Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Jersey: The Movie

Tonight we are hosting a special event at the Artists' Gallery. Steve Chernoski, Writer/Director of the award winning New Jersey: The Movie will be on hand for a free screening. It's a fun documentary about New Jersey and the dividing line between north and south Jersey, which happens to be right around the Lambertville area. While this has little to do with fine art paintings and photos, it does fit in with our desire to explore some of the lesser known aspects of New Jersey in New Jersey Blues.

Now that the exhibit has been up for a few weeks, we've gotten a lot of great feedback from visitors. Many are familiar with the places depicted, and if not they are curious to learn more about them. Many of Rich's pieces look like very typical New Jersey scences, although you might not notice them so much as you travel throughout the state. By coincidence, many of the photos I selected are of things you might not think you'd find in New Jersey. I really like the mix of the two together. I'm glad we had the chance to put this exhibit up in our new space, the lighting and layout are a vast improvement.

I just finished a 40-page book entitled Lambertville, Photo Essay of a New Jersey River Town, comprised of images I've taken around Lambertville in the last few years, some of which are also in the exhibit. It's on display and available for purchase at the gallery for $45, and copies can also be ordered from me directly at the same price.

Rich and I will be at the gallery next weekend, it's your last chance to stop by and see the exhibit. Rich will be doing some painting, check for updates on the exact day and time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Days Grow Short When We Reach September

The Photographer and The Painter outside the Gallery on Opening Night...

Posted by Rich- When a gallery show is finally hung, it is amazing how brief the time seems where the work is actually on display all together. It seems especially short when I consider how long John and I have been working on developing the exhibition concept, and working on our individual contributions.

The reaction to the work on display seems to be mostly positive, although I found the attendance at the opening reception itself to be disappointing. Actually, “disappointing” would be an understatement. There were a few periods during the reception on Saturday night when the gallery felt like a diorama before the mannequins are installed. I arrived over an hour late, and John assures me that between 5 and 6 PM the joint was jumping, but attendance was pretty sparse after that. We did have well over a hundred visitors to the gallery that day, however, and both John and I sold work ( the little paintings of the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge went quick! Thinking I might do some more…)

Personally, I feel more at ease when there aren’t a lot of people milling around, and I have never felt comfortable being in the spotlight; the group show openings are much more enjoyable to me, or attending the opening receptions of the other members of the gallery. One of the reasons: I don’t think I am ever 100% satisfied with my work on display. I often want to keep working on it, and have actually taken work down off the wall during the week and spruced it up before the gallery re-opens on the weekend.

Like the previous exhibitions I’ve done at the Artists’ Gallery, I was working right up until the last minute to get the body of work completed on time for the show. This time though, it was really the very last minute, and I hesitated at inviting a lot of people to something I wasn’t positive was going to be at all worth looking at.

Fortunately, John had used his photo of Hot Dog Johnny’s roadside stand in Northwest New Jersey as a publicity piece, and the work struck a nostalgic chord in a good number of patrons who showed up to see it. I had considered doing a watercolor of the same place, but I’m glad I didn’t spend any time working on one; John’s photo of the place is so good, I think any painting would pale by comparison. As a matter of fact, after seeing the publicity for the exhibition, a nephew of the original owner of Hot Dog Johnny’s came in to look at John’s photo as well.

The concept for this exhibition will not end when we take the work down on October 4th; There are still a great many places in New jersey I want to visit and see what I can find to create paintings from. The Bendix Diner, of course, is still on my list, and I’d also like to see where Les Paul lived in Mahwah.

The time for the actual exhibition will end the first weekend of October, but I will be creating a lot more work based on New Jersey and hopefully have another exhibition of the New Jersey Blues with John in the future. One thing became evident as we worked on this show: the State of New Jersey is a lot bigger than it seems, and underneath the layers of four lane expressways, strip malls, and jug-handle left turns, it is also much more interesting than it appears.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hang Time

The "Big Letter" promo card for the exhibition.

Posted by Rich- Long days and nights in the studio the past two weeks became the norm as I got closer to the show and worked to finish the artwork. Finishing the painting is one thing; getting the work matted, framed, labeled, and generally cleaned up enough for presentation and hopefully a sale is another chore altogether, and one I am not particularly fond of.

As much as one of my previous blog posts seemed to be a complaint about the creative process I go through to complete each piece, it really isn’t all stressful tedium. Painting and drawing is really quite relaxing, and when I’m not doing any of either I find myself thinking about it, and what I would like to paint or draw when I finish whatever I have in my studio at present. To me, the nicest thing about finishing a painting is not displaying it, but being able to start another one that hopefully will come out better. If I could afford it, I’d much rather pay some one else to do all my framing and hanging while I just made more work in my studio.

I was able to finish eleven pieces for this exhibition. I had started a twelfth, a large watercolor of the Crossroads Diner. That particular one will have to wait, however, as I felt I could not give it the attention it deserves; it has the potential to be a very nice piece, and I really want to do a good job rendering the stainless steel and glass exterior. I was able to get it about a quarter of the way finished when I decided to concentrate on other compositions for the New Jersey Blues exhibition.

Besides the Crossroads Diner, other works in progress – “progress” meaning they are either started with watercolor, drawn in pencil on unstretched watercolor paper, or consist of a drawing transferred to a stretched canvas- include a 1951 Ford, front end view (I always liked the 1951’s , and I painted a similar one in acrylics a few years ago and sold it right away); a triptych of truss bridges spanning the New Jersey Transit rail line to Manhattan ( see the bridge post earlier on for details on my fascination with bridges of this type); two large canvases of railroad subjects, a tank car and a coal car, taken from photos snapped on a sunny winter day almost 2 years ago ( I like trains- not enough to have a large model train layout in my basement, but enough to buy and enjoy magazines like The Railroad Press); 2 separate paintings of old John Deere tractors ( I like tractors, too. I’d really like to try driving one. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many opportunities to try one out…no one offers a course on tractor driving) and a painting of an old Mack truck, a Model B. ( I had a metal toy of a Mack B Model when I was very small. The toy has long since disappeared, but the affection for the truck lives on; I’ve painted Model B’s several times over the years…)

A Mack "B" Model truck....

Frames and mat boards have been purchased, and a night devoted to measuring, cutting, glass cleaning, and labeling the works for exhibition took place. John and I also spent an evening hanging the work in the gallery, with John graciously agreeing to hang work the night before the gallery opens for business on Friday morning; I can always use every available minute, and then some, to get this work completed. I stayed until midnight or so after we got done hanging work to apply more paint to the Zega Farm watercolor.

This needed a lot more work...come by the exhibition to see how it looks finished, although unsigned.

John and I have exhibited work together before, and set a precedent with one of our shows by mingling the photography and paintings together in the exhibition space. Prior to this, the usual practice for the 2 artists exhibiting that month was to display on opposite sides of the gallery, splitting the space evenly. I like combining the work, since John and I both focused on the same subject, and since I feel like my eleven paintings- 3 of which are only 8 x 6 inches- do not take up much space on a wall when they are displayed by themselves, and I don’t want one side of the gallery space to appear lonely. Especially my side…

After we arranged all the pieces, it looks like we had more than enough work to fill the walls, with John's larger photographs looking particularly good.As a matter of fact, the entire gallery looks great. Unfortunately, I’m still not 100% satisfied with all the work I completed…sometimes I hesitate to sign my work if I feel like it's not completely finished, and I want to go back and add more to it.

We also created an announcement postcard that reflects the theme of the exhibition, a “big letter” design reminiscent of the postcards purchased as souvenirs or sent from resort locations like Atlantic City in the middle of the last century.

It has been the practice for members of our gallery to place art in the front window of the gallery, hoping to entice pedestrians on Bridge Street in Lambertville to come in and look at the current exhibit. John and I chose to have a large ( 44 inches wide) version of our big letter post card placed on an easel- hopefully the nostalgic appeal of the card will attract patrons in. Stop by Lambertville and see for yourself if it works!

The BIGGER "Big Letter" postcard in the gallery window...

artist in picture for scale comparison only!

The Opening Reception for the exhibition is Saturday, September 11th at 5 PM- I did not tell many people about it, mostly because I was buried in work and worried that I wouldn’t have many pieces finished in time…however, the Artist’s Gallery has a pretty good publicity mechanism in place, and John has been great at getting notices out to people, so maybe the Opening will be well attended.

…I’m already thinking about my next exhibition.

Got this one finished,and signed! It looks a lot better than this in progress piece.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Worst Thing I Ever Did...

Posted by Rich- Every time I start a new painting or illustration assignment, it always goes through a stage where it looks like it is spinning out of control and I should just start over. I make myself stick to it, and I usually am able to bring it in for a controlled landing, although there are ALWAYS portions of a piece I wish I had done better.
The stages of the painting usually go like this:
Inspiration…Sketching…Transferring sketch …line painting, monochromatic line and under painting…
then self doubt, wondering why I chose this particular subject matter, and trying to convince myself that this painting is worth pursuing despite the fact that it looks like a complete train wreck at this point.

The train wreck stage occurs during the actual application of the color media itself to the surface . This stage usually includes various amounts of sweating, tedium, second guessing, mixing and remixing colors. Until I am about three-quarters of the way to the finished art, each painting I work on has an equal opportunity to win the title of The Worst Painting I Ever Did. All of the paintings in this exhibition looked at one point like absolute disasters in the making while I blocked in colors and worked on value transitions. I continually remind myself, several times, of what I tell my students:
“Everything I paint looks like the worst thing I ever did, halfway


Some of my progress pictures posted here will attest to that.

The watercolors are probably the pieces that give me the willies earliest on—they can really look like a mess during the first stages. Any mistakes on the acrylic paintings can be painted over pretty quickly, but the watercolors require letting the white of the paper illuminate the pigment, so I have to work with a layering process…


Painting of the 7-11 in West Cape May, at the very beginning stage, and halfway was scary.

I think I enjoy the watercolors the most though, despite the willies they give me. Number one reason: they’re fast, and I can stop working on a painting and pick it up a few hours or days later with no remixing of paints. Number two, they are portable; given my busy schedule, I can transport a watercolor with me easily and get a few colors added in between teaching classes or waiting for the train. I just need a bottle of water and a place to sit. I’ve worked on paintings in airport terminals, Burger Kings, mall food courts, and waiting for new tires to be installed on my truck at the garage where I get it serviced. I’ve even done some watercolor work while commuting on the train – you just have to time the bumps and bounces and make sure you work on an area of the painting that doesn’t require exacting detail.

Another Cape May piece; these clouds were great to look at, tough to paint...

Looks like I will be trying to squeeze in some more watercolor work where ever I can this week; It’s Tuesday, and the exhibition needs to have work hanging in place by 11 AM Friday. If I get a seat on the train with enough room, I think I can finish all the pieces by then.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A River Runs By It

Posted by Rich- Living a few miles from the Delaware River, you get used to having to use a bridge to get from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and back again. Some of these bridges are more mundane than others, with a four lane highway transversing the river so smoothly you barley realize you are on a bridge, while others that look so narrow and spindly you wonder if it will be able to hold up the weight of the cars driving across it.

As a kid growing up in Utica, NY, we lived adjacent to the New York State Barge Canal and almost always had to cross over it whenever we wanted to go someplace. Most of the bridges we drove over then seemed to be of the same vintage and design as the three bridges I now use to cross over the Delaware, but none had any of the charm; as a matter of fact, they were more of the spindly variety and looked downright scary as they were perched high over the canal to allow boats passing underneath ample clearance.
A surviving truss bridge over the New York State Barge Canal...

When my father would drive our station wagon up the incline and onto the steel deck of the bridge, it was always a crapshoot whether or not another vehicle would be driving up the opposite incline and also trying to cross the bridge as well. The bridge was just barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other; forget it if a truck was coming—either you had to back up, or they did. A game of slow-motion chicken played out high over the Barge Canal was not my idea of a pleasant ride to visit Grandama.

Some of my trepidation about crossing bridges stem from the news coverage of the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse ( over the Ohio River, and this 1940 motion picture of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge , also known as “Gallopin’ Gertie”( in Washington State. These images, coupled with the somewhat dark, ominous appearances of the old truss bridges we regularly crossed, contributed to my apprehension about driving over them. The quicker we got safely to the other side, the better.

The bridge between New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ is more of a “tourist” bridge, one you want to take your time driving and walking over. It has a broad cantilevered walkway on one side to accommodate pedestrians and allow for pictures to be taken without impeding the progress of others crossing between the two states. The bridge gets a good amount of automobile traffic, but despite the loudness of the occasional motorcycle group crossing the bridge, it’s relatively quiet; Trucks and busses are prohibited from using this bridge, and required to cross the river on the Route 202 New Hope-Lambertville Toll Bridge about a mile or so north . This section of Route 202 was opened in 1971 as a bypass for New Hope/Lambertville, taking all the trucks and thru traffic over one of those hardly-know-you’re-on–a-bridge four lane overpasses over the river.

The New Hope/Lambertville Bridge

The New Hope/Lambertville bridge itself is actually is a sturdy steel deck, steel truss structure made up of 6 individual bridges connected to each other at stone pilings spaced evenly across the Delaware. Constructed in 1904, the engineers and planners had the foresight to make the bridge wide enough to accommodate two mid-20th century sized vehicles passing each other comfortably on the span.

It’s an aesthetically pleasing structure, and I enjoy looking at the graceful order of engineering that makes up this bridge; what I don’t enjoy is driving over it from New Jersey into Pennsylvania and being dumped into the traffic and pedestrian crush of New Hope. On a Saturday or Sunday it can take a few turns of the traffic light to make a left hand turn onto the main street, with businesses on those corners attracting waves of individuals intent on ignoring the traffic lights patronizing those businesses. The corner hosts both a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Starbucks- I can empathize with the pedestrians crossing against the light signal and being focused on making donut and coffee purchases.

To truly enjoy this bridge at it’s fullest, I recommend driving from New Hope into Lambertville, then parking and walking back over the bridge to get your tall latte and jelly donut, if so desired. Lambertville can be a busy area as well, especially as you get closer to the bridge to New Hope, but there is generally a more relaxed, less touristy feeling there. And more places to park, as well.

Two other bridges I drive over frequently to get across the Delaware River and into New Jersey include the Washington Crossing Bridge and the Calhoun Street Bridge. Both structures are each over 100 years old, with the Calhoun Street Bridge being constructed in 1884.

The Washington Crossing Bridge... just hope a Nissan Armada SUV isn't approaching from the opposite direction...

The Washington Crossing Bridge has a more utilitarian feeling than the ornate Calhoun Street Bridge, and also feels narrower when driving over it. As a matter of fact, you get the feeling that your individual car can barely fit between the trusses, let alone pass another vehicle without scraping each others sides. Whenever I drive over it, I fold the driver’s side mirror of my pick up truck flat against the door, and breathe easier when I reach the other side without having to squeeze by a gargantuan SUV heading in the opposite direction.

The Calhoun Street's sturdier than it looks!

The Calhoun Street Bridge was originally intended to be a temporary structure, and connects Morrisville, PA with Trenton, NJ. It appears to get much more traffic than the Washington Crossing Bridge, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours. It was once part of Rt. 30, also known as The Lincoln Highway, until 1920, when Rt 30 was moved to the larger Lower Trenton Bridge. This bridge is more popularly known as the “Trenton Makes” bridge.

To me, the most intriguing thing about these three bridges are the Bridgekeeper structures that sit at either end of the spans, and the Bridgekeepers themselves. At different times driving over these structures, I have seen the Bridgekeepers at work, stopping larger than permitted trucks from crossing, walking onto the bridge and motioning the trucks that successfully snuck on from one side to pull over and face the music on the other, and even doing simple maintenance tasks like trimming the hedge and sweeping the sidewalk ramp to the pedestrian walkway.

Being a Bridgekeeper honestly looks like a neat job, and the although the small structures they watch the bridge from vary in appearance, they all look cozy and comfortable, especially the cottage like structures at either end of the New Hope/Lambertville Bridge.

Posted are some shots of some small New Hope/Lambertville Bridge paintings, in progress. I took two of the pictures as my wife Laurie and I waited for the Friday Night Fireworks to begin on the Delaware between New Hope and Lambertville. I’m not an expert at what makes a quality fireworks display, but I think this weekly event is excellent—well attended, well behaved crowds and spectacular pyrotechnics over the river. The third painting with the different angle is based on a picture I snapped last winter while taking a break from gallery sitting at the Artists’ Gallery.

Each painting is acrylic on panel, and smaller than I usually work, only 8 x 6 inches. Working on these smaller paintings has interested me in completing larger, more detailed watercolors of the same subjects in the future. But for now, these three images are high on the to-do list.

When you come see the exhibition in September, you can see the finished pieces in person.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Put on a Show!

It’s fascinating to watch Rich develop the paintings he has posted here. I'm always asking Rich “How did you do that?” and seeing the paintings in various stages gives some idea of the techniques he used and the effort put forth.

As I look forward to the September show, I have different challenges as a photographer. Rich is looking to finish the works and increase the number of completed paintings. I’m largely done shooting, and am now in the post-capture phase. I need to pare down what I’ve shot to create the best possible exhibit.

This is a real struggle for me. I only want to present my best work, but often a series of photos tells a more complete story. There is a tyranny of vision if I only choose one or two images – that is all people get to see, and I can rarely tell a whole story with one or two images. That is why I’ve grown to really love this blog, as I can show more images and provide more information than I can at the gallery.

This exhibit is not a documentary, but rather a collection of fine art images around a theme. I do not therefore feel obligated to capture every interesting roadside attraction in New Jersey. I do feel obligated, however, to leave viewers with an overall impression of the some of the unusual and interesting things that make this state so unique.

When I mount an exhibition like this around a theme, I gather all the possible images on the computer to see how things look together. Sometimes I layout the images on a virtual wall, sometimes not. Last year Rich and I interspersed our work and it made for some very interesting juxtapositions. We will likely try this again this year.

Things get interesting when I have the images gathered and I see patterns and omissions. It’s not until this point that I get a sense of what the exhibit will really feel like. I may find, for example, that I have a lot of photos of buildings. Are they interesting enough? Too similar? Is it exhibit about the building or how it fits in the landscape? Are there people interacting with the building? Typically, when I’m shooting at a location, I’ve got close-ups, long shots, abstractions, and photos with people. The images I choose to tell a story determine what people feel.

I’m convinced the subject of the work is more important in photography than other mediums. It doesn’t matter so much if VanGogh paints a night sky or sunflower. Its how he paints it that people react to. But typically a photo of a night sky or a photo of a sunflower will first remind viewers of a night they spent outside or a sunflower in their grandmother’s garden before they react to the artistry. All photos start with light bouncing off a real object.

So, I believe the subject is important. And no subject is more fascinating than people. Photos of yourself are the most fascinating, followed by photos of those you know and then animals. Photos of people are so expected, in fact, that I find photo exhibits without a single person or even an animal to be rather stark, cold, and removed, although this is sometimes exactly the point.

Once I’ve settled on the images to include, I start to think about the final presentation. I don’t do a lot of after-capture manipulation, but I begin to think about how to crop the individual photos and whether I want them to be in black and white or color. And what kind of black and white and color? Bold colors, muted colors, sepia toned, stark black and white, or black and white with softer gray tones are all options. I usually have a very clear idea when I shoot, but sometimes change my mind when I look at a series of images later. It’s more about setting a mood or telling a story than it is about right or wrong.

I’m already struggling with one aspect of this exhibition, and that is the sense of time. I’ve got images that aren’t exactly timeless, but look like they could have been taken yesterday or fifty years ago. I’m trying to decide whether it’s more interesting to emphasize this by giving the images a timeless quality, or whether it’s more interesting to make them look modern and hope people see “that the more things change the more they stay the same”.

Finally, the subject of scale comes into play. I’m always amazed how some images just seem to look right or wrong at certain sizes. Sometimes the size is dictated by technical factors like sharpness or details in the shadows. Usually, however, I print to the size that has the kind of impact I'm looking for.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Progress on a Few Pieces

Posted by Rich- Crunch time is quickly approaching as I work on pieces for the New Jersey Blues Show. I have everything at least drawn out on paper or board now, and have been concentrating on the pieces for the triptych. Here is what the individual parts of the triptych look like now; I’ll post more as pictures as I get more accomplished…

I usually work in watercolor on paper, but I thought it would be nice to render this particular subject in acrylics on board. I've been working on them while I teach a summer course on animation, and acrylics dry fast and are durable enough to carry back and forth on the train to Philadelphia. I like shooting the progress pictures and seeing the changes that take place; sometimes it's kind of shocking to see how they look when I've just started to how they appear now, even just halfway finished.