Adventures with Paint

Transitioning weather – the most interesting time to be outside. On a brisk day such as this one, plein air painting would be impossible, but with a camera I can record the moments and remember them back in the studio. Once I start the painting, I hardly look at he photos – they seem too stiff. Instead, I let the paint itself slip and slide around, taking advantage of the viscous paint to simulate the movement of water – more fun, less predictable. Enjoy!

Technical painting notes: The paper is heavy, rag paper, sometimes smooth watercolor paper, other times printmaking paper like BFK or Stonehenge. I always prime it front and back with a coat of acrylic gesso or shellac to seal it, protecting it from the acids in the paint. In doing the painting, I use quantities of Winsor Newton Liquin medium to thin the paint while maximizing adhesion and dry times.




TM9024 Drift 32×46 oil on panel

It seems like I’m always hovering around bodies of water. Drift is based on a nearby creek. The creek itself is quite narrow, lined with an assortment of shrubs and overhanging trees, grapevines, bittersweet, poison ivy – all the usual suspects. I walk its length most days, looking for interesting reflections, bits of white clouds in the water, wildlife, and anything that might be swimming. Recently, I saw gorgeous white blossoms drifting on the current. They had fallen from a flowering tree – I don’t know its name. I knew they had to go in a painting. The turquoise and ultramarine speak to the blue sky of that day, with its bright white clouds.  Dancing branches overhanging the water seem to want to tickle the flowers, interrupting their stately progression downstream. A humble creek can be magnificent. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9024 Drift – detail from left side showing creek with overhanging branches

TM9024 Drift – detail from center with fallen flowers drifting on the current

Technical painting notes: The painting shows my use of a soft rubber roller to apply some of the paint, especially to suggest a breeze riffling the overhanging branches. I used a silicone scraper to initially draw the branches into the base layer, then selectively colored them. Alkyd glazes were used to build up color.

Breeze Please

TM9018 Breeze Please 30×60 oil on panel

Breeze Please follows up on a series of studies I did earlier this year of wind-tossed trees seen against blue skies filled with cumulous clouds. I enjoyed painting the small studies so much, I couldn’t resist trying a larger version. Going from 7×7 inches to 30×60 inches became possible when I started using rollers to apply the paint. Weaving brushwork and rolling gives me control and abandon, and keeps the marks exciting. Because I wanted the feeling of leaves dancing, I tried to keep a light touch with the roller, letting it “skip” and do its own dance across the surface. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9018 Breeze Please – detail from center with branches and leaves seen against cumulus clouds

TM9018 Breeze Please – detail from left side with wind-tossed leaves

TM9018 Breeze Please – detail from right side showing use of rubber roller and brush to draw lines

Technical painting notes: The painting started in my usual way, rolling on a mixture of raw sienna and burnt sienna paint thinned with an alkyd medium. I did some scraping and spritzing to give textures and a bit of structure, then let the panel dry. When I resumed work, I started defining forms and branches with brushwork, but the feel of the piece was off. Only when I started using a roller to apply the paint did the energy pick up. From that point, I repeatedly defined with a brush then rolled with abandon, layering the two effects and aiming to maintain hard vs. soft edges. As I worked, the color became more saturated – the joy increased. Perhaps the next experiment will be taking the details from the painting and letting them “grow up.”



Bay of Fundy Studies


The Bay of Fundy is an amazing phenomenon and place. The enormous changes in sea level leave one continuously startled. Land comes and goes, along with the weather and the fog. As a subject for painting, I can’t think of a more satisfying challenge. The stark, stony northern environment, the vast space, and the intricacies of the shallow bays and tidal pools, plus the muted colors – everything I love!  Enjoy.

Technical painting notes: I used mostly a palette knife on the first study, with plenty of Winsor Newton Liquin medium to make the  paint feel slippery, like the condition I was painting. I also used a pencil to scrape and draw into the wet paint. The second view began the same way, but I decided to try rolling across the sky, then used the paint on the roller to drag the sky reflections down to shallows. A bit of scraping livened the foreground, where various seaweeds formed desultory patterns on the coarse sand.

Into the Woods – Joyful May

TM9005 Into the Woods – Joyful May 36×44 oil on panel

The first strokes are always the hardest, no matter that I’ve painted the subject previously. The question is how will I take everything I’ve learned and find a new way to reveal the spirit of the place. Will I focus on botanical and geological detail, or concentrate on the energy and movement, my feelings in the place? Into the Woods – Joyful May definitely takes the latter approach, and is based on the wonder and joy I felt encountering spring in one of my favorite places. The soil, what little there is, barely supports mature trees. But the trees keep growing anyway. Saplings abound, and even though the older trees are stunted in their growth, they are still beautiful and productive. The stony outcrops make walking in these woods a trick, but oh it is so worth the effort! Details below. Enjoy.

TM9005 Into the Woods – Joyful May – close-up from upper left showing various treatments of bough and branch with sky (note use of roller vs. brush and layering)

TM9005 Into the Woods – Joyful May – detail from foreground with young growth sprouting from ledgy soil

TM9005 Into the Woods – Joyful May – close-up from right of center foreground with young saplings at the field’s edge

TM9005 Into the Woods – Joyful May – close-up from center foreground

Technical painting notes: I rolled a mixture of dark browns and greens onto the panel, scraping, dabbing, and lifting the paint while it was wet, working to create a range of gestures and textures. When the base layer was dry, I started to refine the image by “pulling out” the negative shapes of sky, glazing selectively, and beginning to define he major tree forms. When the image started to tighten up, I employed a soft rubber roller to apply paint in loose patches, providing a sense of energy and movement to the trees. Additional layers of loose brushwork suggested the tumult of branches and leafy growth. Some spatter, with re-rolling and glazing, provided visual interest and, perhaps unconsciously, injected a touch of pollen.

A slightly earlier painting from another location at Purgatory Chasm, In the Heart of the Woods, depicts a portion of the gorge walk and shows why it is so difficult for trees to gain purchase in the thin soil and granite uplifts.

TM9004 In the Heart of the Woods 36×30 oil on panel



Being in the Woods

TM9002 Being in the Woods 36×54 oil on panel

As a child growing up in New England, I loved playing and walking in the woods. There were old trails to discover, swamps to muster through, and so many games to share with my cousins. I think one of our favorites was sitting on huge glacial erratics, sucking the juice out of twigs, and wondering about the native Americans who had populated these woods in the past.  With a farm up the road, there was always the  chance of an escapee to spark our imaginations. The woods filled our heads with possibilities. Thinking back on it now, I also remember the smells, all damp and green. Or sometimes warm and spicy, like the fragrant pine needles baking in the sunspots. Being in the Woods is a painting about all these memories and impressions. It is dense with life, tumult, and  glimpses of blue sky in the distance. It’s a close woods, the kind that creeps into and fills old farmland, the kind where one might find a patch of blueberries to pick, or native wintergreen, an oasis of clean air and nature’s own quiet music. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9002 Being in the Woods – detail from upper right

TM9002 Being in the Woods – detail from upper left with leaves and vines, sky beyond

TM9002 Being in the Woods – detail from right of center showing spattered base layer over-painted and over-rolled, use of scraping

Technical painting notes: I started the painting by using monoprint techniques to establish textures and the major shapes and gestures. Wet oil paint was rolled onto the surface and manipulated with rags, a silicone scraper, and splashes of solvent. I used a soft rubber roller to lay down and pick up (transfer) marks across the surface. When the base layer was dry, I used glazes to enhance the color harmony, then worked into the wet glazes with soft brushes and color to refine shapes and establish edges. More layers of glaze enriched the color. To keep the painting from becoming too tight, I used variously sized rubber rollers to make suggestions of leaves and boughs. This contributed to a sense of “openness” within the dense image, and helped to provide depth.

Early Thaw

TM9003 Early Thaw 36×40 oil on panel

Early Thaw is a meditation on the color blue and its interaction with neutrals and the complement orange. It is also my response to a heat wave and mid-ninety degree temperatures in the studio. I needed to cool off, and what could be better than a winter painting to immerse me in a a chill?

That said, I’ve love the very last leaves that cling to branches all winter. They are papery  thin and manage to hold on through all the gales and bluster. I admire them. I see them every year, and they never disappoint, or fail to inspire me. Pale and rather ghostly in contrast to the brilliant blue sky, they always make their presence known. They add a touch of wit to the serious season. Details below. Enjoy.

TM89003 Early Thaw – detail from left and below center with dry, fluttering leaves reflected in water on ice

TM9003 Early Thaw – detail from above center with leaves, branches, and vines reflected

TM9003 Early Thaw – detail from left side

Technical painting notes: I used a soft rubber roller to apply a thin, translucent sheen of pale blue gray to the water, to suggest a hint of ice