7 small paintings

workspace

Inspiration

I hadn’t touched a painting for years.

My wife and I took a trip to New York City. I took her to the Met and to the Guggenheim. We visited the offices of friends who work in creative agencies. We walked the High Line. We stumbled into a small gallery show in Tribeca. The famous New York City Transit Authority signage whispered Helvetica to me from every corner.

This trip reminded me of my first trip to New York. I was finishing my art degree. Before the main summer school session started, there was an odd two week block where professors got to run their fun classes. My painting instructor, bless her, herded a gaggle of college kids onto a plane and through every respectable (and some disreputable) gallery in SoHo. Right after that trip I broke up with my girlfriend and went to graduate school.

These paintings are small impressions of our trip. Primarily, scenes from the High Line park. Secondarily, a love letter to the stark subway signage. All paintings are acrylic on paper. Each subway sign, with their hand-eye-balled typography, works as sort of a meditation on composition, color, and paint. It’s what a figurative painter does when he can’t bring himself to make an abstract painting. The others are scenes from a walk on the High Line park. There’s so much to see on and from the High Line, one could probably fill a sketchbook in an afternoon.

Paintings

  • 33rd Street

    33rd Street

    We stayed near the 33rd street subway station. In this first painting you can see I’m still a bit rusty. Timidly clinging to “real” black and white of the signage and only playing with color around the edges.

  • White Wall, High Line

    White Wall, High Line

    On the High Line there is an all-white building with bricked up windows that blinds in the morning sun. In life the wall was white white white. But the sun was warm and the shadows were cool. I tried to capture that temperature with orange in the light and blue in the shade.

  • Empire State Water Tower

    Empire State Water Tower

    Looking east on the High Line you can catch glimpses of the Empire State building between the rooftops and water towers, its massive bulk hazy in the morning air.

  • Union Square

    Union Square

    A short subway ride south from 33rd street is. There we met a Portland transplant who was working a crowded, mad bar. She destroyed us with drinks.

  • Bricked Window, High Line

    Bricked Window, High Line

    Along the High Line many windows are still bricked over to shield tenants from a clattering train. Now they shield tenants from trees, tourists, and morning sun.

  • Subway Car R3

    Subway Car R3

    The New York City Transit Authority is disciplined in their signage. On the right side of a subway car (R) at door number 3 I found this tiny emblem stamped into the metal of the door frame.

  • Caroline on the High Line.

    Caroline on the High Line

    Caroline regards me skeptically while we sat among other tourists.

Process

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When I was finishing art school photography was still expensive. At that time it never occurred to me to take photos of the process of making a painting. Now that my pocket-hand-computer includes a pretty decent camera, photographs are free.

For each of these paintings I worked from a photographic reference. I made prints on a color laser printer and a standard black and white printer at my favorite art supply store, FedEx Office. The color print provides a basic color reference, while the grainy, low-detail black and white image helps me see structure and form.

I created a 4 x 4 grid to help align my work, but other than that I free-handed the images, making small edits along the way. Removing noisy details and in one case lopping off the end of a thumb that stuck out in a confusing way. No actual thumbs were harmed in the process.

For the landscapes and the portrait I like to under-paint in a contrasting color. Green for Caroline. Orange for the white wall. Red for the sky. This is an old trick. Any place your paint doesn’t fill will pop with color instead of bare paper. The contrast gives colors depth.

Acrylic paints are not known for blending. They cure too quickly. While you can buy chemicals which slow the drying process, I find it best to take advantage of the nature of the medium and work in many transparent layers. Sometimes the acrylic paint dries too slowly so I blast the surface with a hair dryer just to move things along.

The images of subway signs are a nice break in between figurative paintings. It’s a way to work with color and texture, play with paint, and steady my hand without getting lost in details.