Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Artwork

This post may seem a little bit of a non sequitur but several people have asked me to show some of my artwork. Art is something I've pursued because I enjoy the creating and I love learning. It's also a nice balance to a job that's very uncreative. A lot of my work takes place in my head; there's a great deal of planning in most of it. I've never done it with the idea that I'd be selling it or showing it in a gallery. It's totally for me.

Let me start by saying I've always felt that artistic talent was innate. You either have it or you don't. I remember trying many times as a child and teenager to draw or paint. It was always something I wanted to do, but the results were horrible. After a while, I decided I just didn't have it.

Fast forward to ten years ago when I a friend invited me to come up to Vermont to take a watercolor workshop for a week. She had taken it, loved the teacher and thought I would really enjoy it.
This was my first painting. I know. It's like something a 1st grader would do. I save it just as a reminder of where I started. It was amazing how, over the course of just five days, my paintings dramatically improved. I wish I had them so show you but after moving a few times, I did finally get rid of them.
I always start by finding a scene that inspires me and then doing a quick value sketch just to decide where the lights and darks are going to be. These sketches also started out pretty shaky but have gradually gotten better with practice.

I'll sometimes do several little sketches changing where the lights and darks are until I'm excited about one of them. In the sketches above, you can see where I added more darks behind the trees which makes for a much more interesting painting. You can change these patterns of lights and darks however you want. There are no rules and you don't have to draw what's there. It's your artwork after all!

This is one of the paintings that I did from that sketch. (This one is behind glass so you're seeing a lot of reflection in the glass unfortunately.)

When I started painting at the workshops, the teacher always wanted to see our sketches before we could start painting. It was a little intimidating in the beginning but it forced to me to work on them, and it dramatically improved my paintings. And eventually I grew to love doing them.
I don't typically walk around with a sketch pad but I do take my camera with me almost everywhere I go and I take a lot of reference shots. You can use the photo to do the value sketch and once you have the sketch, you can do the painting over and over.

This is one of my favorite value sketches of a farm in Stowe, Vermont.

And this is the painting that I did from that sketch.

I have tried working directly from a photograph but I think it's better to do a sketch to work out the pattern of lights and darks. This is the harbor in Rockport, Mass. The red building in the background is often referred to as Motif #1 as it's supposedly the most photographed building in the U.S.

This the painting I made from that photograph. As you can see, I really like to simplify the scene. I'm much more interested in the shapes of things than in the details.
This is a large painting I did of a small group of daisies. Some of the petals look like lobster claws (which I don't mind) but they look like they're interacting so I'm happy with that aspect of it.

After painting watercolor for several years, I feel I made a lot of progress but I'm not in love with my work. When I look at the work of my favorite watercolors artists, I love the soupy, drippy work that looks very loose. As hard as I've tried to achieve that, I think I'm too much of a perfectionist. So I hung up the watercolor brushes and decided to pursue other things.

That's when I decided to try my hand at woodblock printing. This is a one-block printing method that I talked about in my earlier post about the Provincetown Printers. The print from this block appears at the top of the post. I think this block is even prettier than the print itself.
To do these prints, I also start with a sketch. When I took the course, there was a really bad Red Tide problem in the Northeast so this block almost started with a doodle where I was thinking about the Red Tide.
This sketch was reduced to simple line drawing of the design I wanted to transfer on to the block.

The design is transferred to a block of pine and put out using an Exacto knife. I really enjoy cutting the blocks. There's something really meditative about it.
And this is the print that I pulled off of that block. I think it would make a nice Cape Cod t-shirt.

Next I took a sculpture class at Mass. College of Art. It wasn't AT ALL what I was expecting and I have no work left from the class but if anyone is interested in such things, it's a course that changed how I see art and, perhaps, everything. The course was about the nonverbal communication of form (the shape of an object) and the materials it's made of.

As an example, let's take an apron. Might it make you think of a bygone era where gender roles were clearly established. Does it make you think of your mother? Your grandmother?

So if you were to make a sculpture in the form of an apron and you made it will tissue paper, for example, might it speak to some kind of fragility? What if it were made of small pieces of iron that are all riveted together, might it convey maternal strength?

It was fascinating stuff.

Next, I found a course in encaustic painting that really interested me. I've seen a lot of encaustic paintings that have always attracted me so I thought it would be fun to learn. Encaustic is painting with hot wax. Beeswax is melted in little tins (on a pancake griddle) and tinted with oil paint. You have to work very quickly because within seconds of taking the hot wax off the griddle, it solidifies.

Another aspect to encaustic painting is you can press objects into the wax such as leaves or paper. You can also carve it. In the painting above, you can see I've scraped a fork through the wax and pressed small pieces of copper pipe into it to make a circular cut that can then be filled with a different color wax.
While you may not like these paintings, it's forced me to work more spontaneously, reacting to what happens without my being able to plan it. It's outside of my comfort zone. In the painting above, I've drawn on, scraped off, painted on and scraped off in other parts.
This is one of later pieces that's very sculptural. I started by collaging colored pieces of paper onto the wooden block and then built up areas of wax that are very thick. I then carved patterns into the wax that allow areas of the underlying color to show through. I like this piece. It reminds me of a misty harbor scene.

I'm not sure where I go from here. The house is keeping me busy for now but I have a lot of ideas in my head and I look forward to learning and creating more.


  1. Beautiful. Thank you for taking us through the process. I love your watercolors.

  2. hi steve,

    who knew?

    your paintings are so beautiful. i love the first one but then again i think my fav is the woodblock. but i really love the way you simplify the harbor scene. i'm amazed at the versatility you have. ok, i made up my mind the woodblock is my favorite.


    ps ~ the apron reminds me of sarah!
    so what would it be made out of?

  3. Wow Steve, your work is just beautiful. You are really really talented. I love all the mediums you are into as well!


  4. I love your art work. Thanks for sharing. I love the watercolours best, I think. You can see your own style with them right away.
    The woodblock is wonderful too. You make it sound so easy!

  5. You know what I like about you from the relatively short time that I've "known" have such a sharp eye for detailed beauty. You seem so passionate about everything that interests you and it really reflects through in all your posts. I love that by reading your blog I have learned so much. It's interesting that the detail you like so much in architecture relates to the sketching and art that you do.
    I really like the watercolors you did! The colors are AMAZING and were the first things I noticed before I even saw the subject of the paintings. I really like the first one you did.
    The sculpture class sounds fascinating - though I don't think I have one creative bone in my body, I would love to attend a class like that. Although isn't art, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder anyway...
    I'm very impressed with the different art avenues you've tried and think you've done an amazing job. I can say "I knew you when..." :)

    I'm interested...what material do you think it would be made out of ?! :)

  6. Your artwork is fabulous! I am happy I found my way to your blog!


  7. Wow, Steve. Very impressive. Love your sketches and watercolors. Your style seems truly unique to me. The colors are amazing and your sense of composition is very keen. Who was the Vermont teacher? Watercolor is so difficult and I could see what a challenge that could pose for you as a self proclaimed 'perfectionist'. Perhaps now that you've explored the spontanaeity of encaustic you can try watercolor again to see if you can achieve what you want with it. Love your wood blocks and the encaustics too. Your artwork is too good to be kept just for yourself. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hi Steve,

    Your work is beautiful! As an art major, I never felt that I 'had it' but reading through your process feels very inspiring. I really love the value sketch of the farm in Vermont. It offers such a wonderful sense of place.


  9. omg... I had no idea you were an artist! Your work is wonderful! I really think you need to pick up that watercolor brush again;)! Love the description of the sculpture class... love how something so seemingly simple or small can totally change how you see something (in art or in life!) Also really enjoyed the encaustic paintings- I'm not familiar with that medium.
    Loved how you took us through your journey. I so agree, it is innate. It seems for you that it was always there, but just waiting for the right time in your life to emerge! I think it is amazing how one workshop changed everything!
    loved this post!

  10. I'm seeing this post for the first time since you linked to it from today's post (6/29/14). I love your watercolors! You are a very talented artist. I am a perfectionist too, and am never happy with my work. But I've had others say they like my drawings. It's funny how critical we can be of ourselves. Anyway, I'm so glad you linked back to this post so I could enjoy some of your artwork.

  11. As a person who majored in art in the late 1960's, I had no idea a value sketch was a good first step. We were encouraged to just start painting. I made a few good things and a ton of pure trash and hardly learned anything because no one was actually teaching us anything. Perhaps I should begin again---with teachers who aren't taking drugs? LOL

  12. P.S. You would possibly enjoy looking at the woodblock painting of Cressida Campbell, an Australian artist.