Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche or Paint Flowers! Or Do They?

Look what I’ve become!  I love quiche.  My only problem with ordering it is that the portion size is always too small and it usually comes with a side salad.  I would prefer a manly size piece along with a pint of ale.  I also love to paint flowers but don’t tell anyone. :-)

When we bought our nearly 200 year old house in downtown Camden, ME, along with it came my own little Giverny.  Like Monet (but on a much smaller scale) I found myself surrounded by beautiful gardens and blooming trees.  I would look out the front window (my studio) and see the daffodils in the spring along with pink and white peonies standing tall against our white picket fence.  The peonies were so beautiful, one time I looked out and a lady that lived up the street felt the urge to cut an entire bouquet for herself to take home and enjoy!  It was premeditated as she had her scissors in hand.

Occasionally, I would take a coffee break from painting and wander downstairs into our living room to gaze through the picture window.  It was one of my favorite views in the house.  Colorful tall Hollyhocks would catch my peripheral vision as I took in the annual beds on either side of the old stone steps that lead down to our greenhouse and our perennial beds.  Beyond were two church steeples that for me made the view serene. 

On some of these occasions, I would see our 6 foot tall gardener and friend Anna in the middle of the perennial bed with her arms in motion and seemingly talking to herself.  I would always laugh when I realized that she was talking to my 5 foot tall wife Jen, who couldn’t be seen among the phlox.

Other times, I would see tourists meandering down our driveway to take pictures of the perennial flowers in bloom, continuing on into the yard like they lived there. 

Surrounded by hostas, daylilies, beds of impatiens, rose bushes, extensive perennial beds, purple lilac trees etc… I guess it was only a matter of time before I started painting flowers.  One day we were at a good friend’s house and I noticed a beautiful floral still life print on her wall.  When I examined it closer I was surprised to see that it was a Renoir!

I wasn’t aware of Renoir’s magnificent floral still-lifes.   Renoir must have been inspired on his frequent visits to his good friend Claude Monet’s house, Giverny, for he produced some of the most spectacular florals that I’ve ever seen.   I was so inspired that I called up Anna and asked her to put her creative genius to work to create a floral arrangement for me to paint. 

Next thing I knew I was painting flowers!  Being a very slow painter, I quickly realized I had a limited time before all of the flowers shriveled up.  I chose a 30” by 40” inch board to give the piece some grandeur.  Between the short lived life of cut flowers and the sizeable scale of the board, it created an hour glass effect.  I took photos for backup but I sketched and painted as fast as I could in order to work from real life three-dimensional flowers and not two dimensional photographs. 

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It was my first floral still-life.  It was inspired by Renoir, created by Anna and a joy to paint.  We ended up buying a print of Auguste-Pierre Renoir’s floral entitled, Spring Bouquet, and it hangs in our guest bedroom.  Seeing his masterpiece daily, makes me want to try again for even though I’m happy with the painting, I know I can do better!

So if you must, call me a quiche eating artist who paints flowers.  It sounds like a great way to spend a day!

Claudia's Monet!

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A long time close family friend demonstrated her patience and her belief in my artwork by waiting over 10 years for me to be able to paint her, her “Monet”.  For a long time I didn’t know if she was serious about having me do a painting for her.  She would tell me that she thought a painting of azaleas would be nice, since we both were from Bethesda, MD and the azaleas in the spring time are spectacular.  I had gone to work as the corporate artist for MBNA at the time and I was fully committed to painting full-time for them, so I told her when time permits I would love to paint a painting for her.

My wonderful career with MBNA lasted almost ten years and as soon as I was back to freelancing sure enough our good friend was there still waiting for her “Monet”.  She knew she wanted azaleas in the painting but she wanted me to come up with some suggestions for the composition.  Living in Williamsburg roughly an hour from Norfolk, I headed down to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  The timing was perfect; the azaleas were in full bloom.  I ran around taking all kinds of pictures of wild azaleas.  As beautiful as the azaleas were though, they were mostly in a wooded setting without much interest surrounding them.  I went home without inspiration. 

One night not long after, a vision of Monet’s bridge popped into my head along with the beautiful gardens at Giverny.  Almost simultaneously a vision of the arched bridge, pond, azaleas, arboretum like setting at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, VA where I had played golf several times popped into my head.  The next morning, all excited, I grabbed my camera loaded with film (before digital) and hurried down to what I was hoping would be the way I remembered it. 

There it was.  The lighting was good.  The light yellow bridge with the Japanese influence was surrounded by azaleas.  The dogwoods were in bloom and the mallards were enjoying a morning swim.  It was exactly what I was looking for. 

After presenting a colored sketch of the scene, our good friend Claudia finally got her “Monet”.  Hardly a Monet, but I was pleased that the painting incorporated some elements of Monet’s beloved Giverny including the arched footbridge, the wonderful botanical surroundings and reflective pond which one could imagine flowering lily pads floating. 

It was a commission that I enjoyed immensely and I thank Claudia and Chuck for their belief in my art and for their patience, devotion and support. 

Breaking Out the Fine Point Brushes~Focusing the Lens

Rose Covered ArborAfter my trip to Boston and photo shoot for the portrait painting that I have coming up, I refocused on finishing my second in a series of Annie Bettie’s Cottage paintings.  This painting has been very time consuming.  So much so that I took a break and painted Monhegan Headlands in between painting sessions. 

In the portrait photo shoot, a number of the shots I took were done in the manual mode.  Adjusting the aperture or f–stops gives a variation of depth of field, with the higher f-stop numbers yielding a greater depth of field (objects are in focus up close and in the distance).  The reason Rose Covered Arbor took so long is because I broke out the small brushes again to gain a strong depth of field.  Standing before the rose covered arbor, I wanted the viewers to be sensing all that surrounds them.  I took the time to define every leaf on the arbor, highlighted by backlight.  I concentrated on cast shadows, reflective light and ultimate lights and darks.  The leggy, potted geraniums in the darkest nook are reaching for needed sunlight.  Annuals are thriving in their porcelain pots.  The angle of intense sunlight through the picket gate casts a shadow that creates a complex maze with the linear perspective of the cobblestone walkway. 

The highlighted woodwork I kept light from the beginning (no dark undertones), which helps give a stronger contrast from light to dark.  I let painted areas dry so that I could work in the tiny details later without the paint being muddied.  Glazes were applied over flat colors to add depth and interest. 

The strong perspective, strong lighting and abundance of color all made me want to take the time to focus in on every little area.  All this takes time.  This is my natural tendency in painting, whether it is a landscape, a ship painting or portrait.  It requires more patience to paint realistically but afterwards I find the finished product very rewarding. 

I love going to museums and examining details of a masterpiece up close.  I get so close that occasionally I see the guards start wandering my way!  I never have enough time at a museum to sit and study all that I find interesting because I don’t want to miss the painting that is around the next corner. 

I end up doing the same with Impressionist paintings at museums, as I find the brushwork and use of color fascinating.  The great majority of my work now combines realism with touches of Impressionism.  Occasionally, I have the desire to put everything in focus as in Rose Covered Arbor.  When working on a painting that is so time consuming, I liken it to taking on a challenging 1000 piece puzzle.  Starting out it’s overwhelming, in the middle you think I’m making progress, and in the end the final pieces are the fun ones. I just painted in the final pieces, so to speak.

I hope you enjoy taking a peek past the charming arbor into the secret gardens that await beyond the picket fence.

Painting Annie Bettie's Cottage!

This cottage has a southern charm to it just like its owner Annie Bettie.  Everywhere you look your eye catches an abundance of flowers in bloom, speckled sunlight and cast shadows.  The open porch with the ceiling fans is so inviting especially on a hot humid day.  The backlit filtered light, the rose covered arbor and the cottage itself all appeal to me aesthetically. 

Beyond the gate one discovers a variety of colorful perennial beds, potted annuals and a vine covered trellis.  On this side of the gated arbor, closer to the street that winds down to the marina, a white picket fence lined with yellow daylilies, pink peonies, purple irises and white daisies surrounds a more formal garden area with a crushed stone walkway where one can sit and reflect. 

We enjoy walking past Annie Bettie’s Cottage just about every day, as it reminds us of our wonderful former home in Camden, Maine and its “secret garden”.

This is the first of hopefully a series of paintings of this tucked away, quintessential cottage.