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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.
If you want to watch the video click here.

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!

Oct 9, 2015

Introducing the Strada Micro...

Photo shot in Zagreb, Croatia, on my kitchen table after painting the domes of Mirogoj Cemetery.

First there was the Original Strada. Then there was the Strada Mini. And now, there is the Strada Micro...

I am speaking of the smallest of the relatively new line of Strada plein air field easels that are constructed out of heavy-gauge anodized aluminum, with a design which features a hinged painting support that is quick and easy to set up. (You can read my previous reviews of the Original and Mini Strada easels here and here

Quick Review: Strada Micro...
Pros: Compact and incredibly durable. Fast and easy to set up and use. Awesome build quality. Cons: Limited to small panels. Limited mixing area. Deep well in the mixing area.
Manufacturer's website: StradaEasel.com

The Strada Micro™ measures 7 x 7 x 1.5 inches and weighs in at 1 lb 8 oz and the manufacture claims it can hold a painting panel up to 10 inches tall. It also comes with two side shelves that can be used to hold your painting tools or used to increase your mixing area. (I opted to use the shelves as extra mixing space, as I have with the Strada Mini.)

The Micro as shipped is limited to supporting a maximum panel height of ten inches but there is one workaround that can increase the size panel it can support. (seen right) It is a separate Strada accessory called an 11 inch Top Canvas Panel Holder and it fits into the same slot as the stock Micro's panel holder. Theoretically, this 11 inch t-bar extension should increase the Micro's ability to support 14 inch panels. I say theoretically because I have not tested the extension out on the Micro first hand. Also, the extension must be treated as a separate component since it is too long to work as a latch to hold the lid shut. Yet as a bonus, the length of the t-bar means it can be used as a mahl stick when it is not being used to support a larger panel. Handy, if you find yourself painting a lot of cityscapes. Tiny cityscapes...

At its core, the Micro shares the same robust build quality and proven design of its bigger and older siblings. It can be easily opened and closed to access or protect your paint as you move around or store the easel. Like its kin, it won't suffer the indignities of being crushed or broken, nor will it bend or deflect from the inevitable blow-down caused by an unanticipated gust of wind. In other words, the Micro, like its brothers, is pretty much bomb-proof, sleek, and built like a tank. But it is a size that best serves the specialized needs of the ultra-light plein air painter who wants to set up far away from the car, or the itinerant artist who is planning to live out of a backpack during a lengthy trip. The Micro can work for the plein air enthusiast who never wants to paint any larger than ten inches tall. In truth, the Micro can stand up against its bigger brothers in every way except that the vertical limit is something to consider.
A Quick Side Bar on Tripods for the Plein Air Painter: 
I also field tested one of the tripods Strada bundles with the MicroSince the Micro rightly targets the fast & light outdoor painter, I intentionally chose the Sirui T-005kx, the most compact tripod Strada offers. (shown right) To be fair, I have never seen a tripod offered by a manufacturer that is robust enough to withstand the rigors of outdoor painting, and frankly, the T-005kx is no exception. First, it is a little undersized for the painter who stands six feet tall. (I'm a little taller.) Second, the integrated ball-head and build-quality of the Sirui falls far below the build quality of the Micro itself. And finally, the weight capacity of the T-005kx, a unit designed for photo enthusiasts and digital cameras, is too low for even the Micro, especially if you like to aggressively push your paint around or have to deal with the wind. (My benchmark for assessing push and wiggle is whether or not an outdoor easel/tripod combination moves more or less than a stretched canvas does in the studio.) In fact, the first time I set up this tripod in the field I accidentally pulled the last section out of one of the legs and lost the pin or ring that keeps that section connected. I never found that part in the grass below so it must be tiny. It isn't fair to fault Strada for this failure because the manufacturer is just trying to provide an attractive (and competitive) price to the buyer, but you should read my post on tripods here if you want a full summary of what to look for in a plein air tripod. In a nutshell, don't try to scrimp or save on your tripod because most push and wiggle can be directly attributed to the tripod's ball-head and legs, not the easel itself. However, having expressed my strong personal reservation, there are painters who like the T-005kx very much, Marc Dalessio being one(link to autoplay video) I just don't agree.
As a point in comparison, I now have eleven different kinds of outdoor easels. That's crazy, I know. They run from funky cigar pochade boxes I made myself to most of the sophisticated options you can buy from a commercial manufacturer. Because of this excess I have designated the Micro as a special use easel, the one I can jam into a modest gear bag when space and weight are of critical concern. Or it has become the easel I leave in the car for those times when I might spot a drive-by painting and just want to grab a quick sketch. It's handy.

For me, the built-in ten inch limit is fine when I am off on a trek and I need room for other essentials such as food, a tent, and rain gear. Or the times I am heading out the door on an adventure that may include a couple of ill-defined modes of transportation. You know, trips that begin with a plane, train, or automobile...and end up involving a ferry, a whitewater raft, miles on a trail, riding an elephant, hopping into a tuk-tuk, or hailing a passing rickshaw. (Okay, those last three are still on the bucket list, but they ARE going to happen...) 

But if you are a recent convert to plein air painting and have been avidly searching online for the One and True Outdoor Easel that can do it all...well, the Micro ain't it. Instead, I'd steer you towards its older brother, the Strada Mini. At twice the size, which is still relatively compact, it can hold a panel or canvas up to eighteen inches tall and that should cover most of the panels sizes you want to carry out into the field. Anything bigger and I suggest you step up to a Gloucester Easel. (Yes, I have one of those easels, as well.)

But do not misunderstand me, the Strada Micro is just as awesome as its larger bros. It just loses out in the fraternal wrestling department because of its shorter reach. (Which is like dissin' Isaiah Thomas for being a little undersized for the NBA.) The Micro was never designed to be a big-boy bruiser, it was always intended to be the little punk in the family. The scrappy kid who is plucky and willing to be packed into tiny spaces as a surprise. Ultimately, there is no point to diss'ing Micro for its size because it is good at what it was built to do. You just need to appreciate you won't paint anything taller than ten inches as it comes stock.

So if you are waiting for a something smaller, and perhaps more compact to come along, don't hold your breath. With the Micro, I think the line of Strada easels have reached a certain size threshold and you are not likely to see anything more portable or durable come to market soon. Unless it is the Strada 'Nano'.

And honestly, should that ever happen maybe it will look like this...

I'm kidding. At least I avoided the 'Papa bear, Mama bear, and Baby bear' analogy, right? Thank goodness for that!...