American Tonalist Society Show in New York City

American Tonalist Society Show in New York City

American Tonalist Society Founders pictured form left- Daniel Ambrose, Eleinne Basa, Mary Erickson, Don Demers

American Tonalist Society Founders pictured left- Daniel Ambrose, Eleinne Basa, Mary Erickson, Don Demers

In the summer of 2016, three dear friends, Mary, Don, Eleinne and I sat around the dining room table of Nanatuck in Port Clyde, Maine discussing the contemporary plein air movement. Our talk turned towards previous schools of art that derived their inspiration from nature, and soon settled on the American Tonalist painters of the late 19th and early 20th century.

We decided to form a group dedicated to celebrating the aesthetic and contemplative ideals of the Tonalist painters. And on that summer afternoon in Maine, was born the American Tonalist Society.

On May 3, 2019 we had our inaugural exhibition, Shades of Gray, at the historic Salmagundi Club in New York City. Thirty premier artists from across America participated with 60 paintings in the show. It was a tremendous success!

Noted art historian and author of A History of American Tonalism, David Adams Cleveland presented an inspiring talk to a full house and honored us on social media with these inspiring words:

Well done for all your hard work and vision–and talent to burn. I’m so proud and happy to see a great tradition of American art reborn and refreshed in your able hands. Now it’s time for the world to know… David Adams Cleveland

David Cleveland talk at Shades of Gray, Salmagundi Club, NYC

We are producing a commemorative catalog including 10 Founders Limited Editions that feature an original drawing from each of the four founders. Only 4 are still available. Click here for details.

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Evening Magic

Evening Magic

A haunting blue evokes my muse… an elusive blue that moans in memories halls, summoning images from the liminal regions of my imagination, sparkling like fireflies over a southern marsh.

To begin an egg tempera painting like Evening Magic, I need to tap into something greater than me. Taller than the trees, higher than the walls, stronger than words contrived to constrain my boundless spirit.

I roam aquamarine and rocky shores, unrolling the films stored in my visual memory bank. I snip a scene here, a moment there — color and light everywhere.

In the studio by candlelight I slip on my Bose, maybe play Anna Calvi and let her voice sweep me away on Hunter. One more taste. One more time… I open the door wide.

Liquid blue surrounds my muse in an island sea, and frames her body in mountain mist. She smiles in sunshine, and when daylight fades she slips into sheer cotton, burns candles at her feet and sways in twilight music.

“I just want to be alone.” She confesses. “I’ve had a good life.”

One should not tell another how to be.

Blue rides a dark horse on a jungle trail, it bathes in a valley stream, and curls in cashmere beside a crackling wood fire. Blue swirls and hangs in memory like smoke caught in frozen winter air.

It’s a summer evening in another life on the lawn of a dead man’s mansion. An old blues man plays on the stage under a white tent. A full moon rises above BB King’s head, the music is hot, dew paints droplets of silver in the grass. Afterwards we walk through a forest of flowers, golden lanterns like fireflies guide our way.

Have I forgotten all I know about painting? Forgotten what love is? Why do rocks and trees no longer hold their allure? Or maybe I seek truth in secret places. It’s the root and marrow, not the fleeting flower or smile that bears the substance of life.

I walk in sunshine and starlight and hear the humming of a deeper music. No thing is titled by an adjective or noun. Unnamed colors marry a tribe of emotions. I see beyond coasts and clouds, forms resound from a distant consciousness, coming like the sound of a faraway night train. I’ve got my ear to the ground, trying to decipher an ancient code.

No one can tell another how to sing a tune only they can hear. Let your soul be the conductor of the beautiful chorus of your life.

Anna, you sing nothing lasts. Anna tell me, how do you paint the memory of blue?

Memories meld into dreams, swirl like carnival cotton candy on a vendors machine. Lights rise from the mystery of my conscious. There was dancing and laughter and sparklers in the night.

And all these things made Evening Magic.

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Live by the Sea, Love by the Moon

Live by the Sea, Love by the Moon

Live by the Sea, Love by the Moon, oil painting of moonlight over ocean by Daniel Ambrose

Live by the Sea, Love by the Moon

Ideas for paintings come as an image or word. Fourteen years ago, I walked the beach in the moonlight when these words suddenly came into my head, live by the sea, love by the moon.

Maybe once I heard them spoken or read them somewhere. I don’t know. But knew instantly I wanted to do a painting. A great one. I sketched out ideas, quite literal ones; a house overlooking the ocean with moonlight coming through the windows, a couple by the shore… each one drawn and discarded.

The years passed with their inevitable sorrows and joys, and I would return to it with a new depth of experiences as my work continued to evolve. Always reaching deeper, seeking to go beyond the apparent reality of things and embrace their essence. What is Art for if not to probe the mystery of our souls? The divine spark that makes each of us unique beings.

In morning and moonlight I return to the beach. My feet walk the waters edge, my mind sails with poets and prophets; Rumi, Rilke, Oliver, Neruda and Gibran. I am with you, my friends. In the world but not of the world. My humble desire to leave behind for future humans how it felt to be alive during our era.

I dive below the material distractions, tunnel under concrete, computers and celebrity culture and dine with sages of ancient civilizations. I feast on saltwater, sailing clouds and windswept dunes. Perched on granite bedrock gazing upon the vast Atlantic opens my mind to previous unfathomable depths. I am this and this is me. Though we each are changing, you are the eternal one.

We humans are like pebbles rolling around on the shore. Fates waves toss us into each other in the ocean of our lives. Sometimes we part without a mark or only minor scars upon our surface. And if we are fortunate, we are cracked open to our core, carved with new insights and understandings. Perhaps compassion blooms.

Yes, like you, I’ve been cracked open a time or two. As a result my work has climbed to a new level. Or perhaps its slipped into an abyss of understanding. A new-found purity of inspiration and clarity of vision. Now paintings emerge unbidden from a lifetime of associations, experience, imagination and memory.

Inspired with new knowledge I set a large canvas on the easel. A great white space of possibility and uncertainty. Some nights with the lights down low, I sat in my chair and with headphones on study the looming surface in half light. I let the music take me to a place of memory and magic. I see the ocean, clouds swirling and rising and every moon I had ever seen illuminating the water.

Picking up a brush I swirl it in ultramarine blue. The word ultramarine comes from the Latin ultramarinus “from beyond the sea.”  I let my mind travel there, and I immerse in the saline waters I’ve known all my life.

I finished the painting in time for my solo show at Hughes gallery in January. It is a very large painting and needs the right space, the right person as all paintings do. But they will come together as all things meant for each other do.

Gallery owner Barbara Hughes wrote these lovely words.

Singularly, the most strikingly beautiful and impactful painting we’ve ever exhibited at Hughes Gallery.- Barbara Hughes

Live by the Sea, Love by the Moon.

It all comes down to living and loving.

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One for Sorrow, Eight for a Wish

One for Sorrow, Eight for a Wish

One for Sorrow, egg tempera paintings of great egret by Daniel Ambrose

One for Sorrow, egg tempera

One for Sorrow continues the series of ten egg tempera paintings I began several years ago after the death of my Grandma Dewey.

Inspired by an old English nursery rhyme, I painted them not in numerical but inspirational sequence. Each one coming when a sudden image appeared in my mind for a certain number.

Five for Silver was one of the first paintings. I shared it in the post, things we leave behind.

I don’t know why I chose birds. Perhaps because they fascinate me, such ethereal creatures. Maybe through them I am trying to convey my grandma’s lively spirit.

Who knows!? I over think everything except the source of inspiration. I don’t wanna kill that buzz.

For my solo show now on exhibit at Hughes Gallery in Boca Grande, Florida, I’ve completed One for Sorrow and Eight for a Wish.

A large egg tempera at 24 x 36 inches, Eight for a Wish sings in myriad luminous hues. As light moves through a room, a fascinating movement occurs in the painting as its colors change and float like in a slow sensual dance. Created from memory and imagination, Eight for a Wish is a liberating leap forward in my lifelong quest for authentic artistic expression.

Eight for a Wish, egg tempera painting of 8 birds in moonlight by Daniel Ambrose

Eight for a Wish, egg tempera. 24 x 36 in.

I struggled with the idea for One for Sorrow. My original thoughts were of a dark and downcast bird. Somehow that did not feel right. I did not want the painting to be singularly about sorrow.

Then the Parkland shootings happened here in my native Florida. When those kids, that girl, stood resolute on the podium speaking out of anguish, I heard in their collective voices hope. Hope out of sorrow. Hope for change.

In yoga, we do a pose where we stand tall, sweep our arms over our head and clasp our hands behind us and lean way back. The teacher says open your chest, open your heart, let your heart shine. Out of utter darkness, those Parkland children were courageously shining their hearts to the world.

My painting One for Sorrow is a poor tribute to the indomitable spirit of those children. And maybe it’s not even about any of that at all. Maybe I am only addressing inspiration. How we all can be inspired to create a more beautiful world. We can all let our hearts shine.

Inspiration like hope arises out of love or sorrow.

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Nine for a Kiss

Nine for a Kiss

Egg tempera painting of nine birds

Nine For a Kiss, painting by Daniel Ambrose

Sunday morning sun is rejuvenating after the cold rains. Palm leaves rustle overhead and the sea breeze brings a scent of flowers—brings luminous memories of faraway faces and places.

I open the house to the balmy air—to purify—dispel the sleepless ghosts of predawn dreams.

The salty breeze that licks my soul brings the ocean. The ocean carries the rivers and rains that replenish her. Waters remember the clouds that fill them. One thing becomes another.

The ashes of my sweet cat Puppy rest in a white box. In time I’ll know how to consecrate them to honor his life for the abiding comfort he gave me daily.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches there is no birth, no death, only a continuation. Matter becomes another form, we do not disappear. I find comfort in a celestial continuum.

The birds moving about shallow waters in my painting, Nine for a Kiss, are long gone. Their bones nourish the earth. The beauty of their memory continues as Art.

“Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather.” – John O’Donohue 

I bask in the warmth beside tropical green life planted in hope several Springs ago and gaze upon the sky’s reflection in my coffee.  Clouds tremor in the tannin depths and I sink into their spell. Circling. Each day renews the circle of hope.

Hope is a threshold, a continuation.

Somewhere on a distant shore she is longing too, or maybe she is reading by a winter fire. Are you rocking on your porch cradling a cup of coffee or tea in early sunshine? Do you hear the primal song of life’s wonder?

Yesterday, there was always talk of Someday. There is no someday, only today. Gratitude, peace and joy are in this moment, not someday. Only Love now.

Still, in the long gaze across time, I once strove to build a house of love upon a summit of dreams. Yearning’s embers never die. Dreamers are destined to wander eternal the valley’s of beautiful longing.

In the dawning of each moment a new hope is born.

A flower of peace unfolds.

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Puppy, My Sweet Cat

Puppy, My Sweet Cat


Puppy came as the best things do, by fortune or divine guidance. His rescuer was her then husband. Her father went to the Humane Society with him and described seeing the cat for the first time. He had just arrived. His hair matted and caked with mud. Full grown but young, maybe a year or two old.

His new owner took him to live in their home by the sea. In 2004, while they were out of town a hurricane struck the east coast. The roof blew off the house and when they returned Puppy was under the rubble scared and wet.

They divorced and in 2006 Puppy entered my life. He came with a kitty name but he behaved like a dog. So we called him Puppy for fun. Soon he ran to us whenever we hollered Puppy. I taught him to sit, lay down, rollover and come when I whistled.

Our first Easter I bought her white lilies not knowing they were toxic to cats. I’ve had cats all my life and none of them ever ate the house foliage. Puppy loved to eat plants and plastic. He almost died and spent 2 weeks in intensive care at the cat hospital.

When we lived in the mountains of North Carolina, I brought in some fall leaves to study their color and placed them on the hardwood floor. A streak of fur shot out from underneath the couch and rocketed across the room. In an instant Puppy swallowed the leaves.

She had Randy the groomer trim his hair in a lion cut. I thought he looked silly. His body shaved except for the tip of tail, a mane wrapped his head and his feet resembled boots. But he liked it and strutted through the house with his tail held high like a royal scepter.

My daughter and I tried to give him a haircut once. I was barefoot, and he dug his back claws deep into my foot. A few days afterward my toes turned bright red then purple. About a week later my foot swelled, and the redness had run up my shin. I went to the emergency clinic and the P.A. said it could be MRSA and told horrifying stories about people having toes and fingers amputated. She sent me to a podiatrist who cured me with massive doses of antibiotics. Dang cat! I continued taking him to Randy the groomer for his lion cut.

In springtime he loved to sit at the screen door and watch lizards and birds. In winter when sunlight fell on the floor or furniture he would find it and stretch out in its warmth.

After breakfast each morning he would dash about the house sliding on the floors. At times he was annoying. When you were most focused on something, he would climb around you crying for attention.

Every time the front door opened he tried to escape. He was quick. When we lived in a condo, he got out several times and scampered along the walkway to the stairs then stop and sit not knowing which way to go. We’d call him and he’d slink back inside.

During a drizzly November after we moved to the current studio, he slipped out and was lost for more than a week. I made signs and posted them everywhere, offering a reward. The city was laying utility pipes and stored them in a vacant lot near the house. One night in desperation we searched around them and found him huddled deep inside a pipe.

When she left in 2014, she said she’d find a home for him. I said no, I will take care of him.

He was always by my easel or following me into a room. When I came home, he trotted out to see me. In the evenings, upstairs, we would relax in my chair before bed. In the morning when he heard me stirring he would bound up the stairs and greet me with a little meow as he padded into my bedroom.

In 2016 a hurricane hit and we had to evacuate. He and I camped out in the bedroom of friends home. When I went to Maine the following year, I hired a pet sitter to take care of him. Another hurricane hit and she and her family had to evacuate and could not take Puppy. I worried until my good friend Wally picked him up and took him to his house until I returned.

So I started taking him on trips.

Puppy traveling to Maine, August 2018

And when I traveled to Maine this past August; he came with. He was the best traveling companion. Sleeping or laying in my lap for hours in the car. At night in a hotel or wherever we stayed it was a great comfort to have him in the room with me. He was my little buddy. He made friends with everyone he met.

As he aged he had trouble leaping up on the couch or chair and would sometimes fall back. Two years ago he started having seizures. My veterinarian put him on phenobarbital. He stopped having seizures, but he slept more. This year I noticed changes in his behavior and he lost weight. He acted confused and some days he did not greet me when I came through the door. Some nights he didn’t come upstairs and I didn’t hear his little feet thumping up the wood stairs when I woke.

The week of Thanksgiving he stopped eating and slept all the time in his little basket house. I took him to the vet.

I don’t know his birth date. But I will always remember my face pressed against his the moment his heart stopped beating at 3:08 p.m. November 26, 2018.

With tears streaming down my cheeks I looked up at the window high in the vet’s wall and saw an oppressive gray clouded sky. Twelve years he had been with me. Memories flickered across my mind. All the places, his antics, his presence. His tie with the past.

He was my sweet boy. It’s only now Puppy is gone do I realize the bond we shared, and I believe in his feline way he loved me.

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