Late Winter Copse

TM9709 Late Winter Copse 30×54 oil on panel

I had a conversation recently with one of my dealers, talking about Wolf Kahn and his use of gray tones in a particular work of art from the dealer’s collection. Loving winter for its tonal complexity, I decided to paint a response to the conversation, employing mostly muted grays and black, showing the range and beauty of the restricted palette, and its ability to express the poetry of winter. I relied on a strong gestural start of black strokes and some monoprint-inspired textures, then glazed the painting when the first layer was dry. Painting into the wet glaze with brushes defined the major trunks slightly, while a dose of blue suggested the pond beyond. After that, I worked back and forth, between rolling, drawing in pencil, and refining with the brush. I wanted to capture the joy I feel in the woods and offer a salute to Wolf Kahn, who undoubtedly shared the sentiment. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9709 Late Winter Copse – detail from upper left
TM9709 Late Winter Copse – detail from left side showing layered strokes and muted gray tones
TM9709 Late Winter Copse – detail from left of center with glimpse of pond beyond

Meltwater Season

TM9619 Meltwater Season 36×54 oil on panel

Some paintings are in development for a long time. Meltwater Season is one of those paintings. I started it, then put it away a couple years ago when the season changed before I could finish the painting. Last year I hauled it out again, bringing it closer to completion. But this year proved to be the magic year. Enough experience, enough inspiration (absolutely missing the white stuff during this mostly snowless winter!). The painting expresses my wonder in the presence of all the ways water in the pond freezes then melts, and the ice-encased grasses in the shallows. Details below. Enjoy!

TM9619 Meltwater Season – detail from upper left
TM9619 Meltwater Season – detail from right side
TM9619 Meltwater Season – detail from center

The two views below show the painting in progress.

TM9619 Meltwater Season, getting started
TM9619 Meltwater Season, nearly finished

Ode to the Dark Days

TM9704 Ode to the Dark Days 36×36 oil on panel

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.

TM9704 Ode to the Dark Days – detail from upper right
TM9704 Ode to the Dark Days – detail from left side
TM9704 Ode to the Dark Days – detail from upper left
TM9704 Ode to the Dark Days – detail from left of center showing impasto and pencil

Wetland Woods – December

TM9689 Wetland Woods – December 30×60 oil on panel

After a brief freeze, we are back to freakishly warm temperatures and plenty of rain. The swamp is looking great, and water levels at the pond are getting closer to “normal.” I was looking forward to working on more ice paintings, but they will happen soon enough. For now, the glorious blue sky is livening the subdued palette of early December, and I am thrilled to be painting. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9689 Wetland Woods – December – detail from center with last floating leaves
TM9689 Wetland Woods – December – detail from right side
TM9689 Wetland Woods – December – detail from upper left

Technical painting notes: I used a roll-up of dark blackish brown paint to indicate the gestures of the reflected trees and their branches, then used transparent glazes to adjust color. This was followed by more detailed brushwork to establish the negative spaces of the sky and cloud reflections. With the basics underway, I switched back to narrower rollers to indicate more branches. I rolled softer tones over some areas to push back and soften some of the reflections. More glazes, followed by detailing the leaves, brought the painting to near completion. Final color adjustments using semi-transparent paint were rolled on, with highlights reestablished with careful brushwork. I find that using the roller to manipulate paint and soften edges works well, and the soft rubber Speedball rollers are great for glazing large areas even if the paint is still slightly tacky.

Listening to Snow

TM9688 Listening to Snow 24×52 oil on panel

First snow is magic. In the city, noise is finally hushed. In the countryside, the gentle shshshsh of falling snow crystals is magnified. John Cage, if he were still alive, would understand. Brian Eno, I’m sure, still does. The question is how to depict the excitement of near silence. Listening to Snow is about that silence. Based on my favorite woodland walk to small pond, the painting has lively rhythms expressed through the tracery of snow-covered branches and young trees. The quiet is expressed through various gray tones and the quieting effect of snow (white and gray spatter) on the overall dynamic. While Eno and Cage encourage me to listen intently, the painting is also influenced by two other artists who wrestled with all-over pattern painting and chance – Sam Gilliam and Jackson Pollock. Their intuitive approach reminds me that nature is not a formula, and the more I can let chance and accident hold sway, the more the painting will, in itself, express the fundamental truth of what I see and hear. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9688 Listening to Snow – detail from right side with glimpse of pond through trees
TM9688 Listening to Snow – detail from left side
TM9688 Listening to Snow – detail from lower center

What I Found in the Woods

TM9687 What I Found in the Woods 36×42 oil on panel

Approaching the woods, it’s all about anticipation, wondering what I will find. Sometimes a lovely patch of mature woods, other times the tangled, exuberant growth and broken branches of edges, or the relics of past use. All are fabulous subjects for inspiration, an anchor point for starting a painting. In this case, the colors are wintery with notes of ochre, Mars violet, ultramarine blue, and burnt umber mixed or glazed to form warm/cool intersections. The dark, rolled base and textures show through subsequent layers, adding interest and depth. On another level, learning to follow my instincts and take advantage of the accidents and “mis-takes” gives me more confidence to follow the mysteries out there. More details below. Enjoy.

TM9687 What I Found in the Woods – detail showing use of scraping with infill (broad white bands), and narrow “drawn” lines done with edge of rubber roller
TM9687 What I Found in the Woods Today – detail from right of center with gestures of tangled branches. Walking the woods and overgrown fields in Massachusetts, one usually finds signs of previous use, like old stone walls, foundations, and more recent wooden fence posts.
TM9687 What I Found in the Woods – close-up
TM9687 What I Found in the Woods – detail from upper left side

Technical painting notes: With a bold and unexpected start my priority was keeping as much of the original layer as possible, while bringing in more hints of color and depth. I used translucent grays over colored glazes to soften and recede some areas. I pulled up some of the whites in the scraped parts to reinforce their prominence. I used a roller with various gray mixtures to push some areas further back, soften edges, and for the accidents that always happen. The edge of the roller is great for drawing fine lines.

First Freeze

TM9666 First Freeze 36×40 oil on panel

I look forward to the first freeze each year – that morning when sparkles set in and suddenly a new season is here. There are still enough leaves floating on the pond to create a tapestry of colors mixed into the frosty whites and grays. Summer’s fluidity is suddenly still, almost solemn, and feels so realistically abstract! Enjoy. Detail below.

TM9666 First Freeze – detail from center with dusting of snow on leaves that are frozen into the pond’s surface

Ode to a November Pond

TM9658 Ode to a November Pond 36×40 oil on panel

November is a dark month at my pond. Everything goes silent, the days shorten, and films of ice form and reform on the water, obscuring and blurring both reflections and the mysterious shapes beneath the surface. I love the quiet colors of November and the mood of introspection. Even the pond seems to be looking within. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9658 Ode to a November Pond – detail from upper edge
TM9658 Ode to a November Pond – detail from lower edge

Technical painting notes: The painting is based on sketches and photographs from the site, but once the painting was underway, I let my intuition and memory lead. The accidental dark shapes and textures on the base layer (achieved using monoprint techniques) were so interesting I decided not to bury them under leaves. The pond revealed itself through the process of painting – who am I to interfere?