Afternoon Kitchen, Litchfield, CT

How do I decide what to paint? At presentations I've been asked that question more than any other, and I always brush it off. Usually there is no strictly compelling reason to choose this over that; for every painting I do on tour, there are hundreds, thousands of scenes or subjects I would like just as much to have painted. One of the hardest things about painting, for me, is making the arbitrary choice, committing time to one subject when it means not spending time looking at other things.

This is not true for all artists or all landscape painters; some have reasons, criteria they deliberately follow, or a limited range of subjects or compositions they've decided to focus on. Some, perhaps more eager to get to work, have a greater readiness to decide. Ultimately it is the deciding, the willingness to engage and work with the subject, more than what is chosen, that matters.

I certainly impose conscious and unconscious limits on myself when choosing. Going through my head, while I look round, are compositional formulas, examples, a sense of what people will respond to, a sense of what I have the skill or experience to "capture" well enough. I sometimes dismiss the most singular, arresting, personally appealing things -- the details in a patch of lawn, shadows cast by branches on a wall, the way light reflects off water, a face, etc. -- because I don't have enough trust either in the anticipated viewer or in my painterly abilities.

On the other hand, while I sometimes choose a motif or composition I've painted before that worked -- tree against the sky, etc. -- often, on tour, I try for variety. Sometimes, on tour, I build enough momentum, or enough comfort with non-thinking reflexivity, to take on whatever catches my eye.

This kitchen scene (more accurately the eating nook off the kitchen) was one scene that simply caught my interest and had to be painted. The appeal wasn't strictly aesthetic. There's some sentimentality at work, a fleeting glimpse of the sort of beautiful, casual domesticity not everyone finds in the world. Plus I hadn't painted many interiors on tour. Mostly it was the serene play of light.

Unfortunately, none of these reasons made my standing in the main doorway to the house -- which is where I had to be to get the right angle -- any more convenient for my uncle, who audibly grumbled every time he went by: off shopping, carrying in several loads of groceries, and so on.

In the end, though, my aunt chose this as their host painting. It also went on to become, in reproduction, my most popular print. Several years later, a traffic court in Missoula, Montana chose a print of Afternoon Kitchen as payment for a speeding fine. A unique distinction for a work of art, as far as I know! But that's another story (see the 2007 Tour portfolio).