Painting: Kevin’s Neighbor’s Boat – Take Two

There are a few paintings I have done in my life that I did twice, and there was always a reason.

In 2014, when I visited my friend Kevin in upstate New York, I took a photograph from his dock in Oneida Lake, facing toward the setting sun, which put the neighbor’s boat into a silhouette.

Here is a post I wrote at that time. 

Then it occurred to me that rather than just putting the painting on a stack of unhung paintings in my garage, I should just send it to Kevin, who would then give it to his neighbor to do what he pleased. To this day, I don’t know the name of the neighbor, but Kevin told me later that they cherished the painting, had it framed, and it was displayed in a prominent place in their house. After all, who has an original painting of their own boat? That was in 2015, and I thought that was the end of the story.

When I happened to visit Kevin briefly last year he told me the terrible news: A year before, the neighbor’s house burned to the ground in the middle of the night. They were not home, and some faulty electrical wiring had caused the fire. They lost everything. Including the painting. He even showed me videos of the blaze. Apparently the neighbor has meanwhile built a new house on the same lot. After my shock wore off, when I got home, I thought I should just paint another one.

This idea came to me after I had pretty much done NO PAINTING at all during the Covid years, so I was pretty rusty. I thought this project might get me motivated and back in the groove. So I started again and here is the finished product:

It’s two feet square, the same size as the first one, and the style is quite different from the one I used in 2014. I decided to show more detail and add more realism. Two paintings of the same subject never turn out identical. Here is the previous one for comparison:

I guess it’s time to mail another package to Kevin’s neighbor to get their new art collection started.

And my painting mojo is back!


The Odyssey of the Aspens – A Painting’s Journey to Life

It all started on Christmas Day 2019, when I received a greeting email from a blogger friend in Australia, whom I have never met in person (who shall remain anonymous here). At the end of the email she added this sentence:

Also, I have to tell you that I am a big fan of your paintings. There have been so many occasions when I was tempted to ask if you sold your art. Because if you do, I’d like to one day make a purchase — never mind the shipping costs.

I responded telling her that I didn’t sell paintings, but I occasionally would create custom ones for friends. What motif did she have in mind?

After she reviewed my online portfolio and pointed out what she liked, it struck me. In back of my studio there had been this “first draft” of a painting I called Aspens that I had been trying to make work for a couple of years that just wasn’t clicking, it wasn’t going anywhere. I thought it might work, so I took this photograph, with yardstick for scale, and sent it to her.

[click to enlarge any of the photographs in this post]

Her response was enthusiastically positive. But I took it with a grain of salt. What do you say when an artist shows you an unfinished first draft that he was planning on turning into a painting for you?

So I got to work. There is nothing that motivates like committing to making a painting for somebody. Now it has to move. Here is what it had turned into by January 16, 2020:

Here we are on January 25:

By end of February it was done:

This was just before the pandemic hit. In the months of March, April and May it cured. Oil paintings take months to dry properly. Then it needed varnishing, which takes another few weeks, at least, to dry sufficiently.

Of course, no painting is done until it is framed. So I took it to the frame shop, picked out a nice frame that I thought would be neutral. When it came back from the shop I put it up in the house for this portrait of Aspens with Artist.

But before shipping it, I thought I’d enjoy it for a little while in my home office, where I spend most of my days working during the pandemic:

But it was time for shipping. I went to U-Haul and got a mirror/art shipping box of the right size, and I called FedEx and UPS to get an idea what it would cost to ship this thing to Australia. That’s when the surprise started. The cheapest shipping I could find was about US $900, and it went up to US $1,600. Now, I consider my work valuable, but a thousand dollars just to ship a painting just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. While my friend had offered to pay for the shipping before, I am sure she had no idea what that would mean, and I would not ask somebody else to pay for something that was outside of the range I myself was willing to pay.

I started thinking about alternatives.

After all the costs of framing, I could take it back out of the frame (and repurpose the frame for another painting), take it off the stretch frame, and ship it in a roll. I was sure that would be cheaper. I first made sure that my friend in Australia had access to a frame shop that would be skilled enough to re-stretch a loose canvas. Also, I suggested to her that rather than paying for the shipment, she could spend the money on a good frame of her choice and get better value that way. Having confirmed that approach, I realized another hurdle: Australia was on the metric system, and there would be no way for a framer to find a 24 inch by 36 inch stretch frame. I would not be able to take the old one apart well enough for it to get reassembled. So I made a trip to Blick Art Supplies in San Diego, pretty much the only place anywhere I know where you can buy stretch frames, and bought two 36 inch sections and two 24 inch sections to ship in the tube with the painting.

Here is the painting, now without its frame, and the shipping tube, along with the stretch frame pieces. Time to take the painting apart.

Then came the next hurdle.

In my day, when I was a struggling young artist, I made my own stretch frames and stretched my own canvases. In the end, they looked like this, with the canvas stapled to the frame. This picture is a cheap store-bought frame. But that’s what I expected.

But no, that’s not what Aspens looked like in the back. I am buying high-end canvases now, and they are not stretched like we used to do it back in the day. This is what they look like now – not that I had paid much attention to it before:

So after committing to taking the painting apart and shipping it in a tube, I had no idea how to actually get it out of this kind of frame, and whether it would be possible to re-stretch it after that. I didn’t want to figure this out on Aspens itself and possibly ruin the painting. Better to experiment first. So I went to the supply store at Michaels where I get most of my canvas and bought the smallest canvas I could get using this stretching methodology. Here is is, ready with tools, to be taken apart:

It turned out it was not so bad. First you remove the corner staples, then there is a bead of caulk pushed down into the frame, probably by some machine in China, that both stretches the frame firmly and keeps it tight. Somebody surely made a fortune on that patent. Here is what it looked like after I took it apart:

I was relieved. It was not hard to do and the canvas had enough scrap around the edges sufficient for re-stretching later, as long as the framer knew his business. A word of caution here: Do not try this at home unless you know what it takes to stretch a painting. It’s a craft and it takes practice.

Now it was time to take apart the Aspens painting:

It went without a hitch. I took it apart, taped the new stretch bars together, rolled the canvas up with a large sheet of paper against the painting side, and it all fit into my tube snugly.

Here is the full tube, along with the empty old frame.

Now for shipping, I went to the trusty United States Postal Service, right around the time when the government apparently tried to sabotage the postal service to hinder the smooth execution of the federal election. So everything associated with shipping with USPS did not go so well. But you can’t beat the price. It cost me US $69.00 to ship the tube to Australia. I was excited when it left. I figured it would take a week or so.

By now you have probably figured out why I titled this post “The Odyssey.” The odyssey continued. Here is the tracking log of the tube trying to leave the country:

I truly don’t understand what the painting did lingering in San Diego for a week, before finally making it to Los Angeles, where it bounced around for another two weeks, before finally moving on to San Francisco to get on a plane to Australia. Once in Australia, it took some more time to arrive.

When my friend tried to take it to the frame shop she found out that, being a retail business, the pandemic lockdown had been extended to the end of October. She would not be able to take it in until then.

Well, today, almost a year after the Aspens project started, she send me this picture of herself with the painting it its new frame.

This was taken today in Australia. I have to say, the frame works beautifully with the painting, and the color scheme matches her décor better than I could ever have chosen remotely.

I am glad this project is done. Aspens is on the other side of the world, and it has a good home.

Quarantine Pastimes

I had a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle made from a painting of mine. I thought this might be a good one:

Painting: Red Maple

Then I started, and I realized that puzzles of paintings are much harder to do than puzzles of photographs:


Ironically, the painting itself is about 15 feet behind me in the living room above the fireplace.

I can say this for certain:

So far it has taken many more hours to just get this far in the puzzle than it took to create the entire painting in the first place.

That’s why I call it Quarantine Pastime.

New Painting: Aspens

Here is my latest painting with a story of how it came about: Aspens

Aspens, 2/20, 24 x 36 [click to enlarge]
A first draft of this painting was laying around my studio for more than a year. It was going nowhere. Then a friend (VP) asked me to sell her a painting, and I said I don’t sell, but I’d be glad to paint one custom for her. What would she like? After a few back and forth exchanges of motifs and her pointing out which of my portfolio she likes (this was her favorite), it suddenly hit me: Aspens might work. I showed her the draft, and off the project was. I kept a progress journal which you can see here.

Dead or lingering paintings have a way of coming back to life when there is a bit of motivation resulting from commitment.

Now it’s done. It’ll have to dry for a couple of months, and after varnishing and framing, it’ll be my first ever painting to travel to Australia for its new home.

The Elephant in the Room

When a painting comes back from framing, it’s always exciting, because it looks so much more finished and it stands out. This one worked out particularly well with a bamboo motif for the frame. It graces the stairway, for the time being. And that’s the Elephant in the Room for today.

Mike and the Forgotten Beethoven

Many years ago my friend Mike from Albany gave me a picture of himself with the Beethoven painting I gave him as a gift in the summer of 1978. I actually forgot that I had done that painting and it was like meeting an old friend again when he gave me this photograph. Then I forgot about the photograph, until yesterday, when I looked for the old photo of the Little Girl – see in post below.

So here it is:

Mike and the Forgotten Beethoven

History of a Painting: Little Girl

One of my friends asked me which of my own paintings was my favorite. It’s the Little Girl.

This request prompted me to put together this History of a Painting. Here it is:

Many people call this “Indian Boy” and I can see the androgynous nature of the painting, but for me, it’s always been the “Little Girl.” I finished it in early 1980. Until about 1998, it was with friends in upstate New York, where it spent many years in an attic before I got it back. It’s a large painting, so you have to have a large wall for it. Here is a photograph of it in my house today:

This gives you a feeling for its size. It’s three feet wide and four feet high.

Here is how it came about: In 1975, when I was an 18-year-old youth living with my parents, there was an insert magazine that came with the local newspaper, called the Mission Aktuell, a German magazine about foreign missionary aid in third world countries. The cover struck a chord in me, and I saved it at the time. This was before I had ever done a single oil painting, and I do not remember why I saved the cover, or where I saved it. It simply was with me in 1978, when I started painting in earnest.

I did a preliminary painting of the Little Girl. I have a yellowed photograph of it still, but I do not remember what happened to the painting itself and if it still exists somewhere. I lost a lot of my early paintings in my wild youth years of Sturm und Drang and associated moving around. Here is the photograph:

The coloring is off here, because the photograph is over 40 years old and those paper photos have a tendency to lose their color. But I was never happy enough with it in 1978, and that’s why I picked the subject up again in 1979. It took me about a year to finish the final form of the Little Girl, and it’s now celebrating its 40th birthday.

Of course, I’ll never know who the girl was that posed for the magazine in 1975. If she was perhaps five years old then, she would be 50 now.

I wish she could know.

New Painting: Kaua’i

Kauai, oil on canvas, 12/19, 20 x 20

If you want to know why the title of this painting is Kaua’i, here is the story.

We spent Christmas 2018 on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. One of the things we noticed immediately was how many feral chickens and roosters there were everywhere on that island. Where do they all come from and why aren’t there any on the other islands? Here is a post with a picture of chickens in it.

The hurricanes Iwa in 1982, and then Iniki in 1992, destroyed many domestic chicken coops. This released the chickens into the jungles. The domesticated birds then mated with the wild red junglefowl that was brought to the islands by the Polynesians hundreds of years ago.

The current feral chickens have no natural predator, so they are procreating at a prodigious rate.

There is no way that you can travel to Kaua’i and not notice the ubiquitous chickens and roosters. There is no way you can spend a night on Kaua’i and not be woken up at 4:30am by a rooster outside your window. They are everywhere.

Kaua’i is roosters, and roosters are Kaua’i.

The Bus – by Portuguese Steet Artist Odeith

Please note that the image on the bottom is the “Before” and the top is “After.”

Here is an article about this project, and leads for several more.

New Painting: The Sausage Tree

Early this year my friend Sara Hartman went to Africa for a photo safari. I attended her presentation when she came back, and her photograph she had titled Sausage Tree stayed with me. It had a painting in it. I asked her for permission to use it as a motif. Here is her original photograph:

Photo Credit: Sara Lynn Hartman – Sausage Tree [click to enlarge]
Here is Sara’s website where you can see many other of her Africa photographs.

And here is the resulting painting:

The Sausage Tree, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, Nov 2019

I changed the composition somewhat. I moved the mountain (because I can do that). I also stretched the tree and made it taller. I actually didn’t intend that, but it worked out that way. I think I got the feeling of the open savannah. The painting looks better when you don’t see the original photograph right next to it. But that is always that way when you take photographs as motifs. The painting becomes something different altogether.

This is the first painting I actually started and finished in 2019. Hopefully it breaks my creative logjam. Nothing much has been coming out of the Haupt studio lately.

Well here is something: Behold the Sausage Tree.

39 Years Later

In the summer of 1980 I went to the “bird sanctuary,” now the Jamestown Audubon outside Jamestown, NY, and painted a landscape of a few rotten trees in a swamp. The original painting is long lost. All I have left of the painting is a yellowed, discolored photograph:

At the Bird Sanctuary – 06/80 Oil 24×30

Today a friend sent me a photograph she just took there:

What a difference 39 years makes – or does it?

New Paintings: Flowers

Almost 20 years ago I did Flower 1 and Flower 2This year, I added three more. Each painting is on a 30 x 24 canvas. I cut raw canvas, linen or burlap into shapes, like stems, leaves, blossoms, or background areas, and glued them to the raw canvas. Each painting also got a two inch canvas “frame” around it. I gave the whole thing a coat of gesso. Finally, I painted the flowers over the glued shapes. So each of these paintings has a texture and I always invite the viewer to touch. So, Flower 1 and 2 below were done in 2000, and I just added the other three now in 2018. Is this now called a “quintych” analogous to diptych (set of two paintings) or triptych (set of three paintings)?

Flower 1


Flower 2


Flower 3


Flower 4


Flower 5


Movie Review: Loving Vincent

Vincent van Gogh picked up a paintbrush for the first time when he was 28 years old. He died less than nine years later at the age of 37, and left us some 800 paintings. Van Gogh changed art, yet he sold only one painting ever, and that to his own brother.

He died under mysterious circumstances, and like many deaths of famous people (for example JFK) there are many theories that speculate about what really might have happened, versus what is common knowledge on the record.

Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, Loving Vincent is a film that explores the life of Vincent van Gogh and some of the speculations about his death.

What is unique about this film is that it is an animation based on painted images. Every frame of this movie is a painting, and thousands of them have been stitched together to make the film. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and it may well never be done again. Van Gogh’s painting style, using bold colors and rough, thick brush strokes, lends itself to this approach and I applaud the filmmakers for the unique, risky and ultimately very successful idea. Many scenes in the movie are based on actual van Gogh paintings.

One of them has special meaning to me: Harvest at La Crau with Montmajour in the Background. Sometimes it’s called “the blue cart.” The original is in the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam. Here is an image:

In the movie, Vincent is pulled past this scene in a cart on the road in the foreground.

When I was a child, some 11 or 12 years old, our German professor (now my friend Wolfgang referenced in this blog from time to time in the Latin Corner) assigned this painting as the subject for the essay form of “Bildbeschreibung” or image description. I remember struggling with this assignment, but doing a good job of it in the end. It stayed with me for life, and this painting represents the first exposure for me to van Gogh. I had tears welling up when this image went by in one of the scenes in Loving Vincent.

I am a painter. Van Gogh has always been my favorite artist. I have seen many original van Gogh paintings over the years. How could I possibly not love this movie?


Outdoor Painting Finally Framed

More than three years after finishing Morning Moon over Kensington, a painting done in oil on a plywood panel, I finally today hung it outdoors. David A. of Urban Reclaimed Woods built a farm table for our porch out of scaffolding boards, which is visible in the foreground. I asked him to make me a frame out of the same type of scaffolding wood.

Here is the painting, proudly hanging outside on the back porch, in 82° F weather, when the rest of the country is suffering brutal cold.