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New Painting: II

With me standing next to it for scale: oil on canvas, 50" x 72".

This is the largest canvas I've started since the late 1990s. It's been a long time coming ...
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New Painting: I

This year I've been painting with oils on canvas, for the first time in 18 years. I'm using a high grade canvas, and fairly expensive water-soluble oil paints. It makes a huge difference using the most expensive materials that you can afford. The texture of the canvas, the tooth, the way it resits and holds the paint, is like working with something organic, like skin.

The images in the painting are derived from the same source as everything in the last five years: half-remembered moments from family stories of my grandfather, a coal miner who was once trapped underground during a roof collapse. The apparently abstract marks are in fact derived from similar sets of shapes that I recall from art history. In this case, from a painting by Pierre Bonnard.

Mixed Media Collage at Interlochen College of Creative Arts

I just got back to Chicago from teaching a two-day workshop at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. That's the adult programs part of the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy, the high school for gifted kids.

I always start this class by handing out small pieces of matboard and asking people to create five small collages, with only five minutes for each one. Some great results:

For the rest of the class, we work on building up larger pieces:

And finally, before everyone goes their separate ways, we have a small show-and-tell:

If you live withint driving distance of Traverse City, look out for this class on their website in 2019.

Man Falling: Per Kirkeby

I recently watched a documentary about the Danish painter Per Kirkeby, Man Falling. It's available on Amazon's Prime Video streaming service (for members). It documents his attempts to continue painting after he suffered a fall down a flight of stairs and landed on his head, that left him partially paralysed and with occluded vision.

The film is a moving testament to the difficulties endured both by the patient in these cases, and the people around him. It's also one of the best films I've seen about the process of painting itself. Because even though Kirkeby talks about the fact that he can't really see the left side of anything he's working on, nevertheless with the guidance of assistants he adds marks on those areas of the canvas or paper, too. And the mark-making is just as intricate and beautiful, seemingly, as the work he produced when he was able-bodied.

This suggest to me that for artists who have been working for a long time, particularly great artist…

The Wonder of Titian's Late Paintings

Before I post any photos of my own work, here is what I have been inspired by lately: Titian's late masterpiece The Death of Actaeon.
It was painted sometime in the 1560s, when Titian was an old man. It was one of the paintings that was in his studio at the time of his death. There are a few such paintings, which he may have been working on right up until his last days. Technically, these painting are distinguished by their lack of finish, meaning that compared to his earlier paintings they look rougher, the edges less sharp, the different areas of the picture merging and blending into one another.

Another thing about them: Titian's initial "lay in" (blocking in the main shapes and some light-shadow contrasts) was done with a brush, but much of the build-up of the pigment was done using rags, dipped into the paint and then dabbed and smeared onto the canvas. The Google Arts and Culture site has some extreme high-definition images of the painting, and when you zoom r…

Artists at Sea: Manet in Normandy

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.


Edouard Manet (1832-1883), French painter.

Coastal association

The Normandy coast north of Paris.

First coastal visit

In 1848, when he was sixteen years old, his father made the first of several failed attempts to get young Edouard into the navy, packing him off on a merchant vessel sailing to Rio di Janeiro. Manet: “I learned a lot on my voyage to Brazil. I spent countless nights watching the play of light and shadow in the ship’s wake. During the day, I stood on the upper deck gazing at the horizon. That’s how I learned to construct a sky."

Reasons for visiting

Similar to many other of his near contemporaries, Manet first began regularly visiting towns such as Boulogne and Trouville for family vacations as new train lines from Paris made the journey faster than ever before. Then, as with …

Summer Progression

It's nearly the official end of summer here in the United States (Labor Day, September 3rd), and I've been looking back over the photos I've taken in my studio in the last three months. Here is a small oil painting (24" x 18") that I started at the beginning of June:

A month later, after getting rid of that brown mountain and adding brambly-looking bushes, it looked like this:

A few weeks later, the main areas of the painting were in place, and I was just working up the different areas with more paint, smeared or dabbed on the canvas with cotton rags:

The next photo has lots more dark passages to increase the sens of depth and to make the lighter areas stand out:

In the final session I lightened that pink cast in the sky, and added a few final highlights in silvery-white paint:

The wonderful thing about oil paint is that you can make substantial changes to a picture in a way that doesn't stand out by the time you say you're finished with it, unlike acryl…