The Wedding Painter

Oil painting of a wedding ceremony in Sweden.

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?

Oil painting of a wedding in Sweden.

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.

The Wedding Painter

The Wedding Painter.

Telemark Sketches

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

plein air sketch of a dog by a cabin in Telemark, Norway

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

Oil painting of Sailboats in Bergen, Norway

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

Oil landscape painting of a River Scene in Telemark, Norway.

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.

Oil painting of Hardanger Fjord, Norway

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

Oil painting of Hardanger Fjord, Norway.

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.

Oil painting of the mountains in Telemark.

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

landscape painting of a farm in telemark, norway

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.

Landscape painting of a farm near Vinje, Norway

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

Oil painting of a Farm in Vinje, Norway

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. Clearly we find it pleasurable to be in good weather, looking at fertile land, tall healthy trees, clean water, and delicious little animals. They’ve done studies which show that people have a genetic predilection towards landscapes very similar to these. Yet putting it all in a painting 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?

Oil painting of a cabin in Telemark

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.

Oil painting of a farmhouse in Tuscany

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

Oil painting of Tina with a glass of wine 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.

Sketch of a farmhouse in Tuscany.

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

Oil painting of a fireplace 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.

Oil painting of a newborn child.

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

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.

Plein air sketch of buildings below Palo Corona, Carmel

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.

Plein air sketch of Corral de Cielo Road.

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

Plein air painting of San Benancio Road.

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

Plein air sketch of Point Sur.

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

Plein air painting of the Pastures of Heaven off Corral de Tierra Road.

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

Plein air painting of cliffs at Point Lobos.

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

Plein air painting of cliffs at Point Lobos.

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

Plein air sketch of the cliffs at Point Lobos.

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

Plein air sketch of California Live Oaks.

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

Plein air sketch of Big Sur.

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

Plein air sketch of Big Sur.

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.

Plein air landscape painting of Maksimir Park, Zagreb

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

Plein air landscape painting of the old oak tree in Maksimir park, 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.

Plein air painting of the flower market in front of the Zagreb train station.

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

Plein air painting of Dolac Market, Zagreb

Dolac. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Painting of the Saturday morning Špica in Zagreb

Špica. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air cityscape of Cvjetni trg, Zagreb

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

Recent Studio Landscapes

Painting of a Farmhouse in Chianti

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).

Painting of Evening on Lago Maggiore

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

Painting of a terrace in Dubrovnik

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

Painting of the Port at Marseillan

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

Painting of sunset at a farmhouse in Chianti

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.

Gif showing the changing expressions of a portrait model.Tina 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.

Portrait in oils of my wife in a gold kimono.

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.

Plein Air Alpine Sketches

Plein air landscape painting in the Alps can be some of the most rewarding art creation anywhere. When the weather is good, the majesty of the mountains is just stunning. The Swiss have also done a good job of keeping their (rather unfortunate) modern architecture concentrated in pockets, usually in the valleys.

Below are my plein air landscape sketches from a week of teaching a workshop with the Alpine Atelier in Gryon, Switzerland.

Plein air landscape from Les Plans, in the Swiss Alps.

Above Les Plans. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape of a logging road in Switzerland.

Logs Along a Road, Bex. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape painting of the Dents du Midi

Dents du Midi Above the Clouds (from Gryon). 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

We had pretty bad weather. The previous sketch is from when we drove up to Gryon to get over the low clouds which sat in our valley for much of the week.

Plein air sketch of a farm in the Swiss Alps.

Buvette de La Ferme, Les Plans. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

We stayed above Bex in the picturesque little village of Les Plans. Above is the farm where we ate everyday on the course.

Plein air landscape painting of a path through the woods.

Path in the Woods. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a chalet in Les Plans, Switzerland.

Chalet in Les Plans. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Painting of Chalets at Gryon

New Chalets, Gryon. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Painting of cows in the snow.

Cows in the Snow, Les Plans. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The Alpine landscapes are a real joy to paint when the sun comes out.

Alpine landscape painting from Switzerland.

Utility Poles above Les Plans. 28 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape painting of the Muveran

Muveran Sketch. 20 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Unfortunately, the sketch below shows what our valley looked like much of the course. As I mentioned in the last post, difficult conditions can often be more conducive to good painting. Overall I’m pretty happy with the work both I and my students produced over the week.

Painting of a road in the snow.

Road in the Snow, Les Plans. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

(This was my second plein air painting trip to this area of Switzerland. You can see my ‘barn series’ from Gstaad and Saanen in 2009 here).

My car broke down in the little Italian town of Soave on my way home. It also happens to be where they make my favorite white wine. Here is a quick sketch from the rainy morning after.

Plein air sketch of Soave, Italy

Old Walls in Soave. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.