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Fine Art Paintings

I enjoy illustration with all my heart.  Telling stories with images satisfies me like few other occupations.  However, my art training taught me as a fine artist with acrylic in high school and oil in my higher education.  So now and then, I enjoy painting a landscape, and I’ll be painting a series of still lifes in the future.

Each medium is special in its own way.  While I paint full-time digitally and love the intuitiveness that the digital medium has, it cannot compare to traditional media in many ways.

First, I can work with more colors with traditional media.  With printed media I have four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (excluding specialty colors).  With traditional media, usually artists will squeeze six or more colors on their palette.  I can play with warm and cool reds, blues, yellows, greens, violets, greys, browns, and an assortment of other colors.  The artist that uses many colors creates artwork with much more depth than an artist who uses few colors.

Second, traditional media have a three-dimensional quality to them.  Not only can oil paint be painted thick in an impasto way, but the buildup of color creates interesting juxtapositions of color variations.  Even flat media like pastel and colored pencil build up color, laying one color on top on the other.  The effect cannot be imitated by printed media yet.  Also, an artist must impose texture in the digital realm, but it appears naturally with actual media.

Third, with the right materials a work of art will last for a very long time.  At worst a digital illustration only lasts the longevity of the printed material.  This can be as long as a magazine is printed and sold to someone needing fire starter.  Or it can last as long as historic prints.  But paper yellows and inks fade.  Paint pigments fade too, but they last several hundred years before doing so.  Also, file formats constantly change, and as programs become outdated, some file formats, and thus works of art, become inaccessible.

Fourth, when dealing with fine art, the artist is hard pressed to identify the original of a digital painting.  Is the first print the original?  Is the digital file the original?  Art historians have argued over questions like that for years with found art and other non-original genres.  The difference between found art and digital is that the artist has created a truly original work.  The original is merely intangible.  I’m sure art theoreticians will enjoy thinking about the question of originality as pertains to digital painting.

Last, authenticity is difficult to establish.  The ease of copying other peoples images causes some people to be suspicious about the legitimacy of the artist’s claim to ownership.  An artist who creates traditional oil paintings, even if he copies his source images, has a more of a convincing claim than someone who creates digitally and uses no sources.  The tangible paint seems to have a credibility that digital media does not have.

So why do I work in digital media?  I love the speed, the flexible precision, and the intuitiveness.  I can think in Photoshop in a way that I cannot think with other media.  I can get details on the computer that I can't get with other mediums.  I don't have to wait for paint to dry to send my painting to my clients.  So, while I recognize the superiority of traditional media over digital, I will probably never switch back entirely.

Sometimes when out painting plein air, the painting rises to the level of fine art.  I feel that this is one of those rare times.  I loved going out that morning before dawn.  I loosened up by painting the sunrise at 5:45.  The sunrise happened so fast, I had only a few minutes to paint it.  Then I painted this sketch.  The colors in the morning glow danced in the open field and the shadows of the tree.  The glow lasts a couple hours, but my painting buddy and I had things to do and couldn't stick around too long.  The "mountains" in the background are actually distant buildings.  The non-literal interpretation of them worked out better than I imagined. 


I needed a painting for an art show, and ran out of time.  The day before the show, I drove out to a dock with my painting buddy, John Ball, and painted this in a couple hours.  Some of the most interesting experiences happen while out painting.  While we were out there, a truckload of guys drove up and inquired into having a smoke under the same bridge.  We requested that the do it upwind from us, but they decided against it and drove off.  Later they probably enjoyed laughing about my green rubber gloves, smock, and other painting gear. 


My grandparents have lived on this farm for most of their lives.  My dad grew up here and we kids played in the haymow and fields.  I painted this from a little plein air I had painted in the summer.  I was having difficulty with hay fever, and almost couldn't see clearly.  The half hour plein air turned out so well, that I painted this larger painting for my grandparent's anniversary.  The corn is just a few inches high.  A storm promises to bless the growing grain with a gentle rain.  And the ancient farm overlooks the good land.


By my grandpa's hog barn, they have an abandoned hogshed.  They would separate  a new mother hog and her piglets from the rest of the hogs for a few weeks for the safety of the piglets.  Now that grandpa no longer raises hogs the shed just sits there, unused.  Even the old tractor ruts run by the shed, seeming to pass it by.


This painting shows inside my grandpa’s hayloft.  As a child, my cousins and I would construct forts in the bales and play all kinds of games.  I enjoy the textures and play of light across the bales of hay.  Though the hayloft is abandoned like the hogshed and the bales have begun falling apart, the loft still holds the wonder that we kids would feel with each visit.  Also, a hayloft is a beautiful place to paint.


For my master's degree I painted this marsh triptych.  Every morning for a week, I would drive out to a bridge that overlooked the water and paint the sunrise.  No sunrise was the same.  The amazing amount of variation in the play of colors over the sky and water awed me everyday.  From that experience, I created these three paintings.  They signify the unpredictability at the beginning of a brand new day.  The left painting stands for a peaceful day, and the far right stands for a day full of adventure.  Who knows what a day holds in store for us?

I painted my family’s house while home for Christmas in 2005.  The conditions may not have been the best for painting outdoors, but the painting that emerged is a family favorite.  We did not actually have a fire going in the wood stove, but my family did not a problem with the liberty I took in adding the wisp of smoke emerging from the stove pipe.  We have since moved from the house, so the painting preserves the memory of our beautiful woods and the wonderful snow up north.

This isn't an oil painting.  I painted it on my computer from a collection of old family photos and heirlooms.  My sister had dried a rose in a vase and the petals had not fallen out.  The dead flower was beautiful and provided the inspiration for this.  I wanted to express that every life is precious, even those long gone and forgotten.  I placed the photographs and heirlooms around the flower in a carefully lighted environment, and then painted from life.  The print now hangs in my grandpa's house.


  1. Nice work, Matthew. The paintings of the barns give me feeling of happiness and peace.

    1. Thanks, Jessica! I'll be out on the farm this summer. Hopefully I can paint some more of these.

  2. nice to pick through these again-I like the old hog barn.
    Why not consider taking some photos in the city and then work from those-get that person sitting near the corner, watching.