Friday, May 23, 2014


Waiting for spring 24 by 30
Oh, Hello! This blog was to have been a one year effort that stretched to about three years. I wrote a post every day for nearly a thousand days, setting out to write down everything that I had learned over the years that I thought a painter should know. It was a specific project, and I did it as well as I could. I wrote it all out and gave the information away. Even though I seldom add to it now, I occasionally check my stats and see that there are a whole lot of people still reading it, so the blog is out there being useful. I am painting away  as always, and have volunteered to sit on the board of the Guild of  Boston Artists, which will be a new project for me. The picture above was done on one of many snow painting trips to Vermont this winter with my friend T. M. Nicholas. I fooled with it for a few days in the studio too.

Recently T.M. and I were talking about finishing pictures in the studio. That method is typical of the past New England painters we both admire. We both photograph every location, and agreed that it was a useful practice in case we lost the light or didn't get down far enough into the painting to remember if there were returns on that gable or not. But neither of us really look at the photos much, we invent a whole lot of what is on the canvas, or at least simplify it. Then he said something that made me think, he said....when I am working in the studio


What I think he meant was that when you have a photo, you have lots of information to draw on, but when you work without looking at it, you get a different result. Rather than transcribing from your photo when you look at the painting,you are asking yourself not what goes here, but what does this painting need? The idea is that in the studio you add art, not necessarily information. The answer might come from the rest of the picture. Perhaps the painting needs more weight here, or this line needs to lead this way. Sometimes it is about the pattern of shapes or the harmony of colours. Often it is the "treatment" that you are applying to the subject. When my paintings fail (I have quit painting on panels because they are too hard to throw away) it is seldom because they lack for information, but because they are matter of fact

What your painting should look like might come from your emotional intent, such as "I want this painting to be joyous" or" I want this picture to be lugubrious and sodden". You can put feeling into a painting, but it will come from within you, not from your reference photos.

But most importantly, when you are working out of your head and not from a reference the decisions you make are more individual. It will give your paintings a personal look. What you make up, eliminate or invent will be unique to you in a way that photo references are not. This will give your paintings more style. They will look more like they were done by you, rather than anyone else.

.Information is not art! The artist selects from the myriad bristling details and uses those which advance his intent and discards those which do not. That selection is called simplification, or sometimes breadth. We forget the little details and remember more about how the place made us feel. My best paintings often look remembered, rather than observed. Using photos often leads the artist to an accounting of the particulars of a scene and away from invention. Invention is personal. That which you invent in your paintings will give you your own unique style, that which you transcribe will be comparatively neutral. So most of the time I am in the studio, I don't use references at all. Now and then I will check some element in my photos but the general look, effect and handling come from me and not my references.

I should probably qualify all of this a bit by saying that this is grad-level stuff. I have taught a whole lot of workshops and spent most of my time in them drawing attention to the appearance of nature before the flailing student.The first skill that must be acquired is the ability to represent the scene before you with accurate drawing and color.You absolutely must get that DOWN, gotta have that! It is also important to make lots of outdoor studies in order to build a mental library of  what nature looks like and how different conditions and lighting effect that.

 I suggest you work on paintings in the studio out of your head as much as possible. Your paintings will be more individual and expressive. This is the key to making paintings that are uniquely your own. You want the viewer to look at your work and recognize in it your "style". That will come from putting yourself into your paintings, when they look at them, there you are!


There is only a single workshop on the docket at this time. It will be in Kent, Connecticut on August 23 through the 25th. and is sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. Kent was one of those old impressionist art colonies from the late 19th to early 20th century. This is the southern end of the Berkshires, I guess, and is in what is called the Connecticut hill country I have researched the paintings that were made there and it looks to be a promising place to paint. One of my favorite Metcalfs was painted on a visit to Kent. 

Here is the link to sign up