Decalcomania Painting

Earlier in the 20th century, before surrealists like Max Ernst discovered the magical effects of decalcomania other artists from as early as the 1500’s had tested its possibilities. At its core, decalcomania begins as a type of transfer or monoprint. The artist spreads his pigment over a surface then presses paper, stone, or canvas on to it.  The resulting textures can resemble the effects of a frosted window pain.

The variety of effects depend upon the media (watercolor, ink, acrylic or oil) and, in the case of oil paint, the effects depend upon the thickness of the paint, the viscosity of the oil paint, and the pressure applied (pressure can be applied directly in the transfer or by pressing and simultaneously sliding the top sheet over the bottom sheet of canvas, copper, panel, paper etc).

After the pressing artists like Ernst would fill in selected areas of the decalcomania effects. Ernst filled such areas with flat fields like sky to isolate and feature the decalcomania effects.  (See examples 1 and 2)

Example 1, Max Ernst, 1942, full image,

Example 2. Max Ernst, detail from full image,

I will walk you through the decalcomania process beginning with the photo I used as my original inspiration (example 3, photo).  This photo is the result of combining two different photos. I wanted to create a visual field that would not anchor me to tightly representational information.

The next step was to cover a sheet of dibond aluminum with pigments that were a loose interpolation of my photographic resource (example 4).  I then pressed the dibond face down onto another sheet of similarly sized dibond.  I then pried them apart.  The resulting image was then carried over to my easel where I worked into the paint (example 5).

Example 3, source material, photo assemblage,

Example 4, Painting before pressed transfer process,

Example 5. Image after later reworking.

Within example 5 you should be able to discern areas resembling frosted window effects that were the consequence of the transfer pressing.

I omitted illustrating a critical step in the process with the previous examples 3 through 5.  Here is another step by step sequence including the omitted step.  The first step is the preparing a sheet or plate for the transfer process (example 6). The second step represents the image as it appears after the transfer process without reworking with other tools and paint (example 7). The third step represents the image after reworking (example 8).

Example 6. The panel as prepared before the transfer pressing,

Example 7. The effects of the transfer pressing,

Example 8. The later working into the image.

Finally, I moved to larger decalcomania works. The first images were 12×12. These last images are 24×24. They each represent unfinished states. If I do not want to completely erase or obscure the transfer effects I must wait for the paint to dry before applying other layers. They are represented as examples 9 and 10.

Example 9,  Autumn Meadow, present state,

Example 10, Shoreline Flora, present state.

I invite you to join me on Sunday March 5th, 2017 for a lecture on Color: Its Meanings and Uses across Time and Cultures at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, Ct. 203 966 6668 ext2.


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Cutting the Light

Sequencing empty or negative shapes can be used to create space and rhythms such as a circling pattern around an ancient Greek bowl.  2500 years ago Greek artists appreciated defining forms with negative and positive shapes.  When the artist arranged figures in a frieze around a bowl their designs paid equal attention to the mutually defining dark and light shapes.  The interstitial dark shapes defined the light figures just as the figures defined the dark space between them. This same attention to interdependent negative-positive shapes was also given to the decorative banding. (example 1)

Example 1.  Greek volute-krater, 450 BCE,

Chinese artists in porcelain or paint similarly built their shapes from mutually defining negative/positive shapes. In example 2 you see a Qing dynasty bowl from the mid 1700s.  Observe the leaf, limb and fruit shapes appear to float above a field of white.  The white shapes define, unify and stage the natural components. Notice the twisting and turning limbs and leaves.  I use these qualities in my following examples.

An antique Japanese dragon-tree also demonstrates another model for twisting dragon-like tree forms (example 3).

Example 2. Chinese, Qing Dynasty Vase, 1700s,

Example 3. Japanese, wall screen, dragon tree,

As I walked into cold winter’s piney woods I recognized forms from historic Chinese and Japanese works.  My first painted example borrows the light background shapes from the Chinese vase as well as dragon-shapes for my tree limbs. I use these sources in both of my painted examples.

Examples 4 presents light interstitial shapes to create a luminous background. I carved these light shapes out of the paint with a squeegee, paper towels, and flat wash brushes.  The two trees use vanishing points set at the top of the picture to exaggerate a feeling of foreshortening.  I use strong complementary colors to infer strong, lateral afternoon sunlight.

Example 4.  Waving Pines, oil on brushed silver enameled aluminum,
present state,

Examples 5, 6 and 7, present the sequential development of an image of tangled pines in February’s afternoon light.  Example 5 shows the blocking-in of the initial colors on white enameled laminated aluminum.  Example 6 presents an interim stage which demonstrates how I find patterns of serpentine limbs. I used paper towels wrapped around my fingers (and finger nail) and flat water color wash brushes to excise and apply the paint in sinewy forms.

Example 5. Step one, Tangled Pines,

Example 6. Step two, Tangled Pines,

Example 7. Step three. Tangled Pines present state.

I invite you to join me on Sunday March 5th, 2017 for a lecture on Color: Its Meanings and Uses across Time and Cultures at the Silvermine Arts Center in New Canaan, Ct. 203 966 6668 ext2.

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Sunlight and Atmosphere

In the 1600s Claude Lorraine experiments with light, atmosphere and distance. He observes that foreground information can be tucked into shadows with deep darks broken by a few sharp light edges. He further concludes that a feeling of great distance can be built from dissolved edges and light colors. When juxtaposed within a picture these two opposing conditions create a poetic meditation with an infinite feeling of distance preceded by intimate, shadowed foreground (example 1).
Many artists built on Claude’s discoveries. Among them were J.M.W.Turner and later, George Inness. Inness takes the obscuring atmospheres of Turner and applies them to the northeastern US. He finds tranquil domestic landscapes bathed in a fog of light as you see in Example 2. You can visit this painting at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA courtesy of the generosity of Catherine and Frank Martucci. Inness offers us rich darker foreground textures to a distance dissolving into luminous air.
Example 1. Claude Lorraine from 17th century,

Example 2. George Inness from 1891, Montclair NJ,

In my first example I begin with an older painting which already has a soft atmosphere. I will use this painting as my underpainting (example 3). Step two (example 4) demonstrates me blocking in my next painting as I cover parts of the underpainting. Step three (example 5) presents the painting further developed but, lacking the obscuring luminous atmosphere which you see applied in Step four (example 6).
Example 3, step one, the original underpainting,

Example 4, Step two, Blocking in,

Example 5, Step three, further developments,

Example 6, Step four, after glazing with semi opaque pigments,

The universal depth-giving qualities of atmospheric perspective can also be seen in my painting of city streets  in example 7. The painting is an abstracted view of a street corner and receives its feeling of space from both linear and atmospheric perspective.

Example 7 presents the first stage of this painting.

Often I feel an image can become crowded with too much  information and begs for simplification. The application of a luminous atmosphere can be of great service here. Observe the painting as it appears in step one then, simplified in step two (examples 8 and 9).
Example 8, Image before simplification and abstraction,

Example 9, Image after Simplifying and abstracting with atmospherics,

Examples 8 and 9 demonstrate the value of simplification but, there can be a reversed solution such as you see in examples 10 and 11.  In example 10 I begin with simplicity as you see with the graphic blocking-in of shapes.  I follow-up with an application of more textures and shape varieties as developed in example 11.  Example 11 also relies on atmospheric obfuscation along the top of the tree line and the edge of the meadow.

Example 10, Step one, “Cattails,” with graphic Blocking-in,

Example 11. Step two, “Cattails,” with later application of more visual noise with varieties of shapes.

I invite you to join me this April 20-23, 2017 (Thursday through Sunday) the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach sponsors of workshop with me; two days on location and two days in the studio. Call Sara Bass at 904-280-0614 x 204 or register at .
Please join me for a lecture on COLOR: ITS MEANINGS AND USES ACROSS TIME AND CULTURES  at the Silvermine Art Center  in New Canaan, Ct. on Sunday March 5, 2017 at 4:30 pm.

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Overlapping Rhythms

We cannot ignore the small flicker of a candle in a darkened room or the motions of a distant headlights in the night. Small light shapes pop against darkened backgrounds. They are the break-spots, the anomalies that steal all our attention, the jewels in the crown.  Bright shapes jump in front of the darkened field, unless a darkened form crosses their path and overlaps them. From before Titian through today this principle enriches and informs paintings.  This principle reinforces our sense of reality when applied within a painting.

When overlapping contrasting shapes are arranged in rhythmic but, non-repetitive sequences they offer a feeling movement, of music. My first example is a watercolor by Andrew Wyeth which is followed by another watercolor (also late 20th century) by James Weidle.  Wyeth’s watercolor contrasts light shapes over a darkened field while Weidle’s watercolor contrasts dark shapes over a field of light forms. (Examples 1 and 2).

Example 1. Andrew Wyeth watercolor,

Example 2. James Weidle watercolor (1982),

Using these same principles I constructed two similar paintings. All the following examples were painted alla prima, painted at one setting.  The first example (examples 3 and 4) is laid over a white enameled laminated aluminum. The second is an over-painting laid upon an old street scene (examples 5 and 6). Observe how the more massive shapes both rhyme and refute one another.  Observe how the arrangement of the grass fronds further reinforces the rhythmic sequence and a feeling of movement as well as coalesce to keep the viewer within the picture frame.

Example 3. Step one of Autumn Grass, with translucent oils,

Example 4. Step two of Autumn Grass,

Example 5. Step one (opaque painting over city scene),

Example 6. Step two (opaque painting over city scene) unfinished,

There will be a step three for the opaque painting but, I must let the painting dry before applying more color or, I risk muddying the colors.

My last example presents a wintery view of London. I manipulated the painting to reinforce the feeling of an iconic atmospheric London reminiscent to me of Charles Dickens, Peter Pan, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s quite a sentimental stew in which I worked to avoid saccharin.  I bet you also detect my homage to Monet’s, Whistler’s and Turner’s misty images of London here. (example 7) Here the rhythmic effects are created by my arrangements of architectural features as opposed to the earlier curvelinear flora.

Example 7. London on brushed silver enameled aluminum,

I invite you to join me this April 20-23, 2017 (Thursday through Sunday) the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach sponsors of workshop with me; two days on location and two days in the studio. Call Sara Bass at 904-280-0614 x 204 or register at .


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The Flying Triangle

Ancient Cuneiform depended the incisions of little “v” corners, modified triangles pressed into clay.  In art the triangle is fundamental.  It can be foreshortened, extended, overlapped, made to appear ascending or descending or turning.  Example one presents a series of diagrams illustrating these different systems for building space using the triangle.

Example 1.  Triangle Diagrams,

My first triangle demonstration addresses an aerial view of NYC along with its respective diagram (examples 3 and 4). The triangle drives toward the beholder but, appears to slide under the beholder’s vantage point.  I exaggerated the effect by squeezing the triangular image into a tight square.  You see how I reconstructed the image by looking at the original unedited photo (example 2). In the diagram (example 3) I demonstrate two-point perspective with the vanishing points set on the far right and far left on the eye level. Their two respective receding triangles leave an advancing triangle (in red) in the center.

Example 2. Original unedited photo.

Example 2. Diagram for painting.

Example 3. Painting of NYC from an aerial perspective.

A more straightforward single point perspective design can be seen in examples 4 and 5. The image derived from the observation deck at Rockefeller Center looking north to Central Park. Example 4 presents a triangle whose recessional lines converge on the eyelevel horizon at a central vanishing point.  This creates a feeling of movement which helps to give movement to the overly rigid linear perspective grid. The painted example uses a mix of vanishing points which all roughly gather around the central vanishing point.  The beholder has  a vantage point about 60 stories above Manhattan looking north to Central Park with the Hudson River on our left.

Example 4.  Triangle diagram with single vanishing point.

Example 6. Painting with many slightly askew variations on the single vanishing point.

Like Example 2, Examples 7 and 8 use a two point perspective system. One is far left and the other is farther right.  The difference is, here you can see lines above the eyelevel which descend to the far right vanishing point.  These lines indicate the location of building lines. The crosswalk lines are indicated in red. The painting (example 8) is still underway.

Example 7. The diagram with ascending and descending recessional lines.

Example 8. The painting, a street scene.

The next examples (9, 10 and 11) add some new complications. In the diagram we see three vanishing points. The principle vanishing point controls the direction of the primary triangle (representing ascending sea grasses). But, these sea grasses level off and turn to the left. They are illustrated with red lines in the diagram.  In the original photo there is no clear descending triangle above the horizon. I applied  this above the eyelevel to the diagram.  It solved a problem for me. I needed to have beholder see into infinite space so; I created the triangle above the eyelevel with its viewing notch of the distant water. Example 11 presents the painting, a 36×48” image on brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum.

Example 9, original photo without distant viewing notch.

Example 10. Diagram.

Example 11.  Painting of ascending, turning sea grass with distant viewing notch.

Lastly, is a bridge and canal painting in examples 12 and 13.  The underside of the bridge has recessional lines that converge down into a triangle. The pylons supporting the bridge converge to the far right creating a series of right-flanked triangles with the exception of the wall on the far right.  There we see the left flank of the supporting structure.  The colors are set in  both high value and color contrasts.  Shapes slightly overlap and appear to vibrate ( a surrogate for our  parallax stereoptic vision).  Apart from the structural design I enjoyed painting the industrial surfaces and the textured vibrating watery surface.

Example 12. Diagram of Bridge and Canal image.

Example 13. Painting, Bridges and Canals, 24×48, on enameled aluminum,

I invite you to join me this April 20-23, 2017 (Thursday through Sunday) the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach sponsors of workshop with me; two days on location and two days in the studio. Call Sara Bass at 904-280-0614 x 204 or register at .







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Beneath The Surface

Using older paintings or photographs as substrates for later over-painting offers the artist a grab-bag of surprises. Because water’s translucence automatically provides the feeling of an inscrutably mysterious and enigmatic world just out of reach of easy legibility it is ripe for using substrates like old paintings or photos.

Here are a few examples. The first uses mixed-media beginning with a substrate of photography then I apply an overlay of oil paint introducing an entirely new subject.  Example one begins with a close-up photo of a pond. This image gets overpainted as you see in example 2, step two.  I then wipe away some of the overlaying paint to reveal some colors and textures of the photograph beneath. The final image is an amalgam of both images but, its subject is clearly the overlaying marsh.

Example 1.  Pond Photograph 13×13,

Example 2. Step two,  mid-painting of the overlaying marsh,

Example 3. Step Three, Present state,

This process works equally well using an older painting with a vivid set of colors and complexity of forms  as the substrate (example 4, 24×24”). This older painting is then covered with paint with the intention of describing a lakeshore image. Next, I delete selected areas of the overlaying paint to reveal the vivid complementary colors and patterns of the older painting beneath (example 5).

Example 4. Step one, the older painting to serve as a substrate,

Example 5. Step two, present state of the new overlaying image,  

The gradual evolution of a painting can also exploit earlier iterations of an image as changes are superimposed on it.  Example 6 (36×36”) presents the earlier iteration of the painting.  I determined the image was too quiet and lacked sufficient contrast.  This  sparked the added layers of changes you see in example 7.

Example 6.  Early stage or step one,

Example 7.  Present state of the image.


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Rotation, Contours and Space

“One realizes that symmetry and consistency, whatever their merits are the enemy of movement” said Kenneth Clark in his BBC series, “Civilization”.  But, just avoiding symmetry and consistency does not evoke a feeling of movement.  Using the diagram in example 1 we can demonstrate how a shape may inhibit or promote a feeling of movement. In this case I present conditions for recognizing a rolling movement.  Landscape painters have applied these principles to hills, rocks and swales. I will be applying them to shoreline sea grasses or, in colonial times what was known as salt hay, a harvestable crop.

While the example is largely self-explanatory I begin with a pan cultural and pan historic image, the iconic sunburst.  Once the radians are separated from the central disc it begins to pulse or radiate and, once the arms or radians are curved as well as detached the disc suggests rotation. If that disc is slightly turned or pivoted we see an elliptical figure.  This foreshortened effect suggests a figure with three dimensional space.  If the radians and the disc are described as with illusory thickness then the feeling of rotation in space is strengthened.

The final figure in the diagram shows bands of the rotating arms set side by side with diminishing rows stacked on top.  The feeling suggests a contoured surface rolling forward and back in space.

Example 1. Diagram.

The fun lies in applying the principle to a subject area such as shore grass which you see in example 2. The consistency of the diagram is thwarted by overlapping tangled strands rather lining them all neatly side by side.  The tangle of overlapping strands which swell in size as they advance and diminish as they retreat give a more layered and textured surface to the form.  By undermining consistency a more dynamic form is created.

Example 2.

Using  a chorus  of undulating and waving strands as demonstrated in my diagram has been a strategy of adventurous artists like Van Gogh (examples 3 and 4) and Renoir (example 5). Each knew that a unified but, not quite consistent  wave patterns would invest more motion in their work.

Example 3. Van Gogh preparatory drawing.

Example 4. Van Gogh painting of fields behind St. Paul De Mausole, 1889.

Example 5. Renoir, painting along the Seine near Champrosay, 1873.

Using the same principle but, with other interval variations and the introduction of other shapes like large triangles I developed examples 5 and 6. Example 5 separates the rolls with intermediate spaces (blue water).  Example 6 will be preceded by its first step, the initial laying in of the contour patterns (example 6a).  Example 6 presents more variety in (less consistency) in the arrangement of the sea grass strands.

Example 5. Present state of this image, “rolling sequence” 36×48.

Example 6a. Step one of “Fallen Sea Grass”.

Example 6. Step two and present state of “Fallen Sea Grass”.

Example 7. presents the current state of “relaxed sea Grass”. This image wheels sideways as it slowly turns back into distant space.  The flat blue (water)  intervals on the left diminish in thickness in the distance. The sea grass strands wheel parallel with the ground plane as they turn toward and away from the beholder.  Examples 6 and 7 are both painted on brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum. The reflectance and colors of the image depend upon the viewpoint of the beholder. This cannot be demonstrated in a single photo of the painting but occurs as you shift your weight when looking at the image.

Example 7. Present state of ‘Relaxed Sea Grass”.

I invite you to join me in a two day workshop at the West Hartford Art League on January 14 and 15, 2017.  The Workshop is:”Techniques of the Masters, Past and Present”. Visit their website or call 860 231 8019.






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Next Steps

Here are examples of the proposition that no picture is ever finished.  I previously posted most of these images in their earlier incarnations. Now, you can compare the previous with the present.  These paintings have been distracting me in my studio this past month.

First, here is a recent painting of the vista from Rockefeller Center. Example one is the before and example two is the after. I wanted to push the color contrast and the feeling of atmosphere in the after image.

Example 1. Roc Center Vista before.

Example 2. Roc Center Vista after.

Next, is a before and after (examples 3 and 4) of a bridges painting which I built up with successive overlays. In the before example the image canted too awkwardly to the right and lacked sufficient color contrast.

Example 3. Bridges before.

Example 4. Bridges after.

My third comparison has a twist (examples 5 and 6).  The previous image is a study 24×24 for a later version which is 36×36. I had posted the 24×24. Here I invested Times Square with a forested plaza. I previously noted parallels with Stieglitz’s photo of the Flat Iron building and other artists’ works.  In the after image I departed further from those parallels. Again, I wished to push the contrasts and introduce some semi-opaque glazing for atmospheric effects.

Example 5, the study, 24×24.

Example 6, the following  36×36.


A new theme for me this fall was to visually climb inside meadow plants like wild grape or porcelain berry.  This image also received additional selective blue glazing as you can see. (Examples 9 and 10)

Example 9. Porcelain berry, before.

Example 10. Porcelain berry, after.


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Evolution of the Elevated View

As cities rose in density and prosperity so did the market for images city life.  Ancient Rome was the first to live in cramped 5 and 6 story buildings. Roman artists obliged their market with micro-mosaics and frescos of  Roman urban architecture.  The point of view of the artist rose with the buildings in an effort to depict the extent of urban architecture.  Within 1000 years Chinese artists followed suit with elevated perspectives of their cities. Ruins of the ancient Roman six story highrise can be visited in Ostia Antica today (Near Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, Rome).

As the height of Roman buildings grew so did the artists access to  elevated observation posts within the city (example 1). In earlier blogposts I previously neglected some of this history.  Artists came to painting elevated city views over time. It is a learned tradition with learned skills and, it is an evolving tradition. Its evolution interests me here.

Example 1. Detail from Roman wall painting.

If we race forward into the 1600s we find Jacob Van Ruisdael climbing windmills and clock towers to find his new observation post (example 2).  By the 1600s artists employed not only the principles of linear perspective but optical machines like the camera obscura as well to help them make more natural  images.  His contemporary Jan Vermeer gives an example in his view of Delft (example3).

Example 2. Jacob Van Ruisdael view of Amsterdam.

Example 3. Jan Vermeer view of Delft.

In the late 19th century Pissarro’s view over the avenues of Paris gave a more sensuous  effect. Now, the enumerated buildings and other details were of less interest than a momentary experience of colored atmospherics (example 4)

Example 4. Pissarro view of Paris.

Throughout the 20th century modernists would look up and down at their urban settings.  Georgia O’Keeffe painted elevated views of New York from her high rise apartment.  This distillation and graphic simplification became part of the new fashions and goals for modern artists like O’Keeffe. (Example 5)

Example 5. O’Keeffe view from her NYC apartment.

Matisse and others would continue to abstract the city from an elevated point of view. By the mid20th century through today artists like Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud experimented  with abstracting, exaggerating and distilling the city from an elevated point of view (example 6).

Example 6. Thiebaud’s Big Condominium from 2008.

Last week I gave an example of an elevated and semi-abstracted view of Milwaukee.  I return to a similar theme today with an image which is in its beginning stage (example 7).  Next, I moved my venue to the top of Rockefeller Center looking south over Manhattan.  With a set of squeegees and brushes I conjured the intense crowding of forms and edges I experienced as I looked down and across Manhattan. This image is also in a preliminary stage.

Example 7. Milwaukee, looking South Along Michigan to Chicago (present state).

Example 8. Looking South from Roc Center, oil on enameled laminated aluminum, 36×36, present state.

Because I often present images in earlier stages of development I now can offer you an updated image along with its previous appearance (examples 9 and 10).

Example 9.  Bridges in earlier presentation.

Example 10. Bridges as updated.

I invite you to join me in a two day workshop at the West Hartford Art League  on January 14 and 15, 2017.  The Workshop is: ”Techniques of the Masters, Past and Present”. Visit their website or call 860 231 8019.

Please join me in my classes at the Silvermine School of Art. Registration for the winter semester (Mid January through March) begins Wednesday, December 14th at 9 AM.  Call the school at 203 966 6668 ext 2 to register. I look forward to working with you. Note, that I previously and incorrectly stated that registration began on December15; my apologies.

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