aqua di rose painting

I found the Aque di Rose vase at the thrift store on August 12th.  And since then I’ve painted it three times.  Many more plans for it.  It’s an amazing vase — the first paintings just scratch the surface.  Sometimes life brings you exactly what you want — that something you didn’t even know you wanted!  But there it is.

Each of us is different and the things that appeal to our sensibilities are different.  For me, part of the enterprise of painting is finding those touchstones.  The subjects of painting do matter to me.  I don’t always know what they are or “should” be — for me, I mean — but when they come into my path, there’s this marvelous sense of recognition! It was you all along!

I never even knew this thing existed — and yet it’s as though I was looking for it.  Isn’t that wonderful?

Here’s the earliest version, the one I painted soon after getting the vase home. The painting above measures 28 x 22 inches, and the one below is 18 x 14 inches.  (A third painting is still under wraps ….)

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Bowled Over

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I have been painting bowls and they have hypnotized me.  I love objects in bowls!  The one above appears in a painting that’s still in the works.  But there are various others.  Here’s a quick sample, starting with a second one from the same work in progress:

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And then there’s this one:


It’s from this painting:

aqua di rose painting

The painting above Aqua di Rose measures 28 x 22 inches.  And as you can see it also features a second bowl, an empty one.  I got those objects recently, by the way, at my favorite thrift store.  You just never know what wonderful things will show up asking to be painted.

because I like the shapes

seashell and bottle

I painted the seashell and bottle together because I like the shapes of each.  That’s why I bought the bottle (another of the thrift store hauls) and why I collect the seashells.  I love their shapes and colors.  Looking at their surfaces fascinates me.   I like the color blue.  I like the folds in a cloth.  I like the random things that end up being the edges of the painting when you paint without a plan.

This is a little picture — only 9 x 12 inches — painted on Arches oil paper, which is a wonderful surface, enjoyable for the artist.

I began doing still lifes in a random way, choosing the object I wanted particularly to portray and letting the rest of the picture arrange itself according to the dimensions of the format, and now I love the randomness of it.  The edges become a new area of exploration.

Some people climb mountains or dream astronaut dreams — I explore the edges of the painting — far more sedentary, much safer physically, but still wonderful — I assure you!

How does one express this love of the edges?  Or of the spaces between things?  Do you believe me when I tell you that they are marvelous territories?!  And while I rhapsodize the edges, do not suppose that I oppose the middle — I like painting’s interior too.

subconscious choosing

When I find a cloth I like at the fabric store, turns out it has something in common with stuff I’ve already painted.

I don’t know it at the time.  I just see something I like.  I’m standing there going “Ooh!  Ahh!”  Soon after, money is changing hands — traveling from my purse to the cash register.

My subconscious has its enthusiasms.  I see.  I buy.  I paint.

Green Pitcher with Flowers


Visits to the thrift store are staples of an artist’s still life experience.  I like thrift shops not merely because they are thrifty, but because they are the opposite of trendy.  They preserve the past, and often that past they preserve is a peculiarly ordinary and everyday past.

Finding the green pitcher was one of those wonderful thrift store discoveries that every flea market aficionado loves.

The pitcher has no value in a monetary sense, but it is visually rich.  It’s one of those objects that lends itself to numerable interpretations. Placing it into this still life gave the flowers a new character.  I had been portraying the same hardy flowers over the course of several days (it is amazing how long well-tended cut carnations will stay fresh).

The green becomes a factor.  The green of the pitcher, colored like a grassy lawn, brings its own associations of spring, evoking the sense of a landscape where flowers bloom.  Of course this vase has its own porcelain flowers, too, ones that decorate its waist.  A bright gold-yellow cloth and variegated violet and pale linen-colored cloth behind the flowers create a light-filled scene.

Green Pitcher with Flowers is a pastel painting measuring 15 1/4 x 21 inches.


thrift store haul

haul 5 (2)Every once in a while I hear the siren call of the Thrift Store still life objects.  They start singing my name.  Their lovely sound reaches my ears, I jump in the car and head off to my favorite thrift store.  Following the sound, I usually discover some fun thingy that’s brightly colored, with perhaps mesmerizing patterns, something that would be fun to draw and paint, a thingy with character.  A recent thrift store trip did not disappoint.

I found this lovely little bowl with its fierce cobalt blue glaze and graceful fruit decorations.

haul 7 (2)I also found the bud vase with a beautiful chrysanthemum design featured in several of these photos.   Both came from the Kenilworth Avenue Salvation Army Store in Bladensburg, Maryland.

That wasn’t all.  I had more time on my hands that afternoon, and more siren voices singing me along my journey, so I headed to Joann’s Fabric store, too, where I found another ceramic — on sale —  woo hoo — a lovely butterfly plate seen below.  To go with it. I got an intricately decorated butterfly cloth.

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Last item I found is this brilliant blue-turquoise cloth decorated in wild rose and tulip bunches, featured in pictures above.  All these items will soon find their way to the still life table and take their turns becoming the subjects of future paintings.  You can see the detail in the flowers of this marvelous blue cloth.

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With still life cloths, I find that sometimes the reverse side is as lovely as the front.  The softer version of the pattern offers another way of setting up a motif.  The reverse sides of both these cloths proved to be very lovely in pale tones.

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So there you have it.  Another thrift store trip with happy results!


Frog still life: 1st go

frog still life first go

In just under two hours I began an oil sketch on Arches oil paper of a ceramic frog and some other objects that are arranged haphazardly on a kind of over-flow still life shelf.  The bottle with the bird motif has appeared on this blog before.  To its right is part of a conch shell.  To its left is a little model of the Eiffel Tower.

I realized afterwards that among English speakers the juxtaposition of the frog and Eiffel Tower might seem significant, but their appearance is accidental.  The Eiffel Tower got misplaced on the floor while I was cleaning and upon its rediscovery, I just put it on the shelf with other things. The Eiffel Tower formerly belonged to my mother.  And the froggie, while he is exclusively mine has associations with her as well since she owned a similar little ceramic frog (someday I’ll have to paint a face off of the two ceramic frogs). In any case the two things, Parisian landmark and frog figurine, connect through her rather than through any humorous cultural associations — unless cultural associations over-rule all others …

I bought my ceramic frog last summer at Homestead gardens near Annapolis.  I liked his cheerful green demeanor. I also loved holding it in my hand.  The glass is so smooth that just to hold it offers comfort, offers a mediation on mindfulness through the sense of touch.

It’s amazing to me how sketchy of a sketch this sketch is, but there’s so many little color notes to observe and even in as short a span as two hours the light began to alter rather dramatically.

I don’t know if I’ll continue work on the picture or not, but I like to set myself the task of doing fast little paintings to see how much I can gather together through quick thinking.  The froggie has colors across his chest that require a careful depiction if his form is to be evident. Some of the marks on him now relate to those colors, but I haven’t enough there yet to establish them as colors sitting on the surface. Revealing what is shadow and what is marking in a painting’s early stage can be tricky.

If I do continue working on the painting, it’ll be the frog who gets my attention first. For today, though, I wanted to catch some of the hodge podge of things in their thingness. As a preliminary sketch, I think it’s not half bad.

The blue bottle (to the Frog’s left) and the yellow vase behind it are regulars on my still life table, as the drawings above attest.

odds & ends

Draw everything.


You can’t of course. But why not just pretend that you can. There may not even be an everything to draw (philosophically speaking).  Who is to say how much stuff there is in even a corner of a still life. All that notwithstanding, when you tell yourself that maybe you’ll just sit down and draw everything now — you free yourself from the need to first draw this, and then draw that, and find the center of interest, and make sure to get the half-tones, and blah, blah, blah.


This is a really neat still life. It’s a visual forest that a person’s eyes can wander around in for hours. It has twists and turns. It has passages of light and shade. It’s abundant in RED. There’s the black vase, too, with its patterns on the surface and its depths and reflections in the black — with the window reflection that takes you outside if you peer into it really deeply!

In the carnival glass compotier, as I was drawing, I saw a patch of white and wondered what it was. Looking closer I saw that it was the inverted, distorted reflection of the white creamer! In every centimeter there’s a wonder to behold. In such a visual jungle one cannot possibly draw everything and yet if you are, like me, too thrilled to choose, and must draw a bit of this and a bit of that, then you find splendors in every direction. Oh, to an ant it’s a palace of ineffable grandeur and beauty! (Well, that’s if ants’ sensibilities include enjoyment of the scenery.)


I’ll tell you a secret, though I buy the best artist materials I can afford for the works that I plan for sale, I also adore working with very cheap and common things — expressly because they are ubiquitous in our society. I bought this notebook at RiteAid.  It’s cover caught my eye one day as I was leaving the pharmacy.


You can see how it has the busy bright design that I like.  I’ve been drawing with Bic Cristal in this notebook this morning — that would be the world’s cheapest and absolutely most wonderful and expressive pen — ever!

My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and instilled in me (without their realizing) a great love for the common tools that are abundantly available. In regard to drawing, when I pick up simple dime store tools and draw, I feel like I’ll always be able to draw come what may. I sit here in the corner of a room like an oriental pasha with my wealth of colors and thrift store treasures, exploring the seemingly infinite reach of my territory!

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I have long admired the fishes on the Chinese tea pot and I decided to zero in on one of them at the risk of having the shape of the pot go somewhat crazy on me. If you care about the pot’s shape, you draw that first, but if you care about the fish — sooner or later you have to make a wild lunge for the fish, pen in hand.  If that puts the proportions out of whack, so be it.


After several drawings, I decided to draw with watercolor. It is similarly scattershot. But the brightness of the whole I find satisfying.

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I’ve have drawn all afternoon en plein indoors sitting beside my still life table.

One more.  This one in oil pastel.


I drew this one very fast and began with the reflection of the window because it had been so beautiful, really pearlescent! But the light changed so fast and I wasn’t actually able to observe the effect that had brought me in. Still it’s interesting that the whole drawing began with that reflection, like the axis of a wheel.

Thift Store Haul


My thoughts had already turned toward still life, and I had already set up a still life and begun a painting, when one morning I woke with the notion that I should get me to the thrift store.  So I did.  And I came home with not only some wonderful objects, but with a very inexpensive but expressive and new-to-me still life table worthy of Cezanne.

Exceptional among the haul items was this beautiful amber colored bottle with a raised pattern of arcs and flowers.  I don’t know what sort of bottle it is, whether or not it had any non-decorative use.  It cost next to nothing at the thrift store and offers amazing possibility as a still life object.


As you can see, the bottle has a beautiful pattern in relief at its base.  The glass distorts the shapes of whatever is seen through it, transforming all the surrounding colors into soft blurs while shading them with a veil of the bottle’s own warm color.

For the present I installed the bottle into a still life of predominantly blue colors, where it joins some stone birds that I got at a garden center thirty years ago, with also a large blue and white jar found during the same recent haul.


I also purchased a lovely white, green and rose vase.  As I had already noticed and as the diligent thrift store clerk also brought to my attention, it has a chip.  The wonderful thing, however, about the still life object is that a chip doesn’t matter.  It’s theater.   You just turn it to face away or you “repair” the defect by painting the chip away.   Alternately, you can go for a pictoresque effect and leave the chip as it is, letting it make a statement about the process of time.

You can see how amazingly lovely the pattern is, particularly when viewed up close.


With a pattern of this sort, you could venture into intricate detail in your still life  — notice the lovely raised green leaf design in the corners — or don’t forget that patterns like these can take on a life of their own should your imagination run in that direction.  For the pattern is an idea and could be applied anywhere.  You could, theoretically, use it as Matisse has used pattern very freely here:

Matisse eggplants

No rule says that the pattern needs to stay confined to the object.

After you set a still life you begin to notice all kinds of potential relationships between objects available to exploit.   For instance the flutes at the base of lovely chipped vase relate to the ridges that represent the feathers of the bird’s wings.


Like most painters of still life, I have racks of things to use.  Sometimes the stored objects, placed willy nilly on the shelf, form set ups as interesting as the ones I assemble.


But the theater of staging the things you want to paint, of moving them about and seeking the view that’s “just right,” is a joy unto itself.  And I’d urge artists of other media to consider the possibilities that still life can play in their lives for you could arrange a poem of things, or a scene in a play, or a pleasing tableau to contemplate in your music room by the just arrangement of lovely things on a shelf.