Crossnore Weaver: First Study

Crossnore Weaver: First Study

Crossnore weaver, watercolor study by Daniel Ambrose

Crossnore weaver, watercolor study by Daniel Ambrose

This small watercolor painting is the first study for Crossnore Weaver. Its the initial appearance of an idea I’ve been processing ever since I learned of the Crossnore weavers a few years ago.

Yeah. . . I’m slow.

Housed in the Crossnore Art Gallery is the weaving room, which the founder of Crossnore, Mary Martin Sloop created to preserve the ancient craft and provide an income for mountain families.

Watching the rhythm of the weavers working the shuttle over and under the threads on an intricately woven work is mesmerizing. I had to learn more.  The math required to design a textile is fascinating and intensified my admiration of the weavers skill.

Out came the sketchbook and I started making drawings. As I drew and talked with the weavers, I learned Mrs. Martin documented her experiences creating Crosnnore campus in a book, Miracle in the Hills. I highly recommend it as an inspiring story of what love coupled with determination can accomplish. (more…)

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Reflections on Plein Air Seascape Painting

Reflections on Plein Air Seascape Painting


Suntan oil and salt spray drift beneath the falsetto pleas of gulls as I finish a small plein air seascape painting of the morning. An exercise that began with a sense of vagueness, and ended with a feeling of accomplishment.

I have not wasted the morning, nor let the light pass unnoticed.

Capturing the quickly changing colors of a seascape sunrise is a challenging occupation.  After laying in the major lines; horizon, darker waves, cloud suggestions, I lightly touched the canvas with patches of color. Reminder notes.

With this painting, in the beginning, I leave it open for expectant beauty. The light is orange at first, too intense, and so I wait. You can see bits of it remaining below the cloud at the horizon. It is not the quality of light I seek. (more…)

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Can You Paint Egg Tempera Plein Air?

Can You Paint Egg Tempera Plein Air?

Egg tempera plein air painting

Egg tempera plein air painting 1997

Two questions I am often asked about painting in egg tempera are:

1. Can you paint egg tempera plein air?

2. How long does it take me to make a painting?

The painting on the french easel in the photo is an egg tempera I began about sixteen years ago. Its still in progress.

Yes, you can paint egg tempera plein air, however, its pointless. Which is why its probably taken me sixteen years to paint the darn thing.

Question one came up today as I was being interviewed by Eric Dusenbery of Cinderic Documentaries for an upcoming exhibit commemorating Florida’s 500 anniversary.  Actually, I think I imagined the question while he was asking me a totally unrelated one, which remind me of this painting. . . Go figure.

As I mentioned earlier, after moving into the studio and unpacking, I rediscovered this painting. Its much further along now and I’ll post a photo and talk more about the inspiration behind it in another post.

Its been in my studio for a few months now and its like getting reacquainted with an old friend. I was talking with another artist friend about it the other day and she asked me if I would change anything on it after sixteen years.

Either I’m going backwards in my work or I just managed to pull off a good one the first time, but I told her no. Maybe, add an element to adjust the weight, the visual balance, but other than that, I’m good with it.

In fact, my initial excitement reignited and I’m fired up to get working on it again. The idea, the reason for beginning it in the first place is still there. Like an unconquerable love, it remains with you.


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New Egg Tempera Painting: Rum Tum Tugger

New Egg Tempera Painting: Rum Tum Tugger

“He’s always on the wrong side of every door”

Rum Tum Tugger, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Rum Tum Tugger, egg tempera with oil glazes

Ideas for paintings come from many sources.

This is one of my new egg tempera paintings currently available at Hughes Gallery in Boca Grande.  To see a larger image  click here.

Initially , I was attracted to the shadow pattern and the color of the wooden door. The cat was sleeping. When I began sketching, he woke up and glowered at me, than turned his head as if to pretend I wasn’t there.

It was a scene I wanted to do in tempera as soon as I saw it. Because it provided the opportunity to play with colors typically not found in nature and to explore a technique combining egg tempera with oil glazes. A method used in the 15th century in Europe as painters made the gradual transition from egg tempera to oil paint. Each have their merits. Oil paint was the exciting new thing then and could be manipulated in ways not possible with tempera, and it opened the way for new artistic expressions in paint.

As the centuries passed, egg tempera fell into disuse by succeeding painters when, in Britain, in the 1800’s, Latin texts from the Renaissance era were discovered and a revival began. It crossed over to America in the 20th century with painters like Andrew Wyeth, George Tooker and Robert Vickery rediscovering its unique qualities. With the viral dissemination of knowledge via the internet, it is coming into practice today.

I have been painting in egg tempera for over twenty years and still make new discoveries. It is a fascinating and frustrating medium to work in. Its fast and its slow and can be sublimely beautiful.

Recently, I’ve been researching some of the earlier techniques and dialoguing with conservators and art restorers from museums about incorporating oil with the egg. In all of my work, I am concerned with the durability and longevity of my paints and processes. I want to ensure that they stand the test of time.

So this modest cat painting is the first evidence of my research and thinking.  I’m excited to begin other paintings using this technique. While working on it, A line from T.S. Elliot about cats came to mind that seemed to fit this guy’s attitude.

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:

If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore:
When you let him in, then he wants to be out;
He’s always on the wrong side of every door,
And as soon as he’s at home, then he’d like to get about.
He likes to lie in the bureau drawer,
But he makes such a fuss if he can’t get out.

Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any use for you to doubt it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious beast:
His disobliging ways are a matter of habit.
If you offer him fish then he always wants a feast;
When there isn’t any fish then he won’t eat rabbit.
If you offer him cream then he sniffs and sneers,
For he only likes what he finds for himself;

So you’ll catch him in it right up to the ears,
If you put it away on the larder shelf.
The Rum Tum Tugger is artful and knowing,
The Rum Tum Tugger doesn’t care for a cuddle;
But he’ll leap on your lap in the middle of your sewing,
For there’s nothing he enjoys like a horrible muddle.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any need for me to spout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

T. S. Elliot

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My Whereabouts

My Whereabouts

Sunrise, plein air painting

Sunrise, plein air oil painting

So much for keeping to a regular posting schedule.

I’m lashed to the easel painting for another show at Hughes Gallery next month. They asked me not to post the paintings here on my site until then.  So instead, here is a sweet little plein air painting from the beach a few years back.

Currently, I’m torturing myself with egg tempera. My process  seems to be, invest 2-3 weeks painting and then spend 20 minutes scraping most of it off. You’d think after twenty-five years that I would have it down. But that’s what I love about painting — everyday is a new day — discoveries await. Especially with egg tempera. Eggs are different, the pigments never behave the same, cat hair flying around . . .

One of the beautiful, albeit frustrating qualities of tempera, is its inherent translucent properties. The pristine white gesso ground shines through in the first layering of pigments and subsequent searching layers of color can destroy or enhance its luminous nature. I’m always after the beyond; taking it beyond mere representation, that elusive state when a painting becomes magic. Not that hoodoo kind, but the spellbinding effect some paintings mysteriously possess.

I have to psyche myself up to get into the tempera’s and its hard to turn it off once I get started. Everything else goes,  coffee with friends, shaggy cat’s haircut, groceries.

Instead of taking you with me  on the roller-coaster ride of emotions, every time I sat down to write, you may have noticed, I ended up tweaking my website instead. Its like a painting in process, keep moving things around, subtracting and simplifying. I did manage to update my events page.

I’m thinking I will start featuring artists that I admire; historical and contemporary, and talk a little about their work. At least give you something interesting to read when I am mired in my own work. There are fascinating stories behind many paintings.

Ok, where is the rope, back to the easel.

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New Painting: Sittin’ in the Sun

New Painting: Sittin’ in the Sun

Sittin' in the Sun, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Sittin’ in the Sun, egg tempera by Daniel Ambrose

Thirty years ago I wouldn’t have considered painting this subject. A bird yes, certainly not a bronze bird surrounded by bougainvillea.

Back then I was interested in real birds, fascinated by how they moved, how their wings unfolded during that precise instant when their feet left the ground and they became creatures of air instead of the earth.

In order to paint them well I had to understand them, had to get my hands on them.

So I studied anatomy with veterinarians, worked with wildlife rescue groups, joined the Audubon Society and became friends with the late Dr. Herbert Kale, an ornithologist who graciously shared his knowledge and gave me access to his collection.

I learned a lot about birds.

And I wanted to paint birds naturally, in their environment. So I had to learn their habitats, breeding plumage and migration patterns at different times of the year. I wanted my paintings to have verisimilitude; the ring of truth, and imbued with an ineffable emotion.

The learning process of incorporating birds into backgrounds facilitated the progression of my art on a parallel path of study in painting. Drawing and painting birds and landscapes from life, I learned about perspective and scale, light and shadow, color and edges.

I chewed on emotion and truth in art.

My paintings became less about birds, less about subject and more about light. The birds got smaller, began flying and eventually left my paintings as I began to explore the idea of light. Natural light in the landscape.

I became fascinated with the idea of light; its physical properties and spiritual connotations, intrigued by its behavior in nature and in paint.

I applied the study of light to the natural landscapes I loved.  Landscapes now obliterated by the growth of civilization.

My mildly obsessive nature kept leading me back to those vanished landscapes. In my mind’s eye were the orange groves, fish camps, horse pastures, and friendly screen doors of my youth. Ruminating in my studio, I’d set out again back to old familiar haunts. What is this! New roads, a big box store where a crystal lake and moss draped cypress trees once lived. The birds and other animals all left in a rush without leaving a forwarding address. Well, its all right, I really need a cheap shirt from China instead. Surely, I’m much better off now.

Surely back then, I would only paint a bird of blood and bone, never bronze.

Back then, when Americans made bronze.

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