Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Single Most Important Ingredient in Great Art


24 x 24 oil painting — the one I worked on for two days, then scraped off the paint to start over. I’m very happy with the end result, but it was hard fought!

This past week, I spent two days working on a painting — only to scrape all the paint off and begin again. It wasn’t working. The more I worked it, the worse off it was.

This happens. It’s not the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. I’m a bit distracted: There is so much going on in the world right now to distract us. And each of us has enough in our daily lives, even without the political drama.

Art is a jealous mistress. She demands all of you. So I begin again. That is the secret: Just keep at it. Showing up is the secret, and not giving up.

As for eliminating the distraction, that is for each of us to figure out. I’m not sure there is a magic answer, except to begin again.

I’d love to hear your ideas. But above all, if you show up, and keep showing up, and always begin again, if you do that in your commitment to anything, that is where mastery lives. And maybe the only place mastery can be found. What do you think?

As always, the best conversations are on Facebook and Instagram. I love hearing from you there and keeping the discussion going.

I’ll leave you today with this quote from Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart and make art.”


24 x 24 oil painting from this week

What’s the Big Deal? The Story of the Most Famous Painting in the World


The year is 2001; the backdrop, a college art history class. I’m on the edge of my chair. My professor is talking about the Mona Lisa, perhaps the world’s most famous painting.

It is here that we can pause and consider why the story of art is as important as the image itself. When Leonardo painted this portrait, portraits were largely commissioned to show one’s wealth and position, as in Ghirlandaio’s portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni. Notice that Giovanna is not facing us; she is certainly not looking right into our eyes as the Mona Lisa is. The backdrop is indoors, featuring her jewelry (highlighting her wealth) and a book (signifying that she is educated), as well as a quote from the ancient Roman poet Martial (to show that she’s cultured).

So Mona was a first in many ways. It is the firsts that show up in art history. Mona is not only looking right at us, boldly, but she is in simple clothes, outside (gasp!) and there is nothing that tells of her position. Instead, Leonardo focuses on the person. Though there is some debate as to who this person is, she is widely believed to be Maria Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy Florentine. Yet, all we see is the person.

Leonardo also used lights and darks to create a more dramatic effect (chiaroscuro) and invented sfumato, a misty haziness. This is believed to be the reason we cannot tell where Mona is looking and whether she is smiling. Leonardo was said to have loved the painting so much that he never gave it to the patron and it was found among his possessions when he died.

To me, these things made this very familiar painting come alive. Now I see what the “big deal” is and why she is so famous. Doing what everyone else was doing never landed anyone in a art history book. It’s a good reminder for all of us to think outside the box. and also, an inspiration to learn the background of art. Artists are always responding to their life and times. It’s why I disagree with those who say that art should speak for itself and not need an explanation. It is in the explanation that we learn what an artist is thinking of, what they are responding to.

It is why for me, personally, as a landscape painter, that I want to learn as much about my subject as possible before I paint it. The story is the meaning as much as your response to the art is. Then you can bring your own story to a work of art. What does it make you feel?

As always, I love to hear from you. Do you have a story of a great work of art that moves you? What’s your story?

Let’s keep the conversation going on Facebook and Instagram where you can find me checking in on most days.