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."