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

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso

the hand…

hand skeleton

This stuff is so cool.

Knuckles are the rounded distal (distant from the center of body) end of the metacarpals number 2 through 5… The phalanges (bones of the finger) are boxes at the base, articulating on a spool-shaped surface – thus they hinge rather than allow a broad range of motion. The length of the middle finger is equal to the distance across the metacarpals 2 through 5… The proximal phalanx is roughly equal to the middle and distal phalanges… The thumb is close to (but not exactly) 90 perpendicular to the rest of the structure.

— spence

artistic anatomy

I’ve been going through Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form by Eliot Goldfinger. Truly an amazing book. A very tough slog through. I have to take each sentence, piece it apart. For example:

section from artistic anatomy

Understandable, one word and one piece at a time, then one sentence. Eventually you arrive at a conceptual understanding of the underlying structure to humans. The structure of the shoulders – suspended from the top of the breastbone is the sequence of clavicle to shoulder blade to upper arm to radius/ulna articulation with the wrist (carpus). The suspension of the entire shoulder and arm structure off that on bony point of contact, clavicle to manubrium (top section of breastbone) – that is amazing. The rotation of the scapula (shoulder blade) to point almost vertically when the arm is raised to point overhead. The immovable ulna and the oblique rotation of the radius, the support of the wrist and hand – these are amazing from an engineering point of view, just elegant solutions to motion and structure.

Frank Frazetta had a story that in one of his first jobs, the editor told him he needed to learn anatomy, so he took a book on it home, came back the next day (point of exaggeration? maybe…). He said ok, I have anatomy. He wasn’t believed, so he drew a few figures to show it. That’s the story. Looking at the figures he paints, the exact motion, the exaggeration of musculature, I can see the underlying understanding of structure – however he achieved it. That’s worth achieving.

savage pellucidar

This kind of imagery makes struggling through sentence after sentence of dense description of underlying structure well worth it.

This painting was originally beautifully reproduced in a book issued by Ballantine Books around 1975 called The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta. I read a copy of the book, Savage Pellucidar, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, when I was 12 or so – his cover art is just amazing, and reproduced on its own in a higher quality was visually and viscerally stunning. Found this image at Stainless Steel Droppings archive article.

— spence



when IS a painting actually done?

I have/had a firm and fast rule not to go back to a painting after I sign it. Once it is signed that’s it, it isn’t to be changed.

In acrylic work, once it is signed I usually put the isolation layer (2 coats of matte acrylic medium mixed with water) and then two coats of matte conservators varnish shortly after. Within six weeks.

That makes going back and changing your mind difficult. Not impossible, but difficult – for longevity you would at least want to remove the varnish, getting back to the pure acrylic layers, then once you had finished changing, re-apply an isolation and re-varnish.

Oils have to be left alone long enough (6 months to a year or more) before varnishing, that changes can still be made easily all the way through to actually applying the varnish.

I had a couple of second thoughts on two different paintings. Just two areas I would work further if the paintings weren’t signed and sealed. In one I would rework the clouds, they sit too much on the surface and need to be brought back into the rest of the painting. On the second an umbrella awning needs better definition, to sink less into formless mass, and define better as its own surface and be more thoroughly apart from the background. I used Liquitex Soluvar archival varnish, and checking the data sheets, it is removable with mineral spirits… I think it’s worth a try, in the case of both of these paintings.

In the process of painting there are many points where I get to the point where I am unsure of whether it is going exactly where I intended. A day or so or, at times, a week or so later, the truth or falsity of that becomes clearer. In the case of these two, I’ll wait and see whether the need to change them persists. Looking at the actual paintings the changes make less sense – it is more when looking at the images of the paintings. In images you lose some of the texture and the flow of the process used to place the paint. You also lose the size and breadth of the canvas.

There seems to be for me a period where the consideration of the final product needs to sit – maybe two months. Before I should sign, isolate and varnish the painting, it needs to sit a bit and wait for confirmation there isn’t more work to be done. Maybe even after signing. A point, a period of time where the painting waits, separate from being in progress or worked forward, but just waits. Somewhere between being considered done, and conserved and protected.

But again, when is it done? When the artist considers it done. One of my favorite artists is Frank Frazetta. His women are extraordinary, powerful, sensuous, decidedly female, strong and lethal and powerful. His men are gods of war. The background, texture and detail in a very thin layer of paint, his anatomy and motion is just outstanding. He reworks paintings at will. I wouldn’t do that. Some of my favorite Frazettas are quite different than when they were first signed, some decidedly better, some I am not used to yet. One of the paintings reworked has been “Eqyptian Queen”…


It’s likely this image is from the original publication, but not for certain – the changes were subtle, primarily in the detail of the queen’s face. Frank stated that he had worked that face over and over and over and was not entirely happy at the final result – so he went back much later and the second time through, the face became what he had hoped he could achieve. I do know that feeling, both the frustration at something that won’t quite come out right and the revelation when you step back from it and then later it just works out without a struggle or an effort.

Looking again at this work, I have to say it – this man is a genius. The lush romance of the composition, the deep shadows, the direct gaze of the figure of the queen… A lot of other fantasy art tries to achieve this kind of impact and just falls so far short. This on the other hand transcends fantasy art, I think.

Da Vinci reworked paintings through his entire lifetime. His production suffered. I think he took it to obsession. But then again, the genius, the detail and the exquisite blending… Done when the artist has so determined. I guess signing it is just a personal road mark, subject to determined re-thinking.

ginevra by Da Vinca

Ginevra de’ Benci c.1474 by Da Vinci

— spence

about easels and tools

I paint the edges of canvases. I buy only gallery-wrapped 1-1/2″ depth canvases, and if I stretch a canvas, it is with the same stretchers and wrap style. I don’t like a frame on most paintings. Painting the edges persuades an owner to place the canvas in a museum-style frame with the edges of the canvas revealed. The easel pictured on the front of this site is one I used for many years, until the bottom tray would no longer lock under any substantive weight. I stopped using it and started using a Klopfenstein metal easel. I screw in support boards at top and bottom, on the inside of the stretcher bars. These clamp nicely in the pegs of the Klopfenstein easel, allowing full access to all sides at once.

I have been looking at the rotating easels – but they barely handle the larger canvases I’m using, and if the work can go larger or needs to go larger they won’t be able to handle it. On the other hand a second Klopfenstein will allow me to handle a canvas as big as I would plan to use right now.

I love good tools, whether painting or woodworking or those for plumbing, it doesn’t matter. I had always used wood easels, and I originally ordered a larger, fancier wood artisan easel. Unfortunately it shipped in a badly engineered carton, and broke through the middle. I started rethinking wood furniture style easels. My canvases keep getting larger. The easels made to handle those larger sizes in wood are extremely heavy and not easily moved. Each time I would have to move them I would take this same risk of shattering or scratching them. Looking at utility I started looking at metal. The Klopfenstein is heavy-duty, but doesn’t weigh much over 60 lbs. I was leery of working with a metal support – I like the feel of wood in the environment around me. But this easel is more versatile and way more useful than any wood easel I’ve ever used. Not furniture. A very good tool.

Klopfenstein easel

— spence 20080503 Saturday