Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Abstract painting allows a level of freedom that can be hard to deal with if one is coming from another, tighter style. Today’s post illustrates that well for me.

Rockface was done in two sessions. At first the underlying cooler colors (blue, violet, grey and black) were laid down in a rough manner. The idea was just to get the canvas covered. Once this was dry, the warmer (yellow, red, and orange) paints were applied thickly with different sized knives. Lightly grazing the paint-loaded knife across the previous dry layer is a perfect method to reveal unpredictable textures and shapes. While working the second layer two things happened. First, craggy shapes began to appear almost as if on their own. Second, I could feel the temptation to keep working the paint growing with each stroke! As any artist knows, the latter is the surest enemy of beautiful vibrant color. Fortunately, I was able to stop before ending up with a lot of mud on the canvas.

Rockface, Acrylic on canvas board, 18”X24”, $350 (Unframed)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Urban Jungle - Another Abstract Piece

acrylic abstract painting of urban jungle
Some years ago on a visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, I was awed by a much publicized exhibit the title of which I no longer remember. The exhibit occupied the entire main hall of the museum and consisted of 5-6 canvases, each about 60”X90”. All were completely blank with not even one brush mark of paint on them! An extensive artist statement went on to describe something about how the canvases represented a bold statement about the emptiness of the human condition, and so forth.

Displays like that probably contribute to the average viewer’s belief that abstract art can be done by anyone. I can recall seeing other examples of works in museums across the US and Europe that leave one puzzled as to why the piece is on display. A simple blob of one color on top of another says little to me either about the inspiration of the artist nor their command of the medium or technique. On the other hand, great abstract art can convey the tremendous inspiration and energy of its creator without requiring any philosophical assumptions by the viewer.

I did Urban Jungle in between some of the other works. Though a small piece, it was hard work with many steps. The paints were layered and lifted with both knife and brush. The textured appearance on the upper right was achieved by swirling and lifting paint rather than by adding thick paint. The composition is based on Bob Rankin’s idea of an uneven edge ratio in an abstract painting as a method to create interest. It seems to work.

Urban Jungle, Acrylic on 140lb watercolor paper, 6”X9”, Not for sale

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fast and loose

impressionist rural landscape in acrylic paint
The term 'fast and loose' usually conjures up visions of sloppiness. Not so in impressionist painting where the emphasis on speed was often driven by the artist's desire to capture the moment. The rapid pace and minimal reworking of the paint gave rise to a style that suggests energy and movement that is hard to dissociate from the impressionist style.

Summer Scene was done in just about half an hour against a roughly sketched in composition. The only brushstrokes used in this piece are ones that either put the paint down on the paper or those that instantly led to an impression of movement. I made no attempt to smooth the paint or even out the color. Personally I think the sky is the most interesting aspect of this picture!

Summer Scene, Acrylic on 140lb watercolor paper, 9"X12", $70 (unframed)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Time-of-day effects in a landscape

brilliantly colored sunset painting done with a knife in impasto style
That landscapes are subject to daily and seasonal changes provides opportunity to explore the same scene many times over. In the case of the impressionists, such exploration often spanned many years of their lives. The simplest approach I believe is to create a middle of the day study (such as Distant Coastline), then switch colors and adjust values for other times of day in subsequent pieces.

Sunset is an attempt to use the same composition as in Distant Coastline but with colors that might be more likely as the color hue and temperature changes with the waning of the day. The basic method used in Sunset is as I have previously described -- layers of gesso worked to a buttery cover for the canvas and then other colors worked into it with a knife.

Pictures like Sunset do not effectively separate the background, middle ground and foreground - except with the use of color. This can make the perspective appear a bit flat. This is less of a problem for an impressionistic work like this one but would be problematic for a more realistic style.

Sunset, Acrylic on canvas board, 8"X10" $90 (unframed)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quick studies aren't so quick!

Before taking up painting, I had the naive impression that doing a "quick study" meant less effort. As I have tried different techniques to get to a finished picture, it has become evident that a quick study sometimes is anything but. Getting the composition and tonal values right can often be almost as much of a challenge as finishing the final picture or a bigger version of the study. In industrial parlance, a study would be the prototype from which the final (or 'production') version is derived.

The two studies here use the same compositional elements. The paint is applied thinly with a small brush. This allows a choice of finishing the painting either with thin or impasto application of paint. In the meantime, if I don't quite like the study it is but a simple matter to re-coat the canvas with gesso and start all over again.

Countryside 1 and 2, Acrylic on canvas board, 5"X7", Not for sale

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Abstract flower

This painting is in the same series as Blue Flower. I think close-up paintings of flowers can appear to be a pure abstract of the form, color and tone of the flower. Colorful Mum was triggered by a vase full of brilliant chrysanthemums. Instead of trying to capture the beauty of the full arrangement, I chose to zoom in on part of one flower to fill this canvas.

Colorful Mum, Acrylic on canvas board, 8"X10", Not for sale

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Backlit flower

Flowers are a great source of painting ideas and have inspired some of the most beautiful paintings. I did Blue Flower a while ago when I was also experimenting with close-up photography of flowers. I did some sketches and then settled on a single flower with light coming in from behind which served to highlight the center of the flower and also brought out the variations in the petals.

Blue Flower, Acrylic on canvas board, 18"X24", (Not for sale)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Minimal brushstrokes painting style

An exercise I have found quite useful in developing a looser style of painting is to do a painting with the fewest strokes possible. This requires minimal working of paint on the surface leading to a freshness of color that can be easily destroyed in just a few more strokes.

In Reflections, I have used a rather common scene of trees reflected in the water to demonstrate a minimal brushstrokes approach. The palette is restricted (ultramarine blue, sap green, cadmium yellow and titanium white) and I used the biggest brush I could force myself to pick! After all, this is a small canvas and the temptation was to reach for a small brush. The bigger brush allowed for the canvas to be covered quickly and with the self-imposed limit on brushstrokes, there was no choice but to leave the paint alone after it was down on the canvas.

Reflections, Acrylic on canvas board, 5”X7” (Not for sale)