Red Diagnonal Cutters

Finally got a chance to do a quick still life. 8″ x 10″ canvas panel. This one is for the Word of the Week, which is “tool”. I’m trying out water miscible oils – some Holbein Duo Aqua Oils and some Royal Talens Cobra. I find that the Duo is pretty stiff, while the Cobra is rich and creamy.


This week’s word is “Bundle”. Manet’s painting, “A Bunch of Asparagus”, immediately came to mind so I headed to my local produce department for some baby asparagus. To reinforce the theme of “bundle”, I included a second bundle, this one consisting of eleven new yellow pencils. I chose the pencils because they were roughly the same size and shape as the asparagus but lent a complementary color. My hope was that viewers would see the juxtaposition of the pencils and asparagus and immediately see that the commonality was the bundling.

Bundle of pencils with a bundle of asparagus.

I couldn’t resist a little art history joke. The picture below is an homage to Manet’s “L’asperge”. Here’s the story as told by the Musée d’Orsay:

Manet sold Charles Ephrussi “A Bunch of Asparagus” for eight hundred francs. But Ephrussi sent him a thousand francs, and Manet, who was a master of elegance and wit, painted this asparagus and sent it to him with a note saying: “There was one missing from your bunch”.

At today’s crit, I hung a few bundle ideas on the easel, returned to my seat, waited a moment, then said, “there’s one missing from the bunch” and produced this final image.

An homage to Manet’s “L’asperge”.


This week’s Word-of-the-Week is “Severe”. I considered severe weather, with a falling barometer on a window sill with coast guard weather flags flying in the distance against a blood red sky and I thought about a severe snow storm with snow drifting against the window sill. I also considered a severe cliff face and a severe hair style, but in the end settled on severe looking shards of broken glass that could make severe cuts.

I headed to the grocery store with the idea of a broken bottle base with sharp fingers pointing skyward, like a bombed out cathedral from World War II or the outer shell of the World Trade Center after 9/11. I had a bit of trouble finding glass bottles – nearly everything is plastic now. Thank god for Mexi-Coke.

Here’s one of the images I presented in class.

My original word-of-the-week image for the word, “servere”.

Gary picked up a brush and with a few carefully placed strokes, put my bottle shards into orbit around the Earth with the moon shining above. I really like the idea and am hoping to paint it soon.

Gary’s suggestion – basically the shards of the Coke bottle are floating in orbit above the Earth.


Here’s my Word-of-the-Week image for “Solid”.

The crate is made from a wooden box and six very small window mats. The rivets are from the Michael’s jewelry crafting department – they are self-adhesive faux pearl halves. My original plan was to spray paint the box black and then use a drybrush to add rust and grime. I also wanted to add a cold, cloudy and gray, windswept sky.

The class discussion was great and I came away with a bunch of ideas to improve the concept. Gary says that since I took the time to make the box I will have to actually put it in one of my still life paintings.

This exercise meshed nicely with my theatrical set building experience and got me thinking about the possibilities in constructing sets and dioramas to use as source material for paintings.


When I tell people that I go to art school, I often get one of two reactions. The first is nostalgic excitement. They tell me about the art courses they took in college and about their aspirations around art or music or some other lifelong passion. They are excited to hear my story because I am living, breathing proof that one can find a way to follow their dreams, even later in life. The other reaction is to tell me how they are artistically illiterate and not gifted enough to create art of any sort. They suggest that they would embarrass themselves and disappoint others if they were to even try – kind of like the reaction you’d expect, if during the intermission to Aida, you urged your date to go up on stage, grab a mic, and sing an aria.

Last night I was frustrated with an assignment from class and felt that I was artistically challenged – that maybe I couldn’t do art. I was working on the Word-of-the-Week assignment for the Still Life Atelier. Each week the class chooses a word which we use as inspiration for an image that we bring to crit the following week. There’s no expectation that we create a finished, polished work in a week. The goal of the exercise is to create a visually impactful representation of the essence of the word. You can turn in a painting, but a sketch will do, or even a collage of images cut from magazines. Almost anything will work as long as it is an image. Gary says the only real way to fail would be to write an essay.

This week’s word was “homegrown” and I had a bunch of ideas I liked, but finally settled on a windowsill in a home with an avocado plant suspended by toothpicks in a mason jar of water. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, so I decided to do a line drawing, viewing the jar straight on, without perspective.

My hope was to make a compelling case for “home” by showing lots of detail in the molding around the window along with some tangled venetian blinds just above the plant. I wanted it to be clear that the plant was some kid’s project, kind of squeezed in with all the other detritus of domestic life. My plan was to emphasize “grown” by showing a lush tangle of vines and leaves that are ready to burst out of the window, if only the blinds and their tangled mess of cords weren’t in the way.

Things got off to a good start, but I quickly realized that it was hard to draw something that unambiguously read as a window, using only lines and no perspective – all I got was a bunch of nested rectangles corresponding to the facets of the molding.

At this point I decided to switch to a very subtle one-point perspective, so that I could use a bit of shading to separate all of the planes of the molding. This worked well, but it was really slow going and I had to adjust the vanishing point and start over a few times before getting a composition that I liked.

By the end of the evening, I felt like I knew how I could go about drawing a compelling window frame, but hadn’t even started on the mason jar, the venetian blinds, and the plant itself. I was disappointed because it was 2am and I had nothing to show. I could have used the time for a color and value study for my first still life arrangement.

I was a bit grumpy and tossed and turned that night, but during my morning bike ride, I realized that the problem wasn’t my artistic ability – it was having an unreasonable expectation of what could be accomplished in a certain amount of time.

You see, art does require skill and practice, but one of the most important ingredients is time. After a year in Juliette Aristides’ Classical Atelier, I of all people should know this. After all, I spent a month shading a sphere and another month copying a Bargue plate of a foot – and I was the guy that was drawing part time. Nothing is quick in art if you have high standards for the finished work.

The error I made last night, was to forget that great art takes time. When I think back to the bottle drawings I did last year, it should have been clear to me that there is no way to make a perfect window frame in an evening – after all I spent two nights doing a line drawing of a single bottle, and this was after a bunch of hours learning how.

My problem wasn’t that I couldn’t do art – it was that my Word-of-the-Week project was too ambitious for the time allotted. One of the keys to following my dreams is keeping life in balance. Between work and family and art, there is barely enough time just to get by. It is important to pick and choose where to place my  emphasis.

In the end I decided to simplify the project by making a Photoshop montage. It really is supposed to be an avocado plant, but I think most people will want to smoke it.

This is supposed to be an avocado – really!