Monday, October 10, 2016

What I'm Working On Now

This weekend will be my last outdoor art show for the 2016 season, the Bethesda Row Fine Art Show in Maryland. While I finish final preparations for this event, I'm already looking forward to a mini vacation to tour the Civil War national battlefield of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Maryland with a Park Service certified guide later next week. I'm an American history enthusiast and I love seeing history firsthand, which is one of the biggest benefits to living in Pennsylvania and the East Coast in general. But when I get back to my studio, it's shaping up to be a busy fall season even though my outdoor shows will be finished for this year.

In case you're wondering why you haven't seen many new additions to my portfolio of available works online, it's because I'm currently working on many different custom pieces of artwork for different clients. Some of these pieces are based on ideas close to home, such as a series inspired by the beautiful Penn State campus for a university alum. In addition, the local hospital, Mount Nittany Medical Center, asked me to help them with a landscape painting for their president. I'm also working on my largest painting ever, a cityscape, for a client in Philadelphia.

This particular piece weighs in at 3' x 6', and it's much larger than anything I could do in pastel due to the size limitations of paper and (im)practical issues associated with framing a pastel that large. This was one of the main reasons why I decided to add oil painting to my body of artwork beginning a couple of years ago: I wanted to work larger!

To tackle this painting, I bought some house painting brushes at the hardware store to help with the initial block-in of this large piece. And I'm having a blast working on it! I love working in this larger scale and I'm enjoying the rich colors of oil paint.

Study, Little Italy 8 x 12 oil on panel.

The subject of this 3' x 6' painting is the view along Mulberry Street in Lower Manhattan's Little Italy neighborhood. The idea for this painting originated out of a colorful study that I completed earlier this year, called Study, Little Italy (shown above). It's fun to take the original motif in that piece and stretch the idea larger across a vast canvas with some minor changes to tailor the artwork for my client.

This painting will take me many more weeks to complete. Following below are a few snapshots that show you the initial start. Enjoy!

The first compositional lines, painted in yellow ochre.

Large area block in of the main colors in the subject.

Initial refinements of the yellow cab and details in the heart of the composition.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Plein Air Painting in Vermont

Earlier this month, I traveled to the Green Mountains of Vermont to take a painting workshop with oil painter Mark Boedges and to spend time painting the gorgeous landscape with another artist and dear friend of mine, Lisa Mitchell. A change of scenery plus new painting insights make for a great way to finish out the summer.

Painting workshops with other artists are my form of continuing education. I earned my art degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In general, every class that I took there was excellent. I enjoyed the diversity of offerings at a major public university and I took advantage of as much as I could with classes ranging from botany to political science, economics, computer science, physics, and much more. But the studio training in art left me cold. Each class was a disappointment, epitomizing the negative stereotype of tenured professors too lazy to teach. (I write this as someone who's married to a tenured professor, so you know I mean the criticism sincerely.)

Just how bad was it, you ask? Well, my painting professor in college only showed us how to stretch our canvases. That was it! No training on how to mix colors or how to apply them. His excuse? He didn't want to "inhibit our creativity."

I was able to overcome this deficit of training by finding some excellent mentors in computer animation and in pastel painting, as well as by joining some professional arts organizations when I lived in Maryland. Through these avenues, I met full time artists and began to learn the real stock and trade of being an artist, developing skills that include photographing my work, updating my web site, framing my artwork and, oh yeah, painting! Fast forward a decade or so, and I now travel once every year or two to a painting workshop when offered by other professional artists whose work is of interest to me. I'm at a point in my career where I have enough experience in composition, color mixing, and subject selection that there are no great epiphanies. Yet I pick up a little bit here and there from each individual. Each artist has a focus and emphasis that I can take and incorporate into my own studio and painting practice.

The scenery in Vermont was fantastic, despite a drought that had the Mad River Basin at about 25% of its usual capacity for this time of year. The interesting thing about the drought was that we were able to clamber out into the middle of the waterway, climb on huge boulders, and get some unique vantage points that would have been impossible to access during a year with greater rainfall.

Above, a Postcard from the Easel: Painting along the Mad River during a beautiful summer afternoon. Click the image to enlarge.

Shown here are a couple of "Postcards from the Easel" of my plein air painting during a beautiful and enjoyable week. You may see a few of these on my web site in the Landscapes section within the next few weeks after I polish them up in my studio.

Above, a Postcard from the Easel: A plein air landscape in progress. I set up my easel on a huge boulder to capture this view of a ravine along the Mad River. Click the image to enlarge. You can also check out the finished piece, Mad River Ravine, on my portfolio site.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spring Plein Air Landscapes

Postcard from the Easel: "Black Moshannon No. 44, Printemps" in progress. This is my most recent addition to a series of plein air landscapes based on this park over the past decade.

By and large, it's been a cool, rainy spring here in central Pennsylvania. But when the weather has cleared, it's been really beautiful. Whenever I can, I like to get out of my studio to one of our nearby state parks and spend a day in my "outdoor office." I learn so much more by working on location. I see the effects of light more clearly and the subtleties of color in features like the clouds are much more apparent. Plus, it's a great outing for my dog, Maple, who relishes the opportunity to do something different.

My trusty guard dog, Maple. Every good guard dog needs her own flannel blanket in the woods.


In this post, I'm sharing some photos from a couple of recent outings to Black Moshannon State Park and Reeds Gap State Park. These photos show a couple of oil landscapes in progress. I'm very comfortable working on location with pastel, but I still need more practice with oil painting. I find that mixing colors slows me down a bit relative to just grabbing a pastel stick, so it's a good challenge for me to really focus and maximize the time that I have with each outing.

Of course, I also had to toss in a snapshot of my trusty studio mascot and guard dog, Maple. She really is a vicious guard dog (part Doberman), so she's the perfect companion for me when I go to some remote locations where there's no cell phone service and just bears. It's easier to paint when you know someone's got your back.

The initial sketch, usually done in yellow ochre and maybe some raw umber.


Through these "Postcards from the Easel," you'll see a little of my process on location. I like to rough in an armature of the composition using an earth tone such as yellow ochre. Then I block in the major areas of light and dark before delving into the details.

The "block in," establishing areas of light and dark to eliminate the white of the canvas.


Reeds Gap is especially challenging because it's so-o-o green. But another fringe benefit of slipping out of my studio from time to time is that I gain a greater mastery of how to cope with so much foliage.


More refinements. I try to reserve the highlights of a composition as the final frosting on the cake, but in this instance I added some of the specular highlights on the water to establish them for reference relative to the rest of the subject.


Almost done! I wasn't quite able to finish this piece out in the field, so I'll make the final refinements in my studio and you'll see the finished piece on my web site soon.