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  • Old, Dirty, Worn Out and Misshapen (Brushes)

    This blog post’s title is not self-referential, it’s about brushes.  I am getting older, but more than dirty, worn out, or misshapen, I am cheap and very particular about my materials.  I know other painters that use their new brushes only a few times before retiring them, preferring the clear square/round shape, and everyone from time to time wishes they could just throw their brushes out rather than cleaning them.

    So here’s a simple studio trick I have been using for the past couple of years to squeeze a little life out of an old brush, I was showing my group of students this morning and thought I should share them here as well.




    Personally, I like my brushstrokes to have an irregular shape; I don’t like the same touch to repeat itself everywhere in my painting.  Typically, these days I paint with mostly flats, filberts and a few rounds, and once in a blue moon a rigger or egbert.  Mostly hog bristles with an occasional kolinsky sable or mongoose hair brush.  I don’t much like synthetics and use them rarely.

    Although I keep my brushes for a long time and don’t mind as they wear down, they have to keep a distinct calligraphic shape.  the brush you see above and below was one I typically would retire- throw in with all the other old brushes for scrubbing in the background or mixing colors.  You can see the belly of the brush has become swollen, and errant hairs have started to take over, and paint in the ferrule has fossilized the bottom of the hairs.




    I grab a sharp knife, and basically sharpen the brush as you would a wooden pencil with a knife- slowing cutting from the front and back before sharpening the sides.  I only cut forward, away from my hand, and work slowly to not cut off more than necessary.






    Just like sharpening a pencil with a knife, it takes a bit of practice, but I really like the end result, it definitely brings some clarity back to the shape of the brush.  Believe it or not, I had the gall to show this trick to Symi from Rosemary Brushes last time she was here in the studio.  I’m sure she found it slightly offensive, but did remark its a much better way of rejuvenating a brush than cutting the tips down to attempt to make a ‘flat’ out of an old brush.




    Also, starting today Keith Linwood-Stover is featuring my work on his website, The Cyber Art Show.  First gallery of 12 pictures went up today, other 12 will be featured tomorrow.  The way it works is he picks all the paintings he likes and puts them up with an artists’ bio, straightforward.  Though I only just discovered his website he’s featured tons of artists and many impressive painters in his archives.  Check it out.


    Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 13.19.44




  • Snow Painting at Drumlin Farm

    I really look forward to painting the snow each year.




    Last weekend I ran my yearly snow painting course at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln- I almost always run it during the last week of January, a period during which New England typically has plenty of snow.  This year, the weather has been weird to say the least- yesterday was over 60 degrees, and currently there is up to 8 inches of snow coming down outside the studio window.   We have not had much snow yet to speak of this year, this is only the second small storm, so I am working on still life in the studio and taking my snow paintings very slow- trying to really make them count.

    I have been thinking a lot on process and am preparing another blog post on this topic: that when approaching nature, the obvious truth is that representing something exactly as it is in front of you, however ‘correct’ it may be, will at times make a boring painting.  You may find a view outside that composes perfectly from time to time but that’s the exception, not the rule: the truth is that typically some editing needs to happen to arrive at a strong design that pleases the eye.  Lately, I’ve started to edit more and more, to figure out what each individual picture needs to create a satisfying image, not just chase the tactile minutiae of the scene.


    Here’s a few shots from this weekend’s demo, with broad strokes of what we discussed- I painted much slower than usual, spending a lot of time working in monochrome, moving the drawing around and talking about why I made each choice:



    initial composition


    I approached this weekend’s class from a more advanced level- each of the students in my winter painting class had also done Stape’s marathon painting class back in November, and one of them had previously attended my landscape classes.   So, rather than talking about the basics I wanted to spend a lot of time discussing composition- since we didn’t have tons of snow to speak about the opalescent color shifts within it, I instead tried to paint simplified examples of both what would and would not work into my painting.  In the above image I am laying out the painting in a very simplified design, outlaying the big rhythms and proportions- notice on the left centre canvas I have started to place the very large horizontal barn that in nature competed with the barn in the center- potentially destroying my focal point, through the competing nature of its scale.



    Tree Line


    You can see in the above and below image I have scaled down the barn on the center left, sent it from foreground to middle ground/background, and reduced the pine tree line which meets the sky.  Both of these were moved to give proportional interest to the central barn- and especially the central tower.  Additionally, I painted examples of the road in incorrect perspective (so that it looked uphill) and moved the road’s design and fence around until it gave interesting lead in to the picture.


    sky brush


    So- now that we have plenty of fresh snow outside (it’s really coming down out there), I should be able to take this painting out again and finish it, as my intention is more of a winter view than autumn scene.  Below is the way the painting looked at the end of the workshop- still quite unresolved, with a lot of that cobalt violet underdrawing still coming through, but the scale of the barn and design of the sky are starting to work well.  There is still lots left to do in that foreground, though.  I’ll add it to this post whenever (and if) I finish it.




    *edit April 26th 2016* finally did finish this piece

    Drumlin Farm 22x28%22

    Drumlin Farm 22×28″

  • 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:










    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

  • Robert Bodem Sculpture Class

    Last week I had the pleasure of having Robert Bodem, Director of The Florence Academy of Art’s sculpture program, come teach a week long portrait sculpting workshop out of my studio.  The class was a whirlwind, five short days in which my painting studio was transformed entirely into a sculpture studio.




    I knew long before scheduling this class that it would be full, successful and dynamic- it’s just plain hard to find really solid information on figurative sculpture.  I’d wager that these days, you can find some version of atelier-styled traditional painting/drawing education in nearly every major city- the same is just not true for sculpture.  There are very few institutions, professionals and studios that teach figurative sculpture today at the level that Rob does.

    Besides the fact that the program Robert Bodem’s developed has a particularly good reputation, I know his teaching style- I taught with him in Florence and ran his drawing program for years while I as over there; and on top of that, our wives are first cousins.  We personally know each other very well, and I know the program he developed in Florence intimately.





    This class was different than what Rob does at the FAA.  His program typically accepts people for three years, and once a year he hold a 4-week sculpture class- so a five-day, 20-hour portrait sculpture class is a fraction of the time he runs his courses for; this was a sort of ‘overview’.  Having seen the work he does with students in Italy over that period of time, I think this first short course was wildly successful.  Everyone did a great job (whether they had previous experience or this was their first sculpture), and by keeping the class size small everyone got a lot of individual attention.

    The first day, Rob gave a short talk and introduction and quickly started a demonstration illustrating his technique for building a portrait from the profile out, outlining the nine points in space he works from.  He worked on his demo intermittently throughout the week, though spent the bulk of his time working with the students individually on their portraits.




    Above is Rob’s demo halfway through the week 






    A few shots of the students at work


    Robert Bodem





    And below, a few shots of the final sculptures:







    In 2016 Rob will be back to teach at my studio again, and during the next course we run he’d like to focus on sculpting the full figure.  To find out first about that when I announce it, sign up for my mailing list on the classes tab above.  For those interested in Rob’s techniques, he has a manual he sells privately.  To order a copy, drop Bodem an email at [email protected]

    This will be my last post of 2015.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you.

  • Copying at the MFA

    The other day I went to critique one of my painting students, Nadine Geller, at the Museum of Fine Arts as she worked up her copy of Werner van den Valckert’s ‘Portrait of a Man with Ruff” (click here to be taken to a link on the MFA’s website).  She’s been doing a great job and  I thought I would share a few images of her at work here.






    I’m a very big believer in copying pictures as part of the process of painting, in fact periodically I still do copies myself (I’ll be doing a master copy next month).  Copying was once an integral portion of a painter’s course of study, a window into the process of your heroes.

    Logistically, copying is difficult- it takes a lot to figure out permits, one has to develop a bit of a thick skin to the audience you attract (notice Nadine’s headphones to politely block out the passers-by) and in simple terms, copying is humbling.  Spending that much time with a picture, you see it in a different way.  One makes realizations that you can’t by simple observation.

    Incidentally, you can find copies that were made by the masters themselves.  One of my favourite still life painters, Fantin-Latour, cut his teeth in paris as a young man copying every day at the Louvre, and selling his copies- I’ve always thought that the copying informed the varied techniques of layering, impasto and glazing that he would utilize in his later works.



  • Harvey Dunn and his Students at NRM

    This weekend I saw a show at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA that really knocked my socks off.  It was a pleasant surprise- I had never been to the NRM, and I know but a little about the ‘Golden Age’ of American Illustration.  I do like NC Wyeth’s pictures and have seen more than a few in the flesh, and have seen many reproductions of Howard Pyle’s work; but I’ve never really gone deep into the stuff: to be honest, strict ‘narrative’ pictures are not my cup of tea.

    Personally, I’ve always been more drawn into the pure aesthetic aspects of painting – what does it look like, how is it painted, how do the colors interrelate. But more than that, frankly I find it hard (in what must be a current ‘golden age’ of visual effects in cinema) to focus on narrative in painting – how can you compete with hollywood?  No one reads ‘story’ magazines that would necessitate illustrations, and the public has the attention span of gnat; images fly by them on Facebook and Instagram, consuming more visual information in an hour or two than people 40 years ago would have in a year.

    In spite of all that, painting is still here- the public again appreciates things that are hand-made, unique, artisanal, and artistic (insert any number of other hip buzzwords here).  I believe paintings that are ‘painterly’ have an important significance today- to celebrate with abandon the materials with which something is crafted: to make it clear that the image is not a photograph,  is in fact a painting, and is not even trying to play the ‘I can render as well as a photograph’ game.  People at times lose sight of the fact that we can keep painting as truth, without attempting to make it relate to the aesthetics of the advent of photography, or the high academic 19th century art that came in its wake.


    Because of all these thoughts swirling around in my head these days, I was so happy to find myself surrounded by Harvey Dunn’s work this weekend.  Yes, his work is ‘illustrative’ (a term used often in the pejorative by fine artists), but it is also flat-out brilliantly painted, and much of it bizarre experimentations.  I found his work unique, and thought I would share closeups of his work here.



    An introductory short film on Harvey Dunn by artist James Gurney, compiled from archive footage shot by Frank J. Reilly, a legendary artist and teacher in his own right.


    Here are a bunch of close-up details from the show in Stockbridge – all images are cropped, so while these won’t give the best idea of his compositions, you can definitely get a sense of Dunn’s breadth of technique.  I found his variety of styles, different applications, thicknesses of paint, unabashed bravura and utter fearlessness stunning.





































    And here are details from a few of my favorite works by one of Dunn’s highest regarded students, Dean Cornwell.












    There is much more to see in the show than this, and the museum itself is pretty amazing- though Rockwell’s studio is not open for visits until spring.

    Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students runs until March 6, 2016

    Here is an amazon link to the best catalogue on Harvey Dunn- I picked it up this weekend, tons of good writing, very much worth it.

    And this is a link to Amazon’s only book on Dean Cornwell, ‘The Dean of American Illustrators’


    Click here to be taken to the exhibition’s page on the museum website

  • Stapleton Kearns Class, November 2015



    Last weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for Stapleton Kearns, who over the course of the past 40ish years has made his name very well known and respected in the American painting community.  Personally, I was excited to have someone with his experience come teach, Stape has a unique perspective…. after all, he was working outside in all seasons long before the current ‘plein air’ movement made it popular, back when it was just called ‘painting outside’.

    Still, it seems most people know Stapleton these days for his work online; he regularly churned out posts on his blog for about three years, rarely even missing a single day of posting.  He wrote about art and landscape painting from every angle, some angles twice.  I’ve often called his blog the best (and free!) online resource on landscape painting, because in my opinion it is.  During the class, we were happy to be able to announce to the students that finally, Stapleton will be releasing a book- curated from both from his blog’s content and new writings, edited into a much more digestible package (the publishers have scraped his blog for content, it runs over 1300 pages, and it’s all there to read online, apparently longer than War and Peace).  If you are interested in updates on the book project you can sign up for the mailing list by clicking here, following this link.  The book is only in very early stages of development, so late 2016/early 2017 I would imagine.  

    In spite of the first day’s brisk weather, the pace was set by the seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm for painting and art history that Stape brings, his class ran 12 hours on the first day, 10 hours on the second day, and 7 hours the third.  It really was a bit of a whirlwind of a weekend.

    Each morning Stapleton worked on a demo- he started a painting on each Saturday and Sunday morning, and on the third day did a demo that was particularly interesting- rather than working from nature, he worked on the painting as if it was in the studio, turning it into a ‘studio landscape’.  This seems to be one of the most common questions students ask during landscape courses- what do you do to the paintings in between working outside and having them framed, hanging in the gallery?



    Tonal Portrait

    Adding Color 3

    Here’s a shot of Stape’s demo-  in action on the first morning

    Saturday’s demo at the end of the first session 


    So the demos in Stape’s class are a bit different than what you might expect- he goes to great efforts to make his painting non-literal, but interpretive, leaving out or adding in great swathes of the landscape.  He stressed that observation is but a means to an end- as he says, “You cannot observe design into a picture“.  This raises an interesting point- while many today (myself included) teach outdoor painting based on the optics of light outdoors, teaching the basics of atmospheric perspective as they affect color, Stape prefers to speak on the aesthetics of color and choices that he as an artist would make along the way.

    In spite of raising this clearly advanced concept, he repeatedly reminded the students that the first step is for them to learn to copy exactly what they see in front of themselves, either through studying cast drawing and painting, or faithfully representing the landscape in front of them.  That attitude of tackling both the most complicated aspects of aesthetics and design, while being true to the struggles of learning to draw from life allowed us to really talk about art more than just painting throughout the weekend.


    The evenings we met to go over hundreds of images of paintings- and eat pizza


    There were two nights of evening lectures in my studio- the first night, Stape went through a brief history of modern landscape painting, from barbizon to hudson river school, to American impressionism.  Afterwards, a tour many of his own paintings, showing us briefly the sort of work he does in the studio from his outdoor paintings- and for those who stuck around, a brief talk on design as it applies to landscape painting using as example Aldro Hibbard – if you are interested, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Hibbard’

    On the second night, the lecture was reserved for another of his heroes, Edward Seago.  Along with talking about his pictures, Stape gave an impassioned summarization of Seago’s career and personal life that I was unfamiliar with.  Again, here is a link to Stape’s blog with all posts tagged ‘Seago’


    IMG_4924 (1)

    Nadine and Vaijayanti hard at work, totally surrounded


    Taking Questions


    Here’s Stape on the last day finishing his demo from imagination and memory





    Bonus shot of the piglets and chickens, only because they were awfully cute.


    Reading List:

    Here is a link to Amazon with all books tagged ‘Edward Seago’ (I just picked up the new one)

    This is a link with all books tagged ‘Aldro Hibbard’

    All books tagged on Amazon with ‘Willard Metcalf’

    And as Stape said, ‘if there was only one book on landscape painting’ John Carlson’s guide to Landscape Painting would be it.

  • Ben Fenske Demo, Halloween 2015



    This past Saturday I hosted a painting demonstration by Ben Fenske in the studio.  We hired a model, and Ben talked through how he approaches a figure painting as he worked for ~2.5 hours.  Like our last demo in the studio, we had a large group, 30something people in all.

    One of the aspects of hosting these demos that I really enjoy is that it starts to feel like we are building a bit of community-I like the idea of getting a group of people together to discuss art.  Although I am teaching plenty these days, I am actually not trying to start a school.  The artists that I invite here are all people that I respect, who i wouldn’t mind sharing a studio with for a few days.





    Ben will be teaching another course through my studio in mid-March, which will be announced on my website and mailing list next week.  If you’re interested, inbox me: it’s already half-full.


    Below is a shot of Ben’s painting and palette at the end of the session:










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