Goals for a New Watercolor Project of California Route 1. Also, the First Painting–Elephant Seals of San Simeon

In The Art of Fiction John Gardner advocates above all else that a writer must not break the vivid continuous dream of a work of fiction (he exempts meta fiction from this rule). I always liked this idea. So much of writing is about editing, and this idea gives a great rule to follow when reading and revising. Anything that breaks the dream must be removed or fixed. It’s an instinct-based approach that can be honed by practice both in writing and in editing. A good “natural” writer will produce that vivid continuous dream more fluidly, so less re-shaping may be required. Dreams can take many forms and styles, and exist in or across many genres. The writer of the dream need only stick with that dream’s set of norms.

I have been thinking about this idea with my painting. I have done a scattering of subjects, working out techniques and styles. In some I hope that sense of a vivid dream has existed–I think most in my Old San Juan painting–but that dream hasn’t been continuous, and that’s what I want to strive for.

The Brooklyn Museum show of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors brought several dreams into focus.The thematic groupings, coupled with his lively almost magical style, stuck with me, and I have been studying his work closely since. I had a similar experience several years ago when the National Gallery had a Cezanne show. A lot to learn from those two.

So here is my project. I want to create series of paintings in a style that will create and perpetuate that sense of a vivid continuous dream. Like I wrote in my last post, I want to make an album that flows together, that’s both encompassing and varied, but very much unified. The unifying theme of this album will be California’s Route 1.

Two years ago we visited some very close friends in Santa Barbara. The landscape and the feeling of being there were so potent that I dream of living there someday. It was not enough just to visit. We spent a few days going from Santa Barbara to Monterey and back on Route 1, stopping in a few places along the way. I took a lot of photos, which I will filter through memory and paint. I won’t paint them in sequence, but I will approach them in an emerging unified style. On the blog I will post everything, though like with any album, not everything posted here will make the cut. I will arrange the final selection in a proper order, perhaps put them out in a short book if I think they’re good enough.

Below is my first work, shown in sequence as it developed, of elephant seals near San Simeon. The seals gather here to rest and fight–a groan and craning of the neck is about all I saw of it. The fighting is brief because rest seems to be most important to them. The way they arranged themselves while resting was interesting. Generally nestled in with each other but with some outliers. One could be forgiven for mistaking them for rocks.

In painting these I tried to handle the scene roughly, mixing swipes of the brush with some wet-in-wet work to convey an overall materiality. I was generally less precise, focusing on believability and composition over accuracy, though with the main seal in front I put in just enough detail to get it to read as a seal.

Also new in this work, and something I will continue in the rest of the series, is my use of M. Graham white gouache, in some cases mixed with my Maimeri Blu and Sennelier watercolors, to pull out some details and give some more materiality to the works, at least in the focal points. Materiality, roughness, and believability will guide my style through this series. Maybe I need to start thinking through a set of values like Calvino’s Six Memos.

Thanks for reading.






End of year thank you

To wrap up this year’s work on the blog I want to say thank you to everyone who has visited, followed, and commented upon my work and my posts. I’ve learned a lot from all of you and have enjoyed the conversations and the blogs many of you write. Having you as an audience kept me motivated, better than I had anticipated, and kept painting fun.

There aren’t enough true milestones in adulthood after which you can really stop and reflect–no end of semester or graduation–and this is no different. I am already on to something new in watercolor, but, to preserve some sense of completion from this year, I won’t post on that just yet other than to say this: I have always thought that on each album from a musician, there is a clue to what the next album might sound like. Looking back over my paintings from this year, which was really about getting the blog going and starting to take painting seriously, there are a few such clues–the swans from Assawompset, my Uncle the beekeeper–but these were just singles. In fact pretty much all of the paintings from this year were singles until the two Edgartown paintings which were meant as gifts to my parents and brother. I sorted out a lot from each of them, but now it’s time for an album. I am looking forward to sharing from it as it develops.

Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for reading.

Retraction: Chappy Ferry Painting Was Not Complete Last Night, But It Is Now

I kept looking at the photo of this painting, and the water just seemed too dark for the sky. I liked having a good distinction, but I overdid it. Tonight I lifted a little bit of paint from several areas in the water to bring some light from the sky onto it, and give the hint of the sailboat reflection. I think this is a little better, and I am happy with it now. Onto something new soon.

Thanks for reading.


Chappy Ferry Painting Complete

While my great interest as a kid in Edgartown was in being a cop, my brother’s was in driving the Chappy Ferry. They let him take the wheel on our trips back and forth and back and forth. I still remember the shape of the raised knob on the wheel and the change dispensers on the waists of the attendants. My brother had to have one too. This painting will be his Christmas present. If it isn’t done now, it nearly is. I need to let it sit again. I see a few things I wish I had done differently, or tried ahead of time first, but watercolor seems to be as much about process as finished works. I am happy to give a part of that process and the memories that go with it to my brother.

Thanks for reading.

Chappy Ferry: Learning from Ted Kautzky

Every painting is an experiment. I don’t really have my way of doing things yet, so I like to try to approach each painting a little differently. Maybe it was the weather, but today I was thinking of Ted Kautzky’s paintings, which my dad had referred me to earlier in the year. I tried to borrow some of his style with the trees and the town in the distance–it’s bolder than in the sailing painting I just finished, with more color variation because I used more paint and let it mix more on the paper, and I swiped in a fair amount as well. It was loose and fun, and something I want to use more. I think I overdid it a little, though, and need to go back to bring out some highlights. I will save that for next time once the paper is fully dry. More to do on the water and other areas around the painting, but the main challenge will be making the ferry stand out. I am not yet sure how I will handle that.

Thanks for reading.

Sky Over the Chappy Ferry

Last night I looked over my composition and looked through some watercolor books, including a history of British watercolor. I wanted to sort out what to do about the sky. Before doing some research I was thinking of a dramatic stormy sky with sun shining through from the side, but when I looked at other cases next to mine, that no longer seemed appropriate. I opted for a light sky of Prussian Blue and Ultramarine with hints of clouds so as not to distract from the ferry and the town. I will have to redraw the ferry, and I am wondering about a few other areas of this, so for tonight I am leaving it as is.

I did do a few experiments on the side that aren’t worth posting, but they got me going on a few new ideas. More to come on that front as well. For now, here’s a look at the Chappy Ferry painting with the sky in and the base wash for the water.

Thanks for reading.


Laying Out a Chappy Ferry Painting

The view of Edgartown from Chappaquiddick is postcard worthy. I want to capture the scene, featuring the Chappy Ferry that was so important to me as a kid, without letting the postcard feeling take over. That’s my challenge for this one–to instill a sense of drama, however subtle, in the idyllic. Here’s my framing drawing. Maybe the sky will be important in this one.

Thanks for reading.


Afternoon Sail in Edgartown: Completed Work

During the summers of 1985 and 1986 I had a job on Martha’s Vineyard. I was Officer Corey, the littlest cop in Edgartown. The Vineyard Gazette even wrote an article about me. Somehow I befriended one of the traffic cops–I think his name Officer Mark, and another–officer Craig–who drove a squad car around. Every day my parents would take me downtown and I would stand on the corner with Mark. I learned the proper hand signals to direct traffic, and the cars followed my instructions. My grandmother, who was a wonderful songwriter in the days of wonderful songwriting, wrote a song about me. “Officer Corey’s on the job in Edgartown…”

It was as a junior junior cop that I fist recall that sinking feeling of being wrong. I recall someone asking me directions to the general store. I pointed them up Main Street, then, as soon as the man was out of sight, realized the store was down the street. I ran inside the t-shirt store and hid with my parents. Another time I got my traffic signals mixed up, and when I realized I dropped my arms and stood in a shadow. Fortunately Officer Mark was there.

This morning I finished my painting. I dabbed in some darks in the trees, ultramarine shadows on the buildings, and developed the water further. I recently got a Princeton Neptune #12, and used it for the first time today. A nice brush. I loved the quill I had already, but wanted a little more precision while keeping the looseness that these brushes engender. I liked it on the sail, where I tried to learn from John Singer Sargent’s “Melon Boats.” I found it helpful too when painting the sailors. To finish off the painting I scraped out the highlights and lines on the boat. This was a fun painting to do, and a good way to remember Edgartown. I have a few more in mind for this series, and a few more stories to go with them.

Thanks for reading.


Workday Sketch

I ended up working through lunch today, so I gave myself a little time back after my meetings were over for this sketch. It isn’t much, but it felt good to find a few minutes for myself.

Sketching is great training for a lot of other activities–the ability to capture and convey something quickly is universally applicable. It has helped me out a lot. Sketching should be common in every workplace.