Donuts and Red Onions

Red Onion 8x6" oil on canvas

Red Onion
8x6" oil on canvas

I hadn't painting any still life paintings in 2018 through now. This was disappointing, but it has been a plenty busy year and it is really difficult to divide up my time among my different genres. But, as soon as I found an opportunity, I jumped in.

One thing I love about still life painting (and this applies to my Hearts for Hardware series, as well), is the way that beholding an object in paint causes you to look at it formally, detached from your usual context of seeing the thing. A donut appeals the eye only insofar as it excites the appetite. A red onion appeals to the eye for the way it signals that it is in good shape, fit for cutting up and cooking or adding to a meal. But the objects themselves aren't usually behold for their own visual properties: their colors, textures, contours and so on. It takes removing the item from its original context, and placing it in another.

Painting is great for this because even apart from photography, paintings are meant to be beheld. The strokes and texture of paint overlay and cue to the mind that this is something that is supposed to be looked at for itself.

And since these particular visuals of a donut and a red onion cannot be consumed or chopped up for stew or whatever, you can behold them without temptation.

Chocolate Cruller 6x8" oil on canvas

Chocolate Cruller
6x8" oil on canvas

Old Art in the Vault

Having created art professionally since 1994, I've made a lot of art. Over the years, a good amount of it has found its way into the homes of collectors. And, over time, older work may no longer reflect where my work is at currently in terms of technique, style or subject matter, so it eventually falls off my portfolio.

Some years ago, I began to realize that this back-catalog of artwork existed by default, as a subset of original art that I still owned but which had become mostly hidden away. A "vault" of older work was basically being created just through the course of living and producing, and every artist has one like that, an informal collection of old work.



A second realization came a few years ago when I looked at what was still available of my Magic: the Gathering original art, being the most notable of the artwork I've created. In all my years working on the game, I only had one piece that was held back as not for sale, to keep, and that because my wife also got her claws on it. That would be Counsel of the Soratami. And that was just because two collectors on the verge of purchasing it early on didn't do it. For which I thank them, now. Within that body of work, there are maybe 3 other paintings that I wish I had not sold: Dance of the Dead, Soul Warden, and Balance. But it's hard for an artist who makes his living exclusively through the sale of art, to not sell art. When the market for Magic art began to change to where I could no longer gauge the worth of the historical pieces, I pulled the rest that I still had for sale and "vaulted" them, including all preliminary drawings. 

The last thing that affected me was visiting for the first time the home of an older artist I admire, whose career has been much longer than mine and more successful than mine. I was dumbfounded to see the selection of originals still in that artist's possession--pieces that were popular from when they were created, that surely would have sold instantly then or any time since, and some of which were almost as old as I. Yet somehow, this artist had been prescient enough to know that they were important works, and never sold them. Having had a more successful career, it may have been easier to hold those pieces off the market for income's sake. I don't know, but I suddenly felt very foolish about some of the pieces I let fly too easily. This artist's history was there, and they had a great collection of works to either pass down as inheritance or to parcel off through retirement. That sealed the deal and turned my concept of a "vault" into something more concrete.

I like systems, so I kinda formulated one for myself, and here's a little of how I think about things:

For new art, I might choose to vault something immediately, but mostly I'll make things available. From the time they go on the market, I might give them a year, maybe a bit longer or less, before I decide to pull them from being available and vault them instead. For Magic art, I'm defaulting to a shorter time frame, for other works, a bit longer. But the idea is the same: make them available for sale for a bit, then put them away.

Once in, they're likely to stay in for quite a long time. I'm thinking at least a decade. As I approach 25 years as a professional, some of that art has been vaulted almost that entire time. But the idea is after some many years, to reconsider a few pieces and make them available for a limited time again, and then put them away again if they do not find a home.

So suspense.

So suspense.

The lock is harder on Magic or other notable pieces. But I've also let some older pieces go from less-known projects recently simply because I was contacted by a collector looking for a particular piece, I had it, it had been put away a long time and the price was met. But I don't think one can ever go wrong just throwing ludicrous money at an artist.

So there you go. Generally, if a piece disappears from the market and it didn't sell, you can probably count on it going away for a good many years. There is always new work, of course. And over the next few years, you'll probably start to see me release some select pieces here and there. The vault has lots of random stuff, including pieces never or rarely seen even at the time, preliminary work that I never showed, and the like. Some of it's interesting, some of it mostly of historical worth for games like Magic.


"Sklerokardia" 6x8" oil on illustration board Sold

6x8" oil on illustration board

As I've greatly increased my event appearances the past twelve months (14 events in 12 months), I have had to pull back somewhere, and one place has been on my work for Every Day Original. Now starting my fourth year with them, I am down to quarterly entries. This is my entry for summer.

One thing I greatly value about my work for EDO is the often spontaneous nature of what I produce for them. As well, as the work is meant to be on the more affordable side ($500 or less), it tends to be smaller. This affords me the opportunity try new things, experiment with ideas or media. My work there while not consisting of Major Works, have nevertheless been some of the more important things I've done in these four years, primarily as regards my figurative and more gallery-type of work.

So it goes with this entry. It posted today, a Thursday, but as of Monday I had no idea what I was going to do for this entry. I had started working on a small concept for a fantasy illustration type painting the week prior, but wasn't convinced enough to pursue it, so I just let the ideas stew over the weekend, and then when the concept came to me while working on another project, on Monday, I switched tracks and took Tuesday and Wednesday to create it. As such, it was displayed fresh from the oven, as it were.

In progress, with the earlier heart rendering

In progress, with the earlier heart rendering

Working from the hip like this is exhilarating and a little scary. Having to make quick decisions and then commit to them is dangerous for client work, but here I was able to make these sorts of choices. So, early on I had conceived of the heart being held here as being a more anatomical heart rendered as stone. I had painted it up and would have continued a bit more after it had dried. After going out for a long jog, I came back Tuesday night and with the paint still wet, repainted it into the symbolic shape instead. I felt it wasn't reading clear enough and was also a little gross. 

I paused on a client's project to create this, and just as soon as I started, it seems, I finished this and am now back to that illustration! 

"Sklerokardia" is available at Every Day Original, starting on Thursday June 28th.


Painting grapes, while fun, is also something that can get old. Imagine painting tomatoes: you might paint a tomato or three in a single painting. Done that way, you might get a number of paintings out of the subject matter before you tire and turn to something else.

But you can also paint tomatoes in bunches, on the vine. Done this way, six or seven at a time, you will more quickly get fatigued. So it is with grapes. Painting a bunch of grapes necessitates a good 20-30 individual grapes being painted. And a painting of a single grape would probably be...odd.

"Midsummer" 18x24" oil on canvas

18x24" oil on canvas

So working on vineyard paintings I've tried to change up the compositions quite a bit from piece to piece. When focusing on a single bunch, I went from back to front light. For the most recent two, I pulled the view out to reveal more landscape besides, while also picking different lighting conditions.

First pass block-in

First pass block-in

So it was with Midsummer. I think this was a Zinfandel block, but the particular grape was less the point versus capturing a broader bit vineyard besides. As well, at this particular point in midsummer, there was this strange juxtaposition of some bunches of grapes still turning color while others were well advanced already, side-by-side. One doesn't often see that.

This painting was begun in that early August period but I didn't progress far as I had a number of lengthy interruptions to studio time. And right when I'd blocked out some time in mid-October to complete it, the Santa Rosa firestorm occurred, which included me being evacuated from my home for about a week (on an advisory basis, not mandatory, but given the immense threat, we got he heck out). When I returned, I could no longer resume work as I was butting up against other scheduled paintings.

So, it waited until early 2018, which found me painting the colors of midsummer in mid-winter instead. Nevertheless, the breaks afforded me some opportunities to reconsider the painting, so that each time I resumed it, I ended up repainting portions and making edits, all of which I think improved it.

Walked into the studio one morning with the morning light raking starkly across the in-progress canvas

Walked into the studio one morning with the morning light raking starkly across the in-progress canvas

This painting in particular evidences a more impressionistic handling of the paint and palette than typical for me. It was possibly the most challenging aspect of the painting, but one which I enjoyed. This might be just outside my comfort range--often with experiments like this, I venture out of my artistic home, as it were, and look for things in other places that can't be found back home. While I might not prefer staying in those other spaces, there are always interesting things I find, that I bring back with me, things I would not have come across if I'd stayed in my usual zone. Perhaps this is how development of style happens.

Having produced four vineyard-specific paintings in this series, I decided that I should take a little break from the grapes. It wasn't my intention to become a vineyard painter in particular--although I imagine such a thing would prove quite popular. Rather, I intend to paint more variety, especially seeing how diverse the region of Sonoma County is. But I'm sure I'll be back--vineyards are after all a rather wonderful aspect of the region and there's a lot more to explore there.

I was honored to have this painting selected for the Oil Painters of America 2018 Annual Juried Exhibition, June 1 - September 3 at the Steamboat Art Museum, Steamboat CO. Purchase inquiries can be made there.

Detail of final painting

Detail of final painting