Thursday, May 2, 2024

Gardeners' Dreams in watercolor and gouache

 While construction is continuing on my new studio in the Massachusetts Berkshires I have found myself working in various spots in the house from the cold basement all winter to the kitchen table, where I find myself now. The new big window in the kitchen gives me a wonderful view of the garden as tiny ephemerals and bulbs of all kinds are emerging from the soil. It is truly magical and inspiring me to once again work on my paintings which I call Gardeners' Dreams. My kitchen table is not very big so I decided to work in gouache and watercolor on a tiny scale. Here are the six I have done so far and each of them is accompanied by an equally tiny gardener's dream scenario. Each one is about 7" x 5". 

She dreamt of pole beans so vigorous that she was tempted to climb up and look for Jack.

When she planted the milkweed the most extraordinary Monarch appeared.

She dreamt of an asparagus bed with ferns so soft and airy she could float on it like a cloud.

It was amazing the difference a few days of sun could make.

She dreamt that one tomato grew so large she could sit on it like a pouf. 

On the third year her asparagus was so prolific she could walk between the spears like a forest.

She dreamt she had to play tug of war with that damn crow to save her corn.

In her dream she pulled back the curtain and tulips rode in on a spring breeze.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

"Food is Love", oil on linen, 32" x 34"

“Food is Love” is a narrative portrait about one person’s journey through a new chapter in her life. After a successful career in the corporate world she went through a process of self discovery and came to the conclusion that her passion was the soil, growing vegetables and gathering people together to share in the meals that were the product of hard work. She bought some land and along with her son began to farm it. The painting depicts moments and objects that have special meaning to her on this journey, from the goats, pigs and chickens that were part of her day-to-day existence to the produce they grew, and the dishes she made for the people she gathered around her table.


       the compositional sketch

  watercolor study for the landscape

Monday, October 23, 2023

"The Greeters', oil on linen, 36" x 48"


My wish, and I  assume everyone else's, is that the day we reach the other side, all the dogs we have loved in our lifetime will be there waiting to greet us.

This painting is the greeting line up of all the wonderful dogs that belonged to an individual in Bethesda, Maryland. She loved her dogs intensely and with all her heart and when she saw another "lifetime of dogs" painting that I did she knew she wanted a painting of her own. She is an amazing person and besides loving her own dogs, she loves all animals and was very involved with the Washington Animal Rescue Alliance for years. 

When she started sending me photos of her dogs I fell in love with them as well. They were all so different and unique. There is Kiki, the black lab who was wonderful with children, and Senta the beautiful German Shepherd mix with the most soulful eyes. And Daisy the yellow lab who loved the water so much -- she was wading in every photo. And tiny Moose, (perfect name) the cheerful Yorkie, who could hold his own with the big dogs. Then Laila the white and caramel terrier mix who looks tough until she rolls over and her tongue flops out to show she is a total love. And the amazing and much loved Mango who has both incredibly expressive ears and a way of sitting on one hip that is totally endearing. And finally Wolf the big, beautiful Husky with a smile so wide you can't not smile back. 

These dogs were so special on their own I decided to let them have center stage, sitting or standing in an open landscape with water and a big blue sky. I wanted their surroundings to feel like what a dog might imagine as heaven. Their owner has a house on an island in New England so she had the perfect setting for this. And just to add a little movement and color there are seven sailboats for the seven dogs, sailing behind them -- a touch of existentialism to symbolize that they live forever in their mom's heart.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Madame et Le Chien, oil on linen, 22" x 30"

 I have a close friend who is naturally elegant. She is tall and graceful and has lovely refined features. She also has a beautiful and elegant Weimaraner named Greta. Whenever I see them out walking together I have a strong urge to paint them in a double portrait. But I had not figured out how to do it and elevate it beyond being a pedestrian likeness. Also my friend is modest and I couldn't imagine that she would enjoy the process of having her portrait painted. One day I was perusing a gorgeous book on John Singer Sargent with full color plates and I was mesmerized by the studies for and the the final painting titled "Madame X" which Sargent painted in 1883 of the young socialite Virginia Amelie Avegno Gautreau, the wife of the French Banker Pierre Gautreau. It is a stunning and mysterious painting. As I was studying it the subject Madame Gautreau suddenly brought the image of my friend and her dog Greta to mind. There was something so familiar. So after doing a few sketches I decided to paint Greta and have Madame Gautreau stand in for my elegant friend. I composed the painting so that Greta's stance and profile mirror Madame X's, and in a setting that echoes the late 1800 period. The breeze lifting the sheer curtain and what the subjects are gazing at beyond the window- remain a mystery. 

Here is more about the original Madame X, which caused quite a bit of controversy in its time.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Two more "A Lifetime of Dogs"

 Late summer and early fall of this year brought me two more commissions that involved painting the dogs from someone's lifetime. In my mind I equate this to painting a glimpse into what someone's heaven might be, because for me I would like to see the menagerie from my entire lifetime waiting at the gates for me to arrive. We would pick up just where we left off  and they would all get along beautifully. Of course my vision would include cats and a few horses, and maybe a couple guinea pigs. 

The painting I finished in August was for a gentleman on his 80th birthday. I was asked to paint it by his family and they gave it to him as a surprise.  They wanted him present in the painting, quietly sitting in his yard enjoying the company of his current dog as well as the dogs from his past. He often had two at a time of a certain type- all beautiful. The family provided me with whatever photos they could come up with as well as descriptions of a few when a photo couldn't be found.

"Dogs of a Lifetime", oil on linen, 24" x 30"

The second painting was for a friend who was the owner of an architectural salvage shop in DC. She is a collector herself and has a beautiful home filled with interesting and exquisite objects. She also has a wonderful sense of color and has had a fantastic collection of dogs over her lifetime as well. She is a delightful individual and has a special charm and glow. Even though she didn't want to be present in the painting I wanted the painting to "feel" like her in spirit and mood.  As we chatted about the painting she told me about each individual dog, how they came to be with her, and their unique personality and disposition. I got very attached to them as I painted them and wanted to do each one justice. On the day I delivered the painting, I finally got to meet the beautiful Tessa in person and I got the feeling she was quite content with her likeness...or it might have been the treats.  

"Donetta's Dogs", oil on linen, 32" x 32"

Donetta and Tessa

"Living with Goats", oil on linen, 30" x 40"

I started this painting as a tiny gouache sketch sometime last summer. It was inspired by the goats we see every morning on our early morning walks up Hayes Hill Road in Mill River, Massachusetts. At the top of the hill there is a farm. A young farmer lives there with his family and every time I pass I wish I could tell him how much I admire him. Farming is hard there is no doubt about that. I always hope that the beautiful view from his hill makes up for his early and late hours, the search for enough land, hauling food and water for all the creatures he is raising... and never mind the weather being temperamental and uncertain. And then there are the goats. I really hope that their crazy antics and funny voices bring the young farmer some joy and that he is not too overwhelmed by the weight of his responsibilities to enjoy them. I started thinking that maybe I should add some goats to our menagerie of cats and dogs, but then I thought again about the reality of that... and did this painting instead. 

Living with Goats 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A Lifetime of Animals, oil on linen, 42" x 42"

oil on linen, 42" x 42"

The inspiration for “A Life with Animals” came last October from conversations with the individual who asked me to paint it.  The concept for a painting like this is very organic. I listen to the individual tell me stories about their life, their passions and the animals they have loved, and slowly the idea emerges, followed by the seed of a visual portrayal of the idea.  In this project there were so many inspiring stories, so many wonderful creatures, that the initial concept kept growing and expanding over time.

My first challenge was how to place all these creatures into the same space yet have it feel cohesive and somewhat natural – a very happy peaceable kingdom. I liked the idea of making the setting the large room of an English-style country house with various areas for seating, and opening to a landscape. Since many of the animals were rescued from dire situations and given a second chance for comfort and love, I thought that should be reflected in the painting – all the creatures living harmoniously together in a beautiful and cozy home. 

I started by drawing a floor plan on grid paper as if I was figuring out where to put furniture in an empty room, then I slowly added the animals and moved them around until they each had their own spot. Then I did a perspective drawing on paper to create a deep space within which I could arrange the composition. Using photographs and descriptions of all the animals, I did a number of preliminary drawings so I felt like I knew them before starting on the canvas.

On the linen canvas, I always begin with a reddish orange imprimatura, then grid it so I can scale up from the perspective drawing. First I draw the space in charcoal, then add the figures. 

Once the drawing is complete, I do a grisaille (gray tones) underpainting. When that is dry, I start working over that in transparent color glazes.


Along with the animals there are some objects depicted that are unique and personal to the owners of the painting, such as the scale of justice, the hats, the bluebird and robin, certain attributes of the interior and the landscape. 

There have been times in my career when a painting sort of takes over and paints itself. This was definitely one of those. I think perhaps the spirits of all the lovely creatures had something to do with it. I am just grateful to be the person who got to hold the brush.  

See a video of the painting here:

Images of the painting in progress: