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

la jolla sunset | new work completed


la jolla sunset



This is the first sunset of a series. I grew up in a beach town north of San Diego, California. The Pacific Coast in California has a quality of light – a clarity and a moisture haze and an intensity – that washes everything in a glow and warmth. The last months of summer this year and then the encroachment of a New England darkness autumn-to-wintor made that memory of warmth and light particularly intense for me.


— spence


painting: canyons


I painted some early paintings in watercolors. Pencil sketch on textured watercolor paper, strathmore heavy duty, fairly small stuff – perhaps 8-1/2″ x 11 or 11″ x 17″. I would vidualize the painting, sketch it out, color and line it, at a single stretch of time.

The portfolio that held these was water-damaged in a storage shed in California after an earthquake. Somewhere along the line what was salvaged was set aside and lost

Canyons started out as a drawing in memory of a desert scene I had painted in watercolor and lost. Since the medium was oils, the painting evolved away from that, though the colors and the shading echo what I remember of those paintings.

Oil has more depth and translucency, just a very intense color. Even at brightest, the watercolors couldn’t hit these saturations.



— spence

painting: long road home


This abstract came to be from a section of brushstrikes on another painting. This is the second, successful incarnation. The first was flatter, the colors more separate. This painting is oil on canvas, varnished with Gamvar archival varnish one year after completion. It is 30″ x 40″, gallery wrapped and painted through the edges, 1-1/2″ thick.

I keep seeing new things in the painting… A house, valley, road, mountains, vineyards, groves, oasis, river and banks.

This kind of glowing translucent blended color seems to be something oil paint can achieve easily. See canyons.



— 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