I found a large monograph of Caspar David Friedrich at the Harvard Coop in 1986, shortly after graduating from college and was instantly enamored by the image on the cover – his painting "Abbey in the Oak Wood" (sometimes called "Abbey Among Oak Trees") – and could't resist purchasing the book. Although I can't really claim Friedrich as very much of an influence, at least not with regards to technique, being a landscape painter as well as a hopeless romantic with a penchant for both nostalgia and covert allegory, I can't help but feel an affinity for him and some of his work.
I found these ancient apple trees on the back side of the Front Ridge here in Littleton, surrounded by dogwood (brazenly flaunting its blood-red hue in defiance of the bleak winter) and other leafless bramble, their branches entwined as if they'd been bound together for decades, protecting one another form the elements. I never thought of Friedrich whilst working on this painting or the many preliminary drawings that preceded it, but I must admit that the finished work reminds me of him.
Life is hard, often fraught with insurmountable challenges, sorrow and grief. Having someone at our side to share the burden can be wonderful and can be a source of strength when we need it most.
I have been fascinated with bare trees lately and have spent a lot of time over the past few months making detailed pencil drawings such trees in the area around my home. The empty branches have such great movement in them, with lines twisting and turning and wrapping around one another, sometimes like a frozen dance. At first glance, bare trees all seem remarkably similar, but as I study and draw each one, I find myself becoming closely acquainted with the individual personality of each tree. Trees have taken on such life in my mind, that lately I have found myself walking in the woods and feeling like I'm surrounded by people rather than leafless trees. Like us, each has its stories – some good, some bad, some long and complicated, some straight and to the point. The branches hold the stories of things that have happened to the tree, challenges it has faced, visitors that it has hosted, storms that it has weathered. These stories and secrets are laid bare during the bleak winter months, ripe for the picking to anyone willing to take the time. Soon, all of the trees round here will be covered with leaves. The branches will be invisible, but somehow I know that when I see them, I will be keenly aware of what lies beneath the greenery.
I began painting exclusively with a knife about eight years ago. The reason for this was that I felt like I couldn't make a stroke in oil paint with a brush that didn't look like something that I had seen before. Making paintings that no one else could possibly have made was important to me, so I endeavored to develop my own personal system of mark making. I essentially use the same knife for everything. It's not even a painting knife; it's a palette knife – made for mixing colors on the palette – but it's what I feel most comfortable working with. I also paint with my canvas lying fat on a table, rather than propped up vertically on an easel, which enables me to turn the canvas (or walk around the table) and easily paint from any side of the canvas. One of the things that appeals to me about this method is that I am constantly forced to find ways to articulate what I'm trying to say without being able able to resort to copying the tried-and-true methods of other painters. Making art offers us an opportunity to celebrate our uniqueness, and finding a personal way of painting has always been a top priority for me. Suggesting a tree with this method is always a challenge, but I'm quite pleased with the way this came out.
Here is another one (see two posts down) that left the studio over a year ago, thinking it was done, only to return and be almost completely painted over. You can see the original, which I was actually quite pleased with when I did it, here.
However, as I continually grow and develop as an artist, I see things differently. (As an aside, I saw an interview with the painter Brice Marden once and he said something which I thought was very apropos about how each time we look at a painting the experience is different because, even though the painting hasn't changed, we have.)
This painting was at the Kada Gallery in Erie, PA for a year. I brought it back to my studio in November of last year and found that I wasn't as satisfied with it as I had thought I was. I went back and looked at the series of pastel drawings that I had done before commencing work on the original painting and found that one of the qualities that I liked about the drawings was the value contrast between the building and the sky, something that was missing from the painting. So I began to rework the painting by darkening the value of the building and adding, consequently, more color to it. This, however, caused the building to push forward and compete with the foreground so I added more value contrast and saturated greens and oranges to the foreground in order to make it advance in front of the building. I also reworked the sky, making it bluer at the top and greener closer to the horizon. Having to repaint the negative spaces between the tree branched necessitated repainting a lot of the trees in order to maintain the softer edges of wet paint meeting wet paint.
In the end, I think it's a much better painting and I'm glad that it returned to me so I could finish it.
I have learned that "winter" paintings aren't very popular. People don't like snow and generally don't like to be reminded of it. But I live in northern Maine, where we have seven months of winter and the inspiration for my images comes, in part, from observing the world around me, so it's difficult to not have some paintings that suggest a snow-covered landscape. Snow is white, though, and white contains all the colors of the visual spectrum, so it's fertile ground when it comes to explorations in color, especially if one is willing to use one's imagination.
I'd much rather think about color than snow, anyway.
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 email@example.com