Thursday, February 02, 2017

Whither Winter?

The Scotia Gamelands of central Pennsylvania after our first winter snowfall during the last week of January.

I love winter. This is probably because of my Wisconsin roots. I grew up in rural southern Wisconsin, just north of the lovely capitol city of Madison. In marked contrast to my life in Pennsylvania, the land back home was largely flat. The roads were wide, straight and true. Every intersection was perfectly perpendicular, unlike the narrow, meandering countryside roads that traverse the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania and then meet in all sorts of odd intersections.

With all of this flat open space, when it snowed in Wisconsin it also drifted in the unrelenting winds that howled in all the way from the Dakotas. The plow trucks were equipped with giant blades, and after exceptional snowfalls it wasn't unusual to see the plowed roadside banks rise up to better than half the height of the telephone wires running alongside the roads. Driving down the roads then became a weird exercise in shooting down a narrow tube-like corridor.

I love winter. And with 2016 marking the third straight year of record global warmth and early 2017 marking a continuation of this phenomenon, I'm concerned about the future fate of this season. Here in Pennsylvania, we finally got our first snowfall of a few inches last week. We got a little more this week, but then it was followed by rain (boo, hiss). We've had light, nuisance dustings of snow since late December, but this was the first reasonable amount that I could go out and work with for my painting. I'm sorely disappointed, although I know that snow alone does not signify or refute man-made climate change.

Detail from Scotia: A green fern peeks out from under a fresh snowfall.

Nonetheless, as an artist, I pay attention to the details of the world around me. I see that for the past two months of January (this year and 2016), the robins have already migrated back to my garden. I also see when the plants in my garden get an early start in the unusual warmth, lengthening my growing season but making pest management much more difficult, too.

As an artist, I also like to learn. I like to maintain a curiosity for the events transpiring around me. For this reason, a couple of weeks ago I attended the first of a series of free talks sponsored by the Penn State University Eberly College of Science. The 2017 theme is "The Quest for One Healthy Planet," and the kick-off speaker was renowned climate scientist, Michael Mann.

During his presentation, Dr. Mann illustrated how man-made influence is re-shaping the climate and our world. Did you know that absent man-made carbon contributions, we would actually be in a global cooling trend?

Based on what I've read, including the excellent but altogether horrifying "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert, I believe that man-made climate change is occurring right now, right here. I realize that some of you reading this may take offense or vehemently disagree with this, but based on things I've seen, research done by people a heckuvalot smarter then me, and my own reading, this is my conviction. In my future posts, I'll touch more on this topic. But for right now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a little more winter before we get into another sultry summer. After all, winter makes for beautiful paintings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What's New in the New Year?

Yikes! It's a new year already, and although I don't believe in making resolutions, I do like to use this time of a year as an opportunity to assess where I'm at with my painting and to set up new goals for the year ahead. It's easier for me to slow down and think at this time of year than it is during the summer or fall, when I'm usually up to my eyeballs in exhibiting at outdoor art shows or plein air painting while the weather is advantageous.

In a rather anticlimactic way to kick off the new year, I've been taking the time to clean up my studio space. Sometimes, you have to clear the cognitive clutter in order to focus more effectively on creative work. In addition, the re-organization of my studio space reflects a change in direction for me. This past year, I transitioned from working exclusively in the pastel medium to adding oil painting to my body of artwork. This year, my goal is to work exclusively in oils. New year, new me? Maybe.

Manhattan Mist 36" x 36" oil on canvas.

Why the change? A few reasons. First, pastels are exceptionally dusty to work with. I love the medium, but I hate the mess. And after more than a decade of dealing with it in our home (my studio is above our garage), I decided to pull the plug on it. Second, I participated in my first outdoor art shows with my oil paintings last year and it went well. Those "trial balloon" events gave me some positive feedback that I"m on the right track with my ideas and my approach. Finally, I've been ready for a change for a couple of years now. It's high time to do something different, and the new challenges of this medium have revitalized me. Thanks to some excellent workshops and instruction from other professional artists, I'm excited about the possibilities of this year and more years ahead.

My first new painting of 2017, "Manhattan Mist," is shown here. This is a 36" x 36" oil on canvas based on a smaller study that I completed late last year. This is a view across midtown Manhattan, along West 48th Street. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflections on 2016

My parents were right. Each year goes by a little faster than the last.

2016 proved this point for me. As I look back, I can't believe how fast this year came and went. Overall, it was a good year both personally and professionally.

Before I dig into 2017, I want to reflect on some of my personal favorite paintings from 2016. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to play favorites. But while I like to refer to my paintings as "my children," it's only a figure of speech. So, therefore, I get to play favorites at the end of the year.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the paintings from this past year that really stuck with me (for the right reasons!). Enjoy, and I'll see you in 2017.

Parallel Universe 18 x 18 pastel.

I thought that this piece from the heart of Chicago captured the woman and the brilliant summer light effectively.


Please Continue to Pull Forward 12 x 24 pastel.

I chose this piece because of its unusual subject matter and its optimistic title. What better philosophy for how to proceed through life?


Woodward Avenue, Detroit 6 x 12 pastel.

Luminous light, bright colors, and strong shapes made this piece from Detroit pop.


Skyscape No. 9, Sapphire Spring 8 x 12 pastel.

I have positive vibes about this landscape because I discovered the subject while on a bike ride.


Twilight Highway 8 x 12 pastel.

Sunset in central Wisconsin, my home state.


Follow My Gaze 16 x 30 oil on linen.

A wonderful portrait and portal into another world.


Star Gazers 36 x 36 oil on canvas.

I wanted to begin working in oils because it would allow me to work larger. Here's one of my first larger pieces in oil.