Blossoms and Tulips

I’ve been inside much of March and April working on larger Italian landscapes from sketches. I find this season difficult to paint well. In Florence, none of the plein air painters would work outside during these months. The acidic new greens, flowers, and blossoms are beautiful, but not necessarily picturesque. This happens often in painting. I’ve told the story in a previous post about watching dolphins jumping in sunset, and how it can be a wonderful experience, but under no circumstances should one attempt to paint dolphins jumping at sunset.

There aren’t many great blossom or tulip paintings for the same reason. Here are a few.

monet1 Blossoms and Tulips

Claude Monet. Apple Trees in Bloom. 1873

monet trees in bloom Blossoms and Tulips

Claude Monet. Trees in Bloom.

Monet rijnsburg windmill Blossoms and Tulips

Claude Monet. A Field of Tulips with the Rijnsburg Windmill.

monet sassenheim Blossoms and Tulips

Claude Monet. Tulip Fields at Sassenheim.

(Wikipainting has an amazing online collection of Monet’s work. 1338 paintings in chronological order and in high resolution. Definitely worth a visit.)

levitan Blossoms and Tulips

Isaac Levitan. Spring in Italy, 1890.

2 George Inness 1825 1894 Spring Blossoms Montclair New Jersey Blossoms and Tulips

George Inness. Spring Blossoms, Montclair, New Jersey

MilletSpring Blossoms and Tulips

Jean-François Millet. Spring.

If anyone has any others feel free to post links. This was just from a quick perusal of Google images.

The Gronsveld Windmill

This is the windmill down the road from where I’m living in Limburg. I thought it would be fun to try one subject with a number of different points of view and weather effects. I’ll be here until June so I’ll have a couple of more seasons too. The tops of the windmills swivel, which confused me at first when I would go back for another shot on a sketch, to find it pointing in a different direction (who knew?).

gronsveld windmill The Gronsveld Windmill

The Gronsveld Windmill #1. 35 x 25, oil on panel.

gronsveld molen2 The Gronsveld Windmill

Gronsveld Windmill #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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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 Grey Maastricht Days

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

jeeker Grey Maastricht Days

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

And a couple from the countryside.

brabant farm Grey Maastricht Days

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

libeek Grey Maastricht Days

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.


windmill Only Idiots Learn from Their Mistakes

The Unfortunate Tangent.


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.

saintjohns1 Only Idiots Learn from Their Mistakes


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.

windmill2 Only Idiots Learn from Their Mistakes

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.

1130310 Edit Limburg Snowscapes

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

windmill 426x600 Limburg Snowscapes

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

1130372 copy Limburg Snowscapes

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

I liked the windmills.

1130386 Limburg Snowscapes

Banholt. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

1130376 Limburg Snowscapes

Shed. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

1130305 copy Limburg Snowscapes

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

11303881 Limburg Snowscapes

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

1130415 Limburg Snowscapes

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

1130411 Limburg Snowscapes

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

11304181 Limburg Snowscapes

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

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

1130398 Limburg Snowscapes

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

1130402 Limburg Snowscapes

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


The Hibbard Mitten

hibbard mitten 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.

zagreb cathedral 21 Zagreb Sketches

The Cathedral from the Marketplace. 35 x 25 cm.

mirogoj Zagreb Sketches

Frost, Mirogoj. 25 x 35 cm.

Mirogoj 1 Zagreb Sketches

The Walls at Mirogoj. 35 x 25 cm.

Tkalciceva Zagreb Sketches

Tkalčićeva Ulica. 30 x 20 cm

P1160103 Zagreb Sketches

First Snow at Mirogoj. 20 x 30 cm.

P1160285 Zagreb Sketches

Palmoticeva ulica. 30 x 20 cm.

P1150995 Zagreb Sketches

Lotrščak Tower. 30 x 20 cm.

P1160115 Zagreb Sketches

Zagreb. 25 x 35 cm.

P1160292 Zagreb Sketches

The Bar at Zvijezda. 20 x 30 cm.

zagreb cathedral 1 Zagreb Sketches

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

1130009 Albas 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.

1130022 Albas Sculpture


P1150427 Albas Sculpture

P1150440 Albas Sculpture

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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P1150373 Albas Sculpture


1130016 Albas Sculpture

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.

1070797 Albas Sculpture

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

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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.

robot Albas Sculpture

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.

P1140711 Albas Sculpture

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.