It’s a familiar trail through Purgatory Charm. You start in open sunlight and descend to the bottom of the damp, boulder strewn, rock-walled chasm. Warm to cool, easy to difficult, bright to mysterious. And it happens quickly. No matter how many times I visit, it thrills me. So, when I started this little painting at the beginning of the week, I thought I knew where I was going. But from the first stroke, something was new. The nearly black shadows were suggestive enough to stand on their own, so I concentrated on the sunlit trees and foreground ledge and boulders. A few scraped out trunks and branches were enough to say “trees.” The white of the paper left of center implied sunlight deeper in the woods. I decided to call it finished – partly because it felt fresh and new, partly because the abstractness of it echoed the abstract quality of this particular location. Enjoy!
Technical painting notes: I used a smooth rag printmaking paper (primed with shellac both sides). Winsor/Newton Liquin Impasto medium added substance and translucency to the paint, and sped the drying. A smallish palette knife provided control and some great accidents, A silicone scraper was used to remove paint for trunks and a few limbs. I liked the contrast of bare paper in some places with thick paint elsewhere.
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
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.
These two studies were done on smooth, primed paper, which informed the quick, blocked in treatment using a palette knife. The strong sun gave me an opportunity to play with simplified shadows. I felt like Edward Hopper was sitting next to me, of course I was in his neighborhood!
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.
When I finish a painting, I usually ask myself “so, what was that all about?” Sometimes the answer takes me by surprise with a poem, sometimes not.
Is it the spice sharp smell that beckons?
Or silence? Or ochre light that quivers and
Falls between my feet, licks of sun,
Perhaps the dark describes my needs,
Promise of coolness, maybe
A breeze to push this spirit
And brush together.
But no air stirs in these hushed pines;
Only deep stillness, a heartbeat,
And the Tao. I shiver, tremble
Inside its hot breath.
Poem for March celebrates the transition from winter to earliest spring. The lake is deep, cold, and clear, and while the deciduous growth is still mostly gray, the pines are showing their first hints of fresh green. With the lengthening days, this is a season for hope, and for savoring all the little signs of life’s renewal. Enjoy. Detail below.
Technical painting notes: The painting support is a hollow core slab with a birch veneer, which provides superior warp resistance while offering all the benefits of a traditional wood panel. I use an alkyd primer (six or seven thin coats, sanded to a velvety finish). The surface is wonderful for working with a roller, rags, brushes, etc.
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.
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.