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The Green Monster

"And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
Shakespeare, As You Like It (2.1.13)

NEW WORK, 2012

With few exceptions, these paintings were done on location, in the course of a day - using a palette knife to mix and apply the paint.  I use 4 main colours (primarys and white) and 3 occasionals (ceurelan, alizarin, deep cadmium.)  The range of colour you see in my work is mixed from those parent colours to match the vista before me.  I can be self-deprecating as regards the success of individual paintings, but as far as my ability to mix and match colours, I know what I know.

For some reason I can't make this right-side up, no matter what I try - but the world WAS upside down that day.  This was how I spent the Saturday following Newtown.  Staring into the water at Half Moon Beach, Gloucester, and rejoicing gratefully at every squeal of childish laughter that came within my hearing.  Lots of families were out, enjoying each other and life - that and the beauty of the water did wonders for me.  The final painting is not as nice as this one, half way though.

(One more new one coming this weekend / early this week.)

Holiday Lights
The week of December 10th - 15
Oil On Canvas, 24 x 30 in

Silent Watchers of the Night
Oil on Masonite, 24 x 30 in
Now that I see it here I see a few more things I need to fix - this is the penultimate pic of my newest painting.  This time of evening, dusk, I always find inexpressably sad - but because I'm a little odd, when I saw these dead trees watching over the frozen marsh at dusk, I found them deeply comforting.  Something in the way they stood together as a front or a community - against the cold, in spite of death.

Come Healing
November 16 - 17th
Oil on Masonite, 24 x 30

Once again sidelined with health problems, I worked on this indoors of a scene I'd seen on a walk recently.  While painting I listened to Leonard Cohen's new album, one song in particular seemed to speak to, and speak for, the very core of my being - "Come Healing."
In particular:
Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving 
The cruelty or the grace

Oh solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind."
(Leonard Cohen)

October 27th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex Greenbelt, Essex MA
That slow fire of Decay
Looking as the sun filters through leaves and seeing jewel tones, stained glass everywhere... this was one I tried to "fix" when I got home, and it changed a lot.

Oct 26 - 28
Oil on Canvas, 24 x 36

Looking up into the maples in the back yard, this time of year the braches look to me like outstretched arms joyfully lifting up offerings of colour. I need to re-take this photo when there is better light, some of it (top left) is blanched.
Incidentally, as I was painting the upper branches, I realized it was reminding me of a book from my childhood I'd long since forgotten.  I think it was by Leo Leoni and instead of orange leaves they were goldfish... I wish I could remember the name of the book.

October 19 - 21
Oil on Canvas, 24 x 30

October 13th - Laid up by Lyme. 

October 6th 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex Greenbelt
Oil on Canvas 14 x 18 inches

As usual after a time away from my paints, I was a little colour-happy in this one, but it was a colour-happy day in a colour-happy season so I think it's alright. There is a blade of marsh grass stuck to the wet paint on the right, to be taken out when dry.

Sept 8 - present (Early October): Car problems, poor weather, and an exhausting battle with Lyme Disease have kept me from painting. I dearly hope I will be out again soon. MT. 

Saturday, September 8th 2012
12 x 24 in, Oil on Canvas
Essex Greenbelt, Essex MA

I was frustrated with this the entire day, and the day changed so often (weather / skywise) that I re-painted it several times over. I thought I'd try using a brush for a change, be as precise as I could - and I was frustrated for a long time that it didn't look like what I imagined I was doing.  Then came a dramatic change to the sky and I returned to my knife and pulled it together.  I realized my frustration with this painting was like a person struggling to use his best English, and being mystified as to why his English wasn't communicating effectively, and then eventually realizing this was because he actually doesn't speak english at all, but French.

Monday, September 3 2012
Seine Field, Gloucester MA
16 x 20 in

I had spent two weeks preparing to go on a painting trip up in Canada, when the car I'd just spent a great deal of money getting into travelling shape was hit and totalled by a woman in an SUV.  As a result I am currently driving a rental, which I was too leery of getting painty to go painting in on Saturday.  Then I realized that was dumb, and went on Monday and it was a great relief.  The best thing about this painting was the sky; but when I got home I found a case of Tab had fallen into it and ruined the whole thing.  Rather than screaming at a cruel fate and giving up, I sat down and fixed it, as best I could.  I think it turned out better than it had been initially, and luckily I have no photos of it before the accident to contradict this.

Evening Light - Running to Stand Still
August 25th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex Greenbelt - Essex MA
16 x 20 in

This was a rare occasion where the group of plein air painters met from 2 - 7, to try and capture the evening light.  I got there at 2:30, and within 10 mins had locked my keys in the trunk of my car, along with my wallet, paints, easel.  I spent the next two hours waiting for AAA to arrive.  I was philosophical at first, grateful that there was good weather and good company for my long wait - but eventually I fell to brooding.  By the time they finally got there, I wanted to leave. But I did not want my own stupidity - or misfortune - to spoil the day entirely.  So I stomped off to find a view in which I could relieve my pent up feelings.  I hate to say it, but I think I paint best when angry.  I'm glad I stayed and I'm glad I locked myself out of my car and made myself mad enough to paint a picture I like.

Day 2 of Tree Workshop...
Cogswell's Grant in Essex, MA
August 21, 2012
Oil on Masonite, 24 x 30

David P. Curtis, under whose guidance I've had the honor of painting en plein air, very kindly gave me (via a generous student who had paid but could not attend) two days of a 5 day workshop on Trees.  I have had my battles with trees as I think is well documented.  I was transfixed by the clouds this day, and spent several hours and about 4 gallons of paint just trying to key it right.  Then there was only an hour left for the rest of the painting - so I did the treeline first, then started the field, then began on my tree.  I hated it from the get go and after 10 mins I realized it simply would not do.  So I replaced it with a farmhouse which in reality was on my left.  The house was facing me dead on so there were no sides visible - which made the whole painting look like a very affected rendition of a 5yr old's drawing of Home. I did the best I could but then time ran out and I left.  When I came back to it the next day most had dried. I guess this should go in my "Disasters" page, but I kind of like it in spite of everything.

Ponderosa Pine in Seine Field
August 20th, 2012
Seine Field, Gloucester MA
Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20 in

This was day 1 of the tree workshop.  I think you can feel how burnt out but pleasantly warm the field / day was.  I built the tree skeleton first, which I don't always do - and was happy (the following day, seeing it with refreshed eyes) with how it came out. 

On the crest of Dusk
Oil on Canvas, 24 x 36 in

August 11th, 2012
Oil on Canvas, 18 x 24 in

I haven't decided whether to "fix" this or just leave it alone.  I stopped painting when the wind started stirring and sucking a storm towards me full speed.  I was looking to my left at a clump of bushes, because I a) have been in a convoluted frame of mind lately and find it helps to match my brain's intricacies with intricate subject matter and b) I was seeing cathedrals in them - the branches looked like cold stone arches, flying buttresses amidst stained glass coloured patches of relief.  I was more interested in painting "expressive impressionistically" than shooting for precision. 


August 4th, 2012
Manchester Festival By the Sea
(photo credit to Dr.DF Thompson.)

July 29th, 2012
I did paint but no photo, it went straight to the junk heap. I need to get to Canada to paint what my soul and eyes are missing.

July 21, 2012
16 x 20 in, Oil on Canvas
Cox Reservation, Essex Greenbelt, Essex MA

If you've noticed I've been quiet of late about my most recent work, it's because I've been quietly getting sick of what I've been doing. I endeavored a difficult vista this week in hopes that it would give me a new way of seeing things, a new way of showing them. I have a feeling that this one may be more appealing to me when I've forgotten what the scene I was painting REALLY looked like, and I can just see the painting as it is, and not as what it isn't.  The only other thing relevant to mention about this one is that when I started it I had Johnny Cash's version of "I see a darkness" running through my head; and by the time I was finishing the chorus had blended with another memory, and the combination ran thus:  "I see a darkness, oh no I see a darkness - and Lo, into the darkness there came a great Light"

July 16th, 2012
The Breezeway at Rocky Neck, Gloucester MA
18 x 24 in, Oil on Canvas

July 14, 2012
16 x 12 in, Oil on Canvasboard
Cox Reservation, Essex MA

July 7th, 2012
16 x 22 in, Oil on Canvas
Cox Reservation, Essex MA

I painted this while sadly contemplating Ray Allen's decision to leave Boston (Celtics) for the Miami Heat. Now everytime I see it I see Ray in that tree, standing alone, trying to make the right choice... I do wish him the best of everything but championship titles.

July 3 and 4th, 2012
20.75 x 31.5 in, Oil on Wood

Although this was done out doors, thus could be called "Plein Air," I was working from a photo and memory and whim.  Well whim is too light a word for it, my spirits had sunk as I was pondering how my once pristine, quiet paradise of the Island has become overrun with loud boats, loud people, cabins where there were only trees, docks where there were only deer runs.  I know the universe trends to destruction and I know I'm as much a cause of it as anyone.  I hope that there is a heaven where all the ideal and perfect remain and grow better, the inverse of this system. In the meantime, I love to contemplate the storms that make us all alone and equally vulnerable to a nature that is bigger and stronger than anyone likes to consider.  I love the chaos of clouds and water and the order that ricochets through them.  And as much as saying so may convict me by a jury of my peers, I like painting water and sky from photographs.  Studying a single moment in time, a snap shot of water and atmosphere stilled, is so invaluable to understanding the behavior and pattern of reflection, refraction, buoyancy and motion.  Although I am converted to believe painting outdoors in the moment is the only and best way to paint a landscape, I am not a fundamentalist who eschews our technical capacities as unworthy.  If we are able to isolate a moment in time to study water, I will undertake the education.

"There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in"
June 30th, 2012
12 x 16 in, Oil on Canvasboard
Cox Reservation, Essex

This one is a few tweaks shy of being done if not overdone.  The weather was beautiful and although the fields would have been gorgeous to paint, I have been trying to use my Saturdays to struggle with subject I find difficult.  A few months back I declared war on all deciduous trees, but shortly thereafter recanted, realizing that "tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner." In other words, because I find them so difficult, I should be that much more vested in trying to paint them.  As I said before, painting a tree is not a study in painting an object, but a study in observing a relationship, and rendering it as sincerely as possible - which is difficult when you have to grapple with so many different value scales in one place. Anyway, this was an attempt I'll call 3/4 successful.

Halibut Point Seaward
24 x 30 in, Oil on Canvas
Halibut Point State Park, Rockport MA
Thursday & Friday, June 38th &29th 2012

A Conclave of Cormonrants
Bass Rocks, Gloucester MA
16 x 20 in, Oil on Canvasboard
Wednesday, June 28th 2012

What I like about this painting is the vibrancy of the sky at the horizon, which I think matches well the sky I was looking at.  I also like the rocks. I want to make the birds darker and maybe more birdlike, and fuss with the spray and the water in the foreground, but the week has been so hot that it dried before I could. Just as well, because when I start fussing, I find it hard to stop.

(In Progress; June 26th 2012)
Halibut Point Quarry, Rockport MA
18 x 24 in, Oil on Plywood

I love rocks, I love granite, and I really enjoyed painting them today.  My struggle was / is the water, which is normally my "comfort zone" but the strange angles of the quarry borders threw me off for some reason. Will replace this image when I have finished, might not change much.

June 23rd, 2012
18 x 24 inches, Oil on Canvas
Cox Reservation, Essex MA

(There's glare on the bottom of painting in the photo, esp. left hand side, that I'll need to retake to correct.)  It was a beautiful day in Essex and I had brought three new knives to try out.  None were exactly like the late great one, but one was very close, and that's what I ended up using.  It wasn't long before I stopped noticing a difference, which I suppose is a good sign.  I found this bush which for some reason was turning already (to fall colours).  It's reddish pinkish organge was really striking against the trees in the distance, which looked inky blue. All colours were ablaze; which is why I chose this view to paint. 

June 18 & 19, 2012
Dog - 16 x 20 in, Oil on Canvasboard
Tewksbury, MA

I decided to try a new brush that I have while waiting for my knives to arrive.  I also thought I might like to try painting a dog or cat, in real time, as a precursor to trying a live portrait sometime.  I set everything up and followed the dogs to a spot they seemed liable to stay in for a while.  I gave them each a long-chewing bone, which I figured would keep them immobile for at least an hour.  I began to mix up my colors, and by the time I was ready to go, the dogs were choking down the last bits of their chews and off to examine the world.  So I thought I'd try painting the grass, and wait for them to come back.  Painting the grass with a brush wasn't fun.  I kept at it but kept failing.  Then the dogs came back, and about 5 times, I got their bodies blocked in, about to inflict some detail, when they got up and left.  Eventually it all got so frustrating, and the canvas so ugly, that I got angry and let fly - abandoning the brush and using an old knife, and using a dog picture I had on my phone for structure and the dogs themselves for colour and inference. 

June 16th, 2012
Cogswell's Grant, Essex
18 x 24 in, Oil on Wood.

This was a tragic day* for me; I broke my beloved knife.  Rather than having a collection of knifes that each do something different, I opted to have one knife that I had used for so long and knew so well I could do anything I wanted with it.  Anything, that is, except step on it.  I think it must've been weakening for weeks because it was in a pile of mown grass I dropped + stepped on it/ broke it.  I have actually been paranoid for months now that it might break, or that I might lose it - because I love it so much!  And the gods punish you for loving "objects" too much.  I've already ordered 6 similar looking ones to try and find a stand in.  I tried to finish this painting with another knife I had.  What made my favorite knife so wonderful was it's bounce, it's springiness - the sub knife just didn't cut it. It's spirit was willing but it's flex was weak.  I just decided to stop and let this stand as my knife's last work.  RIP.
* - Also, later in the day I found and pulled out a tick from my leg - and three months of feeling increasingly crappy later, I learned I have Lyme Disease.  Oh ill fated day!!

June 11th & 12th, 2012
Hostas and the Path, Tewksbury MA

I just finished this (15 mins ago) and still like to see it in the environment in which I painted it, though the angle of the photo is different from that of the scene.  Again, trying to understand light and shadow and how it affects colour.  There are a lot of pine buds all over the canvas and myself.

June 9th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
18 x 24 in, Oil on Wood

 It was a hot and bright day when I painted this, and so much staring at the sky and land had really made it hard to see.  I felt this was a disaster and I was really struggling, feeling about 3 more hours from its disappointing completion, when arrived to give me his critique.  To my shock + disbelief, he had only good things to say about this, even as it stood, and advised me to stop working on it; it was done, and among my best yet.  I doubted his judgment - he'd been out in the sun all day too, afterall, maybe it had momentarily addled his brain?  But as for the suggestion that I stop, I was all for it.  I did.  The painting is growing on me, like a beneficent fungus.
David Curtis

Twilight, Lake of the Woods
12 x 16 in, Oil on Canvas
June 3rd 2012
It was a very wet weekend so although I did paint this outdoors (in a gazebo) it is of a view that was a long way from where I stood in MA.

May 26th, 2012
24 x 18 inches, Oil on Wood
Cox Reservation, Essex MA

Last week and this week I chose subjects that are challenging to me - all this close vegetation and the sky through an umbrella of trees present a huge tangle of relationships of light and shadow, colour and contrast, and warmth and cold (tones.)  I like this one better than last week's.  Last week I got a lot of compliments from passers by as I worked, this week, not so.  As I say too often, probably, if you really want to hit a high note of beauty, you have to have the courage to wade deep through lots of ugly to get there.  This was really ugly for a long time as it slowly came into itself, but I feel like, for me, it made it through to the other side.  (See this beside the photo I took of the composition before I started painting - scroll to the bottom of "
Matching Scene to Painting.")

May 19th, 2012
Oil on Canvas, 18 x 24 inches
Cox Reservation

Owing to the terrific sunburn I gave myself last Saturday, this week I thought I'd tackle the quiet shade of a cluster of woods.  I also wanted difficult subject matter I could sink my teeth into.  I am trying to leave this as is but may tweak a few things here and there.  I don't know how I feel about it yet.

May 12 & 13th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
15 x 30 in
Oil on Canvas

Supermoon High Tide
18 x 24 inches
May 5th and 6th
Essex River, Cox Reservation
Saturday, April 28th 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas, 12 x 16 in

The colours in this photo are off.  Must retake.

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20 in

Completed on April 17th, 2012
This is a birch tree, and the funny light that comes in a clearing between two storms.  Although I don't like painting from photos, I was homesick for the lake (Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada) so I painted it. 

Sketch - April 27, 2012
Wingaersheek Beach, Gloucester MA
Oil on Canvas, 10 x 12 in

April 14th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA 
This is an imperfect photo of an imperfect painting.

Marsh Grass and Palm Sunday

Cox Reservation, Essex Massachusetts

March 31st, 2012
Oil on Canvas, 10 x 12 inches
Once again, this photo does not do much for the painting.  This is actually one of my favorites from this year - there are all sorts of notes and tones in the sky that this picture missed completely.  I'll have to try it again with a better camera. 

("It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there.")
March 24th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex Massachusetts
 The weather was perfectly attuned to my mood; it made me feel like King Lear (and / or Ophelia).  


Birdhouse Inferno
March 17th, 2012
Cox Reservation in Essex, MA

This was a bad day - I had run out of white, so had to use this ancient dry spackle-like "underpainting white" that I had for some reason, which stank to high heaven and dried way too quickly.  I started with the sky and worked downwards, and you can see the deterioration of my calm as things steadily got worse (easel broke, etc etc etc.)  And I have wanted to paint these birdhouses for months, because the colours in the grasses and stones around them are breathtaking - but when my ire is up, I forget that the colours actually only constitute a small fraction of space in an ocean of grey.  I wanted to show them as I saw / felt them, so I did... this may go on the "disasters" page soon. 

Monday, March 12th 2012

Cedar on a Hot Winter Day
Cox Reservation, Essex Massachusetts
Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20in

I was so distracted and worried about various things when I began this painting I was prepared to chalk it up to "Good Effort, Poor Result" pile even before starting, but I think it turned out much better than I expected.  Painting is the only activity that provides me relief from the various snares in my mind and brain, and I think when I get a foothold into that oasis, I stay in there as long as I can and rejoice - sometimes, as I think in this one, the celebratory mood comes out in the painting.  The colours in this photo are off-key, however.  Sky is much richer in life.

March 10, 2012
Snow Meets High Tide
Cox Reservation, Essex MA

Oil on Canvas, 11 x 14 in

I need to re-take this photo with a better camera.  When I started the painting, there were acres of snowy marshland in front of me - as I was finishing, there were almost none, just water, everywhere.  The full moon this week had pulled the tide higher than  I am used to seeing it.  Below is a picture I took while just beginning the painting. 

Wednesday, March 7th 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas, 12 x 24 in

Poor photo, sorry - This is the third time I attempted to paint this area / view.  It is the thorn in my craw.  The view is "backlit," which is to say, thorugh out the day the light shines consistently upon it, from behind - so what is facing you is in shade below and lit up along the top.  The resultant light and colours are stunning, but subtle and complex, and I still haven't managed to capture what I see.  This one turned out fairly pretty anyway, though.

Tuesday February 28th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas, 12 x 16in

What's funny about this one is that it didn't occur to me until I had gotten home and seen Saturday's painting that Tuesday's was of basically the identical scene.  There was this solemn grace in the stand and tangle of branches to the left of the puddle that I didn't feel I'd captured on Sat and wanted to try again.  Like many things in nature, those branches and stems reminded me of a cathedral, the colours, the arches, the lines.  I wouldn't say I did them any justice in this either. Perhaps should have left out the background.

February 25th, 2012
Cox Reservation, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas - 16 x 20 in

The day I worked on this we were having 50mph winds, which had resulted, by the time I got working, in two fully prepared palettes landing face down in the grass and countless other disasters.  The blue in the foreground is a puddle.  I was freezing, by the time I'd got to the foreground I had all the right colours mixed but was too cold to focus on using them carefully.  However, I like the way it looks and I am leaving it this way.

February 20th and 21st
Cox Reservation Marsh, looking towards Crane's Beach
Essex, MA
Oil on Canvas, 16x22
This is a picture I took with my cellphone, so not great quality - but the painting is one I like.  Again, trying to navigate the dynamics of very subtle tone / key changes.  I feel like I am learning a lot, getting somewhere.

February 18th 2012
Mild Day - Essex Greenbelt, Essex MA
Oil on Canvas 12x16
This one, though I see a few things yet to tweak, was a nice relief after a series of duds (see below.)  There's a stand of trees left of the rocks in the foreground, which is the source of those blue shadows.  It was a lovely day. 

Monday, February 6th 2012
Near Exit 12 off 128, Gloucester MA

Saturday, Feb. 4th 2012's painting, revisited Feb. 7th (Oil on Canvasboard, 18 x 24.)    Colours are a little off in both this shot and the previous one.  I was trying to understand and how to navigate the difference between shade and light on a partly cloudy day, and how the colours change from warm to cool.  As an objet d'art this hasn't much to offer, but as an exercise, or object lesson for me it was valuable.

January 26, 28, and Feb. 1,2,etc.
Oil on Canvas, 18x24
This one is headed to the "Disasters" page shortly. In the endless effort to get the effect of light that was so beautiful, I was ultimately thwarted by my eyes being able to comprehend something that my brain couldn't quite decode.  My error was in allowing my ("reasoning") brain into it at all.  That and spending three days struggling with it.  Lessons learned. 

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
High Tide at Cox Reservation, Essex, Massachusetts...
18x24 inches, Oil on Canvas
(Poor photo taken by cellphone, will replace shortly.)

Cloud Cover Clearing
January 10th, 2012
I started painting when the sky was all a blanket of steely cloud, and tried to keep up as the cloud cover began to split and give way to a crystalline blue. 
Cox Reservation, Essex, Massachusetts
Oil on Canvas, 18x24

A Patch of Winter
January 6th and 7th, 2012
As it says, this little patch of ice and snow was all that could be found on the marsh that I felt was suitably wintery.  The flattish area between the reeds fills with water when the tide is up, and this patch of ice managed to form at some point between tides.
Cox Reservation, Essex Massachusetts
Oil on Canvas, 18 x 24.
Prairie Snow, Saskatchewan
Jan 1 & 2, 2012
(I worked from a photo on this one, and am not too thrilled with how it came out.  It looks to me like a collage of pastel mini-marhsmallows.  I don't like working from pictures anymore, even though experience and memory can break through the two-dimensional summary that is a photograph, in this case, I don't think I pulled it off.  I've been missing snow this winter, there hasn't been any - which is why I wanted to try this.)
Oil on Canvas, 18x24