Winnisquam Sunrise

Today, the light is dismal.  It’s grey, flat, and rainy.  Even sitting next to the floor-to-ceiling window on the “sunny” side of our living room, everything looks pretty blah.

To test a painting technique recommended by Peter Wileman (see review, below), I chose a photo I’d taken, earlier this summer.   It’s lovely, and I may get prints made from it, to sell at a local shop.

I did the b&w sketch like Wileman does. Then I did a small sketch in colored pencils.

Finally, I created the oil sketch in the photo. It’s 9″ x 12″ on canvas board.

I’m astonished.  It’s a genuinely good painting, even though it loses a lot in this photo.  (As I said, the light is terrible today.)

Yes, this does look a little like my mother’s work.

I loved many of her paintings, but some were too rote for my liking… and hers.

She swore it was the time spent at Mass. Art, where everything had to be sketched as cubed, spheres, and cones, first.  Then, they were allowed to build their work on top of those geometric forms.

That’s one reason Mum was firm about me not going to art school.

She felt that the training had curbed a lot of her originality.

I spent about an hour on this piece, and I’m not sure if it’s finished yet.  I may see something that I’ll want to change, tomorrow.  Or, I may wait until we have a good sunny day – the weather forecast looks good for Friday – so I can better judge the colors.

Anyway, mimicking some of  Wileman’s style was a good experience.  I know I’ll integrate some of this in future paintings.

And, honestly, for a painting that took me an hour on a dreary day, I’m pleased with the results… more than I expected to be.

Wileman review

Yesterday, I watched Peter Wileman’s full-length video, Painting the Light in Oils.

Here’s a clip from it:

My initial reaction was, “Okay, I learned a few things from watching him work, but I’m more interested in how he created those small, early sketches, not the finished works from them.”

The video introduction was very good.  I was interested in his color choices and the brushes he uses.  I’m going to try using MDF as a support, too.  Seeing the difference between his work on MDF and on canvas… that was impressive.  MDF won, hands down.

The five paintings he completes during the video are mostly watching him paint, with occasional references to what he’s doing.

If you haven’t seen a lot of people paint, or you haven’t completed a bazillion paintings yourself, I’m not sure there’s much to learn from this video.

The book of the same name provided a little more information, but – all in all – I wasn’t very impressed.

His paintings are lovely.  His use of color is interesting and more courageous than I usually am.  He captures light beautifully in his work.

That’s what I wanted to learn more about.

His style… I’m not so sure.

But, I’ve decided to try something from each art book and video I study, just to see what happens.

Late Summer Sunset (25-minute sketch)

Last night’s sunset was one of those where I look at the sky and say, “Ooh, I must capture those colors!”

And then, five minutes later, the colors were even better, and then better, and so on… for the next 20 minutes.  The hues were constantly changing, and I was right there, with a paintbrush in one hand and my camera in the other.

This oil sketch is small. It’s about 8″ x 10″ on canvasboard.  In real life, I think it’s prettier than it looks in the photo.  That’s how it should be; the actual work should have an energy that doesn’t quite convey in two dimensions.

Recently, I’ve learned to make the sky the biggest part of these paintings.  It’s a landscape, not a peeking-through-the-window-scape.

I’m using more greys to contrast with where the lights and highest-keyed colors are.  And, I’m working with a lighter brush (less paint) and softening the edges so it’s not one step away from fingerpaint.  (Yes, I’m being harsh, but by being somewhat hyperbolic, I can explain exactly what I’m trying to move away from, as well as what I’d like to achieve as my art improves.)

I’m not 100% sure this is finished, but it’s close enough to post online.  Really, I can hardly believe it’s been nearly a year since I’ve had something worth showing at this website.

Well, it’s been a year of big changes, and lots of accomplishments, offline.

I need to complete several writing projects for October, but some days are better for art.

Yesterday and today have been art days.  This oil sketch was completed in about 25 minutes, last night, and I spent about 10 minutes on it today, tweaking it in the daylight.

In the past, many of my sketches have been a complete surprise.  There’s been a lot of, “Hmm… look at that. I wonder how I did it.”

What’s different here is that I knew exactly what I was doing.  The work wasn’t any less spontaneous, but I had a far better understanding of what I wanted to capture, and some of the best ways to do that.

Landscape Sketches – Two Directions

As I’ve been painting this week, I can see my sketches moving in two directions.

The first is capturing the colors as a background for a later work.  My current thoughts are to combine the New England landscape colors with a tropical element.  I have a few ideas for this, but experimenting is ahead.

Sunset oil sketch - NH - Nov 2011

This week’s small sketches were a sort of dichotomy… contrasts and similarities between natural elements from very different locations.

This sketch was painted in New Hampshire as the snow from the Halloween 2011 blizzard was beginning to melt.

Shimmery sunset - oil painting - 4 nov 2011The second sketch (shown at the top of this post) – also 8″ x 10″ – is a direction I’m even more enthusiastic about.  Simply, I’m realizing that it’s good to push myself into Impressionism.  By choosing scenes that I can’t possibly capture realistically, I’m rushed into conveying with color… and only color.

This sketch (at left) shows the impression of the sunset, seen through a thick cluster of trees.

Though there are limits to this, I have the feeling it’s going to take me in interesting new directions.  After a few more of these (see the last sketches I posted in my April Art 2011 post), I’m eager to work much larger and with more clearly planned designs.

Note: Until I upgrade my new computer’s Win7 system so I can use my older version of Adobe Photoshop, I’m working with

In general, the latter program is good enough for my online work.  Alas, it’s not great for posting my paintings with correct colors.  But… it’s good enough.  I think you can get the general idea of what I’m doing.

I’m rather pleased that, after a few months of being mostly away from my easel, I’m still in this painting mode.  I think of it as swatches of color, which form the general impression of the sunset colors I’m seeing from my living room window.

White Mountains Painting – Final version

Yaayyy! I’ve completed White Mountains painting.

(If your monitor is like mine, the actual painting is about 30% darker than this photo appears.  It’s not quite so “New England quaint” as this picture may look.)

I started this painting of the New Hampshire landscape – focusing on a Whitefield, NH, hotel – in February 2010.

The painting been through several incarnations.

This week – 17 March 2011 – I completed this painting and I’m (finally!)  pleased with it.

The recent tweaks & changes made it “just right” for me.  Those changes included lightening the roof and adding more lit windows.

I’d tried a dark roof – figuring (logically) that it’d be in shadow, opposite the light of the moon – but the entire building seemed to get lost.

No matter what I did with the lights in the windows, or how much detail I added (in contrast with the deliberately simple landscape around it), nothing made the hotel stand out.

Changing the tone of the roof – from dark to light– helped right away.

Then, I experimented with the windows.  I wanted the hotel to look welcoming but not quite full.

In addition, I wanted the hotel to look very cozy and home-like… but also have that slightly other-world ambience that’s part of the Spalding Inn’s charm.

Now this 24″ x 30″ oil painting is on my living room wall, drying.

Taking this painting through its many stages has reminded me of the dance that artists do:  We immerse ourselves in the rich emotions of the creative process, and then we step back to coolly evaluate the work in progress.

That balance is key.  Unless the emotional content is there, the art can be vapid, no matter how great the artist’s technical expertise.

However, unless the artist can remove him- or herself from that emotional investment, at least enough to see what’s working and what isn’t, the painting won’t reach its full potential.

Last night, I felt that the painting was probably completed. This morning, when I looked at it again… yes, I’m happy with it now.

A somewhat dark follow-up

PaintbrushesRe-reading this post, I see I was treating part of this story lightly, because it’s personal.

However, I’ve realized that it’s also an important part of the story of this painting.

The problem is, it’s not necessarily a happy story, so you may want to skip it altogether.

Okay, if you don’t mind stories about grieving and solace, here it is…

The day my mom passed away – on April 19th, 2010 – all I could think about was getting in the car and driving somewhere that would keep me above the grief and sense of loss.

I knew that my mother would not want me to spend the day crying; she was like that, about death.

So, with my (adult) daughter who was visiting me, I got into the car and drove to Whitefield (NH) and the Spalding Inn.

In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, that town is literally above the troubles of daily life.

Also, I’m among the second generation (in my family) to spend time at the Spalding. Maybe that’s why I felt drawn to it, that day.

Or maybe it’s because the hotel’s fresh air and magnificent views connect me with Nature.  The underlying rhythms of everyday life – the “Circle of Life” perhaps – make more sense to me in that context.

Everything seems right with the world.

Whatever the reason, the Spalding gave me a sense of serenity last April.

It was a “destination,” as I’ve suggested in my concept for this painting. I’m not sure why reaching a destination seemed to lend necessary closure to the moment, but it did.

I completed this painting nearly a year later, in March. That was the week of my mother’s birthday. And that made perfect sense.

Lavender Sunset – 15 Mar 2011

Last evening’s sunset was another rich tapestry of colors.  Mostly, I wanted to capture the delicious lavender colors in the sky, accented by pinks and yellows.

More and more, I’m introducing intense colors and odd juxtapositions as I see them.

Sketches – including this one – look absolutely amazing at 30 feet.  Up close… the magic seems to evaporate and it’s just paint… areas of color and texture.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, somewhere in-between Impressionism and something better described in abstract terms.

I’m also realizing the importance of impression-based paintings.  Even the camera cannot capture the nuances of color and contrast.  The following photo was taken shortly after I started my sketch, and… well, you can see how much the photo lacks, compared with the painting.

The painting is on an 11″ x 14″ canvas, and the medium is oil paint.

Juicy Winter Sunset

This is one of my few recent oil sketches.  That’s partly because the skies have been either overcast or cloud-free, and not very interesting for my approach to landscapes.

Also, the past few weeks have been a little somber for me.  Last Friday (March 11th) was my late mother’s birthday. I’m still getting used to the idea that she’s gone. In a way, I guess I thought she’d always be around, even after she turned 90.

But, of course, that wasn’t realistic. I kind of hate that, but there it is. And sometimes art is my way of processing things.

Sometimes it’s sort of like “sitting shiva,” and I think that’s important.

However, there are days when I must pick up the paintbrush, and this sketch represents one of them.  It’s a 9″ x 12″ oil sketch on canvas board.

The colors were rich and juicy and they were reflected in the snow that was still on the ground. I know my mom – also an artist – would have liked this.

Snowy Tree – In Progress

A recent, surprise snowstorm presented another opportunity to paint the frosted scene outside my window.

The painting — not yet finished — is an oil painting on 9″ x 12″ canvas board.

Before I say that this painting is completed, I’d like to try indicating the falling snow.  However, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

By letting this painting dry fully, if the next layer doesn’t look right, I can simply wipe it off the canvas and get back to this point… which I’m happy with.

This is the first of a series of paintings that I’m trying with an acrylic, tonal underpainting.

I’m starting with my usual underpainting of cadmium red.

Then, I’m using white and a dark paint (brown, blue or even black) to indicate the lightest lights & darkest darks.

Once that sketch dries, the oil painting begins.

So far, I’m pleased with this approach.

Below:  The actual scene outside my window, and the acrylic underpainted sketch.

Winter photo Winter tree - acrylic sketch

Tree Sketch – Evolution Series – Feb 2011

The wooded landscape across the street from our home is intriguing.

It offers such depth, I haven’t been quite sure how to capture the trees as well as the colorful skies behind them, especially in the afternoon.

In early January, I tried a quick sketch in oils.  That’s it on the lower right.

It was an okay sketch, but nothing great.

Two weeks ago, during an experiment with eBay art auctions, I decided to try selling that sketch for $5.  My thought was, “It’s an original oil painting.  A real one.  Surely it’s worth as much as a meal at McD’s.”

Well, it didn’t sell.  Pout.

So, on Sunday afternoon (13 Feb 2011), I decided to paint over it.  The colors were good and I wanted to keep the general composition, but I could see that it needed more oomph.

Previously, I’d painted the same scene with a slightly different technique.  (That’s Sunlight in the Trees – 11 Feb 2011.)  I really liked how that one turned out.

The earlier tree sketch, displayed nearby… well, it just looked silly in contrast.  I wasn’t happy with it.

tree sketchSo, I placed the January sketch (shown at right) on my easel and began some radical revisions.

I wasn’t going to paint over the whole sketch… just improve it.

My plan was to try the opposite of my Sunlight in the Trees technique: That is, I’d paint the light first, and then paint the trees over it.

I started with the snow in the foreground.  That needed more light and color.  I painted over the lower tree trunks and the snow.

After that, I worked on the sky… more variety to the color, and generally more white.

Next, I scrubbed in greens and blues with some orange-ish accents, to suggest the hills in the background.

At that point, all I had left from the original work were the upper portion of  the tree trunks.  I wanted to leave most of them as references, since I’d planned to restore their branches after the background colors dried.

(If you compare the two versions of this painting, you may see the same tree trunks in both.  All I did was shorten them and alter the contrast in the current revision.)

However, as I brought the hill colors down to the tree trunks and started filling in the glow of the sun as it set… well, a different vista emerged… a fantasy landscape.

The hills became the trees, and I emphasized the varied treetops.  I also added contrast and light.  Alternately, I’d blob colors on with a bristle brush, and then smooth it into the landscape with a (soft) sable brush.

I began to fall in love with this revised painting, shown at the top of this article.

Though the painting isn’t completed yet, I’m pleased enough to post it here and show you how it’s evolving.

This also reveals the way that one painting (Sunlight in the Trees) can influence other, related artwork.

This tree sketch is an 8″ x 10″ oil painting on canvas board, and it’s the latest in my “Evolution” series in which I paint over parts of existing works — often making radical revisions — to improve them.

Sunlight in the Trees – 11 Feb 2011

Lately, I’m drawn to the wooded landscape on one side of our home.

During the afternoons, the sunlight gleams through the trees.  Often, it’s almost a pure white light, with just a hint of yellow.

It can be so bright, I have to look away almost immediately.

However, the shadows — especially on a snowy day — are shades of blue and lavender, yellow and orange.

Last Friday afternoon, I decided to see if I could capture this image on canvas.

The painting is an 8″ x 10″ oil landscape on archival canvas board.  The paint is fairly thick, as I painted the trees first and then painted the light over them.  In a way, that’s how the light looks: As if it’s in the foreground and the trees are in back of it.

This is a rich, juicy painting with lots of texture and color.  For me, it captures the intensity of the light and the landscape, and the nuances of subtle color in the snow.

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.”

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


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