artistic evolution

It's All One Song

Horse, 18 x 23 in, oil and gold leaf on panel.

Horse, 18 x 23 in, oil and gold leaf on panel.

You have to choose.

I’ve been told that since I was a kid. You have to choose, you can’t do everything.

Yeah, so, maybe. Time catches all of us. I’m not going to get to learn to fly bush planes. I’m on the edge about surfing- a knee replacement makes the hop-up impossible, but I’m still thinking about going the route of a standup paddleboard. I don’t really have time to be a sculptor. Well, that’s still a maybe, too. But I have faced the reality of life, the demands of making a living have required some choosing.

As an artist, however, I still want to push. My brother, Chris, gave me a Neil Young CD a few years ago. It’s a live recording, from the late 90’s, and as Mr Young is just starting up, a few big chords rumble out and some guy yells, It all sounds the same! Without skipping a beat, Neil yells back, It’s all one song.

I listened to that disc, oh hell, I don’t know how many times. But I heard it when I was ready. Ongoing art conversations (arguments?), with my son Todd, and visits with my friend Troy Mathews, as well as exposure and conversation with several other students I’ve met through Darby’s job at PNCA, have me questioning myself. My unconscious, self-limiting rules on art, or at least my art. What is art? What can be art? Why do I have these rules, and where did they come from.

I’ve long been a fan of Gerhard Richter, but only recently realized there is a treasure trove of interviews and videos with and about him on the interwebs. (In my lame defense, I’m 58, and have managed to somehow avoid nearly every opportunity to be educated on technology. I stumble along at my own pace, rather like exploring a black hole.) But back to Richter. He was a very accomplished and successful photorealist, when his mind pulled him into abstraction. In one video, an interviewer (who comes across to me as a little snotty), asks him why, that his new work could be wrapping paper. He quietly smiles at her, and says something along the lines of, To make something beautiful. Something beyond myself.

And it occurred to me, Yeah, why not? Why do I have my self imposed restrictions? Where are they from? I have some ideas, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting- the getting rid of them, past them, is the interesting part.

There will be a couple new gallery pages added to my website soon. I’m a slow study, especially when it comes to my own evolution. But that’s the part I like. Thinking, struggling. Well, like might be a little strong. Drawn to. Learning and expanding. When I get good at something, I often lose interest. And I don’t want to abandon the work I’ve been doing- the barn paintings and landscapes, in fact the landscapes will be growing too. The couple new directions will inform those bodies of work, much as they have spawned the new work.

So yes, I’ve had to choose, to specialize. But not too much. It’s all my song.


Snowfall, 48 x 48 inches, oil on canvas.

We had lots of snow this past winter. Lots. I eventually get tired of dealing with it- well, the cold, more than the snow. It was bitter cold for weeks on end. But all that aside, I love the look of it. The feel of it. Snowshoeing. Cross country skiing. The dogs' happiness with it. But most of all I love the effect it has on the land.

I spent much of the winter thinking about how I put paint down. Mark making is a very popular topic in painting the past decade or so, and I suppose on some level that's what I am meaning. But to me, that makes it seem too specific, the marks too precious, to have their own identity. I'm concerned about the lay of the paint, the texture and surface, not as individual expression of marks, but as a intuitive representation of what the experience of being in that place, at that moment, feels like. I don't want it to be that conscious an effort, no more so than the dreamy feeling I have when I am outside and find something I want to paint. So in the moment it's even closer than intuition.

But then I guess it's a combination of marks. Of colors. Of paint.

I'm still thinking about it.

Philip Glass

I am without musical ability or understanding- something I hope to address in the next few years. My folks tried, piano and guitar lessons, trumpet in grade school band. But I never got past Every Good Boy Does Fine. It never clicked. As I've gotten older I've wondered about it- am I just not wired for it? I suspect that's it. I don't remember music, I can't seem to hear lyrics in the midst of it. But I haven't given up yet, and hope to try lessons again before long.

Last night on NPR, Terry Gross interviewed Philip Glass. I had only fleeting memories of his work, music that seemed impenetrable to me. Memories that were wrong. I loved so much of what was broadcast of his work, and look forward to hearing more.

And the conversation about his new memoir, Words Without Music, struck me as strongly as his music. At 78 it's easy to see him as a hugely accomplished and successful, and just assume it was always like that. But he drove a NYC cab up until his mid or late 40's. He worked all kinds of jobs, plumbing, electrical, moving company, studio assistant for his longtime friend, the sculptor Richard Serra (who's work I love). And finally the cab. All things I can appreciate, and to an extent, identify with, having done carpentry, laid tile, poured concrete, and built canoes further into my 40's than I had hoped. I tell young folks all the time that multiple income streams is the key to an early art career, maybe made easier by Starbucks new education policy, if you can embrace your inner barista.

Near the end of the interview, Terry Gross asked (something like), Don't you ever want to write a simple melody and a lyric to go with it? And he responded that of course he did, he was always struggling to simplify, to be more direct, but he had to follow where the music took him. Or something like that…. or is that me mixing my own struggles with his answer?

It seems that the struggle is a constant. Lately I've been feeling like painting is really hard. Damn hard.  Maybe another similarity with music- the level of concentration required. But if I look at it honestly I realize it's my own fault, turning from what I know how to do, to trying new things, new ways of handling paint. New ways of thinking about making pictures. It's where the work is taking me.

Pale Horse

Pale Horse, 16 x 20 inches, oil on glass.

I've been toying with animal images for years, trying to escape my pre-disposition for rendering the snot out of things. Then one day I was cleaning my pallet (I use a big sheet of glass), and saw the paint through the clean underside. Maybe there was a solution there.

I don't think it's something I'm going to repeat, working on the glass ground, as the fragility makes it too iffy, but it was a fun and satisfying experiment.

It will be my contribution to the Rochester Contemporary members show this month.

The painting doesn't actually have the reflection of my shoulder along the top, or the chair leg on the right. Turns out there are more problems with the glass than fragility.



Inertia- as defined by Websters- "physics : a property of matter by which something that is not moving remains still and something that is moving goes at the same speed and in the same direction until another thing or force affects it."

I've always had it, or felt like I did. Certainly not first thing in the morning, but once I was up and running, I could always just keep going. When I was younger it wasn't unusual for me to work 12 or 14 hours a day. 16. I didn't need to. I wanted to. 
The last 14 months have been a lesson in the other side of it. An object at rest stays at rest. In December of 2012 I was diagnosed with cancer in my vocal chord. What? Me? C'mon, obviously a mistake. Never a smoker, moderate drinker, damn near vegetarian, lots of exercise…… c'mon!
Nope. Doctor Haben was right. Two surgeries later…. and what? It appears that the good doctor got it, auguring my throat with his trusty laser. Turns out my system does NOT like morphine. Or much of any drug. And my head…. well my head spent a lot of time thinking about life and where I was. I don't think it's possible to have cancer associated with yourself and not spend time contemplating your mortality. My momentum came to a halt.
When Darby told a friend of hers, the friend responded, I thought he was unstoppable.
I did too.
After a couple months of that it was enough- enough of the depression, the mortal questions. I knew where I was, where I was trying to go. But still, I couldn't shake off the inertia. I felt like I plodded through last year. 
Muddle-headed and stuck in first gear, I ground through the year. I read very little, one of my favorite pastimes and the driver of much of my thinking. About the end of November, Darby read an article about the side affects of Prilosec (I'd been taking it as a potential preventative for acid reflux for the cancer in my throat). It can interfere with the body's ability to process B12 and protein, which interferes with short term memory. Muddle. I talked to Dr Haben about it, and he suggested after getting past my next adventure we try dropping it.
So, that next adventure? A year later, almost to the day of the first cancer surgery, I went in to have my knee replaced. Something I've been putting off for a long time- I destroyed it in highschool. While on the blood thinners and pain killers for the knee surgery, I forgot to take my Prilosec. A couple weeks after the surgery I'd had enough of the side effects of the painkillers and dropped them. And a few days later, it felt like a fog lifted. 
I've been sidelined by the need for rehab of my knee, but it's coming along really well. I'm back in the studio for two sessions every day, held up as much by the brutally cold winter and poorly insulated studio as my swelling joint. But the inertia is changing, from a body at rest to a body in motion. I have a dozen or so pieces underway, and several big canvases waiting for paint. I'm part of a three person show that opens in a couple weeks at The Oxford Gallery here in Rochester.

The muddle is gone. I'm healthy. I'm rolling again. 2014 is looking pretty damn good.

Notes from Bristol Bay

A little over a dozen years ago, I received a grant from the Genesee Valley County Council on the Arts. My project was to paddle the Genesee River, and produce a sketchbook about the trip. The project had an unintended effect- I realized I didn't like my work. Didn't like is probably the wrong description- maybe didn't care about. The downside was that at 40, to be faced with the realization that you don't like the result of your efforts is pretty tough to take. It is my job. The upside is it set me on the path of trying to figure out how to change course.
So I went back to my favorite book, Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez. It was reading the book for the first time in my late 20's that made me more serious about my outdoor interests, canoe trips in particular. Spending extended periods in wild country was suddenly given a legitimacy, at least in my mind- no longer just goofing off. Returning to it at 40 helped me start thinking more seriously about the why of my painting. Why am I compelled to paint? Why landscape? I've always been happier when there is a reason that I can make sense of. 
So for several years I persued the idea of the memory of landscape. The idea grew and evolved, and eventually ended up taking a somewhat different direction, which resulted in some new, large format pieces that I exhibited at SUNY Geneseo
Trespass, oil on canvas, 48 x 144 inches.
The Artifact of Landscape came down two years ago this month. I was happy about the show, happy in terms of feeling that what I had set out to do had been successful, bringing some of the tactile feel of a a landscape into an indoor space, a gallery setting. Part of that was the scale of the work, part the way I had pushed to paint, with the intention of the layers of paint reflecting the textures of a place, that tactile feeling of moving though an area. Or it did to me, and that's really all I can ask.
Lamar Valley Erratics, YNP, 48 x 144 inches
But then I was faced with where to take it, this new direction. The idea had at least partially evolved in  Yellowstone National Park.  The park is 2000 miles from our home in South Lima, less than convenient. I'm nowhere near done exploring the park, and painting the landscape there, but I needed an area closer to home. Someplace it might be easier to access to build upon this new body of work. Darby and I talked about our area, the Finger Lakes of western NY, a good possibility. Or the Adirondacks, where I've done canoe trips for years, and we've taken family vacations. But then an opportunity dropped in my lap, too good to pass up. Well, Darby convinced me it was too good to pass up.
My friend Bob White is a sporting artist, specializing in fishing and hunting images that reflect his life as a fishing guide and lifelong hunter. In the fall of 2010, I was reading Bob White's Studio News. You can subscribe for updates on his work, goings on and general nailing-the-shit-out-of-life type life. So there I was reading about his summer's latest bit of awesomeness, doing an artist's residency at Bristol Bay Lodge, where he also guides. It was inspiring, looked like  a blast, and left me with my head in my hands. Darby said, What's up? And I described what I'd read about Bob's trip, and said, I just don't even know how to ever make that happen. 
So jump forward about 6 months, I check the morning'e email, and there's a note from Bob. It said essentially, Steve and I decided the residency was pretty cool, so we want to expand it. Wanna come up and paint for a week? Oh, and you can fish all you want to. We are inviting you, CD Clarke and Jeff Kennedy.
Obvious SPAM. Ha, this stuff doesn't happen to me.
Turns out it does, when Bob drops it in my lap. But it took Darby to drop me on my head. She got home, me head in hands again, and said, What's up? I told her about the offer, then said I don't think I can make it work schedule-wise. She looked at me. Didn't bat an eye, then laughed and said, You're going, it's perfect for what you are trying to do. A little less convenient than the Adirondacks, but its perfect. Write back, say yes. You're going. No…nope….zip….zipit….. you're going.
So, I wrote back to Bob. But I didn't say yes. At first. First I said something along the lines of, You know, BW, this isn't really the kind of work I do. You, Chris, and Jeff, you guys are sporting artists and you all do plein aire painting. Me, not so much. I quit working that way about 12 years ago. 
( A little aside here-  I am no longer interested in plein aire painting, in the doing of it. I still love to look at the pleine air work of others, my friend Brian Eppley's in particular. But me not being interested is typical and kind of funny, as plein aire painting has really taken off in the art market over the last 8 or 10 years. Years ago my friend Quisp accused me of being a slave to my contrary-ness. I though a minute, and said, No, I'm a slave to my independence. My independence more often than not puts me out of step with what is going on else where. While I was paddling the Genesse River, all those years before, I had realized I was painting plein aire, not because I wanted to, but because I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing to be an artist. But it leaves me irritated, with work I that I don't feel addresses my interests in the land, and feeling like I had missed out on other things I could be doing outside, other things I could be seeing. So I quit doing it, just in time to miss the building wave of popularity. Life).
But in response to my protest, Bob said, I don't care. 
I said I may not have anything to show for months, even a year or two after, if at all. 
Bob said, I don't care, I just want you to be part of it. 
I said, What about Steve? (that would be Steve Laurent, the manager of Bristol Bay Lodge, and a talented photographer as well). 
Bob said, He won't care, he's all-in on this.
So I guess I was out of excuses to not take advantage of the greatest opportunity to fall in my lap. Despite always making things more difficult than they need to be, I was in.
After doing a show on Long Island, two in Colorado, and another in Seattle, early last August I headed for Alaksa.
In Anchorage, I spent the day fishing with my friend Jerry Balboni. We might have had a beer or two as well. Late in the day he and his wife Anna dropped me at the hotel where I was supposed to meet Jeff- whom I hadn't known previously. I stepped into the lobby and immediately recognized him, an old friend I just hadn't met yet. We may have had a couple more beers while we visited about the upcoming week.
First thing in the morning, we grabbed the shuttle to the airport and we were headed to Dillingham.
I hadn't been in Alaska in 13 years. I hadn't forgotten how beautiful it is, but I think I'd forgotten the feeling of vastness. 

As we made the flight to Dillingham, Jeff and I were like kids, excitedly pointing out things we thought the other might have missed. That was a pattern that would continue all week.

We landed in Dillingham. I was in lala land. Flying over that landscape, thinking about what was in store for the week, I forgot I was supposed to be looking for Bob.

Fortunately he found us, and I had an unexpected surprise- the chance to say a quick hello to photographer and publisher Tosh Brown, someone who I had previously known only over the internet. He had been doing a residency at the lodge the previous week, and assured us that we were in for a good time.

Over the next several weeks I'll tell you about the week, the work we did, and where for me, I think it is going. As I had explained to Bob, my work has evolved to a point of not being real direct. After several months of percolating, it's coming to the surface.

Thirty Barns

Thirty Barns  <--- this link right here!

The link above will take you to a short video slide show of the development of the 30 paintings.

I started the series of thirty barns the first week of November. My aim was two fold- a series of studies to get me focused on some of my painting for this year, and to have a series of small pieces to end the season with an on-line show.

From that stand point, it was very successful. But it was even more successful on another, unexpected level.

The way I work has evolved over time. From my original intentions of being a very direct painter, I have slowly developed a very different approach- applying layers of color, over days, weeks, and often months. The approach has developed as my concerns with painting have changed, but primarily because it allows me to achieve color effects and surface textures that provide the atmosphere I am after. The approach is slow. I find color layers most cleanly when it is wet paint going over dry. Because I love oil paint, not so much acrylic, that requires setting a painting aside at some point so that I don't start mixing wet layers, and end up with mud. But I am my father's son- I work. In order to keep working, I have developed the habit of working on several paintings over the same period of time- often a dozen or more. Occasionally way more. With larger pieces, they are moved around the studio. But with the 30 small paintings I set them on runners on my large studio panel, and they were all there at once. And an unexpected conversation developed.

At the studio each day, it's pretty much Finn, Uly and me. Conversation is, well, not something most would understand. Lots of grunts, growls, and negotiations for a quick break or a bone.

This conversation- with the paintings- was different. A Me, Myself and I, sort of thing, except it was a little like having 30 of me- or variations of me. Talking with one another.

Laying in the first blocks of color is always the most exciting part of a painting, filled with bold movement, bright color, and possibility. Usually by the third or fourth layer- on the third or fourth day- questions start to crop up, and the possibility of doubt sets in. And usually at this point, I have to sit and stew, looking at a piece, debating possibilities, trying to work out a good painting from the initial gram of an idea that got things rolling to begin with.

But with this series, I would put the piece back on the easel, in amongst the rest of the pack. I'd step back, and the change made in the piece would make the whole different. Kind of like a new kid walking onto the playground. The whole dynamic changes, and illuminates each individual. Sometimes the changes in the piece just worked on would initiate something similar in another piece. Or something opposite, Or completely different, just ideas spurred onward. But an ebb and flow developed that seemed to make solutions easier to find. Sometimes. A few were abandoned and replaced with new starts, the initial idea not being strong enough to maintain momentum. Or just lost.

But the whole experience lead to me questioning my work process. It would be valuable to have my large work more exposed during the painting, to be able to see more than one at a time- to be able to bounce the bigger ideas back and forth, so each informs the other.

I'm afraid I need more space.

T-bow's Barn

How to paint. To compose a picture. To lay paint on canvas....... or panel.

My approach has evolved at a pace similar to a Galapagos tortoise. But I arrived where I am by studying other painters, and trial and error. I really do think you learn from failure, rather than success, telling people all the time what I believe to be the secret of painting: 500 bad paintings.

Well, you have to be paying attention. 500 without a vocabulary of self criticism would be 500 down the drain. After a few thousand paintings I still feel like I learn something everyday. Failure. Facing it, then recovering.

I started out to be a watercolorist. Winslow Homer's Blue Boat is still one of my favorite paintings, and I love the watercolors of Thomas Aquinas Daly. But off I wandered. I still paint in watercolor, but there was an itch to keep exploring, following a thread. My teacher and mentor Richard Beale suggested pastels as a transition to oil.

I worked in pastel for several years, first as an illustrator, then as a painter. But there was that thread, leading....... somewhere. Larger was the impetus. I wanted to work on a larger scale, and oil seemed like the logical answer. Either oil or acrylic, and I'd used acrylic as an underpainting for my pastels, and knew it wasn't for me.

So I picked up oil, and ended up thinking, What have I been doing? I'm an oil painter.

This all happened over about 20 years. Tortoise like, me.

So what's all this got to do with T-bows barn? Well, I know how I paint and why. The result of all the mistakes. Years of watercolor, and then pastel, have brought me to approaching painting in a way that feels natural to me, like I am laying down uneven, broken veils of color, one over another, till the painting seems finished. A conversation, laying paint dawn, pulling some of it off. Talking in paint, in color, in tone. Usually.

Not this time, T-bow's Barn. Not him. This guy, Wayne Thiebaud. A painter who's work I love, but who I have never emulated, or even thought to emulate.

Where did this come from? Well, the shape is reminiscent of Thiebaud's cakes, and that may have been a subconscious push. Paint like frosting. Where does this thread lead? Anywhere? Maybe its just a short thread. One painting. Who knows. It was very fun and satisfying to paint.

Slough Creek

Slough Creek Overlook, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park,
48 x 58 inches, oil on canvas, curio cabinet, 8 x 59 inches.

One of the core pieces from the show, The Artifact of Landscape, opening with a reception tomorrow at the Lockhart Gallery, 5 - 7 pm. The Gallery is located at 26 Main Street in Geneseo New York.

This piece is representative of a new direction in my work, landscape on a scale large enough to have a presence in front of the viewer, combined with a cabinet full of artifacts of and from that landscape. The close-ups below are the cabinet contents, spread between plaster casts of buffalo, grizzly and wolf tracks.


ar⋅ti⋅fact - a handmade object, as a tool, or the remains of one, as a shard of pottery, characteristic of an earlier time or cultural stage, esp. such an object found at an archaeological excavation.

Molly's footprint. She's our 70 lb. lab/hound princess.

I don't know when I first made a cast- maybe a project in Cub Scouts, maybe in school. But the process always fascinated me, and I've made a few over the years.

A wolf track, the cast made along the Ivishak river several years ago.

A lot of people have the impression that wolves are like big dogs, like 100 lb. German Shepherd. I did, til my son and I saw them in Yellowstone a few summers back. They are like shepherds, just way bigger. Like a shepherd and a half. The track is almost 4 inches wide. Measure your hand. Wilderness makes you feel small. Vulnerable. I like to think it puts me in my place.

While I was in Alaska, I saw several grizzly tracks, and each time, my hair was on end, a queasy stomach. Lots of tracks, but none sharp enough to cast. Yes, I did have enough plaster, despite the weight limit on the bush plane. Not so many clean clothes, but I had the plaster. Just no sharp, well defined tracks.

The Lamar Valley in Yellowstone. Between here and the Hayden Valley, tough to say which is my favorite place in the park. Last year I fished the Lamar River too late into the evening. Til dark. The Lamar Valley, home to wolves, black bear and grizzlies.

I tried to be very quiet back to the van. A walk on wobbly legs, a sinking feeling in my stomach. Turned out fine.

But when I opened a package the other day, in the warm, safe confines of my studio, the sinking feeling was there instantly. I didn't make the cast, but I guess as a post-modernist, I'll appropriate it.

What's with the casts?

It's taken me a while to get here, I don't want to spill it all in one post.

If you can't do it well......


LinkWyoming Barn, 5 x 7 inches, oil on panel, currently available for bid by clicking here.

I love small paintings. I love looking at the smaller work of other artists, and I love doing work in a small format. There is a gem-like quality to to small paintings, whether seen across the expanse of a museum hall, or tucked in a nook of a home. As you approach a small piece, it is almost as if the frame becomes a window into another reality.

I don't care much for photo-realism- at some point it seems to me to become more about rendering than anything else. I want that window to reveal the simplification and abbreviation of form that I find compelling, the way a painter interprets and transforms reality into a 2 dimensional plane.

I started posting on this blog months ago, in hopes of helping me process through some changes I felt were coming in my work. Well, I'm a slow processor, but I think I'm there- at the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of my work.

Learning, for me, comes from failure. Mistakes. Near misses, blunders, close-calls. Building a body of intuitive knowledge on which to make the infinite number of decisions required over the development of a painting. I have done hundreds of paintings over the years, slowly building the skill set to do.........what?

It's been months of stewing, but things are coming together, and it has come down to the same two questions I continually face.

1- Why?

Second things first. Once I realized the why (I'll get to that in the next few posts), I knew I needed to work on the how. The way I work has evolved over the years. As a student, I wanted to be the next incarnation of Winslow Homer, of John Singer Sargent. The masters of painterly realism, of the spectacular brush-stroke. After may years as a student, trying to work in a style emulating one, then the other, my work evolved off in different direction. When I started working as an illustrator, I reinvented myself every time I turned around. Restlessness. Boredom. I said so at the time, but it was more a matter of trying to find the medium that matched me. I am not the painter of the perfect brush-stroke.

Squirting (kayaking) on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Yes, an older picture. I've been painting too much, not paddling enough. Sound like I need to make a New Year's resolution.

It took me a long time to realize, that I am most successful when I approach my work that way I approach life. A give and take, A conversation. And maybe, a sport. I have long joked that painting is centerfield for a guy who blew his knee in high school. But the truth is I would give up every baseball game I ever played to have started paddling whitewater sooner. No river is ever the same one day to the next. Water levels change, weather changes, stream banks and stream beds move and shift the current, and you have to react to each and every change. Rain, snowmelt, drought. Act and react. The same way I've come to paint. The only consistency is the inconsistency.

Small formats allow a painter to get work done more quickly- there just isn't as much work to do, as much surface to cover. And because more work is getting done, more mistakes are made, and more can be learned. But at some point, for whatever reason, you want to work bigger. And the techniques you've learned painting small can help you paint in a larger format, to a degree. But larger formats present their own problems.

Red Roof, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches.

It is easy to see an increase in scale as an opportunity to include more detail, but for me, that dodges the real challenge of painting larger, which is to maintain the simplicity found in the smaller format. To enlarge the textures that make up the surface, while maintaining the integrity of the representational image. So, back to what I am after in a painting. Simplification and abbreviation of form. Color. Value. Surface quality. Up to a point this is relatively straight forward. Early on I would make the mistake of picking the wrong tool for the job, a too small brush making too small marks, resulting in a fussy, overworked surface. When you stop is as important as where you start. And you need the right tools to get there.

Detail of Red Roof.

I think of the process of painting as laying veils of color over the canvas. Each veil is of different hue and value, broken-surfaced, revealing the layers beneath, eventually arriving at the final image. Paint is put down, and just as often removed. The surface texture is not something I try to describe verbally, or preconceive, but intuitively arrive at, hopefully at the same moment the image is finished.

But the other part of this is the why- not the why I paint this way, but the why I paint at all. And that lead me to want to work bigger yet. Previously I only occasionally went beyond 36 x 48 inches. This summer that started seeming restrictive. But so was my technique.

There is a reason houses are painted with brushes- a brush can make a nice, smooth surface. But that's not what I want. I'm after that broken veil. I tried a variety of brushes, of different sizes, and kept ending up with that fussy overworked surface. Painting knives were even worse.


And then in June, scrambling to finish a couple pieces to take with me to Cherry Creek, something happened. The tools evolved. And not the way I expected. Years ago, I started as a watercolorist- the easiest way in the world to become a brush junkie. I love good brushes, sables and hog bristles, mostly filberts for my oil painting work. Until in frustration I folded up a rag, and made a very crude brush of sorts, and found the surface I was after.

Yeah, so big deal. A wadded up rag. But the surfaces I am getting with the rag-brushes is the broken veil I am after, in a much larger format.

And the quote that started this off- If you can't do it well, do it big. The often repeated cynical critique

I'd like to do both. Big, real big. Real well. We'll see.

Settling in.

This is always the toughest stretch of my working life. Getting back to the habit and structure of working, of labor. Oh sure, art is about inspiration, muses, fun.... all the stereotypical things that art is about. But it's mostly about work. Showing up, every day. After the disruption of the show season, just settling back into regular habits is tough enough, but this year I have the added distraction of an upcoming show at SUNY Geneseo. I plan to try and get my landscape work to unify in a new direction. Well, not so much new, as a fuller manifestation of the ideas that have been drumming around in my head, slowly evolving towards what I hope is a bigger, more unified idea, expressing the relationship we have, or maybe had, with the land. The land we live in, on, around. Home.

That may not sound like much, but it's making my head hurt. Most all the things I have been interested in over my life to date seem to be coming together. Now I want to see if I can make something more from them. And I'm feeling the pressure of that desire.

So what to do? I went fishing yesterday. Skunked, but a great day spey casting, getting to know a river that I am not too familiar with. Cold drizzle most of the day. Perfect

Just to cool out. Now back to work.

To get me focused, a little glimpse into a diary of sorts. Yellowstone sketchbooks from the summer.

Hell Roaring Overlook

Lamar Valley in Morning Haze

Lamar Valley Eratics

Slough Creek Eratic

View from Mt. Washburn


Cathedral, 36 x 36 inches, oil on canvas.

Wow. Been six weeks since I posted. OK, don't go thinking I've been laying around, just watching television. I drove to Denver for the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, then flew home for 10 days, then flew back for a show in Jackson, eight days in Yellowstone, then drove to Crested Butte, Colorado for a show, then to Portland, Oregon to fly home again. So any sittin' I was doing was behind the wheel of the Jug.

There was some great fishing, hiking, and visiting with friends and family. And somehow in the middle of that there were some advances in my painting I am really excited about, changes that will enable me to move in a new direction.

So it won't be six weeks before the next post. A couple/week til I'm back on the road for Labor Day. Catching up on my gowin's on.

Evolution of a bear.

I am not a wildlife artist. So I've been saying for 25 years. And I'm not, unless I am. A somewhat atypical piece for me, a point along my own evolutionary path.

It is the memory of things I see and experience that I am most interested in. I have had an idea floating around in my head for a while now, about how this might be applied to animal imagery. Black Bear is not exactly what I have in mind, but it is a step along the path that I am happy with. Drawing something is one of the most effective ways for me to learn about it, to embed the memory. It is departing from the drawing and making something more than a rendering- that is the struggle.

Evolution is a slowly ongoing process, even on a personal level.

Black Bear, 44 x 40 inches, oil on canvas. Private collection.

A Veil of Light

Red Barn, Golden Light, 16 x 20 inches, oil on linen.

As we drove home from my folks place last fall, we went past this barn in the beautiful light of a fall evening. I loved the light peaking through the partially opened door on the backside, and the overall peaceful feeling of the place. A one minute sketch and we were gone.

The next week at the studio, I roughed out what I remembered, and started painting. Layer over layer over the next several days. But I had several pieces going, trying to get finished up for an upcoming show, and I lost focus. At some point I set the piece aside, not quite finished. Over the next couple months, I pulled the painting out several times, set it on the easel to work on it.............. and left it alone. Something wasn't quite where I wanted it, but I kept mining my memories, trying to remember what it was I had seen. It wasn't holding together. Finally, I set it aside, halfway to the burn pile.

How many times do we have to learn the same lesson? A painting is a painting, not the "thing," the subject of the painting. Color, form, value, design, surface, line - the elements of the image relate amongst themselves first and foremost. That they combine to represent the subject is secondary, or possibly irrelevant. I think the scene may have been too strong in my mind, tied to the last visit of the year with my folks, Darby and the kids. The memory may have been too loaded.

Or, I am one of the worlds truly sloooooooow studies. Anyway, I was working on several of the Small Works pieces this week, and as I scumbled a glaze of gold over a small piece, the barn painting popped into my head. I think I've been subconsciously puzzling over the piece all along. And there was my answer. Years ago, while apprenticing to Richard Beale, he had taught me the importance of what he referred to as a Mother Wash, a single wash of color, layered over the entire painting, tying things together with a unifying tone. Robert Genn frequently employs a similar idea in many of his pieces, and refers to it often in his weekly newsletter.

The painting needed a unifying tone, and I pulled out the painting and laid a semi-transparent, sorta scumbled, gradation of gold over much of the image. Essentially a golden veil settled over the landscape, tying all the separate elements of the piece together in a wash of warm light.

And I had another reason to be grateful to Richard Beale, for passing on many lessons I may not have been ready to hear at the time, but somehow absorbed. He was instrumental in helping to set me on the path to what I do today, and I still use much of what I learned from him. At least the stuff that I remember.

And he was patient with my slow study.

Stumbling along, whining.

No one ever misses the chance to tell you you can’t make a living as an artist. OK, so I ignored that. But the thing nobody tells you is how damn hard it is to keep pushing your work, to make sure you don’t just keep circling the same end of the pool, let your ideas go stagnant. There is value in working in a series, to explore the same or similar subjects, to follow a path til it runs out, or you find its end.

And then once in a while you wander off the path. And that’s the hard part. Sometimes really hard. I’ve been trying to figure out where things are going. I get a glimpse, and then I lose sight of it. All the time I spent driving the past few weeks, I was thinking about it. By the time I got home, I was good and frustrated. I may even have been feeling sorry for myself.

So, we plow through Easter weekend, lots of family stuff. Darb sneaks in a visit to the barn, and sees the first foal of the year. Wait til you see him, he’s so cute, she says.

She thinks they're all cute. Like puppies.

So I’m at the studio on Monday, head over to see him. And damn, he is so cute. And his legs are encased in pvc pipe and duct tape. ??? Turns out he came out of the oven a little early. Ten days or so. His cartilage hadn’t hardened. His ears were floppy, and his joints were flimsy. He had to have his legs wrapped to keep them in position, waiting for the cooking to finish. He couldn’t get up or down. He had to be stood up every hour to nurse from his mom. 24 hours a day. Kim or Rene or Bridgette or a few other volunteers had to be there all the time. For ten days. It all started on St. Patrick’s day, so he’s Dublin. He’s doing very well. Splints only on the front legs now. Prognosis is very good.

And I was feeling sorry for myself because I am having trouble with my thinking/conceptualizing/painting? Not so bad, really, by comparison and all. A little wake-up call is good on occasion. I wasn't even around to take an overnight shift.

I am my father’s son. Well, I hope I am anyway- he’s a really good man. But the point here is that I’m a worker, like him. Maybe too much so, on occasion. So if I can’t figure out where I’m at with some of the paintings ideas, but I want/need to work, maybe a change in media.

Printmaking is the production of an image on one surface, then printing it on another - in this case paper. I have used monotypes as a vehicle to explore and push my work before. So I decided to try it again.

I have had an idea for a series of animal images before, and this seems like a good time to get started.

Monotypes. Image size 4 x 4 inches.

Landscape and Memory

Several years ago, after having painted plein aire landscapes for a few years, I received a grant from the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts, to paddle the Genesee River from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario. I spent seventeen days on the river, and another four hiking and doing relief prints with a naturalist and 4th grade students, at Letchworth State Park. While on the river, I paddled, sketched, fished, camped, read, thought........ and got more and more frustrated. Not with the paddling, fishing, camping and reading. Just the sketching and thinking.

I worked as an illustrator for years, working in several different mediums, in several different styles, never really worrying about too much consistency or what I was saying. I was saying what the client needed said. Or often just being a smart-ass, a genetic predisposition. Illustration is solving a problem for someone else. Give me some input, I give it some thought, define the problem, draw up a solution, deliver it, get paid. Hey, what's not to like?

I can make a problem out of anything, or nothing. I enjoyed parts of the process - brainstorming, working with a variety of people, playing around with different mediums. But, ultimately, it just wasn't satisfying to me. I felt like I was going through the motions.

Art versus illustration- an ongoing debate with many (mostly illustrators, I think). Art is about solving your own problems, or realizing you have one.

So there I am, paddling, fishing, sketching along. I'm having a blast, right? Well, OK, I was paddling and fishing, and I have to admit, I always have fun on the water, especially moving water. But gnawing away at me was this feeling of wasting my time while I was sketching. What was I going to do with the sketches? Paint from them? Do larger versions of them? Would I care anymore about them than I did the sketches themselves? And the whole time I'm sketching, I'm realizing I'm not making any headway down the river, and I'm never going to get to the lake.

The problem I've always had with plein aire painting - when I'm outside, I'm not compelled to paint. I want to go see stuff. Explore. Hike, paddle, fish, stalk, camp. Discipline - that's what I need - stick with the painting. Yeah, and cleanliness is next to Godliness.

What a load of crap. I paint way better in the studio when I'm not distracted by everything else I like to do. And I work too much. I need to be more disciplined about goofing off once in a while. Don't get me wrong- I love to paint, but it's not the only thing I love to do.

But there is another aspect to all of this, the part that is most fundamental to being an artist. It is the chance to get to know yourself, what makes you tick, what are your strengths and weakness, where do you fit in the world. My real intention in paddling the Genesee was not to fill a sketchbook. I was trying to fall in love with the place I live. Western New York, the Finger Lakes, there are many beautiful places here, and I've lived here since high school. There are places to hike, fish, paddle, ride horses. And I've never loved it. And I live here, and need to for now, and I really wanted to love it. So I hoped if I spent a concentrated length of time outside, doing some of the things I love, maybe I'd begin to appreciate the area on a more subtle, personal, intuitive level.

And it didn't work. It is beautiful here, and I find things to paint all the time now, but I don't love where I live. I may never. I am forever a child of the west. But it gave me the chance to figure myself out, on a deeper, maybe even primitive level. What is the process we go through growing up, imprinting on your family, and for some, maybe on a place? Why do those memories, of growing up, remain so strong when I have long periods of time from which I remember so little?

We celebrated my folks fiftieth anniversary last year- a wonderful celebration of a great event. Amidst all the family and friends, my folks played a dvd they had put together of several home movies. Once we watched the first half chronicling the life of my older sister Ann Marie, the other six of us were squeezed in from clips of home life, vacations, and family adventures. And I was stunned to see so many rivers and barns- the bulk of my subject matter. Many of the clips I had no immediate recollection of, but when you see your self running around with all your best friends, in a wonderful place, it's hard to see how that wouldn't set in pretty deeply.

But then why am I the one in the family that is maybe not quite domesticated? Why do I carry landscape in my head - moments, places? Why are we so similar, but so different?

I have ideas about it, but hey, this is a blog, not a therapist's couch. I'll figure out my life, you can have fun figuring out yours.

But it was while paddling the Genesee I realized I was more interested in the memory of landscape, rather than recording it. How much do I need in an image to convey what I remember from a place, from an event, a slice of time? I've just recently started painting the Genesee, some from older sketches, some from more recent.

Motherwell's Puddle

For several years I’ve been working from very quick, abbreviated sketches I do on location. Paddling, fishing, driving, walking the dogs. It has been working pretty well for the last few years. The sketches are enough to prompt my memory, remind me of what I saw in the land to make me want to paint. I am interested in where this work is going. More...........something. Abstraction? I’m not sure what.

A couple years ago, Darby and I were delivering a painting down near New York, and went to Dia:Beacon, a museum in Beacon, NY, specializing in contemporary art. I would recommend it to anyone. The massive space allows work to be seen differently than in most any other venue I have experienced. I came away with a new appreciation for many artists’ work, but was completely stunned by the work of Richard Serra. I had seen images of it in various publications, but nothing prepared me for the presence of the work.
Overwhelming. Tactile. Amazing.

Then last year for my birthday we took our kids to the Albright Knox for a Chuck Close retrospective. Another powerful show. And the AB has some other great work - Motherwell, Rothko, Kline, Diebenkorn and others. All work that I hated when I was younger, fascinated by now.

Me, a continually slow study.

Last fall - a year ago - I made a big, (four feet square), crude drawing board from a sheet of luan, and decided to do some drawings on location. I did plein aire work for several years. I’m mostly irritated by the process. Well, the sitting still part anyway. I have gotten away from it, working form the most abbreviated sketches for the past few years, spending my time outside more physically experiencing the world, not rendering it. But I have had this feeling of needing to more directly confront the subject again.

And spectators. Oh, an artist, can I see what you are doing? When I was younger, my confidence in my work was easily shaken, and I was shy to begin with. I am much more confident today, and along the way I've become fairly extroverted.

On a more current note, winter seems to have arrived.

A few years ago I saw a program on erosion (I think it was on NATURE on PBS), and the formation of the Grand Canyon. I think most of us learned - at least I did - that erosion happens a little bit at a time. Water trickles along, following it’s path of least resistance, dissolving and carrying small particles along, and as this repeats over a bazillion years - poof, there’s the Grand Canyon.

It turns out that’s only part of the story. There are occasionally catastrophic debris flows, the perfect storm of water and mud, rocks and whatever else gets swept up in the mix, that scour and accelerate the change. So things move quietly along, slowly developing and then a sudden buildup of conditions and there is more significant, concentrated change. Then back to trickling.

I trickled along for years, painting anything and everything. Frustrations built up - Where am I going? What’s my life about? Debris flow. Realizing landscape was the most compelling subject to me. I painted plein aire for quite awhile, then tried working from photographs. Then, years later again, the most significant change in my work came when I realized I was more interested in the memory of landscape, the landscape that lives in my head, as opposed to recording the exact observation of a place.

OK, so my debris flows aren’t nearly as dramatic as many in the rest of nature. But they’re plenty for me, causing me to get blocked and frustrated - kind of generally losing direction. And I’m in one now. This morning, as my wife left for work, I said, Sometimes I just wish I had a job, so someone would just tell me what I needed to be doing.

I haven’t had a regular job in over 20 years. And I’m not about to start again now. It wouldn’t possibly allow me enough time for my work. The most important part of being an artist is the same as any other small business. You have to show up for work. And this block (it actually feels like there is a barrier in my mind that I’m trying to find a way around), is keeping me from being productive. There have been a several debris flows between the first one and now, and I think I have another one coming. Which is really the purpose of this whole exercise - trying to work/force my way through it.