I'll be in New York tomorrow, visiting the Met. Will hopefully put up something about that later in the week. Last week of the moon, often less than ideal for work, this one was challenging on two levels. I'll explain about the work part below, but in larger terms, which are always easy to ignore until they're not, I'm being asked to get a move on. I thought last week was uncomfortable but this week turned the evolve-or-die screws a little tighter. This really stinks, I love my rut! I guess it's always about giving up a pattern that may have worked in the past but is now not working as well. The pattern is comforting at some level, but keeping things up at another. At a certain point, holding onto the pattern becomes more difficult than letting it go. This moon ends in a few hours, I'll really be paying attention to the new one for clues, may end up hiding under the bed, I'm sure you can paint from under the bed. Spring, new beginnings, this is a lovely time here, now and for the next month or so.
Haven't done a food related post in a while. Ran across a recipe for iced tea that was really interesting, from the Upton website. If you like good tea, you know it can get a little nutty in terms of quality and price. At the same time, great tea is cheap compared to, say, great wine. Although I'd have to say you're more likely to find a nice surprise in wine than in tea. The teas from Nepal were a deal for a while, but no longer. Anyway, tea has a brewed flavour, but it also has a certain smell. And better teas often smell amazing. This is reflected in the brewed taste, but more dimly. You can lower the brewing temperature a little, this often helps with a Darjeeling, for example. But you're always cooking the tea. There's nothing wrong with this, especially for something hearty or malty, the sturdy Sergeant Major's brew. But if you've wondered about some of the more ethereal flavors that seem to be hidden in the leaves, enter a different idea: not cooking the tea. With this approach, you put the tea in the refrigerator in cold water for four days. Four days! But, if you've ever washed linseed oil for six weeks, letting tea brew for four days isn't that long to wait. Anyway, I did this with a nice Thurbo oolong that had a great aroma, but was kind of flat the first time I made it hot, so it seemed the ideal candidate. 1t of tea to 4oz of filtered water, in glass. This may be a little too much tea, I pulled it after three days, not four. Anyway, lo and behold, it was sublime, multidimensional, flavour complexity like a ten year old Barolo. So, this is going to be fun to explore over the summer.
Long ago I did a lot of work with a medium of damar, stand oil and beeswax. Haven't done that much with wax in the last decade, but keep thinking about it as one of the ingredients that helps the paint film to remain brighter over time. Decided to wade back into the realm of mediums involving beeswax this week, and got into a whole passel of trouble. Saying I emerged victorious would be um, somewhat premature. But I learned a lot. I wanted to make a medium with minimal resin, or no resin, and one that would not have that specific "cold encaustic" look. There's nothing wrong with this look! But, given the context of the art of concealing the art, wanted to see if the wax could in fact be hidden. Technical art history hasn't found much beeswax in older painting to my knowledge. I read an interesting article about the paint of Lotto, a tempera grassa with a little resin where wax might be involved, but they really weren't sure if it was in the paint, or a later varnish. This is also the case with a panel by Memling. So, on the one hand, wax is a little counter-intuitive, because it makes the paint less transparent, and more matte, but a little bit doesn't interfere optically, and thick oil can overcome the matting quality. So, getting closer, but once again, a matter of finely tuned proportions.
First study with a wax putty medium, this had a small amount of resin in it, a concentrate of Manila copal in spike. There's nothing wrong with damar for something like this, I just didn't have any. The medium was pretty loose, but decided to go with it that way. This study had some moments, see last progress image below, but I got kind of distracted trying to understand what the paint could do. This medium has a nice look and could be fixed pretty easily with just a little more density, but wanted to explore something with no solvent in it. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
The second study this week was a disaster, overcompensated for the looseness above and ended up with something pretty intractable. some of this has to do with ambient temperature as well, it's getting warmer, thick oil is thinner, wax is sliding more. This is the third study, mostly handmade paint, this ends up being thicker, tried to make a medium in the middle between the first two, but with no resin. The problem is that the wax, like the additives in modern paint such as aluminum stearate, cancels out some of the things that create my good friends discretion and thixotropy. So, the ingredient choices here are more limited. As with the first two, this was a little strange, but it seemed that it was going to work, just in a somewhat lumpy way. So, this was fun to develop, a little goopy but semi-blendable, semi-layerable, the wax element did what it was supposed to do in terms of keeping the wet-in-wet layering more discrete. Dry this morning, that was a little bit of a surprise, and could be less shiny, haha, that's both interesting and good. Anyway, you could argue that this is done or that it needs more, depending on the century from which your definition of finished originates. The direction of the last few years has been about controlling the discretion of the paint, but this approach is easier to adjust, allows more blending and atmosphere. I'll keep going with refining this paint, it feels like the worst is over. This is outside Lucca, the Sieve is in the foreground. About 9x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Sunny now, forsythia is out and some cherry trees are trying to bloom even though it was cold and rainy most of the week. A pretty strange week, yikes, maybe the full moon eclipse? Things have continued on that demanding, evolve or die path, I seem to have died a lot this week but that's part of the process. I don't usually feel a kind of physical, existential hopelessness in my particles, a bad patch, as Delacroix wrote, but had to try to work through some of that this week. Most of the reading I've done in art history is in contemporary scholars, more down to earth than theoretical, the Susie Nash book on the Northern Renaissance, for example, is amazing, a work of art. But this last week read Art and Illusion by Gombrich, and Meaning in the Visual Arts by Panovsky, these are both old fashioned big-gun scholars I kept encountering references to, so it's interesting to get a feeling for how they are relating to art. Gombrich is especially relevant to me because he makes the point, in many ways, that the last thing successful realism is is a copy of Nature, noting that no matter how hard a painter tries to be "faithful to Nature", he gives Constable as an example, there is inevitably a personal element. This is course what Delacroix said in his Journal about a century before, and arguably the main reason Diderot preferred Chardin to his contemporaries. I also read a very well-written and elegantly formulated essay by Leo Steinberg, The Eye is a Part of the Mind. Written in 1953, during the intellectual heyday of abstraction, he argues that content, not style, defines art in painting. Whew. Anyway, it's interesting to look at the last four months as a whole, there are a few images that stand out as successful to me, and I know exactly how they were made because I wrote it down. But more of what worked is not necessarily what wants to happen. It's more like the process wants to find out what it doesn't know, than capitalize on what it does. I seem to return to the same place, but via a cycle, or spiral, so it's always with another level of information. When I was cooking someone once said that I never made the same thing twice. They meant it as a compliment, but I remember thinking, "It's that bad?" The succeeding decades have proven that, yes, it is. Last week of the moon coming up, this can be interesting as long as I don't try to do anything too heroic. Down but not out, alert for silver linings, in the old Wooster way.
Modern textbooks are often full of graphic razzle-dazzle. There's a recent book on drawing that is very good, Drawing From Observation by Brian Curtis, (and I guess by this I mean a book with a more cosmic subtext, i.e. a book whose world view is similar to mine), but when I first looked at it the production was difficult because it was really busy. But I guess this is what works, a book that looks like the internet, or the publishers wouldn't do it. Anyway, I will always be a less is more kind of person. Of course, it's not that less is literally more, a guarantee, less can certainly be less! But less allows the possibility for more depth to evolve from what is there. The difference between Cotan and Claesz, essence versus mimesis. Anyway, I'm beginning to explore making more graphics for the book, and want them, surprise, to be simple. This is a schematic diagram of how the tetrachromatikon works, I'm fascinated by the way the simplicity of this actually helps in comprehending the behavior of colour in paint better. You can substitute blue for black, but the original conception in earth colours – good earth colours, that is – is neat because most colours cannot be copied, need to be approximated to life, but accurate within the value and temperature structure.
Worked on several florals in progress this week at various stages. This is the most recent start, thin paint, three layers so far, not that far along but I've learned that a slower beginning leads to a quicker ending. There's nothing about the colour or how this sits in the space that bugs me, so it may be time now for some denser paint. About 14x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
This is something older that I'm sentimentally attached to, don't know why, but which may have outlived its usefulness. Sometimes they get to a certain point and the answer is to start over with the next idea. I think mostly I'm done with the object pressing the boundaries of the space, want it to have more spaciousness, more room to breath, around it. Hard to say, it's not possible to know when the way to complete something might arrive. I'll put it somewhere where it won't bug me for a while. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.
An older start that has been close to completion a few times. The last layer was sort of an error, the paint was too specific, brought it back to at least where it was again. About 12x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.
Something older that I've been fixing for a few layers, the lead peony had become too large, it's at the point where it could come forward again. Clunky still but I don't want to lose all of that, like what's happening in this one in terms of the broken, ontbijtje style colour.
Sort of an intermediate start, a few years old, again feel the object is too big for the space but want to figure this one out. Something I did from life years ago, have a photo of that crude but effective painting, which helps. Still a little quiet, but a corner of some kind has been turned. Not sure, the level of the colour may always be a little out of synch with the original, more frontal conception of the image. About 14x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
A landscape I've been working on for a while off and on. It was almost done at one level, but then began to feel another one and decided to try to do it. Sometimes this just has to happen, it's harder in the short run but better in the long run. At least I don't get depressed about having to do the same old thing again. Used the same paint on this as the study of olives outside Volterra from last week, this is the right paint for these. Pretty close, but a subtle situation, light just beginning to emerge from fog. One more layer, just one, I promise About 9.75x14.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile, mounted on canvas and a panel. The Huile is nice but mounted straight on a panel it looks a little too flat for me, the canvas layer makes it softer.
Spring is beginning to begin here, crocuses and their relations are out, some cold days, one oddly warm rainy day, full moon and an eclipse yesterday, a pretty weird day overall, lots of energy but lots of tension too. Had a good week in the work, made some new things for the first time in a while, new always seems to solve one aspect of the equation but introduce new questions of its own. Am working on learning how to do the YouTube video, didn't have the most current information for the first one, the persistence of dated information is always an issue with the internet. So, worked on that this week, it's coming along, is past the critical "let's just smash the computer" phase. My significant other busted me this week for being negative about wealthiness, the artworld and success in the news last week. Hey, I didn't even know she read the news! Was is that negative? I thought it was just realistic about how it works. Anyway, this week I'm only going to say nice things about everybody and everything.
I'm reading a great book, by a great author. It's called Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco. He wrote it in his twenties, it was published in English in 1986, lots of used copies around for a song. Very nice overview of the thought of the period, with lots of pithy period quotes really well-translated. Translators don't get enough credit, this was done by Hugh Bredin and he really makes it move well. The Middle Ages, of course, saw the physical world as an analogy for the divine world, as above, so below, This has always made great sense to me, so getting more about period authors and the nuances involved is interesting. Eco is of course a literary omnivore, and the text is also an overview of contemporary Middle Ages scholarship. It looks like Johan Huizinga might well be worth investigating too. Most importantly for me, Eco makes some nice distinctions now and then, he is really good at giving you a broad group of quotes and then distilling these to an essence. Anyway, the one that sticks in my mind in relation to what I'm doing is a distinction between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of their aesthetics. Everything was handmade, and they were very involved in the science of proportion – number, weight, and measure – in the creation of anything, the relation of the parts to their sum. Again, because this is how the world was made originally. But they are also fans of the effects of light and beauty, the more lyrical of emotional aspect of the equation. Anyway, this makes great sense to me since it has always seemed like the great creative paradox is that inspiration needs to be well organized in order to be fully realized. The combination of depth and sincerity in the quotations is really soothing.
This is how I'm making the medium these days, it gets mixed from left to right. All stuff I've made, some of it old, some of it necessarily new. The ingredients across the top are the base, the two lower level ingredients are probably not necessary, but I run them in and out. The thing I've found interesting in this is the importance of the proportions here to the behavior of the final paint. Reading from left to right, line one then line two, the proportions are 8-8-4-8-2-1. Below it what it looks like when it's mixed, it's mobile but not too fine and sort of elastic.
This one keeps going around in these really small circles. It got a little strong, a little blue, a little bright last time, so I softened it a bit. I think this is done. Well, almost done. Close.
First new image of the week, an olive grove outside Volterra. It seems like life grants you a finite number of meaningful images, this was one of them for me. I'd done several versions of it without being satisfied, too much value, not enough atmosphere. So, started this small study with that in mind. Not quite done, but pretty close, it's exciting enough to me to have finally avoided most of the typical pitfalls of this. This is the same paint and system as the little roses study from last week, just taken further while the paint was on the tarry side. Palette below, mostly earth colours I made, these are denser, not as finely ground, I tend to protect the paint I make, because I like it, which makes no sense, so I'm starting to use it more, because I like it. Early 19th century type colouring, although they would have used Prussian blue, possibly vermilion, I wanted to balance it a little differently than Valenciennes, or the Corot method of cobalt, viridian, and vermilion. Got into a little trouble with the viridian in this anyway, brought it in later, the brightest colour by far, it's not as bad in life as here but I'll be watching out for that in the next layer. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper, I'll mount it on a panel before cleaning it up further. Slideshow of process below.
Revisited the roses for the next new image. Larger flowers in this, more presence possible there, but also pretty backlit. I'm interested in learning this lighting effect, something light and bright in shadow, but the first day was totally inconclusive, couldn't find anything for certain. It was the first warmer day, and the paint slid more as a result, this totally threw me off. A good example of something that happens consistently, but at large enough intervals to be consistently forgotten. Still, the unexpected trapdoor is always interesting, brought it this far the second day. About halfway there, I found the colour scheme and the overall feeling but the flowers themselves still need work. A little bigger than the first versions of these roses at 10x14 inches, wanted these to get at least a little larger. Oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Okay, a massive technical and existential triumph for me, a YouTube video. This is about the Pre-Dimensional Palette, which is simpler to set up than it is to describe. If you're having issues with manipulating natural colour, give this a try, it explains something about colour that is very difficult to get at from the modern system. There are plenty of colour theories and they are all quite elegant. But this is not colour theory. No, no, a thousand times no! This is colour practice.
Waxing moon, chilly and blustery week with very little painting, lots of paperwork. Urgh. What did happen was interesting, story below with the painting. Had fun with my niece and sister-in-law on Friday night, they were here visiting graduate schools. Went to an interesting show at Gross-McCleaf before that, a group show of some younger painters paired with some very commercial realism. So, the gallery both showed work they considered interesting and paid the bills, skillful means. There's one painter whose work I'm really interested in, it's sort of a cross between Avery and the realistic Diebenkorn, very graphic, simplified realism, still sort of inchoate, hit or miss, but someone I would start buying if I were a collector. The paintings that did sell were in the other room, very calculated, the classic commercial art magazine style of the last few decades: endless swooshy paint and happy colour for people with more money than culture, a segment of the population that seems to still be growing exponentially. I would have expected something like this in, say, Manchester or Woodstock, Vermont, self-conscious art capitols of bluff old money, but not here. That is, I wouldn't have expected it to work so well here. But of course, there's plenty of bluff old money here, it hijacked the Barnes. Well, I guess it's all a matter of taste, not morality. The timing on dinner meant that we decided to see a movie at the last minute in town. I tend to resist last minute changes, but once I let go, it's always much better. Anyway, this was really fortuitous. The movie we saw was a documentary, Seymour, An Introduction, about pianist Seymour Bernstein. You can find the trailer for it on YouTube. A great deal of it is Seymour talking, teaching, or playing. Now, from my perspective, there's something really special about Seymour. I won't give it away, and neither does the trailer, but he made decisions and said things about life and art that made tremendous sense to me. The movie made me happy, as a human being Seymour made me both proud and hopeful for the future of the arts. Which, at this point,is saying a lot.
I'm still working on something for YouTube, it's getting closer, just have to do the narration now. This image began when I started thinking about the tetrachromatikon a few years ago, and how it is intrinsically different as a way of organizing colour than the system of Impressionism, or the modern system of two primary triads, one warm and one cool. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those systems, but I do think that, out of the box, they are more about lyrical colour or colour theory colour than natural colour. Now, if you know about positive, negative, and neutral as concepts, any palette can be adapted as long as it can make a neutral, preferably a transparent one. I'm also not saying that natural colour is better, only that it is the product of an order of cosmic intelligence from whose system I've wanted to learn.
Only had time to do one painting this week, and only a few hours in the afternoon at that. Decided to just do a study over a quick drawing, go back to some old territory in terms of the image but bring it forward in terms of the paint. I made a couple shifts in the medium, one designed to make the paint more thixotropic, and the other designed to allow it to flow more. These are always the parameters, the interesting thing is that they don't necessarily cancel each other out. This was the case here, this paint was peculiar at first, unlike anything else so far, and I had a hard time figuring out what it wanted to do. But in the end I liked it, it allowed a tremendous number of changes to occur without anything being lost or compromised. This also meant that it was fast, and that it was relatively easy, the paint was working the way I do. So, this system needs some development still, but I like the personal quality of the paint and the painting. In larger terms, this is the shift I've been looking for, something that is genuinely more spontaneous, allowing the work to be both more about feeling, and finished. This is where I left in 2001 to learn more about colour and the materials, so the circle feels complete. Except it's really a spiral, so who knows what is actually next? About 9.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Oops, forgot about this one. This happened during the first few months after I moved, my therapy image from the Mugello. The first layer on it turned out well, below, had a nice sense of evanescent light. But it was done with pretty transparent paint, after it really dried the chroma dropped somewhat. I didn't know I'd get this far in one layer, and drying down is always an issue working in thin paint with just oil. This is where things like egg, resin, or wax in small amounts can be helpful depending on what the style wants in the way of saturation. Anyway, thought I painted it up enough but didn't. I could see what to do next, so put another layer on it. I don't think this is bad, especially for a second layer, these are often problematic. Might try for more in a bit but using the first layer as a reference. Also, forgot to use black in the second layer, can you see how black is helping the first layer? About 13x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Another goofy, romantic snowfall this week, now in the process of melting. The book arrived, the UPS guy was not thrilled to deliver 400 lbs of boxes to me, but I helped him and that made it better. I like the look of the new book, and it's more of a step forward than I thought. New moon and eclipse of the sun, the most evolve or die new moon I can recall. This centered around getting in touch with stuff buried by rigorous early politeness training. It's clear that everything denied or removed has to be found, and woven back together, but this week seemed to add "right now" to the equation. Have to admit I'm frightened of the power of this stuff but in larger terms that's the whole point, to reclaim it and begin to function on all eight cylinders. So, some accidental cathartic stuff a few days ago, this led to being able to work again. Sometimes I feel too old for this, or like I can't believe there's still more work to do, but there's no choice.
One of the things that happens more in Philadelphia is cultural events. Went to a very interesting one last night, billed as a Puppetry Slam. This was various individuals and groups doing short form puppetry. It was all over the map, a lot of comedy, a lot of intensity. There was one older person there who was more of a professional, he had marionettes that were quite articulated, and really knew how to make them move. The last piece of the evening was called, "The Quest." It was just him, dressed in black, and one marionette. The marionette had a very earnest, questioning sort of expression. It began to try to climb up his leg, to the tune of very dramatic classical music. It kept falling back, then trying again, the puppeteer was incredibly good at this, the grabbing, the clinging, the close calls. Anyway, the marionette eventually made it up his shirt, and then to his shoulder. It lay down on his raised arm, moving his hand a little over his pumping marionette heart. His assistant appeared from the back and gave the marionette a small world flag, which the marionette then planted proudly on the puppeteer's head.
In the 20th century, a tremendous amount of work was done with damar, trying to see if it could in fact be made non-yellowing, period. A lot of this was done at the National Gallery in D.C., this research ended up morphing into various synthetics, because damar just wasn't perfect. I did like MS2a, this was from the National Gallery in London, but it was expensive, and appears to be out of production now. Of course, many conservators still use damar, for a variety of reasons. One of the interesting things that came out of the research I did for Living Craft was some work with alternative spirit varnishes, not for the final coat on a painting, but instead of damar in the medium. I had always had issues with the look of damar and stand oil, although to be honest I had issues with Ralph Mayer's version of reality, period. Still, there are situations where a little resin is helpful. Most people get around this now with the cold wax approach, this supplies sequestering in layers and keeps the paint on the bright side without being too saturated. I did a lot of work with wax long ago, and revisiting wax again is on my list. But, anyway, because a spirit resin varnish can be used, even needs to be used, in very small amounts, I don't think the relative yellowing of the resin itself is an issue. Of course, conservators will tell you that the yellowing of older spirit varnishes also has to do with the turpentine itself. This is not inevitable, but has to do with bad turpentine, or keeping turpentine (and any solvent) out of the light, with minimal exposure to air. In other words, the half full clear bottle of damar varnish that has been sitting around for three or four years is exactly where longer term yellowing issues can be built in. One of my students in fact brought me a half full can of turpentine that had absorbed so much oxygen that it was a yellow syrup. So, in general I moved away from solvents and spirit varnishes, but sometimes I'm intrigued by the damar alternatives. For example, both sandarac and manila copal dissolve in spike lavender or the less expensive oil of rosemary, and I've done some work with a concentrate of these, using it by the drop in the medium before adding the medium to the paint. And I mean by the drop, a little goes a long way! What I like about these is the different rheology and look compared to damar. Sandarac is expensive, but Manila copal is pretty reasonable, and they both supply a little more bounce than damar. Anyway, someone from Australia wrote recently that they had heard that damar dissolved in eucalyptus oil. I tried it with Manila copal, and it went into solution quickly, so eucalyptus will definitely dissolve damar. The nice thing about eucalyptus is that it is much less expensive than both spike and oil of rosemary. Of course, you want to get it in amber glass, observe the solvent hygiene stuff, and use any spirit varnish in the smallest amount, and with plenty of ventilation.
This is the first rose painting from this year. I felt like this was done the first day, but still cleaned it up a little the next day. It was a little high key, but at this point I try to I do this when finishing something, and after a few months I like it better. This is because of the darker paint beneath asserting itself more. It wasn't that dark beneath, so there isn't much further it can go. Working dark to light this way is sort of tricky in one layer, but I like it better than the various colour copying systems, where the "right" colour is put on once. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
This is the second rose painting from this year. I put another layer on it yesterday. The medium was a little different, I've been working in some tight circles trying to improve the medium of the first roses, but haven't done it yet. I tend to work in warm light, wanted to make something in cool light. Not sure this is done but it's better than it was. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
The third rose painting from this year. This one was made with a medium that was a little rococo, and ended up too warm and vivid as well. I thought in terms of softening it, backing it off, it will be interesting to see what this looks like in a week or two. Not done, but an improvement, going someplace I haven't been to before. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Palette detail from the painting above. Fun to be working again, time off always makes me appreciate it.
Went on a trip south over the last few days, it is almost Spring already in Virginia. This trip had a lot of different elements in it. Got to see Mema again, she is now 109, more cosmic in orientation but still an old fashioned Southern lady with a great dignity and a very large heart. Also took a second workshop in the Yuen Method with Sharon Fan, an acupuncturist who turned to this method to get faster results. You can look this stuff up if you're interested, Sharon has a nice YouTube page and is much more comprehensible than Dr. Yuen, the originator who has done some relatively miraculous things with it. This is basically a neo-Taoist method for giving active positive suggestions to the central nervous system, framing the human being as a spiritual bio-computer with infinite potential. I was very interested in traditional Chinese medicine a long time ago, did a lot of reading and work with the herbs. So, it's interesting that this is coming up again, there's nothing wrong with me but I'd like to keep it that way, have mostly used this approach as a meditation, for stress reduction, etc. Chinese medicine says it's always best to deal with the issues while they're small, this was underlined firmly by the medically complex deaths of my parents.
Living Craft has sold out in the fourth edition, I'm now waiting for them to print the fifth edition. The bindery mostly does work for university libraries, so I'm a very small fish. But they do good work when they have a chance to fit me in. Anyway, there are still a few slightly imperfect copies of edition four available, it's a small place on the edge of the front cover where the fabric didn't quite adhere to the binders board. These are 25.00 each plus postage, just e-mail me if you'd like one or have questions. In the past, the new editions have been a quantum leap. Edition five is a little more complete, but not much, it's not the same degree of shift, I'd say about 95% of the system is in edition four, I'm mostly just honing and clarifying things at this point. It's hard to shut yourself up. Anyway, I've put together some PDF files from the new edition you can look over. To view or download the Table of Contents, click here. To view or download text selections, click here.
I'm still going to give things in general a rest, but made this little watercolour study one afternoon last week, about 3.5x6 inches, on gessoed paper. I did some of these years ago and had always liked the technique. The paint is on, not in, the paper so it can be moved around more than with regular watercolour. Of course, the gesso can be lifted too if too much water is involved, so you can't just flood it, although that can be used as a kind of deus ex machina eraser in dire cases. Anyway, this was fun to revisit but at the end of it I could see I was still pretty tired. Just time to stop, plenty of other things need to be attended to.
Well, one thing I've noticed is that different months have different personalities, and March can introduce some pretty abrupt changes. So, alas, there won't be any news this week. It's a long story, a confluence of several streams of events, the most relevant being that I worked too hard this winter and need to let things be fallow for a while. It's easy to get myopic about the work on several levels in the pursuit of more, when I get stopped it's always to provide an opportunity to repair to the larger view. I'm getting there slowly, but am also pretty pooped. So, down but not out, will post again on the 22nd, hopefully with some work, but at least with some perspective.
Week of the full moon, sort of a vengeful one around here. I thought a few days off were in order last Sunday but after one I couldn't resist trying another alla prima floral and that re-pulled the plug, had to stop again, this time for the week. It's always hard to know what the exact limit is until it's been crossed, then it's too late: the Icarus dilemma. The hard part about this time in general is the sense that everything feels ready for take-off, but for now I'm still on the ground. Don't feel this can last too much longer, but it is developing more patience while it does. As always after having been stopped, it's possible to appreciate what has happened more, look at it from a larger perspective rather than myopically pushing for the next step daily. But there's a lot of leftover jangle in a situation like this, during one frustrated day I consulted the I Ching, it always has something pithy to say. Asked it what I was supposed to be learning, and got the first line of the first hexagram: hidden dragon, do not act. Haha, yes. Timing is of course a major aspect of the I Ching's concept of active and passive: to everything a season. I get pretty used to being too wound up, ones own insanity is an excellent distraction from everyone else's, but eventually calmed down, realized how uncomfortable I had made myself by trying too hard. This seems to come down to an effort that is imbalanced, of the mind more than emotions or the body. Had a nice snow day in the neighborhood, and got the studio cleaned, now know where everything is again, at least temporarily. A good-looking proof of the next edition of the book arrived, always a sense of accomplishment there after a year of editing, although the book may be out of stock for a while, see below for more on this.
After many false alarms, it finally actually snowed here this week. Fine snow, and getting colder as it fell, so it stuck to everything on the one hand, but turned into pretty slippery mashed potatoes on the roads. Took a long walk through the very quiet neighborhood that afternoon as the snow tapered off, there's a little hill by the train station near-by and little kids were out on it in force. Pictured is a house that always fascinated me growing up, kind of a mini-chateau built with local stone, very near to the part of Fairmount Park I used to go to as a kid, a short cut on my bike. It's not very big, but has a pretty big presence. The overall neighborhood is mostly varieties of the twin and row house, bigger and smaller, but there are several small enclaves of these more consciously continental, as opposed to English, stone houses sprinkled around from the early 20th century that have a timeless quality.
Downtown! Took the train in last night to visit Reading Terminal Market for a fun dinner and see the flower show. The train we were on had some mechanical issues and, after a lot of great comments by the conductor on the state of the equipment, we were eventually deposited at an outlying station just a few minutes ahead of the following train. The old market has changed but is also the same, bustling, colourful, lots of gourmet and local specialty shops, lots of places to get a variety of good prepared food in a pretty informal environment. The flower show is a great institution around here, a way for a large urban population to worship nature discreetly, a big deal even when I was a kid. As with America itself, success has grown it into something kind of bizarre compared to its original conception, but there were still some sincere moments sprinkled around. We ran to make the early train back, got a little turned around but found the station in time. Downtown is interesting, the downtown I grew up with, again the same but different, I'd like to explore it more when the weather breaks.
I'm working on something about colour that will probably go on YouTube, it's interesting to learn to put images together with the right words, this was never something I was good at, I can feel my brain going "Oh no, not something new." I wanted to talk about the different kinds of grays, because gray is one of those catch-all words that can mean a lot of different things. So, the top line here is a simple gray made with white and ivory black, the second line is a chromatic gray made with opposites, in this case burnt sienna and ultramarine. In life the bottom line has a little more chroma and a slight purple cast, but not that much of either. This system does offer the possibility of grays that are graduated in terms of temperature. Then there's the compound gray system that combines black with colour, this is the Bouguereau-Mancini type of system, and a fourth system that uses three transparent primaries that make a clean neutral. This last is the system I want to talk about because, with a little premixing, it provides such a simple way to learn to map colour to form by type, turning a triad of primaries and white into all the colour types, see below. The chromatic grays are of course the hardest type to find within the current "colour theory" palette of bright warm and cool primaries. But, there's still a lot of planning and figuring out to do to explain this simply.
The only painting that happened this week. I kind of knew I was pushing things when I started it, but also saw it pretty clearly, so it was hard to resist. Did something else I sometimes can't resist, and which never really works, which is to take a flyer with the medium, break out, just change it a lot for the heck of it. Ended up with something that looked good in theory, but was sort of difficult to work with in practice. Over time, though, it did essentialize things well, because it stuck but didn't layer. So it became an exercise in letting the paint show me what to do, which is always kind of fun. But anyway, went way into deficit trying to finish this, and just don't think it's done. I like the composition, and kind of like the blockiness of the flowers, their sturdiness, but got kind of hypnotized by the hotter colours, didn't balance them enough with cooler or more neutral colours: chromatic grays! It may be too that the central flower just overpowers everything else. So, this might be one where one more layer will actually do it, but which option to pursue is still up in the air. About 9.25x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
I'm down to the last copy of edition four of Living Craft, above is the proof for edition five. I'm not quite sure when I'll get all of edition five, probably by the end of the month. In some ways I'm excited about this, a lot of re-writing over the last year and a colour dust jacket finally. At the same time, this book is now into the phase of halfway to the wall where the increments I'm getting for each rewrite are getting smaller. I can always think of things that might be more clear or nuanced, and keep a journal of them at this point, but in terms of content, not that much changed from edition four to five, it has been more about clarity, pruning the verbal jungle. I'll keep doing this, in for a penny, in for a pound, I've always learned from books and don't see technology offering a viable alternative. It's not that I'm a Luddite, I'm more someone who sees all the answers as being organic, not manufactured. Anyway, I can't see much more going into edition six, it will again be about making the whole more organic. It's not that there isn't more there to find, I'm sure there is. It's just that my time in these mines is coming to a close. Which, after twelve years, is fine. The only way this project could go into another larger phase is if someone decides it should be illustrated in colour. This would mean a two column format, something similar to the great Tate book on the Pre-Raphealites, and would make the book about six hundred pages. I've always considered this to be simply impossible, but have to admit that pretty much everyone would like the book better this way. But it would require support, I can neither do this nor afford to have it printed as things are. Maybe there will be a profound sea change in terms of the way the craft is framed within contemporary culture, but maybe the book is better off in its own private Idaho. This is a hard one for me to figure out, I've really enjoyed the craft and its impact on both my life and work, but know there's a lot of contempt for it as well out there.
In any event, there are about eight copies of edition four left that have a slight imperfection. It's a place on the front cover where the cloth didn't quite adhere to the binder's board. A little bubble near the edge that goes on for a few centimeters. Not much of a defect but a defect. I'm going to sell these for 25.00 plus postage, so if you'd like one, or would like to send one to an interested painter as a gift, just e-mail me. This is also a great way to get books for a class.
Waxing moon, full moon in a few days, not as cold but still wintry, more snow today. Became more involved with transforming older work this week than making new things. A little bit frustrating on a day to day basis, but as is often the case with this type of week, more happened than I thought. This time of year is not a good one for pushing things, but this is always relative, like Abraham I'm always trying to strike a better bargain, but at a certain point the answer is simply no. Anyway, kind of hit a wall yesterday and had to stop. My back used to go out in this type of situation, now it's more like the plug gets pulled, I wander around the studio wondering who made these things, and how. So, halfway to the wall again but it's time to take a few days off.
There's an earlier version of this image from the Mugello that I really liked, and had a nice frame made for. But, as is often the case working with metal leaf and deadlines, the frame was too bright for the painting. This version nearly fits the frame and has a brighter overall quality, so I put a layer on it designed to adjust the vertical edges and give it more oomph. It's always interesting, going back into these, to note things I've learned since the previous layer. In this case, saw the image in a different way and was able to move it closer to finished with both a little more light and a little more haze. So, this sort of set the tone for the week: working towards finishing things with denser paint. About 8.5x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper, this will get mounted on a panel before working on it further.
Did this at the end of November, re-do of a peony that began alla prima a decade ago that wanted to go back on the easel. This is the first one where I felt something new was on its way in terms of the way the paint was conceptualizing the colour and space. All of this has to do with an approach to the medium that introduces more elastic thixotropy to the paint. There are lots of different ways to do this, but it's basically about the inverse of tempera grassa. Instead of a little oil added to a tempera situation, there's a little aqueous binder added to the oil medium. This creates emulsions with various characteristics, very bouncy emulsion with a gum arabic addition pictured below. I didn't invent this, it's something that is found increasingly in technical art history now that they're beginning to look for it. A nice place to start is emulsifying a little egg white with some thicker oil. About 10x14 inches, oil on gessoed panel.
Something moderately old I've been bringing forward slowly, in-between conception as well. Didn't really feel how it might be completed so did the older type of layer on it, a series of overall adjustments. Would like to solve this with this somewhat brighter colour scheme rather than dropping the chroma down. As good as this has been, although I'd like to move beyond it some of them have been completed this incremental way. About 13x14.5 inches, oil on linen over canvas.
Peony from earlier this summer that had never quite gelled. At least, I always felt there was more to find. In so doing, it had gotten sort of dark and congealed. This is sort of a zugswang situation, whatever you do within it is going to be wrong, so I put a pretty goopy layer of paint on it to try to resurrect it. It got a little light and a little grayed out in the process, but it already has more colour, so I'll let it wait a while and see how it looks. It looks very similar to the first version, below, which of course looks much better to me than it originally did, but the dimensions of the piece are now larger, so the flower has expanded to be similar to the original proportions. Possibly a good argument for waiting before the second pass. Several people said to leave this alone and maybe they were right. But, people have been saying that to me for years, how do you learn what's next without letting go of where you've been? Anyway, one more layer? About 13x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper on canvas.
Another do or die layer on something that had congealed, this got pretty frustrating but I just kept turning the colour around and got a toehold somewhere new. Again, on the gray side, but in a different place, can see adding a little more colour and movement in the paint. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.
In 2001 I painted a lot of flowers from life, this is a copy of one of them that I still have, which thank goodness no one wanted at a time when I was selling them for very little money. It did sometimes seem that, working in Vermont, I ended up keeping all the best work. I use this process to remind myself, physically, experientially, that it's not about detail, it's about the feeling conveyed by the whole.This one has been close for a while, but every few months I do a layer on it and it gets a little closer. I felt that the colour was just a little dull, it may now be a little bright, at least the red, but this is okay. The flower in the original really has a certain je ne se qua in terms of form and feeling, and this one is finally getting closer to that. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Start from this summer that went well the first time, this can always be something of a double-edged sword as the question quickly becomes, "Now what?" A little different conception in a couple ways, not so much older painting reference, more direct, kept expanding the edges to give it more room. Not as much of that malachite green in the background, just a hint of what you see here, another example of how digital tends to make all colours happy whether they want to be or not. This one reminds me somehow of that Chardin pastel self-portrait in the green eyeshade. It's got the same look on its face as he does. Next thing to do with this is mount it on canvas, that will flatten it out a little, a heavier substrate always makes it easier to put on heavier paint. About 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Another one that had a nice start, happier with the progress of this than usual, balanced tension between a lot of opposites, nice sense of a volume of space in which the object has its existence. Again, not as much green or mottling in the background. Conceptually complete, but in need of more closure with the paint itself. The question for me to resolve this year is how to close the deal once an image has gotten to this point. Framing the question clearly tends to produce the answer, so I'm hoping for more of that as a next step. About 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Week of the new moon, pretty cold for here and some snow that actually had to be shoveled. More snow now, it's supposed to turn into rain tomorrow, will hopefully bypass "sheet of ice." A little late, but winter. Kind of a confusing week, feel a little bit at sixes and sevens. Not in a bad way, did some new things that were interesting, one that is arguably done, but I'm not really sure yet if I know what new is this time around, more to discover. Still, this is what keeps it alive, I'd like to get better at completing things but don't want to wake up with a definitive solution either. In the period after my birthday there's usually a sense of something new beginning to come over the horizon. But this year, I've been finishing up a new edition of Living Craft. (It's finally done, proofs corrected, dust jacket graphics all okay, though I have no idea when it will arrive.) So now there's kind of a hole. In some ways this is fine with me, would love to be able to concentrate more on the work at this point, one could say this is overdue. But in others I seem to be waiting for something. This is like in an old Western when one guy says it's awful quiet out there, and the other guy says, yeah, too quiet.
For a while I wrote down technical things intermittently, but now I write down things all the time, and I'm trying to remember to do a little sketch of the painting involved too. There's nothing like being able to go back to a given formula and replicate it, or change it based on something new that's come up. This week something a little bit different happened, a paint that was supposed to be sort of elastic turned out to be much more rubbery and dense. There are a number of these oil-based agents that make the paint actually seize, the simplest is very thick hand-refined linseed oil, but the first one I worked with was walnut oil that had been in a lead tray until it was a thick syrup. A drop of this made lead white seize, that was a big moment in 2007. I don't think this reaction is possible with commercially refined oil, but we'll see, am trying to get some of the Jedwards refined organic linseed oil to thicken to the right degree. But, of course, it polymerizes slowly, so it's taking its time.
Did a few more of the very small studies, this is good for feeling stuck somehow. This was the one I liked most, late September afternoon in the Garfagnana above Lucca, wonderful location but the recession in these has always been challenging. This particular place has always been fascinating to me because there are two towns here, one right above the other, with two very old bell towers, one right above the other. Wondered what would happen if I explored something like this with the most recent paint, liked how this came out for two quick layers, but it's awfully small about about 5.5x7 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
This is an image that's intrigued me for a long time, but this type of image -- strong light, strong graphic element in strong colour -- has proven less than easy to translate in the past. But, I have a lot of this type of image and it would be very satisfying to figure out how to do them. So, started it in a smaller scale. The paint for this was supposed to be dense but mobile, but ended up being dense and additive. This was a surprise but turned out to be pretty interesting, you can see there's quite a lot of texture in the foreground. Not done, small issues abound, but nothing whose resolution seems impossible, will let this dry a while, maybe grind back the foreground lightly, then try to take it further. About 12.25x7 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Have been concentrating on landscape work, it always seems somehow to be behind, but did more with still life this week. This is an image I painted from life, so there are two references, a study and the digital one. They are pretty different, this is the first layer moving it back towards the study from life. More to go, but it's getting interesting. About 10.5x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Did a study of roses in late January that I liked, also really liked the paint itself. Made lots of images of the roses themselves, have been waiting patiently for the planets to align in "alla prima rose painting" configuration again. Did a cooler one, a more austere one, there are easier or more accessible ones but this is the one with the energy. The ground on these panels contains silica, this is something I learned from an old Dutch painter who put sand in his ground. The silica makes the paint really adhere, it acts like an absorbent ground without being absorbent. But, for this one, thought that maybe a little more motion might be good, so put a very thin couch of the medium on first, toned light gray. This sort of obliterated the drawing, so I sketched it in again in some transparent paint. At this stage, when I first scrubbed the background on, it felt like it was going to be fun to work on. It took a while to get what I wanted, about four sessions of an hour or more the first day, then another one yesterday to clean it up. Resorted to some titanium in this, not a lot, I can't see it, so that's good: when I see titanium in a painting it's like nails on a blackboard for some reason. Had issues with the paint setting a little too fast, could get more on but it began to get a little picky, had to fight that. I think the problem was that, compared to the first one, I didn't have as clear an intuition about the destination, and became fascinated by the visual facts themselves. This is okay as long as the facts begin to resolve themselves into something more at some point, but when you're weary it's hard to decide if there's more there yet or not. Anyway, am wondering if the next one of these might be a little more like the image here, that is, a little less finished. The painting below is much more refined than the first one of the roses, so that's good, but there's something in this subject matter that I get really involved with, and really fussy about. there are a lot of personal elements here, and I'm fascinated by the idea of making a floral that avoids the expected aspects of the genre. Maybe it's also an awareness that there's more in this vein than I've gotten so far. About 9.5x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Sunny and frigid, a little snow last night, it sounded like being at the beach with the wind being funneled through the houses. Began to feel decent this week, maybe just low energy. Third week of the moon, didn't do much that was new or even too challenging, have learned that while it's best to work in the winter, it's also best to be moderate, thankful for small mercies. It's interesting to have so many things that are close to completion, yet have completion itself continue to often be a process of halfway to the wall each time. In some ways this has to do with having learned to see more in the last decade, and in some ways with a kind of perfectionism that is a double-edged sword. In a way, finishing is about abandoning comprehension or nuance, and embracing a more rhetorical or theatrical approach. So, finished isn't perfect, but definitively flawed. A painting can contain a question, but the question has to be subordinated to a larger answer. This is like the dialogue between presence and absence, perhaps embodied more in Asian art but nonetheless important to the painters I like most. Great examples of this are Chardin's La Pourvoyeuse, or Vermeer's Woman with a Water Pitcher. In both paintings, in different ways the presence of the woman in the room is given with great conviction. But what she's doing there is something else again, something beyond any type of narrative explanation. I'm hoping that, by addressing the finishing issue from several different angles, more functional options will slowly emerge. I'm the one whose demands made it hard, I'm also the one who can make it easy. Started that process with a few very small landscape studies this week designed to be complete as art, regardless of detail. Will continue with this, concentrating on larger abstract forms on the one hand, emotional closure on the other. Like anything there's a growing sense of the possibilities through experience. At the same time, the process of putting layers on indirect work is getting more spontaneous. So, maybe these approaches will inform one another, meet in the middle somehow in the next few months. Not a bad week for the work, brought a variety of things forward, and made a surprise Valentine that was well-received.
One of the interesting things about hand-refined linseed oil is what it does to paint when it gets thick. This is like sun oil, but doesn't need to be done in the sun. Most sun oil is also not refined first, so is less adhesive than it might be. Even with commercial paint, there's a quality of seizure, handmade paint can become a solid. So, this is a non-Newtonian reaction: a liquid is added to a liquid, but produces something less liquid. Here's an example of some of this oil, this is quite thick, just before it in fact becomes a solid. I added a small amount of it to the lead white below, with the result that it became more dense and elastic. There are several materials in the canon of older painting that make paint seize, the most obvious being a hard resin varnish such as amber or copal. But thicker hand-refined oil is much easier to make, and won't darken over time. Admittedly, a very small amount of amber or copal is all that is needed, but not everyone who has used these materials seems to have understood this. Historically, the oil became both liquid and limpid as a result of the way it was pressed and refined. So, there's always been a search for something sticky as the "lost secret" and various resins have been proposed over time. But technical art history tells us that there is no pattern of global resin use in older painting by any large name painter. So, the sticky component in some cases may be hand-refined oil.
Started here, a tiny study of an olive grove outside Volterra on a sultry afternoon. This is an image I tried several times that never quite worked out, wanted to explore a more essential approach to the landscape idea and it seemed a good candidate. I'd like to do more of these, work with the energy of the paint, just get in and get out, not let things get too fussy. About 3x6 inches oil on gessoed paper.
This image has been close a few times, but I've never been truly satisfied with it. A layer this week made it better in some ways, saw a few things that helped, but the sky also dried a little warm. The balance of the greens in this has been tricky, it's May, so they're quite emerald, but it's foggy, so they're a little softer as well. The colours being off is deceptive as an issue, they're easier to fix than the forms being off. So, not unhappy with this, it's just not done yet. About 7x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.
Another image of the same location, several years later, the tree mass that's on the right in the image above. Even in Vermont there were only a few of these more magical places. Have worked on this pretty regularly and it's moved significantly beyond where it was, but still doesn't quite feel resolved. About 9.75x14.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile, mounted on canvas and a panel. This is a pain but it makes the mechanical flatness of the panel less focal.
Another favorite location, am closing in on a number of these in various moods. In Vermont I was always really attracted to early September, the colours just beginning to change, the heat of the day just slightly less. This is just at the point where the colours seem more or less in the right key, it tends to take a few layers after this point, but they're kind of free, or more fun. 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed panel.
Clearing rain, image from a very lumpy hillside in the Mugello. This has required a lot of both landscaping and cloudscaping, but in the last layer I began to see a way to complete it. About 11x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Image from the beach in New Jersey last September, had put two layers on it and felt lucky to have survived, but then saw a way to go to the next step, so this layer was also simple. Not finished, a little small for the number of figures involved but doable, the sense of the interaction of the light and the atmospheric envelope is the most important thing.It's interesting how colour perception develops over time. At first I just saw the white notes, then I saw the black notes too, now I'm beginning to see the notes between both types. Some people are born with this ability, but for me it took a long time. I'm not sure it matters, but for me it was fascinating to realize that, within the ever-deceptive context of representation, there was a grammar to colour that is surprisingly like the grammar of sentences: clear communication occurs when each element is in the proper place. I wrote in great detail about how colour works in Living Craft, but, like so many things for human beings, maybe everyone needs to figure it out in their own way. Harold Speed says pretty much the same thing in his book on oil painting: that he didn't know how to pay attention to the right things when he read them until he had figured them out for himself. Going back over Doerner a few years ago, I was surprised by how much he had learned in the last few decades. Anyway, I think this is the tricky part about being a teacher, to find the middle ground between the drill sergeant and the Cheshire cat. I used to think that clearly explaining the logic of light that is built into the fabric of everything we see would necessarily stick. But now I think everyone needs to discover this for themselves in their own way, that it's only worth it to the ego if the discovery is personal. About 9x14.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper, something very sturdy from Twinrocker.
Another image from early September, Farr Cross Road, looking east towards the Green Mountains. Layer three on this, first layer with any paint with body. No detail yet, this has proven to be a good way to develop these, more essence, more mobile edges. About 12x18 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
I wasn't quite sure what to do for Valentine's Day, kind of a new holiday for me, but knew I wanted to do something. Spent way too much time on this on Thursday and Friday, a pretty subtle colour situation that took a while to get into, but it was a good exercise in patient attenuation at first, and eventually fun. Not quite done in some ways, I'm not thrilled about the highlit edge, but maybe that doesn't matter. About 6x8 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel. This was a fun panel, a thin piece of tight Belgian linen designed for clothing sized with glue – I should have bought the bolt, when I went back to the store for more the fabric was from China, not nearly in the same league – then a white lead ground stippled very finely.
New moon on the 20th, the last two have been kind of mild in their demands, we'll see how this one defines what it wants to be new.
Third week of the moon, had a cold all week so didn't try to do anything too ambitious. In fact, dipped pretty far into the bone pile. Learned some things about the paint, in general this continues to get better in terms of drying up, and having density but also mobility. I ran into issues this week with energy, the sort of oomph that is needed to put something over the top was not there, just got in, made some improvements, and got out. Also learned that there's only so much bone pile I can take, that it's good to balance fixing the old with defining the new. A little frustrating, after doing the rose painting a few weeks ago I really thought I was about to make a lot more work like that, ka-ching! Now I'm not so sure, and I'm not sure why, continue to follow what wants to happen even if I don't quite understand it. Of course, when you're sick it's easy to see the glass as empty, period. Had an interesting dream in the middle of this pretty nasty cold. A lot of my dreams take place in restaurant kitchens, I spent years in them and always loved the environment. In this one, I had been apprenticed to a great chef, and he was showing me all his techniques for making a lot of great food quickly, he had a lot of cool tricks. I was intrigued, he made it all so easy. And of course I was screwing up, not doing it with quite his magical aplomb. This was making me really nervous, because this seemed like such a great opportunity, but he told me not to worry, that I was doing better than I thought. He was a nice guy, looked more like a Tai chi teacher than a chef, and moved that way too.
Small study of the invidious overlook on the way to Farr Cross in Vermont, this was during the nearly snowless winter a few years ago so have no idea what month it was, although the sky says February to me. I always liked the more essential way this came out, a good feeling for the day without fussiness, but it didn't feel complete, and after a few years saw how to augment that somewhat. A little more colour than in life, it is difficult to get an accurate digital of this type of just slightly bright natural colour. This is on linen, its always a balance between the personality of the linen and the smoothness of the surface, this piece was helpful. So, there are ways in which linen makes these easier, but, unless it's alla prima, also ways in which it kind of doesn't matter by the time it's done, because there's so much paint on them. About 8x14 inches, on on gessoed linen.
Image from the beach last fall, this had gotten too warm and a little too pebbley in the surface, put a more mobile layer on it that solved some of it, but not all. Some colours in here that have been pretty difficult to find, but it's getting into a zone where it makes sense now. There's a lot of detail in the photo that I've left out, but some of it may have to come back in. About 9x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Did a smaller one of these last fall, wanted to see what would happen with a larger one and a somewhat longer composition. Layer three, just beginning to get some chromatic detail in, will put in a far off sprinkling of beach umbrellas, etc. next. Tried to tone the vivid blue in the sky down, it's pretty accurate except for that. About 14.5x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Study of a very old image from Farr Cross, before they put in the big farm and cleaned everything up, much to my dismay. This study had low chroma and a decent feeling but after several years I just wanted more. Tried to get at some of the more vivid greens that I've always tended to avoid. This always reminds me of that funny Roger Fry comment recorded by Virginia Wolfe that yellow green is simply not as aesthetic colour. Again, the perils of digital, this isn't that bad in life, but more of go. There's a larger one of these at 16x32 inches I started years ago, not bad but always timid, it would be interesting to work on that again with this study in mind. About 7.5x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Small study of Farr Cross that has taken a long time to get into a place that feels reasonable withthe colour, again the sky is a little vivid but everything else is okay. Will keep working on this, it would look nice in a dark simple cassetta style frame, but the composition began to feel sort of compressed from the top so started a larger one, below. The small one is 7x15.5 inches, the larger one is 12x18 inches. I can get into making the paint work at the smaller scale, but the larger one is really more comfortable.
Headed towards the full moon, the week of the historic storm that was supposed to be at least a foot here but ended up being a couple inches. Still, it got pretty wintry, and still is. Had a nice breakthrough with the composition of the paint earlier in the week, occasional events like this are always the best aspect of the process for me. But did get a little overexcited by this, started planning an empire of these paintings to be made in the next few weeks, and then caught a cold as a result. Have experienced before that there's only so far things can be pushed in the winter, but apparently needed to experience this again. It is not easy to feel so close, yet be summarily stopped, but, given that this happened on the week of my birthday, this situation might be a feature of 2015. I guess we all have signature issues, and one of mine has certainly been to develop more patience. As a kid, I never understood why my grandfather called me The Itch, but now I do. So, the week was a little frustrating after such a strong beginning, but a gentle reminder that, while the wings work, they are inevitably made of wax. Was able to do a little most days, worked from the very bottom of the bone pile and brought some things forward, didn't have much oomph but this was reasonable therapy. The approach I'm most interested in is the one below, but I'll just have to wait until it's time to make the next one.
I was given roses for my birthday that were a very nice colour. I bumped it up a little for this but not too much. Used a slight variation of the medium I've been working with. I knew the system was getting close to a real change, and this did it. This was fun to work on, was able to get the paint to do some things that are a little rare. I liked the approach this paint created because it enabled a finer interface between the concepts of observation and interpretation than I've been able to get at before. Did most of this on Monday, and cleaned it up a little on Tuesday morning. About 9.4x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.
Week of the new moon, always a charged transition, this one kicked off with lots of positive energy but more for resurrecting older work than starting things that are new. The end of my solar year, birthday next week, so in a way this made sense, something old, something new. Worked on a lot of different things, this was fun but got a little frenetic at one point: there's a lot of work in progress, it's easy now to alter some of the older things, even things from earlier in this year, this gets exciting but can become kind of a slugfest after a while. So, had to back off a little bit mid-week, then come in again with a little more balance. Still, some good things happened overall in terms of the coalescing of the landscape work. On the one hand, there are many of these now that are feeling close, but on the other, this is exactly the place where it becomes fun to see what might happen next. Some wacky weather, that treacherous place between snow and ice, now a decent storm expected in the next few days.
This year has featured more in the way of closure, but this has come after about two years of wandering around in the ozone, not sure how to get a purchase on the next step. During this time, I asked, one day, in intense frustration, what it was that I was actually trying to accomplish. Much to my surprise, I got an answer. This had happened before, but rarely. Anyway, after formulating this question, a voice in my head said clearly, "The Parthenon." Now, while typically oblique, this answer made great sense because ancient Greece, and specifically Athens, was important to me as a kid, and the Parthenon is of course a temple dedicated to sacred order, which, given that it's twenty-six centuries later, I'm more interested in than is probably wise. So, I often wonder about things like this during that always bracing four am period: basically, what, at this late date in what Delacroix already, in the 1850's, was calling a period of cultural decadence, is the point? Every time I think things cannot possibly get more bizarre, they do. Better, I could understand, worse, I could understand, but both seem to be happening at once. Well, perhaps this is all part of getting older and watching one's hard-won cultural frame of reference get tossed around like a rubber duckie in a tsunami. So, it has always seemed best to just hang on, tune into the still small voice when at all possible. Had an interesting dream this week that seemed to build on this theme. In it, I was wandering around in a temple, an architectural amalgam of ancient periods, but spacious, elegant, feminine, nurturing, it was just really nice to be there. This temple, it was somehow clear, had been rebuilt, and that process was now finished. But I realized there was no colour, the stones were all still bare. And supplying the colour, apparently, was going to be my job. Barring the usual warnings about the usual imbalances, that's about as close as my dreams come to clarity, or maybe directions about how the pieces go together, which was unusually kind, and made me wonder if, just as close observation transforms both who is observing and what is being observed, we, as individuals, might be able to transform the basis of existence itself through a creative combination of faith, hope, and imagination.
Went back to working with egg this week, made a mayonnaise out of thickened walnut oil and egg yolk, used this walnut oil because it appeared to dry on the soft side, whereas egg is ultimately quite hard. Everything ends up on panels, but it's always good to work for balance. Then made a putty out of some glair -- the liquid that seeps out of beaten egg white overnight -- chalk and slightly thicker oil. Glair seems to create less seizure than egg white alone, we'll see, didn't get to this very much this week. I made the mayonnaise to help the egg yolk keep longer, it lives in the fridge. Additions of the yolk keep the paint brighter in layers, but they also relax the thixotropy of the medium, so I've been a little reluctant to go back there. What this means is that the paint I've been using actually relaxes with a small addition of the mayonnaise pictured. And, in terms of brightening, the medium needs a little more. So, this approach may work out for developing work in layers, but turns out to be more complex than I had hoped it would be. This paint was not bad, but lacked something in the way of oomph. So, while there are many alla prima approaches that I like, there is still territory to explore in terms of working in layers.
I got intrigued by zirconium silicate as a potential ingredient a few years ago, it eliminated all the colour from linseed oil and has given that oil a pretty dense rheology in a full jar. But when I tried adding it to commercial linseed oil, I could never get the oil to clear. Anyway, Kremer is marketing it as a watercolour white and I wanted to see what it was like in oil: it's only a matter of time before lead white becomes unavailable and I am not a fan of titanium, no matter what I try to do to it. Turns out zirconium silicate is gray in oil, but sort of an interesting gray. I'm not sure this will go anywhere, it doesn't seem to help the oil to dry that much, would like to try some zirconium carbonate for this, but this stuff is not easy to come by for some unknown reason.
Closing in on this image from Vermont, a favorite place that has been fascinating to puzzle out in terms of the balance of the feeling and the detail. A few more layers, it's just getting interesting to work on. About 10.75x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
Same place, image from this summer, overgrown because the cows have been moved to another place. Between the lower chroma and the complex sky pattern, this has been difficult to resolve, but is perhaps now on its way back to the barn. About 9x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.
The original image of this location, from 2010 I think, remember being stunned when I stumbled onto this place. Several of these are around in various states of disarray, there were a number of things to learn with this, but of course, I didn't know that at first. Three layers on it now, I feel cautiously optimistic. This is a good scale for me, more spacious without being imposing, less finicky in terms of paint handling. About 15x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
There is an ongoing tension between recent beginnings, and older work that I'd love to somehow resurrect. This is another spot that has beaten me up regularly, a rare Constable-style overlook in Vermont that I'd love to figure out since there are so many interesting versions of it. This one was part of a day where I worked on a great many older studies, and several of this spot. It's still on the lumpy side but I think the relationship between the small and large elements, the abstraction versus the reality, is solved. Sunlit mist is sort of the final technical hurdle for me, I know it could be copied pixel by pixel but what I need to do is understand it chromatically. This doesn't mean it will get finished any time soon, just that it is less problematic to come across in its pile. About 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper.
Worked on this one from the large Mugello farm pile, it started in tempera, this is its second layer of oil. There's a lot to be said for starting with colour that is a little too lyrical in tempera, then softening it somewhat. This is on a gessoed wood panel, Baltic birch, at first I didn't like these but now I do, although they can only get so big. I'm not sure about the cloud, a little to focal but it is after all what was there, maybe I can back it off a little bit. 9.5x14 inches.
Small image of snow on Farr Cross road that I started in a very abstract way, it's interesting to add to its sense of detail and atmosphere in somewhat broad paint, altering the temperature of the layers somewhat. Started another one this week, only new image of the week, first layer was quite loose but detailed and translucent, maybe the best type of beginning yet for me. This next one is a little larger, with a somewhat different composition, want to see if I can set these up to look right without a frame by backing off from the subject, giving things more space, got a second layer on it yesterday. First one is 8x15 inches gessoed paper on panel, second one is 9x17.5 inches, gessoed line on panel.
Small still life I've learned a great deal from, it had gotten a little dark and warm, wanted to make it crisper, a little less of an old style painting. So, I made this quite cool in a thin layer. And, as expected, it's already much warmer. But maybe not too much. When the colour gets to a certain place, it becomes interesting to augment it further. I guess I like this because it just goes on and on. Still, making things reliably lighter and brighter has been harder to puzzle out than making them darker, so I'll be looking at how this ages in the next few weeks.