Saturday, August 6, 2022



The weather being what it is here in the Northeast, I've been doing more plein air work. All week I've spent a few hours in the morning, out and about, trying to capture the feel of this unaccustomed heat wave. On Tuesday, I set up in a local park near my home. My goal: capture the contrast between hot sunshine (relentless, even at 10:00 a.m. it was super-bright, and almost 90F), and the distinctive cooling effect of mature trees that are heavy with foliage. 

#1 Composition sketch
After noting the general composition, I covered the canvas panel, blocking in large areas of color using Ultramarine Dark, and gradually tempering these segments with splotches of lighter green (blending Cobalt, Viridian, Cadmium Lemon Light, and a bit of Cadmium Scarlet) (#2). I ignored the house (it can be seen in the set-up photo), as it seemed unimportant, as did the small stone retaining wall. I'd originally noted a line for the wall in the composition but felt it added nothing to this small panel.

#2 Blocking in more color

After several hours of concentration, it was time to quit. The last image of Tuesday (#3) shows the canvas well covered but lacking the atmospheric contrast I aimed for. I set the panel out on my deck to dry, knowing that after several days I'd be able to resume work on this small piece. Examining the panel on Thursday, it was obvious that the darks needed emphasis. I also toned down the tree trunks which are mostly cool, dark, and in shadow (see the set-up photo) rather than brown. 
#3 Panel at the end of the first day

On Friday morning, I heightened the contrast in the upper third of the image, laying on more Ultramarine Dark blended with Viridian and Alizarin Crimson. To make the "canopy of foliage" effect more pronounced, I eliminated most of the small bits of blue sky which were, in reality, were peeking through the leaves. 

#4 Dreadful details
In a rush of misplaced enthusiasm, I completely ignored what our teacher, Tom Dunlay, stressed at the plein air workshop I attended in July. 

He was (and is) clear that there is no room for fussy, extraneous details in a truthful painting. Despite this strong, and repeated, admonition from one of today's most accomplished painters, I somehow felt it necessary to add a fence to the background, showing it receding from right to left hoping –– incorrectly –– that it would "add something" to the painting. Not for the first time am I grateful that one of the properties of oil paint is its capacity to allow for corrections and "do-overs (unlike transparent watercolor, which is still my medium-of-choice). Here (#4) the painting shows the offending fence, as well as some additional and pointlessly inaccurate, dabs of white on tree trunks and elsewhere (what was I thinking??). The finished panel is shown below after being corrected. 

A simple, and I hope truthful, rendition of a cool, urban oasis on very hot day in August.

"Leafy Glade, August"
oil on linen panel. 10" x 8"
Available at my Daily Paintworks Gallery, here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Finishing touches...

I spent this morning working on a new panel (not yet ready for viewing) and this afternoon, I devoted time to putting a few finishing touches on "Study #4, Andover, Maine." This painting was posted yesterday in "Branching out..." It seemed to me that certain areas of the sky needed a bit more cloud cover, and some of the foliage and grassy areas benefitted from heightened contrast. And then there was the challenge of a signature. Most recently, I have been signing my watercolor paintings with an old-fashioned "dip pen" loaded with watered-down pigment. Because I don't have that option for signing an oil painting, my full signature poses a challenge on smaller panels like the ones I'm starting out on. I haven't yet developed the knack for doing extremely small detail work in oils. I'll get there, I hope.

Here's the finished, signed version of the painting I did at Tom Dunlay's spectacular plein air workshop a week ago at Merrill House in Andover, Maine. (Details about Tom's October plein air workshop are available on Facebook HERE.)  

"Study #4, Andover, Maine"

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Branching out...

After having spent many decades painting in transparent watercolor, this summer I was intrigued with the idea of working once again in oils. I had originally learned the rudiments of oil painting from my grandmother who, herself a painter, generously supplied me with materials, opportunity, and encouragement. Off and on I dabbled for several years, until other interests diverted my attention once I hit adolescence. Art school would have given me an even more solid grounding in this medium, and others, if I had remained for the entire three-year program, but I left after one year.

Fast-forward to June 2022, when I responded to a Facebook notice about a plein air workshop in Maine. As I added a collection of oil paints, bristle brushes, and gum spirits of turpentine to my studio supplies,  and purchased a French easel, I looked ahead with enthusiasm (and trepidation) to the challenge of jump-starting my lagging creative impulses. 

It was great to meet other artists in such a relaxed atmosphere, and to be in a gorgeous, secluded location, Andover, Maine (near Sunday River). The experience turned out to be a HUGE uphill climb for me in terms of being comfortable with oils, which have virtually nothing in common with watercolors (except for sharing the names of some pigments...). However, I hope I persevered... 
Below are a few of my early "starts" (not finished works) two on the easel were done on the first day of painting, and the other were done on the following day. 

Two beginner panels... 
Study #3, Andover, Maine. Oil on linen panel, 12” x 9”

Study #4, Andover, Maine. Oil on linen panel, 12” x 9”