Thursday, August 25, 2011

WEEK # 22 / Three Lemons

Three Lemons
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 11" x 18", 2011

When beth and I travel, we always take drawing supplies with us. Pencils, erasers and paper can be easily packed and transported. Oils however are another matter, what with airline restrictions, transporting canvases, easels, solvents and in the end wet paintings. So, on occasion we pack a set of watercolors and a block of paper.

Study: Three Lemons
James Aponovich
Watercolor on paper, 8" x 13", 2009

The watercolor study above was done on one of our "rainy day" sessions. I found these wonderful lemons at an Italian Greengrocer in Panicale (Umbria), and set to work. With the light uncharacteristically coming from right to left, I did my best to control everything.
Now two years later it is time to attempt the oil painting here in New Hampshire. But I cannot find Italian lemons at my local market so I have to make do with ones from California.


If Blue is associated with spirituality and red, passion, then yellow represents the intellect. Technically, yellow is the most difficult color to control. Being the lightest and brightest color it is easily corrupted when shaded, turning a sickly green. Set yellow against black and it becomes its brightest and most luminous. Given that, it is a chore to control the shading and keep these lemons alive.

Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)
Lemons, Orange and Rose
oil on panel
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Spanish still life painters could control the extremes of value and still keep their colors clear.
This painting by Zurbaran is one of the greatest still lifes ever my opinion.

2011 copyright James Aponovich

Friday, August 19, 2011

WEEK # 21/ Peonies in a Canton Bowl

Peonies in a Canton Bowl
James Aponovich
oil on panel, 8" x 10", 2011


In the hierarchy of 'flowerdom' peonies rank right up there as the most difficult to paint. Delicate yet multi-layered they share with roses a beautiful shape and stunning colors. They transition from a tight ball to an explosive full bloom. Those of us who love them really love them.
So, when I was commissioned to paint a large still life, the client requested, no, insisted on peonies. This small painting is a presentation painting meant to illustrate how the flowers are to be arranged and the colors I would be using.

Peonies from our garden

Next comes the study which I am now working on based on peonies from our peony garden, that we call the "peony walk". The larger study ( which I will post when finished) is full scale, measuring 24" x 26". The commissioned painting is larger yet. Wish me luck.

Study: Japanese Peony Vase in a Niche
James Aponovich
Oil on panel, 11" x 14", 2008

This is a quarter scale study to a pair of paintings inset into a piece of furniture. The Japanese are masters at portraying peonies. This is a painting of a Japanese cloisonne vase in our collection.

For information on the furniture
with the painting of the Japanese Peony Vase in a Niche

For more on our garden check out the variety of garden postings on:

Our garden in featured in the book:
The Inspired Garden
Twenty-Four Artists Share Their Vision
Judy Paolini & Nance Trueworthy
Downeast Books

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Hydrangea in a Japanese Vase
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 10" x 8", 2011

We are still on the coast of Maine, slowly making our way back. They call this "gunkholing",
putting in at one port after another. This painting however, began in Blue Hill. I arose early one morning and while my friend Bob was busy painting a watercolor I sketched this flower on a spare canvas I had. Beth and I are now in Cape Porpoise, near Gooserocks. The landscape here is a soft estuary, much different than "downeast". ( see week #19)


If red is passion and blood and yellow is clarity and intellect than blue is calming serenity and the spiritual.

Pol, Hermann or Jan Limbourg
May-Day Excursion, "Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry", 1410
Tempera on Vellum, 5" x 8"
Chantilly, Musee Conde

Along with pure gold, blue was the most costly color to use until the 18th Century. It was mainly acquired by grinding the semi-precious stones, azurite and lapis lazuli. When the old Duke of Berry commissioned the Flemish Limbourg Brothers to illustrate his prayer book he spared no expense. Along with lapis lazuli for the blue, malachite was ground to create the beautiful greens that adorn the noble women in this May Day jaunt. Because the book was mainly closed, the colors have remained as pure as when they were painted. That is very rare, many mistaken assumptions of color have been made without taking into account the destructive affects of light and atmosphere on paint.


We call it the sky. Sky blue suggests a certain abstract, remote majesty. It descends from its imperial neighbor, purple which represents immediate, concrete but temporal dominion.
Purple was only for the Emperor's toga, not mine. So blue was passed on to the Queen of Heaven as a symbol of maidenhood. In Christian iconography, Mary's color, one of dignity, spirit, and oddly, wealth.

Fra Filippo Lippi ( 1407-1469)
The Coronation of Mary
Santa Maria Assunta, Choir Apse
Spoleto, Italy

In Southern Umbria, lies the city of Spoleto, now famous for it's festivals and jazz concerts. If you find yourself there, go to Piazza de Liberte, grab a gelato and descend
to the Duomo, Santa Maria Asuunta, to see the most spectacular fresco
by my all time favorite painter / monk / father and overall ladies man, Filippo Lippi.
Here is lapis lazuli, gold leaf, malachite and vermillion all coming together in Lippi's last work. He died here at the age of 63, some say poisoned by enraged family members of a youg woman whom, let us say, he had interest in. He is buried here in the Duomo with this:

Here I, Filippo, the glory of painting, lie buried.
There is none who does not know of the extraordinary grace of my hand
with the fingers of an artist I managed to bring the colors to life
and for a long time to deceive those who hoped to hear them speak
even nature, which had found expression in my figures.
was amazed, and admitted that my art was equal to Hers.
Lorenzo de Medici placed me here in this marble tomb
where before I was covered with common dust.

copyright 2011 James Aponovich

Saturday, August 6, 2011


"The Dance Floor", Baker Island, Maine
James Aponovich
Oil on canvas, 14" x 18", 2011

Sketch: Baker Island, Maine
James Aponovich
Pencil on paper, 7" x 9", 2011

"How to paint the landscape:
First you make your bow to the landscape,
then you wait, and if the landscape bows to you,
then, and only then,
can you paint the landscape"

John Marin


Granite, spruce, sky, ocean....and the sun relentlessly beating down, my head draped with a shirt like some Bedouin frantically drawing......and the sweat is summer off the coast of Maine.
Sometimes the most difficult thing is to make something significant out of the fewest possible ingredients. Boil the perfect egg.
Here I am on the "Dance Floor". The place is Baker Island, off the coast of Mount Desert.
(For more on how I got here go to :

My task is to sketch giant slabs of pink granite that have fractured and have been piled up by eons of repeated "nor'easters", storms of amazing force. The sun is blinding and everything is stripped down to bear essentials. I start drawing, my composition is nothing but diagonals and sharp edges, and all while the clouds build threateningly. Time is limited so I sweat and draw. Captain says it's time to go, storms are approaching. The sky turns black so we return to the boat. Time elapsed? Not nearly enough.

Marsden Hartley
City Point, Vinalhaven, Maine, 1937
Oil on board, 18" x 24"

Hartley painted here, so did Cole, Church, Lane, Haseltine, Richards, Bricher,
Hassam, the Zorachs, the Wyeths and many more. We still come to this place of jagged rock and hard sea, this "wonderful nightmare" that is the coast of Maine.

For further reading and looking:

The Artist's Mount Desert
John Wilmerding
Princeton University Press

Painters of Maine
Carl Little
Downeast Books, Camden, Maine

copyright 2011 James Aponovich