Friday, December 24, 2010

happy holidays

Happy Holidays to you all. I hope they're merry and bright.
I'll be away on vacation for a bit. See you, with new paintings, I hope, when I get back!

An excerpt from one of my favorite songs from the 1970 musical version of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge, starring Albert Finney as Scrooge and Kenneth Moore as the fabulous larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present, who sings this song:

I like life
Life likes me
Life and I fairly fully agree
Life is fine
Life is good
'Specially mine, which is just as it should be
I like pouring the wine and why not?
Life's a pleasure that I deny not

I like life
Here and now
Life and I made a mutual vow
'Till I die
Life and I
We'll both try to be better somehow
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Friday, December 17, 2010


An unfinished painting of Peter's daughter, Melyssa. I kept fussing and fussing with the eyes, especially her right eye, until the paper had become quite exhausted with it: me too.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

"the darkling thrush"

County Mayo scene for this month's Virtual Paintout. I found a few lovely scenes that I'd like to paint, though, like others, I wandered further afield than the locale chosen for the paintout, Galway, into Clare and Mayo too.

Below is another poinsettia; the final version of one of the ones started in class.
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And a poem emailed to me by that seemed just right for this cold, windy, gray day:

The Darkling Thrush
by Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate
    When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

poinsettias in the making

In out last class of the season, our teacher Marie encouraged us to try another method to paint our poinsettias. We started with loose (as loose as we could manage) wet washes of poinsettia shapes (below); when that dried, we started to pick out the shapes with negative painting (above).
I haven't finished mine yet, but I'm finding the method very relaxing!

(12x16, detail)
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"lonely, or if you prefer, self-sufficient"

I find myself always admiring grays in other people's paintings, but can never seem to get to gray in my own. This seemed like a good subject for trying out some neutrals.
I also used watercolor pencils for the twigs in the foreground and bleed-proof white for the snow.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010



I started this portrait of my friend Shelby's eldest, Dejda, from a photo taken when she was a little girl. The features are all off, but in the photo I like the backlighting and Dejda's expression, which I have not come near to capturing here and can't even really think of words for, so I think I'll try again, being more careful with the initial drawing.

Here's a poem I found in my inbox:

Billy Collins

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now.
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans,
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the end of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.
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Sunday, December 05, 2010

those who wait


I visited with my dear friends Lisa and Mike this weekend: there's no one like the friends who love you and who you love for getting you back to yourself.
I haven't painted, except for a little very unsatisfying mushing about, for nearly three months, but Mike insisted we paint. So this morning we set up this little still life, clementines and a ceramic pitcher with a gorgeous coppery glaze and a wonderful shape.
Mike's limited-palette painting, below, has imbued the objects with a beautiful humility and earthy sensuality that makes me think of Chinese brush painting.


Fortuitously, the day before I went on my visit, Rhonda kindly sent me a great link, which really helped me think about what was keeping me from painting and how to get back to it: Thank you again, Rhonda!

by Walt Whitman

Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.
Ample are time and space—ample the fields of Nature.
The body, sluggish, aged, cold—the embers left from earlier fires,
The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;
The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
To frozen clods ever the spring's invisible law returns,
With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

out of alignment

Hello! Sorry I've been incommunicado. I don't really know what happened ... You'd think after two great workshops I'd be painting nonstop but being temperamentally perverse I stopped painting altogether. (I've also been trying to get a lot of work done, and my nineteen-year-old nephew has moved in with me which has been, and is, a learning experience. He's young and can learn; it's been a bit more fraught for me. You know how when you introduce a new cat into your household the cat you had suddenly becomes an old grump? I'm the cat you had ... ).

This is the last painting I attempted after my last post a month ago.
I'm consistently having a problem getting eyes to align; the farther one is always droopy: very disconcerting.

This procrastinating has got to stop though and for the coming week I'm setting myself the goal of finding something that I really want to paint, that I can't possibly resist painting.
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Friday, October 01, 2010


Painted this today from a photo Shelby took one day when we were out painting with Charles Reid. Shelby and I were still in thr throes of our Ted Nuttall workshop and, while Charles demonstrated, took a lot of pictures of our fellow students (on the sly).
I worked on this intermittently this morning in between little bursts of cleaning out the garage, very gingerly, on the lookout for crickets.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

what now?

After my intensive two weeks of paintings, I find myself here at home wondering what to do now!
Yesterday I took a little break to try to loosely fiddle around with the faces from the Unhappy Couple.
Each face is about 3 inches high.

By the way, did you know this is National Banned Books week? I was looking at a list of books that have at one time or another been banned from schools in the U.S. and trying to see if I could find a common denominator. Nonconformity or any taint of "outsiderness" seems to be a red flag. Oh, and sex!
Banned Books weeks ends October 2, but I'm heading to the library tomorrow to get a banned book I never read, Fahrenheit 451. Apparently, after the book was banned from schools, the publisher sold a sanitized to schools for years--without Ray Bradbury's knowledge or consent!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

wip: mia, day 2

I can see in this side-by-side how getting just a few lines a bit wrong can thros off the whole likeness, like the outline of the left side of her face--I let it bow out too much (but I think I can fix it).
I tried to get the baby teeth in there but really didn't like they way they looked ... I think I still need to broaden the smile a bit.
Or maybe start again ... I'm feeling that this portrait doesn't capture Meezie.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

wip: mia

I thought I'd better start another painting trying to do what I did in Ted's class before I forget everything; I hope it's not too late!
I did this drawing of my niece, who's now grown with a son of her own; her pose and expression are pure Mia.
Unfortunately for me, the painter, she has the family's characcteristic fine wispy hair! A thick, straight bob would be so much easier!
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

about the workshops ...

Practicing modified contour drawings, a la Charles Reid, on trees, above; notebook page with sketch of the Physick estate and notes from Charles' first demo.
The Ted Nuttall and Charles Reid workshops were two different experiences: they were different; their methods were different; the subjects were different. But it seems to me both teachers stressed, explicitly or implicitly, three things.

1) Seeing. I thought I was already doing it, but I wasn't--I was rushing through it to get to the fun part, splashing around in the paint. Ted pointed out all the small, unexpected things--the way the light hits the edge of a cuff or reflected light catches a hat's brim--that make a painting a delight and a revelation to look at. Charles emphasized connections and exploration of your subject with your pencil; Ted would call it interpreting; finding the emotion.
2) Applying the paint. Many of us share the optimistic delusion that a certain paint or color or type of paper will do the trick for us. Neither Ted nor Charles seemed very concerned with any of this--though they both had favorite brushes: big soft ones. They apply their paint in completely different ways--Ted in successive light washes; Charles in small bits that he "places" on the paper then pulls and pushes around ... but however you do it, in stages or all in one go, think before you do and while you're doing it.
3) Find your own way. There is a lot you can learn from other painters, past and present, especially perhaps when it comes to design, but ultimately you have to find what you do, how you do it, and commit to that, whatever the subject, method, or materials.

I hate to ruin the simplicity of my little tripartite summary, but I have to add one thing Ted talked about that really struck me: nonattachment to outcome. That's the hard one; the essential one. 

I just saved you all a whole lot of money! Just kidding. For me the best part of the workshop is the experience of meeting and painting with other painters, regardless of who the teacher is, though these two were great and I'd recommend both if you have the chance.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

charles reid workshop

Day One: We painted at the Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May. The Physick house is a huge monstrosity; really quite ugly--even Charles Reid had a hard time with it. So I turned my back and painted the little house across the street. I started with a contour drawing--the contour drawing was my favorite part of the workshop. Charles thought this was a little tight, and I agree, but it's not as ugly as the Physick house.

Day Two: We painted indoors from a black-and-white photo Charles supplied. This was a real opportunity to try out not only his "modified contour" drawing--it is fascinating to watch him draw; he clearly enjoys it--but also his method of applying paint: place the paint; modify it while wet, if necessary; then pull the color into adjacent areas.
Day Three: Outdoors again. This time on the grounds of two restored old whaling cottages, which were charming, but I was more interested in the grove of old cherry trees out back. I would really love to be able to paint trees well! Slow contour drawing helped me see the shapes, and I was pleased with the drawing; wish I'd left more of it showing. I suspect I'll be doing a lot more contour drawing, especially of trees: it's a great learning tool.

Day Four: More plein air. We went to St. Mary's by the Sea, a retreat for Catholic nuns at Cape May Point; the nuns who had previously agreed to let us sit on their extensive porches reneged, which forced us to sit out in the blazing sun! Most un-Christian of them.
Shelby and I found a shady spot, but were eaten alive by flies. It was intolerable, so we packed it in and painted at the hotel. I painted this from a photo on my camera's screen.
Day Five: We stayed indoors (hurrah!) and painted from old photos. I call this one "The Unhappy Couple (Or, Oh No, What Have I Done?)"
Charles liked it, and thumped me on the back, but I'm not entirely happy with it: I wish I had, a la Charles, lost more edges.

Shelby and I had a great time, for our second week of painting together: painting all day and talking about it all night. What could be more fun?
But now I have a lot of work to catch up on and hope I can manage to find time to paint regularly as well before I forget all I've learned.

PS: Per your requests, more on the teachers and the experience of the two workshops to come!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

nuttal workshop

I'm back from Ted Nuttal the 3-day workshop in Lewes, DE, with one day to recuperate before the 5-day Charles Reid workshop begins.
The workshop with Ted was unbelievable: he is the most generous teacher, and such a sweet and thoughtful man. I think I learned things from him that I will be able to, and want to, work and build on on my own. And I really want to take another workshop with him as soon as possible!
I also imagine it'll be awhile before I have any interest in painting anything other than people.
The last day of workshop is always a bit sad, but, happily for me and Shelby, Ted will be coming over to NJ tomorrow to attend our meet-and-greet prior to the Reid workshop.
These are the three paintings I worked on, one a day. The first one, A.J., is done; the other two are incomplete, but not by much.
I don't think I've ever worked with such a warm palette, but I'm enjoying it, and enjoying also working slowly, which is not my usual method. Ted impressed on us all the importance of looking at each and every detail and thinking before, and while, painting.
I had more photos, but I left my camera in Shelby's car! I hated to be without a camera on the ferry ride home, because everywhere I looked, I saw people who would make great paintings: the was a family of Mennonites, with four daughters--all with long braids and stray hairs flying, standing at the railing in the morning sun! And a family that may have been Guatemalan or Ecuadorian--they were all beautiful, and the grandfather especially so, with his rolled-brim straw hat.
I have notes, from which I'll share ideas as I try work on other paintings keeping Ted's advice in mind. I'll just say, if you have a chance, sign up for one of his workshops. ... I am just too spent to think any more tonight!
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

off to DE

I'll be on the 4:30 ferry to Lewes, DE, today; workshop begins tomorrow ... And I'm a nervous wreck! The butterflies have already started.
Here's a little postcard I did this morning. Thank you for all your encouragement and good wishes!
Back Saturday with paintings and posts about the Ted Nuttal workshop!
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Monday, September 13, 2010


Still not happy with the lips, but I've crossed over into the ill-advised tampering mode so really must stop!
I painted this 140lb. Fabriano paper--my comfort zone--and can see why Ted Nuttall recommends you work on 300lb paper ... All my fiddling around the lips has bruised the paper ... But now that I see it here, on the blog, I realize I will go back, one more time, maybe tomorrow when the paper's totally dry and attempt a small, the smallest possible, adjustment.
Tomorrow afternoon I'm off to Delaware; the Nuttall workshop begins Wednesday.
I think I'll reattempt this Cimabue-like pose of Melyssa on 300lb paper.

Melyssa's brother Pete pointed out that I didn't paint Melyssa's freckles! I thought about it, but I'm not ready for that yet: can you imagine trying to paint freckles--not too many, not too few; not too speckly, not too birthmarky ...? Maybe Ted will have some suggestions; Pete thinks I should go for it.
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