Paintings from Sunset Series by Spence Munsinger, Color Field + Blank White Canvas + Realism + Contemporary Abstract Art, original paintings for sale

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.”
― Pablo Picasso



door into summer


I read about the painting-a-day movement several years ago when I found work by an artist named Tricia Lamoreaux. More recently I found work by Abbey Ryan, also working on a daily painting practice. I looked at this (painting-a-day). I evaluated painting ritual and artistic process and logistics. What would it take to consistently produce? It’s a very professional view, and it brings up professional problems, I think good ones.

What size surface?
The agreement seems to be less than 14″ in any direction. But – some artists are painting 6″ x 8″…

How thick?
I have an aversion to cheap canvas support wrapped barely around the sides and roughly stapled onto the edge. This comes from the canvas supports I used in art school. I prefer edges I can run the image off onto – gallery-wrapped canvas. I love the distortion as the line changes physical direction while following the internal logic of the painting. I found 9″ x 12″ premium canvases, which still have the 1-1/4″ edge I’m accustomed to, and 9″ x 12″ wood panels, with kiln-dried frames, bringing the edges to 7/8″. I order several weeks worth of each.

How much paint? Tubes or tubs?
I’ve noticed that the 16 ounce tubs I have worked with for the last 7 or 8 years are workable in my home studio, but much more difficult to use on the road – and with a smaller surface to paint in, I have extra paint I end up throwing away if I’m only painting with one easel setup at a time. So… Multiple easels… And tubes of paint – ok, 4.65 ounce instead of 2 ounce, because I am not willing to use less paint. A painting should be made of paint, not a light glazing over canvas.

Oils? Or stay with airbrush and acrylics and palette/painting knives?
I evolved medium and style over many years of practice. I studied in oil and I love the quality of light and the smooth richness of the paint. I could see evolving back to oils at some point, but not as an abrupt change. Acrylic is thickness and texture and stability of form and medium. I’ve managed to recover the richness of color by underpainting in airbrush with primaries, and I love the quickness, the trueness of color and the consistent translucence of light even in very dense color application. So – no abrupt change and I stick with the language of painting I have evolved to now.

What to provide images/inspiration/flow of ideas?
I work from images, photos or drawings. I have printed these out on photo paper in the past. Printing and then keeping track of those images, hanging them next to the canvas, all of that is cumbersome and takes time. Better to organize the images on an iPad, starting out with possibly useful images in a folder synced into the Photos app on the iPad, then in a form that I can organize and tag – I use FolioBook Photo for iPad. OK – ipad on the easel? Or can I hang the iPad next to the canvas on the easel – I found Arkon iPad 2 Holder, which works very well.

All of this is a more professional viewpoint of the practice of doing art.

“What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.
–Pablo Picasso

I worked as a finish and trim carpenter for 18 years. At about five years experience, I worked on a hotel in Los Angeles hanging doors. I did several hundreds of doors in three weeks, placing and nailing off door after door after door. One morning I hung 27 doors. The pace made it interesting and kept it challenging, both physically and mentally. I was in awe over how simple the complex plane of a door swinging in an opening became. It was a drill, door-after-door-after-door.

I found that it took a view of the whole task in its completeness to organize and make effective three finish carpenters and six helpers. It took that conceptual understanding of task and process to get all of us working as efficiently as possible and producing a high level of quality at high speed. It was a revelation. That was carpentry at a professional level. A lot of thought and expertise and experience up front, in organizing and envisioning the whole task, and then a very simple and effective and efficient doing. Not a lot of thought at that point, just action toward a clearly defined result.

I think the Painting-a-Day flow can create the same kind of professional viewpoint and look at an artistic practice. In defining it for myself, I looked at what kind of work I could consistently produce, how big, how to allow it to flow as a consistent and coherent style of work, how it could develop, what kind of packaging would keep it safe, what shipping costs would be and overall, what would work. It’s not just making art, it’s creating a painting and studio practice, a set of rituals and an envisioned end. It’s a point where the distracted creative being all artists can manifest is channelled and takes a professional viewpoint as an artist. I’ve always worked on a flow of motion, almost a dance with paint and visual cues. I’ve always painted with music. The flow of decisions and determinations in a painting is Zen when it works, like water and like stillness at your core. This creates a framework for making that Zen flow become.

Not dissimilar to the conditions of flow and professionalism in very fast very professional high end carpentry and cabinetry work.




Artist Statement, Draft, Work in Progress – about sunsets series

This is a series of 105 images. They are drawn from distance.

The distance between warm sun and a freezing blast of winter.
The distance of time and of experience.
The distance between father and daughter.
The distance between representative and abstract.
The actual distance in space.
The distance between alive and warm and cold and gone.

The painting series was begun as a request from my daughter. She wanted a painting. She lived in California, in the South Beach area of Los Angeles. I asked her to take a sunset picture. I painted other paintings. The photographs did not arrive.

I found symbolic memories. A photo of wind-blown grass. A weathered staircase ascending and descending a hill, the hillside dropping to the Pacific Coast. A photo of an umbrella in sand across distance. This was the people, shading themselves from the heat of the sun, running out into the cold Pacific and then back to shade. And a photo of the sky. The brilliant colors, the reflections across the water of the sunset.

I grew up on the California coast, in San Diego. I watched sunset after sunset, in the heat of summer evening, in the crisp cool of winter afternoons. I imprinted the warmth and the impact of color.

I painted the first sunset. I painted it in the beginnings of winter, the first chills in the air. I painted through dark evenings, in a basement studio with a vista of radiator pipes and the endless low rumble of an oil furnace staving off chill temperatures in the 20’s.

I painted.

I painted finding a path between the crisp reference image photographs provided and the abstract intensity of emotion and color. I painted for a daughter who was distant in space, still present in the place of my memory. I painted in longing for warmth and light.

I sent the painting to my daughter. I painted another sunset, this one more pointedly from my memories of living in a beach town, referenced again against the crisp concise frame of photographs. I could feel the emotion in the light and the color, the distance between New England and the coast of California. I could feel the distance between myself and my daughter. I could also feel the shared experiences we have.

I started painting in Los Angeles at about age 16. I had drawn and painted and created all of my life, but not focused. I painted from age 16 to age 22, and then stopped. Cold. I have photographs of people in my life then, of walls with early oil paintings hanging on them, simple instructive still lives, and figure studies. I simply stopped from 1982 through 2003.

I told my daughter that she didn’t have to focus on four years of college and try to wrap up the path of a life immediately. That life was a journey, long if you are lucky, but not guaranteed. No need to hurry through it, let it develop.

In 2003 I went out to California to visit my daughter. We drove from Los Angeles down to Del Mar and to La Jolla, and walked the route I had walked as a child to the beach, down to the bottom of the hill, cutting through to Pacific Coast Highway, across the traffic, down the steep hills to the railroad tracks, and then down to the expanse of sand. I walked with her through my elementary school, which had and still has an ocean view. We had breakfast on a patio overlooking PCH with the beach and ocean beyond, with pop art animals and dogs allowed at the tables. I walked with her the route my dad, my stepmother and my baby sister walked when I was 14, down to La Jolla Shores. I showed her the tidepools I used to wade in along the rocks.

I came back, and I was unable to talk from the emotional hit that distance in space from my daughter and in time from both her and from my childhood brought.

I went to look for what the hell I was supposed to be doing this life.

I bought oils and brushes.  I found the class I had taken in drawing all those years ago was now on DVD.  I took it again, recalling from the motion of charcoal all that I had left behind.  I sat at a drawing horse and sketched, I recovered life drawing skills. I came back to where I had left off at UCLA and then private art instruction. I started painting. I resumed painting.

In the intervening years I had drawn and sketched projects for clients, photographed family events and created a woodworking portfolio. I had done graphic design for several short-lived partnerships, and carefully hung the paintings I had done in the late seventies and early eighties where I could see them.  I had discovered I was a writer.  I wrote between 1987 and 2001, writing to get better. I did get much better,but it never gelled, it never felt like I was a part of it. It was forced.

Painting is not. I show up, I stand before the canvas and I trust the muses to show up to. And they do so.

In 2007 I sent my daughter sunset #1. In 2011, on January 3rd after a year-long battle with leukemia, Ashley Lyn passed away. So now there is that distance. The distance between life and the beyond-life that is hers, now.

The paintings hold that distance between abstract and realism. If you move close, the paint dissolves into motion and texture and gesture. Life, held close dissolves into motion and chaos, in distance there appears a sense of the whole.

The painting should NOT be a literal presentation of reality – certainly not photographic – a photograph is a drawing-by-light, drawing by controlled-and-engineered-reflection-of-light, an abstraction of reality, missing motion and limited in scope by frame of view. A painting is an abstraction of light, movement, color, perspective and emotional and aesthetic impact. It can add an intangible and intuitive motion/emotion, an aesthetic harmony that communicates to a depth a straight representation misses.

Life should not be lived linearly either.


That’s what I have so far. Work in progress.


expatriate artist


I am an expatriate Southern Californian. How I look at light. My conception of space and perspective. Color and form, translated into paint on canvas, and from that to plane and three dimensional space implied on two dimensions. All of this is sourced from this sense of being elsewhere.

I learned to see in California. I know colors and forms and techniques learned and drilled from that space. It doesn’t leave, it still influences.

I miss an ocean to the West, a long line of water and sand roughly north-south. I had always located direction and location from that. Move an ocean to the east and that expansive sense of space and innate ability to feel located is just gone.

The sun rises over the ocean in the east, backward, distorting time. The days in the northeast are dramatically longer in summer, shorter in winter.

Summer encloses space in trees and foliage, vines and bushes explode in the spring. Sight lines are interrupted, broken, occluded. In fall the space opens back up, but with the openness soon loses all color, dropping back to simplistic greys and browns and line and shadow. The space is back, but at a price of limited light and dropped temperatures.

Lying on a beach in February, in Malibu, feeling the warm grit of the sand supporting and bouying, and the sun flodding light and color. The rhythm of the waves, swells crossing huge distances over the Pacific, finally mounting the continental shelf and lapping at the edge of the world.

It is right now 14 degrees outside my door, at 4:00 PM the light is shadows, and I’ve just spent three hours clearing my driveway of snow. In New England. In the winter. Which basically implies that I’m here, this is expected and I don’t have the right to complain too much. Some grumbling is expected.

It does not feel like home here, as an artist. I don’t believe it ever will. There will always be sand and sunsets and true beaches and warm days in winter in my soul. I source images and emotion from that, and from the separation and dislocation of painting in the Northeast.

Artists are supposed to be classed by location. A “New England artist” constributes to a collector understanding the work, or at least feeling that they understand the work. I live in New England. I am a Southern California artist. That’s truth.


CA coast


— spence