Keeping It Real

Six Pounds, One Ounce (watercolor, 30×22-1/2)

You could draw all sorts of symbols from the precarious way Humpty Dumpty is sitting on the piano in Six Pounds, One Ounce. But Jonathan Linton?s goal was actually to create the feeling that the masking tape could be peeled off the painting, not to tell some allegorical story. “It was a fun still life setup,” says the Chatham, New Jersey, artist. “But it was a challenge to get them right—to do the shading on the tape and the stitching on the doll. The contemporary part of that would be the layout of the piece—how it?s all centered and how it?s just basically dark on light.”

Linton tries to strike the same traditional/contemporary balance with his commissioned portraits. Because they?re commissioned the likeness ranks pretty high in importance. Still, he strives to add something creative to make each portrait individual. He gives the example of a painting he did last fall of three children. “Their mother wanted the painting to have the feeling of being at the beach,” he says. “So I photographed the three children playing in the waves, and posed them in a contemporary design. Then I mixed sand with medium and brushed that on the bottom. Her house is very contemporary, so we needed to do something that would fit in and also have a realist element so you could recognize the kids right off.”

For the past year and a half, when he hasn?t been working on his commissioned portraits, Linton has been researching and working on his American History series. He got the idea after noticing that history books tend to use the same paintings when talking about the American Revolution. “I thought I?d do a contemporary take on these historical themes,” he says. Linton is almost done with The Legend of Betsy Ross, and he?s working on a painting that shows the procession of George Washington into St. Paul?s Chapel after he was inaugurated in New York City. “I think the chapel is a neat symbol,” he continues. “It played a part in the beginnings of our country, and is still standing even though the buildings around it were destroyed last fall.”

Besides eventually finishing his 12-part American History series, Linton plans to work on his value technique in his paintings in the near future. “I found a book of photographer Hoyningen-Huene?s work,” he says. “The dynamic light and shade that he used in his photos is just incredible. I think the next painting I do will reflect some of these value contrasts, playing with light and shade like he did.”

Linton says he has always worked with oils and watercolors, and has always painted people, still lifes and landscapes. But he doesn?t believe he?ll ever settle into formulaic ways of painting. “I think it?s fun to always find new ways of doing things,” he says. “I just love what I do. I?ve never considered doing anything else.”

Arleta Pech of Arvada, Colorado, is the author of Painting Fresh Florals in Watercolor (North Light Books). For more art tips, visit her Web site at

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