Sunday, December 22, 2013

Less is Not Always More

 Whose Woods These Are
54 x 72
(click for larger view- pardon the homemade photography)

Sometimes it's just less. One of the great challenges of this project is to find a way to convey the Woods in a way that is authentic but still suggestive and full of mystery. And to do that in sizes ranging from 12 x 16 to 72 x 96.  In a 12 x 16 you can use one brushstroke to describe what requires a complicated passage in a larger work. But more importantly, you have to find the right balance between what Asher B Durand called imitation and representation. There are some things which can be imitated and some things that can only be represented (I would use the word suggested perhaps). The right balance is essential to capture a sense of place and yet retain the mystery and mood you want to convey. I wanted the paintings to look like the Woods without being literal portraits- to convey a palpable sense of what it feels to be in this place. That requires something more than suggestive generalization and less than simply copying what you see.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spreadsheets. Really?

48 x 64
(click for larger view)

Spreadsheets. Not a word I would have ever included on a list of things I might learn about over the course of working on my solo show. But, here I am two years later finding myself creating spreadsheets to keep track of and organize over forty paintings for the show.

The exhibition will hang in two separate venues (Galerie Kornye West and The Botanical Research Institute of Texas) and is organized around the theme of the four seasons in Lennox Woods. Early on, I worked out the number of pieces I would paint for each season and the size ranges and how many in each range, and roughly how many of each would hang in each venue.

As the work begin to take shape, other things needed to be kept track of- what pieces had been photographed, what was finished and what was work in progress, how many of each group still needed to be started, and the frame status for each piece.

Then, some pieces were sold and others left the studio for the gallery. Some pieces were varnished and others had not been (making it easier to work on them again if I wanted to).

When we started working on the catalog I needed to keep track of what information had been given to the designer of the catalog and what was still needed. And, of course, the deadlines to get the work finished, photographed, framed and delivered.

It turns out, spreadsheets are a great way to organize all that information in an easily accessible and organized way. Spreadsheets. Who knew?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Might Have Been

What Might Have Been
48 x 40
(click for larger view)

Lennox Woods is a 300+ acre oasis of old growth forest surrounded by fields, pastures, third or fourth cut woods and pine plantations. Driving down the dirt road to its unassuming entrance one can immediately see the change in the landscape. The fact that the Woods exist today is because from the mid 19th century, the Lennox family preserved them, protected them from logging and then gave them to the Nature Conservancy to be protected in perpetuity. It could have all turned out very differently.

I thought a lot about all this while I worked in the Woods over the last two years. But, I also came to understand the idea of "what might have been" in much more personal terms. When I first came to the Woods I had certain ideas about how I would paint them. Although I spent several months just looking and drawing, I did have some preconceived ideas of how I would approach the work. Over time, many of those ideas dissolved and reformed into new ones- influenced both by the Woods themselves and the rhythm of my own life. Those things combined to produce a very different body of work than I would have produced in a shorter span of time or if my own life had not been upended in various ways during the process. I don't know what that work would have been like, but I feel confident that the body of work that I will exhibit this coming March will be stronger, better, and deeper. That is something else I learned in the Woods.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What I learned in the Woods

Summer Respite
42 x 24
(click for larger view)

Now that I am closing in on finishing the work for the Lennox Woods show, I thought I might do a series of posts about what I have learned during this two year process. There are all sorts of things.  I have learned a lot about my materials that I did not know. I have learned about patience and frustration. I have learned about the challenges of working on a large scale and of working on a long term project. The list goes on and on. So, I am going to tackle this one little piece at a time, and in no particular order of importance.

I have learned to slow down. To those who know me, I can hear your snorts of laughter! Yes, I do have a reputation for "being in a hurry, multitasking, getting a lot done in a short period of time and generally living by the "to do" list. But, exactly because of that, learning to slow down has been an important lesson, both in how I create my work and in how I approach it. Over the last ten years, the techniques I have adopted have necessitated that I slow down. Gathering field reference, eschewing photography and working indirectly have all made it necessary for the actual making of art to be a much slower process than it was when I was an alla prima, direct painter.

But now, I have slowed down in other ways. Spending time in the Woods has led me to a much slower, contemplative way of approaching Nature. Simply sitting on one spot and listening can lead to all sorts of things. In the end, that experience ends up on the canvas.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Working on the "big boy"

One of the most exciting things about painting for my solo show next spring has been the opportunity to work in large formats. I have learned so much about how to go about this, mostly by trial and error. These days my studio is a jungle of easels and paintings, but I cleared away some of the clutter to show how I started this large painting, 72 x 96 , aka "big boy" which will be the centerpiece of the show.

I have described in another post how I use sketches, drawings, memory and imagination plus a study to start the process. A grid is made on tracing paper over the study and proportional squares placed on the larger canvas in charcoal. In this first image you can see the 18 x 24 study (which is at the underpainting stage) on the right, the grid in the middle, and big boy on the left with the charcoal grid laid in. All images can be clicked on for a larger view.

 Here is the grid. The main shapes and lines in the composition are traced in pencil after the grid format is drawn in in pen.

Here is the 18 x 24 study (unfinished).

Here is the underpainting more or less complete. This took about two days of work.

Up on my little stepladder working on the underpainting.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Summer Idyll

I continue to work steadily on the Lennox Woods body of work for my solo show next spring. There will be five large scale paintings - 48 x 60 up to 72 x 96-  and a total of about 42 paintings in the show. I started with the smallest of the "BIGs" as I call them, and am working my way up in size. I am working on several of them at the same time, plus others as well- usually about 8 to 10 pieces at a time. 

In January of 2012 when I first started on this journey, I was out in the Woods one day with Steve and Allen Phillips (the filmmaker for the project). Allen and I managed to wander off the trail. I didn't know my way around the Woods very well back then and neither did Allen. But, he had a GPS on his phone and we knew if we kept heading north we would hit the dirt road that runs along one side of the Preserve. So, we kept going instead of doubling back to find the trail. It was winter so bushwhacking through the Woods wasn't too hard and we got back into some spots that would be hard to find in any other season.  Pretty soon we came upon a small pond. It was a big surprise because the only water I had seen in the Woods was Pecan Bayou and the small streams it spawned throughout the Preserve. This pond looked self contained, although Steve thinks it is fed by a spring on adjacent property. Anyway, having found it, I knew I wanted to come back.

Here is a study for the 60 x 72 painting I am now working on.

A Summer Idyll
20 x 24

I started with lots of sketches, working out my ideas. This is my preferred way to work- hunting for motifs, then using drawings to work out designs and to gather reference materials.

Once I had the design organized and the field reference I needed, I started the 20 x 24 study.

I made a grid of the study and traced the main shapes and lines. I gridded the large canvas with proportional squares with vine charcoal, then drew in the composition.

Here is the studio with the large canvas on the left, the grid in the center and the study to the right of that. Just to get an idea of the scale, the painting on the easel behind the grid is 36 x 48!

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Morning Room

There are places in Lennox Woods which have the feeling of a separate space - a room if you will - that one can enter and inhabit apart from the larger surrounding Woods. Of course, it's not true, but it feels that way. One spot like this is beside a small stream which is part of Pecan Bayou, the watershed which nourishes and makes the Woods possible.

I often take a sketchbook and camp stool here and I particularly like it in the early morning hours. So, it wasn't a surprise that when I got the idea for this painting, its title -- The Morning Room - came with it.

This is a study for a larger work (30 x 40) which is in progress now. My photography, as always, doesn't capture the hazy morning light very well. But, you get the idea, right?

The Morning Room
18 x 24



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Back in the Woods- Exciting News!

I have been back at work in Lennox Woods for about a month now, working in both the field and the studio toward my solo show Lennox Woods-The Ancient Forest next March. And there is exciting news about the exhibition!  The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) will be co-hosting the show! BRIT has a beautiful new facility located in the Cultural District in Ft. Worth near Galerie Kornye West. They have a spacious exhibition space which will be a perfect venue for the large format paintings. On Spring Gallery Night, March 29, 2014 there will be simultaneous openings at BRIT with 16 large format paintings and at Galerie Kornye West with another 25 paintings.

Galerie Kornye West and I are excited to partner with BRIT for this exhibition! In addition to the show, a lecture series, gallery talks, and other special events are planned in connection with the month long exhibition.

Me standing near #52, one of the huge short leaf pines in the Preserve