Wednesday, December 4, 2013

sometimes it needs to rest a while.

Some paintings come together quickly, others perhaps like a fine wine take time and need to rest for a while... This one was the latter.

It began with a number of color plans.  I'd been painting a number of very colorful pieces so I felt a desire to make my tonal and color ranges a little less dramatic. I think this changing of gears, meant the painting needed more time to crystallize in my mind.

color plans

The first few color plans felt a little cold so I opted for a nice rich table cloth color. I then began to work into the painting, but found myself getting stuck with some of the color choices that I'd laid out for myself. The dark blue chairs had been contrived to balance both the blue in the bowl and gray blues around the edge. However as it progressed the color felt too oppressive (it's a shame I dont have a photo of that stage.

Sometimes a small color plan can work 'small', but once it becomes a 'big' canvas it can fail. The painting sat in my studio, in this almost complete stage for a while. Additionally, I'd realized the bouquets foliage was too pale and the pears too muted and flat.  Ultimately all these changes happened quickly with the color change of the chairs from dark blue to a strong green. This unified the background with the foreground better, and made a nice overall green color tone. It then energized me and provided the catalyst to engage the painting and make the other elements come together.

The colors -  The cool blue/grays balancing with the greens. The soft transitions from rug, to floor, to seat cover. This balancing with the other side of the painting, the slight abstraction; where the background gray/blue eats into a foreground element on the table.  The warm colors of fruit and table cloth pulling you into the center of the table and the blue bowl drawing your eye in. An effective arrangement at this dramatic size (always a joy to  paint).

Fruit bowl with white bouquet
30X48     Acrylic on canvas

It's hard to know what to show in a detail, when there's so many nice things to show. If you look closely you can see the original pear color showing through in places, these gaps were left intentionally, fractionally toning the overall pear color.

Sometimes working over an area already painted allows for a more confident, bolder brush stroke. With some good impasto paint.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Last week, I went round the Anders Zorn exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Fransisco. It had been years since I caught an exhibition at the Legion, and I'd forgotten how nice the location is. Nestled in the middle of a golf course, set on top of a hill overlooking the ocean and mouth of the bay. It's simply stunning, especially on a nice sunny day, which is what I had.

Till this point, I'd seen very few Zorn original paintings in life.  I'm not sure why that is, perhaps just not paying attention? But for me his peers (Sargent & Sorolla) seem more prevalent in the major museums around the world, especially Sargent's work. It was great to see the exhibition and to learn more about the artist, in some ways it reshaped my views on the artist and his work, in others is sharpened and clarified them.

I was fascinated to learn how successful he had been commanding a salary of $1500 a week. That's   pretty good today, but a fortune in his time. There's some nice photos in the exhibition of him through the years, it's fun to see the clothes from the era and his waistline expand as the years march on. There's also shots of his Swedish home, a log cabin. Over the years he modified and expanded it in keeping with his lucrative success. It reminded me perhaps of a toned down Swedish version of William Randolph Hearst and Hearst Castle. Of course I'm sure that anyone who reaches the point of vast wealth likes to 'trick out their home'!

If I'm honest, Zorns work has never had the same strength or appeal to me as many a Sargent portrait or watercolor.  Nor does his work comes close to the best that Sorolla has to offer, who's beach scenes and his handling of water are hard to beat! Having said that it's hard to criticize, his handling of his 'nymph like' nude models, paddling on the shores of lakes and rivers. They are so beautiful, subtlety rendered and hard to criticize. Additionally his rendering of water both in oil and watercolor is flawless, and astounding to behold.

-->Many art circles now hold the limited 'Zorn palette' in high esteem. He primarily used a palette consisting of Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Medium, Ivory Black plus White. Today many well know contemporary painters use this palette with small editions and modification. A huge range of colors and tones can be achieved with such a minimalist palette, and if used it gives you strong unity of color across your painting.  Having said that I feel, it's a palette that on it's own is perhaps too recognizable, I feel I can always spot a painting using this palette (despite it's versatility). Additionally, over time a body of work painted in these ranges can get limiting. I confess, I had that feeling in the exhibition.
To sum up, I'm really glad I went to the exhibition and enjoyed getting the opportunity to see his work. And it is truly impressive, however for me, (as mentioned earlier) I'd take Sorolla and Sargent above him any day. Perhaps just a statement of the high mark that all 3 artists achieved?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Edge of the bay - featuring the Golden Gate Bridge

Here's a painting I completed last week of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was painted from reference material, but with the weather we've had recently it has made me want to drive down to this location again and get painting!

Perhaps there will be more paintings from this local to come in the future?

 Edge of the bay

Saturday, November 9, 2013

3 Day workshop in Florida

Just returned from a 3 day workshop in Jacksonville Florida with Corse Gallery and Atelier. Just before I flew we had a run of cancellations, rotten luck really, ( a number of poor people with health troubles, very sad).  I was a little worried about numbers, but in the end we had a nice group and the smaller number meant I could really focus on each persons level and help them with their individual concerns.

I don't do many workshops, but I really enjoy teaching and like the chance to share my thoughts and processes. 3 days never seems like enough....

One of the set ups.

Students hard at work.

More talk and demoing of ideas.

A few of the paintings at the end of a day, for an informal critique.

 Close to final painting from the workshop. I have a couple of incredibly minor tweeks still to do, but it's close enough to view. If you look in the photo above this one, you'll see the same painting minus the lemons and some green background color. I felt without the lemons there wasn't quite enough color variety, so I added these citrus to give it extra color punch. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blossoming Cactus

One more from my Santa Fe trip. These little cactus are always fun to paint, I think they're called 'Christmas Cactus.

 Blossoming Cactus with pears
24X16     Acrylic on panel

and some shots from the painting day.....

The source photo was taken for a painting I did quite some years ago. I always rather liked it; here it is, (it was 31.5x26).

Friday, October 25, 2013


One of the paintings from last weekend in New Mexico at Ventana Fine Art. Reworked the color of Tomatillo when I got home, made them stand out a little more, which created a 'color bridge' or 'stepping stone' from the vase to the table cloth.

Hydrangea with Tomatillo on red
20X16   Acrylic on panel

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Santa Fe - Paint Out!

Just returned from a long weekend in Santa Fe, NM for a group show opening and the 'Paint Out' festival. I had a great time and met some old friends and made many new ones, I also got some painting done!

Here's a couple of pictures of some of my art in the Gallery (Ventana Fine art-(800) 746-8815). It's a beautiful gallery and the staff are wonderful, giving all their artists great space and light to make the works really look really nice!

Here I am painting outside the gallery during the 'paint out' festival. It's a great event to visit the galleries in Santa Fe and there's so many artists to see in action. There's even a parade down the street!

One of the paintings I produced and almost finished.

And finally, a shot of Ghost Ranch as the sun sets. I drove up there with my art friend Kevin Courter. We both took scores of great photos as the sun crawled across the valley bathing the cliffs in wonderful colors and tones.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


I know some poor people had to cancel for health reasons, and my thoughts are with them. But, it does mean we now have a few spaces available for my workshop. The gallery was offering $100 to the first few who called, this is a great opportunity if you're able to make it! 

 I'm also giving away a copy of my 'workshop booklet' to every one who attends!  tel  (904) 388-8205 for more info.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The four year project - post 5

It's finished! Phew! :-)

Here's the final painting.

Morris & Luke june13
size 48X34           Oil on wood

I'm pleased with the result, 4 years ago I loved the painting, but my youngest Luke never quite looked like himself.  This time however it's spot on. Indeed, since finishing the painting I've had it propped up against a chair downstairs, sometimes Luke will pass and do a double-take thinking Morris is actually sitting there. So that's a pretty good testament of a successful portrait.

I'd originally planned something looser. Of course my intention was to capture their personality or inner likeness, but perhaps not paint them quite so carefully and accurately.  In the end, as I painted I slowly moved towards a more careful considered painting and didn't catch myself to keep it loose and free. I'm not unhappy with this change, but too me I still notice the change from the original plan.


Here are two details of their faces.


 Near the end I'd worked a lot on their glasses. I'd originally blocked them in, right at the beginning,  gradually painting them away as I built up the faces. I found when I restated the glasses, they proved a challenge. I haven't, it turns out ,often painted glasses. So it took me a while to find what worked. I realized that glasses seem to work best with some element of lost and found. So I worked in again with flesh tones pushing the glasses out in places.


Right at the end I went back to the painting to make a couple of minor adjustments. I strengthen some of the lighting and shadow effects on Luke's face to balance it better with his brothers. I also added some text on the title of the book.

Original it was a black hard back, Harry Potter volume, that was missing it's dust jacket. I hadn't felt it needed the title on the book. But someone identified the black book as the bible. This was a problem, since my intention had been to illustrate his love of reading, not his views on faith. Adding the text was simple enough, but choosing which tomb to portray was a difficult choice. I think in reality he'd been reading 'the half blood prince' but somehow I thought this title better?

The floating foot

Luke's foot was an interesting conundrum, Originally I painted it crisply, then it seemed to float there and I realized I needed to move it slightly. It was better then, but still a little odd. There's always a problem with body parts that poke out from behind objects - we know he needs a foot, but it appears decapitated with it. On the other hand, if removed he would have no legs!  The solution I ultimately decided was to do a pale wash over the foot so it was still visible but less, eye catching.


These shots are good illustrations of the brushy texture I've built up on the painting, it's hard to get a feel for a painting of this size online, but maybe these sort of close images help a little? I love the texture you can build up with oil, it can give a painting such a wonderful tactile feel.

If you like you can see the portrait from 4 years ago here -

Or one I did of the boys from a photo from earlier this year -

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Point Lobos

A little painting from Point Lobos SP, just round the corner from Carmel in California. If you've never been, it's stunning. A small headland with spectacular coves and forest, visit you wont regret it!

Cool Shadows with a warm breeze
24X18 Acrylic on panel

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

limes in a high key

Wanted to keep this one bright and light and for the most part in a high tonal range. Possibly placed the flowers a little too centrally, but it's tricky sometimes in a small portrait format. I felt the plant in the top right pulled the eye into that quadrant, just enough to make the central flowers allowable.

'limes in the center of things'
20X16 Acrylic on panel

A great event in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Only a few weeks now... Should be a great event! Taking part in the galleries group show too. Opening on the Friday night (18th). Check it out, it's worth the trip!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Two sets of Irises

Here's two paintings of Irises arranged on a table top rather than in a vase. This method of placing the flowers on the table allows me to crop closer to the table setting, bringing the flowers closer to the other elements within the composition.

I chose to create different palettes for each, but still wanted to play warm reds and oranges against the green stems and dark blue flowers. The Compliment of those color reactions is very evocative to me; additionally I love that play of warm and cool colors within the same frame.

 Cool Iris reclining on red
Acrylic on panel

 Reclining Iris
Acrylic on panel 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

the four year project - post 4

After many weeks of working on other projects, I've now come back to this painting with a vengeance. This post shows my first major sitting on that work since returning to it.

You can see I blocked in all the color, filling in the blank areas of the canvas (well wood). Placing my eldests hair color, the book and picture frame (on right),  allowed me to final gauge the overall tonal range. I have now gone back and toned the chair and the bureau behind a little, to get the range closer to what I wanted.

I also worked in to my youngest childs face, in previous posts I hadn't quite got his features right so I need to adjust elements to bring it into line. It always amazes me how subtle the human face is; where the smallest of changes to a nostril shape can define 'his' nose, and single brush stroke around on a lip can change the expression dramatically.

You may also notice I've blocked out the vertical from a stand light behind my youngest sons shoulder. Though accurate, the line of it fell to closely to the vertical of his shirt below. I will move this over an inch or so in time.

Few other quick things - I know in time I'll have to fix the foot in the bottom right. It's accurate, but looks too long for the body, I fear removing it will loose the figures grounding to, well the ground. Also eyebrows just placed with a quick dab, will have to refine later. Finally I really need to refine the tone of that orange shirt....

In the next post you'll see some close ups on the faces and I resolve them further.

Graham Sutherland

More thoughts from my travels this summer to Britain. This time I visited the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal England to see an exhibition of Graham Sutherlands landscape work.

In Britain Sutherland is probably most well known for his religious pieces, particularly his depictions of Jesus on the cross and for a portrait of Winston Churchill. A painting that was so hated by Churchills wife that she destroyed it. This exhibition however focused on his love of the land and how he responded too it.

The Abbot Hall always presents an interesting and good exhibition and this was well displayed and very informative. I suppose in truth, I've never been wholly taken with Sutherlands works, (perhaps with the exception of his depictions of the cross). Too much of his work in my mind is too derivative of others. I can't help but look at his art and think of Picasso, many of his Palette choices are extremely close to the middle and late periods of Picasso's work. Additionally his structure of the figure and adaptation of its with form, is again unmistakeably reminiscent.

This exhibition does note his influences, mentioning both Picasso, and regularly Francis Bacon; and I can see that too.

So why criticize? Well to my mind, to be inspired and work from another artists work is fine, understandable and allowable; but to be too derivative and not to advance your work beyond the initial inspiration or your peers is a mistake. Sutherland I feel is terribly guilty of this and though I like many of his paintings; I find I am not thrilled or exulted by them. The addition of the closeness to other better painters leaves me wanton for something more, and well in truth, someone else!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

White Tulips awash with green

Finished this painting a few weeks ago now, but the green back drape seemed a little insipid and I wanted to adjust the background blue.  I made subtle changes to both. This photo still shows the back drape as a pretty pungent color, but the original holds it better.

 White Tulips awash with green
18X24   Acrylic on panel

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sign up and win!

Okay I know it's a bit tacky, but....  If you enter good luck! and tell your art loving friends

Friday, August 2, 2013

Samuel Peploe - Scottish Colorist

In July we took a few weeks vacation back to Britain and also enjoyed a few days in the Netherlands. As we moved around from one city to the next visiting friends and family, whenever I was able to I took the opportunity to visit the local art museums and galleries. Over the next few days and weeks Im going to write about each one Heres the first.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

When back in my home town of Aberdeen (Scotland), I visited the art museum; a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. I remember regularly visiting this gallery throughout my childhood and teenage years. Without doubt its the place that I was first exposed to art and I suspect I have my mother to thank for that. One memory that sticks in my head from those childhood years, is my mother drawing us close to a painting and commenting that it was so well painted you could almost touch it. Then shockingly she reached out and actually touched the canvas, before moment later being yelled at by the guard!

 This was the painting, you'll notice it now hangs behind glass. My mother will be disappointed! :-)

The museum holds so many memories like this for me, as well as countless memorable paintings, (or at least paintings that resonate with me). They have a fine eclectic selection of works with one painting from most of the major artists you can think of (well within reason). They also have a nice selection of Scottish and British artists, including of course, a number of paintings by my favorite Scottish artist 'Joan Eardley'. 

Brother and Sister by J Eardley

You might enjoy this post from last time I was in Britain and I visited her old studio?

Samuel Peploe

The reason for visiting the gallery was a visiting Peploe show. The artist was one of the famed Scottish colorists, and many would say the strongest and the best. I'm particularly fond of his early and mid-career paintings, and they had good examples within three large exhibition rooms. They also exhibited central glass cabinets, with a variety of interesting items, such as one of his palettes*, sketch books, some of his brushes and a selection of items that he used for his still lifes e.g. a small plaster statue, a Chinese vase etc.

(*I have always gotten a kick out of seeing famous artists palettes, but I’m never quite sure why?)

In his early career, he painted with strong loose brush strokes thick with paint and theres a wonderful confident elegance to his brushwork and the thick luster to the paint. The colors in these are pretty monochromatic and predominantly muted. But theyre beautiful to look at and a testament to his ability with paint.

During his mid-career, he spent time with John Fergusson in Paris and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Monet and Picasso. This Parisian influence breathed life into his drab palette, adding an impressionist colorist scheme. You can also see an advancement of more developed and dynamic compositions. During this period his brushwork also tightens, which I feel is a shame; but the additions of color and composition make for interesting and really beautiful work. 

In the final phase of his lifes work I feel he pulled back a little on palette, the colors became more muted in their ranges; perhaps what some may describe as pastel-like in tone. The brushwork though still loose is increasingly measured (& careful). Many prefer this final period, but for me some of the life or energy has been lost. The once loose brush strokes and strong color schemes have has been replaced with something overly considered and careful; a skilled painter measuring his trade, but perhaps lacking in passion?

The only item I may have liked to add to this exhibition would have been the addition of a few works by other Scottish colorists to hang alongside Peploes paintings. This I feel would have fleshed out and framed his life, illustrating his friendships/peers and influences? Though most would agree he was the leader and strongest painter of the Scottish colorist, he is still firmly linked to them, and therefore hard to divorce from the movement. 

The exhibition was however one of the highlights of my trip. There was a wonderful selection of his work, it was well lit, and well presented.