Directions For Sunlight

We celebrate the sun. We’ve worshipped solar deities since our beginnings. As  diurnal animals we need sunlight to work, hunt and grow food.  Our brains are sensitive to the contrast of light and dark, always turning to the light like sunflowers. The sparkle of jewelry, the flash of fire, the theatrical placement of light on a stage all attract our attention. Over centuries artists have improved their ability to suggest sunlight and to place it theatrically in a scene.  Artists learned to spot sunlight like a theater’s lighting crew. 600 years ago we were less skilled at this. The light was ambient, figures, even figures in landscapes appeared as if they were illuminated for high school yearbook portrait.

My parade of examples begins in 1430 with  work by a Flemish master (example 1). Observe the lack of unitary direction to the light and the artificially  bright figures  in the foreground. There are no pools of  directional sunlight here. Yet, within less than hundred years all that changed. DaVinci would catalyze the development of natural light in painting. Caravaggio and the Baroque period follow. Now lighting is firmly chiaroscuro (light against dark) with a clear sense of the direction of the light (example 2). Another century later in the 1600s Jacob Van Ruisdael is directing sunlight in landscapes (example 3). Ruisdael has the edges of rocks, the foam of falling water, the corner of a roof, the edge of a cloud , the surface of a meadow all collect directed sunlight. These spots of sunlight assemble themselves into a rising triangle, a singular design made out of a fallen patches of sunlight catching on strategic surfaces.

example 1. Flemish master 1430smarch15,23,dutch,belgian,master of the female half lengths .._edited-1

example  2. Caravaggio, late 1500smarch15,23,caravaggio,callstmathew

example 3. Jacob Van Ruisdael, 1600s,march15,23.ruisdael, jacob van, landscape with mill and waterfall_edited-1

These lessons in plotting spots of sunlight cross the Atlantic to  Thomas Cole, the first of the Hudson River painters. In 1830 Cole  borrows English, Dutch and Italian recipes for directing sunlight as you see in example 4.  His Indians are bathed in a sunbeam just as like his cliff faces. The edges of sunlight define the design and dramatic structure of Cole’s painting.

example 4. Thomas Cole 1830smarch15,23,cole, thomas, catskills, full image_edited-1

example 4a. detail of Thomas Cole painting.march15,23,cole, thomas, catskills detail_edited-1

As artists moved into the 20th century they were flattening the picture plane and offering paint strokes that were as much about the appearance of the paint as they were contributors to any illusion as you see in example 5 by Wilhelm Trubner in 1905. A century later I am still negotiating the location of sunlight as I reach back in art history to Thomas Cole for  lighting design ideas which I  modify and apply with new tools on new materials ( example 6.)  I have the advantage of being able to see more art history than my predecessors. I can borrow the universal lighting of the 1400s with its disregard for unitary sunlight and place my image on a 14th century platform of 23karat gold leaf ( example 7.)  Or, I can borrow the darker palettes of  Caravaggio and J. Van Ruisdael  and spot my sunlight with a dark sense of chiaroscuro as you see in example 8.

example 5. Wilhelm Trubner 1905.march15,23,german,1905,wilhelm trubner, landscape, oil_edited-1

example 6. Using  spot lighting but with squeegees as well as brushes on anodized aluminum.march15,23,forest, trail of sunspots, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

example 7. using omnidirectional light of the 1400s on gold leaf .march15,23,water garden, oil on gold leaf on aluminum, 22x12 image size, framed 30x20_edited-3

exaexample 8. dark chiaroscuro Lighting on brushed silver anodized aluminum.march15,23,Waterweed and sunlight, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18

Or, I can blend art these historical ideas within a 21st century urban subject. Here I apply directional lighting like Caravaggio combined with flattened paint patterns of the modernist 20th century combined with new materials like anodized aluminum and paint applied with rubber brayers(rollers), varied brushwork, and paint selectively excised with squeegees  (example 9).

example 9. Times Square with Caravaggio’s Lighting director.march15,23,city,times square strollers,oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-2

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Importing Japan

By the mid 1800s artists were raising their horizons. New compositional ideas had floated over from China and Japan.  Edward Manet, Whistler, and Gustav Klimt took notice. So did blossoming American Impressionists like John Henry Twachtman. The imported Japanese woodblock prints revealed the power of simplified designs, simplified and unified shapes, and rhythmic variety along lines of shapes.

Example 1 presents a woodblock print by Hokusai with the high Japanese horizon. Observe in Example 4, how Twachtman arranges his horizon and land masses similarly.  In example 2 notice the clear, clean shapes and their twisting variations in Hokusai’s Irises and Iris fronds. This elegant simplicity  influenced Twachtman.  In example 3 we see Twachtman’s preliminary small oil sketch for his later larger oil (Example 4). Both images are on view at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of  Art. Example three shows us anecdotal plants and flowers.  The tall grasses are just willowy vertical strings of paint.  Later, after he has simplified his design and developed example 4 the grasses are unified,  elegant,  substantial, and more confident. His scattered anecdotal flowers have been excised. You see that Twachtman’s formal Parisian studio training still has him using the classic European painting model of division by thirds.

example 1. Hokusai woodblock, Admiring Irises.mar15,16,Hokusai, 1833, admiring irises_edited-1

example 2.  Hokusai’s woodblock of Irises.mar15,16,hokusai,1831,irises_edited-1

example 3. Twachtman’s  oil sketch/study.mar15,16,twachtman, j h, study_edited-1

example 4. Twachtman’s finished exhibition painting.mar15,16,Twachtman finish painting

While wandering Barn Island’s Nature Preserve in Eastern Connecticut I found compositions corresponding to Hokusai’s and Twachtman’s. I stumbled across similar discoveries on Randall’s Farm in Southwestern Connecticut and along the Long Island Sound.

My most distilled composition can be seen in example 5. Here is a high vague horizon. Below it lies a canted light shape and below that lies the heavily textured and suggestive foreground shape. In this textured foreground I punctured its stubbly and reedy low tide surface with slashes of vertical lights. Their collective pattern creates a serpentine dance toward the horizon. I painted on brushed silver anodized aluminum with some translucent glazing  to add sparkling variation to the surface. Unfortunately, this can only be experienced when you view the painting first hand shifting eyes and position about the painting.

example 5. Exposed by Low tide, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum. mar15,16,Spring Low Tide, oil on anodized aluminum,18x18_edited-1

While further reducing the complexities of design I developed example 6, a more abstracted image.  Here I  pursued the effects of vertical light and dark forms clattering against one another. The bottom sinks into dark shadow while the top dissolves into light.

example 6, reed abstraction, oil on aluminum.mar15,16,Dance of Seagrass, oil on aluminum, 18x18_edited-2

Examples 7 and 8 present parallel compositions but, I reversed the shape of the bright water area.  Example 7 and 8 were smaller studies to test compositional ideas.  Example 7 is 18×18 and example 8 is 24×24.. Example 9 presents  further development these ideas in a larger format, 36×36. In example 9 I exploited the underpainting’s orange/yellow/reds with the use of a squeegee deleting shapes suggestive of bending reeds.

example 7. 1st study.mar 15,16,Signs of Light, oil on aluminum, 18x18_edited-2

example 8. 2nd study, reversed water shape.mar15,16, Spring Equinox,oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24_edited-1

example 9. larger 36×36 painting.mar15,16,Marsh Solitude, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36_edited-1

Being aware of our influences helps us become more inventive with our compositions. We  see how art history influences us. We are more able to modify art history  by altering its models. Example 10 presents a shadowed pond by Klimt. Notice how I use the large dark mass on the left taken from Klimt’s (and other’s) design.  I explore a variation of the design and build a unified sense of light in example 11, (step one of a 36×36). In example 11’s step two I put more contrast into the design. This painting awaits its step three.  In example 12 (a 48×48)  again I started with the same design  but, I altered the palette and created a different feeling of light and texture. This painting also awaits another step  (see next steps in an upcoming blogpost).

example 10. Pond by G. Klimt.mar15,16, klimt, gustav, morning by the pond, 1899

example 11. step one of a 36×36.mar15,16,pensive light, step one, oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36

example 12.step two of a 36×36.mar15,16,pensive light, step two oil on anodized aluminum, 36x36

example 13. the 48×48 on brushed silver anodized aluminum.mar15,16,return to randalls pond, an oil on brushed silver on anodized aluminum, 48x48_edited-3









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Into Black, Into The Woods

Black soot from  fire became a first pigment for artists.  Black outlines were strong and their effect was dramatic as we drew images or traced our hands on cave walls. Later Carbon blacks were used to dye clothing worn by nobility, merchants and bishops.  Rembrandt had it as a part of his limited palette. Ancient Egyptians used it in their funerary portraits and makeup. Theophrastus of ancient Greece thought that all colors were composed out of black and white. Black has represented the dark side, chaos, the underworld and the demonic across time and cultures.  We are diurnal and fear  territory we cannot  know like the dark.  Black associates with infinite darkness, the void, nothingness.  In many creation myths black came first then the light. We often associate white with purity.  We discovered that black made from bones offered more translucence and gave more varied grays. A pale black mixed with a little white juxtaposed against browns and reds appears slightly blue. Black became the economic blue.

I have created a variety of woodland examples. Some  use black acrylic, others graphite, others use chromatic grays which are so dark they appear blackish. In 17th century Italy black was a standard pigment on an artist’s palette.  Artists made shadows and shades using black or mixing black with another color. They noticed the saturation of the color diminished when mixed with black.  As Delacroix observed,” Black soils color.”

The first examples are historic artists who helped define our model for landscape painting. These three all used black. Claude Lorraine’s landscape ( example 1) presents the standard landscape model which he helped create. He often reverses the model. Here I have flipped his image to show you the model’s influence on landscape painters. The sides are framed with trees. The right side has the largest framing shape, a coulisse. There is a reflective body of light (water) taking a slight serpentine or meandering form in the lower middle. It interrupts the dark with light. Example 2 presents John Constable’s early 19th century version of a Claudian composition. Example 3 presents another modification of Claude’s model by the mid 19th century artist, Worthington Whittredge.

example 1. Claude Lorraine.mar15,9, Claude Gelee or Lorraine, oil

example 2. John  Constable.mar15,9, Constable,DedhamVale6

example 3.  Worthington Whittredge.mar15,9, whittredge,worthington, 1871,evening in the woods detail

They all used black on their palettes.

In my first examples (4,5, and 6) I present three plein studies in oil. None use black. All refer to compositional tradition of Claude but, with modifications. We modify the standard model to create an accessible experience with notes of novelty. The image is not too confusing to read because of my adherence to the model.  We recognize the form and see a landscape possibility. The image is fresh and novel to the extent that I depart from the model.

example 4. oil on linen, plein air.mar15,9, silvermine road, standard model, oil on linen

example 5, same scene, oil on anodized aluminum, plein air.mar15,9, silvermine road, standard model, oil on anodized white aluminum,

example 6. same scene but using a figure “8”  design fitted into the composition, oil  in plein air.mar15,9, silvermine road, firgure 8 oil on linen

In my next examples I use different forms of black.   The blacks are created from powered graphite and linseed oil, from standard ivory acrylic black, and a chromatic blacks made from ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide. All these examples also follow the Claudian model with personal variations.   These examples use  the same photographic source material which I manipulated in Photoshop then further mutated while painting.

Example 7 is the photograph I took this summer. Example 8 is the image re-envisioned with powered graphite on a 140 lb hot press watercolor paper. Example 9 presents the same composition with other modifications. The example on the left uses chromatic blacks mixed with acrylic Pthalo cyan, transparent red oxide, and ultramarine blue then a series of semi-opaque and translucent oil glazes were applied to give pale indications of color.  The work was painted on brushed silver anodized aluminum. The example on the right uses black acrylic on white anodized aluminum. Example 10 presents a different Claudian adaptation with a mixed chromatic black following the same recipe as above. This image is painted on brushed gold anodized aluminum and can give the effect of an etched metal plate.

example 7. the photograph.Mar15,9,stonebridge august6 photo_oversizeedited-2_edited-1

example 8. the powdered graphite drawing.mar15,9,stonebridge Summer,graphite on wc paper 140 lb,18x12

example 9. Left image on Brushed silver with oil glazes over acrylic; the right image is black acrylic on white anodized aluminum.mar15,9,stonebridge summer acrylic with oil glazes on brusehd silver anod alum 1, and black acrylic on white ano alum 18x12ea

example 10. painting on brushed gold anodized aluminum.mar15,9,mixed chromatic black on brushed gold anodized aluminum, stone bridge summer,18x12

In conclusion, I painted a 48×48 oil over a pre-existing image. I reveal parts of this original image in the final painting. The darks are made from ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide. Example 11 presents the pre-existing image.  Example 12 is the manipulated photograph I took this summer which serves as the source for Example 13.  Example 13 is the image as it appears now.

example 11. pre-existing image(substrate).mar15,9, forest,summer mystery, oil on anodized aluminum,revised,48x48_edited-1

example 12. my photo source material, after Photoshop work.mar15,9,photo,stonebridge august10large_edited-3

example 13. my painting as it appears now.mar15,9, stonebridge, oil on white anodized aluminum,48x48

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Chromatic Dust

Apply the Paint as if it were colored dust suggested John Ruskin to art students of the 19th Century.

Next we must improvise.  “When In Doubt; play chromatics” this jazz improvisation advice came through my saxophone teacher, Charlie Williams. Charlie received it from the great Phil Woods. In music like painting artists need to know their chromatic scales and how to improvise with them. Chroma was the term used to refer to a color’s saturation or intensity. Chromatic scales can go in several directions. First, a color can gradually change its saturation, for example a yellow can become more or less yellow. This is different than a color’s value or brightness which is the second scale. Third, a color can change its value by mixing in a white which creates a tint, (a pastel effect).  Fourth, a color can become more of a shade by adding black which also can “soil the color” ( an observation of Delacroix’s). Fifth, a color  can be thinned into a glaze which is most easily done with transparent colors. Sixth a color can be mixed. This mixing can  be better understood through graduated scales .

Mixing  colors is a tricky business. Inexpensive paints tend to mix poorly and results in light absorbing colors (chalky and dull). Mixing complementary colors (colors opposite one another on the color wheel)  will create duller light absorbing colors as well.  These complementary mixes have more diverse material absorbing light than unmixed colors or, colors whose mixture is with their neighbors on the color wheel. Translucent or transparent paints can be mixed with less loss of light than opaque paints.

Let’s examine mixing colors to create luminous grays (or what is  referred to as chromatic grays). A gray concocted from a triad of  secondary colors and the use of white. They can be made to look warmer or cooler. These color based grays are usually more engaging than those made from black and white or Payne’s gray.   Let’s see how it’s done by artists  on their palettes and in their pictures.

Example 1 offers a Turner landscape. His grays are made as I have mine in the following palettes. To understand his color palette and the complementary and chromatic nature of his grays  look at a detail of the image in example 1 ( example 2).

example 1. Turner landscape.feb15,22,turner, later landscape, full

example 2. detail of Turner landscape.feb15,22,turner, later landscape,mid years,detail_edited-1

Next we  follow his color mixing principles as learned from Moses Harris, Goethe, and his own practice.  He uses a couple of blues ( greener and a redder blue ) . Ultramarine is redder than Cobalt which is redder than a copper-derived blue like turquoise or azurite or even Prussian blue which are noticeably greener. He uses a couple of yellows like Chrome yellow  which is more lemony or greener than Gamboge which is more orange.  The Chrome yellow mixes with a blue to make a zesty green.  The Gamboge  makes a browner green. It’s  a more light absorbing green because it was mixed with a color which was further away on the color wheel. Turner also used a couple of reds like vermillion and carmine.  Monet will follow this path using a couple of reds, yellows and blues, one warmer and one cooler.  This dual set of primaries allowed these artists to employ vibrant complementary effects and create  effecting chromatic grays.

Let’s begin the mixing.  Example 3 is a demonstration painting I began in my classroom using the palette in example 4.  Example 4. presents the historic palette of two reds, yellows, blues and a white. Observe the warmer and cooler nature of each pair (if we think of orange/red as our base for hot).  Such as  Ultramarine blue which has more red than the adjacent Schevening Blue Light (like antique azurite). For example, one yellow is closer to orange than the other and, one red is bluer than the other. I have stretched the colors down so you can see as a color is thinned it is often brighter (the white substrate reflects light back through the pigment).  With transparent colors they become more apparently saturated.  On my palette I gave each color a  code letter (example 5).

example 3. the demonstration painting.feb15,22,winter pond, oil on anodized aluminum,12x18

example 4. the palette before mixing.feb15,22,page a,color mixing

example 5 the palette with mixes.feb15,22,page 1, color mixing

Observe that I have given the abbreviated formulas beside each mixed color (like, v + y + w ). Notice in the first panel I have a lemon yellow (cooler because it is closer to green) which I have mixed below with SB and UB.  The SB + Y generates a purer green. The UB with its greater redness makes a duller green (more light absorbing).  In the next panel you see Gamboge yellow. Notice when thinned it appears to be not only brighter but also, more intensely yellow. It’s saturation has increased. When G (Gamboge) is mixed with the transparent red oxide (RO) it gives a warm golden appearance. Both colors here are transparent. When mixed with the Carmine Lake (C) it gives a range of radiant oranges. Again both colors are transparent. When mixed with the more opaque Vermillion light (v)  the effect is a flatter or less reflective orange.

Now let’s mix for chromatic grays. If you look in the lower left corner of the palette you see transparent red oxide (RO) mixing with UB.  This mixture of two transparents creates  luminous grays which have either a blue cast or a warmer brown cast as you see. Look over at the Carmine, SB and UB areas. Here I mixed a variety of grays. They are easier to follow in this close-up example (example 6).

example 6. palette closeup.feb15,22,page 3,color mixing

The Carmine makes soft pastel violets when mixed with white and SB. This violet will be the source for making  chromatic grays you see in the adjacent column under SB.  Notice the formulas alongside each pastel gray. These grays are opaque and become duller as the quantity of white is  diminished. These three colors (Y,SB & C) make a broad range of grays extending from minty green-gray to lavender gray. In the next column under UB the grays are  made from G, UB and C.  Because all three are transparent colors they can be thinned to give a luminous gray with little or no white. Also notice that the UB offers  less red effect when mixed with white ( see UB + W).

My last palette example (example 7) shows grays made with white and different yellows ( G and Y) and different blues (SB and UB) and Carmine.

example 7. more complex chromatic gray mixes.feb15,22,page 4, color mixing

These next examples demonstrate the effect of discovering a chromatic gray by painting or glazing a complementary color over another in  semi-transparent mixing. In each case I begin with a  preliminary painting then, glaze over it with  deep complementary or tertiary  colors (colors only a third of the way opposite on the color wheel). example 8 presents a painting with an originally yellow meadow. This will be overlaid in  example 9 with a dark violet carmine (UB + RO + C). Yellow leaf shapes will be discovered through selective deletions in the overglaze.

example 8. Step one.feb15,22,meadow sparkle, step one

example 9. Step Two.feb15,22,meadow sparkle, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

In the final two examples (10 and 11) I have returned to favored subject of mine, Grand Central Terminal. Here, I overlaid dark glazes (UB + RO) over pre-colored substrates. I then added opaque tints. I  enjoyed the dark chiaroscuro effects from these deep (black-less) colors contrasting against lighter tinted areas. I only clearly articulated the Kiosk and its Clock.

example 10. Grand Central Station Mosaic.feb15,22,nyc gcs tall triplets, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

example 11. Grand Central Station, Dark Pastels.feb15,22,nyc gcs, dark pastels,sets of two, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36

Lastly, I want to invite you to my exhibition opening this Sunday, March 1st at the Adam Cave Gallery in downtown Raleigh, NC.  I hope you can join me there from 2 to 4 pm. The paintings range from works on copper to anodized aluminum and the subjects flow from forests to Paris. Here is Paris Traffic (example12).

example 12. Paris Traffic:feb15,17,paris boulevard motion in 18x18











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When Goals Get In The Way

If  an artist or a magician wants us to look into the distance they direct our attention there. They exploit our sense of  purpose or goal. Perception and recognition are determined by our goals. Goals are expectations. Our goals/expectations keep us from distracting information; information we don’t need. Children are more likely to see more of what’s around them because, they are more easily distracted by stimuli not related to their goal.  Our goals mentally prime us to see and interpret what’s around us or, what’s in a picture.

Artists use conventions to set up an expectation in the viewer. We look past the threshold and borders of a painting into its distance.  Our standard goal is to look into the distance for something. Because we look past whatever  frames the distance we pay less attention to it especially, if its edges are undefined. Defined edges tell us something is present and, becomes our goal, our purpose for looking.

Landscape horizons traditionally offered a profile for hypothesizing. Is it a village?, a windmill? a series of mountains? Here are examples of artists exploiting our goal-centered adult vision.  Example 1.  is landscape from the 1600s by Jacob Van Ruisdael. We look at the edges of his horizon and the edges of trees to determine what is present. We tend to not look into the foliage, to not see it because, it is not the goal of our vision.

Example 2 is a detail within the Van Ruisdael painting. Notice how we look at the edges of dark against light. Van Ruisdael easily suggests foliage because we are not looking specifically at it. This experience is also true for the Pierre Valencienne’s oil sketch ( example 3).  We look past the framing trees to the profile of a village on the horizon. We tend not to look within the foliage.  These artists use the curtain of foliage as a device for texture, color, and a design element to frame the goal/ purpose of our looking.

example 1. Jacob van Ruisdael landscape.
feb15,10,jacob van ruisdael,le buisson_edited-1

example 2. detail of van Ruisdael landscape.
feb15,10,jacob van ruisdael,coast

example 3. Valenciennes landscape sketch.
feb15,10,pierre henri Valenciennes,1800,view over lake Nemi

Similarly, Alfred Sisley frames his river landscape (the Seine) with a porous spray of paint suggesting foliage ( example 4). I borrowed the designs of these artists with their arching flora framing the picture in my following examples. My distance is smudged and uncertain.  I suggest the idea of  distant water with a few sputtering light-blue spots.  I made my subject the texture and complexity of the interior grassy space  with its abundant rhythms instead of a clearly profiled distance.  In example 5 you see a photo I took walking along a lagoon this weekend in St. Louis’s Forest Park.

Example 6 presents an acrylic underpainting which places a dark warm neutral in the upper area and a light tone in the lower area of the picture.  Example 7 ( step 1) shows you how I covered the underpainting by placing darks over the light bottom area and light over the dark top area. Example  8 (step 2) presents the effects of the squeegee’s action as it removed slivers of  wet oil paint revealing lights in dark areas and darks in light areas.  Area “A” has the light oil paint over the dark acrylic and area “B” has the dark oil over the light acrylic.  Example 9 (step 3) offers a view of the painting as it appears now after some color additions.

example 4. Sisley’s landscape.
feb15,10,sisley,alfred,1880,path to old ferry at By

example 5. Forest Park Lagoon Grasses.
feb15,10,step1,forest park lagoon3_edited-2

example 6.  acrylic underpainting.
feb15,10,step2,underpainting in acrylic,forest park

example 7. step 1, oil lay-in of darks and lights.
feb15,10,step3,forest park

example 8.step 2, squeegee reveals.
feb15,10,step4,forest park

example 9.step 3, after more color.
feb15,10,step5,forest park

I exploited the color and reflectance of copper in my next examples. I begin with an underpainting which only partially covers the copper in example 10 (step 1). Notice my image reflected in the copper here. In example 11 (step 2) I present an angled view of the painting to show how the reflectance of the copper varies with viewing angles.  Example 12 (also step 2) demonstrates the full frontal view.  Observe the differences in reflectance and color between the two views.  Again my motif centers on looking through trees or flora.

example 10. step 1 underpainting on copper.
feb15,10,step2,stonebridge on copper

example 11. step 2. viewed at an angle.
feb15,10,step3,stonebridge oil on copper,angled view

example 12, step 2 again viewed from the front.
feb15,10,step4,stonebridge,oil on copper,front view


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The Twilight Zone

In that moment when a pale red-orange flirts with the silhouette of a dark horizon and  across the curtain of sky cerulean blue slowly deepens into ultramarine we experience the twilight zone.   We  can only see red where sufficient light remains on the horizon’s edge. When light is dim our eyes cannot discern yellow and reds. We find those colors with our cones packed in the center of our vision. When light is dim our rods go to work where vision is less able to focus on the periphery. Our peripheral vision sees in gray-black values in diminished light with traces of blue depending on light levels.

Twilight  sees the sky fade to darker blue-black as well as the silhouetted landscape.  The darkness provides mystery because of our vision’s limitations.  As diurnal animals we distrust the dark. We are vulnerable in the dark and our imagination can provide menacing scenarios to keep us alert.  It’s the best time to tell a ghost story or film a thriller. Twilight provides a stage-set for the melancholy longing for daylight past.

The dark can be fractured and pierced by artificial light and re-gifted with color.  Our first experience of mitigating  the threat of the dark came with our use of fire then later with our use of electric light. The warming light of headlamps on the highway clears a path through the dark  but, leaves  dark mystery in at our side and in the distance.

Electric light offers a haven for adventure under the robe of darkness.  This artificial light is the source of  allure for  city nightlife  from  New York to Las Vegas, from Paris to  Hong Kong.

Example 1 finds me riding along a twilight highway.  Taking shots from my windshield into the path of my headlights I found myself retracing the steps of an ancient torchbearer clearing the darkness. I decided to explore this idea in paint where I could amplify the feeling of motion on the highway as well as the role of the torchbearer wading into the night, into the twilight zone (examples 2 and 3).

example 1 photo.
jan15,27,rt7 jan6_edited-1

example 2. twilight painting 1.
jan15,27,Twilight Highway, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-2

example 3. twilight painting 2.
jan15,27,Twilight Roads, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-2

Art history has other examples of artists finding melancholy, finding the pensive meditation of twilight. In the 20th century Edward Hopper became famous with his melancholy visions (examples 3, 4 and 5).  Earlier,  artists used the theatrical passing of the light to similar theatrical effect. In the mid 1600s Adrian Van De Velde liked to routinely study and  capture  animals in darkened landscapes. In example 6 Adrian selected either a late or early time of day when the silhouetted landscape was dark but the sky presented a graduated light. A pool of light falls across the dark suggesting a stray final beam of sunlight. I borrowed this  formula of the pool of warm light in the shadows in my earlier twilight examples. James Whistler painted at the edge of evening as well.  His paintings of the Basilico and Piazza San Marco in Venice  inspired others like Arthur Melville in the 1890’s with his watercolor and gouache (example 8).  Again we find the artificial golden light of the piazza vs. the dark blue of the evening.

example 4. Twilight Hopper black conte sketch.
jan15,27,hopper,edward, gas, black conte drawing_edited-1

example 5. Twilight Hopper painting, “oil”.
jan15,27,hopper, edward, oil 26x40_edited-1

example 6. Dusk Hopper Painting with Electric and Natural light.
jan15,27,hopper, edward,house at dusk, 1935_edited-1

example 7. Van De Velde painting.
jan15,27,van de velde,adrian, mid 1600s, animals 1x per wk_edited-1

example 8. Melville Venice watercolor.
jan15,27,whistler, after whistler, by arthur melville,1897, the blue night venice, watercolor and gouache_edited-1

Lastly,  here is my invitation to  you  to join me and Max Dunlop for our collaborative artworks show at the Watershed Gallery opening on Saturday, January 31 at 6:30-8:30 PM at 23 Governor Street in Ridgefield, Ct.  On Sunday at  the Watershed Gallery at 2 PM Max and I will give a collaborative talk on our experiences and process of collaborative painting. Here’s another example of our collaborative  landscape painting.

example 8. collaborative landscape.
jan15,27,2 mountain lights, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24, collaboration of max and david dunlop_edited-4

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Speed of Light

I promise to take you to Paris later.  For now,  think about the operation of your eyes and brain. Your brain collects the eyeball’s data for shape, color and motion at different speeds. It correlates them to create an image for you. This takes time. It’s fast but, it takes time. Turner was among the first to exploit the sensation of motion in paint.  He watched his world appear to speed up with the industrial revolution, steam ships and steam railways.  Motion wasn’t a new sensation; wind, weather, birds and arrows  had previously appeared as speeding blurs to us.  Few artists were tried capturing this motion in paint. Velazquez was the first with his blurring spinning wheel. Turner included the entire visual field in his evocation of motion, of speed.  Consider his work in example 1, “Rain, Steam and Speed” painted in 1844. It’s about 30″x40″.

example 1. “Rain, Steam, and Speed.”
jan15,19,turner,rain steam and speed full image

example 2. detail of “Rain, Steam and Speed.”
jan15,19,turner,rain steam and speed, the great western railway,1844_edited-1

In the detail section you see how he smeared the paint; blurred it to create a sensation of fast weather and a fast train. So little is tied to precisely focused information.

I will start slowly and gather speed with my images here. Example 3 is a photo of a quiet Connecticut stream in January. The photo presents large areas in sharp focus. The feeling is slow to the point of stasis. I manipulated the image in Photoshop to create a faster evocation of the scene. I used this manipulated image to inspire the painting you see in example 4. The colors are brighter and they are stretched horizontally. Focus appears to dissolve.

example 3. Photo of a winter stream.
jan15,19,devils den photo_edited-4 - Copy

example 4. Painting of stream with speed in mind.
jan15,19,forest and speeding stream, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18_edited-2

Next, let’s consider how to make an image appear slower after a fast start. I begin with example 5 as my lay-in or first step. The image has no edges or discrete information. It appears to have more motion than in example 6 which step two of the same painting but, developed with more precise edges and articulated textures.

example 5. step one with more motion.
jan15,19,step 1, shorelines

example 6. step 2, less motion with more detail.
shorelines,intimate places, jan15,19,oilon brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18_edited-1

Next, let’s look at figures in the landscape. Example 7 has more delineated figures but, a blurry background. This painting has more in common with Turner’s work. His background is more dissolved while the train has more defined areas.

example 7. figures in slower motion.
jan15,19,mixed media,family

Figures can evoke more motion not only if they are blurred but also, if their background appears to have  directional movement. Example 8 begins with the background, a printed/woven fabric which will subtly assert itself throughout the painting. Example 9  presents the image  painted on the fabric.  The fabric has nuanced undulations which were created during the stretching over the framework. These undulations give quiet dance movements to the space.

example 8. the fabric background.
jan15,19,fabric sample,18x18

example 9. painting on the same fabric.
jan15,19,Grand Central Terminal Textile, oil on fabric,18x18_edited-1

The design can also impart a sense of motion as well as the blurring forms. Example 10 presents an architectural design which moves with rapid foreshortening into the distance.

example 10. Design for motion.
jan15,19,mixed media,59th st bridge,13x13_edited-1

Finally, Let’s go to Paris. In December as I walked the Parisian streets near the Pont D’Alma I snapped the  traffic and architecture searching for flavors of Paris. Example 11 is an example of one of those photographs. Example 12 is the result of Photoshop manipulations of that photograph. I recalled my sense of the fast traffic, the colored lights in the cafes, the rounded edges on the buildings. Example 13 is an oil on paper which took ideas from example 12.  Using a different image I created example 14 which amplifies the color still further with the help of  the brushed silver anodized aluminum substrate.

example 11. step 1,the photograph.
jan15,19,paris streets orig photo

example 12.step 2, after Photoshop changes.
jan15,19,paris traffic,photo

example 13. step 3, the oil on paper painting.
jan15,19,mixed media,paris streets II, oil and mixed media, 13x13_edited-2

example 14. an oil on brushed silver surface.
jan15,19,mixed media,Paris streets I, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,18x18_edited-2

You are invited to the exhibition of Max Dunlop and David Dunlop collaborative paintings which opens at the Watershed Gallery on Saturday, January 31 at 23 Governor Street, Ridgefield Ct.  203-483-4387

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Turner Vs. Rembrandt

A bath of light can create the same veil of  ambiguity and mystery as a bath of darkness. Darkness presents a bluer mood like hearing a song a in a minor key. An abundance of light gives the upbeat feeling of a song in a major key. And, a varnished surface reflects less glare over light  than  dark.

J.M.W. Turner turns the chiaroscuro tradition of sparkles of light popping through darkness upside down. He takes Rembrandt and Caravaggio’s unifying darkness and substitutes light.  This revolutionary substitution does not happen at once.  Turner develops his bath of light slowly through experiments in watercolor  which are transferred to his oils. His revolution extends to our tastes in art today.  Monet will adopt the his program of light dominating darkness.

Turner discovered that light offers the same obscuring and suggestive mystery as darkness with the advantage of more luminosity, a luminosity that resembles daylight, that evokes the yellow light of the sun. Look at a mid 1830s oil of Turner’s (example 1) then compare it to earlier  dark chiaroscuro artists whom he admired like Rubens (example 2) and J.Van Ruisdael ( example 3).   Observe how  Van Ruisdael simplifies the Ruben’s composition by substituting clouds for trees and flora.  Notice that Turner borrows Van Ruisdael’s compositional forms  in his seascape. Turner uses freer gestures and reverses ratio of dark to light areas.

example 1. J.M.W. Turner seascape 1835-40.
jan15,12,turner,1835-40,breakers on a flat beach,margate_edited-1

example 2. Rubens landscape.
jan15,12,rubens landscape_edited-1

example 3. J. Van Ruisdael landscape.
jan15,12,j v ruisdael,fields and castle_edited-1

Turner lets the light blur the edges of his shapes just as Rembrandt let darkness blur his edges. This blurring creates a greater sense of motion and space.

Consider my next photo of a woodland and pond (examples 4 and 5).  In example 4 I  cropped the image to show more dark than light. I cropped example 5  to present more light than dark.  The mood changes with the ratio change in dark to light areas.

The level of contrast is low which gives a pale effect in example 6, an interior of Grand Central Terminal.  Look at the  same image after an application of darkening glazes ( example 7).  The apparent contrast is increased not only because of the application of  darker glazes but also because, example 7 has smaller areas of light in relationship to its areas of dark.  The mood moves with the darkness.

example 4. woodland photo with more dark.
jan15,12,devils den dark

example 5. same photo with more light and lower horizon.
jan15,12,devils den light jan14_edited-1

example 6. Grand Central Terminal with less contrast and lighter palette.
jan15,12,gct in light blue step 1

example 7. the same image after darkening glazes.
jan15,12,gct chiaroscuro step2

Following the new tradition of Turner, I  employ a bath of light in Grand Central Station which results in example 8.   Or, I can put a veil of Turner’s yellow light  over  woodland  landscape as in example 9.  Example 10’s subject, winter mist, invites  further applications of pale obscuring light.

example 8. Light  and Luminosity in Grand Central.
jan15,12,gct, in light, oil on aluminum,24x24

example 9. Yellow and Violet Glen, oil.
jan15,12,devils den step 1 commission 36x84_edited-1

example 10. Winter Mist, oil on anodized aluminum.
jan15,12,winter mist, oil on aluminum,24x24

Use a pre-existing dark surface as another strategy for applying the bath of light.  Example 11 serves as the  dark under-painting for example 12.  It is an on copper which I over-painted with lighter colors (pale violet and pastel yellow-oranges) then, I cut away slivers of dangling dark shapes. These shapes are scattered like  hanging, dark,  calligraphic pictographs. They oscillate between being leaves or feathers or,  the suggestion of windblown shamanist prayer flags. I also liked the association with  American Indian lore.

example 11. original underpainting, oil on copper.
jan15,12,oil on copper,cherry lane park

example 12. Repurposed example 11 as a Winter Meadow.
jan15,12,leaves as feathers, oil on copper

On January 31, 2015 Max Dunlop and I will have an exhibition of our collaborative paintings at the Watershed Gallery in Ridgefield, Ct.  At this moment Max and his wife, Natalie,  are hiking along the Strait of Magellan to the southernmost outpost in South America.


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Stealing From Rembrandt

Rembrandt looked to the chiaroscuro tradition of Da Vinci and Caravaggio.  In the early 1600s in Amsterdam, chiaroscuro was new. Rembrandt wasn’t alone with his fascination for the new technique building dramatic ambiguity through veils of darkness.  His biggest competitor as a young artist, Jan Lievens  also adopted this new chiaroscuro system.  How Rembrandt used the mystery of darkness can be seen in etchings.

Etchings are worked up slowly. You scratch an image into a copper plate. Rub in the ink. Lay paper upon the inked plate and roll it through a press ( example 1). You  ponder the results and determine what other work the plate needs before you  ink it  and roll it through again.  The progressive sequence of  images are referred to as different states. The first state is the result of the first roll-through or pull. There can be many different states before the image is considered ready for editioning or, multiple printings.  Rembrandt applied more obscuring darks to his image as he pulled his different printed states.  He also burnished in new lights. Example 2 presents the third state of the crucifixion image.  Example  3 presents the 4th state. Observe how added darkness also adds ambiguity, uncertainty, mystery.

example 1. Rembrandt’s press, friend Nancy McTague Stock took this photo in Rembrandt’s studio.
rembrandt's press

example 2. 3rd state example.
jan15,5,rembrandt,crucifixion, 3rd state

example 3. later 4th state example.
jan15,5,rembrandt,crucifixion,4th state

As a painter I use Rembrandt’s process.  I begin with a painting of wildflowers in a meadow. I’ll call this my 1st state.  Next, I completely obscure the image with dark translucent glazes. When Rembrandt inked his copper plate he would completely obscure the image with the ink. Then he would wipe away the ink to reveal the etched drawing.  As he removed the ink he could see where he would like the etched plate to be darker or lighter. He applied darkness and removed it to reveal light. I used the same process  on my painting examples. I applied translucent darkness and selectively removed areas to reveal small patches of  light lying below.   This created an image with more sparkle,  depth, and mystery.  Rembrandt recomposed the image and broke the light areas into smaller bits of sparkling lights within a field of dark. I will follow his lead in my examples.

Example 4 shows my painting before applying the obscuring glaze. Example 5 is after selectively removing parts of the dark glaze coat.  The painting gets subtly recomposed as well.

example 4. Image before  applying and removing dark glazes.
jan15,5,meadow, Cricket Perspective, oil on aluminum,24x24_edited-1

example 5. after the addition and selective removal of dark glazes.
jan15,5,meadow, Knottted Flora, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24_edited-1

I repeated this process with another larger image, 36×36 as opposed to previous example’s  24×24 size.  The painting begins as example 6. Example 7 appears after covering  this image with dark glazes and  then selectively revealing shapes in the dark glazes .   I also spritzed a mist of  Eco House’s Extra Mild Citrus Thinner to areas of the newly wet dark glaze. Then I resumed my selective deletions. I painted in a few judicious additions. The thinner caused areas of the  paint to run or drip.  I arrested the dripping with a targeted hairdryer. I liked the splotchy  textures caused by the thinner, especially on the surface of the water. The fineness of the thinner mist determined the diameter size of the blotches. They are almost imperceptible in the image below.

example 6. image before the  dark glazes.
corkscrew and curves early, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

example 7. after dark glazes, thinner spritzing, and selective reveals.
jan15,5,meadow, Corksrcrews and Curves, oil on anodized aluminum,36x36_edited-1

Example 8 represents the initial painting. Example 9 presents the same image after it was covered with dark glaze coats and  after the beginning of the selective removal process.  Example 10 presents the latest version of the image.

example 8. Initial painting.
jan15,5,Entangled,oilonanodized aluminum,40x60

example 9. after dark glazes and the initial deletions.
jan15,5, step 2, corkscrew,40x60

example 10. latest version after more paint deletions.
jan14,5,meadow, corkscrews and Curves in Blue and Green, oil on anodized aluminum,40x60_edited-1

Rembrandt used darkness as a tool for building ambiguity and mystery. Two hundred years later J.M.W. Turner will turn the art world upside down by using light as his obscuring tool for ambiguity. He will add light and compel us to look into the light to make our hypotheses just as Rembrandt had earlier added darkness. How Turner came to this revelation, employed it, and redirected the future of painting will be the subject of later blogposts.

If you live within commuting range of the Silvermine Art Center  in New Canaan, Connecticut then I hope  to see you in class in this next semester. This is a reminder that my classes begin on January 13 and 14. Later this month on January 31st  in Ridgefield, Connecticut at the Watershed Gallery  Max Dunlop and I will exhibit new collaborative artworks as well as individual works by Max and works by me.

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Photography, Through A Looking Glass

On a dinner cruise in  Paris  I wondered how I would take photos from my window. The Reflections had to be integrated with the view beyond.  Their confusion must add to the image, not detract. Windows offer layers of opportunity. Two separate scenes can combine into one. Our mind works this way. It looks for a single cause;  it hypothesizes thematic unity from of chaos.

Peering out a window has a long tradition in painting. The single subject with their back to the viewer looks out a window and stimulates a  mood of reflection or a sense of longing. Example 1  is a photograph  inside London’s Victoria and Albert museum. The interior space is dark and quiet, the exteriror is bright and beckoning.

example 1.
dec14,29,london,v n a, window_edited-2

I recall the magical image that appeared as  I looked through the ground glass of my Rolleiflex  reflex camera and other large format reflex cameras. The soft light, the soft edges, the unity of tone, these qualities appeared to artists like Vermeer and Joshua Reynolds as they looked through their camera obscura machines. The 18th century landscape painter, Thomas Gainsborough, grew infatuated with reverse glass painting (example 2). The effect of backlighting his small landscapes heightened  their theatricality. Gainsborough used a large cabinet (box) with a viewing lens.  He mounted and backlit his reverse glass paintings inside this  box. Example 3 gives you a viewer’s experience of looking into this box.

example 2. Gainsborough Reverse-glass painting.
dec14,29,thomas gainsborough,reverse glass ptg

example 3. viewer’s experience of reverse glass illumination through a lens into the box.
dec14,29,thomas gainsborough,reverse glas view machine and ptg

While  Gainsborough was painting reverse glass works other artists were mounting glass in frameworks in the field. They superimposed a grid on these field-mounted windows and traced landscapes on them. The trick was to maintain a constant distance from their glass plate to keep all the components in proper proportion and location. Chin mounts and eye sighting rings were used to assist in this process.

Gainsborough must have noticed the curious image that resulted when he stacked two or more of his glass paintings. But, that was too aberrant an image for his time. Double exposures would have to wait another hundred years. Today’s  photo software makes double and triple exposures easy.  Example 4 demonstrates the effect of  looking through layers of windows in the entry of the Victoria and Albert museum. Note,  most of my photographs were taken with the new mirrorless Sony alpha 6000. It’s smaller than a digital SLR  and offers more portability but,  better quality and menu choices than most point and shoot models;  a good choice for travelers.

example 4. Through the glass with layered images.
dec14,29,london,v n a,entry_edited-2

Viewing through modern windows gives us new perspective possibilities especially when those windows are within tall buildings. Using my I pad  I snapped example 5 from my London hotel . The Repoussoir or coulisse (i.e. the left or right flank or wing shape which interally frames the image) appears as a scaffolded building on the right.  At this high  elevation there is a disconcerting invitation to step onto the planking within the scaffolding.

example 5.  Through the high floor hotel window.
dec14,29,london,hotel window2_edited-4

Looking at mirrors or through windows gives artists an opportunity to unify disparate scenes. In 1976 Jerry Uelsmann took this photograph of a room through a window (example 6). The ceiling with its lack of visual information easily reflects the sky without  interfering visual noise. When I took my photo of  Jerry’s photograph I (and the gallery’s spot lights) reappeared  within the image.  I replicated this experience by taking photos through a glass window  in the garden of the Petit Palais in Paris.  The interior of the Petit Palais became comingled with the exterior’s reflected buildings.  The sky appeared in the ceiling area as it had in  Uelsmann’s work (examples 7 and 8).  Example 8 shows you the structure of the window as a part of the image.

example 6. Uelsmann’s dining room with sky reflection and the tertiary reflection of my silhouette.
dec14,29,contemporary photography, jerry uelsmann, 1976, gelatin silver print, surrealist style_edited-1

example 7. Petit Palais with window-reflection photo.
dec29,14,paris,petit palais2a_edited-2

example 8. Petit Palais 2nd through-glass photo.
dec14,29,paris,petit palais3_edited-1

Windows offer  a variety of distortion possibilities. While riding the Eurostar train from London to Paris  I turned my camera’s lens  to an oblique angle with the window (example 9.)  I noticed I could find similar distortions in angled glass within my photographs. Example 8 presents my initial photo of a sculpture silhouetted against a window. Notice the sculpture’s partial reflection in the glass of a painting on the far right. In Example 9 I cropped out the sculpture’s reflection and altered its colors and values.

example 9. elongated image out the train window (slightly anamorphic).
dec14,29,eurostar to paris

example 10. photo of sculpture before window.
dec14,29,window angel v n a, hall_edited-2 - Copy

example 11. image of reflected sculpture.
dec14,29,window angel v n a_edited-1

Arriving in Paris my first stop was the Musee D’Orsay. Windows on the 5th floor present views over Paris extending over the Seine from Sacre Coeur to the Louvre.  Using my I pad I snapped grainy images using the museum’s terrace sculptures to frame a portion of the Louvre.  I thought the grainy field of texture could appear atmospheric with software adjustments. See example 12.

example 12. View through a museum window.
dec14,29,paris,d orsay balcony_edited-1

Now, back to the dinner cruise I mentioned in my introduction. Here were opportunities to mix the reflected window information with the scenery of Paris along the Seine. The window’s reflections gave me visual events in the sky area. Without the reflective window glass  this area would have appeared as a void, flat and empty. As the cruise proceeded I mixed in more  of the effects from the reflecting glass.

Example 13 presents a passing tour boat. Its glaring lights make a  strong contrast against the night and send vibrating reflections across the water. Example 14 was a chance to create an alternative point of view on the iconic Eiffel Tower. And yes, there is a Carousel under the Eiffel Tower. Again the visual noise of reflections adds to the texture of the surface. Example 15 demonstrates a classic subject, the kiss or embrace. This subject is camouflaged within the ricocheting reflections and blurred motion of the image.   The visual camouflage let me  stir in more ambiguity and move further toward abstraction.

example 13. passing tour boat.

example 14 Eiffel Tower with reflections.
dec14,29,eiffel and sein4_edited-1

example 15. The  Seine’s Island Kiss.

Finally, the role of glass as a protector, distortionist and mediator is demonstrated with the Louvre’s Mona Lisa.  There she is buried behind thick protective glass, a physical barrier,  a crowd  and seen by most through the lens and software of digital cameras and cell phones ( example 16.)

example 16. The Mona Lisa behind Glass.
dec14,29,da vinci, mona lisa in the louvre_edited-1



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