liamLiam, 9" x 12", graphite on handmade Amatruda paper

This drawing is of my son Liam, when he was four months old and still in Margaret's womb.  When we were living in Italy, we found out that Margaret was pregnant.  It was a complete surprise.  When we went in for a sonogram, there was that usual static, black and white, two dimensional image.  Suddenly, the doctor flipped a switch on the sonogram, and on a computer screen I could suddenly see my little baby in three dimensions, moving, even smiling.  It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.  It's no use recounting the emotions I experienced, because I would just bore you with superlatives.  I quickly asked the doctor if he could print the images I was seeing.  Five minutes later, I had an image of my baby.  Five hours later, I finished a drawing from that print.  Here's Liam, with his characteristically huge hands and particular half smile (still the same two years later.)

liam zoom

kate's eyes

kates eyes Kate, 18" x 24", oil on linen

This is a close up of the first oil portrait that I ever painted. This was the most agonizing, delightful painting experience I have ever had.  I sank to the depths of despair when things went wrong, I rose to heights of orgasmic, painterly ecstasy when things went well.  Poor Margaret, being married to an artist.

Kate was a playwright, actress, nomad from London who had moved to Florence on a whim.  She had no money, hence was modeling.  She had permanently borrowed an obliging bike that was reclining against a wall, and would meander through the city and surrounding hills.  She kept a bag with her at all times, in which were a few books and a box of loose tea.

Kate's eyes, in this painting, mean so much to me.  Something happened to me when I painted these eyes, something which would allow me to call painting my own, put it in my back pocket, and walk away.  I was painting the eyes over and over again, not getting them right, not capturing the light in the iris, not capturing the soul of this fascinating girl, Kate.  Things perpetually went wrong with this painting.  It was my first portrait painting ever, and I was receiving many cues that painting was forever a closed door to me, a sword in a stone.   What's the use of painting if I couldn't capture her eyes?  Why did I cross the ocean with my wife, enroll in this studio... why was I painting this girl in 105 degree heat?  I wiped the eyes off with a rag, I mixed more paint, I manipulated the paint with turpentine, added medium- the paint would not do what I told it to.  I used tacky, dry paint, I used wet, slippery paint.  Infuriating.  I was just about to give up.  Without thinking, I grabbed a knife off of a nearby shelf, and dashed towards the work.  The problem I was having was with the iris of the eyes, so I took the knife and... scratched the inside of the iris with the knife.  Instead of painting with paint, I was carving light into the canvas by returning to the white ground of the linen.  I stepped back and suddenly, there it was.  A something which cannot be painted.

So much of art is not understood, it is felt.  Kate's eyes are this "felt" for me.  I don't know how to tell people to paint eyes, because I don't know what it might take to paint an eye.  For many of my portraits, I now scratch the irises with a knife.  But I don't always use a knife, only when it feels right.  Robert Frost would often refer to something called the "sound of sense," that something in poetry which transcends the reasoning part of the beast.  The epiphany is not the knife, the epiphany is paying attention to the felt, whatever that might entail.

dan acosta

Dan, 44" x 44", oil on linen

This painting is the one that I am most excited about at the moment.  I just have been agonizing, absolutely pained, to figure out how I can marry my approach to painting to the world in which I live.  I'd put out an ad on Craigslist for models, and it wasn't looking promising.  I'd been scanning through hundreds of idiotic, painted glamour shots of club hopping guidos and what not.  I can't tell you how many hundreds of pursed lips I saw.  I was actually getting disillusioned about Long Island- I wondered what I was doing in such a sea of stupidity.  And then Dan appears.  Actually, he simply sends an email.  Dan is a fascinating guy, full of all of these ironies.  Covered in tattoos, built like a tank, yet he could compete with any smalltalking Englishman by carrying on a lilting, warm conversation for hours on end.  He's full of stories, of life experiences- businesses that bellied up, bridges that he waited under with his motorcycle during a storm, buddies that are in jail, a close friend that is off at Bible camp.   All his stories are told with a lyrical grace, always with a laugh, always without a trace of bitterness .  He appreciates his experiences by incorporating it into his music, and then moves on. Nothing could depict his self aware ironies better than the baby blue background.  A black background would be painfully obvious for any heavy metal rocker, but that's not him.

Nascent Narrative

The purpose of this blog is to simply narrate the daily events of my life as an artist. I can't write a dry, detached blog about the technical aspects of painting (the virtues of lead white and the inferiority of titanium white).  I don't really have a personal life that is detached from my professional life.  For me, art is simple.  It's a manifestation, in my case a visual manifestation, of the world in which I live.  And so, I'll try and be sincere about this whole thing.

davide internet, 8" x 10"Davide, 8" x 6", oil on wood panel

Davide is a university student who was floating around Florence, and for some money on the side he posed at the studio in which I studied, the Charles Cecil Studios.  He posed for a three hour period for myself and four or five other students.  This painting was groundbreaking for me, for a lot of reasons.  The training which I received at the Cecil Studios was very rigid and dogmatically classical.  But, this rigidity is understandable, as Charles desires to maintain a coherent and cohesive movement of painters that work within his walls.  This painting broke from several central, classical, Cecilian tenets in several respects.

  1. The model was nude, but I painted him clothed (I actually just slopped some paint on him that I had already mixed up for a background.)
  2. The image I painted was dramatically cropped.  Zooming into the face is not typical for a figure painting session.
  3. The painting was not done by the sight size method.  (for a brief overview of the sight size method of painting, go to  I guess you could say that as the Dome of the Rock is to Jerusalem, so is the sight size method to 21 century Florence.
  4. The contrast of light/dark, rhythm of paint, background, highlight in the eye- all were heightened for effect.

By breaking these rules, I worried that I might invoke the ire of the studio powers that be.  Instead I received a good deal of praise.  This showed me that the heads of the school were not ignorant of the potential of breaking the classical rules, they actually encouraged it- provided the artistic license taken was carried out well enough.

  1. Painting clothes where there is flesh was recognized as being a clever use of imagination.
  2. Cropping the figure and focusing on the face was seen as an emphasis of the psychology of the sitter.
  3. Breaking the sight size method was understandable, given the small size of the canvas.
  4. The heightened light/dark contrast created drama, the rhythm of paint created...rhythm, the background was the foil for the face, the highlight in the eye gave... a sense of duende

In short, even though I was painting what I saw, I wasn't really painting what I saw.

Goethe, in a travel log, writes of the talent of Palladio as "something comparable to the power of a great poet who, out of the worlds of truth and falsehood, creates a third whose borrowed existence enchants us."  No, I'm not going to compare myself to Palladio.  But in doing this painting, I came to understand what it is that I would aspire towards, what it is that Charles Cecil aspires towards, what it is that all of the Florentine painters of my generation are aspiring towards- a borrowed existence.