Blog: Inside Hatter Studio

Variations on a Theme, Part One

Posted by on May 23rd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Awhile back, I painted a series of small square panels in acrylic depicting a favorite scene along a road in Floyd County.  The very first painting was actually larger, double in size, but I found that I was really only interested in the center composition, so I took that basic composition and painted several variations both in lighting and color to play around with the possibilities.  Since I don’t have the image of the first painting that inspired these smaller ones yet, I thought I’d go ahead and share these and hopefully later I will be able to show that first composition.
Although the first painting was completed on site, these smaller paintings were created in the studio.  Since I had the basic composition in place as the bones of each piece, I decided to paint more from my impressions of having seen this view in various times and lighting–to give more of my response to the memory of the landscape than just a record of the landscape itself.
Here I was looking for a very warm, nostalgic feel to the scenery.  I call this my happy little painting.  Though it may be difficult to tell from this photo, the surface of the painting is highly textured.   Sometimes I will take charcoal, or sometimes even just a pencil, brush handle, or small stick, and draw in the gesso while it is still wet.  Since I like at least four layers of gesso, I would brush on the first two thinly, then the next two (or more) rather liberally, so as to allow for the ridges and designs to be felt when the gesso dried.  During the actual painting process, I would do quite a bit of layered dry brushing over these ridges to give more of a sense of movement to the landscape, to give more interest to the surface rather than just the image.
This detail shows the texture a little better.  I don’t always use this approach, but with a landscape I do enjoy a certain sense of energy to the painting, because when you stand out in a field or near a stream or study a tree, there is always the sense of life surrounding you.  Sometimes I will try to portray this movement through a highly gestural under-painting that shows through in many nooks and crannies in the final piece, sometimes it’s through the brushstrokes themselves, sometimes both and then some. Why make dead paintings of living scenes?  Why not try to add or capture some sense of the movement and wonder you feel when you are actually there?  I’m not always successful with this, but hey, it’s painting, it’s supposed to be fun, creative and playful.

Paradise Lane

Posted by on Sep 8th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

As Summer draws to a close, I wanted to post this painting from several years ago.  The view is looking down Paradise Lane (which is the actual name of the road).  The day was hot, and the rain storm in the distance was rumbling through.  This was painted in my studio instead of out on the site, where the preliminary sketch and under-painting were completed.  During this time in my life there was a transition in my working situation, and at the time things were looking uncertain.  At the same time, I was experiencing a type of personal revival in my heart with the Lord, and where there used to be drought, physically and spiritually, I could hear the “sound of abundance of rain.”

This painting is then, in a sense, a portrayal of that:  dry dusty road, dry bare clay showing through the dry grass of the field.  But the cornflowers in the foreground bring hope, that all is not withered away, that relief is just beyond the bend, where the showers are sweeping over the fields.

This is acrylic, thinned out and used as watercolor to a degree.  Day by day I would add washes over washes, then scrub sections out, then apply new washes, then layered in the details.  So even the process speaks of water and color applied purposefully and abundantly to a dry surface so that in the end, where once there was a blank white board, now stands a beautiful painting, and an echo of a larger truth.

I gave this painting to my grandfather, who was also my Pastor for many years, who throughout life has helped me in so many ways, and he enjoys it to this day.

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground…”  Isaiah 44:3

Looking back down the road…

Posted by on Jun 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This is another painting from Sandy Flats–at the intersection with Harvestwood.  At the time we were in a drought, and the fields looked golden in the hot summer sun, but what caught my eye were the strips of bright green in the field past the road–a burst of life in a dry land.  The sky was very hazy with it’s smokey blue tone, which offset the field so well.  I had parked the ol’ red Toyota on the side of the road and set up my easel and worked the composition there, but ended up reworking the colors in the studio to my liking.  Often I will do that–not that the actual scene isn’t interesting enough, just that it’s fleeting, and I make enough references and notes to myself to recapture in the studio what struck me in the field, and it allows me to play a little more with color but also be true to the overall “feel” of the landscape.

Here again is my fascination with the idea of a path to be taken, a road to be traveled, a journey to be made– often coming from shadow to light. About a month ago I went back to this part of the road, and it now looks completely different.  Where a bony fence once poked itself out of the earth is now overgrown with vines and bushes, with the fields greener and much heartier than they had been when I first painted them.  Oddly enough, I felt no desire to paint the scene as it is now.

Run of the Mill

Posted by on Jun 11th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

A number of years ago Alison and I went around sketching and painting at various scenes–sometimes we were successful with a drawing or two, sometimes we just scouted out locations to try to visit at a later time.  One that we both fell in love with was this old mill on Sandy Flats Rd.  I’ve made several sketches of it, and a couple of paintings (one in the fog, and the one you see here).  Old buildings like this can be tricky to paint, because if the components are not working together to create an interesting image that invites the viewer to spend some time investigating, it becomes just another boring barn/mill painting.  The eye must keep moving through the painting, with resting points here and there.   This has all the elements of a good ol’ summer day:  a dusty gravel road shaded by a nearby tree, hot and hazy air with the sun beating down, a cool lazy stream bubbling by, lush green grass to rest your tired feet in, and an old building rich with character and history.  Good memories.

Gone Fishin’

Posted by on May 25th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This was another commission piece (acrylic) that I worked on for a friend several years ago.  Note the fisherman in the background, casting the line.  My dad is a great fisherman, and oddly enough, he said it was his mother that really taught him (though Granddad was a good fisherman also).  So then there’s me–not a fisherman at all.  I do love being out there in the stream, taking it all in.  I even enjoy trying, but somehow I just never got the “fishin’ fever.”  Most of my experiences of fishing trips ended up (or began with) me falling in the water and scaring the fish away.  But I have to say that the best times that I’ve spent fishing were with Dad. When he lived in North Carolina, sometimes we would go to a pier at night and fish for awhile, and we would talk about different things in life, and I loved simply being with him, whether I caught any fish or not (I did catch a blowfish one time).  We would also take the boat out from time to time, and again, just sit and catch up.  Sometimes we would catch something, sometimes we wouldn’t.  Either way I could sit and listen to Dad for hours.

I still enjoyed going to the streams while Dad and my brother fished.  It’s been awhile, but I have to say it’s a special experience to stand out in the middle of the stream and be still while the water glides past you, carrying leaves and other odd bits, revealing here and there little dapples of light, wavering ghostly reflections that dance on the surface as the breeze quietly whispers through the trees overhead. A certain graceful peace settles in your mind in those moments, then you realize there are fish laughing at you under the water, wondering which stone you’ll slip on as you make your way back to the bank…I guess my children will have to learn to fish from their Granddaddy, and that’s okay with me.


Posted by on May 19th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

Several years ago I was asked to do a series of small paintings for a party which had a “Narnia” theme.  I was given some specific guidelines in terms of how the images should be arranged, which were slightly different from the way I would have approached them, but you go with what the client wants, right?

Personally, I have always envisioned a plain wardrobe, or perhaps a very low-key wardrobe with slight, mysterious carvings or patterns, not the fully carved, ornate wardrobe that was in the popular movie, similar to the one the client wanted in this painting.  The idea that within a very plain and simple wardrobe lies the extraordinary entrance to another world filled with adventure and danger is very compelling to me, reminding me that what we see on the surface with our eyes often times may not be the whole story.

Mothballs giving way to crunching snow.  These are acrylic washes over paper with gesso, embellished with colored pencil.

Always winter, never Christmas…

I greatly enjoyed working on this project and the party went well–these were used on the invitations.  One day I would like to go back and read again the Chronicles of Narnia and do a series of images from some of the other books.

Board’s Creek

Posted by on May 11th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

There are some paintings that have a certain sentimental quality for me.  One such important painting is Board’s Creek–an oil painting of two cows getting ready to cross a creek in front of a gnarly old tree.  There is an interesting background story behind this painting (of which I will spare you the details), in that it was originally supposed to be a commissioned piece, but I ended up doing another one in its place that better fit the desires of the client at the time. And so now this painting rests above my sofa until it finds a better home.  There is an actual Board’s Creek, but this is not it–the scene is made up to fit the composition, though the tree is a real tree up on the parkway near Rocky Knob (one of my favorite to draw and paint, as you will see later), and the cows are painted from photos taken awhile back (and slightly reworked to fit the feel of the painting).

The first composition had the cows turning away from the tree (I still may do a painting from this one day).

I ended up reworking the composition to the following…

…and worked up a quick acrylic wash color study…

I wanted a warm evening/morning glow to this painting, with the foreground in shadow, to allow the light to play on the water and the branches of the tree.  Here are some pencil studies of the tree itself–a wonderful, gnarled, twisting tree with large branches that you can just crawl all over.  Many artists and photographers have created images from this tree.  I just love it.

And so here is the final oil of Board’s Creek.  It measures 40″x30″ and is on stretched canvas.

This remains as one of the few large oil paintings that I have done in the last ten years–I usually work in acrylic, but Alison and I are wanting to get a new set of oils to start working in them again–it is definitely her favorite and strongest medium. ~Sean

Ol’ Blue

Posted by on May 5th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

This watercolor was done back in college when our dog Blue passed away.  This was the spot where he always loved to rest, usually in the flowers (unfortunately).  Anyhoo, the piece is simply what it is, a portrait without the subject–his dish is still there, the door is still open, and the flowers are a reminder of the vibrancy of life, even in a place that is dingy and somewhat empty.  This is one of my favorite pieces.
Blue had a heart problem, and being so old, there was not much we could do.  He was a good ol’ faithful friend, a peculiar dog with peculiar habits, but that only made him more endearing.  When he had to be put down, we wrapped him in one of my old childhood blankets and buried him in my old toy box.  The humor of the night was that it was cold and the ground was hard, so Phil and I were trying to bury him with a lantern swinging on a branch above us while we labored with a shovel and a pick axe.  I’m sure if the neighbors saw us, there may have been some wondering what we were up too–it probably looked shady!
I did, before the end, do a final portrait of ol’ Blue.  Here are the sketches:

And here’s the final, with a detail of his head–notice his characteristic smile.

Oh, what a day for a hike…

Posted by on Apr 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

We used to hike all the time when we were younger.  Now just the thought of walking down to the mailbox makes me tired.(I need more exercise).  This is part of the trail up at Rocky Knob–a very nice trail, especially in the fall with the leaves turning colors.  This was a “shake the rust off” piece that I did a couple of years ago, and I love that it is a little less refined than some of my other paintings.

Posted by on Apr 29th, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments