The Nexus of Attention

When a pirate couldn’t sign his name he made his mark, frequently an  “x” or a “T”.  The nexus of  our attention is where two perpendicular lines cross to make  a cruciform or X pattern. This is a most basic and ancient design form. We can’t help looking at this area of maximum contrast.  Crossed strokes minimize  distraction and amplify the significance of  the single point of contrast, the intersection of marks. While DaVinci explored the design possibilities of various signs, like the triangle and the circle he also experimented with the cruciform design. You  see him use it in his unfinished painting of  St. Jerome ( example 1). Through the centuries artists have tested the cruciform design because of its inherent stability. And, stability is also its problem. Stability is fine if you are making an alphabet letter or a religious symbol but, it’s  too static for a painting. Da Vinci tried destabilizing the cruciform design as did other artists like George Inness ( example 3) and Richard Diebenkorn ( example 4).  All of these artists moved the center of the cross out of the center of the painting to give it  more dynamic balance.

As an example of the historic role of the cruciform shape and its relationship to the idea of balance I have  a 3200 year old ancient Egyptian example (example 4. Jackal Faced God Anubis weighs the heart of the recently deceased). Notice that the central intersection of the scale has been further accentuated.

example 1. Da Vinci’s Unfinished St. Jerome.april14,7, Leonardo Da Vinci,StJerome,unfinished

example 2. George Inness, Late Work. april14,7, George inness, late

example 3. Richard Diebenkorn. april14,7,diebenkorn streets

example 4. Egyptian example,1285 BCE.april14,7,JackalFaceAnubisWeighsHeart1285BC

Tilting the cruciform design or one of its arms can improve the dynamic potential of the design. I have tried this in addition to blurring the horizontal crossbeam in an effort to  invest more motion in this otherwise super-stable  form ( example 5, Grand Central Terminal’s Kiosk and Clock, oil , 36×36). I  also  pushed the central axis off to one side as Diebenkorn did (example 6, Grand Central Terminal, horizontal, 24×48). Diebenkorn would eventually push the vertical axis far to the side. Example 7 presents another less overt example of the cruciform design. Even more subtle is example 8, a photograph. I over-painted this photograph (example 9) with a new emphasis on a receding central perspective. This idea of convergence to a center is also used to augment the design in examples 5 and 7.

example 5. Grand Central Terminal, with off center cruciform design.april14,7,GCT, Light Patterns, oil on  anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-3

example 6. horizontal of Grand Central Terminal.april14,7,GCT, Sideways , oil on anodized aluminum, 24x48

example 7. Grand Central Terminal, less overt cruciform design.april14,7,GCT,Time Travelers, 24x48

example 8. photograph with cruciform design.april14,7, city interior,met life lobby1a_edited-4

example 9. painting over the above photo.april14,7, city interior, 13x13_edited-1




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Exaggeration Is A Form of Simplification

We grow weary of styles because of their familiarity. When we tire of them we cease to notice them; they lose the ability to surprise us.  Our under-stimulated attention has become too accustomed to a style so,  we look for another.  Markets are built on this reflex of ours. Gombrich calls it “Aesthetic Fatigue”.   Our appetite for the “new” is  sated through perpetual style modifications. We are not attracted to radically new ideas or inventions because they are too unfamiliar. Instead, we prefer smaller modifications to existing styles.  Styles begin to parody themselves within the life of a style cycle.  To quench our thirst for a new style  (a new idea or novelty) we attend to minor changes to established familiarities.  Because we are so attentive to subtle feature changes they do not feel subtle; they feel significant and rewarding.

V.S. Ramachandran observed that the arts use feature exaggerations to attract attention.  Our attention is finely tuned to nuanced exaggerations of a particular feature. We suppress our attention to the remainder of the subject’s infinite features.  Exaggerations become highly focused or, simplified.  The subject is reduced in complexity to focus our attention on a specific exaggeration. In the course of  art history we reduced the complexity of landscape painting with formulas of composition, subject matter and coloring. We further simplified and exaggerated aspects  of these categories as landscape painting moved toward abstraction and modernism.  Eventually painting’s exaggerations were about singular exaggerations, minimalism.  The ultimate exaggeration would be to dispense with the canvas,  conceptualism.  That left us without activity for the eye which had been our biological partner in the motivation of looking for surprise.  It’s hard to look without the visceral feedback of a subject.  The eye and the brain our inextricable partners. They are not two autonomous players. There is no mind/body split.

Among artists’  various motivations is their competition with others for status, fame, wealth,  and influence.  Artists even compete with themselves. I know I do.  I evaluate my work and wonder if it is surprising.  If I find the work wanting then, I consider how to exaggerate the subject, to exaggerate it through simplification, through further distillation.

What follows are examples  of exaggerations through simplifications. In example 1, as evidence of my quest for surprise I merged  digital photo technology and painting.  I have a horizontally compressed photo of NYC as seen from a Metro North Train window (example 1). In example 2, I reprinted this image on 140 lb. hot press  water color paper on a 13×19 sheet. I then varnished the paper. I painted a new sky (in oil), added a deeper urban backdrop,  and heightened some building colors.  The result is a mixed-media piece with an exaggerated sense of light and, exaggerated forms and colors.

example 1. photo.march14,17,city,skies13x13_edited-2

example 2. painting on photo.march14,17,city skies, oil on paper, mixed media, 13x13_edited-1

J.M.W. Turner also competed with himself. His competition pushed him to greater dramatic simplicity. Here are two examples of Venice paintings.  Example 3  was painted more than a decade before example 4. Turner’s exaggerated simplifications are evident. Simplification comes with the  reduction of selected information.

example 3. early Venice painting by Turner.march14,17,turner, view from guidecca to Venice,oil_edited-1

example 4. later Venice painting by Turner.march14,17,turner,approach to Venice24x37, 1844 natl gallery of art DC_edited-2

With examples 5,6,7 and 8 you can track my effort to squeeze out numerous small marks in favor of fewer,  larger  and more gestural marks. Also observe how I increased the contrast in color and value while simultaneously concentrating the luminous area.  The simpler, smaller area of light feels more potent in contrast to its surroundings.

example 5. step one, oil, Forest, River, Lights, oil on aluminum,36×36.march14,17,forestRiverLights, step one_edited-1

example 6. Step two, Forest, River, Lights.march14,17,forestriverlights, step two,oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

example 7. step one, Forest, Stream, Pool, oil on aluminum,36×36.march14,17,forest stream pool,step one, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

example 8. step two, Forest, Stream, Pool.march14,17,forest Stream Pool,step two,revised, oil on aluminum,36x36_edited-1

Examples 9 and 10 illustrate the process of reducing the autonomy of the pictures components (including figures) as well as the progression to greater color contrast. The overall shape becomes more unified because, it is less differentiated. The painting became brighter and simplified through exaggeration.

example 9. Grand Central Station, Arrivals, step one, oil on canvas,48×48.march14,17,Grand Central Station, Arrivals,step one, oil on canvas,48x48

example 10. Grand Central Station, Arrivals, step two.march14,17,Grand Central Station, Arrivals,step two, oil on canvas,48x48

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Same Subject, Different Strategies

Where do we go when no single effort, no single image can satisfy our curiosity about the limits of  expression? One answer  is to revisit the same image again and again.  Each incarnation will  reveal new directions.  Another answer is to revisit the same image but, with different technologies, different materials and not just use a different design or palette.

We have so much at our fingertips. With so many resources, so many possibilities what should we do? As 2dimensional artists we have vast menus of materials (pigments, mediums, tools, surfaces), designs, brushstrokes, photography, digital redesign, collage, projection equipment, transfer technology (from rubber stamp to solar print) impastos or liquids, acrylic inks, etching inks, chalks, graphite, mica, powdered ores and much more. Yet, we begin with a conversation with an image, a simple design, a simple program of intention.  Tools and materials  redirect and  modify our intentions. They always do.

What follows are a series of images sharing the same subject. They also share some of the same design elements and palettes but, the  materials change, the conceptual organization of the space changes, the tools change. I begin with a painting I presented in an earlier blogpost (example 1, an  oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum).  The initial light area was too large to be bright. I felt an absence of contrast that weakened the effect of the dynamics of color and value. I increased those contrasts by overlaying darker and more saturated colors on the initial image and then I added more vertical texture (example 2).

example 1. step one oil on brushed silver aluminum.march14,10, Bright Horizons,step one, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

example 2. step two.march14,10, Bright Horizons,step two, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

In example 3 I begin with an abstraction on linen. The theme is again marsh grass, a high horizon and pools of reflected light. As I paint over example 3  with a marsh scene I use yellows, violets,  small notes of red, white and two blues. I let parts of the under-image (example 3) determine the location of  some of the colors . I exploit the contrast between the bright horizontal  water planes (they are more reflective because they are flat) and the vertical motion of the grasses.

example 3. the abstract under-image, step one.march14,10,shorelines, Luminous Horizon, step one, oil on linen, 18x18_edited-1

example 4. step two.march14,10,shorelines, Luminous Horizon, step two, oil on linen, 18x18_edited-1

Example 5 continues the same marsh theme, the same high horizon, the same progression of light to dark shapes with the shapes getting progressively thinner as they ascend to the horizon. Except, in this example I construct almost all of the foreground with vertical strokes. Horizontal shapes and vertical shapes are both made with thin vertical strokes.  Example 6 represents step two.

example 5. vertically dominant example; step one.march14,10,shorelines Marsh Meander, step one, oil on aluminum,24x24

example 6. vertically dominant example; step two.march14,10,shorelines,Marsh Meander,step two,,oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

This next example maintains the theme and many of the same design components but, the materials have changed from oil paint to oil etching inks. I apply the inks in three transparent layers of yellow (first), blue (second) and violet (third). I apply the inks with a set of rubber rollers (3″ and 4″ rubber woodblock brayers).  All three layers were applied to a brushed silver anodized aluminum surface (example 7).  Because the etching inks (I used Charbonnel) are so stiff they are resistant to soft brush and squeegee manipulations therefore, I use stiff bristle brushes and stiff silkscreen paddles as tools to remove and re-arrange the ink (example 8).  The materials and tools have changed but, the palette and subject remain the same.

example 7. step one, after rolling on the three colors.march14,10,shorelines,sparks in the grass,step one,oilon anodized aluminum

example 8. step two, after manipulating the ink.march14,10,shorelines,Sparks in the Grass,step two,oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

In this last marshland  painting my revision is in response to an earlier painting which was much larger, 36×36 (example 9).  I try the same image again but, smaller (18×18) and modify the original design. Rembrandt would do this. After painting a larger image he would try it again only smaller and with modifications. I begin by over-painting an existing image because I see that if I invert this image (example 10) it offers color opportunities for my subsequent squeegee deletions. Example 11 demonstrates how I have changed the design of example 9  by using more of  a blue wedge shape to penetrate the straight line of the grasses. I further narrowed the horizon to create a greater sense of depth. Example 12 represents the last step in which I added smaller notes to make  a more tangible and complex surface. If I were to proceed with this image I would add more atmospheric perspective. This addition  requires me to wait for the painting to dry.  All of these images were painted Alla Prima, or, at one sitting.

example 9. original painting 36×36.march14,10,water, estuary meditation,original, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-2

example 10. step one; new substrate for revision 18×18.march14,10,water, estuary meditation,step one, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-2

example 11. step two.march14,10,water, estuary meditation,step two, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-2

example 12. step three.march14,10,water, estuary meditation,step three, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-2


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How Can Paintings Feel True?

We want a paintings that feel true but, evoking credibility is a slippery activity.  From research on how perception works we have begun to identify particular triggers that help us build images in our brain, effects that imply motion, sadness, glee, space.  According to J.J. Gibson we respond to the reflective patterns that touch  nerve cells in our eyes. We search the surrounding optic array for shapes that have utility and a relationship to our memory. We pull these shapes from all the visual noise of the background. We suppress all the other visual information in order to select a particular feature. Our mind outlines that feature and separates it from the visual field.  Portraits are a good example of simplifying how this works. Often the background is blank or dark as in a Rembrandt portrait which allows us to pull a figure out from the darkness. When we look our brain gives us a constant flow of directions that tell us what to look for and where to look. We look (as Gombrich said) with a narrowly focused searchlight not  a multidirectional floodlight.

Paintings offer a tradition of how to look at a flat rectangle with pigment smeared on it.  We begin with an expectation of finding an effect.  Up until 1870 we looked for an effect that imitated an appearance in nature as well as an appearance we knew from other paintings. We looked for a type of imitation of nature.  Example 1 shows a mid 19th century painting by Corot. The painting gives us a collection of suggestions; soft tones, big sky, and a general absence of  much edge information (just the horizon and a few featured shapes). He has simplified the recipe for a landscape and evoked more feeling with less information.

Example 1. Corot.mar14,3, corot, boat

After the close of the 19th century we looked for new effects, new color relationships (we had new colors to paint with), new pattern relationships. We no longer only looked for resemblances to nature but, for the effects of arrangements in paint. Our foundation of  neurological triggers had not changed. We still looked for edge information, for reflectance patterns, for changes across the surface of the painting. We continued to ascribe meaning to wherever we  found changes across a surface. We searched for more and more subtle changes as in color field paintings by Rothko.

Connoisseurship depends upon our sensitivity to subtle changes whether in architecture, photography, poetry, music or painting. In example 2, I begin with a painting whose changes do not effectively sustain the eye’s attention.   I change the painting in example 3 with new triggering stimuli. I knew that stimulating more attention with higher contrast could work as could using more color contrast or layering more another profusion of patterns. The mind’s eye would have more to do or, it could give up and consider the patterns too confused. Here I relied on art historical precedents. The high horizon line, the verticals canting and overlapping, all combine to suggest space and substance, a discernible matrix into which the viewer can throw hypotheses. Those patterns might suggest reeds or marsh grass just as the Dark area suspended above the horizontal plane of yellow might suggest an approaching storm. We have seen similar patterns in paintings before and therefore conclude it must be happening again but, a little differently.

example 1. step one, oil on aluminum.march14,3,Estuary Contrast step 1, 36x36

example 2. step two, same painting after changes.mar14,3,Estuary Contrast, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1


Effects  triggered from  brush-work, ragging, squeegees or mittens  all affect perception.. If I use the blade-edge of a flat brush or the tip of a round brush I create a line, a specific edge. This pulls the image away from the background and builds a flat clarity but, devoid of ambiguity as well as  emotion. Instead, I  used squeegees in a variety of overlapping and incomplete patterns. Their cumulative confusion implies space, motion and volume. A  shape with a hard edge gives less volume than one with a blurred edge created by the overlapping matrix of vertical shapes. This matrix creates confused edges and a visual fuzziness. You can see a progressive example of this in  examples 4 and  5 in which I increased both the contrast to trigger more attention as well as  more confused edges to heighten the sense of space, volume and motion .We see the world with fuzzy edges but, perceive it with sharp outlines. The fuzzy edges are the result of our stereo vision.  We have two eyes which see two slightly different pictures of the world (within 20 feet). After that distance the two  pictures merge together. With two images overlapping, the brain gets fuzzy edges but, manufacturers a clear image. When we see a painting with hard edges it lacks a feeling of natural truth.   The later Impressionists would use this principle more than Hudson River painters. This  explains why I smear or stipple with the brush, or use the side or belly of the brush, or use a brush with a dry paint load and scumble…it’s to expand possibilities for perception.

example 4. step one, oil on canvas,44×40.mar14,3,NYC GCS around the clock step 1,44x40

example 5. step two, same canvas after changes.mar14,3,NYC GCS Around the Clock, oil on canvas,44x40_edited-1

The attraction of poetry, novels, films, and music is their use of metaphor. Metaphors infer, imply, suggest, compare. They don’t explicitly tell. The truth of experience is too ambiguous for explicit descriptions. That is the case in painting, in trying to capture the essence, the feeling of a place, the sense of the profusion of textures and varieties of reflectance.  Our ordering impulse wants us to present the mind’s clear image; to get it right. But, there is no right in art or perception. There are just our hypotheses. Being exact removes us from the experience of the truth. As DaVinci said “To pursue detail is to hinder the experience of detail”.  As an artist I must find a way of summing up an experience…  of triggering natural hypotheses. No one has the tools or materials or mechanical skills to render each isolated shape and, if we  did it would not appear real. Summing an experience  depends upon an expressive evocation not on  supplying comprehensive and outlined information.  We want psychological effect not, information. If we wanted lots of specific information we would put blueprints and wiring diagrams on our walls.  Making a Psychological effect lets the viewer guess. You guess; you hypothesize  realities, a truth which is suggested by the arrangement of paint.

The final examples begin with my photo which already has undergone changes in Photoshop (example 6).  Example 7 shows how I have simplified the design, added a greater feeling of deep space, and  heightened complementary color contrasts.

example 6. step one, the photograph.march14,3,estuary sunlight, photo

example 7. The abstracted painting, 24×48.mar14,3,Estuary Sunlight, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24x48_edited-1


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Where Does the Accent Fall?

Interruptions are magnets for our attention. We attend to them and try to fit them into a pattern, into meaning. A thunderclap has us turn to the weather; alert us to possible danger. Was it a thunderclap or something else? We hypothesize about the interruption. Is that knot a flaw in the fabric or part of a pattern. We look for other knots to determine whether it’s a flaw or intentional. We are conscious of singularities because, they are the accent that sets the stage; the accent reveals the continuity.

The Sun and moon are strong singularities that interrupt the pattern of clouds or rivulets of reflection or the even space of the sky. Because they are profoundly familiar they become semiconscious singularities in our daily life but, when placed in a painting they return to their role as an interrupting anomaly,  an attention magnet.  In paintings as in movies and literature we find metaphors. A clock face or an illuminated rock can become metaphors for  familiar singularities like the sun and moon. In example 1  observe Albert Bierstadt’s painting, Yosemite Valley. The Sun draws our attention first as the primary anomaly, the primary accent. We scan and assemble a set of focal sensations as we build our hypothesis.  We are attracted to anomalies in the order of their interruptive power. After the sun we find the sparkle of the river, the silhouetted shape of tree against the light.

In example 2 by John Constable the sun is absent but, implied by a large field of light providing a defining contrast to his tower. Towers have been historic symbols and subjects in all the arts. Think of Rapunzel. In building my images  I borrow these historic precedents when constructing my designs.  I exploit the idea of a metaphor for the sun or find another form of tower.  They are my principal anomalies or accents in a pattern of varying shapes. They interrupt the continuity of the rhythm and oblige us to stop then resume our quest for an hypothesis by collecting, assembling and prioritizing the pattern of  evidence.

example 1. Bierstadt’s Painting of Yosemite.feb14,24,bierstadt, a, yosemite, merced river_edited-1

example 2. Constable’s Painting.feb14,24,constable, j, hadleigh castle study, 12x14 approx

When we look at the anomaly (the interruption) the remainder of the image falls out of focus. Where ever we do not focus the center of our vision we see only vaguely, a blur. In my examples I know that viewers have experience assembling blurry and incomplete information into  hypothesies. It’s how we go through our lives. In example 1 ( step 1) I begin the process of simplification and accent identification. I don’t need to over-explain, to supply too much clarity because, it  interferes with building  a unified hypothesis, with finding a sensation that is akin to how we visually experience the world.  Example 3. has the basic ingredients of a epic, a tower (clock tower in Grand Central Station) and the sun (clock face), a protagonist, the promise of a journey, and a sensation of action, motion. But example 1 is too clear. More ambiguity is required to thicken the sense of adventure and mystery. The result is example 4, step two.  The contrast has been heightened as has the quality of uncertainty. The design has been simplified. The sun (clock) has been isolated to amplify is singularity. The clock and the protagonist have more edges and are more easily pulled from the visual noise of the image, as you can see in a detail from step 2 (example 4a).

example 3. Step one (as seen in a previous blog).feb14,24,fast travel,step one

example 4. Step two.feb14,24,city,Fast Tracker, oil on canvas, 36x36_edited-1

example 4a. Detail from step two.feb14,24,fast travel,detail

In example 5. I begin again (step 1)with more interest in  simultaneous color contrast effects than on  thematic unity and the simplicity of pattern. In example 6 (step 2) I change course. I confuse the edges further here  in example 6. I increase the contrast.  Since Plato we have observed the value of contrast and simplicity to draw our attention.

example 5. step 1.feb14,24,modern times, step one

example 6. step 2.feb14,24,nyc gcs,Modern Times, oil on canvas,36x34_edited-1

With example 7 (step 1) I centered the sun (very pale in step 1) on a colossal tower, the clock on the kiosk. I reinforced its power to illuminate by coupling its light with the light of a large window behind. The painting receives its luminance from this light emitting tower.   In example 8 (step two) you see how I proceeded to further fracture the tower and isolate figures hoping to engage the viewer in stringing together the broken bits into a coherent idea, a single theme, life in Grand Central Station.

example 7. step 1.feb14,24,blue construction, step 1

example 8. step 2.feb14,24,nyc gcs,Blue Construction, oil on canvas, 36x36_edited-2

With example 9 you can observe how I have tried another version of the same image. This is a separate painting. I have the two paintings running in parallel in my studio to help me tease out more possibilities from the image.

example 9. the alternate painting.feb14,24,nyc gcs,bright clock,step3

Some patterns are so suggestive we cannot see other possibilities. Ambiguity is thwarted especially when the iconography of a face appears. Any occasion with two side-by-side circles gives us the image of a face. To get back to a singular thematic accent  and suppress  facial recognition the image must be redesigned.  Example 10 presents a landscape photograph of water reflecting sunlight among rocks. The central column of solar reflection has divided the rock to appear as two ovals ( maybe a set of sunglasses).  Example 11 demonstrate through Photoshop cloning  how I dissolved the separated rock  into  a singular rock and removed the distracting facial iconography.

example 10. Facial construct.feb14,24,stonebridge winter5,1_edited-1

example 11.  modified to offer a unified accent.feb14,24,stonebridge winter5,2_edited-2

My last example (example 12), an oil on faux brushed silver anodized aluminum presents a marsh reflecting sunlight. The vertical column of light, a solar column of reflection becomes a tower of light. The sun gets converted into the tower. The light diffuses through the pattern, a pattern deliberately blurred. Edges are minimized around the masses but, the painting is interpenetrated by small slashes of  light, sparkling verticals. We assemble the fabric of texture into meaning. We begin with the accent the anomaly of bright light.

example 12.feb14,24,water,estuary evocation, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

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Inventing Perspective

Spatial Perception can be triggered by many mechanisms. Once a few of those mechanisms are mastered then the artist will find it easier to invent persuasive spacial effects.  In the 1700s Piranesi was inventing spacial effects with his series of  prison interiors  (example 2). He referred to his series as “inventions”. They derive from an Italian tradition of capricci or, invented scenes based on collected observations and principles for constructing architecture, skies and figures.  The idea of perspective inventions continues.  In example 3  from 1987 Al Held masked out a grid of shapes which comported with principles of linear and color perspective to give an effective and almost perplexing sensation of space.

In example 1 I have a photograph which  needs to be reconfigured to give a more convincing sensation of space if some of the ice shapes were compelled (through redesign) to comply with our experience of  linear perspective. Observe the loop of red sitting within the two converging red  lines. It has been reshaped to represent a smaller piece of ice. This new shape’s  size (outside edges) was prescribed by the superimposed red vector lines.  As long as the ice piece touches both of those red lines (horizontally) it complies with the principles of linear perspective and reinforces the viewer’s sense of believable space. The red lines converge to a vanishing point on the eye level which is located above the picture (in this case, outside of the picture). This is the principle used by Piranesi.

With the Piranesi example (#2) notice that all the red lines  labeled “R” decline to a single vanishing point on the right while all the red lines labeled “L” decline to a single vanishing point on the left.  Both Vanishing points share the same Eye Level.  This is two point perspective because, we see two sides of the figure (the faces of perpendicular walls). I red-circled an anomaly ( see red letter A) in which the recessional lines do not comport with the same eye level  as the rest of the picture. No doubt, Piranesi laid this section out later. He estimated that it was close enough not to injure the credibility of the overall image.  However, I think it does destabilize the illusion.

example 1. Ice photo with diagram.feb14,17,newburyport ice2_edited-1

example 2. Piranesi Prison Invention.feb14,17,piranesi,carceri,invenzioni_edited-1

Al Held’s perspective invention (example 3)  uses three point perspective to build a richer illusion with more spacial  trigger mechanisms. These include linear perspective, color perspective, and complex use of overlapping or occlusion. If you trace parallel shapes you will discover a common Eye Level but, many of the shapes are turned to use different vanishing points along that same  Eye Level.  Other shapes are tipped slightly down for example, compelling them to use a vanishing point below the dominant Eye Level.  This use of vanishing points below the dominant Eye Level qualifies  as 3 point perspective.

example 3. Al Held’s perspective Invention.feb14,17, al held, fun north, acrylic, 1987_edited-2

example 4. a detail from Held’s image.feb14,17, al held, fun north, acrylic,detail 1987_edited-1

In example 4 ( detail from example 3) notice that the overhead receding turquoise bars do not overlap a series of horizontal bands below them. This lets those bands  float into an ambiguous position . We are not sure if they are in front or behind the overhead bars because we are missing the clue of occlusion or overlapping.

Example 5. Newburyport Tug, photo with diagram.feb14,17, Newburyport Tug, photo

Example 6. Newburyport Ice, 3 pt perspective.feb14,17,newburyport ice_edited-1

In the photo of the Tugboat ( example 5) I have diagrammed the recessional lines receding to the Eye Level which is coincides with the horizon in this example.  Remember, parallel edges converge to a common vanishing point.  The reflections recede as well as their respective objects to a common vanishing point. Notice that lines A,B, and C all recede and converge to vanishing point #3. As the wall turns slightly left with lines D and E, a new vanishing point is established (see point #2). The tugboat and its reflections are turned to the right therefore, their vanishing point  (see green lines) is off to the right (see point #1).

The surface and submerged ice in example 6 use three point perspective. The Eye Level for the surface objects is above the picture plane (see red converging lines). The Eye Level for the submerged Ice which is declining on a downward shelf  uses a vanishing point below the surface level’s vanishing point (see the yellow lines aiming to the yellow vanishing point). As with example 1 I have drawn a red circle for the appropriately scaled piece of ice in the distance. The existing piece was too large to accommodate the receding rules of  linear perspective and therefore, it flattened the space. By making the piece smaller with its edges touching the parallel red recessional lines it can help the picture evoke deeper space.

Example 7.feb14,17, City, Think Fast, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36


Example 7a. without diagram.feb14,17, city, think fast, without diagram

Example 8.feb14,17,misty pond in forest, oil on aluminum,24x24

Example 9. without diagram.feb14,17,misty pond without diagram

Example 7 offers a city view with apparent single point perspective but wait, the street markings offer a chance for a richer sense of flattening the street plane. By using 2 point perspective with vanishing points off to the sides of the picture (indicated by the green recessional lines) the street is made to feel broader and flatter. The picture also depends upon a color and value shift for its sense of space. The darker redder colors are closer and the paler blue territory is further away.

Examples 8 and 9 use principles applied in the cityscape to a forest/pond image. The nearer area at the bottom of the picture plane is yellower and the distant space is paler and bluer. I use the yellow/violet complementary relationship to push the colors apart geographically.  The diagram in example 8 shows the image using multiple vanishing points along a single sight line just as I did in the cityscape.

Allow me to invite you to my color workshop this Saturday ( Feb 22, 2014) at the Silvermine Art Center. If you are interested in this one day workshop call 203 966 6668 or go to





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Interacting Winter Color

Among the most influential color theorists of the 20th century is Joseph Albers. His instructive paperback, Interaction of Colors gives a sample of  his curriculum from  the Bauhaus, to Black Mountain College to Yale. How colors advance, recede, glow, expand, contract, luminesce, form transparency, affect the weight, sobriety or gaiety of a painting were all concerns of Albers. Selections of  his work are  on view in the Yale University Gallery.

To illustrate his color theories Albers used a square format. He placed three squares within one another, graduating their size. In our example he places the brightest color (yellow) in the center, then surrounds it with a paler color  (graying to violet) then, he surrounds this less intense square with a less color saturated and dimmer gray violet.  The complementary juxtapositions and the close proximity of the squares’ values create a soft glowing effect. We also perceive the smallest square appears to be hovering over the next square. The middle square also appears to be superimposed over background square. The composition not only creates luminance but, a sensation of space as well. With Alber’s example in mind I begin my first step (example 2). I am also enhance the glow with softly blurred edges.

example 1. Joseph Albers, A Soft Glow.feb14,10,josef albers, homage to square,soft light1968, oil on masoniteimage_edited-1

example 2. Step one, with a soft glow.feb14,10,winters mix, step one

As I proceed notice the effect of the glow will be diminished as I introduce higher contrasts and more edges (example 3, step two). Higher contrasts tied to sharp edges reduce soft glow effects. Example 4 demonstrates that with more edges ( trees ) I gain more  legibility but, lose even more  glow. Now, I sustain a feeling of depth with linear perspective effects. The trees and rocks diminish in size and, their edge acuity diminishes over distance. I try to maintain some of the glow effect by using complementary colors ( yellowish gold trees-verticals against a field of violet gray). But, consider how adding information (shapes with sharp edges) sacrificed glow.

example 3. step two, first of the contrasting edges.feb14,10,Winters Mix, oil on aluminum,18x18,step2

example 4. step three, more edges.feb14,10, winters mix, final, oil on aluminum,18x18

In the next examples I sustain a more edgeless shape in the center of the image and allow the masses on the sides to serve as both a  framing device and a source of edge information. Notice the middle column of light from sky down through the water avoids hard edges which helps generate a sensation of glow and space. Example 5. represents step one, just the sides bordering an empty field of exposed steel in the middle. Example 6 presents the soft glowing center with lighter values, closer values, and more indeterminate edges.

example  5. step one, the sides( historically referred to as the coulisse).feb14,10,february fog, oil on steel, step one,18x18

example 6. step two, Soft glowing center.feb14,10,february fog, oil on steel, step 2, 18x18

example 7 is another work on steel but, larger 36″x60″. I  continued to work on this image by increasing its glowing effects through dissolved edges. I  also expanded the area occupied by the brightest light. The larger the brightest area then the more diminished its brilliance but, the  soft glow effect is conversely increased. You have a choice bright sparkle or soft glow. Example 8 presents the work after the application of more light and softer edges.  Example 9 presents the latest version with even softer edges, smaller areas of dark, and larger areas of light.

example 7.  initial work on steel.feb14,10,city,Speed of Light, oil on steel, step one,36x60_edited-5

example 8. with diminished edge articulation.feb14,10,city,Speed of Light,step2, oil on steel, 36x60_edited-1

example 9. more light eroding the dark areas.feb14,10,city,Speed of Light, 3rd revision, oil on steel, 36x60_edited-1


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Experiments Expose New Ideas

Experiment with a recipe, new ingredients, oven temperatures and your menu expands. Experiment with tools, paints, gestures, surfaces and your painting menu expands. Ideas are born from experiments. Merely repeating the recipe will not generate new dishes, new directions. What follows are a series of experiments which suggested new directions. I chose from the following experiments which direction to pursue as I enlarged the scale of the experiment. Do not prejudge the experiment. Follow it.

Example 1 gives a sample of my existing art historical menu. I begin with the complementary color traditions of the Impressionists and neo-impressionists, like Pierre Bonnard. To make a radiant painting he juxtaposed complementary colors often mixed with white for added opacity. The edges vibrate; some are indistinct and fuzzy. Fields of space and color comingle. For a vibrant yellow  he contrasts a violet. He kept the values of yellow and violet  close. This amplifies the luminosity of the color, the brightness and the saturation effects.

example 1.  Pierre Bonnard.feb14,3,Pierre Bonnard, window

My next examples begin with two demonstrations I made before two different classes. Each demonstration was an experiment of oil on paper made with 3 and 4 inch flats and, a short squeegee (which rendered the strong verticals suggesting tree trunks). They are both about 10×10″. I began example 2 with a yellow composed of gamboge and lemon yellows. I then overlaid and intercut violets varying intensities. In example 3 (my afternoon class demonstration) I used a red-orange as my first color.  After assessing the effects I decided to make a larger work, 36×36, on canvas. I thought the yellow/violet effect offered a stronger opportunity for radiance. Example 4 is the first step in making the larger 36×36 canvas work. Example 5 presents the most recent step. Example 6 presents another example (36×34 oil on canvas) of the same type of violet/yellow radiance with a similar setting. By painting example 6 I  wanted to see what happened if I  lightened the palette still further.

example 2. 1st oil demo on paper.feb14,3,luminous yellow sketch, oil on paper 9x9

example 3. 2nd oil demo on paper.feb14,3,luminous red, oil on paper,9x9

example 4. 1st step in larger painting.feb14,3, yellow light, oil on canvas,36x36,step one_edited-1

example 5. 2nd step in larger painting.feb14,3forest,luminous yellow, oil on cavas,36x36_edited-1

example 6. Painting with lighter palette.feb14,3,forest,Radiant Yellow, oil on canvas,36x34_edited-4

Smaller scale experiments allow for  more experiments. The bigger they are (usually) the slower the process.  Artists have scaled up their experiments for thousands of years from architecture, to sculpture to painting.  To see their experiments alongside their finished works reveals the process of creation.  Today we often prefer the spontaneity demonstrated in the small experiments over the more careful  final efforts. Consider the expressive plein air studies of Constable and Corot versus the more formulaic effects of their finished works. Keeping the freshness of the experiment alive in the scaled up painting is difficult.  Remember the value of reduction and simplicity.

My next experiments result from considering a NYC street scene. My original plan was to evoke motion and space. The design depended on simplicity, a simple vortex of light moved to the far right of the image. This is an offset hub-and-spoke design, a circling series of wedges all directed to the  light and infinitely distant vortex.  Example 7 is a the result of  oil on joint-compound spread with  over anodized aluminum. Example 8 is the result of oil squeegeed over an older painting. Example 9 is the larger oil on canvas. The first two examples are approximately 18×18. Example 9 is larger,36×34.

example 7. oil over joint compound (plaster).feb14,3,city,moving downtown, experiment,joint compound

example 8. oil with squeegee over painting. feb14,3,city,moving downtown, experiment

example 9. larger painting on canvas, brushes, rags and squeegees.feb14,3,city,Moving Downtown, oil on canvas, 36x34_edited-1

My last examples demonstrate again how to use a recent older painting as a substrate for a new painting and, the process of discovery through an evolving experiment. Here is a winter meadow with remnants of snow indicating a serpentine trail back into the distance.  A series of serpentine patterns coalesce into one on the far right of the painting. Example 10 represents the painting to be used as the substrate. Examples 11, 12, and 13 represent intermediate steps where you see how the original substrate is exploited and subsumed into the new painting presented in example 14.

example 10. substrate painting.feb14,3,forest snow fields, step1

example 11.step one.feb14,3,forest snow fields, step2

example 12. step two.feb14,3,forest snow fields, step3

example 13. step three.feb14,3,forest snow fields, step4

example 14. last step to date.feb14,3,forest, snow fields, oil on aluminum,18x18_edited-1


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Tracks and Tread Marks

Police measure tire-tread marks to determine the rate of speed of a braking vehicle. Fingerprints, footprints in the snow, fossils, and paintings are all evidence of tracks and tread marks. The weight, direction, and character of the impressing tool ( brush, fingers, rag, blower, palette knife ) all can suggest  more than the identity of the tool. They can suggest the quality and orientation of  a motion, the quality of texture from hair to  salt-marsh reeds, from eroded rock to shimmering water. The vocabulary of an artist’s marks can limit or unleash their creative expression. Nuances of pressure on a finger tip, a few strands of loose bristles, or the wrinkled corner of a rag can imply impressive levels of detail which are far beyond the ability of individual brush strokes. Examining a painting minutely like a detective at a crime scene helps decipher how effects were rendered.  Learning how to paint requires learning how to detect and revive the touches of past masters. The artist should read their tracks and tread marks to deduce their methods.  Here are examples of a variety of tools and  their effects.  I will use, fingers, paper towels, squeegees, and a range of flat synthetic wash brushes from 8″ to 1/2″ .

Example 1, a beach scene, was initially laid down with a 4″ flat stroking in a horizontal area of dark purple. Next, I surrounded this dark area with overlapping blended fields of lighter  and complementary color with a 4″ flat.  I cut a few light areas into the dark to suggest a connected pattern of beach umbrellas and beach goers.  The last strokes I made were a series of vertical up-strokes gently dragging the light paint over the lower area of the dark violet.  This blurs and dissolves edges in a unitary direction which can suggest a variety of narrative possibilities. Notice these last upward tracks of  brush strokes run perpendicular to the sum of the  dark forms. Tracing the brush tracks is uncomplicated here.

Example 1. blurred beach, oil on aluminum.jan14,27,at the beach, oil aluminum,18x18

Examples 2 and 3 offer a more complicated patterns for tracking paint marks.  Example two  shows the laying in of the initial color.  There are many perpendicular verticals and horizontals surrounding a small pool of light. In example 3 you see the sum of many strokes overlaying one another.  Horizontals now overlay verticals while these are incised with a few curved, quick light squeegee strokes.  I also use the squeegee strokes to delete areas of paint to reveal larger shapes in the lower area of the painting. The aggregation of layers of different brush tracks (left by large flat brushes as I vibrate a texture across the surface and, shift to  smaller flats to deposit a finer and more pixilated texture) creates a  visual field in which the viewer can hypothesize a variegated pond surface.

example 2.step one, laying in, oil on aluminum, 36×36.jan14,27,water mysteries, step one

example 3.step two, aggregating track patterns from various tools.jan14,27,water Mysteries, oil on aluminum,36x36_edited-1

Examples 4 and 5 show the utility of a darker underpainting when laying down lighter colors with variegated  textures.  Example 4 presents step one.  All of the painting at this stage is done with large 4″ and 8″ flats blending color complements and complementary values against one another. Example 5 exhibits the effects of further layering but, with drier paint. The drier paint leaves more distinctive articulations (tread marks) than wetter paint which is more suitable for blending. I only used flat brushes from 1″ to 8″ with some ragging touches with paper toweling.

example 4  step one, oil, 36×36.jan14,27, Infinite marsh, oil on aluminum,36x36, step 1

example 5 step two, more layers, more variety of  tracks.jan14,27, Infinite marsh, oil on aluminum,36x36, step 2

The following examples take us inside New York’s Grand Central Station. In all of the following examples I begin with color complements and blended brushwork. In example 6 I keep the brushwork blended with only an occasional use of my index finger and finger nail to outline a portion of a figure or architectural edge. The violet and yellow areas remain discrete to reinforce the effects of simultaneous contrast.

example 6. oil on canvas, 36×36.jan14,27,nyc gcs, the passengers wore violet, oil on canvas,36x36_edited-2

Examples 6,7,8 and 9 present the sequence of a painting from the initial (brushed) complementary color lay-in.  Later I will apply squeegee effects.   I will often lightly brush over the squeegee effects to have them harmonize with the surface textures. The squeegee marks are still discernible except they have acquired  blurred and smoothed edges. If a squeegee mark is initially laid down vertically then, I often later blur with a horizontal brushstroke. You can find evidence of this in the examples.

Example 6 again begins with a dark blue/violet and a light ochre yellow ( a renaissance color recipe) then, in example 7 the painting receives more reds, a greater variety of brush marks and subdued squeegee marks. The touch of a squeegee and its tracks are as variable as brushwork.

example 6. step one, oil on canvas,36×36 .jan14,27,nyc blue kiosk, step one

example 7. step two. jan14,27,nyc gcs, blue kiosk,revised, oil on canvas 36x36_edited-1

After the initial lay-in (example 8)  the next examples demonstrate even more of the tread marks of the squeegee.  Example 9 received a bath of light blue obscuring most of the blended figures seen in example 8. This bath of light blue was selectively deleted using squeegees then additionally blended.

example 8. pre squeegee, oil on aluminum,36×36.jan14,27,nyc gcs,Kinetic Crowd, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36 step one_edited-1

example 9. post squeegee and blending. jan14,27,nyc gcs,Kinetic Crowd, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1


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Cool Summer, Warm Winter

Color suggests emotional temperature which helps arrest attention.  Reversed expectations also arrests attention. It works in literature, stand-up comedy, music and painting.  Presenting a surprising aspect of a well-known subject makes the viewer reconsider their understanding of reality. Surprise is the ultimate contrast.   It can expand the definition of a genre or subject. Monet exploited color’s ability to surprise in his soft violet and blue summer-morning paintings on the Seine. He used a  cool palette to describe a warm season just as he would later paint winter haystack as they revealed  the warmth of sunlight on the haystacks surrounded by blue snow shadows. The blue boosted the power of orange and vice versa. I borrowed Monet’s idea of a  cool violet, blue and yellow green palette for a summer morning pond to render a cool temperature  (example 2). In a reversal, I use bright yellows to dominate a winter estuary scene (example 3).  Where Monet used broken edges for a vibrating color I let the colors spill outside the edges of their respective objects whether it’s the water, the marsh grass or the water areas.

example 1.  Monet Haystacks jan14,20,monet, haystacks

example 2. My Cool Summer Pond jan14,20,water, luminous summer, oil on aluminum, 36x36

example 3. Bright Warm Winter Estuary with loose color borders. jan14,20,water, Estuary Chromatic Rhythm, oil on aluminm,36x36_edited-1

Next, I begin with another later summer blue tide-pool painting as a substrate for a winter stream. I found its arrangement of  a small area of warmth at the top and a darker lower area coincidentally useful  for my winter stream painting. Example 4 presents the stream in its photo form after I  exaggerated the colors in Photoshop. Example 5 shows the original tide-pool painting. Example 6 shows me initially covering the dark blue with an oily layer of lighter blue. I make the paint oily in order to easily manipulate the paint later with a small squeegee. The wetter the paint the easier it is to manipulate with a squeegee. If I  were to use stiffer paint then, it would be easier to manipulate with palette knife  or to suggest various textures with a brush. Example 7  shows the image after deleting paint with a squeegee and softly texturing with a flat synthetic wash-brush. Example 8  presents an image with a bright warm background contrasting with the dark foreground. Observe the meandering dark serpentine triangle (the stream) which creates depth in the painting.  In example 9  I have a winter painting with a similar warmly colored background but, the foreground uses a light meandering triangle ( the drive ). The trees were created with squeegees. The drive and snow were created with brush strokes.

example 4. photo for winter stream jan14,20,cedar creek step 1 photo

example 5. original tide-pool painting to be over-painted.jan14,20,cedar creek step two

example 6. Step one, covering the tide-pool jan14,20,cedar creek step 3

example 7. Step two, after initial squeegee deletions jan14,20,cedar creek step3

example 8. Step three with warm forest jan14,20,cedar creek step4, oil on canvas,20x20_edited-1

example 9. Bright triangle drive in Snow. jan14,20, cedar lane in snow, oil on aluminum,18x18

In this next winter scene I use deep reds, pinks and coral colors for a winter marsh scene. I begin with a photo whose colors I amplified in Photoshop ( example 10). Next, I begin on white oil enamel anodized aluminum (24×24) as my substrate. I do not use squeegees in this painting, only brushes. My first brush is an 8″ flat which covers a third of the painting surface in a single stroke. I orient the strokes vertically where I intend to suggest a vertical tangle of weeds, reeds and branches. I orient my strokes horizontally with a smaller 3″ flat to suggest the distance in a band of blue (example 11). Example 12 offers a view of the painting in mid-development. At this stage I complete the design and make certain of its simplicity, its progression from  a wide dark horizontal band to its next thinner light horizontal band (reflecting water) to the next dark band of  reedy area to the next thinner band of coral light (the top of the meadow) to the darker blue (also complementary to the coral color) distance. Example 13 presents the painting after  piercing the dark forward area with small lights, and an overall development of  more texture variety.

example 10. photo of winter marsh jan14,20,devils den step1 photo

example 11. Initial laying in of paint with the 8″ flat jan14,20,devils den step2

example 12. Next step jan14,20,devils den step 3

example 13. Last step to date. jan14,20,devils den step4, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24



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