Abigail Ryan, Abbey Ryan, Painting, Drawing, Ink, Works on paper, MFA, Hunter college, New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA Fine Art
< back to blog

Becoming a Daily Painter

As many readers are aware, I have frequently been away from my studio over the last few weeks, tending to our Springer Spaniel, Cale, on her journey fighting cancer. This new routine has resulted in opportunities for lots of reading and time to think about all the questions and emails I receive and that I don’t necessarily respond to directly on my blog. When I started this blog almost two years ago, I decided I should focus on painting. While, of course, I wanted to try to respond to every email inquiry about my materials and process, I wanted to spend my time painting and not writing lengthy blog posts. On my blog, I wanted the paintings to exist on their own, just as they do when they hang on a gallery wall. Also, blogging was new to me and I was unsure how much of myself I felt comfortable putting forward. Since that time, I have grown and have discovered that (when I have time) I like reading other artists’ writings about the work that they’ve just posted, their work in general, their studio habits/challenges, influences on their work, etc. Sharing these things is one of the most amazing aspects of artist blogging – enabling and fostering connections between communities of artists. These communities are “virtual” in that they exist in the World Wide Web, but they are also real because they involve actual people. In becoming a part of the daily painting world, I have learned that its supportive community might be the most important thing for an artist to have. It is in this spirit that I’ve decided to post some of my writings. My first post focuses on my journey toward becoming a daily painter, including the role writing has played for me.

I can safely say that my journey toward becoming a painter starts with my mom. To this day, she continues to have a primary influence on my art. She herself is an incredible artist. She has lived her life painting (and teaching), and she has the best “eye” of anyone I know. She inspires me. To her, I owe so much of what makes me who I am as an artist.

You wouldn’t guess it from my blog, but writing is an integral part of my artistic life. In this arena, my dad and my older sister have been my primary influences. They both have always encouraged me to write and have provided me with guidance to develop my writing. I regularly submit essays, commentaries, articles, and curatorial proposals, etc. to a variety of publications. I also often write and revise statements about my ink paintings (these are the ink on paper works that I show in galleries and exhibitions – see abbeyryan.com). Most recently, I’ve been working on a commentary about the critical methodology of daily painting.

Many daily painters often write about what inspired them to start their own Painting a Day blog (or some variation on that idea). I’ve never posted about this, so I thought I would share a bit about my influences and experiences.

The most influential experiences I have had with regard to the tone and gesture of my work occurred in my life prior to my daily painting project. As a daily painter/blogger, though, (and all that comes with that experience) I have been inspired by Duane Keiser. I don’t think anyone would argue that Mr. Keiser is the father of the PAD movement. Perhaps readers can add comments about other painters who should also be given attribution for their contributions. In my experience, any conversation or article about PAD usually includes Mr. Keiser and he is often aptly used as a comparative reference point in the PAD community. While my earlier experiences are those that resonate most directly in my work itself, my daily painting project has been influenced by the groundwork Mr. Keiser has laid for all daily painters; we are truly indebted to him. Mr. Keiser, among other things, inspires a re-evaluation of common visual experiences – to see possibilities and potential in all things. Together, my earlier influences (more on those in a minute) and those I have experienced in the last few years have provided me with a deep well from which to draw and engage with painting in a deeply personal way.

My first introduction to a PAD blog came from a link my mom sent me. It was a link to Justin Clayton’s blog. At the time, I had just completed my MFA at Hunter College in NYC and felt like I had a fairly good grasp on the art world (or at least the New York art world of 2007), and I had never even heard of PAD blogging. By that time, I think Mr. Clayton had been keeping up his daily painting work for quite some time. I was inspired! I soon saw that many other artists were doing the same thing. I was even more inspired! At the time, I was already painting every day and working at the computer doing freelance design, so I didn’t really pore over the decision to start my own daily painting blog. I think I started it maybe the next day. It was all very new and exciting.

Shortly thereafter, I came across Mr. Keiser’s blog. Although he was no longer posting a painting a day at that time, I was inspired and influenced by his innovation, his prolificacy, and his choice of subject matter. In his choices, I felt a kinship. Some of Mr. Keiser’s work brought me back to the time five years earlier when I studied with David A. Leffel at the Art Students League of New York.

The time I spent studying with David Leffel (and, later, Charles Sovek) deeply impacted (and forever changed) the course of my painting life. It’s one thing to look at paintings in books or in museums, but it’s another thing to talk with a living Master, to have him/her look at your painting and respond to it, and to just simply watch him/her paint. Thanks to the generosity of my patrons, the first time I had watched anyone paint (other than my mom) was when I watched Mr. Leffel paint in 2002. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride. It sounds cliché, but seriously – I felt like I was physically moving through space, almost like I was flying. I was and continue to be inspired by Mr. Leffel’s demeanor, the cadence of his speech, the way he holds his brush, the slowness of his process, the Renaissance light, the significance of using natural objects, and the idea that the first brushstroke on a canvas is just as “finished” as the last. I became dedicated to painting with Maroger medium (which I now only use sparingly because of the fumes).

During my studies with Mr. Leffel, we painted simple objects and ordinary set ups – a single vegetable, a ceramic cup with a piece of fruit, a bowl – as well as live models. I learned that I love to paint patterning. I learned that I loved to set up a still life at eye level with an inspiring bit of light cascading unevenly across the set up. That summer, I took the subway up to the Art Students League on 57th Street everyday. I fell in love with the act of painting every day. I ate my hard-boiled egg lunch, sitting on the sidewalk out in front of the League. One of my favorite things was how, since we used only natural light, by the end of the painting day we’d almost be painting in the dark. The experience had such an impact on me that everything Mr. Leffel offered to me by way of word and experience is forever imprinted in my method and expression.

The following year, I enrolled in a workshop with Charles Sovek because I was planning to visit a close friend in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Mr. Sovek’s way was an entirely new species of painting to me. I was and continue to be inspired by Mr. Sovek’s painterly approach, his heightened awareness of and emphasis on color, his choice of everyday and popular/Pop subject matter, the alla prima en Plein air methodology, his choice of brushes, the sense of abstraction being present in all painting, and the freshness of his completed paintings. It was such a gift to study with Mr. Sovek; his passing was a true loss for so many painters who have been inspired by him. For me, Mr. Sovek was the perfect innovative yin to the yang of Mr. Leffel’s tradition. What stays with me from my time with him is the notion that I might really be able to live my life as a painter. Mr. Sovek did this for me.

Last but not least, I am indebted to Betsey Batchelor for my introduction to oil painting during my undergraduate studies. I’ve mentioned her once or twice before on this blog, and I vividly recall making my first oil painting in her Painting class. I was and continue to be inspired by Ms. Batchelor’s humor, sensibility of color, the value and awareness of space, the importance of atmosphere, the importance of keeping a paintbrush’s ferrule clean, as well as a greater understanding that painting is always reflective. I distinctly remember many things she said to me during my studies. She thankfully also instilled in me a permanent love for Morandi, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Thomas Eakins, and Velasquez.

I will never forget January of 2002 when Ms. Batchelor took me to the Philadelphia Art Museum and I saw a Thomas Eakins rowers painting in person for the first time. Eakins’s juxtaposition of blue and orange/brown brushstrokes to create the shimmering color and light that is unique to Philadelphia and the Schuylkill River permanently changed the way I look at water. Since that moment, I wanted to paint the Schuylkill River, but fear always stopped me… until recently. I recently started painting the Schuylkill – I just finished teaching a summer Landscape Painting class at the University where I teach, and one of the locations where we painted was the Schuylkill. (Now I can’t wait to paint more Schuylkill River paintings!)

And, finally, painters in the PAD community have most recently inspired me. Nowadays, I am drawn to painterly painters whose paintings, in my observation, seem to be mostly about paint and mark making; artists who push paint around like it’s poetry. I think there may always be an implicit pressure to be innovative in most genres, yet within the PAD community, this innovation may exist in our going against the prevailing postmodern ideology. I believe part of the beauty of the daily painting movement is that so many artists (hundreds? thousands?) are painting and sharing much of the same thing – everyday objects that we find in our homes and gardens, at markets and roadside stands. This is not a new idea in the context of the history of painting, but the simplicity of a set up and composition enables daily painters to focus on practice. Among many things, my own interest in my oil paintings lies in process, detail, and gesture. For me, content is derived from this place. The manner in which a subject is painted is unique to every artist. I think the obvious challenge of exhibiting work via a blog on the Web is that the work is not viewed (at least initially) in person. The presence, details, and tactile gestures are what make each artist’s paintings unique. Viewing paintings solely on the Web requires a much closer look and a broader understanding. We painters intimately and personally respond to our subject matter in a manner that connects each of us within the daily painting community, yet also individualizes us as artists, each painting in a deeply personal way.

I am grateful to all those I have mentioned here and so many others I didn’t include. I carry you all with me, as I am inspired to offer my readers and collectors what I discover about the living thing that is painting. I am happy and appreciative that you continue to join me in this adventure.

© 2009 Abbey Ryan