Whitbeck  Notes
            Winter  2023/ 24
Seahorse Floral
20" x 16".  oil on panel
    Entering into my studio is like being inside of my head. In an organized way (organized to me, anyway) there are all sorts of objects that I use in paintings sitting on shelves and set throughout. Fourteen years in the accumulation of things that interest me and pique my imagination, things that I have found and some that had been gifted. Objects who's color, texture, history and character I find inspiring. Large and small blue and white porcelain pieces, antique pewter jugs, woven baskets, old statues, copper and brass, shells, teapots, Persian carpets and even stalks of beautiful grass. All of this sitting , waiting to become just the right piece for just the right painting. 
    As well as all of this, my walls are, every inch, covered with prints and photos, maps and letters, push-pinned into the drywall, some nicely, some more haphazard. And as the years trundle on, and space becomes more precious, museum postcards and prints of my favorite artists find themselves now partially hidden by new acquisitions that I just have to put up for future inspiration, something I would like to look at every day.

    A friend visited my studio a while back and said, "This is exactly how I pictured your studio to look." My paintings and the subjects I most loved talking about, had given him a clue as to what might surround me as I painted.
    Walking into my studio each morning I am blasted by a wave of inspiration. Truly. It is a short walk from home to studio and upon entering through the door, gears are shifted and I am energized to get to it and create something new. I have no time machine, so I cannot go back in time and feel or smell the ages of old, nor hover around the studio of my favorite still life painter, Pieter Claesz, gleaning bits of technique. And so the next best thing is to surround myself with a continual infusion of these bits and pieces of the world in which fancies me the most.
11" x 20".  oil on panel
    Two letters that I had reproduced, both of the sixteenth century, are tacked up to the wall, just left of my wood stove. One being an actors play sheet for Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice that even has the small rectangular cut-out near its middle-top, used to hang the sheet upon a wooden peg inside the theatre while the actor practiced his lines. Some years back I had met the most wonderful of people who had lit a fire in me for all things Shakespeare, and shortly after our initial conversation I had worked up my first "Shakespeare" painting, for which I had made the reproduction play sheet. Of course, to make it look more authentic I had to teach myself late sixteenth century script (apparently a bit different from early sixteenth century script!) and practice using a quill pen and ink. I have used this sheet in paintings a couple more times since then.
    The other letter, inspired by reading about King Henry the Eighths favorite sailing ship the Mary Rose was again, a reproduction of a letter written to Henry from his High Lord Admiral Thomas Howard. With a couple weeks of morning practice I was able to control the bit more loopy, curly script of that from earlier in the century and use that for a painting from last year titled Henrys Favorite. That script was a work of art in itself!
Forget Me Not
18" x 24".  oil on panel
Moth and Skull
18" x 24".  oil on panel
    Another great piece is that of a print by the German artist Albrecht Durer from 1497 that I had printed off of my computer and put up above my old church bench, also right next to the studio wood stove. This is where I sit right now, writing this, all nice and cozy on this wintery January day. The placing of this print was somewhat humorous for me, as it is titled The Temptation of the Idler and shows a man in his study, seated next to a comfortable looking wood stove, asleep and avoiding his work. Temptation has him! "A sluggard is no use except to be a hibernating dormouse and to be allowed a full measure of sleep. To sit by the stove is his delight...But the evil one takes advantage of laziness and soon sows his seed therein..." This amusing quote is from the Medieval German manuscript Narrenschiff which I had then written on a piece of paper to accompany the print above the bench, where I now sit. No danger of falling asleep for me though, as these church benches are none too comfortable (maybe on purpose?). This print was just put in one of my new paintings.
Temptation of the Idler
18" x 24"  oil on panel
    Other images and objects throughout the studio offer such stories and thoughts as these, but to differing degrees. One other, last to be mentioned is a nautical chart of the Mediterranean Sea, 39" high and 72" wide, given to me some years ago by my father. It is a bit discolored by age and worn on the edges, and the way it had been rolled and folded over the years have caused some creases and breaks here and there, leading me to have it backed with canvas to prevent further damage. A lot can happen to a working sea chart from 1839! You can even see, just faintly, where a pilot had made tacking lines as they came through the Straits of Gibraltar, the Gates of Hercules! What stories and spirit this chart holds. How could I not put this fantastic object into a painting! Currently I have it set up as a backdrop for a future still life, just waiting for the right pieces to fill out the foreground. Maybe focusing on the coast of Italy? This is just one of those "blasts of inspiration" that awaits me every morning as I walk into the studio.
    I am in my own little world in this studio, which sits quiet along the banks of the Connecticut River. Some artists are more social in character and need that lively interaction with others to create whatever it is that they love to do. For me, I am not unsocial, it is just that when painting I need the quiet, and lively, inspiration of this little spirit that I have created here in my 20 foot by 40 foot studio, always welcoming, never boring, fueling my passion for that exciting old world, uninfluenced by the latest fads and the latest "thing". Just me and my stuff, painting away!
Victory of the Winter King
14" x 18".  oil on panel
    Happy New Year everyone! I am very much looking forward to the coming year and whatever that might hold. I know, as far as paintings go, I am good to go and will continue to create more work throughout the winter and spring; florals, still life and song birds all anticipating the first  Florida shows in March. Some of the latest paintings have been shown in this Whitbeck Notes, but be sure to visit my website www.jameswhitbeck.com to see all of the work as well as the art show schedule for the upcoming 2024 season. Please feel free to write or call with any questions or comments.

All my best,
James Whitbeck

(413) 695.3937
Blackburnian Warbler
9" x 12".  oil on panel