A Different Way to Paint

My last work-in-progress left me a little depressed about my progress. I felt like I was just falling back on my old ways of painting and not challenging myself as an artist. Just putting in time. So I looked around for stuff to inspire me.

Abstract-Impressionism-Artwork-Artist-UnknownI found some interesting paintings in a style called “abstract impressionism.” This style uses short, intense brush strokes instead the larger, bold brushwork of abstract expressionism. This painting is an example of abstract impressionism–if it even IS a painting and not a photo. It looks a lot like a photo to me, but that’s fine.

One thing I noticed when I searched on the term for images was that a lot of photography came up. More and more I’ve gotten interested in abstract photography. I would like to try it, but it’s very difficult to find info about some of the techniques these folks use. They do look very much like paintings to me, and they inspire me. So I collected some images that I know are photos that claim the style abstract impressionism.

I thought okay, I will go try this technique of short, intense brushwork. I messed around and the first thing I noticed was that short brushstrokes call for a palette that is held rather than the heavy glass one off the side on a table, like I have. I had a hand-held wooden palette when I was young, but I hated it. It was too small and uncomfortable and ugly. About a year or so ago I looked over some larger hand-held palettes but decided I didn’t really need one.

paletteNow I think I do, and I bought myself this one, made by a company called New Wave and sold at Jerry’s Artarama. It’s not huge but not too small. It’s made out of wood, but it’s finished, so I don’t have to do that. I hope it will be a good fit, and I know it will help me paint differently. And it’s not ugly.

I also decided that since I am trying to paint more for myself than the expectations of imaginary viewers, that I will paint larger than I have been. I’ve got only one 12 x 12″ canvas left, and some 18 x 24″, a size I used for years. But I just ordered 5 24 x 24″, because that is my favorite size. And I did NOT order the ones with the heavy, thick sides (“gallery wrap”). I ordered canvases with the traditional sides that are 7/8″ deep. To me, the gallery type look and feel overbuilt. I feel like 24 x 24″ is not so big that it does not need a frame, either. A simple frame looks great on that size and protects the canvas. I got five Fredrix Pro Dixie canvases. I really like the Pro Dixie line. The canvas is much more finely woven than the Blick’s Premier canvases I used for years, they don’t have slubs sticking out or worse, gessoed to the canvas, and they are delivered by dependable UPS instead of Fedex, which Blick favors and which would leave my packages in a vacant building or even the alley (I had to quit buying from Blick for that reason). The only issue I ever have with the Pro Dixie canvases is if I paint too flat and fill in too much of the weave with paint. Then the surface can be too slick to accept more paint in a way that will last, and I have to go over it with some rubbing alcohol. But since this style involves more brushwork–and I’ve been trying to get myself to do more brushwork anyhow–I don’t think that will be a problem.

Another thing I noticed was that since I was using thicker paint and broken color (different colors are put right next to each other, like a mosaic, with dabs instead of mixed together on the palette), the color was much more intense. I liked that a lot, even though it consumed much more paint than usual. I will try to work more in that direction.

I’m grateful that I am in a place in my life where I can afford to do this kind of experimentation.



In a couple of months I’ll be giving up my studio. It’s been a real inspiration, but it’s also been a big disappointment.

The good part is that it got me painting a LOT more than I could manage to do before. Having a studio meant to me that I had to be way more productive. I have gone there pretty much every day to paint.  It made me feel and act much more professional about my art. The $325/mo felt like an investment I was making in my art both in terms of money and in terms of putting in the time. I have seen a huge improvement in my painting skills since renting it a year and a half ago. And I am grateful for that.

But there have been a lot of issues there that have caused me to decide to give it up.

It’s incredibly noisy, with people from the gym upstairs hollering, playing really loud obnoxious music, and throwing heavy weights on the floor. This is so loud that it is not even possible to have a phone conversation in there when they are getting ready for “game day.” The carpet company on the other side upstairs moved out, so that decreased the noise from their machines. But they have been renovating the diner for the past year, and that means upstairs they are using power saws and even a drill press, which is incredibly loud. There are also people there at night playing loud music doing godz knows what. Yes, someday they will finish the diner. Then there will be the noise of the kitchen for that diner right above the studio. Nope.

The guy across the hall from me was throwing garbage in the hall for months. Flies. Now he just throws it behind the building against the wall, which makes a great fire hazard. They don’t care.

There are rats outside my windows at night. Big ones. Unafraid of humans. Poison is everywhere, but so is garbage. So that has meant killing all the rat predators but leaving the rats pretty much intact. And the garbage, which is sacred to the management, remains everywhere.

There was the flood when they broke the water main. Filthy water came up through the floorboards and ruined some of my stuff. “Why didn’t you have renter’s insurance?” Why didn’t you not break the watermain with your fricking crane?

When it’s hot, filthy oil from the looms that sank between the floorboards upstairs 100 years ago melts and falls down onto my space, because the floor/ceiling is nothing but two layers of boards. At least one finished painting was affected. Management response? They didn’t have one.

It is very cold when the heat is not on. And very damp in summer, because there is water in the basement below me. Which means it takes a much longer time for oil paint to dry. Usually it takes just a few days, but in summer it takes a couple weeks. I already paint with a slow drier, walnut oil, but now I am moving towards painting with poppy oil, which is even slower. Not a good situation for slow driers.

They refused to put screens or even grates over the windows, so I could not have the windows open when I was not there. Because ne’er-do-wells and of course, the rats could just hop in. They are only two feet from the bottom of the windows.

So many issues.

I learned a lot by having the studio and using it every day. But it’s time to move on from it. And I will do that at the end of December, when a friend will be taking over my online non-art shop and that will free up half of my loft to be used for art instead of for the shop.

That will also free up a lot of time for me, which I will be devoting to writing, teaching, and painting. It’s a bit scary, but I know it is the best decision for me.

And three months after that, I will move out of this mill to an apartment where I have separate bedrooms. I really like the open space of a loft. But I need to have a separate room where I do art. I don’t even care if I have a bedroom to sleep in. I have done without a separate room for sleeping for literal decades and have just slept in my living room. But having a separate room for painting, cat-hair free, more or less, is big. Huge!

And honestly, the cats need to have more space to get away from each other sometimes. And much as I love them, I need to get away from them sometimes too.

I am hoping I can find something that is closer in to the center of Providence and in a safer neighborhood, one that is more conducive to walking. I have to walk a ways to get to the bus here, and in winter, many people do not shovel their walk, which makes it difficult for me. I end up taking Lyft most of the time. It would be nice to have the bus–and everything else–closer. And it would be better for my physical and mental health to do more walking, to feel a bit safer when walking.

I like Rhode Island and want to stay here. I’ve been looking at all sorts of places in Pawtucket, Providence, Cranston, and East Providence. I think I should be able to find something decent for less money than I am paying now for the studio plus the loft.

So yes. It has been both good and bad to have my own studio. I have learned so, so much.

But now it is time to move on.


Hidden Demon

When I see a web-sized jpg of one of my paintings, I almost always notice things about it that I can’t see when looking at the real thing. Usually I’ll see how the painting could have been more balanced in terms of color or could have made more use of contrast. Sometimes the issue that comes to the fore is composition: I’ll think, “That section there would have made a much better painting by itself.”

Composition has never been my strong suit.

demon headAfter I posted the work-in-progress I am calling “Obsession” yesterday, I noticed something. One section of the painting looks like the skull of some critter facing towards the left.

That gave me an idea for my next painting: “Demons.” I will work on that today. All skulls all the time. And probably scarlet lake skulls too.

haeckelMeanwhile, I received two books yesterday. One is a collection of Haeckel’s engravings of sea life. I’ve been wanting this for a while, because I just admire his artwork and because I think the patterns of undersea critters like jellyfish and whatnot will be a source of inspiration for my abstracts.  These images are widely available online because they are in the public domain, last I heard. I love his attention to detail in the tiniest things, which gives them a kind of sanctity. I also enjoy how he arranged images on a page.

The other book I received was kind of disappointing. Nowadays a lot of books on acrylics or godz forbid, making abstract art, have devolved into pressing plastic wrap, tissues, bubble wrap, even stencils against the surface of the painting while it’s wet and thus creating some kind of pattern. I really hate this. I think it is not artful and it dulls one’s own creativity. We are all capable of creating our own patterns inspired by whatever, including bubble wrap. But do we have to duplicate industrial products? I think any person, regardless of how “talented” they are (or aren’t), can produce art. But it is work. Just as surely as if we were carpenters or any other respectable trade. When I look at paintings where someone has used these techniques, usually too much, it’s a bit depressing to me.

That’s basically what this book is. And once again so much of the book is taken up with basics like how to mix paint with water or what a paintbrush looks like. I wish art publishers would quit doing this. If someone wants to paint an expressive landscape, they had better know what a paintbrush looks like and how to add paint to water first. Seriously. It just looks like filler every single time.

I’m still waiting on another book, “Abstracts in Watercolor,” and I certainly hope it will not feature any bubble wrap. Since it was published in 1996, I think it probably won’t. But I’ll bet it features throwing salt on your painting. 🙂

textureActually, for creating texture in watercolor, the best book I have seen is by a very traditional watercolorist who knows his stuff and doesn’t get into any bubble wrap:  “Texture Techniques for Winning Watercolors” by Ray Hendershot. I highly recommend it. He isn’t afraid to buck watercolor dogma, either. For instance, if he wants to, he goes ahead and uses some white (!) acrylic (!!) paint to depict snow or fog. And despite this rule-breaking, he has still won a bunch of prizes from watercolor groups. Inspiration right there.

Ripples and Cells

queen of heaven wipI love the look of ripples–how they will reflect the sky and then reveal what is beneath the surface, usually deforming the shapes and adding another layer color. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be able to paint them. But they are hard, and I am still learning. Doesn’t stop me from trying, though.

One painting where I decided to feature them (although these are not “real” ripples) is “Queen of Heaven” (24 x 24″). I based this painting on depictions of Mary, choosing to focus on this particular version of her  because it is often targeted by fundamentalist Christians as being Pagan. 🙂 And I like the stars around her head. So I chose to feature those 12 stars.

But I’ve also seen depictions of her associated with water, and since she is often dressed in water colors of blue and white, I decided to try ripples.

I had a problem, though, in getting them the way I wanted them. As Gertrude Stein would say, there was no there there. The ripples had no life.

So I put the painting aside, wondering if I was ever going to be able to finish it.

The other day I took it out again. After a couple of false starts that I had to wipe off (times like this, I am so grateful I am using oils and CAN just wipe stuff off, especially because I oil in first), I got into a good groove by coloring the ripples and creating a lot more of them. I think this adds more interest to the painting and also moves it a bit further away from “real” water. These days I am not much interested in painting “real.” I want more unreal–magical, imaginative–instead.

There is still more to do, but I think it’s almost finished now. I will most likely just add some titanium highlights.

I also enjoy looking at images of cells of all kinds. I especially like the order and variety of plant cells, but if you want an evil-looking cell form, it’s got to be cancer cells. I referred to that shape in several paintings so far, mostly stuff about cursing (as in casting a spell, not swearing). I’m sure most people have experienced obsessive thinking, where you want to stop thinking about something that bothers you and just can’t. That’s where this painting is coming from. I especially was inspired by some posts I’ve read online lately where someone describes an obsession they have with another person, to the point where they keep notebooks about them and take photos of them and so forth. That’s what “Obsession” is about–that level of a thought dominating to the point of being destructive.

obsession wipThis painting actually began as the background for one of my cloud series, but I determined that I already knew how to paint clouds and that I was not challenging myself by painting more of them. Instead, I was just wasting my time and my paint. So a painting that was going to depict some storm clouds was turned into a painting about obsession. I used one of my favorite reds in this painting, Michael Harding’s Scarlet Lake.

This 11 x 14″ painting is about 2/3s finished. I want to emphasize the contrast and perhaps add some white elements.

Letting It Arise

My life is very much changing direction, and that change will allow me to make my income in less time-consuming ways. But it also means for me that I can paint whatever I want and not worry anymore about pleasing anyone but myself. Not to say I don’t keep my collectors and viewers in mind, but I feel very much freed now because I know I won’t have to depend on selling my art for my income.  I can just paint.

I’ve been fascinated by patterns in nature for many years and have often incorporated them into my paintings. These usually take the form of skin creases, striations, twisting skeins, nets, plant cells, and so on. Generally these have been only a part of larger images, as a kind of background or decoration, although I have done a few paintings where they are the feature. I never had much confidence about doing that because I felt very unsure that people would like them or even consider them art.

Now I’d like to really explore these patterns as a subject, at the same time loading them with much more experimental color than I generally use.

storm wip 100619These are two works in progress I began in the past few days. In the first one, “Storm,” I really want to play with the shapes of waves. I started with perylene green, perylene greenwhich I used to use a lot in both acrylics and in watercolor but which I haven’t used in oils up until now. Don’t know why. I feel this painting, though, needs some prussian blue real bad. And more contrast.  I have a tendency to get monochromatic, and I’m not sure if that’s something I should go with or resist.

sky shore wip 100619“Sky Shore” began as background for a painting of cirrus clouds. I decided, though, that I actually know enough about painting clouds and that I want to spend my time doing much more abstract images that arise not from the material world so much but more from the astral, unconscious, or supernatural world–what is beyond our mundane life. I still want to incorporate natural patterns, though. So that’s how I ended up with a kind of honeycomb or wasp nest form for the “land” in this paintings and smoke or steam shapes for the “water.” I also used a new color in this one, baryte yellow, which I wrote about in my last post. Here it’s combined with titanium white.  I can tell it’s going to be a good color for me.

I can see that I have not experimented enough with color in either of these (as yellow and blue is one of my favorite combos–just a different yellow here). So I will most probably add other colors to these as I go along. I think aside from the prussian blue, some orange for “Storm” and some violet for “Sky Shore.” Those colors will “vibrate” with what’s already there.

Spoiling Myself with Paints

I am a sucker for fancy paints. When I painted with watercolors, I used Winsor & Newton. For many of those years, they were the fancy brand.

And then Daniel Smith came along, and I dropped WN like a hot porcupine. I especially loved the DS PrimaTeks, made of ground up rocks and semiprecious stones. Yeah!

When I switched to acrylics, I started with Liquitex. Doesn’t everyone? Then I found Golden.

Then the day came when I switched to oils, and I began with Graham, because I wanted to paint with walnut oil. I never have liked the smell of linseed oil, although I found out that paints bound with it hardly smell of it. When I found Williamsburg, I spent hundreds of dollars on their wonderful earths.

And then one day I decided to really spoil the daylights out of myself and got a tube of Blockx (pronounced “blocks”). I figured I “had” to try it because it is made with poppy oil instead of linseed or walnut or even safflower. And I have a long relationship with poppy, a plant I love. It’s why I ended up making a sun poppy oil last year and used it to finish some paintings.

It does take longer to dry. Quite a bit longer. But when you are working on a bunch of paintings at the same time, drying time doesn’t matter that much.

01574_CrimsonLake-lSo I decided to try Blockx Crimson Lake. I wanted that particular pigment, pyrrole rubine (PR264), and I don’t think I was able to find it from another company. Anyway, that was my excuse. Also, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Generally this brand is quite expensive. I wondered why. Also, I was drawn to the fact that Dali supposedly used Blockx.

Well, I got it and I loved it. The density was so perfect for me–kind of like butter that’s been sitting out at the table for several hours. Squishy. And intensely pigmented. This was MY paint.

But it was also expensive and I told myself that I have all this other paint (Williamsburg, mostly). I should use that up before I start switching to another brand, especially one that is more expensive.

Problem was/is that I no longer use the earths that Williamsburg is so good at and that I bought tons of. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with cobalts instead, most of which I’ve indeed gotten from Williamsburg. But I do find their paint a bit stiff. I have to add a lot of walnut oil to it.

01574_Aureolin-lToday after completing a painting that featured cobalt teal as well as my favorite, cobalt blue, and the Blockx crimson lake, I decided to go ahead and get the cobalt yellow (aka aureolin) I’ve been eyeing that pigment for a couple years, but I just could not justify spending $44 for a tube of paint, even though I have been regularly spending $33 for tubes of cobalt blue. Yeah, I know cobalt yellow is a weak mixer, but it is cobalt! The only question was which company should I get it from?

It was logical to get it from Williamsburg.

01574_BaryumYellow-lBut then I saw that the Blockx cobalt yellow (aureolin) was actually a dollar cheaper. Heh. So I got it. I also got their Baryte Yellow (barium yellow), another color I very much love when it’s the right shade. I used to get a nice buttery yellow barium yellow in acrylic, but the ones I’d found in oil were very yellow. Blockx has the butter yellow version.  I know I will use this color quite a bit because it will set off nicely against the cobalt blue and cobalt yellow. 🙂

I decided that as I go along, I will replace all my Williamsburg and whatever with Blockx. If I do it a tube or two at a time, perhaps it won’t hurt my wallet so bad.

I have to say that the Crimson Lake has lasted me a good long time and I have frequently used it. I still have 2/3s of a tube left. So I am hoping that this paint brand is generally more intensely pigmented than others I’ve used.



Working in Series

Recently I had a hankering to paint some clouds. I haven’t been happy with my past paintings of clouds, and some of them I have actually painted over. I want to learn how to paint them better, so I decided to do a series of small clouds paintings. I have chosen to do these at 11 x 14″ and 12 x 12″. The small size is partly because these are for learning, and I don’t want to use bigger canvases for that. But the other reason is that I would like people who are not in a big setting to have an opportunity to look at a big subject like clouds–as if the painting were a window to the sky. Yep, I know it is not cool anymore to consider a painting a window. But even abstract art to me has a window aspect, especially if the paint is flat.

I’ve completed two paintings and have started a third so far. Pigments are cobalt blue deep, titanium white, lithopone white (Williamsburg’s Porcelain in safflower oil), and mars black. I always have had problems making gray. They always end up being either too orange or too violet or whatever for the painting I’m working on. So I decided to try some mars black (PBk 11). I’m still not used to the idea of painting with black after so many years of painting with watercolors, where black is generally not approved of and can look really unpleasant, calling too much attention to itself. I decided in desperation to give it a try for making greys in my cloud paintings, and it works very well. This is even though it’s a very opaque pigment and so I would think it would seem too heavy in comparison with other parts of the painting. But it looks fine, especially if I mix it with a titch of cobalt.

The first painting in the series is “Patch of Blue,” 11 x 14″ oil on canvas.  In this painting, I combined the grays I made by mixing cobalt blue deep with (I think) permanent orange and used some of them before switching to the mars black and white. I do think using the mixed gray resulted in more believable clouds. In this case, the mix was right for the painting:patch of blue fb iIn the second painting, “The Wicked Secret,” 12 x 12″ oil on canvas, I didn’t use the mixed grey. I stuck with the mars black plus the whites plus cobalt deep, some of which I mixed with the black. I felt like the black area in this painting gave the effect of a smirk, which is why I chose the title. Also, the cloud formation looks something like a jaw.wicked secret fb i

I feel that these two paintings are a move in the right direction for my painting.  They are a more abstract approach to the natural forms I love.