Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hudson 5441

Steam is an experience. Steam is unstoppable, steam is power.

New Class for Modern Travel 2, (The Cincinnatian).

Steam.  A study of steam, movement, emotion and motion.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Flying Presedent

Movement is an extremely important element in getting across what I am trying to say in my paintings.  So often, I loose sight of that, and I become too focused on the train instead of the reasons for painting it.  

Water Spout Landscape

Copyright N.Emerson 2012

The train paintings are about desire, dreams, ambition, love and longing, this painting does all of that, with the use of color and impermanent qualities.  There are elements of my more realistic work, but  also elements of the more abstract.  In this, it all came together to make what I consider to be a very successful painting.

Marienville Daydream

This painting is simply Modernism, mall town steam and lonely.

Passing at Fostoria

Copyright N.Emerson 2012

This painting is slightly older than the more abstract paintings I've been doing recently, but the expression is still there.  In a painting, movement is key, whether you're painting trains or flowers blowing in a slight breeze.

Red Crossing

In the same vein as the last two paintings, I decided to go with warmer colors with the contrasting blue for the girl's dress.

West Virginia pick-nick

Copyright N.Emerson 2012

This painting was a bit of an experiment, another attempt at doing something new and being abstract.  Like "Untitled Reading"  this painting has a human element not seen in most of my earlier work.  The two girls lounge in the reeds by a stream that flows by their West Virginia home town, as a massive Y6b steam engine works a mine run. The girls are teenagers, on the brink of woman-hood... and what's in the bottle they're drinking?  Could the girl in red be posing for the engineer just a little bit?

Untitled Reading 30"x40"

Copyright N.Emerson 2012

This painting was a bit of an experiment, an attempt at being more abstract.  There is something else of interest in this painting, and that is the girl on the porch.  She is based on a girl painted by Balthus, a modernist painter who has always been a favorite of mine.  She watches the train with a bit of board detachment as the Reading T1 steams by her home with a freight. 

Some Town I Don't Recall

Copyright 2012

This Painting is part of a series, illustrating a story that I am writing about a romance that starts on a train.  The painting itself was heavily influenced by the late O. Winston Link, a photographer that captured some of the most famous images trains in history.  He was a master of night photography, and his images have inspired me for years. 

The steam locomotive steams through a depot around midnight, but it does not stop.  Most people on the train and in the town are asleep.  The engine is supposed to represent an Atlantic Cost Line 4-8-4, although it is not totally accurate in every detail.

I enjoyed working on this painting because it proved to be a good study of light and shadow.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Paintings taking a slightly different turn here.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

NYC Dreyfuss Hudson

One of my favorite subjects, the New York Central Hudsons, this one of the streamlined variety, designed by Henry Dreyfuss.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Around the Table

Two steam engines wait for their duties on the tracks that radiate from a turn table.  Seeming peaceful, they are actually powerful beasts of iron, steal, fire, water and steam that will soon be moving at speeds close to '80 mph.The locomotive in the foreground represents another NYC Hudson.

Friday, February 10, 2012


A perfect combination of power and grace, the 2-6-6-4 class A moves a "hotshot" freight through the Virginia Country side. When I was about 9 years old, I experienced one of these locomotives at speed. Norfolk and Western Class A, 1218 was rebuilt in 1987 for use in excision service on the Norfolk Southern.  Seeing this giant in person, and seeing her running at track speed on a cold November night created a lasting image in me that I could never quite represent in painting or in writing.  As she flashed by, I could only briefly catch details.  I could tell she had 2 cylinders and 2 sets of reciprocating parts, but I didn't have time to catch her number or her wheel arrangement.  As time went by, 1218 became a favorite engine of mine, and later on I spent time studying and reading about the development of this outstanding class of steam locomotive. It has been a strong influence on my art ever since.

I believe I captured movement in this painting, in a way that is not always easy to do. My goal was to move fast, while still showing the details of the engine.  It is sometimes hard for me to abstract the locomotive too much, because the locomotive is, in its own design, a near perfect form.  In truth, it is many forms that come together to make something that  stands a neat and organized whole. The shape is like a beautiful woman, or a tiger ready to pounce, yet it is a mere machine, made by man for the task of moving goods and people.  The class A was made of iron and steal, yet she was full of life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I have started messing around with fall scenes.  Once again, I am trying to depict, not only the train, but the shear power and bruit force behind the steam locomotive.  This Lakawanna Pocono type locomotive is swinging around a elevated curve with a freight train. I have spent some time up near Scranton PA, and this scene is very much like what you might have seen standing track side back in the 1940s.   I feel this painting is very successful at blending realism and abstraction.  It is a very realistic scene, but I'm trying to stay loose.  I keep the one hair brush tucked away for special occasions.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Class J At Speed

The Norfolk and Western class J was one of the finest steam engines ever built, not only from a design standpoint, but from a mechanical standpoint as well.  Volumes have be written about the Js, and in 1982, the only remaining class J was restored to operation by Norfolk Southern for their then thriving steam program. Painting a J is like depicting shear power, beauty and grace all in one painting.  The 611 in her pure form helps me sum up all the reasons to paint all at once. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


After completing the painting "Pennsylvania Dawn", I started to work on this painting.  I tried to implement the same technique that I had used in PA Dawn.  For the most part, the small brush is gone.  Most of the small details are now done with a larger brush. I used to be extremely detail oriented, and the paintings were all about the small brush and the smooth blending. Now, the paintings are no longer about intense detail but more about the overall feeling... yet, somehow, they are more realistic.  Creating them has become more about the color and working with observation than about specific detail.  The human brain fills in the detail and eye movement carries the viewer through the world I've created.

In 2002 I was doing similar paintings that were 4"x3"...  Notice that is 4 inches and not 4 feet!!!  These were very small paintings that could fit in a coat pocket.  I could not figure out how to translate them into bigger work.  Now, finally I have tapped into some of the magic of those little paintings in slightly larger scale.

These new paintings are all a very decent wall hanging size.  Big enough to be seen, but small enough that they don't overwhelm.  This one is about 18 x 24 inches, as an example.

So the paintings have taken on a slightly more historical quality, as I start painting real scenes, (or scenes that could have happened), as apposed to paintings of locomotives with totally abstracted backgrounds.  I am not trying, however, to simply reproduce a moment from the nostalgic past, rather I'm trying to capture something in the mood with my choice of subject matter composition and palate.  While the locomotives are still the main characters in my painted dramas, it has now become about the whole scene, (more so).

In this scene, we see a Norfolk and Western class A 2-6-6-4 passing a coal mine where another N&W articulated engine is waiting with a string of coal hoppers, taking on loads from the mine. The weather is cool and humid, with the two steam engines producing nice white steam in the crisp air.   True to the N&W, a minimum of black smoke is being produced.  The N&W was very strict about the over usage of coal, and publicity photos rarely show an N&W steamer producing thick black smoke.  When O. Winston Link took his famous photographs of the N&W, he was asked not to use pictures of the locomotives that showed too much black smoke.  Of course, it was unavoidable to photograph coal burning steam engines without some black smoke some of the time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pennsylvania Dawn

This painting is the start of a new direction for my body of work.  I took some time off, not only from blogging, but from painting as well, and when I came back I had a whole slew of fresh ideas. The subject matter is still basically the same, but the approach couldn't be more different.  As a result, I am enjoying the painting process more than I ever have. The idea is to portray the steam locomotive more like it really was, and to also capture the feeling of the world in which they operated.  In order to do this I had to think about atmosphere and lighting, but also overall mood.  In a way, I became more realistic with the painting, but I discovered a way to approach light, shadow and color in a way that opened my eyes to future possibilities.

The new approach allows me to blend realism and abstraction, but keep the image intact.  It may be hard to believe, given the subdude nature of this painting, but over all, when I did this painting it was the most fun I'd had in years.  Make your own call, of course, but I for one am happy about my fresh discovery.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fried Green Tomatos

I had the idea when making this painting to use video stills as reference and inspiration. There is a scene in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, where a boy is struck and killed by a train. The locomotive used in that scene was none other than Atlanta and West Point 290. I paused the movie on the exact frame where the locomotive supposedly kills the boy. I uploaded it into my computer, doctored it in a photo program, and printed it out and large as the low resolution video still would allow me so that I could use it for reference. I could have easily taken a photograph myself to use as a reference, but I thought using the film still made it a lot more interesting, therefore adding more meaning to the final project. Why is something so appealing often so deadly?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Street Running

I was approaching this painting with many of the same ideas as with the previous paintings, but I was working smaller, working with acrylic for a change, and working up from a solid color. It is one of the only paintings I've done in recent years that has had much at all in the way of representational detail in the background scene, but the simplistic way in which I've painted it combined with the solid blue green color makes it work with the rest of my paintings. In many cities, rails used to be recessed into the street just like streetcar tracks. This was more common in industrial areas, and of course, the tracks were laid in a time when there were fewer cars to get in the way. I'm still debating whether this painting is finished or not.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The modern era was really kicked off with, first, the photograph, and then, the "moving pictures". Early film makers often used trains, as they showed movement like nothing else and could help captivate audiences. In 1903, Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery was considered a milestone in film technique. Buster Keaton's 1927 film, The General, was a great moving picture that used a steam locomotive more as a member of the cast than as a prop. Some of the greatest shots of steam locomotives in history are from Keaton's film, including a spectacular wreck, (using a real locomotive).

It is in these above mentioned ways that the early movies and the steam locomotive are directly linked together, and both symbols of true modernism. This painting is slightly older than some of the others, (produced in 2006), but it deals with the same ideas of movement and modernism.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Steam Modernism

Yet another painting, loosely based on the New York Central Hudson type locomotives. I continue working through ways to pull all my ideas together about modernism and what it all means in my paintings. This painting was inspired by a dream that I had. A brooding storm was overhead, and I was on a long, steam powered train, moving through a very barren landscape. This painting gets the general feeling of the dream across, while keeping with my ideas about steam modernism.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Southern Bridge #1

This painting is obviously much more representational than some of the other paintings. I set out to do it in stages and abstract it like the others, but I got so caught up in the beauty of the original black and white photo that I was using for reference that I never abstracted it greatly. The image I used for reference was a stock Southern Railway publicity photograph taken in the '20s - '40s. I did the painting again later with a different feel, but this is #1, probably the better of the two.

The sky is a brooding pink as the steam engine climbs to greater heights, traversing the tall stone bridge.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New Class For Modern Travel

There is, of course, more emotion in some paintings than others. This painting holds a lot of emotion for me, as I was going through a difficult time when it was painted. That is probably why I believe it is more successful that some of the others. While I want to leave the emotional interpretation of these paintings to the viewers, I would like to talk a little more about my process for this one.

New Class For Modern Travel
was both carefully planned out and wonderfully spontaneous. As with A Night Train, I prepared a panel with a recessed pocket in which a smaller painting would fit. On the panel I first carefully painted a sign or advertisement with text reading, "New Class For Modern Travel". Under the text I drew a quick line drawing in paint of a Baltimore and Ohio locomotive, known as a president series pacific. I then painted the sign out. This incorporated a general advertising look of the 1920s, then almost completely covered by an abstract painting of the same train in all its modern glory. Then, in the reassessed pocket, the same train again from the same angle in a more representational form, which shows the pure beauty of the industrial and commercial design of the time. The word modern is easily discernible, and the words new and class are also legible if you look closely.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Night Train

In this painting, I went with my idea of layering paintings to create a greater overall painting. This painting is on panel, and I added another dimention to this painting by cutting a hole in the panel in which I could perfectly fit a small painting. This is another dark painting, and the larger part of the painting creates the effect that a fast moving train has at night, where all that you really see is a faint impression of the locomotive rushing towards you, and with a flash of side-rods and a rush of steam, she is gone; disappeared into the cold night air. The smaller painting inside the larger painting is more representative of what you would see if you could freeze the moment in time; one frame in what could be a series.

This was a real event I witnessed, when I waited track side, on a frigid night, for the mighty Norfolk and Western class A to thunder through my mother's home town of Rome GA. This was about 1990, and I was quite young, but I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
This painting has actually been untitled until now. I might still change the title, but A Night Train seems fitting because it is the A at night.

 Close up on painting inside of painting, (Night Sound):

Permanently burned into my memory was the dark night when a large steam locomotive (N&W 1218) and her train rushed out of the night and passed within feet of where I was standing. I dreamed about this moment for years. I can still hear her whistle echoing against the surrounding hills. I was only 9 at the oldest, but the thought of this moment still sends chills down my spine.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

100 Bad Dreams

This painting is about darkness; about the clang of the coal scoop on the firebox door; about the cold of the night and the heat of steam in an industrial wasteland. It is a bit like something from a nightmare, (or a very dark fantasy). A dream so thick, it could be cut with a knife, like the slitting of a throat under the dim yellow street lamp in this "sinking boardwalk town". Painted in 2003, I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits at the time, and thinking about the overwhelming effect over industrialization can have on a land scape. I abstracted the factory and bridge by having everything bent and swaying on the canvas. I was also trying continue in the vein of some small drawings I was doing at the time. I felt it was still important to post this painting because my Train paintings have gone through many different transformations as a body. While each individual painting evolves as I work on it, the body of work also has evolved. I was still dealing with many of the same themes, although the idea of using trains as a symbol of modernism had not completely flushed itself out yet.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Untitled T-1 Northern

This painting was started right on the heals of Century 1. Slowly the painting materialized and was finished after Modern Power. Some of the ideas from both paintings carry over into this one. The colors I used are supposed to give a heavily industrialized feel, and the darkness of the locomotive adds to the shear mass and power that it exudes. The locomotive is based on the freight hauling Reading T-1. Four of these locomotives still exist, although none currently run. They are beastly engines, and quite a sight to behold, even in the cold silence of their dormant state. Once again, I didn't put an identifying number or a railroad name, therefor allowing the brutishness of the behemoth be the focal point. Although many artists who paint trains tend to focus on recreating times and places in history, I want the viewer to see the train as a symbol and an object of beauty, rather than a historical reference.

Of course the history is still present. The T-1 Northerns were built in the Reading's own shops, using the boilers from smaller Consolidation type locomotives.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Modern Power 1

Modern Power 1 is the name of this painting. It was started soon after Century 1, but I didn't actually get around to finishing it until at least 6 months after I started it. Sometimes paintings go through many metamorphoses before reaching their final potential. Sometimes, these changes are part of a planned process, and other times it just happens that way. This painting is a result of a combination. I found it to be a very successful painting, conceptually keeping with the others, yet containing some new ideas simultaneously. As you move through the layers, you can see how the train has endured through time. Moving from one era to the next, finally emerging as the modern steam engine you see pictured. There are 4 locomotives in addition to the class J depicted front and center. 2 of the 4 are too small to be noticed, and 1 is so faintly painted into one of the layers that it is also hard to see. Most people will only see 2.

The industrial city skyline in the background represents Roanoke Virginia of the 1950s. The locomotive is one of the famous Norfolk and Western class J locomotives, known for being among the most modern steam locomotive ever built. These engines were also made famous when in 1982 a class J, number 611, was restored to service. Many people probably remember seeing 611 at one point or another as she racked up mileage, pulling excursions for the NS steam program. She was removed from service in 1994 and has been silent ever since. I saw her run several times, and she had a huge effect on me as an artist, as a railfan, and as a lover of good machining and fine industrial design.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Century 2

This is another painting based even more specifically on the New York Central Hudsons, (the beautifully streamlined version). The streamlining of this locomotive was designed by the famous industrial designer Henry Dreyfus in the 1920s. The locomotive, the colors, and my treatment of the buildings are all very modernist.

Oh, and I forgot to mention my main reason for painting trains; their shear beauty.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Century 1

I can very directly say, now, that making train paintings is life long project. I was originally going to title my first post "beginnings", but that would not be a very accurate title, since I've been using trains as my subject matter since before I can remember.

This Painting is called Century 1. The title came from the fact that I used the 20th Century Limited and the New York Central's Hudson type locomotive as an inspiration. The name also seemed fitting because of the dawning of a new century, (the 20th century that is).

My usage of color represents the life and movement that springs from the locomotive, while the dark blues that creep in on the edges represents the darkness of the urban landscape that the train traverses. The locomotive seems to be bathed in a yellow street lamp light. In this painting I was inspired by the abstract expressionists as well as Film Noir and the city of New York.

The smaller steam locomotive in the little vignette is a locomotive off of the Pennsylvania railroad, the main competitor of the NYC. It represents one of their large freight hauling Texas types, but there is no headlight or number plate, leaving the locomotive essentially unidentified.
The lack of these elements also makes the engine seem decidedly more dead than the very much alive Hudson.