One Small Painting on a Compositional Journey
While teaching a four-week workshop focusing on composition for the Woodstock School of Art, I began this 12″x12″ painting.
Here is the reference.
I almost always eliminate some detail from my reference photos, and change the location, size, shape and color of elements so much that I am recreating the image. Much as I am taken with the view that I choose and the moment in time it captures, everything I do pictorially is in service of the overall painting.
Here is my first version.
When I took the above shot I had already moved the white stripe twice, ending in a spot in between the other two tries. As you can see, I eliminated the cars to the right and the center line, which veers so sharply left that is squeezes against the car with the headlights (which is the focus of my painting) and divides the picture plane oddly.
I included the phone pole to the right and a very faint indication of the yield sign on the left.
I had several critiques, at this point, as I got away from the piece for a bit and came back. One was that the upper edge of the mountain too closely follows the top edge of the treeline, creating a shape that is less interesting than it could be and also encourages the eye to roll down and off the side of the picture plane to the right.
A successful composition keeps the eye circulating, starting with a focal point and then allowing it to move around the painting. This is something that is not so much a road map from the outset, but explored each time through a combination of conscious decision-making—where am I putting these headlights?—and intuitive painting. Then, when something doesn’t look quite right, getting it to where it does is a process of trial and error.
In terms of color, the blues of the mountain and the off-white of the sky seemed too bright for the time of day that would throw the road into such deep shadow. It is hard to see this in the photograph, but this brightness drew attention away from the headlights.
The below is my next version. I am starting to get an edge at the top of the mountain that is more interesting—not so bumpity-bump. I tried painting in a faint back mountain above and then painted it back out again. I gave a little more height and brightness to the yield sign.
The interaction between the tree line and the top of the mountain still didn’t feel right, and the shape of the shadowy trees going off to the right left me dissatisfied. I had been thinking about lifting the phone poll a bit higher, and decided to do that, as well create a higher shape on the right that alludes more strongly to trees or bushes on the right side of the road.
In what turned out to be my final version, I changed the direction that the highest tree is leaning so that it points toward a flat spot on the ridge line (rather than being an upward bump that presses toward another upward bump) and raised the phone pole—much better!
The yield sign went in and out a few more times and then stayed out—-I felt that, much as I liked the shape of it, it fought with the headlights for attention.
The final color is deeper and softer, with the addition of some reds around the headlights that are very subtly echoed in the off-white of the sky.
And last, I changed the curve of the bottom of the bushes as they meet the verge on the right, from a down curve that follows the white line to an up curve as the shape goes off the picture plane. That small adjustment, really kind of an after-thought, was my favorite tweak of all. It created a satisfying shape with the shoulder that funnels the eye back into the painting and toward the headlights.
Because of all of the—to me, absolutely essential— changes, this small piece took more time to complete than the 30″x40″ that I did as a demo for the workshop, but which needed very little adjustment once I started painting. It is impossible to know at the beginning of the journey how long or complicated it will be!
The result of this particular journey is a simple painting, quietly moody.
September Newsletter/Art and Life in the Time of Coronavirus
It has been a lovely summer, even within the unwelcome adjustments required by Covid-19. The outdoors is more important than ever before, with my yard functioning as an extension of my studio not just to dry paintings but also to accommodate a few private students and visitors to view artwork. We continue to be careful.
I have been as busy as ever in my studio, and zoom-teaching my workshops in a weekly class format, a more intense schedule of teaching than in the past. The prep of creating or converting workshop subject matter into these short classes is an engaging stretch of the brain for me, a kind of multi-faceted design problem. I can also reach more people with a remote version, and that feels like what is needed now. Check out the Woodstock School of Art website for details on the upcoming, beginning Monday October 5th.
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The benefit for the Island Food Bank that I have been participating in all season long with the Louisa Gould Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard has been extended into fall. Every sale contributes to mitigate food insecurity. This is our most recent:
This painting sits squarely in my-most-favorite-things category, the aspects to what I do that please me the most and that I am the most proud of. The color is unusual and heavily mixed to greys, with the cool and nearly flat grey/green of the marsh and blues, pinks, and a hint of purple in sky and water. The bit of a brighter cool blue, the brightest color in the painting, counterbalances with a certain cheeriness the otherwise dreamy and quiet mood. It illustrates something I say frequently when I teach color mixing: that you can harmonize more hues from the color wheel if they are desaturated then if they are all bright and strong.
In terms of composition, the triangular shape of the marsh is echoed in the clouds. The whole composition would tend to pull to the left, with the clouds either drifting or tumbling in that direction and the marsh also going off on that side: but the almost centered tree and and point of the marsh to the right pull in the opposite direction and keep the eye circulating within the piece.
In my workshops I have been analyzing dozens of artists’ paintings in the manner of the above. Such fun to do this with one of my own!
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I completed another large commission in July, through Forrest Scott Group and for the surgeon’s lounge in the Florida branch of a well-known medical facility.
This piece involved an unusual amount of effort and tuning, since I was doing a large version of my photo of an earlier piece. For that piece, I used my photo reference only glancingly, so it was of little use in the large version. In addition, the designer and art consultant selected the image based on a jpeg of the smaller painting, which had a bit of reflectivity in the sky that I had not noticed earlier and that they quite liked and expected to see, understandably, in the final piece.
It is a complicated sky by any standard, with translucent oranges transitioning to cooler reds into mauves and then a soft plum-color going from left to right: oranges into light naples yellows and into the purples going up. The clouds vary in the hue of their off-white, as well. Not hard to do, just hard to do the same way a second time!
The result was satisfying though. Here is the install pic.
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This 40″x40″ was done in August, a familiar bend in the Esopus Creek as seen from Route 28 just before Phoenicia. Fog had always been a beloved subject of mine, shapes that softly dissipate.
I have had a run of one commission after another since last November. I can’t really explain this since none of them are connected to each other, except the below; and that is a story way too long and convoluted to recount. Recently finished, 18″x52″, conveying perfect tranquility:
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I got an email from an old friend inquiring about this painting, which she had seen on social media earlier in the summer. She said that she had a dream about it the night before, and was it still available?
After a yard viewing with her and her husband and a welcome catch-up, the painting went home with her. A sweet sale in every way!
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A few years back Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck brought a grouping of work to a home in Bronxville, NY, where the family was just beginning to settle into a new home. They decided on one piece of mine, preferring to figure out their lighting and furniture before more art purchases. This past late August Albert brought to them another two pieces that they had viewed at the gallery, and those went up as well.
My benefit for regional food banks continues with Albert Shahinan Fine Art as well. The first one that we did was more of a give-away, in which people could make a donation to the food bank of their choice and we mailed them one—or more, in most cases—of these mini collages:
For our second one, we went up in size and with another grouping, my 6″x6″ oil-on-board pieces, of which there were twelve at the gallery. After Albert sold a 4″x12″ piece on board and folded it into the benefit, we added the two of that size that he had on hand. Each sale is discounted for the collector by $100 and the same amount is going to either the Phoenicia Food Pantry or the Hudson Valley Food Bank. Here is where we stand now.
These are a few pics of pieces still available:
Inquiries for bigger/better pics of other works still available can go to me or to the gallery.
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Just to introduce this with a quick peak, I have been working outdoors with found natural objects as part of my Atlas Project, creating small installations. This is a circle back to some creek workshops that I did with kids years back, finding the possibilities fascinating but not the time to pursue them. This summer I have allowed myself the gift of some time and focus on the process, which involves a lot or trial and error to come up with an arresting image. There will be more of these going forward, and a blog post soon.
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We have been involved in house and studio repair projects all season long, instigating a sorting and reorganizing of just about every living and storage space we have. A cascade of breakdowns starting mid-summer led to emergency U-turns from planned projects…but much progress has been made, including a new laptop, car (a newer used Volvo wagon that I can carry up to 48″ wide paintings in, just like the old!!), upstairs plumbing, side of studio, washing machine, and paint job progressing on the house. We have been in this place since 1990 and have not been keeping up, so the sorting will continue.
It is also getting to be time to bring my houseplants in from the yard. I started with this area at the top of the stairs, where I have settled them amidst some ceramic work of my mom’s, as well as two of her paintings. She passed away last December, and I selected these two 12″x12″s from her estate because they are two of her best and because she did them in my studio about twenty years ago. The mirror was also hers.
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This newsletter is almost entirely art-related, as I have had so much going on in that arena and feel that I cannot even bear to comment on the state of the nation/world. But here I go: I fervently hope that this worldwide trend towards right-wing dictatorship will turn around, starting here in November. Vote! Vote early and in person, if you can.
Atlas/Forms of Water 2019
As the finale of this show and thus this post, I offer a beautifully produced recording of my interview with audience Q&A by Brett Barry of Silver Hollow Audio. This discussion ranges from my decades of contemporary landscape painting to the environmental themes of this show to the gallery-artist relationship. You can listen here:
Water is ease, water is in our dreams, water kills. Water is 60% of our bodies and covers 71% of the planet. We float, swim, sink, ride on, drink, cook and grow with, own, fight over, drown in, boil, crave, gaze at, and are mesmerized by water. It bears repeating: Water is life.
Water use has also been political since the beginning of our time on earth. As thirst, water rights and fights; severe storms; droughts, fires, floods; and sea level rise become increasingly critical on much of the planet, I have been catapulted into creating an expanded rubric for water imagery in my work. This focuses in on our environment and the challenges it faces, while continuing to celebrate the beauty our planet provides.
Atlas /Forms of Water maps the environmental theme while mapping my body of work, revealing a web of meaning around and between the individual pieces that I create. The matrix that connects all of my landscape imagery is saturated with memory, both personal and collective. To make these connections, I have created a site map for the body of work on view.
Maps functions as an aid to find our way. In this context, I am mapping our bodies and states of water; the paintings in the exhibit; memory and self; and threats to our environment, among other, more elusive things.
The Site Map has small monotypes running up both sides that are interpretations of the major paintings in the show. The four other prints are a conversation about threats from global warming: bigger hurricanes in upper left; sea-level rise in upper right: and stream/river flooding in the two at bottom, before and after.
At the top, I have included topographical contours, a loose and flattened version of the Escarpment that curves around Woodstock and then runs north parallel to the Hudson River.
Mountains are the first source of our surface water, and the painting below includes that form of water visible as the Catskill Mountains rising above the back shore, as well as mists, a cloud, and the Hudson River.
Another new collaged map for the show is of the NYC watershed, water tunnels included. New York City has negotiated—and renegotiated, multiple times—a pass on national regulations that mandate the filtering of drinking water. This exemption is a huge deal, and requires constant monitoring and regulation of the watershed townships within the areas shown, and many mandates for property owners to keep the water flowing into NYC reservoirs clean. While this makes our relationship to our larger neighbor to the south a complex and co-dependent one, it also has transformed our stewardship of our land and streams.
The below same-size collage from the year before is of the Hudson Canyon, which is essentially an underwater extension of the Hudson River, extending southeast until it drops off the continental shelf.
Also in mixed media/collage, “Forms of Water: A Taxonomy”. This small tintype drawer contains the following seven categories, from the top row moving down: states and phases of visible water; geographical bodies of water; wetlands; types of clouds; storms; waves; and human made forms of water.
Creating pieces in vintage boxes, drawers, muffin pans, and child’s blackboards has been one of my ongoing series for some years now. It requires a listening attitude to select and then bend the imagery to work with the support that I have chosen, starting the process in a different way from a blank canvas. In the below piece, the box and the piece of wood that I painted on had elements that determined both what imagery I chose and how I painted it.
For decades now, I have been devoted to painting fog, suspended water that softens our landscapes, sometimes obscuring, sometimes defining:
Many of my paintings depict wetlands, so gorgeous and vital for controlling flooding caused by excessive rain events, storms, tidal flooding, and sea-level rise; as well as filtering sediment in water and providing habitat for wildlife. Visually, salt marshes in particular create color and shape that I return to paint over and over again.
Manmade forms of water are included in the show, as seen in the flood image near the top and in the vertical painting below, which depicts a wetland developed by humans to cultivate cranberries.
The pieces in the show include landscape imagery in oil on linen; monotypes; small works in oil on board; water imagery using vintage boxes, blackboards, and other containers/support; and map collages.
I was motivated in fall of 2016 to move towards creating shows that place my open, color-field landscapes within a complex experiential web. Three major factors came into play at just that time.
The first was anticipation of a residency in Nantucket scheduled for that winter, and this dovetailed with the second, some thoughts about turning 60 later on in 2018. Given that my background is in contemporary art and that I have always viewed my progressions in landscape painting through that lens; my question to self was—what do I want to do, now, that I haven’t yet?
Among my answers to this question was learning monoprint and linocut techniques, which I now employ both for stand-alone prints and also for the Site Map. Below, some recent monotypes.
The third factor was key. Feeling profound grief over the outcome of the 2016 election, my mind returned repeatedly to the single biggest issue on the table, climate change. The conviction that time is running out here and that four years could be critical was decisive in determining the direction that my work has since taken. The acceleration of bad news in this arena since then is eye-popping—sea level rise predictions alone are much, much higher and sooner than was predicted while I was researching the topic in my February, 2017 Nantucket residency.
Snow and ice appear in my work and in the context of Atlas/Forms of Water, depict one of the main three phases of water, solid.
Water vapor, the gaseous state of water, is invisible. The closest thing that is visible is steam, such as the image of a geyser below.
Globally, precipitation has shifted so that many of the wet places are wetter and the dry locales are dryer. For this reason, I decided to create and include several pieces that depict water’s opposite, fire.
My imagery is heavily weighted toward the Northeast of the United States, as that is where I have spent much of my life. But I could be anywhere on the planet, exploring the same themes, and I bring with me memories of living in the arid Andes and central Castile; painting in rain-soaked Western Ireland; traveling Northern California to capture the coastal golden hillsides of late summer; and returning to the Nebraska flatlands of my early childhood. It all informs the matrix. It is all water.
This show builds upon my Atlas/Hudson River Valley show in March of 2017, which you can read about here:
We are collaborating with Riverkeeper and Catskill Mountainkeeper on a fundraising benefit October 12th, 5-8. That evening, 15% of sales will go to these vital local environmental organizations, as well as the proceeds of a raffle for this 12″x12″ painting:
(Note: Raffle was drawn on 11-16. Tickets were $20. We raised almost $1,300 from the raffle alone!)