I’m going to show some interim stages of paintings I’m working on. One reason is that I’m working on 5 at once and it is taking awhile to get to completion on any one piece. Also a factor is that there is lot of movement going on in the way I’m painting, and it is kind of exciting to share the process. Anyone who has been following my oil painting progress knows that from the beginning I’ve been working toward a looser approach- less drawing more painting.

Here is the piece that is sort of the bridge between the highly realistic work I’ve been doing and what I’m moving toward. It isn’t done yet, it’s missing some sparkly white highlights in the glass for one. But I did parts of it with a palette knife. I was going to do the whole thing with impasto, but I didn’t have enough control over the small areas and I was becoming unhappy with the assignment I’d given myself. So I went back to brush. Still, it has something fresh that I like, especially the blue bottle far right.

5 bottles

5 bottles

The next one below was one stage before where I am now. I’m including it because I love it. I just threw down the colours on there, and it has the freedom of some of the 37 minute work I did a few years ago. Even though there are some inaccuracies (shapes of the blue bottles, for ex.) I am sorry I didn’t just leave it as it was. I was especially sad to lose the wonderful rhythmic brush work on the clear bottle in the background.

Blue bottles stillife

Blue bottles stillife


Though I tried not to, I blended too much, with a result of a more polished, less raw feel.
The photo is also a bit too blue-green, the colours are truer in the one above.

Blue bottles still life present stage

Blue bottles still life present stage

I’ll also include Rende’s photo, and you can see that I’m starting to deviate from exact reproduction of the image. For example, the visual pun here, is that Rende has photographed the same bottles I used in the still life, in front of that still life. I’m not translating that literally because the fruit should be out of focus as part of the painting in the background. I like the painterly way I sketched it in there and am leaving it that way.

Bottle still life    Rende Zoutewelle

Bottle still life Rende Zoutewelle

Two prints for sale

June 8, 2015

Some time ago I had some prints made of a few of my oil pastels. They’re mostly sold out, but I have 2 left I’d like to make available for purchase.

Tuscan landscape

SOLD Tuscan landscape is 36 x 30 cm (14″x 12″) (image area not including wide border).
(later) I just ran across one more of this one.


Living Tree

SOLD OUT  Living Tree is 26,5 x 30 cm(10,5″ x 12″) (image area, there is a very thin white border).


Both images are printed on beautiful quality heavy watercolor paper. Acid free.

They are 60 Euros ($67 each)
or 100 Euros for both ($112). Includes shipping anywhere. They will be packed in a cardboard tube.

Payment by Paypal or bank transfer. Contact me through the comments if you are interested.



Tulips and fruit

Tulips and fruit, oil on canvas,  40 x 50cm  (16’x 20″)

This one was a challenge with the various subjects and the rivers of cloth, but I am basically happy with the result. I’ve been working on two in this series simultaneously and this is the second one. The first one is much larger and at the moment is getting a bit too stiff and caught up in details. That’s the challenge when working with patterned cloths- how to indicate the richness of colour and texture as well as the movement of the folds without becoming stuck in rendering just the surfaces.

I liked the boldness with which the cloth in the foreground is painted.  I took some tips from my 37 minute paintings (an exercise from Robert Genn’s workshops) and just got on with painting what I saw in a general way without going back much to smooth and model. I am learning through doing that the trick lies in suggesting, not drawing with the brush as if it were a pencil. Personally I am not at all attracted to super realism, I love seeing the breathing in the painting.

I am happiest about the luminosity of the whites on the right hand part of the painting, and the general glow. My work is getting much closer now to what I sense it wants to be, which is saying that the technique is finally catching up with everything else. I am starting to feel a more natural rhythm to the brushstrokes and am understanding which brushes to use when. Also I am discovering the infinite colours that can be mixed  for shadows. For example, for warm shadows, raw sienna and permanent rose with just a touch of turquoise to cool down the orange. And to warm it up again for ares catching a bit more light, some cadmium red light.(See the shadows on the cloth near the vases).

I mentioned when I posted the underpainting that I wanted the darks to lead into the painting. This was kept in mind.


Further musings on Cézanne

January 29, 2014

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Cezanne still life with a ginger jar

Generations of artists have been moved by the work of Paul Cézanne. What is it about these seemingly unassuming paintings which, in the words of Rilke, ‘struck like a flaming arrow’?  He goes on to say that Cézanne, ‘remained in the innermost center of his work for 40 years’.

What is it to ‘remain in the innermost center’ of one’s work; is it perhaps this quality which speaks to many modern painters in our distracted and fragmented times? I know this idea hits me a certain way, as an admonishment and an inspiration both.

I don’t think it is just the freshness and purity of his still-lifes and landscapes that has made him such a (distant) mentor for so many. Knowing something about his life- the early struggle to acknowledge art as his path and  commit to it, and the truly cruel repudiation he received at the hands of critics-  you feel the dogged courage it must have taken to keep painting anyway. And as importantly, to stay true to himself in his work.

In the mid through late 1870s, he was associated with the Impressionists, and was represented in most of their early exhibitions. But he gradually withdrew, finding their emphasis on surface light and the fleeting moments of nature too superficial compared to the direction he felt pulled in. He wanted depth. His approach to nature was to look for the enduring and solid. Even his still lifes reflect a timeless presence.
Additionally, conflicts with some of those associated with Impressionism in Paris could have contributed to his distancing himself from the movement.

Looking at one of Cézanne’s still-lifes, you see numerous imperfections which add up to a lively, beautifully balanced whole. There are some potentially disturbing deviations, where ovals on bowls and pitchers are askew. Some analysts claim these were deliberately done in order to achieve balance in the composition, others disagree. I’m undecided, Cézanne could draw beautifully and I’m sure he had mastered the laws of perspective. Perhaps it is that he was less concerned about getting everything Right. And that the constant interplay of various visual distortions create the underlying tension in the paintings which makes them, as well as harmonious, also exciting and alive.

When artists copy Cézanne, it isn’t the personal quirks, but, I feel, rather an attempt to emulate the truth this work radiates. It is ‘clean’ in the sense of having very little ego overlaid onto it.

Certainly Cézanne was aware of himself as a painter, perhaps even as a key figure in heralding a new modern age in painting. He wasn’t without ambition, but when he was engaged in the work it was an all-encompassing communion between him and his subject.
I sense that reverence and concentration and it moves me.

There is a direct observation of form, yet also something entirely his own. In ‘Conversations with Cézanne’ by Emil Bernard, the young painter observed Cézanne at work, and reveals that over the years Cézanne had developed a complicated technique of working from dark to light, through layers of rhythmic brush strokes, and that through this ‘modulation’ forms were built up directly out of colour.  As spontaneous as some of his work looks, it was the product of a well thought out technique; and he worked with a clear intended direction.

In an earlier post, I said that I thought his still lifes were probably accomplished in a few sittings. They looks so fresh and directly painted. Well, the old man has something to say about this:

I’ve stayed faithful to that object- I copied that there, do you see? There are months of work in that. Laughing, crying, teeth gnashing. We were talking about portraits. People think that a sugar bowl doesn’t have a face, a soul. But it changes daily. You have to know how to look at them. Those fellows over there, the glass and plates- they’re having a conversation. They are constantly confiding in each other.’ (as told to Joachim Gasquet, quoted from ‘Cézanne’, Hajo Düchting)

Working on the light and dark folds of cloth

Working on the light and dark folds of cloth

Working on this particular still life, I’m at a stage in the work where the luminosity of the first under-painting is partly lost. This is often a difficult period because, before now, I haven’t had a clue about how to recover it. But now, I sense where I am going and know approximately how I can get there. I’ve got the main masses blocked in, and later I can be a bit freer with my brushstrokes, taking my example from the two Cezanne still life’s I have on my drawing table.

When standing in front of the originals of some of my favourite painters, I’m struck by the directness of the brushwork; it never looks either hesitant or laboured. I don’t know for sure, but I feel that Cezanne rarely worked for long on one of his landscapes, they look to be done in a sitting or two. I’m less sure about the still lifes, but they also look fresh and immediate.

When I, as an intermediate painter, try to imitate that direct approach, I quickly lose my way. Spontaneous brush work comes form knowing your subject and mastery of technique.

Still, none of my role models were born with that confidence, and it is heartening to see how many ‘wrong’ turns established painters have taken before they hit their stride.

At the beginning of his career, one of my favourite artists, Jeroen Krabbé, painted some OK seascapes, still lifes, and portraits. They were indistinguishable from other beginning artists. Looking at an overview of his work to date, it took some 10 years of painting for his unique vision to emerge. During that time you  can clearly see the influences of other artists in his early work, until at some point these all get integrated into his particular way of working.

I avoid using the word ‘style’ here because it implies something superficial, whereas, mature artists work at a profound level of interconnected disciplines. This includes having developed a solid visual and technical vocabulary. While ‘style’, on the other hand is simply something a lot of painters stick on to their work as a way to distinguish themselves in the market arena.

The painters who every generation of artists take as examples, evolve and grow, as does their, (ok this once), ‘style’. But the change in appearance and approach is part of an organic development and transformation taking place within the individual artist. It can’t help but be influenced by the times, but most painters whose work has become timeless have gone beyond the style of the day to find their own truth. And it is this truth which some of us aspiring painters respond to so deeply.

Monsieur Cezanne

January 17, 2014

It is good to be painting again and at the same time studying Cezanne’s life and work. The book I’m reading is coffee table format from Taschen publishers, it was originally German and I’ve got the Dutch translation from the library.

First stage, roughing in the colours

First stage, roughing in the colours

So much to say, where to start.

This stage of a painting is my favourite, everything is still open.  The composition is solid enough to hold it, and the subject familiar enough not to pose too many technical problems. I love it as it is, it hardly needs anything more in some ways. The eternal dilemma, how to work on anyway, and keep the original freshness.

All the while, I’m thinking about Cezanne on 2 levels- personally, how it was for him as an artist, and technically, how did he solve this, what brush strokes did he use and when, how did he apply paint, how did he use colour?

It was really tough for Cezanne as an artist. His father wanted him to work in the family banking business, his home life in general pulled him emotionally this way and that. He made some truly awful paintings in the beginning! We rarely see those! It wasn’t that they were just immature, (they according to his biographers are packed with symbols representing his inner conflicts), they are dark, and not particularly well painted.

Early work of Cezanne

Early work of Cezanne    Source   

What is so inspiring about his life is the gradual inner transformation he underwent which enabled him to gain the discipline to really work at getting his emotions under control, and to finally devote himself to his art despite huge lack of self confidence.  All this was reflected in the growing stability and harmony of his  images.

His relation to the Impressionists is a whole other story, and just as riveting from the point of personal transformation, individuation and art. Mostly he was a loner, following his heart, weathering rejection and ridicule, carving out his own path with very little respect or support from all but a few of his peers. His brush strokes are born out of this, forming the beautiful, strong and rhythmic surfaces of his mature paintings. Everything works, the compositions, unity of colour, application of paint- and he had to fight for all of it, most often working alone in uncertainty.

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne

Chateau de Medan, Cezanne   Source

So back to me, one of Cezanne’s countless students from afar, more than a century separating us, but still feeling his presence close. How do you apply paint, how do you handle a patterned cloth, indicate the pattern but not lose the light and dark movements of the folds? How do you define an edge, how do you apply the paint and keep the stroke fresh and separate yet have it harmonise with the strokes next to it and the painting as a whole? Monsieur?

And this is a difficult stage of a painting, the part where by making a few decisions you instantly eradicate the infinite futures of your painting and limit it to one outcome. My heart always sinks a bit when  I start to apply thicker paint, my own limitations are more evident, and the lofty hopes I had at the beginning start to come down to earth more. Oh well, the way to get to your work, the bright, soaring, uniquely own work you were born to do, is simply to do the next painting.

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

Stage 2, starting to apply thicker paint

The beauty of imperfection

October 8, 2013

Els's apples 2    Oil on canvas board

Els’s apples 2
Oil on canvas board

This painting was started in the spirit of a 37 minute one, with the intention of working into it.

I enjoyed using the same fast approach, avoiding too much polishing. The discipline here is to find the balance between getting it ‘Right’ and letting it be. When you are limited by a 37 minute deadline with no opportunity to go back and correct, there is a better chance of a raw but honest painting. The catch when I do allow myself to work into it, is to let things that are ‘wrong’ stand anyway in service to the  whole. But there are degrees of ‘wrong’, so as usual, it is an ongoing discovery process.

This one was painted over a strongly textured painting I’d done years ago, I liked working on that rough surface and how it influences the overall texture.

I learned something important from working with Jovica Veljovic, type designer and calligrapher. He advised, when working on a piece of calligraphic text, to not try to make too perfect letters when you start the piece. That way, if anything went wrong later, it wouldn’t jump out so much. If there were irregularities in the strokes, let them be there. In that way, all the little natural flaws would add up to a consistent looking whole.

Trying to make too beautifully perfect letters usually results in dead work. But allowing imperfections makes personal, alive pieces. Eventually, I have found, all the small quirks in one’s own writing form a unique visual vocabulary and over time, infuse the work with one’s own signature.

Title for magazine article Walnut ink and reed pens, S. Zoutewelle

Title for magazine article           Walnut ink and reed pens,
S. Zoutewelle

It is the same with painting.

A friend recently commented on my paintings and recognised the 37 minute one (see previous post) as a turning point. It feels that way to me as well. I’ve done 2 more and intend to continue at least for awhile.

What painting fast does:

  • It launches me out of attention to detail and forces me to concentrate on large forms
  • Painting quickly encourages me to mix on the canvas instead of the palette, resulting in fresher colours
  • Not having time to constantly correct or blend strokes leaves the rendering rougher but fresher
  • The painting tends to capture the essence of the subject rather than getting lost in surface details
  • Painting fast is scary to the perfectionist in me but it forces me to let go enough to really risk
  • Accepting the ‘mistakes’ is liberating  and prevents focus on ‘getting it right’
  • It silences the inner critic because it feels like it is just a study, not a ‘finished’ painting

Painting fast is scary, but it shoves me so far out of my comfort zone that change is allowed to happen! I’ve been striving to loosen up ever since I picked up my painting again 2 years ago. But it is hard to not go on repeating familiar habits, and you rarely reach new ground without some kind of aha! or shock. Once I had something jolting enough to shift my perception – with permission, a workshop leader slashed a great stroke of thick paint on a landscape I had been stuck on. My perception changed, but on ce I got back to my studio, I didn’t know how to get to that freedom on my own. It is a process and you need to have patience.

Having to get a lot of things down on the canvas in a limited time, you have to choose what the priorities in the painting are. And then you set the timer and paint like crazy, picking up gobs of colour on the brush and just getting them down in approximately the right places, then moving on to the next area. It is very intense to work this way,

I’m outside my comfort zone most of the time. But that seems to be the magic zone where the painting can come alive in its own right without me imposing all kinds of preconceived notions onto it.

(See Cat Lupton’s recent post on Losing perspective, for a personal musing on the kinds of decisions that are made in a specific painting, both artistically and historically) .

The last point in the list, accepting mistakes,  is probably the key to how I need to approach painting from now on.  Up until now I have been caught up in making beautiful paintings or simply getting things to look right. All of this is necessary but doesn’t create living work. I am not discounting my more precise, realistic work, but a lot of it didn’t have the potential to soar, and I sense in this new step, that the work is taking on the capacity to surprise, and delight me. And to somehow bypass the overly concerned,decision making, limited, directing, left brain part of me.

And obviously this has implications for my life outside of painting. How could it not? These are important developments which can’t help having impact on how I think and live. If, in the world of the canvas,  I can let go, accept mistakes, accept things as they are, delight in imperfection, follow my intuition, let the world speak to me without imposing my view of things, wouldn’t that mean a gentler, less worrying, more relaxed me? With or without paintbrush in hand. 🙂

37 minute painting

September 5, 2013

Tanny's fruit bowl  Oil on canvas board

Tanny’s fruit bowl Oil on canvas board

This piece was done today in 37 minutes, inspired by Robert Genn’s ’37 club’.  It is 30 x 40 cm (about 12″ x 16″).

I’ve been receiving Robert Genn’s wonderful artist’s newsletter, ‘Painter’s keys’ for several years now. Even when I was convinced I wouldn’t ever get back to painting seriously, I always read each letter. Robert always addresses central issues to creating art, everything from why inspiration hits some times and not others, and what to do about it to getting a good gallery, to self evaluating your work.

I am sure the support it gives and the community around it have helped pave the way to finding my way back to oil painting.

The 37 club stems from a painting workshop exercise that Robert and his daughter Sara give to their participants. You have to finish a piece in 37  minutes (which just happens to be the time span of their hourglass).  This technique breaks you out of getting fixated on details, and the results certainly surprised me. I didn’t have any idea how I would get all that fruit, the bowl and the cloth even sketched, in that amount of time. But I worked fast and directly with thicker paint than I usually use. The result is another step in the direction I’m moving, which is more painterly, less precise. Like one of those mysterious canvasses which look abstract up close,

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

and then resolve into a beautiful realistic scene when you move back.

Canadian painter, 20th century

Canadian painter, 20th century

These were taken awhile back at the Groninger Museum, sorry I can’t remember the name of the specific painter, the show was called The Canadian 7, I believe, and showed wonderful outdoor art done by a group of men in working en plein air in the Canadian wilderness.

As to the 37  minutes, before I put the timer on, I did make a pencil sketch to analyse the oval and the negative shapes. I put down an acrylic under-painting in raw sienna and cadmium medium which is why it looks sunny where that shines through the hastily applied paint. And I painted in the contours of the bowl, fruit and cloth roughly in acrylic. I squeezed out my paints, put on the timer and painted like mad, even finishing 5 minutes before time.  I was tempted to do a little touching up, but the whole point of the exercise is to just leave it, for goodness sake!!  So I am.

(From a photo by the way).

I treated myself to some new yarns, I love the heathery colours, or sky tinted sea pebble colours. I am missing a dusty pink shade which exists in my head but not in this particular yarn, though.  After a productive workday, I went out on the deck to crochet some granny squares. Not the most original, but relaxing. I just love how the skeins look like big squishy eggs in their nest. And with Lucie there as well and the horses in the background, on a quiet summer’s day, that about sums up my idea of heaven.

Will post some of the squares another time. I love my crafts, but I’m not your next Emma Lamb. I love those sites, Emma’s, dottie angel’s, and the Pinterest crochet crowd, but I just dabble  when the spirit moves me. And I find that despite all good resolutions, I eventually tense up and have to watch out I don’t get obsessive. And besides, all that sitting isn’t good for me. I don’t know how some of them do it, well, they are all dears in their 30’s, bless ’em. But if I had to produce this stuff as a product, to a deadline, it would immediately kill all the enjoyment for me. My rate is about 2 squares a day, I’m working toward a realistic goal of a cushion cover- about 25 small squares.

The local paper had an article about the new yarn shop where I bought my wool, and the workshops and knitting evenings there. The title was , ‘Knitting, Chocolate for the soul’.  I agree. And I love the community aspect coming into it now.