Friday, December 11, 2015

Dearest Blog readers. I am doing a book for Pequod books. As part of that project, I have been labeling old posts and working on the back end of the system. Because of that some old blogs have popped to the front page here. Some posts may now be out of order. But they are all still here in their enormity. I am glad you have come to read them and please bear with any glitches that may have newly formed,

Tuesday, December 8, 2015



Another find from the Nevelson master this painting is a fine example of a design flaw. Painted on the lid of a White Owl box, ( the artists white is suspected to be the ground up plastic mouthpieces from those same smokes ) this small painting contains a design problem called potation. What is that, you might well ask?


If you again look at the painting above, or in your pamphlets, you will notice that the trees and the clouds are all of the same potato shape. Everyone who begins to paint makes this mistake. The ability to make interesting and varied shapes is developed and not instinctive. Like everything else in painting it must be learned, no one gets much for free.

When you see granny's paintings sold by her disgusted heirs at a yard sale, this is one of the most common faults. E-bay is full of modestly priced paintings by retired executives that are full of potato shapes. Someone once remarked that all amateur painting looks the same, and much of it does, because they all contain the same things unlearned.

So don't POTATE! as you paint, and when you study your work, police your shapes. Look for repletion of the same elements and intervals between them. The more different your shapes are from one another the longer you will hold the viewer.

Scholars researching the Nevelson master may have discovered his identity, one Dirk Van Assaerts from East Delft. Letters and civil records have come to light showing that he was a successful teacher and arts administrator too, winning numerous grants and subsidies. Van Assaerts left volumes of correspondence, opening to scholars a unique view into the life of a 17th century tyro. In coming posts I will reveal what contemporary scholarship has to say about this remarkable man.

safety studio post

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My little studio and a line of tape on the floor.

My studio measures eleven by twenty feet. That's big enough for me. If I were doing portraits or  figures I would need more space, but for what I do it works just fine. I start all of my paintings outside, the studio is where I operate on them when they come home.

My  studio is a miniature version of one I had in the seventies in the historic Fenway Studios building in Boston. The studio is the former garage next to my house that I have reworked. I removed a roll up door on steel tracks and closed up the hole where it had been. The garage had a cement floor and bare wooden studs for  walls.There was a low ceilinged second floor above. I removed half of that and kept the back half as a loft area for my stretchers and failed paintings. The front half of the room where the easel is has a 14 foot "cathedral" and dormered ceiling. There is another set of small french windows set into a dog house dormer above the window in the photo, so I have lots of light. The studio is wainscoted in dark wood, extra high, and has oak floors. The floors take a real beating because this is a workshop. The windows are true divided lights and also stained dark walnut like the rest of the woodwork.  The walls are  linen white. The walls go up so high that all that white  counterbalances the dark wood and keeps the studio from being darker than the inside of a cow.

For me, a north light studio is essential. The studio is a big light box, like a camera, there are no other windows on the sides of the studio so the light only comes from one direction. North light is unvarying over the course of a workday, any other direction and the sun will strike into your studio. That would mean that if you painted a still life, the shadows on the objects would move over the course of the day. Under north light they do not. I don't paint still life, but the glare of full sunlight streaming through  a studio window makes it hard to work. I want soft, cool, and even natural light. Late in the day I do get a little direct sun beaming in, and I take a break as the bright  parallelograms cross the walls behind me.

My easel has a simple homemade rack sitting on it that has a 1"by4" extension six feet long. I can place two 24" by 30"s next to one another, The rack takes the level of the tray of the easel up about 2 feet, I like that because I am tall. Also sitting on the tray of the easel is a three by four piece of plywood to which I can tape photos of paintings that I find inspiring, or references.  Above the easel on arms of carefully selected #3 pine hang several fluorescent fixtures. I prefer not to  paint under artificial light. Sometimes I have to work at night to get things done, so I have them.  Studio lighting can be set up much better, but I get by with this. I don't want to mount any light fixtures on my window wall, it wouldn't look pretty.

Here is a closeup of my taboret, the table on which a painter sets his palette when he works. Mine is a very heavy homemade cabinet full of drawers, upon which a key grinding machine once lived in a Maine hardware store. Steel casters allow it to be shoved about as needed. I want it to be heavy so it is stable. On one side of the taboret is a hook where I hang the backpack I use outside, so whatever I keep in that bag is close at hand.

My open paint box is on the sideboard behind me. I have only one palette and paintbox. When I come in from outside, I take the palette out of the box, and set it one the taboret. The dozen or so drawers on the right hand ( not visible) side of the taboret hold paint that I buy in quantity and tube myself. That adds weight too. The top of the taboret is heavy oak and will withstand great abuse. I use it like the bench in a woodworkers shop when the palette is removed.

On the floor is a cheap rug from Home Depot which I replace every few years when it gets too splattered with paint to be presentable. On that rug about five feet away from the easel is a piece of masking tape.

 I paint from two different points in my studio. 

If I am doing small or tightly detailed work I stand right at the easel. I almost always work standing. But when I am finishing full sized paintings that I have started outside I stand back from the easel on the taped line. I observe the painting from this point, I mix the note on the palette beside me, and then I walk up to the easel and make my brushstroke(s). Then I return to my distant observation point again. Doing this causes the paintings ideal focus to be out about five feet from the canvas. That makes a big difference in the way a painting looks and helps me keep a more impressionist look in my pictures.

I have found I get better results if I stand back from my easel. I get a broader looking picture if I work from this distance. It also seems quicker to me, I do try to use the largest brush I can and at that distance working in bigger marks is easier. It really does make a big difference in the way a painting looks. The distant viewing station gives a more impressionist and looser look than standing right at the canvas.