The next step

I have worked from the live nude periodically since the early 1970's. This blog started August 9th, 2012 in my second year of working almost exclusively from the figure.

In the fall of 2015 I reintroduced still lifes and an occasional cityscape into my painting repertoire. Rather than abandon this figure blog or start a new one I decided to add them to the conservation.

All drawings and paintings posted on this blog were done entirely from live models or on location.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lemonade Stand

My wife and I recently came as close as we get to having an argument. Being unable to satisfactorily articulate my position I lost the discourse. It seems the ten year old grandson of an acquaintance has been producing art work, glass candle holders and such and selling them at fairs and on line. He has a professional business card and an enthusiastic sales rep in Grandma. My wife sees this as a good thing. After all at a very early age he is learning a craft and the business side of art.

Mad Magazine character, fountain pen
3" X 2 1/2", 1960's

Mad Magazine character, fountain pen
3" X 2 1/2", 1960's

With a new fountain pen, around the age of our young glass artist, I copied the above drawings from Mad MagazineIt would never have occurred to me to try to sell them. I suppose where art is concerned I am naive and idealistic but it is doubtful my work would be where it is today if I wasn't.

In the context of a children's lemonade stand this ten year olds endeavor is a fun and uplifting story. I don't for a moment begrudge his efforts or any potential successes. But I can't help thinking that by commercializing a child's artwork, equating art and money so early, something profound may be damaged or even lost - that sense of joy and satisfaction in the simple act of creation.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Only connect …"

E. M. Forster's novel Howards End begins with the simple epigraph "Only connect …". I have always interpreted this as Forster referring to human interactions. Central to our lives are relationships and how we connect with those around us.

Multiple times in these posts I have stressed how important making a working connection with a subject is to realizing a meaningful drawing or painting. In recent months I have unconsciously stumbled upon an insight into this evasive union. Achieving it requires one to surrender - totally - to the moment and task at hand. If contact is to be made it will happen in that context on it's own accord.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 8 1/2". 2013

As surely as I type these words this revelation will prove to be a chimera. But a least for now, temporarily, a path to that elusive connection seems clear to me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


It has always been my contention that good abstraction has its roots in realism and that at the heart of realism lies abstraction.

Depicting objects, people and places in some recognizable way has always been my goal. It is the way I interpret subjects and approach drawing and painting. At the same time I admire abstraction and have always anticipated moving in that direction. This shift won't happen by accident. At some point I will have to make a deliberate attempt to "see" abstractly.

Nude, oil on linen, 5" X 6 1/2", 2007-8

The above image is a cropped version of a larger painting. The original included an entire figure crossed legged in front of a curtained window. The end result wasn't successful and the canvas eventually found its way into the discard pile. On the verge of throwing it away I wondered if maybe a section could stand as a whole.

This is as close as I have come to seeing the abstract qualities in the human form. They only became apparent after the fact. Perhaps it can suggest a path away from pure realism but in all likelihood I am wired to see the world that way.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Costly Nudes

Working from the live nude has been of immeasurable benefit to my overall drawing and painting skills. At the same time pursuing the nude has had adverse consequences when it comes to the commercial side of my art career. This is not said with any regrets but just as a fact. It's not simply that nudes take time away from other subjects or have a limited collector base. In a much broader sense nudes, male nudes in particular, make many people uncomfortable. I have no way of grasping to what extent this is the case.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 9 1/4" X  13", 2012

The vast majority of would be buyers who find their way to my studio are looking for cityscapes or still lifes. I have made a habit of putting away most of the nudes or at least turning them to the wall. I don't do this out of any embarrassment on my part but to spare others possible discomfort.

Perhaps this perception is misguided. Maybe people are more open minded regarding nudity in an artistic setting than I imagine. But somehow it seems a simple art nude still has the power to shock while at the same time impoverish its creator.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Eye of the Beholder

If I made a list of things I find beautiful in this life it would be a long one. Somewhere near the top would be a simple female nude with her hair down.

Fifteen minute oil pastel study, 8" X 6 1/2", 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015


I don't suppose there are more than a handful of people who visit this blog on any regular basis. I'm not on Facebook or Twitter or any of the other networking sites. That plus the rarefied content of these posts and my propensity toward privacy all but guarantee low viewership. I am pleased when someone expresses interest but have always seen this blog primarily as a personal learning tool.

So visitor numbers don't matter in any real way. But just once I would like to see a spike in viewer traffic. So here is a picture of the family cat. Isn't it one of the most adorable things you have ever seen?

Reclining Kitty, digital photograph, 2015

This cute cat pic all but guarantees a huge spike in hits to this site. Lucrative offers from web advertisers are sure to follow. I will do my best to resist their overtures.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


There are a lot of highly competent realist painters working today. Many can render incredibly complex subjects with astounding detail and clarity. But most of their work is too mannered, it has an artificial or stilted quality. Much of my early work fits this category - it lacks lyricism. Defined by the dictionary lyricism is an exuberance of style or feeling. One can't artificially inject this quality into a painting - it has to appear naturally.

Female Nude, oil on linen,  8" X  10", 2007
Collection of Amy Satterthwaite

There is nothing like working from a live nude to force an exuberant approach to painting. Regardless of the subject I now work a canvas with a more direct and aggressive style. Urgent but disciplined brush strokes individually and collectively can convey an excitement and flair with the best efforts achieving a delightful lyricism.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Wave

Latching onto an exciting project is to a painter what catching a good wave is to a surfer. It grabs you and takes you along for the ride. The power of the wave, not you, is in control. One has to remain alert and focused to stay in the sweet spot and maximize the ride. Get too far out in front and the wave will crush you. Fall back and you will watch the crest roll away without you.

Watermelons VII, oil on canvas, 26" X 30", 2015

This is the completed painting featured in my post of September 25. Work on it encompassed nearly a month. The perishable properties of the subject required both brief and extended painting surges.

On a long term painting the initial swell of energy almost certainly won't carry you to the finish line. But if you can draw on the early excitement of the first wave it can serve as inspiration and nourishment to bring a work to completion.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Different League

All last summer I painted from a group of non-static and highly perishable subjects. The petals of magnolia blossoms opened as I worked. Leaves of the watermelon plants curled and faded before my eyes. Even the flesh of a sliced watermelon lasted at best two painting sessions. The urgency and directness required to capture these subjects closely mimicked working from a live model - or so I thought.

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 13" X 12", 2015

In reality my summers efforts weren't even in the same league of difficulty. The above image marks my first attempt at figure painting after a two month gap. The experience was by far my clearest realization confirming the value of figurative work. As a learning tool there is simply no substitute for the rigors of the live figure.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Halloween is just a couple of weeks away. A painter friend of mine has around his studio a good inventory of appropriately themed paintings - pumpkins, black cats and such. He obviously anticipated the fall season and set to work some time ago.

In contrast I spent the last six weeks working on watermelon still lifes. I planted the seeds in the spring and am just now realizing the fruits of my labor. (Or is it the labor of my fruits?) So now as the air cools and the leaves change color I have paintings around the studio specific to high summer.

Male Profile, oil pastel on toned paper, 9 1/2" X 7 1/2", 2015

The above drawing done at a recent figure session is the best I can do to honor the current season. A profile lit from below. It's at least a little spooky don't you think? BOO!

Sunday, October 4, 2015


I have spent the last four months painting in near isolation. With the exception of a couple of artists braving the stairs and heat, my studio has been a solo inhabited tropical island.

In January of 2015 I began hosting Fredericksburg figure drawing. The meetings were suspended for the summer due to the heat. As fall approached I sent out notice that the sessions would resume. I was looking forward to welcoming the group back to my studio.

Nude Study, oil pastel, 9" X 11", 2015

Last Monday twelve artists plus a model landed on my outpost. Reentry was a shock. From my vantage point the session went well but I wasn't prepared for the chaos and unpredictability of civilization. That night I couldn't sleep with my mind still racing from stimulus overload. If the past is any indication I will adjust and ultimately draw inspiration and warmth from the group.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Stretching and priming canvases is time consuming and costs money. This being the case I often reuse surfaces of failed or abandoned paintings especially when they haven't progressed too far. A year or so ago after starting a painting with a model I decided the subject warranted a larger canvas. The abandoned effort has been leaning against a wall waiting for a project. It proved the most appropriate size for this watermelon painting. (My own summer crop by the way). Perhaps I should have stopped right here and started a flesh and fruit series.

Day one, Watermelons,  oil on canvas, 26" X 30"

Studio interior, September, 2015

Totally by accident I have been presented with a perfect physical metaphor. I chose this canvas solely for its size oblivious to the existing image. It wasn't until I took these photos that the juxtaposition made itself obvious. So still lifes are eclipsing my figurative work … literally.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Inner Voices

For the better part of the last four years the human form has been the only subject that stirred my artistic passions. Only now as I take a step back from the figure can I see this period of time with any clarity. I was motivated, even obsessed, with the notion of becoming a competent figurative painter. Any rationale behind this quest came from a purely emotional place.

Male Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 8", 2012

The decision to "go figurative" was purposeful but I can't honestly say I had any choice in the matter. Throughout the years I have always followed that inner voice directing me to the next challenge. I can't say this voice has led Bruce Day the painter to any noble path or destination. In fact I have gone down some awfully dark dead ends putting too much faith in intuition. Some honest contemplation and skepticism are warranted when you start hearing voices.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Keeping Your Cool

A recent figure painting session did not go well. I was aware of being in trouble right from the start. The group selected pose was stiff and my angle and lighting were bad. I always paint with a brush in one hand and a rag in the other. Having only one canvas my rag hand was busy rubbing out the first three or four failed attempts. I simply wasn't connecting.

Oil studies on canvas, 12" X 16", 2015

Viewing my work with fresh eyes after the lunch break I capitulated and abandoned the mornings efforts. Turning the surface horizontally I proceeded to tackle a profile study.

Typically in situations like this my art related insecurities would have induced at least a mild panic attack. But this time was different. I remained calm and focused throughout the ordeal. I was content to use the remaining time to experiment and honestly wasn't concerned with the end result.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Never Mind

It is clear that a repeating topic of this blog has been the eminent demise of not just the blog itself but of my entire art career. Obviously I have issues. This has been a recurring theme in my life but now it shows up in print. I have worked in places where certain disgruntled individuals regularly threatened to quit. It could become tiresome as they seemed to be the ones who stayed the longest.

Seated Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 6 1/2", 2015

Maybe these false declarations help me keep going by providing a theoretical exit during difficult times. My aim is to continue drawing, painting and posting as long as they remain challenging and provide purpose and satisfaction. I anticipate the figure remaining part of the mix. So as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say "never mind". Just ignore any future harangues.

Monday, August 10, 2015


This entry (minus the question mark) was written six weeks ago with the clear intention of following through with its conclusion. Now I'm not so sure.

This is my 100th post on this blog. It appears almost exactly two years after the first post. For some time I have been contemplating how to mark the occasion and then the topic became obvious. Over the last couple of months I have been re-visiting some other subjects with my painting, still lifes and flowers mostly. So, at least for now, the figure has taken a back seat. This shift in focus makes it a good time to take a hiatus from these posts.

Reclining Nude, oil on canvas, 12" X 14", 2015

I have no way of knowing how long this hiatus will last. I am acutely aware of having only scratched the surface regarding the human form. Hopefully the challenges other subjects provide will prove beneficial to future figurative work. If a topic regarding the figure proves irresistible I suppose posting will also.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Splendid Isolation

Something has been happening over the last few months. My strong drive to work from the figure has been waining. Facing this realization has caused some trepidation. What could possibly replace the challenge and excitement of a live nude? It appears now that it wasn't just the subject matter losing its luster it was also the working environment. Apparently I needed some solitude.

Back room studio interior, magnolia setup

Magnolia XIII, oil on linen, 15" X 18", 2015

A couple of months ago the heat and noise of summer forced me into a back room of my studio. This was not an entirely unwelcome development. It provided a quiet more intimate environment than the street front room in which I had been painting. What transpired was a month long magnolia painting binge. Early morning forages to fetch subject matter. Then back to the studio for a spirited painting session with the quickly fading blossoms. My only company the radio and perhaps a wasp that had found its way in overnight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I have done dozens of commissions over the years. Mostly still lifes but also a few portraits. It is flattering when someone likes your work enough to solicit a painting or drawing. I was often persuaded to take on a project by an motivated client with a personal vision they wanted expressed in an original artwork. I would also accept projects that took me in interesting and/or challenging directions. I never accepted a commission solely for the money but it was often an important factor.

The sitter for this portrait was enthusiastic and I very much enjoyed our time together. Viewing the painting thirteen years later I see it is overly stiff and has multiple "issues".

David, oil on canvas, 18" X 15", 2002
Private collection

Pleasing a client is always the primary concern with commissions. This proved to be an insurmountable problem for me. Even when they were clearly satisfied I never was. I can only gage success from my own vantage point - a picture has to please me first. I stopped taking commissions some years ago when the backlog of requests hung over me like a dark cloud. I now only make rare exceptions when circumstances force my hand.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A High Authority

I have no doubts about the benefits of working from life. Nor do I need validation as to the superior nature of the working method. But I have to say it was heartening when I came across this quote by Leonardo da Vinci:

"…. those who take for their inspiration anything but nature - mistress of all masters - weary themselves in vain".

Figure Study, oil pastel on toned paper
9 1/2" X 6", 2013

500 years after Leonardo's death I independently came to the same conclusion. I doubt he would think any differently presented with todays plethora of second hand inspirations.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Holding Back

Since starting this blog I have freely posted images with little regard to how many or which works to display. My only concern has been finding the best quality drawings or paintings that illustrate whatever point I am making. Working from the figure two or three times a week new images became available continuously and I had an extensive body of work from which to draw. Looking back at early posts I would include two, three, sometimes four images in one post.

Reclining Nude Study, oil on linen, 9" X 10", 2015

Gesture Study, oil pastel, 8" X 10", 2015

This dynamic has changed. Over the last few months my work from the figure has slowed. Also I unexpectedly took to heart the phenomena I referenced recently about reproduction diminishing an original work of arts aura. I now feel inclined to hold back on posting images of what I consider some of my most accomplished figurative works.

Friday, June 19, 2015

It May Be Primal

Some time ago through odd circumstances I came into possession of two sketchbooks. The man they belonged to is no longer living.  I keep sketchbooks so of course I looked through his. The books contained some writing but mostly pencil drawings. These included room interiors, a couple of portraits and quite a few crudely drawn nudes, some phallic male images but mostly female. Various people made entries over a long time span so with the exception of a few signed pages it is impossible to know who did what.

Sketchbook page, unknown artist

Sketchbook page, unknown artist

The moment I first saw these drawings I thought them more honest and powerful than anything I do. That initial reaction has softened somewhat but that was my first gut response. Why would anyone do these drawings? Are they simply the scratchings of some old pervert? I remember doing similar, though far less explicit, drawings when I was quite young. What if there is something primal going on here? What if they are a modern mans Venus of Willendorf? Capturing femaleness in it's most basic form.

Venus of Willendorf
Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

I know I'm out on a limb here but I just found this interesting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Aura

I came across a 1936 essay by Walter Benjamin titled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". In it Benjamin warns that reproducing works of art can limit or even destroy the originals uniqueness or "aura". He was warning about new reproduction methods of his era and couldn't have imagined the ease and number of todays options. I think he was on to something.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 7" X 9", 2013

I would extend Benjamin's thesis to include the creation of a work of art. I have said many times how I believe works done from life posses a quality or power missing in photo or other reference derived works. I never had a specific term for this until now. It is the aura. Be it a landscape or a still life or a person, capturing an aura can only happen during the physical interchange between subject and artist.

I wince when I see "landscape" painters working from photos or now computer screens. Take your easel out and sit under a tree. The aura is illusive but it is there. It isn't easily harnessed but the only chance of truly capturing it is in that moment and environment.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A High Bar

I recently read a sports column about a basketball teams season ending loss. They were a team that by all accounts shouldn't have gotten as far as they did into the playoff rounds. But they set their sights high and nearly succeeded. Ultimately they lost and the disappointment was profound. So profound that the columnist and others were questioning whether the elation associated with the attempt was worth the inevitable pain of coming up short.

Model in Mirror, oil on linen, 22" X 19", 2005

In sports or art the realization of ones goals hopefully results in feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. But those moments are ephemeral. Each time I have reached a new level with my art I am driven to raise the bar. A new standard takes hold and what was good enough yesterday no longer makes the cut.

Working to clear a high bar is a good thing. But it is important to realize that 99.9% percent of the joy and fulfillment derived from any endeavor stems from the pursuit of that endeavor. And the only thing more painful than not reaching a goal is not trying.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Doing ones best work requires finding your "zone". That place where all outside distractions fade and you are 100% focused. Getting there can be tricky. Many artists I know including myself have heightened sensibilities. This may be a positive trait for creating art but in the real world it can be problematic. My new working space faces a busy downtown street. Traffic noise and voices carry right through the second floor windows. Depending on my state of mind these often aren't easy to tune out.

Group session, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2014

Group sessions can be rife with distractions. People arriving late, setting up, talking, you name it. The longer I work in group environments the easier it is to ignore these things. In fact I almost find comfort in the tumult of a group. Besides, when the model gets into pose everyone settles down trying to find their zone. When you get there it's like a deep meditative state where only the most extreme annoyances can distract.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Painter/Teacher II

I discussed my reluctance to teach art in a previous post (see January 9, 2015). I had a flash the other day that I might actually have something to offer, not by virtue of my successes but by virtue of my failures. In group sessions I constantly see artists frustrated by some aspect of their work. I can usually see ways through or around their roadblocks because I have faced similar obstacles multiple times and from different directions.

Nude Study, oil on linen, 12" X 10", 2015

There is no single "right" method to teach art but there are wrong methods. For too many art teachers the path from student to teacher was too short and too narrow. They have developed a proficiency for certain techniques and then pass them on to students. The problem is one method doesn't work for everyone. No two people approach a blank surface the same way nor should they.

For the student seeking a good solid base from which to venture out, bad advice can lead to years in the wilderness or worse.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Many people I encounter have an "uncomfortable" reaction upon learning that I do nudes. This includes even members of the art community. In the art circles I frequent working from the nude is as natural as breathing. I do understand, however, that there are certain societal taboos to the subject and that I am not entirely immune to them. For some reason I have begun feeling a level of self-consciousness regarding my subject matter.

Standing Nude, oil pastel on toned paper,
11 3/4" X 6 1/2", 2012

Reviewing the nudes I have done over the years it is clear that I am at my best when I am the least self-conscious. When contemplating starting a drawing or painting the reaction of a potential audience has never entered into my decision. I can't let it become my concern how others might judge me or my work.

The best models I have worked with over the years all have a good sense of their bodies and few inhibitions about revealing them. There is a good lesson to be learned there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Primary Colors

Someone asked about my color pallet and I told them that when I get into trouble I retreat to the primary colors and I am almost always in trouble. Ever since my early watercolor days a main challenge has been finding a satisfactory pallet. Which colors work in harmony and provide the widest tonal and value ranges? I have always experimented and counted 33 partially used oil tubes around the studio.

Here is a representative pallet readied for a recent figure session. It contains two different sets of primary pigments.

Two blues, two reds, two yellows and white

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 10" X 8", 2015

I know artists who routinely use over thirty colors on any given painting. The problem for me is that with so many potential combinations it is impossible to understand with any clarity how one color reacts with another. I therefore find myself trying to limit the number of variables. Red, blue and yellow is about as simple as you can get.

Given that my painting tastes and knowledge are always in flux I don't expect my pallet to ever be "settled".

Saturday, April 11, 2015


In 2011 I did an oil painting of a female nude. It was one of those paintings that progressed from start to finish with very little reworking. I thought at the time that any flaws were overshadowed by a raw power the picture possessed. But one of the hands always bothered me. At some point, without a model, I attempted a repair. Instead of making it better I made it worse. I'm embarrassed to post this but here it is.

"The Claw" (detail), 2011

Fixing this hand has been in my mental to do file for years. I am currently in the process of refining some small areas on a trompe loeil still life (see December 22, 2014 post). The skill set required for this tight work proved very helpful when having another go at the hand, this time with a model.

Repaired Hand, 2015, Perfect? No. Better? I think so.

When I was primarily doing still lifes I knew that working from the live figure benefited my overall technique. Now, having worked almost exclusively from the figure for over three years, working a still life is proving beneficial to my figurative work.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Nudes?

This post has languished unfinished in my draft file for over a year. I had been unable to articulate an answer to the seemingly simple question "why nudes?" I have contemplated a wide range of possible theories but none seemed adequate. Why have artists throughout history been drawn to depicting the naked human form? Then at least a partial explanation hit me.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 91/4" X 12 1/4", 2013

Writers, musicians, visual artists are all in one way or another exploring the human condition. Even when the subject matter doesn't involve people they are reflecting the world through human eyes and emotions. I can't think of a better way of presenting our unadorned humanity than through a nude.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Nostalgia Trip

I have just returned from a seven day trip to California, the place of my birth and life up to the age of 29. I ventured there seeking relief from and perhaps some answers to things that were bothering me. In a very tangible way the trip was a success. Mentally I am in a different and better place than when I left.

I was able to visit my college and art school for the first time since graduating nearly forty years ago. I stood in the classroom where I was introduced to working from the live nude. Due in large part to California's budget woes the skylit room was essentially unchanged. So in honor of that very special moment I will simply post a recent thirty minute oil pastel study.

Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 11" X 8 1/2", 2014

Forty years is both a long time and just the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pinch Hitter

Baseball spring training has begun. It offers a good metaphor for my ever evolving working method. For the bulk of my art career I have been in the regular lineup. I paint most every day on a fairly regular schedule. There is a certainty and level of comfort in this rhythm as each session builds on the last and foreshadows the next. You are never completely out of your "groove".

Nude Study, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2015

Age and circumstances have thrust me into a new role. My current schedule has me working from the live figure twice and sometimes just once a week. Where the figure is concerned, at least for now, I'm a pinch hitter. I can no longer use yesterdays painting session to help me quickly settle in. Just like a pinch hitter I now have only moments to size up a situation. The model gets into pose, I find a zone and start laying down paint.

Years of experience are proving to be essential in this new dynamic. It is a high risk and high reward way of working. I'm still figuring it out but there is an exhilarating rush in the process.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Good Vibrations

Vinyl records are making a comeback. According to Harper's Magazine sales have gone up 2,590% since 1993. People are rediscovering the authenticity and complexity of the sound. Sound waves cut into a master disc capture the physical vibrations of a moment. Working from the live model shares something with this old recording technique. In a life situation an artist captures impressions of a moment. There are no separating steps or technologies. You are drawing from the source not copying from one format to another.

Male Nude, oil on linen, 14" X 12", 2015

Analog recording never entirely went away but it survived only as a small subculture within the music industry. The discipline of life drawing and painting has a long history but currently survives as a minor movement in the cacophony of the contemporary art world.

From my narrow vantage point I can't say if live figurative work is experiencing a resurgence. Most large cities have long running live model venues. In my smallish town, over the thirty some years I'm aware of, figure groups have formed and dissolved multiple times. Working from life is a very challenging art form and that, as much as anything, will keep it rarefied. Still, there is nothing like the authenticity and complexity of working from a live model.

Monday, February 23, 2015


In a post awhile back I featured a painting that in hindsight I called an "overreach" (see August 27, 2014). Even though the painting was ultimately unsuccessful I don't regret doing it. It is important to venture beyond ones competence zone occasionally. Frustration can set in if you work there too often but only by periodically overreaching can you develop as a painter.

During a visit last summer to The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I had the good fortune of seeing one of Titians' versions of Danae. The painting emitted an unmistakable power. As a painter I was both humbled and inspired in its presence. I savored my time in front of the picture.

Titian, Danae, oil on canvas, 1544-1545
Capodimonte Museum, Naples

My studio is strewn with unsuccessful paintings. The reasons for failure are varied but I now see that too few failed from aiming too high. Most are minor in scale and intent. Will I ever do a painting that even approaches a Danae? Of course not. But a painting like Danae dangles in front of me like a big sweet carrot on a string. I hope I still have what it takes to keep reaching for it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Repeating Myself

This post is addressed to the handful of people who visit this blog on any regular basis. Let it serve as a pre-apology and an acknowledgement that at some point I will begin repeating myself (if I haven't already). As I compose these entries I increasingly find myself scrolling through old posts to make sure I'm not saying the same thing just in a different context. Posting roughly once a week for a year and a half I am afraid it is inevitable.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 6 1/2" X 9 1/2", 2013

I love working from the live figure and haven't by any means tired of investigating the topic. But there can only be a finite number of distinct areas to explore. As this blog proceeds I see myself dissecting broad issues into smaller and more subtle subsections. So I will try my best to not say exactly the same thing. Forgive me if (when?) I do.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

One of The Coolest Things Ever

If one is exposed to extraordinary circumstances often enough they can start to seem commonplace. Working from the live figure as long as I have it is easy to become desensitized and take time with a model for granted. Every now and then my head clears and I'm reminded how remarkable these moments are.

Seated Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 10" X 8", 2014

In what other realm can you uninhibitedly stare at a naked person? No guilt, shame or other societal taboos. In fact it is your purpose to stare. Stare as intently as possible and try to capture some relevant essence of the individual baring it all in front of you. The viewer of the resulting image is then afforded the same privilege. Working from the live nude is one of the coolest things ever.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


I once read of a painting teacher telling his students "Never try to repeat a success". Say what? In what other facet of life would you even entertain such a suggestion? In virtually all endeavors common sense tells us to repeat our successes. However, when I first read this advice I knew exactly what the teacher meant. Repetition can be deadly in ones art. Searching for a path to success is the goal but you stop growing by simply replicating a successful formula .

Staying on topic there are a several of my early nudes and four self portraits reflected in the still life below.

Still Life, oil on linen, 19" X  23", 2006

I am not capable of endlessly repeating paintings I find "successful". I get bored when not experimenting. I have a loose "rule of three". If I hit on a subject that I enjoy exploring and produce an image that "works" I'll try a couple more.  One to see if the first was merely an accident and another to confirm my conclusion. The still life above was the third, and my favorite, of four paintings that prominently featured reflective surfaces.

Over the years I have broken this rule many times notably with peaches and magnolia blossoms.  Due to a high level of difficulty and complexity I think the figure demands a new rule. Perhaps a rule of 300.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I have previously mentioned how much I enjoy foreshortened angles. In group settings most models position their poses to appeal to the main working center of the room. For me a full reclining pose often feels too elongated and spread out. So, I tend to seek out head or foot views. I like the inherent compactness and difficulty level these angles offer.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 7 1/2" X 11 1/2", 2012

When confronted with a foreshortened pose beginning art students often elongate the figure. They are working from their preconceptions of what the figure looks like. You have to suspend these notions and trust what the pose actually offers you. My mantra has long been draw what is actually there, draw what you see.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 7" X 10", 2013

I have seen elaborate mechanical setups designed to aid artists in rendering the foreshortened figure. They often involve a grid superimposed over the model to orient body parts in their proper places. Such methods can be useful learning tools but ultimately there is a lot of intuition involved. You have to exaggerate the foreground and diminish the figure as it recedes in space. I don't have any hard rules regarding foreshortening, when it works it just "feels" right.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Zero to Sixty

After a six week break from painting the figure I made the trek to Alexandria, VA to attend a five hour session at the Art League. I had my pallet mixed and ready to go at the10:00 starting time. The model was forty minutes late, snow issues or something. Often in these cases someone from the group will step up and pose for some warmups. No one seemed inclined so we mulled around chatting waiting for the model. Her arrival involved a quick entrance and getting right into pose. No warmups, no adjusting the setup or lights, just right into pose.

Seated Nude, oil on canvas, 16" X 12". 2015

When a model gets set I usually take a couple of minutes to assess my approach. But the late start gripped me with a sense of urgency. I had to get up to speed fast. The first hour and a half were quite nerve-racking. I didn't calm down and feel in sync until after the lunch break.

It felt good to be facing a model with a brush in my hand instead of a pencil. The first moments approaching a blank canvas are always fraught with anticipation, excitement and often a dash of fear. This session was a shock re-entry and didn't disappoint.

Friday, January 9, 2015


With a couple of brief exceptions I have avoided teaching art. Being a good teacher involves a great deal of selflessness. A students interests have to come first. I have a very difficult time not focusing on my own work. Also, how can I possibly teach something I am still in the process of learning?

Figure Study, oil pastel, 9 1/4" X 8 1/4", 2012

Too often students want a teacher to be an authority figure. Someone to "tell" them how to draw or paint. The best I can do is show others how I approach a blank page or canvas. But I don't think the way I draw or paint is the way anyone else should. My working methods and style have developed over many years and are unique to me.

I'm not for a moment trying to minimize the value of a good teacher. I did after all have a college professor show me how to see, no small thing. I had teachers who's passion for art conveyed directly to me. I learned the vocabulary of art in school. Ultimately, however, the only way to learn how to draw or paint is by drawing and painting. Discovering ones exceptionalness and developing a personal style is the challenge and where fulfillment lies.