Design Foundations: The Hourglass

So much ambiguity can be packed into the phrase “hourglass figure”.  This shape proved  useful when unifying elements of a  picture into a single frame. The roots of the hourglass extend at least into the 1300s in Europe but, its use as a foundation design form go much further back to ancient Egypt as seen in the pictograph for twisted flax, the letter  “H”. The hourglass can shape can be found in other related forms like the “X” and “S” shapes.  The X, I, S and O are as old as picture letters come.  Ancient Greeks used the X as the mark of the Khi or Chi . . . . In some renderings one bar of the X is straight while the other is S shaped . The “S” can trace its roots to different Hieroglyphic letter shapes, all snake forms.  I have assembled a set of pictographs in example 1. They include a rectangle known to us as the trapezoid, a form descended from Greek geometers which appears as a foreshortened rectangle when placed within another square. The X and The S may similarly be foreshortened when used  as a unifying device in pictures.

Example 1. Diagrams of ancient and foreshortened shapes.july16,18,diagramm of hourglass,chi,trapezoid

Here are examples across time and cultures of artists using the hourglass figure in a variety of mutations as a unifying structural device in their work.  Notice how the X shape and curvilinear shape of the hourglass merge in different images. Notice how they are distorted but, still serve their unifying function and observe how they are foreshortened to heighten the sensation of space within the pictures.

Example 2 shows a 15th century (Cima da Conegliano, 1460) example of the foreshortened S or serpentine form which is slightly compounded with the hourglass design. Example 3, painted by Lucas Cranach in 1537 presents an obvious use of the  X/hourglass. Later examples demonstrate the elasticity of the form such as the Ming Dynasty painting by Liu Yuanqi in 1601 (example 4). Chinese artists often relied upon the serpent or dragon shape with its loops to unify an image as well as present a metaphor to the viewer. Observe its shared characteristics with the hieroglyph of the twisted flax.  I have overlayed diagrams using lines of aquamarine or fuchsia superimposed on these images to illustrate their design structure.

Example 1.  Cima da Conegliano 1460 with the diagramming.july16,18,cima da conegliano,1460

Example 2. Lucas Cranach in 1537 with my diagram.july16,18,lucas cranach,1537

Example 3.Liu Yuanqi in 1601 with my diagramming.july16,a8,liu Yuanqi,Ming dynasty,1601

We have long considered the hourglass shape as a flattering form for the human figure both for men and women though today we principally apply the term as flattering for women.  In 1587 Veronese uses framing elements such as a boy’s arm and opposing drapery to give Jesus a more hourglass form. (See example 4).

Example 4. Veronese with my diagram revealing hourglass form.july16,18,veronese,Jesus ,1587

Using stacked ovals in a loose combination of the serpentine and the hourglass is a painting by John Singer Sargent early from the 20th century.  I did not include my diagramming here so that you might discover the pattern independently. (See example 5). His models are posed in costumes from Sargent’s own collection.

Example 5. John Singer Sargent.july16,18,john singer sargent, friends in costume,undiagrammed

The following examples are my work in which I applied the hourglass/s/x  design.  These examples are presented with and without superimposed diagrams. The first of these examples are with urban subject matter and therefore, more rectilinear. They offered an opportunity to use the foreshortened effect of the trapezoid shape which is then inverted to give the effect of a foreshortened X (see examples 6 and 7).

Example 6. Mixed media image,36×36, railyard with diagram.july16,18,mixed media,city rails, 36x36,diagrammed

Example 6a. Image without diagramming.july16,18,mixed media,city rails, 36x36

Example 7. Oil on PVC panel, 48×48 with diagram.july16,18,city,Southbound Broadway, oil on pvc,48x48,diagrmammed

Example 7a, image without diagramming.july16,18,city,Southbound Broadway, oil on pvc,48x48

The final example offers more curvilinear and biomorphic forms. These are closer to the feeling of the hourglass but, with elasticity. Observe the Barn Island image references a foreshortened version of the “twisted flax” hieroglyph.  (See examples 8 and 9)

Example 8, Barn Island, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum, 48×48 with diagram.july16,18,Shorelines, Departing Tide, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48,diagrammed

Example 8a, image without diagramming.july16,18,Shorelines, Departing Tide, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,48x48






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Design with Diagonal Counterpoint

Quiet is apparent when it is broken through contrast, whether by cries, squeals, or thunder.  Contrast through counterpoint is a foundation of design from music to gardens to paintings. Visually we attend to arrangements with counterpoint  found in opposing patterns.  Opposing diagonals have long been a part of the painter’s  tool box.  The application of opposing diagonals comports with art historical models or schema.  Artists try variations of standard models just as chefs try variations on recipes. Consider example 1, a painting by the American Impressionist Theodore Robinson in 1890 and then compare its diagonal patterns with those in a contemporary work by Ed Ruscha, example 2.  Ruscha’s work is more abstracted but, the design principles are constant.  Now consider the letter “Sigma” as represented in ancient Phoenician and Greek Ionian alphabets where it looks more like a sharpened capital M turned on its side. This fundamental letter-shape gets reconstituted as an organizing shape for paintings as you see in the following examples.

Example 1. Theodore Robinson painting.

Example 2. Ed Ruscha painting.
july16,11,contemporary,ruscha ed, standard2

You can find this organizing shape throughout art history. Example 3 presents a work by the earlier 19th century romantic painter, Delacroix. His diagonals move  in similar ways to both Robinson’s and Ruscha’s works.

Example 3. Delacroix painting.

In examples 4 and 5 compare the diagrammed paintings of the Ruscha and the Delacroix .  See how Ruscha distills and  inverts  Delacroix’s counterpoint-diagonal model.  Innovative Ruscha placed the eye-level horizon below the picture plane, i.e. below the visible picture.

Example 4. Diagrammed Delacroix.

Example 5. Diagrammed Ruscha.
july16,11,contemporary,ruscha ed, standard

In my two painting examples I present superimposed diagrams to emphasize how the design’s diagonals were arranged. In example 6 I stacked a series of chevron shapes and moved their respective vertices slightly off the centers. Example 7 presents the image without the diagramming.

Example 6. Diagrammed image.
july16,11,audubon near sharon,36x36,2

Example 7. Image without diagram.
july16,11,audubon near sharon,36x36

In example 8 I organize the upper distant section using a hub-and-spoke design which relies upon a common area of convergence for the diagonals. The larger, lower and darker area is united by a soft, arcing triangle directing itself toward the upper section. Example 9 presents this image without diagrams.

Example 7. Diagrammed image.
july16,11,lke of the isles 28x28,2

Example 8. Image without diagram.
july16,11,lke of the isles 28x28


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Berlin Spotting

Reflected images offer possibilities for layered images and building visual metaphors. Walking through Berlin with my family which included three artists, son Max Dunlop, his wife Natalie Kiefer, as well as Rebecca and our infant granddaughter Frida, I discovered serendipitous layered reflected metaphors.

Linear Perspective was first practiced in the Plazas of Italy in the 1400s. Borrowing that subject but layering those principles in Berlin’s plazas in the following examples 1, 2, 3 and 4. Observe how the advancing bull image reverses the motion of the linear perspective in example3.

Example 1. Perspective with Reflections along Unter der Linden,
july16,4,near brandenberg gate, Unter den Linden

Example 2. A bull painting caught amidst reflections,
july16,4,raging bull

Example 3. The reflected layered bull painting inserted into example 1.
july16,4near brandenberg gate1a

Example 4. Perspective with Mixed Diagonals at Potsdam Plaza.
july16,4,potsdam platz3a

Taking an image of Rembrandt’s (example 5) and then layering it with a window reflection image found by looking into an antiquarian shop (example 6) results in example 7.  The reflected arch way performs the same framing function as the original framing arch in Rembrant’s image.

Example 5, Rembrandt, preaching John The Baptist (in the Gemaldegalerie).
july16,4,rembrandt, john Baptist Preaching,1635,canvas on panel

Example 6. Window shop with reflections (Gedamenmarkt).

Example 7. The aggregated image of examples 5 and 6.
july16,4,rembrandt and antiquarian shop window2a

Reflected imagery can wobble on glass as you see in example 8 (Humbolt University platz). Or, I used the contrary directional signals found on a window along Unter der Linden seen in example 9. Max called this an example of my version of the family photo album.

Example 8,  glass wobble tightened within the rectilinear mullions.
july16,4,near brandenberg gate11

Example 9, Family photo shot.
july16,4near brandenberg gate6

The serendiptous nature of strolling through a city like Berlin alllows for jarring or pleasing visual discoveries. Examples 10 and 11 provide evidence of each.

Example 10. Naked Steel, Tattoo parlor window,
july16,4,friederichshain,naked steel

Example 11. Flower garden while approaching Berliner Dome.
july16,4,berliner dome walking to2

If you would like to join me painting and photographing Euro city places then join me in Spain.  We  have just one spot open for the September trip to Spain. For details see the workshop section at


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Deep Space in The Shallows

Moving across a fabric of space offers a different challenge than moving directly into infinite space.

In 1837 artists still took the grand Italian tour to sites designated as artistically worthy.  Most of these sites were in the Roman Compagna.  From Turner to Corot to Degas to Americans like Sanford Gifford and George Inness they all made the artists’ pilgrimage to paint the ancient landscape of Rome.  They borrowed the designs of Claude and Poussin. They also borrowed their palette with its reliance on burnt sienna (an iron oxide).

These artists began with oil sketches on small boards.  Example 1 provides a typical sample. It’s the landscape of Rome (approx. 9”x20”) by Gourlier in 1837. Corot had painted here a decade earlier. Notice the dark threshold curving up along the left to frame the distance. Notice the complementary pale violets and yellows as well as the darkened transparent red oxide. I borrowed from this model when painting the marshlands near Newburyport, Massachusetts. Gourlier’s substrate was canvas while mine is a brushed silver, laminated, enameled aluminum.  I used a similar 1:2 height to width ratio but, my image is larger at 24×48”.  I began with a photograph which I manipulated in Photoshop (example 2).  I reversed the photo, altered the values and colors, and stretched it horizontally to fit my 1:2 ratio.

Example 1. Gourlier of 1837,
june16,13,Paul Dominque Gourlier,1837Aqua Acetosa,9x20 approx

Gourlier’s design pushed the space deeper by using diminishing scale, color and values. Compare the distant forms with the near forms.

Example 2. My initial photograph of the marshlands,
june16,13,step a,plum island initial photo before being reversed

Later in the 19th Century in 1878 Sanford Gifford would adopt the same 1:2 format. His subject, like mine, was shoreline marshes. His palette continued to rely on the same one presented by Gourlier except that Gifford’s was brighter (example 3).  Because I wish to exploit the reflective nature of the brushed silver surface I sacrifice Gifford’s a whiter substrate in favor of faux brushed silver for its mirror-like properties.  Example 4 presents an earlier stage in the painting’s development while example 5 presents the painting in its present state.  I treated the arrangement of mounds of marsh grass as Gourlier had arranged his landmasses and shadows, to build a deep space across a shallow plane.

Example 3. Gifford’s Marshes of the Hudson,
june16,13,Marshes along the Hudson, sanford gifford

Example 4. Step one of my Marshlands,
june16,13,step one,plum island marshlands

Example 5. Step two of my Marshlands.
june16,13,step two,plum island,24x48,oil on brushed silver laminated oil enameled aluminum,

Marsh land space can be expressed along many different lines. As an alternative I used atmospheric perspective or the sudden shift from sharp focused edges to blurred territory which also gives a feeling of depth but, without arranging a plane of receding shapes. For example consider my painting in example 6. Here there is no burnt sienna, no vast horizontal plane just an abbreviated one in front and, no arrangement of shapes diminishing in scale toward the horizon.  Here the grasses are arranged vertically as opposed to the earlier examples’ horizontal bundles. And yet, we can still feel space across the shallows and in the misty distance.

Example 6,   Marsh, Mist, and Meadow, oil on canvas,
june16,13,marsh,meadow,mist, oil on canvas,46x48

I want to invite you to visit the last week of my exhibition at Susan Powell Fine Art, 679 Boston Post Road in Madison, Connecticut; tel 203 318 0616.

I also extend my invitation to you to my workshop in Sun Valley, Idaho at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.  This workshop begins next Monday June 19th. See my website’s: classes and workshops for description and contact information.

Finally, I extend an invitation to you to register beginning this Wednesday for my Summer Tuesday painting classes at the Silvermine Center for the Arts in New Canaan, Connecticut.   Tuesday mornings I will teach plein air painting in a variety of convenient shaded locations and, later on Tuesday afternoons I teach my Investigations into Landscape Painting indoors in Silvermine’s studio.  If interested please contact the Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext. 12.

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Impressions with Perspective

Following conventions we know how to make and recognize a pie. We begin with a circle; a circular pie plate fitted with a circular crust.  We know it’s a pie when it comes in a circle. Pictures follow similar conventions.  Pies and Pictures follow standard models. We improvise on the model. Whether painting an interior or painting street scene the basic model remains.  There are two flanking walls and a ground that recede in synchrony according the principles of linear perspective.

In the mid 1800s Japanese artists like Hiroshige borrowed the standard western model of a populated view down an avenue and also applied the principles of linear perspective (example 1).  Artists like Monet improvised with this standard model. In his train station series we find the two conventional flanking walls and the receding floor or ground (Example 2). His innovations were to cap the rectangle with a triangle, dissolve some edges and focal acuity through atmospherics with glaring sunlight and locomotive steam.

Later in the twentieth century artists like Giacometti who were well versed in linear perspective applied the traditional model to an interior (example 3). The sitting figure assumes the role of Monet’s locomotive. The edges come in and out of focus as we move into the space.  21st century artists like Paige Laughlin again return to innovate with the standard interior model and allow the furniture to function as the flanking walls while the beholder follows the floor’s linear vectors into the picture. Her image offers a secondary grid using a squared assembly of four artworks on the far wall. They serve as both a destination and a device to expand the space (example 4).

Example 1. Hiroshige,1850s,
june16,6,hiroshige,1856-59, night scene at Saruwaka cho

Example 2. Claude Monet,
june16,6,monet,station trains

Example 3. Alberto Giacometti, mid 20th century,
june16,6,giacometti, drawing, mother

Example 4. Paige Laughlin, contemporary,
june16,6,contemporary paige laughlin, blue ottoman, oil on mylar

Just as Paige Laughlin used complementary color relationships, orange vs. ultramarine blue and yellow vs. violet I used similar complementary colors when developing my “57th Street in the Rain” (examples 5 and 6). Impressionists were found of using tints, that is mixing white into their colors for a lighter brighter effect. You may observe I did the same. I blurred the edges and the shape of the objects more than Monet could have dared in the 1870s.  He lacked precedents for such distortions but, photography would soon provide ample examples.

Example 5. Step one, 57th Street Rain,
june16,6,step one, crossing57th in rain

Example 6. Step two, 57th Street Rain,
june16,6,step two, crossing 57th in rain

Returning to the more limited palette of both Hiroshige and Monet I began painting my next example 7, “East 62nd”.  I followed Monet’s atmospheric dissolution of edges especially in the distance and on the flanking walls. Monet’s urban atmosphere was occluded by locomotive steam. My atmosphere evokes vaporizing sunlight.  The rectangular dark frame also alludes to structures found in the previous examples.

Example 7. 57th Street Rain,


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Expanding Models of Perception

Our library of visual models guides us to visual conclusions. From the jittery arrays of photons we assemble an image in our cortex out of memory and experience.  We manufacture visual reality. Our memory stocks work to discern if a ball of wavy blond strands is a stooped head, a lolling cocker spaniel or an oddly posed mop. Context helps us decide.  They enable us to build visual categories.  As artists or beholders we recognize configurations as matching previous models. Expanding our models is the adventure of art, of poetry, of dance, of architecture, of music.

After 2 ½ year old Iris discovered she had painted a blue rocket ship she experienced confidence and decided to reapply her newfound skills to making a pink rocket ship. She was expanding her model.  In 1910 Picasso saw the problem of painting with added complexity. How could he combine the memory experience of three dimensions into two?  How could hue be merged with value within his quest  for building a picture? He found awoke to these challenges through his  dexterous familiarity with many models for structuring a picture. He had to recognize and then isolate what was possible for expanding the experience of  painting.  Referencing his mental library of models was not altogether conscious.  For example, we speak without consciously thinking about constructing our words.

On an adventure like Iris’s and Picasso’s we don’t think about remuneration or fame. We don’t think about finishing and polishing our product.  We only act. And, at some point we stop our action.  We don’t stop because our action arrived at a suitably marketable moment.  We don’t necessarily stop from satisfaction. We stop from uncertainty for future action.  The painting is not finished; it is merely paused.  It is never finished. We move on. We try another.  Cezanne recognized this  phenomena when he refused to sign but one painting over a ten year period of work.

Let’s see how this process moves. Consider the rocky seascapes of George Bellows.  Example 1 presents two images.  He culled their structure not from the seashore but primarily from precedents by other artists, like Winslow Homer.  He borrows Homer’s palette, brushwork, and designs. But, his work is not a copy. It is more an emotional reassessment, a test of skills and materials  than a mere recapitulation.

Example 1.  George Bellows seascapes,may16,30, geroge bellowes  1913, oils

Winslow Homer found the structure of rocks in two dimensions could be repeatedly distilled and .simplified.  Through expressive simplification of his model he could stimulate the beholder to recognize rocks in a natural context. He could abstract them and still recognize them.  Homer’s  painting of his studio gives us an example (example2).  The forms of the building and the forms of the rocks are shared.

Example 2. Winslow Homer’s Studio at Prout’s Neck.may16,30,winslow homer studio

I too, mine the designs of past art just as Bellows, Picasso and Cezanne did. Here are opportunities of expansion and amplification. I presented the Bellows and the Homer works because they showed me a way to invent or riff on their forms  in my following examples.

Consider a photograph of mine (example 3) which offers silhouetted rock imagery but,  in a different context. Here the rocks are flattened against forest light and set above a tranquil vernal pool. Without being consciously aware of my sources I proceeded with my first painting. This painting derived from a photo  (example 4) which recalled art historical models.  In my painting the rocks were arranged into a more unified chromatic field, lots of blue.  The design was simplified. Once that was done I recognized the works Bellows and Homer as source models.

Example 3. Original photo,may16,30, step1,blue pool,devils den oct14,36x36_edited-1

Example 4. First painted response,may16,30,step 3,blue poolwater,October Vernal Pool, revised, oil on anodize d aluminum, 36x36

Via Photoshop I merged examples 3 and 4. I  found inventive freedom  in this simplified design. I layered another image with my newly merged example. This new image offered richer,  long grass textures  and, also possessed a small central pool , The result is the amalgamated photo/painting in example 5.  This new image suggested possibilities for a more mysterious painting which you see in example 6.   I continued this approach of layering similar images to my foundation image. I quested for an engaging surprise.

Example 5, Hybrid mashup of photos and painting,may16,30,step 3,blue Pool, revised, oil on anodize d aluminum, 36x36,mixed media 2

Example 6. Resultant painting,may16,30,step 4,blue pool mysteries, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

I experimented with another photo of an intimate natural pool (example 7). I printed this image 36×36 on heavy vinyl.   The complex range of textures intrigued me. They might serve as an arresting substrate for my vernal pond paintings seen in examples 4 and 6.  I applied two coats of polymer gloss varnish to the digital vinyl image before painting in oil.  As I painted I excised areas of the paint to reveal  textures from the digital image beneath and to augment the textures of the painting but, not to define it. The result can be seen in example 8.

Example 7, digital photo print 36×36,may16,30,stonebridge pool,april

Example 8. Over-painted digital print.mised media, blue pool, oil and printed mater mounted on dibond,36x36

This new source of texture encouraged me to repeat the process but with a different subject, a big sky panorama.  I started with a digital image which was a composite view of the New York’s west side and a cubist landscape by Georges Braque (example 9).  I then borrowed imagery from a photo I had taken from Frederick Church’s Olana above the Hudson River (example 10).  Next, I overpainted the composite NY/Braque image with my Hudson River image. I deleted sections of the foreground to exploit textures lurking in the NY/Braque image (example 11).

Example 9. Digital Combination of NYC and Braque,may16,30,step 1a, paris and george bracque,digital mashup

Example 10, photo of Hudson Valley,may30,step one , photo as snapped,olana vista

Example 11.Painting with digital image as substrate, may16,30, step 3,hudson valley, Olana View, oil on mixed media mounted on aluminum,24x24

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Abstraction through Water

Painting works upon our sense of discovery.  As my 2 year old granddaughter, Iris, water-colored she told me she was making a unicorn.  As Iris surveyed her work she discovered it was not a unicorn.  It was a “blue rocket ship”.  She exhibited no frustration at the absence of a unicorn, instead;  she admired her lozenge shape with furry edges which suggested a rocket ship.   Filled with this discovery and confidence in her skills she said next she would make a pink rocket ship.

Finding a field of paint that suggests a memory of water follows a similar path.  I freely apply paint after visually digesting a series of photographs of water surfaces.  I use a 6” squeegee and an 8” soft wash brush to gently discover varieties of patterns in loose oil paint.  The patterns I tease out of the paint allude to watery reflections and translucence.  My confidence in my skill-set set me to making my pink rocket ship, in other words, finding correspondence between my intention and my paint.   The abstract patterns I discovered sparkled because I painted on brushed silver anodized aluminum.  My abstract patterns follow rules of linear perspective, degrading edge acuity over distance and degrading acuity with sub-surface matter.  I allow reds and yellow a greater role in the forward areas and shift to blues and blue greens to the back.  There is no horizon but, there is engineered space (see example 1).

Example 1.
may16,23,water,surface dance, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,36x36

In other images I will again play with reflectance.  William Merritt Chase, American Impressionist and teacher to many future American modernists, also explored finding reflections amidst abstract patterns.  I have two examples here, example 2, a pastel and, example 3 an oil. In each case Chase has allowed the loose and fractured reflective property of moving water to free him from tidy realism.  Chase’s water surfaces undulate and shimmy with abstractions from the moving forms found in reflecting water.  The pastel (example 2) is a more finished image.  Its edges are sharper with more legibility in subjects above the water than the more blended imagery found in the water’s surface.  The oil sketch (example 3) has a relaxed impromptu quality.  The water, the landscape and the figures all are less defined than the pastel.  This harmony of diffused focus allows us to find a unified image and easy access to multiple hypotheses.

Example 2.  Wm Merritt Chase Pastel, 1883.
may16,23,chase, wm merritt, pastel holland

Example 3. Wm Merritt Chase oil sketch, 1896.
may16,23,chase,wmmerritt,beach1896 oil on board 9x14

A century later, Bruce McGrew would further abstract the subject of water in his watercolors (example 4 from Scotland.)  McGrew exploits bleeding washes and forms in his watercolors.  They contribute to atmosphere and motion while the shapes with lined edges give the viewer mental anchorage with more legible clues.

Example 4. Bruce McGrew, watercolor.
may16,23,contemporary,american,wc, bruce Mcgrew,scotland,1998

I have two further examples of abstracting elements in nature but, through harder edged shapes. Example 5  demonstrates the first step in an image of interweaving textures and reflecting water. Example 6  demonstrates the 2nd step.  Here you see the tangle of straw wending back into the image relying on illusions of space through linear perspective (diminishing scaled shapes) and color recession.  Larger shapes get smaller and more vivid colors lose their intensity.

Example 5. Step one of the salt marsh painting.
may16,23,step oneshoreline tangles, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,3636

Example 6. Step two of the salt marsh painting.
may16,23,step two, shorelines,tods point meander, oil on brushed silver andoized aluminum,36x36

In another example (example 7), I have a more intimate view of a watery surface.  Here I found patterns of semi submerged leaf matter, submerged matter and reflecting water to generate a sparkling field capable of provoking a variety of hypotheses.

Example 7.  Leaf matter in Water.
may16,23,leaves in shallows, oil on brushed silver anodized aluminum,36x36

Let me extend an invitation to visit an exhibition of my works at Susan Powell Fine Art in Madison, Ct. open Tuesdays through Saturday 11 to 5.  The Exhibit will be up through June 18th.

If you still have interest in my workshops in Spain, Sun Valley Idaho, or Newburyport, Massachusetts then please visit my website (Classes & Events) for further details.  I have space for you and a promise of a great adventure painting together.

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Designing Windy Motion and Pursuing Cloisonne Effects

Prior to the 19th century artists using windy imagery looked to seascapes and sailing themes.  Early in the 19th century to landscape artists, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner looked to skies to generate a feeling of windy motion in their pictures.  Seascapes aside, by the 1860s American Artists like Winslow Homer tried animating their paintings with breezes amidst meadows.  Look at his “Veteran in a Field” from 1865 (example 1).  The wheat bends left from the wind while the scythe is held incounterpoint. The cut wheat shafts lie in a receding “v” pattern at the Veteran’s feet.  The design vectors act in counter point to balance the image.

Example 1. Homer’s “Veteran in the Field.”
may16,16,winslow homer,the veteran in a new field 1865

Homer also tried investing motion in his landscapes through experiments with his small watercolors and oil studies.   For example, two years later in 1867 he makes this small oil sketch (example 2).   The horizon is canted to give a sense of movement.  Unfortunately, every other layer was similarly canted with the wheat gatherer as the only counterpoint exception. This surfeit of regularity would be corrected  later in other studies or an exhibition pieces.   I later reprised Homer’s  idea of canting the horizon but also created a series  leveling zig-zag shapes below to avoid Homer’s problem of repeated suspicious regularly angled shapes (example 6) . My rhythmically undulating field grasses  suggest the evidence of a subtle breeze and,  offer more variety of counterpointing shapes than the Homer 9”x12” impromptu oil sketch.

Example 2.  Homer oil study.
may16,16,winslow homer,9x12 study,1867, the wheat gatherer

I found other precedents than Homer as a model for moving patterns of meadow grass. Vincent Van Gogh was driven to give his images rhythmic, moving imagery.  In one of his last paintings from 1890 (example 3)  we see how he orchestrates the rolling movement of the grasses into a singular concert. These shapes are set against the slow horizontal movement of the horizon and the horizontally composed cloud forms.

Example 3. Van Gogh fields.
may16,16,van gogh,fields,1890

The following steps demonstrate my borrowing from the models of Homer and Van Gogh.  First, I shot a series of photos from a low (lower than kneeling)  point of view (example 4). This image served as my springboard.  Painting’s first step can be seen in example 5.  Here,  I  just laid in broad areas of color with special attention to the value of the colors and their placement in the design, a design dependent  upon the slightly canted meadow  as seen in  Homer’s example 2. The next step (example 6 ) presents the image in its current form with patterns of grasses swaying in rhythmic counterpoint.

Example 4.  Photo used as point of departure.
may16,16,step 1, photo for patch of meaow,lakeville rte41bc

Example 5.  First step in the painting, color fields.
may16,16,step 2, windswept meadow

Example 6. Current state of image with rhythmic grasses.
may16,16,windswept meadow, oil on white anodized aluminum,36x36

In this blog post’s title I promised painting with cloisonné effects. Previously I tried a similar effect but, now I decided to use copper as my substrate. Copper has long been used in cloisonné especially because its orange-ish tones complement the lapis lazuli (ultramarine blue) used in the dark  interstitial spaces.  Further  lapis lazuli effects must wait for the current painting to dry to be most effectively applied. I wanted you to see the progress of this painting to point.

Example 7 (step 1) presents the initial laying in of colors still revealing much of the raw copper in the upper right.  Example  8 (step 2) demonstrates the first of the linear reveals (deletions of paint to reveal the copper below).  Example 9 presents the image in its current form.EF

Example 7. Step one,
may16,16,step2, patch of meadow,

Example 8. Step two.
may16,16,step 3, patch of meadow

Example 9.  Step three, image in its current form awaiting further development.
may16,16,step4,patch of meadow,36x36 oil on copper

Let me again invite you to visit an exhibit of my works at the Susan Powell gallery in Madison, Ct.  The show will be up through June 18th. Contact the gallery at susanpowell or call 203 318 0616. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 to 5.

I also invite you to join me in late June (20-24th) painting in beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho for a 5 day workshop (watercolor, acrylic, oil  and mixed media).  Contact the Sun Valley Center for the arts (ask for Sarah Kolash) at or call 208 726 9491 ext 121.

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Between The Leaves

In Patterns of Intention, Michael Baxandall wrote,  since the early Renaissance artists like Pieter Camper noticed that blue areas and objects appear farther away and,  red objects appear closer to us. He therefore assigned blue to the background and red to the foreground.  Da Vinci did the same.

Chardin, the great French still life painter of the 18th century  experimented with this phenomena more freely.  Because we see red objects as closer and blue objects as further back he could put a blue object in front of a red one and cause the blue to appear even larger than the red one. He found he could manipulate the expansion or compression of space through red and blue as Renaissance artists had begun to do.

Later in the 19th century Impressionists would exploit the space-making ability of complementary colors. By the 1880s American Impressionists like John Singer Sargent followed  French artists’ examples using both value contrasts and color contrasts combined with loose bravura brushwork.

Sargent found intimate flora filled settings were ripe for complementary color contrast spatial distortions. In 1886 his contrasts were less color than value driven  as you see in example 1.  This image subliminally influenced me later when I painted example 2, “Indications of May”.  I had forgotten about Sargent’s painting but,  recognized their similarities when I later rediscovered it.

Example 1. Sargent’s oil study of roses.
may16,9,sargent, john singer, 1886, roses at oxfordshire,

Example 2. “Indications of May”.
may16,9, indications of may, oil

Both paintings were set against a distant blue sky and relied upon the red/pink flowers and redness of trees to bring the foreground closer. Sargent tried the red/green,  dark/light contrast for spatial construction in example 3, “pomegranites” of 1908. Here there was no reference to blue sky, only the blue-green of  leaves contrasting against reds and yellows of the pomegranites.

I wondered how much closer could red/yellow in high contrast with blue feel. The result is “Dissolving Sunlight” an oil on anodized aluminum seen example 4.

Example 3, Sargent’s Pomegranites.
may16,9,john Singer Sargent, pomegranites,1908 oil

Example 4. My roses in “Dissolving Sunlight”.
may16,9,dissolving sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24,alt

A few days later I walked along the same stretch of Chestnut Hill Road and discovered blooming dogwoods. I had not been thinking  about Sargent’s  flowering trees but, I was later reminded of them.  See example 5, Sargent’s watercolor sketch of  Magnolias in 1912.

Example 5. Sargent’s “Magnolias”.
may16,9,sargent, john singer, 1913,magnolias wc

I carry a more conscious memory of Sargent’s  1908 watercolor, “Gourds” (example 6).  I painted example 7, “Dogwood Skies” maybe because I have enjoyed Sargent’s suspended leaves and gourds overhead  showing only small patches of sky .

Example 6.Sargent Watercolor “Gourds”.
may16,9,sargent,john singer,1908 gourds, wc

Example 7. “Dogwood  Skies”.
may16,9,flora,dogwood Skies, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

I took a variety of dogwood sky photos.  I cropped them, reversed them, and, exaggerated colors and edges.  These next examples begin with a photo I snapped of  dogwood flora against the sky (example 8).  Remember, I have no interest in copying this scene only in letting it serve as a point of departure for my later discoveries in paint.

Example 8. Photo as snapped.
may16,9,step one, the photo as snapped

Example 9 illustrates step two’s initial lay-in of blue and yellow with the cropped altered photo alongside. Observe I work from the general to the specific . Specifics come later. I find a feeling of space and design first.

Example 9. Step two.
may16,9,step two, cropped and altered photo along side initial lay in of blue and yellow

Example 10. Step three.
may16,9,step three, layin in darks

For a view of the image to date I refer you back to example 7. Notice how the reds snap forward of the blue background.

Example 7, reprised.
may16,9,flora,dogwood Skies, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

I invite you to the opening of an exhibition of my works  this Friday, May 13,2016 at Susan Powell Fine Art in Madison, Ct.   The reception runs from 5 to 8 PM. The Gallery phone: 203 318 0616.  I will have works from my city images to nature.

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Running Through Harmony

Physicist, Lisa Randall, describes the condition of the universe just after the big bang as isotropic. Everything was the same in all directions and all places.  Here is a metaphor for harmony for in painting; a surface with a uniformity of touch, unity in shapes, palette and values. Not everything the same but, everything apparently  related and sharing resemblences.

Generating  thematic unity within a painting allows the viewer to more easily fill in missing or suggested information. If the level of focus (edge acuity) is universally soft or, if the pattern of contrast between blurred edges and hard edges offers a feeling of continuity then, viewer participation will be intensified. The viewer can  find a criterion for categorizing, for recognition.  Whistler gives us a strong example (example 1) in his work.

Example 1. James Whistler.
may16,2,Whistler, evening, oil

This feeling of unity (harmony) extends through El Greco’s work as much as it does  DeKooning’s abstract-expressionist paintings. We can discover a unified world, enjoy a unified experience because of their harmonies, harmonies of gesture, consistencies of exaggeration, harmonies of palette, harmonies of brushwork.

Applying harmonies determines the direction, emotional coherence, credibility, and  persuasive identity of an image.  In my paintings of the  city spaces whether they are interiors like Grand Central Station or outside on the avenue I build a primary unified direction, a destination,  a unified palette, a unified quality of resolution which graduates from near to far, and a unified sense of motion as you move through the space.

My first example is a waterscape (example 2) which failed to powerfully cohere so; I used it as a substrate for example 3.  Notice how the light will continue to emanate from the upper right. Now the vortex of light is stronger and cohesively  distributed.  Figures diminish in size and edge acuity as they move into the distance.

Example 2.  Waterscape substrate under example 3.
May16,2, step one for gcs, force of sunlight, 24x24

Example 3. Grand Central Terminal Interior.
may16,2,gcs, force of sunlight, oil on anodized aluminum,24x24

I repeated this process with my next examples.  Again, I found a waterscape (example 4) that lacked sufficient unifying harmony. I  decided to use it as a substrate. This time I rotated the image to the left  in order  to exploit the sensation of light moving laterally across the image.  Example 5 represents the result, a sense of lateral speed married to a vortex of receding space. The harmonies of touch are more apparent here where the blurred lateral gestures help reinforce the feeling of speed.

Example 4. Waterscape substrate to be rotated  under example 5.
may16,2, step one for fast crossing at 42nd,

Example 5. Crossing Times Square.
may16,2,times Square, fast crossing, oil on anodized aluminum, 24x24

Example 6 begins with another substrate but, this substrate is a vinyl digital print (36×36) which I greatly altered in Photoshop. Next (example 7), I covered the vinyl print with 2 coats of polymer gloss varnish and proceeded to cover-up the digital print with oil paint.  I then followed the paint.

Example 6. Altered digital image.
may16,2, Direct Sunlight, altered photo,street walking2a,36x36

Example 7. Over-painted digital image.
may16,2,city, direct sunlight, oil and mixed media on dibond and vinyl, 3636

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