Backpacks and Jackets

Two things plein air painters use a lot are a backpack and a good jacket. I personally get very attached to my few possessions, and I like it when they last a long time.

reload Backpacks and Jackets

My set-up in Telemark, Norway

Reload Bags.

The backpacks and messenger bags I’ve been using over the years have fallen apart pretty quickly, so after the last one went I decided to spend a bit more for a brand recommended on reddit’s ‘buy-it-for-life’ subreddit. I went with the Small Flight Pack from Reload Bags in Philadelphia. They are expensive, but as someone who also creates hand-made works of art to be sold at a premium, I don’t mind paying for quality.

reload bag Backpacks and Jackets

My cigar box in the outside pocket.

It’s a beautiful bag to look at. By far the nicest one I’ve ever used. If anyone out there uses a Partagás cigar box for their palette as I do, the box fits perfectly in the outside pocket. One side pocket works great for my brushes, held at the top by a strap for a yoga mat. The other side pocket holds my medium and turpentine bottles, as well as pencils and palette knives. I like having it all open and easy to reach when it’s hung from my easel. A metal tripod easel can also be held with the strap from the side with the bottles if I’m hiking.

reload bag in norway Backpacks and Jackets

Another plein air location in Norway.

Overall it’s a great bag so far. My only complaint is the inside pocket could be a bit bigger. It will barely hold my small moleskin sketchbook. I assume it’s for a cellphone?

Next I need to make a wet-painting holder to put inside. Something with foam – cheap and simple. I saw Marc Hanson had a clever looking one he posted to Facebook earlier this year.

Patagonia Jackets.

patagonia london Backpacks and Jackets

Painting in the rain in London.

Fourteen years ago I bought a Patagonia jacket in New York. I’ve worn it pretty much every day in the Spring and Fall ever since. It’s been a fantastic jacket for traveling as it breaths beautifully when it’s hot out, but keeps me really warm when it cools down, and I’ve slept comfortably in it on a few occasions. Once in India we had to take a night train in a windowless third class compartment through the desert in Northern Rajasthan at night. I slept like a baby in the wind and cold while my painting companions were freezing.

patagonia big sur Backpacks and Jackets

Painting in the sun and wind in Big Sur, California.

Patagonia Jackets also have a lifetime guarantee. This year when I went into a store and asked about getting the worn collar replaced they said they no longer had that material but they would give me the full 1999 retail value of my jacket off of anything in the store. Pretty good deal.

It’s a company that takes it’s commitment to environmental issues seriously, and I try to support that when I can.

The Wedding Painter

swedish wedding The Wedding Painter

Wedding Sketch #1 (The Ceremony). 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

This is an idea I’ve wanted to try for a while. Everyone knows that 150 years ago, painters had all the image-making gigs. Today those have all gone to photographers, but one thought I’ve often had at outdoor weddings is that it would be a great occasion for a plein air painter. They can be very picturesque events. Also, since often a great deal of effort goes into making memories of the event for the couple, what better way than non-fugitive paints on oil-primed linen which will last a thousand years while decorating their decedents’ walls?

wedding painting The Wedding Painter

Wedding Sketch #2 (Afternoon Coffee). 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

I’m sure this has been done before, but at a couple of friends’ wedding this weekend I tried batting out some small sketches. It was interesting trying to set up and predict where everything would happen. Also, many of the situations are fleeting and the artist has to work fast (or tell people to pose).

I only got a couple of sketches done, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless. Plus it was the first time I’ve painted in a suit and tie.

wedding painter The Wedding Painter

The Wedding Painter.

Telemark Sketches

These are some of my plein air sketches from the past week in Telemark, Norway.

mikki at the cabin Telemark Sketches

Mikki at the Cabin. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

sailboats at bergen Telemark Sketches

Sailboats, Bergen. 30 x 20 cm, oil on linen.

River Scene in Telemark Telemark Sketches

River Scene, Telemark. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

I’ll admit I struggled a bit with the landscapes this trip. I’ve discussed before the technical problems of using sight-size for big views on small panels, but the problem here is also that the big Norwegian vistas don’t translate well on a small format to begin with.

hardanger fjord Telemark Sketches

Hardanger Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

hardanger painting Telemark Sketches

Hardanger Sketch #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Also, during the few days I was there, I drove a lot. Twice I spent six hours straight driving, then walking, then driving, while scouting for views. I say this a lot,  but going somewhere to paint with too many painting choices can be worse that painting in a location where you have to squeeze the paintings out of meager subject matter. It is so stunningly picturesque in western and central Norway that I would find a view, then think “there might be something better just up the road”, then drive on. The problem I had in Norway is that I did always find something better up the road, so I would keep driving.

telemark mountains Telemark Sketches

Melting Snow and Ice, Telemark. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

farm at nyland Telemark Sketches

Farm at Nyland. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

There is also the ‘dolphins jumping at sunset’ problem. Some views are too pretty to render well in paint. The Norwegian mountains in June have stunning snow covered peaks, beautiful blue fjords, cute-as-a-button barns and old wooden houses, the tail end of the fruit trees in blossom, clear blue skies with white puffy clouds, and lambs, lambs everywhere. The English call them ‘chocolate box paintings’, as the views would look like the paintings done to decorate the ubiquitous Swiss chocolate boxes.

Farm at Vinje Norway Telemark Sketches

Farm at Vinje, Backlit. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

Farm at Vinje Telemark Sketches

Farm at Vinje, Overcast. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

It got me wondering though, why does such beauty not work in paintings? It should be something desirable, people fly and drive long distances to see these views. Also, ostensibly there is some genetic desire in people to feel pleasure looking at good weather, good land, fertile trees, and delicious little animals. They’ve done studies which show that, in fact, people do have this genetic disposition towards landscapes very similar to these. Yet putting it all in would make the work saccharine. They say advertising has made people distrust beauty. I was wondering if the first Swiss chocolate companies to put these landscapes on their boxes found them too sweet (and maybe that was the point). Why is too much beauty a problem in art? Is it because of the excess? As the Greeks said, ‘all things in moderation’. Is it because one aspect of the work of the poet should be to show people beauty where they wouldn’t normally see it? Is painting the beauty of Norwegian mountain scenes in June just too easy?

Cabin in Telemark Telemark Sketches

Cabin, Telemark. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

The mechanics of working in situations where one is overcome by the beauty of the location is interesting. I have always agreed with Friedrich Nietzsche that the greatest art is a merger of Dionysian and Apollonian elements. Strong emotion directed and controlled by logic and reason. Harold Speed expressed it better for painters when he wrote “how can the draughtsman, who does not know how to draw accurately the cold, commonplace view of an object, hope to give expression to the subtle differences presented by the same thing seen under the excitement of strong feeling?” Painting in a place as stunningly beautiful as the mountains of Norway in June requires a great deal of control, patience, and thought. More than I feel I came up with on this trip. I hope to go back next year with more time and bigger canvases.

Rainy May in Tuscany

Here are some sketches from the end of May in Tuscany.

tuscan farmhouse Rainy May in Tuscany

La Torricella #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

wine on the terrace Rainy May in Tuscany

A Glass of Wine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

It’s been very cold and wet in Southern Europe. I painted inside by the fire a lot.

torricella Rainy May in Tuscany

La Torricella #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

fireplace Rainy May in Tuscany

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

This last one is a sketch of a couple of friends’ ten-week-old baby.

moss portrait Rainy May in Tuscany

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

Post-Modern Times

post modern times Post Modern Times
While I was back in the States last week I picked up a copy of the Post-Modern Times. There is a short article about me as well as a number of other contemporary realist painters.

It’s an interesting publication; their focus is on presenting images of the artist’s work, with articles written by the artists themselves.

For anyone interested, their website is here, and you can order digital or print versions of the magazine here.

Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Here are some of my small sketches from this week in Carmel, California. I am participating in the Carmel Art Festival, a plein air painting contest.

I first studied landscape painting at the University of California at Santa Cruz an hour north of here, and I’ve been painting in the area for the last 25 years.

palo corona Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Ranch Hand Houses, Palo Corona. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

I’ve always felt that growing up in California and being surrounded by the natural beauty of this state is what made me want to become a landscape painter in the first place. It’s always a pleasure coming back.

above corral de tierra Carmel Plein Air Paintings

The Top of Corral de Cielo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

san benancio road Carmel Plein Air Paintings

San Benancio Road. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

point sur Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Point Sur. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

pastures of heaven Carmel Plein Air Paintings

The Pastures of Heaven. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

point lobos Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Approaching Fog, Point Lobos. 55 x 70 cm, oil on linen.

point lobos 2 Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Point Lobos Cliffs. 35 x 25 cm, oil on linen.

point lobos 3 Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Point Lobos Cliffs in the Sun. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

corral de tierra Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Live Oaks, Corral de Tierra. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

big sur cows 2 Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Big Sur Sketch, Morning. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

big sur cows Carmel Plein Air Paintings

Big Sur Sketch, Afternoon. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Spring in Zagreb

Below are a few plein air cityscapes from the last week in and around Zagreb. Here in Croatia Spring has finally started in all it’s glory.

Maksimir Spring in Zagreb

Path in Maksimir Park. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

maksimir oak Spring in Zagreb

The Old Oak, Maksimir. 30 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

I have a show of Zagreb cityscapes on May 9th here in the Upper Town at the Laval Nugent gallery. In the meantime the weather is too beautiful not to be painting plein air landscapes outside.

flower market Spring in Zagreb

The Flower Market at the Train Station. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

dolac Spring in Zagreb

Dolac. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Špica Spring in Zagreb

Špica. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Cvjetni trg Spring in Zagreb

Spring, Cvjetni Trg. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Recent Studio Landscapes

Farmhouse in Chianti Recent Studio Landscapes

The Side of a Farmhouse in Chianti. 31 x 40 in., oil on linen.

Here are a few recent larger landscapes. They will be going to the Grenning Gallery for my solo show this August (hence the sizes in inches).

Evening on Lago Maggiore Recent Studio Landscapes

Evening on Lago Maggiore. 35 x 48 in., oil on linen.

The Terrace at Dubrovnik Recent Studio Landscapes

The Terrace in Dubrovnik. 47 x 59 in., oil on linen.

The Port Marseillan Recent Studio Landscapes

The Port at Marseillan. 31 x 40 in., oil on linen.

Sunset at the Torricella Recent Studio Landscapes

Sunset at the Torricella. 35 x 43 in., oil on linen.

Portrait Painting from Video

I dislike working from photographs. I was trained over many years working exclusively from life and my work from photos is often weak. I find there is too little information in a photograph compared to life, and I can’t trust a photo for values, shapes or colors. While I have pulled out a decent painting or two from photos, it was mostly a case of luck.

Occasionally for commissioned portraits the clients wont give me enough sittings and I’m forced to use a photograph. A problem specific to painting portraits from photographs is that you only get one expression from the sitter. The beauty of working from life, for me, is that you can change the subject’s expression as you work. A portrait painted from life ends up as a composite of many aspects of the sitter’s personality. One painted eye can say one thing about their personality, the other eye can say something else.

An idea I’ve had over the years as a means of resolving this problem is to paint from a looped video of the sitter, rather than a static photograph. That way I would be able to study the changes in expression and pick the best moments to use for the features of the sitter, thus creating a more complete portrait of the subject’s personality.

An advantage of a looped video over even a live model is that portrait models often get bored while sitting. I find it difficult to keep them entertained with conversation and concentrated on the portrait at the same time. Below is a short looped gif of my wife posing for a portrait I’ve been working on, showing the moment she lights up and laughs. By playing the loop on a television next to the canvas I could, in theory, choose various frames to study for a more animated expression.

ifZyIAfTjHaqP Portrait Painting from VideoTina sat the whole time for this particular portrait. I did play around with the shapes and studied the muscle movements from a looped video on the tv (since neither of us watches tv, I’ve moved it to the studio to experiment with). Below is the result.

tina in a kimono Portrait Painting from Video

Tina in a Kimono. 70 x 60 cm, oil on linen

The best DSLRs on the market for video at the moment are the GH series from Panasonic. I have two old GH1s I got for next to nothing when the GH2s came out. Both the GH1 and GH2 can be hacked to greatly improve the amount of information that the camera records. This, for anyone attempting to paint from video, is a big advantage.

I think video could be a good addition to the arsenal of any professional portrait painter who works from photographs.