Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fuel Tanks, 5 x 7, oil on panel

Sometimes I see things hundreds of times before I do a painting of it. I think of it as a visual gestation period. Twenty years ago I would have never considered these fuel tanks as possible subject matter. So what changed? It's hard to say. I think an artist warms up to the environment and an idea slowly emerges. This small study may never be more than it is, but it is a document of yesterday, December 28, 2010.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Company Houses, 16 x 20, Oil on Linen

Just recently I discovered some photos that were taken in the early 1900's of Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The image I used for this painting was taken January 25, 1918. These photos have inspired me to do a series of paintings about what Pittsburgh looked and felt like about 100 years ago. I'm using an extremely limited palette, two or three colors. The idea is to give these photos a new life that can communicate the region's industrial history. But more importantly, this series is about the people that labored to create the world's steel capital.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vacant Lot, 36 x 48, oil on canvas

I did the little 9 x 12 inch study, top, as a demo for my class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. It worked well enough for me to enlarge the image to a 36 x 48 canvas. The idea for the painting is how some of the neighborhood row houses get demolished and leave a vacant lot. The empty space reminds me of a missing tooth. The houses were built as joined units and you can see there are no windows on the side. The painting isn't finished yet but it shows how the study can be used as a source for a larger, more finished painting.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spring Houses, 16 x 20, oil on linen

Cambria County was a winter wonderland last year. It reminded me so much of my childhood. It used to snow from late October until April – that's what it seemed like anyway. I did this painting late last winter when a fresh white blanket covered everything. The scene is near Loretto, PA on what used to be the Schwab Estate. You can't tell from this painting but there is probably three feet of snow on the ground. Shadows from a group of trees on the right created the nice pattern in the foreground and on the roofs.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strip Doors, 12x16, oil on linen

The morning light yesterday cut a blazing path across these shadowed doors in the Strip District. It reminded me of a Franz Kline painting. He used huge brush strokes to create dynamic impact. There is one in the Carnegie Museum that is just awesome. I kind of imagined this scene as a Kline painting done with just a few brush strokes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Roof Tops, 22 x 30, oil on canvas

Lots of streets in Pittsburgh are stacked up on each other. Often the view from an alley is the roof tops of neighbors. In this painting of lower Lawrenceville, the late afternoon light created an interesting pattern of shadows. I especially liked the chimney shadow on the tan roof which became the focal point of the four houses. The distant hills created a nice illusion of depth to contrast the foreground.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Street Shadows, 6" x 6", oil on panel

The morning light has been great this week. This study, done just two hours ago, is an example of it. My morning commute takes me through some interesting neighborhood streets. It is easy to stop and explore the possibilities. Here I was trying to show what it feels like to look up the street. Because of the shifting light my time was very limited.  That is why I worked on a small Masonite panel. Not a lot of detail but that's OK. The study captured what I intended–the essence of a Pittsburgh morning.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Smoke and Dust, 9 x 12, oil on panel

I did this study for a larger 16 x 20 painting last month. So often the quick sketch turns out better. Maybe I'm trying too hard on the larger pieces? The bigger paintings are usually on linen, they take more time, and are meant to be more "serious". The relaxed feeling combined with concentration is what all the golfers talk about to hit a ball. Could golf and painting actually have something in common? Both require an enormous amount of practice and a lot of skill. So I guess it is possible. I have found that the smaller I work the better my results. Also, I have fewer expectations and the materials are not that big of an investment. Generally I'm enjoying the process a bit more and if it doesn't work, scrapping off a small loser is no big deal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gem Way Light, 24 x 36, oil on canvas

Last week I focused on this set of row houses in Garfield. The first two visits were only to observe and make colors studies, 6 x 6 and another 9 x 12. It was interesting to watch the shadow creep down the side as the sun moved higher in the sky. Those small paintings were done as some rambunctious students waited for their school bus. It was noisy and tough to concentrate, but the light was perfect. I started this larger one, above, in my studio and returned to Gem Way to finish it on a quiet Saturday morning - no kids.

I've been living in the city for about 30 years, and painting it for about 25. It just keeps getting more interesting to me. I'm attempting to show a human presence without painting figures. There is much to be learned by seeing and experiencing the neighborhoods. So much of it calls out to be painted.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September Evening Light, 30 x 50, oil on canvas

Have you ever been on a road trip and the light is so incredible you have to stop, get out and just soak it in? Two weeks ago I had to stop four times. What should have been a 90 minute drive turned into 3 hours! The light continued to get better and better. I would do a small 5 x 7 inch study, drive another 30 miles, look in my rear view mirror and say wow, that's another painting. It was just too good to pass up. The above painting was done from a photo that was taken before I did the studies. I loved the way the warm evening light bathed the trees and corn fields. My photo doesn't look anything like this. I rearranged the masses to show more sky and also balance the light families.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

N Atlantic Morning, 5 x 7 study on panel and 16 x 20 oil on linen

I've been doing a series of tiny paintings, mostly in the 5 x 7 inch range for an exhibition that opens next month. It has been a great learning experience. Some days, like yesterday, I'll get to four different locations. That small size forces me to react quickly to the light and mood of a place. Tuesday I did a small study in Garfield (above, top). I then returned to my studio to start the 16 x 20 on linen. Wednesday morning the light was great again so I worked on location from 7:30 - 10. Today, Thursday, I spent a couple hours on it again trying to get the perspective correct. While working on the large one I noticed the tiny red brick building in the background. It added a nice touch of color to the painting. I'm often asked how long it takes to do a painting. I hate the question because the actual painting time is often not very long. I think I may have 6-8 total hours on the 16 x 20, but that doesn't include three trips to the site, buying art supplies, or the 30 years it took me to get to this point. So I usually say the painting took 30 years.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Braddock Houses, For Sale, 16 x 20, oil on linen

Braddock, Pennsylvania is full of despair. You can feel it when you drive around. Lately the community has been dealt another blow because the hospital there just closed. Unemployment is 15.8% compared to the national average of 9.7%.This was once a thriving mill town but now you see boarded-up storefronts and lots of houses are for sale–cheap. Lawns of these houses are overgrown with huge weeds and many are unoccupied. The dark sky tells this sad story while the crisp light gives hope that things can only get better.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Painting the "City Views"

Last week Cohen & Grigsby, P.C., a downtown Pittsburgh law firm, invited a group of the Associated Artists to paint from their deck. Their new offices are on the fifth floor of the CNG Tower. They were great - providing free parking, free lunches, and get this, free canvases! There were about 12 of us that worked throughout the week as attorneys, paralegals and secretaries looked on. To my knowledge this just isn't done. Most outdoor painters are used to being asked to leave rather than being invited for an entire week. The best part was watching each other paint and sharing the camaraderie with other artists. Above is pictured Kevin Kutz, Nancy Deckant, and Kitty Spangler. The painting is one of six I did there. An exhibition, City Views,  is planned for early October in the firm's lobby.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Roosevelt House, 20 x 45, oil on canvas

This is a painting I did in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh last summer. The woman reading shows the scale of these houses. She did not know I painted her in until later. Her husband commissioned the painting because they just love the kid-friendly street. I did it on location over a few days. And yes there were a lot of curious children.

On another note, Pittsburgh Winter, a large oil painting won the Clara A. Wittmer Award at the 100th Annual Associated Artists Exhibition held at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The AAP Annual is the longest running annual exhibition held in a major museum in the United States.
I'll be talking about the painting this Sunday from 2:30-3:30 at the museum. It was featured in the paper last week. Read about it here. in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Harbour Town Light House, 36 x 48, oil on canvas

Cathy and I were in Hilton Head last week so that I could do this painting for a friend. She actually took the photo that I worked from because the weather did not cooperate. I wasn't sure about doing a large painting of the light house because that's so ordinary and everyone else has already done it. Then it occurred to me that Edward Hopper did light houses and did them his way. So I tried a risky composition – centering the light house. The boats and trees were used in the foreground as an entry point and to offset the bullseye effect of the light house. These elements lead the viewer to the far left background. The hazy sunshine that saturated the scene required a lot of gray. You notice it in the water and sky. My palette knife was used to paint the entire sky. It created nice, soft edges to the cloud formations.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Winter Shadows, 30 x 40, oil on linen

How about a winter painting post for this second day of summer? This painting, which was in the Paint & Pixels exhibition at The Museum at Indiana University of PA, was recently selected by the museum board for their permanent collection. It is a good example of alla prima (done all at once) painting. It was done this past February in Indiana County. I started it mid-morning and worked on it until mid-afternoon. During that time the shadows shifted a lot so I had to decide at some point where they needed to live. I liked the idea of having to visually "step over" the near shadows to get to the thick tree and the deep forest in the background. The sun was so brilliant that I had a terrible headache by the time I finished. The entire painting process took about five continuous hours and that includes an 8 x 10 inch study done first. No further work was done to it in my studio.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ghosted Sign, 24 x 30, oil on canvas

Students have often asked how my process evolves. Here is an attempt to show nine steps, start to finish. (I must say it is hard to concentrate on a painting and then stop to take photos at regular intervals!) I often look at something for years until I see it in a particular light and it triggers an idea for a painting. That's what happened last week when I drove by this old brick building. The wall facing west was illuminated by warm light and I could almost read the hand painted sign. There are a lot of these "ghosted signs" here in Pittsburgh. Sometimes you can read them, but most are just faded images. What were they and what are they still trying to say? To me they are grim reminders of the weathering effect time has on all things, especially us.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Brunot's Island, 34 x 64, oil on canvas

This is a piece I've been working on for a few weeks. It is from a photo I took from Mt. Washington. Describing how colors change over distance is something that has always fascinated me. In this painting I'm contrasting a dense dark, shadowed foreground with a cool softer background. The Ohio River splits as it goes around Brunot's Island and makes its way toward McKees Rocks and then on to Sewickley and eventually to the mighty Mississippi. I wanted to show the extreme distance that can be seen from this vantage point.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

White Hot Steel, 30 x 40, oil on linen

Last year I visited this steel making facility. It is only 8 blocks from my studio here in Pittsburgh and I didn't even know it existed! It is tucked away in an industrial area close to the river. The management was great, allowing photography which I have used for reference. For obvious safety reasons it would be impossible to paint inside the plant. This painting above, done just this week, is about the extreme heat in the foundry. Unless you are standing there it is almost impossible to describe the experience. The white hot molten steel flies out everywhere and illuminates all surfaces with blazing warm color. I've tried to create a painting that shows how it felt. It is not like anything you see outdoors. That is why painting a scene like this is such a nice contrast to working from the cool light of day. I also like the idea of documenting the steel making heritage of this city– an era that is quickly slipping away.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lexi, 8x10, oil on panel

Last week Lexi laid down in the shade exactly when I was looking for a subject to paint. It was almost too good to be true. Would she really pose like this for an hour or longer? Usually a squirrel or a runner or something causes her to move. So I decided to start with her and see how far I could get. The background could be painted later if necessary. But to my astonishment she stayed in this position for about 90 minutes–long enough for me to do this sketch. She is such a sweet girl.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mr. May Mouse, 6 x 6 inches, oil on panel

This little fellow was too clever to be trapped alive. Believe me, I tried. The internet is full of ideas to capture a mouse unharmed and the hardware stores offer no-kill traps. Unfortunately, he was causing so much trouble in the kitchen that my tree hugging tendencies quickly disappeared and my farm boy roots took over. It was the old fashioned mouse trap that did the trick. After thinking about this guy, I decided to honor his death with a painting. I wanted it to be quiet and austere, almost monochromatic. Sorry Mr. May Mouse, the dark chocolate was the last straw.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fish on Sticks, 36 x 48, oil on canvas

This is my last week at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. The kids have been a lot of fun. I probably learned more from them – especially the young ones. I painted this while I was there. It was inspired by the small study I did a few weeks ago. The building in the middle was added a few years ago and was designed to echo a night light. The architect wanted to create a form that glowed in the dark. I chose to do this painting in late evening light to show the clear separation of warm light and shadow. The fish are in shadow along with the left planes of the buildings while the sky and right planes of the structures are bathed with light. The fish are positioned higher in the sky than they actually are. I liked the whimsical idea of fish swimming through the sky. The kids all knew it right away as the fish parking lot.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paint Bag, 9 x 12, oil on Panel

This is my paint bag, yesterday. It is one of those things I use everyday but don't think much about–until its gone. That's what happened a couple years ago when my old paint bag was stolen from the back of my truck. I never did a painting of that one. It was a part of my daily routine for 15 years. Yesterday as the afternoon light raked across the brushes and wrinkled tubes of paint I decided to do this oil sketch. Everyday objects when painted become more important to us. In this case my common tool bag became a subject for a still life painting, which makes it not so common now.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Big Fish

This large mouth bass is one of three huge fish outside the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. They are mounted on ball bearings so that the 400 pounders can move freely with the breeze. I'm the F.I.N.E. Artist in Residence for the month of April. As part of my first day I did this painting in the parking lot and then finished it inside. The kids really enjoyed seeing it because it is so familiar to them. I'm giving the kids lessons on seeing nature as shapes. I'm using cut-out cardboard shapes that are painted with solid colors to show the importance of seeing the silhouette. A common mistake for lots of artists is to render detail before painting the large simple masses. The kids got it right away. They just grabbed the biggest brush they could find and went for it.

This fish above is named "Al" for the Allegheny River. It is 9" x 12", oil on panel.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Finished

Here is the finished Immaculate Heart of Mary oil on linen. I wanted to show how it looks now with the process completed. Most of the final stages require cleaning up the massed in color. It is just a matter of refining the light and shadow relationships. I like to say they're like the Hatfields and McCoys because they do not like each other. Well, actually they are very independent families that need to be painted separately. I mix the light colors in one area of my palette and the shadows in another. However there can be some "bounce back" from light areas into the shadows. See where the chimney shadow is on the warm yellow house? The snow on the roof to the right becomes slightly lighter and warmer on that side–even though it is still in shade. Things like this are so beautifully interesting to me. It is something I have observed for years as an outdoor painter. Photos don't always give such subtle information.

I also fixed the perspective of some of the buildings. It is tricky because of the "worm's eye view." To help create this illusion I put the painting up really high on my easel. That way I have to look up and reach up to paint. Sometimes I have to trick my brain to get at the truth.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Paint and Pixels Exhibition

My identical twin brother Don and I just opened an exhibition at The University Museum at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We are both alumni of the IUP art department. The show features his graphic design and my paintings. Above is shown my wall mural of 80 panel paintings titled, Homage to Indiana County, Pennsylvania. I spent the last 11 months working on this project. The IUP museum is in the process of acquiring it for their permanent collection which will be displayed in the Preforming Arts Center. An 80-page book of the paintings is available at The exhibition will be on display until May 1st.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Immaculate Heart of Mary, oil on linen, 47 x 70

First image above: This is the completed first pass of the foreground. You can see it was pretty much painted in with full color. Notice the sky was left unpainted because I wanted it to relate to the ground masses.

Second image above: This is shown with an apple to see the scale. Here I finished the sky and found more detail in the light and shadow families. I find it easier to keep the sky clean by painting it last. This way I can use the sky color to paint right up to the edges of the already massed in areas. That allows for edge treatment while the sky is still wet–notice where the trees meet the sky. They are being washed out by the strong light and the trees are taking on more sky as they recede into the distance. That is why some sky color is mixed into them. It weds them with the same "DNA" as the sky. This creates the illusion of atmospheric perspective.

It is not yet finished. I'll probably look at it for a week or so, then decide if some areas could be tweaked. But I must admit I'm really pleased with it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Immaculate Heart of Mary, oil on panel, 9" x 12"

Edward Hopper was once quoted as saying, "If I could say it with words there would be no reason to paint it." Well, that's true, but it is still nice to share the process and what inspires us as artists. Here is the latest effort on my easel and why...

Sometimes I just have to see something from a certain place at exactly the right time to know it is worthy of a large painting. The idea of doing a large painting of Immaculate Heart of Mary church on nearby Polish Hill has been in gestation for several years. A few weeks ago I saw the church from the strip district at about 5:30 pm on my way to downtown. The warm, sweet light bathed the entire winter scene. The planes that faced the light created angles that point upward towards the domes and heaven above. (Hey, it is a spiritual painting :) The church towers over the neighboring houses in a really dramatic way–especially from the strip. I could see it as a completed painting in my mind's eye. First, I took a picture. Then I returned the next day to the exact location, again at the same time of day, and did the small oil study, 9" x 12" above. The source photo, which can be seen taped to the canvas, was used to make the grid. This is where it is now, a 47" x 70 ", oil on linen, somewhat blocked in with oil washes. I'm just trying to get the light and shadow shapes placed correctly.
I'll post again when more progress is made.

Here is the wikipedia link to the church:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Winter, oil on linen, 48 x 68

This is a painting I did this past December when we were all excited about snow. And there have been years when the snow came and went. That is why I was determined to do a large painting that depicted how Pittsburgh feels with snow. Little did anyone know that we were going to be buried in this stuff until April! With over 70 inches of snow so far this year I think it is time for spring.

I first painted a small 8 x 10 inch of this alley and then took a terrible photo. Both were used as source material. This particular area of Lawrenceville is tightly packed with buildings. By pushing the dark masses close to the top the viewer is forced to stay down near the alley. I think of it as an urban canyon painting. The light patches are used as elements that break up the space and also create the illusion of depth. The colors become less intense and the value of colors become closer as you move further back into the painting. It is a combination of linear and atmospheric perspective that takes the viewer up this snowy path.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Arrangement of Light, study, 12 x 16, oil on panel,

These houses, which are only a few blocks from my studio, were painted last week. I painted them about two years ago for my daughter. That version was larger, 30 x 40 inches. I find it useful to revisit my favorite places. First of all I know where to park. That may sound stupid but when all these skinny streets are packed with snow, the last thing you want to do is move someone's "Pittsburgh chair". So yes parking is an issue, but so is knowing which direction the sun is moving. You only have so much time before the entire light and shadow distribution changes. It is a race against time. There is also comfort painting the same scene because you learned something that can be applied again, hopefully to your advantage. The paintings never look alike. I think of them as journal entries. They record that particular day. One painter friend refers to his daily paintings as tracks in the snow. That makes sense. We learn from our own work – one painting at a time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blackwater, 16 x 20, oil on linen

Last week we had a brief period of sunshine here in Pittsburgh. Even if I'm working inside on a commission, like I was, it is impossible for me to stay there. Light on snow just has that effect on my senses. A favorite place to paint winter landscapes is Fox Chapel. This was done by Trillium Trail. The real challenge is painting the shifting shadows over ice that is melting. Add the chilling 15 or 20 degree temperature and it is easy to understand why most artists prefer to work inside using photos as reference. But for me there is a special feeling of accomplishment that working outdoors brings. It is difficult to explain. The spirit of a place somehow becomes part of the painting. Even if I'm not satisfied with the finished painting, I'm always pleased with the experience. Time spent looking closely at nature is never wasted.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Melt Line by Ron Donoughe

Sometimes the best paintings are right in front of us. I found this melted patch of snow as I marched towards the forest to paint something like I've done before. But there it was, an abstract area of light and color broken by horizontal shadows. It wasn't part of my plan. There was already an idea in my head about what I was going to do. I suppose that's the lesson [to myself] – approach every painting with an open mind. I'm proud that I stopped to make a painting that wasn't like all the others I've done. I was standing in 24 inches of snow on a 15 degree day. I seriously did not want this painting to be a dog. The light was just too beautiful for that to happen. I went with my gut instinct and used the simple, most obvious idea – one which was right under my feet.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

House Backs by Ron Donoughe

This is a painting I did of the Hill District in Pittsburgh. It is an area that doesn't get a lot of good press, to put it mildly. Hopefully paintings such as this give a voice to areas of the city that are often overlooked as subject matter. Also, I really liked the random placement of the windows and the overall geometric feeling.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Painting on the CA Coast

This week I'm in San Francisco, visiting my twin brother Don. After 11 straight days of rain, we finally got a beautiful sunny day. I painted two paintings at the coast in Half Moon Bay. This one was done near the Sea Horse Ranch. These trees are typical of the flora near the beach. I liked how each tree was slightly different from its neighbor and the distant hills were cloaked in a mist of ever moving low clouds. This painting is titled "Coastal Trees" and is 16" x 20".

For more information please visit my blog or website.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First Blog from Ron Donoughe

I'm a regional painter based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I also live and paint in the Cambria County area between Altoona and Johnstown. Recently I just completed a large series of plein air paintings done in Indiana County for an upcoming exhibition. This show will be held in March at the Indiana University of PA (IUP) Museum in conjunction with my twin brother Don.

This show will contain over 80 small landscape paintings done in and around Indiana County. Here are a few examples of this work.