Portrait Time-lapse

This is a portrait I did of a friend a few years ago. As a last-minute idea I set my old cellphone on a chair and had it take a photo every few minutes over the course of the week. The battery kept dying and people kept bumping into the chair so the already-poor-quality image jumps around a lot. My apologies. I found the pictures recently and threw them together:
 

Wind Turbines at Aachen

Wind Turbines at Aachen. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Traveling across Western Germany recently I was amazed at the number of wind turbines they’ve put up. When I was a kid I remember seeing a farm of them outside of Los Angeles and thinking they were spectacularly ugly. These new ones are much larger, and more spread out, and they’ve started to grow on me. I’m also aware that we probably need to be looking for alternative sources of energy, preferably clean ones.

Often I’ve wondered why we are attracted to beauty. Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Are we biologically hardwired to feel the direction our lives should take based, even if only a little bit, on individual aesthetics? Can there be a collective human aesthetic? And can it change over time? Is it controlled in some way by a rational understanding of the direction we should be taking as a society?

I was thinking about these turbines driving past. I once saw them as blights on the landscape, now I find them fascinating in a way. Is it possible that our sense of beauty can be changed in a subtle way by the rational part of our brains?

And what is the artist’s purpose in this? To reflect society or guide it?

I was back in Holland for a day to pack up the house, so I went over to the German border at Aachen to paint the wind turbines and think about it all.

Painting from a Moving Car

Driving down through Switzerland the other day, we were stuck in traffic for hours in one of the prettier part of the Alps. These are a couple of quick sketches I did from the passenger seat using my cigar box palette.

Alpine Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Alpine Sketch #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I wanted to mention briefly that my cigar box has a lot of modifications for better functionality, in case anyone wants to try to make their own.

The cigar box palette.

In 1997 I lived in Paris and had a studio in an occupied ex-high school (Pole Pi or something or other was the name. The police took it back after I left and it is now an architectural university). There was a lot of old furniture still laying around the place and I made a large palette out of the back of an old cabinet. That palette is now the base of my cigar box, complete with the old thumb-hole which is now used to hold brushes when I’m taking a break.

I enjoyed that period of my artistic life and like having the memory around.

My old palette at the base.

Normally, cigar box lids are held to the box with paper. I replaced mine with real hinges.

My carpentry skills in all their glory.

The hinges in turn allow a small gap for the metal easel board-holders to slide through and hold the palette. I use a clip to keep the wind from blowing the lid shut.

Hooking a cigar box to a metal tripod easel.

Cigar boxes and prochade boxes are brilliant for the quick set-up times. Often you’ll see a fleeting effect (or a fleeting view, if you’re in stop-and-go traffic), and the speed of setting up and starting to paint becomes important.

Volterra Sketches

Badia Camoldolese #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Here are some of my sketches from our plein air workshop near Volterra. We had good weather for the ten days, even if the wind was problematic at times. I find wind can be harder to work with than rain.

Badia Camoldolese #2. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

The Fortress at Volterra, Dawn. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The Fortress at Volterra, Midday. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Fragole e Baccelli. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Poppies in the Alfalfa. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Emma Studies. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

The Era. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

San Giusto #2, Volterra. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Blaming the Materials

Here are a couple of sketches from my plein air workshop near Volterra. The first I’m happy with, the second is awful.

San Giusto, Volterra. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

San Giusto, Volterra. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

The sketch above isn’t my fault. Really. Every month I make dozens of sketches and I usually buy large quantities of the gessoed boards from Zecchi. A few months back I got a batch from them where their subcontractor had messed up the proportions of the gesso and there wasn’t enough glue. The boards are too absorbent and are utterly unusable. Somehow they got mixed up into the next batch of boards I ordered and every now and then I find I’m trying to paint on one. It is impossible for me to pull anything decent off with one of these boards. I’ve had to throw away the ten or so paintings from the times I’ve insisted on trying.

On our workshops we give the students a full painting kit. It makes it easier for those who have to travel, but the reason we do it is really that we got tired of students arriving with unusable materials. Rubens couldn’t paint with some of the set-ups these people arrived with. Often they don’t have the experience to recognize that it’s their materials that are the problem. Since we started giving out full kits, we’ve seen a marked improvement in the students paintings. They are able to focus on learning to paint.

Good quality painting materials don’t have to be expensive either. Here in Florence we find the Zecchi brand is fine for paints (for dark ultramarine we use Old Holland). In the US, Blue Ridge and M. Graham both make excellent paint for reasonable prices. Often ‘student-grade’ paints are so full of fillers that to change one color you have to add a ton of the other one. This means the cost savings is gone when you calculate how much paint you actually have to use.

Good boards are cheap. Ray Mar is a good supplier in the US, Zecchi in Europe (when they get them right), or make your own. I use a cigar-box clipped to a $50 easel for most of my sketches. Brushes are really important but they don’t have to be expensive and will last for years if looked after properly. There is no excuse to skimp on materials if you care about painting.

At the end of the day, painting is hard enough without fighting your materials.

More Benelux Sketches

March and April are usually write-offs for me as far as plein air work. I find the florescent greens of new growth combined with the browns of winter to be really unpicturesque. My own attempts at blossoms are usually miserable failures so I avoid them. I also have a lot of studio work to catch up on, mostly enlarging sketches of Italian subjects from last year to meet gallery commitments.

That said, I did get out a few times and here are the results.

Cows at Sint-Martens-Voeren (Belgium). 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Luxembourg Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Canal in Maastricht. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Oud-Valkenburg Roofs. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Windmill at Ohé en Laak. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Windmill at Ohé en Laak #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I’m off to Italy next week so this will probably be it for my Dutch period. It’s too bad as the colors are just getting interesting again.

 

Holland: The Local Talent

My 4 month stint in Limburg is rapidly drawing to a close. I’ve painted with a couple of professional plein air painters, Hans Versfelt and (briefly) Roos Shuring, and had a few coffees with fellow ex-pat portraitist Scott Bartner.

In March, I visited the Tefaf fair in Maastricht with Urban Larsson, who showed me around and introduced me to the great Dutch painters of the 19th-century. As always, most of these artists aren’t well known abroad, but deserve greater recognition.

I had trouble finding books and images online for these artists, and I may have the titles wrong, but here goes.

(They have really long-winded names for being from such a small country).

Jacob Maris (The Anathaeum has a lot more images):

Jacob Maris. The Five Windmills (from the Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Jacob Maris. The Ferry

Jacob Maris. The Ferry Boat.

Jacob Maris. Windmill in the Snow.

There were three Marises. Jacob’s brother Willem painted lots of animal subjects:

Willem Maris. Ducks. (From the Rijksmuseum)

Johannes Christiaan Karel Klinkenberg (More on Artmight):

Johannes Klinkenberg. River View, Sun.

Johannes Klinkenberg. View of Rotterdam.

Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël:

Paul Gabriel. A Polder Landscape.

Paul Gabriel. Landscape with Windmill. (From the Amsterdam Historical Museum).

Willem Bastiaan Tholen:

Willem Bastiaan Tholen. ‘Gezicht Op De Nieuwe Haven’.

Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch (more at Wikipaintings):

J. H. Weissenbruch. River Landscape.

Copyright

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, (though I did have the text checked by my lawyers).

In the ‘Blossoms’ post below I had wanted to add my favorite example, Primavera by Adolfo Tommasi in the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Florence. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent image online. The Italian Culture website has a small, terrible image of the painting with watermarks all over it from a private company which controls the image databases of Italian museums. It begs the question: Who is this for? The tagline on the government website is ‘a patrimony to explore’, and in the charter of most museums there is something about their job being to disseminate the works to the public. But the online images are often small, cropped, and covered with watermarks, rendering them all but useless except as ads for the database company. For important paintings, a quick Google-search produces high-resolution images in abundance, but for lesser-know paintings there is no way to get an image from an Italian museum online. I contacted the archive company representing the museum’s collection, Scala Archives, but they want €120 for a 600 pixel, 72dpi blog-ready digital image.

It got me wondering though: Who owns this image?

Adolfo Tommasi died in 1933, so the painting is in the public domain. Yet in this case, and in museum collections worldwide, archiving services such as Scala have photographed the work, and now claim a new copyright exists on the photograph of the painting.

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Blossoms and Tulips

I’ve been inside much of March and April working on larger Italian landscapes from sketches. I find this season difficult to paint well. In Florence, none of the plein air painters would work outside during these months. The acidic new greens, flowers, and blossoms are beautiful, but not necessarily picturesque. This happens often in painting. I’ve told the story in a previous post about watching dolphins jumping in sunset, and how it can be a wonderful experience, but under no circumstances should one attempt to paint dolphins jumping at sunset.

There aren’t many great blossom or tulip paintings for the same reason. Here are a few.

Claude Monet. Apple Trees in Bloom. 1873

Claude Monet. Trees in Bloom.

Claude Monet. A Field of Tulips with the Rijnsburg Windmill.

Claude Monet. Tulip Fields at Sassenheim.

(Wikipainting has an amazing online collection of Monet’s work. 1338 paintings in chronological order and in high resolution. Definitely worth a visit.)

Isaac Levitan. Spring in Italy, 1890.

George Inness. Spring Blossoms, Montclair, New Jersey

Jean-François Millet. Spring.

If anyone has any others feel free to post links. This was just from a quick perusal of Google images.