"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.

Feb 27, 2011


Something we need to think about whenever we create.
by Kilian McDonnell

("I will walk the way of perfection." Psalm 101:2)

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can't be won, concedes the

I've handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo's radiant David

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is

Feb 24, 2011

Hidden Worlds in My Hometown, and Faraway Worlds in Revolt

Interesting article in my home-town newspaper The Montclair Times in Montclair, NJ about an art show a group of folks from The Studio Group are having entitled "Hidden Worlds." One of the curators wrote " Every person on earth filters what they experience, sometimes seeing things that others might not notice, but is significant to them.  In this exhibit we reveal 'other worlds' perceived through the individual visions of the artists in our group. We explore ideas of obscuring and revealing, through abstract, metaphorical and literal means." 

No time to be in the studio this week, with our weekend in Nadick, MA blue-grassing away at the Joe Val Festival, and with my daughter-in-law and grandkids here for winter break. Next week my plan is to finish the portrait and move on to some new projects I have in mind. 

Meanwhile, I received an excellent comment on the portrait from an artist-friend Lew Dana who wrote:
"I looked at the photograph and the painting of the girl again. At heart it's quite successful and cheery.
"In view of the comment from the family that her face needs to be "rounder" -- you might consider one thing:

"The bottom of her left eye. In the photograph it has a downward arc -- the eye is widest at its center. In your painting, the lower edge seems to arc up in the center. It makes the eye a little "pinched" or "squinty". A slight adjustment in the arc (and a big pain in the neck) would widen the eye slightly and give her a "rounder" look.

"Eyes set the tone for one's "reading" of a picture. Mean, squinty eyes make people in paintings and real life look pinched. Eyes that are more open are more appealing, more welcoming, nicer and, well, rounder."

As an uncertain world swirls into chaos in the mid East, it is hard to imagine all that is happening there while living in the peace and serenity of a dense winter snowstorm here in Vermont. But I was amused by a comment in my cousin Howie's blog today:

"Democratic, big D and small D, demonstrations continue in the mid-East and mid-West. Tyrants like Qaddafi and Walker must be resisted by their subjects. Will NJ be next to throw off the yoke of the oppressor?" 

Feb 17, 2011

Art Sanctuary, a Poem

Art Sanctuary

by Nikki Giovanni

I would always choose to be the person running
rather than the mob chasing
I would prefer to be the person laughed at
rather than the teenagers laughing
I always admired the men and women who sat down
for their rights
And held in disdain the men and women who spat
on them
Everyone deserves Sanctuary a place to go where you are
Art offers Sanctuary to everyone willing
to open their hearts as well as their eyes

The Portrait Evolves....

I have been working a bit each day on the problem portrait, and finally have it to a point where it is viewable. Still very much of a WORK IN PROGRESS (hair and neck are and chin are just roughed in) it begins, at least, to look like the photo I am using. I am not certain, however, that it really catches the feel of the young lady in question .

In progress # 1



I have sent this and a detail to the family for comment, and they seem to feel features are spot on, but face needs to be rounder, chin less defined. Easy fixes. I will be away all weekend, which is good, I can approach it with a fresh eye and maybe some more family suggestions on Monday. I am beginning to see that the problem is again, with the photo, because it is taken at an agle which foreshortens her lower face.
In progress # 2
 (Later) Here is the portrait with some modifications as requested: softening and shortening chin, broadening and thus rounding face.  At this stage, changes are all very subtly done, but can make a big effect. But you have to be careful not to lose the likeness -- I now think her left eye is a little too open, not dark enough, needs more under-eye poufiness and looked better previously! One problem is that in photo it shows her incredibly long eyelashes, but when I attempt to replicate that, it makes her look like a 50's movie star! Again, ALL an easy fix if family agrees. And should the hair appear bushier? Still need to work on neck and clothing.

Feb 13, 2011

Portrait Problems and a Poem

I used to do a lot of portrait commissions, but have backed away from them in recent years in favor of less detailed work, and a looser painting style.

I sat in my studio this afternoon looking at a portrait I started several years ago and never finished. The problems I had with it and guilt I had over not completing it are part of the reason I stopped painting for a while: every time I would enter my studio, there it would be, reminding me of my failure. Normally I do not find portraits such a challenge at all --  I have had quite a bit of success with them, a few examples are shown here. 

Why does the one I am revisiting in my studio, of a young girl at that beautiful time of life, just entering her teen years, cause so much trouble for me? The answer is simple--- the photographs. Without good photographs, a portrait artist can do nothing but fail. And in spite of repeated requests from the formal photographer who refused to give me anything but minute, non-enlargeable copies of the images I needed, and from the family who just did not have the right photos, I ended up with nothing that really worked. What is needed for a portrait are photos which 1) even if for a full length portrait, include head shots that are not too small and are very clear images; 2) reflect the accurate color of eyes, hair, skin tone; 3) include clear distinction between pupil and iris in eyes; 4) be correctly lighted, in sharp focus, and not be washed out; 5) for head portraits, not be straight head-on shots with no shadows on the face –some shadow is needed for definition.

I have procrastinated all I can by cleaning my studio, deciding I needed to order more supplies, and working on some other incomplete paintings. But now, it is time for the portrait. I really need to complete this very overdue, cold and paint-dry painting, and NOW. The painting is dead-ended, and I need to bring it to life, but I am finding it an overwhelmingly difficult job.  I first covered it with a thin layer of medium, just to bring back the original colors. Then I begin work on the easy parts--- hair, background, etc. but  eventually, the artist takes over, and I have rebegun work on the face. It is still terrible, but I think maybe I will get it this time around if I use a looser, more impressionistic style. I hope this will be acceptable to the family.

I am in the midst of some preliminary discussions with a high-end gallery in New Jersey which caters to the interior design trade. The owner seems to be interested in handling some of my buildingscapes and landscapes. Wish me luck on both endeavors.

And here is a poem I came upon today in another artist's blog which I liked a lot. if you change desk to studio in the final line, it is a  very fitting poem for an artist. 

What to Remember  When Waking
by David Whyte © 1999 Many Rivers Press 

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the waiting desk? 

Feb 11, 2011

Country Mice Go to New York

Although I have not missed the proximity of New York even once during the 13 years I have lived in rural Vermont, I do love my occasional forays each year back to what I consider to be MY CITY. We just spent four very busy days at our time-share at The Manhattan Club across the street from Carnegie Hall. My only art-related activity was the afternoon I spent by myself at the Metropolitan: a delicious time, on no one’s schedule but my own! I concentrated on the more modern and contemporary European Art, and found myself getting lost in the three Modigliani’s on display. I have loved this artist since I was in college, and he has never lost his appeal. I also spent a little time in the Egyptian Wing -- it seemed appropriate, given what is going on in that about-to-be-remade-land. As has happened before, I was completely blown away by the mummy with a very finely executed Fayoum portrait of a youth from Roman Egypt, ca. A.D. 80–100, just after Egypt became a part of the Roman world.

 It is an encaustic on a panel on limewood; his large, deep-set eyes and a down-turned mouth seem so sad, and could have been looking out from a TV screen today. But what really gets me is the naturalistic manner in which it is painted --it could have been done today, and in no way resembles the more common two-dimensional profile examples of Egyptian portrait or figure work from those early eras. In those, paint was laid on in flat washes, pigment by pigment, so that painters mixed as much of one color as they needed, painted in all the appropriate areas, and then moved on to another color, with most everything outlined with a fine brush in black. Clear and simple lines combined with simple shapes and flat areas of color helped to create a sense of order and balance in the familiar art of ancient Egypt, not terribly changed over a 3000 history. Ancient Egyptian artists used vertical and horizontal reference lines in order to maintain the correct proportions in their work, but political and religious, as well as artistic order, was also maintained in Egyptian art. In order to define the social hierarchy of a group, the sizes of the figures were drawn based not on perspective in relation to the artist but on relative importance. For instance, the Pharaoh would be drawn as the largest figure in a painting no matter where he was situated, and a greater God would be drawn larger than a lesser god. In some of these later funereal portraits, however, the technique is very contemporary. Colors are painted over one another in layers to obtain different color effects, and I am quite sure, MIXED. Long before realistic portrait painting developed in Europe in the Renaissance, Roman-Egyptian artists were doing striking likenesses in wax on limewood. I could not tear myself away from this one.

The Met
The four days in the city were peppered with other joys and things of beauty---the still-fresh Zefferelli production of La Boheme at the Met with two extraordinary singers we had never heard--- Maija Kovaleskaya as Mimi, and Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo . Once again the tragedy in the Latin Quarter with its soaring Puccini  music reduced me to tears! I never tire of the Starburst chandeliers there either--- when the lights dim in the housed, and  they start to move is like MAGIC!

 John’s subscription is usually shared with our daughter who is far more musical  than I, but now and again, I make the scene, usually for Verdi or Puccini!

Le Grenouille

We had a lovely belated anniversary dinner at Le Grenouille ,the last great bastion of old-style, formal, French dining left in New York with the closings of Lutece, La Caravelle, La Cote Basque and Le Cirque – giants! Each was famous for impeccable service, gorgeous interiors, and exquisite, Escoffier-based cooking served by armies of formally-attired waiters and their assistants gliding about the rooms overseen by a Maitre d' all of whom make you want to return again and again. It is all still possible at Le Grenouille with its gorgeous interior with extremely flattering peach-colored lighting (dating from its opening  50 years ago according to our waiter), and a justifiably famous display of astonishingly beautiful flowers. I found it to be a small refuge of restorative quiet and elegance in the midst of cacophonous and not always beautiful Manhattan. Needless to say, we had a lovely meal, and a lovely time.

Lily and the Alien
Lily and her picture

Our last day was spent with our younger granddaughter Lily, about to turn six. We had a birthday celebration including a children’s show Freckleface Strawberry, several kid-friendly restaurants, and a visit to the Planetarium and Museum of Natural History. Plus a sleepover with Gramma and Grampa. Who had more fun, Lily or us? She spent a lot of time drawing, and her mother, who has her MA in Art history and works in the education department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has told me that the teachers say she is artistically advanced for her age. Will she perhaps inherit her mother's love of, and grandmother’s profession of art? She made a picture of the alien at the restaurant Mars where we went Wednesday night, and gave it to him. She spent the night with us at the club, drawing away in the living room where her bed eventually was. We drove her home 
Lily creating her rendition of New York City, note statue of liberty,tugboat, taxi, balloon she got at restaurant.....

the next day, and then headed to Wellesley College where we rendezvoused with a very close friend from high school days, Sheila Malovany Chevallier, who is one of the new translators of Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex. She and her writing partner were on one of their speaking tours. Great to see her!! Here is a recent review from The New Yorker. 
newyorker.com/online/    And then the drive home to Vermont where a few more inches of new snow, and subzero weather greeted us..

Feb 4, 2011

"Fail Better"

"Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer 
This week, during the snowy hiatus, we cocooned in comfort in our wonderful newish bed (hooray Tempurpedic Cloud mattress, it has changed my life!) With no reason to get up on the stormy mornings, we found ourselves sleeping late and staying in bed when awake: John doing crossword puzzles and me reading Tuscan guide books, and aloud, Donald Hall prose about winter in New Hampshire and Billy Collins poetry, as we slug-abedded. Fluffy snow, the sparkly, powdery kind, blanketed our visible environment, spinning total white outs some days, and brilliant sunlit vistas on others. The birds rose long before we, busy at the feeders squabbling and gobbling their weight in seed, and the dogs always get up early, but snuggle back to bed to snore gently, on the cold, stormy mornings. Their eyes cock open and often they erupt into simultaneous loud discontent when the snow plows rumble by. 

During the stormy days, I remained serene in the knowledge that the fridge and freezer were full, that the electricity and oil heat would continue to pulse and keep the house warm and lit, and the generator would kick in if it didn’t. John was busy at the hobby he got into when moving here 13 years ago—snow removal! Weather that forces me to stay inside makes me happy and just reinforces that solitude is my element. I think I am most myself when alone, and when creating something – my artwork, my writing, even the computer gift photo and recipe books I do. Does this make any sense?

The snow is so beautiful against the bright winter sky, and the stark armature of the bare birch and popple trees.  I love to see the changing colors on the hills play over the snow as the sun sets--- it picks out one hill, and then another:  they light up, one by one in pale mauves, or bright golden peach, and then slowly go dark, as night begins to close the curtains. I feel blessed to live in such a place.

Dusk on Sharon Hill, view towards Mooselauke at our home

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over." He was probably thinking of his writing, or maybe even his down-spiraling life at one point, but to me it resonates with oil painting. This week I have been working in the studio on an older painting, Change of Fugue of Light, from last year that I never could get right, never got it to a place where I wanted anyone to even see it. Since it is a snow scene, it seemed a good week to get back at it. I sanded down some of the ripples the tissue underlayment made, and started laying on paint, and scraping it off. Maybe I did not really start over with this piece, but I certainly reinvented it. I am still very unhappy with it, and  was up til 2 one night waging battle in the studio with this recalcitrant painting, mumbling at it, and slinging my brush and knife all about in frustration. I have given up on it again for a time.  Altoon Sultan, an internationally known Vermont artist, writes a beautoful, beautiful blog , and this is the quote that defines it-- Thomas Beckett's "Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I need to take that to heart.

It amazes me how some paintings just never come together even after daylongs of work, whereas others can be completed alla prima in one sitting, such as this large piece, Break of Day, that was done in a matter of hours, and sold well, barely dry several weeks later, at my Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center show. 

Break of Day   48" x 24"  oil on canvas
  This past week I also slightly reworked another older, winter-themed piece, Snow by Winter Sewn, and now have it much closer to what was in my mind’s eye when it was begun.

Snow by Winter Sewn   20" x 20"  oil on canvas
Once again though, the clarity in the photo is poor, and the colors are not all true. It is a fugue of blues, lavendars, purples, with just a few areas of golden-orange ochre to spark it up for contrast. 
Until I have it in a gallery, I have hung the completed Windswept Cranberry Bog piece (see an earlier posting) in the mudroom, so that you see it right when you come in. I had no other free wall large enough for its 48 inch width!

Friday night, we went to  to the art opening of my young friend Cecily Herzig in the fast-becoming-artsy town of White River Junction. She is a unique painter: take a look at her website.
Cecily's website
Tomorrow, I need to get ready for our upcoming four days in New York at our time-share in the city. It will a time for wearing real clothes instead of paint spattered sweats, dining out, seeing 
La Boheme at the Met, hopefully getting to the other Met or the MOMA museum, and on Wednesday,entertaining our granddaughter at a show and dinner for her 6th birthday. So,no blogs for a while. When I get back  I hope to put together a new storage thing for my studio--- maybe that will encourage me to clean up my workspace. 

Feb 3, 2011

Portraits and Politics

Several years ago, I was commissioned by a family in Texas to do a portrait of their daughter. They wanted a Vermont artist because they used to have a summer home in Vermont which their daughter loved. The painting was taken from a photo of her at their Vermont home. Her mother and I worked back and forth with photos and Emails to a final happy conclusion, and it was shipped off to Texas. They were very happy with it. See below.  

. Only later did I learn that the young girl’s father was a conservative Republican in the Texas house of Representatives who ultimately became Speaker of the House.  

Just tonight, on the John Stewart show, I learned that Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, was the target of some terrible, dirty politics in the election of the Speaker for the next term. Straus, a traditional mainstream Republican who focuses on fiscal issues and calls himself a fiscal conservative, is disdained by conservative activists who have targeted him since the fall election, when the GOP piled up a 101-49 majority over Democrats in the House . There were loud protests from Tea Party activists in the groups Americans for Prosperity, the Austin Tea Party Patriots, the Texas Pastor Council, and Texas Eagle Forum who insisted on a more conservative leader, and organized to oust him. Pro-life advocates including key Catholic clergy worked hard against Straus because of his weak pro-life record. Further, anti-gay forces worked behind the scenes in the race for speaker of the Texas House; it was made public when The Texas Observer posted a story in which John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, explained his opposition to Speaker Joe Straus. The race to lead the Texas House of Representatives took a very nasty a religious turn, with some conservatives in the state suggesting that the speaker of the House, who is a Jewish Republican, should be replaced by a "Christian conservative." Cook said “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office.” And apparently some conservative Republican activists working to unseat Straus circulated e-mails that emphasized his Judaism. I understand Straus handled the nastiness with diplomacy, grace, and intelligence. 
Now most of my few readers know that I am a liberal, and rarely come to the support of a conservative. But this whole thing really makes me sick, and angry.  I am happy to report that  the idiots were not successful in the efforts. On January 10, the Republican caucus overwhelmingly supported Straus for a second term effectively ending what was a very weak, sloppy, and feeble attempt by Tea Party conservatives and his opponents, Chisim and Taylor, for Speaker of the House. By a 132-15 vote, Straus successfully fended off a challenge from those ultra conservatives who wanted to replace him with one of their own. This is one time when I am happy about a Republican victory.
Robyn, second in, with her Mom, her Dad Joe Straus, 
and her sister Sara.

Feb 1, 2011

As an artist, your tools are important. Over time you will find which paints work best for you, and which medium, which brushes. I use oli, and not even the new water-based kind. I just am used to them, and like how they work, feel, and the natural colors they impart. Acrylic seems too bright and feels "fake" to me! Tubes of oil paint are NOT all the same. Talk to your friends, google it on line such as the forum WetCanvas, and learn about the attributes of each hue, each brand. 

Most artists are also very fussy about their brushes – the springiness, the shapes, etc. I am as well, but cannot afford really expensive ones because I am very hard on my brushes. And of course I often paint with, and scrape away with, my painting  knife. And do try out different grounds--- besides canvas (and do you prefer cotton duck or the finer more expensive linen?) there are boards--- masonite, clayboard (which I love), etc. The paints work differently on all of them. And try painting oil sketches on gessoed paper for a new experience.

Some artists limit themselves to only three or four colors when painting. I am not one of them. I arrange my paints on my palette the same way I did 57 years ago back in New Jersey, the way my first oil painting teacher, Edwin Mott, taught me to do when I was 13 years old (see photo left, me with another one of the fledgling artists in Mr. Mott's class in front of his studio in Caldwell NJ, on a sunny Saturday morning circa 1956). The portrait is the first one I ever did when I was in high school -- and still under the tutelage of Mr.Mott -- taken from a baby picture of mine and was a gift for my mother. 

These days I use a large disposable palette pad instead of my trusty old wooden palette from the fifties, because it is easier to clean up. But the paint gets arranged on the pad basically the same way in this order: --- 
My original basic palette was always as follows, and probably back in the day, all Windsor and Newton brand, but no longer:

Basic Palette--- where I try to have a warm and cool shade of the basic colors--- red, yellow, blue, green and brown  I could indeed use only these colors for any painting. But often I don't.

Titanium White (I like Permalba)

Burnt Sienna (any brand)

Burnt Umber (any brand) essential for "dulling down"

Yellow Ochre (I now use Old Holland Gold Ochre and                   

        Old Holland Naples Yellow as well) This has replaced the 
        Raw Ochre of my past

Cadmium Yellow Light or Cadmium Lemon (Windsor

        Newton) or a new one I just heard about-- Nickel Titanale

Cadmium Yellow Medium (Gamblin) or Hansa Yellow Light (Gamblin)

Cadmium Red Light (Gamblin)

Rowney Rose (Rowney) just because it is a color I CANNOT seem to mix

Cobalt Blue but not Cobalt Blue HUE (any brand) 
Prussian Blue now known as Pthalo Blue as well (any brand)

Ultramarine Blue (any brand) for a cooler blue

Permanent Green Light (Gamblin) (or Rembrandt’s Per. Green Dark)

Viridian Green

Landscape Essentials --- Over time, I have added a few colors I need for landscape work. I do not use all of these on every painting, but have them available as needed. 

Van Dyke Brown

Sap Green which I find essential for landscape work – a dark earthy
          transparent green with yellow undertones

Old Holland Geel Yellow

Old Holland Warm Grey (I cannot live without this for seascapes)
 I am told I should have Chrome Oxide Green and  Sevres Blue (Rembrandt) but seem fine without them.

Optional Greys ---  And just because I am lazy, I do often use one of the other greys--- don't tell anybody
Old Holland Warm Grey light 

Old Holland Shev. Warm Grey

Payne’s Grey really a way to cheat when you need a near black hue

Glazing --- transparent or lakes, I LOVE these, use them rarely, but they work wonderfully. 

Indian Yellow — warm yellow makes painting look lit by sunlight

Transparent Orange — warm orange for sunrise/sunset

Transparent Earth

Shevringen Blue Lake (Old Holland) I actually like ALL lakes!

Alizarin Permanent A MUST and really should be part of my basic palette
            (Gamblin), and sometimes Red Madder, and Quiniquidrone Red

Quinicridone Magenta (Gamblin)

Orange Lake (Old Holland)

And after a tip I have just ordered  Gamblin’s Manganese Blue Hue — a cool (toward green) transparent water blue and their Phthalo Emerald — a warmer, more natural looking Phthalo Green. I just ordered them from Cheap Joe’s Art Supplies.

The medium I use is Gamblin, both gel in a tube and liquid in a bottle. It helps the paint dry faster, and leaves a lovely sheen almost as if painting has been varnished. I use turpenoid for keeping my brushes in during a painting session, and to mix with paint for an underlayment-wash. And sometimes for "dripping" though I have to be careful of lean over fat, and try to add some linseed oil to the turps when I do that .

If you have any favorite tubes of paint, add a comment and let us know! Just click on "comment"