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.


Plein Air in Newmarket and the Art of Cheese

I moved into my new apartment in Newmarket and I knew I had to do some plein air paintings of the town. So this Saturday I went down to the waterside and set up my easel.

photo 1

I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to paint at first. There are a lot of interesting things in this little town. I decided to do a couple sketches and work out an idea.

I sketched a boat first.

photo 2

And then I looked to my left and sketched out the mill buildings that run along the tidal river.

photo (1)

I eventually decided to go with the mill buildings because of their blocky shadows. I wanted to be able to get something quick and messy down on my little 8″x8″ canvas, but I also wanted to be able to have something recognizable after just one go through.

I spent about four hours out by the river. Thirty minutes of sketching and three and a half hours of painting. Though I originally intended it to just be a short little oil sketch, I might go back to this piece and see if I can work into it some more.

Now for something a little different…

The last several months I have been spending my late night minutes, the precious time I have before going to sleep, reading about cheese. The history. The chemistry. The cheese family tree. I’ve read through it all in Gianaclis Caldwell’s Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.

Sorry if that sounds like an advertisement, but I’ve found myself drawn quickly into the cheese world and it’s all very exciting to me.

Last Saturday I finally set aside some time and made my first batch. I started with the easiest recipe. I didn’t have any culture available to use in the process, so I just made simple acid-coagulated cheese. Basically, a ricotta.


I tried to lay out and photograph all the items used in the process, but I wound up also using a few things not pictured here. The major one being a slotted spoon. I also should have turned a few things so they could be viewed better. The orange liquid is apple cider vinegar and the red capped shaker has salt in it. The square at the bottom is cheese cloth.

And all photo cred goes to my girlfriend.


I like to make sure that everything is prepped and ready to go before I cook. I measure everything and set it all aside in individual bowls, spoons, and cups.


And I’m always joined by one or two poodle helpers when I’m in the kitchen.


Chese cloth is necessary for draining the whey from the curds. I precut mine to fit the colander.


One whole gallon of milk went in the pot, the heat was turned up, and I was on my way to making cheese.


I stirred constantly while boiling the milk in order not to burn it.


Then I got to the exciting part. I added in the apple cider vinegar and the milk started breaking apart into curds and whey! It’s a hard thing to describe. The curds seemed to appear from nothingness. travel-09

The thick chunks were curds and the milky yellow was the whey.


Once the separation was complete, I drained the contents of the pot through the cheese cloth and colander. Though I scooped the large chunks out first to make it easier


Then I compressed and mixed the curds.


A little salt went into the mix.


Then I ringed it out and formed the cheese into a ball. I could’ve left them loose and served it like it was, but I wanted to attempt to make a solid wheel.


Because I didn’t have a cheese press, I had to improvise. First I pushed it around into a basic wheel shape.


Then I folded the cheesecloth tightly, tucking the ends underneath.


Then I began the stacking process.


I used whatever I could find for weight.


An hour later it was all pressed and ready to be wrapped and refrigerated.


I couldn’t just leave the cheese in the refrigerator and not test it out, so after a quick chill I went about preparing it for a snack.


I wanted to fry the cheese and make something similar to paneer. This required cutting it into 1 inch cubes.


I pan fried the cheese with a little olive oil. In fact, I used a little too much oil. Oops. Something to keep in mind next time.


The oil was popping all over the place, so I used tongs to give myself distance. Oil burns are no fun.


The final result was a cheese with a crunchy exterior and a soft, smooth interior. It was a good snack and a good recipe for those who are not too into strong cheese. The taste was quite faint.

I’m hoping that since I will have more personal time in the coming months that I’ll be able to post more about both art and cheese.


For a Girl

It is finally my girlfriend’s birthday! She’s seen her painting, so now I can share it here.


I’m gonna start posting the final version at both the beginning and the end from now on. Hopefully that will help show the development better.


I’ve been telling my girlfriend that I will paint her a picture ever since we started dating. A year and a half later and I’ve finally gotten around to it. She really likes bunnies, so I went with that as my subject matter.


When I first placed the bunnies on the table, I knew that I was going to need some verticality in the painting to break up the monotonous and solid background. I hung up a blue cloth as my solution and it helped add a flash of color to the painting as well.


The bunnies were very fun to paint. I felt like a sculptor as I worked away at their large, clay-like forms.


Session by session I whittled the brown masses down until I had the proper shapes. Occasionally, I had to enlarge areas of paint (mainly on the back of the lefthand bunny, where I fiddled with its posture), but most of the time my painting was a subtractive process.


Since seeing John Singer Sargent’s watercolor exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, I have kept one thing in my mind: paint the darks thin and the lights thick. That is how Sargent achieved the amazing depth in his paintings. I tried to mimic that concept in the righthand bunny.


The only perspectival issue I ran into centered around the shape of the eyes. I had to constantly readjust them. At first I thought the in-light eye on the lefthand bunny was wide and almond shaped, but I realized that the perspective was actually squishing the two corners of the eye together. It took some serious visual measuring for me to get the eye right. I kept adjusting it up to the last session.

Since I had an entire week to work on the 16″x20″ painting, I decided to give it a little bit more of a finished look than I usually do. I smoothed down a little of the looseness.


The last thing I did was add a slight blue reflection on the ground plane. Though this did not exist in real life, I felt the painting benefitted from it.

That’s about it for this update. I’m still working on the children’s book and I’m almost done illustrating the first 10 pages.  Also, I’m still drawing friends on facebook. I’ll update next week with some of those drawings.


Feeling Groovy

I’ve been spending a lot of time on my children’s book. I finished plotting all the sketches and I’m now working on the final illustrations. It’s time to make the push and get this book finished. Unfortunately, it takes me about 8-10 hours to illustrate each page. So if I’m able to finish 3-4 pages a week, then I should be able to have the book done before the end of summer. And while I want to get the book finished, I don’t want to neglect painting. I’m torn between dedicating time to my paints and dedicating time to my tablet and Photoshop. This week I was able to get a quick 9″x12″ still life painted as well as work on my book. Hopefully, all my weeks from here on out can be that balanced.



Like most of my recent still life paintings, this one has been brewing in my mind for months. The groovtacular lava lamp is a lovely shape and I’ve tried to work it into previous setups. It just doesn’t seem to want to go. I’m not even satisfied with it in this painting. The lamp almost NEEDS some other object that echoes or accents its shape. The hacky sack doesn’t seem to exactly work. Oh well. I only spent 4 hours on this, so I consider it just a sketch. I’ll have to revisit the lamp in another manner.

And here’s my favorite book page I’ve illustrated so far:



I think once I finish all the pages I will have to go back and make them more unified. My technique seems to evolve from page to page. That’s just the learning process.


Toy Shelf

I felt totally discombobulated this week. Monday I started out with a still life I had organized last week and I just wasn’t feeling it. So I wiped out that canvas, put it aside, and worked at a new still life. By the time I got it arranged and sketched out, it was the end of the day. Then Tuesday, I wasn’t feeling the new still life either. So I let it sit and started on a side project. I photographed and uploaded all the paintings and drawings I’ve made since I started art school. It took me all day and a little bit of Wednesday as well. Eventually I will have a massive post where I go back and analyze my progression over the last few years. But by the end of all that, I was ready to get down to some actual painting. However, I realized that my still life still needed some tweaking. I went about tweaking it and then I painted. It still wasn’t right. I tweaked the still life some more. I moved things around on my canvas. I omitted objects and backgrounds. I organized and reorganized everything to get my composition the way I wanted. I’ll explain more photo by photo…

Before I start, I’d like to apologize for the quality of the progress shots. I arranged my lighting just the way I wanted without realizing it was sort of backlighting the entire thing and that the lamp was now going to be shining into my eyeballs while I painted. This also caused my photos to be washed out from glare. Fortunately, I took the time to take a proper final shot. Though it is a little darker than the actual painting, it doesn’t have glare. Which is nice. Anyway, on to the painting!



This was the original drawing and underpainting I did. You can see that it is unbalanced on the right side. I tried standing the bottle upright to remedy that, but it didn’t look right. So I left it for a day to think about it.



My solution for balance was to add another cardboard box. I didn’t have a small tan one though. I had to use a white one, which changed a whole lot of my painting. It cast reflected light all over the still life, brightening things immensely. I liked it. The concept of the painting was changed by its inclusion, but not in a negative way. After dropping in the white box, I moved the coke bottle forward to prevent the painting getting flat. The angle and slightly shortened perspective of the bottle gave everything a depth I needed.



My next problem was the Rubix cube on the left side. Its original angle threw off the flow of the painting and diverted the viewer’s eyes away and off the canvas. I swung it around to show a third face and keep its lines in rhythm with the rest of the piece.



On Thursday morning I realized the background was too complicated and distracting. I unified the left side and darkened the right. I still wanted a division between sides, but I found the solid tones to be much more pleasing to the eye.



The rest of the painting was a fight to keep myself from getting overly detailed. I went in and simplified the tallest box and removed its dangly flaps. I darkened the smaller boxes. I darkened the white box. And then I had to deal with the coke bottle.

When I paint glass, I focus on simplifying and take time to work segment by segment. I blocked out the largest color areas first and after went through with the green streaks. Then I added dark streaks. My final step was to swoop in with the highlights. I worked base to mouth to base to mouth until I had the bottle where I wanted. Or close to where I wanted. I still think it could do with some more simplifying. I suppose I neglected it too much while I focused on everything else.

For only two full days of work on a 16″x20″ canvas,  the painting turned out pretty decent. I’ll probably go back for one final session and straighten out a few angles.

In other news, one of my paintings, which I’ve titled “Playhouse,” was accepted into the New Hampshire Art Association’s 28th Omer T. Lassonde Open Juried Exhibition. The show runs from April 2nd to 25th. You can find more information on the New Hampshire Art Association’s website.

To close, here are a couple facebook sketches:





The Bennington Flag

It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to post progress pictures of a painting. Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty busy with my job. I’ve only been able to work on sketches. But this week I received some time off and I was able to complete a new painting. I’m not sure what to title it, but I’m leading towards “Hammer to Fall.” Which is a reference to the Queen song, of course. The idea for this setup came to me when I was rummaging around the garage looking for objects for a different still life. I found our Bennington Flag and knew I needed to put it in a still life of its own. 20140327-192853.jpg This painting was truthfully a collection of objects I have always wanted to include in my setups. I think I have tried to squeeze the hammer into all my still life arrangements. I just couldn’t make it work until now. And the column? Well that’s been hiding out in the crawl space next to my studio. I saw it every time I went in there to look at old paintings or search for art supplies. And I always thought, “Damn that thing is nice. But I dunno how I’d ever weasel it into my work.” In the end, all three objects happened to work well together. 20140327-192905.jpg   This painting went relatively quick. I spent four sessions on it, but one session was just the quick drawing and another session was just 90 minutes of final tweaking. Basically, I only put two full days into it. Which makes me happy. I’m definitely picking up speed. 20140327-192913.jpg   My technique has been developing gradually, and I’ve found myself using the knife to scrape down the paint and keep the edges soft. It allows me to come in at the end and really choose what I want sharp and in focus. 20140327-192921.jpg   I wound up using heavy line to really give my painting a graphic quality. You can see the dark blue and red around the flag and the dark grey on the hammer head. This wasn’t something I intentionally did though. Well, I guess it sort of was. I’ve had the words of Mr. Pulido stuck in my head the last few days. He said (and this is summarized), “To make an object turn in space, make it darker towards the edges.” Now that’s a gross simplification of what he taught us, but that’s the basic concept. Thinking about that advice, I’ve gone back and looked at painters that focus on bringing that aspect into their painting. I’ve specifically focused on Cezanne. He uses line to achieve that effect. So I’ve tried to channel some Cezanne into my work and it wound up making me use more line. IMG_0007-2

  The final result gives me mixed feelings. While I’m happy with the painting and I definitely think I’ve made major improvements in my technique and skill, these improvements are bringing me in a direction I’m not sure I want to go. I don’t know how I feel about the graphic quality. Part of me likes of it, part of me doesn’t. I suppose I’ll just have to keep painting and see how everything develops. The good thing is I don’t feel like I’m regressing or standing still.

And to close, here are some more Facebook sketches:

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War Games

Every time I finish a painting I post it on reddit for a little bit of feedback. Last week I was told my painting is “like watching a 1950 family after they get home from work….kinda dull.” I didn’t entirely agree with that assessment, but it made me think of ways to change around my compositions.

On my way to playing basketball after work on Monday I  brainstormed some ideas. When I woke up on Tuesday I knew what to do. I grabbed a lamp, removed its shade, and hung it above my still life via strings. Then I added sheets and two flashlights. My idea was to make the flashlights appear like submarines at sea. I wanted to recreate a naval conflict with inanimate objects.


After drawing out the setup and doing a rough under painting I developed the general color ideas. The canvas was another leftover one I pulled from my basement.  I had 20″x24″ worth of canvas to work with, so I used up a lot of medium just getting down coats of paint.


The lamp was at a tricky angle, but it was the angle I wanted. So I spent a considerable amount of time getting it right.


It has been a while since my workshop with the Pulidos, so when I went to use their drapery painting technique I had to consult my notes and analyze my workshop paintings. I haven’t painted many draperies since then, so I was out of practice. It took several go throughs to get the sheets the way I wanted them.


This is is the step where you can see I really struggled with the positioning of the lamp. It expanded and contracted into the background as I worked away at it.


During my second go through of the painting I realized that the background needed to be worked out. Only then would the relationships in the rest  of the painting make sense. So I settled on a muted blue-white.


On the final session I put in the lamp’s power cord and the strings. I’m still not sure how I feel about the strings. My girlfriend likes the painting sans strings. She says seeing the strings is like seeing the strings holding up Peter Pan. I sort of agree. But my mother said she likes how the strings counteract the waviness of the fabric. And I sort of agree with that too. So for right now I’m still debating on what to do.

Having painted several large paintings in the last week I’d have to say I’m starting to prefer larger canvases. I have an order of 9″x12″ canvases coming in, so I’ll paint on those and see if my preferences go small again.

Finally, I’d like to announce that I received an Honorable Mention for Best in Show this weekend at the NHAA’s New On The Scene show. I’ll put some pictures up from the show in next week’s blog post.