Painting Large, with Purpose: Part 1

November 4, 2014
03-11 Bask web

Blocking in the image for placement

I just finished a workshop with Max Ginsburg. The information was priceless. After an exhaustive week of painting and learning, I thought I would need an additional week to take a break from painting just to absorb all the information. Instead, I started back the very next day putting my lessons into practice. By the second day, I was ready to start a project I had been afraid to tackle for over a year–painting large, with purpose.

For over a year I have been trying to figure out just what I wanted to say with my art and how I wanted to say it. I wanted to paint something that would bring myself pleasure (painting figures, of course), show work that had an educational foundation, had mood and atmosphere and an element of decoration that would both highlight the figure and give the figure some anonymity.  After much internal searching and throwing around theories with other artists and friends, I landed on an concept that will marry my love for painting the figure with natural abstraction and graphic design. Also important is that this idea has to be interestingly repeated for a series of work.

Most of my prior work has been portrait or figure studies from life or photos. Average size was from 12×9 to 16×12. Yesterday I pulled out a canvas that was 30×24–the biggest canvas I can comfortably work in my VERY small painting space. I chose a photo reference that would lend itself to my ideas and started blocking it in with an oil wash for placement. Today I am mapping out the areas that will incorporate a decorative element, playing with light and shadow.

Follow along. Dream and paint large.
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The Value of Under Painting

September 21, 2014

Under painting 18×14 oil on canvas

I can’t be grateful enough for all the artists out there who participate in open studio sessions. Not only are they sharing the cost of model fees, they are exposing their work, and sometimes their egos, publicly. Sometimes paintings work and sometimes they don’t. This is true for every artist.  Artists don’t attend open studios to give instruction, but just by their being there allows me to see how other painters handle the same subject. It is knowledge that is invaluable to me.

I had the luxury of painting alongside some extremely talented artists yesterday. When this happens I am overly critical of my own work and the frustration over my abilities, or lack thereof, can be devastating. What makes me continue painting after I have let my ego have it’s private pity party? I try something new.

I revisit in my mind what I saw at the previous session. During the breaks, I walk around and observe how other artists process through their paintings. I only observe. By the end of the session I have witnessed a variety of styles of painting. I store the information and go over it in my mind during the drive home. The next day, I try something new. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don’t.

I usually start with a loosely painted drawing of my subject directly on to the surface. Today I started with an under painting as a means to compose and assess my values quickly. I started this over a previously failed painting and it covered it up nicely. Now that this is done, I can slow down for the detail.

Follow along. Tip your models well.
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Addicted to Faces

September 14, 2014

10×8 oil study of Jimmy

I’m waiting to leave for Phoenix to paint for 4 hours at {9} The Gallery. Most Sundays they have a model, outfitted in the interesting costume of the week, and it is worth the 2-hour drive to attend… that is until the model settles into a reclining pose. I am not fond of reclining poses. They make my head spin. I have to pay more attention to overall proportion and less to getting the color right. And besides that, I’m addicted to faces.

Like most addictions, I think of nothing but that which I am addicted to. Faces are my drug of choice. I’m a terrible person to have a face-to-face conversation with. It is difficult to pay attention to your words when the light, shadow and color on your face is engaged in its unique performance. I would be happier if you would sit in that chair over there. You see it? It’s the one in front of my easel. Then we can talk for 3 or 4 hours. Heaven.

Unfortunately, most people don’t want to be a part of your learning. The finished work may not look the way they want themselves or others to see them. I understand because I am also easel shy. Painters need to be as kind to their sitters as possible, and I try to do that as best I can.

Back in the 90s, a painter I knew put me in a painting he was doing. He did it from memory. He painted it the way HE saw me. I wasn’t married but he put a wedding ring on my finger. I loved that painting. Not because it looked like me, but it represented how he saw me. That was precious.

Follow along. Become part of the experience.
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An “Ah Ha” Brush Moment

September 7, 2014
Ah Ha

10×8  Oil on canvas

After a great long while of not writing blogs (3 years!) I was updating my website ( and had to add all my social networking icons with links. Embarrassed by how long it had been, I decided to get busy.

I started painting in oil shortly after my last blog. I knew nothing about painting in oil, but I loved the sinuousness of the medium. I also loved the impasto effect seen in museums and galleries. Another selling point for me was framing without glass.

Then I discovered what a difference it makes when you change brushes. Seems too simple. I was religiously using a flat  sable brush for everything. It was easy to draw with and I felt I had control over my strokes. I didn’t want to get too complicated. Then a friend let me try his filbert. It felt awkward, but I thanked him anyway. When I returned home, I discovered I actually had one–a #4 Utrecht 200F. Previously, I never put much stock in brushes. I didn’t pay much attention to how well I cleaned them. They got hard and splayed, but I used them anyway. I told myself I didn’t deserve good brushes if I didn’t take care of them properly

I started experimenting with the filbert. I have done over a hundred oil paintings since I started but this painting was an Ah Ha Moment for me. While putting the strokes down, I felt someone else was doing the painting for me. I felt I had more flexibility with strokes, the same or more control, and the brush held more paint. Now I’m hooked.

I treasure this brush and clean it properly after each use. I’m sure there are lots of other things about brushes and materials I have yet to learn. So follow along.




No Midas Touch

July 18, 2011

The phrase has been haunting me for over a year now. This is the second time circumstances have risen that challenges me to push my art to the limits. Painting, drawing, teaching, commissions—how does an artist who is on fire keep the coals warm? The saying “a person has either time or money, but seldom both at once” can’t be further from the truth. Time to paint, no cash for supplies; cash for supplies, no time to use them.

And now, after the first, hard face-plant into the Oregon mud, the phoenix has flown through another blissful state of employment and perches above another puddle. The lesson? Who knows, but I still haven’t given up, and that has got to count for something. Employment gave me the opportunity to paint alongside amazing painters, travel to inspiring landscapes, and stand before models whose beauty begged a tear. I drifted in and out of Art Academies, real and virtual, and poured over books, magazines and internet sites, all the while filling the pockets of the middle men between here and the gallery walls.

I suppose the time for study is over. Now is the time to put out the work, like a mad person racing from the growling beast lying in ambush ahead. I am listening to the voices in my head. Paint small, paint large, put your money in prints, there is no money in prints, increase your prices, cut your prices, but my favorite advice, coming from my current mentor: “Paint tuff!”

Follow along. The paint is still wet.
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The Language of Light

June 2, 2010

Skull Study IISkull Study II, Charcoal

Sara completed her second painting. In amongst the learning was a powerful area of the painting reserved for masters. Simple. Reflected light on a shoulder. Still, the subtle play of light that nested there, took my breath away. I had felt this stir of emotion before when I came face to face with the 1606 original St. Cecelia by Guido Reni at the Getty in 2008. Beauty. Sensitivity. Reverence. The power of light.

I am no different than most when it comes to my reaction to light. If the source comes from above, it inspires me, and if the model is looking in that general direction, all the better. After all, every day of my life, I have witnessed the world being lit from above. It just seems natural to assume that all life comes from that direction. Perhaps my ancestors passed along the sun worship gene to me, backed by the belief that all good things come from above.

The more I study light, the more improved my work becomes. Although oftentimes there is need to work from a photograph, I much prefer working from life. It is the language of light that is missing in a photograph. The life force of the subject has taken a sabbatical. This life force, created purely from the addition of light, is the most powerful, diverse, and least expensive tool I have at my disposal.

I am already overwhelmed by the nuances of light. Add a model to the mix and I go into sensory overload. Every face, no matter how average, in that moment becomes the most beautiful expression on the planet. The way light wraps around and bounces from one curve to the next becomes the most enthralling dance performance I have seen. I become so entranced that I loose all knowledge of learning and become a slave to the beauty in front of me. After that happens, I become worthless as an artist. If it weren’t for still life setups I would be incapable of learning a thing. Form and light have become my formula for sane artistry.

Follow along. Stand in the light.

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The Case for Beauty

April 6, 2010

Crystal ChildCrystal Child

What I really set out to do was to send an email to an artist I have worked with to express to him the depth of my feelings for his art, his wisdom, his foresight, his motivation, his determination, his compassion, and how it has touched my heart just knowing I am not alone in my quest to make the world a more beautiful place, on all levels–through art. It is unspeakably exalting to be in the presence of someone who feels like a part of your very essence of being. After making a connection to someone so much a part of who you are and what you hold as truth, it is impossible to not want to share that experience with them. But alas. If this person does not feel the same connection or does not acknowledge it, for whatever reason, the point is still not lost. If art is a sentient being, with a soul of its own, then we are both a part of its makeup and belong so connected, like flesh and blood, preserving its creation and honoring its purpose, despite our distances.

I grew up in an art world that had been littered with meaningless, sensationalist and shocking works that not only discredited beauty, but the pure essence of life and living. I wonder, if during that period of time when I had abandoned the production of art, if I were not merely laying in wait for the day when I could become a part of this new sentient being, who was yet to be born—if not by contributing to its voice, but by at least singing its praises. Hence, these words.

There is a new voice that has been heard praising this new-born child. This voice is crying “Novorealism.” I answer this cry and join in with my own tears of joy. My heart has been realized. This is the clay that has molded my entire purpose for living. It is the most compelling and endearing cry I have heard, and one that I cannot ignore. It is part of, and belongs to, me. Its calling card simply reads, “Beauty.” Love and Beauty are the sweethearts of this life, and they will rise from the ashes like the Phoenix. On their wings ride those artists who breathe the same air as I. This is why I strive to be the best I can be, despite the odds. Novorealism has become my curtain call.

Follow along. The journey is underway.

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Blood, Sweat and Tears

March 14, 2010

Great art has dreadful manners. The greatest paintings grab you in a headlock, rough up your composure, and then proceed in short order to re-arrange your reality.” –Simon Schama

Quick SketchI believe this to the depths of my soul. I know it to be true because not only have I felt this when I look at great art, but I experience it while in the process of attempting to create it. If an artist can make me feel that way when I look at a painting, I know their psyche has been re-arranged in the process of creating it.

Although I find exalted joy while I am painting, most of the process is blasphemous torture. I had been fooled into thinking that to paint was to have ones psyche magically transformed into some ether world of angels singing and being at one with the creator. Let me be the first to burst the bubble. While a truly great painter may reach this exaltation at some point in his life, I will bet he had to climb the steps of hell to get there.

Having spent a number of years in this dimension, my experiences have sculpted me into who I am and what I believe to be true. I have hung on to these ideals like precious jewels. In the process of learning to paint, the robbers came, made off with the jewels, and left me with only a ghost of myself. I have gone to the brink of insanity and have thankfully returned with all my appendages. When I wanted to rip my drawing off the wall and run from the room screaming, something reminded me that I chose this path. I asked for it. The universe delivered. And, there I shall remain, in this moment, pushing on.

Follow along. Let’s re-arrange some reality.

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Time and Space

February 10, 2010


Michelle Obama
By W. Gambini (1918-2010)

Brushes still remain at attention in the old coffee can. Paint has dried on the floor. Tracks of color no longer make their way to the dining room table. I couldn’t image a world without a horizon line. Not until the passing of William Gambini. Just short of his 92nd birthday, he laid down his brushes and vessel for the last time. He left a legacy of paintings behind (at least 1,000)—one of the last Abstract Expressionists. Through the hospitality and generous spirit of both he and his wife (a woman to be admired for her unwavering support of her husband’s passion to paint), I discovered what it means to devote ones life to art. Without exception, whenever I came to visit, William Gambini was in the process of painting.

Now, as time never rests, I am preparing to return to my mountain studio. Before I pack it away, I will line up the work I have done this winter, and take note… Coffee in hand, I ask, “What do I know now that I didn’t know before? Has that information helped me to become a better painter?”

I learned some new tricks this winter, and even some rules, but to see progress, I need to apply what I’ve learned. Sometimes, not meaning to, I may break the rules. Sometimes I might get them right. And, when the rules bend, I will have to change my perspective. I find that the more I learn, the less I know. Once in a while I catch a hint of progress and I imagine those small breakthroughs are what will carry me.

Follow along.  Bravo, Mr. Gambini. And thank you.

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Raising the Bar

January 27, 2010

Left Over Paint

Left Over Paint
Color Study in Oil


I received another injection of the art drug last night. Woven in amongst a room full of easels, stools, solvents and paint palettes, I felt the effects of the drug as it began to course through my veins. Overhead were the voices of large figurative oils, demanding to be heard. The loudest was the voice of “Antiques,” the recent Draper Grand Prize winner. My inner voices of scrutiny were there, alongside my cheerleader, each arguing with the other about the purpose of my being there.

I felt good at the gate. I was given a new way to tone my canvas. I liked the color. It was new to me, and it looked good. I was excited to be there. I was anxious to begin this new journey. Here I was, sharing space with some great artists and it made my heart race.

Two hours into the 3-hour pose, I had been reduced to a 3 inch square within my 16×20 canvas. I was overwhelmed by all the unknowns that were out beyond my reach. Once into the work, there is never enough time. If I could just perfect that one small section of my painting… .

The inner voices were debating again. “You’ll never make it.” “Yes, I will. I must. It is too important to stop!” And, through the crowd noise in my head, I did manage to learn much in those few short hours. I made some important connections that linked my drawing to my painting, and some of the problems I was having. I listened carefully to catch as much information as my little art brain was able to process with its limited understanding. I took notes. My brain was on fire.

It hurts to be a beginner. In the world of street dancing, I had to learn the steps before I could dance with the truly great dancers. There was plenty of bruising encountered along the way, but when the day came and I could step into the spotlight, what a glorious experience it was! Now I am learning to dance with color. If I learn the steps, one day I will dance on the gallery walls alongside those painters whose work has allowed me to keep raising my bar.

Follow along.  Keep dancing.

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