Snow by Streetlight

After reading Whistler’s defense of his Nocturne series*, I was inspired to paint exactly what I saw outside my living room, after dark.

The sketch isn’t elegant or detailed, but it does convey the impression of the scene that night.

My husband commented that it was probably the best that streetlight had ever looked.

Okay, it wasn’t quite night.  Late in the day, snow clouds loomed like huge, dark, angry dust bunnies across the horizon.   It looked like night, so the streetlights turned on automatically.

A patch of light sky remained, and it’s at the upper right corner of the painting.  The light from it highlighted the snow toward the foreground.

All in all, it was a very moody scene and it reminded me of Wuthering Heights: Dangerous, windy, and wild.

I’m still trying to tweak the color in this photo, because it’s not quite accurate when I compare it with the painting.  However, it conveys the general idea of this sketch.

For me, this was one of those paintings that I couldn’t not paint.  I saw the yellow-orange glow of the lstreetlight and the blues and purples in the scene, and I was almost irresistibly drawn to my easel.

Fortunately, my paints were already set up so I could capture this landscape quickly.

I like it.  It’s moody and urgent at the same time. This is a small work, 8″ x 10″ painted in oils on canvas board.

Whistler's 'Nocturne in Black and Gold'*From the trial in which Whistler sued critic John Ruskin for libel (after Ruskin published harsh criticism of a painting in Whistler’s Nocturne series, shown at right):

Holker: “What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?”
Whistler: “It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at Cremorne Gardens.”
Holker: “Not a view of Cremorne?”
Whistler: “If it were A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne….”
Holker: “Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?”
Whistler: “Oh, I ‘knock one off’ possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it…” [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]
Holker: “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?”
Whistler: “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”

Evolution of a Painting – Spring is on the way

This painting began as a sketch on March 2010.  It was okay… but not great.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided that it wasn’t a complete waste of a canvas, but it could be improved.  With a few tweaks, revising the painting, I was pleased with the results.

Then, during this past weekend, I looked at it again and saw even more improvements.

Now, I’m happy with it.

For me, this work is about color. In the doldrums of winter, it’s easy to look outside and see just blue or gray skies… and that’s all.

However, even in a blizzard or on the most ho-hum day, there are flashes of color, highlighted by the snow.  (If you study the colors in snow, they often reflect the sky and the surroundings, sometimes almost as well as water does.)

As I’ve said in my artist’s statement, I’m obsessed with color… as well as balance, light and shadows.  I’m drawn to the sensual nature of oil paints, and how I feel when I’m painting, up to my elbows in luxury and rich textures as I work at my easel.

For me, a painting works when I express the emotional connection with whatever’s inspired me, as opposed to the details in the scene.

That’s why this painting works for me, and why I’m pleased to say that it’s completed.

Spring Is On The Way, Revised
5 February 2011
8″ x 10″ oil painting on canvas board
Signed by the artist on the back of the painting

Private collection

Peach sunrise – 3 Feb 2011

Sunrises in NH can display the most amazing colors.  The peaches and sherbet-pink colors from the rising sun… they’re often astonishing.

This is an 8″ x 10″ oil painting of the sunrise on February 3rd.

For just a few minutes, the clouds seemed to come alive with color, like a daytime aurora borealis. When I saw that starting to happen last Thursday morning — the day after a massive snowstorm — I headed straight to my canvas to capture it.

Blues are my favorite colors.  However, the play of color — such as the pinks and peaches of clouds against the blue sky — there’s a moment of magic when that happens, and that’s what inspired this plein air painting from our front porch.


Peach Sunrise
3 Feb 2011
8″ x 10″ Oil painting on archival canvas board


Color Study 1 – Sketch to Painting

Sometimes I forget that others — even those who work with color studies — may not “see” the art in some of my more urgent, sometimes fragmented works.

Here’s how one color study is leading to a series of landscape paintings.

The large photo shows my nearly-finished oil sketch.  I painted it this morning.

It’s based on Sunrise – Snowy Skies, painted on January 14th.  (That color study is shown at the foot of this article.)

The original color study was painted in about half an hour, but it captured the important colors — and variety — in the sky and the snowy foreground.

(Color studies are useful because they capture the energy and impressions of the landscape.  I also work from photos, particularly if they’re vivid and extraordinary.)

However, there was an additional step between the original color study and today’s painting.  That extra step is shown below, on the right.

Using the January 14th color study as my inspiration and reference, I worked on a traditional painting on an 11″ x 14″ canvas.  Paintings like that are sort of visual brainstorming.

early version of painting based on Jan 14th color studyAt one point, I paused to photograph it.  When this photo (on the right) was taken, the colors were still too isolated; that was fine in the color study, but not for a more formal work.

What I’d learned at that point — and improved after this photo — was to limit the colors and connect more of the masses.

I put that canvas aside to dry before I continue working on it.

Overnight, I thought about the original color study and the creative visions that are emerging from it.  As usual, I woke up at 4 a.m. with a very clear mental picture of what I wanted to do.

After another hour of sleep, I was at my easel and painting by the light from my Ott lamp, waiting for sunrise so I could really see the colors in my work.

My only canvas with the correct proportions was an 8″ x 16″ canvas board that I hadn’t sanded enough before using it.  So, this painting appears to have brushstrokes that aren’t actually part of the finished work.  (Unless the painting is illuminated with a harsh, angled light, the extra texture isn’t very obvious.)

Nevertheless, it’s a truly lovely work of art with lots of softly blended colors.  I’m very pleased with it.

I want to heighten the whites in the sky and soften the foreground tones. After that, it’ll be finished and — when it’s dry — it will probably be for sale.  However, first option will go to whomever buys the color study that inspired it.  I like the idea of someone owning both this painting and the color study that led to it.

In addition, I plan to base at least two more paintings on the original color study, and get them started before the current eBay auction closes.

Here’s the original color study that’s inspiring these works:

Sunrise sketch - 14 Jan 2011 - Near Concord, NH

After the Storm – 28 Jan 2011

Yesterday during the late afternoon, a snow storm brushed us.  It didn’t leave much snow, but the clouds had looked ominous as they passed overhead.

As the sky began to clear, revealing a very pale pink sunset, I grabbed an 8″ x 10″ canvas board and quickly captured the colors in oil paints.

The photo is fairly accurate, but the foreground colors aren’t quite as vivid as they look on my monitor, and the sky is more softly blended.

All in all, it was a good sketch and I’ll probably is it to inspire a larger painting on this, as well.

Though some brushwork brings the hills and foreground toward the viewer, most of this painting is almost glassy smooth.  I’m using sable brushes in more of my work now, and I think I like the effect.

My color studies and hasty sketches will probably continue to include thick paint and obvious brush strokes.

However, I want to experiment with more Luminist and Tonalist influences in the immediate future.  That means a softer overall impression in my work, with smoother surfaces and very blended colors.  (See my discussion of this in my post, Sunset – Sunrise Paintings.)

After the Storm
created 28 Jan 2011
oil painting on 8″ x 10″ canvas board

Sunset – Sunrise Paintings

As an artist, this is interesting.  I feel as if I’m finding my personal voice in terms of influences: Impressionism v. Tonalist & Luminist art. (Those links open in a new window and take you to Wikipedia.)

For me, Impressionism includes apparently disconnected colors & textures (at least, up close) that create the visual and emotional impression of the scene.

Tonalism is less about color and more about misty, foggy, or mostly-dark scenery and (often) a glassy surface to the finished work.  Sunrise 28 jan 2011 - detail

In many cases, both styles are best viewed from a distance of 20 feet or more. That almost always applies to my paintings.

Luminism — which came before Impressionism — is more about the glow, and it’s currently a leading influence in all of my work.  (See work by James Augustus Suydam for the glow I’m talking about, and Sunlight and Shadow by Martin Johnson Heade for the colors.)

I also keep revisiting the images from the Like Breath on Glass exhibit, and the audio tour (with images) that’s online.  There’s something wonderfully rich but also eerie about many of the paintings.  For me, they’re compelling and hauntingly lovely.

So, I’m experimenting with different painting styles, pushing my limits and then absorbing what I learn from each experience.

The painting shown above is this morning’s sunrise study. It shows a fleeting moment and the rapidly changing skies.  The original is 9″ x 12″ on canvas board.

At right is a detail from the painting.  That’s about a one-inch section of the canvas, from top to bottom.

I think I’m moving away from harsh edges, though many of my sketches will — by necessity of the time available — look somewhat sloppy and ragged.  For me, capturing the light & color at the moment I see it is key.  The urgency in those works is clear, and has its own merits in terms of visual and emotional energy.

Many of those quick sketches will be resources for later, larger, more Luminist works.

Last night, I’d worked after dark, creating a color study inspired by the sunset.  As usual, I was challenged by artificial light (v. painting in the dark) and — when I saw the painting this morning — I wasn’t satisfied with it.

Sunset 27 Jan 2011That’s it at left, after I worked on it this morning. Fortunately, minor tweaks restored the creative vision that had sparked the work.

I feel as if I’m finding the middle ground (no pun intended) between soft edges and color contrasts.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going, but I’m pleased with my progress.

And, of course, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for an abstract painting… and had to sketch it immediately, with notes.

In other words, my art is still a juggling act with a variety of inspirations and influences.

I’m not sure that I’d want it any other way.

Spring 2010 – Revisited

Sometimes I look at an older painting and it’s lacking something.  Oh, it’s often “nice enough,” but… well, that’s not enough for me unless it was just a quick sketch.

My March 2010 painting, Spring is on the way, was like that.  It just didn’t have the oomph that I wanted; that may be partly because it was a difficult week for my family.  Sometimes I paint just to keep busy while I’m processing challenges in my life.  When I’m not fully committed to the art, particularly in terms of my emotions, the finished work can seem a little lackluster.

Also, I’ve learned a lot about color and technique since then.

Anyway, feeling very pleased with the improvements in Orange Hills, Revisited, I decided to improve the spring painting as well.  That’s the finished version, above.

Much of the work involved bringing the colors forward, and softening the areas that weren’t well-defined. Sometimes when I keep fussing with part of a painting, the area doesn’t emerge clearly and the busy-ness of it detracts from the finished work.

Spring revisited, detailThat’s what happened with the previous version of this painting.

This week, I was reminded of when I studied art with Larry Gluck, and he’d talk about turning paintings into “little gems.”  That’s what I was doing with this canvas.  (And yes, it is fairly little at 8″ x 10″.)

Fortunately, this week’s landscape colors were surprisingly similar to when I began this painting last March.  (With the winter we’ve had so far, I’m hoping it’s an indication of an early spring, as well.)

On the right, you can see part of the canvas, suggesting the subtle colors and the varied brushstrokes.

I’m very pleased with this painting, now that I’ve polished it into a more vibrant and representative work.  The emotional content is richer, too.

The colors and textures have depth.  I look at this painting and smile, because it’s tremendously evocative.

I’m still learning when to leave a good painting alone, and when my art can be improved upon with just a little finesse.

With this painting, the latter was definitely the case and the final product is truly good.

The Beauty of Cleaning

One of the best things about being an artist is the beauty I see everywhere I look.

When I was cleaning one of my palettes this past week, the running colors were so gorgeous, I had to capture them with a photo.

(Note: I paint with water-soluble oil paints, so I can clean them in the sink without toxic cleaners such as turpentine. My cleaning product of choice is Incredible Pink, a biodegradable general cleaner from Maine.)

The photo shows my palette in the sink. The picture was taken without a flash.

From left to right on my palette, here are the colors I routinely use for my paintings:

French ultramarine blue
Alizarin crimson
Cadmium red
Cadmium orange
Cadmium yellow
Lemon yellow
Pthalo blue
White (sometimes Zinc white, sometimes Titanium white)

For some paintings, I also add Sap green and/or Burnt umber.

Of course, in the photo above, you’re seeing the residue of lots of mixing on every square inch of the palette.

This is the same palette I photographed — before cleaning it — for this website’s header graphic (as of Jan 2011).

Orange Hills Revisited

This is an example of what happens when I look at one of my earlier sketches and all I feel is, “Well, it’s okay…”

I started with the oil sketch from January 8th, the Orange Hills at Sunset painting.  Frankly, I was going to put it into eBay at a low starting price, just to keep the art moving.  (If art just sits in my studio, I reach a point where I stop painting… creating empty space is vital!)

However, I just couldn’t do it.  I mean, I don’t want to wince when I think of ho-hum paintings out there, when they could be so much better.

After about an hour of tweaking the eBay auction — never fully satisfied with it — I gave up and removed the auction listing.  I put the canvas back on my easel and started working on it.  This wasn’t just sketching… I wanted to push the colors into a far higher realm.

Of course, it helped that the sunset outside my window was cooperating.

At right, you can see an actual-size detail from the painting.  I added a lot of color to bring the hills to life, and to give the sky more energy.

The original painting is lighter and more vibrant than this photo, but the picture shares the general idea.  If you compare it with the sketch as completed on January 8th, you can probably see a significant improvement.

When the painting was finished, about an hour later, I decided that this will be a gift for HT’s mom.  She’s a wonderful woman and I want her to have some of my artwork.



Orange Hills, Revisited
NH landscape at sunset
9″ x 12″ oil painting on canvas board
21 January 2011
Private collection

Colors After Dusk

Around dusk yesterday, our area lost all electric power.  The silence was wonderful — no humming appliances — and no streetlights to influence the colors of the landscape.

As the skies darkened, I decided to sit near a window and paint.

The difficulty when painting in low-light conditions is that… well, in the darkness, I can’t see what I’m doing.  Not really.  As the sunlight faded, so did my sense of tone (light & dark).  Without light to see clearly, I couldn’t judge the color intensity on my palette and on my canvas.

However, I completed two colors studies that may influence my future snow scenes.

The first is an 8″ x 10″ oil painting.  It reminds me of some of my mother’s paintings, when she’d fall back to the style she used when she designed greeting cards and gift wrapping papers for Rust Craft.

I may use this as the basis of a Christmas card image, next year.  I’m not sure.

Mostly, I’m pleased with the colors in the snow.  The light was still adequate to see what I was painting, so I captured the subtle yellows, pinks and blues, particularly in the foreground.

The house is actually based on a store that I can see from my window.  Without electricity lighting the signs in its windows, it looked more like someone’s home than a business.

After that, the light was really failing, but I kept painting anyway.  It was mostly to observe the color; I knew that I probably wasn’t matching the landscape shades and hues.

Second painting - 19 Jan 2011 - snowy landscape during power outageThe result is at right.  It’s an 11″ x 14″ oil sketch.  I’m surprised at how well the colors turned out.

However, it’s not an interesting painting for me, so I’ll probably paint over it.

Right now, it reminds me of the pale colors of the heavy brocade drapes in our living room when I was little.  Though that’s a happy association, I’ll see how I feel about this painting when it dries.  With time, I may decide that I like it.

Generally, I’m drawn more to vivid colors.  Though these colors are accurate and represent the landscape at dusk… well, I’m still not sure how well I like it.

I’m sort of talking to myself about these two paintings.  They’re not my usual work, but each has merit for different reasons.

I kept looking at them this morning as I completed another large Pandorica piece.  This new one is for my son; I’ll be seeing him this weekend.

Two More Snow Scenes – In Progress

I’m still deciding how to represent the effects of snow on the landscapes outside my window.

These are two sketches from the snowstorm on Saturday evening.

I’m not sure if either of them is a completed work… yet.

The first is a piece that I thought I’d completed, but the more I look at it, the more I’m tempted to do more with the two sides… something very subtle, probably.

(The photo at left isn’t very good, in my opinion.  My paintings are created to look their best from about 20 feet away.  This one really doesn’t convey in a close-up photo.)

Here’s how that painting began:

I was looking at the hillside as the colors changed from vivid, sunny hues to something a little more lilac-to-muddy-lavender with the approaching storm.

My first thought was that I should have picked up some skinny canvases (10″ x 20″ or something like that) to do a narrow, vertical painting capturing the range of colors.  To me, that’s odd. Generally, I’ve always worked with more horizontal images, not verticals.

Then, I decided to create a similar effect using areas of clearly divided color.  The colors on either side of the sketch were intended to pick up the approaching darker clouds.

Panel detail - narrow sketch of approaching snowstorm - 15 jan 2011After scrubbing those in, I painted the center panel of the work, capturing the sunny and pastel shades before the storm arrived.

Finally, I used some deliberate brushstrokes to accent the side panels.  You can see them in the close-up (actual size of the painting) at right.

Now, I’m thinking of doing a monochromatic (and very subtle) representation of the rest of the landscape on either side.  The color would remain the same lavender-ish shade, just lighter & darker to represent the scene.

I’m going to let this painting dry before I decide.

It’s a 9″ x 12″ oil painting on stretched cotton canvas.

The second sketch

After painting the paneled piece, I wanted to capture the more monochromatic imagery after the sky darkened but before we were in nearly white-out conditions.

At left is the result.  It’s another oil sketch on 9″ x 12″ canvas.

I’m not sure if it’s finished, either.  I mean, it’s a good color study, but it’s not quite an actual painting.

I’m thinking of adding one of the buildings that’s part of the real view outside my window.

(Though I generally paint nature, and that’s all, my view includes a parking lot, two streets, and a couple of buildings between the hills and me.)

I’m pleased with both of these.

My next works may be more Tonalist.  I’m not sure.  I feel as if I’m pushing my artistic boundaries, exploring extremes that appeal to me.  Somewhere in the in-between, I think I’ll find what expresses me most uniquely.

Or… well, my art may take several paths.  I sometimes joke that I’m “short attention-span with a paintbrush.”

No matter what’s ahead, I feel that my work is becoming more passionate, expressive and energetic.

I like this!

Another Flurry Variation … Sort Of

This is my 18″ x 24″ oil painting, Flurries Variation (13 Jan 2011). It’s sort of a landscape, but also an abstract.

To be honest, it’s a bit of an enigma for me.  Here’s the story:

After I’d sketched-in the larger flurry painting – which turned out as a very high-key painting – I wanted to create a far more muted version.

The inspiration was my “Flurries at Dusk” oil sketch, shown below.

(Click on that image to see it larger and read more about it.)

My original vision for this variation had been the somber colors of the snowy evening, contrasted with the vivid colors on the nearby hills, especially near the crest of the hills.

So, I was determined to work with a very limited group of colors on my palette, and mute them as much as possible.

At the hills, I wanted to exaggerate the remaining reds and oranges left from the fall foliage.  Though the colors are actually very brownish in real life, it’s still possible to envision what they were like at peak foliage.

Flurries near dusk - 7 Jan 2011 painting
This sketch inspired the larger, more dramatic work.

In the foreground, I wanted just a hint of the light reflecting off the fresh snow.

Two days later, it had gradually transformed into something very different.  The colors are eerie, almost gothic. I still don’t fully understand what it is.

As the painting progressed, I began to get the idea that the dark mass was actually a forest, the yellow & orange colors represented a road — perhaps like the road along the fjord at Acadia National Park in Maine — and the foreground was the ocean.

Well, maybe.

Then, as I muted the sky colors and added what I thought was a white border of clouds, the scene looked like a storm.  The large, dark area could even be a huge wave, and the white would be the froth on top of it.  (HT suggested that it was a wave putting out the fire, represented by the yellow & orange notes.)

It’s so unlike my usual work, I didn’t know what to think.  I still don’t.  Not really.

At first, I’d decided to put this painting aside before deciding if it was finished.  Then, a friend sent me a link to something an acquaintance – astrologer Michael Lutin – said about ongoing social changes being like a tsunami.

For some reason, that clicked for me.  I’m not sure why, and I still don’t know if this painting is symbolic, lyrical or literal… and what it means.

However, I decided that this painting is complete, and I shouldn’t change anything about it.

So, there it is.

About this painting:
Flurries Variation
Oil on canvas
18″ x 24″
13 Jan 2011
Private collection