Still Life Completed

November 30, 2008
Still Life Study - oil on canvas, 16x20
Still Life Study – oil on canvas, 16×20″


This is finished, it was a good to paint from life. As much as I love urban landscape, I cannot do those live and have to work from my photos. I think I will do a series of about 10 of these–different set ups, some contemporary, some traditional, mainly as practice in capturing form and proportion and experimenting with compositional strategies.

Also, just curious–would you categorize this one as contemporary or traditional and why? I realize it is a little of both, but which way does it lean in your opinion and why?


Continuing with the still life

November 29, 2008
Color map layer - note the flow of color throughout the composition, the yellow ochres, greens and blues echo one another throughout the painting. Just as the ellipses repeat the forms.

Color map layer - note the flow of color throughout the composition, the yellow ochres, greens and blues echo one another throughout the painting. Just as the ellipses repeat the forms.

This layer shows more definition of the objects and colors. Working from life affords the opportunity to see so much more in terms of actual color and nuance than working from photos.

This layer shows more definition of the objects and colors. Working from life affords the opportunity to see so much more in terms of actual color and nuance than working from photos.

  • Palette = burnt sienna, burnt umber, cobalt, yellow ochre, alizarin, emerald green, cadmium yellow, titanium white
  • I added in the emerald green and cadmium yellow for 2 reasons: the green glass bottle and the sunflower petals. The bottle is an aqua color that is lovely and the emerald combined with cobalt captures in beautifully. The cadmium yellow adds the extra yellow punch on the sunflowers. However, since these 2 colors have been introduced to my typicaly limited palette, I have used them throughout the comp–on the pottery and in the shadows. The point of the limited palette is not to be restrictive. The limited palette serves as a base which can be expanded as needed and if needed, this generally works better than jumping in from the start with every color in your box.
  • As noted in the previous post, proportion is key to success with still life. I’ve checked each object to make sure it is relating proportionately to the other objects in the comp.
  • I hope to finish this later today, total time spent on it is about 4 hours: 1/2 hour for the under painting, 1 hour for the color map, 2-1/2 for the more developed layer. I’d guess I have about 2 more hours with this. I only write this because a lot of students ask me how long things take, normally I have no idea, I’ve just been keeping track on these last few that I’ve been done so I can give some sort of answer when I’m asked.



Still Life work-in-progress

November 28, 2008
under painting - burnt sienna + turps, 16x20"

under painting - burnt sienna + turps, 16x20

As a break from the large piece I’ve been working on, I’ve set up a still life in my studio. Still life is an excellent way to practice proportion, I think a lot of times students wonder why I try to encourage them to paint the still lifes I set up in class. It isn’t because I am enamored with pottery, fruit, glassware and other props as subject matter, rather it is one of the best exercises I can think of to get adept at capturing proportion and working out compositional issues. You have to look for things that will make the composition flow: repeating shapes, colors and forms. You have to get those forms just right in terms of proportion so that each object will relate to the others properly. All of this practice will translate in whatever subjects you choose to paint–urban landscapes, figurative work, etc. So before you write off doing a still life now and then as boring, give it a try as a practice exercise. I’m doing this one on a canvas pad–easy to store, I can mount and frame it if I need or want to, or just keep it in a portfolio.

Blizzard, very close to completion

November 26, 2008
NYC - Blizzard of 1888, oil on canvas, 3x6 feet

NYC - Blizzard of 1888, oil on canvas, 3x6 feet

detail - rooftops

detail - rooftops

detail - figures

detail - figures

This is practically done, not sure what else I will do to it but it is feeling just about finished to me. It was quite an experience working this big. I’ve spent about 16 hours on this in total (just on the canvas version, not including the sketches and studies leading up to it). I have to let it sit for awhile again to see if there is any more I want to do, but I am happy with it overall and also happy to have it completed (almost).

For anyone not familiar with this project, it is for a cultural exchange exhibit between the Salmagundi Club of NYC and the Vlissingen Muzeeum of Vlissingen, the Netherlands to celebrate “400 Years of the History of Manhattan” and the 400th anniversary of the Dutch discovery of Manhattan. Twenty five artists were asked to depict an event taking place in NYC in the last 4 centuries, the panels will be hung side by side to create a history panorama. The exhibit will be on display in January at the Salmagundi Club of NYC and at the Vlissingen Muzeeum in the Netherlands as well as other Dutch venues throughout 2009/2010. I have just started a blog where I hope the other artists will post images of their work–it has not gotten off the ground yet due to everyone busy with the Thanksgiving holiday, but hopefully we’ll have it up and running in a week or so. I will post a link on this blog when it is ready so you can see the other artists’ work and get an idea of how the exhibit will look when assembled.

Last of all, here is a progress shot, click here to see it enlarged.

progressive development of the painting

progressive development of the painting

Wall Street – oil work-in-progress

November 25, 2008
under painting - turpenoid & burnt sienna wash, 9x12"

under painting - turpenoid & burnt sienna wash, 9x12

Beginning stage of this small painting of Wall Street. Working primarily from sketch done previously in pastel. Will likely post color map later today, planning to do it as the demo in my morning class.

OK, here it is with the next layer in. Digitally, you can’t see much variation–what I am doing here is establishing the atmospheric feeling of a grey day amongst a lot of grey buildings. The next step will become much more opaque (no under painting showing through) and the grey color variations will be much more apparent. My students asked me if I would work on this one next week in class.  Normally, I never work on “real” pieces in a class because I can’t give my full attention to either the class or the painting. But since this is a very small informal group, I’m making an exception and hopefully I won’t end up boring everyone to death and ruining the painting in the process. 🙂

second layer - turps + limited palette (cobalt, alizarin, yellow ochre, burnt umber, titanium white)

second layer - turps + limited palette (cobalt, alizarin, yellow ochre, burnt umber, titanium white)

Working on Canvas Pads (unstretched canvas)

November 23, 2008
Irises - plein air, 7x10" pil on canvas pad
Irises – plein air, 7×10 – oil on canvas pad
Canvas pads are an excellent surface for working plein air or for doing quick studies in class. I use them all the time for my demos. Many students ask me if it is possible to frame them and if so how to go about it.  Here is what I do:
  • Trim the canvas right to the edge of the painting
  • Using fabric glue, carefully glue the painting to a piece of archival foam board that is the same exact size as the trimmed painting. Use only a small amount of the glue around the edges, burnish with a brayer to ensure the canvas lies flat and holds securely to the foam board.
  • Put a thin coat of varnish on the painting
  • You can then frame the painting as you would any painting that has been done on a canvas board panel or support such as masonite. I’ve done a few with a linen liner and gold frame that have come out just as if they had been painted on a panel.

The brand I like is Fredrix, the surface is primed nicely and has a fine texture to it. I prefer these to the panel boards because the surface feels more “springy”, more like stretched canvas which is what I’m used to working on in the studio for my larger pieces.

Quick Portrait Study in Oil

November 22, 2008
portrait study from historic reference

portrait study from historic reference, 9x12", done in about an hour

This is a small study I did a few months back when I was researching reference material for the 400 Years of NYC History exhibit. I visited the Ellis Island web site in search of inspiration and ideas since I had not yet settled on the Blizzard of 1888 as my topic to depict. I was thinking of possibly doing Ellis Island with a focus on the immigrants.

I came across this photo that was captioned “Czech grandmother”–she looks EXACTLY the way I remember MY grandmother when I was kid, very stern looking with deep set eyes. My dad’s family was from Czechoslovakia and my mother’s were Russian but from Austria-Hungary. I never knew my mother’s parents but my dad’s had a very distinct Eastern European form of dress from the period when they emigrated here (early part of the 20th century). The women all wore head scarves (babushkas), and heavy woolen coats in winter. When I was a kid in the late 60’s/early 70’s, the older folks from my parents’ church all still wore the type of clothing I’ve described.

I decided to do a quick study of the immigrant lady in the photo, it was fun both because she looked like my grandmother and also because I worked from a black and white reference.  I used a limited palette of ivory black, cadmium red, yellow ochre and titanium white (I believe this is often referred to as the Zorn palette). I was surprised by how effective these colors are for portraits. Of course Zorn’s people all had that glow about them but I somehow was amazed most at how well the black worked in making some of the blue/green/greys that I used in the hair and some of the skin tones.