Saturday, July 11, 2020

A Painting Life has Moved!

Summer Evening
12 x 12
Private Collection

Hi All. Just a note to let you know that A Painting Life has moved!  The blog will now be housed on my website here. I hope you will follow me there and sign up for new art updates too. I have some exciting news coming up soon about the publication of my book Painting the Woods: Nature, Memory and Metaphor.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Summer Nights

Over the last couple of weeks I have painted two nocturnes from memory, evocations of summer nights both past and present. While both of these paintings purport to depict East Texas, they also reside in childhood memories of warm summer nights and cool moonlight. As Thoreau said "the night is oracular."

A Summer Night
12 x 12
Oil on ACM panel

Moonlit Pines (still on the easel)
12 x 12
Oil on ACM panel

Nocturnes are intensely romantic images. In the 18th century they were often called 'moonlights'. The term nocturne was first used to describe a series of musical composition by Frederick Chopin in the 1820s. Within the next few decades literary circles in Paris embraced the nocturne, especially the Symbolist poets Rimbaud, Verlaine and Gautier. By the 1860s the motif of the nocturne as a lyrical form of expression that conjured altered states of perception was widely embraced across all the arts. Perhaps one of its best known proponents was James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903), an expatriate American artist living in London. Whistler, more than any other nineteenth century artist, reinvigorated the depiction of moonlit nights into a modern idiom. He appropriated the musical term “nocturne’ to describe his spare, murky depictions of nighttime along the Thames and in Venice. Whistler employed memory as a major component of his artistic practice, often observing a nighttime motif repeatedly before retreating to his studio to paint it.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Scatter Creek in Winter

You have probably noticed that artist podcasts have become increasingly popular over the last few years. I enjoy listening to them in the studio. It gives you can opportunity to hear artists talk first hand about their work, how they make it, and life as an artist.

I have been a guest on a couple of podcasts. My interview with Danny Grant on the Studio Podcast was a really enjoyable experience. Danny was a thoughtful interviewer and we had a great conversation on several topics. In particular, I got to talk about my philosophy of teaching online and also about the importance of my daily walks and memory to my work. So have a listen and i hope you enjoy!

I was also interviewed on the Savvy Painter podcast. With over a million downloads worldwide, this podcast has a big reach! Check it out here.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Visual Thinking

Recently a friend of mine who is a writer said to me "writing is thinking." What she meant is that as we write we often discover the internal structure of what was previously a collection of random ideas and as a result locate the real intention of our work through the act of doing it.

The same can be said for drawing- particularly certain types of drawing. Specifically I am thinking about thumbnails. Thumbnails are visual thinking. For me, thumbs are the place to work out visual ideas, to search for and find the structure of a painting. As such, I invest enough time in them to explore the idea, but not so much time that I try to turn each one into a perfect little drawing, and thus limit the time I have to look around for other ways to express the idea.

Thumbs are thinking visually. That’s all. They are like first drafts of my painting- those first steps toward finding the right structure for my visual idea.

Here are some thumbs from a small sketchbook I often carry with me on walks. It is 5 x7 (important only for understanding the small scale of these thumbs). They certainly are not great drawings and some are not especially good designs. A few of them have since become paintings. One of them  became a monoprint. In most of them I have seriously limited the shapes and values – trying to get down to something essential. A few are more developed. Some are abandoned – a trail I didn’t follow because I lost interest or got a better idea while I was working.

Working out my visual ideas this way has become automatic and my sketchbooks become a rich repository of ideas that I can use (together with memory and imagination) for years to come.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Power of Selection Through Memory

As many of you know, I primarily work from memory and imagination. Many years ago, I started to explore this way of working, and now it has become second nature to me. It is also part of the method I teach my students. I wrote more about that here and here.

One of the strongest reasons to train your visual memory is the power it has to distill and intensify your experience of the landscape, and as a result of that, to assist you in creating a very personal response to it in your art.  As Carlson says, this helps us to locate the source of our originality. It is our personal response to the landscape we seek to express, rather than a copy of the scene in front of us. Because memory acts as a filter to select certain information while rejecting other information, it is a highly personal tool for art making.

I spent last week in Fredericksburg, Texas with Mallory Agerton, a friend and former student. Mallory completed the Atelier Program in 2015. In fact, she was part of the first group of students that I used as 'guinea pigs' for my memory training exercises. Today, as a professional artist, she works from the drawings she makes in the field and memory (no photography).

We also spent a week together last year at about the same time of the year. On successive evenings we went out just before sunset to observe the landscape. We were both taken with a little creek we found and spent about 20 minutes each night for three evenings looking at it.  We both did drawings of it from memory later.

Here is Mallory's drawing.

And here is mine.

Obviously they are very different. After we made our drawings we talked about what we saw and what we were interested in about the scene. For me, the large tree and its gesture against the sky, the intimate space around the creek and the sliver of water made a big impression. I also wanted to get my drawing dark enough to suggest the failing light. Mallory noticed a smaller tree in front of the big one and the filigree of its branches against the sky. She also wanted to simplify the whole scene into very simple shapes. She depicted it as more open.

When I got back home I painted this little study from memory. The idea that I captured in the drawing was further distilled and sifted again through memory (including remembering the color).

Hill Country Dusk
10 x 9

Of course, there isn't any right or wrong here.  Both Mallory and I responded to what was most interesting and our memories were strongest of the things that interested us most. Those things to a very large extent reflect our personal aesthetics. Memory, if properly trained and used, will help you identify the things you really want to paint--not things that are merely interesting, but the things you find truly compelling.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Spring Moonrise
24 x 24
Available at Hildt Galleries, Chicago

Hello All! Yes, it's been a long time. It's not that I haven't been writing (I have) but just elsewhere. But, I have wanted to get back here for a long while, and here I am. Hope some of you are still out there.

Moonrises have been on my mind this week. I am teaching an online class on Nocturnes right now, and since this week is the full moon, it is not only the best time to observe the moonlit landscape but also to observe moonrise and moonset. That's because when the moon is full, it rises at about the same time as sunset, and sets at about the same time as sunrise. The sun in the opposite sky from the moon makes for lots of evocative light and color and also for interesting compositional opportunities.

Moonrise, Flood Tide
24 x 30
Private Collection

The moon and moonlight are full of mystery and mood. At full moonrise, before it is dark, we can feel the day slipping away, giving way to the night. Unfortunately for me, the skies in northeast Texas are too cloudy to enjoy the show. But, if its clear where you are, be sure to watch for moonrise at sunset tonight and moonset at dawn tomorrow!

Moonrise over the Pines
36 x 30
Private Collection

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Training Visual Memory

Morning Walk, Fence Line
(painted from memory)

One of the key ingredients of the Drawing/Painting Program of The Landscape Atelier is the training of visual memory. Many years ago, I embarked on a journey to find a way to use memory in my own work. Over time, I developed some techniques and strategies which helped me retain visual information. As a result, I became comfortable working from both memory and imagination.
When I started The Landscape Atelier in 2014 I knew I wanted to make memory training part of the curriculum. Last month I gave a paper at the TRAC 2015 conference entitled The Training and Use of Visual Memory for Representational Landscape Painters which describes why memory training is important, the literature and history of memory training, the method we use in the Atelier, and the results we obtained over the first year using these methods.
My paper is now available to read online. Here's the link. This will take you to a page on my website. Then just click on the title of the article.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Let's Try Again- New Paintings & Drawings

Several readers wrote to let me know they were having trouble viewing the images in my last post. So I am reposting them. Thanks to those of you who let me know!

You should be able to click on all images for a larger view.

This first image is a painting which is headed to the Small Works, Great Wonders show at the National Western Heritage Museum in OK City.

Woods Lake Interior
20 x 16

I am hard at work on some larger paintings, but here are several drawings and a few small paintings. 

Two Trees 
charcoal on Twinrocker handmade paper
12 x 10

charcoal on Twinrocker handmade paper
12 x 20

 Morning Walk, Fence Line
11 x 14

Backyard, Evening
8 x 10

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gilcrease Museum- Collectors' Reserve

I am pleased to say that these three pieces are headed to the Collectors' Reserve Show & Sale at the Gilcrease Museum this fall. The Gilcrease has a fabulous collection of American art including some beautiful examples of Hudson River School paintings and holds what is considered among the world’s largest and most comprehensive collections of fine art, artifacts, and archives dealing with the American West. Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the museum grounds include 23 acres of thematic gardens showcasing the gardening styles of different time periods in the American West. It is an honor to be included in this exhibition.

 Aspen Brook Study
6 x 12

 Late Afternoon Light
12 x 16

Farm Pond Morning
16 x 20

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th and New Work!

To all of you in the USA, Happy 4th of July!

This painting was begun before I went to Colorado in June and was based on field work I did last year in June. I had gotten it to a point and was really stuck, so the trip came at a good time enabling me to revisit the motif and refresh both memory and inspiration.

Last June I worked most of the time in a lovely aspen grove near my cabin. I did numerous drawings of individual aspen trees as well as ponderosa pines (which I posted here and here)  and some motif drawings as well. But I did not really follow up on any of them until a few months ago. The idea came from a desire to revisit the subject but also the fact that I had been looking at the work of Emil Carlsen quite a bit. I was intrigued with his backgrounds and how he was able to create something that was at once atmospheric but also had some very definite decorative qualities and a flatter picture plane.

So, my idea here was to not follow my usual method of creating a background with multiple layers of scumbles applied with rags but to use more of a dry brush approach with more texture and opacity, but to try to make it read simultaneously as "air" but also decorative and somewhat flat. At the same time I wanted to continue with the challenge of face lit subjects and to also play with the idea of volume and flatness in those forms.

Aspen Grove Interior
39 x 33

Oddly, the "experimental" part of the painting seemed to go fairly well and I was happy with that part after a couple of passes.  Here are a few details.

But, the part that should have been easy- the foreground grasses- just would not come together. I had originally envisioned some dappled sunlight in this area but every configuration I tried ended up detracting from the "main event", so eventually, when I returned from my trip I eliminated it. As a result I repainted the foreground about 6 times. Luckily, although I lost the transparency as a result, the layers and shifts in temperature (which this image doesn't capture very well) made up for it. The more simple "light shade" of the foreground seemed a better fit for the image.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Work- Chroma is In the Midtones

This painting was started a year ago- either at the workshop or just after. The underpainting sat in my studio unfinished. Last summer I used it as a demo piece for the "scumble with rag" video I made (the back trees). Then it sat around again. With the coming of spring I felt inspired to work on it again. I was particularly interested in working with some of the concepts we have been studying in the Color II class and which I discussed in this post on the Field Notes blog - obviously vibration but also the idea that the mid tones can hold more chromatic color.

I lightened the value range from what I might typically do and tried to keep the color rich in the mid tones, while keeping the lights a little darker and the darks a bit lighter, narrowing the range. I am interested in exploring this further and am working on two other pieces now which include these ideas.

 Spring Morning II
24 x 18

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Work

Winter came back with a vengeance this week, giving us our first snowfall. My favorite haunts were covered in four inches of snow.  Here they are, back in November, shrouded in fog and rich with the color harmonies of late autumn.

 November Fog
20 x 20
 Foggy Morning
20 x 24
November Morning at the Pond
20 x 24

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spring Workshop!

Hi Everyone! Hope your new year is off to a grand start. We are busy making preparations for our annual spring workshop to be held March 27- April 2, 2015. This year promises to be better than ever - our new studio on the historic square of Clarksville is finished, our printmaking studio is ready to go, and as always our beautiful spring landscape is just steps away. Come enjoy acres of beautiful fields of lush spring grass, huge oaks, pines, hickories and elm starting to leaf out, and blooming dogwood and wild plum. Barn buildings, wildlife and farm animals complete the list of motifs available to paint. Plus, of course, our gorgeous sunsets and twilights!

Our spring workshop includes daily instructor demos, help at your easel, access to our 700+
volume art library and some fine hospitality and home cooking too!
This workshop is organized as a field to studio learning experience for painters of all levels. Our first few days in the field will include several instructor demos (both drawing and painting) and learning a diffferent way to collect reference for studio paintings which will reduce your dependence on photography and bring authenticity to your finished studio work.
During the last half of the workshop, we will work in our brand new beautifully equipped 4000 square foot studio, finishing paintings begun in the field, as well as starting new paintings and learning about indirect painting techniques like glazing, scumbling, velatura and transparent grisaille.
Come join us for an exciting week- one that is guaranteed to introduce you to new ideas and techniques for taking your work to the next level!Registration and information here. 
Want to hear what students have to say? Click here.
Questions? Please email me. Hope to see you this spring.  Happy Painting!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rainy Day at the Pond

Rainy Day at the Pond
7 x 5
hard ground etching

Here' s an etching which I completed recently which depicts a rainy day at a nearby pond. This image was inspired not only by the rainy weather we have had this fall but by 19th century Japanese wood block prints which depict the landscape in the rain. I wanted to see if I could capture the look of rainfall and also to evoke the mood it produces.

The plate was step etched, meaning that different parts of the plate were bitten for different amounts of time. The lighter areas like the trees in the distance and the sky were bitten for the shortest amount of time, then stopped out (covered with asphaltum) to keep them from continuing to etch. I then continued to etch the areas I wanted to be darker. The lighter areas were only etched for a few minutes. The total etching time was about 35 minutes.

All images can be clicked for a larger view. Here are a couple of details. The first one shows the line work in the trees, bushes and grass.

 This one shows the rainfall and the pond water.

This etching as well as several others are available for purchase through my studio. Click here for purchase information.