Tony Winters has written a thorough book on artist’s studios called ATELIER: Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century. It’s interesting as it is written from the point of view of both an architect and painter. There is a small part on my ex-studio in Piazza Donatello in Florence (currently part of Charles H. Cecil Studios). You can pick the book up on Amazon.
Also, Plein Air Magazine has a short piece on my use of sight-size and scraping down in outdoor figure painting (Joe Paquet has the cover and a longer artist’s profile).
A short post on using an Iphone as a black mirror. Like most of my tips, this is not my idea and I understand this has been common practice for a while at the ateliers like the FAA which teach sight-size. I mentioned it to other painters who hadn’t thought of the idea and it was well-received, so I decided to post it here.
I made the following video a few years ago demonstrating the use of a mirror in sight-size portraiture:
And in the next video of Ben Fenske painting a landscape you can see how often an artist will reach for the mirror while working:
The fact is, the mirror is one of the most efficacious devices for checking shapes and proportions in painting. It can be used without sight-size, but having everything visually locked-in makes the mirror especially powerful as an artist’s tool. For commissioned portraiture, where speed and accuracy are so important, it is really essential.
In landscape painting, artists will often use welding glass (sometimes called a black mirror) as it also greatly reduces the values. This allows the painter to see a value range closer to what they can actually capture in paint, and simplifies the number of values they need to compare.
Enter the Iphone, the $700 black mirror.
The Iphone has a flat, black glass screen and works perfectly for measuring shapes, proportions and values while landscape painting. Most of us also carry our phones around with us all the time. I recently inherited an older Iphone to replace my Nokia. While I’ll miss the maps and the privacy of my previous phone, I hated the rounded screen as I couldn’t use it to check shapes. Since I often forget, lose or break my painting mirrors when I travel, it will be a nice upgrade (that and the fact that iOS supports Instagram so I can stop borrowing the wife’s phone to post).
Update: I recently came across this quote from Leonardo da Vinci in his Treatise on Painting:
It is an acknowledged fact, that we perceive
errors in the works of others more readily than in
our own. A painter, therefore, ought to be well
instructed in perspective, and acquire a perfect
knowledge of the dimensions of the human body;
he should also be a good architect, at least as far
as concerns the outward shape of buildings, with
their different parts ; and where he is deficient,
he ought not to neglect taking drawings from
It will be well also to have a looking-glass by
him, when he paints, to look often at his work in
it, which being seen the contrary way, will appear
as the work of another hand, and will better shew
his faults. It will be useful also to quit his work
often, and take some relaxation, that his judgment
may be clearer at his return ; for too great apph-
cation and sitting still is sometimes the cause of
Souvenir Stands, Belgrade. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Here are a few plein air paintings from this weekend in Belgrade, Serbia. I wasn’t prepared for how cold it would be, and I spent a lot of time walking to try to get a feel for the town so I didn’t get a great deal of paintings down. Before leaving for Belgrade I was inspired by the wonderful urban watercolors of Dusan Djukaric, who is based there.
Popcorn Stall at Sunset. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Sveti Sava Sketch. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Boats along the Danube, Zemun. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
The last day I was there I was shown around by the very talented, fellow landscape painter, Veljko Djurdjevic, who took me over to Zemun, one of the more picturesque neighborhoods of Belgrade. These short days make plein air work hard though. It’s too dark to paint by 4PM most days.
The Assembly Cupola from Pironirski Park. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Andrea and Luella on Chambers Street. 12 x 8 in. oil on linen.
Here are some paintings from the past week on the streets of in New York City. I was there for a portrait commission and other business stuff, so I didn’t get a lot of time for plein air work.
It was fun painting on the streets, the New Yorkers (and tourists) were very complimentary about the work.
Apologies for the potato-quality photos, I didn’t have my camera with me.
The Freedom Tower from West Broadway. 12 x 8 in., oil on panel.
Soccer Players in Central Park. 8 x 12 in., oil on panel.
Print Seller. 8 x 10 in., oil on linen.
I don’t normally sell prints of my work, but the above piece will be available for purchase as a print from Larry, the guy in the painting. He’s by the exit to the City Hall subway exit, near the Brooklyn Bridge.
Times Square. 8 x 12 in., oil on panel.
Manhattan Bridge. 14 x 11 in., oil on panel.
Update: One more of the pile driver in Dumbo that woke me up every morning.
Dennis Miller Bunker is considered to be one of the greatest American painters. He died tragically young, at age 29, in 1890. He studied with Jean Léon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was one of the first ‘American Impressionists’, and he painted with John Singer Sargent.
Dennis Miller Bunker. Jessica (1890).
One of his best students was William Paxton, who taught R. H. Ives Gammell (who taught my teacher, Charles Cecil). Gammell wrote a biography on Bunker, published in 1953, and in the book there are a number of personal letters given to him by Bunker’s widow. I reread the biography earlier this year, and the following letter from Bunker to his then-fiancée struck me as being particularly insightful into the working life of the artist:
You must try to realize how dull and monotonous an artist’s life is. There is absolutely nothing but work, work, work. And there is nothing in the work of an artist that shows his personality. You are marrying a man whose highest ambition is to conceal his identity, to remain above his work and apart from it, not to appear in it in any way – to be as cold and calm as a machine. Oh! if I only could, I might some day learn to paint! What I am trying to tell you is not to nourish any any ideas of an artist people whom you see may expound to you. Don’t think, as they do, that the charm of an artist’s work must be found also in his own personality. It is always apart, or should be, should have nothing to do with it, and that is what makes it such an infernal trade. Never to play on ones’s own twopenny flute but to keep the big end in view always; to remain patient and cold and quiet and work like a dog from morning ’til night; there is no other way of arriving even at talent, unless one is cut out of larger stuff than I am.
Dennis Miller Bunker. Tree (1884).
That’s it really. That’s all I wanted to say. Since you took the time to get here though, I’ll leave you with this passage from the book as well. In it Gammell beautifully express the idea of breadth and detail in painting:
People untrained in the art of painting often believe that finish is attained by simply adding detail to detail and consequently they dismiss it as a mere by product of industry and patience. Unfortunately this view does not correspond with the truth. For an essential characteristic of all fine painting is unity of effect and this unity is destroyed by any detail stated in a false relation to the other component parts of the picture. This is particularly true of the type of painting we are here discussing, the purpose of which is to recreate on canvas the impression made on the painters’s eye by the landscape before him. To achieve this end, each detail must be set down with just the degree of definition and coloration which it holds for the eye when the focus of vision is adjusted so as to include the entire scene depicted. Piecemeal notation of individual detail immediately destroys the requisite unity of impression and turns the canvas into a compilation of separately observed visual facts. This invariably results in a hard, dry look, destroying all breadth of effect and offensive to those who are quite unaware of its technical cause. It is, in fact, one of the most serious defects which a painting can have and perhaps the most difficult defect for an earnest painter to avoid. The ability to carry a picture to a high degree of finish without losing its unity of impression is the mark of a master and requires artistry of the highest order. It is the central problem of the type of painting which takes for its main theme the interpretation of the beauty of the visible world.
Dennis Miller Bunker. Beached (1882).
For those of you noticing the wide range of style in the posted images of Bunker’s landscapes, Darren Rousar has an interesting post on Bunker’s move from the more Academic influence of Gerome, to the Impressionism of his later style.
Saturday in Burnham Market. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
While the weather in the UK was beautiful all week, we had a marine layer over northern Norfolk. I enjoyed the grey skies though, after a very hot August in Italy (well, the second half of August at any rate).
Driving inland a bit I was able to find some sun.
Bull in a Norfolk Field. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Sheep in a Field, Cranworth. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Teal Cottage Garden. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Norfolk Sky. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Norfolk is famous among artists for its skies. The flatness of the land combined with the unstable English weather makes for some great sky paintings. Or so I’ve been told. We only had one day when the clouds were distinct, most of the time it was hazy or a flat grey.
The Church at Burnham Market. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I spent a lot of time painting the boats at low tide, I guess since I find it such an unusual subject.
Sailboat, Burnham Overy Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Boat at Low Tide, Brancaster Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Cornfield, Brancaster Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Norfolk has a lot to offer for subject matter. It’s also a really nice place to work as the people are friendly, it feels really empty (at least in September), and there are very few fences anywhere.
The English painter Edward Seago did some of his best paintings there of the Thames barges. Since I spend a lot of time talking to other plein air painters, and Seago is seen as one of the best plein air painters of the 20th century, I assumed everyone in England had heard of Pin Mill, and that it was something of an English Giverny. So I was surprised when I called my studio painter friends in England to brag about going to paint at Pin Mill and no one had heard of the place. Then, at the B&B where I stayed up the road, they had never heard of Edward Seago.
Grey Morning, Pin Mill. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
The place should be more well-known. It is one of the more picturesque quarter miles anywhere in the world. The Thames sailing barges that Seago painted are still there, and often have their sails up still.
Unfortunately, when we were there the barges were all up at the nearby town of Woodbridge for a maritime weekend. We drove there to try to paint them on the last day, but they had just left to go back to Pin Mill.
Afternoon on the Beach, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Morning Clouds. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Cala di Forno is a magical little spot on the southern Tuscan coast. It’s a tiny clump of buildings just next to the beach, in the middle of a large natural park. Much of the park is off limits, even to those staying in the houses, so there is a lot of wildlife around. Down near the houses there are tame deer that stand under the fig trees, waiting for the kids to pick the figs for them (though they don’t stand still enough to paint with any accuracy).
Deer and Olive Trees. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Deer by the Old Well. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
We spent last week there with a few other painters. After walking all over Rome in the heat, it was nice to be restricted to a tiny area in which to work. Many of my paintings were done within 10 meters (30 feet) of the front door.
The Old Well, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Stone Pine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Houses in Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Plein air painters often look for people who are going to be in the same place for long enough to paint. Fishermen, for example, work great as subject matter as they move very little over the course of hours. I spent a few sessions painting the other artists while they worked. Other painters make great subjects since I have a good idea of how long they take to finish a piece, and thus for how long they’ll stay still.
Tina Painting a Watercolor. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Ben Painting Beatrice. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Ignacio Painting on the Beach. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Ben Painting. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
The beach can be accessed by boat, so many arrive and park their boats in the little bay. The water is so shallow, they often just walk from their boat to the shore (swimming the first bit, obviously).
Boats in the Surf, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I spent a lot of time trying to paint people on the beach.
Tamara and Moss. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Backlit. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
I even tried painting kids, though I have no idea how Sorolla did it, they moved much to fast for me.
Irene on the Beach. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Kids Playing on Driftwood. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
In plein air painting, sometimes I find restricting myself to a small area in which to work can be better than moving around a great deal. The extra time not spent scouting and traveling means more time for the paintings.
A few paintings from a four day trip to Rome. I was looking for bigger views, where the foreground, middle-ground, and distance work together, so I walked a lot. The August heat and the mass tourism made work difficult.
The Gardens at Villa Borghese. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
For the first time in my life I also had the police tell me to put my painting equipment away in Piazza Navona. Another Italian cop later apologised to me and said there was a problem with that particular spot as there was some issue with the guys who sell paintings there. At any rate, plein air other painters should be aware of the situation. Despite 400 years of painters depicting Rome and its beauty, the police might hassle you if you’re painting in the more famous areas.
Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I painted a couple days with Kelly Medford, Marco Carloni, and the local plein air painting group. It’s always much easier to find to good places to work by traveling around with the locals. Rome has just a ridiculous amount of subject matter, one would need 4 years there to do the place any justice. 4 days is way too little.
Roman Ruin #1. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Roman Ruin #2. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Cypresses at the Colosseum Entrance. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Below are some paintings from my week here in Italy. I was supposed to be on the lakes up North this week, but I got rained out. Here in Tuscany the weather is a bit more summery, even if there is an early Autumn chill in the air (and we’ve had a few days of rain here too).
San Gimignano. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I lived in Florence for 20 years and never painted the classic, postcard view of the Duomo. I also spent my summers about 20 minutes away from San Gimignano and never painted the towers. I thought this year I would get them both out of the way.
Tourist Stands, Piazzale Michelangelo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Most of the time I stayed in the countryside working on this larger piece:
The Mulberry Tree. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.
I’m hoping for one more day of sun to finish, but it’s not looking good.
Here is the sketch:
Mulberry Tree Study. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
And in the evenings I painted a series of sunsets from the house: