December 18, 2013

The Arms and Farms Expedition / part 2

Art talk and sketching around the breakfast table at The Westborough Inn.  Topics ranged from the John Singer Sargent Watercolors show to Viking sagas to art education to Norman Rockwell to J.L.E. Meissonier to illustration then and now (from left to right): Chad Smith, Richard Scarpa, James Gurney, Ken Laager, Jeanette Gurney.
Bedouins, my personal favorite John Singer Sargent watercolor.

The breathaking Santa Maria della Salute

  We learned that the textural effect seen on roofs, stone and gravel patches in Simplon Pass Chalets was achieved by wax resist applied by drawing with a candle.
Garin Baker contemplates An Artist in His Studio one of several oils included in the exhibit.
James Gurney, Garin Baker and Jeanette Gurney discuss Sargent's masterful evocation of sunlight in Dolce Far Niente, another oil.  Photos courtesy of Greg Shea.

November 26, 2013

The Arms and Farms Expedition / part 1

Artists "armed and dangerous" in front of the Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester Massachusetts (from upper left):  Sean Murray, Ken Laager, Marc Holmes, Greg Shea, Richard Scarpa, Chad Smith, Garin Baker, Jeanette Gurney, Joe Salamida, John Caggiano
Last week I joined a remarkable group of fellow artists for the Arms and Farms Expedition to Massachusetts. Activities included seeing the John Singer Sargent Watercolors show at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, sketching at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester and Old Sturbridge Village, impromptu roundtable discussions of art and plenty of good fellowship.

 At work in the Higgins Armory Museum blocking-in my en grisaille study of a mounted crusader knight.

James Gurney produced this video of our sketching trip to the Armory Museum.

With grateful acknowledgement to the Higgins staff, I want to offer special thanks to Greg Shea, Senior Museum Preparator at Yale Center for British Art who coordinated this great event.
(Photographs courtesy of Greg Shea, Laurel Holmes and James Gurney)

November 12, 2013


Autumn Hillside   Franklin Carmichael
No season of the year stirs my blood like autumn.  I welcome it's bracing climate, so invigorating after months of summer's indolence.

Among all our senses however, it is the eyes that are most richly rewarded by this climax of nature's cycle.  The fiery colors of hardwood foliage here in the northeast are legendary, but at "the golden hour" when the setting sunlight raking through clear dry atmosphere transfigures those trees...

Albert Camus described it best:

L'automne est un deuxième printemps où chaque feuille est une fleur.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Here are more splendid celebrations of the fall season painted by Canada's Algonquin School impressionists -- also known as The Group of Seven
Guide's Home   Arthur Lismer

Serenity: Lake of the Woods   John Johnston

Falls of the Montreal River   J.E.H. MacDonald

October Gold   Franklin Carmichael

The Jack Pine   Tom Thomson

October 28, 2013


Perhaps the greatest pirate picture NOT painted by Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth is The Buccaneers by Frederick J. Waugh (1861-1940).  Heir to Winslow Homer's title as dean of American marine artists, Waugh's depictions of surging coastal seas are renowned for their brilliant design, lyrical beauty and majesty.  But rare are his figurative works, let alone grand action pictures like the hand-to-hand melée seen here.

The power of the painting (and it's obvious influence upon every filmmaker who ever staged a scene of pirates boarding an enemy ship) speaks for itself!


October 4, 2013

The Molly Maguire Memorial

A little known example of great contemporary public art stands in the tiny Molly Maguire Memorial Park at Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.  

The larger-than-lifesize bronze depicts a common man bound at the wrists and ankles, hooded for execution -- he is seconds away from death by hanging.  This haunting sculpture dedicated in 2010, is the work of American artist Zenos Frudakis.   

Between the years 1877 and 1879 twenty Irish American coal miners were sent to Pennsylvania's gallows for murders they allegedly commited as members of a trade-unionist terror cabal known as "The Molly Maguires".  

Modern scholarship however, has raised grave doubt that the legendary conspiracy ever existed (Execution of Molly Maguires Historical Marker).    

This work bears silent and somber witness to the memory of the region's anthracite coal miners who suffered terrible injustice in their struggle to win fair wages and decent working conditions.    

Zenos Frudakis website

September 23, 2013

The Ape Man's Brother

I recently completed the book illustrations for Joe R. Lansdale's riotous novella The Ape Man's Brother published by Subterranean Press. Available now in ebook, with the special hardcover edition featuring my cover painting and five black & white interior drawings (below) to follow in the new year.

In this delightfully snarky and irreverent retelling of the Tarzan story, Joe R. Lansdale delivers an affectionate send-up of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The Ape Man's Brother is a "must read" for Lansdale's legion of fans and for everyone who thrilled to ERB's sensational adventure tales as a boy, like me.  

My cover painting features the book's dual protagonists; the famous "you-know-who of the Apes" and his lesser known simian half-brother.  Each is shown at the full extent of his character development --  when beast has become civilized man, and man has become wild beast.    

The wealth of great picture material in the manuscript made it tough to limit my interior illustrations to only fiveUltimately, I chose subjects that would elucidate the story's main characters, highlight the chief episodes of the plot, and allow me to join in providing the reader with some damn good fun!  

September 15, 2013

A Moorish Man-at-Arms

A Moorish Man-at-Arms     oils on board     18 X 24"

The splendid ORIENTALIST art that flourished in the salons of 19th century Europe has fascinated me for decades.  Lately I'd become more and more intrigued by the challenge of attempting such a painting myself. This summer, a private commission gave me the opportunity to do just that.

A Moorish Man-at-Arms was commissioned by a Baltimore collector who asked me to paint a single Arabic character in the iconic style of Orientalist masters Ludwig DEUTSCH and Jean-Léon GÉRÔME.  

                              The Palace Guard   L. Deutsch      Guard of the Harem   J-L Gérôme 

My work began with the subject research, pictorial design and thumbnail sketches that must be done in preparation for any successful painting.  

The next step was to coordinate a photo shoot for creation of artist's reference from which to paint.  Suitable costuming, weapons and props were rented or fabricated, and a model engaged.  The yellow satin robe was central to my vision for the warrior's attire; part of my small costume collection, its picturesque quality impressed me the moment I spotted it in an antique shop years ago.   

A university student from Philadelphia (with no prior theatrical experience) provided me with remarkably professional service as a model -- it was apparent from the first pose he struck that we'd succeeded in bringing the character which I'd known only in my imagination, to life!  My camera captured images that would have to substitute for the model's presence throughout the many, many long hours of painting to come. 

The setting I conceived for this scene is the outer corridor of a mosque.  It is adorned with colorful and gracefully intricate enameled tile, so typical of the traditional Islamic decoration that I admire.  Included in the design is a detail of the "throne" verse (2:255) -- one of the central scriptures of The Koran.  

The ornate carpet seen on the floor is my own -- a cherished gift from a friend who purchased it at a bazaar in Kabul, he presented to me upon his return from Afghanistan.

A comprehensive pencil drawing was prepared based on my sketches and the reference photos, and stabilized with fixative.     

Before the painting phase could begin, an overall plan for color was worked out based upon the special properties of the light in the scene.  Keen observation from life is the only way that truly natural looking color can be determined.  Photographic color is often inaccurate and unreliable.  A thin imprimatura of burnt umber is washed over the drawing to give it a warm tone, suggestive of the final colors.

I prefer to paint the most important areas first, in this case the flesh and the yellow satin robe. Exacting work of this sort requires craftsmanship that cannot be rushed.  But, even the most careful procedure isn't foolproof.  

As the painting developed I felt that some aspects of the combat arms and accoutrements were unsatisfactory (note the discrepancies between preliminary drawing and final painting).  Improvements were made that enhanced the design and exotic flair of the character.

Now that the figure was finished, colors for the background could be precisely keyed for harmony and convincing effects of chiaroscuro form and aerial perspective. 


When completed, my patron was delighted with the painting, and I was satisfied that I'd achieved my goal.  

Curious about privately commissioning a painting in the Orientalist tradition, or any other subject genre?  Please contact me at