Whitbeck Notes
Summer 2020
Tooth of the lion
18" x 24"   oil on panel
       Better late then never!  With Summer almost at an end and Fall right around the corner, I figure I better get to it.   As upside down and topsy turvy the world is these days, I have been keeping on in the studio. House projects and what not aside, it has pretty much been business as usual. As of now I have just completed and varnished four new paintings and am in the process of completing a commission. So, all in all pretty productive, even with all of the distractions going on outside.              Walking up to the studio from the house my head is usually filled with various thoughts, mostly not having anything to do with painting, but once inside with the door closed there is a groove easily gotten into once the daily pattern is begun: First turning the radio on for background noise, I then pull one of the unfinished panels from the storage shelf placing it onto the easel, look at it for a second, getting a general, fresh, first of the day impression. Then I pull out some of the photos that I might need for reference, maybe adjust some of the still life set up, pulling the curtain to darken one corner of the background. And once I start squeezing a bit of the colors I will need for the day onto the pallet, voila! all is forgotten and all there is left are the concerns of the painting before me, good, bad and all of it!
          Three of the latest paintings are of flowers; one a yellow bouquet arranged in my favorite Chinese lattice bowl (seen above), another is spread out naturally on the table, spilling out from a small silver vase. The last one is of a few purple tulips set in an interesting brown glass vase. I love painting flowers. They are all so different, and arranging them is such a joy, with all of their various colors and shapes, some upright and rigid, some swooping with curves while others hang from their stem in such an arranged looking pattern.
         Even though most of my work is done from life, meaning set up right there in front of me, the flowers seem to have put me in a difficult spot. What I mean by this is that they do not last the few weeks that it takes for me to finish the painting, some do, but most not. If I was painting using a different technique, a faster technique, then this would not be a problem. Arrange the flowers, then quick loose brushwork to establish them on the canvas or panel, and within a matter of half an hour or so the painting would be almost complete. Even after the blooms started to wilt or droop, one could, from memory, finish off the painting. But the technique that I use, as most of you already know, is a much slower process.
14" x 18"   oil on panel
           Following in the footsteps of the Dutch painters from the 16th and 17th centuries, I work in layers, building up color, form and depth. There is a lot going on here. It is more of a thought out, planned style. So in that, I must use photos. At first this bothered me. Such a modern thing! In trying to keep the feel of the old masters this went against all I was trying to do, or so I thought. In thinking a bit more about this I came to the realization that it actually was not much different from the studio practices of that Golden Age of painting. The Hollanders would have come across the same problems that I do today, flowers were no different then they are now. Passing flowers would and always will be a problem for artists. For the Dutch the problem was solved with super detailed sketches. As with portrait painting from that age, much time was spent in front of a posed person or growing flower and every crease, every crevice, every fold and imperfection was carefully drawn out so that when it came time to put brush to panel, a fully finished and very accurate rendering could be accomplished.
        With portraits the sitter would come back a few more times at the end so the artist could finish things off naar het leven, from life. A luxury that the flower painter did not have, although they could bring in a new bloom of the same type and finish things with a bit of fudging here and there. This is a pretty amazing feat if you think about it! Here are just a few names for you to look up, and when you see the amazing life-like quality from these artists you will know precisely what I mean, and keep in mind, a majority of the work was done from sketches. Jan Davidsz de Heem, Abraham Mignon, Willem van Aelst. Such an inspiration! and a quality that I strive for in each and every painting of my own.

12" x 9"   oil on panel
         Other then the smaller, three tulips painting, the other two shy away a bit from the traditional feel of 17th century florals. I will say modern in that the coloring, layout and brighter backgrounds differ from the older style, and from what I usually do. They have a more naturalistic feel opposed to some of my other pieces which showcase each flower individually and give each their own spotlight. If you look at Dutch flower paintings throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, starting from the beginning of this time line, you can see a fascinating progression from an almost scientifically minded approach in rendering each species and type to the start of a more natural, realistic layout culminating with the hyper, life-like paintings of Rachel Ruysch and Jan van Huysum (a couple more for you to look up). I, personally, am more a fan of the early to middle periods, when flower painting as its own thing was just starting up. The Flemish painter Jan Brugel, who painted in the late fifteen hundreds and early sixteen hundreds was much looser in style and his bouquets were packed with blooms, had dark backgrounds and insects everywhere. They were, simply put, awesome. This looseness gave his work a kind of energy that you do not see with the other painters. Definitely worth taking a look at.
Baluch Floral
20" x 16"   oil on panel
       So, as you can see, the studio and I are working quite well together, but I cannot say the same for the outdoor art shows. Obviously this season, 2020, is a wash, and 2021 is uncertain. So making do, I will plan on more on-line type of things, similar to that little video I had sent out a couple months back. All new paintings are put on my website as soon as I can get them photographed, so that is a good spot to see the latest work. And, as I had mentioned before, due to the fact that I have no show expenses (gas, food, hotels, booth fees, etc.) all paintings are discounted, so don't be shy, take advantage of this. I do have some good ones out there! For more info and pricing you can email or call me.

All my best,
and stay safe,
James Whitbeck