Friday, January 23, 2015

Composition: Plein Air Studies v. Studio Paintings

While reading American Paradise (see my previous blog post), I came across the above painting.  I was immediately struck by the modernness of the composition.  It's like a snapshot you might take on a woodland walk.   What gives it this quality is the tight, intimate cropping of the scene and the informal, very naturalistic, arrangement of shapes.  This painting might have been done by one of today's landscape painters.

(Pictured: Asher Durand.  Interior of a Wood, Ca. 1850. Oil on canvas, 17 x 24 in. Unsigned. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.)

But it wasn't.  It was painted by Asher Durand in 1850.  Unsigned, it is a field study.  Although Durand permitted such studies to be exhibited, he didn't consider them finished works.  Instead, he used them to create the more formal arrangements in the studio that we consider typical of the Hudson River School, such as this one:

(Pictured: Asher Durand. The Beeches, 1845. Oil on canvas, 6133/8 x 4 81/8 in.  Signed and dated at lower left: A. B. Durand 1845. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.)

My question to you is, Which style do you prefer?

I rather like the first one, as it feels truer.  The second one, though no doubt based on similar, truthful studies, feels more like a fiction.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Encounter: Jervis McEntee, Hudson River Schoool Painter

Jervis McEntee

In the early mornings and before it gets light enough to work in the studio, I read.  Right now, I'm reading an excellent book on the Hudson River School painters.  American Paradise:  The World of the Hudson River School is an exhibition catalog published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is available as a PDF download.  If you are interested in American art history, it's worthwhile reading.

This morning, I came across the painter Jervis McEntee.  I wasn't familiar with this minor Hudson River School painter, but according to one of the essays in the book, he left several diaries which give us a lot of information about the daily life of a painter in middle 19th century New York.  I discovered that his diaries are online.  (See Through them, we have fascinating glimpses into the head of a painter much concerned about sales and reputation:
I had a letter from [G.H.] Boughton two or three days ago. He and his wife had been on the continent for a short trip. He sent me that same notice in the Times which three others have sent me and regrets that my picture is not sold. Thinks I ask too much for it and that English people will not pay large prices for works by strangers. I am a little sorry I had not asked a little less but still I didnt care to sacrifice much on it as I am quite sure to get my price for it in New York next winter.

Mount Desert Island, Maine, by Jervis McEntee, 1864, oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington - DSC00124
Mount Desert Island, Maine, by Jervis McEntee, 1864, oil on canvas - National Gallery of Art, Washington - DSC00124

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Artist and the Honey Bee

Impressionist?  Or maybe, contemporary realist?  As a painter, what do you call yourself?  Artists often worry about this.  But does it matter?

Consider the honey bee.  They are one of over 20,000 different species of bees.  Some, like the honey bee, build huge hives of wax combs, often in hollow trees.  Others, like the bumblebee, live in smaller colonies underground.  There are even solitary bees that go it alone.  Scientists have studied these bees to determine how they are related, how they evolved, and have given them labels like Apis mellifera.  But of course, the honey bee doesn't care about any of this.

A label is shorthand for a complex set of characteristics and relationships.  Much useful information gets discarded for this convenience.  Like the honey bee, you as an artist don't need a label to do your job.  But lacking the artistic equivalent of honey bee DNA, you do need that discarded information.  You need to know what your influences are if you're going to evolve.  For example, the knowledge that you use a palette loaded with bright colors like Monet but apply thin glazes like the Flemish painters may help you take your next evolutionary step.  Granted,  often we integrate these influences unconsciously  and do manage to stumble toward a greater art, but if we recognize and understand them, we may progress more directly.

There are, of course, advantages to labels.  Having a general idea of one's relationship with other artists, both past and contemporary, helps us go through the world with more confidence.  And the right label can provide a marketing advantage, too.  But calling myself a "contemporary realist" doesn't even begin to describe the richness of my journey.  Nor is the label particularly useful to me as a guidebook for my next destination.

I love the thought-provoking title of Gauguin's great painting:  "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?"  Gauguin poses these questions to humanity, but we we can also pose them to ourselves as artists.

Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?
Paul Gauguin 1897
Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Visit with Master Painter Albert Handell

"Breaking Water Along the Taos Ski Basin"
12x24 oil by Albert Handell
(one of the new paintings Albert shared with me)

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  As most people know, Santa Fe is an art Mecca.  For artists and art lovers, it provides a tremendous opportunity to quench one's thirst for experiencing good art.  Over the years, I've seen galleries come and go and artists pass in and out of fashion.  But some artists have thrived and continue to florish there.  One such artist is master painter Albert Handell.  (Here's what Fine Art Connoisseur says about him.)

Albert Handell
(all photos by Trina Stephenson)

I've gotten to be good friends with Albert and his wife, fellow painter Jeanine Christman-Handell.  So despite a winter storm warning and four inches of snow already on the ground, Trina and I drove the slushy streets to Albert's studio.  The studio is adjacent to the house, and both are what you'd expect from a Santa Fe artist, adobe pueblo-style plus a dooryard filled with chamisa, now snow-capped.  Jeanine was sweeping the snow off the steps for us, and Albert had already warmed up the studio.  Verdi was playing on a little music box.  On two easels were two oil paintings, one quite large and older, one that Albert was re-working, plus a smaller, new one.  When I inquired earlier about a studio visit, Albert sent me a text that he was "painting as if on fire." I could tell.  Paintings, both framed and unframed, were stacked against the vertical storage cabinets, which were also filled.  (I last visited Albert's studio in 2007.)

Albert wanted to show me some new work that he was proud of.  That's one of the many things I like about Albert.  Though humble, he is not to shy to share with you his latest efforts, which are always beautiful.  Some of the pieces were destined for the upcoming Oil Painters of America exhibition, others for other shows.  The work was so consistently superior that I asked him if he ever made a bad painting.  He laughed and said, "They just don't make it to the frames."

Although he does a great deal of his work out on location, like most plein air painters he recognizes the necessity of being in the studio.  Lately, he's taken to using a large computer screen to work from.  He took me on a tour of some of the photos he's been using as references and then showed me the paintings.  It's always fascinating to see how a master takes a scene and changes it for a painting.  He also shared with me some of the spots where he took the photos, taking time to write out the directions to them.   Albert is incredibly giving with his knowledge.

Albert's pastel palette

Albert's oil palette
Referencing his comment that he was painting "as if on fire," I told him that it must feel great to still have that kind of energy and interest at this point in his career.  Albert will soon turn 78.  "It is!  I'm painting better than ever.  I'm painting looser.  I'm focusing on the important parts of the painting and leaving more of the underpainting untouched."  Albert likes to start his oil paintings with a big brush and large, transparent passages; then he moves to the knife and works on the center of interest, paying special attention to "lost and found" edges.

There's a great deal more I could write about our visit, which was brief.  The snow was still falling in large, lazy flakes, and the forecast was for lowering temperatures and heavier snow.  We had to get to Albuquerque before the roads got bad.

Handell Studio

I'm looking forward to seeing Albert and Jeanine again in Palm Springs in a few weeks for a mentoring workshop, and then again in April 2016 in Sedona, when he will be back in my area for another mentoring workshop.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Upcoming "Exploring Color" Studio-Only, Pastel-Only Workshop

Walk Through Fire
6x9 pastel, plein air
Painted with the Extreme Limited Pastel Palette

I've been asked to teach a four-day, studio-only, pastel-only "Exploring Color" workshop.  I think this is a great idea, because pastel painters tend to be limited by the "if I don't have the exact right color, I'm in trouble" way of thinking.  The good news is, you can do a lot with just a few colors!

Below are the details:

In this studio-only workshop, you will learn about different color palettes, color temperature as it relates to the landscape and still life, the advantages of starting with a monochromatic grisaille and how color can be used to create depth in a painting.  As a bonus,you'll learn about my "extreme limited pastel palette" and how it will help with color-mixing skills.  For this workshop, students will need a large variety of pastels including both high-chroma sticks, neutrals and earth colors.  Students should be comfortable with painting in pastel.

Workshop runs February 24-27, Tuesday-Friday, 9-1 each day in Sedona, Arizona.  Maximum number of students: 5.

Cost of the workshop:  $300 with a $150 non-refundable deposit.  To register and pay the deposit, visit and sign up on the schedule page.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Gallery

I'm proud to announce that I have a new gallery!  The Great Southwest in Hillside specializes in handmade, one-of-a-kind items from the region including classic and contemporary jewelry, pottery, fetishes, Navajo rugs, dishes, folk art and, of course, fine art.

The Great Southwest is located in the upper section of the Hillside plaza in Sedona, Arizona.  Here is the address:

The Great Southwest, 671 SR 179, A-CT 2, Sedona AZ 86336
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10-6
928-282-0248 /

So, if you're in town visiting and would like to see some of my paintings, please stop by!  Below are three of the paintings that I delivered today:

View from Schuermann Trail 9x12 oil 

Mitten Ridge Snow 9x12 oil 

City of Red Rocks 9x12 oil

Saturday, January 3, 2015

More New Year's Snow Painting

Yesterday I painted the snow from our recent New Year's Eve storm from a photo in the studio; today I went out with my gear to catch what has not melted. The difference between these two sessions is as follows.

For yesterday's painting, I wanted to recapture the sense of moist, snow-filled air.  It wasn't practical to take my gear out in the storm (though I have done that), so I stayed in the studio.  The camera couldn't get the subtle colors and values, but it was a good memory tool for me.

For today's painting, I wanted to avoid the camera altogether.  The color in my oil study (below) is far more accurate than what my camera would have seen.

I'll take this one back to the studio and work up a larger studio piece from it in the near future.

By the Bridge. 12x9 oil, plein air.
The snow will probably be gone in another day or so.  I won't be sad to find the days warming up a little!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ringing in the New Year with Snow

Ceci n'est pas une peinture
Photograph, pulled through a couple of Picasa filters

We don't often get snow in Sedona, but we got plenty of it starting New Year's Eve and into the New Year.  I measured about 4" at our house, and I'm sure it was more in Sedona proper.  Trina and I took several long walks along Oak and Spring Creeks with our cameras.  Trina says she took 150 snapshots on one walk.

Since the storm left, cold air has settled in.  The mercury bottomed out at 17 degrees this morning, and although it's warmed up to above freezing, the snow is slow to leave us.  I'd love to get out and paint it—and maybe I will tomorrow.  But today, I spent some time in the studio, trying to recreate that feeling of moist, snow-filled air along the creek on our walk.

Spring Creek Freshet 11x14 oil

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Artist's Test Kitchen in Pastel Journal

"Nestled in Dawn's Early Light" 12x16 pastel

The latest issue of Pastel Journal (February 2015) has just hit the streets, and I'm happy to say that my "Artist's Test Kitchen" article is in it.  In this article, I review the new set of "Most Requested Violets" from Terry Ludwig and the new "Special Darks" from Rembrandt.

Above is the demonstration painting I made for the article.  It was a lot of fun to try out these new pastels and to find how nicely the Ludwigs and Rembrandts play together.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Solo Exhibit at Sedona City Hall

Mayor Sandy Moriarty meets with me to install a few of my paintings in her office.

I'm proud to announce that you can now see a solo exhibit of twenty of my landscape paintings at City Hall in Sedona, Arizona.  These oil and pastel paintings of the Southwest are on display in the Vultee Conference Room until April 15.  Four additional paintings decorate the walls of Mayor Sandy Moriarty's office.  City Hall is at 102 Road Runner Drive.

All the paintings are for sale, including the ones in the Mayor's office.

Because the paintings are in a much-used conference room, you will need to contact Arts & Culture Coordinator Nancy Lattanzi to view the works.  She will gladly schedule a time to let you in.  (If you are interested in buying a painting, please contact me directly via e-mail.) You may contact Nancy at 928-203-5078 or  If you're in town, I hope you'll have a look!

Below are some photos of the exhibit.  To see the paintings online, please visit

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