Vacationland (detail)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

South Africa / Watercolor

As some readers may know, I am in South Africa visiting family and doing a bit of portrait painting. I'm here with my wife and children--it's a great adventure. I have fond memories of visiting people and places here when I was a child, and though it's rather different to be here as an adult (and a parent), it is still a magical place to be.
Last week, after over 24 hours of travel, including a 17 hour flight originating from Dulles airtport and via Dakar, we arrived in Cape Town; though weary for sure, all in all, we were in good spirits. We caught our breath and caught up with some relatives before quickly making our way to Hermanus, a lovely and peaceful seaside town about an hour and half's drive on the eastern (Indian Ocean side) coast. It didn't take me long to regret not having my oil paints with me so I bought a small travel watercolor kit on our first day here and have been enjoying challenging myself with the medium.  I'd like to think that I'm following in the tradition of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, but truly I've got a long way to go before achieving anything that resembles mastery of the medium. Nonetheless, I'll post a few of my efforts in order to share a glimpse of the stunning scenery:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Untitled Triptych, oil on linen 30 x 86 inches

This photo of the painting is from a couple of weeks ago. Things are significantly further along now, and though I swear I took a photo of its current state, I can't seem to locate it.  The depicted frame is a mock-up that I did for my friend and framemaker, Hugh Williams, who is now in the midst of building the actual frame. The working title for the piece is Expatriates. 

Friday, October 21, 2011


Graeme C. Baker, 1938 - 2011

The last month has been an emotional roller coaster.  In spite of my success in the painting world, my father's rapidly declining health and ultimately his death hovered over most days. When his final day came it was merciful;  nonetheless we are heartbroken and will miss him terribly.  

The high to balance the low was my exhibition at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Jake and Mary did a super job hosting the event. Thank you to good friends Davis and Alyssa Taylor  as well as Mandy Schumaker and Ted O'Meara for making the trip to Mid-Coast and showing support. Some of my favorite pieces are off to excellent collections across the country. I had a chance to meet some of the collectors and was charmed by many, but especially the fabulous photographer Cig Harvey and her husband, filmmaker Doug Stradley; Kaja and Cali Veilleux; and the Barkers from Nashville.

I have posted many of the paintings that were in the exhibition, and though they are on the DW site, this one in particular is a favorite that I hadn't yet posted:

 Summer Selkies,  oil on linen mounted on panel, 24 x 40 inches

And looking ahead: I've been working on another triptych. Though the painting is quite far along, I've struggled to carve out the time to bring it to a close. It totals 8 feet in width and contains some passages that I've very pleased with.  I'll snap an in-progress shot this weekend and post it on Monday.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Letting Go

 Here comes a long post:

 As I have been preparing for an exhibition at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, Maine, there's been a lot of scurrying around finishing paintings and frames. I've been working long hours lately, in part thanks to Hancock County and jury duty, but also, I must admit, because there's nothing like a deadline to get me in a panic. One of the more frustrating moments came at 10:00PM the other night when the motor on my HVLP spray system for painting frames started spewing smoke. It has done great service for the past 8+ years so I can't really complain. The timing could have been better, but I guess it had to go sometime.  So, I'm now the proud owner of a 20 gallon compressor and a super swwwanky spray gun. I feel as if I've graduated to a new level of tool ownership. (So anyone who needs their car tires topped up in 2 seconds just come on over.)

...and on to Letting Go: 
I am often asked where I come up with the idea for a painting, or what a painting is about. Here is a good illustration of how a painting can change dramatically from one moment to the next and how it's really just a record of my thought processes during the many hours that I spend at the easel with the painting.
I began a painting a few weeks ago whose central element was a figure contemplatively sitting in the corner of our much painted couch. (The sketch can be seen here, above.) As I was looking at the old photos from the session with the model, I noticed that our departed dog, Ceilidh, was also on the couch. Ceilidh was also known as "the insinuator" for his inimitable ability to squeeze himself up against or in between us as we sat on the couch...and he insinuated himself once more.  The painting was well underway, with the figure almost finished, when the Ceilidh part of the painting began to take over.  I then had a moment when I missed him terribly and realized that this painting was becoming more about Ceilidh and less about a contemplative figure. So I taped a piece of paper over the figure and used pastels to quickly draw in the empty couch and a few objects.  Letting go of the almost finished figure was a very difficult decision. My friend, the writer Jo Curry, once advised that in order to make dispassionate decisions about the quality of a piece, one must "murder your darlings" (or something to that effect); essentially saying that the passages that are most precious must be scrutinized with the same critical eye as the rest of the piece. 
I replaced the figure with coffee can phones; and I think the painting is much the better for it. The painting now touches on my deep sadness at the loss of Ceilidh. The coffee can phone comes from lyrics from the beautiful Crooked Still song "You Were Gone". I've been mulling over the song's imagery for a while; the despair of trying to connect using a can to hear more clearly really struck me. 
       Here are two images of the piece--the first taken just after I started to rub out the figure, and the second of the completed piece. (One may also note how the snowflakes on the ground are in different positions. In the early stages, they are indicated with chalk--a common practice of mine as I consider still life elements in a painting such as this.)

"Eleventh Winter", (in progress)

"Eleventh Winter", oil on linen mounted on panel, 17 x 25.5 inches

Monday, August 8, 2011

Out the Door

 Shoulder Season, 18 x 26 inches
Here's a small group of paintings that is heading out the door today to go to Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, Maine. Along with "Vacationland" and "Frequency", they are my contribution to a group exhibition that also features work by Doug Martenson, David Vickery, Alison Rector and Simon Parkes. The solo artists for this round are Tom Curry and Colin Page. All in all it should be a very strong show of Maine painting. I look forward to catching up with everybody at the opening reception on Wednesday.

Figure Study, 14 x 11 inches

Study of SB for "Vacationland", 15.5 x 17 inches

Field (Hancock, Maine), 9 x 12 inches

Pansies, 6.5 x 7 inches

Monday, July 25, 2011

Finishing up a painting, especially a big one, sometimes drags on for quite a while. Add to my usual difficulty putting a piece to rest, a stint at jury duty and all the business of summer in Maine and....well, you get the idea. I'm just now finishing the piece for which I did that the greenish study of my son from my last post. I did stick to a very limited palette, though I did not paint over a greenish tinted ground color. (Though I do have another painting on the docket that will hopefully explore the gray/greens more fully). There have been times with this limited palette that I've been about to scream; for example, there's no blue pigment, so the best I can do is mix violet with chrome green and bit of white. It's surprising how blue that mixture actually looks, but I've had to be very strict about not just squeezing out a bit of cobalt blue. If I were to open up the blue range of tones within this already tightly controled color arrangement, the whole painting would crash.

This painting has been more of a narrative meander than I usually allow myself. The initial idea was based on the feeling that this winter had been endless.  I had envisioned one of my sons cutting out paper snowflakes and covering the floor and the model?/babysitter?/mother? with them.  Life intervened, and so one afternoon a few weeks ago I was busy making a wizard hat for my younger son, when I knew I just had to put him and the hat in the painting.  Corin can occasionally be a very inspired, obsessive organizer, so when I suggested that he bring some of his toys to sit with him while he posed, he brought all his stuffed animals and a huge pile of other things along. He arranged his animals (aka the Codys) such that they looked like a mini-audience for whatever was going on --which seemed about perfect to me.
The painting is just about done and the frame is in progress. I don't have a title yet, but here's a 98% finished view.....

36 x 48 inches, oil on linen

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Color Choices

Thomas Dewing: Summer oil on canvas 42 1/8 x 5...T.W. Dewing, "Summer", oil on canvas
I'm working on a project that, for many reasons, has me thinking about Ben Kamihira's paintings. His paintings are amazing in many, many ways, but I most admire them for their controlled use of color.
Each morning for the past few years I've had a constant group of pigments on my palette--usually the anchor is somewhere in the Burnt Umber neighborhood with a few chromatics nearby for good measure. The resulting paintings have a nice warm feel and there's plenty of range in the value scale to model forms, but a one-palette-fits-all approach has its obvious flaws. However, there are so many varieties and combinations of palettes that it ultimately feels quite arbitrary what one chooses. So, the other day, after looking at an old Kamihira print ad from many years ago, I opened a book about another one of my favorite artists, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and was tempted by the desire to paint on a much more green ground than I normally would. I quickly realized that now I'd have to reassess what colors would work with this particular panel. The first question becomes: does one use the green as a strong counterpoint to observed color, or to stay in close harmony with the green? I chose harmony for this go round. So here we go--four pigments, that's all: Terre Vert, Quinacridone Violet, Burnt Sienna and White.

Study of CBB as a Wizard, oil on panel

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


My second post today--I'm playing catch up on a few items from the last few weeks.

First, I just want to let people know that I added a new "Available Work" section to my web page. It has the absolute freshest DGB paintings as well as a few older pieces that have not yet found homes. There had been some confusion as my "Recent Work" section is not quite as recent as I'd like, and almost all the pieces in that section have been sold.

Secondly, I had meant to post these two portraits that I completed a few weeks ago. They were wonderful, gracious sitters; a pleasure to paint.


The painting of the snowman and young woman is finished. It's currently being photographed and colorproofed by my friend Ken Woisard. Here's the final piece:

I chose not to add a third figure as it seemed to muddy the waters. Instead I added a bit of clutter to the porch and the red plastic sled filled with sticks in the foreground. The title (for now) of the piece is "Spring Snow". It has been a very long transition from Winter to Spring this year, so continuing to work on this series of winter themed paintings has seemed quite natural. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep it up once the weather turns to summer, though I do have at least one more that I'd like to paint before moving on.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Progress Report

Here are two progress photos of the snowman and young woman project. I just finished, framed, and shipped two portraits, so I'm back with this painting in earnest for the next week. It's moving along pretty quickly, so I anticipate having it finished soon. I started the painting with a light underpainting of burnt umber and white to establish the central figure. Now my palette has expanded, but not by much: ultramarine blue and napthol red are the only two additions. 

I am contemplating adding a second figure (third if you count the snowman) to the painting.  The left side of the porch is the most likely place to situate the figure. Right now the top contenders are either my son wrapped in a blanket and leaning against the post on the left, or my dog curled up on her bed. I did a painting several years ago that I have always loved of a wonderfully soulful hound snoozing on a porch. If I go for the dog as the additional element it will be fun to revisit the subject.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Framing the Snow Angel

Here are a few recent photos from my studio. Gilding the frame for "Snow Angel" took quite a bit of work--none of it too difficult, but due to the scale, it just took a long time. In the end, I'm very pleased with how this looks. The last stages of a painting are always a challenge for me. Staying focused in order to finish loose ends can really seem tedious. I was encouraged to read about Lucien Freud's feelings on this subject in Martin Gayford's "Man with a Blue Scarf: On sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud". Fortunately there's the reward of placing the painting in a finished frame and seeing it freshly again. After all the hours of thinking about an image and then the subsequent realizing of the painting, this is a sweet moment that I cherish. 
The painting is off to Dowling Walsh Gallery on Friday, so today I will turn my attention back to a couple of nearly completed portraits while the snow angel serenely watches over me. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Last week was an unusual one creatively speaking. It's always hard to sustain a creative thread while away from the studio; when I found myself stuck for over an hour in an airplane on the tarmac in Charlotte, NC I was not pleased.  Having listened to the audiobook of Joshua Foer's "Moonwalking with Einstein" for a while, I needed a break, so I pulled out my sketchbook and drew out a few ideas that I'd been thinking about recently.

Upon my return to Maine I was greeted (fortuitously from a snowman point of view--though not from a human driving point of view) with a heavy dose of new fallen snow. With schools cancelled, I knew that one of my favorite models might have some time to spare, so I called her and arranged for a session. This last image in this group is the result of working with her. One can see the roughness of the first sketched idea take a more naturalistic turn.

So, bear with me, you may well see the evolution of a painting in real time. 

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Monday, March 21, 2011

On the Road

I just want to say a great big thank you to the folks at It was super to have such widespread exposure and to received so much encouraging, wonderful feedback.

I'll be out of the studio for the next week, so I'll share this photo of my studio that gives a little peek at the  paintings I'm working on and can't wait to get back to.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Life in Maine

This is a recent painting that was first exhibited at Art Palm Beach.  Something about combining cheerleaders, princesses, and treelength wood seems so perfect. It's a good example of how some of the idiosyncracies of Maine have bled into my work. The painting is now back here in Maine at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art.

Treelength (triptych), 2010, oil on linen mounted on panel, 26" x 68"

Treelength (detail of center panel)
Treelength (detail of right panel)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This post has a few images that show my working process. The first image is the completed painting. The study "Red Cape" was the first oil study that I did for this project. Early on I envisioned the painting as a single figure sitting on the bed, however, the longer I spent with the idea the more I felt a second figure would add a significant (and enigmatic) narrative element. Initially I had thought of including one of my sons asleep on the bed; but visually it didn't work, since he would be mostly concealed by the seated figure and the cape.  There are also some preparatory drawings for the project; I'll dig them out and post them later.

"Cradle", 2010, oil on linen mounted on panel,  25" x 36"

and the accompanying studies:

Red Cape, oil on linen mounted on panel, 12" x 15"
Sleeper, oil on rag board, 11" x 16"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Win Again

Hank wrote the tune but I've been listening to a fantastic version by Rob Ickes, the amazing dobro player, with Robinella on vox.

The painting below is on its way to Artists' House Gallery in Philadelphia. This is about as fresh as it gets--I just finished this piece this morning. The painting is for the "Celebration of Music" exhibition which is timed to coincide with the Phildelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), so of course I have to mention what I've been listening to as I finished up the painting. It's a smallish piece: 14" x 19". I had thought about making a painting with a musical instrument tucked in the scene somewhere, but really, 90+% of the time I experience music through the stereo rather than from a live musician, so this is perhaps more true to my experience.  Of course, I do have plenty of instruments around--including a Rob Ickes model dobro--but it was feeling a bit forced, so I just went where I would have gone anyway.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Combined elements

I am often asked about how I put the elements of paintings together. This painting "Outlook" from 2008 is a good example of how an idea can evolve over time.
The setting is my dear friend Chris' breezeway at her home in Ashfield, Mass.. The morning light in this bright room is lovely and dramatic as it cuts through the space. Chris, an avid birder, keeps her binocs handy and they often rest on the table where her cats perch and also watch the birds--though with nefarious intent. When I began the painting I did not have a figure in the scene, though I had recently been painting my friend Kate and had a few outtakes from our sessions that seemed interesting and paintable. The painting sat unfinished for a while, but in the meantime Bob, one of Chris' two Siamese cats, was lost to a hungry bobcat. After thinking about Chris' loss, I decided that putting a cat in the painting would be a nice homage to Bob and to the feeling of loss that we have when we lose a companion animal. (Though the cat in the painting is actually another cat who lives here in Maine.) When I combined these elements; the setting, the cat, and the figure--whose blurry action seems to indicate either arriving or leaving--the painting came together for me. Oh, and I had to put red shoes on the floor--just because I love to paint shoes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Last summer

Burn Permit, 2010, oil on 3 panels, 21" x 58"

Here's a piece from last summer that never made it to my website.

Sunday, February 27, 2011