Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Hudson River bridge project

Here's a letter from a reader:

A friend of mine is embarking on “painting the Hudson River Bridges,” all 11 or 12 of them. I will join her for several. I agreed more from companionship and friendship than artistic curiosity. However, I do want to do a great job. Question to you- Where do I begin? How to make it interesting when the focus is the bridge. I guess I feel a little overwhelmed dealing with the expansiveness of the Hudson, challenged foreground, etc. Any tips are welcomed.

..............................Regretta Snackfood

Dearest Regretta;

That sounds like a great project. Your friend will have the work for a show when she is done. She could call it "The Bridges on the Hudson", or maybe a little print on demand book with some text from the artist on the bottom of each page about the bridge. You intend to do only a few of them, so I will address my suggestions to your friend, who for convenience sake we will call Xanthippe Cleavage-Heaver. You can use these ideas for the fewer bridges that you do, but I am imagining what would have to happen to get a varied and interesting show out of the larger series of paintings.

If I were Xanthippe, I would have in mind from the outset making each of the paintings a stand alone and individual work, yet have a common thread running through the entire group that knits them into a unified presentation as a group. Bullets please!
  • I would take a look at where the show is going to be held, and figure out how a dozen or more paintings could fill it's walls. I would hope to group them in arrays of three or four, but the size and shape of the walls of the gallery or Starbucks will make that decision for me somewhat. It is nice to know this upfront when you can.
  • She could do a series of small paintings all the same size and that would be the least work, but a more interesting show would have groups of paintings containing a large picture, probably an elongated shape like a 24 by 36, and several medium sized paintings. I would also include at least two square or nearly square paintings in the mix, one large and one small.
  • I don't think I would do any small paintings, or perhaps better, hang them in the next room or add them to the series as a subgroup. I think that having some of the bridges presented as very much smaller and less important pieces would detract from the unity of the show. It might be good to have a half dozen small paintings to bring the number of pieces up from twelve to eighteen. That's enough pictures for a full show, twelve is a little thin.
  • Having the small ones might make you some sales anyway if the red dots don't show up, you may sell a few little ones and have some succor for all of your time and effort if the collectors don't sweep in and buy the big ones. In our current economy that might happen. Things is tough out there.
  • You could tie all the work together with a unified coloring system or treatment of some kind, but I think I would just make em and respond as best to each location as I could. My own style would probably be enough to make the show look "of a piece" letting some be more colored or dramatic and others have a quieter mood.
  • The really big impressive bridges like the George Washington (love that guy!) go on the big canvasses and the less interesting bridges go on the smaller canvasses.
  • Some of the bridges are going to be a lot less interesting, I don't know them all but I imagine a few of them are pretty plain I would do vignettes of quirky closeups or interesting angles on those. That should hopefully deal with that problem, rather than just showing them in a matter of fact way in a ll of their ordinaryness.
  • It would be good to get some architecture around some of the bridges and some broad expanses of open river and sky in some others. I hope the Newburgh bridge is on the list.
  • I would frame them all in the same moulding using a larger version for the larger paintings. Black is hip right now, it is New York and the subject, industrial.

Painting in a green world

A photo from my archives of a woodland pond in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire

I think that summer is the hardest season to paint outside. It is just way too much green for me. I do some green paintings, but I don't want to make a whole seasons worth of them. One or two in a show is fine, but a whole room full of green paintings is not. I have crashed a lot of paintings in the greenness. I always think I won't do it again and every year I make at least one painting that is nice but too green.

I am not the only landscape painter to feel this way, lots of them have and there are some strategies to avoid the problem. Here are a few that come to mind.
  • If you must paint in a green hell, try to vary the greens and tone them down too. A green plus red is called olive, Savor those the more red you can smuggle in their the better often. The violets in the shadows aren't green either so they also serve as a foil. Ask yourself would I wear this color? There are colors in paintings you wouldn't wear, but with the greens the question is more relevant.
  • Historically artists have turned their backs to the green. Many of the art colonies of America started in seaside towns. Artists who painted the hills of New England in the fall and winter painted the harbors or surf in the summer. The ocean is a great place to be when it is too green out there.
  • Woods and fields can be a nightmare, but in the evening the lengthening light and the gathering darkness begin to drop the saturation of some of the green. In the late hours lots of too green places become paintable.
  • Gardens are great place to paint in the summer. They are green but if you have flowers, paths, shadows or evening light, there are endless good garden pictures to be made. Most people who have fine perennial beds are flattered and will to allow an artist to paint their gardens. I have knocked on strangers doors.
  • Try to look for big shapes that aren't green, such as a colored house or a yellow field or gray out buildings, any thing that you can use so that at least an important part of the canvas isn't painted green.
  • Another solution is to cripple your ability to mix green. Restrict yourself to an earth color palette or at least mix all of your own greens from ultramarine. If you are restrained in the presentation of the greens in a landscape rather than literal, usually better paintings result.
  • Beaches with people in swimsuits and lolling indolently under big colorful umbrellas are a great subject. I do not mean take photos there and use those in the studio, no friends, I suggest you set your easel up on the beach in the sunlight.
  • Sometimes it helps to stain your canvas with a warm earth color before painting, you might rub it down with burnt sienna and a little solvent, using a paper towel. The influence of that wet layer of sienna particularly if it gets into the notes layed onto it can be a welcome modifier when things go green.
Sorry to miss a day there. I am as is so often the case, way overworked. I have a deadline I must meet on a big painting and I am traveling all over. I am glad to know I will be home for a while. I have a studio full of half finished paintings and I want to hole up with them until the green fades or more likely I go to the sea. Painting surf is a great way to avoid all of that green too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Its coming, I swear.................

Still from the movie: "Down Country Roads with Stapleton Kearns"

Sorry, readers;

I have been traveling and now I am against a tight deadline on a piece that HAS to be done by the first. It has at least a months work in it. It is a big project and not a plein air piece. The painting is for the Northwest Rendezvous of Art in Helena, Montana. I am going to go there for the event in August.

Either way I have to work almost around the clock on this thing until it is right. The painting is proving very hard to make, they often do. I will get to the computer tonight and actually write something of value. Till then, I suggest you lay down with your arms at your sides and wait quietly.

Monday, June 27, 2011


LinkJan Van Goyen from

Picturemaking is an old artist's phrase used by some of the elderly painters I knew when I was younger.It is a way of looking at the artists goals that is very different from the reigning ideas common to most of today's art world.

Picturemaking means that the artist is deliberately making art to be enjoyed by an owner. The artist is painting pictures. The artist is making exalted possessions intended to be lived with and savored by their owners for a lifetime, if not for generations. The object itself, and what it looks like, is whats important. Generally picturemakers intend to make valuable objects.

I was very strongly effected when I first learned the term and I think of myself as a picturemaker.In fact if you ask me what I do for a living I will answer "I paint pictures" I like the way that both explains exactly how I spend my time, and implies a certain attitude about what kind of art I make. Besides, I always dislike calling myself an "artist" that sounds so pretentious and there are too many wankers calling themselves that. It is certainly not the only way to think about what you are making, but it is a good way, and one that generations of of artists before us routinely espoused. It is an idea that is part of our historic artistic culture.Because I am little interested in contemporary painting and very interested in the work of the generations before they changed the water, I pay a lot of attention to how the painters of our culture historically thought about what they did. How much further before the early 20th century this idea goes it would be an interesting research project for someone who didn't have to paint for a living. Here are some things that a picturemaker would NOT intend his art to be.
  • An in your face, a graphic and brutal depiction rodent sexuality
  • A political message depicting the hideous plight of the daytime television audience or anyone who simply needs more government programs.
  • A philosophical statement by the artist. Usually those begin with the artist saying "My work explores the..................."
  • Enormous works made for consumption for museums. These are often made to be shocking or challenging to those who disagree with the often obscure opinion of the artists and not something many people would want in their home. This is art as entertainment. You go to the museum and this painting is a display item in a PT Barnum freak show.
  • Copies of literal nature, whether made with a photograph or mindless perseverance.
  • Work that is schlocky or cheaply sentimental, because in the long run those aren't easy to live with for a lifetime either. Their appeal is quickly exhausted or the owners taste outgrows them. Besides, I don't want to make dumb pictures.
  • Works that base their charm on a clever or wry twist of the viewers expectation, because they become quickly like clever one liners that are funny the first few times, but pale if you hear them every day, the fun evaporates, unless there is so much more there that can always overpower the immediacy of the opening gimmick
  • Works made of dirt, feathers, animal feces or the discarded genitals of the transgendered, because one of the objects of picturemaking is the intention of creating something valuable and these fleeting materials are non archival and generally not viewed as precious.
  • Works made to rely on their subjects for their value and appeal, such as ducks, boats etc, rather than their appearance, and quality of their worksmanship.
  • Works made whose primary goal is the expression of the artists own psyche that would be too personal to appeal to many other people on their living room wall for the rest of their lives.
  • Work that is timely or so current that its appeal will be lost rapidly as interest in that particular subject idea or gimmick fades to be replaced by a new "latest thing". That is fashion not art.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More about the eyes that follow you and some slander aimed at perfectly nice people.

I believer I will talk about a couple of things today. First a little more about the eyes that follow you problem. I am traveling (again) and I carry a few photos of my wife and kids in my computer bag. I remember what they look like, but women always ask me if I have photos of my family and disapprove if I don't. Men, never ask.

So, I propped one of the pictures of my kids up against the desk lamp in my motel room and walked back and forth in front if it. The eyes in the photograph seemed always to follow me. I am certain that the camera didn't manipulate the images in some special way to make that happen. Nor did the camera employ some artifice or covert mathematical operation to secure the effect. Oddly though, people never remark about the eyes in a photograph following you around, at least I have never heard that. I think that backs up M. Guilmets explanation, and as I said earlier, it requires no special manipulation to paint a portrait with eyes that "follow" you except for having the sitter train their eyes on you as you paint them.

I think that a little of what is underlying this whole thing is a popular idea or need for the artist to be a shaman or possessed of some secret knowledge. The idea that a paintings eyes follow you around because of some little known contrivance appeals enormously to that. It reinforces the idea that the painting has been imbued with some special and mysterious "life" that is slightly otherworldly.

Most people, OK, not most, but a great number of people who I meet tell me that either they, or their mother is(or was) an artist. My standard reply is to show a warm and supportive smile as I ask "Cool! Maybe I have seen your work, where are you showing?" That always seems to sort things out. When it is Moms work they will tell me about, or if possible show me a portrait Mom did of the kids. As I look at it, I can easily tell it was made by copying a photograph by someone with no particular ability or knowledge because it contains no structure or form. That is, rather than the modeling explaining the planes and surface of the heads, the shading is like dirt on the surface or has cast shadows that fall randomly across the features rather than being arranged to display the features expressively. As I observe this I usually hear the proud relative saying "and the eyes actually follow you around the room"! That being presented as the final authoritative argument for the high quality of Moms art. See, Mom can do "it". The painting also "looks just like them".

I try to be supportive and move on to admiring their collection of unicorns or something, but it makes me feel foreign. I always wish that the people that I met knew more about painting, but it is obscure to them. After spending a lifetime honing my craft, it is always a little scary when you discover that most "normal" or educated people don't know the difference.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More about the eyes that "follow' you

Rembrandt (1606-1669) Portrait of Nicolaas van Bambeeck from

A reader in the comments posted such an excellent explanation of the eyes following you problem that I am going to put it out front here under the proscenium arch. The following is by M.C. Guilmet;

This is not a phenomenon that can be observed by moving about in nature and is an illusion caused by linear perspective and chiaroscuro effects that set fixed points on the picture plane and set a specific point of view for that object permanently, no matter where any viewer stands. There are a few simple examples to better understand the illusion:
1. First, reverse the problem. Find a portrait that is painted where the eyes do not look at you. Then try to find any place to stand in the room where the eyes will look at you. There is no place. The eyes will never look at you. You are looking at an object where everything has been fixed to one point of view. So no matter where you move in the room that fixed point of view never changes. You could stand right in front of the painting, then move 12 feet to the right, and the picture will not change for you, the eyes will never look at you, it will be as if a phantom viewer is still standing directly in front of the painting and that is who the painting is playing to with eyes averted. Contrast this with ‘reality’. Stand a model in front of you. Stand directly in front of them and look into their eyes, now, move slowly around the model. Every step you take, your view completely changes. There is no pre-fixed point of view, there is no middleman. You are creating the pov with each step. You are looking at the front, now side, now back, etc. Each slight tilt of your head in any direction while viewing nature creates a different view to you, a different reality. From almost the moment you are born, your eyes start to take in every “snapshot” of objects in front of them and your brain starts to build a synthesized version of that object until you understand that object in its most “ideal” or generic state. This is Plato’s Heaven, the idea of platonic form. I’m getting off track a bit so...
2. OK, forget about faces entirely. Let’s say you paint a tree that looks about 50 feet away from the bottom edge of the frame. If you stand in front of the painting, the tree looks 50 feet away. If you back up 100 feet, the tree still looks 50 feet from the frames edge. The distance from the tree to the frame edge is fixed and never changes no matter where you go, even if you leave the room. Contrast that with standing in front of a real tree about three feet away. It looks three feet away. Back up 50 feet now it looks 50 feet away. Back up 100…and it looks 100 feet away and so on. Think back now to that painted tree 50 feet from the frames edge. Imagine that tree “looking” at you…see it’s face….and it’s “eyes”…no matter where you stand in the room, that tree will still be looking at you in the same way. The fact is, the whole painting appears to you in exactly the same way no matter where you stand. It is a slice of reality within your reality. For a portrait, the eyes... but also the lips, chin, hair, nose…..look at you in the same way. So this really begs the question, WHY do we notice this so much with a portrait and NOT with a tree…..?


Today I am in Minnesota, I have been so many places in the last six months that I can't even remember them in order. I am going to try to make a demo painting today, and photograph it with my celluloid phone, if that works I will post that next.............Stape

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Frederick Leighton from

I was asked by a reader;

I try to stay a page ahead of my beginning painters, but one of them came up with a doosey! She wanted to know how a painting was composed so that the barrel of a six gun seems to follow the viewer as the viewer crosses of front of the painting to the other side. I lamely commented something about optical illusion and promised to find out. The same question was observed of the eyes of some portraits. Is it partly psychological? Since you know art history, you probably can inform us. I think the painting was at the Gilcrease in Tulsa. Thank you.
.....................Cherry Maraschino

This is the kind of question that Jim Gurney answers so well. I know the answer I guess, but it is almost a non answer. The eyes or the open end of that gun point at you because they are painted pointing at you, and even though you walk from one side of the painting to another the painting doesn't change. A three D object would be seen differently from different angles, but not a flat one. It is a simple matter to get the eyes of a portrait to look at you and this follow the viewer around the room. Just ask your sitter to look directly at you as you paint them., or point that hogleg at you. Make sure you have a look in that chamber first though, it is best not to take anyone's opinion about whether a gun be loaded or no, best to check for yourself.

Is there more too this, I don't think so but there are some high falutin science types who read this blog (you know who you are) and if you can add to this please do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hard on the top, soft on the bottom 2

Here is a 9 by 12 sketch demonstrating the hard on the top, soft on the bottom idea. It was done transparently with ultramarine and a little black. I forced myself to used the gradation formed by pulling the tones down from the edges all over. I then free associated the forms of waves out of the resulting goo.

Everywhere I have drawn the top of a wave I have gradated below it automatically. I also placed as many lines as I could against a light part of the gradation of the wave behind. The drawing grew organically like a doodle.

Making up water, not copying it from a photo is great training in building form and handling gradation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hard on the top, soft on the bottom.

I know that sounds liked a jingle or a slogan for some person or product.

I first heard it remembered out loud in a cheery singsong by Charles Vickery, the seascape painter when he was doing a demonstration in Rockport about 20 years ago. It went by like that, bit I thought "what"? He didn't say it again but I went to work on applying the idea to surf. It is pretty basic, canned, water representing method and has been exploited to a fare-thee-well by our friends the Chi-Coms making lesser priced oils for American homes.

Here above is an example of a passage that was painted with a hard, dark edge at the top, and then "pulled down" or blended to a soft edge on the bottom. I am going somewhere with this, I know that seems pretty mundane and obvious.

Decorative painters doing tole paintings on trays and tinware know and used this transition from a hard line to a soft valley to give the illusion of form in a simple drawing. You may remember the cheap cartoons from a few years ago that were computer rendered to be "airbrush" looking. The hard edge and fade passage is a big part of that "look", or a real airbrush, does anyone still use those?

This is a simple convention based on the actual anatomy of form. It works particularly well on naturally curving or or somewhat transparent forms. Among those forms are clouds and water. Many of you have been taught to lay a note on the canvas and then soften the edge. Thats pretty standard, but what if instead of softening the edge you choose a side of the edge and soften that? Entire passages and areas of a painting may all bear that pulled"edge. Imagine a sky full of dark grey clouds painted hard on the top. soft on the bottom. The convention describes nicely what goes on in clouds, and encodes an idea of their form rather Old paintings are full of those.

More tomorrow on this .

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Putting in a birdhouse

I have mentioned before that I am not really a plein air painter, I am a landscape painter. I work outside a lot, but I also work in my studio just as much. I had this painting in the studio from last summer, or the one before maybe. I can't remember if I have shown it., I think not. But I was scratching my head over it and decided it needed a little more subject. I have made up and inserted birdhouses in gardens before. That is one of my little tricks. I have an inventory of likely stuff I like to drop into paintings of gardens.

What you see in the picture is made of masking tape which I have drawn on a little with a pencil.. I mocked up the birdhouse with masking tape that I carefully cut out with a scissors and a razor knife and stuck to the painting. I moved it around a bit and experimented with the size and perspective until I liked the way it looked. Below is a picture of the tape birdhouse. All of this took perhaps an hour and a half.

Now I will draw around the birdhouse and fill in the space with white remembering to "leave the line" so I don't enlarge the birdhouse by accident. I am going to drop the birdhouse right onto the painting without changing anything else in the area. I want to avoid repainting the background. At least that's the plan, it should be efficient. It helps to plan things carefully, I almost always make the time back later, and I get cleaner looking work.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I was asked in the comments;

But WAIT!!! All the books I have on composition (14 Easy Steps to Great Composition, Composition for Dummies, Create Composition Like the Masters and Composition, It's Not Just for Breakfast)) ALL of them mention the BIG L as a GOOD thing????
...................Copay Chiapette

Dearest Copay;
I said last night that "this design is not so much "wrong" as it is pedestrian". When you look in composition books they do recommend the "L" if I wrote a composition book I would include it as well. And there's Claude Lorain and a lot of the old paintings I like, and 19th century luminist paintings used this design stem all the time. Edgar Payne ( reader, if you have not read this book, you should) shows this design in his "design stems"

F. Church, from showing an "L" in its design.

My opinion on the weakness of the Dirk Van Assaerts painting is that the "L" is not designed in an attractive proportion to the size and shape of the picture plane ( that flat place where the world ends abruptly and the picture begins). There is nothing the matter with an "L" design but using it still hasn't designed the painting effectively. It is not a one size fits em all unit, that you can just plug in there. You need the right "L" not just "an L" The visual attraction of the shape of the "L" pulls the viewers eye at a controllable level. You can determine that amount. Either the "L" screams like a startled banshee, speaks proudly, stands quietly by, or shrinks to daintiness. In Dirks picture the "L" was as big as a skyscraper and totally dominated the painting. The "L" was bigger than the world in which it was placed.

It is possible to paint the world, and drop the "L" into that. on the other hand it is also possible to build the " L', and use whatever canvas remains for the world part. I know this from great experience. My experience has led me to belive that it is nearly always better to encompass the "L" within a larger world surrounding it. That world would be the dominant shape and the "L" thingy would be the negative, subordinate shape.

I have probably been both complex and confusing. I will see if I can come up with a few more Dirk Van Assaerts examples that explain the idea above.



Here is another rediscovered painting by the "Nevelson master" Dirk Van Assaerts. This particularly dull painting contains the big "L". Dirk set his easel up in front of a grand tree, and made only one design decision, that was " I better not put it right in the middle!" So he placed his subject matter slightly off center. In this case on the right, and then he forgot about design altogether, believing wrongly that "he had taken care of that".

Now, this design is not so much "wrong" as it is pedestrian. It is common and unremarkable. The peoples windmill on the right helps to give balance, but does nothing to overcome the "square" and rather static arrangement. The painting is about avoidance of the mistake of placing the subject in the center of the canvas, but no attempt has been made to make a pleasing array of shapes for the viewer.

Dirk excitedly opened the waxen seal on the letter from the Accreditation Commission For Conformity Assessment Bodies. The tiny crabbed printing in brown ox gall ink informed him that he was the recipient of the National Assembly of Compulsion grant for the arts in the amount of 12,000 Guilders. Dirk thought "I could live on that for months! Running into the squalid low ceilinged bedchamber he rolled his dozing pink wife over and told her the news. She seemed to understand and her bristled lips twitched with slow comprehension.

"And there is a show!" Dirk exclaimed at the suet filled kiddie pool that had once his trim bride. I get a one man show at the Great hall of Conformity at the University of East Delft! Dirk pulled on his splintered wooden shoes, ran out the door and skipped down the litter strewn canal towpath heading for The Tavern of Remorse and Indiscretion, waving the letter over his head
. His wife, Sepsis, went back to sleep in her new position.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The archways

Here are the individual painted archways from Garin Bakers mural. Images should click to a large view. The following text is Garin.

In brief, You got to know Newburgh. Once had a heyday during the fifties as "The All American City" as the old timers still call it, on the banks of the Hudson River 60 miles north of NYC.
Now it's the "tale of two cities". Along the waterfront, nice and all renovated for restaurants goers and night spots for the suburb clubbers.
The Railroad Trestle runs 300 ft along the shore line as an impenetrable barrier to an small inner city beyond and up the hill.
Choked by poverty, although a diamond in the "Rough". Literally the highest murder rate per-capita on the eastern seaboard.
All the wonderful sites depicted in the 5 Trestle Mural "Archways" , sit just beyond the wall a few block away, empty to a large degree for only fear won't allow many to explore and embrace them.

Archway #1, "Washington Headquarters" 16 ft high X 45 ft long,
(All figures in the foreground are life size.)

Archway #2, "Broadway Corridor" 16 ft high X 45 ft long,

Archway #3, "Downing Park" 16 ft high X 45 ft long,

Archway #4, "Dutch Reformed Church" 16 ft high X 45 ft long,

Archway #5, "The Crawford House" 16 ft high X 45 ft long,

Friday, June 17, 2011

More from Garin Baker on mural painting

Here is another post written by Garin Baker about the process of creating a big mural. Thanks Garin for all your efforts to show us this and explain it.

Amazing site along the banks of the Hudson River about 60 miles north of New York City Is where the fun all happened.

We started with the faux stone work accomplished in a fast and amazingly easy technique.
A turpentine wash of what ever color you pick on you palette mixed with it complimentary color varying the degrees of warm and cool temperature is applied to an area a wide as you can reach
from left to right from top to bottom letting the paint run down creating basically an abstraction of mess and drips. Just a bit of time for the turpentine to evaporate and just the pigment is left for you to work into making sure not to over brush it. Then cut in with a gray to white mortar lines varying you brush thickness. Think organic shapes working you negative space to create interesting stone and rock shapes. Lay in some deep cool shadows on the bottom of the stones as they appear and some high lights and variate some middle tones on top... play play play. keep it loose, and keep moving.

Wonderful Nancy Stonecypher muralist and faux finisher picked up the technique in no time flat Awesome!

Natalia Zadnovskia expressionist and theatre designer artist from Russia via Brooklyn, mastered the technique and could compete a 20 ft square section every day. Amazing to watch her.

At night we used a digital projector and lap top with our previously completed compositionally approved designs and projected the archway areas onto the wall, measured and scaled so as to
not deviate from the overall schematic. One of my past students at School of Visual Arts In NYC whom is a colleague and amazing painter in his own right David Penna checks and lets us know all
systems are good.

Then we with a very thinned out turpentine tone drew out the projected image on the wall. No need to draw to much since were just trying to get accurate placement and defining where the large lights and shadows are located. Figures where drawn out by me since I was primarily responsible for their accuracy and needed to draw them out with just the right indications since everyone depicted
in the Mural is from Newburgh and it was important that they would recognize themselves.

Young paid apprentice Artist Bryan Gugllielmi proved invaluable on this project and I could not have completed it without him.
He was my primary blocker in and lead me from left to right blocking in large masses of freehand mixed colors as I followed tightening and resolving
the form and accuracy. He's been painting from life in my studio since he was sixteen when his mother brought him by saying he was getting into trouble
at school and needed some direction. Bryan is now a muralist with Mural Arts in Philadelphia as well as working on his own paintings after completing his degree
a few years ago at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garin Baker talks about his methods

Garin Baker has provided photos and some explanation of the mural process. The following is in his words. This is part one in a two part series of photos and some commentary on the project

The original wall as we found it which was constructed to carry freight and passenger trains in the 1860's

The following are explanations of Mural procedure and some "how to" photos
Specifically, "Archways" the Trestle Mural Project, Newburgh, NY 22 ft high X 220 ft long.
Completed in 2007 by myself and a team of 7-10 artist in a 5-6 month time frame not including presentation approvals and fundraising which added another 3 years to the project
done by a Not for Profit organization named Trestle Inc.

Be that as it may I'm prefacing everything I'm about to reveal with the most important fact that every Exterior Mural project is unique.
Site conditions, Climate, Wall surface, building or retaining wall, stucco, concrete or brick, height from the ground, ability to use lift equipment or scaffolding. I could go on and on.
Lets use the Trestle Mural as an example. Which I consider a huge failure as a permanent exterior Mural which basically should have a life span of about 25- 30 years if all the prep work was done correctly which it was not on this project by a long shot.
A moisture ridden retaining wall which needed a thick parged coating of a moisture barrier material applied consistently and primed before we started painting the mural.
It was only after we started painting the mural did we realize the City of Newburgh hired a contractor who owed back taxes to do the job and as he worked from left to right he skimped and cheated all who loved the project and now see it presently, a beautiful work of art that should have lasted. I'm sorry to inform all who are interested that the Murals present condition is irreparable and large sections need to be removed.
Anyway here's how we did it.

The presentation of the design for approval and fundraising purposes.

The Fundraising: Corporate sponsorships, private donation for commemorative bricks laid on site and a NYS Coastal waters Grant, Oh yes, wall prep provided by the City Of Newburgh.

Mural Painting work begins on site, Scaffolding is erected, The art shed ( below) is strategically placed and all the artist working get paid and have health insurance. Yippee!

Our palettes are constructed on site using 4 x 8 sheet of plywood cut in half. Then cutting 12 holes around the top perimeter in order to allow for chinese soup take out dishes with lids to
be dropped into so that they don't fall through.
The paint I used on this project was a Benjamin Moore product called Impervo, Oil Based Alkyd Enamels , Very durable with light fast colors with a polyurethane binder, gloss finish. in a wide range of mixable colors.
This paint is used commonly by exterior sign painters also sometimes applied to US Navy ships and industrial machinery.
The colors I choose range from black to white and cools to warms similar to an impressionist plein air painters palette from light to dark and warm to cool.
Also I like using the primary colors or as close as I can get them since I can basically mix anything else freehand simulating the illusions of light with color
No pre mixed colors for me bro! Cheep Home depot Turpentine as thinner and big fat chip brushes. We go through allot of them.
Long flat Bristle brushes for the figures and some finish work but I stress to the apprentices and other artist working if I see you in any one spot noodling details too long your
climbing high up on the scaffolding to clean brushes one at a time. Fast and loose is how I paint catching the lights, shadows and right details with one stroke. Sargent and Sorolla baby!
I used to render when I was younger, Don't have the patience anymore. Too many walls and paintings I want to do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Garin Baker murals

I want to return to Garin Baker again and show what he does for a living. Garin is the guy who painted the portrait of me at my easel, and I enjoyed meeting him at the Cranford "Paint the town" event last week. Garin paints giant murals,including one 200 feet long. I asked if he would send me some "process" photos and that is one above. This is a drawing for a mural about transportation for a building in Washington DC. If you click on it you should get a pretty good size image. These drawings are huge, never mind the murals and need to be seen as large as possible to appreciate the complexity and finish of the drawings.

Here is another drawing for the transportation project.

And below, the finished mural for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in Washington, D.C , it is 15 feet high and 30 feet long.

Garin studied at Pratt and then at the Art Students League. He studied there with David Leffell and Ted Seth Jacobs. He began a career in illustration, but wanted to do his own art for a living as he was painting for himself when not doing his illustration work. In 1990 he moved out of the city to New Winsor, NY. Where he has restored an old post and beam home and turned the barn into a studio equipped for producing enormous mural canvases.

To get the work as a mural painter it is necessary to do a presentation drawing to show the potential client what your completed mural will look like. Here is another of those below for a public mural in Washington called "How We Live".

Here is the wall to be decorated with the scaffolding up and a scissors lift.

Below is Garin with a big brush on that lift.

And below, the finished mural 30 feet by 30 feet.

Here is a detail of the mural.

Below are two other mural designs, you will have to click on them to really see what they look like as these photos are small.
Finalist Proposal Rendering, Missouri Department of Transportation. This was done in black & white charcoal on Canson paper, it is 38 inches by 104 inches

The mural below is in Newburgh New York and depicts gang members idling on the left and those same gangbangers restoring a brownstone row house on the right.

Here is a link to a short movie about another of Garins projects called "The Archways".

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cranford Surf

Here is what I was working on for the quick draw event as Garin painted my portrait. I painted this under the overhanging eves at the entrance to the commuter rail station in downtown Cranford. We were allowed 2 and 1/2 hours for the project.

I don't quickdraw, I slowdraw. I have worked at that. I am rather meticulous, except on a seascape, I can get a rough seascape on a canvas in a couple of hours and so when I do demonstrations I like to do a seascape. I use no references and it is made up on the spot. The painting is not a place I remember. It is not a place that really exists.

I don't go to paintouts, I think this was my first. Maybe I have been to one or two before but it was long ago. But it was fun and I would do it again. I enjoy meeting the other artists.

I have so many deadlines to make around here. All the dealers want their art and I am way behind, I apologize for posting so late in the day but I am harried with travel and commitments.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stape portrait by Garin Baker

Here is a portrait of me done by Garin Baker at yesterdays quickdraw event in Cranford, New Jersey. He did it in two and a half hours as that was the time limit given us. I painted a seascape.
Thise is a real fine piece of work. You know how sometimes those baseball players point with their sticks to the bleachers to show where they are going to hit the ball? Garin did that. The night before, he asked me where I was going to be painting and if he could do my portrait. He said I had a peculiar stance and he thought he could get a great picture of me out working. I'd say he did.

To do this is a matter of no little talent, not many people can do this, especially on demand. He was really on the spot there, and I think he knocked it out of the park. It won a prize in the competition. Below is his picture from the opening last night. Sorry it's so grainy but there was very little light.

Garin is a professional painter from Newburg, New York. Here is a link to his website, and to his mural company and lastly to his Carriage House Atelier.
Go check him out, this is an enormously talented guy, and funny too. Born and raised in New York, he has the confident swagger of the urban denizen, even though he has moved a few miles up the Hudson. I have enjoyed meeting the artists at this event. I think that it is so important to get out and know all of the great folks in this field. I don't usually do plein air events, but I enjoyed this one a lot.

Below is a picture I made of a green house and farm store in Cranford. It is a 11 by 14. I almost never paint small, but I did on this trip. It makes me feel boxed in. I like the freedom of a big canvas, but it was a special; event so I painted little "peashooters" as my friend T.M. Nicholas likes to call them.

This afternoon I am driving home to New Hampshire. I am looking forward to going back to work finishing my Texas stuff.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


The subject of viewfinders passed by in last night's blog and in the comments. I think I will write a little about those. In short, I think viewfinders are for beginners ( I guess I will need to post a baby animal tomorrow, I know some of you will be offended) here's why.

A viewfinders purpose is to cut a finite and absolute window out of nature before you, so you can transfer that onto your canvas. For people just learning to paint landscapes, that is a handy tool. The amount of complexity outdoors is simplified somewhat and they can copy whatever is bounded by the little L shaped pieces of cardboard. What could be wrong with that, Stape? Dirk Van Assaerts was known to have used one as early as the 17th century!

Well, the problem is this....... Cropping may be composition, but it is not design. Simply cutting a window out of nature and copying that, is the lowest form of composition as it doesn't include deliberate arrangement of the shapes and elements of a painting. The literal and exact representation of nature before you is a "must have" skill for the landscape painter. But it is not the highest form of art. It is journalism, not poetry. Fine landscape painters design their paintings. They arrange the elements and shapes within that picture into an artistic presentation. The artist who literally copies nature before him is going to have his lunch eaten by the artist who can design a picture, rather than having it imposed on him by the happenstance arrangement of the shapes as they naturally occur before them. A camera can crop, it takes human decision making to arrange, and an artist to arrange beautifully.

Again, as a learning tool a viewfinder is fine and beginning landscapists need a way to "get a hold" of the landscape, and bounding it with a viewfinder aids in the mechanical transcription of the scene onto the canvas. I think, however, that after the aspiring painter learns to deal with that, it is time to be rid of the viewfinder, and begin forging arrangements from natures offerings rather than numbly transcribing a selected piece of nature.