Back view of the old McBride homestead. The tall pine tree and porch on the right also appear in the last painting that I posted and I've painted and drawn several views of this subject over the past two years. This house has been vacant for a long time, but I've always been drawn to it and am interested in learning its history. Buildings have their own stories.....and scars and memories.....and ghosts. I recently travelled to Erie, PA for a show of my work at the Kada Gallery, with this painting, still quite wet, in the back seat of my rental car. The rental car, fortunately, was upgraded to an small SUV, which turned out to be a very good stroke of luck because I never would have fit this wet canvas, along with thirteen other paintings, three suitcases (I overpacked a bit!), my backpack full of pastels (which I never got to use because it snowed during the three days that I was in Erie) and my coffee beans and brewing equipment (which I never leave home without!) in the car that I had reserved. Whilst stopping at my parents house in MA, I found an old monotype that I had done in college and wanted to take it home with me. I put it in the back seat, behind this wet painting, which turned out to be a very bad idea because at the stop sign at the bottom of the steep hill that my parents live on, the monotype, framed under glass and quite heavy, leaned forward, pushing the wet painting onto the backs of the car seats! No damage to the painting, but enough of that yellow-green (cadmium, no less!) on the fabric of the seats to cause me quite a bit of stress! But, thanks to a bottle of "Totally Awesome" all purpose cleaner (an indispensable product in any artist's studio)and a rag, I was able to remove all of the paint from the seats and be on my way, leaving the framed monotype at my parents' house.
I recently acquired a new color - Quinacridone Violet - which is quickly becoming a favorite. A deep, red-violet that is wonderful on its own or in mixtures with other colors. It insisted on being included in this painting of the old tractor shed on the Framingham Road, about a mile and a half directly behind my house, as the crow flies. A difficult walk, through overgrown fields and dense woods, across an icy stream that can't be forded without getting your shoes wet, and with a high probability of an encounter with a black bear. Or, a two-and-a-half mile drive by car, which is how I get there. At first, the yellow-greens and oranges didn't want to share the space with the Quinacridone Violet at all. But, after considerable effort on my part, combined with a good deal of diplomacy (I convinced the yellow-green and orange that they could dominate the coveted foreground - although unbeknownst to them, there's a good deal of Quinacridone Violet mixed in all over the foreground!) everyone ended up getting along nicely. Be sure to click on the image to see a bigger version, which shows some of the paint textures.
This was one of those paintings that didn't come together very quickly. One of the first steps in my painting process is mixing up a palette of colors for that specific painting. Sometimes, I will do several small color studies, trying out different combinations, either in pastel or oil on paper. I like to think of the colors as characters in a drama. Some of the colors are the main characters and some are secondary, supporting characters. Sometimes the story is about a single color and often it is about some kind of drama between two colors: a love story about two colors who meet and discover that they were meant to be together or, perhaps it's a story about two colors who don't get alone, the hero and the villain, protagonist and antagonist. Usually, the story gets worked out on the canvas as I work, but I'll usually have a general idea of which direction I'm going in. Some colors get casts in the initial stage and then get cut as the painting progresses and some morph from one color into another, depending on the needs of the picture. In this case, I began by thinking about the red violet and the yellow green - two complimentary colors on the cusp of being warm or cool. I did several pastel sketches in which sometimes the yellow green was dominant and sometimes the red violet was dominant. Sometimes the colors were very saturated and intense, and sometimes they were dull and muted. In some versions the sky was a dark and very strong pink and sometimes it was almost white, with a barely discernible hint of color. When I mixed my paints and started the painting, I felt that the challenge was to get the red violets and greens to get along, which they didn't want to do. I worked on this for many days. My colors dried up and I had to mix new ones and there was a great deal of frustration, punctuated with long periods of just staring at the image and contemplating it. Then one day, this orange showed up, uninvited. I'm not sure where it came from, but it made it's way into the grass on the right at first and then into the sky and the trees and suddenly, everything worked. A color that was related to the other two, and could help them get along with one another.
The subject is the group of structures on the Framingham Road, which, along with the house on the same property, have been a particularly fertile subject for many drawings and paintings over the past two years. The biggest barn on the left suffered some severe damage last week. I went by it on my bicycle two days ago and the entire right side of the building has collapsed and is about to topple onto the smaller shed in the middle. It may continue to provide interest as a subject.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the color green and how it's the most difficult color to work with. Here in northern Maine, the Spring is filled with a myriad of greens but I've always found it challenging to capture that "greenness" in an oil painting. The tendency is for the greens to either be too saturated (i.e. too green) or not green enough. I've been looking through my dozens of art books over the past few months and it seems that most of my favorite artists, with the exception of Cezanne and contemporary painter Stuart Shils, avoided making paintings with an overall green tonality. I did some initial color studies for this painting and it was originally going to be in a yellow and orange key, but somehow during the process of painting it, the greens crept in and I found myself up to the challenge. And it was a challenge, especially getting the colors of the barn, which, although not green, hold the entire painting together, just right. After three days of continually mixing colors, painting, scraping off and repeating, I am happy with the result.
Inspired by the view of the old barn behind the Dulin's house, as seen from across the potato field in the fall. I have been doing a variety of color studies based on this motif for the past few weeks.
I was looking through an old sketchbook and came across a pencil drawing that I had done about ten years ago of these two old mailboxes on the O;d Upton Road near where I used to live in Grafton, MA. I thought that it would make a nice subject for a painting, especially since the drawing didn't have any color in it, thereby allowing me to experiment with some subjective coloring. However, I only had one canvas on hand, a 20" x 36" that it didn't look like it was the right proportions for the drawing. I measured the drawing in my sketchbook to see what the proportions were and the drawing was 5" x 9" – exactly the same proportions as my canvas. So, I took this as a sign that I should proceed with the painting.
Many years ago I simplified my process by reducing my palette down to just the three primary colors, yellow, red and blue, plus white and mixing all of my colors from there. This process made a lot of sense to me ten years ago and it's helped me to learn a lot about color but lately I've been introducing some new colors into my palette, like the Ultramarine and Manganese blues in this painting.
I worked on a version of this painting during the early months of last year, but I was never satisfied with it. It was leaning against the wall in my studio for ten months while I tried to figure out what was wrong with it. In the end, I decided to push the house back further, by making it smaller, which worked out much better. The other version had three trees in the foreground, as well, but it works better with just two. I pulled the old painting off of the stretcher bars and stretched a new canvas for this one – a year after I originally began working on this image. Some images come together quickly, but sometimes the process can be really drawn out and I'm beginning to learn to just be patient and let the images come when they are ready.
I am a full time artist, originally from Massachusetts, currently living in northern Maine. I work primarily in oils and pastel, and occasionally watercolor. I offer instruction in drawing and painting at my studio in a renovated potato house. Please feel free to view samples of my work (You can see a larger version of each picture if you click on it.) and leave a comment if you are so inclined. Be sure to click the "Older Posts" button at the bottom to see more work. I don't always have time to respond to comments, but if you wish to correspond with me, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org