The appeal of working big and working little

People ask me if I prefer working big or small. I do enjoy working on both scales. Each size has its benefits. The experience of making a large or small painting is very different – both for the artist and for the viewer. I choose to work at both scales for the following reasons:
Painting in a field
Working Small
Small work can often be completed in one sitting and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. This makes it particularly well suited for traveling or when you don’t have a dedicated studio space. I used to make small works when we lived in Australia and the contents of my “studio” could fit into a cardboard box that lived on our dining room table. I still make small works when traveling, when I want to work outdoors, or when trying out new ideas. Sometimes smaller work ends up inspiring larger pieces.
When I make plein air paintings – the ones I paint on location – I am making both a small artwork and also in a way, doing research for more abstract work. While I look at a landscape and make the small paintings outside, I build a memory bank of images, shapes, colors, light effects, and even sounds and smells that I can later refer to in more abstract pieces.
For you, the viewer, the experience with a small painting is more intimate than with a large one. Only one person at a time can really savor a small work at close proximity.
Starting two big paintings
Working Big
A large painting takes much longer to make than a little painting. Even the preparation of the painting surface (canvas or wood panel) takes much longer. It takes a couple of hours to build and stretch a big canvas, and painting each layer of gesso (a kind of primer) takes about 30 minutes compared to just a few minutes per layer for a small painting.
Working on a large painting can be daunting at first – that’s a lot canvas to fill! – but on the other hand, it’s exhilarating to make something larger than myself. I can use my whole body – working crouched close to the ground or reaching out. In the case of super big work like Paper Mountain, I worked with assistants using scaffolding, lifts, and ladders. It’s exciting to create something bigger than we are as humans.
We have a particular experience when we stand far from artwork, and another experience when we are close to it. The piece fills our field of view. I think about this as I make a piece – it’s important to me to create a special experience for viewers of my work. I want to draw you in to examine the work more closely. When I create little surprises in a painting – details that can only be appreciated at close range – I am rewarding you for coming closer. My work is driven by my experience in the outdoors, so when I make something big, I hope that the work transports viewers to the outdoors or a memory of being outside.
Making bigger work requires a longer commitment and focus than making small work. Keeping the energy of the piece going and working through tough spots can be challenging because of the scale of the work. On the other hand, making big work is rewarding just by its sheer scale. There is something special about making something larger than yourself.

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Check out the following blog posts if you’re curious…
This one if you want to see what it’s like to build a super big canvas
This post if you want to see how my team put together Paper Mountain installation. And here’s the project page.
And this post if you want to see how I pack my plein air painting kit in a cigar box.

Painting an abstract landscape

Here’s a time lapse video showing the process of making an abstract landscape painting. This one was the third in a series of four that I made. You may notice the little drawing pinned up to the right of the painting. This is a loose reference drawing that I made from a friend’s photo of a valley in Spain. The photo really inspired me when I saw it – something about the big space, the layering of shapes of grass, ground, rock, and sky – so I asked my friend if I could make some work inspired by the photo.

If you look closely, you’ll see that part of the way through I swapped my acrylic cart out for my oil painting tabouret. I often start my paintings in acrylic so that I can more quickly put down successive layers of paint (acrylic dries very quickly – for a split second I use a hair dryer to speed up the process), then I move into oil paint which dries much more slowly. Some people are sticklers to one medium over the other, but I think they each have their benefits and drawbacks, and they are ultimately means to an end.  I use what works best for me at any point during the process. Once you start working in oils though, there’s no going back to acrylic. The painting would literally fall apart since acrylic dries too fast for the oil paint to dry properly under it.

I set my camera to shoot once every 10 seconds.

These paintings will be shown at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC along with Paper Mountain and Sky Project. The show opens March 15th!

Private viewing of the “Shape of the Sky” at Salem College

My exhibit of paintings “The Shape of the Sky” is on view at the Elberson Fine Arts Center at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC until October 5th. So if you weren’t able to make it to the opening last Friday, there’s still time to see the show! Watch the video above for a tour of the exhibit.

In these paintings, I continue to explore the intersection of the outdoor experience and painting. The forces of nature are an ongoing source of inspiration in my life and work, and in these paintings, I aim to share that with you and to inspire you.

While the work is on display, you can still purchase the paintings online. They will be marked as sold in the exhibit and shipped the week of October 15th. Visit the Gallery Shop to bring these paintings into your life.

I donate 5% of the sales of my works to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

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“The Shape of the Sky” opens this week

My exhibit “The Shape of the Sky” is on view at the Velma Mason Davis Gallery, Elberson Fine Arts Center, at Salem College from August 27th – October 5th.

The opening reception is on Friday September 7th, from 6:00-8:00 PM. This event is free to the public.

My “Pilot Mountain” and “Forces of Nature” series will be on view. I am inspired by the poetry of nature: color and light in the landscape, seasons, and the passing of time. The series of paintings “Forces of Nature” is inspired by the strength of nature and the power of the outdoors. “Pilot Mountain” is a series of works inspired by a snowy winter hike in Pilot Mountain State Park in North Carolina.

While the work is on display, you can still purchase them online! They will be marked as sold in the exhibit and shipped the week of October 15th. Follow the Shop link buy these paintings.

I donate 5% of the sales of my works to Yadkin Riverkeeper, a local non-profit that “seeks to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action.”

Working on a painting

This is a timelapse video of me working on an abstract painting. This is a painting I have worked on for 5 years on and off, and I had just scraped off some paint before going back into it. It was nearly finished by the end of the video.

If you like this, check out more time lapse videos I made showing how I paint. There’s one HERE and one HERE.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Paintings

I spent a week in July in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Each morning, I woke up early and painted the landscape of fields, farmland, forests, earth, and sky.

Although you may be more familiar with my abstract work, painting and drawing from life are an important part of my practice as an artist. Observing the effects of light on color and shape, and translating that into paint keeps my eyes and hand sharp. These images work themselves into my abstract pieces as well – a memory of a particular color or shadow or shape – all these elements play into my abstract paintings.

Each 7.5 x 10.75 inch painting is oil on wood panel and is available for $550 including shipping to the US. $650 includes shipping anywhere else in the world.

If you’d like to purchase one of these paintings for your collection or to share with a friend, click on the images below to visit the gallery shop.

“Wednesday Morning, Valley Road”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018 – This painting is SOLD
“Tuesday Morning, Roush Road”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018
“Thursday Morning, Beagle Road”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018
“Sunday Morning, Beagle Road”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018
“Monday Morning, Roush Road”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018
“Saturday Morning, Meadow Lane”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018
“Friday Morning, Deodate and Old Hershey”, oil on wood panel, 7.5 x 10.75 inches, 2018

Packing my plein air painting kit

Enjoy this little stop motion video showing all the materials I bring with me for oil painting on the road. This is my pochade box, or a minimalist’s kit for painting when traveling.

Want to learn more about how to make a pochade box? Check out this blog post where I share a brief history of these little portable painting kits, how I made mine, and what I take with me on the road.

The Field You Think You Own

The Field You Think You Own, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches, 2014

This is “The Field You Think You Own.”  I’ll share with you where the name for this painting comes from.

When I lived in Cornelius, NC, there was a nearby field that I would go paint. The space was vast, and there were areas covered with trees. Each time I returned to the field to paint, the landscape had changed. The tree line receded. A development was built near the trees, then little by little more houses and apartments were built. Then a shopping center was added. The field disappeared. This painting is a love letter to that field.

This painting is currently on view at Elder Gallery in Charlotte, NC.

Meditation in Painting

Last night we shot the process of painting a series of small works on paper. Working on this particular set of paintings is a meditative process. While I work on pieces like these, I focus and get into a “zone” if you will. For these paintings I used a very limited palette and improvised. During this process I am looking at composition – the way the marks of paint, ink, and graphite interact with each other and the space around them. Elements such as how light or dark a mark is against another mark, the speed of brush marks, the direction in which I pull the brush, all these aspects come into play in the finished piece. I enjoy how paired down this process is – I’m not working with an image or a plan in mind. This is a truly meditative process during which I am 100% focused – all superfluous thoughts fall away. For me, this is the essence of painting and it ties into being in tune with nature. This sense of being in the “zone” or at one with a process is similar to the feeling I get when I am riding my bike or running hard – when all the extraneous noise falls away, and the experience of moving through space becomes the only thing that matters at that very moment.

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