Showing posts from July, 2018


In two days I am moving, to a studio apartment two blocks north of here. Throwing stuff in boxes, watching as the stuff seems to multiply. But it is getting done.
While packing earlier I was thinking about the paintings that I had to stop working on, to refocus on the move. In one of them a man’s left sleeve needs some attention. There needs to be less light on the part closer to the viewer. This area feels like it is the key to the painting. Finding the color note, then painting it on the canvas in a particular shape, so that the new color-shape interacts with everything else in the painting in a way that I like, will likely be the next thing I work on when I get back to it.
Since these paintings are in acrylic, I have found it necessary to mix colors that start out significantly lighter than they will end up. Since acrylic dries quickly I add water, to keep the paint from drying on my palette before I can use it, and also to thin it to a brushing consistency that I like. But the wa…

Self Portrait

Rembrandt painted one of his many self-portraits in 1660, at the age of 54. He portrayed himself half length, standing at his easel, in dark interior lighting. About 310 years later, a photographic detail of this painting was used for the cover of a Rembrandt book, a copy of which I own. A couple of nights ago I did a drawing from it.
The original painting is at the Louvre. There is another Rembrandt self-portrait from that same year in New York, at the Met, that has a different feel to it. In the painting in the Louvre, the artist seems withdrawn, introspective. Whereas in the bust-length portrait in New York Rembrandt seems to address the viewer, the gaze is directed outward.
Along with slight changes in the forms of the face, the different headgear that the artist wears in each painting contributes to the effect. In the Louvre, he wears a small, folded white cap, which appears in other self-portraits that he painted at around that time. I think that this is an informal garment, wo…

Everyday Life, and the Night Watch

I have been celebrating the daily life that I had the privilege of witnessing in the wonderful European cities that I visited. The paseo in Madrid, the sunset stroll in which hundreds of people take to the streets, in peaceful enjoyment of their city, and of the cooling-off of the day. And in the Netherlands, people’s practice of carving out small private/public spaces in which to enjoy life together.
Both of these cultural practices strike me as accomplished, successful, sustainable ways to enjoy living. I am trying to understand them more fully. Expectation of unlimited material abundance, naïve and incorrect though it may be, seems fundamental to my experience as an inhabitant of the Americas. My ways of living here grow out of these expectations. I am trying to imagine how to adapt my life here according to what I have seen in Europe.

Celebration of everyday life made its way into Rembrandt's monumental Night Watch. The people in the painting seem to move freely in a crowded …

Space in the Netherlands

Traveling to Amsterdam, and the other places I got to visit in Europe, was a real privilege. After a few hours in an airplane, I was on a different continent, with the opportunity to experience different ideas about how to live. The journey was not that uncomfortable, given the circumstances of having to sit in the same place for hours on end.
Air travel is an amazing accomplishment, and an expensive one, financially and ecologically. I don’t want to take either cost too lightly.
In his lifetime, Rembrandt never left the Netherlands. He was encouraged to go to Italy to study art, but chose to stay at home and study from the prints and many objects that he collected.
When I was in Amsterdam, I took a trip down to Leiden, Rembrandt’s home town. It was only about a half hour train ride. Google Maps tells me that I could have walked it in 8 hours, 11 minutes.In Leiden I walked around town for awhile, exploring. I stopped in an art supply store, and was disappointed at their selection, it…


This drawing is of a patch of vegetation by one of the little ponds in Vondelpark, a large public park in Amsterdam. Trying to capture the light, and the reflection in the water, interested me.
When I was in Amsterdam I stayed at an Airbnb near Vondelpark. The location was just about ideal for my visit. The park itself was pleasant, and, in Amsterdam fashion, packed with people enjoying the space. The park borders the museum area. The Rijks, Van Gogh, and Stedelijk Museums were a 25 minute walk through the park from the apartment, so I enjoyed it often.
In the mornings there would be groups of people exercising, and on an evening or two there was a concert. And, of course, as throughout the parts of the city that I saw, cyclists speeding by in all directions.
The people that I saw in Vondelpark seemed to be the healthiest, happiest group of people that I have encountered. People of all ages, alone and in groups, talking or quiet, moving or settled, at home in a public space. I found …

Sketching in Amsterdam

Sketching in a museum feels like a somewhat public activity. There are people around, often many of them, but I am focused on what I am doing.
I was happy to be stopped in the middle of drawing, by someone telling me nice things about my work. A man liked my sketch of the Claudius Civilis, and asked his wife to take my photo. They were American, from Indiana, it turned out, on a family vacation with their children.
Amsterdam was very crowded, as was the Rijksmuseum. People’s art viewing is efficiently the museum's 5 p.m. (or 17.00 on the 24 hour clock) closing time. There are no late nights at the Rijksmuseum. 
Warning announcements are broadcast half an hour, then fifteen minutes before close, if I remember correctly. I was annoyed by the warnings. It's too early! It’s the middle of the afternoon! But on days when my energy was running low, it was a relief. “You’re almost done,” I would tell myself.
I treated museum sketching like a job, intending to be ther…

Claudius Civilis 2

This is the second drawing that I did at the Rijksmuseum from Rembrandt’s Oath of the Batavians, or Claudius Civilis. I wanted to spend some time with it, remembering my special interest in the painting when I was younger. This sketch I started at the right side of the composition, to have a look at those figures farther away from Claudius Civilis.
The Batavians were members of a Germanic tribe who lived in what is now the Netherlands.
This lower border of this sketch is irregular because I had originally written notes to the left and right sides of the page, then the drawing expanded into available space. I digitally erased the words, and cleaned up the edges, to make it easier to see the image.
As I was drawing, I had the feeling that the painting was supposed to feel like a real party. The participants, heavy with food and drink, swear an allegiance to act on their common feeling. Several elements suggested this: the lighting on the faces from below; the varied head heights and po…

Claudius Civilis

This is a reproduction of one of my sketchbook drawings from Rembrandt's Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis. I got to see the painting in June of 2016 when it was on loan to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, while the National Museum of Sweden was being renovated. I expect that the painting is back in Stockholm now, as the museum is scheduled to reopen soon.
I have been looking at and thinking about the work of Rembrandt and his students, noting a difference in the boldness of the execution. Rembrandt worked vigorously and freely, his students more cautiously. But, like his students, Rembrandt was precise in his shaping and placement of forms.
Precision seems to have been demanded by Dutch art patrons of the day. From the exquisite still life paintings of the Dutch ‘little masters’, to the figure paintings of Ter Borch and the church interiors of Sanraedam, it seems that the best images had to function like a watch, or a scientific instrument. Forms needed to be described accurately, and…

Art & Travel Blog

Art & Travel Blog
Writing about my thoughts on art and travel has been helpful for me. It has been nice to try to write, as a break from working on some paintings that are due in about a month.
I think I have gone off course, in some of the blog entries, getting into political and cultural issues about which I am interested, but that I do not know enough about. I am concerned that my speculation has caused offense. I find it easy to get carried away with a thought sometimes, and forget that I am a tourist, not a local, outside of the US. My mission going forward is to write more directly from my own experience making and looking at art. I would also like to make occasional reference to my travel experiences, to enjoy and share my recollection of a few places that I have been fortunate enough to visit.

Study after Young Man in a Pearl Trimmed Cap, by a student in Rembrandt’s workshop, possibly Samuel van Hoogstraten. This is another painting from Rembrandt’s workshop, from the 16…

Student of Rembrandt

Study after Portrait of a Young Woman with a Carnation, by a student of Rembrandt, likely Willem Drost. I think this is the first drawing I did in the State Art Museum on my first visit to Copenhagen. It was nice to come across a Rembrandt-esque painting to draw from. The work looked like a mid- to late-career Rembrandt at first, in its design, but its execution was more tentative than I would expect for a work by the master. More attention was paid to refining small forms than Rembrandt would have done in 1656, when the painting was made.
In my sketch I was concerned with finding form in an atmospheric space. Making pen strokes turn into light, air, and forms, hopefully not too unlike those I am studying, and in the right places. 

Here is a link to an image of the painting:

As I look at the reproduction, the light part of the figure is separate from the dark clothes and surroundings. The different areas can seem to refe…


My drawing from Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Portrait of Camilla Barbadori, marble sculpture in the State Art Museum in Copenhagen. Here is a link to a photo of the actual piece:
Bernini was a monumentally accomplished sculptor. I have been advised that I must see the Apollo and Daphne, in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
Daphne’s prayer to be turned into a tree, to escape the advances of Apollo, is shown in the process of being answered in the affirmative.
Bernini made the portrait bust now in Copenhagen when he was just 23. My experience sketching from it was one of those times when I was really far off in my initial placements of things, but not so far off that I thought I needed to quit the drawing. The forms of the sculpture, and their interrelationship, …

Copenhagen, Thorvaldsen's Museum

During my time in Stockholm in June 2016 I did not get to look at art as much as I would have liked. The State Museum was closed and a temporary exhibition of work from the museum was poor, as described in a previous blog post. So I decided to take a day trip back down to Copenhagen, the previous stop on my travel itinerary, to revisit a museum I had explored briefly.
The travel itself sounded interesting. I had not taken any long-distance train trips when I was in Europe, since I was able to book cheap and fast air travel from city to city, so I thought it would be fun to see what a European train trip would be like.
It was a long day of travel, starting with a bus ride from the apartment to the train station at around 5 a.m. Since it was midsummer it had already been light for a couple of hours. The sun was not visible in the sky yet, but as I waited for the bus everything was lit with the weird, reflected, sourceless light that is prominent in my memory of Stockholm. 
The train to Cop…


Torso of Aphrodite, Roman copy of a Greek original
As I mentioned the other day, I was disappointed in the art viewing opportunities in the Stockholm city center. But a short distance away, in the town of Lidingö, I had a very pleasant afternoon at Millesgården, the home and studio of Swedish-born sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955). Milles made monumental public sculpture, conveying spiritual and philosophical content with bold, modernist forms. Below is a photograph that I took when I was there, of one of his sculptures, The Hand of God.

Milles collected classical statues, several of which are on display at Millesgården. I stopped to sketch from a few of them. The practice of constant daily drawing, that I had been keeping up throughout my trip to Europe, was starting to feel a little rusty, due to lack of opportunity in Stockholm. So it was wonderful to have such great artwork to study there. Milles’ own work I found powerful, but I prefer what I see as a more nuanced subtlety of cla…

Life Studies

Drawing from the life model has been very helpful for me. In that process there is an ongoing influx of lots of new information. The model's pose may accidentally change slightly over the course of the session. I see, and sympathize with, a living person getting into, holding, and getting out of a pose. And as I work on the drawing I usually see errors in my initial judgements, but since I like to draw in pen, I have to adjust, rather than erase, my drawing, to respond to new information.

Drawing from life, a lot, helps to get the forms and rhythms of the body into memory. Since we all operate from bodies I think it helps to have something of an intuitive sense of how forms are going to develop, interrelate, express themselves, and move. So the resultant artwork can describe a fuller experience. If I can draw more freely, worrying less about making the forms, more of what I am thinking about can be expressed unimpeded in the drawing. This can happen through practice.

Stockholm, Baby and Bath Water

July 4, 2018
The drawing above is from my trip to Sweden, in June 2016. I spent a total of 9 days in Stockholm, enjoying the beautiful city, but missing looking at art. The State Museum was, and still is, closed for renovations, although I think it is opening in a month or two.
The museum in Stockholm being closed was why I had been able to spend some time with Rembrandt’s great Claudius Civilis in Amsterdam. The Swedish government lent it out to the Rijksmuseum, so people could see it during the renovation. It looked right at home at the Rijksmuseum, at the end of the great hall, to the left of the Night Watch.
By the way, there is a political bit at the end of this blog post, so if you want to avoid it, please don’t read the last paragraph.
In Stockholm there was a temporary exhibit of work from the National Gallery, held in the Academy of Design building in a few makeshift rooms. For the sake of trying to clarify an issue I am thinking of, I’ll be blunt, and say that it was a poo…

Warning: Political Content

This is a photo I took in Toronto last year. I loved how, in the cities that I visited in Canada, everyone seemed to get along with each other, and was encouraged to do so. On fliers, posted anonymously on public fixtures, on official government posters, in videos on inclusiveness that were playing in the Montreal metro, I saw decency promoted as normal, and practiced widely. People who looked different from each other engaged in relaxed conversation.
Yesterday morning I went to a rally protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The rally was held at the courthouse. It was very hot and sunny, but there was a good turnout, and there were some effective speakers.
I was just looking, unsuccessfully, for a quote by the painter Philip Guston that I remember reading, about art and politics. I think that the quote was from around the time Guston was making his shift from abstract expressionism to the great cartoon paintings he did in the 1970’s. The Vietnam War was on, and Gus…