Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ocular Migraine

I was driving on the highway on my way to Boston when I noticed a small blurry spot in my field of vision.   The spot was slightly to the left and just below my eyes' focal point.   As I drove the spot grew into a portrait shaped rectangle with prism-like edges.    If I tried to look straight at it, the shape would just move and stay to the lower left of my visual center.  

Now I was getting nervous.  I couldn't really see with this kaleidoscope area blocking a portion of my vision.   I took the next exit and pulled into a gas station.   When I closed my eyes, I could still see the confetti colored pattern, but now it had sprouted an arc up and to the left of the original rectangle.   There were skinny black triangles and bright white triangles, but there were also slivers of color as well, red, green, blue.    I tried blocking one eye at a time and still the pattern was there, and blocking my vision.    With both eyes closed the background was black but the colorful prism pattern remained.

Fast forward six hours, I'll spare you the details on that!   Something called an ocular migraine was floated as the likely diagnosis.   It is known to present itself with exactly this visual phenomenon.    Just twenty minutes after it had started, the aura moved to the outer edges of my vision and eventually disappeared.   

Thee Phases of Ocular Migraine
The doctor, upon discovering that I was a painter, asked me if I could draw what I had experienced (obviously, no one is able to capture it with a camera).   I drew a (poor) rendition of it for him with a black pen.   He pulled out his iPhone and showed me another artist's rendering of the condition - almost identical!  It has an interesting abstract flare to it.

Here is a painting of the three phases of what I remember seeing in full color.  Perhaps this can serve as a reference for future victims of this scary phenomenon, which by the way, is not a serious health issue.   And, as for the word "migraine" in the title, the condition can occur without a big headache, which was the case with me.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Iron Maiden from Liberty Wharf - Boston

Iron Maiden from Liberty Wharf - Stage One

Once a person is hooked on plein air, working in the studio just seems to fall short.   Half the allure of plein air is being outside in the fresh air and feasting on the full sensory experience. The absolutely frigid temperatures over the past week had kept me indoors so when temperatures hit the forties on this day I packed up and headed outside!

Iron Maiden from Liberty Wharf - Stage Two
On Northern Ave in Boston, a parking spot was waiting just for me, and it was a freebie to boot - meter was broken.   So far, so good!  This spot was directly across from the Liberty Wharf and it faced the eastern side of Boston's historic fish pier.   Numerous fishing boats were docked along the lengthy pier and they were bathed in winter sunlight.   A blue lobster boat named Iron Maiden was the closest to where I was standing.   Other boats behind her were mostly obscured.    Up next to the building dozens of trucks were tucked in underneath the overhang, presumably getting loaded up with a winter catch. 

Was it warm enough?  Yes, at first.   After an hour and a half I was freezing because of the moist east wind and growing shadows.  In summer we call this a "sea breeze."  I used plenty of thick paint and loosened it up with my new "go-to" medium, Gamblin gel.   The conditions demanded that the paint be put on directly (as one thick layer as opposed to building up multiple coats, or glazing that is common in the studio).   If I'm only painting this boat once, I want it to count, thus it called for a really thick layer of opaque paint.  

Iron Maiden - Boston Fish Pier
Plein air paintings have a very different feel from a studio painting and one I happen to love.   Part of that is the thick paint, but mostly it seems more vibrant and spontaneous than a piece I may have labored over.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Historic Flour and Grain Exchange (aka. Downtown Rooftops)

The historic old building shown in the painting was Boston's Flour and Grain Exchange Building.   In today's modern skyline, it is dwarfed by towering skyscrapers, but not one can compare with the grace and grandeur of this rock-faced masonry building.   Originally a meeting hall for the Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Exchange was built on land donated by streetcar magnate Henry M. Whitney and completed in 1892. Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge designed the masonry and tiered arches which exemplify the Romanesque Revival style associated with H.H. Richardson. The sturdy walls and elaborate design reflected an expression of flourishing financial security appropriate to the city's commercial circles. The exterior was restored by Beal Companies in 1988.
Downtown Rooftops

The magnificent architecture grabbed my attention each time I looked out the window of the fifth floor of Boston's Downtown Hilton.  Since I had a perfect vantage point for a painting, here it is!

I was striving for architectural accuracy in the painting; no improvisation on my part would make this building more beautiful, but it was tedious to stay true.   In the distance were the Tobin Bridge, the North End, and Cambridge Street.   It was a cloudy day so there was less contrast than if it had been sunny with deep architectural shadows.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Winter Sunrise at the Dock

Winter Sunrise at the Dock - In Progress
It was a balmy 45 degrees on this early February morning.   I was taking every one of these warm winter days as a gift, and a day closer to spring!    The sunrise was the brightest part of the day and a thick blanket of clouds filled in as I painted.   Boats don't look half as large in the water as they do dry docked (literally and figuratively).   This large and imposing commercial lobster boat sat on its trailer in the boatyard, a green tarp tied across the top.    A dinghy full of moorings was wedged against the Harbormaster's office and a pile of lobster traps were stacked to the rear.   I was going after a dramatic composition and hoping that having a large mass to the right might be striking enough.

Winter Sunrise at the Dock
The peach glow of sunrise turned everything orange - orangey green tarp, orangey white boat, orangey gray pavement.   In contrast, the darkest shadows were as blue as could be.   Then just as quickly, the scene turned into a black and white photograph.    The objects didn't move and they were "painted from life" but I was improvising on color for the last 90 minutes of the paint out! 


Friday, February 5, 2016

Festive Quincy Market

Lobster Bake
A day trip or weekend in Boston wouldn't be complete without a stroll through Quincy Market.    It is colorful and festive in every season but especially when the weather is warm and sunny.   There is truly something for everyone, especially if you are hungry!

The Quincy Market could provide years of subject matter for a painter and I've taken photos of these displays with the intention of creating paintings from them.   I haven't yet painted en plein air for various reasons, not the least of which is accessibility (by car with gear).

Cherry Cordials
Usually, food is the focus.  :)  If we plan on eating at the market, we make one pass down the center aisle to remind ourselves of what sweet and savory goodies are available.   Chowder, oysters, Greek, Italian, Indian (and of course cases and cases of pastries and confections) are a few of the categories.

On this day we selected our culinary delights and carried them outside to search for a bench.   People watching here is legendary, colorful whirlwind of folks young and old.   A balloon artist sat in the middle of the action to the fascination of plenty little people who were mesmerized with his creations.


Festive Quincy Market