I removed a lot of information simplifying the scene trying to isolate only what I found attractive. I didn’t like it. It didn’t work. So I started adding it all back in. I added that tree back and made it even bigger. It felt like the central building was my model and the tree was a soft pillow she was leaning on. Removing it didn’t do anything to make me like this better. I’m still not sure that I like it, but it is answering some questions for me.

Less isn’t always more. Sometimes less is just less. And I still wrestle with the question of inclusion/exclusion — which information to include and which to omit. For example, I’m interested in the abstract shapes in the city, but when I remove too much peripheral information I realize how important it was to supporting those abstract shapes and defining the idea of what I’m showing. I’m not after a purely abstract image.

When I paint a scene plein air I’m forced to exclude less important bits largely because of time. When I have all the time I need, like in the studio, I don’t always have a reason to exclude so much, and it changes the question of why something should be more important than something else. Excluding things to make my studio work look like my spontaneous outdoor sketches starts to feel disingenuous. They are different paintings painted for different reasons under different conditions.

It becomes more apparent when I paint a still life inside from observation and the conditions of the setup don’t change for days but every time I look at it it looks different. Something that I may have felt was unimportant one day may suddenly seem important the next (and vise versa). One session a color may look a certain way but the next session it may appear more blue or more red. The color didn’t change, my feeling about it did. I can look at “white” snow or “white” clouds and the colors never stop changing. It’s fascinating for me to observe white subjects because of that.


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I painted all the windows in the buildings while I was standing there, but when I got home I didn’t like them so I painted them out. I like it better reduced to simple shapes and wonder how much more I should remove. I’m not too crazy about that tree…

acrylic, 8×10″ 


The windows typically add the razzle-dazzle to my buildings. I think of them as the eyes of a building. By removing them I’m seeing how little information I need to have the shapes still read as buildings. This is important to me because this particular scene didn’t offer much interest by way of any windows or other details. I was more interested in the abstract shapes of the buildings so I want to distill the image down to those “bones”. The scale and space were also interesting with the larger newer buildings looming over the old ones. I cleaned up my edges to focus more on the shapes so this one isn’t as blurry as some of my others.

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Too Nice

It was too nice to work inside today so I dashed out after lunch and had to race home to meet the school bus.

acrylic, 10×11″ 


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This is on QoR Cold Press Grounds applied to a panel. Lots of texture!

watercolor, 6×8″ 


And a faster one later this afternoon in my sketchbook.


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Chickies Rock

I hate painting at this location because I can never get a composition that fully conveys the big snaking S-curve in the river here. It’s a wonderful view when you’re standing there. I just can’t compose it properly. Someday maybe I’ll wisen up and bring two panels to make the wide scene into a diptych instead of squeezing it into one panel. This is also my least favorite time of year to paint landscapes. Luckily the flowers are starting to come out and they’ll offer themselves as a subject soon enough.

My wife thinks my paintings lately have been a bit gloomy. I love the sootiness and subtly of black, but today I removed it from my palette to try and liven things up a little bit. I also slowed down and tightened up. I’m never happy with my paintings when I do that but today I just felt like it.


The red arrow indicates my favorite painting spot as it looked this morning. It’s under about 8′ of water. I hope I see it again before July!


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Windy Alley

It was a little windy this morning and I thought maybe the wind wouldn’t be so bad if I could find an alley in the city. This one was pretty quick. After spending 3+ hours working from a model yesterday it felt awkward to try and paint fast.

acrylic, 8×10″


After seeing the painting on my computer screen I darkened those two square windows near the center. I like it better now.

And this afternoon I painted in my driveway while the kids played. I thought of that old Ethel Merman song “I Got the Sun in The Morning”. I got no Sierra Nevadas or Grand Tetons… but I got a mulch mountain.


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Another Model

Tried watercolor again for a figure. This is the second one I did today. The first one was more of a sketch to warm up and was garbage. I couldn’t get the background dark enough while I was with our group so I added that deep dark when I got home. I’m not sure that I like it now that I did it.

While I was working I noticed that I was using the same four colors I’d use if I was painting a landscape.



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A Moon Over A Moon

Acrylics for this one. Slower. Much slower effort than what I was trying with the oils. I painted over that nocturne I did a few weeks ago. Something about it was bothering me and it felt better to paint over it. I’m just not fond of painting out of my head. I left some of it peeking through around the edges though. I liked the layered appearance of my new sketch over it. Warm over cool.

I think I’m getting a better handle on flesh colors. It seems common to me to see figure painters who struggle with landscapes and landscape painters who struggle with figures. Different subjects offer different challenges, and you get conditioned to what you practice. This is fantastic exercise for me and I think I’m getting a lot out of it.



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Minivan on Mulberry at Midday

It was very beautiful here today so I painted in the city. Painted my minivan again. I think it’s about to become a series.

acrylic, 10×20″ 

04.02.15-mulberry 04.02.15-mulberry2

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It was too nice today to paint inside. I made it as far as my driveway. This was pretty quick. I had been drawing inside all morning and felt an urge to get out and do a watercolor sketch. This is continuing my effort to start including cars into my plein air cityscapes. I could easily get lost in painting all the reflections though and forget about the buildings.

This paper is really pretty awful for watercolors, but I feel very carefree with it. When I paint on an expensive piece of Arches I’m very nervous about messing up.


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