Art In The Open Festival in Wexford, Ireland

 

I’ll be painting and teaching a couple of short workshops in early August at the Art In The Open festival in Wexford, Ireland.

I had a very successful plein air trip to Ireland years ago, staying at the Cill Rialaig artist’s colony in southwestern Kerry, and I very much looking forward to going back.

Grey Maastricht Days

A couple of recent sketches from the grey March days we’ve been having lately.

(Always risky painting a leaning building as on this first one):

Klein Grachtje, Maastricht. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

The Jeker, Maastricht. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

And a couple from the countryside.

Brabant Farm. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Libeek Fields. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Only Idiots Learn from Their Mistakes

‘Only idiots learn from their mistakes, I learn from the mistakes of others’

– Otto Von Bismarck

Often while correcting students, they inform me that they would rather make their own mistakes, as a sort of learning tool. Since I’ve usually already made that exact mistake myself, I always reply with that quote.

I know sketching a small landscape painting in oils isn’t the same thing as baiting France into unifying Germany for you.  And part of the beauty of oil painting is the ability to change things at a later date.

But the truth is, plein air painting requires you to think about a lot of things studio-painters don’t have to deal with: “Am I blocking traffic?” “How many tourists am I going to have to talk to standing here?”, “Could I freeze to death in this cold?”… etc, and it is very easy to get distracted and make simple compositional errors that one normally wouldn’t make.

Here are a few of the recent snowscapes from Limburg with before and after images, showing my initial mistake, as well as the later-in-studio correction.

The Unfortunate Tangent:

Unfortunate tangents are when a line describing one element in space is tangent with a line describing an element in a completely different location. In the case below, the snow on the hedge on the left  is in front of the windmill yet it lines up precisely with the line of the hill on the right, which is behind the windmill. In the studio I raised the hedge a little to remove the tangent.

 

The Unfortunate Tangent.

Symmetry:

In the case below, the trees in the original sketch were positioned at the same distance from each side of the panel, which is generally considered poor composition. In the studio I moved the left tree slightly to the right and added one behind it, to not have them look so symmetrical. (To be honest, I’m still not convinced about the trees as they’re a bit busy for such a small panel and might take them out entirely).

Also, the path through the snow was parallel to the base of the panel, so I raised it a bit on the left.

Symmetry.

Parallel Lines:

Lastly, in the painting below, I put in too many parallel lines (also considered poor composition) to describe the plowed fields below the snow. In the studio later I removed a few, and tried to make them more randomly placed.

Parallel Lines.

Limburg Snowscapes

I’m currently living ten minutes outside of Maastricht, Holland in the little hamlet of Libeek in the province of Limburg.

For my first two weeks here the weather has been beautiful blue skies with snow on the ground, but very cold. Almost too cold to paint when the wind was up. I did manage to get a few plein air pieces done before the rain set in.

I used Google Maps for the names (and actually used Street View to scout a bit for the first time) so I hope I got them right.

Op de Vrouweheide, Ubachsberg. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Op de Vrouweheide, Ubachsberg (#2). 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Van Tienhovenmolen, Wolfshuis. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

I liked the windmills.

Banholt. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Shed. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

St. Johns, Maastricht. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The Border at Libeek. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Snow in Libeek. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Limburg Farm, February. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Libeek Sunset #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Update: Here are a couple more from the end of the snow.

Snow Melting, Hoogcruts. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Snow Melting, Banholt. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

 

The Hibbard Mitten

My Hibbard Mitten (with some recent snowscapes).

When I was ten my family moved from Fiji to Los Angeles. I remember hating L.A. because of how cold I thought it was. To this day I still can’t stand feeling even the slightest bit cold. That said, I also love painting the snow since I grew up without ever seeing it.

Right now I’m painting in the Dutch countryside. We’re in the middle of two weeks of beautiful blue skies with snow everywhere on the ground. It’s also -20°C this morning with the wind chill factor.

For painting in the cold, I find it easy to keep your body warm with thermal underwear and layers, it’s the feet and the hands that are the problem. I use handwarmers in my shoes to keep my toes warm, and stomp down the snow. For my brush-holding hand, I wear a glove, and for my painting hand I use a Hibbard Mitten.

Named after the painter Aldro Hibbard (you can see some of his snowscapes here), the Hibbard mitten is a large knit sock -in my case a folded and sewn-up scarf- you put over your hand and poke the back end of the brush through. That way you can hold the brush directly with your hand rather than through a glove, which I find greatly reduces my dexterity. Painters are supposed to paint with the shoulder and the elbow, but I use my wrist a lot and using a glove makes detailed work difficult. The Hibbard mitten also means you have to hold the paintbrush at the end of the handle as they are meant to be used.

My Hibbard mitten also has a sewn pocket for an extra handwarmer. I find I still need to take the mitten off from time to time for details, but overall it makes painting much more comfortable.

Hibbard supposedly lost a couple of toes to frostbite, so be careful out there if you’re wearing your socks on your hands.

Zagreb Sketches

After 18 years in the Oltrarno of Florence, I’ve left Italy for a while. I’m currently living in Zagreb, Croatia and will be moving to Maastricht, Holland in February.

Here are some sketches from the center of Zagreb where I’ve been living the last few weeks.

The Cathedral from the Marketplace. 35 x 25 cm.

Frost, Mirogoj. 25 x 35 cm.

The Walls at Mirogoj. 35 x 25 cm.

Tkalčićeva Ulica. 30 x 20 cm

First Snow at Mirogoj. 20 x 30 cm.

Palmoticeva ulica. 30 x 20 cm.

Lotrščak Tower. 30 x 20 cm.

Zagreb. 25 x 35 cm.

The Bar at Zvijezda. 20 x 30 cm.

The Cathedral, Zagreb. 30 x 20 cm.

Minute Painting Videos

(Updated and bumped from a previous post): Here are the first five of a series of short videos I’m working on to briefly explain various ideas in painting (un-embedded Playlist version).

If you’ve seen them before only the fourth (on the use of the mirror) is new.

If the music is annoying you can turn down the volume, it took me twice as long to find inoffensive royalty-free music as it did to film and edit the movies.
Let me know what you think.


Using a cuttlebone.


Scraping down.


Making a medium.


Using the mirror.


Sight-size in plein-air landscape painting.

Update: Here is #7 (I know I skipped 6, it’s coming).

Preparing gessoed panels.

Alba’s Sculpture

I mentioned in an earlier post my intention of making a monument for my late wife. These are the finished marble pieces for her grave.

This was the first time I ever really sculpted or carved anything. I had a great deal of help doing the initial sculpture in clay from the director of the sculpture program at the Florence Academy of Art, Robert Bodem, who let me use his studio for a couple of months and showed me what to do. He also did the plaster casts for me. The sculpture technique at the FAA is very drawing-based, so all my years of charcoal and pencil portraits was of some help. I still really had no idea what I was doing. Rob would often come in with a trowel and take off lots of clay. Another old friend, Calyxte Campe gave me a day of hands-on help with the bust, and Johanna Schwaiger helped with the final stages of the marble.

Everything about this project was different. Normally, the process with portraiture is that the closer you get to a likeness the happier you feel about the work. When sculpting one’s wife a month after her death, the dynamic is very much the opposite.

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Alba had always wanted a dog. After they discovered the tumor she adopted a little stray from the streets of Naples, Emma. The dog always sleeps with it’s ears perked up, but after Alba’s death it slept for a few days with the ears down. I tried to capture that in the sculpture.

‘Emma’ will go at the foot of the grave, with Alba’s bust near the headstone. An architect friend of hers, Rudi Ulivi, has done a very elegant design for it all, something of a modern version of Jacopo della Quercia’s tomb of Ilaria del Carretto.

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Here are some photos from the process. The dog was done in our apartment from life. She sleeps on her pillow next to the radiator most of the winter anyways, so she was a pretty easy model. I tried to make the pillow look like one of the many cheap Ikea pillows we had around the house.

Alba was done from photographs. Here I’m working in Rob’s studio in Florence.

Sculpting in clay from photos in Rob Bodem’s studio.

The clay pieces were then cast into plaster, and laser-scanned by a marble-carving company in Carrara, Italy. After picking out a sculpture-grade marble block, the scans were sent to the robot (pictured below) which carves the blocks to within a millimeter of the specifications of the scan. It’s hard to tell the scale in the photo but Mickey is bigger than a person.

It may seem like cheating, but I learned that every sculptor since Michelangelo has had assistants block in the marble from the maestro’s clay model.

This digital process worked to my advantage in that, having never sculpted before, I had made the bust of Alba way too big.  By using this method of the laser-scan and 3D computer image I was able to measure an old sight-size oil portrait I did of her and reduce the dimensions of the digital wireframe model to her exact scale.

The marble-carving robot at Carrara.

After the marble comes back from the robot it still needs a great deal of work. I tried rasps and chisels but at the end found it easier to use a dremel.

The marble as it comes back from the robot.

When Alba learned of her tumor she desperately wanted some form of immortality, I guess we all do. None of us will get it.

This was the best I could do.

Villa le Rose Sketches

The walls at Villa Le Rose. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Winter has set in and pushed me indoors so I’m currently enlarging the small sketches from this summer for shows next year. This was the last batch of Tuscan plein air sketches from the warm October we had there. They are all painted at the beautiful Villa le Rose property just south of Florence.

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Lead or Titanium White?

I get asked this a lot, and have strong feelings about it, so I thought I’d quickly put down a couple thoughts.

For portraiture you absolutely have to use lead white (Cremnitz, flake, d’argent etc…). Titanium white kills all the other colors, and lacks the beautiful transparency that almost mimics human flesh that lead has. Every great portrait was painted with lead.

For plein air painting, on the other hand, I think titanium is vastly superior. Keying a sky with lead takes hours, with titanium just minutes. Lead can still be useful for impastos below the horizon (especially if hand-ground), but titanium is really all you need outdoors.

I’d just like to add that anyone who disagrees with me on this is wrong.