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


Snow Day

We had a pretty good sized snow storm in the DC area today, so I worked from home. I have a nice view out the back window upstairs where I set up. It wasn’t one of those pretty snow days with lush pines coated in snow and cobalt blue shadows that make you want to stare out the window instead of working. Instead it was a purplish grey hazy snow day that turned out to be very busy on the work front. Still, I managed to fit in a quick watercolor sketch in my Moleskine sketchbook to clear my head for a minute. That smooth waxy paper turned out to be just right for the day.


Some thoughts on Henri and Art today

Two links to check out:
1. Alex Pentland on Creativity and Synthesis in Wired Magazine:

2. Jake Seliger on Bogosity in Art

I have really been enjoying Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. It’s amazing how relevant it is today, and perhaps more so now than ever. The honesty with which he advocates approaching art is resonant and refreshing. I have read a few articles recently about the demise or Art being brought on by so much coverage of the art market, big sales, and big thefts. I have wondered what “movement” we are in the midst of. I think none. It even has a name: “Meta-Modernism.” It claims to sit about Modernism and Post Modernism. It has a manifesto. It seems well defined in a vague manifesto way. In fact I am not really sure it’s what’s going on. What I see is a time of application of thought and application and synthesis of styles, not innovation of thought. The article in Wired gets at it nicely. Synthesis, seeing connections. These are great. Maybe that’s what innovation is. Or maybe it’s innovation by application. That’s different. Or is today about Deleuze and Guattari’s multiplicity? Maybe a little, in an applied sense of course. The Wired article makes some great points about how creative people share ideas and and keep gathering and refining. It’s different from the myth of the lone genius. It makes sense to me. My point about application is that there don’t seem to be pure ideas, only ideas to be applied, these days to commerce and getting advertising money. I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague about this recently, and here I go synthesizing his insights with mine.

In art I wonder what the big questions are today. After Duchamp’s Fountain pretty much anything like Jeff Koons’ balloon dog or any other provocation seems like an imitation asking the same question. It’s like having one smart kid in class ask a question, then two minutes later the someone else asks the same question slightly differently. Then someone walks in the room and asks it again. Then someone wakes up in class and asks it again. At some point it just isn’t worth paying attention any more when we can’t tell if the question is honestly asked or if it’s done in jest, and if done in jest is it even worth jesting about? I don’t know. I am not really up on things and maybe there’s something I am not getting. But when I see “wall art” advertised in catalogues and on HGTV, and it looks like an Yves Klein monochrome(which when I saw in person I found to be incredible), or a knock-off Mondrian, I wonder what’s going on. Then again, plenty of hotel rooms have softly impressionist renderings that are also wall art, just different. Are they better? In some way art, or at least painting, will always be decor. Does that mean we’ve come to accept the innovations and provocations of the past? I guess so if Corbu’s buildings became templates for the bland office buildings of today. The provocative becomes the standard (only after it gets robbed of its special quality, it’s initial place in context and when it entered the conversation).

Jake Seliger, another blogger I like, had a good post about the “bogosity” of Art today. It’s a pretty well stated piece, linked above, so I encourage you to check it out.

This is why Henri is so important, why the individual artist’s honest pursuit is so important, why the Urban Sketchers movement is so important, and why real conversation about art–not provocation and reaction, but genuine wondering about the world and about ourselves and our place in it–is so meaningful, and why I enjoy following other artists’ blogs so much. It’s a question that doesn’t get old. Having said that, I also hear the voice from Monty Python yelling, “Get on with it!” Having rambled a bit tonight, it’s time that I do.

Thanks for reading.

Some sketches

Over the weekend I took the kids to a nearby farm. They wanted to go all day but kept getting distracted playing together and riding bikes on one of the few days warm enough to play outside. By the time we finally got there the kids were asleep so I turned around and got some clothes to drop off for donation, then went back to the farm after that. I tried to wake them again but it didn’t work so I sat in the parking lot and did a brief sketch. When we got home the kids woke up and asked to go to the farm. I told them we went and I tried to wake them. They didn’t believe me until I showed them this drawing. That settled things


Today I spent a little time during lunch sketching, which is still a little awkward for me at work. Here is one from today.


I was also looking through one of my sketchbooks I don’t use often and found this sketch from a year ago. I like this one a lot. I remember I wore down a new micron pen all the way drawing this.


Thanks for reading. Another California painting coming soon.