Oil Painters of America exists to fuel the appreciation & preservation of representational art. Distinguished artists from across North America share wisdom & perspectives to encourage and further the mission of the organization.
I painted my first tree at age 12 and continued to paint landscapes for the next few decades. But I have never liked my trees. Eventually, I switched to figurative work although I love plein air painting. I still do not like my trees. I agonize about painting trees. Give me a portrait to paint, no problem. But I lose my confidence when it comes to trees.
I recently read an article by C.J. Trent about blocks faced by all sorts of creative people. Trent wrote that blocks happen for many reasons, including that “you may face an impasse because you need to learn a technique or change your method, or find a new material to realize your vision.” This common sense view aligned with Edgar Payne’s advice: “a painter needs to study, mediate, experiment, and practice interminably.” This past January, I decided to spend a year studying how to paint trees and painting trees. I give myself a “B” for effort and a “C” for results. I still have half the year to go, so I am cautiously optimistic.
For the study part, I gathered all my books on landscaping
painting and turned to John Carlson who devoted a whole chapter to painting
trees. He says it takes study and time
and counsels the student to first understand trees, then to draw them, before
attempting to paint them. That works for
I have listened to some very thoughtful people speak about painting trees. At a gathering of local artists one evening, an artist remarked that it was easy to draw trees as symbols rather than as living creatures. Only by really seeing them can you draw them so they look real. It reminded me of the difference between stick figures and more realistic figure drawing. Trees are not symmetrical; they should have the same feel of gesture as a figure. A friend mentioned to me that drawing branches should be like drawing fingers on a figure. Carlson instructed artists that a painter can paint her trees anyway she wants and that the less they look like anyone else’s the happier she should be.
For the practice part, I have been drawing trees and
painting trees. I have worked on value,
color, gesture, and structure. What have
Brushwork counts. A
flick of a brush yields the suggestion of leaves dancing in the wind. Branches need to taper and turn as they snake
through the sky, calling for confident brushwork. Trees call for a balance between abstraction
and realism; detail and suggestion. And
I have learned that Carlson is right.
Painting trees is as individual as painting figures.
“Belgium Woods” by Kathy Nolan Hutchins
A friend of mine, Kathy Nolan Hutchins, paints beautiful
trees and forests. She exalts in detail
and creates a sense of peace and beauty in her work. For example, look at her piece, “Belgium
I would recognize her
In contrast, so many of the early great landscape artists,
like Ruisdael, only suggested detail in their trees. Their spare use of color and value gives an
illusion of detail and depth. These early artists excelled at creating
atmosphere. I can study these painters for
Jacob van Ruisdael (Dutch, c. 1628/1629 – 1682), Forest Scene, c. 1655, oil on canvas, Widener Collection 1942.9.80
I have read lots of rules about painting trees. I am not much of a rule person so they are fun to read but I am not going to follow them blindly. I think the only “rule” that I follow is to make my own greens instead of using color straight out of the tube. I have painted trees that I like. For instance, I painted our boathouse which is on a beach surrounded by a thick stand of trees. Most of the trees in this picture are just suggested.
Trees are majestic but the landscape paintings I like the best rarely show an entire tree painted in a realistic fashion. Instead, trees create the mood of the painting. So while I think trees need to be painted in a way that shows life and rhyme, I do not want to paint them so realistically that they capture the landscape painting. Instead, to me, trees are magic; in themselves, and in paintings.
“Boathouse” by Hannah Apps Oil on Panel
Edgar Payne, Composition of Outdoor Painting, 1941.
John Carlson, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, Dover, 1973.C. J. Trent, ”Breaking through the Block,” Artist’s Magazine, July/August 2019
Reading many blogs, posts, and comments from developing
artists, a common theme I have found is a desire to be more “painterly”; to be
looser, more natural, etc. The general
advice given is to become confident in the required technical skills that will
let you paint with more creative freedom, not needing to focus so much on
technique. This is very sound advice,
but what to do?
Nobody sits down at a piano without much training and
expects to play a Chopin Mazurka. And
yet this is a bit the expectation of beginning artists. The resulting disappointment is often
expressed as, “I guess I don’t have talent.”
Learning to play the piano, I trained daily with “Hanon, The Virtuoso
Pianist” to develop finger muscle and movement patterns. It was required by all my piano
teachers. I would like to share a
couple of tips for emerging artists that wish to become more “painterly”. I hope my experiences can help them as much
as they have helped me.
First, put aside the masterpiece and do some exercises. A teacher I studied with had me paint three bricks in each of the primary colors. Once they were dry, I assembled them stacked and leaning against one another in different light as a still life subject. I was told to paint what I observed in maximum 10 minutes on a piece of canvas paper. Rip it off and repeat with the bricks in a different position and light. Pay attention to shadows, reflective colors, etc. but only allow 10 minutes per effort. Rip it off and start again. If I have had an unwelcome absence from painting, I start with a couple of brick exercises the same as my first stop is Hanon after a lull at the piano.
Second, limit your palette to your “go to” colors. It’s a bit like packing for a trip with only
carry-on luggage. You need to pack by
what clothes you will actually wear, not pack to have a broad selection of
clothes you would like to be able to choose from on the trip. The more often you use a particular color,
the more familiar and comfortable you become with its mixing effects, adding
white, or adding a complementary color.
Having all the colors you might want to use, keeps you from developing
that comfortable “go to” familiarity with your core palette. It is amazing what variety can be achieved
through color mixing. You can always add
“visiting” colors like Rose Madder for a portrait, or Sap Green for a
landscape. The important thing is to
have deep familiarity with your core palette, so you are not experimenting when
you mix and have a color in mind.
“Evening Gulls” by David Browning
Third, do a simple underpainting before getting creative
with colors. I use a burnt sienna or
similar color that is dark when thick and light when thinned with
turpentine. I have a rag handy to wipe
off parts easily that don’t look right when I stand back and take it in from a
distance. It is amazing how liberating
it is to have a basic underpainting capturing the main composition elements
before starting to throw some paint at it!
Continue with adding colors to
the painting while trying to paint it from the distance you would view it
from. Of course, our arms don’t reach 10
feet, but go for it, constantly standing back to observe. Resist ending up with your face 12 inches
from the painting working on details without the perspective from the viewer’s
7AM Main Beach Grisaille
7AM Main Beach Colors
“7Am Main Beach” by David Browning
Lastly, focus on capturing light and creating contrasts in
the painting. This does not require
detailed work but has a wonderful impact from the viewing distance. Here, it is helpful to be more aggressive
than you would normally be with your colors.
For example, 25 years ago, I was studying portrait painting with Danni
Dawson who did Sandra Day O’Connor’s official portrait as a Supreme Court
judge. I was painting my youngest
daughter from a photo in the class.
Being naturally timid and shooting for accuracy in detail, I was
gravitating towards the comfortable middle ground in my color mixing. It was resulting in an accurate, but rather
flat and dull appearance. Danni walked
by and took a brush, mixed some red, yellow, and white on my pallet and put a
brilliant splotch of paint right in the middle of my daughter’s cheek. “Now, work that in”, Danni said and walked
on. I was shocked since I was in those
final moments of getting the details right.
I had no choice but to blend in the color splotch she had added. It totally brought the portrait to life and I
added similar touches in other areas.
“Breakfast Table” by David Browning
“Steph” by David Browning
“Summer in Lucerne” by David Browning
So just to summarize my tips for becoming more “painterly”:
Do some simple color mixing and composition exercises. Yes, Hannon is more boring than playing a Sonata, but it helps get you there. Paint. Rip. Repeat. 10 minutes max.
Build your palette from your familiar “go to” colors that you are deeply familiar with how they mix and appear. Expand your palette judiciously.
Do a simple underpainting to start and paint as much from the distance of the viewer as possible (at least observe from the distance before painting the next step).
Capture light and create contrasts in the painting that have an impact from the viewing distance.
“Impression Sunrise” by Claude Monet
When you feel you are not being “painterly” and crawling
into the details or gravitating towards the dull middle ground, stand back and
pick a spot to put your own splotch. You
can always work it in, but at least it stakes out a more creative extreme from
the viewing distance. Imagine the thrill
Monet had when he added the orange sun and reflection to his “Impression
Happy painting and tell me how these tips work for you and
what ideas you have to be more “painterly”.
Picasso… Caravaggio.. Henri Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Francisco de
Zurbarán, Braque, Mary Cassatt, Miró…Gauguin. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Adelheid
Dietrich. Brueghel, Rembrandt, Dürer, Rubens, Velázquez.
“Brazilian Tree Flowers” by Betania Bright 18″ x 24″ – Oil on Canvas
Great painting masters from different periods of time
and style. One might find it difficult to find
something in common between all these artists, as
their exquisite paintings and artistic methodologies
are so different from one another, but there is
something that they have in common other than their
geniuses and the love for art: Still Life.
Still Life is the depiction of inanimate objects, from man-made utensils to nature (food, flowers), arranged in a pleasing and harmonic composition. The history of still life paintings goes back to ancient Roman times when wall paintings of flowers and fruits were not unusual to be seen in Italy. The tradition persisted and went through the middle ages, Renaissance, Baroque until our days. A normal painting exercise for those willing to learn academic art and realism, still life is a practical way of learning texture, volume, composition, drawing, values, and proportions.
“Grapes and Apples” by Betania Bright 16″ x 20″ – Oil on Canvas
As a self- taught artist, when I started painting 13 years ago, with no form of academic instructor, the beautiful colors of the fruits in my kitchen caught my eyes as I challenged myself to paint it. Still life painting made me the artist that I am today. In this article, I intend to share my basic painting techniques of still life and a brief simple exercise that anyone from any age can attempt at home with simple painting materials.
To start a simple still life exercise at home, you can use any fruit or vase of flowers that you have available. I will suggest a simple fruit as in the picture below. You don’t need to worry about creating something worthy of competition quality in this exercise, and for now, don’t worry about composition. To most artists, composition will come naturally the more you paint, but it’s also a whole field of work and practice and we are not going into it today. These are only the basic techniques and if you follow my instructions you’ll have a finished work in 3 hours. If you paint in oils you might need more than 3 hours, so my advice is to let the layers of paint dry before continuing, so 3 or 5 days of painting for those using oils.
I chose a simple apple and I put it on a wood table that has a
nice subtle reflex. I will use a small canvas pad (9”x12”), and
acrylic colors: titanium white, vermilion hue, cadmium red,
alizarin crimson, sap green, permanent green light, raw
sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and mars black.
It’s very important that you are patient and take your time to
draw your still life on the canvas. I know that the desire to
paint and apply the brush strokes might make you rush
through this part, but the drawing is the most important part
of the painting. If you are very experienced in still life, this will not be an issue as painting is nothing more than drawing with the paintbrush, but if you are not familiar, mistakes casually done with the drawing may affect your finished canvas in the end. So take your time. Observe the geometrical forms of the fruit/flower and table that you are drawing.
The second step to paint on your still life is to correctly apply
the color values. Color value is the amount of white or black
that a color has. To get it right easily first you are going to
use titanium white, burnt sienna, burnt umber and mars
black, to paint an almost monochromatic image of your still
life. The use of values are also important to demonstrate the
volume of the object that you are painting. In the image of
my apple, on top I used five different value schedules (those
little squares) in which I will adjust to the shapes of the fruit
that I am seeing. I will also use the values to briefly highlight
the subtle reflexes of the apple on the table.
The third and final layer I will use the reds and browns to create the table and apple. For the darker areas, I will use the darker greens mixed with the browns or black. For the background I used a mix of light green, white and black because I wanted a cool green and grayish color. Red and green are complementary colors and interact with each other in the human eye.
I hope with this simple exercise you will become more interested in studying and
painting still life.
Chewing gum, a soda bottle, and a paper clip and supposedly we can MacGyver our way out of anything! I want to share one way you truly CAN MacGyver your way out of those times you feel like no matter which way you turn you are creatively stone-walled and once again the muses seem to have fled.
Detail of “Buena Vista Social Club” by Lyn Boyer
A lot of us will put music on in the studio along with knocking back a double espresso on those days our brain feels like day-old white bread. Get some mood enhancers going – we feel a bit better, we paint a bit better. So, now you know what this article isn’t about! What it is about is incorporating music into our painting practice in a much more powerful and intentional way.
Good friends and truly inspired – and inspiring – musicians, Dave Curley, Joanna Hyde, and Tadhg Ó Meachair, from the transatlantic trio ‘One for the Foxes’ have agreed to take this leap with me. They’ve offered up the gift of their music, thoughts on creativity and devotion to the arts and life to ‘we who wield brushes’ – their brothers-in-arms in the creative arts. They have provided the music you’ll be using for the exercises you’ll find at the end of the article. A sincere thank you to Dave, Joanna, and Tadhg!
The first exercise will focus on
increasing brush vocabulary through painting using your entire body. The
second, uprooting ingrained habits and assumptions that are way past their
expiration date and have lost their usefulness. My hope is that the music in
concert with the exercises will bring you and your paintings one step closer to
the heart of all things.
I had occasion recently to work with a talented student who was stuck. The brush was in a death-grip; the approach to the canvas was sincere but unfocused. Paint would be shoveled up, a stroke would be laid down and then rather than allowing a breath, a pause and stepping back from the canvas and assessing the passage they would stroke the passage again and again until any life it might have had was gone. It pretty much bled out on the sidewalk. The student was truly stuck in a loop chanting the same ‘word’ over and over with their brush – but not in a good Zen way. The musical equivalent could be a three-year-old future percussionist banging pan lids together like a bad loop until you want to open the slider and throw them out in the snow just long enough to make them stop. They haven’t yet developed the manual skills, artistry, and understanding of complex rhythms to be the heartbeat of a future band.
I tried everything in my coach’s
bag to get them past the wall they’d hit. I had nearly given up when I reached
over, turned on my trusty blue-tooth speaker, chose a track and said, ”Now,
stop painting the painting and paint the music.” They focused their attention
fully on the music. The death grip on the paintbrush loosened. The stance that
had been hunched became relaxed. The impetus for the paint strokes began
originating from somewhere deep. They began using their entire body. The
strokes became fluid and full of life.
For years we painting instructors
have tried to teach rhythm, melodic line, composition and such with little
sketches, slides, diagrams and whatever else we can think up. This was a
serious ‘duh’ moment for me. All this artist needed was, not to read about,
talk about or look at charts about rhythm, the student needed to experience
rhythm in the moment. When they did their body knew exactly what to do with it.
Watching them pretty much dance back and forth approaching and retreating from
the canvas, laying down strokes inspired by the phrasing in the music actually
verged on spooky since minutes ago they were carved in stone.
FINDING THE HEARBEAT
What are some ways we can bring ourselves
back to true north when it feels like our painting is going sideways?
We need a heartbeat to live. A
song, a tune, a painting, all need a heartbeat to live. The lot of us, painters,
composers and songwriters alike, are pretty much guaranteed to now and then
have a time when we stand back and realize our creation that day is seriously
DOA. Don’t panic – triage. Can it be resuscitated? If not then salvage some
valuable learning from it and move on. If there’s still a pulse then:
Step back and
find the weakness that might be dragging down an otherwise important creation.
Ask yourself if the
initial intent was unfocused.
Is there a
weakness in the structure?
Did you hang the
curtains before the drywall?
Is there an
inelegant passage in the execution?
Sometimes we are only a very
small adjustment away from saving the patient and a fine offering to the muses!
THE PRACTICE AND THE PERFORMANCE
As painters we work on two fronts
– the practice and the performance.
The practice: Striving for mastery of the technical skills. A painter’s version of practicing scales.
The performance: We then choose a time to pull those hard-won arrows out of our quiver to create an image that will carry our message…hopefully squarely into someone’s heart.
Here are some go-tos for your
tool kit to help you come at your creative life with more intention and focus.
Slow down and
resist the temptation to just launch right in. Give yourself permission to
spend some time bringing into focus your intention for your painting so it is
truly ‘about’ something, not a painting ‘of’ something.
antennae up for those things you respond to.
Search for what
you feel deeply about. Love will be felt by the viewer if you paint what you
love. Joy will be felt by the viewer if you paint what brings you joy. Peace by
painting what brings you peace. Power if you paint powerfully.
Quiet the voices
in your head and sometimes the voices outside of your head.
Musicians lead us on journeys that are image-filled through lyrics and musicianship. As painters, we should strive to take our viewers on journeys that are music-filled, if not literally, at the very least through masterful handling of the painter’s versions of composition, rhythm, and harmony. The common roots of music and the visual arts surface constantly. We compose. We seek harmony. We design with rhythm. We use melodic line. We choose what key we are going to paint in. We place color notes. We find our voice. We create contrast. We use tempo to speed up and slow down the viewer’s path through the painting.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I asked Dave, Joanna and Tadhg of
‘One for the Foxes’ if they would share some thoughts on the creative process
from the viewpoint of musicians and songwriters. I found their insights not only inspiring but
remarkably applicable to our process as painters.
“My focus is covering two angles
as I embark on my creative process and I try to keep these two fundamental
elements (as I see them) at the front of my mind.
At the outset, most of my process
is informed by my own personal experiences and what I take from myself and
inject into the music. Establishing the narrative, drawing from past musical interactions
and imagining new ones to create something new. As the structural, musical and
lyrical elements begin to take form, I try to shift my focus and fine-tune my
piece of art with the fresh perspective of a new listener. I have found that
parts of my art that I become sentimental and attached to because of the
journey of the piece, can actually hinder the overall piece of art and it might
be better served if removed. This tension between the personal and the external
is important for my process and can offer a lot more clarity to the
listener/observer when both sides are taken into consideration.” Dave
Curley – multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter
“In the spirit of art being a
sort of continuum (in my mind), I find this element of ‘balance in flow’ really
important. Just as Dave is talking about balancing the internal and external
for the sake of art, I think that stretches to the idea of being open to
whatever creativity is coming through you and/or from inspirational sources
around you, and being able to look at it all critically without overwhelming
yourself with judgment.
I think one of the most
fundamental reasons for art is joy – getting to feel and share joy -, and that
is a sort of mantra I try to come back to in order to keep myself balanced when
I’m feeling bogged down by uncertainty or criticism, most often my own. I know
it sounds trite, but I do think that happiness is the core behind this all, and
that is ultimately what allows the creativity to come out into the world. Some
of my favorite moments are when I’m listening to a piece of music and it fills
me up so much that I get goose bumps. I’m experiencing the piece in such a pure
way without consciously analyzing it. With the open and subjective process that
is art, it’s sometimes hard to know from the artist’s perspective when to let a
project or piece be “complete”, or at least sit for a while and
decide whether or not to come back to it. I try to keep ahold of an awareness
of this flow between the various states of creating something and experiencing
all different feelings about it, so that I can continue to try new things,
hopefully learn and improve, allow for the more difficult moments, create space
when necessary, and more than anything, keeping loving the whole experience of it.
That, in turn, allows for whatever I’ve created/shaped/molded to be shared, and
perhaps become something new again for the next person.” Joanna Hyde – vocals, fiddle, songwriter
“As for my creative process, particularly in terms of composition, I
find it to be an ever-evolving process. Perhaps coming from the Irish
tradition, where ‘a composition’ is usually limited to 16 bars of music and
incorporates repeated motifs within that, one can encounter a burning urge to
break the rules and strive to make something ‘bigger’. This can be very
rewarding. However, when all the rules are broken, suddenly the beauty of the
original ‘simple’ form can also emerge. Then, rather than feel confined by
strictures, one can find immense joy in appreciating subtleties often lost in a
Ultimately, neither of these approaches is ‘wrong’, and, to echo Dave’s and Joanna’s words, letting go is the big challenge. You will always improve, evolve, and/or change as an artist. Tomorrow you might balk at the idea of something you love today. But today is just as valid as tomorrow. As the legendary Irish musician Dónal Lunny once told me in the midst of an album recording, ‘That’s why we call it ‘a record’. It’s a record of where you and your art is right now.’ “ Tadhg Ó Meachair – piano, piano-accordion, composer
MUSIC TO INSPIRE PAINTING AND PAINTINGS INSPIRED BY MUSIC
I’m going to share two paintings
in an ongoing series that will be exploring music. The musicians are the subjects
of the paintings but the message is the music. They are paintings ‘of’
musicians but ‘about’ music. The first is about music that was and will be. The
second is about music in the present moment.
The painting is of a harpist but
it is about the space between the notes where music exists. Her hands in her lap mirror the rests in a
composition. It looks back to when the music was and forward to when the music
will be again.
“The Harpist” by Lyn Boyer 16″ x 12″ – Oil on linen – Private Collection
Buena Vista Social Club
This is, on the surface, a painting of musicians on a stage. Again, the painting is about the music. For this painting, I literally used the spaces between the musicians to paint the music. Every stroke, color note, paint passage was executed to be a visual translation of the music filling the club. Even the powerful bass line lives in the dark vertical post on the left. The tangle of wires speaks about the complexities of the notes – of how the voices of instruments intermingle.
“Buena Vista Social Club” by Lyn Boyer 16″ x 20″ – Oil on linen – Collection of the Artist
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Okay, now we’ll turn our thoughts toward how to put all of these ideas into practice. Let’s dump some sound and some pigment into an imaginary particle accelerator and make the two collide. When any two things collide in this universe something is created. Water + rock = a canyon. Car + tree = a trip to the body shop. If you DO create something new because of a fender bender after you’re over inventing new profanities, stop and look at how the light might be hitting the new wrinkles in the sheet metal. Look at the sweeping patterns the grass stuck in the quarter panel is making. There’s beauty even in something that a minute ago totally sucked the life out of your day. Pass no judgment on what appears on your canvas during the exercises. Just let the worlds collide and feel the joy of the process.
My hope is that the music in
concert with the following exercises will bring you and your paintings one step
closer to the heart of all things!
EXERCISE 1:Increasing brush vocabulary through
painting using your entire body.
Use two 12×16 or larger
inexpensive canvas panels or paper. You don’t want to worry or feel precious
about the surface you do exercises on.
Work standing up so you can move freely. Make sure you have a clear path so you can step back from your easel at least 6 or 8 feet if possible. You need to always be moving forward and back. Forward to lay down a passage. Back to see the big picture. For this exercise, you’re to not care a whit what ends up on the canvas. Focus entirely on the music and use it to inspire new ways to approach your canvas. Allow the marks you make on the canvas to just ‘be’ with no judgment. Relax and use your entire body. Let the stroke originate in the earth, move up through your spine, shoulders, arm, through your brush and finally to the canvas. Click on the audio clips to access the music for your exercises.
I’ve chosen two of Dave Curley’s
pieces from ‘A Brand New Day’ for this exercise.
The first piece you’ll work to is a beautifully rendered piece that leads you
on a gentle and at the same time emotional journey awash in visuals. ‘The Pleasure Will be Mine’ – written by Alan
Reid, arrangement by Dave Curley and Mick Broderick.
I want you to be aware of the
grace in the music and let that translate into how you move your body and hold
your brush. You should hold a brush with both delicacy and perfect control. It
should nearly fall out of your hand. You’ll move from shoveling up paint and
spreading it on the canvas like stuccoing a wall to a vocabulary of true brush
calligraphy that can speak volumes with a stroke.
B. For the second half of this exercise, you’ll work to one of Dave’s original pieces, ‘Off to War’, which is both powerful and poignant at the same time. e NOTES: ‘Off to War’ is a true story from Ireland in 1916, based off a mother’s diary which she kept for her son who was fighting in the Irish regiment of the English army in the 1st world war. Old story, new art. – Dave Curley, Mick Broderick
Use a new canvas or paper. The
intent, the rhythms, the message are entirely different. As you focus on the
music and begin responding, you’ll discover you’ll be using your body in an
entirely different way as you approach the canvas. There is a more powerful
undertone in this song with compelling rhythms. There are moments that are
lilting and inspiring and conversely poignant and heartbreaking. Pull out your
Big Book of Brush Vocabulary for this one! You’ll need lots of different words.
EXERCISE 2:Uprooting ingrained habits and assumptions
that are past their expiration date and have lost their usefulness!
Again, use two 12×16 or larger
inexpensive canvas panels or paper.
For this exercise, we will again focus on the music but the intent is to interpret what we’re hearing and translate it into passages of color on the canvas. We have a huge vocabulary in a single brush. We can go from a wisp of a hairline to a powerful and bold stroke with just a twist of the brush in our hand. After you load your brush you then have three tools for making your mark – speed, pressure, and direction in infinite combinations. Try them individually and then combined. Step back between passages and assess how successfully you’ve communicated the intent of the music.
I’ve chosen two wonderful pieces
from ‘One For the Foxes’ for this exercise.
A. The first tune you’ll work
to in this second exercise is a beautifully crafted piece, ‘Virginia’, that is
sure to draw you in and inspire you to use your brush in new ways as it takes
you along on its journey.
Notes: Virginia is a town in
County Cavan in Ireland, and is one we particularly enjoyed putting together
with its more distinctive arc/journey from slow and airy to faster and
punchier. – Tadhg Ó Meachair
Let your mark making follow the
arc of the story in this one letting your brush follow the beautiful drawn out
passages in all of their tenderness. Then interpret the anticipation as the
tempo slows then builds and the piece becomes more complex. This is a great exercise for breaking the
habit of repetitive brush strokes. You will have the pure music of radically
different passages on one canvas. That’s when the painting becomes a dance.
B. The final piece you’ll be
working to in this series of exercises fully invites you to the dance of life –
‘One for the Foxes’!
Notes: “One for the Foxes…is a mix of two tunes – one Irish tune composed by Junior Crehan, and then the tune that myself and Joanna composed in honor of some foxes who lived in my back garden in Dublin!” – Tadhg Ó Meachair
This last exercise is about
shaking off dusty habits that have been holding us back, stealing our voice and
keeping us from true expression and connection.
So, put the last canvas on the
easel, turn up ‘One for the Foxes’ and feel what it’s like to channel joy!
Audio clip – ‘One for the Foxes’ Comprised of two tunes: Her Long Dark Hair comp. by Junior Crehan and One for the Foxes comp. by Joanna Hyde and Tadhg Ó Meachair, set Arr. Joanna Hyde and Tadhg Ó Meachair
Enjoy your journey of discovery! –
Many thanks to Joanna Hyde, Tadhg
Ó Meachair and Dave Curley of ‘One for the Foxes’.
Photo credit Tim Riley
ONE FOR THE FOXES
Dave Curley, Tadhg Ó Meachair & Joanna Hyde form an exciting and dynamic transatlantic trio that presents a rousing blend of Irish and American folk music, having already won over audiences on both sides of the ocean. The group is made up of Dublin’s Tadhg Ó Meachair (Goitse), Galway’s Dave Curley (SLIDE) and Denver, Colorado’s Joanna Hyde (The Hydes), and features a mix of Irish and American folk music and song – both traditional and newly-composed – presented in an energetic and engaging manner. Their performances strike a tasteful balance between the stories found in ballads across both sides of the Atlantic and the respective instrumental music traditions of these places. Award-winning instrumentalists each in their own right, Dave, Tadhg & Joanna take a unique twist on the diverse strengths of their individual backgrounds, weaving between traditional melodies, their own compositions, and songs from the broader folk canon. The results are highly personalized and thrilling in their daring and forthright grasp of the material. Through a shared deep-rooted passion for Irish traditional music, this trio highlights the vital role of Irish traditional music as an origin of many American folk musics and explores how those styles can interact with one another in a manner both eclectic and grounded.
A multi-instrumentalist from County Galway, Dave Curley has worked with multiple Grammy-winning acts, as well as being a member of the Irish supergroup, SLIDE. Not only an outstanding musician, singer, and songwriter, Dave is also known as a champion Irish step dancer.
Tadhg Ó Meachair
An All-Ireland champion pianist,
Tadhg has toured the world with his multi-award-winning band GOITSE. His
musicianship, recognized by legendary musician Dónal Lunny in his ‘Lorg Lunny’
television series, has led him to collaborate with acts ranging from Seán Ó Sé
to The Stunning.
Award-winning fiddler and
vocalist Joanna Hyde, a Colorado native, is steeped in musical styles on both
sides of the Atlantic. A recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Graduate
Arts Award, Joanna has an MA in Irish Traditional Music Performance from the
prestigious Irish World Academy in Limerick, and tours throughout North America
and Europe with various projects
Let me begin by saying that 2018 was the most challenging year of my life. Through a series of mind-expanding experiences and difficult decisions, I made some big changes. The brain is a very flexible tool. A curious phenomenon takes place when we venture beyond our limitations. It’s like pulling the cord on an inflatable life raft – once expanded it’s hard to shove it back into its original shape.
“Realism is not based on the way things are, but upon things as you see and feel them”
– Charles Woodbury
View of Elbow Beach, Bermuda
At Gallery One Seventeen, Hamilton Bermuda
“Horseshoe Beach, Bermuda” by Eli Cedrone
Elizabeth Gilbert once said that the best gifts she’d ever received were questions she couldn’t dodge. Good questions are better than good answers, in that they give us purpose. I’m basically a pleasure-centered person, the fear of being uncomfortable is a very palpable thing. But I went in search of something beyond the life I’d known. My fear of failure was overshadowed by the realization that life is a gift, we have to make the most of it and not waste a moment. I took a leap of faith and let the universe direct me with a trust in the knowledge that I’m not in the driver’s seat as much as I’d like to believe.
“North Shore Road, Bermuda” by Eli Cedrone
“It’s easier to paint the angel’s feet in another’s masterwork than to discover where the angels live within yourself.”
– Art and Fear
In many ways the creative process is a metaphor for life: it’s letting go of fear, trusting in our abilities, and accepting our “mistakes” with patience. It’s also about asking tough questions. It’s problem solving on a visual level and the reality that painting is not a mindless escape. It takes a highly evolved, series of mental maneuvers to create a great work. That being said, believing that every painting you make must be absolutely perfect is an unrealistic goal. You’re never going to achieve it, so you become too scared to even try. Instead of aiming for perfection, strive for every painting to teach you something and learn from your mistakes.
“Hog Penny Pub, Bermuda” by Eli Cedrone
I spent a lot of time in Bermuda over the past year, teaching and painting. The most satisfying thing about teaching is that I get to help people step outside of their comfort zones and stray from their intellectual neighborhoods long enough to learn something new. The first challenge is to break down the psychological barrier that you must be born with the ability to draw or paint. Art is a universal language and it is so because it’s the expression of the feelings of all people. The word ‘truth’ is often used in the discussion of painting. It speaks of the creative process as a soulful act. The power of seeing the world in the most truthful of ways requires extraordinary intuition, an insight into subjects which are dark to ordinary vision. Creativity is about engaging with the world and awakening an emotion in ourselves and in the minds of others.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it”
– Salvador Dali
One of the most talented artists I’ve had the pleasure to meet was Nancy Guzik (married to Richard Schmid, another huge influence). While painting together on a cold winter day in Brattleboro, Vermont she compared the process of painting to a horse race. It’s important to pace yourself; lay in a good foundation, maneuver through the painting with confidence and skill and hold back till the finish line is in sight. This resonated with me because as in life, I lack patience and want to get to the good stuff first. The creative process does not come easy, it takes real effort to move beyond mediocrity. As is the case with professional athletes, musicians and great artists, this “ease” comes from years of hard work and practice. Our ego wants it easy. In reality nothing worth doing ever is.
I hope you’ll join me for a workshop in 2019. Visit www.elicedrone.com for my workshop schedule
How can it be possible, that one of the greatest painters of our time, dropped out of high school at age 15 to take a job as a comic book inker? Within a year he was drawing stories and illustrating pulp magazines. Soon after that, he was routinely painting commissioned portraits of powerful and glamorous people. Everett Raymond Kinstler would continue to make his living as an artist for more than 75 years. I never have known anyone who worked harder at his craft or loved painting more.
A few years ago he stated that he had painted more than 2,500
commissioned portraits. Seven of the subjects that posed for him, were U.S. Presidents. Kinstler painted more U.S. Presidents by
commission than any other artist. No less than 100 of his paintings and drawings
are in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. He was finishing up one of
his commissioned portraits at age 92, just two days before he went into the
hospital. His death a few weeks later was a shock and a devastating loss.
I am writing about some of the many other attributes of this remarkable man. I met Ray in the mid-eighties, at his workshop in Maine. I was just starting to paint portraits seriously and was constantly reading his book, “Painting Portraits”. He was the teacher I needed to become a portrait painter. Since the time of that first workshop, he has been a major part of my journey as a painter. I cannot put into words what I owe this man as a painter, teacher and mentor, and a person. Because of him, I paint plein air landscapes, teach and mentor, as well as paint portraits. The best I can do to honor him is to teach and mentor others as he did for me.
It was only this past October, that Sandra Murzyn and I were at the Kinstlers’ Connecticut home, plein air painting, listening to stories and getting critiques of our work. The highlight of these trips was the privilege of seeing what he was working on in his studio. He would show the studies, the process, and describe the character of his subject in great detail. He was so passionate about each painting that he was working on.
In his Connecticut studio, there is an older drafting table loaded with sketchbooks, notes and open books related to the commission on the easel. Kinstler said, that he always did his homework, and he most certainly did.
Kinstler’s Connecticut studio
Over the years, I have been amazed with Ray’s vast knowledge. He was one of the best-read, best-educated and curious people I have ever known. Ray could converse intelligently with anyone, from the president of a university to the man who came to repair something at his studio. The author, Tom Wolfe, once said that, if Ray couldn’t talk, he wouldn’t be able to paint.
Kinstler Plein air with model from Maine workshop
He often joked that he might not remember what he had for dinner last night but could remember everything about all the people he had ever painted. He explained this recall due to the fact that; “The people I have painted have meant more in my life than I have in theirs. I spend maybe 80 hours on their portrait, much of it by myself.” Case in point, I ran across an older Kinstler painting here in Nashville. When I asked him about it, he told me the man’s name, when he painted it and many other details. In talking to him about one of his workshops in Maine from 20 years ago, he remembered the model’s name and several of the students in that class. He could also remember critiques he had given you in the past. At times, this was embarrassing.
You simply cannot write about Everett Raymond Kinstler without telling one of his many stories. If you want to hear a good sampling of these iconic stories, watch the 2018 YouTube interview with Michael Shane Neal, “A Conversation with Everett Raymond Kinstler”. A favorite story concerns one of his most famous paintings. He received a commission to paint the actor John Wayne for the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Wayne posed for sketches and studies and photographs. John Wayne was truly a hero of Kinstler, who was an avid movie fan. When Kinstler finished the painting, he checked it against his photographs and was in a bit of a panic. He said “The eyes were too small and nose was too big, but someone was watching over me and told me not to touch the painting. After I delivered it, Wayne’s son Michael told me that I had captured the quintessential image of his father.”
His portraits went beyond the photographic image. He often said that the camera may record a moment, but the painter makes a statement. His acute powers of observation worked in partnership with his technical skills to create paintings filled with light, energy, and imagination. He worked primarily in oil but was also proficient in watercolor, pastel, acrylic, casein and pen and ink.
plein air acrylic
plein air painting
It is important to keep in mind that Ray Kinstler was our most direct link to the teachings of both Sargent and Sorolla. Kinstler studied under Frank DuMond, who knew Sargent personally. As a young man, Ray was also mentored by Gordon Stevenson, who had studied with Sargent in London and Sorolla in Spain. Sculptor, Paul Manship was one of Sargent’s closest friends. In Manship’s later years he became a good friend of Kinstler. Kinstler’s commitment to teaching can be summed up in this quote from Michael Shane Neal’s book. “He (Kinstler) has remained devoted to passing on the things he learned from his teachers. In fact, Ray often said that the only thing he asks in return from those of us who have studied from him is to pass the information along just as his teachers did before him”
Kinstler, having been a great admirer of the actor James Cagney, liked to repeat the advice that Cagney once gave him. “Kid, learn your lines, be honest, plant your feet on the ground, and when you say something, mean it”. Kinstler followed that advice his whole career. I think it is good advice to all of us as well.
To see more of Everett Raymond Kinstler’s artwork please visit his website
Everett Raymond Kinstler plein air painting in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1990s
Growing up I was always outside exploring the woods and loving the changing light but never thought about painting it. It wasn’t until after a career as an illustrator that I began taking my easel outside to paint. When I paint outside and spend two hours capturing the light it is a spiritual experience. During that time, you get to see, hear, and feel the changing world around you.
I created a natural setting in my own backyard where I started planting trees and bushes. One of the great joys of my life is watching the plants grow. You buy a $2 plant and it turns into a $20 one.
It’s my oasis where I’ve taught painting workshops and gathered with family and friends. It is literally a living room. Everyone loves to be in this environment whether it’s my backyard or in their own.
“Good Night Sleep Tight” by Bill Farnsworth Oil on Canvas ‐ 24″ x 36″
Artists throughout history have documented the outdoors and through this empathy for the landscape, they became conservationists.
Thomas Moran created a stunning painting of what is now Yellowstone Park. Congress was able to see the beauty and the National Parks were born. J. Alden Weir turned his estate into a park and Ding Darling left a preserve in Sanibel.
My artist friend Mary Erickson has preserved 30 acres for a bird sanctuary in North Carolina. This past summer I painted on the property of the famous Indiana artist TC Steele. It is now a park for all to enjoy.
Every time an artist paints on location they are preserving our world. It will never look the same.
Hurricane Michael hit the Forgotten Coast and leveled the area of Mexico Beach where Mom and Pop shops and restaurants once stood. Quaint family beach cottages gone forever.
Over $117K was raised by Operation Fund Storm started by artist friend Larry Moore. Artists donated paintings for the auction and some pieces were of this devastated area.
“Along The Coast” by Bill Farnsworth
We have painted the area for many years and those paintings have preserved what has vanished faster than we ever thought possible.
About two years ago I was approached by Greg Vine, who had this idea of turning 50 acres of prime real-estate in Venice Fl. into an Urban Forest under the umbrella of VABI. Venice Area Beautification.
He needed an artist to create a forest with paint and canvas to show Sarasota County what could be done with a raw piece of land along the intercoastal that borders an industrial area.
I first photographed the area and began painting directly over the photographs to eliminate scrub and add trees of various shapes and sizes with smaller bushes underneath.
When we approached the Sarasota County commissioners with our proposal and my paintings as a visual guide, they finally approved the Urban Forest.
But this had taken almost two years from the time Greg asked me to come on board. There is an enormous amount of red tape that an organization must go through in order the achieve any endeavor when dealing with City, County, and State officials. As volunteers, we had countless meetings to set up promotion, funding and planning committees. Once the word got out about our plan’s, volunteers came to help clear brush and plant new trees. Without volunteers, a project like this cannot happen. This a totally funded by donations.
Venice was designed by architect John Nolan back in the ’20s. Nolan was inspired by the amount of green space in cities and introduced that in Venice and Mariemont Ohio.
Our Urban Forest catch line is; “In the spirit of the John Nolan Plan, VABI resolves to create the Urban Forest, an oasis for all generations to enjoy”.
As this project finishes phase 1, we are having artists come out to document what has been done and create sort of a “Baby Album” of this young project.
Many people can see what a derelict piece of land looks like now, but an artist can see what it could be in the future through a small rendering.
Beyond the initial decoration, a painting may have had a big role in how people feel and their empathy toward the world we live in.
A moment in time means a couple of things to me. I think each of our lives is defined by moments in time. Decisions we make along the way in our journey through life that define our lives. Some favorable and others maybe not so much.
It can also mean to me, capturing that moment in time which is the premise behind every portrait I paint. For each portrait represents the time in that person(s) life depicted forever on canvas.
I’ve always had an affinity for the Victorian Era. Specifically between the mid 19th century and turn of the 20th century. Whether it be the gorgeous outfits the women wore or the beautiful decor and craftsmanship of the homes. What seems to resonate with me most are the works of Art created at that time. Frank Benson, Edmund Tarbell, Cecilia Beaux, and William McGregor Paxton are just a few artists whose paintings strike a chord within. Of course, John Singer Sargent is my favorite portrait painter, but the aforementioned artists gave us a glimpse of their family life and surroundings. The oil paintings of Frank Benson, one of the pioneers of Impressionism in our country, are still considered among the most beautiful paintings ever created by an American artist, and for good reason.
“The Rimirez Children” by Denise Franzino 24″ x 30″ – Oil on canvas
His portraits of family and friends have stood the test of time because Benson captured, in loving detail, both the splendors of nature and the fleeting innocence of childhood. I’ve tried to continue that tradition through my Portraiture and Fine Art. Many of my commissions are what I call Informal Portraits. My clients want to hold onto those precious years of childhood which seem to fly by in a flash. I endeavor to create a likeness that captures my subjects’ spirit and essence. In selecting the settings for the Informal Portraits, my clients might opt for a location that rekindles special memories of their own childhood. Maybe growing up going to one of the many beautiful beaches Long Island has to offer or perhaps they were married at one of the magnificent parks with its lush gardens. Sometimes their backyard serves as the backdrop for the painting.
If a beach scene is desired, the children, mother and I set off for the photo shoot. I bring bags of props which the children are so excited to start playing with in the sand. These photo shoots are so much fun. Once the children get going, they forget I’m there and before you know it, I’ve taken around 250 pictures. I try to do at least 4 different poses with the children. Observing what props they respond to is exciting for me as well.
These photographs, which I take either in the early morning light or the late afternoon, capture the ambiance of a fun-filled, sunny day while allowing me to create an endearing likeness. Most of the time the painting is a result of a composite of the best picture of each child. I never put pressure on myself to get that one “perfect” shot so this way I have the freedom to pick and choose what pictures will be my reference for the final painting. To ensure complete satisfaction for my client, I paint a very detailed color study to show the client a “visual” before I start the final painting. This study will show color arrangement, composition and expression. Once the study is approved, I can proceed with the final painting. Even though these studies take a while to do, they give me the assurance that my client and I are on the same page. They also serve as my guide while working on the final painting.
Color Study – 8″ x 10″
“Staniar Grandsons” by Denise Franzino 24″ x 30″
This painting was given as a gift this past Christmas to the grandmother from her children.
In terms of my Formal Portrait commissions, which are sometimes painted from life, similar care is taken to explore every detail. I meet with the client to discuss the pose, clothing and lighting. After the photo shoot, I like to do several color studies before starting the painting to figure out my composition, value and color arrangement.
I truly enjoy painting these types of portraits as well. I can really delve into the personality and essence of the sitter. A portrait to me is not just capturing a good likeness, it’s also about speaking to the viewer and conveying who this person is and what they are like. Those are the portraits I am drawn towards the most. When they stop me in my tracks and make me wonder, who is this person?
“Headmaster Anderson” by Denise Franzino 48″ x 34″
“Headmaster Anderson ” was a finalist in the Portrait Society of America’s 2016 Members only competition.
I’ve always been interested in art. From the time I was a little girl, I can remember always having a crayon or pencil in my hand. Mickey Mouse and his friends were my constant companions. I practiced drawing them so much I eventually could create them from memory. I continued with my love for art through junior high and high school. I graduated with honors from The Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. After graduating from RISD, I was an illustrator for the NY Times, Doubleday Books, Harlequin Books, Avon Books and many other publishing companies. It was a very unfulfilling time in my life. I didn’t enjoy illustrating, plus I didn’t get the necessary background at school in painting and color theory so I was limited to black and white work. I tried reading books and copying artists I admired but frustration with my lack of skill set was a huge roadblock.
Around 3 years after graduating from college, I had 1 of those defining moments in time. I saw an ad a teacher was running in the paper and decided to give him a call. I remember walking into his studio and felt as though I was transported back in time to the Renaissance Era. The drawings and paintings that lined the walls of his studio were magnificent. Only in museums had I seen such work. At that moment I said to myself, I don’t care how long it takes, this is what I aspire to create.
I took classes with John Frederick Murray for several years. I can honestly say, Mr. Murray changed the course of my life. Under Mr. Murray’s tutelage, I had extensive training in the classical and traditional style of drawing and painting from the model. We also painted and drew from casts and focused on how clothing drapes over the human form. Design and Composition were also diligently studied. I owe the success I’ve achieved in my career to the love and support of my parents and to Mr. Murray’s unsurpassed knowledge, patience and guidance.
“Mary Pugliese & her Children” by Denise Franzino 24″ x 30″
When I was studying with Mr. Murray for a few years and felt more confident with my painting skills I tried illustrating once again. I was able to acquire some freelance work painting book jackets for different publishing companies. Once again, that unfulfilled cloud hung over my head. At a crossroads, my teacher suggested I try my hand at portraiture. After redirecting my focus from Illustrating, I spent several months building up a portfolio of different portrait samples.
Marketing became my biggest obstacle. How do I get my name out there? Social media was non-existent then so it was quite a challenge. I knew I had a high-end item and needed to market my portraits to a certain clientele. I thought of calling private schools on Long Island and in the city to see if they had fundraisers where I could display my work. Also, the country clubs around Long Island had Christmas Luncheons and other events where I was able to get exposure. Certain charity events would allow me to set up a table with my portraits to display at their fundraisers as well. At these events, I would pay a table fee and in some cases, as in the charity events, donate a portion back. Commissions were trickling in but not with consistency.
“Ashely & Lindsey Wellward” by Denise Franzino 24″ x 18″ – Oil on linen
One summer day, around 20 years ago, was another pivotal moment in my career and life. I thought, well, perhaps not everyone wants a formal, traditional type portrait. Inspired by Frank Benson’s sunlit paintings of his daughters by the shore, I decided to take my girlfriend’s daughters to the beach and take pictures of them in pretty dresses walking along the shore and playing in the sand. They were great little models and I completed a painting as soon as I could. I couldn’t wait to take the painting to my next show. The response was overwhelming. So many people came up to my table and asked if I could paint a portrait of their children in this more relaxed and endearing way. Since that time the two girls in the painting are all grown up. One is married and one just got engaged. My friend has this painting hanging in her home of that magical moment in time to cherish forever. I have since painted over 200 paintings in this timeless genre.
“Emily” by Denise Franzino 10″ x 8″ – Oil on linen
I’m not going to say the road has been an easy one but I don’t know many artists whose careers have been smooth sailing form the start. Being the sole representative for my career has been challenging and daunting at times. Participating in the shows, ( I try to book around 15 shows a year), getting potential clients’ names, follow up phone calls, securing photo shoots and doing the work can be overwhelming but the rewards have been 10 fold. I wake up each day and do what I love to do for a living. When I deliver a painting and see the happiness I have brought to my clients through my work, it fills my heart with joy. How blessed am I!
It was often said that Benson’s paintings radiated with the warmth that existed between the artist and his subject. I work closely with each client to ensure that the completed portrait is one that speaks to their heart. An heirloom that captures a moment in time to treasure forever.
“The Young Children” by Denise Franzino 30″ x 24″ – Oil on linen
“The Knowles Children” by Denise Franzino 34″ x 24″
“The object isn’t to make art, but be in that wonderful state that makes art inevitable”
– Robert Henri
For many years
now this quote by Robert Henri has tickled my core self. It resonates with me,
heart and soul. But why? Henri just put to words what is basic to the
human experience. Put a single crayon
and one single white sheet of paper before a four-year-old… and what
happens? You will see the inevitability
of art (if only we could maintain that complete sincerity to process as we get
older:) But with experience comes a greater degree of receptivity perhaps,
embodiment, or empathy even, to the world around us.
“Regardless Resolute” by Chad Houtz 12″ x 10″ – Oil on Linen
the mundane into the profound, to see color where before were only shadows? To be shaken out of the ordinary and
experience the extraordinary. Being in that mental state that makes art
inevitable is not about happiness. It is not about tomorrows pressures or yesterday’s
regrets. It is about being present to your creative moments. Doing what you
enjoy doing. Learning to lose yourself in the process.
At the very heart of making art inevitable, I have found three fundamental overlapping themes: flow, creativity, & mastery. Peeling back the layers in my process these are the core engines of my growth. In your personal discovery, you may find different engines…
But whatever your engines of growth may be, identify them, peel back the layers and go deep, tease out even the smallest details. Here are some of the layers I’ve uncovered, some philosophical, some technical, all a subject of study in themselves:
to process over product.
on internal motivations over external concerns.
habit of hard work.
concentration on a limited field.
intuition in your process.
with your eyes first.
“Lost & Found” by Chad Houtz 24″ x 18″ – Oil on Canvas
moment, immersing oneself fulling in the present, fully experiencing the now.
Master pianists who revel in perfecting their scales. Athletes who enjoy losing
themselves in the process of practice and drills. Let alone the joys of
exceptional performance. The future is heavy, that past burdensome. Putting our
mental time travel aside to enjoy making our art inevitable… seems a thing worth
To misquote Scott Adams, always remember:
day you became a better artist”
original quote is about writing, his thrust technical, ours philosophical. But makes a profound point for any creative.
In merely swapping tenses, the statement draws our attention to the now. You
want to be a better artist? Great. Start. Now. More flow? More creativity?
Perfect. Start now. Tomorrows too late.
I think every artist has them. Paintings that for some
reason just do not work out. They are usually fun and exciting while the artist
is in the process of creating them, be they plein air or studio pieces, but
when viewed once the novelty wears off, there is that sinking realization that
the painting is not really working.
Sometimes there is an easy fix. Other times the only answer is to scrape
the painting. But occasionally the painting that does not really work hangs out
in the studio because for some strange reason the artist cannot part with it. I
think artists often instinctively realize there is something that is actually
working in these paintings, but it is often hard to put a finger on it.
There is an old saying that “you can’t make a purse out of a sow’s ear”. Sometimes I believe an artist can and with those very paintings, one has been reluctant to toss. Usually, it involves cropping and considering the idea of “what is this painting about”. Occasionally, it is some weird, totally out of left field realization when you start exploring different cropping formats. I feel that I have had some real success rethinking paintings and changing the format of my images.
“Las Golondrinas Willow” by Lee MacLeod 11″ x 14″
This painting was a plein air piece done several years ago at Rancho de Las Golondrinas near Santa Fe. I was initially attracted to the roots of the tree and the blowing branches. I got excited and, with the easel threatening to blow over, launched into the painting. I was thrilled to pull something off and it was not until later that I realized there was a major flaw in this work. I put the tree right in the center of the painting. While that can work sometimes, here it just made the piece stagnant.
“Las Golondrinas Willow” by Lee MacLeod 7.5″ x 11″
The painting lived in a flat file for a year or so. Finally, I started exploring cropping the painting trying to focus on what attracted me to the image initially. Once I started this process using two cardboard pieces cut in an “L” shape, I realized that I could make the painting about everything that I had wanted to say by just cutting it down and thinking about putting the trunk on the golden mean. I was much happier with the new version and it did not involve any re-painting.
Of course, in this case, a little preliminary planning would
have helped avoid the need to reformat, but sometimes the excitement and less
than perfect conditions that are part of plein air painting can lead one
“Red Sails” by Lee MacLeod 12″ x 16″
The next painting was inspired by a sailing trip on the San Francisco Bay.
This very impressive ship with red sails came alongside and I was able to get a decent photo for reference. The enormity of the bay was something that also felt important to capture in the painting.
However, it never seemed to work for me when it was completed…I finally decided that the point of the painting really was the ship and I had made it far too small in relation to the rest of the painting. After cropping it down, I was much happier with the piece and it did not really change the feeling that the bay is a big body of water.
“Red Sails” by Lee MacLeod 8.5″ x 10.5″
Cropping also eliminated the other problem I created when I
divided the original painting into two equal sections with the horizon line.
“Rain On The Chama” by Lee MacLeod 18″ x 24″
This was a studio painting of the Chama River based on a small plein air painting and several photographs. The weather was constantly changing when I was on site and it was all quite dramatic with billowing clouds, rain, and the sun illuminating the cliffs in constantly changing patterns. While working on this piece I tried to capture all that excitement and I really enjoyed the process. But in the end, I had way too much excitement and no one thing to focus on. Five focal points really do not work in a painting. This painting sat around for months as I considered if it could somehow be salvaged. Cropping seemed to be one possible solution, but how much to crop was constantly being evaluated. It came down to two possibilities.
“Rain On The Chama” by Lee MacLeod 13″ x 10″
“Sun Struck” by Lee MacLeod 8″ x 11″
In the end, I chose to go with the tight crop. Of course, I had to change the title as the Chama River had been eliminated, but for me, the excitement of the day could still be summed up in a far smaller painting. I got in trouble in the beginning because I really did not think through what I wanted to focus on. The new painting is probably just going to stay in the studio as a reminder to me to think a bit deeper about what I want to say in a painting before jumping in and the importance of a focal point. However, in one of those out of left field realizations, I ended up with a cut up section of the painting with the clouds from the left side of the original 18”x24”. The realization was that I really liked those clouds and they deserved better. I think they were always the “something good” that was happening in the painting. It just took forever to figure it out. With the addition of a new foreground a new painting was created, one I really liked. The new foreground was out of my head, but I had recently spent a week in Borrego Springs, CA painting on location and I had become quite familiar with the general idea of the mountains and landscape there.
“Desert Storm” by Lee MacLeod 8″ x 11″
“New Mexico Evening Sky” by Lee MacLeod 16″ x 24″
I started the above painting with high hopes. It is more or
less the view south from my studio in Santa Fe. I was particularly interested
in creating a dramatic evening sky. Unfortunately, I was not at all thrilled
with the final painting especially the foreground. The colors were insipid.
Several times I contemplated consigning it to the proverbial circular file and
each time I ended up putting it back in the flat file. One afternoon it came
out again. I had a lot of unused paint on my pallet and I resolved to use it to
change this painting into something that did not put my teeth on edge. The only
thing I liked at all was a chunk of the sky, so that remained. I cut it down
and repainted the foreground and I think something good came of it. I was
suddenly very happy that I had not given up on it and felt that I had made good
use of what was actually working in the original piece. Again the foreground is
made up, but I have been painting arroyos in New Mexico for ten years and am
pretty comfortable faking those.
“Evening Arroyo” by Lee MacLeod 12”x24”
So there you have it, think I got the purse from the sow’s
ear and it is a good reason to keep some paintings around that are not
working. Discovering what is working is
the first step and cropping alone can often resolve the problem. Cropping and
some radical reinterpretation can also produce a successful painting. The fact
that prior to attempting to possibly save a painting, you are confronting
something that is not working and therefore not precious, allows for a lot of
freedom. Fortunately, I do not have to
go through all of this every time. I actually do produce work that has a decent
design, a point of focus and some color harmony. However, when I don’t it is nice to think
that something good might arise from my initial failure.