Painter’s Notes


When I decided to give painting my full time attention I was well into my forties and had been a traditional chairmaker for ten years before that, in addition to a dozen different jobs and professions, so that when it came time to unveil the first batch of work at my show in 2001 I felt the need to help bring along my craft show patrons and friends, who never knew me as an artist…to go some way towards explaining the radical shift from woodworking tools, et al, to brushes and oil paints. So I wrote down some thoughts to go along with each painting and hung them off to the side.

There was some good response so that when, a month later, my work was accepted to show at the  Granary Gallery I asked if they might also like the painter’s notes. Chris Morse, the gallery owner, said sure but he confessed to be not quite certain what to do with them so I assembled them into a folder which he put out for the viewers to look at casually should they be interested in more info.

I admit some naivite at the time and over the years these painter’s notes have been waved away by other gallery owners as not appropriate and on one occasion I was personally chastised by a critic for what he called the “conceit” of  “writing poetry” to go along with my paintings.

Oh well…what helped me to get over that poke in the eye was the overwhelmingly positive response from the Granary’s patrons and staff and, for what it’s worth, I have continued to write.

After 9 years and over 200 paintings I have lightened them up some and see them more as journal entries that are there to add another layer to the work and the gallery keeps a notebook of the complete collection for those rainy day visitors to browse.

On my website you can navigate from the Portfolio page and browse through the paintings, sorted by year, open a thumbnail and scroll down to the logo on the bottom left (seen above) and click on the quill to open each paintings’ notes.

Got me thinking of all this because I am sitting here in the air-conditioned studio escaping the 90 degree afternoon heat and writing up this year’s painter’s notes. Some ponderous reflection made me pull up the very first one I wrote back in the Spring of 2000. Here is a look …


Chilmark Morning

Spring 2000

 A sacred place.

On a great measure of bluff overlooking Squibnocket Point

there is a century old chicken coop become camp cabin.

Outside, the seagulls rise on the warming October air and cry out over the persistent sound of the ocean swells. The rust and sienna and gold of the late season meadow is accented with tiny red specks of newly opened bittersweet. There are long shadows and down along the stone wall the deer have settled into their beds of bracken and cattails hidden behind the grapevines.

I have spent a hundred evenings on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Familiar with the darkening shapes of rabbits coming out to find their supper of greens, beacons from the West Chop light house signaling brighter on the horizon, the milky way preparing for

its spectacle, and the magic of sparks arcing into the night wind

as the logs are emptied from the too smoky fireplace.

Inside on this evening with lobster pots and wine glasses stacked in the porcelain kitchen sink, the dog walked one last time and the candles gently blown out, we retire to our cubby hole of a bed.

When the last light of the reading lamp goes out there is an indigo blackness, a ghostly breeze lifting the curtain from the sliding window, and a stillness broken only by the rhythm of the waves.

 Camp Sunrise.

So named almost a century ago by Grandma Sophie for the spectacular sunrises which grace this edge of the planet. It is a humbling moment to stand on that bluff with the Atlantic ocean before you and all of the continent behind and watch the sun break over that horizon.

I confess to having witnessed more sunsets than sunrises

and covet the cool crisp sheets of the morning.

It was on such a morning that I awoke to a mysterious light.


The center of my waking world was awash in firelight.

The door alongside the bed was opened to the bathroom.

Herself had placed a small candle in the sink while I slept.


The interior of this cabin is painted white at the beginning of the season every other year or so. There have been great Nor’easters weathered there when I believed that it was only those thick

layers of paint which held the walls and roof together.

The orange light of this morning’s candle was alive and dancing across that whitened wood.

The brilliant blue square of the bathroom window had long been a subject in waiting and

I had done sketches and taken photographs for a decade in anticipation of capturing that scene.

But it wasn’t until that moment, when the echo of her spirit was reflected in the worn surfaces of the enamel and dawn, that I found the way in to the heart of this painting.


The advice to writers is to write of what you know.

I believe that is true for artists.

I paint of the Vineyard to testify and to claim and to hold tight to that sacred piece of the planet.

Because I have been there,

and I know what it feels like to drown.


The BEST Neighbors

The accounting department gave us the go ahead to make an equipment upgrade and install a roof vent on the trailer. One of the trickiest, and most nerve wracking parts of my job is the safe transportation of finished artwork. We are responsible for getting a years’ worth of paintings up to Massachussetts, over the bridge and onto the cape, over the ocean and onto the island, and into the gallery parking lot….in the middle of summer.

I have learned the hard way that nothing, absolutely NOTHING, must touch the surface of a painting especially in transit. The slightest jarring can cause abrasions and the heat that builds up inside of a truck or the trailer can be wicked. Packing day is usually as close as we come to divorce around here but if we take it nice and slowly and mother nature cooperates we do find great humor in the efforts we go to to keep the paintings safe.

I found a solar powered roof vent which claims to be weatherproof and our super neighbor Sue saw me up on the ladder and came right over to help. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to let her lab pup Jed come over and finally meet Finnegan up close and personal. They have been fence buddies since Finn’s arrival but she needed to bulk up before playing with the big boys. They were terrific and are best buds now…

Finnegan and Jed finally meet on the same side of the fence

Jed wants a better look

Then Zola came home from her fishing trip and the whole family got into the act …

all smiles

Sue installing the vent

Zola and Jed

As my Aunt Sallie says… “There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, that two women cannot do before noon ” !

Many thanks to my pit crew…

Two weeks from today we’ll be on our way to the opening !

Framing…take 2

It’s almost 4pm and I’m taking a break from the second go round of framing.

This is a profession I know well. I have been a picture framer off and on for thirty years and for most of that time I made a living doing it. Now it’s only once or twice a  year that the studio is transformed into a frame shop. The workspace will never never be as small and confined as the closet in which we worked at the Harvard Coop but it is crowded this week in here and Finnegan and I are stumbling all over each other…

which tool next

She has a very delicate way of maneuvering past tools and frames and original oil paintings and tiptoeing her way to find her favorite squeeky toy. She is quite the musician and I’m pretty sure she chooses among the three we have here according to their scales.  We’re currently reviewing our Frank and Julie party mix and she is partial to the Frankie Capp Orchestra swing section. (You think I’m kidding …)

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the still life table cum framing table…

still life table becomes framing table

Is that art imitating life … or …me imitating art ?

Anyway…16 days and counting…back to work.



Some of you may remember way back in August of last year our neighbor Zola was desperately waiting…and waiting for her mail-order-tadpole to arrive. Here is a look back at that entry..

30 August

When you are 8, and your dream is to be a zookeeper, and you ordered a tadpole habitat over a month ago, and you had the neighbor come every day while you were away camping to check the mailbox so that your tadpole (which was supposed to come that week) would not bake in the mailbox…and when you came home…it had not arrived as promised…and every day for the next two weeks you skipped down the driveway to meet the maillady and came shuffling back witout the tadpole…and now you have just started back to school and have to wait until you get home on the afternoon bus to check and see if….if…IF your leopard frog tadpole has come yet !!!!!

Well I suppose then you  would be so frustrated that you too would be driven to put up a sign on your front porch …

No tadpole 1

Yesterday, the now 9 year old Zola came running over to the studio to announce that her brand new tadpoles had arrived. At first she named them Big and Little but I think that has been changed to  Corwin and Bug Guy…and here they are…

corwin and bug guy

And here is a very happy Zola… and all is right with the world !

tadpole is here

zola and tadpoles

Let the framing begin…

Already knee deep in July…or is that the corn being knee high by the 4th of July ?

Either way the framing has begun for the Granary Show and here’s a look at our morning excursion to fetch the frames and paintings. We arranged to have the largest paintings done at the same time which meant only one trip up with the trailer. Both the frameshop and the photographer’s studio are within 5 miles of one another and about 20 minutes drive from the studio.

My apprentice was concerned when we hooked up the trailer that she might not be needed for this trip…thus the batting of the big brown eyelashes…

please can I come along

How could I resist one so ready to work…

apprentice is ready

And off we go… this is the shop I worked at while saving and preparing to give painting my full time attentions.

framers workshop

They are the friendliest and most helpful folks around and make it a true pleasure to work with them…

donna and laura do their magic

laura patton

loaded and ready for the next stop

With the frames loaded it was on to see John…

john in his studio

John Corcoran, the king of the camera, is the man behind the magic that allows me to bring my work to the big and small screen. Every painting goes to him to be shot in multiple formats so that I have a permanent and accurate record of the image. Nothing gets by this detail guy and I am forever grateful for his stunning work, jovial good nature…and steamed dumplings ! You can check out some of his own creations at Sterling Commercial Photography.

loading the big one

He and Pat always have way too much fun…

pat and john yuck it up

But time’s a-wasting and we’ve gotta get this show back on the road and home to the studio which is beginning it’s annual pre-show craziness…

studio begins to get crowded

My apprentice and my Lackey have just come in to tell me to get off of this machine and get a move on…

stay tuned…

MV show opening 23 days and counting !