Moody, Minimalist Landscape Painting

Posts tagged “Provincetown paintings

Small Studies in Oil on Primed Paper

I began using small oil-on-primed-paper studies as a teaching tool in my September 2013 workshop at the Provincetown Artists Association and Museum.

At work on one of the studies for

At work on one of the studies for “Blue Above”. (Photo courtesy of Carol Duke.)

As you can see above and below, I did several versions of the same image, moving elements around, encouraging my students to do the same.


Simple version, tidal pool coming off the bottom and corner of the picture plane.

It is not just a question of what is included and what is left out–though that is always a major consideration in my work (see   for more on that conversation). Even in this very reductive composition, there are many variables. What, exactly, is the shape of the tidal pool cutting toward us, and where does it leave the picture plane, both on the left and on the right? How high or low is the horizon line? Cool greens, warm greens, or both? Back shore more compressed and lighter, making it seem further away, or larger and darker, bringing it forward?

Version with suggestion of houses in back land form.

Version #2 with suggestion of houses in back land form, and Long Point lighthouse on the right.  Tidal pool moves off the right side. (Sold)

I decided to go very white with the sky in the large piece, since I love the shore phenomenon of bright blue sky overhead and white at the horizon, which is due to the many miles of atmosphere, denser close to earth, that we are looking through.

Blue Above, 12

Blue Above, 12″x36″ , currently at the Julie Heller Gallery, Provincetown, MA.

None of these versions is any better or worse than the other—they are just different. The choices that I made for the larger oil were largely mood-driven. For example, I opted to emphasize the simplicity of the major shapes by omitting the lighthouse and bits of detail on the back shore. Including them would have made it a more descriptive piece, which I do from time to time. But at heart I am a minimalist, enjoying the open feel that these compositions bring.

First set of small

First set of small studies. (Mostly sold; two are currently at Edgewater Gallery, Middlebury VT.)

I soon saw that the studies function nicely as small paintings in their own right if I finish them the same way I do a larger piece. They look great framed with a mat and under glass, though I have also exhibited and sold a number of them mounted on board, sealed to be airtight, and presented without glass, such as the below.  I did a grouping, example below, for a small works show without any intention to do them larger—some of them are images I already had done as pastels or larger oils. Switching it up!

Tidal Flats at Dusk, 6

Tidal Flats at Dusk, 6″x6″, sold by Thompson Giroux Gallery. (Sold)


Study/Triptych in Reds

Study/Triptych in Reds, 3 panels of 5″x5″/ea., private collection.

I decided to leave out the soft water-shape in the larger version, mostly because I knew that I was going to frame each panel separately and I felt that the simpler field dividers would work best, carrying the horizontal sweep of the composition through the strong verticals of the frames and the wall space between.

Triptych in Reds

Triptych in Reds, 3 panels of 24″x24″, currently at Gold Gallery, Boston.


 When I do these studies, I don’t do them to copy them later in a big piece, but rather to familiarize myself with some of the elements. I have my students do several of the same image, and until they do they really don’t get the concept. It isn’t to come up with the perfect study to be copied, but to move things around and look at the results to see what sections work best, comparing all of the studies. Having done that, choices will still need to evolve organically with a larger piece–and just the size difference can really influence this process— but you now have the advantage of  having posed key questions to yourself.
Study/Intervening Bay

Study/Intervening Bay, 7″x7″, private collection.

In this recent piece I moved the front tidal pool a bit over toward center in the larger piece and had more room to play with the blues. It became clear that in the 24″x24″ version I needed to clearly differentiate between the three groupings of marsh grasses to indicate far, middle, and close proximity, using color to establish distance. Why? It just didn’t look right to have them all on the same plane in this particular image. This, though, is something that in another painting I might love—allowing all of the shapes to sit right on top of the picture plane, functioning as a color field painting.

Intervening Bay, 24″x24″, private collection.

The study and the large version each ended up where they needed to, and different from each other in subtle ways.
Study/Open Road #1, 4.5

Study/Open Road #1, 4.5″x14″. (Sold)

These two are quite similar, the main difference being the enhanced distance in the road that I created with the larger piece.

Open Road, 20

Open Road, 20″x60″, available at Gallery 901, Santa Fe, NM.


Sometimes after both—or all of—the pieces are finished there are things that I prefer about the study. In the following two, it is the differences in size and materials themselves that create a somewhat divergent feel.

Study/Sunset Sea, 5″x5″ (at Thompson Giroux Gallery).
One element to be considered is that the texture of the paper is more assertive in a small piece, and often a bit more matte, even though my linen also has tooth and the paint is applied to the same dark, absorbent ground. Here I feel that the study is more painterly and the oil-on-linen more photographic.

Yellow Band, 36″x36″ (at Julie Heller Gallery).
With the following pair, the study is simpler and more illustrative than the larger piece that came after.

Study/Skyline, 7″x7″,  (at Thompson Giroux Gallery).

In the larger size I needed to add more buildings, and I opted to make it more atmospheric. It turned out to be very useful to have established the front detail in the small piece, since I wasn’t at all sure how it was going to work out or even if I wanted to include it. I liked it well enough in the study to follow my own lead in the larger oil.

Skyline with Lifting Rain

Skyline with Lifting Rain, 20″x20″ (sold by Edgewater Gallery).

Here are some pieces from my current collection of studies that I haven’t yet done large. I will do this with some, and others will remain in small format only.
What I choose to paint next is driven by a complex set of considerations, partly mood-driven and partly tending to the needs of my galleries. Yet sometimes I love to not over-think it, changing direction at the spur of the moment. Any of these could be explored in large canvas at any time, and/or my next large piece might be of an image that I did not approach first in small format.
Study/Mountain Contours

Study/Mountain Contours, 4.5″x14″, currently at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY.


Study/View from Little Mountain, 6

Study/View from Little Mountain, 6″x8″, currently at Edgewater Gallery, Middlebury VT.

Study/Lake Mists, 5

Study/Lake Mists, 5″x5″ (currently at the Tenderland Home, Phoenicia, NY).


Study?Gleam over Tidal Flats,

Study/Gleam over Tidal Flats, 6″X10″. (Sold.)


Study/Green Valley

Study/Green Valley, 6″x10″.


Study/Late Summer Light, 5"x7.5".

Study/Late Summer Light, 5″x7.5″.


Study/Meadowlands with Mists.

Study/Meadowlands with Mists, 3.5″x10.5″. (Sold.)

I was so enjoying the color on the above that I decided to do a version without the industrial detail in the back landform.

Study/Fall Marsh Mists, 4

Study/Fall Marsh Mists, 4″X8″. (Sold)

And then I wanted to simplify even more and use the soft lavender with greens instead.

Soft Summer Light, 4"x8".

Soft Summer Light, 4″x8″.

Additional pieces (updated since the publication of this post):


Study?Yellow Bush, 4"x14.5", Edgewater Gallery.

Study/Yellow Bush, 4″x14.5″ (at the Tenderland Home).


Study/Waterspouts, 6"x9".

Study/Waterspouts, 6″x9″ (at Julie Heller Gallery.


Study/It Looks Like Rain, 6"x9".

Study/It Looks Like Rain, 6″x9″.


Study/Summer Marsh, 5"x12".

Study/Summer Marsh, 5″x12″ .


Study/ClusteredCLouds, 5"x12".

Study/ClusteredClouds, 5″x12″. (Sold.)


Study/White Fields, 5"x11".

Study/White Fields, 5″x11″ (Sold).


Study/Grey Dawn, 5"x7".

Study/Grey Dawn, 5″x7″.


Study/Winter Warmth, 7"x7".

Study/Winter Warmth, 7″x7″ (sold).


Study/Se.rene Winter, 5"x11"

Study/Serene Winter, 5″x11″ .


Study?Reservoir from Little Mountain, 4"x12".

Study/Reservoir from Little Mountain, 4″x12″ (sold).


Study/Green Fields, 5"x13".

Study/Green Fields, 5″x13″.


Study/Glowing Sky over Fall Marsh, 6"x8".

Study/Glowing Sky over Fall Marsh, 6″x8″ (at Tenderland Home).


The study below illustrates another use for the small format, as it was a a study for a commissioned painting (something that I have always done in a small pastel or oil to iron out the imagery that has been chosen by the collector):


Study/Resting Clouds, 4"x14".

Study/Resting Clouds, 4.5″x12″ (sold).


Lifting Clouds, 18"x42".

Lifting Clouds, 18″x42″, (private collection).


You may have noticed that some of the oil-on-paper pieces have a deckled edge and some have a clean edge. This does not translate with the large oil-on-linen work, but instead is something that I’ve been playing with in my pastels for a number of years. Some images have shapes within that relate to the uneven edge, and others have a more linear sweep to the composition. Those that have the deckled edge are framed showing it, and the others have the mat coming right up to the edge of the image.

I never like to over-plan. But even though I got along just fine without these studies for years and years, I have to say that for myself and for my students, they can have a liberating effect. Once you have internalized some aspects of what you are doing, it is much easier to proceed with confidence and an exploratory attitude.

Town and City

The  urban landscape in my work is very specific, since I am forever a minimalist. Views are therefore often from afar, and affected by atmospheric effects or late light. Towns with just some architectural elements framed by the natural are easily softened and embedded, the manmade embraced by natural bodies of water; mountains or fields; stands of trees.

The city that I have painted most frequently is New York, having lived there for a decade and flollowing that living close enough to be in and out with some frequency.  Well traveled paths and views like the West Side Highway and views looking West to New Jersey crop up often, and most likely will again.

My path to urban imagery began many years ago when I introduced phone/electric poles and lines to my landscapes, creating  straight lines and  a mood that plays with the notion of what is idyllic, accepting what is. Since then, I have moved on to include many other signs of human habitation and intervention in my landscapes, including my headlights/road pieces (see the post “Roads and Bridge Views”, archived in the month of  November, 2011); industrial imagery; and towns and cities. We spend so much of our time driving through terrain that contains or is comprised of manmade landscapes that to forever edit out these objects or scenes seems like an unnecessary effort, especially when the play of light and atmospheric conditions can make them so compellingly beautiful.

“Westerly Sky”, 16″X20″. A perfect example of the right angles and straight lines of the NYC foreground meshing with the soft diagonals of the sky. (Courtesy of Albert Shahinian Fine Art.)

“Snow in the City”, 18″X18″. The sounds of tires muffled by the snow, very little echo—a transformation of the urban landscape. (Private collection.)

“Skyline with Grasses”, 20″X20″ A view from the Meadowland’s. The Pampa’s Grass heads in the foreground required a great deal of work to read properly and yet let the eye sail over them to the skyline beyond. What I love the most about this piece is that it is so quiet, the urban imagery creating a subtle energy as backdrop to a drizzly shore day with the smell of marsh and salt air. (Private collection.)

“Sunset Roofline”, 24″X30″, a much closer view than I normally do. When living on East 27th Street, I spent time every day practicing T’ai Chi on the roof of my building, an experience that provided a sense of openness and sky not available at street level.

Below are several West Side Highway pieces. The approaches to New York City, bound by water on all sides, are the perfect urban images for me, contrasting reflective spaciousness with the dense, geometric patterns of a city.

“On Ramp”, a West Side Highway image with filtered winter light gleaming on the Hudson. (Private collection.)

“Exit Ramp” 24″X18″, the strong diagonals creating a dynamic composition and a gleam on the Hudson a dramatic backlight. (Private collection.)

Below are two pieces with vantage points that are so far off that the painting is much more vista than urban…and yet they reveal a hint of city.

“Lonely Ship/New York Harbor”, 30″X36″, a moody/joyful take on the harbor and  shores of Jersey and Staten Island. (Private collection.)

“River with Big Sky”, 24″X30″, a view looking south from the Tappen Zee bridge, the sky—one of my favorites, ever— dwarfing the land and water, yet pointing gently to the  distant skyline and river banks.

Provincetown is an equal parts mix of happy, busy people and glorious bay, harbor, and beach with tidal flats. The density of humanity is part of the point, and is even reflected in beachcombings, where, along with shells and rocks and feathers one can find  beautifully weathered pieces of plywood and bits of patinaed fiberglass.

“Provincetown”, 20″X30″, looking back at the wharf from Fanizzi’s restaurant one cold December day. Often the shore, if it is just water, sky, and maybe beach, has the same range of color and light in winter as in summer. Here, the only telltale sign that it is winter is the lack of moored boats in the harbor. (Courtesy of the Julie Heller Gallery.)

These three small Affinities of Provincetown are a blend of town and beach, like Ptown itself. (Private collection.)

“Gleaming Sky over Provincetown”, 11″X14″, the approach that I love so much. The sky is always doing some fabulous island-y display. (Courtesy of the Julie Heller Gallery.)

“Evening Lights”, 12″X24″ a soft sunset above the first lights of the evening. (Courtesy of the Julie Heller Gallery.)

Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard is another beautiful town by the sea, busy with humanity but with wide open views of Nantuket Sound and it’s own harbor.

“Ocean Park Fog”, 3 panels of 10″X20″/ea., the park surrounded by beautiful old ship captain’s houses. The source of the fog is the sound on the left, out of sight. (Courtesy of the Dragonfly Gallery.)

“Serene Seaview Morning”, 18″X24″. Even though the sound and dunes on the right take up a large portion of the image, the piece is very much structured by its manmade elements, with the straight horizon of the sea echoing the vertical line of the phone pole. A much larger row of houses exits on the left than I have shown, edited to heighten the solitary feel of the painting. (Courtesy of the Dragonfly Gallery.)

Finally, a last NYC painting that is much busier than I usually do. As I was painting this piece, the Jersey shoreline seemed to compel me to keep adding lights!

“Light Exchange”, 24″X40″. T the sunset reflects on water and clouds, a complementary palette of soft purples and oranges.