Night. Our limited vision at night colors the concept for humans. It can have an edge – or more than an edge – of fear: the unseen assailant, the “things that go bump in the night.” Night’s darkness offers a kind of freedom as well: think of block parties at night, dancing and kissing in the dark. And darkness can feel cocooning, especially on soft summer nights.

In paintings, night scenes are a wonderful way to focus on light. A nocturne, after all, is all about light: the light from buildings or cars or signs or the moon.

My most recent painting is a nocturne. In this, I wanted to express first the welcoming quality of the light from a house. Your house, perhaps, or mine; this is meant to represent more a concept of home than any particularity. In my imagination, it’s a gentle summer evening. It has rained, but now the sky is clearing. The moon is there too, but I wanted the viewer to find it later, a kind of sweet reminder of the rural night.

“Welcome Home,” 12″ x 9″

Here are some other nocturnes I’ve done over the years.

“December Walk,” 9″ x 9″

This bridge in Montpelier had been strung with Christmas lights and then is snowed heavily. I loved the bright blurs of the lights under the snow. When this couple walked across the bridge hand in hand, I knew I had my image. Here is night as a time for romance and magic.

“Rural Mailbox,” 9″ x 12″

This is from a photo taken at our village’s Fourth of July fireworks. It is not quite dark and the crowd is gathering, laying down blankets on the field and chatting with neighbors. Here is a warm summer night. As you look at the house, imagine the sound of voices and children running around laughing and the feeling of anticipation behind you.

“Rainy Montpelier Night,” 9″ x 12″

Umbrellas and people standing in doorways: the rain has stopped for the moment. I loved the wash of reflected neon on the sidewalk. Here is night in town, with the shops and restaurants inviting you in.

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The Emotional Sky

During the pandemic, my art changed completely. I painted symbolic images about the pandemic. I painted a few desolate landscapes and a couple of abstracts. Then I laid fallow for a bit, unsure of what came next. But I have found it: I am painting skies.

At a workshop with Liz Haywood-Sullivan, she said, “The sky is the most emotional part of the landscape.” It’s true, the sky can be extraordinarily expressive. It conveys everything from tranquility to terror.

You would think that skies would be easy to paint. After all, no one knows what a particular configuration of clouds looks like, so it’s certainly not a matter of accuracy. And a peaceful sky is not too hard to paint: you choose color gradations, a light source, and blend carefully. But a dramatic sky is another matter. In painting clouds, I am always thinking about making them look cloud-like, and you might be amazed at how often I struggle with that. Also, I am continually assessing the pattern of the clouds. It’s almost a form of abstract painting, which is also not as easy as I used to imagine. Composition is critical with a cloudy sky (or a sunrise/sunset), so I rearrange them or change their shape. Thinking purely in terms of composition and shape without reference to familiar objects is definitely abstract painting.

Clouds are more than shapes, though, they are carriers of light. I think this is what I find most compelling, and also most challenging. Every landscape painting needs consideration of the source of the light. Clouds, though, hold the light in complicated ways, and the painting won’t work until I figure that out.

Here is a painting I did just as the country was transitioning to the Biden presidency and just as vaccines were becoming available. What does this sky say to you?

“First Light,” 16″ x 20″

Here’s a recent sunrise photo, although I titled it as if it were sunset. Do you see the balance between the light and dark areas? The pattern of the salmon-colored clouds and the blue clouds? My goal was to bring the eye back and forth across the painting, from the darkest blue clouds in the upper left, across and down the angle of the salmon-colored clouds, and finally to the mist between the hills.

“A Graceful Ending,” 11″ x 14″

And finally, a recent painting that pushes the abstract aspect of the sky. Here there is no reference at all to the landscape per se. I have abandoned realistic color altogether and made a turquoise cloud against a dark red sky. I love this painting, and it hangs over my desk at home.

“Upswept,” 14 1/2″ x 17″

This, to me, is pure feeling.

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I’ve never painted a self-portrait. I guess I never saw the point, really, although I know of an artist who painted a number of them because he himself was the easiest and least expensive model he could get. However, I belong to a small group of local artists and we are taking turns suggesting things for all of us to paint. The most recent challenge was to paint a self-portrait.

I knew right away that I wanted to do a pandemic self-portrait, mask and all. Because most of my face would be covered, I wanted to make my eyes as realistic as possible. And I wanted to include an exaggerated version of what I’ve been calling my “pandemic hair.” I have not had a professional haircut (or color, my color of the last several years being blue) since March of 2020. My partner cut my hair very short last May and I have not done anything about it since then. I have thick hair, and as it’s grown it seems to have acquired a life of its own, waving around my face in often ridiculous shapes. As I thought of the self-portrait, I visualized my hair waving all about, flying out away from my head.

I have found that symbolic paintings like this need a fair amount of time to develop in my imagination before I can start to paint. As time passed, I imagined leaves in my hair as well. And then I thought that I might include snowflakes, too. Finally, a few days later, I suddenly thought: and a bird! I could have a bird perched on my head! In this, I may have been inspired by a friend telling me a couple of months prior about one of her chickens flying up and landing on her head. What a story! I wish I’d had a chicken on my head! So this was my chance to have something similar. With the decision to add the bird, the painting in my imagination felt complete, so I started work.

I needed to find an image of a bird, so I looked in my bird identification book. I looked first at songbirds, searching for one that was positioned the way that I wanted. Finally, there it was, a photo of a yellow-throated vireo, a bird that was beautiful, positioned just the way I had in mind, and that even comes to Vermont.

Portraits are interesting to paint. Unless you want to forego reality (a perfectly legitimate choice), you do need to get it right. I once heard an artist define a portrait as a painting of a person in which the mouth is not quite right. So true! For this painting, I took a photo of myself wearing a mask by using a mirror. Then I printed it out, sized it, covered the back of the paper with pastel, held it up to my painting surface, and used a pencil to go over the primary lines. Voila! A faint “sketch” of my face with the proportions all correct.

Painting my eyes was not as difficult as I had imagined it might be. I think it was just one of those things that happens sometimes with painting. Occasionally I have to struggle and struggle to get what I want and occasionally it just comes. Mostly it’s somewhere in between. This one just came. I painted the rest of my face (mostly mask) and my crazy floating hair. I decided that the kinds of leaves in my hair mattered to me, and I chose oak and witch hazel, both trees important to the Celts, my ancestors. Once I had done that, I realized that adding snowflakes would detract rather than add to the image. Then I painted the bird. Then final tweaking. Here is the result. I am very happy with it indeed, because I feel that it shows something true about who I am. And that, I suppose, is the definition of a successful portrait! [“Pandemic Self-Portrait,” 10″ x 10″]

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Landscape Contrasts

Landscape may seem like an ” it is what it is” kind of subject, but in fact it can be remarkably expressive. The subject matter is part of this: What is the weather? How is the light? Is it stark or lush? And some, of course, is the interpretation of the artist: What do I choose as a focus? How large is the painting? What do I do with color or movement? The artist makes dozens of choices, and each one contributes to what the painting says.

Here is my last painting of 2020. The political situation was beyond awful; it was frightening. Thousands of people were dying of COVID-19 every day. Our lives were constricted and every action outside one’s home required strategizing about safety.

“The 2020 Landscape,” 8″ x 8″

For me, this image expresses this time well. it is small and the color is muted. There is a path, but it is unclear where it leads. It is desolate. We were desolate.

Here, in contrast, is a landscape I just finished (early 2021). We are far from OK politically, but at least we have a president who is interested in the welfare of the country. He has appointed capable people. His early actions have addressed the pandemic, climate change, and human rights. Vaccine distribution for COVID-19 has started. In my state, I will be eligible for the vaccine within a month. If vaccination is widespread enough, we will return to something approaching the before-pandemic days by this summer or fall.

“First Light,” 16″ x 20″

The light! This painting is much larger and does not feel so constrained. The dark clouds are prominent, but they are not the whole story. Light after darkness is perhaps the most joyous of light.

May your vaccination be soon. May your spirit find hope.

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Art as a Political Act

When George Floyd was killed – yet another Black man dead at the hands of the police – I thought a lot about this country’s reaction to racial differences. We have struggled throughout our entire history with this evil. It changes form, but it is still deeply embedded in our culture.

These paintings are part of my response to that.

“We Are America 1”
“We Are America 2”
“We Are America 3”
“We Are America 4”

“We Are America 5”
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Pandemic Art #2

I have been continuing to make pandemic art. I am finding that most of these paintings require a lot more preparation than my usual paintings do. I’ll give a couple of examples as I post them here.

“Pandemic 6”   Much of this one was developed while I was painting it. I knew the general concept and feeling that I wanted, but chose colors as I went along, changing and refining them until The result was what I wanted to convey.


“Pandemic 7” This continues the theme of the prior two paintings. For this painting, I looked at many, many images of rocks online, then chose three or four to print out. The rock I painted is a combination of the images as well as my own invention. I learned quite a lot about painting rocks doing this!


“Pandemic 8: Choose”  Perhaps really fantastic artists can paint anything from their mind, but I am not among those! I looked and lots of images of birds as well as plenty of photos of rope knots. I had an image in my mind, and of course nothing I found online was a match. But I printed out enough close ones to give myself something to look at for the particulars. I tried a couple of ways of conveying the balancing of the two images, before settling in the narrow pointed shape with the line across the top.


“Pandemic 9” This was relatively straightforward. I gave some thought to the colors I wanted and sketched out the design. I did look at photos of people expressing horror: all were similar, so I had a good idea of how to proceed. I wanted it fast and rough, so focus on detail was not necessary.


“Pandemic 10” I did not need reference photos for this one, but it took quite a long time to sketch. Precision mattered here. I also reworked the color a number of times until I felt that it suggested depth, circularity, and perhaps a spinning. I used acrylic paint for the tiny white spatters.

Every time I finish one of these I think, well, perhaps that’s all. And then I imagine another image, or part of one, and apparently that is not all. I wonder how this series will develop. After all, we are only a couple of months into the pandemic. I got my hair cut in early March, and I remember thinking, “I hope this is safe,” but avoiding that kind of contact was not quite on anyone’s radar at that point. Within a week, everything was feeling potentially dangerous. Within a week, we had an official national emergency. By the end of the month, there had been hundreds of deaths in the United States. Now, only six weeks after that, life seems irrevocably changed.

Be well, stay safe, and take care of one another.

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Pandemic Art

In less than two months, our world has changed dramatically: We now live in the time of a plague. Many have said that the world will never be the same, and it is my fervent hope that humanity in general, and the United States in particular, can use this as a portal to transformation.

I was working on a painting of a winter tree as things started to unfold, and without any particular intent on my part, I found the painting taking a somewhat unusual turn. It was stylized, with shimmering color. It was clear to me that the painting was no longer a portrait of a winter tree, but now represented something about the onset of the pandemic. Here is “Pandemic 1.”

Almost as soon as I finished this painting, another image occurred to me. This has not been the way I have usually painted. Almost always, I start with an image, generally a photo. I may change some of the particulars, and in fact I often do. Sometimes I turn the image over in my mind for hours or days, looking for ways to help the painting reflect what I want to express. But in this case, the image shaped itself in my mind, and I explored it mentally as a way to imagine the final version. I have heard it said that you cannot create what you cannot imagine, and I find that true in life as well as art.

Here is “Pandemic 2.”

I had no sooner finished this than I knew what the next painting was. Thus, “Pandemic 3.”

It took a while, but only a matter of a few days, to know what the next image would be. In this case, I started more directly with a feeling I wanted to portray, and then got a sense of the basic shapes, and finally worked out the colors. Some of the final decisions were made at the easel. “Pandemic 4: Some Will Live and Some Will Die.”

Finally, the most recent, completed two days ago: “Pandemic 5.”

Each of these images has significance to me and each expresses something about the experience of living in these times. But I will refrain from saying my interpretation. (Except, of course, for “Pandemic 4,” which is the only one that I knew had an explanatory subtitle. Interestingly, it’s the only abstract as well.) Art belongs to the viewer as much as to the artist, and you will have your own meanings for these paintings.

I already know the gist of the next image, and am in the process of working out some of the particulars in my mind. This whole process has been so interesting. Although all of my art is expressive, I have never created in this way. The art seems to have its own agenda.

Be well. Stay safe. Create something.

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Pour Painting

And now for something completely different!

I have been trying Pour Painting, which – as the name suggests – involves pouring paint. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, as you might expect. You mix each color of paint with pouring medium, which was in turn mixed from three other ingredients. One of those ingredients is silicone oil, which helps the paint to make “cells,” or small bubbles of a different color. Here is an example of a pour painting with lots of cells:

“Rainbow Fire,” 24″ x 18.” See the red “cells” in the blue area?

The next step is to layer the colors in a larger cup. This is where you start making artistic decisions. What is your color palette? I found that I particularly liked the bold combination of black and metallic paints. You have to consider that adjacent colors may blend. With some color combinations, that could be a bonus; with others a disaster. Next you consider how you want to apply the paint to the canvas. With the painting below, I poured the paint across the canvas in a sort of S shape. The blending of colors here added a softness to the painting.

“Jupiter,” 18″ x 24″  You can still see that basic movement in the finished image.

In other instances, I turned the whole cup over onto the canvas and allowed the paint to flow over it. Here’s an example:

“By the Time I Got to Woodstock,” 12″ x 12″

Next comes the fun part. It’s a kind of collaboration between the artist and the medium. You tilt the canvas to move the paint. The paint, of course, has its own ideas about how to move. You make artistic decisions on the fly. Is there an area that doesn’t please you? Let it drip right off the edge. Is there a particular kind of movement you want? Tilt the canvas to encourage that.

Pour painting is not a small undertaking! I did it with my artist friend Cindy Griffith. We set up in her garage. First, we covered the floor with tarps and plastic. Then we brought in tables and covered those with plastic too. We set up a drying area using a ladder propped horizontally. We put newspaper (and usually cardboard as well) over the tables. On a central table, we laid out our paint and mixed many cups of colors with pouring medium. We wore old clothes and surgical gloves. We had a hose nearby to clean cups, other materials, and ourselves.

What a mess! You can see why we will only do it if we can set up with access to the outdoors and with plans to paint a few days in a row. It’s tiring, too. We were on our feet for hours every day. But what fun! Each painting is a surprise. Look at the “Pour Paintings” page to see all of them. But I will leave you with a final image here:

“Dragon Flight,” 18″ x 24″ Do you see that dragon? I did not plan that!

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Summer paintings can be a challenge because they are so, well, green. First, although there may be a hundred shades of green, it’s still all green, and a single color lacks interest. Green is the bane of artists. Somehow, the green in that spot in the grass, in the tips of that tree’s branches, the green right in front of your eyes, is never in your selection of pastels.  Pablo Picasso famously said, “They’ll sell you thousands of greens. Veronese green and emerald green and cadmium green and any sort of green you like, but that particular green, never.” At this point, every artist reading this is nodding in agreement.

One solution is to mix greens, and often you can get just what you need that way. Why the manufacturers of pigments cannot also mix greens to get what I need is a mystery.

In “Midsummer Maple,” I was faced with a delightful abundance of greens. Sigh. I love them, but they are a challenge. Here’s the painting:


“Midsummer Maple,” 16 ” x 20″

This is a larger than usual image so that you can see some of the difficulties and my solutions. I cannot tell you how many efforts I made to get the color of the grass just right! Finally, I tried a fairly bright yellow-green (close to the patch of grass just to the right of the flowers), painted a very pale yellow – almost white – over it (Pastellists call it “scumbling”) and blended the two. Voila! Whew.

The tree is the star of this painting. I love all trees, and here in Vermont a maple is certainly nothing special, but I think they are my favorite. Look at this one, in its prime. It’s a rich explosion of a tree, a lush exuberance of a tree, the very definition of maple health. Oh, I wanted to paint that tree!

Most representational painting is a matter of using a two-dimensional format and making the subject look three-dimensional. For a tree, that means “sculpting” it with light so that you can see the shape not only of the tree itself but also of the branches. Every kind of tree has its own characteristic arrangement of branches, with those of the maple being fairly horizontal. See how the shadows in the left part of the tree, away from the light, gradually become less frequent as you look at the tree’s right side. Yet even in the side facing the light, there are shadows, and these define the branches.

Looking at the tree, it’s easy to think that it’s just green, with a lighter and darker green. But there are at least half a dozen greens in that tree’s leaves, and another three or four in the shadowed areas.

As to the overall green of the image, this has the visual relief of those magenta flowers as well as the half-hidden house and the distant mountains. The magenta of the flowers (again, there are four or five shades of it in there) is a direct opposite on the color wheel of yellow-green, so the viewer gets the excitement of that contrast.

I don’t know that you can see it in this image, but I also added magenta throughout the painting. A dark magenta is in the far trees. Both dark and pale magenta are in the maple, its leaves as well as the trunk. The fence and house are both touched with the color. It’s the kind of thing that most people won’t “see” (in the sense of being aware that it is there) when looking at the painting, but they will respond to it. And that’s what art is all about: the response of the viewer.

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The Seasonality of Painting

One of the pleasures of painting is that I can immerse myself in any season at any time. Longing for green in winter? No problem! Feeling a need for the hot colors of autumn? Easy!

But in general, I find that I tend to paint the season that I am experiencing. Sometimes there’s a lag, especially with winter, as I slowly let go of fall’s fiery display, but eventually I come to rest in the reality that is outside my window. Here are my two most recent paintings:

“Yellow House,” 11″ x 14″. This scene is deep into winter, but it has a certain warmth to it nonetheless, because of the color of the house and even the snowy near hillside. I used an olive green paper, which has a bit of warmth to it. You can see the paper showing through in those background trees, since I used small choppy strokes of pastel and allowed the paper to show through to give it texture. I like the effect. The subtle golds in the far trees and the road contrast with that cool blue-gray sky. The sky speaks of coming cold. The home and its setting speak of coziness.

And just finished:

“Winter in Parentheses,” 12″ x 18″. On today’s weather report, the forecaster mentioned that this is the last day of winter’s historically coldest average temperatures, which start January 9th and slowly change as of January 30th. I must have felt that in my bones when I chose this image to paint. This is the depth of winter: the sweep of snow, the lowering clouds, the pale sun. But there is light here as well. The small structure is now in the distance, looking not cozy so much as protective. This is a portrait of winter’s power, and the force of the season is prominent. The paper underneath is black. It does not show anywhere, but I think it adds a depth and solidity to the scene.

I find it interesting that I usually paint the current season. Of course, I have much lived memory to bring to painting the images of any time of year. But there must be something about living it right now that helps to shape what I want to paint. Perhaps it is that every season, even the slushy mud of early spring’s “mud season” and the stark colors of late fall’s “stick season,” has its own visual message.

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