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

Poem from the Garden #1

TM9671 Poem from the Garden #1 30×36 oil on panel

This summer ‘s record-setting heat resulted in a hothouse studio. Under these conditions, the paint gets sticky and trying to brush it across a surface becomes impossible. A palette knife, in part because it can spread the paint faster, works better. So does a roller. Poem from the Garden #1 is my first larger painting executed almost entirely with palette knife and roller. With the new combination of tools, I realized the movement of the paint itself was more interesting, and the richer surface added a new depth. A breakthrough? I think so, even a whole new way of thinking about what I love best – maybe a new series titled Poems from the Garden? I almost feel like a kid again with a new toy. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9671 Poem from the Garden #1 – detail from center showing layering starting from dark to light values
TM9671 Poem from the Garden #1 – detail from lower right showing layered roller and palette application of paint
TM9671 Poem from the Garden #1 – detail from lower center

Technical painting notes: I used some Winsor Newton Liquin to thin the paint so that it would be somewhat runny on the knife and would spread quickly. I wanted a clear, clean, lush feeling to the stroke. When I started rolling over parts of the knife work, the roller did its magic of blending some areas and lifting and repeating marks – something so distinctive to roller work and so much fun. The tools encourage a looser, more impulsive way of thinking. I love it.

Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas

TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas 30 x 40 oil on panel

Distance can be good. I painted Hydrangeas on a sunny morning a few years ago, and for some reason kept it at the studio. I found it again when I was recently reorganizing, and decided it needed more life. The painting was satisfactory but lacked a sense of the life spirit of the hydrangeas – how they felt. Back on the easel. The newer version, retitled Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas, feels more real somehow. These hydrangeas are really saying Good Morning to me, and evoking my reaction of Good Morning to you too! Details below, along with the earlier version of the painting. Enjoy.

TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas – detail from upper right
TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas – detail from lower center

Technical painting notes: When I decided to rework the painting, I started by rolling and smudging brighter blues in the sky, then rolled semi-transparent grays and green into the flowers to create more interesting surface textures, (and to obliterate my idea of what the hydrangeas looked like). With the new surface, I went back to developing the lights and contrasts in the flower heads, rolling then adding details alternately. With the flowers becoming mor interesting, I acted similarly with the leaves, using small rollers alternating with brush work. I wanted to catch a sense of abandon, the way air circulates through the plant and the plant dances with that breeze.

(first version) TM9278 Hydrangea Morning 30 x 40 oil on panel
(final version) TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas 30 x 40 oil on panel

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.

June, Seen from the Shallows

TM9663 June, Seen from the Shallows 36×48 oil on panel

Each day, the trees are getting greener, as is the pollen film on the pond! My pondly mirror is interrupted by slender bladderworts in the shallows – slender stems carrying hooded yellow flowers. The flowers are so small they almost disappear in the reflections. After missing them for years, I now know where to look, and enjoy their emergence with the warmer weather. Add a blue sky and passing cloud, and it turns into a moment of simple joy. Details below.

TM9663 June, Seen from the Shallows – detail from upper left with reflected trees
TM9663 June, Seen from the Shallows – detail from lower center

Technical painting notes: The painting was “blocked in” with thin, dark, greenish brown oil paint applied with a soft rubber roller. I let the roller skip across the surface to create a broken, interrupted pattern. Spritzing the wet paint with solvent, and re-rolling the surface added more textures, while scrapers were used to indicate some of the branches. Once the first layer was dry, I glazed the painting with shades of blue and green, then started working wet into wet with a brush and broken strokes to suggest the foliage and reflected sky. I used the roller again to lay on thin, mostly transparent blues, then used spatter to suggest pollen. A very narrow roller detailed branches quickly, and provided a diversity of “marks” to keep the painting interesting.

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.