Eight Onions

Eight Onions

Eight Onions | 20”x 16” | Oil on Canvas 

During a critique near the end of my first term at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), one of the critics said “there doesn’t seem to be a shared atmosphere in the painting, between the main object, and the space around it.”

Up to that moment, that very moment, the conscious thought of creating ‘atmosphere’ in my paintings had not entered my mind. Remember, up to this point I had only taken 3 painting classes (see ‘my story’). This critique caused me to pause, to cock my head at an angle in thought, to ponder briefly, and then turn to
the several faculty critics behind me, and ask “How do you paint atmosphere?” They all shifted a bit and presented facial expressions which said ‘hum, well that isn’t an easy question to answer.’ I was stricken, truly stricken.

I had sold our home and moved my wife and daughter 2,400 miles across the US, leaving our sons (in their 20’s) in Utah. Here I was, attending this prestigious art school, and I clearly knew so little. What had I done? What should I do?

My soul had come to want, so badly, to become a really good representational painter working in a realistic style. Now here I was, finding out that I was oblivious to ‘atmosphere’, and clearly not rendering it well. What to do, what, what, what should I do?

Well, I started thinking. Good thinking can make all the difference. So, I reviewed what I had learned so far about painting. As I pondered, it became clear that success would largely depend upon the proper rendering of lessons I’d learned at PAFA regarding values, edges, reflected light, and texture. I would have to stop assuming, or worse, going soft in the head while painting “secondary” elements in a painting. I would have to
think, think, think. I would have to discipline myself to treat every aspect of every painting as important, and, paint them in the way they would best strengthen and support the rest of the painting.

I chose onions. I purchased quite a variety of them along with various types of fabrics. During the Christmas break from school, I set up one composition after another in a small bedroom at our rented home. I painted from life (observation) like a crazy man on a mission. I painted five 20”x16” paintings in 14 days. These onion paintings were to prove pivotal in my development and progression as an artist. They have had a significant impact on my skills as a representational painter. They also proved to be the tipping point in my being allowed to continue as a graduate student at PAFA.

When I returned to PAFA after Christmas break with these onion paintings, the department head, Michael Moore, was surprised that my work had shifted toward painting more tightly (realistic) rather than more loosely (impressionistic). His personal taste is toward looser painting but he was pleased with the results I had


It was in dealing with this experience that it became clear to me that artwork is artWORK, not art magic. Those who think otherwise simply have not put in the effort or clear thinking needed to know better. Every aspect of every painting you will ever see, good or bad, is the result of constant thinking and decision making.

A note about this particular painting:
Despite my painting quickly, the green stems of the gold onion on the right side of the painting, had grown tall enough to go off the top of the canvas. I had to paint them from memory to present them as you see them here.


"You should have the Art you Love."

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    Size                   # in Edition

    20"x 16"             25

    15"x 12"             200

    10"x 8"              300