I have a Moleskine sketchbook that I haven’t used much, but I’ve liked Wil Freeborn’s watercolors in his, so I thought I’d give mine a try again with this preliminary sketch for another painting for my California series. I am going to make a concerted effort to sketch Tysons this year, and the peculiar characteristics of the Moleskine Sketchbook paper could prove useful. Two for one here, working out a composition and getting practice with this paper and my compact kit for watercolor sketching.

Thanks for reading.

Utility Pole, Route 1

20140125-181021.jpgI was kicking around a few different ways of dealing with this scene. My reference photo was expansive and somewhat standard, as taking photos from the passenger seat of a car would tend to be, but there were interesting possibilities when cropped. This was a crop ignoring the expansiveness of the view and focusing on this utility pole. I tried some colored pencil scraped on in the foreground over some different diluted dabs of color to get the grassy texture. It seems to have worked out ok. More to play with I think, but I got a few good things out of this.

Lunch time sketch of office buildings


I have a nice view from my office building in Tysons Corner: more office buildings. I’ve sketched the view out the window a few times, but here’s another try from today during my lunch break. The light was kid of interesting, and I embellished it a little. I was also interested in the tall trees obstructing the view. I made them a little more pronounced.

I was also excited to try out my new Isabey red sable pocket round. I plan to do a lot more sketching around work–Tysons is undergoing a big transformation, so once I can go outside again, there should be some good sketching opportunities–and I want to get my compact set up in order (shown above). It was a nice experiment today. Much better using a real brush then the waterbrushes I had been using for this sort of work.

Thanks for reading.

Off the Side of Route 1

Looking forward to plein air season, I wanted to work on a single session 11×14 painting to start getting used to working quickly and not worrying too much. This one took about two hours based on our drive up and down route 1 a couple years ago. We were coming back from Monterey when I saw this. The road was narrow all the way, so pull-offs like this were common, though in this case it was private.

While there I was reading Kerouac’s Big Sur in which he talked about the remains of old Hudson’s crashed on the beach. Certainly made us drive carefully.

On a related note, I recently found the wikipaintings app, which is an incredible library of paintings to study, and you can zoom in very close on them as well to get a good sense of technique. I’d highly recommend it. It’s a nice learning tool to have. I was studying some Hopper closely this evening. I think that came out a little here.

Thanks for reading.


Originality and Influence: Finishing Hearst Castle View #1


Don’t worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick to you and show you up for better or for worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.
– Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

I used to be a big Radiohead fan. I recall when Kid A came out the band talked about how they just wanted to make an album like Aphex Twin, an electronic artist I wasn’t into, and the result was Kid A. Listening to then side by side I guess you can see some influence, but Aphex Twin would never have made Kid A. That was a distinctly Radiohead album. They had a true enough sense of themselves that even if they tried to mimic they never lost the underlying Radiohead-ness. And that Radiohead-ness resonated with the fans to the point that it became part of them as well.

When I was writing, I dealt with the same thing. I just wanted to write a book like Calvino at one time, then it was just wanting to write like Cesare Pavese and Alberto Moravia. Both of my novels, despite being different in subject, style, and influence are I think/hope still very much mine (how good they are is another matter). Thinking of Elvis Costello’s homage to Stax Records–Get Happy–that is still very much an Elvis Costello album, to work “after” someone else is not to mimic but to understand what that artist means to me.

Here I am now just trying to make a Sargent painting. Of course it’s a lot more that that, or at least different, and I have failed at that false goal anyway. I had other things in mind, my own way of seeing, my own developing abilities/limits, everything else that went into this, including my influences. To bring Robert Henri back into it:

All the past up to a moment ago is your legacy. You have a right to it. The works of ancient masters, those of the student next to you, the remark let drop a moment ago, all is experience.

I think this painting came out pretty well as mine. But that’s only part of it. What does the work say? What does it do? Does it have that animating element to make it not just mine, but the viewer’s as well? Does it resonate? That’s always the challenge, and maybe the thing that matters above all. Art is conversation as much as expression.

Thanks for reading.


Hearst Castle: all but the foreground

I finally got into working with the opaque mixtures tonight on the main tree. It’s looking pretty good, but perhaps a little more needs to be done to get at the impression I had in mind. I am new to using opaque with the transparent, so I won’t know for sure until I get the foreground finished with the large flowers. For those I intend to use impasto techniques to really make them pop out–I am thinking of the gondoliers in Sargent’s Bridge of Sighs painting. I like how this is shaping up. A good experiment so far, and I think in the same family still as my elephant seals painting.

Thanks for reading.



I found some nice short lectures from the MFA in Boston on YouTube about John Singer Sargent’s Pomegranates and Gourds paintings, and the influence of “decoration.” He was working on a large mural at this time, and these paintings may have been in part a study in filling space without a clear focal point. On the gourds especially he uses a lot of opaque, and it’s very abstract. I started to try that out here with the flowers on the bushes in preparation for a lot more in the foreground and up the tree. Here’s where things stand tonight. It’s coming along roughly as I’d like it too, but the real fun is still to come. This will be good preparation for some plein air techniques once the weather gets better.

Thanks for reading.