was getting it all straight and centered. My old apartment was full of dips in the floor and walls that met at odd angles, so I never had a good frame of reference. The low light didn’t help either. I relied heavily on a small level placed on top of the canvas.

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Initially the painting was to have a traditionally dark background. It was far too moody. I wanted something lighthearted. Weddings are supposed to be happy and it needed to reflect that.

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There was no easy way to approach the patterns on the vase. I generally sketched them out with simplified color forms. Detail could be added later.

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While working on this painting I was beginning to realize how import outlines can be. My former teacher Numael Pulido always talked about the transition from background to object, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to truly experiment. You can see my interest in outlines with the flowers. I used them heavily and in some places perhaps too heavily. I always tried to go back and paint over areas that didn’t work. With a dry brush and thick paint I could lightly blur the transitions with the background.

IMG_3070The highlights on the vase were tricky. I avoided the use of pure white and matched them with the local color. Still, I was unable to grasp the shine I was looking for. I will have to practice painting other glossy items.

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The Wedding Vase 12″ x 16″

I had the painting basically done a couple weeks before the wedding. However, when the frame arrived I tinkered with the background. I did not want it to be a static blue.

I’m very happy with the way the painting turned out and the bride and groom both like it as well! After the wedding, Sarah and I wound up coming home with a floral centerpiece that’s absolutely gorgeous and might just be my next still life painting. In fact, I might go arrange it now.