Buckthorn City

TM9684 Buckthorn City 30×36 oil on panel

This week I made the formal acquaintance of my nemesis – Common Buckthorn. I encounter it in the wild, and invading people’s yards. It’s one tough tree/shrub that manages to live almost everywhere, forming dense, impenetrable tangles that block my way. I understand goats can eat their way into it. Bravo Goats! I can’t help but admire its toughness, even in the more dormant November form it is a challenging, linear subject that appeals to me. And I also hate it. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9684 Buckthorn City – detail from upper left
TM9684 Buckthorn City – detail from left side
TM9684 Buckthorn City – detail from right side

Technical painting notes: This view of tangling Buckthorn by a Beaver Pond was accomplished using mostly rollers of various sizes and harks back to my time spent doing woodcuts. I started with a bold lay up of very dark, reddish black paint to set the vertical gestures of trees, then played with scrapers, and smaller rollers to “draw” branches and viny growth. Something about the aggressive Buckthorn seemed to demand a more aggressive approach.

Spring Lost, then Found

TM9673 Spring Lost, then Found 36×44 oil on panel

It is always a variation on a theme, this return to spring at my pond in the woods. I think I know the place, but winter changes it. The same happens with the panel and the idea. I think I know the subject and how to start the painting, but then the painting takes off in a different direction as I follow an impulse or take advantage of an accident. In the end it is still about the place, but more. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9673 Spring Lost, then Found – detail from lower center with bullhead lilies
TM9673 Spring Lost, then Found – detail from upper left

Technical painting note: The beginnings of a new beaver lodge in the upper left were a challenge. I painted the intertwined branches compulsively, and though it was exactly what I saw, it didn’t work with the rest of the painting. Eventually, I took a roller full of gray paint and interrupted the branches, then rolled in some green too. Now it felt like it belonged without calling too much attention to itself. Apology: I regret that I couldn’t get a jpg that showed the range of the greens in the painting, but that is the digital dilemma.

Getting Started

Studio view with panels in preparation

Sanding and priming the first of two shipments of panels. The first step is inspecting the panels and choosing the best side for the front. I check the joints and corners for damage, or gaps where wood meets wood, and use wood filler to repair.

The next step is wiping the panels with soft cloths to remove shop dust, then the edges of the panel are lightly sanded with 150 grit sandpaper to remove splintery rough spots. Wipe down again.

I use a chip brush to shellac the back side of the panel, preserving the lovely wood grain while sealing the surface.

The front side then receives five thin coats of alkyd primer, applied with a foam brush to minimize brush strokes. When the front is thoroughly dry, I use the 150 grit sandpaper and a block to smooth the front surface to a velvet finish. Wipe down with soft cloths again, ready to start a painting.

Drifting Past November

TM9273 Drifting Past November 42×48 oil on panel

There’s a poetry that I hope to achieve in all my paintings – a sense of mystery and the tension between what can be described and what can only be felt. Drifting Past November was slow to evolve. It’s based on late fall by the creek, with reflections from over-hanging branches and a few leaves floating by. I brought the painting to near completion but didn’t know how to finish it. The “place” was described, but the delicate feeling where loss and beauty intersect was missing. Living with it on the wall of the studio for a couple years gave my thinking time to evolve. No longer fearing a “mistake” I added layers of red gesture drawing based on the overhanging leaves and heightened the lights. The combination of more layered glazes and brushed and rolled detail work increased the complexity and added to the sense of depth, as well as making the color more exciting. I emphasized the contrast of hard and soft edges as a metaphor for what is present and what is disappearing. Details below, along with the version that hung on the wall for two years.

TM9273 Drifting Past November – detail from center
TM9273 Drifting Past November – detail from upper right
TM9273 Drifting Past November – detail from upper left with floating leaves and reflections
TM9273 Drifting Past November – detail from lower right
Earlier version of Drifting Past November

Notes from the Garden – Clematis

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis 18×30 oil on panel

My dog Boo and I take copious walks around our neighborhood, but one of our most favorite is the walk to the Victory Gardens. Established during the Second World War, the gardens were created to help feed the population during wartime. Now, run by local volunteers, the gardens are still thriving with many more flowers and perennials, along with herbs and vegetables. There are demonstration plots for teaching purposes and a handicap-accessible garden with growing beds on higher benches. Boo knows where to find his friends with water bowls and treats, I know where to find choice opportunities for painting subjects and a chat with friends. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – detail from left side
TM9664 Notesfrom the Garden – Clematis — detail from center
TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – detail showing use of layered roller strokes

Technical painting notes: I used Speedball soft rubber rollers to apply the first blocking-in of forms and colors, switched to soft brushes to develop details, then went back to rollers and mostly transparent pigments to finish the painting. Going back and forth between roller and brush introduces some chance effects that work well to suggest movement and the feel of air moving around the subject. Below is a photo showing the result of the first day’s work.

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – showing the result of first day’ of blocking in masses and colors with the roller

As I worked on the painting, I found the need to add a hint of the chicken wire fence behind the clematis. The geometric linework contrasted in a subtle way with the organic shapes. One of the things I love about the Victory Gardens is the way everything overlaps, due to the tight quarters.

32 Degrees

32 Degrees 40×36 oil on panel

Water, that elusive substance that changes form so mysteriously. 32 Degrees is about the time in autumn when temperatures keep hovering around the freezing point. As you watch the pond’s surface you can see the film of ice grow, though when it is thin enough it still behaves more like a fluid, even bending with the wind’s ripples. Sometimes there are strips of thin ice interwoven with open water, and you have to wonder how and why? Not only is it strangely mysterious, it is also incredibly beautiful. In October, with warm colors still around, the pondly reflections and crystalline surfaces become magical. Who could not be inspired? Details below. Enjoy.

TM9660 32 Degrees – detail from upper center with reflections and ice forming
TM9660 32 Degrees – detail from right side with reflections and leaves catching in the freezing water

Technical painting notes: Knowing that this painting would be about thin ice overlaying a pond with reflections, I started with a bold underpainitng, using blackish browns to strongly indicate the major tree trunk reflections and massing branches. I wanted lots of texture to suggest leaves and debris in the reflections, so I manipulated the wet paint with my silicone scraper and drips of solvent. I used a narrow roller to draw some of the branches. With a solid lay-in, I let the paint dry. Coming back later, I glazed color onto the panel and started painting the negative spaces of the sky, working intuitively to create interesting patterns. Modelling the major branches with highlights, and using a 1/4″ roller to add more branches, provided the density of tangle I wanted. When this layer was dry, I used fairly transparent gray-blue or warm gray rolled glazes to control the ice film, then went back and color corrected some areas, adjusting values in other areas.

Poem in the Woods

TM9659 Poem in the Woods 36×48 oil on panel

Early April is full of the promise of spring but still has its starker aspects, like dark shadows and the brisk, cobalt blue of newly melted water. The strengthening sun lends some warmth, as shown in Poem in the Woods. Last year’s wetland grasses are just below the surface, though one or two blades are waking up. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from left of center
TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from lower right
TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from lower center with emerging blade of grass

Technical painting notes: It was the grasses just below the surface of the water that inspired Poem in the Woods, and at first, I thought they might form an all-over pattern. I blocked in the vertical tree reflections and drew dozens of the sword-like grass shapes laying horizontally across the surface, As I worked up the details and color harmonies, it felt too busy. April is about anticipation; too many details can obscure the imaginative leap that April requires. Emphasizing the shadows and sunlight with repeating rolls of fairly transparent color broke up the grass blades and submerged them, which is closer to the actual condition of grasses below the surface of the water. Accenting just a few blades where I needed a shot of color worked.

A Deeper Look

TM8494 A Deeper Look 30×54 oil on panel

Studying the pond, I am constantly surprised by what I see. This time it’s the reflections of cumulous clouds underlaying reflections of stalks and other growth, then superimposed with emerging duckweed. It all seems so abstract and unreal, but it is there. So are the seasons – new growth next to last year’s floating leaves. Each day brings its own presence. Detail below. Enjoy.

TM8494 A Deeper Look – detail from lower left

Technical painting notes: This painting was begun using monoprint techniques on a primed and sanded panel. Thinned, dark oil paint, applied loosely with a soft rubber roller was then manipulated with solvents (streaked, spritzed, etc.) to achieve a textured and interesting base. Next came transparent glazes, then wet into wet brushwork to define major sky areas and bring out the detail in the reflected vegetation and stalks. Once this layer was dry, additional layers of detail work brought the “place” into focus. I used thinned applications of semi-transparent paint applied with the roller to bridge some of the masses. THe floating leaves were last, scraping out the center veins with a silicone scraper.