Nearly every one of Charles Alden’s oil paintings started as a photograph.
“It’s always been getting the right image, getting the right photo, which is coincidentally getting the right painting, the right composition,” he said. “So I often take three, four, five or half a dozen photos of the same subject, maybe from different angles or just shifting the viewpoint somewhat.”
And at age 77, Alden has had plenty of time—and experiences—to collect more than enough photographs for inspiration.
He’s taken advantage over the years of numerous opportunities to travel; some of his excursions include canoeing and rafting the Ottawa River, San Juan River and Everglades River of Grass, hiking through the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, and exploring much of the U.S., Europe and Canada. Up until a few years ago, Alden and his wife had even kept a residence in Maine after their granddaughter, now 7, was born there.
During his travels, Alden always made it a priority to take photos.
“If you’re traveling with me…it can get to be a bit of a nuisance for them because from time to time I’m stopping the car and jumping out of the car and going somewhere to get a photograph, or maybe two or three,” he said. “And it can last from three minutes until 30 minutes.”
When he decides to start painting, he must first select an image. He then must sketch an enlarged version of the image onto the canvas, which he said requires simple mathematics to ensure the proportions are accurate. It is then that the actual painting can begin.
Most recently, Alden’s work was featured in the Lawrence Library in February, but he also has work regularly displayed around Lawrence Township. Several of his paintings currently hang in The Gingered Peach bakery, and one is even featured in the municipal building.
Among the work featured in the library is one of his favorite paintings, which features a wood hull boat with a 40-foot mast docked in Portland, Maine.
“I like the mistiness of it,” he said. “It was fun to try to achieve that—a kind of blurred vision of being in the humid cold weather in the middle of winter.”
But with the exception of one painting he completed after his college graduation in 1960, Alden said his work as an artist didn’t begin until he retired in 2000, when he and his wife moved back to Lawrenceville from Miami.
Alden grew up in the Main Street Village section of Lawrenceville in the 1940s and ’50s, when sprawling fields and farms surrounded the tiny downtown village and the Lawrenceville School campus.
“It was a little village surrounded by cornfields,” Alden said. “So I think I had a passion to go out and see something else there and see a different part of the world as well.”
Alden eventually left Lawrenceville for Syracuse University. Though he took some art courses his senior year—drawing, watercolor and oil painting—he primarily spent his time as an undergraduate focusing on urban design and land planning and ROTC. He spent three years serving as 1st Lt. U.S. Army in West Germany before moving back to the U.S., starting a career in urban design and land planning that, over the course of 40 years, brought him to Albany, New York; Lexington and Cambridge, Massachusetts; Saudi Arabia and Miami.
Now, it’s been nearly 15 years since Alden returned to his hometown and took the time to sit down and start painting, with enough material and inspiration to keep him putting paintbrush to canvas for years to come—Alden estimated he had thousands upon thousands of photos stored and waiting to be combed through.
In most recent years, though, Alden admitted he hasn’t had as much time to paint. After spending another 15 years living in the town where he grew up—he now lives in his childhood home—he felt compelled to document in writing the stories of his hometown and family through the years. The result is a series of 25 essays, which he’s nearly finished.
He’s spent the last few years concentrating on his writing. He’s not sure what he’ll do with the completed essays—though he does plan to save them for his granddaughter to read—but he does know that he’s anxious to get back to painting once his writing is finished.
For more information about Alden’s work or to find a schedule of his upcoming shows, go online to charlesaldenpaintings.com.