Saturday, December 27, 2008


I'm back, safe and sound! Thanks to everybody who dropped in to have a look. I've been very attentive to my other blog, and haven't posted here at all; I've found that it's hard enough to keep 1 blog going, let alone 2. I don't quite feel ready to pull the plug here, but I don't believe I'll be posting here in the near future. Instead, I'll be regularly updating State of the Art.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From one hiatus to the next

And now for a long, long overdue update.

It’s been rough going lately. A family member became ill and died this fall. That was of course bad enough, but it happened outside of the country, which became a logistical nightmare. Things have somewhat returned to normal, but this entire year has been tough, with several major disruptions to our lives. I’ve been simply exhausted, and getting back into the flow of regular painting and blogging has been surprisingly difficult.

A number of people have written to me asking where I’ve been. Thank you: This has meant a lot to me. I believe I’ve now responded to everybody; if you did write me and didn’t hear back, I sincerely ask forgiveness.

So… I’m going to end the year with one more disruption, but a good one this time. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to India, but the planets never properly aligned. Last week they did. An opportunity has come up for me to go and see the ordination ceremony for a friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk. I hesitated since it was such a last-minute thing, but my partner Sean has practically pushed me out the door (apparently I haven't beeen much fun to be around lately).

My flight's tomorrow evening, and I'll be there for a month. I’ll be spending 10 days at a monastery outside Bangalore, and after that I’ll be playing it by ear. Tentatively, I’m thinking of a short trip to Mumbai, then longer stays in Jaipur and Varanasi.

I should be in places with decent internet connectivity, so in theory (and I can’t stress the theory part of it enough), I should be able to do a few posts while I’m there… IF I can get my act together and keep it together. I’ll also be bringing paint (watercolors!) .

Do I plan to get back to regular painting and blogging? Absolutely. Assuming I can still lift a paintbrush in a month, I’ll be throwing myself into work; hopefully refreshed and newly-inspired.

Thanks to everyone for keeping links here and checking in on me!

Best wishes,

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Porcelain and Copper

When I left off work yesterday, I naively assumed that I'd be able to finish the copper piece and the slate tiles in a few hours, and then move on to the next painting.


The porcelain, which at first glance has a lot more detail, was actually the easiest part to paint (excluding the black background, obviously). The copper has so many fine gradations, and the highlights were so complicated, that it was simply much more work than I anticipated. It was a very long day.

The most fun turned out to be the slate tiles the objects are resting on. I included these in another recent painting, and found the time spent delving into some of the textural details almost self-indulgent.

I'll take a final photo and offer it on eBay probably over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Progress

Today's in-progress piece. I did the underpainting about 2 months ago, and it was done in full-color (colorwash; there's a recent post here about the comparison between that technique and grisaille).

As I was getting ready to start on this, I was struck by the charm of the transparent washes of color. They seemed to have a light and warmth that is hard to capture with opaque applications of paint.

I'm going forward with a full, opaque layer of paint with this one, but in the future, I'd like to experiment with allowing some of the underpainting to show through... if even on the edges.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Website upgrade

After painting pretty much non-stop all weekend, I wasn't in too much of a mood to hold a brush. So, to clear my head of turpentine fumes, I spent the last 2 days updating my website (and some other business-related drudgeries).

I'd let the site virtually stagnate for the better part of a year, and hadn't even checked up on it all that often. When I did, the design just struck me as kind of tired. It also didn't really put my best foot forward, since the painting I do now is quite a bit different (mostly better, I prefer to think) than what I did a year ago.

That's hopefully all fixed now. It's got a totally new design that I'm pretty happy with, and showcases all my latest pieces:

Back to painting tomorrow.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Racing... very carefully...

In progress: Chocolate and Foil

I've been really negligent about sending my "monthly" newsletter, and this month I've vowed that wouldn't be the case. Yes, it's already the 24th. Anyway, I've decided it's GOING to get sent tonight, no matter what the hour. I did want to have a couple of larger pieces available, hence the effort to get this one and the previous sushi painting completed. It will be tight, but it should be possible to finish this by the end of the day. I'm rushing... as cautiously and deliberately as I can.

When working in the studio, I usually listen to podcasts or to audiobooks from Librivox. I love the Librivox concept, and can't say enough good things about it. Yesterday and today I've been listening to Ben Franklin's Autobiography. He's sort of a patron saint to me; I read the text version years ago, but it's great to hear the audio version again.

If nothing else, his encouragement of constant industry makes me feel better about working all weekend   :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In Progress

In Progress: Chocolate and Foil

The painting in the previous two posts is complete. I plan to take good photos of it, probably tomorrow, and post it on my other blog.

I decided to continue with the larger pieces that were left unfinished a few months ago. This painting of a chocolate bar and it's foil wrapper is 10 x 10 inches. I have to say that the foil is one of the toughest textures I've attempted. The variety of curves and creases form an enormous range of edges to paint.

It was fun though.

Friday, August 22, 2008

In Progress

In Progress: Two Ikura

I've been down with a cold the last few days, so not working as fast as I might like. Still, I have managed to make some headway with this one. Not entirely sure that things are sitting quite right on the surfaces; the board might not be forming a flat surface for the objects to rest on. I'll probably finish the unpainted areas before making any judgements about the defects...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Almost like painting murals

In progress: Two Ikura

About 6 months ago I started a series of "bigger" paintings which I didn't finish. I decided to have another go at them this week just to see what would happen. This particular giant is 10 x 8 inches. Outlandish :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

No mas...

That's it. That's the last of the underpaintings for a while. Gotta be; I'm starting to feel like I'm channelling Mark Tansey. That's all well and good, but... well... I miss yellow... and blue... and green... and...

In all seriousness, doing this many intricate grisailles in a row has got me thinking about a series of true monochromatic still lifes. That's for another time, though.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Studio Tours

I thought this was pretty cool. John Annesley, who owns an art supply company in California, has a gallery at his site dedicated to artists who use his products. He's also visited the studios of quite a few of these artists and taken lots of pictures. Click the studio tours link under those artists' images. Always fun to see other artists' workspaces.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Under the Underpainting

Thought it would be nice to give a flavor of the grisaille while in progress. The first step of course is the drawing. Depending on the complexity of the composition, it can be simple, or highly detailed. Since this particular painting is not overly complicated (at least by my recent standards), the drawing did not need to be very involved.

You'll notice the hatched areas of the drawing indicating dark masses and shadows. I only recently started doing this. Especially with complicated compositions, I found it incredibly difficult to look at 10 roughly parallel lines, count in from the edge, and try to remember the pattern of shadows, highlights, and middle tones I needed to capture. I don't need to make things any harder than they already are...

Anyway, after finishing the drawing, I apply a damar retouch. When working on the grisaille, the paints are heavily thinned with turpentine. This dissolves some of the damar layer, and the entire surface dries to a beautiful, almost enamel-like finish.

Julia the Spy

Documents released today reveal that Julia Child worked for the predecessor of the CIA during WWII.

Like most people who have lived in Cambridge over the last 50 years, I have a Julia story. I'd just moved into the area for grad school and needed something from the hardware store for my new apartment. Ahead of me in the checkout line was a tall elderly woman... it was her. She turned around and smiled very sweetly at me. I only smiled back and said nothing, thinking she probably heard enough from gushing fans while running errands (someone later told me that she actually enjoyed that aspect of celebrity).

Anyway, the most interesting part of it all was what she was buying. Three claw hammers. Three.

Always thought that was a bit strange...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In Progress: Camembert

Today's effort is the underpainting for a piece I've looked forward to for a long time. There's just something about these small wooden cheese containers that begs to be painted. Throw in the brightly lit tin foil (that flourish on the left), and I have no control.

Painting lettering has always seemed one of the trickiest things. The moment I start to read what I'm painting, it's doomed. The only way is to put out of my mind what I'm working on, and simply paint the shapes.

In a nutshell, I think that's how anything is successfully painted, but with lettering, it just seems more acute.

Also, last week I was contacted by a grad student at RISD asking permission to use my images for a project. The result was terrific; I blogged about it here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Loose values

In progress: soda bottle and chinese plate

Today's effort was doing the underpainting for another one of those ridiculously complex paintings I mentioned yesterday. This one is an antique soda bottle in front of a highly detailed chinese plate, both resting on a floral print cloth.

While working, I did find myself thinking about the nature of underpaintings. I do find them necessary for the way I work, but I'm also wondering how good they have to be. Being sort of a perfectionist (at least in the studio), my first impulse is to do an absolutely flawless underpainting that reflects the gradations in value 100%, etc, etc, etc.

Not so fast.

The underpaintings exist to give body to areas painted with transparent pigments, and also to provide a map, a guide for the final painting. From this perspective, grisailles do have to capture shape and probably volume with high accuracy. It's likely, however, that a rough approximation of value will suffice.

So with this underpainting, I was a lot looser with value while staying true to design. It certainly made the work go faster; I'll be curious to see what happens when I get to the final painting stage.

Spam... the other white meat...

I've had my email addresses out there for a long time, so on a typical day I get between 300 and 500 messages. Almost all spam, of course. The filters take care of the vast majority, but a couple slip through. Every now and then I read one, just for fun. This gem today was trying to get me to shell out $300 a month for SEO services:

I am trying to contact the owner of

Anyway I specialize in getting sites listed at the top of Google in organic listings. Since you already do some type of advertising in AltaVista, I know you need to get more placement in Google. I was wondering if you could get back with me as soon as possible. I look forward to working with

In today's Internet Economy everything is about performance. I know I can help drive traffic to and lots of it.

After the first month, it is only $300 month. That's all there is to it. I hope that sounds good to you. I look forward to hearing some kind of response.

Yup... Nothing inspires confidence like choppy grammar. Always get a 4th grader to write your advertising copy...

Monday, August 11, 2008


In progress: Imari, Sugarbowl, Antique Jar

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

A couple of weeks ago I did up initial drawings for some really complicated paintings, for which I'm now doing the underpaintings...

Like this one: A small Imari bowl, and a highly patterned sugarbowl... AND an antique glass jar, unevenly refracting and distorting both of them. All in 6x6 inches.


I'm sure they'll end up being perfectly nice paintings that I'll like just fine, but they're going to be a lot of work. What was I thinking???

Next I should just paint a simple apple, or something...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More underpaintings...

In progress: waterglass, blue plate, red peppers

I realized yesterday I was running out of completed underpaintings. That isn't good planning, so I'm spending the rest of the week working on new ones - hopefully they'll be ready to work on starting next week.

I've been vacillating between using full-color underpaintings (color wash), and the monochromatic flavor (grisaille). I honestly haven't made my mind up which is better, or easier. Having been working mostly with color washes for the last month, I will say that I've been disappointed: it has been difficult to get the body I've wanted in the areas of transparent pigment. So this week, I'm back to using grisaille.

Flexibility is good.

Oh - I'm also keeping a photographic record of the progress of these paintings, so I'll be able to make more videos. I'm not going to make separate vids of just the underpainting; I'll wait until the whole thing is done and then compile them into the short movies.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Progress

In Progress: Brass Creamer and Blue Plate

Current work for today. There's something really lovely about the blue/yellow color harmony. Vermeer used it a lot, and I can see why; rich and inherently satisfying. Hmm... come to think of it, I guess maybe because they're the predominant colors in the sky.

Anyway, this one's been fun. For some reason I often find cloth patterns less than pleasant, but with this painting, I've been enjoying the challenge a lot.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Painting Highlights

Hake Brush on Wineglass
Oil, 5 x 6 inches

I finished this one yesterday, but had problems getting into Blogger last night. It's not the greatest image; I'll take it's "Official Portrait" when I get ready to list it on eBay, which by the way, will be next week (both this and the Teacup/Teapot painting will be going up).

To me, one of the things that contributes most to the realism of a painted object is the quality of it's highlights. These are very rarely simple accents of pure white. Instead, they're complex collections of warm and cool tones, and often not just reflections either. Particularly where glass is concerned, a highlight consists of reflected light and also a refraction of that light, yeilding portions of the spectrum around the edges. Someone once told me about seeing one of Anthony Ryder's paintings in person, saying "you just wouldn't believe" how many colors there were in the highlights.

This is one part of my act that I'm very intentionally trying to clean up, with mixed feelings about the results so far (but's good motivation). I am making certain to spend some good time studying the highlights before I try painting them. It's a little bit of a "down the rabbit hole" experience; they invariable become more complicated the more I look at them.

It's also the prime reason I've become so obsessed with having good small brushes lately. There are times when even the smallest brush I have seems like an impossibly clumsy shovel...

Buried Treasure

Martin Johnson Heade
"Haying on the Marsh"

This week an "unnoticed" Martin Johnson Heade painting sold for $1 million. Seems it had been in the family for generations, and nobody gave it much thought.

I'm a big fan of Heade's, and am always interested in seeing another work of his. But it was this line in the article that really caught my eye:

Heade painted in the 19th century, but wasn't popular then. Because his paintings were purchased by middle-class families, not collectors, many of his landscapes and still lifes have recently turned up in homes and at yard sales.
I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect that would describe most of the population that is purchasing art online. It could make for an interesting marketing line: "Buy this painting. Your descendents will rejoice."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Still in progress

I got bogged down in administrivia today, but still managed some quality easel time, in particular working on the brush. One of my greatest satisfactions as a painter is being able to watch objects emerge from indistinct sketchy masses to almost take on an individual life and breath of their own.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Progress

In Progress: Hake Brush on Wineglass

This painting has more of a monochromatic color scheme than I'm been working with lately. I find that a more subdued palette leads me to rely more heavily on other things, such as the dramatic lighting and a more intentional approach to juxtaposing warm and cool tones.

Of course, with the poor quality of this image, you'd never know that; you'll just have to trust me.

More tomorrow.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Special Effects

In Progress: Teacup and Teapot

There's a whole lot more to making a good painting than trying to capture dramatic visual effects. Concentrating on just those can even cheapen the artwork.

Right. That's what I should say. Blah Blah Blah.

What-Ever, though, cause DAMN I love it when I try an effect and it comes off. I couldn't name it if my life depended on it, but years ago I saw a 19th century still-life where the objects were emerging from soft-edged shadows and in turn casting very hard shadows. I think it was a Fantin-Latour piece.

It was a gorgeous effect that I've often thought about, so I wanted to have a go at it myself; in this case the right edge of the small teapot.

Not perfect, but I really like this one. Sometimes it is all about the effects.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Miniature: Marble Trio

Marble Trio
Oil, 2 x 2.5 inches

I have nothing particularly clever to say about this painting, so I'll just leave it as is.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Working with magnification

Since I work small in general, and this week have been doing true miniatures, I thought I'd post about the magnification I use. A few months ago when I started considering magnifying the work, I wound up looking at the high-end products intended for specialized manufacturing.

This was overkill.

Fortunately, I decided to try a low-end approach first, and then lay out the big bucks if really necessary. So far, it's worked very well. I purchased 2 clamp-on flexible magnifiers, one of 2x magnification and the other of 3x. Between them, they provide me with the range of views I seem to need. They are easily moved out of the way, and I don't feel undue eye strain for the most part. I don't remember the details offhand, and don't feel like looking for the invoice, but I think the total cost was less than $20.

The effect on the painting was immediate. It sharpened and cleaned up the detail like I'd almost never been able to do before. For reference, the painting in progress above is 2x2 inches.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Miniature: Red Coffee Mug

Red Coffee Mug
Oil, 2 x 2 Inches

It would seem I'm doing a painting a day this week...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Making movies

A couple months ago I made a slew of painting movies; basically time-lapsed photos of the work in progress, stitched together with some music. I got a lot of positive feedback, and lots of views on YouTube.

They were fun to make too, but they took a long time. Basically the process was to shoot a whole bunch of stills while painting, using my all-purpose digital cam. At the end, download them, crop and resize ALL so the sequence wouldn't look too choppy, add them into my video software, adjust as much as possible for lighting etc, add music, and compile.

Could mean hours of editing for each one.

I think it is actually important to be able to show this kind of process, and I'm eager to do more. Just not eager to spend as much time on it.

I've been looking for ways to speed things up. I dug up an extra webcam we had, and experimented with it while working today. Unfortunately, it's not the answer; the image quality sucks, as you can plainly see above.

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bits & Pieces

Stepping Up

Lately I've caught a few cooking shows, and it's inspired me to think some about presentation. Average food gains appeal when it's artfully arranged on a plate, and even great food loses a little something when it's just slopped on.

Likewise, I'm trying to be a little more careful with some of the appearances around my paintings. Until recently, I've just been hand-writing the painting's information on a label pre-printed with my name and contact info. From now on, though, I'll be printing out the labels. Just a small professional touch, but I've got to think that these little details add up.

On the Wall

It's nice to see a finished painting, well-framed, up on the wall.

Chris Howard

My friend Chris Howard's novel Seaborn is officially published this weekend.

Chris and I started working together 7 years ago when the company I was at purchased the company he had co-founded. In the interval between the deal and Chris moving his family from Silicon Valley to the Boston area, there was some impressive buzz about him floating around the office: dot-com entrepeneur, rockstar software engineer, expert on Aristotle, speaks Greek and Japanese, etc.

It was all pretty accurate, but he still turned out to be a really nice, down-to-earth guy. We soon got to be friends (and I'm forever grateful that he and Alice were among the very first to buy a painting from me!).

One thing I learned early on was that he aspired to be a writer. He actually had written in the past, but put it aside for years while he was starting software companies, and was only then picking it up again. It was fascinating to watch him start from square one; write, submit, collect a pile of rejection letters, write more, submit more, get a few short stories in print, get an agent, get a publisher, publish the first novel, and have 2 more in the pipeline while you're at it. All this while raising a family and having a responsible grown-up's job.

The dedication and perseverance was amazing... and inspiring to me as I was trying to get my own artistic career off the tarmac.

Anyway - it's a well-deserved success, and the first of many I'm sure - Congrats Chris!

I almost forgot - on top of all that, he's an accomplished artist as well, doing among other things some really great illustrations based on his current writing projects. Some people just do it all...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Grim news

Lascaux may be doomed. An apparently bungled air conditioning installation has given rise to the second outbreak of fungi on the cave walls in 8 years. Current abatement efforts have failed, and the damage continues unchecked. Having survived for 17,000 years, some of the paintings may now be lost in as little as 6 months.

Unless the responsible authorities can get their act together, Unesco is threatening to place the caves on its list of endangered world heritage sites.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ongoing studio rehab

A couple years ago I decided my studio should have really dark walls; deep chocolate brown, matte. The thinking was that this would make it a lot easier to control light by minimizing unwanted reflections. It had the intended effect, but it was also like being in a cave. I actually do like small intimate spaces, but this just ended up feeling claustrophobic and depressing.

It finally got to me.

So I spent a few hours today starting the job. Since the current paint is so dark, I'm putting up primer, just to be sure. I haven't yet decided on the final color I'll use; something lighter (of course) and neutral.

I'm not doing it all at once, either... just a few hours at a time, here and there. I've done a couple of these kinds of big studio jobs straight through in the past, and the result was I went as much as a week without producing any new pieces. I'll be looking at tacky priming for a while, but at least I'll be painting... the real painting, that is.