Blog: Inside Hatter Studio


Posted by on May 7th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

This is part two on recent paintings created from memory.  I decided to write about these two paintings in particular because to me they actually go together as companion pieces.  Though quite different in color and lighting, they have similar compositions and themes.

Last week we took a day trip down to North Carolina to visit family, and to do that we had to pass through Hillsville (appropriately named).  We were dealing with a cool, damp, cloudy, rainy day–not great for traveling.  There were pockets of thick fog where you couldn’t see much beyond the bend, and then there were places where the clouds opened up and let just a shaft of light peak through and shine on the newly dressed green hillside.  Alison and I both deeply regretted forgetting the camera (something we often do, and often regret).

On the ride home we drove back through Hillsville, and again the sky was moving with these monstrous clouds, rain was falling in the far distance, and yet shafts of light were streaming through here and there, piercing this cloud and then that cloud.  And those words of Tolkien again came to my mind as I watched this unfolding transient scene roll before me.

“…In the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

"Throw a little Tolkien and Lewis in there and I think you have something."

Posted by on May 6th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

I don’t usually paint from memory, but Alison is encouraging me to do so more and more.  I usually take photos and work from those, and in the old days I would go out and paint on location.  This is the first of two blogs on two paintings worked from memory.

Recently I finished reading The Lord of the Rings…again, and I always find new little nuggets each time I read it through.  Towards the end of the book when Frodo and Sam are in Morder struggling to get to the end of their journey, Sam begins to lose hope, but then he sees something:

“…There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Driving home one night a couple of weeks ago, we were experiencing some dynamic skies with swirling clouds and storms.  As we traveled along a dark country road I looked up, and in a breaking of the clouds there shone a beautiful star.  I kept looking and looking, and that quote from Tolkien came to my mind and I tried to remember the colors, the mood, the lighting–everything in the hopes of trying to recapture that at some point on canvas.

Last week we attended a local wine, food, and art festival, and I set up an easel and decided to work on a painting while we were there.  That scene came to my mind again, and so I jumped right in and worked up a composition and started laying in color.  Was the image exactly what I saw that night?  No, but it definitely portrayed the mood and feel of that evening for me.  

By the end of the day, I had a finished painting, but I didn’t know what to call it.  Though originally in my mind it was an evening scene, Alison said it looked more like morning light, and I agreed, so I thought about naming it “Morning Star,” but that didn’t seem to fit.  “Call it Perelandra,” my brother said.  And there it was…and so I did.  If you’re not familiar with the name, it is what C. S. Lewis called Venus in the second book of his space trilogy (also the title of said book). 


Finished at Last!

Posted by on Feb 19th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Well, here is the “bearded wonder” in all his glory.  Though somewhat difficult to tell in the photo, I darkened the background to get rid of the competing “aura” around the back of the head.  The portrait took 10 sessions to complete, with sessions 1-8 taking approximately 15-30 minutes each.  The ninth session lasted a little over an hour, and that is where most of the fine-tuning took place.  The last session took maybe 15 minutes to add last minute details like moles (sorry Phil), extra hairs, etc. This is an acrylic painting on a 12″ x 12″ stretched canvas, worked from a photo, and I must say I’m pleased with the results. Below is a detail of the face.

Who is the subject?  Philip Hatter is my older brother, creator of Thistledown Puppets (  He designs and creates all kinds of beautiful hand-made puppets for people all over the world.  And he has a pretty awesome beard.

Almost Done…

Posted by on Feb 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

After adding the hair and beard details, the painting is almost finished.  I reworked the background, lightening the area to the left of the head and on the lower right.  The more I looked at it today, as I kept coming back to the painting from time to time, I realized that I made the background a tad too light.  While I want the background to give a definite edge to the back of the head, I don’t really want the strong “aural” effect that the painting has in this photo, so tonight I reworked the background (again!) and added a few more details to the shirt and beard.  I will take a photo of it tomorrow if I still like it and basically will call it finished.

Baby Steps

Posted by on Feb 16th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

So you can see I’m making slow progress (but progress nonetheless!), working and re-working the skin and background, nudging little highlights and shadows here and there.  Next stop–hair and beard detail…

Blue is the Winner

Posted by on Feb 10th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

So after tinkering with the image on the computer, changing background colors back and forth (I played with blue, teal, and brown), I finally decided on the darker blue so that the colors of the face would pop a little more against the background.  I decided to push the color darker than I had originally planned, because I want the eye to go immediately to the face, then meander around the head.  If the color was brighter, there would be somewhat of a competition between the face and the hue behind it–it can be done, but that’s not my goal for this piece.

Portrait of Philip

Posted by on Feb 7th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Ahh, let’s step back in front of the ol’ art campfire and warm ourselves a bit on this cold winter’s night… I’ve been working on this acrylic portrait of my brother, Philip, slowly working it up here and there and trying to remember to document my progress (I’m really bad at that), which hopefully I will continue to do in future posts through the completion.  Since I’m a little behind, I thought I’d go ahead and share these first five sessions so far.  This first image shows the under painting with the initial sketch of his head.  Next I add some of the highlights to get a better sense of lighting.

With the basic highlights roughed in, I then lay in the darker areas to block in the values before adding any color.

Now it’s time to start refining the values and working in the reddish orange shadows around the ears, eye, nose, neck, etc.

This is the part that I really enjoy–when I get to start adding a little color and refining points, including the eyes, shirt and hair.

I’ve been going back and forth on what color to make the background.  The photo that I took has him in front of a grayish wall that lacks any enthusiasm, so I don’t think I want to keep that.  I like the look of a dark background to show off the face, but since his shirt is dark, I don’t want to make it too heavy looking of a piece.  Plus, I just finished a portrait with a dark background and I would like to work on something with a different look.  Well, something to keep thinking about…

Variations on a Theme, Part Four

Posted by on May 30th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

So, I really should have titled this one “The Prequel” because here is the original image that inspired the other smaller ones.  All of the paintings in this series are acrylic on board, and this one is approximately 24″ x 24″, whereas the other paintings based on this one are only 12″ x 12″.

I was able to go this week and photograph this painting, and I enjoyed looking at it again for several reasons.  First, I used a purple under-painting on this one instead of my preferred reddish orange, and I can’t remember exactly the reason for doing that other than just experimenting to see what would happen.  You can see the purple under-painting at the bottom within the grassy area.  Second, I love the little details in this piece like the the small appearance of the road in the distance that picks back up and leads out toward the mountains, the tree in the mid-ground with the shaded trunk and the highlights around it, the blue of the mountains that gives that punch of color the painting needed, and the scumbled highlights over the textured gesso in the distant fields.

One of the reasons I switched to the smaller composition within the painting was the strong diagonal that cuts the painting in half in the foreground.   True, it is what I saw that day (this was painted on site, though with artistic license in varying the shadow and color in places to accentuate certain aspects of the landscape), but when all was said and done, the diagonal created more tension in the painting than I originally wanted.  So, I zeroed in on the middle portion of the painting, which took the strength away from the tense diagonal and gave the composition a more relaxed feel.  In doing this, the focal point of the blue mountains was taken away from the important “top-third” portion of the composition and the horizon instead was placed in the middle of the painting.  This also contributed to the more casual or restful feel of the composition, but then also required other aspects to be included in the newer paintings to create visual focal points to keep the eye moving through the paintings so they wouldn’t become too dull.

Here is the portion of the painting that inspired the smaller panels.  Looking at it takes me back to that day when it was painted–hot, humid, fighting bees and other pesky flying insects, and working and reworking the foreground and never really being satisfied with it.

I enjoy both aspects of landscape painting–I enjoy being out in the field, working straight from nature itself, learning and relearning all the little nuances of what I’m seeing and experiencing all around me, but then I also love to take all of that in and then interpret it in different ways in the studio– as I mentioned in a previous post, to simply create a personal response to my experience with the landscape.

Variations on a Theme, Part Three

Posted by on May 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

If you have ever taken a moonlit stroll when the moon was full and the sky was clear, then you know the feelings that came along with this painting.  Having painted a lighter, more nostalgic version, then a darker, more turbulent version, here I wanted to paint the calm serenity of a night basking in the glow of a full moon, where the landscape is lit up almost like day, and the breeze gently stirs the leaves like secrets being whispered among the dark forms of the trees.

I love walking at night–the fresh, cool night air waking the senses as the crickets go on with their rhythmic call and response chirping through the fields and the woods, the vastness of the starlit sky overhead stealing the show from the shadowed landscape beneath.  This makes me want to paint more night scenes.

The tree in the upper left corner was used again in this composition to help balance and temper the focus of the moon and the blue of the sky, as well as to aid the eye in moving through the painting.   Here again you can see in the detail the use of the dry brushing to accentuate the linear movements of the gesso drawing underneath the painting.

Variations on a Theme, Part Two

Posted by on May 24th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

So, as you can see, the basic composition is still there, but with several differences as well.  I wanted a darker, moodier feel to this one, with the storm coming and the threat of rain for the dry fields.  This time I included the tree which was actually there.
This painting is a good example of how I sometimes allow the under-painting to show through.  The road is basically the under-painting, but you can see it also in the trees and sky and some in the background.  I prefer a nice red/orange earthy tone for the landscapes.
Again there is the movement with the lines in the gesso, giving a windy effect to the darker scene, as shown in the detail.