January 23, 2015

It's Story Time – Why I Paint Books

The first time I started painting books, they were simply used as props. I had very traditional still life subjects (fruit and the like). Books were simply there to add some new dimension to the paintings.

I first started by using my own hard cover books with the sleeves taken off. You can see some of my early book paintings herehere, and here.

My own library of books had no character. They were clean, crisp and new. My mother-in-law has an amazing collection of books in her library. I borrowed some of her antique books and started using them — check the early ones out here, here and here.

Then it dawned on me. Some of the books from my MIL's collection had these fantastic titles. The books once belonged to a young law student who was studying in 1905. These ethics and philosophy books took my work in an all new direction. The books were not just props. They were the context, the narrative, the reason to paint.

I made my way to one of the antique shops I frequent and stumbled upon a children's primary reader It's Story Time. Felt like magic. I was able to juxtapose the book with the lofty legal tomes. An interesting dichotomy. You wait for something like this to come your way when you paint for years. Something that you know is yours, and becomes direction that you can follow for years.

The first four paintings using It's Story Time were with my MILs antique legal books.

It's Story Time I, II, III, IV

Then I began collecting children's primary readers. I'd pop in to antique and vintage shops and pick up the odd primary school book. Slowly adding to my collection. Using them to tell the stories in my paintings. Using the books to add colour, ideas, structure to my work.

Having the actual books makes the work authentic.

Authenticity is something people can feel and understand in an artists work. The few times I've been asked to invent or fudge book titles, it felt wrong. It's not what I want to do as an artist.

It's Story Time V
24 x 48 / Oil on Canvas / February 2013

Above we have #5 in the It's Story Time series. I've done many book paintings and I'll continue. They really do feel like my own unique offering to the vast world of painting and art.

I sneak in my kids names when I can, Sophia & Simon

I put details in to the books that make the paintings more autobiographical. My children's names in place of publishers imprints, anniversary dates, all these bring your work to a different level. In a way, these details breath life in to painting.

Eric and Antoinette - 1952
My mother's parents and the year they married.

When you paint in a realist style and most people are looking at your work via a computer, iPad or smartphone screen, I always here "wow, that's so realistic! I can't believe it's not a photo!"

When I'm standing with someone looking at the actual painting in my studio or in a gallery, they see my work is far more painterly and looser than they first thought.


I often use Roman Numerals to date and number my paintings. V — it's the fifth one in the It's Story Time series.

Work in progress
November 2012
Nearly complete
February 14, 2013
The books have become familiar friends with optimistic messages
American Art Collector / June 2013
It feels good when your efforts get recognised in print

January 10, 2015

George Billis Gallery LA / January 2015

I have several recent paintings showing at the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles from January 10 through February 14, 2015.

I find it remarkable that I was able to make any new work at all, considering how insane the last 8 months of my life has been.

It all started when we prepared our house for sale. We decided we were going to move 1,000 miles to a warmer climate. It's no small undertaking to downsize your belongings after a decade of life in a house. With kids. While you're still trying to make paintings. But we did it. We sold our house in a mere 3 days and then had to prepare to move. Another massive undertaking with more downsizing.

We hunted for a home, under the impression that we'd simply sell our beloved home and find its equivalent 1,000 miles away in a city we knew little about. Instead we ended up hunting for a suitable place to rent. Finding a place to rent wasn't as hard as we thought and renting meant we could learn about our new city, make friends, relax and casually look for a home to call our own.

It didn't happen that smoothly. Although the house we rented was great, the other tenant who lived in the ground floor suite was one of the worst possible tenants anyone could ever imagine living near. It shocked us. I'll spare the gory details, but if there's one thing I learned with the experience, it's that you never, ever want to get on the bad side of an activist call girl ("luxury companion" as she referred to herself as) and her drug dealer boyfriend. It was bad. And my innocent, wonderfully na├»ve family had some major life lessons we didn't ever expect would come our way.

And then we found a home. In a quiet, safe, wonderful neighbourhood. With a great big studio. And everything turned around. And we've made wonderful friends and found out things can be just as good as you once imagined.

So we packed up and moved from our interesting rental. Again, upending everything in our lives. Yet I managed to find time to do what I do best. Time to sit in my studio and quietly work on my quiet paintings.

Friends Far and Near
30 x 30  /  Oil on Canvas

The World Around Us
48 x 30  /  Oil on Canvas

Three Kodaks
18 x 36  /  Oil on Canvas

Six Kodaks
18 x 36  /  Oil on Canvas

Baggage IX
30 x 30  /  Oil on Canvas

October 2, 2014

Dead. Simple. Technology.

There was a time when these old cameras were so prevalent and pervasive in our culture. They were all the rage.

Kodak used slick advertising promising happiness and fulfilment — just take a look at these 100 year old advertisements.

I'm not going to state the obvious, I'll let you piece together the connections with our own modern consumer culture, all promising the exact same thing Kodak offered a century ago.

Eventually Kodak became irrelevant, unable to move fast enough with the speed of technology. I'm left to ponder the future of the companies that now feed us our technology and gadgets. What will become of them over the next 70 to 100 years?

Vintage shops are now full of these cameras. Intricate designs, all iterations on the same simple process. They make for great compositions — the square cameras, the multiple round lenses and textures of the surfaces.

These paintings are currently showing at Art Essex Gallery in Essex, Connecticut from October 1 - 25, 2014.

Twelve Vintage Cameras
18" x 24" – Oil/Canvas – 2014

Eight Vintage Cameras
24" x 24" – Oil/Canvas – 2014

Seven Vintage Cameras
20" x 20" – Oil/Canvas – 2014

July 1, 2014

On We Go

And so the adventure begins. After nearly four decades of being a prairie kid, I have undertaken the colossal task (along with my wife and kids!) of packing up and selling our house and arraigning a trek to the West Coast where we will live like gobsmacked tourists for the next few years.

These are the last four paintings I have completed in the studio where I've been working for the last decade. The studio where I taught myself to paint. Where I began figuring things out. It served me well, but it really has felt like it's time to pick up and seek adventure the last few years.

These paintings are available at the Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento, California.

Two Kodaks
16" x 16" / Oil on Canvas

More Friends and Neighbors, On We Go
16" x 16" / Oil on Canvas

On The Way To Storyland
16" x 16" / Oil on Canvas

Young Explorers, Beckoning Trails
16" x 16" / Oil on Canvas

June 1, 2014

New Work at the Elliott Fouts Gallery

Here is some new work available through the Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento, California.

These are among the last paintings I'll be doing in the studio where I've been for the last ten years. The studio where I really learned what I was doing, where I was able to focus and get work done.

This room has served me well, but I'm excited to find a new studio, something with more space. It's been a nerve racking experience. I run the studio with routine and predictability. For a few years, my wife and I have been talking about relocating. I'm treating it like a great big adventure. It'll be fun.

Antique Bottles II, Study
16" x 24"  /  Oil on Canvas 

Antique Bottles III, Study
18" x 18"  /  Oil on Canvas 

Antique Bottles IV, Study
18" x 18"  /  Oil on Canvas 

Antique Bottles V, Study
16" x 24"  /  Oil on Canvas 

Antique Bottles & Pears
18" x 18"  /  Oil on Canvas 

Antique Bottles & Pears
18" x 18"  /  Oil on Canvas 

May 15, 2014

Bottles & Pears

Even though the last few months (and the coming months) will be consumed largely by my crazy plan to move half way across the country, I still have managed paint.

A return to a subject I haven't worked with for a few years. Contact the Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento for more info.

Six Bottles & Six Pears
20" x 24"  /  Oil on Canvas

Four Bottles & Three Pears
20" x 24"  /  Oil on Canvas

Perfect Ten
18" x 36"  /  Oil on Canvas

Sweet Sixteen
18" x 36"  /  Oil on Canvas