Archives for category: current exhibitions

One of my favorite artists is wildlife painter Bob Kuhn (1920 – 2007). Kuhn was a master of composition as well as a great draftsman. I especially admire his dynamic drawings.

BK_AIB2While I do like drawing animals, I have no great ambition to become a wildlife artist myself. When I study artists like Kuhn, I focus on aspects of their work that I want to  improve in my own paintings. For me, good composition is always a big challenge. To study composition, I like to make little master studies in my sketchbook to study the compositional style of artists that I like. I did these Bob Kuhn studies in my gouache sketchbook:


IMG_8118All of these studies are about 2 by 2.5 inches. I try to keep them as simple as possible and focus only on the big shapes. The point isn’t to make a perfect copy of a painting in miniature, but to understand how the pieces of the painting fit together to make a harmonious picture.




These are a lot of fun to do! Little studies like this are a great way to warm up for a day of painting at the easel.

There is a Bob Kuhn exhibit coming up next month at the Tucson Museum of Art. I’m hoping to be able to go check it out before it ends in February. I can’t wait to see some of these paintings in person!


There have been times when I have seen the work of an artist that I know is supposed to be great, and despite this knowledge, have found myself underwhelmed. When I first saw the work of John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla, for instance, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Sargent and Sorolla are now two of my favorite painters, but I was not ready to fully appreciate them when I first saw their paintings. I don’t know what changed or when, exactly, but I eventually found myself skipping class so I could go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spend more time viewing the work of these two artists.

I had a similar experience with the work of Edgar Payne. I first saw his work at the Irvine Museum about a year ago. Though I liked his paintings very much, they did not make too much of an impact at the time. But last weekend, I made a trip up to LA to see the retrospective of Howard Terpning’s work at the Autry National Center, and since I was in the area, went to see an exhibit of Edgar Payne’s work currently on view at the Pasadena Museum. My second exerpeience of seeing Payne’s work in person was a revelation to me; I could not believe how simple, yet perfect, his landscapes are.

A lot of Payne’s paintings actually looked pretty disapointing up close, to be honest, but they are incredibly effective when viewed from about five to ten feet back. The water in this painting, for instance, seems to glow from across the room. I loved the colors of the rocks, as well. Payne painted them with bright oranges and reds. He seemed to prefer placing tiles of rich color next to each other on the canvas rather than mixing them on his palette.

I love the bold, squared off brushstrokes in this painting. It’s amazing that it can look so abstract close up and yet look nearly photographic from a few feet back. I think Payne achieved this effect, at least partially, though his control of value. Payne created atmospheric perspective in this landscape by lightening value and greying the color as the trees recede into the distance, which mimics how the human eye would actually see this scene in real life. This is enough to create a remarkably convincing and beautiful image without any fussy detail.

The Rendezvous

The Rendezvous

Payne’s greatest strength is his composition, which is not surprising when you consider that he literally wrote the book on it. This painting is a great example; I love how the curve of illuminated rock leads your eye to the pirates camping on the beach. The dark rock in the foreground completes a circle that leads your eye back around again. Payne was very fond of pirates, which just makes me like him more.

Payne’s incredible, stupid simple drawings are my new obsession. I’ve done my share of outdoor sketching, though it’s not usually very enjoyable for me. I always struggle with finding the right shapes and the right composition and the right values and keeping everything simple. Payne’s outdoor sketches are direct and honest. He didn’t seem to erase much, and he didn’t fuss around with any details that were not absolutely necessary for the drawing.

I have to admit, I was not too terribly excited to see this show at first, but I’m so glad I did. Landscape has never been very interesting to me, for whatever reason, but I found Payne’s work to be incredibly moving and beautiful. His precise composition and immaculate color harmonies really had an impact on me. I’ll be studying Payne’s work more in the future to try to learn as much as possible from this great artist.

Last weekend, I took a trip up to LA to see a couple of amazing shows: a retrospective of work by Howard Terpning and an exhibit of pieces by Edgar Payne.

The Terpning show was completely overwhelming. It included 92 pieces painted over a span of 30 years, most of them quite large. Terpning is one of the most lauded painters of the American west, and for good reason. Not only is his technique incredible, he also has a profound understanding and respect for his subject. Terpning’s focus is on the Native peoples of the Great Plains: the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, and other tribes.

a few of my favorites:

Howard Terpning - Cheyenne at the Disappearing Creek Called 'White Woman'

Cheyenne at the Disappearing Creek Called ‘White Woman’

I thought this painting was pretty amazing. Terpning prefers to paint on a toned canvas and works wet paint over dry. I assumed that he would always tone his canvases with a neutral or warm brown color, but this one appeared to be toned with a cool green. Bits of the toned canvas were left to show through in certain areas. Terpning actually started this painting with only the three middle figures on horseback included in the scene but decided that the composition was not right. To make the two main figures less central, he added the horse and Indian in the lower left. I was amazed that Terpning leaves so much of the final composition to be solved on the canvas, especially considering the amount of research and planning that must go into making one of these paintings. I guess you can just do that kind of thing when you’re a master.

I also thought this one was amazing:

Hope Springs Eternal - Ghost Dance Howard Terpning

Hope Springs Eternal – Ghost Dance

Terpning is an amazing painter of fringe. I was so struck by the movement of the fringe in this painting that a snuck a couple of photographs with my cell phone. I only managed a few before a guard came over to chastise me:

Hope Springs Eternal - Ghost Dance, detail

Hope Springs Eternal – Ghost Dance, detail. Look at that fringe!

Hope Springs Eternal - Ghost Dance, detail

Hope Springs Eternal – Ghost Dance, detail. Howard Terpning: Painter of Fringe.

Getting a wag of the finger for illicit cell phone pictures always makes me feel a bit rebellious. I took one more of this incredible portrait just to stick it to the man:

The Skeptic - Howard Terpning

The Skeptic

Look at that feather! It’s incredible! Terpning is a great portrait painter. I love the expression on this man’s face.

okay, one more painting:

Howard Terpning - Talking Robe

Talking Robe

I know Terpning is best known for pieces that are a bid more epic, but some of my favorites were a bit more intimate. This single figure portrait was pretty stunning. And, despite how relatively simple it might appear when compared to some of Terpning’s larger works, it is still minutely researched and carefully constructed. Every aspect of this man’s appearance and dress has significance.

While at the show, I took the opportunity to buy the book. It is well worth having. The reproductions are good, the pictures are big, and there are about 30 more pieces included than appeared at the show. I highly recommend it as well as the show itself.

I think Edgar Payne is going to have to wait for his own post. That show was also incredible and a real revelation to me. More on that later.