Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday Drive

Many tourists fail to discover that inland rural Maine has a charm all its own.  Yesterday I took an old fashioned Sunday drive and ended up in the little hamlet of Sheepscot, a place that time forgot.  I set up my easel under a big old maple tree and looked across the meandering river at the village church.  It was such a lovely idyllic scene that I'm afraid I was in danger of the painting becoming trite.  But it was so relaxing to be in that environment that I took my time and savored the sunny late summer day.  A mother and her young daughter were swimming under the bridge, splashing and laughing happily in the reversible falls.  Later the little girl presented me with the gift of a milkweed pod. 
Plein air painting, more than a result and a product, is a process and an experience.  As Hemingway once advised another writer, Just go out and see what happens to you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Plein Air Decisions II

A friend wrote me to ask why I hadn't included the red-orange tree in the painting I did a couple of days ago in Newbury, New Hampshire.  She thought it would give the painting a fall feeling.  It's a good question.  Here's what I was thinking.

I wanted the church and the strolling couple to be the focal point.  Accurately reporting the scene with that one orange spot would have immediately drawn attention to it since brighter warmer colors attract the eye more than cooler, neutral colors.  Furthermore, it would have been an isolated color among all those blues, greens and neutrals.  A good painting features repetition, so I would have had to repeat that orange somewhere else in the painting, further distracting the viewer's eye from the focal point.  Finally, it's a summer scene!  I wanted to report the day that I was there.  A fall scene would have to be a studio painting, and I'm mostly a plein air painter.  

So, artists really do think about line, color, direction, balance, texture, placement for emphasis, and that means making decisions to support a unified work. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Plein Air Decisions

Here's the scene I painted this morning in Newbury, New Hampshire.  I'm including the actual scene and the finished painting.  It's self-explanatory what was left out and why.  One adjustment was made to the background mountain's height.  I wanted the steeple to stand out against the sky, so I had to raise it above tree level.  I painted the entire church first, letting the paint flow out into what would eventually be covered up by trees. Then came the background trees/mountain.  Finally, the dark overlapping foreground trees.

Watch for ways to connect objects to make shapes.  Careful planning went into the placement of the figures so that they connected to the dark pine tree, but their highlighted heads and shoulders separated them from the darker background. 

Light to, church, background trees, foreground trees.  And remember, light doesn't always mean white.

Travel Paintings

Several of my paintings hang in the New London Inn, New Hampshire, one of them over the front desk.  I come here every year for medical treatment at Dartmouth Medical, another half hour away.  It's nice to be in the mountains for a few days as a change of pace.  But I also take advantage of the opportunity to paint landscape that is different from the seacoast of Maine.
Here's the Town Hall that is on the town common.  The building in the background is the New London Inn.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Overlapping for Distance

To show depth in a landscape, try overlapping planes as you come forward.  The darkest and most textured area is around the focal point which is the dock.  The next plane is the profile of the building which I've painted in a grayed blue.  In the far distance, I wanted to give the feeling of sunlight, so I made that plane lighter, but to look sunny, I painted it in warm tones. 
To further emphasize the different planes, I used the masts of the sailboats to overlap the distant shores.  This brings you back up to the foreground.  Also the building on the right keeps your eye up front.
Overlapping three planes will provide a feeling of distance and space.  But be sure to think of ways to look through and around objects in the foreground to keep your eye from resting in the distance.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Populating Paintings

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is one of the most dramatic spots along the Maine coast.  People make the 15 mile trip down the peninsula from Route 1 to see the cliffs, the surf and the old lighthouse.  Painters show up daily to capture the scene.  Yet most of the paintings I've seen of the lighthouse have removed the people.
Figures can give life to an otherwise static scene.  Reconsider their inclusion in your work.

P.S.  I've tentatively scheduled a workshop for Boothbay Harbor next year-- September 12 -16.  For more details,
email me at :

Friday, August 20, 2010


Sorry that I've been offline for nine days.  My computer has been at the hospital, but I think the problem has been fixed.  I hope I didn't lose any followers or new visitors during this time.
Meanwhile I kept painting.  You'll notice that I've begun to add figures to the scenes.  Some subjects just need human activity to be accurate.
Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


No, this hasn't turned into a cooking blog.  A few days back I described the frustration with a tight, hard edged first painting, and the freedom I felt when I flipped it over and just let go.  I've been struggling of late with dull color and hard edges, so I decided to attempt the same composition without drawing it first to see if that would loosen things up a bit.  It certainly got lots more colorful than the gray, dull first attempt!  And I eliminated about half of the hard edges.

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Although this isn't the best painting I've ever done, it does illustrate something that is very important in painting:  establishing a mood.  Mere reporting of fact doesn't get the blood flowing.  You need to say what it felt like to be in that location, how the light affected you, and if possible, even how it feels to be alive and seeing, not just looking.  Art can make that statement better than words sometimes.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Painting the Overlooked Familiar

Six days a week in the summer, I go to the East Boothbay Post office to pick up my mail, and catch up on the latest news from Linda, the postmaster.  This week it was a lost 9 year old autistic boy, who gratefully, was located the next day, full of mosquito bites, but safe.

We get so used to some scenes that sometimes we fail to see them as possible subject matter.  Keep your eyes open for intriguing shapes, lacy textures against the sky, deep shadows, and gathering places.

Here again, I've used the silhouette to say most of the scene.  The good people of East Boothbay village are the subject, with the post office the secondary subject.  Lost and found edges are extremely important in this depiction of a place where "everybody knows your name."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday Plein Group

Today the Plein Air Painters of Maine went to Boothbay Shores to paint.  It's a beautiful scene.  A causeway leads out to a small island called Ocean Island.  There used to be a restaurant out there, but now it's a private home.  Plenty of ocean boulders and ledges, and today the surf was up.

Still it can be a rather dull painting subject.  In the last few years I've livened it up with figures.  Today I invented a couple of fishermen.  I surrounded them with darks and put highlights on their heads and shoulders to make them stand out from the dark surroundings.  The Saunders rough paper I've been experimenting with made indicating the rough textures of the pebbles easier.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I'm thinking about organizing a workshop here in Boothbay Harbor for summer of 2011.  Anybody out there interested?

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I love dark lacy things against a bright sky.  Although this old iron bell buoy, now gracing the shoreline in Rockland, Maine, may not seem lacy, nevertheless it has a quality of lacy holes that made it appealing to me.

The old adage "Keep It Simple, Stupid", is often mysterious advice to students.  In this case the simplicity involves a limited palette.  The reddish-brown undertone unifies the landscape and makes putting the darks down simpler.  Not having to duplicate local color limits thinking to values, always an element of paramount importance.  To keep things simple, try a limited palette.