Keeping it simple


Landscape painting is partly about place, but equally about time – its passage, the seasons, and how geology and geography intertwine. I’ve been painting the ponds at Hamlen Woods for quite a few years – long enough to see the changes wrought by drought years and beavers, not to mention human development. I’ve also been painting the pond long enough to see the changes in my painting – looking for the essential forms and colors and letting the rest go. Painting hundreds of these small oils on paper has given me an opportunity to explore, to experiment, to redo, and to rethink the subjects. Oh Junely Morning! is an appreciation of early summer in all its lush glory. It was painted mostly with a palette knife. Path to the Pond is a September amble and takes the viewer into an intimate woodland setting. It too is mostly a palette knife painting – a good way to think and paint broadly. Enjoy.

Technical painting notes: the paintings are on rag paper, primed with shellac front and back (this isolates the fibers from the acids in the oil paint)


Afternoon with Corot

TM9064 Afternoon with Corot 36×42 oil on panel

The close values and silvery tones of Corot’s paintings seem applicable to November’s mood as well. Afternoon with Corot is an investigation of my favorite pond, but later in the year, and while pretending to see it through Corot’s eyes. The subtle transitions between object and void, and between the surface of the water and its deeper reflections, were part of the challenge. I wanted the viewer’s eye to meander across the painting, seeing the abstractions while identifying the parts – a wetland setting seen upside down in the pond. The color of early November is subtle – fall’s last murmur of red violet and disappearing green. Details below. Enjoy.


TM9064 Afternoon with Corot – detail from lower center with reflected trees and sheen on water

TM9064 Afternoon with Corot – detail from lower lest side with reflected trees

Technical painting notes: The initial roll-up of blue-black oil paint, applied with a soft rubber roller, set the cooler tone of the painting. I spritzed the surface with solvent and blotted, re-rolling and spattering, then re-rolling again. Tree trunks and branches were scraped out. When the base layer was dry, I glazed color into the piece, then started to define the sky (negative areas) with thin paint and a soft brush. The rest of the image was developed in layers, with glaze, then brush and roller applications of paint, some spattering, repeat.

Corot’s Pond

TM9063 Corot’s Pond 36×40 oil on panel

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s best-known landscapes possess a silvery, poetic light and pristine calm, as if remembered in a dream. His paintings continue to intrigue me. Thinking about my own woodland pond, especially in the overcast light of this warm October, I’ve wondered how Corot might have treated the various reflections and conditions in the pond. His poetic sensibilities would have been piqued, I’m sure. With that in mind, I decided to try looking through his eyes, painting the pondscape as he might have seen it – close values, cool, silvery tones, and with few hard edges. Each reflected tree seems to merge with its neighbor, forming a dappled pattern interspersed with nearly white wisps of cloud. The greens are a bit stronger than his, but then my little pond is in the midst of changing seasons. I find it interesting that the cool green-golds of fall are so like the lemony greens of spring. I did add a band of pine needles drifting across the foreground. Corot didn’t seem to like strong oranges, but I do. Detail below. Enjoy.

TM9063 Corot’s Pond – detail from upper edge showing use of layered scraping and rolled glazes

Technical painting notes: I used a roller charged with a dark greenish umber oil paint to lay in the darker forms, then used spritzes of mineral spirits and a rag to manipulate the paint. I used a silicone scraper to suggest some of the tree trunks and branches., then spattered paint in various greens onto the still-wet surface. When the base layer was dry, I used a soft brush to start defining the “negative” spaces – the sky poking through the trees. I used the roller to glaze over some areas with thin oil paint mixed with alkyd medium. After tis layer dried, I repeated the process of brushing in details, scraping into wet glaze, and rolling on more semi-transparent glaze. The soft rubber roller allows one to spread a glaze quickly while letting the edges disappear. Some spattering of cool grey green paint echoed the spatters in the base layer.

Ode to Autumn

TM9062 Ode to Autumn 42×48 oil on panel

After standing back and taking in the whole view in the last few paintings, I decided to zero in again, with a view of autumn reflections in my favorite pond. The brief presence of glorious red colors needed to be painted up close, with a fully loaded brush and roller. I quickly laid in the dark tones with the roller, then alternated careful brushwork and glazes with thin applications of rolled color. The soft effect of the subtle overlays of color described the quiet mood quite succinctly. Floating leaves, drifting by, re-enforced the flat plane of the water’s surface.

Ode to Autumn is my first 42×48″ painting on panel. The slightly off square proportion, and larger size, feels stable and draws the viewer into the scene. I felt immersed in the subject as i worked, wrapped in a world of warm color and softly lit atmosphere. Detail below. Enjoy.

TM9062 Ode to Autumn – detail from left side showing layered roller work and brushwork, scraping and glazing

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.”