"The true painter strives to paint what can only be seen through his world." ~André Malraux

After a year of intermittant "painter's block"  I am working again in my studio, and feeling in a tentative positive state. Painting is a solitary activity, and as artists, we are often working in a vacuum. Unless we have a show hanging, reaction to the work is minimal. With several pieces underway, I decided that perhaps if I write about what I am doing or am attempting to do, it might act somewhat as a muse for me as well as give me some feedback on the work I am creating -- hence the establishment of this blog. 

As for the blog title, traditional, representational painting is a language for expressing what’s visible. But I feel my work is the most successful, and most interesting, when focused on things not entirely visible. I paint what I see but also what I sense and feel by utilizing my interior and unseen world --- in other words, the invisible world. Plein air work or  studio work from photographs are only touchstones or landmarks which guide me to other inner spaces. By so doing, I find that I am pushing the boundaries between representational and abstract work.

You can enlarge the images in this blog by clicking on them.

Jan 31, 2011

Things I Have Learned

Here are some things I have learned in my many years of painting, which might be helpful to some of you out there who are trying to create oil paintings. Or good reminders for you established painters. In fact, send me YOUR hints and I will add them to the list. These are things that I have learned from others, and/ or just learned by doing.

1. Be disciplined, and paint as often as you can. When you stop for too long, it is as if you have to reinvent the wheel, and start learning all over again -- at least for a little while, and then it comes back BUT NOT SO EASILY. Like anything else, you have to PRACTICE -- the more you paint the better you become.

2. You can paint the same thing over and over, and learn something each time. Artists often do studies of paintings before embarking on the “big one.” I do not have the patience for that, but I do sometimes paint the same subject more than once, almost like practicing. I find the second time around I begin to internalize the subject, the values, the refinement of the composition. I have painted the view from my windows over and over, and each time it is different.
In Just Spring   oil on canvas with tissue underlay
Glimpse of Glory     oil on clayboard

The triptych above, three 8" x 8" blocks, and the next painting are just two examples of paintings I have done of the view from the house. The triptych is the image I used for a show postcard some years back. Both of these pieces sold at different galleries.

3. Get away from your work--- move back and view it from a distance as often as possible. That’s why it is better to stand than sit to paint, but with some stenosis problems, I cannot do that too often. Turn your piece upside down at look at it, viewing the masses, the colors, the shapes, hues and values instead of the subject matter. Squint and get a hazy, value-blocked-in view.

As a corollary, look at the big picture, and try to stay clear of minutia, tiny details, which really do not matter that much, unless it is the final highlights that can really pop the painting. I find that by standing back and painting, I free myself, and use my arm and eye rather than my hands and fingers to paint. Another thing that has freed my eye is to paint triptychs--- somehow the idea of one panel flowing into another, without the confinement of edges, is very liberating.
October Silence     oil on canvas
 Above is asmall triptych, three 4" x 4" blocks. It was in the show at Skidmore's Tang Museum and featured in the college on line newsletter with my website selected by an art faculty member as website of the month. I was very pleased! It is currently in the Gilded Edge Gallery in Hanover, NH.   In any case, an example the freedom that this form allows me. 

4. Never ever underestimate the power of composition in a painting.  . No matter how well a piece is painted, without a good composition it will fail.

5. Keep two or three paintings going at once, so that one can be drying as another one is being worked. When working on a number of paintings at the same time, they may be painted simultaneously but they are frequently dissimilar, taking off in completely different directions. It keeps the mind active!

6. Every now and then, try to get out of your vacuum. Artists work alone, and often lack the input and valuable give and take that is so important to their work. Gather a few artist friends and get together and critique each other’s work, or hire an art professor to come in and do it for a small group. Bring in your problematic pieces, and let him or her have at them. Another good idea is to create an art blog such as this one and post your work, and ask for feedback.

Jan 28, 2011

Early Snow Reworked

Early Snow  oil on canvas 24 x 20
Today in the studio I finalized the Cranberry Bog painting (see previous post) by glazing over the too-pink cranberries with more of a wine color, and reworking the water over and over (lots of scraping!) to more of an autumnal greeny-grey color instead of that too-bright blue. I also and reworked an old painting from a few years back, after taking it to the critique for problem paintings a few weeks ago. I have removed some unnecessary buildings and added some more suggestions of golden grasses and bushes in their place and some quick snow highlights which loosened it up more to match the background. Title of the 24 x 20 canvas is Early Snow. I am taking it,  four or five other winter-themed paintings over to the Long River Studios Gallery today,  
http://www.longriverstudios.net/deborah_reese.html and retrieving the summer ones they have.

Winter Sketches and Winter Gatherings

Oil painting sketch on 12 x 12 canvas, Nantucket
I am having a grand time in the studio this week--- just lazily playing around with paint, and making some very simple but layered paintings. . Yesterday, I actually found myself saying out loud to no one at all, “This is FUN!!”  Each layer is important to the painting -- I don't want to hide the layers as the painting builds. I want each step that leads up to the finished piece to be visible: a friend tells me that this is one of the tenets of Abstract Expressionism. I do remember from my study of those AE giants from the middle of the last century that they somehow shifted the emphasis from the painting- as-a- final-object-to the struggle – and joy -- of the creation itself. The finished painting thus becomes simply the physical evidence of what is really the important thing---incorporating the visual record of the process of the painting's creation. For them, the finished canvas or board was to show evidence of the actual WORK of the painter -- all of the spontaneous and/ or manipulated and planned brush strokes, scrumbles, dribbles, drips , and glazing and staining --  rubbed and scraped away, and added again. In their case, you end up with a DeKoonig or Pollack, in my case, when successful, I end up with a painting that is certainly less abstract than theirs , but richly organic, with layers that create a sense of texture, depth and patina. This type of painting is instinctive to me, and nothing that I learned, certainly not from the rebellious and somewhat anarchistic Abstract Expressionists! Anyway, this week I was not painting for work to show (or hang on the fridge!) but to learn, and to play. Sometimes you just have to get the fun back. Above is one of the quick studies I did in this mode, a 12” x 12” Nantucket inspired moment. The detail shows the layering of the paint.

I didn't have much time to paint this week though--- had to brave the -15 temperature Monday to go out and do some errands, and buy some food in preparation for our State of the Union gathering here Tuesday night I Jersey Joes--- the kind of sloppy Joe that is unique to New Jersey as far as I know, remembered fondly from a couple of the Jewish Deli’s I knew. I was just craving some! They are three- layered sandwiches on seedless Jewish rye bread, with Turkey, Pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and home-made Russian Dressing, toothpicked and cut into rather small triangles or squares. The recipe I found was perfect. (My very naughty dog managed to get on the kitchen counter while I was out of the room for a few seconds and he gobbled up four sections of them!) Also made a good Mushroom Barley Soup, and eight of us gathered to eat, drink, and toast our President. (which we felt went swimmingly, As I said on Facebook,”. . .  a very different kind of State of the Union from a very different kind of President—I still have high hopes.”) And Wednesday was our book club discussion of Suite Française, at Liz’s
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/books/review/09gray.html and Thursday preparation for visit from Mike and family and that night John and I were wonderfully taken to dinner by good friends to celebrate our 47th anniversary. It seems unreal to me. But then I look at the wedding photos and wonder, were we ever so young, so filled with future dreams, and possibilities. 

Jan 24, 2011

Somewhere in the World

Sometimes I will print a poem that catches my eye or ear here, to share.

Somewhere in the World

by Linda Pastan

Somewhere in the world
something is happening
which will make its slow way here.

A cold front will come to destroy
the camellias, or perhaps it will be
a heat wave to scorch them.

A virus will move without passport
or papers to find me as I shake
a hand or kiss a cheek.

Somewhere a small quarrel
has begun, a few overheated words
ignite a conflagration,

and the smell of smoke
is on its way;
the smell of war.

Wherever I go I knock on wood—
on tabletops or tree trunks.
I rinse my hands over and over again;

I scan the newspapers
and invent alarm codes which are not
my husband's birthdate or my own.

But somewhere something is happening
against which there is no planning, only
those two aging conspirators, Hope and Luck.

Jan 22, 2011

"Tell It Slant"

Sunrise After Storm 12" x 12"

Long ago, Emily Dickinson write “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” That has stuck with me in my career as an artist. I want my work to be honest, but I want it to be bathed in “a certain slant of light” that makes it my vision. I thought of this a lot this week while working on a small  oil on clayboard piece tentatively titled Sunrise After Storm

It is a piece from a Nantucket photo I started months ago, last summer, and never got anywhere with. But this week, by sanding it, reworking it, putting on and scraping off paint with a painting knife sometimes just scratching into the top layer of the paint to reveal areas of the surface underneath. (called sgraffito) and finally glazing it for the past few days, I am getting it to where I want it to be. Sadly, once again, the computer does not do the colors justuce: for instance, at the upper left of the sand, atop a dune, there is a brillant slash of pale green, picking up the kiss of the sun.  The painting knife (as opposed to a palette knife)is a great tool. In a few swipes or lots of scratching, you can wipe an area of a painting clean, creating another perspective or dimension and begin again. 

The resulting distressed backgrounds can provide fascinating remaining pentimento to build upon. To achieve any kind of similar effect with brushes, I would have to paint a section and allow it to dry and maybe sand it to keep the impasto from getting too thick before applying the next layer, and so on and so on. I DO do this sometimes, an d also do layer after layer with the glazing, of course, which I why I usually have two or three pieces going at once. I once heard Eric Aho say at a talk at Spheris Gallery that sometimes he takes more paint off the canvas than he puts on. That stayed with me, I get it.

My husband says this painting it looks like something from outer space -- certainly NOT what I saw with either my exterior or interior vision! But his art taste skews far into the side of realism, and if something is somewhat abstracted, he does not often love it. In museums, we do not stand in front of the same paintings for long periods of time. Still, he is my most constant and immediate critic. But I would appreciate comments from some of you here, and after other blog entries!  

Jan 19, 2011

Cranberry Bog in Progress

Work in progress, Windswept Cranberry Bog, Nantucket,    48" x 24"
Got back in the studio today as the snow continued outside. This is the second winter that I have had baseboard heat in there, and it is lovely not to have to rely on the space heater which always worried me around the oil paint and turpentine. Anyway, I am still glazing and layering the Nantucket cranberry bog painting, and am nearing completion. It is almost at the stage of "I think-it-is done-but-I-have-to-look-at it- downstairs-for-a-week-or-so.")The goal of painting in layers is to alter the appearance of one layer by putting another layer on top. The problem is, how much paint to use in the second layer? Too little, and the first layer will remain too strong; too much, and the first layer becomes obscured completely, defeating the purpose of painting in layers. Oil painting has the advantage over acrylics in my mind in that you can lay on heavy paint or impasto, then take some away, put it back again, play with it, to get the just the look you want, with interaction between layers, just enough of each color coming through from the pentimento. And rather than just layers, I like to glaze with medium mixed in with the paint, and even a little spirits spritzed on now and then.
This detail from the painting gives a better idea of what I am talking about.

Sadly, the glowing colors resulting from this approach do not really show up in these photos (it looks too muddy somehow) but it gives you an idea of the large painting that is involving me right now. I am also working an some small seascapes, and thinking about jumping into the Lily portrait once more.  To my small cadre of readers,
I WELCOME COMMENTS! That is the purpose of this blog -- to get out of the vacuum in which I work! Also, if you want to be a follower of this blog, you can click on that link on the right, but you might have to establish a google or yahoo account or something. Seems to be a glitch in this system that it is not made easy for everyone. I have also created a group (Reese paintings Blog) on Facebook so I can send posting alerts to some of you. 

Jan 17, 2011

Being City Mice for Three Days

Our daughter and some friends took over our house for a snow party for the long weekend, and for the three days, John and I escaped our little Vermont village and dove into city life. We spent two nights in Providence, staying with dear old friends, the Danas, at their fantastic city loft high above the old jewelry district. Highlights, aside from quality time with quality friends, included dinner at Al Forno’s, and a visit to the RISD Art Museum, which boasts a rather amazing collection of art. This city continues to enchant us.

Sunday we made our way down to Boston, staying at the incredibly designed and very sophisticated W Hotel, where we had a marvelous very hip and comfortable room, and a marvelous dinner at the famed Market restaurant on premise. But first we spent the afternoon visiting the new American Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. I was quite taken with the new addition, and we managed to tour the entire two top floors before my stenosis told me to call it a day. You enter the 19th C floor with the famous John Singer Sargent painting so many of us know and love so well, The Daughters of Edward Darly Boit, above. While I appreciate the whole piece done with such lush, liquidy brushstrokes, with the amazing slash of red on the right (and in fact have a copy of it in my powder room), I especially love the rendering of this child, seen in detail above left. For the first time since they hung in the Boit home, the paintings of the parents of these girls were on exhibit right near this one (as were the two enormous vases), which was somehow very touching. A number of pieces on this floor were worth some lingering study, including some very small little gems such as Interior by William Merrit Chase, Icebergs  by Frederick Edward Church and Thomas Eakins’ little portrait of Walt Whitman. I also loved Homer's Gloucester Mackerel Fleet at Sunset! But the one that really got me was William Morris Hunt’s large painting of Niagara Falls, above. The layers of color were remarkable (and do not show up here really.) I also liked his Haying by Oxen on display. My favorite portrait was Whistler’s Little Rose of Lyme Regis.

Snow on Boston Common  24" x 48"
  ChildeHassam’s well known Boston Common at Twilight , above, made me think about my own winter painting of the park so many years later,  Snow on Boston Common, right,  completed two years ago. (Not that I am comparing myself to Hassam!)The snowy, darkening park in winter offers such great opportunities to paint subtle color harmonies especially with the wonderful streetlights glowing through the snow.
Upstairs on the 20th C floor, it was fun to see some Georgia O’Keefe’s that were new to me, and we loved
Hopper’s Emotion. There was a horrible Alice Neel, but I never liked her work. Oddly enough, there was a Rothko on exhibit at both museums, and although he is my favorite 20th century artist, I really did not like either one that much. At RISD  they had one from 1970 that was half white and I missed the depth and glow of color, and at MFA they had the last piece he ever painted before dying, a very somber black and purple piece. Both museums also showed work by another favorite of mine, George Inness, but also not ones I particularly admired.
A thoroughly enjoyable museum experience! And one of the images I will carry with me for a long time was seeing a very small boy, maybe two, standing between his parents, holding their hands, in front of Durand's Babbling Brook, and yelling VERY loudly " I LOVE IT!! I LOVE IT!!!" 

Jan 13, 2011

More Snow!

Winter Country Road # 2    8" x 8"
Winter Country Road # 1      8" x 8"
When I moved to Vermont thirteen years ago, I very quickly changed my artistic focus from the figure and botanical work to landscape. Daily, I drew inspiration from the pattern, texture and emotion of the natural terrain which surrounded me, and it soon became the primary focus of my work. Moments in life are so fragile, never to return in quite the same way -- with these colors, in this light -- ever again. It is these special fleeting images –  a snow covered road or a skating pond at dusk -- and the emotion they engender, which I tried to capture in my winter landscapes.  Above two small oils over a tissue paper underlayment; and below Skating Pond at Dusk , a large (24" x 48") similarly composed piece.     

Skating Pond at Dusk     48" x 24"

Yellow and Blue, 30" x 24"
White on White, 20" x 20"
As mentioned in the previous posting,  few years ago I expanded my subject matter  to include what I call “buildingscapes” -- the wonderful barns and farmhouses that are so closely identified with Vermont's agricultural image. The history and heritage of our state are so embodied in these buildings -- symbols of hard work and a rural way of life -- but these buildings are disappearing one by one throughout the state. Learning to see these buildings with a sense of both past and present with depth and sensitivity, to appreciate the subtleties of color and light as they play over our common, everyday buildings from the past, and to paint them without sentimentality  without postcard prettiness, was a central focus of that work. Painting them is my small way of helping to preserve an endangered species, to save a part of the legacy of Vermont before they are erased from the landscape forever. They were part of a featured artist show I had at the Chaffee Center for the Arts a few years back. 

Jan 12, 2011


    Morning Lights   Triptych -- three 8"x 8" panels

Snow is falling thickly, creating  a whiteout from the windows. We are happy being marooned, because our daughter and almost 5-year-old grandson are here. Soup is simmering on the stove, and the plan is to make cookies later. The fireplace will soon be in use. Painting is on the back burner while they are here. 
More Last Than Star...    18" x 24"
Snow is usually pure joy up here. A winter in Vermont without a lot of snow is no good, no fun. A year or so ago, I explored painting snow, and became amazed at the many different colors besides white that there were. It is the time of year to get back into that study I think. Here are a few of my past snow paintings. You can see there is almost no white in them. The top triptych, Morning Lights sold through the now defunct Pegasus Gallery in Quechee, is oil over canvas embellished with fine tissue paper, almost like the paper pears are wrapped in. It is so small here you cannot see much detail, or the suggested lights from hidden houses. And the colors in the original are definitely not so garish. The lower one is ...more last than star... (or ....more first than sun--- quotes from an e.e.e cummings poem)  24" x 18". In the 80's I had a whole, very large show of the oversized organic floral paintings I was doing then, and all the titles were from Cummings' poems. He is an important influence in my life, and I still steal lines of his poetry for painting titles now and then.

The hues found in snow are usually within the violet spectrum, and consist of blues, violets, alizarins, and similar cool colors. If a painting contains substantial areas of snow, washing on on a warm imprimatura as a first layer will add depth to these cool colors. 
Windows Filled with Vanished Days   18" x 18" 
Adding a little burnt sienna, Old Holland warm grey light or OH Naples yellow  to titanium white will result in a glowing creamy color often seen in the sunnier areas, as in the foreground of the oil painting to the left,  This piece one of a series of winter buildingscapes I did a few years back, many of which were of the disappearing old barns and farmhouses in the Vermont landscape. These are far more representational than most of my landscape work.

Jan 10, 2011

Windswept Cranberry Bog (Siasconset, Nantucket, MA)

Worked on my large vertical piece of Nantucket cranberry bogs today, introducing some of Bert’s suggestions from the other day. I am at the glazing stage, mostly, and that takes time, a little one day, let it dry, a little the next, with the goal of a richness and depth of color: I glaze back the underlayment again and again and then add highlights. I hope to impart the interplay between dense, compact color areas and lighter, dynamic surface brushstokes to suggest the sense of the autumnal weedy bogs, saturated with the cranberry color, here and there . But I need to keep it loose, and not overwork it into a too representational rendering.I am having trouble with the color of the water. I have decided to wash the sky almost completely white.

Went back in the night, while John and Rebecca were enjoying Tosca in New York at the Met, and worked on it further. The dogs were in a frenzy for me to come to bed, Szuszi kept rushing into the studio and yelling at me, but I did not leave the studio til almost 3 AM! A photo will come soon, but it needs some more glazing, and dulling down.

Jan 9, 2011

Terrible Tucson Day

My friend Neil Herrick writes “Palin, Limbaugh, Beck and all of the other the cynical hate-mongers of Fox (so-called news) have a lot to answer for in helping to create the toxic climate that encourages the unstable towards the tragic direct action that resulted in the massacre in Tucson.”I wonder how some of these sadly influential people are feeling after this tragic shooting, having consistently beaten the drum of violence and promoted divisiveness and hate so openly -- as opposed to respectful and healthy, democratic debate. The current Republican persona pushes their own narrow agenda (defeat Obama and anything he promotes) so continually, and never takes into consideration what is good for the nation and its citizens. I do not know if this climate contributed to the insane shootings, but I do not the GUN climate did, and too many folks in DC support the right to bear arms at any cost. Well, this kind of thing is the cost. I hope they feel deeply ashamed today, but I doubt it. I am sure the few remaining centrist Republicans do.

John's first-cousin-once-removed who is a graphics artist in France responded to the attacks by designing this logo, left, which I think is brilliant. He says, rightly, "It's as simple as that."Jay is in the process of copyrighting it. I often feel so removed from politics, living up here in the rural northlands, in a predominantly liberal area and state. The snow has gently fallen over the past 24 hours, so in spite of the awful news, I am  lulled into such a false sense of  peace and happiness. There are guns here, but MOSTLY hunting rifles, a whole other story.

Today we are going to the funeral of a lovely man, a retired English professor and a witty, erudite and gentle good soul, from our town, hardly a happy thing. It is the first time I will have been out of the house in a week, except to go to the art critique and to see The King's Speech (which I loved.) I view driving to town in a probably pathological way, i.e. I do anything to not go. John's mantra to me each time he leaves the house is "Do we need anything?" knowing full well if we do, he better get it. There are times, especially when John is not about, that it becomes essential for me to go forth to replenish supplies of doggy chicken, fresh fruit or wine, the newspaper and mail, but that can all be obtained locally down the hill at the little, unpretentious, old-fashioned general store which is not a threat. For the past nine days I have been creatively using up holiday leftovers, and digging down into the depths of my large freezer in the Cold Room to make our meals. I mostly shop from home for non food items-- and buy much of whatever else I need on the net. By keeping a running list of what I need locally from Hanover and West Lebanon, I just resign myself to the rare day of necessary erranding. Thus, even more than most artists, I work in a vacuum.

With the main floor of the house finally quite clean (well.....) and John off for three days in New York tomorrow, I am looking forward to lots of time in my studio for the duration. 

Jan 8, 2011

Andy Newman

Heard from my artist friend Andy Newman (www.andynewman.net) today about a show he is having opening at the Umbrella for the Arts in Concord, MA where he has his USA studio. He is represented by more than ten galleries in Canada, England, France, Spain and Macau. If anyone is near enough to go to it, I highly recommend his work, which I think is marvelous. It runs January 13-February 14 (reception on the 20th.) Here is one of his pieces which will be in the show. He and his partner Gregory McGuire and their three kids live here in Strafford part time.
Andy and some friends came to our snow party last week, and it was a joy to see him go down the hill on a sled in his perfectly pressed khackis, elegant tweed jacket, scarf flying. He reminded me of one of the young men walking by the beach in the exquisite movie Child’s Christmas in Wales. Quite a contrast to the joyful but  unsartorially splendid Reese men, right, in their sledding gear.

Jan 7, 2011

Pilot Post

Winter Spindrift # 2     24"x24"

One thing  which has encouraged me to get back into the studio was attending a painters' critique session yesterday at Nancy Gerlach's, run by Bert Yarborough ( http://www.bertyarborough.com/) who teaches art at Colby-Sawyer. It was a Strafford Artworks session, and we have utilized his excellent skills before by bringing in paintings with which we are having problems for him to critique. Yesterday I brought in two problem pieces, and one piece in progress, and he was very helpful and extremely encouraging to me. This got my engines started. Another impetus to head back to the studio is the nice fat check I received from East End Gallery in Nantucket, where I have had some success selling my work. I seem to have an admirer up there on that beautiful island--- the wife of the CEO of google, who has bought four of my pieces in the past few years, the most recent one purchased by her interior designer for their yacht. Here are several of them.  

Water's Edge     12" x 12"
                                                                               I am at my best when I am near water, whether it's a pond, a lake, a stream or the ocean: to me, water represents the very essence of  life, especially the sea. During my lifetime, it has always been a healing source,  both physically & spiritually. This body of work could not be more personal. For the good part of a year, I concentrated on the sea, focusing on composition and light, and the dynamics of color in the creation of what I can only call emotion. These pieces, like most of my work, are veiled and layered, scraped away and glazed, and glazed again. Underlayment shows through, ultimately creating a surface that hopefully has a sumptuous veneer.