I’m fixated on sunsets lately. Some are more repesentational; some are more abstract. Some are over the Hudson River; some are over the ocean. Some are on raw canvas; some are on watercolor paper. Some look like watercolor, even though I’m painting with acrylic (fluid acrylic). But they all have to do with sunsets and the always changing colors.
All three of the following paintings of very different sunsets were painted in much the same way. I wet the whole paper with water and then lay in the colors, starting with the lightest and finishing with the darkest. Once that dries, I repeat (again and again) the process, intensifying and darkening selected colors. When I am satisfied with the colors, I look to see if the painting needs any hard edges or accents. Throughout the process, there are an almost infinite number of decisions to be made, many completely unconsciously. (See my final paragraph below.)
So in no particular order …
I was a total bystander, simply waiting and watching as the sunset evolved. There was nothing for me to do … just appreciate the beauty.
This painting is a synthesis of my view of the sunsets over the Palisades and the Hudson River and a caribbean sunset, seen from a beach in Costa Rica.
Abstracting a sunset is not as simple as it might seem. What not to include (boats, birds, people, specific details of the waves, etc.) is at least as important as what to include. Getting the color gradations in the sky and the water is not easy either. And finding the right balance between hard and soft edges is another not so obvious decision. Every sunset I paint includes these and other equally difficult choices. I love it.
I see beautiful sunsets almost every night outside my living room window and they are often spectacular. So I’ve been painting them, sometimes on raw canvas, sometimes on watercolor paper. Sometimes they really look like sunsets, sometimes they are more abstract. Sometimes they are garish, sometimes muted. So I’m searching for the perfect sunset, though I often think I’ve found it every evening outside my window.
In no particular order, some of my recent sunsets:
The cars on the Palisades Highway can be seen intermittently through the trees, and the little bridge over Spuyten Duyvil at night looks like two lines of light.
By now, I’ve lost track of how many sunsets I’ve painted. But they all bring back the wonder at how beautiful our world can be.
This is based on a very small watercolor sketch I did on a plane years ago. Don’t remember if we were coming or going or where, but do remember the feeling of awe.
Perhaps this should be titled Trying to capture the perfect sunset. I often think I’m seeing the perfect sunset, but painting it is something else.
I don’t like making excuses (they’re usually so lame), but I had hernia surgery three weeks ago and I’m just not bouncing back the way I thought I would. Okay, as someone pointed out to me recently, I’m no spring chicken, but I still thought I’d be way ahead of where I am today. I’m doin’ what I can, but it’s not what I expected.
I’ve mostly been staying home working in my studio (in between naps, snacks, etc.) and 2 hours here 2 hours there, stuff happens. But I’m constantly tired … even though I haven’t done much of anything.
But let’s talk about the stuff that does happen (2 hours here, 2 hours there). I have a couple of finished acrylic paintings on paper and a couple more in the works.
The paintings that are finished:
This is the kind of sunset I often see at night from my dining room table: pink orange and blue over the Palisades and the Hudson River with the little Spuyten Duyvil bridge making the connection between Manhattan and the Bronx. Almost no matter what the weather, it’s beautiful.
Sundown 12×9 $600
I look at this and I think: it’s a little garish. But then again, sometimes the sunsets ARE a little garish. So rather than tone it down, I leave it very colorful the way it is (garish).
What can I say, it’s what I see. I’m doin’ what I can.
Acrylic paint on raw canvas behaves differently than it does on watercolor paper, even though in both cases the acrylic paint is watered down so it looks like watercolor. The advantage of acrylic paint over watercolor is that once it dries, it’s permanent … can’t be changed or lifted as it can with watercolor. The disadvantage is that once it dries, it’s permanent … mistake or not, intentional or not. Even though the finished painting can look like watercolor, acrylic isn’t watercolor.
And watered down acrylic paint on raw canvas isn’t the same as watered down acrylic paint on watercolor paper. Unlike with watercolor paper, Acrylic Flow Release must be added to the water or the paint won’t sink into the raw canvas; it just beads up on top. Getting a hard edge is much harder on raw canvas; Matte Medium must be used with tape otherwise the paint just seeps under the tape in weird ways. You can use masking fluid with raw canvas to get a hard edge, but the masking fluid can be incredibly hard to get off the raw canvas (unlike watercolor paper).
So you can see why the last few months have been a trial and error learning experience for me. Ronnie Landfield and some of the class members have been very helpful, but until you actually do it yourself, you haven’t really learned it.
In no particular order, here are some of my recent acrylic on raw canvas paintings:
This was my very first acrylic painting on raw canvas and I simply got lucky. Everything worked the way I intended.
Even though some things in this painting of my view of the sunset over the Hudson River and the Palisades didn’t turn out exactly the way I intended, I like the end result. We call them “happy accidents.”
This is still very abstracted even though the clouds do look like clouds. I took out the bridge, blurred the Palisades and included the navigation lights and their reflection. You never know what should be included until you try it. Miraculously, the masking fluid for the tips of the clouds and the navigation lights and reflections was easy to lift up. I can’t explain it.
This is a larger variation on my earlier Day’s End painting. While I was busy fixing what hadn’t worked as intended in the earlier painting, the masking fluid for the Palisades Parkway and the little bridge was unbelievably hard to lift off the raw canvas in this painting. Go figure.
As I said, it’s been a learning experience.
It’s been five years since I visited Iceland, but I keep creating paintings that are based on that trip. With no conscious desire to do so and no matter what the medium, I nonetheless find paintings emerging from my Iceland memories. Right after my 2012 trip, my paintings were all in watercolor; now I’m painting with acrylic. I remember thinking how beautiful but alien parts of the country were. Well, Iceland continues to inspire.
Two recent paintings, both acrylic on canvas created in my home studio, are perfect examples.
Lava Flow started as a painting about water. But when I didn’t like it and took a pallette knife to it, Iceland emerged. I can’t explain it any better than that.
Fire and Ice took almost no time or conscious effort. I put the colors down, didn’t like the result and, as with Lava Flow, started fixing it with a pallette knife. Again, memories of Iceland surfaced.
When I first came back from Iceland and started painting, I remember thinking how my abstract paintings were really awfully representational (parts of Iceland were that strange). These two aren’t representational, but they do really remind me strongly of Iceland. I think Iceland will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.
Lately, I’ve been producing three very different kinds of paintings. They don’t look like they are painted by the same person. I’ve talked before about being a little schizophrenic because I was producing two different kinds of paintings. Well, now it’s three. So is it schizophrenia … or artistic license?
First are the sorta traditional paintings produced on watercolor paper in Frank O’Cain’s class at the Art Students League. I’ve been taking classes with Frank for many years and have posted this painting based on the water in Lake Ashi in Japan before. I love the feeling of depth and the fact that without my telling you the source, you might not know what it was about.
Next are different, more atmospheric paintings on raw canvas produced in Ronnie Landfield’s class at the Art Students League. I’ve just started taking this class to learn the technique so this is the first one I’ve finished. But more are in the works. I love the atmospheric effect.
And finally, very different acrylic paintings on gessoed canvas in my studio at home, this one a stylized view of Mt. Fuji based on a recent trip to Japan.
My paintings serve as a reminder of where I have been and what I have seen, a visual memoir of my past experiences. Although painted in three very different styles, they are all part of me. Doesn’t feel schizophrenic.
So I’m going with artistic license.
It has suddenly dawned on me that I’ve been painting a series about water for over a year. It started with a trip to New Zealand in January 2017 and continued through a trip to Japan and now to memories that go back 10 years. The paintings in my Water Series, some look like water, some like space, some like well, I don’t know what.
Water is fascinating: how it moves; how it changes color; what’s on the surface; what’s down deep. You get glimpses, but you’re never really sure. It’s always changing.
All of them are painted with acrylic on paper, to this day, many of them using acrylic like watercolor, my first love.
And there is no easily recognizable sequence. They all start as paintings of water (my intention), and then the painting takes over and tells me what it wants. At a certain point with each one, it doesn’t matter what my wishes are/were, I simply have to go with what makes sense for the painting itself. For someone who likes to be in control (moi), this is not easy. So sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don’t. And when I don’t, the painting goes in a file and I start a new one, hopefully having learned something from the previous failure.
It started with Beyond the Pale
Does Beyond the Pale even look like water?
Then came Living the Light which, of course, does feel similar to Beyond the Pale. In addition to using acrylic like watercolor (thinned extensively with water), both also made extensive use of masking fluid to protect the lights.
Then came several more paintings with non-water titles but based on lake and river water in New Zealand and Japan. This started to just be about water. Then I started seeing seals … or fish … or maybe birds. Ultimately it’s about migration. And here I started not thinning the acrylic so much with water, using it more like acrylic and less like watercolor.
Then came Go with the Flow, which certainly looks more like water.
Watching the water billow up next to our boat on the lake in New Zealand was the inspiration for the followling three paintings, none of which ended up looking particularly like water, but with all of which I ended up using acrylics like watercolor (again).
As with the paintings, Passage and Jacob’s Ladder, Celebration started with the color patterns in the churning water next to our boat in New Zealand. And the colors and painting process used are the same as in Passages.
But what a difference. This painting is playful, joyous, dancing. It’s a celebration of life in all its complexity and wonder. Somehow this painting insists on being happy.
Finally, (there were others, but I don’t want to overdo it), Silence of the Deep.
This time I wanted to convey the depth of the water. Lots of layers of blues and white. This was on Lake Ashi in Hakone, Japan. Does it look like water?
At the end of 2017, I started to go back to my (many years earlier) memories of the Merced River, visiting Yosemite with good friends, and looking at the river rushing over the rocks from the balcony at the inn.
Finally (so far), I have one last memory of Merced, Rapids:
I have no idea where this will end, if ever.