Video Interview with Nicholas Wilton and Art2Life

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicholas Wilton a few weeks ago for an interview in my studio. Nicholas runs an online community of sorts called Art2Life that includes a great series of video interviews with artists, so I was honored to have been asked to participate. This was the first time I've done a proper video interview and it was really enjoyable to talk with such an accomplished artist, especially as he works in such a different genre.

Here is the entire interview -- enjoy!

I clearly don't know what to do with my hands. 

a special thank you to Nicholas and Ferris for making this such a pleasure. 

"Solace" limited edition prints now available from 1xRUN

I have a very limited run of "Solace" prints available now here:

California artist Aaron Nagel returns for his 12th RUN Solace which captures one of his largest works to date. Paying homage to one of his favorite paintings, Nagel uses a palette knife for the first time, beginning a fabric-centric series that would become the basis for his latest solo show Cover with New York City’s Lyons Weir Gallery. Read on to see process photos as Solace takes shape, as well as the story behind the latest piece from Aaron Nagel . . .

Suggested Donation Podcast

I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Tony Curanaj and Edward Minoff for their Suggested Donation podcast late last year, and now it's out! please share if you could -- i'm a huge fan of their work and the podcast and am so honored to have been invited. We talk about my transition from music to art, atheism, control, and we may have done some burpees in studio. You can find it on iTunes here.


"Verity" Special Edition prints now available!

I'm doing a very small run of prints of my new piece, "Verity". limited to only 22, each will be signed, numbered, and hand-embellished. also included will be a certificate of authenticity from yours truly, thanking you for the support and for being awesome. 

Domestic orders made before Dec 19th will ship priority and will be in time for Christmas. And just for fun, print numbers will be scrambled -- the recipient of print 2 of 22 will get an additional print of one of my other paintings and whatever else I can fit in the tube!

"Verity" print edition of 22, hand-embellished, signed and numbered Giclée prints. 20" x 30" (paper size)

"Verity" print edition of 22, hand-embellished, signed and numbered Giclée prints. 20" x 30" (paper size)

New Painting, "Solace"

Happy to share a new piece, "Solace". I completed this towards the end of last year and have been sitting on it in hopes I could have it scheduled to show somewhere -- it's a big one, and really looks so much better in person -- but I'm not sure when that's going to happen. it'll be on view somewhere soon hopefully, but until then, enjoy these tiny .jpgs!

"Solace", 48" x 48", oil on dibond. 2015

the drapery on this piece is almost entirely done with a palette knife, so there is a good amount of texture that gets lost in a straight-on picture. some details below. 

exhibition dates hopefully coming very soon, but until then, the piece is available -- just email me at with any questions.

a huge thank you to Elle Evans for modeling for this one!

Portrait of Carré Step-by-Step #4

Lots of progress here after the face was done -- and of course the pink hair was a blast to paint. 

One thing to note about adding the background after the subject; it's not ideal. You can see that even in the last two shots above, that adding the darker background immediately made the figure have less contrast. darks look less dark, lights look less light. it's a good reminder that values are relative. Thankfully, I've done this so many times that I fully expect to tweak values once the background is done; I don't worry too much about my darkest darks and lightest lights when i'm doing the initial painting. 

I generally glaze in two different steps: darks and lights. I use Liquin for darks, letting each pass dry in between. Liquin dries within 24 hrs so it makes multiple passes on dark areas a little quicker. It can still be a little tedious, but gradually pushing areas darker always looks better to me than going in and trying to darken it all the way at once. it lends a little more depth, and allows me to control the color temp a little better. adding blacks and blues can tend to cool an area off too much, especially in shadows (which tend to be warm) so instead I add some combination of trans oxide brown, perylene red, alizarin, black and blue over a few layers. I also almost always use a clean/dry synthetic brush to soften the glaze, dial it back a bit, and/or remove any brush strokes.

pre-glazing [left] v. first pass of glazing [right] (tilted into the glare so you can see the spots I hit)

dark glazing with liquin

In the image above (right side), I haven't oiled out the dry paint, so you can clearly see the areas I've glazed in the glare. Liquin is extra shiny when it goes down so it also makes it easier to see just how dark the colors are. 

When the darks are where I want them to be and everything is dry enough, I'll start working lights. thin coats of light colors don't look as good to me. lights generally should be thicker (to add to depth) and I've found that thin coats of too light a value tend to look almost smokey. so instead of using pigment mixed with Liquin to glaze, I'll give the majority of the piece a very light coat of Oleogel to bring everything back and create a soft cushion. then I'll go in with lights without thinning them at all on the pallet. I'll mix colors, then go directly into the Oleogel on the surface, which will thin and gain a little transparency. I'll generally spend a session or two getting the lights where I need them, by building up lights as I did darks - but instead of keeping things transparent, I'm actively trying to get less transparent and thicker the lighter the color gets. for highlights (generally the lightest part of the painting, in this case the tip of the nose) I'll try and get a bit of impasto going -- either with more paint, or the addition of an impasto medium (I use the Rublev Impasto medium when I need it). 


I'll get a final pic up soon. leave any questions in the comments -- I'm happy to answer them. hope this was all helpful and that my freestyle punctuation and run-on sentences wasn't too annoying. 

Portrait of Carré Step-by-Step #3

So the challenge with working into dry paint, is not only matching colors, but getting a smooth transition between the wet and dry layers. this is compounded by the fact that colors dry slightly darker, so even if things look perfect one day, it may likely look not so perfect the next. As I mentioned in the 'Portrait of Sarah Explainer" post, this is where mediums come in most handy for me. I use Oleogel pretty sparingly while I'm painting, mostly just to stretch certain paints that might be a little harder to work with. but when working into dry paint, I give the area i'm about to work adjacent to a very light coat of Oleogel, just to bring the colors back and to create a more accepting surface. that way as wet layers overlap onto the dry layers, they don't sit so much on top of the paint, but visually blend more easily into it. I'll frequently work quite a bit on top of the dry layers, then use a clean dry brush to "fade" the new stuff. that way, if my colors end up being a little off once things are dry, there isn't a hard line in between the two sessions and it's much harder to notice. 

messy pallet at the end of the day. Oleogel is in the top right corner.

This mess is what my pallet looked like a few hours into the second or third session on this piece.  Essentially my habit is to throw some warms down; some combination of yellows, cad orange, cad red, and my trans oxide brown -- then cool down and purposefully muddy that mixture with purple, blues, greens, and maybe a little black. I didn't do a great job documenting what colors I used where with this piece, but I'll try and write more about my palette and color mixing in the future. 

This (above) is probably 4 separate days of painting, maybe 10-11 hours total. unlike the last piece, I didn't have any areas that needed super obvious correction at this point, where the transitions between two separate sessions stood out. I think that's likely because I did a better job painting those transitions, and I painted this one slightly looser. the freckles actually helped here. 

Portrait of Carré Step-by-Step #2

Onto the painting. I almost always paint on DiBond panels these days. DiBond is an industrial material made by 3m (although there are plenty of other companies making a similar product, and 3m isn't giving me any free there). It was originally intended for industrial applications and for signage apparently. I'm told it's what the inside of buses are made of.  It is essentially polymer sandwiched in between two super thin pieces of aluminum. It's sometimes tricky to find, (I get mine from a plastics supplier in Burbank) and cutting it is a chore. you can cut it with a circular saw and a carbide blade but holy shit does it make the worst noise ever. its use in public transportation and other stuff asideit's amazing. Once the panel has been prepared, I use at least 4 or 5 coats of acrylic gesso. it feels like any other hardboard panel to paint on, but is almost indestructible. it isn't susceptible to warping, or really any kind of degradation because the surface isn't porous. and even though it's super thin, it's rigid enough to paint on a 48' square piece without framing. I actually ran out of DiBond for this painting, so I won't get into how I prep it normally, but Kate Stone has a great blog entry about it here. I essentially prepare DiBond the same way although I use an acrylic ground instead of the real stuff.   

Instead of DiBond, I tried a new pre-gessoed hardboard panel from Blick. The surface was really smooth though (I hate their pre-textured gessoed panels) so I gave it an additional coat of grey acrylic gesso, which I didn't sand, just to give it a little tooth. I'm not even finished with the piece as I write this, and the surface has already chipped a little -- so my review is, these suck. stick with the unprepared hardboards (maple, etc.) and gesso them yourself -- or...DiBond!

preliminary sketch on grey gesso

preliminary sketch on grey gesso

I don't always grid my preliminary sketches, but I find I get the most accurate results this way...and I really like not having to worry about the drawing when I'm into the paint. plus I knew I was going to write about this piece and didn't want to fuck it up. when I was first starting with oils, I used to paint so thinly that you could see bits of the sketch coming through if I used a normal pencil, so I got in the habit of using red which sat nicer amidst flesh tones. I paint with a lot more paint now, but I still like the red pencil and I can use progressively darker shades if the sketch calls for a lot of refining.  after the pencil is down, I often remove some of the grid with an eraser so it isn't distracting, and I can get a better idea of how the whole thing is looking.  I then seal it with Crystal Clear so the pencil doesn't get picked up with the paint. 

day one progress

This is my second attempt at piecing together a portrait instead of painting the whole thing in layers, which I wrote about in the Portrait Explainer post. for this first sitting, I started with the eyes and just went until I felt like stopping, but made sure that every area I worked was as finished as I could get it. 

end of day one

you can see here that I'm not worrying much about the background, mostly because I don't have plans for it yet, but I am painting up the hairline and adding darks there. that will make it much easier to blend the hair into the dry paint of the face when it's time for that. the more I stick to that sort of planning, the easier the subsequent stages of the painting will be...but I'm not stressing over it. 

I'm definitely fighting the urge to paint other areas of the face with the same tones here, since that's always been my habit. but it's nice to be able to just focus on one very small area without that much concern for the next step.

more soon! 

Portrait of Carré Step-by-Step #1

It's been years since I've done one of these, but after that last post, it seemed overdue. so over the next few posts, I'll document my process as much as I can. a note: as a mentioned in the previous post, this is an entirely new way of painting portraits for me, so I'm still working it out. 

First things first. Here's the pallet I'm starting with:

1 - Titanium White (Charvin), 2 - Naples Yellow (Williamsburg), 3 - Cad Yellow Medium (Williamsburg), 4 - Cad Orange (Gamblin), 5 - Yellow Ochre (Williamsburg), 6 - Cad Red Medium (Williamsburg), 7 - Italian Burnt Sienna (Williamsburg), 8 - Perylene Red (Gamblin), 9 - Alizarin Permanent (Gamblin), 10 - Transparent Oxide Brown (Rembrandt), 11 - Mars Black (Windsor Newton), 12 - Oleogel medium (Rublev), 13 - Ultramarine Blue (Williamsburg), 14 - Manganese Violet (Williamsburg), 15 - Viridian (Gamblin), 16 - Sap Green (Williamsburg), 17 - Cerulean Blue (Rembrandt), 18 - Kings Blue (Williamsburg)

Amazingly, I tend to add even more colors as I go. With this piece, I also used: Quinacridone Red (Williamsburg), Ruby Red (Charvin), Trans Oxide Black (Rembrandt), French Burnt Umber (Rublev), Unbleached Titanium Pale (Williamsburg). I used a variety of brushes, most of which are Rosemary's Series 2025, and Windsor & Newton synthetics. 

And while i'm sharing, here's my setup on the other side of the easel. Obviously, no cleaning or tidying up was done prior to this picture. 

1 - Turp Natural (for cleaning brushes that get funky), 2 - Air Conditioning! (because 4 months out of the year, LA is way too hot), 3 - medical grade towels (I use these to wipe paint directly on the panels -- for mistakes or texture. they leave no lint), 4 - cold wax medium mixed with gamsol (for adding to retouch varnish to make less glossy), 5 - very spendy Da Vinci brush I use only for for varnish, 6 - Windsor & Newton Retouch Varnish mixed with wax medium, 7 - sweet ass (old) laptop. I use photoshop to display my reference on an external monitor, and itunes to play audiobooks generally about WWII, 8 - string! best tool I know (aside from lasers) for straight lines and perspective, 9 - This is water...for drinking, 10 - powder-free latex gloves, 11 - I don't know where 11 is...oops, 12 - this is paint "on deck", stuff I use fairly regularly, 13 - there's twice as much paint on the second shelf, 14 - swivel stand for my monitor. 

more very soon!

Portrait of Sarah Explainer

I start with the face. regardless of the painting -- if there's a figure in it, that's what I tackle first. for this one though, something different. 

portrait study of Sarah, 11" x 14", oil on panel. 2016

portrait study of Sarah, 11" x 14", oil on panel. 2016

my usual process: I will get my lines down in pencil, then with very little planning or underpainting, settle in for what generally amounts to be a very long night. I've always painted this way, when the paint is wet. it's a sort of alla prima I guess. and while I will eventually go back in and add some glazing and detail work, for the most part, that first session is also the last session. 

end of the first sitting on this portrait of GN

end of the first sitting on this portrait of GN

There are advantages to starting a piece this way for me. the most obvious of which is that the paint is wet that first day; the entire face can be worked and refined at the same time, making it easy to keep a uniform feel. I don't have to worry about going back into already dry paint if I knock it out in one sitting, and despite the years I've been at it, there's something I find intimidating about starting a painting.  faces are a definable area; it's easy to paint up to a hairline, and a jaw line, and not worry that the transition to the next body part will look off. I think I initially started working this way as a sort of backup/escape plan -- i.e. if the face looks funky after that first day, the painting might not be worth finishing. so I'm sure these habits were born of a lack of confidence, as much as they are tricks and "shortcuts".

plus there's element of torture and endurance in there -- and I'm all for that.  

speaking of torture, the downside of this method, is that I need a good 8-12 hours to paint a least (and contrary to my expectations, I'm definitely not getting any faster). I do like painting for super long sessions, but it's a drag to not have other options when I need them. painting that long is super exhausting, even with my cushy floor mat and snacks. generally after 14 hours, if my eyes aren't totally shot, the paint starts to dry anyway. 

SO, I decided the approach this one differently. I did a sketch, tinted the panel and bit, and started with the eyes. I didn't think about any other area of the painting, and actually didn't think much about how I was painting. When the eyes were done, I stopped. novel!

Oil paints get slightly darker when they dry, which is one of the reasons going into already dry paint and trying to match colors is so hard. things look right, then the paint drys, and everything is terrible. one way to get around this, and make the dry paint easier to work with, is to add a light layer of medium to the dry paint layer before you put any actual paint down. supposedly this is called a "wet cushion" (which they may or may not teach you on day 2 of art school, but it took me years to figure out). it also serves to "oil out" the dry colors and bring their vibrance back -- which is especially helpful for darker colors. I've been using Oleogel as my primary medium for a few years now, and it works great for this. Oleogel is a soft gel that doesn't speed drying noticeably, and isn't sticky. think of a much softer vaseline. it makes paint more pliable, but it doesn't feel any thinner. it also doesn't smell like it's giving me cancer. 

Having a plan really helped me here. while working into dry paint is still a challenge, only concentrating on one area meant I wasn't as concerned with the overall look of the whatever I didn't get to on that first pass, whatever inconsistencies there were in the colors from wet to dry, I'd address that stuff later. It took me maybe 4 or 5 shortish sessions to get the first layer of the face done here, and although I did go back in and add detail and glazing, It didn't require much more than normal. taking my time with each session made for less corrections at the end I suppose.

It occurs to me now that a proper step-by-step of the painting would really help illustrate all this rambling, but I didn't think of that ahead of time. I'm going to do another portrait with this same process and I'll do my best to document each stage. until then, I was really happy with this little experiment. I feel like I learned a lot about working into dry paint, and while I wasn't necessarily trying to paint tighter and/or more realistic, I like how it came out. 

Film Project Vol.1 - Bailee

"Aaron Nagel Vol.1, Bailee" A Jamie Heinrich Short. Featuring Bailee Mykell. Cinematography by Jamie Heinrich & Max Ritter.

I have the distinct honor of being featured, (along with fantastic model and recent muse, Bailee)  in a short film series by filmmaker Jamie Heinrich. In progress for months, Jamie documented our reference photo shoot for a new painting, and interviewed Bailee and me about the process. I think it's a really interesting perspective on what goes into the planning stages of a painting, how model and artist interact, and what the process looks like in comparison to the final product. it's a side of things people don't often see, I couldn't be happier with how it came out. can't wait to do more! (also, make sure you watch in HD and fullscreen if you can.)

A huge thank you to Jamie for being so supportive, and of course, to Bailee for being a fantastic model and inspiration.


I was invited to participate in this years Dirty Show in Detroit MI, which opens Feb 12. I was initially hesitant to participate, as my paintings are often mistaken as erotica and it can get a little frustrating at times. There is nudity, but I actively try and steer away from anything that might be even slightly erotic -- it's really not what i'm going for. sure, there's always going to be people who see a nipple and think, "porn".  sure, our various social networking solutions wholeheartedly remove art containing nudity (i've had many " violation of..." notices), validating those idiots who don't approve. So my initial thought was that doing a purposefully erotic painting would be a bad idea; just having it out there making it harder for people to see past nudity...but I also really liked the idea of doing something so conceptually different. And If I did something really erotic, maybe I'd have something for those people to compare my other stuff to; "this one is not erotic at all, those are just boobs -- this one over here though, that one is erotic. enjoy!"



I'm barred from posting this one uncensored almost anywhere else, so feel free to click, save, and send around. info on the show below -- look at that lineup! a big thank you to curator Genevive Zacconi for having me!



Thought I would write a bit about my recent painting, "Lady With a Sphinx" which I humbly modeled after the Leonardo Da Vinchi painting, "Lady With an Ermine". This is my second attempt at a painting modeled after a classic, the first being my version (of Bouguereau's version) of the Piéta. That one didn't come out so good.  of course it doesn't help that the originals, in both cases, are amazing. but of course they are. I have always liked "Lady With an Ermine"; the lighting on the figure, the stark background, the lettering in the upper left hand corner, and of course, the Ermine (because what the fuck is an ermine?!). Thankfully, we have wikipedia, and a wealth of probably true information on Da Vinchi's Original piece (here). to start, an Ermine is "...a stoat in its winter coat..." and  "...[they were] a traditional symbol of purity because it was believed an ermine would face death rather than soil its white coat." cool right? (a stoat is a type of weasel by the way, I had to look that up too).

I thought it would be fun to redo the piece with a Sphinx, and I happen to know a model I painted for a small piece a few months back (here) that had one -- and a particularly weasly one at that. so, perfect!


trying to get the reference photo looking similar was a challenge but an enjoyable one, as I never have a concrete idea of how I want reference to look, so there tends to be a lot of trial and error. this time, I messed with it until the pose and lighting was right, then just took a few hundred pictures there, with very subtle pose and expression changes.  I ended up doing a bunch of work in photoshop post as well, especially because we shot the cat first, then worried about the figure -- so I had to combine elements from 3 or 4 different shots. I obviously took some liberties with the costume and hairstyle -- not exactly because I didn't care to get that specific, but I didn't feel those elements were necessities (and i'm no stylist or hairdresser). Margarita also has normal shoulders and collar bones, so the giant-trap/broken-shoulder look the Lady with an Ermine has wasn't gonna happen.

One interesting aspect I learned during the research (wikipedia, again...hopefully mostly true) is that not only is the black background on the "Lady with an Ermine" not original, but the lettering in the top left corner isn't either. Conservation is one thing, but adding text to a Da Vinchi?! pretty nuts. Also, whoever added the text, "LA BELE FERONIERE. LEONARD DAWINCI" mistook the subject for the Belle Ferronière, which " the Leonardo portrait in the Louvre, whose sitter bears such a close resemblance...". That piece is also known as Portrait of an Unknown Woman, so when it came to adding text to my version, I went with "LA BELE INCONNU", roughly translated as "the beautiful unknown". I decided against writing a Polish phonetical transcription of my own name.



IMG_1779 This is the last week of my show "Fathoms" at Lyons Wier Gallery in New York. If you're in the area on or before June 7th, please drop by and let me know what you think. It's had a really good response and i'm already very much looking forward to the next one.

The same day "Fathoms" comes down, "Three Figures" opens in LA (it's been a busy few months!). I'm very excited to be showing with Jeremy Mann and Sean Cheetham and to be showing for the first time with Maxwell Alexander Gallery. If you're in LA area, please come by. I'll have 4 brand new smaller pieces along with some fantastic work by Jeremy and Sean. See you then! (info below)

Adobe Photoshop PDF