Fort Constitution Study


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Our neighborhood art association, The Kittery Art Association has monthly shows. I made a decision to create some paintings for a show themed Plein Air. I’ve never ever shown or sold original paintings, so this was a big decision for me.

For my subject, I chose Fort Constitution, which lies on the point of New Castle Island across the mouth of the Piscatagua River from the Cliff House. It’s allegedly where the real first shots of the American Revolution were fired (sorry, Lexington). It’s a beautiful subject (the site, not the war) — light house, old fort ruins, and a Coast Guard station.

I decided to submit a three-painting study, and I set up my Plein Air studio on the patio.

My first painting was my typical pen and watercolor style and a sailboat rounding Fort Constitution.

I really like the sky in this version. I laid down a water wash and then dropped in an ultramarine blue, leaving open space for the light clouds. For the bottom layer of clouds, I stopped the water wash with harder lines. Then I added in a mix of ultramarine and violet for the cloud shadows. I also added a splatter to the water for more texture.

For my second painting, I tried painting without my pen sketch. This was very uncomfortable for me. I painted this version in afternoon light, with the shadows on the opposite side as the first painting.

I left more white in the ocean for the reflected sunlight. The painting looks messy to me, but that’s probably because I’m so accustomed to the pen outline. I will say, the painting looks better the further away I am from it. 🙂

For my third version, I returned to pen, and instead of a sailboat, I painted a lobster boat in the foreground. This was also painted in afternoon light.

For the sky I did a mix of hard and soft lines for the clouds. And for the water I added in some stripes of darker blue. I also tried a different perspective — closer to the horizon line (you can tell by how the lines of the fort ruins slant differently in this version). The lobster boat was originally blue, but it blended with the water too much, so I changed it to yellow with much layering after removing as much of the blue as possible.

I named the paintings (in the order they appear here):

  1. Fort Constitution Study, Friday (first one with pen)
  2. Fort Constitution Study, Sunday (no pen)
  3. Fort Constitution Study, Tuesday (with lobster boat)

I wanted to make the paintings affordable, so I framed them in simple black frames that I buy in bulk and priced them at $35 each. Sonia and I went to opening night at the gallery and I was pleased as punch to see the coveted red dot next to version three (Fort Constitution Study, Tuesday), indicating it had sold! Yay! And there it is, folks — my first sold original painting. Yikes!!!

Fort Constitution Study, Tuesday (on top) and Friday (on bottom)

Fort Constitution Study, Sunday

I’d like to turn one of these into product for local stores (print, note card, and post card). Which would you choose?

Painting Pecos, New Mexico


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This past summer my work took me to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve been wanting to visit Santa Fe for some time, so I tacked on some extra days. New Mexico is so different than New England — arid, red, empty. I find the beauty mysterious and just a little haunting.

I took a drive into the mountains around Santa Fe to visit Pecos National Historical Park, home of the Pecos Pueblo. I hiked the trails and imagined what life had been like in the pueblo while it grew to house more than 2,000 people over the course of centuries. It sadly declined and was abandoned in the mid-1800s after a complicated relationship with the Spanish that included conquistadors, missionaries, and an uprising.

I stopped at a shaded rest area to take in the vista and was inspired to break out my sketchbook.

I did my usual pencil sketch followed by pen with a fine-point Sharpie. The flies were enjoying my sketching a little too much, so I decided to pack up and finish later. 

As luck would have it, “later” was a cozy restaurant in the small nearby town of Pecos where I enjoyed enchiladas and a beer in the shade of the veranda.

I really like the simplicity and looseness of the painting. The sky wash was difficult because the air was so dry and as soon as I put the paint down the water evaporated. I love the juxtaposition of the greens and browns and reds in the mountains of the southwest, and I like how this painting captures that.

What I love about sketchbooking is how it grounds me in the present moment. Even now, as I write this blog post in the midst of a blustery New England fall Nor’easter, I can still feel the hot tingle of the sun on my shoulders, smell the pungent sage and pine, and hear the crunch of gravel under my feet punctuating the haunting stillness of this long-abandoned pueblo.

An Evening at Chez Mamou


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After a business trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, I spent a couple of days in Santa Fe. Never having been there, I reveled in the “let’s see what I find” approach to exploring the town. Chez Mamou was the first restaurant I came across. It was removed from the crowds and had a distinctly European flair — a perfect place for dinner and a sketch. I picked an outdoor table overlooking the street scene.

What follows is the progression through drink, food, and paint . . .

Laying out the sketch while enjoying a German helles lager

Setting aside the sketch to enjoy my breaded chicken, roasted veggies, and mashed potatoes (it was stated much more eloquently on the French menu — something like “garlic-crusted poulet seared in a crumb sauce served with butter infused patate puree and accompanied by a vegetable roast medley”)

Deciding to go all the way with dessert and coffee

Returning to my sketch with a sated belly and happy heart

Adding paint as dusk settles in

Trying to remember the daylight colors

And voila! finished painting

My table at the end of the night

From Chez Mamou, I walked up the street into the heart of Santa Fe, enjoying the slight coolness of the evening (after a 100+ degree day) and the festive atmosphere. Santa Fe lived up to my expectations, and while I enjoyed discovering its treasures, it’s clearly been discovered by many, many, many others. 🙂

Plein Air at Pepperrell Cove


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Sonia and I signed up to host a Plein Air painting afternoon at our Cliff House through the Kittery Art Association, located just down the street from us in Kittery Point, Maine. We also invited artists from our favorite gallery in Portsmouth, Ceres Street Gallery. The weather forecast was iffy all week, with projected rain. But it ended up being a spectacular afternoon/evening with a constantly-changing sky and beautiful weather.

I perched myself overlooking the beach beneath our house where there’s a weathered chunk from the hull and keel of a long-past ship wreck:

Rocks are particularly hard for me, for some reason. I like the way these rocks turned out, but I think the darker shade should be lower on the rocks, rather than on top, where shadows tend to be. I like the way the sand and beach turned out, and I also like the many layers of red/orange on the hull of the wreck.

Other than enjoying doing my own painting, Sonia and I loved hosting this event. We met some local artists from the Kittery Art Association and bonded over vino and storytelling late into the evening with our friends from Ceres Street Gallery. We’ll definitely be doing this again next year!

(Click on any picture to be taken to the photo gallery.)

Cafe V


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Portsmouth has at least 6 coffee shops (by my count) in its quaint downtown area. I’ve tried them all. The busiest is Breaking New Ground (BNG for short), which is located right in Market Square, the center of Portsmouth. I used to go there often to read or draw, but it became a little too popular with the tourists and bikers for my taste.

I stumbled across another coffee shop a block away called Cafe Vonsolln. It’s named by its former German owner after a street in Munich, his home town. Cafe V is quiet, rarely crowded, and by my taste  has the best coffee in town. I go there to write, to paint, and to just be out in town.

The painting of the girl on the wall is from a series of paintings around town that the city commissioned several years ago. They’re all rather odd, and some are downright creepy—including this one. Best I can tell, this is a painting of a very serious girl with a jump rope surrounded by bees. Right.

Anyway, Sonia and I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon there, and I took out my sketchbook to catch the street scene. I tried to keep the sketch free and loose as I took it all in. Adding the shadows at the end is always a little anxiety-provoking for me. Once you lay down the shadow, you can’t take it back. But it really does add depth and texture to the painting.

I’m working on my characters/people — trying to keep them simple and right-proportioned. I’ve found that the more I work on a character, the more cartoon-ish it becomes. I’ve read one key is to taper the body down to pointed feet. At any rate, there are a few people in this sketch, and by and large I’m pleased with them. 🙂

Overall, a great way to spend an afternoon!

St. John’s in Portsmouth


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Sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop in Portsmouth (Cafe Vonsolln), I can see the steeple of St. John’s Episcopal church peeking out from the trees. St. John’s is a beautiful church with a rich history. The original building was erected in 1732 and was called Queen’s Chapel. It was destroyed in a fire that ravaged the town of Portsmouth in 1806. The current building was built the year after the fire, in 1807.

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I painted the scene on a warm day this past summer while enjoying coffee with Sonia. As I usually do, I first created a sketch of the scene with pencil and then with fine point sharpie pen.

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Then I laid down washes for the sky and the trees in the foreground. For the trees in the background, I painted the sky wash right over what would later become the leafy canopies.

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I focused on getting the light right—on the tree trunks, the shadowed sides of the building, and in the trees. I’m always amazed at how much depth emerges when I add shade areas. I also did something new with the tree canopy. I painted a second “layer” of canopy by adding very light green paint. This created the illusion of even more depth. I really like how it turned out. I didn’t erase the pencil lines from the original drawing, and I like how they add more texture to the painting.

I used my Pentel water brush to add color while on site. It’s so satisfying to walk away from with a complete painting, rather than only a sketch, and the water brush makes this a much more frequent outcome. Overall I really like how this turned out. It’s bright, cheery, and loose.

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Shameless Book Promotion


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This is a post about painting. Kind of. It’s more a post about the voices that appear in my head when I paint. Kind of. It’s more a post about fear. Kind of. It’s really a post about a book that I just published that I’d like to promote.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the story. A little over a year ago my girlfriend, Sonia and I moved in together. And that kicked up ALL KINDS OF FEAR based on old thought patterns and old relationships. I’ve spent the past year writing about the process of moving through my fears, and I’m happy to report that IT WORKED! I didn’t scamper back to my man-cave bachelor pad when my fears reared their heads. Rather, I discovered a process for “flipping” my fear into something greater, something bigger, something inspired. And that’s what I wrote about.

My sister, Katie designed the cover. I love it!


And then I found a website that converts your cover into all kinds of cool promotional images:

Ok, so not all of them are cool. In fact some of them are kinda laughable. But I can’t help but be just a little giddy to see my book displayed in so many ways.

So here’s where I write about painting. I’ve noticed that when I paint there’s a whole chorus of voices that bounce around in my mindspace:

  • Who do you think you are? You’re a fraud! F-R-A-U-D.
  • Wow, this is pretty awesome. You’re going to make big bucks as a professional artist, my friend. Haha! Just kidding!
  • This sucks!! Why are you doing this to yourself!!
  • Not bad. It only took you TWO MONTHS to finish.
  • Keep your day job. Definitely keep your day job.

You get the point. I have the seed of an idea to develop a painting workshop where participants use their painting to surface these pesky little voices, and then we deal with them in the workshop. And my book, The Flipside of Fear, provides the three-step process for doing this. Cool, eh?

Enough said. Now here’s the shameless promotion: Download my book!! It’s being offered free until Thursday, 2/22. And share it with your friends who hear voices in their heads and aren’t ashamed to admit it.

Thank you very much. 🙂

P.s. You can find the book on Amazon ( or you can click on any of the links shamelessly peppered throughout this post.

The Wentworth


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The Wentworth Hotel in Newcastle, New Hampshire is a beautiful old-world 1870s hotel that was restored by Marriott in 2000 after being closed and abandoned for 20 years. The mosaic below contains 2 renditions each from the Wentworth of yester-year, the Wentworth in disrepair, and the Wentworth now.

Sonia and I spent a couple nights there to celebrate her birthday. It was a cool summer in New England, so we were pleased to see that the forecast predicted a short warm streak that coincided with our stay.

I love poolside vacations when the only choices are:

  1. Read
  2. Nap
  3. Eat
  4. Swim
  5. Paint
  6. Just Be

I cycled through all of these, and especially enjoyed the poolside menu…

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(If you’ve never tried mayo with your fries, you should). Looking out from our perch in the adults-only section of the pool, I saw an intriguing view:

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It’s not a particularly stunning view. What interested me was the the roof line right beyond and to the right of the open umbrella. I liked the shape, the shadows, the color, the perspective. I was also intrigued by the pine trees in the background. When I started sketching, the umbrellas in front of me were down, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to capture the folds of the fabric.

Here’s what emerged:

Of course, my eye immediately goes to all of the things that are “wrong” with it. But as a practice in celebrating what pleases me, I’ll list what I like. 🙂

  • I love the color of the umbrella, and I think I captured the folds and shadows of the fabric.
  • I like the foliage in the foreground. It’s complex without being too heavy or detailed.
  • I really like the pine trees. I used a technique from a workshop several years ago to draw the trees. I love pine trees in general, and seeing and painting them brings me back to the mountains.
  • I like the colors in the roof, including the shadows on the beams.
  • I like the clouds. I don’t usually sketch in cloud lines, but I kind of like how it turned out.
  • I added splatters, and I really like how they increase the texture and give the illusion of detail.

When I was done, I made a small little sketch in my sketchbook of what was happening to the left of the scene above: Pool Chaos. Flocks of kids were enjoying themselves just a little too much for my taste. 🙂

I loved our Wentworth vacation. What one thing are your eyes most drawn to in this painting? What pleases you?


Winnipesaukee #2


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Later in the afternoon as we were enjoying our day trip to Lake Winnipesaukee, I found my gaze drifting to the town of Wolfeboro, just across the water from Brewster beach. Fun Fact: Wolfeboro boasts being the oldest summer resort in the U.S.

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Feeling a surge of inspiration, I took out my kit and started sketching. I did my best to keep the sketch loose and quick:

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I really like the composition—the big tree in the foreground on the right and the right-hand shoreline angling to the left, drawing the eye to the focal point of the painting, which is the town and the mountains in the background.

Earlier in the day when we ate lunch, the ducks got really aggressive. I had to threaten them with a foam noodle to get them to back off. Vicious duck on the prowl for vittles shown below:


Now, as I sketched, the ducks settled down and took a nap.


What emerged is this:

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I really like how the clouds and water turned out. I added some violet mixed with burnt umber to give the clouds shadows. And I chose to leave some white space in the water. It feels more spacious to me. That was hard for me to do, as the tendency is to want to fill all space with paint. I also added some splatters, trying not to go overboard with them (which is tempting when you start flipping the brush, let me just say).

This was a great way to end our day on Brewster beach. The afternoon sun, the napping ducks, Sonia and Alix soaking in the sun. Painting this scene grounded me in that precious moment and helped me to take in all that it had to offer. And that’s one of the main reasons I love to sketch and paint.

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Winnipesaukee #1


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Lake Winnipesaukee (a beast to spell correctly) is about an hour from home and is a favorite New England vacation spot. Seeing that the water temps can get into the high 70s, it presents a significantly more attractive option for swimming than the beaches on the ocean, which in my experience average around 65 degrees in the summer. I can do 64 degrees “comfortably.” It was 60 degrees the last time I went in a couple days ago. Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Winnipesaukee’s Brewster Beach is located in the town of Wolfeboro, and it’s there that we spent an afternoon during my sister Alix’s recent visit. This scene inspired me (the picture was taken by Alix):


I began by painting the sky. Until recently, when I painted sky, I would bring the sky paint down just to the horizon/tree line and no further. Remembering a few painting lessons from a while ago, I did something different this time. I brought the sky paint all the way down to the bottom of the painting, except where I wanted to reserve white space (like the seagull, the sails in the background, and the boat).

At first it felt wrong—like I was ruining the trees and mountains by first painting a light layer of blue over them. But then I reminded myself that the the green of trees and the violet of mountains both have blue in them. In fact, most colors I mix have some blue in them.

The advantages of bringing the sky paint down:

  • It makes the line between sky and horizon/trees much less choppy.
  • It allows for nifty little “sky holes” to appear in the tree. I used to paint the sky holes in after I painted the tree, and it created choppiness. These look much more natural. Leave an area of the tree unpainted, and there you have a sky hole.
  • It creates a base layer for the water that’s the same color as the sky, which is true for real water—it generally reflects the color of the sky.
  • It creates more unity in the painting.

I also did my splatter technique to add some texture and depth and abstraction to the painting. And I left my pencil lines in this painting. My practice has been mostly to erase the pencil lines after I add pen. This time around I thought why not leave them in? I like the extra texture and complexity it adds to the painting. More expressive, I think.

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When I first drafted this blog post, the boat was white, which was it’s actual color (shown in the painting and photo above). Looking at the painting in the process of writing this blog post, I thought it might be nice to add some more color, so I simply added some yellow to the boat. Yellow felt like the right color. I didn’t like that, so I made it into orange. Wasn’t crazy about that, so I did cerulean blue. Here are the orange and blue versions.

Which do you like best? White boat, orange boat, or blue boat?

Note: Alix (standing in the water) and the seagull weren’t really having a staring contest. But that’s what emerged in the painting. 🙂