Chromatic Mesh

Vincent Van Gogh let his brush strokes imitate the pen strokes of his sketches. He found an expressive vocabulary of marks to describe the wavering, windswept, leaning, curling, interwoven patterns of nature (example 1).  Layering and weaving nature’s strands of wheat, branches, flora and clouds is seductive challenge for artists. The attractions of nature’s complex textures expanded for artists in the 20th century.

I live near fields of sea grass along the Connecticut shore. Many artists here are seduced by the variety of light, texture, and motion offered by the shoreline grasses. Late 20th century expressionist Gabor Peterdi lived and painted these shores investing his sea grass with wind-dance motion presaged by Van Gogh in his pen and inks. Peterdi’s work (example 2) of the 1980s takes an abstract path unavailable to Van Gogh in 1890. Like Van Gogh, Peterdi explores chromatic complements but, with  greater distillation and design efficiency.

Example 1. Van Gogh fields.
nov15,23,van gogh,fields,1890

Example 2. Gabor Peterdi, Big Wetland.

Let’s begin with a couple of photographs of New England shorelines from Massachusetts to New York. Example 3 presents a black and white photo. I stripped away the color to allow me greater inventiveness with color. Example 4 is the painting that followed. I exaggerated the stand of grasses because, that’s where I found the maximum opportunity for texture, pattern and deep color contrasts. The image was painted on brushed silver anodized aluminum.

Example 3. Photo, Plum Island, Ma.
nov15,23,plum island,step one, photo ma7

Example 4. Painting.
nov15,23,shoreline pale horizons,oilo n brushed silver andoized aluminum,24x24

The next image begins closer to home along the Norwalk, Connecticut shore. These are the same wetlands investigated by Peterdi 30 years earlier. First, example 5 presents my photograph before manipulations in Photo Elements. Example 6 demonstrates both step one and two of the painting process. The right half shows my lay-in after some light texturing with a 4”brush and paper towel. The left half shows the second step after the application of squeegee marks excising areas of the lay-in. Example 7 presents the image in its present state after I applied opaque patches of pink and blue into some of the earlier excisions. I further overlaid vertical strands of more vivid color (light vermilion and citron yellow). The stronger reds occupy lower areas of the reeds. They transition into lighter yellows as they ascend into the sky. My color complements followed the standard set by physicists Herman Von Helmholtz and Ogden Rood in the late 19th century. Van Gogh had read and used their color advisories; a warm yellow  complements an ultramarine blue.  A Cyan blue best complements a Gamboge and notes of light vermillion.

Example 5. Photo of wetland.
nov15,23,step one,calf pasture photo

Example 6. Step one of wetland painting.
nov15,23,step two,calf pasture, oil on anodized brushed silver aluminum,24x24

Example 7.Present state of wetland painting.
nov15,23,step three,shoreline Chromatics, oil on brushed silver anodizd aluminum, 24x24

Finally, I came in closer for a more intimate horizon-free view of marsh grass (example 8). The color contrast here is strong and complementary and, again follows the advice of Helmholtz and Rood (see his book, “Modern Chromatics”).

Example 8. Nesting Chromatics,oil on white enamel anodized aluminum,36×36.
nov15,23,shoreline nesting chromatics, oil on white anodized aluminum, 36x36

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Layered and Mixed Media

Beginning in 15th century the Yuan Dynasty stretched for a hundred years. Yuan artists like Huang Gongwang  painted vertically exaggerated landscapes of mountains, crags and valleys. Exaggerations like his were subsumed into American painting in the 20th century in artists like Diebenkorn and Theibaud. Artists, like actors and musicians favor simplification and exaggeration as devices to emotionally empower their art.

Example 1 offers a landscape of Gongwang’s.  Example 2 presents a landscape of vertical exaggeration and simplification by contemporary artist Wayne Thiebaud. Observe the shared qualities.

example 1. Yuan Dynasty landscape.
nov15,16,chinese,yuan dynasty attrib to huang gongwang, living in seclusion among crags and valleys_edited-1

example 2.Wayne Thiebaud cityscape.
nov15,16,thiebaud,vertical city for printing_edited-1

Before Theibaud, Claude Monet tried luminous exaggerations with a vertical architectural motif. He painted at least 27 different versions of this Rouen Cathedral. The architecture dissolves into the eroding effects of sunlight (example 3). Following upon the work of Cezanne, Georges Braque simplifies and exaggerates architectural and organic forms in 1910 (example 4) as he presages cubism.

example 3. Monet’s Rouen Cathedral.

example 4.Georges Braque painting
nvo15,16,braque,georges,1910, carriere st denis_edited-2

I follow their lead but, I begin by digitally manipulating a photograph (example 5) which will serve as the substrate to two different images.  One of these is a landscape, an autumnal stream. The other is a cityscape. The photograph is the result of manipulating an image shot within New York’s Grand Central Station.

example 5. NY GCS photograph.

example 5a. after vertical rotation.
nov15,16,gcs,july3,vertical rotation_edited-5

I printed two 13×13 versions of the photo. I heavily coated both versions with a polymer gloss varnish. After rotating it vertically (example 5a), I found the image to be a  substrate capable of contributing to the creation of other overlaying images. I first over-painted the photo with an autumnal stream.  Example 6 shows step one of an autumnal stream image. Look for traces of the original image as it contributes to the texture and appearance of the overlaying landscape. Example 7 presents step two  in the development of the landscape over-painting. Observe how the textures of the trees borrow qualities from the floor the of the original photo. Notice how the original images dark figurative forms are subsumed into the dark water as  dark vertical forms.

example 6. step one of the autumnal stream.
nov15,16,step 2,devils den stream

example 7. step two of the autumnal stream.
nov15,16,step 3,devils den stream

To demonstrate the versatility of the original photo as  an influential substrate I over-painted it with  a cityscape. Step one of this process can be seen in example 8.  Step two can be seen in example 8. Both colors and textures of the original photo help contribute to the vertical variety and character of the image seen in example 9.  Months earlier I painted another version of the same subject, a 24×24 oil on anodized aluminum which you see in example 10.  Example 10 is straightforward painting, not an overlay on a photograph.

example 8. step one of the cityscape.
nov15,16,step 2,boston sunlight2_edited-2

example 9. step two of the cityscape
nov15,16,step 3,.boston sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24_edited-1

example 10. original painting of the cityscape without a photo substrate.
nov15,16,boston sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

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Autumn Cascade

The delights of an autumn meadow lay in the opportunities for finding designs whether close up or  panorama.  A superabundance of opposing currents of flora create interlocking patterns. The artist’s problem is one of simplification and distillation. How do we find an order here and how do we disguise that order to sustain a feeling of  nature’s unified chaos. How do we get nature’s chaotic orchestra to play from the same score?

Composing works well when we selectively crop,  with or without a camera.  First frame a section of chaos then, find  major and minor movements exhibiting dynamic contrasts. Prune away distracting suspicious coincidences and redundancies. Exaggerate curves, thematic shapes, value and color contrasts.

Let’s look John Constable’s approach to reordering major shapes of  the sea and sky in his preliminary oil study  (example 1).  Observe that he selected a long rectangular format to extend the flow of the horizon.  Observe how the shoreline and cloud-lines converge forming an arrow-like shape. This is only his initial study.  He will borrow  ideas from his studies to inform later paintings or, he may continue to tune the study up by making the cloud-lines appear less rigid.

I thought you might like to see one of John Constable’s studies, his first steps. Example 2 presents a finished painting of Constable’s.  See how he used a similar design but now, he  refined it with more curvature.  He has  the sky  turn and flip back on itself so the viewer remains within the picture. I superimposed red lines demonstrating the sky and land’s new curvilinear relationship.

example 1. Constable study.
nov15,9,constable, j, sea and cloud study_edited-1

example 2. Constable exhibition painting.
nov15,9,Constable,DedhamVale6_edited-1 nov15,9,Constable,DedhamVale6

I  use a similar design composing a meadow image.  Example 3 shows my  cropped photo with superimposed red lines describing an arch moving across the painting. The movement is similar to Constable’s cloud study but, more curved. Example 4 shows  you my initial lay-in. My palette included Gamboge, Carmine Lake, Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow, and a touch of vermillion. I applied and blended the paint using  a soft flat 8″wide brush. Example 5 presents step two, after I have gingerly manipulated the paint  with 6″ squeegee. I was careful not to remove too much paint just, to  make the paint film thinner with light gestures of varying pressure and size. Example 6 reveals the image after I selectively deleted paint with a squeegee  to suggest a bright distance.

example 3. cropped photo.
nov15,9,step one,arch of autumn,photo_edited-1

example 4. step one, the lay-in.
nov15,9,step two,arch of autumn 1

example 5. step two, early squeegee work.
nov15,9,step three,arch of autumn,3

example 6. step three, selective deletions.
nov15,9,step four,arch of autumn 4

Because there are so many possible design configurations when looking into the meadow’s chaos I need to extract a simple design. My design menu here  includes the “Zig Zag”, the “Spiral”, the “Wave or W pattern” , and a “Cascading Triad”.  In example 7 I offer you an example demonstrating a spiral design’s ability to suggest space. It is the domed interior of a Baroque Church in Rome. In example 8 I have aimed the spiral pattern across a meadow and stabilized it with a soft curving horizon, a swale.  The image has a superimposed red diagrammed spiral and counterpoint curve.

example 7. Ceiling Spiral.
nov15,9,rome baroque6_edited-2

example 8. Meadow Spiral.
nov15,9,spiral in a saddle_edited-1

Zig zags can be tilted to improve their dynamism as you see in example 9. The red lines demonstrate the pattern.  A wave pattern or “W” is simply the zig zag turned sideways.  In example 10 I use this  softly curving wave pattern in my painting. It is an oil on anodized aluminum, 36×36.

example 9. receding zig zag.
nov15,9,angledand receding zigzag_edited-1

example 10. Wave Pattern in a painting.
nov15,9,marsh harmonies, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

Example 12 demonstrates another Wave or “W” pattern which appears across the surface of the water. Trace the blue water shape to see it’s the same design as the painting above. This work is an oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum.

Example 12. Wave or W pattern again.
nov15,9,water,stonebridge Novembers Mix, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24x24_edited-1

The shapes serve as metaphors. I titled this blogpost “Autumn Cascade” to exploit the metaphorical power of shapes.  Like a Haiku, my leaves bend and fall like water.  I noticed how leaves lose their structural strength after a frost. They hang limply  having lost the firm authority of their previous curvature. Borrowing the form of the traditional triptych I have three interacting and merged columns of post-frost foliage. Example 13 presents a preliminary stage with the painting. Example 14 presents the painting as it currently appears, an oil on white anodized aluminum, 36×36.

example 13. preliminary stage.
nov15,9,autumn cascade,step one

example 14. Present appearance.
nov15, autumn Cascade,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

I look forward to seeing artists who will paint with me in one of my three workshops in Jerry Artarama’s Art of The Carolinas on this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. See for details.


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Inspiration In A Basket

Baskets and Blankets share a weft and warp, interweaving patterns meeting perpendicularly. Normally, we gather our attention at  intersections and when they are redundant we move our attention to the continuities of the pattern and cease to pay attention to the individual intersections. Paintings can be constructed with a similar principle.

Our mind prioritizes different directional patterns. We attribute thematic unity to the direction of the emphasized current in the pattern. Neuroscience has discovered  we prioritize verticals over horizontals but, the preference is subtle. When a basket-weave design is used we pay more attention to a design with an emphasis on a particular direction rather than each direction receiving the same emphasis whether in color, value, texture, or size. In the following examples notice how artists use directional patterns to suggest a current of motion but, balance that direction with a less emphatic contrary motion.

Example one begins with a  watercolor by Albrecht Durer around 1500.  Durer probably used an optical projection device like a concave lens or camera obscura or glass window grid to achieve his result. Observe the surfeit of verticals behaving like a rhythmic melody and then the lower horizontal area with a softer focus  as if it were a counterpoint base line.

example 1. Durer.
nov15,2,durer, albrecht, watercolor, piece of turf_edited-2

I have two impressionist examples, Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent. In example 2, Monet painted a  loose current of horizontal leaf shapes acting like a translucent curtain intervening before the distant landscape. This horizontal current is supported by  counterbalancing slender, dark tree trunks. In Examples 3 and 4 (detail), Sargent creates a unitary field of verticals (grasses) which slowly fade out of focus. They  are counterbalanced by the horizontal band of figures, canoe and canvas. Notice how the figures (artist Paul Helleu and wife) and the boat aggregate into a triangular shape.

example 2. Monet.
nov15,2,monet, springtime through branches,1878_edited-1

example 3.Sargent, full image.
nov15,2,sargent, paul helleu and wife

example 4. Sargent, detail.
nov15,2,sargent detail , paul helleu and wife

If I wish to emphasize the horizontal action I may organize it into a singular shape like a serpentine or zigzag which you see in example 5. Notice that the horizontal zig zag is reinforced with a subset of horizontal leaf shapes and, this entire pattern sits on a complementary dark blue field which is interrupted by short verticals.  We visually unite these verticals across the vertical span of the picture just as we unite the interweaving laces of a basket. The effect illustrates the Gestalt continuity principle.

example 5. ZigZag Autumn, an oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum.
nov15,2,autumns water labyrinth,oil on anodized brusehd silver aluminum,48x48

I can take this same design and reverse the location and role of  the ” Blue” as you see in example 5a. Here the central blue shape becomes the passive area  and the periphery is more active.

example 5a. Blue Marsh, oil on PVC.
Nov15,2,blue marsh, oil on pvc,48x48

Photographing nature I find patterns which emphasize the vertical or the horizontal. Example 6 illustrates a feeling of dominant verticals while example 7 illustrates an image dominated by horizontals.

example 6, Verticals over Horizontals.
nov15,2,stonebridge october13a_edited-2

example 7.Horizontals over Verticals.
nov15,2,stonebridge october14_edited-1

Or, an image can transition with a territory with dominant horizontals into a territory with dominant verticals as you see in example 8.  The leaves in lower half are more horizontal and transition into more vertical alignments.

example 8, horizontals into verticals.
nov15,2,stonebridge october17_edited-1

In my final examples I begin with a lower section of horizontals then allow the majority of the picture  to be filled with vertical rhythms. I simultaneously change the palette as I go from the lower area which is redder to the upper area which depends on  simultaneous color contrast effects and equiluminance effects relying on the violet vs. yellow dynamic for both brightness and shimmer. Example 9 represents step one, my initial lay-in and, example 10 is the painting in its present form, an oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum.

example 9, step one, Corner of Autumn.
nov15,2,step1,thick autumn

example 10.step two, Corner of Autumn.
nov15,2,step2,thick autumn, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,24x24


I invite you come to my lecture on Art and Architecture this Sunday November 8, 2015 at 4:30 PM at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct.  For information see my website at or visit

I also invite you to Join me for  Jerry Artarama’s Art of The Carolinas in Raleigh Durham, NC. the following weekend. I have three days of exciting workshops. Either call 800 827-8478 ext156 or visit their website at . My three workshops are: 1.Water: Reflections & Translucence; 2.Realistic Abstractions; 3. Brighter and Brilliant Nature.


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Glass In Perspective

In Human history both clear glass and linear perspective are new inventions, both appearing in the last 600 to 700 years.  They worked in concert.  With clear glass we got lenses, clear  windows and  vivid mirrors. All three were adapted by artists as tools to make more believable space in their pictures.

By the 15th century artists were mastered linear perspective and aimed  lenses at their subjects through camera obscuras. Their observations astounded them. Glass windows and mirrors added multiple layers to reality. Reflections on glass distorted according  surface curvature.  Reflections on window glass obscured and confused the subject behind them. Artists  were first attracted to the distortions of curvature as new motif in the 17th century. But, they would wait for architecture and design innovations of the 20th century to begin to wrestle with layers of reflections on glass co-mingled with the motif behind the window.

In the 18th century halls of mirrors not only filled royal palaces with light (Versailles) they also expanded the feeling of space.  England’s  Crystal Palace of 1850 filled its giant  interior space with light as well as, showed vast fields of sparkle and reflections to the exterior world.  These effects were not lost on artists.

By the 1920s the German Bauhaus art and design school changed architecture by rethinking the use of glass.  They wanted more of it (see W. Gropius). They wanted long lines of it, walls of it. Within a few years architects like Jean Prouve were designing Bauhaus like homes featuring walls of glass (example 1).  He relied on simple linear perspective in his design work . You can see the evidence in his 3D model here.

example 1. Prouve house from 1930s.
oct15,25,prouve, jean, maisons variante 1939-65_edited-1
By mid 20th century the fashions of painting had turned away from the apparent rigidity of linear perspective in favor of the physical gestures of abstract expressionism. But, as that fashion faded artists returned to linear perspective and the distortions of transparent and reflective glass.  In the last half of the 20th century artists found delight in ambiguities of reflections found on glass and the world seen through it.  Photography fed us ideas here.

But our brain works differently than a camera. We can look at the same 2D surface and recognize a variety of patterns because of our ability to selectively focus and, our ability to select different patterns from the same reflective surface. These are zones of attention which can be manipulated at will.  A photograph of myriad glass reflections were reconstructed in paint by artists of the late 20th century, especially a group identified as photo realists. One prominent example is the artist Richard Estes (example 2).  He uses convincing linear perspective and the ambiguities of glass to create an inside/outside world.

example 2. Richard Estes, Columbus Circle.
oct15,25,estes, richard, columbus circle, 1996 oil on canvas_edited-2

Because our focus is directed to intersections, especially “T” intersections, we delight in columned architecture. Our eye’s attention is primarily directed at the nexus of the vertical and the cross bar. We spend less attention on the column. Example 3 traces eye fixations while looking at a column with overhead crossbar (G.T.Buswell 1931). See where we direct our foveal saccades.

Example 3. Cornea tracing  of eye fixations.
oct15,25,eye fixations records, 1931,g t buswell_edited-1

If you are making a picture with columns/verticals and rhythmic  variations of the  intersecting overhead cross bars then you can anticipate where the viewer will look.  Intersections attract our attention..  The glass reflections create  layers of ambiguity which enhance a feeling of dynamic (motion evoking) 3D space.

Consider this linear perspective diagram of DaVinci’s last supper (example 4) then, notice how an offset overlay of the same diagram on itself creates a stronger feeling of stereopsis (example 5).

example 4. Perspective design of Last Supper painting.
oct15,25,DaVinci, single 2 pt perspective grid for last supperscan0001,alt1_edited-3

example 5. Perspective design with faux stereopsis.
oct15,25,DaVinci layered perspective grid for last supper,scan0001,alt

For my following painting examples I wandered through New York finding complex glass reflection patterns coupled to opportunities for linear perspective.  I discovered deviously ambiguous images to confuse or enhance our sense of deep space.  In example 6 I explored the glass walled foyer of the new Whitney museum of American Art in NYC.  In example 7 I began the same subject in a square format; this is step one.  Example 8 represents a later step of the same painting.  I placed shadows on the floor on a bias to casually intersect with the vertical columns and people. In example 9 I have the ricocheting reflections of glass along Madison Avenue. In example 10 you see the first step in trying a squared version of the same subject. Example 11 presents the same painting in a later stage.

example 6. Foyer of New Whitney Museum
oct15,25,city,glass walls,Whitney, oil on anodized aluminum,24x48_edited-1

example 7. Step one of Squared version
oct15,25,whitney foyer,step 1

example 8. Step two of the Square version.
oct15,25,whitney foyer,step 4,city,whitney foyer, oil on andized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1


example 9. Horizontal of Glass on Madison.
oct15,25,city,Glass On Madison, oil on  brushed silver anodized aluminum, 24x48_edited-3

example 10. Step one of Squared version of Glass on Madison.
oct15,25,glass on madison,step 1

example 11. Step two of Squared Version  of Glass on Madison.
oct15,25,city,glass on madison squared, oilon aluminum,24x24_edited-1

On November 8,  I welcome you to a late afternoon lecture, Art and Architecture, how they similarly evolved and, how they  influenced each other from the distant past until now. The lecture begins at 4:30 on Sunday November 8, 2015 at the Silvermine Art Center. See or for more information.

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Perspectives of Disappearance

Da Vinci explored how things appear over distance. He observed they  not only appear smaller, they also change their shape and  edges.  Over long distances he noticed first  a horse’s legs disappear, then its neck and head. They evolve into a single dark shape which he concluded was an oval. It’s not but, he got the basic idea right.  Edges lose their definition over distance.  Things blend together. He also observed that colors changed over distance. Yellows especially lose their chromatic strength.  He thought these effects were due to operations in the eye. He was getting closer to understanding. But he failed to observe and explore other phenomena.

Da Vinci didn’t pursue investigations into peripheral vision. He  did observe that the Linear perspective’s system for assigning objects a size diminishing across distance did not accommodate  lateral distances  like the size of columns on building moving off to the left or right. They not only get smaller in the forward distance but also,  laterally at the sides of our vision.  He understood focus areas shift. He knew we refocused frequently and were attracted to contrast and light.  But, he  didn’t observe the rate of degrading focus away from the center of our vision.

Our eyes generally refocus (search and find another area of focus) at the rate of 4 per second. They are instructed by the brain where to aim and relay their electric-chemical stream through the optic nerve to the brain. Here they are  parsed and matched to our brain’s expectations, an endless feedback loop.  Reality is on a delay as our brain takes time for signals to reach it and have the brain match its model of the world with arriving electrical-chemical information.  Some information like color gets processed before shape. The brain takes time to give  us about a unified illusory reality. It’s  a fiction but a useful one.  Otherwise the world would appear very confused.  Da Vinci didn’t look for peripheral blurring because, he didn’t see it.   He didn’t know what to look for. He didn’t understand what it looked like any more than ancient Assyrians could have understood  illusions of linear perspective without visual training. To them variably sized pictured information was little or big not,  near or far.

Today we have learned to use tools like cameras which vividly illustrate peripherally smeared visuals. Now we see  correlations with our own biological vision just as we perceive blurred information as movement.  These were not pictured in 14th century because, they didn’t exist as the category of knowledge  we have today.  Just as Galileo with his telescope saw the topography of the moon for the first time. No one believed that the moon could have earthlike topography because, it was not thought  possible. Orbs closer to heaven had to be more perfect, smooth. Philosophy demanded it.

Piranesi, an 18th century printmaker used linear perspective to make his artworks. He ran into trouble trying to make domes and cylinders in perspective. His picturing system could not accommodate his visual experience so, he discounted the experience.  Example 1 shows us his view into Rome’s pantheon. Today, we see its weaknesses. He tried to give a grand sense of scale, to make the interior feel huge by making the people incredibly small. He didn’t put the people in motion because, he didn’t know how to suggest motion by blurring them. He didn’t know how to progressively degrade the focus from the center of his vision to generate a stronger or more lifelike illusion. For most of us we still believe we see like photos with sharpness everywhere.  Those who study vision realize what a fiction this is!

example 1. Piranesi, The Pantheon.
oct15,19,piranesi, pantheon engraving

I am going to show you artists who have moved on with the study of the perspective of disappearance to include peripheral focus degradation, artists like Turner.  Example 2 presents a painting of an interior in a castle by Turner. Notice the only sharp edges are in the center of the visual field. Where there is bright glaring light as there is under the central archway then, the glare of the light obscures our vision, our edge detection skills.

Example 2. Turner, interior.
oct15,19,j m w turner,the drawing room,oil 1830

In 1850 William Holman Hunt tried to infuse exaggerated realism into his work by reducing the effects of the perspective of disappearance. The result looks naive like art before Raphael which was his point since he was a member of the pre-Raphaelite group.  With Hunt all things have sharp focused edges. See example 3.   A contemporary, John Raven paints a field of flowers using the standard perspective of disappearance principles of Da Vinci.  We see how details merge and blend in his distance ( example 4).

example 3. Wm Holman Hunt.
oct15,19,wm holman hunt, 1850

example 4. John Raven.
oct15,19,john samuel raven,1857, oil on card on wood, study

I have four examples of the perspective of disappearance.  The First, leaves on water, relies mostly on Da Vinci’s principles ( example 5 ). The focus and scale of the subject matter diminish over distance.  But, the surface of the water moves in and out of focus as it both advances and recedes. In example 6 , an aerial view of Manhattan, notice the  buildings gain in acuity and chromatic variety and strength in the center of the image.  The color and edge contrast diminishes as we move to the back as well as the front and even the sides.  Color does not sit easily within edges in our vision and, color is strongest at the center of our focused vision.

example 5.  Leaves on Water.
oct15,19,water surfaces, ephemera, oil on brushed gold anodized aluminum 36x36_edited-1

example 6. Manhattan Profile.
oct15,19,Manhattan Destiny, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36, without diagram_edited-1

Example 8  ( an interior of Grand Central Station ) presents mostly degraded focus like Turner’s work.  Its edges dissolving especially at the periphery. This  gives the scene a feeling of both atmosphere and motion.

example 8. Grand Central Station Interior.
oct15,19,GCS,Rhapsody in Blue,36x36_edited-1

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Corot Visits Sun Valley or, Leaves From A Touch

Corot was a student of  composition, atmosphere, and tonal accuracy.  His influence runs through modern landscape painting. Long  before Corot determined to evoke leafy foliage the subject occupied the artists from ancient China to  mediaeval Paris. We thought of  leaves and flowers as symbols of  verdure, antique paradise, and health. Place a subject among leaves  and it becomes elevated by its adjacency to nature’s leafy symbols whether it is a capital on a Corinthian Column or, on a laurel wreath or the symbol for France, the Fleur de Lis.

If we travel back in time to 1500 we would find weavers applies leaves and flowers. They created a feeling of Eden’s verdure around the adored unicorn by simply providing a dark background then applying leaves or other symbols of floribunda.  A few carefully placed leaf shapes can offer a feeling of abundant ideal natural splendor (example 1).  Our mind works this way.  We need only a few symbolically formed patches and we conjure a forest. Corot knew this and used it. In example 2 notice how Corot uses a misty blurred area as a backdrop to specific small shapes to suggest leaves in both the foreground and background.  Later, Gustave Klimt uses a neo-impressionist approach by flattening the picture plane and still convincingly suggests a forest floor congested with leaves. His leaves are no more botanically accurate than Corot’s but their congestion and their lateral  arrangement against the vertical trees make them persuasive.

example. 1. Millefleur tapestry.
oct15,12,tapestry,southern netherlands, millefleurs with unicorn,1500_edited-1

example. 2. detail from Corot painting.
oct15,12,Corot, detail on the lake

example  3. Gustave Klimt forest.
oct15,12,klimt, Gustav, forest

Another neo-Impressionist to use flower and leaf shapes scattered in autonomously across the surface of a painting was Vincent Van Gogh.  His approach finds roots in the Millefleur tapestry. His shapes are as much symbol as they are illusion. He just gives his iconic leaf shapes more gestural freedom. (example 4)

example 4. Van Gogh, 1890.
oct15,12,van gogh, v, 1890 madamoiselle gachet near auvers_edited-1

Corot painted in Italy and France and was associated with the Barbizon tonalist painters. He also painted in their Fontainebleau forest. Among his peers was Narcisse De La Pena who painted the forest path you see in example 5. I followed in the tradition of the Fontainebleau forest painters when I found a path through the woods alongside Sun Valley’s Big Wood River. Example 6  is a watercolor demonstration of a similar composition.

example 5. De la Pena’s forest.
oct12,15,pena, narcisse de la, 1965, la route sous bois, Fontainebleau_edited-1

example 6. Big Wood River Valley watercolor.
oct15,12,dunlop,sun valley,hailey big wood river trail,wc_edited-1

Corot’s influence on Impressionists and later artists like George Inness can be seen in paintings like  example 7.  I found myself chasing Corot’s compositions and tonal palette as my wife (Rebecca) and I hiked through Adam’s Gulch above Sun Valley ( see example 8).

example 7. Corot landscape.
oct15,12,corot, transparent tree_edited-2

example 8. my photo after Corot.
oct15,12,adams gulch15_edited-3

The next examples demonstrate revealing leaf shapes to suggest motion, space (near vs. far), color and value contrasts. My leaf shapes derive from the ideas expressed by the previous examples. Example 9 presents  flora in congestion in a meadow. The space is compressed (like Klimt) with the viewer tucked into the immediate flora.

Example 10 offers an example of the photo I used to create the next painting. Example 11 demonstrates how I altered the photo in Photoshop. Example 12 presents step one.  Prior to example 12 I laid bright and pale yellows and pinks down on the surface with acrylics.  Step one is the first overlay in oil paint over the brighter acrylic substrate. Example 13 shows you step two  where I made lots of squeegee deletions to reveal the substrate’s lights.  Example 14 shows the present state of the painting. Keep in mind that when I begin painting  I release myself from any obligation to the photo. Notice that I have amplified the size of the forward leaves to create more dramatic space. I follow opportunities as they arise in the paint and refer to the photo  when ideas falter.

example  9. Painting of  Flora in Meadow.
oct15,12,meadow,indicating autumn, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

example 10.  original photo.
oct15,12,adams gulch12_edited-5

example 11.  altered photo.
oct15,12,adams gulch12,altered photo_edited-5

example 12. step one, the oil lay-in over the acrylics.
oct15,12,step one october aspen grove

example 13. step two, squeegee deletions begin.
oct15,12,step two, aspen grove

example 14. painting in current state after brushwork.
oct15,12,forest, October Aspen, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1







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Elliptical Thinking

In two dimensions circles falling flat become ellipses. This fundamental  illusion of perspective has aided designs for millennia. Cezanne tried looking at planes and ellipses with a roving focus the way we normally scan any scene. The ellipses in Cezanne’s  still lifes reflect  an effort to explore this experience. One side of an elliptical bowl or glass appears flat but, a dissonant relationship is revealed when coupled with its opposite side because,  we observe the bowl, glass, or table through a series of individual foveal saccades (shifting focus points) which we aggregate into a single image. Cezanne tried to break this process down and reveal how we gather our saccades before we build them into a unitary image like a photograph (example 1).

example 1. Cezanne detail.
sept15,22,cezanne, detail stillife

Others, like Picasso observed how ellipses create a liquid continuity and,  can be used as structural devices to unite the  space on a  picture’s surface (example 2).  Artists continue to be attracted to the rhythmic rhyming potential of circles and ellipses like Monet creating his cursive and elliptical water lilies.  They gave him sustained unity with a wandering sense of space.

example 2. Picasso,1931, Pitcher and fruit bowl.
sept15,22,picasso, pitcher and fruit bowl, 1931_edited-1

In this photograph of cafe tables we feel the receding space,  rhyming shapes, and their eventual tipping of the picture plane (example 3).

example 3. Cafe Tables.
sept15,22,cafe tables

Whenever you wish flatten a circle you convert it to an ellipse. The flatter the ellipse the more the circle recedes or falls on a receding plane (examples 4 and 5)

example 4. Circular View of Florence.
sept15,22,florence horizon circle_edited-3

example 5.  Foreshortened, ellipticized  and flattened view of Florence.
sept15,22,florence horizon circle,ellipticised_edited-3

Extending space through ellipses can work in many ways. The more elliptical I make the concentric circles emanating in these “water circle” paintings of mine the deeper they extend the horizontal plane into space  ( examples 6, 7 and 8). In the following three examples I further flattened (ellipticized) the circle as I proceeded with the painting.

example 6. water circle rhythms,36×36
sept15,22,water circles,2015,stonebridge, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36,alt_edited-1

example 7. water circle rhythms 2, 48×48
sept15,22,water circles,rhythms,i, 48x48 oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum

example 8. water circle rhythms 3, 48×48
sept15,22,water circles,rhythms,ii, 48x48 oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum

Like Picasso and Cezanne I continue to find  opportunities for arranging patterns of ellipses. With varying subjects I discover  patterns of rhythmic variation, direction and counter-direction, perspective illusions.

Here are two beach life paintings. In example 9 you see the largest and nearest beach umbrella, ellipse, does not propel itself forcefully against the sky. Example 10 shows how I used a darker sky to push this primary ellipse (umbrella) more vigorously forward. Notice how I rely on shrinking and flattening ellipses in the other umbrellas to suggest more space . I kept them all horizontal and let you see less and less of the underside of the distant umbrellas.

example 9. step one, 3 umbrellas.
sept15,22,beach life,step one

example 10. step two, with more immanent forward umbrella.
sept15,22,beach life, Elliptical Light, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

Ellipses may use exaggeration to offer a more persuasive presence. In example 11 observe the two umbrellas I have circled in red. They are too small and tightly circumscribed to generate large persuasive shadows and, they are too close in size to the those in the distance. By making them larger with softer expanding edges I increase the space within the picture (example 12).

example 11. Step one, too tight and small ellipses.
sept15,22,beach life, sun silhouettes, oil on anodized aluminum,24x48_edited-1

example 12. Step two, expanded ellipses.
sept15,22,beach life, sun silhouettes, alt, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x48_edited-1

I look forward to joining the small band of artists working with me October 1-4 in Sun Valley Idaho. Those still interested should contact Sarah Kolash at the Sun Valley Center For The Arts at 208 726 9491 x121 or

I also invite you to join me in November for Art of The Carolinas November 13-15. I have three workshops on offer: “Water:Reflections & Translucence”; “Realistic Abstractions”; and “Brighter Brilliant Nature”. contact 800 827 8478 x 156 or

To my Silvermine art students, I look forward to seeing you again on Tuesday October 6 and Wednesday the 7th.


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Up The Seine and Into Impressionist History

I compared  historic compositions with historic locations  while on a barge motoring up the Seine and the Loing rivers out of Paris. I visited and painted the same sites as  19th century French Impressionists like Alfred Sisley, tonalists like Corot, and American Impressionists like Theodore Robinson. My companions were the 15 artists in my workshop.

We compared past masters work with the locations that inspired them and discovered how they relied upon just a few standard compositional forms. Example 1 demonstrates French Impressionist Alfred Sisley’s work and contrasts it with the composition of a seascape (example 2) by Monet. Their compositions are almost mirror images.

example 1, Sisley, Along the Loing.
sept15,4,sisley, alfred on banks of the Loing_edited-2

example 2. Monet, at the Coast.
sept15,14,monet, claude, 1864, au bord de la mer honfleur_edited-1

Painting early in his career Monet uses the same standard  vortex/hub-and-spokes design when visiting the Fontainebleau forest which stretched along our barge’s route (example 3). Fauvist Maurice Vlaminck, a later neo-impressionist in the early 1900s retrofits the same compositional structure as Monet (example 4).

example 3. Early Monet in the Foret Fontainebleau.
sept15,14,monet,early in foret fontainebleau_edited-1

example 4. Vlaminck’s neo-impressionist scene.
sept15,14,vlaminck,maurice,early20th cent_edited-1

While walking along the Loing river pathways favored by Sisley and other impressionists I found myself taking photos which relied upon the same design form (example 5 and 6).

example 5. Sisley’s Loing river bank today.
sept15,14,melun afternoon4_edited-1

example 6. The Loing river bank at sunset today.
sept15,14,moret afternoon,evening

all of the above examples  relied upon the hub-and-spoke or spider-web vortex design. All used low horizons. There are countless examples of this design used by other Impressionists.

In the 17th century Dutch artists like Jacob Van Ruisdael had fine tuned the low-horizon landscape with a sweeping unitary cloudscape overhead. Their landscape was divided by sunlit and shadowed patches. While in Paris last week I took advantage of the views from the top of the contemporary Pompidou Museum. As I swept my camera over the landscape I thought of Van Ruisdael’s view over Amsterdam (example 7). I made my  Paris rooftop vista painting in response (example 8).I continued to find similar Van Ruisdael compositions as walked and floated up the Seine and Loing.  The photo you see in example 9 demonstrates how I repurposed Van Ruisdael’s design concepts.

example 7.  Van Ruisdael’s view over Amsterdam,1662.
sept15,14,van ruisdael view over amsterdam 1662

example 8. my painting vista over Paris .
sept15,14,paris,skies 24x24 oil on anodized aluminum_edited-1

example 9. a photo of Paris down the Seine.
sept15,14,seine with view down to Grand palais_edited-1

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Beach Life, 200 Years of Improvisation

J.M.W. Turner found beach life with its ships, waves and theatrical weather an infinite source for inspiration and improvisation. Like other artists he began with the standard model, a soft declining triangle on a horizon pointing into the picture. But, he breaks away from relying on land masses to fill that role. He subtly uses the sky (example 1)  in 1810 in his painting of a fish market on the beach. Even the great innovator, Claude Monet 40 years later will still resort to a triangular land mass on the horizon as a compositional foundation for his seascapes (example 2). Fifteen years following Turner’s seashore fish market  Richard Parks Bonington, another English landscape painter tries his hand at the same subject (example 3).

example 1. J.M.W. Turner, 1810, fish market on sand.
aug15,15,turner, jmw,fishmarket on the sands, 1810_edited-1

example 2. Claude Monet, The shore at Honfleur.
aug15,15,monet, claude, 1864, au bord de la mer honfleur_edited-1

example 3. R. Bonington’s Fish market at the shore.
aug15,15,bonington,richard parks, 1824,fish market near Boulogne_edited-1

In Bonington’s beach painting we see how he used a pale (almost ghostly, like Turner’s use of clouds) triangular land mass on the left then, he builds a triangular design out of ship sails and a gathering crowd.  As Turner aged he converted his seascapes into evocative, ambiguous atmospheres yet, still grounded in historical design. The triangular land mass feels almost insubstantial in this painting from 1845, 35 years after his fish market on the beach (example 4, Europa and the Bull). Apart from Turner’s fondness for mythological themes he also stayed at the Europa Hotel when in Venice. The view from the hotel’s wharf is the same direction as his painting here.

example 4. J.M.W. Turner, 1845.
aug15,15,turner,jmw, europa and the bull, 1845_edited-1

Today, photography aides our memories and compositions. Turner predicted with envy that artists would turn to cameras. I want to show you how I crop out and scavenge pictorial remnants from my photos as well as rework them in Photoshop and in  paint.

I begin with a couple of snap shots from New York beaches. I  circled in pink the areas which I  cropped out (example 5 and 6). The excised area from example 5 gets Photoshopped (example 7) with intentional blurring and color amplifications. Next, I redesigned the image into a horizontal composition. Example 8  presents the image at an early stage and example 9 presents the image as it appears now. It awaits further inventions.

example 5 first photo before cropping
aug15,18,fire island step one photo before cropping

example 6 second photo before cropping
aug15,15,fire island II, step one photo before cropping

example 7. first photo after  manipulations
aug15,15,fire island, step two photomanipulations3_edited-7

example 8. Step one of the painting
aug15,18,fire island step two, laying in_edited-1

example 9. step two of the painting
aug15,15, step three,beach life, hot shadows, oilon linen,24x48_edited-3

I cropped and manipulated the second photo. Example 10 presents the recomposed ( horizontally stretched) painted version, an oil on anodized aluminum, 24×48. This painting also awaits further invention. I will work on others while these dry.

example 10. step one of the painting.
aug15,15,fire island II step 2,beach life,blue umbrella, oil on anodized aluminum,24x48_edited-1

Last week I presented a mixed media work, part photo inks from my Epson printer and part oil paint (example 11). I manipulated with fingers, squeegees, and brushwork. I revisited the composition this week and tried it again to see if I could discover another direction (example 12).

example 11 from last week.
aug15,10,shorelines,beach life, mixed media and oil on paper_edited-1

example 12, a new and alternate version.
aug15,15, 13x13 image beach life

Next week I will be in Hickory, North Carolina for a workshop sponsored by The Three Sisters and, later in the week I will be in Charlotte, NC for workshop sponsored by Nancy Couick. If you have questions about these workshops please visit the classes and workshops page here at this website.

Also Find a description of my upcoming workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho the first days in October. I  invite you to join me Sun Valley, the workshop is called “Techniques of the Masters” Thursday-Sunday October 1-4 with a maximum of 12 students, $675. contact Sarah Kolash at or call at 208 726 9491 x121 .

On August 22    I exhibit with my son, artist Max Dunlop. Our exhibition  of collaborative and solo works opens at the White Gallery ( 342 Main Street, Lakeville, Ct. The opening reception will be on August 22nd, 5-7 pm. I hope to see you.




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