You're not supposed to take pictures of the Amish people; they don't like it. So I was careful to never take any direct pictures when we visited Penn Valley in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country, but I did take a number of photographs of the buggies from far away. This woman drove by in her buggy and up into the driveway of a farm I was painting en plein air and I took a picture quickly. This is a Nebraska Amish farmhouse. Our innkeeper told me the difference between the Lancaster Amish and the Nebraska Amish was apparent from their buildings. The Nebraska Amish do not adorn or paint their houses and barns. they keep them "plain".
Still a little cold here and the paint was on the palette already so I used another reference photo taken last summer to create this painting. I always change the faces - I don't want some kid's mom calling me up and yelling at me for posting their child's picture online. These small pieces are so impressionistic that the people don't really have faces. They have the suggestion of a face. I love the interaction between the kids. The girl in the center is the same one I used in the other piece but I've made her much younger here.
A friend dropped off a basket full of fruit, nuts and other great snacks before Christmas. I hadn't painted anything in almost a week because Christmas does kind of push you out of the studio and into the kitchen, so I welcomed the opportunity to paint what was left of the basket today.
Just three pieces of fruit but I was inspired. OK, I am more easily inspired than most people, I will admit to that. I just need some colorful objects and a bright light. This time I took a picture of the set-up because I'm teaching another painting workshop next month, I don't think you can ever overemphasize how much better things look when you paint from life. The visual below will prove it to the students: a picture of the actual boring looking fruit and my representation of what they really look like. (At least to me... :) )
Art is fun. I can honestly say that because I believe it with all my heart. In the beginning, when you are learning color theory, perspective and composition, it sometimes seems more like work. But later, after you've put in thousands of hours and gained some confidence -- that's when your efforts pay off. I wouldn't have been doing it this long if I didn't enjoy it so much.
Oil painting is the most fun for me. I have tried all the other mediums. Watercolor (mistakes are not easily fixed), pastels (lovely results but I don't care for all that dust- and framing is expensive), acrylics (easy to work with but the colors dry different colors and the texture is similar to plastic in most cases). So I stay with what I know and love- and that is the infinitely correctable medium known as oil paint. I make a lot of mistakes and when you cover up a mistake in oils you have the option of scraping to remove or just painting over it. I use both methods. Sometimes the paintovers and the scrapings create very cool pieces of art, that would not have been possible without the initial "mistake". I am spontaneous and this medium is designed for people like me.
My friend Martin came into my office the other day and I asked him if he ever played Santa Claus because he was perfect for it. He said that he had been playing the jolly old elf for years, but this year for health reasons he had to take a break. He was very accommodating when I asked him if I could take a picture of him and paint a Santa. Martin was wearing a flannel shirt and no hat, so a lot of this painting was imaginative.
So here is my seasonal contribution for this blog. I usually try to do at least one. Maybe Martin will show up on my Christmas cards next year. This is my idea of fun-- creating an original piece of art from something ordinary.
Most of the commissioned house paintings I do are of older homes, ones that exhibit a lot of "character". While it's true that older homes are sometimes more picturesque and have a lot of interesting angles, a newer home can be a beautiful subject for a painting as well. The lighting is important and if the reference pictures are taken in nice light the entire effect can be spell-binding. The client took their photos of this house close to sunset and the violets and reds in the sky bathes the mostly white brick in an appealing peach colored tone. Their landscaping is wonderful too and adds to the overall beauty of this home. The reference pictures showed a house with a dead lawn and one thing a painter can do is alter reality. The lush green lawn is what we want to see when there isn't a drought, so I painted it in.
The client told me it was very important to get the look of the bricks in this house. It is their family's old farmhouse and it has been in the family for many years, as the previous house had. This one was built by an ancestor from reclaimed bricks and the bricks are extremely uneven. It adds to the charm of the house and makes it unique.
I liked the woody setting but the bricks were a challenge to present accurately.
Sometimes a client wants a painting of their house because they are moving. In this case the couple was moving but they were being forced to move by developers. The old farmhouse had been in their family for generations and it will be torn down to make way for a housing project.
It's sometimes more fun when you have to get creative. The client sent a few pictures of the house covered with now and one picture of it in the spring. I was told that the important things to get in were the barn, the pear tree, the pine tree behind the house and the potted plants on the porch. I actually had to move the pear tree a bit to get it into the picture plane. I did a lot of reconfiguring to make this house portrait work but I didn't mind the extra effort after hearing the story about why they wanted it
More than half of the people who buy my house portraits buy them as a gift for their parents. Many times the parents are moving and the painting will be a memento to hang on the walls of their new home. Something about a painting is just more personal than a photograph of the house. Is it the color? Maybe the personality of the house comes through better in a painting? I'm not sure, I only know that when people tell me to emphasize something I can do that pretty easily. I have noticed that a flag flying in front of a house is always more noticeable in person than it is in a photograph. Is that because the flag is waving at me? I don't know, but that knowledge helps me create better paintings from photographs. If they have a flag in the photo and I put it in the painting it is always bigger than life and it is always fluttering, regardless of whether there is a breeze.
This painting was for the girl's parents and she took the pictures with the Christmas decor on the lawn- actually there was more- another couple of reindeer and more lights. I toned it down and it is still somewhat busy for my taste, but not, I suppose for people who decorate extravagantly, as this couple appear to do. In this painting I had an overcast photo of a house with a muddy lawn to work from and I asked her if we could add snow and even a snowman to make it more Christmassy. She said yes and that was kind of fun. Another option with a house painting is to put it on your Christmas cards-- this one was a good fit.
The last request? The little dog on the porch was a Bichon Frise they owned for a long time.
When people commission a house painting and they live far away it is impossible to take pictures. Many times they will want a different season than the one we are in at the moment anyway. So I have to rely on their pictures, which are not ideal in most cases. Sure I would love to take my own pictures but when I can't be there and the client mentions that they want the painting because the house is being SOLD, a light bulb flashes on in my brain. Realtors take4 a lot of pictures and they get pretty good at it over time-- or they move on to a different career.
These people had some really awful pictures, foggy, upside down, faded. I am not kidding. Then they had one tiny realtor photo from the summer. I asked them to ask their realtor if we could use their photos and luckily she said yes. Otherwise this paitnign would have looked a lot different.
Turns out- summer is the ideal season to view this house-- not a foggy fall day. The clients agreed.
I have never painted this many houses in one week- except when I have been on a paintout at Lakeside, Ohio. Even then I did water or boats for a break.
This house is in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. The client originally wanted a fall theme but she provided me with two pictures of the house covered with snow. It was really impossible to guess on the color of mulch and the roof, so I painted it with snow and sent her the proof after realizing it was a very picturesque scene. She asked for the street sign to be added-- no problem, try doing THAT with a camera. It looks like a Christmas card now.
She was happy and so was I because I seldom paint snow scene.
This little Dachshund was commissioned by J. Biddle of New Mexico as a Christmas gift for his sister. He gave me several good reference pictures of the dog and told me which one he liked best. It was a picture of the dog on a blue couch with a blanket. I changed the color of the couch and turned it into a drapery type material and came up with this little painting of "Yoshi". His eyes are irresistible. Makes me want my own Dachsund.
It is typical, I suppose. Most people do not realize the amount of time that is required to create a custom piece of art. I specialize in creating "home portraits". I did two small 11" x 14" paintings last week (plus a dog) and now I have four more to complete and get into the mail before Christmas.
Feast or famine in the art world, I suppose.
My international sales are going well. One painting to France and two to Japan last week.