Category: Life

Second layer grisaille.

Added shadows and hair.

I’ve had a busy time in the studio over the last week, with my daughter helping me make progress by putting down a base coat onto the walls behind the doorway – I’ll add shadows on the walls and floor behind her soon. I’ve finished almost all of the second layer of grey work on all three girls, who are causing Elizabeth to suffer great jealousy! I’ll have to paint her again soon to reassure her. The white cloth that the seated girl is wearing has been a treat, because of all the opportunities offered by the lacy bits of trim, ribbons and so forth. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.

The twins have gained a full head of hair, a book, and some shadows to put them onto the ground. I’ll take a closer look at the fabric next, checking on some of the folds and shadows in the cloth.

I had a lovely surprise yesterday when the beautiful Celeste Yarnell and her artist husband Nazim dropped in to the studio and shared a cup of tea with me. Celeste was a childhood crush of mine when she appeared in Star Trek as Chekov’s girlfriend Yeoman Landon in the Star Trek episode, “The Apple”. And if that wasn’t enough to make an adolescent’s heart beat faster she was busy kissing Elvis a year later in his movie Live A Little, Love A Little. Star Trek and Elvis!

Monday I had a unique opportunity to spend a couple of very pleasant hours up close to the Bouguereau at the Weisman gallery in Malibu, thanks to Michael Zakian, the curator and art historian at Pepperdine University. Alexey Steele, Tony Pro, Jeremy Lipking, Mike Adams and I had a wonderful time getting close to the paintings and taking the opportunity to really examine the detail of these lovely works. There’s a photo of us together on Facebook looking like a bunch of gangsters.

I’ve posted a photo of the painting, then a close up of the beautifully painted hand that rests upon her hip, which I sketched out for reference. This morning I had some time to chat with John Nava, the amazing painter and creator of the figurative tapestries at the Los Angeles Cathedral, and we briefly discussed Bougeureau, who we both admire for his technical skill. John pointed out that despite his technical excellence there’s a lack of substance in the great Frenchman’s work – and I have to agree that his work tends to be sentimental althoughhis skill is so intensely wonderful that it transcends his lack of depth.

On the reverse side of the same wall there is a little study for a different painting that is of great interest to studio painters seeking to emulate the technique of the great French academic artist. In this little picture we can see the process of painting in his method.  First a drawn sketch to feel out the composition, then a little painted sketch like this example, inking out the outlines and making a loose generalization of the areas of colour. Next, a more formal drawing of the shapes on a large canvas, then rendering the actual painting.

Although I have to say that creating grass is the most boring thing in the world, I guess the patience that it requires pays off in the end and I like the way this is going. Doing this repetitive painting reminds me of the work on the Angel of Death when I painted skulls for months, going a little crazy in the process. Fortunately I won’t have to do this much longer, although I think I could use another strip of the leaves above what I’ve already done.

Shortly I’ll paint some colour over the whites, looking for a little texture and variation of hue to make the grass come to life a little. The deadline for the Carnegie show is looming, and I’m feeling the pressure to complete another big painting before the exhibit opens.

I heard some good news today: my paper about the identity of Bembo’s Visconti Sforza Magician has been accepted at the fourth International Conference on Esotericism, at University of California Davis, in July of this year. This will be the first test of material that I’ve been working on for my book on late medieval tarot cards.

Now I can reveal the big project that Mike Adams and I have been spending every available minute on this past couple of weeks.

A few months ago I began talking to friends like Alexey Steele, Mike Adams, Tony Pro and Peter Adams about the need for an academic and philosophical foundation for the revival of representational art, so I began working on what that would look like if my university was to get behind the project. Mike and I started talking to our colleagues there, sowing the seeds of the idea, then we began to put together a proposal with a budget, a structured timetable and researching a location for the event. Once we were well prepared we asked for a meeting with the CLU president Chris Kimball, who liked the project and gave us the underwriting we needed.


So it’s my great pleasure to announce that in October of 2012, in Ventura, California CLU is hosting The Representational Art Conference (TRAC2012), the first like it for a hundred years! I sincerely hope you’ll join us at the event.

There has been silence in the halls of academia regarding representational art in the new millennium. The success of the numerous ateliers now established in every major city in the United States indicates the depth of interest in representational art and traditional studio practices that has flourished without comment.

The Representational Art Conference, 2012, presented by California Lutheran University, offers three days of lively discussion in the delightful seaside city of Ventura, California, including keynote speakers, academic papers, panel discussions and exclusive demonstrations by prominent artists, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners who share an interest in the practice of the traditional studio techniques of sculpture, painting and drawing media in the 21st Century.

In the studio I’ve worked on the flesh of the hanged man a little more, adding whites into the highlights and blue into the shadows and the hair. I’ve scraped plenty of Cadmium Red into the lower arm, reasoning that because he’s hanging upside down his blood would have descended to the lowest parts of the body. When I move the platform over so I can reach the upper parts of the body I’ll paint the flesh of the leg much bluer, probably referring to Rubens’ Entombment of Jesus, where the dead Christ is profoundly blue and yellow over a grey underpainting.

The Los Angeles College Art Association meeting is coming up in a couple of weeks. I’ve looked over the offerings of papers and can’t find any mention of anything discussing the phenomenon of the emergence of ateliers in every US city, nor any mention of the work of countless extraordinary artists who use traditional studio techniques to create great representational art. That’s not right! We need to write about the movement, discuss the issues that face us and create a philosophical underpinning that will support studio practice.

Beside Donna’s portrait

We visited Donna Granata’s exhibit at the Ventura Government Centre to see the photo she took of me in the studio. It was a nice evening, with members of the Art community gathered together to enjoy Donna’s work and good company. I’m allowed to use the image in publicity materials and so forth, so I’ll post it on facebook pretty soon.


Hanged Man taking shape.

It’s been a busy week introducing new students to their classes and getting everything in order. We’ve been experimenting with the camera obscura to see what kind of results we can get out of it, finding that having some theatre lights aimed at the model really helps to create a stronger image. Joe wants to put together a research project in the summer to build a box like the one Vermeer used in his studio. I’d like to see that very much.

I’ve found some time to paint, despite being so busy, getting a bit further with the Hanged man, producing a roughed head and arm to add to the body. He’s coming along nicely, and will be quite dramatic when he’s done. He’s led to some really interesting research into Medieval North Italian legal practices. I’m thoroughly enjoying writing about him and the other cards that I’m exploring. My book is now a tad under 50,000 words.

Because the image illustrates the punishment for treachery I want to find symbolism that emphasizes the hanged man’s lost fidelity. Watch the blog to see how it emerges.

Traveler, trimmed at the top. Perhaps I'll take another couple of inches from the bottom.

Magician trimmed at the top and bottom. Much better!

After a few days of humming and hahing I’ve committed to editing the Traveler and Magician paintings from their earlier square composition. Now rectangles, the compositions look much better balanced, with the focus of attention moving down to the sun and the hand and face of the Traveler, while in the Magician the relationship of the sky to the land feels more compressed and dramatic. I’m looking forward to building the stretcher bars for these paintings now that I feel more certain of their shape.

We’ve rigged up a camera obscura in the studio. It makes beautiful softly focused images appear magically in the darkened room. I love the shallow focal length – it makes very specific areas of the image very crisp, but these quickly drop off into gently diffused areas of softness.

There’s a lot going on this week. Tomorrow I’m going to Ventura College to see an opening of figurative art, titled “Skin Deep: Artists Examine the Nude” including some work by John Nava, whose fabulous paintings were rendered as tapestries in the Los Angeles Cathedral. I’m looking forward to meeting him very much.

I’ll be at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday at the Los Angeles Fine Art Show: Historic and Traditional, when I’m serving on a panel discussion titled Realism Today – Old Methods, New Visions

Saturday afternoon, January 21, 2012.  3.00-4.15 pm

Panelists [in alphabetical order]

  • Adrian Gottlieb, artist and atelier director
  • Michael Pearce, artist and chair of the art department at California Lutheran University
  • Kate Sammons, artist
  • Michael Zakian, art historian and director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University


Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

The quest for foliage continues, and I’ve been adding dark shadows into the foliage on the right side of the painting, building substance and getting further away from the very decorative leaves that were there before. In the photo you can see where the new edge of the painting is (regular visitors will remember I snapped a bright orange chalk line so that I could see what the new boundary was) because the thinly painted and linear work on the right contrast sharply with the dark leaves I’ve added in the last week.

We’ve also been busy getting the studio ready (read “cleaned up”) for Donna Granata to come over tomorrow to shoot photos for her impressive portfolio of portraits of artists. She runs an organization called Focus on the Masters which documents the lives and work of artists who live in Ventura County. Once the portrait is made it will be part of her traveling exhibit of photographs and also accompany an television interview that will make part of a file about my work that will be available to historians and researchers in the future. I’ll post a link when they’ve put my file on the web.

This weekend a beautiful exhibit opens at the Weisman Museum in Malibu. Strongly recommended!

The Epic and the Exotic: 19th-century Academic Realism from the Dahesh Museum of Art, which will be at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University from January 14 through April 1, 2012.  Opening reception is Saturday, Jan 14, 5-7 pm.

Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art
Pepperdine University
24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263

The Emperor painting has taken a giant leap forward, with an entirely new foreground landscape beginning to develop around the Empress. I’ve enjoyed painting the underlying dark areas that will lie beneath a range of grass that will be the next feature to emerge. In addition, I’ve added some white over the edges of the foliage that climbs the chair, letting the dark leaves drop back into the sky a little by softening the edge between the blue and green. I used Foundation White because that’s what I used for the milky glaze over the blue.

I didn’t get any more painting done today, but I did get to snap a picture of this beautifully misty sky beside my home that I might want to use for reference in the Emperor painting. I love the soft transitions from mountain to mountain as the California ranges sit further and further away. This is atmospheric perspective in action! Lovely.

The Carnegie Museum is a lovely neo-classical building with a grand facade beside a grassy town square in Oxnard, California. It’s a perfect setting for an exhibit of my canvases, which will mingle beautifully with its lovely white pillared interior, carefully balanced with grey walls that won’t overwhelm the colours of the paintings. It’s a delightful space – I loved being in a gallery that doesn’t have excessively bright white walls! I met with curator Suzanne Belah today to look around the rooms again and to contemplate how the paintings will work, and to consider which new works should be my priorities in the progress of the new year. I enjoyed sitting in the building in silence, getting a feel for the quiet energies of the various spaces, which I think will allow for the paintings to be hung in a series of almost shrine-like settings.

Good times!

The reason that the blog has been so quiet is that I’ve been in China over the Thanksgiving break, visiting Taizhou, the home town of President Hu, in Jiangshu Province. It’s been an amazing trip – and very productive too. I met some really kind people who showed me how people live and work at all levels of society, from shiny new offices to tiny homes in the disintegrating old city.

I’ll write more about this adventure when I get back to the studio. There’s been a lot to think about and I need time to sort through the excitement.

Exploring China