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  • Velazquez Copy at the MFA

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    please note my baroque era drop cloth and trader joe’s bag, just like diego’s

     

    Last week I spent some time at the MFA with Adrian Gottlieb working on a copy of a portion of Diego Velazquez’s ‘Don Baltasar Carlos with a Dwarf’ from 1632.  Adrian jumped at the chance to do a copy at the museum, as apparently in California they do not allow master copy in any of the museums, of course limiting the amount of in-depth study you can do.  It’s a great way to spend a couple of afternoons.

    Below is a photo I took of Adrian at work copying a Rembrandt

     

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    Weekly student Nadine Geller, and artist friends Frank Strazzula and Kamille Corry came by the museum while I was starting in my copy, their photo below.

     

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    Above is the full painting, below my copy of the dwarf’s head.  I wanted specifically to copy the very colorful midtones in the painting, I have been painting very high key for the past couple of years, so thought it would be a good example to study.  Unfortunately the lighting in the gallery was very yellow, which made any sort of one-to-one copying of color a bit of a crapshoot.

    After spending a couple of days with the painting, I could really sense Diego’s ambivalence towards the young king and caring for the little person I spent time copying.

     

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    I would have liked to spend one more day refining the copy, as it is it’s a bit rough, but as an educational study I already feel like I gained a lot.  It’s a 20×16″

    There are few things simultaneously more humbling and educational than doing this sort of thing.  I try to do at least one a year, and every time tell myself I should do them more often.  Click here to read a previous blog post from early this year on doing a Frederick Judd Waugh copy.

    And since we are on the topic of copying paintings, below is an Antonio Mancini copy I did back in 2010 or so- I don’t think I ever posted this one on my blog.  It’s not a top-shelf Mancini, just because of the subject more than anything, but the technique was absolutely outstanding, learned much about paint application doing this one.

     

    Mancini Copy_Leo_Mancini-Hresko

     

     

  • Antique Easel(s)

    Last weekend I bought another antique easel, an F. Weber crank easel.  I now have three of them.  They are not easy to find, so I thought I would do a blog post explaining how I’ve been going about getting them.  Also, I thought it was worth putting a few pictures online for folks to check out (there is very little real information to be found on antique easels online)  Here is a link to a previous blog post on the first of these old easels I found, back in 2012.

     

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    I call them the three graces.  Just kidding, that’s silly, they’re ‘the nice easels’.

     

    For the past few years, I have been buying used easels, antique and not, because I always need extra easels for my classes.  First, a few words on the cheaper new h-frame model easels out right now-

    Click here for a link to the Winsor and Newton ‘Shannon’ model H-Frame easel– This is a fine easel.  It is sturdy enough, lightweight, and folds up smallish- it’s rack and pinion, so clicks into place and stays there.  It doesn’t go up super high, and the mast is tall, so you will need a tall ceiling.

    Click here for a link to the Best Richeson ‘Dulce’ Lyptus easel.  This is another good h-frame- especially good for sight-size and smaller ceiling heights as the tray goes way up, and the central mast can go down independently.    I do have a problem with the ‘best’ model easels though- the central shelf is fastened with a plastic knob that comes loose, and the whole thing comes slamming down like a guillotine.  That really sucks, so I keep a heavy clamp underneath them to keep them a bit more sturdy.

    Blick is now selling a studio h-frame that is inexpensive, and basically identical to the W&N shannon.  While it is identical in size, it is far more rickety, and entirely unstable.  I would save your money and get the shannon if you can.

    My favorite ‘new’ studio easel is the Mabef 06 this is a medium-size easel that can accommodate both huge and small pictures.  Sturdy.  I have three of them.

    An easel should really last a lifetime, so I don’t mind buying them used, even one of the newer models above.   That said, I love finding old easels like the above because they have features you just don’t find today- this antique easel was in very rough shape.  I took it all apart, sanded and oiled all the wood, glued and screwed everything back together, and had to have a friend custom build a bunch of new parts for it in his machine shop.

    Here’s what I know about it: The good folks at Martin/Weber helped me out, and I can say with confidence that this is a very early version of the Number 20 ‘Rembrandt’ Winding Studio Easel produced by F. Weber Co from 1903-1919.  (Number 20 was the only one with drawers).  I am guessing that it is much earlier than my other two as there are some major differences- the casters (wheels) are made of wood, not plastic/rubber.  The tray length is different, and the design of the base and frame of the easel interlocks differently (weakly, but beautifully hinged, instead of bolted).  The pegs on the mast are all wood, with a metal washer, rather than all-metal.  All three of them have to have been produced before 1919, as after that date the company name changed to “F. Weber Co, Inc.” and the nameplates would reflect that.   The other two are either the Number 17 or 18 model Rembrandt easel.

    If anyone has access to the Getty Archives, they have the weber old catalogs, you might be able to find more information:

    http://archives2.getty.edu:8082/xtf/view?docId=ead/950018/950018.xml;chunk.id=scopecontent_1;brand=default

     

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    Look at those drawers.

     

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    Like my other Weber Easels, it has the unique spiral cast-iron peg mounting crank rather than threaded rod that was already popular at the time.

     

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    Beautiful solid base for storing a drawing board or canvas, and ornate hinges

     

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    Embossed ‘F. Weber&Co. Artist & Draughtsman’s Materials, Philadelphia’ nameplate, clearly older than my other two models

     

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    compare the above simple nameplate from one of my newer Weber easels

     

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    The easel has a simple system for doing small canvases up at eye-level

     

    As I said above, the easel was lacking some pretty major pieces- I had my friend and neighbor Todd Cahill of Steamachine Sculpture make them– he had to make 3 new pegs for the crank, thread a new piece of rod for the clamp that holds the canvas down as it had stripped, and invent a new tightening Knob mechanism for the mast support.  Todd does incredibly precise work, functioning steam engine kinetic sculptures and works with old belt-driven metal lathes and all sorts of wonderful machines I can’t pronounce.  Here is a video of Todd showing what he does, and clicking here will bring you to another video, which shows a bit of our studio complex and surroundings.  Todd has been very helpful to me with my odd studio projects (he saved the day on a couple of my sculpture stands I built back in December), but the guy is a fascinating artist.  He just had a show of his drawings and process at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.  Todd’s drawings are beyond impressive, and you should see them in person to appreciate the meticulous linework.

     

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    My number 20 Easel was missing one of these cast-iron knobs- if the early model even had them

     

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    Todd built me this in wood, and i stained it to match. Metal detailing on the other side.

     

    So- the reason I go to all the trouble and expense of restoring these antique easels is because they just function better than new ones tend to.  They have a sturdy crank system, and they are seriously built to last.  They are also beautiful, the last time I did a blog post on them in 2012 I had a string of designers write me trying to buy them.  There is a trend of putting Flat Screen TV’s on antique easels, and though they would have paid me good money, I am a romantic and can’t imagine parting with them.  You can’t help but daydream about who has used it before you.

     

    Here is my advice on easel searching:

    This is the hard part- learn to recognize (often from bad photos) the basic easel designs you are interested in.  Is it an H-Frame?  Does it have casters?  Does it have a crank?  Compare, for instance, an Anco-Bilt antique studio easel to the pictures of mine above.  One hundred percent of the times I have bought an easel online I know more about the easel than the person selling it.  There are little elements of the design that give away what it is, and photos online are almost always terrible.

    Patience.  There are not a ton of them out there.

    I have a search set on craigslist to ‘easel’.  Any other keyword is too specific.  You will need to wade through tons of ikea kid’s easels, plastic easels, and presentation easels.  That said, it’s the way I have ended up buying nearly every used easel in this room.  I use this each particularly if I am traveling to another area and I will have room in the car.

    Freecycle.org works pretty well in Boston, check it in your area.

    The antique shops will have easels.  Sometimes overpriced, sometimes not.

    I search on Ebay for ‘antique easel’ or ‘vintage easel’.  This has turned up some nice ones.  Try to find one nearby though, that can be hard.

    If you end up shipping one, use a trucking freight company.  It will save you literally hundreds of dollars.

    Also, I have gotten good at inspecting the easels when I go to buy them- I ask myself,  ‘how much work will it be to get this thing working?’  Will it just need some glue and a couple of screws, or something more?

    When you get the easel, decide if it needs to be taken apart and repaired (it usually does, whether new or old).

     

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    See the tiny nails coming out of the tray and clamp?  That allows you to paint all the way to the edge.  I love those.

     

    If anyone finds anything out there, leave a photo in the comments.  And designers, just buy one of the Restoration Hardware reproduced crank easels, and hire an artist to use it for  a few weeks 😉  Leave the antique easels to people that will use them.

  • Recent Drawings

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    charcoal pencil and white chalk

    Here’s the third installment of my far too infrequent blog postings of my recent work, drawings.  I’ve been good at putting images on my Facebook and Instagram but should probably be updating my site more often.  I’m considering rebuilding/restructuring my site again, as so much of what I post on here has been about guest teachers demos, and random thoughts.  Maybe I need two blogs-but I don’t even update this one often.

     

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    charcoal pencil

     

    These are just sketches, all but one done between critiques while I am teaching in the studio on Tuesday evenings.  I don’t paint the figure or portrait very often these days and sketching is an easy way for me to keep my eye analytical.   I love drawing the figure, it’s what initially pulled me away from doing graffiti as a teenager.  Plus, the human form translates so well to all of the other issues in painting- whether portraits, landscapes or still lifes, it seems to inform everything and keep me interested in my other work.

    None of these are really ‘finished drawings’ and most serve just as a record of the 2-4 hour classes that I did them during.  I switch mediums a lot while I’m doing them to keep challenging myself- I have a toddler who still doesn’t sleep through the night often, so if I work with charcoal pencil or metal point, which doesn’t really lend to erasing, it keeps me focused (or incredibly frustrated) at the end of a long day.  Some of these are done sight-size, some not.

     

     

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    silverpoint

     

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    graphite

     

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    charcoal and white chalk

     

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    silverpoint and white chalk

     

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    silverpoint and white chalk

     

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    charcoal

     

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    graphite

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    graphite

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    graphite and charcoal pencil

     

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    silverpoint and charcoal pencil

     

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    charcoal and charcoal pencil

     

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    charcoal and white chalk

     

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    charcoal pencil, silverpoint and white chalk

     

     

     

  • More on Copying Paintings

    As an artist you should never really stop studying and learning.  Doing master copy was among the first things I attempted when I was learning- and I’ve continued to do them, every few years or so.  Copying a picture gives you an entirely different perspective, a view into the process that you just can’t get otherwise.  It continues to be a tool I use in the development of pictorial concepts, looking for new color and technical ideas.

    One thing I would mention is the importance of doing master copies in person- copying from a reproduction simply doesn’t cut it.  Particularly in oils, you’ll need to see yours next to the real thing so you can see the technique as well as the image.  Plus, reproductions really aren’t to be trusted when it comes to color.  You don’t necessarily need to finish the thing, or even copy it in the same medium, but spending a period of time analyzing a picture like that is invaluable.

    Over the years some of the things I’ve attempted copying: a Rembrandt (failed miserably, way above my pay grade at the time), an Edmund Tarbell, a silverpoint of Raffaello Sanzio’s around the time I was getting into metalpoint, a portrait of Antonio Mancini’s (that one came out great, hangs in my dining room), an Edgar Payne classic high sierra’s view… and this week, an interesting project.  I spent the past few days with Stapleton Kearns, studying a seascape by Frederick Judd Waugh.  I made a timelapse of the whole process, see video below.

     

     

    This is my first attempt at making a video of any kind, so excuse the excessive jitteriness- but it does convey the frantic nature of trying to copy a picture this size, full of impastos and glazes in just three days.

     

    Since the video is a bit shaky, here are a few snapshots of the copy’s process along the way:

     

    1-first-day-(lunch)

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    3-lunch-second-day

    4-end-second-day

     

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    24×36″

     

    I’d love to put some more time into the copy and really ‘perfect’ it.  Though I have a lot done here, there is much to be gained by continuing to bring something ever closer to the subject.  Maybe I’ll get some time to do that later this year- in the meantime I can study my copy in the studio.

     

    Click here for a link to Realist Art Resource‘s page on copying pictures- a (still under development) trove of information on which institutions allow copying.

    Click here for my previous post on one of my painting students copying at the MFA Boston

  • Thoughts on Process

    As an artist, being an armchair art historian has become sort of a hobby.

    A couple of weeks ago in the studio I had a long conversation with a group of students about how to go about making a finished painting of a fleeting subject.  The easiest way to understand how to go about making such a painting is to study the genesis of a successful picture, if you can track down all the sketches and studies that preceded it.

    When you’re dealing with an uncontrolled lighting situation, you may have as little as 15 minutes to observe an effect, yet we work on our paintings for hours, sometimes weeks, (or in my case, months).  Even on days with perfect conditions, when working outdoors the movement of the sun limits the amount of time you can paint.  Continuing to work for hours outside, you’ll weaken the initial effect that you intended and end up chasing light effects instead of clarifying your initial effect.   Doing sketches for a larger picture allows you to bring those impressions into the studio for long-term projects.  Also, perhaps most importantly, doing initial sketches and studies gives you an opportunity to change the tone and scale, redraw and redesign.

    So, in this post, I will attempt to reverse-engineer the development of an important picture by one of my favorites, Isaak Levitan.  Like many of the Russians, his work really stands out to me, probably partially because we weren’t able to see much of it in the west until after the fall of the Iron Curtain.  I remember in the early 90’s the huge popularity of the Russian Ballet, it was the first wave in the flood of the Russian Arts that moved internationally. Books in English and posts online about Russian painters followed.

    *Excuse the quality of the images in this post, but they are the best I can find online.  They all look a bit off to me

     

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    ‘Deep Waters’ 1892 150×209 cm (~60×83″)

     

    Nice painting, to say the least.  The issue with paintings of this sort is that they are achieved at a near insurmountable height, an altitude of picture making that most landscape painters today would get the bends from.  There are very few people alive today that can make a painting that is anywhere near this good, but there are a lot of people trying.

    This is certainly a studio picture.  It has a very strong sense of design and rhythm, a clear sense of distance from the foreground to the background, and a shimmering, golden light effect.  This was not done outside- at this size, the careful arranging of shapes, study of differing textures is near impossible to do on location.

    We know from our studies of old Isaak’s career that he was painting in the Tver province in 1891 and visited the Bernovo estate, which ended up being the estate of a Baroness Wolf.  This is well documented.  As we call it in English,  ‘Deep Waters’, the important final picture above was done in 1892- so a number of studies must have preceded it (at the bottom of this post I’ve included an excerpt from an article that speaks a bit to the significance of the title of this work in Russian)

     

     

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    У омута 1891 25 x 33 cm (~10×14″)

     

    Here’s what I believe is Levitan’s initial sketch, his first foray into the subject of the dam’s division of calm and turbulent waters, the yin/yang diagonal meandering line which remains the theme the final studio picture.  This study was done in 1891.

    This is a great sketch, even if the image above is probably a lot  too yellow.  It has the golden light and motif of the final painting, but even Levitan is human, he made what he clearly perceived to be errors in the above sketch.  We know that Levitan also perceived them to be errors, as he changed them for the final picture.

    Starting at the bottom left corner, it is very awkward compositionally to have that plank going straight into the corner.  In fact, the whole foreground is a bit too symmetrical, a central triangular clump of grass.  Also, the floating extra log to the right of the dam is a bit distracting, and is sort of creating an awkward tangent on its bottom side.  On the horizon, the two large backlit trees are too central, it’s making the composition have a lack of balance on the top.

    Compare this color study and the sketch below:

     

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    I had seen this juxtaposition of the sketch and final painting before, but there is still a huge jump in the composition of the final picture and the sketch.  I have been able to track down a couple of drawings which really flesh out the process that Levitan went through.

     

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    У омута 32.5 x 24 cm (~10×14″) pencil on paper at the tretyakov

     

    The above drawing further develops the scene, but still retains some of the compositional issues of the initial sketch.   He has moved our view point a few steps over to the left, to address the issue with the plank, and that’s given him an opportunity to explain some of the dam’s understructure- that design will remain to the final painting.  He has fixed the tangent issue on the log to the right of the dam, but it still feels a bit awkward.  He has moved the central horizon trees over, but it still feels overall a bit too centered, equally divided.  See the below image for another pass at it:

     

    isaak-levitan-by-the-dam-(study) 10.5x16.5 cm

    by-the-dam-(study) 10.5×16.5 cm (~4×6.5″)

     

    Here we have a small study by Levitan that came up at auction in 2004.  As an overall composition, this one ‘feels’ the most like the final picture.  He’s come up with an entirely new rhythmic solution for the horizon trees, introducing two large clumps on the right that add balance, but also a much needed reflection in the water’s right foreground.  He’s finally just gotten rid of that pesky fourth log, allowing him to concentrate on the movement from foreground to background uninterrupted.

    As I hope you can see, all of these considerations played a part in the final picture.  There are a couple other drawings for this I have found online, but I wasn’t 100% sure they were Levitan’s.  There are probably more studies, but this, at least, tells the bullet points in the development of the overall story of the picture

     

     

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    Here’s  a blurry image from flickr which gives you a sense of the color, if not the crispness of the one up top.

     

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    Below is another field study by Levitan I saw back in 2008 at the Royal Academy in London.  At the time, I remember being struck by the simplicity of the painting, and its clear, singular light effect.  It was painted on cardboard, or some cheap canvas, I was really surprised to see that the whole painting was one layer, excluding a redrawing of the horizon line (you can see the pentimento as a bluish haze in the below image).

    I’ve always wondered why the below study didn’t become another large studio picture, maybe Levitan thought it was perfect as is, an outdoor study, who knows.  He certainly knew what he was doing.

     

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    Summer Evening  49x73cm (~24×29″)

     

     

    Let me close this post with an excerpt from an article by Paul Debreczeny in the Pushkin Review: Pushkinian Elements in Isaak Levitan’s “By the Mill-Pond”

     

    “…a new wave of anti-Semitism swept the country, and since he had already had to leave Moscow once to avoid deportation as a Jew, he had every reason to fear renewed persecution. All this caused the mood in his paintings to shift from the lyrical to the dramatic. This shift is clearly reflected in his 1891 picture “By the Mill-Pond” (У омута).”

    “By the Mill-Pond” was begun in the summer of 1891, when Levitan and his companion, Sof’ia Kuvshinnikova, stayed at the village of Zatish’e in Tver’ Province. When they first arrived in Zatish’e, there were some rainy days, which they spent reading aloud from a couple of collections of Chekhov’s stories. The story “Happiness” particularly captivated Levitan, and he praised it highly for its nature descriptions. (2) The weather soon cleared up, however, and they set out to roam the countryside in search of motifs for painting. Levitan’s imagination was captured by the site of an erstwhile mill on a small river, where they stopped for a picnic lunch. Remnants of the mill were still visible, and the weir was blocking the flow of the water, forming a deep pond. The Russian word for such a deep pond, omut, brings to mind the saying V tikhom omute cherti vodiatsia, whose literal meaning is “Demons lurk in a deep pond.” (The closest equivalent in English may be “Still waters run deep,” in the sense that silent conspirators are the most dangerous.) As Levitan started sketching the scene, the Chekhov story he had just read, which recounts peasant superstitions, must have been on his mind, and he reported to Chekhov that “some interesting motifs have emerged.” (3) In another letter to the writer he signed himself as “Levitan VII of the Nibelungs,” hinting that he was dealing with the stuff of legends. (4) He and Kuvshinnikova came back almost every day to the mill-pond, which turned out to be on an estate called Bernovo, belonging to a certain Baroness Vul’f.”

     

     

  • Demonstration at the MFA Boston

    On two Sundays in October I will running a class and artist demonstration at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston- I was asked to coincide my talk and demo with their upcoming superstar show, ‘Class Distinctions in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer”.  Of course, to speak on artists of their caliber, two of my biggest heroes at the museum that I grew up visiting is a huge honor, and I’m very much looking forward to it.  I will have some examples of my work out, a live model from which I will be painting a portrait and a table of materials that would have been used by Dutch 17th-Century painters.  This will be half-talk on materials and process, half demo, and I will be answering questions throughout.  It’s free and open to anyone who comes to the museum on October 11th or October 25th.

     

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    Join Leo Mancini-Hresko for an artist demonstration focusing on techniques of 17th century Dutch portrait painters. Learn how to successfully capture the sensitivity and nuance of the subject. Afterward, visit the exhibition “Class Distinctions: Dutch Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer” Gund Gallery (LG 31) and explore how artists represented the different social strata in the Dutch Republic.

    Leo Mancini-Hresko studied at the Florence Academy of Art and after graduating in 2005 continued on as an instructor and subsequently became the director of the school’s drawing program for sculptors.  Additionally, Mr. Mancini-Hresko  taught regular courses in plein-air landscape painting and artist materials until leaving the school in 2011. He relocated to his native Massachusetts and now paints and teaches from his studio in an old mill building in Waltham, MA using traditional artist materials, often his own hand-ground paints, prepared canvases and oils.

    This is an ongoing program. Come anytime and stay for as long as you’d like.

     

    Click here to be taken to a link on the Rembrandt and Vermeer show

     

  • A Fresh Start

    I’m trying a whole new look and approach to my website and blog….. I had the first in a series of malware infections while I was in Russia last year- after doing everything I could to purge my website a few times, I decided to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.  Unfortunately, in doing so I’ve lost guest comments, some of my posts, and my SEO ranking which was getting quite good.  That said, I’ve never exactly been a diligent blogger with a lot to say, this will give me an opportunity to reorganize my occasional text posts and paintings into something a bit more coherent.

    It will take some time to fix all the links in the old blog posts and reupload images.  In the meantime, the text is still in place.

    Have a look through the site and feel free to leave any comments you might have on this post, or over at the contact page.

  • Nathan Goldstein 1927-2013

    10am22 Nathan Goldstein, 1927 2013

     

     

    From 1999-2000 I studied at the Art Institute of Boston (now part of Lesley University).  I remember at the time there was great fervor for Nathan Goldstein’s classes, as he’d just taken a year sabbatical, he wrote many popular books on drawing, and there was a solo show of his hanging in the school’s gallery.   The gallery was filled with his oils and a vetrine full of his sketchbooks.  Here are a few of those paintings that I could find online.

     

    10am24 Nathan Goldstein, 1927 2013

     

    I took some of my first organized life drawing classes with Nathan while I was at the school.  He sort of seemed like a Jedi Master to the students- he drew deftly and quickly, often drawing his demonstrations from memory.  During a demo, when he asked the students to suggest a position for him to draw the figure, one of the students snarkily suggested “falling from a building” he obliged, and after drawing the skeleton and figure, drew drapery studies on the figure, complete with rippling wind effect.  He had a good sense of humor.

     

    ng paintings 08 Nathan Goldstein, 1927 2013

     

    I only took a couple classes with Nathan, though he was present for many critiques, and to be honest I sort of hounded after him.  As I said, people sought him out, the elder statesman at AiB, for his advice and experience.  ”Use a bigger brush and call me in the morning” was a story he recounted about how he dealt with a frustrated student calling him for advice at night.

     

    ng drawings 07 Nathan Goldstein, 1927 2013

     

    Although our contact was brief, in retrospect, I owe a lot to Nathan.  He was the first teacher to tell me that the bones of any good painting is good drawing, and that learning to draw has very little with pencil and paper.  It’s about learning to see.

     

    ng paintings 01 Nathan Goldstein, 1927 2013

     

     

    There will be a memorial for Nathan at the Danforth Museum in Framingham on September 28th.

     

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