Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Never The Same

I am not a systematic painter.  I’ve tried to be that way.  There are some really stiff paintings in my portfolio that came from trying to develop a process for myself that can be relied on in every situation. Surely if I were more systematic I would produce fewer experimental pieces that end up in the trash. This year I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that inconsistency is a part of who I am; one painting is thick, one is thin, one gets lost in abstraction, another gets over rendered.  I really don’t care how I get there, I’m just trying to get closer to whats going on inside at the time. There are so many things in the painting below that were just spur of the moment choices…fencing with the painting gods.

Three Glasses, 9" x 11", Oil on Panel, by John Kelley

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Getting it Right The Third Time

"The light that never was on sea or land, the consolation and the poets dream"  - Wordsworth

This quote sums up what I'm always after.  I get this picture in my mind ( often in the place of emotion in my mind) and I'm never really satisfied until I bring it to my canvas.  It can lead to frustration, but good paintings often come out of this ambition.

The painting below was done on location and painted in about 30 minutes. During this golden hour what you are looking at changes literally every five minutes. Experiencing this gave me a clear picture of what I wanted to paint back in the studio. The most shocking part of the study was that at the time I did not realize how much warmth was reflecting onto the canvas from the trees behind me.  As soon as I put it in the truck I was stunned at how cool my greens actually were.  Not the plan.  All a part of the learning process.

Back in the studio it became obvious that many of my warm/ cool relationships were off.  One likes to think that if I would have had more time I would have been able to notice this while painting.(who knows, maybe genius would have struck after another five minutes!) I solved much of this in the next painting by going to some larger extremes in value, but this is still not the minds eye vision that I'm hoping for.

I'm planning to go back (with both paintings as reference) in order to get closer. So maybe I'll get it right the third time.

Monday, September 5, 2016


"Adversity has the effect of drawing out strength and qualities of a man that would have lain dormant in it's absence" - Herodotus

Painting is always hard and sometimes presents obstacles that seem impossible to conquer.  By faith I push through looking for the fulfillment of this Herodotus quote. The strength that is drawn out is seldom in the painting itself but in the persistence that leads to a great painting years down the line.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Cloud Study 9" x 11" by John Kelley

I painted this in 95 degree heat, 75% humidity, under only my hat.  You west coast folks have it made.

Cottondale Storm, 30" x 30". Oil Painting by John Kelley

I've been driving through this intersection for 23 years and never once considered it a subject suitable for a painting. Creation can make even nondescript strip malls and gas stations visually compelling.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Heart of The Artist

"I want people to say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly, in spite of my so-called coarseness... I should like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart" - Vincent

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dried Roses by John Kelley

They were sitting on my air conditioner and struck me as rather poetic. This is cropped from a 9 x 11 oil on Panel.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Figure Studies

I had never really thought about putting figures into my landscape paintings until this summer.  Since it is new territory for me, I have been painting from videos and going out and drawing figures in public to prepare myself for the task.  The process is enjoyable and many things have already been learned. Here is a little sample.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


"Cheap is the last refuge for the marketer who can't figure out how to be better."  - Seth Godin

For the artist this is the foulest of temptations.  When times are tough we might start looking for ways to sell more art by producing it fast and selling it as cheap. Bad idea. We are after something that is truly impossible to define and cheap disrupts the journey. Nothing about the sacrifices needed to create a poetic piece of art comes without labor and cost. Check out Godin's full post.

Monday, May 30, 2016


This is "Dust", 17"x17" Oil on panel. Did this with a lot of strong ambient light and head on primary source. Almost eliminates form but makes the colors changes a little more interesting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

John Kelley Receives OPA Award of Excellence

My painting "Metal Kettle" received the "Award of Excellence" at the 2015 Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Juried Art Show.  The show is being held a Eckert &Ross Fine Art and will be on display until December 5th. To see the rest of the shows awards go to the OPA Eastern Regional Page.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Painting From a couple of years ago

I came across this in the process of looking up a reference for a portrait I'm working on.  I don't remember if I've posted it but I really like the feel of the paint on this one.

"Apples",  6x6, by John Kelley

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

OPA 2015 Eastern Regional Show

My painting "Metal Kettle" has been juried into the Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Show.

Needless to say, I am very excited and honored to be participating.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


"Salsa"  ,  15"  x  16"  , Oil Painting
by John Kelley

Here are some process shots of the above.   This is very close to finished but I'm sure I will make some adjustments over the next few weeks.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Summer Produce"_Oil_Painting_by_John_Kelley

"Summer Produce" by John Kelley
6" x 12" Oil on Panel

Sometimes I have left over pieces of panel that suggest a painting to me.  I had some of these 6" x 12" leaning against the wall and when the summer produce started to come in they seemed just about right for my needs.  As always, the digital version is way oversaturated compared to the actual piece.  I did try to bring the saturation down but going to far always does other things to the photo that I don't like.  Real life is always better both visually and in every other way.  I often wonder if this internet generation is going to look back on life in their old age and have no real memories....not sure how I got off on that tangent.  Anyway, I got to spend all day yesterday with these wonderful little miracles. I hope I did their beauty justice.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Converting My Open Box M To Use For Sight Size

The Open Box M , in my estimation, is still the best little pochade box being made (although I severely modify it in this post). Several competitors  have come out in the last few years, all of which seem to have different advantages, but none of these advantages have held enough weight to tempt me to change and for many of these new boxes the weight is the problem. I love my Open Box, but  when I began to use the sight size method this spring, it became fairly apparent, that using it without modification was creating to many line of sight issues. You can see in the photo below that though it can be used to sight size it doesn't leave the panel standing alone in space, which I prefer.

Opening the box to a completely vertical setting did provide a clear view of the panel and palette (a parallel palette) but it also had much more give due to my cheap tripod. So here is what I came up with.

The total weight of my set up with all my gear and one 9 x 12 panel is 18.3 pounds.  Keeping my gear under 20 pounds is my goal.  I find that this is more than light enough to do a great deal of hiking without compromising my painting needs, but if you are really into lightweight backpack painting you should check out Marc Dalessio's 11 pound setup.

My new setup involves a lot of clamps and bungie cords.  I would imagine that for most people this would be to much of a pain, but I've found that spending a few extra minutes setting up really doesn't impact the overall time needed to do a painting (unless it's a light effect that will be gone in five minutes).  I've actually found that putting everything together gives me a chance to relax and get focused.

The first thing I needed for this conversion was a tripod that stood tall enough to keep my panel at eye level.  I'm not very tall, so I opted for a 72" model polaroid tripod I found on Amazon.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I hope to eventually replace this with a carbon fiber version that will last me a lifetime, but it is not presently in the budget and this one works great!

I then came up with a way to secure my panel to the board that is screwed into the quick plate.  The 9" x 6.5" board is just simply a panel with a block on the back that has a a 3/8" screw adapter that I got at Home Depot.  I've glued a ridge to support the bottom of the panel and use small bungie cords to provide downward pressure from the top.  This has worked out amazingly well.  It's very cheap and I can paint to the edge of all sides of the panel except on the very small ridge at the bottom. (NOTE: the downside to this is that if you are not paying attention a bungie cord can turn into a projectile!)

I have to carry several bungie cords with me if I am varying the size of my panels.

If the panel is shorter than the board you can go
around the edges.

Mounting my Open Box M to the bottom of the tripod proved a little more tricky and what I do only works with the cheaper easels that have support bars that connect the three legs. The support for the box is essentially a piece of plywood with a hook cut to go around the center post (you could also use some of the commercial versions for providing a support).  The board is secured with three bulldog clips or one pony clamp on the hook.  I didn't like the bulky nature of the pony clamp so I recently switched, but there are several types of clamps that would work.

The board is 13.25" x 11" and fits easily in
my backpack

Bulldog clips can be found at office supply stores
but are much less expensive online

I then open my pochade to the natural angle of the tripod and board to secure it with three 10" bungie cords, two connected at the bottom and one on top.  There is enough tension between all these elements that the only play is due to the quality of the tripod (and it's not enough to notice).  For me it has been more sturdy than anything I have ever used, with the exception of my studio easel.

You can see in the above photograph that I added screw eyes to create a place for the bungie cords to connect to the hooks.  You can also see in this photo how the board extends behind the box. This is where I store my extra brushes in a rolled up bamboo brush holder.  I hold most of my brushes in my left hand.

One of the other things I mentioned in my "Weight and Worry" post was that I no longer hold a roll of paper towels in my hand but rather I connect a terry cloth rag to the portion of the poached box that is normally used to hold the panel.

I fold the terry cloth over and stick it between the tripod legs and the box which holds it in place. In normal wind conditions it works just fine (haven't dealt with anything to brisk as of yet, another cord would do the trick if things got dicey!).  The only problem with this has been the panel posts that stick through the slots on the box.  In removing those I discovered that the area on the back provided just enough space for a homemade 9" x 12" panel holder!

Since I no longer use Turpentine to clean my brushes while painting, the only other thing this setup needed was a spot to put my Liquin and palette knife.

The slot is to secure it to the bottom section of
the box

worms eye view of the connection, bearded sage looming

the border is there to keep me from knocking
the bottle over. So far it has worked.

My palette knife is not pictured here but I
stick it between the bottle and the box.

The backpack I carry all this in is less than perfect, though it does have a lot of room and is an L.L. Bean tank.  I have trudged it all over the place and it's not even close to wearing out.  At some point I will buy another one that has compartments that are more suitable to my needs, but for now I just separate most things with Ziplock Slider Bags which have worked great and are very easy to open and close.  I think the bag itself may be a significant portion of the weight that I am carrying, but I have yet to weigh it separately to find out.

Here is a list of the other items I carry

Brushes - this is one of my heaviest items, I carry a lot so I don't have to clean while painting.

Paper towels in a Tupperware container -  These are cut into fourths and I only use about one whole paper towel a session to clean my palette with.  I formerly stored these in a ziplock bag but they were to hard to get out quickly.

Paint - I keep these in a plastic container for easy access. I would like to be proficient enough to keep just a few small tubes (paint weighs a lot!), but not having to mix orange, purple, and teal saves me time, and the two greens have proven very useful.

Windshield Shade - To keep the sun off my palette

Leathermen Tool - Heavy, and would like to leave it out but it seems like something always comes up.

Latex Gloves -  Not so much worried about the poisons, but I'm just REALLY messy.  So I put the gloves on first thing and take them off last thing.  A little hot in the summer.  I still manage to find Viridian on things I haven't even touched... can't figure out why it's alway Viridian!

Sketchbook - So far I haven't used it this year.

Welders Glass - Recommended by Marc Dalessio, keep forgetting to use it.

Mechanical Pencil / Eraser - (see sketchbook)

Liquin - I keep this in an old Bayer Aspirin Bottle.  Has never leaked.  This would go into the category of they don't make things like they used to.  Look for your containers at antique stores!

Plastic Grocery Bag - I throw my terry cloth rag and paper towels in this at the end of the session.  There is a useless front slot on my backpack that I slide used paper towels into while painting... well I guess that makes it useful.

I keep bug spray, sunblock and Turpentine in my truck.  I've never been away from it long enough to keep them in my bag.

I hope that you find this helpful. I realize that my use of the Open Box M no longer resembles it's original intent but I still love it's light weight design, it's hinging mechanism and it's adaptability.  It's common sense construction made it really easy to modify and wood just makes me feel good.

Metal Tea Kettle

Metal Tea Kettle 7 x 12
Oil Painting
by John Kelley

This is my first attempt at using sight sizing in the studio (or I guess I should say 1 to 1 sight sizing).  As with the outdoor paintings it has slowed down how I draw but sped up the process due to the accuracy. This is also the first still life I have done this small in relation to the actual size.  Sort of a mini-painting.  In order to do a 1 to 1 sight size painting as large as the objects themselves I would have had to put the panel directly parallel to the setup.  Some of the academic ateliers teach this method with great success. I find all that walking back and forth to be painful on many levels.

I really struggled with the values on this one until the very last sessions.  For me that always goes back to the desire to paint what I know.  There was so much detail in the metal pot that I thought I needed to define it all (which for me equals putting in a lot of small shapes of the wrong value so you can see them).  I finally scraped it all off, darkened the essential values, put in a few touches for the apples and told myself to stop. There are still a few things that need to be worked on once it dries but for the most part I'm please with this experiment.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Studio Work - 1

I'm doing a lot of experimenting these days.  I've really never been able to settle on a technique and stick with it for long.  There are just to many possibilities to explore.  Though I am trying to be a little more disciplined at thoroughly working through an idea....but working through ideas generates new ideas and then suddenly your far from where you started.

So at the beginning of last week I reworked my painting "Empty" even though I thought I was done.  It just kept calling to me from the far wall, "I need a little something".  Here is where it stands and it may just end up being one of those things that never ends.

The other painting I worked on last week is a completely different approach.  Big shapes, large areas of value, quickly painted.  I'm so happy with this start that I may just stop in order to have a continual piece on encouragement an possibility in the studio.