Don's Abstract and Whimsical Gallery
The slideshow at top features Don's most recent and favorite paintings in these genres. Click on images to enlarge them and/or see entire painting. Further below you'll find a more comprehensive selection of subjects in these genres with a little information about each.
Disaster at Five Finger
12 x 16 inches Alkyd on canvas
Five Finger Lighthouse Society asked a number of artists to create works for an online auction to raise funds for improvements to the historic lighthouse in Frederick Sound.
This is my contribution to that effort including a bit of the "history" of the area describing the event that precipitated construction of the original Five Finger Lighthouse that I found on Whackopedia.
Excerpt from Whackopedia
During the early years, a colony of seafaring gnomes inhabited the site of the later years Five Finger Lighthouse. Technologically advanced, they invented a powerful light consisting of a candle flame magnified with the lenses of the eyes of five giant squid and one bald eagle. For thousands of years, they argued they didn't need sophisticated technology, that their manual "lighthouse" used the best available science.
Thus, generations of "keepers of the "light" positioned themselves on a rock outcropping to warn passing ships of the danger posed by the islands -- until that fateful night. Ole, the current keeper of the light, had an addiction. Sadly, the demon, lutefisk, wrapped him firmly within its clutches. It also kept resident gnomes from checking on how well he performed his duties. They only connected the heavy scent of lutefisk on his breath and clothes with the same scent along the shoreline surrounding the "lighthouse" and the pile of noseeums laying on the ground gasping for breath each morning.
That night, after succumbing more than usual to his addiction, Ole snoozed during his shift. Some say he passed out as did the first rescuers who inhaled the lutefisk fumes upon discovering the disaster. Either way, a grizzly scene greeted the remaining rescuers left standing.
A passing gnome transport vessel, the captain lounging in the galley refilling her plate with, you almost guessed it, leftse, failed to notice a large land mass looming dead ahead. Ole, unable to perform his duties, did not signal the ship with the light, nor with his back-up warning method, a stern three blows from his nose followed by a trebled burp.
Fortunately all aboard survived the ensuing shipwreck, but responsible area residents decided time for a more reliable solution had come. There would be no more drama of this sort.
And thus, Ole had to file for temporary unemployment compensation as the colony moved to a quieter, still undisclosed location while construction of the first iteration of the present day structure began. Some say they moved east. Others, west. Still others, north and small contingent, even further north. However, on foggy nights a tiny speck of light on a neighboring island suggests they are still present warning passing vessels of dangers hidden in the gloom. However, now as backup, the odor of lutefisk in the air alerts ship captains to the dangers that lie nautical miles ahead.
Pretty in Pink 12 X 16 inches Alkyd on Canvas Sold
Collection of Petersburg Public Library
I conceived “Pretty in Pink” one drizzlyy day in Wenachee, Washington when I stopped to visit former Petersburg artist and teacher, John McCabe, on a return trip north. As we chatted while John worked on a painting in his garage I glanced out the open garage door to see the family that lives next door emerge from their house to walk their black Labrador retriever.
The father restrained the happy dog on a leash while their maybe 6-year-old daughter followed. Dressed in a pink dress and carrying a pink umbrella through that drizzle, I immediately envisioned her in a painting.
Back home in Petersburg that image stuck with me as I contemplated what I could produce for a local art show. The shows title, “points of light” didn’t fit my subject, but the idea of painting that little girl overcame my intention to stay with the theme.
Alas, I didn’t have a model and my “minds eye” is a bit fuzzy. But wait! It had been awhile since I painted one of my gnome paintings. I connected the dots and Pretty in Pink was born.
Of course I needed a troll and instead of my gnome lass holding a Labrador retriever, how about the troll with a slug pulling at her (yes, it’s a girl troll) leash. That leash soon morphed into a thick piece of rope. In contrast, the girl gnome has a very thin piece of thread to tether her porcupine and I like the delicate way she held that tether. Naturally, since this is Petersburg, my pink girl gnome needed to wear Xratuf boots.
Spring Comes to the Coast Range 12 X 24 inches Alkyd on canvas $750
Needing another piece to replace "High Country Spring," (see below) I zeroed in on a photo I had taken of southeast Alaska's Coast Range from a vantage point on our island. The photo was taken through a pass across the island. The longer I played with it, the further the painting deviated from the actual setting -- and the more fun I had.
With portraits I have a pretty good idea of what I want my final piece to look like -- the person I'm painting. Not so with these abstracts. It's so freeing to just let go and see what happens -- an advantage of oil based paints where, if you don't like where it's going, just paint over it.
High Country Spring
18 X 24 inches Alkyd on Canvas
A spring road trip to the Haines, Alaska area provided many opportunities to photograph the patterns of melting snow, one of my favorite subjects to abstract. This painting is based on a combination of several of them -- one for the background and one for the foreground. However, if you visit the area, you may find the painting is only based on the setting. It does look a bit different in reality.
I set out to paint "High Country Spring"
for a competition I planned to enter that fall. However, at this point in it's composition it had been sitting in my studio for several months. Was it done? I wasn't sure, but the answer came with a phone call. A friend had visitors to Petersburg who liked some of my paintings in a local art show. Did I have others? At that time "High Country Spring" was lounging behind another painting. The instant I moved the other piece, the visitor announced he wanted this painting. Artists have highs and lows in their careers, rejections and critical comments but it's all worth while when you experience moments like that. I immediately set out to paint another idea for the competition.
A Lazy Day on the Water
12 X 16 inches Alkyd on Canvas $500
I photographed the reference photo for A Lazy Day on the Water just inside the mouth of LeConte Bay -- as we were lazing around enjoying the beauty of the icebergs. The painting lazed around in my studio for awhile until a recent opportunity to show it arose during the 2014 Tongass Rainforest Festival. The chance arrived with a request. Did I have any paintings with gnomes? Aha, I thought, I'll just add a couple of the creatures to this painting. Notice which gnome is catching the big fish -- yes the lady
gnome in high heals. Also, for non-Alaskans, we don't use bobbers when fishing in salt water.
12 X 16 inches Alkyd on Canvas NFS
The Petersburg Arts Council sponsored an art show on Valentine's Day, 2014. The only requirement -- all pieces had to include the color red. Meanwhile, I was enjoying Karen's whimsical drawings and paintings, her photos of chickens and a painting I completed a couple of years ago of Clarence, a South Dakota hereford. And so, the convergence of these images led to the creation of "Unexpected Delivery." If you see the painting up close you might notice a departing swan in the distant sky.
Rugged Range 18 X 24 inches Alkyd on Canvas $800
Driving "out the highway" from Petersburg there's a gap in the mountainous spine that runs the length Mitkof Island. Through that gap we can view the spires of a portion of southeast Alaska's Coast Range. I usually slow down to savor that favorite view and have taken more than a few photos of the vista. Rugged Range is an abstracted painting based on that view.
Suppertime in Gnomeland 12 X 16 inches Alkyd on Canvas $400
Karen and I wanted to collaborate on a painting and gnomes seemed like a natural fit. I had recently seen some paintings of night subjects on the internet and thought that might be fun to try. With that inspiration the idea of some gnomes by a campfire was born. I suggested it to Karen and she immediately drew some sketches with which I could work. Thus, Suppertime in Gnomeland represents a collaboration between Karen and me.
Convergence 18 X 24 inches Alkyd on Canvas $1000
Don and Karen Cornelius
Upon completion of one of our nightly games of Upwords (a kind of vertical Scrabble) Karen's and my conversation shifted to future paintings. We both love "After Hours on the Loading Dock" in which Karen was part of the inspiration process. The idea of more collaborations appeals to both of us and I wanted to try more abstracted paintings of glaciers. With that Karen grabbed a pencil and sketched out the idea for "Convergence." the convergence of ideas as well as two glaciers.
Breakup on Portage Lake 18 X 24 inches Alkyd on Canvas Sold
This painting was accepted for the 2015 National Weather Center Biennale art show in Norman, Oklahoma and subsequently appeared in Southwest Art magazine when they reviewed the show.
During a trip to southcentral Alaska I took a side trip to the head of Turnagain Arm, to one of Alaska's most accessible gems, Portage Lake. Prior to 1984, I would have been able to see the glacier from the viewpoint of "Breakup on Portage Lake." And before 1914 the lake didn't even exist since the glacier totally filled the basin. I painted this painting based on a photo I took of the lake that June day as shoreline cottonwoods were just beginning to put on their spring green "plumage." I added the abstracted ice floes to provide an avenue into the painting, an avenue that might have existed but a few days earlier.
Springtime Near the Pass
12 X 16 inches Alkyd on Gessoboard
Contact Firelight Gallery in
A couple of years ago we spent a week in June visiting family in Alaska's Matanuska Valley. Of course we had to spend some of that time in our old playground, Hatcher Pass. I abstracted "Springtime Near the Pass" from a photo I took of a side valley one of those evenings -- an evening that feeds the dreams of artists and photographers alike. Winter snows lingered on the upper slopes while the alder thickets at lower elevations began to light up in spring greens. It's my
favorite time of year. It's also a time when male willow ptarmigan stake out their territory -- roosting at the top of a clump of willows or alders while their mate hides at the base of the thicket. Thus, if you look closely you can see one of my favorite birds regaling in the splendor of all his territory.
Winter in Gnomeland 22 X 30 inches Alkyd on Paper Sold
WAVE (Working Against Violence for Everyone), a Petersburg nonprofit organization, had a fund raiser called Art by the Inch. Local artists; including Karen and me, were asked to create 22 by 30 inch pieces to be sold by the square inch. The idea was for people to pick out sections of the painting they would like to purchase. The paintings were cut up as per patrons request. Above is a copy of my piece followed by closeups (below) of two sections. Ooh, it was so hard to see the scalpel attack this painting. In the end just one section, the very top, was left. Then, finally, at the last second, it too found a buyer -- Karen and me.
Spring Comes to the High country 18 X 24 inches
Alkyd on canvas Sold
I'm still finding inspiration from our spring, 2010 road trip to southcentral Alaska. For this abstracted piece I mostly relied on a plein air painting I completed while camped on a knob overlooking the Chugach Mountains. The greening hillsides crawling up the mountainsides contrasted sharply with the still barren higher slopes. Need I say, it sure made me yearn for a rerun of that trip. OK, the herd of caribou on the ridge failed to materialize that year, so I had to import them into the painting.
Distant Range 12 X 16 inches Alkyd on canvas Sold
Walking our dog, Niko, on the road behind Petersburg's airport, Karen stopped to photograph the view of the Coast Range beyond our little town. Only a few roof tops and the steeple of Petersburg Lutheran Church rose above the surrounding forests. While the motivation for this abstracted painting was not Petersburg, but rather the light patterns on the Coast Range, my reaction was, "yes, the painting definitely needs the church.
LeConte Impressions 18 X 24 inches Alkyd on canvas Sold
The Alaska State Council on the Arts acquired this painting for inclusion in the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank in 2013.
I've painted views in nearby LeConte Bay before, but never the glacier. Nor have I abstracted any of those paintings. It was time. LeConte Impressions is based on our view sitting on Don Holmes' boat during the summer of 2011 -- just drifting among the ice floes waiting for the glacier to calve, sharing the Bay with seals hauled out on nearby bergs.
Wings Over the Tongass
16 X 20 inches Alkyd on canvas $500
Available at Fireside Gallery in Petersburg, Alaska
Karen and I found some new views of the Coast Range while exploring an old logging road during the summer of 2011. Yes, as small as our island is, we still have a lot of exploring to do. The view seemed to fit into my idea of painting abstractions. Still it needed more so on came a solitary bald eagle and flock of swans.
Chugach High Country
12 X 16 inches Alkyd on panel
Chugach High Country is an abstraction based on the view of the Chugach from my tent at 4:00 AM several years ago. There, camped near the top of a knob several miles from Gunsight Mountain I spent several glorious days capturing the vistas in plein air painting as well as my camera.
Ptarmigan Valley 12 X 16 inches Alkyd on panel
I really saw Ptarmigan in this valley. One whitetail -- while crosscountry skiing there back in the mid 1970s. In the mood for another abstraction, I based this painting on a plein air (High Valley) I completed during our spring 2010 road trip. I couldn't resist importing a whole flock of ptarmigan into this piece -- the idea generated from seeing one willow ptarmigan on a nearby hill the day Is completed the plein air piece.
After Hours on the Loading Dock 12 X 16 inches Alkyd NFS
Karen and I teamed up on this one. A local show titled Our Town set me off to paint the loading dock at a local cannery -- from a photo taken by Karen. The rain gear ready for the next delivery had caught her eye. It needed more. I suggested the gnomes dragging a salmon to Karen. Soon she came up with reference sketches of gnomes followed by a pixie and a fairy. Of course the fairy had to wear rain gear and Xtra-Tuff boots. This is southeast Alaska after all. So much for "reality." Ironically, six months later the Alaska ferry, Matanuska, ran into this dock just a few feet to the left of the image. Could it have been lured there by our fairy? Oh dear.
Campus Colors 16 X 20 inches Alkyd on canvas $750 unframed
After completing a painting of Middlebury College for my 50th college reunion yearbook, I was in the mood to paint Vermont. One problem. Those few miles between Alaska and Vermont. I had to make the trip electronically. Google maps lead me to the photography of Barbara Ganley who generously gave me permission to use her photo for reference. You can find out more about her work at Community Expressions.
Yukon Spring 16 X 20 inches Alkyd on canvas Pvt. Collection
Returning from a spring road trip through the Yukon, several of my plein air subjects seemed to lend themselves to abstraction. I'm drawn to patterns formed as snow retreats from wind-blown ridges leaving long white fingers in the ravines. I based this one on the view of Kluane National Park from a sandbar along Quill Creek. A warning: Don't try to select the route for a hike based on my depiction of the scene.
Northern Crossing 16 X 20 inches Alkyd on canvas Sold
Anyone winding their way down Alaska's Glenn Highway, high above the Matanuska River, can't help but be drawn to a triangular-shaped mountain vying with the river for attention. Naturally, Karen took the best photos of it, one that seemed to lend itself to one of my abstractions. The recent selection of my painting, A Fine Day on the Tongass, for inclusion in the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank reinforced the idea. I have to admit the snow on the mountain was more patchy, the trees less regular, so I exercised every artist's option of messing with nature.
Nearsighted Gnome 9 X 12 inches Alkyd Sold
Five years after I had open heart surgery I still hadn’t formally thanked the lead doctor who performed the surgery. It was time. Remembering lots of bear photos in his office I painted the whimsical brown bear for him. The cows symbolize the bovine aortic valve he outfitted me with and as for the forget-me-not flowers -- I can’t forget him. In the end I decided a more realistic painting was more suitable so the Nearsighted Gnome found another home.
Rising 20 X 24 inches Alkyd on canvas $900
Rising sprung from a Tongass Rainforest Festival show. My idea: Rise to your fullest potential. Portions of the Coast Range rising to it’s full height through a rising layer of clouds, a humpback whale rising above the waves, abstracted trees rising in the forest, icebergs rising from the sea, a couple of flocks of snow geese migrating south after rising up from their summer breeding grounds, an eagle on top of the biggest berg with other eagles soaring to greater heights above it -- all contributed to the theme.
Off for a Rainforest Picnic
12 X 16 inches Alkyd Sold
Adding a gnome to the painting “Last Watchman” sparked an idea for the Tongass Rainforest Festival. Why not have fun with gnomes. An internet search to see what gnomes look like showed I had lots of room for imagination as long as they had a red hat. Trolls also popped up with the search revealing even more latitude. Thus came the family of gnomes and a troll off on a picnic during a rainy day in the Tongass rainforest. Several creatures endemic to the Tongass added surprises to the setting. I finished this painting the day before
the show. It sold the next day. I guess I’ll have to paint more of these creatures if I want to enjoy having them around.
A Fine Day on the Tongass 18 X 24 inches Alkyd on canvas Sold
Collection Alaska State Council on the Arts Contemporary Art Bank.
Inspired by one of my favorite artists, Donald Flather, I decided to let loose with a more abstract paintings highlighting some of my favorite features of our Tongass rainforest home -- glaciers, spires rising heavenward, and charismatic fauna dominated by a pod of orcas.
16 X 20 inches Alkyd on Canvas Sold
After the Tongass Art Show in 2009, I was asked if I could paint another version of my painting, Cycles of the Tongass. This time I went bigger adding more critters including a couple of explorers -- my friend Brian Paust lead by his dog, Sage, and followed by grandson, Gus.
Inspiration Alkyd 12 X 16 inches $400
Inspired by one of my favorite artists, Donald Flather, I set out to do an abstracted painting of the Coast Range. Running up against an inspirational wall, I chanced critiques by Karen and friends. OK, I “un-abstractied” the piece a bit. More critiques, more “unabstracting.” Finally I gave up and ended up with this hybrid.
High Desert 12 X 16 inches
During my October, 2008 road trip through Death Valley, I did a quick abstract of a scene along Titus Canyon Road. Returning home armed with that painting, I set up to abstract my abstract. Alas, I kept returning to a photo I had also taken of the scene. In the end my super abstract ended up as anything but. Ah, well, I still like the painting.
Ultimately the decision: Call it a plein air or studio piece? I played with it so much at home, studio won.
Udderly Yours Alkyd
12 X 16 inches Sold
I created this painting for an Art with Heart exhibit. Having had my aortic valve replaced with one of bovine origin I felt it was only appropriate that I give tribute to the cow who helped save my life. The flowers, of course, are Forget-me-nots.
Bubble Feeding Oil 12 X 16 inches Collection of Clausen Memorial Museum
One of my earliest abstract paintings, I still think of Bubble Feeding as the direction I would like to go more often.