From the Pine Barrens

TM9592 From the Pine Barrens 7×7 oil on paper

I’ve been thinking about Pine Barrens I’ve visited – on Cape Cod and up in Northern New Hampshire. They always have their own stark poetry of loose, sandy soil and trees struggling to survive. I think of the quiet, the sounds of insects buzzing. At times these woods can feel haunted, perhaps because one senses the extraordinary number of years it takes to build such an environment – mountains rising, then being worn away until only dense, deep sand remains. The exquisite smell of pine needs perfumes the air, and all you want to do is keep breathing….enjoy.

Summer Afternoons

TM9536 Summer Afternoons 30×80 diptych, oil on panel
Summer Afternoons

One breath in,
One breath out

I stand, look again
Ponder this summer opus
A diptych of breath
Rippling with breeze
And leaves, the air
So humid, so soft
Colors want to melt
Blur into creek
And clouds as they
Languidly play across
twenty-four hundred
square inches

Technical painting notes and close-up details: Summer Afternoons is a diptych painted on two birch-faced slabs. I used several coats of alkyd primer (sanded to a velvet finish). The initial blocking in of shapes was done with a soft rubber roller and thinned black and burnt umber oil paints. The paint surface was manipulated with solvents and silicone scrapers, then allowed to dry. Subsequent glazes and more roller strokes defined the vegetation, with limited use of soft brushes. I used mostly Liquin impasto medium to make the paints more transparent.

TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from upper left
TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from upper center
TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from left of center
TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from center bottom edge
TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from lower right edge
TM9536 Summer Afternoons – detail from right side

Below are two views of the diptych in progress.

TM9536 Summer Afternoons, in progress, June 2021
TM9536 Summer Afternoons, work in progress, early August 2021
TM9536 Summer Afternoons 30×80 diptych, oil on panel, completed late August 2021

At the Old Quarry

TM9586 At the Old Quarry 7×7 oil on handmade paper

There are many approaches to painting – especially on the continuum of realistic to abstract. I love them all when well-executed, but I think the most interesting way of painting looks for the intersection between realism and abstraction. Where the subject is evident and the handling of paint and composition are all in service to bringing out the Zen-like essential nature of both. In a great painting, one can savor the meaning and the way the subject is presented. One also glimpses how the painting seems to be anchored by history and at the same time fresh as tomorrow. The painting transparently lets us feel the artist’s process and thinking with each stroke. Of course producing such work takes time, practice, and, I think, wisdom gained throughout one’s life. It’s one reason why I keep doing these small paintings – to try new ideas and see if they will work in the context of what I want to say.

At the Old Quarry is a case in point. It is oil on prepared handmade paper, with the texture of the paper determining how it could be painted – what was possible. The uneven surface was perfect for a broader treatment using knife, pencil, and a (silicone) pointed scraper. I knew I wanted to base it on one of the quarries I visit regularly, but the composition also nods toward Mark Rothko’s famous stacked rectangles and squares. The energetic textural “strokes” acknowledge other abstract painters – including Joan Mitchell and Wolf Kahn. Working on this 7×7″ painting gave me insights into how I can approach a large 36×80″ panel waiting for my attention.

Poem from the Cove

TM9567 Poem from the Cove 7×7 oil on paper

An intimate beach inside a rugged frame, that was my first thought when I decided to paint this view. I particularly liked the steep perspective looking down, and the question it raised: how to get there without a boat? Well of course there are two answers. You don’t, or you get out your hiking shoes. The latter rewarded me with great subjects for painting and a lovely day. I think my favorite is still the view from above. Enjoy.

Technical painting notes: I chose to to keep my approach to painting the scene similar to the my physical approach to the land. Think carefully about the next step, then do it without looking back. After that, whatever happens, happens. I used mostly the palette knife and Winsor Newton Liquin for the medium. The rough texture of the knife work echoes the rough, ledge. Combining two views – looking down and across – gives a sense of the space and allows me to share with the viewer the vertigo of deciding whether or not to climb down.

New England Coastlines

TM9569 New England Coastline #23 7×7 oil on paper
TM9572 Eroding Beach 7×7 oil on paper

Beaches are such ephemeral places. A few strong storms and they can shift or nearly disappear entirely. Sometimes the new view includes glimpses of the underlying bedrock, as in these two small paintings. I actually prefer the mix of ledge and sand, hard and soft for compositional reasons and because it’s simply more interesting. That ledge makes for a better bulwark against the pounding tides of the future.

Poem from a Stormy Day

TM9568 Poem from a Stormy Day 7×7 oil on paper

It’s the moody days I love, and the dizzying swells coming toward the honey and red stone ledges that shape the coast.


Technical painting notes: This small oil on primed paper was done mostly with a palette knife. Initially, I concentrate on blocking in broad shapes in values darker than what I see in the motif. When this layer is dry, I go back and define the forms using oil paints mixed with Liquin alkyd medium, which speeds the drying time and increases the transparency of the paint. I try to keep the painting spontaneous, taking advantage of accidents – even trying to cause those fruitful accidents on which the painting depends.

Poem from New Brunswick

TM9560 Poem from New Brunswick 7×7 oil on paper

Morning sun on the coast of Campobello in New Brunswick, Canada, with a view toward Quoddy Head State Park in Maine. It might be my favorite place on earth, especially when I’m there just after sunrise. The immensity of quiet and the rugged pass-at-your-own-risk broken cliff demands respect and awe. Again, it’s about endurance and geologic time. Even after glaciers and thousands of years, there is a sacred nobility here. Enjoy.