Wednesday, December 10, 2008

sketch night Society of Illustrators

walnut ink on toned paper 9x12

Every Tuesday and Thursday here in New York at the Society of Illustrators there are two models and a three piece live band.  It gets crowded and, since there is bar (it's in the dining room of the Society), it has a speakeasy quality without the smoke.  $15 and anyone can come.  Many good artists are there doing anything but your standard academic nude drawing.

This piece was done with a fountain pen loaded with Walnut ink made from the shells of walnuts, an old type of ink.  It's water soluble, so, when I go over it with a water filled brush, I can get a wash.

I should mention that I drew this from a chair placed on a table so the artists are actually below me while the model is on the same level.  This explain, in part, the perspective.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Katsushika Hokusai

"From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me, and around the age of fifty, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs.  It was not until after my seventieth year, however, that I produced anything of significance.  At the age of seventy-three, I began to grasp the underlying structure of bird and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow.  Thus, if I keep up my efforts, I will have an even better understanding when I am eighty, and by ninety will have penetrated to the heart of things.  At one hundred, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live a decade beyond that, everything I paint --every dot and line -- will be alive.  I ask the god of longevity to grant me a life long enough to prove this true."
postscript to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (translated by Carol Morland)

Hokusai got it right, about the point of making art.  It's not about exhibiting.  It's not about making money.  It's not about someone else seeing it.  It's about the challenge Hokusai set for himself.  I discuss this more in my other blog.  By the way, Hokusai lived to 90 years of age.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

french cafe, Madison Avenue

20x16 oil on canvas

This one is bigger than any of the others on this blog.  I decided I wanted to go up in size from my 8x10's and 9x11's.  The size seems to make it easier for me, I think to get things right although it takes longer to paint. 

 I've been using a "tight spot" brush which turns at an angle at the top so you can see clearly where you're paint is going.  It's a very common brush among house painters, but rare to find in art stores.  It helps a lot to get the detail right.  Anyway this ones not completely finished, but I have to let it really dry to make the changes I want to make.  

In case you're wondering, there is someone to the left, across the street, that the couple in the foreground is trying to attract.  He is wiggling his finger in a "come here" gesture and has his cell phone in the other hand.  Her "open" arm gesture over the chair that this person will sit in is very telling.  If I were him, I'd hurry over.  This is an Eric Fischl compositional idea:  to make what's going on  puzzling so that it keeps the viewer there trying to figure out what's going on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Starbucks Teens

8x10 oil on board

There was something about the gestures of these two teen-agers that intrigued me. They were sitting in darkness at the front window of the shop with blinding light coming in. It was a fun study. I may put a starbucks sign in the window and clean up some of the lines.

Friday, October 31, 2008

the fox went out on a chilly night

8x10 oil on canvas board

Another Maine scene.  I thought it needed something so I put in a Red Fox which normally comes out about the time portrayed in this scene.  Foxes are usually considered very smart and canny, but they are really just extremely cautious.  One can image that the little red house is a chicken coop that the fox is going to raid, but in fact, I think it was a pump house for water.

Central Lovell, Maine

8x10 oil on board

This is a painting about the light.  It's early fall and the sun is setting.  We were visiting a friend who has a house.  It's the same place that the country fair was (see below)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Maine County Fair

9x11 oil on board

I learned a lot about farm animals at this fair like the difference between steers, oxen, and bulls. An oxen is a 4 year old steer. A bull has not be castrated. I always thought steers and oxen were completely different species.

Painting the straw was an interesting example of how you have to conceptualize something as having layers which actually doesn't. If you paint what you know the straw is, a chaotic mixture of many thin straws, it doesn't read right. You have to first paint a solid layer as if the back part of the straw piles were flat and then paint a few straws that catch the light to create the illusion of depth.

The Squash Lady's House

8x10 oil on board

In Maine there a woman who only sells squash and only in the fall.  This is a view of her house with a pile of pumpkins.  On the other side were many piles of different pumpkins, squashes of all types and varieties.  

In this picture I decided not to be frightened of thalo green and blue pigment.  Someone said that these pigments were "weapons of mass destruction".   They have a very strong tintorial power, meaning very little goes a long way, and tend to get into every other pigment and dull them because they stay on your brushes, particularly at the base of the hairs, probably because of the particle size of the pigment.  They are hard to get off your hands.   They are hard to use and hard to clean up, but there's no other way to get that bright green except thalo green and cadmium yellow maybe killed a little bit with cad orange.  The blue is unique also.  It helps to use pure turpentine to clean up and not odorless mineral spirits (OMS).  Turpentine has much more power to dissolve pigments.  Solvent power is measured by something called the KB value (Kauri-butanol value).  OMS's KB value is 28 and real turpentine is twice that.  Turps  evaporates fast into the air causing harmful vapors and also is absorbed through the skin whereas OMS isn't.  So it looks to me that, if you are going to use thalo pigments, you use turpentine.   So you have to use careful procedures like gloves, ventilation, etc. which many people do anyway even with OMS and not turps.    I only use it to clean the brushes when I'm done, swirling them around in a fairly narrow necked jar and then putting the top on fast.

Monday, October 20, 2008

looks like a bluefish, only smaller

8x10 oil on board

I think this is the last beach painting of the season. The light on the beach is counter-intuitive, at least to me. You have the feeling, since the sun is overhead, that you are completely "in the sun". In fact, when you are standing, you are perpendicular to the sun, and only the top of your head and parts of your body sticking out are hit by the sun. The rest of you is in rather deep shade. Of course, ultraviolet light bounces around and you get sun-burned everywhere, but like trees which also are perpendicular to the sun there a lot of dark. Painters are familiar with back lighting, called countre jour ("against the day") in French, but this is top lighting. Moon light is often portrayed like beach lighting, but I don't think there's a name for this light on the beach. It's seen in beach paintings because people are out only in the middle of the day. Most painters don't like to work at that time of no cast shadows and not much value contrast in the landscape.

The guy is overly proud of his little fish, and I tried to get the slightly revolted gesture of the polite little girl -- head back and tucked in, arms held carefully away from the fish.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Snow Leopard

30x24 oil on canvas

The Bronx Zoo has an astonishing exhibit of snow leopards. They have closed off a rocky outcropping with a net that is almost not noticeable, so you seem to be creeping up on these creatures. Behind you is another netted off area with their prey. It's netted off from them as well.

I did this from a photo taken on a cold winter day and the light looks to me just like that. The blue I used is Prussian Blue. His tail and right leg look like they belong to a stuffed animal, but that's the way they look!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fashion shoot, Central Park, Golden Hour

oil on board 8x10

I really like my technique here which I shall continue to explore. I'm leaving a lot of black in the background as if we live in a dark world with the images and forms coming out of the darkness. I've even left a dark line around the photographer. The Central Park Boathouse (see below) is in the same technique. Leonardo, I think, also had this kind of view of the world as a dark place. Not that this is painted with his sfumato (smoky) handling of the edges. Click on "smoky" for a link to James Gurney's remarks about it. The impressionist technique would be the opposite of my painting. They never used black in the shadows and thought of the world as a light-filled colorful place.

boat house central park

8x10 oil on panel

Officially called the "conservatory waters" but referred to by most of us as the "boat house lake". The inside of the little house is just for storing fancy model sailboats mostly owned by adults.   The acid green copper roof is fairly rare in New York these days because pollution turns copper black not green anymore. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008


by COROT : Oak Trees at Bas-Breau
oil on paper laid on wood
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Artists who are not familiar with plein air equipment, like those I meet at the Society of Illustrators who work exclusively in their studios, often ask me what I use in the field. I use a pochade box on a photography tripod not an easel . Charles Parker in his "lines and colors" blog entry for 8/17/08 has the most comprehensive photo essay that I have ever seen on various pochade boxes with a comparison and analysis. Therefore I'm not showing a photo of mine. I highly recommend visiting before trying to buy one. (click on purple link above. E.g. "lines and color".)

A "pochade" is French Academy terminology for an outdoor color study. The one above by Corot of a tree is in the Metropolitan Museum next to a large studio painting in which the tree figures prominently. " This study was done on paper on location possibly using a pochade box but it's rather large. On the back of it is the following: "This study by my master Corot painted about 1830 which he used for his painting of Hagar in the desert was given by him to Celestin Nanteil in 1835. I rediscovered it in very bad condition in 1884, cleaned it and had it put on panel . . . Francais."

By the way, Corot often painted outside and sold pretty much all of his work. The story is that he would sign other painter's work that he met outside if he liked the painting. That way they could sell it as a Corot. I think I've seen some of these!

"Pochade", a French linquist friend of mine, says is ultimately derived from the root for "tile" which suggests it refers to the posterizing techniques use in these studies done in the field.

These French pochades were for the most part discarded as you can see from the above description of the fate of the one in the Met. As a result, unsigned pochades by many different artists sometimes appeared in the Paris flee market up to the 1970's for very little money. If you had a good eye, you could pick up bargains. However, with the exploration of the American West, field studies became popular and were exhibited and marketed, so here in the US we never found them in antique stores as far as I know, and that interest in studies influenced the French market as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Great Lawn, Central Park

11x14 oil on board

A quick plein air sketch of this magnificent lawn. It was recently rehabilitated. It used to be some swampy grass growing on dirt with which they filled in an old reservoir. They dug it up, build in drainage, and planted it with care. I don't know what possessed me to do such a quick sketch on such a big support. I think it would have been nicer smaller given the technique. It must have had it lying around.

While I was out there painting, a lot of painters, painters wives and widows came by and offered advice most of which consisted of simplifying it more. Actually not bad advice. It was fun talking to them. Of course, there are always people who start with "Are you a painter?" and then point out something that either isn't in the painting or is on the canvas but no longer in the scene. James Gurney (click to see his blog) says that, in this situation, he denies he's an artist. Instead he tells people that he's a mental patient whose psychiatrist told him to take up a hobby. That shuts people up I'm sure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rare Bird Alert !!!!

Oil on canvas 9x12

In 2005 the word travelled fast.  There was a Boreal Owl in Central Park!  I went out to find it knowing that these birds stay back in the shadows of fir trees, and it might be difficult to locate it.  I had seen one in Alaska where they were supposed to be (as well as the rest of the Great Piney Woods that circles the globe up North) .  How this bird got this lost I have no idea, but it can't be good.  Anyway, there was no need to worry about finding him.  All I had to do was look for was a huge crowd of bird watchers, and there he was.  Not as exciting as finding one yourself in their home territory.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

High Fashion

9x12 oil on  board

New York, even on the subway, is the proverbial fashion capital.  Notice the big bag with a colorful pattern, the layers, the key chain, and, of course, the not blue too tight jeans.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


9x12 oil on board

Most people in museums seem to spend more time reading the text than looking at the images.  It's said that the average person looks at a painting for about 8 seconds.  The same seems to be the case in the Museum of Natural History, New York.  I used to think this was appalling but I now believe that the visual system is just that much faster than the left brain textural imput.


8x10 oil on board

This woman at the Museum of Natural History, New York seemed to be gesturing back at the gorilla.  I guess she wasn't scared of him

Monday, September 22, 2008

la dolce vita

12x12 oil on panel

This guy probably sunbathes every day, but not on the beach.  He uses his chair on the sidewalk and "tar beach", the roof.   Hence the shoes and socks.   But he sure seems to be enjoying life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


8x10 oil on board
Two women, my wife and a  friend, looking at Henri Regnault's great "Salome" which was purchased and given to the Metropolitan Museum even 'though the French were raising money to keep it in their country.  It was a sensation at the 1870 Salon and even more desirable to keep in France because Regnault died in combat during the Franco-Prussian War (which France lost, by the way) soon after painting it.  He was still in his twenties.   He originally painted the top half from an Italian model and then added more canvas to the bottom half and the Salome theme.  She is holding a plate and a knife (to use on John the Baptist) and has a happy, sexy, somewhat out of it facial expression as if she hasn't thought much about what she is about to do.  It's kind of spooky.  Regnault tried these brilliant colors in a few other paintings, but they work best here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Getting Out

9x12 oil on panel

It's hard to  get out of the surf.  You have to come in on one wave and fight the backwash to beat the next wave which is going to crash on your back if you're not careful.  These two girls didn't make it but were unharmed.

Getting In

8x10 oil on board

Have you ever noticed the different strategies people use for getting in the cold ocean?  Some males just run in as fast and they can and dive through the first wave.  These young women chose the slow way, standing on tip-toe and keeping their arms out of the water as long as they can. 

 One of the things I find interesting about painting the ocean is the many different bands of greens and blues there are which you don't notice at first.

Pigmy Falcon, Kenya

8x10 oil on board

A saw this beautiful little sparrow-sized bird in Kenya while on a bird watching trip with my son, Jeffrey.  I like the way the light plays across him.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Con Ed: "On it"

8x10 oil on board

A ConEd worker repairing something just off Park Avenue.  The colorful things behind him hold free newspapers like the Village Voice.

Friday, September 5, 2008

traffic ballet

This woman, directing traffic at Eleventh Avenue and 42nd St. in Manhattan, was using her whole body to signal the drivers.  She was big, graceful and full of energy.  It looked like a ballet.  Behind her was this green wall of a construction site.

9x12 oil on board

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

traffic frustration

Here's the same woman frustrated with the drivers, gesturing in anger.  The green wall in the previous post is on the left of this picture.

9x12 oil on masonite