Monday, July 29, 2013

Monhegan Harbor - unintentional geometry

This morning, my daughter and I were sitting with scone and coffee at the local dock.  She and I chatted and looked at the water, with ferry comings and goings, seagulls, even a couple of lovely young French children with toy swords battling their way up and down the dock a la Erroll Flynn, calling to one another, "Viens ici!" and other phrases I couldn't discern with my decades-old French training.

Then, we both looked closely at this sailboat in the harbor.  I'm hoping you can see it in these photos.
The lines extending from the top of the mast to the bow are aligned exactly with the shift in rocks behind the boat.  From our distance of across the harbor, it read like an illusion, or, for the fantasy reader, like a portal, or horcrux.  The diagonal of the rope is also the demarcation of darker rock and lighter rock.  This is a perfect example of unintended geometry that you must observe and manage in your own paintings. Don't allow an arbitrary arrangement of geometry in your subject create a disconcerting note or passage in your painting.

Step away from your painting frequently, looking from a fresh perspective.  You'll catch false notes, and fix them.  I would have designed with a shortened section of the paler rocks, allowing the line, or implied line to travel up through the darker rocks.  Or, you may decide the angle of the rocks which replicates the geometry of the boat's lines, may make a terrific painting.  My friend Nancy Sargent Howell, uses a technique she calls "prisming" in her paintings.  She sees them, and extrapolates.  See how she uses the subject's geometry in "Laundry and Lines" below.

So, what's the takeaway here?   Go for it. Make your decisions actively, not passively, with your eyes open, with intentionality!  You are the master of your two-dimensional replication of the 3-dimensional world.  Winnie the Pooh says, "Be ware, be very, very ware."  I suggest a slight modification to Pooh's advice, "Be Aware. Be very Aware."
Thanks for looking; feel free to share.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Over View" 9 x 12 oil Monhegan

One of the reasons I love the New England coast is its topographical variety.  Up, down, around, in, out, over, under... the foreground and background constantly shifting in their relation to one another, providing a myriad of exciting views. 

Remember all those Hanna- Barbera cartoons where the Flintstones, for example, were driving in their car, and the background was zooming by?  The foreground was moving at a different pace than the background and conveying speed.  I was fascinated by that relationship of the front and back when I was a child.  Still fascinating.

"Over view" is a painting from up behind the Monhegan schoolhouse, looking out at Manana and the mainland 10 miles distant.  Walking along Monhegan's coast provides that same fascination.  Every couple of steps provides an entirely new arrangement of foreground to background.  So exciting.

Thanks for looking.  Feel free to comment and to share.

Oh, and here's the Flintstones opening segment.  It'll all come flooding back to you.

"Flintstones, meet the Flintstones..."

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Wednesday Evening" 16 x 16 oil - leading the eye

I have written about this painting in its early stages.  You can read about its progress here in these two earlier posts:
 "Newbury at Night" start
"Newbury at Night" in process

Years ago I asked my painting teacher how I can know when a painting is finished.  His response was that you need to know what your painting is about, know the idea behind your painting.  When you can do nothing more to support the idea, then you are finished.  At the time, I'm not sure I had enough context to understand what that meant, but over the years it has stuck with me, and is the drive behind my painting process.  
Wednesday Evening - detail
So... "Wednesday Evening" has always been about the transition occurring at dusk in this Boston intersection - the juxtaposition of commuters' speedy exodus and pedestrians meandering into evening.  I designed the painting to use the people in the foreground as your path into the painting, while leading the eye along the road and into the acceleration out the ramp to the Mass Pike. I used many, many shapes in the painting to lead your eye into the distance, into the dusk.  As an example, the detail shown here shows two   street signs and the upper tail light of a car in the middle ground.  These three shapes are intentionally angled to point to the blur of light as the cars exit the city.  I also supported that idea by softening all the edges in the high contrast areas of the painting, the lamp posts, the large dark structure, etc.. but I left the edges crisp in the taillights' glow along the Pike.  The tall building on the right side acts as a stopper so your eye doesn't leave, and I added the idea of architectural detail which  points down to the same area of light.  

My intention was to lead the eye, and to keep the viewer engaged in the painting, observing the contrast in tempos between the Pike and the street.  As always, interested in your thoughts.  Thanks for looking.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Monhegan Sketchbook - 2013

It has been an interesting week here on Monhegan, many trips to the ferry to greet, or send off friends.  I carry my sketchbook around with me and have had some time to sit and work on a few ideas, some of which become resolved into paintings.  Here is a page of quick sketches, including my beloved Manana.

Today we were greeted by the sun, and even a sunset, though the fog hung in the harbor for most of the day, obscuring much of Manana from view.  Tonight, is Monhegan's 4th of July celebration, which involves random fireworks lit off on Fish Beach, and a treat tonight - semi-professional fireworks from the dock!  Exciting.  Mid-fireworks show we were treated to a rousing chorus of the "Star Spangled Banner" by a group of enthusiastic patriots down at the beach.  Happy Birthday, America.   We live in a wonderful country.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Quiet Harbor" oil 8 x 6

The day began here on Monhegan with fog, and gray... more gray than fog.  Fog is intriguing.  Today's fog held the promise of burn off, an occasional yellow cast, and the instinctive reach for sunglasses on top of my head.  

Today I painted, nestled into the rocks between the two beaches, just in front of the iconic Red House on Monhegan Harbor.  The fog was fascinating, undulating through the harbor from south to north.  Manana was in view, gone from view, back, gone.  I painted the average, this lovely fishing boat and dinghy in the foreground.  Have to admit, I chased the fog a bit, but am happy with the result.  Eventually, the sky cleared above, showing some blue, but it remained hazy in the harbor itself. 
I painted to the myriad of sounds in the harbor, teens snorkeling and fishing, families on Swim Beach, ferries arriving and departing, ducks swimming in formation after their mother, seagulls being seagulls.  What a great day. Thanks for looking.

Monday, July 01, 2013

"Fogged Inn" oil 6 x 8

Monhegan is gray this week.  Gray, foggy, occasional drizzle, yellow fog, blue fog, green fog, thin fog, thick fog... interesting.  It feels like a good week to read, hunker under a blanket, play games, drink tea, chat with friends, sketch ... but it's a great week to paint!  Painted on Fish Beach today, looking at the foggy Monhegan "skyline" across the beach.  Here's a few images of the painting.  My plan was to block in a foggy mass for the distant buildings including the iconic Island Inn with its cupola.  I like painting, holding a brush filled with paint against the subject to match color and value.  I massed in about 5 shapes of flat color to start.  The two photos below were taken at different stages; you can see how much the fog lifted.  Lots more detail became available in the distant buildings. 

When painting a moving target, such as sun and shadows, fog, clouds, waves, anything that is dynamic rather than static - you need to decide how much you will be willing to change from your original plan.  My default mode, today being no different, is to stick with the starting plan.  That's not a rule.  It's a suggestion. Is changing the plan based on changing conditions going to improve your painting?  If so, feel free. Make your choice with intentionality.  

In the case of "Fogged Inn", I kept the fog.  I was intrigued by the foggy silhouette.  The painting is almost finished, but the afternoon weather played out as FOG, fog, cloudy & gray, fog, sprinkle, RAIN!  I packed up at RAIN... as usual, I'll take a look at the painting over the next few hours and make a few adjustments.  I plan to do a little bit more modelling in the foggy distance.

Thanks for looking!  Please consider leaving me a comment.  I enjoy reading your thoughts. 

"Under Sail" oil 6 x 6

Our most recent Girls Just Wanna Paint challenge was based on this line from the e.e. cummings poem "Maggie and Milly and Molly and May" -

"For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) 

it's always ourselves we find in the sea." 


I have spent much of my life (so far) living near the sea, love the scents, the breeze, the sounds.  As a child, we had a summer house on a Cape Cod bay.  The first few years we owned it, before high school sports, and jobs, and schedules won out with their relentless demands and interruptions, we went to the house every weekend.  There would be a loud and frenetic packing of the station wagon each Friday afternoon and we'd head off on the hour+ drive down and over the bridge, with a quick stop at the A&P on the rotary just before the Canal.  We'd spend the weekend, playing cards, doing jigsaw puzzles, walking the beach, fishing, even playing an expanded game of hide and seek which took us, and invited friends, through yards, over shed roofs, under porches of the empty-for-the-winter cottages in the neighborhood.  We would enjoy a roast beef and potato dinner on Sunday night and pile back into the car, sleepy-eyed at 6AM Monday for a rapid drive back north, us tumbling out of the car into the school yard (in our plaid uniforms) as the bell was ringing to begin the day.


Now that I have my own family, I realize what coordination was involved to get a family of seven packed, and organized for these wonderful weekends.... resulting in two full days on the Cape!  I spent hours sitting on the end of the dock, feeling it float with the waves, listening to the creaks and groans of boats tugging at moorings, buoys, watching gulls drop shellfish on the wharf, listening to the lapping waves and enveloping myself if the sensory joy of the sea.  This month's challenge brought back those memories.  My painting conjures up that sea-air-in-the-face feeling that I crave when I'm away from the sea too long. 

Thanks for looking; feel free to share.