Category Archives: Paintings

Circus Comes to the City


Setting up the big top and awaiting the rest of the gang.

Circus Comes to Big City 2″x4.25″ (miniature), 1969, acrylic on upson board.

This is a very small painting of the circus setting up near the big city.  It is a very loosely painted picture for a miniature, but was meant to be a study.  Since I posted the clowns from the same era, I thought to get this little painting into the light as well.  It was shown in the Lake Havasu art show along with the dollar art (see story).  Notice the green sky tint, a hallmark of some of my work of that time.




Golden Gate Bridge

Golden-gate_web   Golden Gate Bridge. Oil on canvas miniature 2.75″x5.25″ Painted in 1969 after returning from San Francisco.

A very small painting on small stretcher bars (also miniature).  Until I visited this city, I thought of the bridge as the most important aspect to be remembered, but after touring the historic “Painted Ladies” part of town, I fell in love with Victorian homes.  Later in life I was so inspired by them that I designed and built several dolls houses in that style. That will be a later post.

There were many miniature painters 4 decades ago, and some really good ones now.  I went through that phase and still enjoy very small works with big ideas.



Seagulls Swarm

Seagulls Swarm – Watercolor on W/C paper 8″x10″ (2005)

Seagulls swarm over a popcorn-tossing audience, a common occurance in Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota and probably everywhere else there are seagulls.

Capturing these birds in plein air style is very tough. It takes several boxes of popcorn to keep them near enough to sketch; first one bird, then another to represent the flock in action.

I paid a kid to keep feeding them while I sketched for about 30 minutes. Later, I just started photographing them and trying to illustrate them in the studio. On site is more “real,” but studio illustrating from reference photos makes more accurate bird images.

If you wear a hat and keep feeding them, they don’t drop things from the sky on you. I have watched them try to get popcorn from some people who ignore them and they will send their own special message to them. Yep! They know who is going to feed them, and who needs a lesson.

California Sunset Surf

11″x19″ Surf on the California Shore

Acrylic on Upson Board (you can’t hardly find Upson anymore) painted in 1966.

Green skies may seem unusual but, after a storm there are moments when the atmosphere is charged with yellow sunlight into blue water vapors(yellow and blue make green). This effect does not last long and is usually excused by the eye which sees the water as bluegreen, and the sky as blue violet (after a storm), but look again next time a storm passes you overhead, and for a few breif moments it will be there for you. I have done several such scenes and almost always get a comment about the green skies. At first I wondered about my own vision? Monet said to his doctor, of his eye exam, “You mean there are not halos of radiance glowing from within and around things?” Because that is what he saw and painted, and I asked of my own eye exam. The doctor informed Monet that he had impaired vision causing a halo effect. After taking color tests, if anything I was informed of a very slight green deficiency in my sight, so I must be painting a little less green than is there. Monet was painting a little more everything than was there.

During the late 1960s I produced a number of “green sky” paintings, and recently began to wonder if the atmospheric conditions of that time may have been different than now, the Mount Pinatubo effect, so to speak.

[Mount Pinatubo-photo]
 is  located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The volcano’s  erupted on June 15, 1991.

 It ejected roughly 10,000,000,000 tons  of magma, and 20,000,000 tons of SO2, putting huge amounts of minerals and metals to the surface environment, forcing large quantities of aerosol into the stratosphere. Over the following months, this formed a global layer of sulfuric acid haze. Global temperatures dropped by about one degree. After the eruption the sky changed to a silver violet hue that lasted 3 years, although it was a very beautiful hue, it was a poison gas pollutent . There is evidence in the old masters paintings of sky hue colors that may betray other geological events not understood at the time of the painting. Not all color choices were artistic, some were a visually inspired response to what was being seen. What ever the facts, I saw green skys and still do at times, and if for artistic purposes I feel that a green sky fits how I feel about an image at some times. Artistic license or science?


Two Centurys

two-centuries-Az_web_01Two Century Sisters (6.5×7.5 Acrylic on Upson Board, painted 1972).

I’m surprised at how well the acrylic paints hold up. This was painted back when acrylics were relatively new and no one really knew if they were going to hold up as promised. I remember every artist arguing about whether or not it was a real media or a fad. True purists said only oil was real art.  I have come to think of acrylic as the other oil that dries faster. Then came alkides!

As for century plants, (these are in Arizona) they bloom approximately every hundred years (so they say), and accordingly named them such. I have seen them bloom in ten year cycles or as the rain comes in unpredictable cycles in the Arizona desert, no one really knows.


© John Michael Cook

Seagulls on St. Louis River

Two Seagulls (Friends) 18.5"x28.75"   Friends in Flight (20″x30″ acrylic with brush on Canson Illustration board).

Standing high on a bluff (700 ft.) overlooking the St. Louis River south of Duluth, MN, I saw these seagulls crest over the edge of the bluff and swoop down over 3 miles to Lake Superior in search of food. A bird has to work hard in winter and It was winter 2005 and the lake was frozen but the river had some openings that allowed these sky hunters access to the St. Louis River bounty. With an approaching storm, I couldn’t tell where land, water and sky began and ended! Acrylic paint allowed for glazing (layering between passages), and then overpainting the bird pair


Desert Thunderheads

Thunderheads   Oil paint on canvas 5″x5″ (miniature), painted 1969. This is a small original studio painting done originally for a sidewalk art show. Oil paint really holds its vibrance over time and if you varnish the oil after a year or so it will last hundreds of years.

The wind preceding a storm in the Arizona desert often kicks up huge clouds of dust that mix with the rain clouds and reflect wonderful colors in that late Arizona afternoon sun.

This storm was approaching just at sundown, when the desert floor was already dark but the high clouds caught the setting sunlight. I love when that happens – it makes great scenes, and make the colors sing!  One can only observe or photograph these storms, as they move and change so quickly. This one is mostly a memory piece, as no camera was available.