“Something should be most of a painting.” That’s what Mark Mehaffey says, and he says that while considering the landscape around his home in Michigan, his favorite place to paint. So what is that something for him? 

The view down the road near Mehaffey’s house

Mehaffey says that he enjoys finding the subtle differences in temperature and value, even within a form, and even on cloudy days when the value range is small. “I paint a lot of subjects within three miles of our home,” he says. “I try to paint outside at least once a week, usually on Wednesdays. The area around me is about 50 percent farms and wooded areas, and the rest is being developed into houses. It’s beautiful countryside in the summer. It is gorgeous in the winter, too, but the extremes of light and dark are gone.”

“Morning Reflections,” by Mark Mehaffey, acrylic on panel, 12 x 9 in.

He’s 15 miles from Lansing, Michigan, in a place he knows well. “Michigan is where I’ve lived, where I grew up, where I went to school, where I taught school,” says the artist. “I am eminently familiar with the landscape here. You don’t have to go to an exotic place to find subject matter. And by ‘exotic,’ I only mean ‘different from where I live.’ I have painted the same rural country road, facing both east and west, numerous times — mostly because it’s on the walking route of our two standard poodles. If I am walking with them on a Wednesday, then I take my painting supplies. I have three or four spots that I turn to often, all within three or four miles of our house.” If he decides to paint on their walk, his wife continues with the dogs and “picks him up” on the way back home.

“End of the Day,” by Mark Mehaffey, acrylic on panel, 20 x 16 in. Studio painting

He is looking for something that makes a painting. “When there’s no sun, you have to find another way to make the painting exciting — it’s not going to be about dramatic light. That can be a struggle sometimes. But there’s something very moody about close value relationships, and about subtle shifts in temperature between warm and cool. Maybe a scene didn’t have the power of high contrasts, but it had the mood of close value relationships and I had to pay attention to temps. That can be the ‘something’ of a painting. Toward the end you have to make sure it reads as either warm or cool so there’s a dominant temperature, otherwise it reads as confusion. 

“Morning Walk,” by Mark Mehaffey, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24 in. Studio painting

“Something should be most of the painting,” he repeats. “It may simply be a warm or cool gray.”

“Another Morning Walk,” by Mark Mehaffey, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24 in. Studio painting

Mehaffey paints quick notes in the field, then he brings them into the studio — and simplifies them further. “I take all the references in my sketchbook, simplify them in value studies, and use those for the studio painting. The final pieces have the appearance of plein air work.” 

“Green Lake Demo,” by Mark Mehaffey, acrylic on panel, 8 x 8 in.

The Michigan landscape asks Mehaffey to do more work, perhaps, but it rewards him in other ways. “There’s good fishing inside of 30 minutes in every direction,” he says. Then he explains that all his ice fishing gear is loaded into his vehicle and there’s a good crappie/bluegill pond calling to him.


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