On Texture

I love the texture of paint.  Thick creamy plains of color piled on top of each other…
There are two kinds of texture in painting- actual texture and visual texture.  Actual texture (or physical texture) refers to the texture you can touch and feel on the surface of the painting.  Visual texture is when something is painted to look like a texture but does not necessarily feel like the texture.  I am interested in texture because it plays a big role in how we experience the natural world. Contrasts in color and texture on the surface of a painting will distinguish plains and edges.  My work strives to explore the way both physical and visual texture become a perceived space in landscape.

I have been on a break from painting the last few weeks.  Classes, festivals, and a few new commissions have kept me very busy.  However I know I will be delving into studio work again soon and I cannot wait!

By the way, if you have not checked out my summer festival schedule yet, please do so!
2013 Festival Schedule



Acrylic Knife Painting

Lately I have been doing my landscapes in acrylic, still using the knife.  The transition to acrylic began with a request from some of my students.  I also like the slightly more posterized look of acrylics for some of my concepts.  Knife painting in acrylic has to be done very differently than knife painting in oil.  In oil I can play with the surface for as long as I like.  I can put down paint, move it around, mix other things into it, pick it up again, put it back down, etc. until I am satisfied.  Acrylics however dry much too quickly for this, forcing me to make a decision and stick with it or pile on top of it.  also, as the acrylic dries it’s consistency changes under the knife which creates some textures that are different from oil.

I like to change it up a bit- trying to do something different with the media forces me to keep questioning what I do and why.  Its part of being an artist to seek out new ways of challenging one’s craft.  It’s a life long process.

“How to” Books

I have discovered the world of “how to” painting and drawing books.  In the past I had always dismissed them as being only for the beginner.  Recently I have been using them as teaching tools in my classes and I have found the information in them to be quite useful in my own studio as well.  I am reminded of the reality of art making: there is no one way to do anything.  Every book offers slightly different opinions on topics like the best way to start, when to use black, how to layer… etc.  Not only do these books hep me brush up on my technique, but they inspire me to try new ways of using a media or approaching a composition.

I have checked out Landscape, by Richard McDaniels, from the library a few times.  This book covered the subject of landscape in various media.  I love the artworks used as examples!  Also this book has a number of fun, playful tips and techniques for making interesting art beyond the traditional approaches.  When I am feeling stuck, this gets me back in the studio.

A Typical Day in the Studio

Making art is a deeply personal process for an artist, and I would imagine every artist has their own rituals and routines.  Of course, anything that becomes too routine fails to break new ground and so part of the process is always looking for a way to change things up.  In reflecting on my own process, I can take note of the things that have perhaps become to ritualistic and also the things where some new depths could be explored.

I am typically a morning person.  That is when my brain comes alive with energy, ideas, and inspiration.  By sunset I am usually spent and not interested in use of mental energy.  Despite being a morning person, coffee always helps.  I decide over the first cup what I will be working on, what my goals for the day are.  The best place to start is often at my image folder on the computer.  I have hundreds of landscape photos I have taken over the years.  I usually look for one I have not painted yet or have not painted in a while that strikes me in the moment.

Once I have a picture chosen I often do a quick sketch in my sketchbook, but not always.  If I don’t quite feel ready to dive into a painting, I may tape down some paper to do a pastel drawing.  This gives me a chance to play with color relationships for a while.  As I work I often listen to podcasts.  I listen to a wide range of talks and interviews on science, art, literature, philosophy, news, etc.

Eventually I get to painting.  I select the size canvas or panel I feel is appropriate for the image.  I usually put down a base coat of acrylic that is colored the compliment of whatever color dominates the photo I am working from.  Then I put on my apron and gloves, lay out my paints and medium, and get to work.  A painting sometimes takes hours, sometimes days.  I work from back to front, blocking in the sky first, then middle ground, then foreground.  I use a large painting knife.  Once the canvas is covered I switch to smaller knives and occasionally brushes to build any desired detail.

When the painting is complete to my satisfaction, I sign it and leave it to dry.  I clean off my palette completely.  If time permits I will sit back and think about the painting and write about the experience of painting it.  Over the next few days I will pass it several times.  Sometimes I will change my mind and decide it is not finished after all.  But usually I allow it to be as it is and move onto the next thing.


I have finally started working larger.  It was time to explore my landscapes on a new scale.  The larger size allows me to loosen up a bit and have a wider range of mark making.  I am still using a painting knife regularly, but I now incorporate brushwork as well.  These can no longer be “alla prima” paintings and now I must readjust my work habits to paint in multiple sessions.  This means planning more carefully how the surface is built so that I can allow for adequate drying time.  This also means putting an unfinished painting aside for a week.  The downside is the anxiety I feel about just wanting to finish the thing.  The upside is that it forces me to sit back and take more time evaluating the painting in progress.  Transitioning into a new way of working is always challenging, but that which is challenging always inspires growth.

iPad Paintings

So I recently acquired an iPad (thanks Ben) and the most useful tool I have found on it so far has been the Sketchbookx Application (this is the free version).  It is a drawing and painting application that allows me to select brush size, opacity, color, etc.  There are pencil and marker tools as well.  I am still learning all of the different things I can do with it.  There is definitely a digital “look” to the finished product.  However, it’s useful for sketching out ideas or studies quickly and easily.  As an artist, it is always fun to try new tools and see how they integrate into studio work.  Another option I have toyed with is importing pictures of in-process paintings to this application and playing with ideas for the next step.

October Afternoon

20″ x 24″

acrylic on canvas


This is a bit of a departure for me, but I am having fun with my acrylics.  I have been using brushes again and playing with a loose, painterly approach.  Obviously a lot of autumn in my recent work- how could I not be inspired by the season?  This piece feels particularly personal to me.  I recall the afternoon I took this photo vividly. One benefit to working from photos is being able to relive the memory in creating the painting.


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Fish Creek Sunset

10″ x 16″

acrylic on paper

I have been playing with acrylics lately because I have been teaching them a lot and have found myself inspired by my students.  This image is from a photo I took last time I was teaching at the Peninsula School of Art.  I took an hour to hike through the State Park after class and despite being very cold, I found some inspiring views.

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I just wrapped up a 3 week class on Impressionist style landscape painting at the Cedarburg Cultural Center.  Being on a bit of a break from my regular studio work, I felt like channeling my inner impressionist yesterday.  Working from photographs I took at Peninsula State Park earlier this month, I whipped up some autumn paintings in acrylic.  I tried to force myself to stay loose and intuitive with the paint.  I tried to relinquish some control of mixing and detail.   I had fun and  I know that this will certainly inform my work going forward.  The classes I teach inevitably change me as an artist for the better.