31 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this piece is also like some of richter's watercolors. i limited myself to a basic green/scarlet contrast, with some blue added as accents, and a dark olive green as a border color.

i would have liked to work the piece much longer and give it greater depth, but wasn't sure how to proceed. looking back, i've treated all the abstracts as exercises or gestures; in simple designs this works, but in a complex painting like this one i think you really have to put some time into it to make it live.

30 December 2007

[no title]

Arches HP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this was an attempt to create more animistic shapes, here the central bar that seems to feed into or off of the purple spaces around it through roots or tentacles.

unfortunately the purple is too saturated for the green gold, which can't decide whether it is a green or a yellow. indecision in the presence of purple is always a weakness. the piece feels sickly to me.

i think shapes or outlines like this need more context, or atmosphere, to cushion them.

29 December 2007

[no title]

Arches CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this piece was made with several layers of iron blue, encouraging the backruns and watermarks, then laying in a thin stroke of cadmium scarlet. the edges were tinted in places with dioxazine violet.

this is reminiscent of some of richter's early watercolors, which however are more eventful. i like the simplicity of the single mark and the play of textures around it.

28 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is an obvious riff on rothko's esthetic. the upper half is quinacridone gold (the real thing), the lower half is cadmium red deep.

the color areas were laid in separately, then fused and blended by rocking the sheet back and forth. the puddly middle mixture was lifted out with a moist brush, leaving a subtle texture due to the cadmium pigment and paper surface.

easy and fun to do; pretty and simple.

27 December 2007

[no title]

Lanaquarelle CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this started out as a landscape, and while it is not really abstract it has nothing representational in it. i like the sense of light a lot.

the upper area is indanthrone blue tinted with dioxazine violet; the lower section is benzimida brown and cadmium scarlet; the two areas were separated by a stripe of perylene black, that was spread downward by the pigment diffusion.

i was lucky to leave well enough alone and not succumb to the urge to fuss with it.

Lanaquarelle CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is a similar "landscape" idea, but it isn't as effective for me because there is more detail in the horizontal bands of color.

the overall blue became too monotonous, so i tried to vary or complicate the color.

there is a nice sense of light and distance, but the image seems to want to be representational, which is not the feeling i get from the piece above.

26 December 2007

[no title]

Lanaquarelle CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

i was still a little dissatisfied that i hadn't really "done a twombly" and worked the stroke gestures into a denser pattern. so i started with a spongy paper (lanaquarelle) that i soaked under running cold water for about 3 minutes, then used a small (1/4") acrylic flat brush to lay down small, roughly parallel lines of pure color.

at first the paper diffused the lines, so that i could cut through them with later strokes; some paints diffused more than others. the later lines were more defined, but could be softened by brushing on a little water. at the pace i worked the sheet retained a consistent, all over moistness.

i like the result a lot. if you look at this image from across the room you'll discover that the lines fuse into a broader rhythm; as you approach the rhythm jumps down to a more detailed level. it's certainly possible to get color changes as well, so that the painting appears grayer from a distance, mimicking the effects of memory.

i also went into this painting with a large project in the back of my mind, an emperor sized painting of grasses and wildflowers. i took the photos for this painting several years ago, and haven't had the nerve to start it. this painting got my juices going.

25 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton HP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

for this painting i laid down the foundation marks in cerulean blue and cobalt violet, both heavily granulating, easily lifted paints. then i washed over this foundation with diluted cadmium scarlet, iron blue, gold ochre (iron oxide) and dioxazine violet, which partially dissolved the marks underneath and created various striations at the edges.

i am very happy with the textural variety that resulted, but not so much with the gestural marks. i think it takes a lot of practice and the judgment of experience to put brushmarks into an abstract painting -- i mean stand apart marks, like calligraphy, not the all over marks used by, say, joan mitchell.

i've already learned to appreciate the importance in abstract painting of color judgment -- i won't say color design, since the selection depends on how the painting evolves, not exclusively on a fixed plan.

i also really enjoy the mixtures that come out of gold ochre or cadmium scarlet with cobalt violet. they make up another of my "secret" flesh mixture recipes.

24 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this is another "dark" painting, done with a selection of warm colored paints, and a vague intent to mimic the design of morris louis paintings -- among my favorite ab ex canvases.

it seems to me that there must be a way to get louis's "poured color" effects in watercolor, but i haven't found it yet. instead i laid out the paints at the bottom of the paper and then spread them out with a wet sponge, after prewetting the whole sheet. the sponge surface was slightly corrugated, but i didn't notice this until i saw the parallel lines that resulted.

today is also my 59th birthday. and i am feeling fiery and frisky, ready for the next year.

23 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

i went to bed early feeling a bit out of sorts, lay there for awhile, then got up, dressed and went down to the studio to work; eventually got back to bed at 2 am.

for this painting i presorted a selection of green and yellow paints, some staining and some granulating and relatively unstaining. making the most of the late hour, i painted this one in the dark, or at least as dark as my studio gets under a full moon, after the method cy twombly used to make his rome chalk drawings.

once finished, i used running water and a sponge to lift off the excess color, leaving a muted pattern in stained paper. the sponge left faint striations across the page.

i liked the result and may explore this technique further.

22 December 2007

[no title]

Lanaquarelle CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

this painting continues from the one last thursday, but with the intent to improvise and blend more consistently.

i laid down a preliminary pattern of bars by pouring color onto the paper, then gradually fused the pools as the paint dried. then i used the same selection of paints to add brushstokes of paint or plain water as edges hardened, colors became imbalanced, or harmonies didn't seem right.

i like the effect, which is earthy and atmospheric at the same time, but feel there is room for improvement in the color selection. i trimmed the sides and either shouldn't have done that or should have trimmed the top and bottom as well.

21 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

there is a certain style of abstract painting that builds on a dominant figural element isolated in a textural background.

here the bar is quinacridone violet and the background is green gold. i had expected the colors would mix to make interesting browns, but the violet was too dark to do this effectively. i should have used a magenta or rose.

i wasn't clear about how i wanted to related the figure and ground. i started with the bar figure detached, then diffused the ends with the idea of imitating the force lines on a bar magnet, and then just let the paint do what it wanted.

the flow pattern results from the cockling of the paper, which in turn is partly influenced by the way the paper is wetted. i haven't made a study of this, but the paint pooling along the edges here indicates that the outline was painted first, and the bar last.

i think this kind of painting is very hard to design. whatever the figural element does in relation to the background reads as a kind of action or force, and the shape, color, size, orientation etc. of the figural element has to be consistent with that action (e.g., bar = magnet = magnetic lines). but this "representational" linkage can't be too explicit, or the painting loses its abstract intensity.

20 December 2007

[no title]

Winsor & Newton CP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

coming into the end of the year, i had 8 or 10 half used watercolor blocks of papers that i've found myself using less over time ... for one reason or another i don't prefer them.

and coming out of a long stint of figural works, it seemed to me ideal to use up the blocks in abstract paintings.

i don't normally do abstractions or non reps or whatever they're called nowadays, but the christmas related holidays seemed like a great time to unwind and play with paints.

this piece is anchored in vertical stripes and large blocks of color, modulated by diffuse color changes and some textural detail. light is bookended by dark, and the design is slightly asymmetrical.

19 December 2007

figure drawing group

Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 14" x 11".

well, i packed everything up to go to group, drove into sebastopol in a pouring rain, got set up, had everything i needed ... and the model didn't show up. for the third time in three weeks. don't know what's up with that ... i don't have that problem with *my* models ...

anyway, after calling around, the organizer brought in a replacement, a latina (?) boxer named angela (or angelina). quite a good model, but i was especially interested in her face, which was expressive and had great bone structure.

with a nose like that, she must be a damn good boxer.

18 December 2007


Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 14" x 11".

antoinette modeled for me today for two hours ... the last model of the year. my figure campaigns usually run for a few months in the fall/winter, but this year i spent more time on the series because of the portrait work. i worked with some great models ... imaginative and hard working.

i also have to say i have a wonderful wife. how many wives would let their husbands work with naked women?

i met antoinette in the weekly figure group a few months ago and asked her to come by and do an introductory session. these are life portraits from about 15 minute poses.

Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 14" x 11".

i like the reminiscence of hans holbein (fils) in these drawings. i haven't resolved the problem of modeling the form yet but i want to keep my drawing technique as simple as possible.

i get the impression in the figure drawing group that many artists are trained to *work* as hard as they can on a drawing, as if each stroke with the pencil or chalk is another penny in the fountain. that kind of technique seems to me to make more work than needed.

17 December 2007

m. graham watercolors

Fabriano paper.

today i painted out the new "colors" in the m. graham watercolor line, 35 in all, measured the colors with my spectrophotometer and tried out the paints in a few paintings.

the additions fill out the important gaps in the line and add some really invaluable paints -- cobalt teal, pyrrole orange, perylene maroon, cobalt violet, copper azomethine (green gold) among many others.

overall, the quality of artists' materials available today is really remarkable. yes, there are some old papers that i was able to snag at new york central art supply's paper department that impressed me a lot, and yes kolinsky brushes are not quite the same today as they were several decades ago, but overall the breadth and quality of art materials available today has never been better. from digital to giclee to modern pigments and binders and a global diversity of papers, it's a great time to be a painter.

16 December 2007

amaryllis (red)

Arches HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

apparently we get more gift amaryllis plants at our house than i was aware of. i noticed these guys perking out of their stalks and the next day they were already starting to bloom.

after the struggle with the rose background i went into this one without any finesse. background was cadmium red and ultramarine blue, which is guaranteed to throw off backruns, evaporation rings and textural deposits, especially on hot pressed paper.

blossoms are cadmium red, in one pass; convenience greens finished it off. the whole thing took about an hour. it looks it, but i have gotten so fussy lately that it was nice to just pour it out.

15 December 2007

last rose

Arches CP 300 gsm, 10" x 7". 90 minutes.

call it a sign of global warming, or a sign of the enormous fecundity of sonoma county soil ... jan's roses bloomed well into december this year. but she had to prune them back for the winter, and this was the last rose she harvested for a blossom vase in our kitchen.

i sat up until 2am painting it, naked on a kitchen stool with the ipod playing julie london and shostakovich.

the drawing came off all right, but i lost control of the background wash. my first attempt was a mixture of manganese violet, phthalo green and sepia hue (burnt umber and ivory black). whatever i intended by that mixture, the paint threw backruns easily and dried to hard edges. i had to do repairs, then add two more layers of an alternative black mixture. i wanted a cooler, deeper color but accepted this as an honorable draw.

the rest of it -- flower, stem and leaves -- came off quick enough; in fact i had to wait for the paper to dry.

the rose has long been a symbol of the passing of time. "sweetheart, go see if the rose that bloomed in the spring is still on the vine" begins a poem by ronsard.

here is to the end of the year, the end of the day, the end of much that was good and bad. into oblivion it falls forever, another drop in the eternal rain of time.

14 December 2007


Arches HP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

nothing like botanicals to take one's mind off portrait studies.

every year jan gets a vase of amaryllis bulbs from my parents, and they bloom in the weeks before christmas.

this was a drawing recreation and i did not spend a lot of time on it. the background is phthalo turquoise, one coat; and red stripes were mixed with venetian red and quinacridone red.

these are lovely, regal blossoms; there is a charming tradition of renaissance madrigals where they symbolize a beautiful woman.

13 December 2007


Arches HP 300 gsm, 10" x 14".

another drawing from siena's monday session.

it's ok for a model to lie down if i ask her to. my interest here was to draw her face pitched at an unfamiliar angle ... as i mentioned in the "joy" pose of the tetes series (nov. 11), it's really hard for me to draw the face accurately when it is tilted to one side.

i like how the drawing turned out. i was hasty with the coloring, as i had no other plans for it. the brown couch ... how i love that brown couch.

12 December 2007

figure drawing group

Strathmore drawing 130gsm, 14" x 11".

back to figure drawing group -- i remembered this time to bring my paper -- and, wouldn't you know it ... the model didn't show up.

if this pose looks familiar, it's because the substitute model was the same as last week, and just like last week she did a few standing and sitting poses and then, boom, she was down on the floor.

during break she went around telling all the artists what a great model she was and handing out her business cards. i declined to ask for one.

myself, i found the pillow to be as interesting as the model.

11 December 2007


Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is a life drawing from siena's session. it's done in wolff's carbon pencil; the blue is *real* manganese blue. (i bought up a cache of the paint before it went extinct several years ago.)

again i kept the coloring and modeling as simple as i could, consistent with the drawing, and gave geneva a more monumental weight. she is very slim overall but has strong well formed shoulders. i reckon she could whip me in an arm wrassle.

10 December 2007


Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 14" x 11".

siena posed today, her last session with me for the year. i'm soon off on another vacation with jan and will not be back at work until late january.

in tribute to her life in an intentional community and her concern for the environment and the rhythms of the wild, i gave her a copy of thoreau's "walden", a book she said she has never read.

this was her hand pose. i spent a little more time on it than usual because i have never felt satisfied with my drawings of her hands, and this was my last chance for the year. and this one came off well.

siena has strong feminine traits yet can calmly recount slaughtering a deer she found dead (and still warm) by the road. i tried to capture both aspects of her character in this image.

09 December 2007


Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

seems appropriate to conclude the past few months of portrait studes with a freehand drawing of myself.

this is probably the most accurate portrait i have done. i tried to capture my typical know it all smirk, but i'm not sure that comes off.

i have a charcoal self portrait sketch hanging above my studio french doors. one model thought i looked angry, another model thought i looked pensive.

i liked that. a successful portrait in my eye should look different to different people -- different to the same person in different moods. because that is how people are, and our relationships to them.

background is green gold, two layers; shirt is ultramarine violet; the usual i've forgotten what flesh mixture, and a lot of patience with the eyes.

08 December 2007


Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

this is a life drawing from margaret's session. i debated whether to clean up and amplify the drawing and leave it in charcoal, or to paint into it. i decided to paint it, and the result is shown below.

i also posted this to remind me that margaret had dyed her hair jet black ... a striking effect, but a little jarring against her creamy complexion.

i painted everything as flat as possible, adding a little color around the eyes and in the lips. (the colors do not come through accurately in the photograph. no matter how i photograph my paintings i cannot get a satisfactory color rendering. maybe i have a preference for colors that don't photograph well.)

i like the poised, inward, timeless quality of renaissance portraits, especially the small format profile and full face paintings from the fifteenth century. this piece doesn't come up to that standard, but it points in that direction.

07 December 2007

she's baaack!

Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 11" x 14".

margaret modeled today for the first time since my italy vacation. i was surprised how enjoyable it was to see her again.

jan was down in the studio to share an espresso with me, and the three of us got to gabbing about family -- jan and i had just returned from a weekend with my parents, sister and nephews in los angeles. then margaret and i got to work.

i always start with hands, as i've mentioned before, and this was her first pose. i said she couldn't hold the pose and she said i couldn't draw it. she did and i did.

06 December 2007

red and green (siena)

Arches CP 300 gsm, 14" x 10".

another image (and my last for the year) from the siena sessions. i was posing siena on a wooden bench near the end of our time, when she simply broke the rhythm and slumped down to something more comfortable.

all the image colors are some flavor of red and green mixture. the only blue in the image is in her eyes, and in the window puncturing the dark background.

this painting will probably be my contribution to the 2008 invitational show at the graton gallery in graton (sonoma county) california.

on the theme of painting design ... there are several planes of lines wedged into one another, with the figure as the only fluid form in the image. most of this is happenstance ... the ladder was used to shoot her from above on the brown couch, then pushed aside for other tasks ... the shadows result from the late hour on a fall day ... the intruding white door was incidental to framing the figure ... the floor material was chosen because it is durable and impervious to wet. the planes are shards of my life and the moment.

however, once i've chosen a support format (here, 14" x 10"), i try to crop or position the image to correspond to the format proportions -- the lines produced by halving and/or squaring the width or height dimensions, as shown in the second image at right. thus, her eyes and back correspond to one of the horizontal divisions and her knuckles to another, while her left forearm is aligned with a vertical division and her back leg with another.

this division of labor works for me: trust the viewfinder and the chemistry of the moment to capture a complexly composed image, then use the format proportions to give it stability and strength.

05 December 2007

figure drawing group

Wolff's carbon on unknown paper.

another wednesday night at the figure drawing group.

the night did not begin well. first i discovered that i had forgotten to bring my paper pads, and had nothing to draw on. i found some large sheets of discard paper in a corner rack, a medium weight gray wove with a pronounced tooth.

then the model failed to show, so group members took turns posing. this is linda, a painter who comes down to the group from healdsburg.

Wolff's carbon on unknown paper.

about half an hour later the substitute model showed up, i didn't learn her name, so we finally got started. however the model gave us a few standing or seated poses, and then went to those demanding lying down poses. oh yes, within half an hour she was dozing on the platform.

the paper was unfamiliar and a bit rough, so i had to use a simplified drawing style.

03 December 2007


Watercolor & carbon pencil on Utrecht bristol, 14" x 10".

kukla is a havanese my wife brought home from uzbekistan, where she was doing field research on gerbils.

kukla was owned by an old russian woman who died alone and was not found until three days later. kukla was taken to a game preserve as an orphan dog, and lived paw to mouth until jan came along.

every summer jan would arrive pull off all the ticks, comb out kukla's matted hair, and give her good meals. so they bonded, and i told jan to bring her home.

she is old, deaf and rather dim sighted, a companion of ours for almost 10 years. she is a sweet dog, but snaps at strangers.

occasionally she soils in the house, but mostly does it on the tile bathroom floor. "she is trying her best," i tell jan. "she is shitting where the big dogs shit."

02 December 2007


Strathmore drawing, 14"x 10".

now for the pet gallery. this is scooter, the older of our two cats. we got him at the san mateo cat show many years ago. he wasn't suitable for breeding because of the cowlick on his back. everyone remarks on it.

cats are hard to draw if they are awake. sleeping is no problem, but awake they do not like being stared at. it agitates them, makes them get up and move.

this is a photo. scooters is waiting for someone to open the door.

i didn't have much interest in this cat until we moved to the sonoma countryside. then he and i discovered a common passion: killing gophers. when i am out in the field he comes out and follows me around, in case there's a kill to gnaw on. we had to pull all his teeth because they were abcessed, so he has to gum them. takes him a long time, but eventually only the head is left.

01 December 2007

delphine seyrig

Strathmore drawing 130 gsm, 14" x 11".

this is the last of the video captures i will post for now. it shows the french actress delphine seyrig at frame 1:26:52 of resnais' "last year at marienbad" ... an interminable collage of seyrig in a variety of costumes floating alienated in a landscape of chateau hallways and gardens.

the widescreen format cut off the top of her head, which i had to complete by eye. i left her hair unfinished as the style can easily pass for a close fitting cap.