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.
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.
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.
There’s a gentleness to late spring and early summer, and a quiet harmony of color, especially in the greens. The Green Voice of Summer explores some of the close harmonies of the season with a somewhat abstract view of my favorite pond and its reflections. Unlike many of my autumn pondscapes, this painting whispers its mood and message. You have to stop to hear it, as did I last July when the idea began to form in my imagination. Details below. Enjoy.
One never knows how a painting will evolve. The inspiration for this painting came while I was sitting in a parking lot during a sudden spring shower and looking out through a drippy windshield. I liked it so much I started photographing through the windshield. The blurry effect of the gray tones and springy yellow greens really sang. Later, in the studio, I painted No Rain Yet, which you can see below.
No Rain Yet eventually went to a gallery just before the pandemic started. Nearly three years later, I asked for it to be returned – I loved the painting, but with three more years of experience I could see a way to bring the painting farther. The gallery graciously said fine. Looking, I began to see garden forms and a way to bring in some detail and more depth. What fun. I retitled the painting Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet to honor the original and the new. Details below. Enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April is a month of rapid change at the pond. At the start of the month, the water is crystal clear and the reflections sharp and cold. By later in the month, duckweed flecks are beginning to appear, the shallow grasses are nudging up, and the water is full of ripples suggesting tadpoles and peepers below the surface. I want all of it in my paintings. The tempo of ripple and the hum of life is so musical and subtle. To keep that mood while I’m working in the studio, I usually play music that echoes the feel and tempo of what I want to create, setting the pace of the brushstroke. For this painting, I chose John Cage (especially his work on the toy piano) and a cd of Philip Glass, played by Bruce Brubaker. The tonality and rhythm evoked water, and Cage’s toy piano had a spirit of innocence and joy about it that said spring, at least to this artist. Details below. Enjoy.
I will be opening my studio for the
Annual Fenway Open Studios
April 30 & May 1
11AM to 5PM (I will be open noon to 5 both days, studio 103)
30 Ipswich Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Masks strongly recommended for visiting the individual artists’ studios. There will also be an outdoor exhibition, music, and ice-cream, with our block of Ipswich Street closed for the celebration.
The grand opening of our non-profit the Fenway Gallery is Sunday, May 1, with reception at noon.
Some paintings move slowly toward the finish line; this one took eight years. It’s based on photographs I took walking in swampy woods, with three columns of dark tree reflection and intermittent light. As I worked on it over the years, I saw that what attracted me to the composition was the underlying composition, almost a Mark Rothko-like play of squares and rectangles. What began as realism morphed into abstraction as I strengthened the light and brought the abstraction to the fore. Closer, the realism of trees, limbs, and leaves remain. It’s the distribution of the late afternoon light, floating leaves, and debris that plays with the more abstract impulse and sense of space. It may be one of my favorite paintings. Details below. Enjoy.