Tad Spurgeon oil paintings
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A weekly look at process and work in progress.


      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.

february 22

      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.

february 15

      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.

february 8

      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.

february 1

      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.

january 25

      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.

january 18

      Last week of the moon, new moon on Tuesday, typically a time when progress comes in small increments, or even when it's better to make materials, clean the studio, do errands. Also nearing the end of the solar year for me, again a time more of consolidation, even crawling towards the finish line, before the next cycle begins. Started out putting layers on older work, this is something that ranges from sort of boring – okay, I still don't know what to do but it's better than it was – to really fascinating – wow, where'd that come from, that was really interesting. Some things came forward, but I felt that old familiar itch to make something new building, and ended up making two new paintings this week, quite a surprise given the solar and lunar cycle. One of them was pretty a big alla prima landscape for me, the other a smaller still life that will take several layers. The landscape was really fun, something that had beaten me up several years ago, but also sort of costly, knew I had to finish it, but felt like I'd been run over by a truck for several hours afterwards. On the one hand, this is simply an occupational hazard, on the other hand, a slower drying medium might be in order for this approach, giving the process a second or third day. Hard to say, there are advantage and disadvantages either way. The next day's still life was a puzzle at first, simple form with close tight colour relationships, but I got it closer the second day. If someone had told me years ago that it was all about red, yellow, and blue, I would have agreed. But experience makes different levels of relationship available, and since colour is always relative to its context, it's always about the placement, and subsequent relationship, of hundreds of colour choices. And, in the context of representation, there's the relationship of the painting to the eye's quite developed sense of visual expectation. So, even though colour is creative, it also has a grammar. Just as there are nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., there are types of colour. Just as sentences have certain patterns, proceed in a certain order, colour is mapped to form by type. But this situation also has levels. A shadow is, broadly speaking, a certain type of colour, made a certain way depending on the colour convention of the painter or period. But a shadow can be more than just dark, as in life they always are, containing subsidiary elements of other colour types within it. This might be comparable to an orchestration, where the logical chord is layered or attenuated by the various instruments involved. So, this is the tricky thing about the grammar of colour. As in chess, the pieces of colour are arranged on the board, warm opposing cool, but the game is played on levels. Much is made now of the three dimensional red, yellow blue colourspace, but this is only the beginning, and a relatively abstract one at that. Where is black, where is white, where is the personality and optical state of the pigment? But thinking about it this way gets complicated! So, this may be where the idea of juxtaposing warm (positive, transparent) colour with cool (negative, opaque) colour, as is seen so consistently in older painting from the Low Countries, came about. The opposites interact within the value scale until the painter says they're balanced appropriately. I like this because it provides a simplifying Yin-Yang kind of principle in an equation that can get pretty nutty.

      Rainy and icy out, very dark morning, lower chroma photos as a result.


      Before I began working with the oil, I used stand oil like most painters. Then later I got involved with burnt plate oil from Graphic Chemical, arguably cleaner and therefore less likely to yellow. Both of these oils, of course, are leveling, burnt plate oil almost relentlessly so. Then there's sun oil, which is less leveling, more adhesive, but often insanely expensive, and rarely, to my knowledge, made with refined oil. The interesting thing about hand-refined linseed oil is that it is capable of drying pretty quickly on its own. This led to a different kind of thicker oil, which I called studio oil, because it just happened in the studio naturally when oil was left out, or its jar left half full. The interesting thing about studio oil was that, past a certain density, small amounts of it make the paint seize. This happens more with handmade paint than commercial paint. But, because the oil in the half full jar is always polymerizing, at a certain point it begins to become a solid. Slightly before this happens, the oil can be heated in a waterbath, moved to a new jar, and thinned a little bit with less thick oil. The resulting oil still makes paint seize, (see photo of Blockx silver white below, it stands straight up.) but keeps a few more weeks before needing to be thinned again. I only use a little bit of this oil in the medium, since more tends to make the paint hard to manipulate, shreds fine brushes, etc., but for those of you who are interested in these things, this creates is an inherently thixotropic, non-Newtonian system made with oil alone. The key is the SRO method of refining linseed oil, based on a formula in Eastlake that is baed on a formula in De Mayerne. You can download a PDF file about how to make this oil here.


      Made some new cerulean this week, decided to match the value of the old ones I have: a greener one by W&N that's almost gone, and an even older one by Lefebvre-Foinet that's a little warmer. Cerulean is of course, kind of wacky, a cool blue that is emotionally warm. The pigment from Kremer is darker, required about fifty percent chalk to lighten it to the same value. There's a somewhat darker greenish cobalt as well, I think Blockx puts this out in a tube. Anyway, this worked out nicely, like all cobalts it just requires mixing, cannot be mulled without falling apart. And. like all cobalts, it is toxic, I wear a serious mask for this, handle the pigment slowly with gloves.


      Another version of the view from the bridge, there's a larger one of these that's pretty close to done, but this earlier one had gone awry. Brought it back to some extent, but I'll be glad when the smallest landscape is two feet across. About 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Years ago my friend Jill came to the studio in Ferrisburgh looking for a birthday present for a friend of hers. It's always dangerous when a painter comes to the studio to buy because they're probably going to get something I like. And she did, an alla prima study that, as alla prima studies sometimes do, came out with a certain something. Eventually I decided that I missed this image enough to make another one, but this is always easier said than done. There are now four of these, this is the first. It had gotten close, but then become a nibblefest. Once this happens, it's best to just obliterate it with the most conclusive layer possible. I'll let this go for now, bring the others forward and see how it looks. About 10x11 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Older still life I'd always liked with a pretty crunchy texture in places, looks like it had a pretty rococo beginning. Put a layer on it that solved it in larger terms, will go back and fiddle a little but not too much, this will always be something of a sow's ear, but I like the sense of poise and space. The photo is pretty blotchy in the foreground for some reason. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      The unexpected alla prima study of the week. An early small version of this made me realize it just had to be done larger. This really wanted to happen in spite of reservations I had about just winging it at this size. But I've made a series of adjustments recently designed to facilitate finishing, and sometimes everything just falls into place in terms of the paint, the scale, and the ground. It was fun to feel all along that this was going to work, although it did take all day. The concept owes a lot to the 19th century outdoor studies, as seen in the Gere Collection book, and Galassi's book on Corot. I like the balance of paint and observation in this, a lot of both. As always, a few places I might alter in a hypothetical future version, an argument for slower drying paint in a way, but I'll leave this alone for now, it's best to let something like this sit for a week or two before trying to really assess it. As with painting outside itself, there's always a sense at first that more could have happened, instead of being happy with what did happen. Realistically, I've wanted to do something at this scale and this level for a long time, and finally did, so maybe that's enough. More experience with a system typically gives it surprisingly more closure, so I'll be casting about for the next image that wants to happen this way. About 12x19.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Very peculiar photo of this, but I had a feeling it would be. Used the same paint as the study above, but started with a little extra oil. The ground was just different enough that this became very different than I'd planned. Which is fine, it's important to just follow them where they want to go. I've always been intrigued by the juxtaposition of the fruit or vegetable and its eerily bright label, the label was a little bright at first, but now feels okay. In life this will take a few more layers, but I'm happy with the way the underlying concept is playing out. About 9x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

      New moon in a few days, this will bring at least a moderate amount of chaos as I figure out what sort of newness it wants, but it feels like the concept of finishing lots of work in 2015 is gathering momentum.

january 11

      Still cold, a little snow, sun or no sun this always makes for better light. Third week of the moon, started one new image but mostly did layers on older work. Made some shifts in the system that helped this, am getting kind of excited about the increase in momentum here. Oil paint is pretty subtle stuff, and I think I got sort of hypnotized by the possibility of generating further levels of this beguiling quality. The visual world is, after all, equally if not more subtle in the way it operates. But in art subtlety is no more a raison d'κtre than any other element of style. And art is necessarily a form of summation, a place where the breadth of the universal is focused through the rhetoric of the personal. So, just as I had to edit all those lovely but impenetrable large words out of the book, I'm now trying to figure out how to be a little more succinct with the paint itself. Left to my own devices, I would simply explore process forever, there's always more to learn. But what is learned will become more functional from continuing to try to get process to serve product to a greater extent than it has for a while, to look for a synergistic balance between these opposite qualities.

      A few people wrote this week about the events in Paris. Not that it's going to make it any less challenging, but it seems like this is part of a larger pattern in terms of our evolution. The pattern is that all kinds of privileges and prerogatives enjoyed or desired by various special interest groups are being challenged by the larger motion of humanity towards greater compassion and understanding, towards genuinely getting along with one another at long last. This year may see a variety of incidents where a given group feels threatened enough to attempt to force its agenda on the whole. When a group sees its sense of prerogative threatened, it will often threaten in turn. Thus we have the union-inspired slowdown by the police force in New York, because the mayor dared to question their perennial bending of the law they are supposed to be upholding. Or the many conniptions, the dire warnings, generated by the minions of wealthy white males throughout America, when perhaps the greatest threat to America is its own unreal financial system. The incidents in Paris this week were horrible, but the response of Paris has been strong and positive. An act designed to create fear and division has created the opposite, a greater sense of solidarity around the basic goals of human civilization. Hopefully this can serve as a model response in the year to come.


      As part of this year's focus on finishing, I'm looking more closely at the way I cut the paint itself with putty. After having a few things dry down that really shouldn't have, made a shift in the Blockx silver (lead) white itself. Sometimes in the past I've added titanium white, but even a small amount of this generates a look that is hard to for me to love. So this week I tried taking the one element of the medium -- a mixture of starch gel and very thick hand-refined linseed oil, and adding this to the white instead of the full putty addition. So the white becomes somewhat seized and saturated, but is not thinned to the same extent. This works better, I'm getting more brightness from these as they dry. Another possibility on panels would be to add a little egg yolk. Also, working mostly on landscape, revisited cobalt green light. This is a tricky colour for me, opaque and quite bright, but I'm learning how to use it better. It is certainly ideal to finish things in one layer if this is possible, but for me it's been necessary to learn how to work in layers more effectively: the fact of the layers themselves, the longer period of time with the development of the image, seems to be important to the look I want. At one point I used a putty with commercial burnt plate oil in it, this took about three days to dry and meant that "one layer" could be continued three times. But if you've used BPO you know is has a very specific look, and in the end I wanted to move away from it. I've been thickening some poppy oil -- it takes a while -- and this may provide an alternative for this approach at some point.


      A lot of things got buried in the layers of my former large studio, then they got buried in boxes when I moved. Every now and then I try to get more organized, if I do it in increments it is manageable. I did more versions of this image from the Mugello than I thought. In fact there are two more, one the larger size here, and one on a full 22x30 sheet. Some of these are on gessoed panels, with egg yolk added to the paint. Looking at them makes me want to explore this option again, as you can see from older tempera paintings, the egg yolk definitely keeps the colour on the bright side. It also tends to make paint that only behaves a certain way, I wonder if I can find a way around this.


      This was the image I wanted to start, a larger version of the beach at Avalon image from last September. Got two layers on this, a very sketchy underpainting and the one you see here. Oudry says that you want to make the underpainting look like a version of the completed painting, only in shadow. Used a reasonable amount of a simple chalk putty in the paint to keep the value and temperature situation close, tried to focus on larger shapes, no detail. About 14x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper. A nice scale for this type of image, not too picky but still somewhat intimate, something you could look at closely while still seeing the while thing.


      Study from the Garfagnana area above Lucca, a place I really liked. This was first done in a medium that contained what turned out to be a lot of gum arabic. The look was somewhat goopy, and at first I liked it, but over time the look itself began to seem a little too focal, and I've in fact moved away from gum arabic for now in spite of liking it as a material. After a while I ground it back and have done a few more layers on it. Like the 19th century landscape studies, I'm looking for something that references the past without embracing it too tightly, Arcadian Italy with something more contemporary. Not done, but the best it's been. There's a larger version of this, full sheet of Arches Huile, that this will inform. About 9x12.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile mounted on panel.


      This is something I'm trying to finish for a patient client, did two layers on it in the last few weeks but they dried down a little each time. Couldn't resist and made this image a little more like what I want, what I in fact painted twice. A little over the top, but you get the idea, sun beginning to come through the fog. Decided after this experience to alter the white, as explained above, giving it more punch. This is pretty close in life, the experience of the new paint system this past week makes me think it will just take one more layer. You're laughing, why are you laughing? 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.


      An August evening I painted on Farr Cross Road many years ago, it started out hazy overcast then very slowly the sun came out. Made this as a test of some paper from Zecchi with a very nice internal texture. Getting closer to finished, this evening is kind of etched in my memory so it may take a little more to get it. Started this with the idea of making a larger one, but maybe this is better at this scale. People around here have sometimes asked me if I miss Vermont, with subtexts ranging from sincerity to schadenfreude, but I think maybe I experienced what I wanted to. It doesn't go away. 8x12 inches, oil on gessoed paper mounted on canvas.


      Earlier in the same evening, it has taken me a long time to get to this point with the way the greens and blues are related. In life this is pretty close, has that sought-after next level of balance. Perhaps the famous one more layer will do it? 8.75x13.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile mounted on canvas.


      Study from Tuscany, started a few years ago but never finished, I'm always attracted to these Arcadian situations. When the time is right it's fun to work on older work like this, easy to see progress in terms of the paint, and the translation of colour and form. 9.5x13.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile mounted on canvas.


      A location in Vermont I did a lot with when I was in Middlebury, the simplicity and timelessness of it always fascinated me. This needed some serious work, but is now in the ballpark, will be fun to continue with. All of these smaller studies were designed to pave the way for something larger, the half sheet size (15x22 inches) seems like a good next step. About 10.75x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      Another view of the same location, relatively difficult atmospheric situation to render but it's getting there. About 9x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      This was after Hurricane Irene, you can see where the water level was on the left, a lot of large rocks were rearranged as well. Worked a lot on this at the time, had difficulty getting the composition of the clouds the way I wanted them, but they're getting closer. The images with more colour are sometimes difficult to photograph because the colours go too bright, especially the blues, this is more moderate in life. This was always a little too small for this level of rendition at the time, but might be able to get it now. Have learned the hard way with these landscapes it is really important to have a completed study before trying anything larger. 9x13 inches, oil on Arches Huile.

january 4

      A new year, we still seem to be moving in opposite directions as a species, merely accelerating the pace. Abbreviated news, have to go to a wedding in town. What to wear, what to wear. It's at an big old building turned into a groovy condo, should be interesting for my new Philadelphia story. Did layers on a variety of smaller things this week, nothing earth shattering but I like the way the paint is behaving, momentum for finishing things is slowly building.


      The original version of the painting I've been developing, this is only 7x9 inches. After a few years and another version I saw some things that could be improved. It had a lot of paint on it, a relatively goopy surface made with a putty that had BPO in it. I've always found BPO to be a double-edged sword because of the melting factor, maybe by the drop it would be okay. Anyway, put another layer on it and in life this has something, an internal shimmer like a rainy day. Very overcast this morning, a scintilla of this quality made it into the JPEG. But this is a good sign for the coming emphasis on finishing things.


      An image from Farr Cross Road in Vermont, one of several in progress, small at about 8x15 inches. It had gotten a little dark, mounted it on a panel and put two thin brightening layers on it this week with relatively dense paint. This is a nice technique for adding internal shimmer, but the paint has to be a certain consistency, thick but elastic. Looking for something gentle and spacious, a point of balance between happy and gloomy, this day was very soft, had a nurturing quality, as though the snow were coming to protect everything.


      This is something that's coming up. Photo of a painting that I cropped then added to on the right. Somehow it's easier to conceive of these in black and white, fiddle with the clouds. The beach in Avalon this fall, a place I used to fly kites as a kid. Original was about 11x15 inches, next one will be 14x21 inches.

december 28

      First quarter of the moon, on the warm side here, have hatched a plan to return to the beach one of these warmer days, but haven't been able to do it yet. The new moon was one of the antsy ones, nothing was new enough on the one hand, on the other was not able to make much of anything anyway. Christmas itself was a lovely and intense day, the first time I'd done anything about the holiday in many years besides run for cover. Like many people my age I have complex memories of Christmas from childhood, it was a time when we were more of a family than usual, it was difficult as a child to just let this come and go. At the same time, at least we were a family, at least an effort was made. Talked to someone about this this week with a similar experience, it was surprisingly therapeutic. Another reminder that, although I left Philadelphia for three decades, it waited patiently for me to come back. We tried another great wine this week courtesy of the wine fairy, this was a Barbacarlo 2010 from Pavia, it was just amazing and has a wonderful story. Had this with a sauteed duck breast, marinated first in red wine (not the Barbacarlo!) and then finished with red wine-pomegranate juice reduction with a browned mirepoix. I don't cook much this way anymore, but it was fun. It was also a week with more butter, sugar, and white flour than usual, ho ho ho. One thing I've found really good for "sudden rich food syndrome" over the years is apple cider vinegar, about a tablespoon in a glass of water. You can go further with tumeric, or even grapefruit seed extract, but often the apple cider vinegar is enough. Listened to lots of holiday music this week, a strong sense of faith and hope in many of these songs. The serious Christmas music introduces that same sense of why can't it be like this all the time, making more festive and goofy things like Jingle Bell Rock kind of a relief. Then there are occasional excursions into outright paganism like Frosty the Snowman. A nice point of balance is established by Nat King Cole in The Christmas Song, wishing everyone well outside of the context of mystical salvation. I don't think there's anything wrong with mystical salvation, but it does seem that, having been given the recipe, it's probably with the intent that we make the meal ourselves. And invite everyone. A chaotic week for the work, if I get anything done between Thanksgiving and the New Year it's a plus. As usual this time of year too, there's a sense of something different rising, about to come over the horizon. I've always wondered if there might be a year when everything fell into place and I would see how to complete a lot of this work. There have been inklings of how this might occur now and then. It's a gamble, of course, much safer things could happen, but they aren't as interesting. The work has taught me that what wants to happen is also what needs to happen.


      This year I've been starting to work more on finishing things, something that got a little submerged over the last decade by learning things. Lots of stuff has been said about the importance of process, especially now when style is a form of branding, but in the end, the process needs to make a product. I've mostly been working with a putty with a little something water-based added. This can be egg, starch gel, hide glue, gum arabic, etc. This makes the putty seize, it is then relaxed a bit with more oil, but has an inherent thixotropy. This week I wanted to do something quick and alla prima, and added a small amount of hard resin varnish to the mix. This is something I used to do a great deal, an egg yolk-putty emulsion with a little amber varnish added on panel. But egg yolk has a unique density since it is a rich emulsion already. I've added a little larch balsam to this type of putty, and that has the effect of relaxing the rheology. But a hard resin varnish -- some sandarac I made in 2006 -- is going to enhance the thixotropy, even in a quite small amount. So, this week's putty was different, see image below. I'm not sure yet whether this is good different or bad different, it's too new. But it seems worth exploring at least a little further. Again, this medium is predominantly chalk and aged, pre-polymerized hand-refined linseed oil, the starch gel and varnish are used in very small amounts.


      Was able to find room for the table saw in the basement, and began making some panels again this week. At first I just attached the linen to the panel with rabbit skin glue, but now I put canvas on top of the panel first, this is more reliable in terms of full attachment and gives a look that is less mechanically flat. It is fun to work on unsupported prepped fabric, or pieces of the Arches Huile, because the edges can be moved around, bringing that element of change into the process, making the beginning more spontaneous. But at some point the support needs to be mounted, and, because I don't do this all the time, there is always a learning curve, a moment where something goes somewhat awry. But this of course is perhaps the best way to focus one's attention just a little bit more! Work on fabric or paper can be mounted for a frame, or, with enough forethought, wrapped around the edges of the panel. Did this with the second painting of that darn cat, Arches Huile over panel, best to do this with things once they seem headed in the right direction, but before they get too close to complete. It's not that difficult, just requires some careful measuring, a sharp mat knife, and enough, but not too much, PVA glue. After working in lots of different ways I guess I like the look of a painting on a fabric covered panel best, it just requires a relatively decisive sense of the composition from the beginning.


      The only thing I was able to do this week, on a very dark afternoon to boot so the colour is a little high key and strange. An image of a very misty fall afternoon in Barga, famous as the day an impecably dressed little old man saw me taking pictures and came up and apologized to me for the weather being nuvoloso. Did a version of it years ago with very goopy paint, and wanted to see what would happen with a similar approach using a more recent definition of very goopy. Not really resolved, as is often the case with the new moon, territory gets explored more than settled. But the paint itself did something interesting, very active and expressive, detail below about twice life size. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the next few weeks.


      Here's a type of e-mail I often write, answering various technical questions about oil and putty for someone from another country:

Thanks very much for writing with such excellent questions.

The information on the site is a little bit dated, I have been concentrating on the book.

So I will tell you some extra things, you didn't miss anything.

First, the 4:150 oil came about because 48-72 seemed too long! They are quite similar. They are also thin oils. A little bit pre-polymerized, but still thin.

At this point, I see the pre-heating as a precaution, not a necessity. It is a scientific truth, something from a research paper, so it does help, but with higher quality linseed oil -- cold-pressed, then hand-refined -- becomes far less of an issue. I am mostly using oil now that is three years old. This has not been preheated and has shown no yellowing issues.

Also, (bonus info!) the chalk itself (calcium ions) helps the oil to dry more quickly without yellowing. If you do the 4:150 procedure with added calcite in the oil, you will get a faster drying oil with less tendency to yellow. This brings linseed oikl quickly within the range of walnut oil, barely discernible yellowing in an unpigmented test.

The composition of the putty depends on how much saturation you want. If the putty is made from chalk and 4:150 oil alone, the paint will dry matte. As small increments of thicker oil such as stand oil or sun oil are added, the results begin to be saturated. Everyone wants something different here so this is somewhat a matter of taste. There's also the possibility of small amounts of something else in the putty, like egg yolk (matte) egg white (gloss) etc.

Also, with putty, there is a question of how much is added to the paint. For an underpainting, you can add a lot, but to finish, less typically works better.

Linseed oil is only better if you want to have fast drying with late Rembrandt type technical options. If you want Raphael type surfaces, it is not that important. Although you want to be careful with lead in walnut oil, this can make a soft paint film sometimes. Soft can be good on canvas, more flexible, but too soft can abrade or even be sticky.

The cold-pressed, hand-refined linseed oil is inherently more stable than older commercial oils, and the chalk in the putty makes it even more stable. I have only been able to get it to wrinkle by trying: a fast drying putty beneath, a slow drying putty on top in one alla prima layer. This wrinkled, but in normal application, there are never issues.

I'm not sure you can refine the sun oil after it has been thickened. It may become a gluey mess. You might try a small test, water only, emulsify the water and oil with shaking, let it sit, perhaps heat the water (gently, low heat!!!) out of the oil. Heating it in the Delft method may be a better option, but be careful, thick oil contains oxygen and the by-products of polymerization, these can even come out as a puff of smoke during the process. Oil heated like this is going to be quite levelling, if you like this you may want to find a used lab hotplate with a magnetic stirrer. This appliance, with the stirbar in place, will keep the oil lighter as it is heated.

Wishing you peace and prosperity in the year to come! And please let me know if you end up with further questions :)

december 21

      Last day of the last moon of the year, not the worst such week ever, but am pretty much crawling to the finish line of this one. Almost the solstice, some welcome sun at the end of another week in which the work competed with all kinds of holiday mayhem. I wish you could just throw the Holidays a huge raw steak to calm them down, feeding time at the zoo, but it doesn't seem to work that way. I'm in one of those phases of being worried about the world. These come and go, but it's hard to get out of the cycle once you're in. It's distracting when you'd like to trim your first Christmas tree in a long time and think hopeful thoughts about humanity. Well, maybe if you can think hopeful thoughts about a reasonably large part of humanity, that's good enough. But I still wonder, are everyone's actions are ultimately their own responsibility? Or do you go the Bhagavad Gita route and say that, in the divine play between good and evil, someone has to play the bad guy. This part remains a puzzle. But it is clear that, at this point, until it works for everyone, it's not going to work for anyone. So, 2015 may be another challenging year for hope, another year in which everything amazing is balanced by everything dismaying. I used to hope for some kind of solace from the big picture, but at this point feel there's more involved than I can fathom. Art has been pretty good therapy for this kind of cosmic malaise so far, keeping one's own candle burning. At this point, I'm pretty close to being able to do what I've wanted to technically, the learning project that started in 2002 is winding up. I like this since for the first five years anyway the goal seemed hopeless. One morning I woke up wanting to comprehend the tools of older painting, but do something of my own with them, create a kind of bridge between older painting and the 20th century work I grew up with. The last aspect of this project has been to learn to finish things once again. In some ways this is easier because there are more options with the paint and the conception of colour, in other ways these options can get in the way. So I'm trying to work with the same palette and the same medium as much as possible. This isn't really possible, I can't help but ask questions, but making an effort to keep things more focused has helped.


      Am getting close to the end of a notebook, this one was started in 2008. Kind of interesting to look it over, the first few pages reveal a system that seems pretty primitive! Started making little icons to align a formula with a given painting, also started documenting various mixes of colours I've found helpful, the mix of reds that works best for peonies, a mixture of blues for a sky. I'm sort of conflicted about the lines: they have made it more organized, but it might be nicer to have the next notebook be plain paper, I like those Kremer notebooks from Germany. So does everyone else, they're always out of the square one when I go in there.


      Finished up refining a sample of hand-pressed linseed oil from Tom Hirsz. This oil is quite clear already and, if my pet theory is right, will polymerize pretty quickly as a result of the fact that it was extracted without heat. Pictured is another of Tom's oils, poppy oil that is hand-pressed. This has been washed with salt water, the resulting layer of break submerged in the photo by adding fresh water gently on top. I'll keep washing it, probably with plain water since poppy oil is never going to dry that quickly.


      Something older image that, several years ago now, provided a glimmer of how to proceed in terms of colour that was both unified and diverse. Unearthed it recently and it seemed pretty primitive. This is always an interesting moment, something lost but something gained. Like the difference between discernment and judgement, the difference between simple and primitive is interesting to ponder. Ground it down and brought it back somewhat, but it's still on the rough side, will probably take a few more layers to smooth out again at another level. About 12x16 inches, oil on gessoed canvas over panel.


      The same set of David Austin roses, a little earlier in their cycle. An image that has beaten me up more than any other. This just did not work in the 3x4 format, finally have at least a decent model in a more square format. More recent start, am working to get the balance of colour the way I want it first, then will complete various details, fix the table line, etc. This is getting closer to the illusive finish line. A great example of de facto digital editing or enhancement: the photo exaggerates the warm cool shifts uniformly. In the roses this helps, but in the background it doesn't. About 12x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      An image of Vermont that's getting closer to completion, a situation I encountered a lot there, sun beginning to come through the morning fog. One of several spots there that meant a lot to me, always hard to explain why. About 9.75x14.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      The cat from last week was a hit locally. I liked this more oblique pose as well, worked on it three times. Did not consider the potential of this to be sentimental, this cat is after all merciless in her own casual way, but want to keep it away from that as it develops. Got interested in more colour, more of a sense of the fur in looser paint, but certain aspects of the form still need to be firmer, and the eyes need major help. As always, am interested in getting at the essential cat, but the actual cat is part of this as well. Learned some things to apply to the first one, can then come back to this one after giving it a rest. About 8x11.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile.

december 14

      Waning moon, the holidays are catching up with the work, it's going to just get more complicated to get anything done for a while. I always get kind of a sense of impending doom about this time of year, trying to look at that and be more optimistic. The wine fairy struck this week, this is always unexpected but incredibly nice, a client who sends Italian wine at a level I can otherwise only dream about. We tried the Le Trame 2010 Chianti Classico this week, a festive labyrinth of gentile complexity. Was put in the spirit as well by a carol service at an old Mennonite church in the area, this was really interesting, not the original church on the site but an a simple and lovely building from 1770. Lots of harmony by the congregation, the overall feeling was innocent but quite firm about the redemptive power of peace, and its cosmic inevitability. I guess in the final analysis I believe that but would sure like to see more of it soon. It has often occurred to me that the architects of this experience may have underestimated the appeal of negativity, especially the concept of the holy war, of fighting for the right. Who needs to fight fair when God is on your side? Sometimes I wish there was more active help or guidance towards unity, perhaps not angels directing traffic but more than a rainbow. Of course in that case, it wouldn't be the lesson we learned all on our own. And that level of responsibility does seem to be focal here. Even though the Quakers got ahold of me early, I've had a lot of issues letting go of the urge to fight. There are just so many opportunities. A book that really helped this past year was Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives by Micheal Newton. He was a therapist doing hypnotic regression to heal illness and came across a very interesting world. It establishes that the soul's basic purpose is to develop integrity, often under challenging circumstances. As someone who grew up in the Sixties and still hopes that promise will be fulfilled, it is sometimes hard to think about what certain people are "getting away with" here. Can you think of anyone who is clearly guilty who is not going to jail? Oh, more than one? This book helped me realize that, in larger terms, no one gets away with anything. It's not that we are punished, but that we are all, in the deepest sense, accountable. Relatively overcast week for here, plugged away on some older work without anything too earth-shattering happening, and, importantly, did get one Christmas present underway.


      Went back to a really simple putty this week, wanted to visit that territory again to see what it had to offer after a reasonable hiatus. Used some slightly thicker hand-refined linseed oil and chalk, one part oil to two parts chalk. The thicker oil has more wetting power and makes a much denser putty, used this stringy stuff in the paint at one part putty to four parts paint. So, a slight overall increase in saturation, a light overall decrease in chromatic strength. This paint had a nice balance of stickiness and mobility, and made decent painterly detail, see the last image of this post for the general look. I don't think this is going to replace the idea of a putty with a little added starch or egg or glue size, but it's always good to simplify now and then. Even if it seems like I've been there before, there's often more to be found.


      When I was at the Met, I saw their version of Soap Bubbles by Chardin, there's another one at the National Gallery that's a little more colourful, slightly more space in the composition, possibly the second version. In life the Met's version is really dominated by a kind of weimaraner brown. At first thought it might have been a particular earth colour, but I'd never seen it. Then it occurred to me that he might have mixed a neutral midtone from the four positions of the tetrachromatikon. So I tried this, and there it was. This approach is a variation of the complex biscuit coloured ground seen in Van Dyck's study of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Anne, a colour which makes the more simple colours laid on top of it hold together more. In the Met's Chardin, this colour was pretty dominant, and I wondered if the work had been underpainted with it as well.


      Copy of Constable's first study for the Hay Wain, an image I've always found fascinating, 1820, 5x7 inches. Did this when I had a cold a few years ago and never felt it was quite right, was in the mood for it again and cleaned it up. 7x10 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Did a study of this image long ago that I liked, but which had too much colour in it. The mood is always a tricky balance in this type of landscape. Tried for a lower chroma version of this, also wanted to see if a certain laid paper I had from Zecchi could be sized and gessoed for oil studies. The paper didn't really work, but I like this lower chroma approach to the image, may make a slightly larger version next. About 6.25x8.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      There are several of these small studies floating around in various stages of incompletion, from images taken on various summer afternoons in Vermont. Softened the colour somewhat, simplified the forms somewhat, like the overall quality of the right side of the road more than the left, probably some surgery needed in the trees and clouds there. This is still a little obvious, have a smaller version of this, somewhere, that's better, but that "better" may not be relevant to this one. About 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen.


      Very local landscape from the Spring, this had some aspects I liked but the composition didn't quite hold together, some of the colour was a little vivid for me. Red yellow and green, the other basic triad, often used in older painting. Had looked at it long enough to know how to fix at least most of it, this has a nice overall sense of unity now, just needs a little adjustment in the upper right, then another committed layer of juicy paint. About 11x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.


      An older still life that had gotten a little too detailed, sort of fussy, made it flatter on it's way to somewhere slightly different. There are a few of these, based on pictoral ideas that are older, but might be brought more in line with what's going on now. The first thing is to make the old idea go away. 14x20 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Only new one this week, that darn cat who wakes me up at five in the morning by purring in my ear. Hopefully a Christmas present, got four layers on it, back and forth between warmer and cooler, ended on cooler, you can see the warmer background coming through. It feels launched, has an overall feeling of her calm intensity, that inscrutable feline sang froid. Started out with a pretty simple palette, but this got better when I reduced the colour as much as possible. The surface is still sort of lumpy, don't want more detail so much as the sense of this particular being. When a system is close it's easy to overshoot the right spot in attempting to make it better. Just a little more oil in this particular putty might be all that's needed here, a little more saturation and fusion. 6x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

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