Winter is, to me, a glorious season. I love the starkness of it – brilliant blues, eye-watering whites, and tiny spots of red or dark green that sing out against the cold. This year, there has been so little snow in Boston and environs that I’ve had to hunt for that joy in the multitude of grays that surround me. Ode to the Dark Days is based on the woods and ponds I pass on my way to the studio each day. Layers of brush, bramble, and buckthorn surround the swamps and ponds, while the higher ground claims its share of oaks, ironwood trees, pine, and hemlock. This painting is a compilation from the area around one of the ponds. It is also a compilation in the physical sense, with layers of impasto standing in for the detritus of a season uncovered by snow – leaves, acorns, bare branches, etc. Quiet, maybe somber, but it still tells the story of this place on which I so depend, and the story of an endangered season. Details below. Enjoy.
With all the melting and refreezing, it’s a strange winter. The ice pond continues to fascinate me, however, with its always changing patterns and configurations. Who would guess that a little bit of grass, mud, water and ice could be so intriguing?
A request from Powers Gallery in Acton, Massachusetts was the impetus for this early summer view of my dear pond. The small nesting box at the center of the painting tells you someone really cares. There used to be a few of these boxes on stilts, but a few have fallen. We need someone with a rowboat and someone with a shop to help build more homes and install them. The location is Hamlen Woods in Wayland, a town-owned conservation area.
I was so excited to see the temperatures drop for a bit, giving me a chance to do some new studies from the Ice Pond. The exceptionally warm winter weather makes me feel like I’m painting endangered seasons, and I am! So, so sad.
Sometimes the paintings feel more like weavings then pictures. In this case, the reflected image in a late autumn pond offers layers of interlocking leaves, branches, the last duckweed, floating leaves, and a soft blue-gray sky. The pattern on pattern on pattern is an exercise in patience, while the act of painting remains a wonderfully meditative process. Details below. Enjoy.
Many people ask why I spend so much time rambling around Hamlen Woods, painting the same swamps and trees, pond and creek. Why not go to (fill in the blank). They don’t understand that every visit is new. I know the heron’s favorite trees, where the ferret swims, where the snakes like to sun in the fall, and where ducks like to wade the path to get to the bigger pond. Also the best spots for blueberries, the shallows where the frogs hold forth, and when to photograph the swans without scaring them. In winter, I study ice patterns, and they are always different. Last week I saw columns of crystals growing in the shallows, connecting the icy surface to the pond floor. I never see the same thing twice.
And then there’s what happens when I return to the studio, full of ideas, sounds, and visually memorized details to paint. Each painting session includes whatever I saw (and felt) from my last visit, merging into one visual statement that somehow expresses another aspect of the place.
What we find in the woods is mysterious and true is certainly an example of this hybridization. It also delves further into my experimentation with rollers and pencils as tools for painting. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting note: Since the captions describe some of the process, let me just add that while the linework variations are becoming more diverse, I am also interested in the contrasts of transparency vs. opacity, and letting some of the thinly glazed substrate show through in the final painting, making the layers more obvious and enhancing the sense of depth.
I always start with an idea, but after the first or second day of work, the painting often flies off in a new direction. When I started Finding the Poetry in Winter, I was aiming for something minimal based on walks at my pond this December, something as subtle as some of Brian Eno’s soundscapes and taking advantage of chance (as John Cage so wisely mastered).
As the work developed, I saw more and more potential for merging painting and drawing. Using a darker, thick ebony pencil I could make a dark line and score through the wet paint, leaving ridges to catch subsequent rolls of thin color. Painted and rolled lines offered wonderful contrast. To keep the lines from being too intentional, I rolled transparent neutral gray tones over the wet lines. The roller smudged and “repeated” the lines in a way I couldn’t predict. The more I layered pencil and paint strokes with rolled glazes, the richer the surface became. As the days of work progressed, the surfaces became more varied and the palimpsests more evocative. I especially like the way this new way of working lets my thought process show through.
Details from the finished painting below, followed by views of the painting in progress.
Despite the bold start, after many glazes, spatter, and rerolls, the image almost disappeared. However, I liked the pencil strokes and ghosts, and the feel of the piece. A little more drama wouldn’t hurt, however. I increased the contrast again, and added more of the roller and pencil drawing.
Day five brought much more drawing after rolling semi-transparent glazes over much of the painting to lighten the mood. It was a day of learning what drawing then over-rolling could do.
By day six, I knew a lot more about drawing with the roller and with pencil, interweaving the direct work with over-rolls of nearly transparent grays. Fun, and wintry, but still not enough surface interest. There is so much that I observe at the pond, and this felt too much like one moment, rather than a summation of all that I had observed during this snowless December/January.
Yes, there are times when you know something is ominously heading your way, and there isn’t much time to paint! A quick study from Quoddy Head. Enjoy.