Monthly Archives: December 2011

Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #16


As I am anxious to start the new year with it’s hopes, dreams and new beginnings,  I am reminded of how on a smaller scale to the artist, a fresh white canvas offers hopes and dreams all on its own.  Just as in life we see the importance of looking back in review to more effectively move ahead, I am reminded of the necessity to treat each new canvas with the same degree of serious reflection so as to learn from the last attempt.
Each painting must begin with a resolution of sorts, to improve upon a deficiency in edges, value, drawing, or color to greater achieve the mood you are aiming for. I am continually striving to get to the next level and have found that it clearly helps to have a plan formed before the brush hits the canvas.  Be specific. Resist thinking, “I hope this one turns out better”, but rather meditate on, “What specifically do I need to work on to gain greater sensitivity or strength in my work”.  If you have trouble identifying what that might be on your own, ask someone you trust to tell you the truth.  I am extremely dependent on “outside” help.  My wife Jennifer has an amazing eye and often sees what I miss.

I remember specifically the resolution I made prior to this painting, “Tricia”, page 33, that being to severely limit my color palette.

My work had become too colorful, meaning I was using color for color’s sake, throwing it in haphazardly and not being truthful with what I was seeing. The “circus” look was not working!!!    Having recently viewed an Anders Zorn exhibition helped me to identify this color problem and I recognized that something had to change.  As an exercise, this work was completed using his choice of colors as well, that of, white, black, raw sienna, and Rembrandt’s Permanent Red Medium, (which closely resembles the vermillion Zorn used.  I have since broadened my palette again, but the lesson was invaluable to teach me what effects could be achieved with very little shift in color.

I wish you great paintings as you break out into the New Year!

book cover new web

Thank you for your enthusiastic support of Not Far from Home!

Carl Marr… Far from Home

At the young age of 16, Carl Marr left his home and family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to study art abroad in Munich, Germany.  The story goes that this homesick lad had shared his feelings of  sadness with his maid when he left go visit friends for a Christmas eve gathering.  Upon his return, Carl had been beautifully moved by the kind gesture of his maid friend who had set up this tree in hopes to lift the boy’s spirits.  In fact he was so inspired, he set up his easel and recorded the scene for generations to enjoy.  This work of Carl’s has always been one that I have been taken by and when visiting the museum, I make it a point to soak in its ambiance.

Apart from its general beauty, I have noticed several technical things that may be of interest…. Notice that every square inch of the canvas has an influence of red and green in it to balance the harmony.  As he did this from life, it makes seeing all of the color and attaining that  harmony much easier.  In terms of value, notice how much darker the tablecloth is compared to the candle flames.  This is necessary in order for the light effect to read.  In terms of edge, I have taken note of how Carl has softened the “architecture” of the furniture so as to keep the interest on the focal point.

Lastly, included below is a work that I  completed that features a stable or creche that my great-grandfather built for his family many, many years ago.  Enjoy… and Merry Christmas!

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Technical Insights from “Not Far from Home” #15

“Bring on the Wonder,”

Over the years many have asked, “Where do you get all of your ideas for paintings”, or, “Is it hard to constantly come up with fresh concepts”.  I have found that if I simply live and soak in the world around me, there is ample visual stimulus to spark what I need for a composition. The problem more often is how to distill all of the input into something I can wrap my mind around to utilize.

One example of how a painting began with the simplest of inspiration is found in the work, “A Light in the Darkness”, page 156 in “Not Far from Home”.

As I was walking to the studio one day, the branch of a cottonwood tree had fallen on the path that I trod.  As anybody would, I picked it up to toss it aside but then noticed the amazing harmony of the muted violets and ochres interplaying on the leaves.  This stopped me long enough to further observe the spellbinding rhythm of line created by the leaf stems that wove my eye in and around the branch. It was then that my mind made the connection that this may be useful in a painting or may serve as a foil to set a model against.  So instead of tossing it aside, it made its way to the model stand and I began to assemble the composition around this element.

It was important to build the design with elements that worked with and not against the aspects of the original inspiration. For instance, it was the subtle dance of color between violet and yellow that first caught my eye, so why would I add all kinds of other color influences that would dilute or distract from this subtle harmony.  In terms of rhythm of line, it was important to choose lines that echoed the branch and did not fight against the swing of line.

Having mentioned how this work came about with some ease and seeming happenstance, I am fully aware of how it is not always easy to see the world with the wonder of a child to pick up on the nuances of line, harmony, design, etc…  For a period of time after my father passed away, I was numbed to the beauty and couldn’t find joy in the simplest of things. Thankfully prayer and time has brought back that sense wonder. I found that asking God to open my eyes anew helped to see again as a child. I do not share this to be sanctimonious, but simply to tell my story and share the struggle.  The lyrics of Sarah McLachlan’s “Bring on the Wonder” so poignantly illustrate my heart’s cry during this time.  “Bring on the wonder, bring on the song, I pushed you down deep in my soul for too long…”  How refreshing to break through.

I wish you great joy as you find the inspiration that will lead to your next great work!

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