Category Archives: Paintings

The Scent of a Painting

“Out of all the senses, smell is considered the most unique because most people cannot describe it easily using words and because it is the strongest sense of memory. Just a single inhale of a certain scent immediately evokes feelings and emotions from when the person first experienced the scent.

“… most people cannot describe it easily using words….”

Or paint.

Painters depend heavily on their ability to stimulate our eyes to create an emotional response to a painting. It was interesting, therefore, to experience my own response to one of Rick’s most recent paintings.

Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t love crawling into a bed made with clean sheets that have been dried in the sunshine, heat, and wind?

“Clothesline-Dried Fresh!”

Why isn’t there a perfume, or even just a laundry detergent that captures that scent? And what if a painting could?

I’m not talking about a  “scratch-’n-sniff” experience, but rather a “see-’n-catch a scent that makes you remember something really wonderful in your life, maybe when you were the happiest so far.”

Was this the little back bedroom that Gramma always had set up with four cots and line-fresh sheets: one for you, one for your sister, and two for those crazy, wonderful cousins from the East Coast that you couldn’t wait to see every summer?

Or was this the bedroom with the soft double bed and flowered sheets that waited for you, cool and safe and clean, to crawl into straight out of the shower with wet hair, sun-kissed cotton pajamas smelling of the lavender laundry soap she used, and the gentle tingle of freshly bronzed skin?

She always let you leave the door open so you could fall asleep to the filtered light from the bathroom across the hall and the sounds of adults laughing and scratching in the kitchen, sharing their generations of love over a game of Hearts and accusations of outrageous cheating, quickly forgiven.

The cool, slightly damp stone taste of air in a cement basement in summer…

… the woody, warm, dusty fragrance of a well-kept attic…

These are a few of the aromas that resonate fondly with many.

What about you? What aroma from your past would you love to hang on your wall?

Horse and Rider

My Rick is a painter.

He’s also a poet, a cartoonist, and a lover of the “wild west” of his imagination. He’s read every Larry McMurtrey novel ever written. Ditto for every Elmore Leonard western. Double-ditto for Cormac McCarthy.

Half a ditto for A. B. Guthrie, Jr.

Maybe that vein of wild-west yeehaw! is merely resonating with his artist/philosopher/cartoonist self.

Nobody else paints like this.

In one horse’s head, you can see just a handful of the many Ricks that live in those curly white locks.

There’s Rick, the grade-school daydream doodler… sketcher of form.

There’s Rick, the confident manipulator of texture and stroke and chroma, whose seemingly effortless precision with a flick of white highlight captures the soft orb of a horse’s eye with such gentleness and love… That one is where Rick, the student of art for five decades, meets Rick, the complete mushpot lover of animals.

And who uses the color and contour of the underpainting to craft a believable shading of a horse’s neck?

Never seen that one before.

That seems to be one of his own personal magic tricks: knowing when leaving something out—a “helpful” comment, a glance at my ridiculous morning hair, paint—can make a moment more, not less.

Like choosing to leave the strong “earth brown” horizontal stroke of the underpainting to anchor and nourish the bold uprights of mountain sage green—and yellow, and robins egg blue. And just in case the brown needed a little help, let’s lay in some brilliant violet to add some color weight to the blue of that shirt…

There’s Rick, the cartoonist, who believes people can be trusted to fill in the lines for themselves.

It takes a man confident in his inner ‘toonist to pull off a painting technique that allows a galloping horse to escape gravity.

Good guys wear white… unless it’s just a smarty-pants perfect highlighting of the dang hat, and using the tumultuous underpainting stroke direction to indicate both believable arm muscle flex and cloth folds, accurate at a gallop.

I used to ask him if he did things like that on purpose. (That, and outrageously insightful puns, and intelligent questions that jump you directly to the end of the conversation, where the Big Questions of Life live.) He’d humbly answer, “I don’t know how come I come up with these things, honey… I just do.”

I’ve stopped asking, because I believe it now.

Like, he just knew how to encourage the horse’s tail to use pressure against the perpendicular angle energy of the underpainting to help with lift off…

… and how six apparently random skinny white lines above his signature that looks like part of the painting would move the whole thing to “the wild west” in my imagination.

Thanks Rick.

A Question of Focus

The challenging thing about painting—and writing—is deciding what to focus on.

This is also true about life, by the way.

By the time Rick actually starts to block in a painting, he has already spent a great deal of time thinking about the composition: from the original source material (and it’s usually several sources combined), what will he keep? What will he change? What will he move, recolor, and shift?

The photo he’s using here as a reference is from an afternoon we spent last summer at a crowded beach at Ocean City, Maryland. Not only do the intersections of water, sky, and sand pose an interesting set of problems for a painter to solve, but where else can you find such a wealth of half-nude, real-sized models posing patiently as they sizzle in the sun?

It’s a rare painter who can reflect how gently laughable and enjoyable we all are as we move through our lives together. Similar to “Beach Ladies,” a painting like this reminds the viewer that none of us should take ourselves too seriously.

That’s a gift, folks.

Watching an ambitious project like this take shape is also a gift.

From the initial composition and drawings to the establishing of light and dark values…

… to seeing the individual elements come to life, it’s a fascinating documentary of possibilities on top of complex decisions, all described in an infinite range of color.

This takes a steady hand and nerves of steel.

This painting in particular is endlessly entertaining to me. It has just as much interest from 12 feet back as it does from 12 inches in.

From 12 feet back, the three women in the foreground are profound and oddly hilarious studies in women’s shapes at various ages, bone structures, breast size and orientation, bellies, and butt shape. It also showcases nicely our propensity to have our hands on our hips with minor variations in elbow angles and hand positions allowed.

And I’ll bet you a cookie they were all wearing “The Miracle Suit“:
“Look 10 pounds thinner in 10 seconds!”

Who are they kidding? 10 seconds?! Have they never seen a committed woman struggling to get into a bathing suit that guarantees to compress her so effectively that she’ll look 10 pounds lighter? That’s at least a full three-minute sweat-and-swearing filled episode which, if filmed, would immediately shoot to first place as a viral video on YouTube.

Yet from 12 inches in, you can see that Rick decided to leave the orange underpainting as the substance of the man, painting in around him to show the viewer his shape and movement. Plus he gave him shorts, which I thought was kind, all things considered.

Michelangleo: “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Rick: “I saw a fat man in the orange and painted around him, let him be.”

What to paint? And what to merely suggest with a swish and a flick?

It’s possible to use oil paint not only as a delivery mechanism for color, but also as a three-dimensional art medium, like plaster of paris or whipped cream. Applied with skill and the muse’s suggestion whispering in one’s ear, the effect can be amazing. For instance, you can apparently create a wave’s shadow that, under gallery lighting, will augment the painted suggestion of the shadow beneath it.

Neat trick, Rick.

As often as I’ve looked at her, I can’t figure out who she looks like, but I’m sure I know her from somewhere.

More underpainting, this time left to be part of a boy and part of a beach.

In painting circles, they call this “an interesting idea.”

The decision to blur the building into the sea in the far distance looks like someone didn’t learn how to color in the lines, Mister!

And it makes that hazy atmosphere in the distance completely believable.

Like I said, it’s all a question of focus and choice.

For the record, I have my own creative focus struggles.

For instance, sometimes when I should be focusing my eyes more on what I think I’m shooting…

… my heart will grab the camera and make a different decision for me.

BTW, this painting is for sale.

On The Gift of Painting

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning, and Rick felt like painting outside where he could enjoy the air, birds, and golfers.

That’s the great thing about a portable easel. It’s portable.

I love it when he’s painting. It feels like the world is right and as it should be.

The feeling is the same as when I was a little kid in the basement “rec room” on a Saturday afternoon, with my Mom noodling away at her sewing machine, my Dad at his workbench sanding a piece of balsa wood for a model airplane, and a hockey game play-by-play streaming from the radio on his workbench.

Maybe the smell of the oil paint reminds me of the model airplane glue, or maybe it’s just the pace in the air of loved ones at leisure, poking away at things they get lost in with no deadlines in sight.

I’ve heard it said that “knowing when to stop” is a critical skill in painting. I think another equally important aspect of painting, at least for Rick, is knowing he doesn’t have to stop until he feels like it.

What a gift! To have a talent and interest in something that is so absorbing, challenging, expressive, releasing, grounding, and satisfying all at the same time…

… And then to also have the time and money to be able to do that thing.

It’s almost as good as being able to photograph and write about it on a beautiful Sunday morning.

horse art

Rick Solves The Comox Glacier

When the rain, fog, and clouds of Vancouver Island aren’t in the way, my parents have a splendid view of the Comox Glacier out of their living room window.

It rains a lot on Vancouver Island.


Guests will often come and go and never catch a glimpse of the fabled edifice, so Rick painted it for them to hang beside the big window. At least this way when they’re socked in, it helps people see what they’re missing.

Come to think of it, that’s what artists do for the rest of us. They help us see what we’re missing.


See that teeny splooge of red at the base of the evergreen on the right? That’s how much I know about the process of painting, just so we’re all clear.

However, I am becoming quite the expert at the process of watching Rick paint.


Painting appears to be a strenuous exercise in problem solving, involving both seeing things as they really are and knowing how to trick the eye into seeing what we think should be there.

Until I started watching Rick paint, I hadn’t realized that I have only been processing my visual world as it makes sense to me, and this is not anywhere close to the same thing as seeing what’s really there.


My favorite part is the guessing game I play with myself as I watch him paint.

(Well, that and the way his shoulder muscles flex. I think I may have mentioned before this makes me want to bite him. But he’s painting and also has a strange aversion to being bitten, so I refrain. Noble of me, don’t you think?)


He’ll stare at the painting for a bit, then squirt out a splotch of the most unlikely color onto his palette, and smoosh it around with a little of this and a dab of that. As he lifts the brush up, I almost always think, “Now, where the heck are you going with that, Mister?! There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no electric blue in a landscape!”



And all of a sudden, there’s a new freshness or relief or believability or something that hadn’t been there the moment before.


A dribble of honeydew green grows into the top of a tree. A big bold swipe of shark blue… I see the contour of a hill.

And now I think I’m starting to understand how this seeing/tricking thing is done.


It’s magic.

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A New Constellation Called “Pumpernickel”

Some things to know about Rick:

  1. He loves to thumb through old copies of the magazine, “Cowboys and Indians.”
  2. He’s fascinated by semiotics, which is the study about how people communicate through signs and images. For example, how do we all know that red means “hot” and blue means “cold”?
  3. Rick is an artist, and last Saturday he woke up with an idea for a new direction to take his painting

Why not take the incredibly icon-rich imagery from the imagination of The Wild West and riff on that some?


Western themes are enduring and easily recognizable. And if judged by the amount of silver and turquoise jewelry, phoenix-embroidered denim clothing, embossed-leather cowboy boots, wrought-iron key hooks, and other items for sale throughout the magazine, folk seem to like looking at and living with it.

The first idea that came out of the chute? A cowboy and bucking bronco, of course.


In truth, he’d planned to include a series of ranch brands in the bottom left corner of the painting, but by the time he’d landed on the night-blue background with the hint of good red dirt at the bottom, the painting went a different direction.

Against the dark background, the funky iridescent paint he started the horse and rider in crept a little too close to the “Elvis on black velvet” gestalt. In the manner of all great painters everywhere, he responded by picking up The Big Brush, wet it in dark blue, and in a couple of swishes and flicks, nuked the cowboy.


Except that this cowboy was not riding gently off into any stinkin’ sunset, thank you very much. The iridescence was still partially visible in what now looked like a beautiful night sky. So why not leave his essence there and play “connect the dots” the way constellation identifiers do? (How anyone came up with “Orion, The Hunter” out of a grouping of stars that is so clearly a lobster still baffles me.)

We thought a little fun in Photoshop might help compensate for what a computer screen steals from the texture and subtlety of the real painting in good light.


Changing horses in mid-stream is, as far as I can tell, one of the most fun parts of painting. That’s why, for now, we’re calling it “Pumpernickel.”

The idea comes from my habit of re-casting everything I attempt through the lens of what I achieve: if I bake a loaf of bread and it turns out to be a better door-stop than toast, I just slice it thin and call it “pumpernickel.”  Retro-fitting reality is a handy way to become immensely more successful with very little effort.

It also seemed like a good name for a horse, or a constellation, or this painting.


Pumpernickel is now signed, and Rick is moving on with his idea.

He tells me this one will be “Big Thunder,” unless something better comes along. What would you call it?

On Art and Humor

What do military generals and stand-up comedians have in common?

Both know the key element of their success is surprise.  (Well, that and the propensity to get booed right out of the theater if their timing stinks, except the general isn’t likely to mutter, “Just shoot me now!” on the way out.)

Humor and war both depend on successfully smacking the other guy upside the head with the unexpected.


A painting isn’t like that.

I’ve only seen two paintings that have made me laugh out loud. One was in a chi-chi gallery in San Francisco. It was of the dumbest-looking abstract sheep in a huge field of flat green. The sheep made me smile, but what made me laugh was the price tag.  How could they ask the equivalent of a timeshare in Maui for a dumb sheep painting? Some things are hard to understand, like war and humor and the pricing of art.

But I digress.

The other painting that made me laugh out loud was this one, and I saw it for the first time this week.


The reason why it made me howl when Rick took it out of the box in the garage isn’t because it’s got a surprise twist or an unexpected punchline. It’s because it’s so ordinary. Nobody paints ordinary people.  Okay, so maybe it is a little unexpected.

Been to a beach lately?


They really aren’t heavily populated with the gorgeous air-brushed young bodies of the timeshare brochures, tanned and toned and disdainful of shapewear.

They are generally populated with persons of an average weight, attractiveness, age, and a desperate need for shapewear.


There are curious seagulls, sand that sneaks into places that will shock you in the tub that night, and relentless blue skies.

There are beach towels, and butts that retain the webbing indentations of lawn chairs when they stand up and waddle over to the snack shack for another soda. And there are sagging lily-white boobs just begging for a third-degree sunburn.

And for some reason, when an artist has the courage to paint ’em the way he sees ’em, it makes me laugh.


beach paintings