Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Many Meanings of Spring

Painting out of doors

8"x10" oil on canvas panel

Spring brings so may things, the gardeners begin outdoor cleanup, spring cleaning commences inside, lawnmowers replace snowblowers, and those of us who love to paint en plein air head outside. I'm lucky this spring to be able to do that on the New England coast all the way from Westport on the southern shore of Massachusetts to Rockport on Penobscot Bay, where I'll be tomorrow painting with Carol L. Douglas. And yes, we will be in a boatyard,  just as I've been today helping to get our boat, the Fair Tide, ready for launch. I love hanging around in boatyards, there's lots to see, and usually lively conversation. And everyone is working. I wish my house was a clean as the sparkling wheelhouse of the lobster boat that is parked in front of ours!

The white shrink wrap that covered one sids of Fair Tide a few hours ago,
ready for me to roll up and put in the dumpster for recycling.

Jack stands holding up a sailboat while stored at the boatyard.

But back to the top. Goose is a lovely lobster boat that lives in Westport Harbor, manned by Captain Mike and his little dog, Goose. I'm not sure who is named after whom. There used to be another goose in Westport Harbor, who was a friend of the local swan. But this year the swan arrived with a lady swan, and that particular goose is no longer welcome.

All the best to you and whatever spring brings your way.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Make Way for Illustrators

An original drawing from Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, published in 1948

One of the most popular books in American children's literature is Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, about a mother duck and her babies and their walk around the streets of Boston. This book provides the title for an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston of original sketches, drawings, and paintings from McCloskey's books. And it's a delight for those of us who love the work of this author illustrator. In our family the favorites were Burt Dow, Deep Water Man, Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder, and One Morning in Maine. The illustrations in McCloskey's early books were drawings, due to the high expense of publishing in color during WWII. The originals of those drawings shown in the exhibit are simply beautiful, and the paintings which appear in later books are lovely. I may have to go back and see it again before the exhibit closes on June 18th.

Cover of Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day, published in 1985

Seeing the McCloskey exhibit brought to mind another children's book whose illustrations I loved when our son was young, Good Dog, Carl. The story is told by the illustrations, there is no text, which makes it great for non-readers. The pastel illustrations are beautifully done by Alexandra Day (Sandra Louise Woodward Darling). I just discovered that since Carl was a good dog in 1985 there have been 14 more Carl books published. I've got some non-reading to do! 

Cover of The Night Has Ears by Ashley Bryan published in 1999

And finally I'd like to tell you about the latest author illustrator that I've become acquainted with, Ashley Bryan. I came to know of Bryan through his friendship with Henry Isaacs, and had the pleasure of hearing them speak together. His paintings are rich and colorful and I'm just starting to dip into his books. The first black student at Cooper Union, Bryan recognized a void in African American children's literature which he has filled with 50 books. Last spring when I was in New York City, I immediately recognized his work commissioned for several subway stations. What a treat! Bryan has work in the current show at Greenhut Galleries in Portland, ME.

Thanks to Bruce McMillan for his explanation of the illustration publishing process.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Learning Something New

White House, Monhegan
 watercolor 4"x5"
Bobbi Heath

I got an email the other day from a colleague in my former technology life. It said "it looks like you are having more fun than anyone I know". And I think she's right. It's because I get to learn something new every day.

Here's a case in point. Haven't you heard it said that watercolor is harder than oil and acrylic? In my experience it's true. But there are some scenes that just call out to me for watercolor, particularly those on the water. Winslow Homer's Caribbean paintings come to mind. I also think we learn a lot when we work in more than one medium.

So I'm excited to be attending a workshop next month with accomplished watercolorist and friend, Poppy Balser. To add to the appeal, it's in Cornwallis Park, Nova Scotia! 

Here are a few of Poppy's water colors, which are inspiring indeed.

Poppy Balser

Poppy Balser

Poppy Balser

Poppy's workshop in May is full, but she's teaching again in June and September. For more information take a look here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Sense of Place

What is a sense of place? The term has been used in different ways, but I'm talking about the sense of place that we strive for in landscape painting, a feel for the earth and vegetation, and the architecture and people that makes this place different from others. When I travel to paint, I'm searching for this sense of place, and trying to bring it home on my canvas.

Bahama Clouds
8"x10" oil on Raymar panel

Last month I enjoyed a trip to Grand Bahama with painters Carol L Douglas and Joelle Feldman. We painted with Cali Veillieux, and stayed at her rental cottage in the beautiful and charming German Holiday Park in Freeport.

So what was different about the Bahamas from our New England perspective? It was nice and warm! The next thing that hit us was the beautiful blue green ocean and the big weather that kept floating by above our heads. And of course, the vegetation was different. We needed different colors for the palm and jacaranda trees than we were used to.  And there was still a lot of destruction from hurricane Matthew. The poor jacaranda tree below (my favorite painting from the trip) should have been decked out in wonderful blue blossoms, but it was just happy to be alive.

 Jacaranda Tree
8"x10" oil on linen panel (not quite finished?)

I love the palm trees, and there are so many different kinds! It took a bit of practice to even come close to painting the foliage believably. But it was fun trying. 

8"x6" oil on Raymar panel

I don't think you can truly get a sense of place when you are visiting for a short while. But you can try, and in that trying learn something about the place, it's people, and their struggles and dreams. Cali and her friends do have that sense of place, and for them this is a beloved island. To us it was beautiful and a wonderful respite from our weather at home. More paintings and some new Bahamas friends in another post.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Abstracted but not Abstract

Painting, drawing, making and loving art

There are many abstract paintings that I love, for example, the Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings of Robert Motherwell and the later paintings of Franz Kline, I'm especially attracted to abstracts that are black and white. It's the bold composition that grabs me.

But what almost intrigues me more is abstraction in representational painting. There are several contemporary artists whose work captivates me in this regard; Maine oil painter, Henry Isaacs, British pastelist Tony Allain, and Scottish mixed media painter Claire Harrigan.

What do they have in common? There's a lot of color, for sure. They're bold. and the abstract shapes are beautiful. But there's also a level of simplification that very much appeals to me.

I'm trying to add a level of abstraction to my representational work. Here's a piece from 2011 where I used a patchwork kind of approach. My current thinking is to let the drawing do more of the talking. Stay tuned.

French Farm
8"x8" oil on canvas panel
Bobbi Heath

Monday, February 13, 2017

Preparing for a Demo

 Demo - Jackson Dinghy
8"x8" on 3/4" gallery wrap canvas

Practice - Jackson Dinghy
8"x8" on 3/4" gallery wrap canvas
Available here

On Saturday I did a demo at the For the Love of Art event at the Drawing Room at Anthi Frangiadis Associates in Marion, MA. It was a lot of fun, with engaged viewers who asked very good questions. It had been a couple of years since I'd done a full painting demo, but lots of hours teaching with minim demos had happened in between. Luckily I also remembered something I'd learned in my previous career, after not doing very well on panel discussion that I tried to do off the top of my head: preparation is key! Here's my advice and what I did to prepare:

- Choose subject your audience can appreciate. I prefer to do demos from life, but that has to be balanced with what your audience would like to see. In this boating community, I knew what my subject needed to be, even though it was the dead of winter!

- Choose a painting that you've painted before.

- Practice the drawing several times over a couple of days. A solid drawing makes for a stress free demo. My goal was to draw from the photo and then to add a grid and compare my drawing on the canvas with a photo that also had the grid as a way for the viewers to check my accuracy. So I practiced drawing on paper from the plain photo and then adding the gird and fixing my mistakes. It was instructive!

- Practice the demo painting, i.e., paint the whole thing. This was important because it had been a couple of years since I'd painted the original. I had to remember how to mix all the colors so as to not waste time experimenting during the demo. And I found that my current process (with a value under painting and two layers of color) took more than 2 hours, so I shortened it to one layer of color for the demo.

- I didn't practice what I was going to say. I could talk all day long about the painting process!

Interestingly, even with the explanations and answering questions, the demo was less than an hour and a half, so all was well. And I enjoyed it! That's good because I've got another one scheduled for an event in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in June.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Liqueur and Clementine

Liqueur and Clementine
8"x6" oil on canvas panel
Available at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery

 Drawing into the yellow ochre background with the wipe out tool, zoom in to get a better view

 First thin color block-in
Second pass with color

When painting a glass object, it can be hard to capture the small changes in value between the glass, edges, and background if you do your drawing in dark-ish paint, like I usually do. that problem can be solved by using an initial under painting that matches the value of the background, and drawing into it using a wipe out tool, like the one made by Kemper.

Thanks to Robert Abele for showing me this method!

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Laphroaig and Glass
10"x8" oil on canvas panel

What to paint in winter? Thinking about Valentine's Day coming up I got out a bottle of brandy and a couple of glasses. Hopefully you'll see that painting in a few days. I thought I should practice first and so grabbed a bottle of my favorite scotch, Laphroaig, and a single glass.

I set up the still life next to a window, with a black backdrop and a white linen napkin as the base. and took a few photos since the light was changing fast. Here are a few process shots.

Value under painting in yellow ochre and ultramarine blue

 Putting in the darks

First pass of color (note the change to a purple background)

Painting the background a different color than what I could see was of course not such a great idea. I  immediately knew that the bottom of the glass was now too dark. So the next morning I went to JoAnne Fabrics and bought a piece of purple fabric to replace the black.

Notice also that the bottle leans a little in the process photos and the ellipse at the top of the glass is crooked and bigger on the bottom then the top. So I had to fix all that. For a discussion of how to get the ellipse correct in this kind of painting, see this great post by my buddy Carol L. Douglas.