There’s a thunderstorm overhead so I’ll not tempt the fates by taking the time to add commentary…will just list, in chronoligical order, these recent photos of the ever-so-painstakingly-slow-progress of the painting. I can’t seem to pick up the speed or to compromise on the detail or to find enough hours in the day…but here’s some of the paint I have laid down this week…
My new alarm clock is programmed for a 6am feeding…no matter what. And with that change in my morning routine I am finding myself way ahead of the game…breakfast eaten, walk taken, gardening done in the coolest part of the day and most of all…puppy played out and ready for a nap …and all by 8am.
So here’s a few pics of the last week’s worth of progress. Lots of time spent tightening up areas that I thought were finished. I reworked the dock area…there are more layers of detail in this section alone than I have hairs on my head…(I know, I know…that’s why I always wear a hat but you get my meaning)
Then I moved over to rework the upper left hand corner and added the suggestion of a boat behind the tackle shack, some clouds along the horizon, a few colorful kayak paddles, and a soaring gull to bring some life to the field of blue…
Then down to the bottom and the decisions about what to do with the foreground. As the tide changes this area migrates from lacily raked seaweed to a carpet of small pebbles to a foamy lipped saltwater bay…I wanted to bring the seaweed in to give a gesture of some motion and to keep the eye moving around the composition but I wasn’t sure I could do justice to the complexity of the colors and fibers.Then I found a liner brush that I’d never used before which was perfect for dragging out long sinewy lines…
And, in between training the “OFF” command and teaching my apprentice the proper use of a gardening glove …
I have completed the pile of drifted wood and ropes and chains…
and moved back over to some more work on the dock…
Which brings us up to today… the 29th of April… and in spite of the many, many more interruptions than I anticipated this painting can now, hopefully, kick into high gear…or make that a kick in the painter’s gear box… and I can have it finished and drying by the end of next week.
Off I go…
Ok, so …
one thing I have come to know for sure is that every painting evolves in its own time.
There are some which have been incubating on the back burners of my mind for years, nay decades…and others that literally awaken out of a night’s slumber and push all other work aside and in a wild impatience are painted in a flash.
The oversized ambition of this current work is certainly in the first category and I’ve recognized the slow and steady pace of bringing each square inch up to its own level of detail as the perfect challenge for a time in my life when I am forced to slow down my usual chaotic over-drive mode. Nice slow sessions at the easel with frequent breaks to stretch out the otherwise atrophying post- surgery muscles.
After weeks of that rehabilitating pace I am almost completely recovered … and almost completely behind schedule. Yes, the twins arrive tomorrow. Yes, the puppy arrives on Saturday. Yes, as you will see, I still have almost half of the canvas to render. And yes, I decided to add two, or three, or more new boats into the harbor…just to up the ante. But ya just can’t rush this level of detail.
Here’s a look at the progression this week…
And here we start this morning…which, after paying the taxes and sorting through emails and …blogging…is dwindling away and rapidly becoming noon. The toughest part of this last week was making decisions about the dock area in the foreground. I have so many different references with an amazing array of ropes and chains and motor parts and bouys and traps and anchors and did I mention ropes ???? And in each scenario there are gems that I want to try and incorporate in the final image. But that empy blob to the right of the big shack turns out to be a floating dock. (Took me days of analyzing the photos to figure that out…land lubber that I am. ) So matching the positions of all the items to the correct line up of the tidally influenced dock…well I do love a jigsaw puzzle now and then.
And the other such area of indecsion is the dock area on the right. I can’t count the number of boats that called that home in the last 5 years worth of photos I took. Here again I want to pick and choose remembering always and forever my High School art teacher Jim Gainor’s advice…paint the air and not the chair. Especially in this large of a composition, the negative space plays a key role. The viewer needs a place for the eye to pause and rest before moving on to the next wave of detail. It has to work first and foremost at the 16 foot just walking into the gallery distance.
So, I’ll ease up on my self imposed deadline of ….tomorrow…for completion and go with the flow…which for the next week will have more to do with animal crackers, coloring books, bedtime stories and …..PUPPY KISSES !!!!
7 April 09
Buckle down time …
In a little over a week our little family of 2 will triple… and then some. The Follansbee Family will be arriving for the better part of a week so Papa can give his lectures at Winterthur Museum Furniture Forum and so that we can have our much needed fix of hugs and giggles from Mama, Rose and Daniel.
And …at the tail end (pun intended) of their visit…we bring home our new pup Finnegan !
My goal was to get this mammoth painting finished by then … sooooo brushes up !
Here’s where we stand as of 8am this morning…
After days and days of rendering those tiny little shacks I have enough detail on them to move over and get some paint on the right side of the panel. It’s amazing to me how much harder it is to get a building to appear convincingly ( jury’s still out on that ) real when it is an inch tall vs. 6 inches tall.
The line of buildings in the distance will be partially obscured by boats and pylons and loads of nautical detritus in the middle and foreground …you can see a piece of the sketch taped to the easel which I will have to re-trace on top of the foundation work I’ve done…so I’m holding off of the final details until I see what will be revealed.
But I needed to see some real progress… so last night I blew in some vegetation and roughed in a few more of the houses on the hill. I have one good reference for the late afternoon October sun that I am striving to portray…Menemsha is a popular place for islanders to come and watch the sunset and pick up their fish or lobsters for supper at Larsen’s and the quality of the air and light makes the autumn sunsets particularly magical…but when I took those photos in 2004 I was concentrating on the fishing shack and I did not pan over to get shots of the houses on the hill or the buildings in the distance. And almost all of the several hundred other shots I took in the ensuing 5 years are in vastly different lighting conditions. So I am using that age old artistic license to render a continuity of light…and throwing in some clouds to suggest that one could be blowing over at any moment and throw a house or two in shadow.
One part of sharing the process of painting something step by step that I don’t like is that you don’t get to watch the viewer as they see a painting for the first time and are drawn closer, from the back of a gallery, to discover a whole new world of details and whimsy at the surface level and beyond. Feels like I’m a bit of a spoiler.
One such conceit that I am consciously preparing for them is this tiny little version of the Quitsa Strider…
For last year’s Granary Gallery show I painted an 8 foot homage to this wonderful old swordfishing boat…so it seemed fitting to include her here…even if she’s only 2 inches long. Diminished in size but certainly not stature.
Forgive me if I take this opportunity to mention that I do still have some of the limited edition prints we made of that painting available…
A portion of the proceeds of the sale of each print is donated to help support the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society … and this year I will be extending that support to include a dontation to the newly formed MV/Dukes County Fisherman’s Association .
Your support now filters down to become a multi – layered stimulus package.
Thank You !
NOW… enough shameless commerce…!!!!
Back to the easel…
28 march 09
Busy week but I managed to get some easel time in and am almost finished with the main shack and all those shingles !
Got another layer on the left hand window…
And then the hard part…flipping the panel over…
Again…had to wait for my nurse’s assistance…but this easel is such a wonder that once a panel this size is on it I can move it with one finger. A full tour of the easel coming soon… meanwhile…
I learned, after much experimentation, that once I have the foundation layers in place for the shingles it is much easier to add the highlights by working upside down and taking a flat brush and pulling from what would be the bottom of the shingle downward. This gives the clean edge but you can adjust for the degree of “weathering” desired by choosing a correspondingly worn brush. So a new shingle gets a brand new brush…the ones here on this shack which are well weathered got an older brush.
I came over quite early to the studio this morning and heard some salty language and the tinny clanking of swordplay…only to find Sir Bernard of the Fauquembergues taking on the slings and arrows of the disadvantaged weathervane. My hero.
Panel righted again…and ready for today’s glazing down and tightening up…
23 march 09
We took the weekend off … almost unheard of… traveled to Baltimore and were royally hosted by our friends Doug and Scott. Treated first to a cozy feast in their home and the luxury of an unhurried visit with their art collection…then a day of brunching and art hopping from museum to museum. Their generousity and genuine good natures and love of art is inspiring and always a much welcomed breath of fresh air…and the gift of time spent with them AND being able to study the paintings of 17th century masters …priceless.
Now, back again in the studio, I’m bouyed by the images still fresh in my mind and ready to kick my game up another couple of notches. One of the things that impressed me were the many miniatures in the collection at the Walters Art Musuem. Even though the current panel on my easel is almost 8 feet long, there are dozens of “miniature” paintings within this composition.
The windows in the primary fishing shack are two such sections that I began to work on last week. In real life they are only about 2 x 3 inches but they provide some much needed depth in a 2-D world and some middle distance interest in the overall design. Now I can seen the need to go back in and tighten up the initial work in there. I want to give the viewer as much pleasure as I got from taking my glasses off and leaning all the way into the tiny portraits at the museum to see what those patiently applied brushstrokes had to reveal.
So today…I get out the OOOOO brushes !
20 March 09
Spent the morning framing and packing up a new painting which will be headed up to the Granary Gallery as soon as Herself gets back from her yoga class. So before I head back to the easel here are a few pics of the first weeks’ work on the big panel….
A swath of sky, then in for some long distance work and detailing, then over to the shack full of shingles… I have become quite familiar with the weathered cedar shingle and learned that there are no short cuts. Wet-in-wet seems to work well for the first layers. Then I come back in and crisp up the edges and add texture. Then go back and glaze it all down as a summer rain storm might…and back over that to bounce in some highlights where the appropriate sunlight…or shadow…would glance off the surfaces.
The first week then…
back to the brushes.
Happy First Day of Spring !
The Ides of March 09
After over a week of drawing, reworking and fine tuning the composition …I finally finished getting the sketch for this mammoth painting on the panel yesterday. Since this is a Vineyard scene, and since my studio is in the almost landlocked state of Pennsylvania, I am relying on a bank of photographs and sketches done on scene for reference. The first shots were taken back in 2004 and I have supplemented those with over a thousand more…chronicling a wide range of lighting, weather and seasonal elements in the intervening years.
Without revealing too much of the subject matter yet, I can say that the view of this part of the island can and does change hourly. A busy intersection of human, waterfowl and nautical activity, there is almost constant motion…so trying to capture that energy in a static and narrow two dimensions has been a challenge.
It was also interesting to see the changes in some of the “bones” of the scene over the 5 years or more of photos and drawings. Shingles damaged over harsh winters waited years to be repaired, and names painted on boats worn by salty seas were all the sudden bright again as I flipped from one year’s shots to the next.
I decided to let the verisimilitude go and concentrate on finding the essence of the place. The early composition has expanded from a relatively small panel to fill an almost 4 x 8 foot frame. The challenges of working on a painting that size are offset by the opportunity to portray the beauty in the simplest of details that would be lost in a smaller panel. And there are hundreds of them in this composition. So here we go.
Once again my nurse has insisted that I not lift this thing alone…so together we managed to move it from easel to kitchen table and back again. When I have the sketch completed I scan it into the computer and print it out sized for the panel. In this case it was such a huge file that I had to break it up into smaller sections. The printer spits it out in a tiled format so there’s lots of trimming and taping to get it back together. Then I line it up and trace it onto the panel using a graphite transfer paper.
This shot is towards the end and I’ve cut up some of the main sketch to be able to better see how the transfer lines are looking. Once in a while the graphite paper is of poor quality and I have been known to go on happily tracing lines for hours only to find they are not visible on the panel. Not fun.
I have very little patience for this part of my job…but somebody’s got to do it.
And now….with the panel back up on the easel and the counterbalancing adjusted…I can move it all by myself….
so it’s time to throw some paint around.
8 March 09
I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than a can of soup for 6 weeks.
And my nurse is watching me like a hawk.
So I had to come up with a fool proof plan to get this next, huge, panel up on the easel. Too heavy for Pat to carry in from the garage by herself, we recruited the old wagon made out of parts from an old radio flyer and together we inched it through the gate and across the lawn and up onto the porch and slid it into the studio…then we locked and secured the easel carriage and one giant heave was all it took and presto…. she’s up and ready to go…
I put the deck of cards there so you could get some idea of size… the panel is roughly 4 x 8 feet…
It reminded me of a quote my dear old Aunt Sal sent which is taped to the studio refrigerator…
“There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING !, that two women cannot accomplish together before noon.”
We managed that AND moving a 50 lb bag of bird seed….well before 11:30 !
Now the hard part…to fidget with the composition and get the sketch up on the panel…day two of sketching and reworking…and counting…
6 February 09
The mid-winter sunshine is melting away some of the sadness in the studio and work and life continues to push me forward.
We had a wonderfully healing visit from my pal Peter Follansbee this week on his way to and from giving a lecture at a furniture conference in Colonial Williamsburg. Many of you know that Peter is THE world renowned expert in 17thCentury Joinery and I got to tag along with him on tuesday as he went to the nearby Winterthur Museum to take a look at a painted wooden box made in 1698. It was a blast to be his lackey and get a rare behind- the -scenes look at the museum and meet their curator and top scientist. Peter has been hired by the MFA, Boston to reproduce the missing top half of a cabinet which is in their collection. The details to which his assembled team is investigating how the original might have been produced and decorated…and the microscopic analysis of the paint samples from the four existing examples of this furniture…are beyond amazing. If you’re at all interested in woodworking you will find his blog entries to be a remarkable wealth of information both historical and practical. www.pfollansbee.wordpress.com
This week also saw the launching of Laurie R. King’s Fifteen Weeks of Bees project. Regular readers of this blog will know that LRK is one of my favorite authors and that listening to her books in the studio has inspired many a painting. So, when she wrote to me a few months ago to invite me to participate in a fun project to help launch the newest installment in the Mary Russell Series…I couldn’t reply fast enough.
The idea is an old one … in the authors words…” Russellscape is an ‘endless landscape’ or myriorama—a series of panels with precisely the same colors at precisely the same places along their left and right edges. If all those edges match, then the individual panels, when laid side by side, form a continuous image…”
In this case she was looking for the illustrations to relate in some way to the MR series characters, story lines or geographic locations in the books. My first thought was of the painting that I had finished last year… The Beecharmer. The idea for which had blossomed many years ago while I was reading the very first book in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. It took a few years of incubation and a larger studio to bring my composition to the panel … and it has taken the same number of years for LRK to return to the hive, so to speak, with her latest novel’s title…The Language of Bees which hits the bookstores on 22 May 09.
So, with a little bit of help from Photoshop… and a lot of artistic license and latitude… here is the image I came up with …
and here’s where you can see how they integrated it into the Russellscape… (Scroll down to the bottom of her home page to see the slide show ) http://www.laurierking.com/ .
It was a lot of fun and a huge honor for this humble artist to be included, so many thanks Laurie.
You too can participate as she is encouraging other artists to add their own panels… so follow the links on her site to find the details. There will be a contest coming up to pick the favorite panel…so get to the library and bone up on your Mary Russell stories and have fun. ” The Games A-foot !”
And Now… I weave my way from Ye Olde Cabinet Shoppes of the 17th century … through the back alleys of 19th century London… across the moors and back across the pond…to the dune swept seascapes of Martha’s Vineyard…and straight onto a movie set ?
Next up on the easel… a painting commissioned for a movie currently wrapping up production by producer/director Tappan Heher … “Mistover”.
Much more to come on this exciting project soon… but, for now, the muses are calling.
Be well, HN