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This PDF file contains two accounts of JSS's teaching and painting methods, illustrated with full color paintingsFree and available to share with your friends!

May 23, 2016

"Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose": a Close Look at John Singer Sargent's Masterpiece...

John Singer Sargent
"Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" 1885-86
Oil on Canvas | 218.5 x 197 cm (86 x 77.5 inches)
Image courtesy of Tate

Don't dither, just click the link below and start reading...

And while you are at it, read this too...

And here is the painting writ large, in focus, and in decent color balance:



Feb 2, 2016

Why I did it, or, where the bodies lie...

A few days ago I posted some photos on my Facebook page of my older work. That in itself wasn't unusual because I upload new and old paintings all the time. But the work I shared comes from a trip I took to the dump – or the local recycling station, to be more precise.

The reaction on Facebook was immediate and interesting. Not one person was neutral about what I did. The responses ranged from 'Atta boy!' to 'Good for you!' to "How brave you are!" to abject horror and expressions of loss, seasoned with perhaps a little judgement about the waste. So, in light of those comments I thought I'd share more about why I did what I did.

Like most good murder mysteries there has to be a satisfying motive for such an atrocious act, and in that way I am no different. I believe the truth of the matter is usually found in the Why, not so much the Who, How, or When. 
The Why...

So here is the Why: 

The work I dumped last Saturday spanned thirty years of my life. What I threw off the trailer and into the pile wasn't everything I have produced over that time – not by any margin. It was work that didn't make the grade. Paintings that didn't succeed. Experimental efforts that lead to better things. Or work that in no way relates to the voodoo I want to pursue now.

Speaking of work that isn't related, most artist go through a number of changes throughout their career. It is to be expected, if not encouraged. There are time when an artist's direction can change abruptly and times when the change is slow and grinding. In either case, the end result is that throughout an artist's oeuvre, the middle or end is often quite different from the start. Sometime the biggest difference lies in a more developed mastery, and sometimes it is simply due to a change in focus. (Oh look! Squirrel!)

A few FB friends told me I was a nut job for culling the stacks. I can appreciate their point because at my core I am a little bit crazy. But then, those folks haven't seen my stacks. As I joked in the post, I tossed three hundred pounds of paintings out of the back of my trailer and I mean it straight up. The recycling center weighed my vehicle on the way in and on the way out and it cost me $39.75 to leave 345 pounds of art behind. So it must be said: When your old work becomes a burden you have to do something about it or it becomes a physical and psychological albatross hanging around your neck.

Some of my FB 'Besties' thought I should have donated the work to a charity or worthy cause. Sure, there are times when I am happy to donate my work to an agency I feel is doing the right thing. But more often than not I prefer to show my support by writing a check. I have learned that fund-raising art auctions are fraught with difficulty and confusion. Sadly, the few times I have handed over a painting it wasn't fully appreciated or valued by the end buyer. Besides, placing too many painting in such venues is inconsiderate to the collectors who have been supporting you over the years.

And speaking of collectors, there is this idea or belief that once an artist dies, collectors and museums will swoop down on the studio to buy up what is left behind. Or, a husband, wife, or the children will set up a trust to curate and hold the leftovers in perpetuity until it becomes evident to a large cultural institution it is time to elevate the artist to his or her place in history. Well, that may be a lovely thought, but really, how many painters has that happened to? And besides – not to be overly cavalier about my line of reasoning – once I am gone I am not sure I will be all that concerned with how history assesses my efforts. I don't say this to be flippant, I just think the paintings I can sell while I am alive are the ones which are most important because they help me (and my family) in the here and now.

But let's return to an earlier point. The artists I most admire and respect, the ones who have mentored me in the past and still do so now, have all chimed in with unabashed approval. They understand how the weight of it all can build up over the years and make a point of periodically culling work out themselves.

And for those who are concerned about people picking through the rag piles... I didn't want to create a burn pile. Not that I am being judgmental about any artist who goes that far to destroy unwanted work. I just don't want to vaporize the heavy metals I know are in the paint film. Nobody needs that. Yes, those metals are going into a landfill – there is no arguing that – but at least they aren't being blown about in the atmosphere or spread across a wider ecosystem. (Again, I am not trying to be preachy here. If there is a better way to dispose of this work in the future I may pursue it.)

Then there were the friends who suggested I recycle or reuse the surfaces instead of dumping it all into a landfill. A good point and fairly shared. I did hold back some supports to repurpose them if they were in fact salvageable. I scrape a lot of canvases and panels you never see while the paint is wet and I rake old paintings smooth with a sharpened palette knife if they are dry. So yes, I pulled aside perhaps half again as many paintings as you see here and plan to re-gesso them with an oil ground before painting something new on top. (Partly because I am cheap and partly because, landfill.) But because I paint with a lot of lead, cadmium, and cobalt I am loathe to sand or grind any of the old work down for obvious reasons. Of course, if I were truly concerned about longevity (and truthfully, I am), then perhaps pentimenti two hundred years from now should give me pause. Well perhaps. I have always been fascinated with the idea of planned pentimenti and intentional palimpsests because I think exploring how an image can degrade over time is a fascinating theme.

For those gift-conscious people, I do give work to my close friends and family members, on occasion. But not the dregs. Who would want that? Besides, if I am to offer my work with love then I want it to be received as a gift and not as a problem. I remember an old PBS FreshAir interview that aired back in the '90s. I consider it a cautionary tale. Terry Gross was interviewing David Hockney and she asked if he ever gave away art to family or friends. His reply was short and clearly tinged with a touch of sadness: "Yes, I used to do that but not anymore". When Terry asked why David said he had grown tired of visiting the homes of his family and friends and seeing an empty spot on the wall where his gift once hung. Hockney would realized at that point the recipient either didn't like his painting, or had stopped liking it, or began to see the money it represented, and well, I get that. In fact, now when I offer a painting I usually present three or four at a time for the recipient to choose from. I do it more for me than them because I don't want to feel like I am foisting off an unwanted canvas.

So here is the Big Reveal: I have lived long enough to appreciate how divesting myself of excess crap becomes artistically liberating. This was not the first time. It opens up the spigots and increases the flow. Even when these paintings were squirreled away in deep storage they were still in my head. Now they are gone. To you they might have been art. To me they were personal experiences and intense memories in sore need of self-curating.

Besides, you can trust me when I tell you there is a lot more where this came from...!


Dec 12, 2015

The Real Deal: Making Flake White using the Old-School process...

I was doing some research online today on various oil painting whites and came across a fantastic video of a person making genuine flake white, using a traditional method. This is the real deal, using the Dutch Stack Process to create lead carbonate on coils of lead. Don't worry if you don't know what that is since his video will fully demonstrate it. The last time there was any mass production of this kind of flake white for the artist was back in 1938, in a little town called Cremnitz, but that village was absorbed into Germany's WWII Nazi expansion and did not survive the aftermath. So now when you see a tube of lead white in the art store labeled 'Cremnitz White', or 'Kremnitz', or 'Kremser' or even 'Flake White', you know it isn't what it claims to be, but instead is likely a marketing name the manufacture has applied to evoke a nostalgic feeling.

However, you can purchase the real deal
you see being made in this video here:

(Of course, you will have to make the paint yourself. But that isn't hard as long as you take the required safety precautions as you do so.)

The thing is, the stack process is the only way I know of that can produce the flake white used by the old masters, a white that is a joy to paint with when you try it. FW is the champagne of whites – the Air Jordan, Rolls-Royce, Black Sea Caviar of whites – and its handling properties are unique and utterly unreproducible in any other way. No modern method I know of can match it. Don't even think about suggesting titanium or zinc here.

This video may be a long watch but it is well worth the time. If only to appreciate the old-school effort that once went into making such a fine paint that we once so casually pushed around...


Facebookers and people who are subscribed to my blog posts:
I am trying to fix the black screens you are seeing in your email applications
I don't know why it is happening yet but I am working on it.
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Dec 6, 2015

Sicily or Croatia?...

Hey All:

I am looking for your feedback about where to go with my next international workshop. Right now I am looking at taking a crew down to the toe of Italy or the bottom of Croatia. Both are astoundingly beautiful places to paint – warm, filled with stone villages, working boats, gnarly trees, vineyards and olive groves, azure water, and shimmering light. Not to mention incredibly good food and wine prepared by the locals in a time-honored way.

So hey, where would you like to go in 2016? Help me out and make your choice. Your answers will help determine my decision!...


Dec 1, 2015

A Quick Reminder: My Portland, Oregon Exhibition Opens this Week...

Hey All: Here is a reminder if you are in the Portland, Oregon area this week... My first (public) hometown exhibition in over twenty years is now going up on the wall today. 

The show officially opens this Thursday, Dec. 3rd, and there will be an ARTIST'S RECEPTION Friday December. 4th – starting at 5:00 pm at Brian Marki Fine Arts. (Details can be found on the invite below.)
I look forward to seeing you there!...

Nov 30, 2015

Yaquina Waters, on the Coast near Newport, Oregon...

During Thanksgiving, in late November, we had glorious weather on the Oregon Coast. Here is a short video of how I spent the afternoon.


Nov 3, 2015

Last call for my 2015 November Southwest Workshop...

For more information, visit: Scottsdale Artists' School

We will spend two days out in the field, painting Lost Dutchman State Park (pictured above), and then three days in the SAS studio working a larger, more finished version of a painting from our field sketches, paintings, and photographs. This class will have it all!