Thursday, December 11, 2008

More on Simplification

"To simplify something accurately, you've got to understand it deeply."  --Thomas Friedman, quoted in The New Yorker (11/10/08)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blue Ridge Artists' Materials

This morning I had a treat: a visit to Blue Ridge Artist's Materials, an artist's oil paint manufacturer here in Asheville. I'd always been curious about paint-making, but I'd never gone farther than mixing up some simple pigments with a palette knife for my own use and information. Blue Ridge is a one-man show. Eric Silver, the paintmaker, is a really nice guy, easy and pleasant to talk with, and knowledgeable and conscientious about his work and his business. It was really kind of thrilling to talk to the paintmaker about what I use and why, what I like, what I don't, how different colors work in my palette. I admitted to being a total paint slut, but mostly about earth colors--so it's not as expensive an addiction as it could be. Eric wants to expand his range of natural pigments--the ochres and umbers and siennas that curl my toes--so I hope he'll keep me in mind as a tester or just as a fan with an opinion. I'm looking forward to a productive two-way relationship with him.

Blue Ridge oils are wonderful.  I got my first order a couple of weeks ago and used many of the colors to finish up the the first two paintings in the current black slip series.  I'm delighted with them.  What a lovely consistency, creamy but not weak or loose.  Really a joy to paint with.  The Flemish white was a bit of a mystery to me--I guess I expected something thicker or heavier, that would require amendments, but it seems like a great mixing white unmediated and that's how I've been using it.  Today Eric let me play with additions to the Flemish white.  Adding his walnut sun oil really does thicken it right up; it's almost magical.   A tiny bit of stearate paste made it creamy; mica powder, as well as thickening it in a dry way, added a nacreous quality.

I generally use a low-chroma palette of mostly earths, and Blue Ridge's natural earths are very good, too.  They have that little bit of grittiness that reminds you where they come from and also seems to give them a specially interesting visual quality, especially when amended with just a bit of medium.  I'm still figuring out where the hue of the natural burnt umber will fit in with my palette; it's lighter color deserves a spot.  The raw sienna is fabulous; it reminds me of Doak's (old) raw sienna and so it's incredibly useful for me.  The raw umber is also perfect for me, very cool and gray.  The hue of the yellow ochre is lovely, not too orange or brown or acidic. 

And then there's the Florentine Lake, what a color.  A vibrant almost alizarin, but a bit more violet.

With an order over $100 Eric sends a free tube of Cobalt Violet Deep.  CV is such a weak tinting but expensive pigment that you feel you don't get enough bang for your buck... but it is a beautiful color and useful in many ways if you're not stingy about using it.  For shadows, to lower the chroma of a yellow, as a spot of violet just for the loveliness of violet.  

Green Hill Winter Show

For the past few days I've been visiting family in Asheville, after delivering paintings last weekend to Greensboro for the Green Hill Winter Show, which opens on December 6. The four on the left are the ones. The little one on the right, along with at least one other small one, will be at Carteret Contemporary for Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Influence is often hard for me to trace down, but then other times it parks itself right in the front of my mind and won't leave room for my own thoughts about the picture at hand or even painting in general.   I've recently been sending pictures and links to paintings to a friend who is just starting to look at art (that's what a trip to Paris will do!) and in those conversations I'm rediscovering some of the artists whose work has shaped mine:  Vermeer and the Dutch genre painters most obviously, but also Wilhelm Hammershoi, Thomas Dewing, Fairfield Porter.  (For me, like all painters, it's an enormous list, but the pictures I immediately thought to send were certainly the ones my own work is most indebted to.)

The Eckersberg below obviously affected the two Columns.  For the current series, I finally identified the painting that had been tickling my brain:  Lisa Gloria's Self Portrait as Ghost, which I've seen only online.  The pose is echoed in Black Slip 4, but (aside from the costume) it's the twinning of intimacy and detachment that drew me to the painting and resonated with my own work.  (All of Lisa's work is wonderful, especially The Washer and her drawings and paintings of young girls, her daughters I assume.  Her website is and her blog is called painter on painting.  She's a thoughtful and interesting writer as well.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Black slip series WIP

Black Slip 2, 12"x16" 

Black Slip 1, 16"x18"

Black Slip 4, 20"x20"

Photos from last week.  Many bad starts lately but I seem to have found a little groove to mine here.  Only the top one has any more paint than a simple burnt umber rub-in.  I have a long way to go yet.  

The happiest addition to my studio recently is a dock for my iPod.  WJMC plays all day now, without being so in my head I can't think around it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting ready for the show

The upcoming show at Carteret Contemporary Art will be four painters rather than five: Martha Bringhurst, David Connell, Anthony Ulinski, and me. I am honored to be in their company. The opening reception is on Saturday, August 2, from 6 to 8 PM.

Today I finished what I think is a very good piece. No title yet, it's 14" x 16", oil on linen. Something is lost in the photo, but I can't seem to photoshop it into any better fidelity.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A good arm

I was very happy with this arm today. The whole painting is coming along, but once in a while there is some little thing I know I couldn't really improve. The painting is 14" x 16"; this detail is about 4" x 6". It also occurred to me that part of my inspiration for these two "back" paintings was this lovely Eckersberg.

C.W. Eckersberg, Woman Standing in Front of a Mirror (1841)

Monday, July 7, 2008


Today my order from Vasari Paints arrived, in packaging so beautiful I felt like a princess. And all for earths. But earths are what I use. The Capucine Reds, light and deep, are more beautiful-- and promise to be more useful--than I can describe.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Several of my recent paintings will be included in a group show at Carteret Contemporary Art called "Five Views." It opens on August 2. I'm working hard and waiting anxiously for frames to arrive.

(Edit: I posted at 1 PM and two large boxes appeared on my porch an hour later.)


10/12 Edit:  This is a much better image.

The best image of this painting so far. It's still 16"x18" oil on linen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Studio Tools

I looked down this afternoon and noticed that many of my favorite oil painting tools were lined up on the table. The brush just to the right of the tube of Trans Sepia--a Grumbacher Gainsborough #6 bright--has been a workhorse for me since art school, and it's finally showing its age. I'm getting fond of Escoda Tadami synthetic mongoose brushes (the four gray-handled ones). The brights make a remarkable clean edge or thin line, and the filberts allow calligraphic drawing marks with thin paint as well as being all-round useful. The fattish handles are comfortable and have a nice balance. They are holding up very well so far. The Holbein scraper (top center between the Rublev lead white and the big tube of Michael Harding Cremnitz) gets used every day, sometimes even for a purpose other than clearing out a mistake. That's a rolling pin for chapatis on the right for squeezing tubes and threatening intruders. My pica rule (from a past life) is thin and lightweight for straightening an edge, and its various scales can come in handy to simplify mental arithmetic.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Kitchen WIP

Photo has a lot of glare and in a hurry I did a not-very-good Photoshop fix. Getting beyond its dreadful middle stage. 18x24, I think, oil on linen. I'm so thankful to have the Canada balsam medium again; I can paint without such a struggle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Canada Balsam Medium Recipe

My order from Wood Finishing Enterprises arrived today. Although the focus is, obviously, wood finishes (particularly ingredients for musical instrument varnishes, it seems), it's a terrific resource for some expensive and hard-to-find oil painting materials. They carry Canada balsam at a reasonable price, or at least a price that I can almost justify after I figure how much I use to make a medium and then how much of the medium I use in one of my normally not very big paintings: $27 for 4 oz.

Here's the medium recipe: 1 part Canada balsam, 1-4 parts stand oil, 1-4 parts oil of spike. Stir the stand oil into the balsam (warm it gently if necessary) and then add the spike. I normally make up only a couple of ounces at a time in a small jar, and use it sparingly as a couch or added by drops to the paint nuts on the palette. It has a wonderful aroma, though too much spike will give me a monster headache. This is the one to use for subtly fused edges and a bit of the "jewel-like" effect.

The Series

Part of today's effort. This is very schematic, and I sort of like that. I'm often pleased with the start of a painting, but my level of satisfaction diminishes rapidly as I get into the painting's troubled adolescence. That's why I post rough starts and more-or-less finished pieces, but not too many in-between stages. The middle doesn't seem like a progression so much as a series of mistakes and corrections--not the most efficient of processes, nor something I want to expose to much scrutiny.

I have been pondering "the series." My usual take on a series is a couple of paintings based on photos from the same session, slightly different ways of working out whatever idea I started with, as the two recent "bedroom" pieces. I have made more than one version of a painting (see Boxes I and II on my website) by changing the size and details; and some of my watermedia experiments from the winter used one photo as a jumping-off point. There are a couple of paintings that I had so much enthusiasm for, both image and idea, that I'm thinking of working them up again...because I just don't feel like I'm done with them.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Better photo?

No doubt my time would be better spent actually painting. The color is more accurate in this one, although the darks and lights are not relating quite the way they do in the real thing. Oh, well, enough.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another version begun

Just a sketch, but I like the gesture of the figure a lot. This is 14"x16" on that same coarse linen. I expect I'll develop it further... and probably be sorry.

Woman by the bed, stage 3

I'm getting close to the finish with this one; the face needs a little work and I have to make a decision about the bedspread. It's yet another with opaque paint worked into a glaze layer, and the photographs look terrible. The darks look too dark, and splotchy. It looks a lot better IRL, trust me--the red is gorgeous. I'll try to get a better photo in daylight tomorrow morning; right now there are thunderstorms threatening.

Woman by the bed, stage 2

A progress shot of the one in "Rough" below. There was a green/gray stage that I forgot to get a photo of, before the back wall became red. I apologize for the glare.

Geoff Pitchford contacted me yesterday about featuring my work... and so I became today's artist at Here's what the site says: "’s goal is simple. We feel artists are under-valued, under-exposed, and generally under-appreciated. We want to bring attention to artists that otherwise don’t get the attention they deserve. If we can bring their art to one person that would have otherwise missed the opportunity to see it, we feel like we have made a contribution to the art community." It's a terrific goal and the featured work is generally good and interesting.

My page with, ahem, comments. I'd like to answer them all but I'm afraid I might get irritable--why do so many people see a migraine in this picture? Is it that painful?

Friday, June 13, 2008


Taking a photo of a painting in progress can be enlightening. This is a rough start with a lot of glare, but it's apparent in the photo that the bed is only big enough for a child. It wasn't so obvious while I was working on it. (Duh.) So there will be major changes tomorrow when I will also try to get some color on it. This is 15"x17" (which I call "Vermeer size"), stretched linen. The linen is very coarse, and the secondary ground was haphazardly applied (by me), as you can see in the upper right corner where the umber really soaked into the overly absorbent first coat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Simplicity, Perfection

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” --Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” --Albert Einstein

Gleaned from Mark Bittner's NYTimes cooking blog, but so very applicable to making a good painting. And that from the erstwhile Painter of Stuff. Sometimes the only way to find out what you can and can't take out of a picture is to just go ahead and do it. Once in a while you have to put it back, but so far... not so much.

I'm back in the studio with serious intent but nothing to show yet. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Surfer WIP

This is the third (or possibly the fourth) version of this image. (A small study--7"x14"--is available at Carteret Contemporary Art. Matted and framed, it looks very good.) I may decide to crop this a little and to work on it some more, but it came together pretty well today, after sitting in the studio with just the sky wash for a couple of weeks. By now I've drawn this figure so many times, you'd think I'd be getting it right, but he looks heavy to me. Information to take to the next version, or maybe back to the previous one. Watercolor on a whole sheet of Fabriano CP. The photo is a bit dark on the right side; after thunderstorms this morning we had a beautiful day, but it darkened again before I took the picture.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Standing figure, watercolor

I haven't spent enough time in the studio in the last couple of weeks and it shows. Watercolor, Fabriano rough, half sheet (15"x 23"?).

For Barbara

A couple of the drawings for Boy on Bed. They're not very good drawings but they worked for reference. (The face and arm/shoulder are hinky. The model was a swimmer so I blame the shoulder on that.) I also did some color sketches in oil but I can't find those.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Still Life

"It intrigued me to think that sorrow and memory could be contained in matter; that an object could bear the internal life of a person, as if people could not bear to be the keepers of their own souls. I felt a strange pity for the stillness, the steadfastness of objects." --Regina McBride, The Nature of Water and Air

Monday, April 7, 2008


A detail from another recently retrieved image--the rest is very unfinished--from 2004-2005, I think, definitely in the depths of winter (which here is usually unrelieved grayness and gloom). About 14" x 16," from a 20" x 24" canvas. Oil.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Boy on Bed

This painting is from my residency at Vermont Studio Center in July of 2002, an award from the NC Arts Council. More than five years later, I'm still incorporating insights I gained from visiting artists such as Vincent Desiderio and Frances Barth, and from the other residents, especially my friends Betsy Regan, Steven Barker, and Eleanor Kotlarik Wang.

For a long time I felt this painting was unfinished. Unlike my usual process, I worked from a series of drawings from life rather than photos, and intended to finish on site with the model, but time ran out on me. As I look at it now, however, I like the sketchiness of the paint, the unadorned abstraction of the composition, the bold color, the simple palette. The Nap is in many ways a direct descendent of this painting and shows me a direction to pursue: more beds. :)

Oil on canvas, gritty acrylic gesso ground (wore a good old brush down to nothing), 18" x 30."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Women, Part 3

Acrylic added. Time to start a new one.

Two Women, Part 2

Watercolor and graphite. Maybe I should have stopped at this point... but I didn't.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I found (in a box marked "Pencils," strangely enough) these Derwent Sketching pencils, marked "dark wash" and "med wash," which melt--but not completely--into washes with water. Kind of interesting effect. This is about 6"x 7," on CP paper. The photo charmed me because her mask is crooked and her neck is dirty--I think I caught the mask, anyway.

Two Women WIP

Graphite, wash, watercolor on 300 lb Fabriano CP. About 20.5" x 28". Lots more to do.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Latest Figure

Nothing like standing in front of the easel to make you humble again. Wc/acrylic on 300-lb CP paper. The image is about 20"x28"--a full sheet, anyway.

These nudes are based on "French postcards"--erotic photographs from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. I started with them simply because I love the figure and they were reference to experiment with, but as I study these pictures I become more entranced with the young women they portray. In so many, the poses are "sexy," but the faces are bored or sad, and their hands look work-worn or grubby even though they're ornamented with long nails and jewelry. If I develop this series into more than opportunity to play with new and unfamiliar paint, I will concentrate even more on the faces and hands, trying to find the individuals, the girls locked in these old dirty pictures.


Nap was selected for the First Prize in Paintings at the NC Artists Exhibition. I'm so proud and pleased I could pop.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


My website is now up: Whew.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

North Carolina Artists Exhibition

The Nap one (click here to see it) was accepted into the North Carolina Artists Exhibition, sponsored by the Raleigh Fine Arts Society. The juror is Larry Wheeler, director of the NC Museum of Art. One of 60 selections from almost 600 entries. I'm pleased. The show will be up at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, in Raleigh, from March 2nd through April 6th.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Figure with Shawl, "stage 2"

This is more like "stage 1a"--I went in with some acrylic but lost daylight before getting paint everywhere I had planned. A detail, maybe slightly distorted from the angle on the easel.

Figure with Shawl, details of stage 1

Figure with Shawl

Or maybe a tattoo. This is the first place I stopped to photograph: watercolor--ultramarine turquoise, quinacridone magenta, and quinacridone burnt orange--and graphite, 22" x 30" on 300 lb. Arches HP. The turquoise and magenta make a lovely subdued blue, not that it's visible anywhere on this painting.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mexican Plate

Better image posted below.

Last one, for now

More watercolor, overworked the hand dreadfully and still never got the drawing right. Tomorrow I start a new image; this girl is starting to sneer at me. I will probably come back to her; the experiments were useful but I didn't quite capture expression/emotion/drawing as I'd like to.

Here she is again, first two days

For once I took photos in progress--because I keep losing the good in early stages as well as covering the bad. I began with very loose, pale washes to give me an idea where the figure was, then established it with soft pencil and wet those marks to get sort of a shadow wash. The next morning I went in with more color. This sheet of paper was prepared with absorbent ground, which (contradictorily) made it less absorbent, made the color very easy to lift, but really grabbed the graphite. Another lesson.

Friday, January 18, 2008


WC/Acrylic on paper, 22" x 30"

This is the third (current) experiment on paper, the same French lady (probably from a postcard c. 1855). There was a watercolor beginning that got away from me so I covered almost all of it with thin acrylic. I also went in with soft graphite, to add some drawing marks, a technique I'll use earlier in the next one while the paper has some tooth. Whenever I feel too uncomfortable I slide back into familiar ways of painting--at least this time I used bigger brushes. More of Golden's fluid acrylics are on the way--after experimenting a bit with assorted hand-me-down paint, I decided the "fluid"s will work best on paper for me, liquid enough to easily thin to wc consistency with water or airbrush medium, but with enough body to remain opaque without hiding the texture of the paper. Which was 300 lb Fabriano, btw.

There's some glare in the upper left: shiny medium, which I need to avoid or learn to minimize.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


In a continuing quest to improve my skills and make my brain more flexible, I'm trying some water media. Watercolor and acrylic on paper, 22"x 30", more or less.

Finally. Good Photos.

One might imagine these are the only two paintings I've ever made.