Bergen Sketches

Here are few sketches from the past week in Bergen, Norway. It stays light here until midnight at the moment, but the weather has been iffy. I hope to come back next June for a more intensive landscape painting trip.

bergen Bergen Sketches

Sailboats, Bergen. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

P1180698 Bergen Sketches

Bryggen, Bergen. 18 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

P1180691 Bergen Sketches

Sailboat, Solheimsviken. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

miki Bergen Sketches

Miki in the Sun. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.


Recent Studio Landscapes

A few studio landscapes from the last six months. Most are enlarged from plein air sketches done over the last couple of years.

bolgheri road Recent Studio Landscapes

The Beach Road at Palone. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

umbria Recent Studio Landscapes

Poggio delle Corti. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

baratti Recent Studio Landscapes

Dawn at Baratti. 70 x 90 cm, oil on linen.

senese Recent Studio Landscapes

Wheat Fields in the Senese. 80 x 100 cm, oil on linen.

la pieve Recent Studio Landscapes

Cemetery at La Pieve. 60 x 80 cm, oil on linen.

volterra Recent Studio Landscapes

Le Balze, Volterra. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.

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

turbines 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

P1180112 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.

P1180337 Painting from a Moving Car

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

P1180335 Painting from a Moving Car

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.

P1180349 Painting from a Moving Car

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.

P1180341 Painting from a Moving Car

My old palette at the base.

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

P1180345 Painting from a Moving Car

My carpentry skills in all their glory.

P1180342 Painting from a Moving Car

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.

P1180339 Painting from a Moving Car

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

camoldolese 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.

camoldolese21 Volterra Sketches

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

volterra dawn2 Volterra Sketches

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

volterra midday Volterra Sketches

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

baccelli Volterra Sketches

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

poppies Volterra Sketches

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

emma Volterra Sketches

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

era2 Volterra Sketches

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

P1180055 Volterra Sketches

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.

volterra Blaming the Materials

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

P1180057 Blaming the Materials

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.

P1170592 More Benelux Sketches

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

Luxembourg More Benelux Sketches

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

P1170572 More Benelux Sketches

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

P1170590 More Benelux Sketches

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

P1170575 More Benelux Sketches

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

P1170585 More Benelux Sketches

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.