Bruce Marsh

Painting: Images and Thoughts.

Lumpy Sea

Lumpy Sea 65" X 60" Oil/Linen (in progress)



Just finishing this piece; towards the end of the process there is always the problem of letting go; calling it finished. The painting is such a pleasure at this point; the problems and drawing and decisions are behind me, and the elaboration of elements…. the  focusing and adjusting could go on endlessy. The tipping point, of course, is to find that place where a balance exists between the presence of the representation…the credibility of the light and the space and the surfaces…… and the emphatic presence of the patches of paint which constitute the actuality of the object; the painting.

In this piece, as well as the previous studio piece “Zion Wall”, I’ve preserved the grid  I use to draw the image from the photo source, and also augmented it with color, as a simple means of building a tension between the surface and the illusory space of the sea. The grid is hit and miss, and has been augmented with contrating color. It’s an extremely simple device, but for me makes a delightful and elusive interplay with the surface. It floats in and out of my attention, and seems to dance around a bit.

The paint handling has been emphatically influenced by my onsite work, where the need to work very quickly is very pressing. There’s a real progression from “Zion Wall”, done in early March , to this one in terms of the energy and scale of the marks.

When I began this I intended to also be continung on an ongoing sequence of  onsite pieces, done from the local fields. But for years I’ve had the habit of one piece at a time…I need to focus on a single piece and bring it to conclusion before beginning the next. I look forward now to continuing the onsite Ruskin landscapes; it’s always refreshing to switch the scale and the process. Years ago, from the 70’s to the 90’s, I alternated between easel pieces in the studio and watercolors; they were so contrary in process and handling. The studio oils always begin with a 3″ brush and quick washes, as the means of getting the whole image established as quickly as possible…and then I’d spend weeks  cranking the whole thing into focus, going to smaller and smaller brushes….working ‘inductively’…from the whole to the parts. In the watercolors I’d begin with a twig or a stone or a leaf, and slowly build the piece from a myriad of tiny parts….’deductively’…from the part to the whole. Here’s an image of a watercolor from 20 years ago….all the light parts made by painting the negative spaces…the darker surrounding stuff. The practice of painting negative spaces has been hugely important to my painting in general; if forces me to look at the shapes, and by painting the shapes around a leaf I always make a far more interesting leaf than if I paint it directly. I’ve found that this process has transferred wholly to my painting with oil; if I’m painting a dark I’m tracking the surrounding light shapes, and if I’m painting a lighter area, I’m tracking th dark shape. This may seem obvious and elementary, but I know it is hugely important to the nature of the images I make. I need the darks and lights to fit like a jigsaw puzzle…the image never resolves into dark things on a light field or vice versa….I hope.


"Live Oak" Watercolor, 1986, 20" X 31" painted onsite.

This post became longer than expected…and is mostly shop talk. In future posts I hope to address some questions about my motives and objectives in making the painting. What the hell is the point of these things? I do think that writing about the work and the ideas may be very useful for the progress of my work. I always have been able to hold the blindly optimistic view thet my best stuff lies ahead.

I welcome any and all comments or questions.

8 Responses to “Lumpy Sea…”

  1. Robin Miller

    I absolutely love The Lumpy sea and that – even though you do highly representational work – you insist on an inter- play between representation and the conscious awareness of a painted surface… I always hated using a grid. I’m way too impatient for that. Use a projector, get the gross structure then just eyeball it. I can’t do with a projector what Jeff does (how can he SEE to paint with that light on?) However your use of the grid, your explaination of it, is kind of funny to me. There’s a real painter’s painter kind of thing going on with that! LOL.

  2. Linda Blondheim

    Love the shop talk Bruce. Keep it coming. I have spent a couple of years working on the concept of Notan in my paintings. I can relate to your words of wisdom about darks and lights in your work.

  3. Birgit

    Bruce, This is wonderful:
    ‘The practice of painting negative spaces has been hugely important to my painting in general’

  4. Birgit


    Did you do any underpainting in your ‘Lumpy Sea’ picture? If yes, did you start with a light or a dark color?

    • Bruce Marsh

      I begin on white..primed…canvas, and start with a big (2″ or so) brush laying in thin washes….lots of turpentine, to get a very rough version of the image. As I do this I’m trying to see and save the major light areas. The I proceed to smaller brushes, still working with dark paint. I try to hold back from using white, or opague light paint, until the image is fairly well established. Then…laying the lights in is like frosting a cake… And then I move back and forth from light paint to dark paint, focusing and trying to balance the image…I’m seeking an overall sense of energy and continuity…as if this is a small patch of a large expanse…And I sometimes need to force myself to quit…I could go on and on…and the image could become tight and obsessive…

      Thanks for your interest! I’d seen your “Yellow Canoe” piece and thought a bit of the painter Peter Doig…perhaps you know his work?

  5. Birgit

    Thanks, Bruce,

    That is the sense I got from looking at the close-up of your painting: “And then I move back and forth from light paint to dark paint”,

    I am training myself to paint water, starting the past fall, as much as my day job allows. Karl Zipser (my son)’s comment on my first attempt suggested the analogy: instead of writing letters, I am coloring in around the letters.

    Thanks for telling me about Peter Doig. His ‘White Canoe’ is stunning.


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