Working From the Inside – Out

asis taosThe painting at right is the famous St. Francis de Asis in Rancho de Taos (10×12, acrylic on canvas). I painted it last summer after a visit to northern New Mexico. I was inspired by Georgian O’Keeffe who did many paintings of this place. I thought I would experiment with the pastel colours and simple forms used repeatedly by the 20th century American Modernist.

In the process, I found myself enjoying working with the simple forms and clean lines. It is easy as a representational painter to get caught up in the details. The painting “Lakeside Room” is one of those more complex compositions where the relationship between objects is key. How far into detail is a personal decision.

I find myself wanting to paint the way I think.

I will often focus on an object within a composition and the rest is just background. As time goes on, I am inclined to make the background less finished or at least ‘out of focus’ and leave the crisper painting to the object of focus – the taps on a sink, for example.

Humans love to say they can absorb tremendous amounts of detail while driving or walking down a city street, but science says otherwise. When we look at the big picture we are making a lot of assumptions and real details are rarely a part of that picture. The details , if caught, are often at the expense of what is around them.

I admire the works of photorealists and the hyperdetail of painters such as Holman Hunt. The skill required is immense and a lot of artistic decisions must be made long before the brush ever hits the canvas. Standing in an art gallery observing a large canvas in this style is not unlike reading a epic novel. You cannot take it all in as a single experience. When I am in a room full of them, I find myself sweeping by them, unable to focus. It is impractical, but I think the only way I could truly appreciate them is if one painting sat alone in a darkened room with the light only on the canvas itself. I find it hard to meditate on the details in a room full of details.

So for me, a door, a sink, a chair alone are the focus. Like a painting with only a single figure, a single object carries the emotion or the atmosphere, like a short story or poem. So when I look at the sweeping epic landscapes of the West, my instinct is to let the focus move from the inside out and let the rest drop away. My lessons from Georgia are just beginning.


2012 has been a year of losses – the losses of great women in my family – women of the “greatest generation“. It ends with the loss of my 96 year old grandmother. She was strong and beautiful and I was lucky enough to know her better than most grandchildren ever get to know a grandparent. In many ways I am like her. I will miss her more than words can say.

Emilie (Millie) Massicotte Basic 1916-2012

Grammy with her first great grandchild, my nephew.






  1. says

    You have had a year of losses Michelle. I am so sorry to hear of your Grandmother. If you were anything like her, she must have been amazing! Just remember that by being you, you will then carry her forward with you always.
    Thinking of you,