Outer Banks Modern Day Three

Not much new to say tonight since I just posted a few hours ago, but I want to post where I am now.

I put in the bushes, dry-brushed the grasses, and put on another yellow glaze and a roof on the house. I think I might have overdone the bushes, but they’re really there as framing, so I am not going to worry too much about them tonight. Next up will be the windows and siding on the house, then the telephone pole. After that I will lay in the shadows on the house, and look at the sky again before removing the masking fluid and painting the wooden beams. Thanks for reading.



Almost Blue: Outer Banks Modern Day Two


One of the more exciting parts of painting is learning about a subject or a composition through the work. I obviously liked the yellow house image enough to paint it, but as I laid down the preliminary sky, house, and street to set the colors I keyed in on a few points and got a better understand of what interested me.

1. The color of the blue sky. This is going to be a very important part of the painting–so important that I had to buy new paints– W&N cerulean blue and Daniel Smith cobalt blue–to go with my standard Maimeri Blu primary blue cyan (pb 15:3), Prussian blue, and ultramarine. I did a lot of testing in preparation for this part before settling on cerulean and cobalt blue as core colors in a wet in wet application to lay down the first layer last night. It’s grainy an incomplete as shown. Now I need to saturate the sky more, and I think apply some ultramarine at the very top. I want the sky to be compelling and deep with a dramatic fade because it should grab the view and direct it to the house. It’s almost there. Incidentally, as my title suggests, all this focus on blue has gotten me crooning in a mumbly way that great Elvis Costello song “Almost Blue.”

2. The arrows and arcs, color and value contrasts that should lead the viewer to the top left of the house. The yellow set against the purple/blue cloud should be compelling once fully painted. It’s going to be an interesting slanted spectrum from the top right to the middle-bottom left once fully painted.

Also, I love seeing the last holdouts of blue skies set against a coming storm, so I decided to step up the drama by having stormier clouds, painted with cobalt, cerulean, ultramarine, quinacridone magenta, and burnt sienna. I need to refine these more, probably scrubbing and lifting as well as shaping, but will do so after I paint the foliage and ground so I keep the values appropriate.

For tonight, I plan to tackle the foliage and get the yellow of the house set. That should set up the composition pretty well for more decisions on the clouds, sky, and shadows. Then it will be on to the final details. I am feeling good about where this is going. Thanks for reading. I hope to post some more progress late tonight.

Thinking of William Eggleston and Outer Banks Modern: The Start of a New Painting

Most of the houses in the northern part of the Outer Banks have Victorian influences with miles of decking corseting the exterior (granted, they’re pretty boxy corsets), which is why I was amused when I saw this house down the street.


It’s very geometric, but something seemed a bit odd about it. Look at the siding. On the left of the house it is aligned with the angle of the roof, like hatching on a drawing, while on the front it is horizontal. But look at the front of the deck. It’s hatched at the opposite angle of side, which in a drawing would make it stand out from the the rest of the house front. Not sure it’s so successful on the house. It is as if the architect drew the house on canary paper with that hatching just as a matter of course, and the clients liked it so much that they said build it as is, color and all.

In editing the photo I wanted to see how this might look with an overly yellow house against an overly blue sky. It’s not right as shown, but I will fix that in the painting. I like how the clear part of the sky points directly at the house, perhaps inadvertently drawing attention to the funny siding. I will try to paint it with Eggleston’s color saturation in mind, “printing” the photo in watercolor as I want to see it, accounting for all the Hopper-sequence intrusions on the vision by the work itself (and my so-so drawing ability).

Here’s my framing sketch for an 11×14 painting.


My Mistake

I have another Outer Banks painting to post in the next few days, but in the meantime I want to relay this story and finished image now that we are back home.

In my last post I showed a Hopper inspired plein air painting of a vacation home across the way in the Outer Banks. I liked this attempt because it was fun to do, challenging in its forms, and I thought I made some good decisions regarding what to paint on it.

The next morning as I was making coffee I had my paintings out on the dining table, and my 4 year old daughter wandered over there. Then I heard,”Daddy, can I have some paper?”

“Sure, hold on. Let me finish the coffee.”

When I went to give her paper I saw her over my painting with a green crayon. Then I saw the painting. You can guess what had happened.

“Audrey, did you draw on my painting?”


“No, we never draw on other people’s paintings. I will give you your own paper over there. But don’t draw on my paintings. We have to respect other people’s art work.”


I was a little annoyed, and there seemed to be an important lesson here. Then I saw what she drew on it. “DADDY.” Big and green across the top.

“Wait. Audrey, did you sign my painting for me?”

“Yeah,” She smiled as if I should have known that immediately.

I was really touched. She was proud of my painting and signed it just like she signs hers. I gave her a hug and a kiss and explained why I told her not draw on other people’s work, but that once I read what she wrote I thought it was so sweet of her to try to sign mine. I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of it like that or keep it as she signed it. I wish I did now. Instead, to recover the original painting, I sanded off the crayon and extended the sky so it would look better in a matte. I miss the giant green “DADDY,” though. That’s what really made it special. The lesson to learn was mine more than hers.


Oceanfront Plein Air

Here at the Outer Banks I have enjoyed looking at all of these large multi-family vacation homes in a new light. My recent close study of Edward Hopper has given me a different appreciation for these houses. Decking is very important down here, as are unexpected pop-out rooms with large windows. This leads to fascinating arrangements of line, surface, and shadow. I have been taking pictures of some of the more compelling houses, and I will likely use these for some in-depth paintings later.

In the meantime, I am looking do to some smaller works. Yesterday, while being interrupted by my two-year-old daughter feeding me cashews, I did a 30-45 minute plein air study of this house across the way from where we have stayed for the past several years thanks to a good family friend. I tried to apply some of what I learned from Hopper, such as the over-dark shadows. I got a little sloppy with some of the lines, so might have to go back in to clean up later depending on how this looks matted. I used ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, pthalo green, burnt sienna, and permanent yellow deep. The house was largely done in ultramarine and burnt sienna. The actual roof was a pretty dark grey, but I changed it to what you see below to add some more interest. The painting needed this and the bit of green of the plants on the dunes to counteract the coolness of the house. I hope to do another one or two like this while here showcasing the different housing variations.

Thanks for reading.


Sketching to Think About Louis Kahn

In college I didn’t get Louis Kahn. This was contrary to the prevailing understanding. Maybe it was his manifesto “Order Is” which seemed a bit silly in its semi-poetic seriousness or his 1944 essay “Monumentality” in which, among many important points, he proclaims that his generation “accepts the airship as a vital need,” that gave me the wrong impression, or maybe it was the magnitude of praise that didn’t quite click with the justifications provided, or, as I am discovering now, maybe it was just me. I knew the interior of the Exeter library was incredible, and the photos of the Salk Institute were also impressive, albeit apparently cold (the architectural photos never show the view of the ocean or the people who work there), but based on what the slides revealed, these didn’t resonate with me as much as I thought they should have or as much as other works of architecture did. As an aside, why are architectural photos so often uninhabited? These are buildings, not sculptures. Perhaps that’s why Julius Shulman’s iconic image of Case Study House #22 by Pierre Koenig stands out so much: the cocktail party happening suspended in the air.

Fortunately, this week I finally watched “My Architect,” and started to think about Kahn and his buildings differently based on the views of the buildings and interviews with others who worked on them and in them. There were some duds to be sure, such as the Richards Medical Research Lab, which seems blandly imposing on the outside and was, as revealed in the film, uncomfortable for the people working inside, but the Exeter Library, the Esherick House, and the National Assembly building in Dacca warranted further study.

As part of this study, I did a few quick pen and ink sketches based on some pictures I found online. I wanted to spend only a short time sketching, hence the crudeness of the renderings, so I would stick with the core impressions to understand what really jumps out. Then I thought about those points in more detail in the context of the film, photos, and other readings.

I will key in on two examples here:


Using a photo by Ezra Stoller, I looked at the exterior of Esherick House, which revealed a few things I didn’t appreciate on first glance that might be telling. I hope my sketch helps to illustrate these things.


I noticed the use of depth and volume. The house is fantastically open, but in that openness there is a lot of framing, often in ways that crop the view from the outside. It’s almost like looking at a gallery wall, but instead of paintings, there are shadow boxes. This is because of the receding perspective in each frame. These aren’t just lines, they’re planes, which serve to situate the frame in space and vary the depth of the views. It was a nice variation on the tendency at the time to put Mondrian onto building facades, something that can be seen on some of the townhouses in Reston.


Looking at the National Assembly building, I was struck by the play with darkness and light, and heaviness and lightness.

From the outside, the building is hulking and imposing, despite the softening element of the water. This hulking aspect is enhanced by the large geometric cutouts which appear exceedingly dark in the images.


But when you look at the same shapes from inside the building, they are a fantastic source of natural light. The building interior, while still massive, is incredible and inclusive and symbolic–a true realization of what Kahn meant by monumentality. This was apparent in the film, especially when seeing the architect being interviewed starting to cry while discussing what Kahn did for them in Bangladesh. It was that moment, that humanization of the work, that made me connect with Kahn. Between that and my small sketching analysis here, I have a new interest in his works and hope to see a few in person some day.

Thanks for reading.

The Liebster Award: Acceptance and Nominations


Early this week I was excited to be nominated for the Liebster Award by fellow watercolor blogger David Tripp. This was pretty exciting because David is an artist whose work and blog I admire quite a bit. In fact, they really pushed me to give this thing a go. Thanks David for the inspiration and the recognition.

So what is the Liebster Award? This is something I gather that every recipient wonders, because there seems to be nothing official about it, no governing body, no paperwork, and it has morphed over time. In short, it’s a way for bloggers to recognize each other’s work, and as such it is pretty meaningful because it’s by the bloggers for the bloggers. In the iteration I received, each recipient is supposed to answer a few questions and nominate five other recipients to keep the thing going and relate more readers to bloggers.

I am going to break the rule and answer another question from David Tripp’s site, one raised by Wallace Stevens to one of his employees at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.

“Can you give me your idea of what imagination is”?

My answer:

The ability to make the non-sequitur sequitur.

I would like my nominees to answer this question as well.

My nominees in no particular order:

1. G.E. Gallas, whose in-progress graphic novel The Poet and the Flea is pretty amazing. How many people take on William Blake these days without being either the ghost of Allen Ginsberg or Harold Bloom? And of those people, how many come up with such cool stuff? This is a great example of reading through art and engaging in the long conversation.

2. Jake Seliger writes an interesting blog called The Story’s Story. I like it because he’s an academic type with a sharp wit that’s well applied, often to topics that interest me, such as publishing or housing. He writes some pretty good book reviews too.

3. Leslie Metzler has a new blog called New England Restorations that’s chronicling her recent purchase of and ongoing renovations to a homestead in Lakeville, MA. It’s an awesome property and she’s doing great things with it. I hope to paint there soon.

4. Pete Scully is one of the Urban Sketchers, and is based in Davis, CA. I have been following the Urban Sketchers for a while, and someday hope to get prolific enough (and find the time to sketch enough) to join up with them, at least in DC. I like Pete’s sketches a lot, and he’s a pretty funny blogger.

5. Dan Sheehan, ex Cobra pilot turned author, is doing a lot of good helping returning soldiers through his writing, speaking, and actions. His new blog is part of that project.

Thanks to the five of you for the interesting work.

Back with more paintings soon.

Learning from Edward Hopper: Marshall’s House


I find in working always the disturbing intrusion of elements not a part of my most interested vision, and the inevitable obliteration and replacement of this vision by the work itself as it proceeds.
-Edward Hopper

I like this quote by Hopper. It’s liberating. If even Hopper couldn’t achieve his vision, then the rest of us are in good company. We are free to paint as best we can and let what happens happen. It’s still right to have a vision, understanding that failure to reach that vision isn’t failure at all but the ultimate beauty of work, of art, of life (Simenon would have cut most of that sentence). If Sisyphus had a paint brush instead of a boulder, things would have been pretty good for him.

Last night I spent some time learning from Hopper. I wanted to understand better his approach, which seems so nonchalant at times but also so precise, and how he made such compelling images. I’ve heard him criticized as flat, but upon close inspection, he is anything but.

Here are some of the key points:

1. He seems to have no concern for apparent “transparency” or “luminosity” of watercolor. He seems to layer glaze after glaze to the point that it almost looks like an oil painting, like he wants to make “mud.” Interestingly, this seems to be accomplished because of the transparency of the medium–at least that’s what I took advantage of in trying to duplicate his look–though using some more opaque pigments helps. I relied on yellow ochre to produce a thicker look in some places, which is something I don’t usually do.

2. The subtlety of his use of color is impressive. Though both slapdash and controlled (he colors inside the lines, but varies the colors and brushstrokes a fair amount), his application of paint and judgment give a lot of depth. Take the screen on the right. It has blue and green in it. They’re buried, but they’re there. They’re also present in the downspout and the siding on the screened porch facing the viewer. Unexpected but important.

3. The little bit of building on the left is a critical detail. Another painter would probably have left this out, but it goes a long way in situating the house and focusing the view. This makes it more than just a portrait if an old house. Coupled with the pronounced chimney shadow and the mysterious red house in the distance, there’s some hint of an untold story there.

4. The simple lightly abstract sky is an important backdrop. The subtle clouds frame the building in space, and the slight glow accentuates the chimney shadow. I used a little raw sienna in parts, while the rest was a very thin Ultramarine and Prussian Blue. To get the clouds I used a 1/4″ one stroke on its edge with the same paints and a touch of Quinacridone Red.

5. Hopper did some interesting things to the field leading up to the house, things I didn’t duplicate in part out of laziness and in part because I wanted to see what I could do just with a brush. He seems to have sanded and scraped out lights from a series of loosely applied washes and glazes and dry brushed areas. I applied the under washes, then using my 1/4″ one stroke dry brushed on some grasses. I didn’t bother with the sanding and scraping this time, but I do want to study how to do convincing fields at another time.

Here are the results of my efforts.

Thanks for reading.


Some Thoughts on Photography and Painting

On Sunday night I watched a documentary called “An American Journey: Revisiting Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’” that got me thinking about my watercolor pursuit a little bit differently. There’s a brief interview in this with Frank’s printer Sidney Kaplan. He talked about Frank being the architect of the image, and he being the engineer. Frank would tell him he wanted one area lighter, another darker, and Kaplan would have to figure out how to do it. I knew from my own efforts in black and white photography how much can be accomplished in the dark room, but I didn’t really think of these being two different parts because I did both myself. To me, I didn’t know what the image really looked like until I printed it. Hearing this interview made me understand that these can be two distinct acts—the capturing of the image, and the making of the product—with distinct skill and value.

This made me wonder if I could take advantage of this distinction now, but instead of printing the image, I could paint it. In one sense, this is pretty obvious—any time we take a reference photo to make a painting of later we’re doing this—but I’ve noticed that I have a different eye when taking a photo for the sake of it being a photo than in taking a photo as reference for a painting. Take the white house painting I just did for example. I wouldn’t have taken that photo for its own sake. It wasn’t an interesting scene in that sense. It was interesting as a basis for a painting, though. What would happen if I approached the photo not as reference for painting, but with my photographer’s eye?

I wonder why my eye is different between the two mediums. Maybe it’s something about the tactile experience of making a painting being so different from that of making a print that I’m inclined differently.  Or maybe it’s because in painting I haven’t settled on a thesis or a series of questions I want to pursue. I’m just having fun with it (nothing beats plein air painting for this) and learning the medium. Then again, I did have a thesis while learning photography. With painting I’ve so far been deliberately avoiding the thesis element so I wouldn’t box myself in. Now I’m interested in splitting my pursuits into thesis driven works and fun works. In writing fiction this was hard for me—I felt I had to have a purpose, and anything that deviated from that purpose was time wasted. I don’t have that feeling with painting. Somehow it’s far more open. Maybe it’s just a time of life thing and nothing more, but there does seem to be something more pleasant about painting than writing—an open engagement with the world without the burden of expectations for myself, or maybe just that it’s easier to share and discuss a visual work than a written work that is always weighed down by expected meaning. I don’t know.

I spent this evening looking over William Eggleston photos and thinking about David Byrne’s film “True Stories,” which was inspired by Eggleston and was for some reason influential for me. There’s an odd humor in all of this. I wonder if it’s worth looking into that in painting.

No images with this post. I just wanted to start articulating these thoughts to try to make more sense of them. Thanks for reading.

Plein Air Painting With Dad

It has been a few weeks since my last plein air exercise, and this time I had some great company: my dad, who is also a designer and artist. We went out in his garden for an hour in the cool afternoon, and found some nice points of interest where the light came through. I like his garden because there are a fair amount of small views to take advantage of. It’s like a small scale park. I picked a corner of the pergola he built emerging in view between an exbury azalea in front and a mass of trees behind. I have found that I am often attracted to the interplay of man made structures and natural growth, and this was a good small subject to get at that.

Since finishing the large white house painting, I have worked with more confidence. I am not sure that it shows in the final result, but the time to get there and the feeling while painting was very different. It was also nice to get back to a smaller work–this was about 5×7–and not worry much about washes. I used a mix of ultramarine and Prussian blue for the sky, quinacridone red, permanent yellow deep, and burnt umber for the flowers, and variations on all those colors with a little Pthalo green for the foliage. Burnt sienna and ultramarine gave me the warm and cool shadows. This palette was a bit of a hybrid between the White House painting (mostly Prussian blue, quinacridone magenta, permanent yellow deep, and Pthalo green), and what I had previously been using, and I find it’s a pretty comfortable blend. There is more I could do with this to make it stand out some more, but I want to show what I did outside before I clean it up further inside.

I am still working out a visual language for myself and thinking about a more unified series to pursue to help me get stronger with a few things, but I think I am getting closer with these experiments.

Thanks for reading.