Kidwell Farm #1, Influence of Hopper


I have been thinking again about Hopper and his appeal toe. Looking over his watercolors two things are apparent–the light and the materiality. On the latter point this materiality is achieved through the roughness of his painting, even within the geometric layouts. He’s not focused on the jewel-like qualities of watercolor. When he paints a house, it’s weathered. Even where things appear clean at first glance there is still texture and complexity in flat surfaces. You can see the life that’s happened, see how that life has weathered the environment, in his buildings. Though a master of watercolor, his approach, at least based on instructional videos and YouTube searches, seems not to be common today. I wonder if that’s true, and if so why?

The challenge that interests me, I think, is to use the transparency and luminosity of the medium to the advantage of the roughness and materiality of the world. Having a background in history, change over time is a big question for me. In painting that would mean seeing the motif not just for what is is today or how we might hope it would be, but also how it became what it is, seeing that change over time, that life, in the facade of a building or in a landscape. I think that’s why Hopper, Homer, and Sargent appeal to me, why buildings appeal to me–after all what we build is a representation of ourselves–and why I have been focused on roughness and materiality in my painting.

Here’s the finished work from Kidwell Farm where we went over the weekend. Very much informed by Hopper obviously, but it was nice to deal with simple structures and lines after the last few loose and less structured California paintings. I will return to those again soon, but for now I am enjoying a short break working out other aspects of my emerging style.


Up too early for snow and painting

I am a little tired of the snow now. After a weekend where colors reappeared in the world, I awoke to this:

20140226-065033.jpgBeautiful of course, and my dog loved it–it’s nice to live on a suburban golf course because you get a country view without a country commute–, but I am ready to see colors again.

Over the weekend we went to a county park that’s an operating farm. I liked the colors, the light, and the geometry of the buildings so I took a few photos to work from back home. Thanks to my cat who woke me up around 5:30, I spent a little time on this small painting. I am working with a limited palette in this one: Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Permanent Alizarin Crimson (some quinacridone I forgot the name of), and Azo yellow (Sennelier Yellow Lake). I also mixed in a little Prussian blue with the cobalt/viridian mix for the sky. I will continue with this palette for the rest of this series, as it seems to be working well.

Here is my progress so far:


Kristofferson, Lawrence Durrell, and Back to California Landscapes


“Notes for landscape tones…. Long sequences of tempera. Light filtered through the essence of lemons.”
-Lawrence Durrell from Justine

Lawrence Durrell, at least in the Alexandria Quartet, is a pretty incredible writer. At once consistently overdoing it and subverting himself and his characters throughout. I read these books not long after finishing writing my last novel, and saw an immediate parallel, sort of a reinforcement of what I was doing on a much smaller scale. It made me feel good about my book despite the rejections along the lines of this is wonderful but it won’t sell. A few years later I switched to painting, thinking it would be a clean break-a very different way of thinking about the world. It is, of course, but I find myself treading the same ground. Or put another way, that novel, which dealt a lot with questions of art and the creative impulse, was like a prerequisite for what I am doing now. The landscape in that novel very much resembles the landscapes I have been painting recently. Taking up Durrell again, I am once more thinking of what to do with my last novel, how to bring it together with visual art. More on that to come over time, though probably not quickly.

Tonight I out on some Kris Kristofferson and made some good progress on this new painting, posted above. I want to name this one after the house back on the left, I just don’t know what color I will paint it yet. In real life it’s a blue-grey but I am not so sure it will work well like that in this painting. I may have to do a few sketches to sort that part out. I wasn’t in the mood for that tonight so I started in on some of the larger areas to push this past the early painting block. Time for a break and some reading.

Have a good night.

Sketching out the window

Finally a really beautiful day. We were outside most of the day. Late this afternoon, though, we came inside for a break. I took the opportunity to sketch the window and the view outside. It was difficult sorting out the backlit window frame, which I overworked in my attempt, and I wrecked the color of the light through the lampshade, but I thought it worth posting the attempt if for no other reason than to emphasize how hard it is to get the color of light on a white surface sorted out properly, especially with backlighting.

I also got a sample of Stillman and Birn sketchbook paper in the mail yesterday. I tried this on the Zeta paper, which is very smooth and 180lb. I am not really used to smooth paper for painting, so that was an extra variable to consider, but it was good stuff. I think the rougher Beta paper will be more to my liking for watercolor(it’s weird having no resistance on the brush stroke), but this would be great for ink work I think.

Thanks for reading.


Drawing out a new composition

I am a little too tired to get into painting tonight, but I am happy to have at least roughed this one out in pencil. I like these isolated scenes with fences cutting across the view. Here the line of the fence matches the line of the hill in the back right and the roof line of the house. There seemed to be a lot of echoing lines here which probably show a little more in my frame drawing than they will once painted. I will have some color echoes as well. I am looking forward to getting further into this one.

Thanks for reading.


Good Mail Day

I was excited to get a copy of Wil Freeborn’s latest book of sketches today in the mail. He works a lot in Moleskine sketchbooks with watercolor. It’s a tough combination, and he gets the most out if it. I haven’t seen anyone do it better. He has a nice range of complicated, detailed works, and some pretty sparse compositions with some good punch to them. Check out his site at