Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Texas Encounters

Before I launch into an update on my trip to Sedona, I want to announce some good news. Artist Katherine Tyrell, who runs the popular blog, "Making a Mark" gives out a series of awards at year's end to painters who blog. I'm pleased that she has given the 2008 "Painting Plein Air Plus Prize" to me, an award which I share with Florida artist Linda Blondheim. For full details, please visit this link. Thank you, Katherine!

As of this evening, Trina and I have made it safely to Show Low, Arizona, on our way to Sedona. On the way here, we stopped in Texas to visit with my mentor, Ann Templeton, who recently moved from New Mexico to a small town near Austin. If you don't know Ann, she's a wonderful teacher who's been at it for over 30 years. I wrote her first book, a retrospective entitled The Art of Ann Templeton: A Step Beyond. Her latest book, which is an instructional book, is called Color and Beyond and came out this year. I didn't write it, but I do recommend it as a great companion volume. She's also teaching a mentoring workshop next August for me in Maine. (See www.anntempleton2009.com for more.)

Ann Templeton

While visiting Ann, she called up some old friends who came to visit. Bobbie Kilpatrick  co-ran an art school with Ann for many years. Vicki McMurry , whom I met at my first Sedona Plein Air Festival, authored Mastering Color: The Essentials of Color for North Light Books. Betty Rhoades  once owned two art galleries in Dallas. Each of these is an excellent painter, and at the end, I'll show some of their art.

We sat all afternoon at Ann's dining table, drinking tea and then wine, talking about the art business. It's rare when artists, who are mostly solitary creatures, can sit and talk at leisure in this way. Our chat ran all the way from the use of white when painting with oils to the future of bricks-and-mortar galleries. We didn't solve all the world's problems, but we joined in a camaraderie that made all those problems bearable.

Bobbie Kilpatrick

Vicki McMurry

Betty Rhoades

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rainy Day Still Life

Lately, if we have a rainy day for a workshop, I've been encouraging students to work from a still life rather than a photo. One of my goals in teaching is to help students learn to observe better. A photo has a very limited amount of information in it; the real thing has all the information you'll ever need, and provides lots of mining opportunities.

Although there are no rules for setting up a still life, there are certain guidelines that will help you make a more successful design. These include:

  • When you choose objects, find something tall, something short, something dull in color, and something bright in color. Contrasts (value, size, color, shape) keep the arrangement interesting.
  • But too much contrast can be chaotic. Have a common theme that can relate the objects, such as "fruits of the garden" or color.
  • A tablecloth has more interest than a bare table, but pay attention to the folds. Folds should be arranged to complement the "rhythm" in the arrangement, not conflict with it.
  • Make sure there's nothing distracting in the background. Place the table against a simple wall, if possible, or hang a sheet behind it.
  • Finally, try to set up the still life so everyone has an interesting view. Easier said than done, especially with a dozen artists!

Rainy Day Still Life
5x7, pastel

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Whatsit" Paintings

Over the years, Mobile Bay has seen its share of hurricanes. It seems that each time I visit Fairhope, one pier or another is in a state of disrepair after a storm. But things are ship-shape this year, and even the Yardarm Restaurant, which straddles the town pier, looks like it'll be open after the holidays.

A few miles south, however, down by Point Clear, many of the piers, docks and boathouses still need attention. I did a 5x7 color study there today. (My back is much better, thanks to rest and advice and prayers from friends.) The largest boathouse, pictured on the left of this 5x7 oil, was knocked off its footings by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the piers around it are missing sections.

What caught my eye, though, was the warm, brown hue of the pier and boathouse reflections. I think I captured this and the other colors accurately. I also got the angle and shape of the tipped boathouse right, too. However, Doug Dawson would call this painting a "whatsit" painting. Without an explanatory placard next to it on the gallery wall, the viewer would ask "What is it?" What is that thing that looks a-kilter?

A "whatsit" painting fails because it forces the viewer away from the painter's intended center of interest or message. If I were to make this a larger, studio painting, I would seriously consider setting the boathouse back solidly on its footings.

I also had an opportunity to do a 5x7 painting of my in-laws' house. It's a Christmas piece, complete with candles in the windows and a wreath on the door.


By the way, while on the road, I'm trying to minimize the hassle of cleaning up. I'm painting with just one brush, and when done, rinsing it well in my Turpenoid cup. (If the solvent "burns" the hairs, I have a replacement.) I'm using a plastic, "seven days" pill box to house my six colors and to keep them reasonably fresh. I dip my brush directly in this pill box.

The only paint that goes on my palette is white plus any mixtures, and I scrape it clean at the end of my painting session. Finally, I'm using the Art Cocoon to hold and store my panels.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back Pains

I always try to take a break after a workshop, but this week, the break was dictated by a back injury.  Plein air painters lug around a lot of gear, and when I'm teaching a workshop, I lug around a bit more than usual.  This, followed by packing the car - and extending my back in a cantilevered position to tuck the gear into the car's deepest recesses - did me in.

Two days of novels and movies and boredom, however, have driven me back into the field.  I've been observing the live oaks.  Trina and I are in Fairhope, Alabama, visiting family, and Fairhope is home to some lovely specimens.  They're full of twisting branches, limbs draped with ferns and epiphytes, and even though we're just one day from winter, deep green foliage.  I've spotted several that I hope to paint before we leave.

Yesterday, I painted one pair down in the park by Mobile Bay.  Although these younger trees don't have the great, muscled limbs of their older brothers, the evening light on them caught my fancy.  I thought it was a good time to try a small oil study and to get back into painting.

"Fairhope Live Oaks" 5x7, oil

I stood to paint this, and it really tired out my back.  Today, I'm better, and I did a painting of my in-laws' house, but this time I remained seated.

The lesson for the week:  Be careful of your back.  We painters so often think of protecting our eyes and our hands.  But painting, and especially outdoor painting, is a very physical activity, and we should take care with the rest of our bodies.  There are exercises one can do to strengthen the back, and yoga can help greatly.

Back Pains



I always try to take a break after a workshop, but this week, the break was dictated by a back injury. Plein air painters lug around a lot of gear, and when I'm teaching a workshop, I lug around a bit more than usual. This, followed by packing the car - and extending my back in a cantilevered position to tuck the gear into the car's deepest recesses - did me in.



Two days of novels and movies and boredom, however, have driven me back into the field. I've been observing the live oaks. Trina and I are in Fairhope, Alabama, visiting family, and Fairhope is home to some lovely specimens. They're full of twisting branches, limbs draped with ferns and epiphytes, and even though we're just one day from winter, deep green foliage. I've spotted several that I hope to paint before we leave.



Yesterday, I painted one pair down in the park by Mobile Bay. Although these younger trees don't have the great, muscled limbs of their older brothers, the evening light on them caught my fancy. I thought it was a good time to try a small oil study and to get back into painting.



"Fairhope Live Oaks" 5x7, oil



I stood to paint this, and it really tired out my back. Today, I'm better, and I did a painting of my in-laws' house, but this time I remained seated.



The lesson for the week: Be careful of your back. We painters so often think of protecting our eyes and our hands. But painting, and especially outdoor painting, is a very physical activity, and we should take care with the rest of our bodies. There are exercises one can do to strengthen the back, and yoga can help greatly.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pink Adobe Dawn

"Pink Adobe Dawn"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

I taught a workshop in Tubac, AZ, a few years ago. One morning we had gorgeous, early-morning light. In this scene, it was just catching the top of the palm tree and the inside of the window and arch in the adobe wall. I wanted to play down the color to give a sense of "first light."

You'll note that the palm counterbalances all the things going on over by the adobe arch. If you block out the tree with your hand -- one of my favorite ways of seeing if an element is really necessary for the composition -- the design suffers. The tree is needed. What's more, the tree also puts some interest up in the sky, which occupies more than 50% of the painting. Without the tree, the image would need to be cropped in some way to make a satisfactory composition.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scouting Old Florida

Cortez Village - Scouting Old Florida

As a painter, journeying to a strange but beautiful place can be frustrating. Your first desire is to paint it without exploring, but you know full well that such paintings rarely turn out satisfactorily. It's best to spend a few days exploring first.

I always tell my students when they arrive in the field to drop their gear and take a walk: "Set it down, then scout around." Not only does this keep you from getting worn out lugging your gear, it keeps you from settling for less-than-ideal painting spots.

The idea of exploring a few days before painting a place you're not familiar with is just a larger version of the same concept.

For my Sarasota workshop, I had a full day before the workshop to explore, and I'm glad I did. I was able to take students to some rich painting spots: Myakka River State Park, Selby Gardens and Lido Key.

Now that the workshop is over, I've had a few more days to explore even more - and without my paintbox. Sometimes, it's best to leave the paintbox at home and to explore with a camera. A camera gives you a chance not only to collect reference material but to become familiar with new subjects and to learn what will be demanded of your palette.

Some of my painter friends told me about some of their favorite Sarasota locations - "Old Florida." This is a lost world that the Interstates and real estate developers have somehow missed. Old Florida has ramshackle fish houses, old boats, empty beaches. We found all of these in Cortez Village, Coquina Beach and Anna Maria Island, just minutes from Sarasota.

My discovery of "Old Florida," and places like the Ringling Estate, historic Spanish Point and the others I mentioned earlier, make me want to come back soon. I've been so delighted with my adventure in Sarasota that I've scheduled another for next year. This will be November 30 - December 4, 2009 - and, yes, I'm taking deposits now.

To show you some of Old Florida, I've sprinkled a few photos through this post. You might also check out the following links:

http://www.starfishcompany.com/

http://travel.nytimes.com/2005/02/13/travel/13annamaria.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Ringling Museum & A Pastel Portrait

John Ringling, famously known as one of the Ringling Bros., was not only a circus man but an art collector who travelled to Europe to purchase many works of the Old Masters, Baroque painters and others. In 1931, he opened his Museum of Art to the public in Sarasota. (See www.ringling.org.)

Trina and I visited the Museum yesterday. I don't think I've ever seen so many barn-sized paintings by Rubens gathered into one vast room. Gallery after gallery featured painters like Rubens and Velasquez, as well as a scattering of more modern painters. I saw two small landscapes by Bierstadt and a portrait by Robert Henri.

Disappointing, though, was the fact that a third of the paintings in one wing had been draped over with plastic dropcloths for renovations. Oddly, this wing was not closed; apparently the museum director thought the clear dropcloths permitted an acceptable view of the paintings. Imagine looking at a poor reproduction of a six-foot painting in a cheap book. A portrait by Franz Hals had the clearest piece of plastic over it, but I still couldn't see the brushwork, and that is what Hals is noted for. Frustrating, to be sure.

One of the most stunning works was a full-length portrait of Marie Antoinette in pastel by Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842.) The wall placard didn't give the portrait's dimensions, but I reckoned it to be 8 feet by 5. A close look at the painting showed that, at some point in the past, it had been ripped into three pieces and suffered two serious punctures. (Perhaps by mobs during the French Revolution? Vigée-Lebrun was able to flee to Italy, but Marie Antoinette was not so lucky.) Pastel dust dotted the inside of the glazing, along with a conservator's beard hair.

But despite these failings, the pastel is phenomenal. Pastel seems to be a better medium for presenting the illusion of flesh than oil. The surrounding oil portraits, all by other artists, glistened unnaturally; the pastel represented the soft, inner glow of skin more successfully.

Self-Portrait (oil) by Vigée-Lebrun
Image from ABC Gallery (www.abcgallery.com)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 5

Our final workshop day started off cool and partly cloudy. We headed out again to Myakka River State Park to paint more live oaks, Spanish moss and cabbage palms. Our first stop was a quiet part of the river. Here, the live oaks hung over the river creating a dark bower; Spanish moss lay draped over every limb and added to the mystery. This proved a challenge, because the sun vanished as soon as we had completed our underpaintings, reducing the value contrast substantially and making for a rather dull and complex scene. We all struggled to resolve our paintings.

After lunch at the park's concession stand - the seafood gumbo was excellent! - we headed out to the Ranch Road. Along with the clouds came a strong wind, and after days of near-80 degrees, it felt downright chilly. The Ranch Road was protected by palms and live oaks.

As my final painting for the workshop, I did the little 5x7 below. For this one, I mixed a little bit of white into each of my color mixtures. You'll want to read Day 4 plus the comments for a discussion of why I wanted to try this. I think this piece came off pretty successfully.

"Live Oaks & Palm" 5x7, oil


As with all workshops, it's sad that this one has come to an end. Trina and I will soon continue our drive west to Sedona. We hope to see some of you there! Check out www.PaintSedona.com for more information on my mentoring workshops.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 4

Our fourth day began with a tornado warning and heavy rain - a perfect day for a studio discussion on color temperature.

Earlier in the week, I had one student who had been told by her instructor that 80% of a painting should consist of white paint. I disagreed with that, since whenever I use a lot of white, I get cold, chalky paintings. (My mentor, Ann Templeton, says white is the "killer color.") I couldn't imagine why anyone should want to use so much white.

So today, she said that her instructor also told her that Cadmium Yellow Light is a warmer color than Cadmium Yellow Deep. I disagreed with that, too. CYL has a bit of blue or green in it, whereas CYD has red in it. But after a little experimenting, we think we discovered where this information was coming from.

Imagine three colors: Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Deep and Cadmium Yellow Light. Now, lay down three stripes of these colors, going from bottom to top with CRL, then CYD followed by CYL. The CRL looks closest to you because it is warmest; CYD looks to be out in the middle ground, and CYL looks to be farthest away because it is cooler than either of these.

However, the values are different. CYL is very light, CYD is dark, and CRL is very dark. If you adjust these values with white - and it takes a considerable amount to make the CYD and CRL as light as the CYL - the white kills the warmth. Suddenly, with the values adjusted, the CYL does indeed seem the warmest and thus, the closest.

In my mind, neither of these two approaches is right or wrong, so long as one remembers that the warmest color will always come forward. I would still advise caution when using white, though. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

In the meantime, here are two little pastel studies I did from the studio, looking out into the rain. ("Sun'n'Fun" is the resort where our workshop is based.)

"Sun'n'Fun Club Car" 5x7, pastel


"American Spirit" 5x7, pastel

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 3

Today, the heat reached 80 with a stiff breeze off the bay. After a critique in our studio and a discussion of the perils hidden in the compound curves of boats, we decided to go down to the bay to paint one. On a hot day, there's nothing like a breeze to make things pleasant. But a visit to the marina showed the wind would be too much to deal with. Not only would it be hard to keep our hands steady for painting masts, the boats were rocking like carousel ponies on the wind-tossed water. So, we took our next best option - Selby Gardens.

From the tree-sheltered parking lot of the Gardens, I was able to see a little cove where the wind was less and a boat sat quietly docked. It was an easy boat, seen broadside and with nary a compound curve showing. Here's my demonstration painting:

"Selby Gardens Boat"
5x7, oil - SOLD

Later, I took a brief tour of the gardens. It's a real treat to see tropical plants in a place where they can flourish. I found a nice bench in the shade of a banyan tree.

Sarasota Workshop - Day 2

On our second day, the workshop went out to Myakka River State Park. Myakka is a long, winding river fed by surrounding wetlands. The park road offers many pull-offs with broad vistas of the river, as well as parking areas for the trails, which wind through thickets of live oak and cabbage palms. We stopped on a bridge to paint one of the vistas and to explore the possibilities of designing with simple shapes -- horizontal bands of water and marsh broken by the vertical shapes of trees. Alligators lumbered out of the water to sun themselves on the riverbank and to keep a close eye on us.

After a lunch stop at the park's concession, we wandered into the woods to paint. In a park that is known for encounters with alligators and wild boars, this was a safe area to be in. The only danger was from the hundreds of vultures, perching in the live oaks overhead. A brochure in the park recommends that you cover your car with a sheet to deter the vultures, who in their spare time enjoy playing with the rubber in your windshield wipers. (I've been into the park twice now, but I haven't yet seen this odd activity. That's a good thing, because I'm not in the habit of carrying a bedsheet in the car.)

In the photo below, Pat LaBrecque, our workshop host, paints some of the vultures. Waiting patiently on a tree limb for us to expire, they make excellent subjects. By the way, she's using an "Art Cocoon" (www.myartcocoon.com), a product she's designed to make life a little easier for outdoor painters.

I demonstrated how starting a painting with a monochromatic underpainting can help you keep your values true from start to finish. Once the underpainting is done, it's important that the succeeding layers of paint match precisely the values you have already established. A dark area of grass, for example, underpainted with brown, must be overpainted with green of the same dark value.

Here's my palm tree painting. I underpainted with a brown made from Cadmium Red Light and Ultramarine Blue.

"Myakka Palms"
7x6, oil

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sarasota Workshop - Day 1

While snowstorms ravage Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, Sarasota is basking in the sun. It's a great time for an outdoor painting workshop -- if you're in Florida!

This week, I'm teaching a pastel-or-oil workshop. To give the students from New York a chance to enjoy the beach, we headed out to Lido Key. Lido Key is known for, among other things, the profusion of shells that wash up on the sands during storms. In the photo below, you can see the "Sarasota Stoop" in action as Trina and friends shell hunt.


My pastel demonstration today was of one of the many Australian pines that provide shade on the Key. Normally, I save this for later in the week because I consider trees to be a more advanced topic. But this particular tree had such strong light and shadow that it provided a perfect opportunity to talk about design, which I consider fundamental to plein air painting. Design is the first thing I look for in a subject, and strong contrast can easily establish a strong design.

As you can see, I also had a chance to play with color. For the underpainting, I chose pastels more for value than for color. After scrubbing in the color with Turpenoid and letting it dry, I finished with more realistic color.

"Lido Key Shade"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

Sarasota Workshop - Day 1

While snowstorms ravage Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, Sarasota is basking in the sun. It's a great time for an outdoor painting workshop -- if you're in Florida!

This week, I'm teaching a pastel-or-oil workshop. To give the students from New York a chance to enjoy the beach, we headed out to Lido Key. Lido Key is known for, among other things, the profusion of shells that wash up on the sands during storms. In the photo below, you can see the "Sarasota Stoop" in action as Trina and friends shell hunt.

My pastel demonstration today was of one of the many Australian pines that provide shade on the Key. Normally, I save this for later in the week because I consider trees to be a more advanced topic. But this particular tree had such strong light and shadow that it provided a perfect opportunity to talk about design, which I consider fundamental to plein air painting. Design is the first thing I look for in a subject, and strong contrast can easily establish a strong design.

As you can see, I also had a chance to play with color. For the underpainting, I chose pastels more for value than for color. After scrubbing in the color with Turpenoid and letting it dry, I finished with more realistic color.

"Lido Key Shade" 9x12, pastel, en plein air

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Calvin's Boat

(Although I'm currently on the road and en route to Florida, I had some time today to post to my blog.)

As much as I like to work outdoors, rainy weather sometimes forces me in to work from photos. This is one example. The photo has less color but just as much dark as shown in the painting. Although experience tells me that, in real life, the shadows would not be so dark, I kept them that way. I wanted to "punch up" the difference between the rim light on the boats and the background behind them. The effect of strong morning sun is a key element.

Also, in the photo, there was a good deal going on behind the boats. I may have taken the photo at the height of lobster season, when the docks are full of fishermen hauling out their catch. I wanted to simplify all that. So, although you get a sense of visual activity because of the broken, uneven strokes, you aren't distracted by it.

"Calvin's Boat"
9x12, pastel

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rainy Day Birches - and Goodbye (for now)

As many of you know, Trina and I are about to embark on a cross-country adventure. We're leaving our island home and heading for Sedona, Arizona, where we will spend the winter. I'll be teaching, painting and also working on the videos I promised for Backpacker Painting.

These projects require that we increase our burden beyond a couple of suitcases. (Am I possibly violating key principles of "backpacker painting"?) I'm taking two complete painting set-ups, one each for oil and pastel; backup supplies of oil paint and panels, pastels and paper; a digital video camera as well as a digital SLR still camera and an assortment of lenses and tripods; and finally, a laptop with every document and database I thought I might possibly need, as well as a pair of headphones for Skype. In order to save space, I was a bit stingy with the art supplies. I'm planning on placing a big order with Cheap Joe's once I arrive in Sedona.

It seems like we've been piling up our belongings for days in preparation for packing the car. Fortunately, my other projects ended last week, and I've had some time in which to mull over what else I might need. There are so many things that might have become afterthoughts a thousand miles down the road: "Oh, what about the USB mouse for the laptop?" The mouse is now on my list of things to stuff into a box at the last minute. I hope we still have room for clothes and Saba the Dog.

"Rainy Day Birches" 5x7, pastel

Yesterday, I took a few minutes off to do a small study of the birches in the backyard. It was pouring rain, but this only made the colors even more fantastic. I worked inside, looking out. As you can see, I took a very loose approach with this piece and had fun with the color. Some of you might notice that this is another painting in my "Yellow Barn, Yellow House" series. You can see those two structures in the background.

This will be my last post for awhile. I hope to post again between December 8-12, when I'll be teaching a workshop in Sarasota, Florida. Until then, happy trails!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Working with the Very Softest Pastels

Last summer, when I was teaching a pastel workshop in St Andrews, NB, a student challenged me to use only soft pastels in a demonstration. I usually start off with hard pastels and then wash in the pigment with Turpenoid before moving on to the softer sticks. Could I skip the hard pastels?

We were painting on Minister's Island. Back in the late 1700s, this scant bit of land was home to the first Anglican minister of St Andrews. The island was -- and still is -- accessible by foot or wheeled vehicle only at low tide, when the receding water reveals a gravel bar that connects it to the mainland. (At high tide, you can take a boat.) My subject for the demonstration was the stone cottage the minister lived in.

I used the 80-half-stick "landscape" selection from Sennelier. You can't get much softer than these pastels! They require a very light touch, especially when using the aggressively-toothed Wallis Sanded Paper. This painting has a thick, rich build-up of pastel.

"Stone Cottage, Minister's Island"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First Snow

It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and we are in the middle of our first snowstorm. Today, I wanted to use up the paint on my palette by doing one last oil painting. I'm in the middle of preparing for our winter trip, and cleaning up the studio, which includes cleaning off the palette, is one bullet on my lengthy list.

But because a stiff wind is pushing the wind chill down to 10˚F, and the air is full of snow, I decided to paint from the French doors in our bedroom. The doors look out on a thicket of saplings, older trees and underbrush that really comes into its full glory in a snowy winter. The maples especially are beautiful with their eccentric curves. I picked one of my favorites to paint.

The thicket behind the maple is a very busy area, full of criss-crossing branches and all the stuff that makes it a good home for red squirrels. For Saba, our dog, it's a fascinating place, but for a painter, it needs to be simplified in order to stay in the background. For this painting, I even removed a couple of large trees that were quite close to my main subject. I didn't want anything to compete with the maple's curves and angles.

"First Snow"
7x5, oil, en plein air


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Clearing Weather

After the weekend's tropical storm, the weather cleared, lickety-split. Brisk winds and drier air brought with them proof that there really is more color to the Maritimes than greys and other neutrals. The clear air makes the late autumn colors glow. Late in the afternoon, I went out to capture some of the beautiful reds that now liven up our fields, thick with bare blackberry and raspberry canes.

For this little oil, I laid down a transparent wash of Cadmium Red Light and Cadmium Yellow Deep in the foreground as a base for the field colors. Next, I killed the richness just a bit by taking those same two colors and adding a bit of white and Ultramarine Blue to them. This kept the brilliant colors from competing with my focal point, which is the sunlit end of the house on the hill. That little block of light consists of white plus just a smidgen of Cadmium Yellow Light. It doesn't take much to warm it up and to make the mixture appear even "whiter than white."

"Our House" 5x7, oil
SOLD

By the way, I'm reading a new book. It is Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. In it, the writer records her search for the origins of some common pigments that have been key in painting over the years. It's a fascinating read. Beware, though; the writer takes some authorial side-trips. Interesting at first, they become less so. The good news is, you can easily drive on, and the writer will catch up with you soon enough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2009 Portfolio

Now that the book is done, I'm diving into a few other unfinished projects.  One of these is my 2009 portfolio.  I do one portfolio a year for galleries and collectors.  When I publish it, I 'retire' the previous year's, which will never again be available.

Here's the cover of the 2009 one.  This 40-page book contains 35 paintings - 17 pastels and 18 oils.  If you're interested in purchasing it, please visit this link for more information.



Now, no more publications.  I promise!  I'm off to do more packing for the trip!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tropical Storm - Pastel de la Fenêtre

Believe it or not, this weekend the weather service issued a tropical storm warning for Downeast Maine and the Canadian Maritimes - in mid-November! The temperature climbed to 60 degrees, nearly two inches of rain fell and the winds whipped up to over 50 miles an hour. Needless to say, I retreated to the studio. I decided to do a pastel "de la fenêtre" - out the window.

I was intrigued by the color scheme that an imminent tropical storm can bring to our Canadian landscape. You'll note lots of violets and blues but also in the foreground some very rich greens. And with all that rain in the air, I had a hard time seeing detail. I found that using light, scribbly strokes was a good way to describe the softness of the scene.

"The Yellow House in November"
9x12, pastel


For this one, I used Unison pastels on an Rtistx board.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The End of Apples

The cold weather has begun to pour in. Thick, bluish clouds gather, letting only a glimmer of sunlight through. Even the sunlight seems cold. The apple trees over in Friar's Head meadow hang onto the last, few apples of the year. Pithy and scarred by worm and frost, they will provide winter meals for the squirrels.

I took some time off this afternoon from other projects to paint. The apple trees are beautifully sculptural, especially now that the leaves are gone. I found one that I liked best, and set up my easel.

"End of the Apples" 9x12, oil, en plein air


These apple trees have gone feral. Unmanaged, unpruned, their limbs and twigs weave a wild basket, full of holes. How do you paint something like that? I start off with a gestural sketch with thin paint to establish the rhythm of the limbs. Next, I block in the entire shape of the tree, solid. After that, I poke in a few "sky holes" with the color of the background clouds, sky and water. I return to the tree and repaint a few key limbs. Then it's back to the sky holes, taking care that I don't give the tree an unintentional shape. (It's so easy to go awry when chipping away.) I go back and forth between limbs and background until the tree has the shape I want. It really is a weaving process, not unlike the way the limbs themselves have grown.

At the end, I paint the apples. I start with darkish, greenish blots and gradually lighten them with spots of dull yellow and red. There are so many of them in the tree, but I paint fewer to enhance the idea that the season is drawing to an end.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More Drizzle

I really can't complain about living in the "grey zone" here in the Canadian Maritimes. This extended period of fog, drizzle and rain does me a favour. The grey overcast saturates the colours, pouring rich color throughout the landscape.

I went out this afternoon - again, between bouts of rain - and got caught. Not as much drizzle as yesterday, but enough that I could see it building up on the paint surface. I tipped my easel forward to keep any more rain off the panel so I wouldn't have to fight with the water.

"More Drizzle, November"
5x7, oil, en plein air


Reminder: The Holiday Sale runs through November 24. If you missed the post, please click here. Also, my new book is out, and you can click here for that post.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oil & Water Don't Mix

After spending several days working on tight-deadline magazine articles, I decided I really needed to get out today to paint, even if just for a few minutes. We had over an inch of rain in the last 24 hours, and this afternoon the rain abated. I even saw a sunny break in the clouds. So, I picked up the gear and headed out.

I got about 30 minutes into this 5x7, almost near the end, when a light rain began to fall. It didn't take long for both palette and panel to be fairly drizzled with water. (I didn't take the umbrella.) I began to experience severe adhesion problems. The brush was actually lifting off paint and leaving white spots - everywhere! I ended up bringing the painting into the studio to finish. I had to hold it over a hot lamp for a few minutes to dry off the water first. The painting is below.

By the way, please don't forget the Holiday Sale, now going through November 24. If you missed the post, please click here. My new book is also out, and you can click here for that post.

"November Drizzle"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Book! Backpacker Painting & 2009 Calendar

I'm proud to say that my new book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, is finally available!

This 164-page paperback is packed with 12 demonstations, in both oil and pastel, and 72 paintings and 125 illustrations.

Click here to order or to learn more about it.

By the way, my 2009 calendar is now available, too. You can order from the same link and save on shipping.

In the book, I answer all the questions my students have asked over the years:
  • My approach to what gear is absolutely needed
  • How I cut excess baggage
  • How I capture the landscape quickly and accurately
...while still having fun!

For advanced painters, I include plenty of tips as well as special sections on how to bring your outdoor painting to a higher level.

The book has taken me over a year to write, but it's been a rewarding task. I think you'll enjoy it.


From the Introduction:

One of the most rewarding ways to paint en plein air is to go out with the least equipment and materials possible. "Backpacker Painting" sums it up. If I can squeeze whatever I need into my backpack, then I can paint anywhere my feet can take me.

But Backpacker Painting isn't just an approach to equipment and materials. It's also an attitude. If you approach the act of painting outdoors with the philosophy of portability, you can practice 'backpacker painting' anywhere. You don't have to hike into the wilderness and brave the bears. You can do it in your front yard.

There are many situations where you can strip down your gear, both mental and physical. If you can do the job with just a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, why take the whole hardware store with you? This book will show you how to simplify your painting life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Back in the Maritimes

Trina and I are safely back in the Maritimes. It was hard to leave the 80-degree, constantly sunny weather of Sedona, especially since we've come back to a cloudy, blustery, 40-degree day here by the ocean! It's a good time to spend a few hours catching up with paperwork and to re-focus on some outstanding projects. One project is the book, and I'm happy to say it is done. Tomorrow, November 1, it'll be available for sale. Watch for a special blog post!

In the meantime, I thought I'd post this little piece I did before my fall travels began. I decided to try to not do what I usually do, which is to push color. I wanted to capture the color as accurately as possible, without exaggeration or interpretation. I think my experiment worked pretty well!

"Island Reflections"
5x7, oil

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 6 ... And Beyond

I'm now in the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, where they have free wi-fi, catching up on the blog. The Quick Draw on Saturday ended up being a relaxing time for me. I found a nice sycamore along Oak Creek to paint, got into the "zone," and spent two quiet hours bringing the painting up to a level that satisfied me. Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me to take a photo!

After the Quick Draw, Trina and I went back to our casita to finish up a painting I'd started the day before for our host. Here's "View from the Lodge" (9x12, oil), plus a view of me painting:



By 5 pm, the artists had to wander over to the L'Auberge ballroom to vote for the Artists' Choice before the Patrons' Gala. After that, the patrons began to arrive. (Tickets were $125 each! I'm glad I was one of the artists and could get in for free.) Selling was fast and furious, accompanied by music with William Eaton and hors d'ouevres by L'Auberge. Here I am in front of my top three choices:

Saturday and Sunday were the two "public sale" days. It was a great opportunity to chat with fellow artists about techniques, materials and business ideas. I don't get a chance like this to network with artists every day! During the week, the artists were so busy that we didn't have much time.

It's hard to believe the week is over. But, I'm looking forward to being in Sedona again in just a couple of months. As many of you know, Trina and I will be in Sedona for the winter, where I plan to teach several workshops. I've heard winter is lovely in Sedona.

Next time - news about Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 5

We headed off soon after dawn for Red Rock Crossing. I had one painting left to do, and I decided I wanted something with water and a tree. I'd painted my share of red rocks this week, and it was time to move on to a different subject. I found a quiet spot, and my only companions were a pair of fly fishermen who arrived at about the same time I did. I was tempted to include them, but I knew they'd make my 9x12 too busy. (Sorry, guys!)

Here's the painting. I've made it my number one choice for the show:

Once back at our casita, I put out all the paintings I've done this week so I could choose my top five and frame them. For the Gala, we're supposed to pick three to display and two for backup. How does one choose? Everyone has a different strategy. One artist in the event says that paintings of red rocks simply don't sell. He's local, so he probably knows best. However, I really like my red rock paintings. I decided to include one in my top three. My other two are the scene of Jerome and today's painting of the cottonwood. My backups are the painting of the buggy at the museum and the first piece I did at Red Rock Crossing with Cathedral Rock in the background. It'll be interesting to see what does sell.

Tomorrow - the Quick Draw at L'Auberge de Sedona! The gun goes off at 10 a.m., and we'll paint furiously for two hours. The painting needs to be framed and delivered by 1 p.m. L'Auberge occupies a little oasis along Oak Creek and is surrounded by Arizona sycamores. It's a lovely spot. I can't wait!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 5

We headed off soon after dawn for Red Rock Crossing. I had one painting left to do, and I decided I wanted something with water and a tree. I'd painted my share of red rocks this week, and it was time to move on to a different subject. I found a quiet spot, and my only companions were a pair of fly fishermen who arrived at about the same time I did. I was tempted to include them, but I knew they'd make my 9x12 too busy. (Sorry, guys!)

Here's the painting. I've made it my number one choice for the show:

Once back at our casita, I put out all the paintings I've done this week so I could choose my top five and frame them. For the Gala, we're supposed to pick three to display and two for backup. How does one choose? Everyone has a different strategy. One artist in the event says that paintings of red rocks simply don't sell. He's local, so he probably knows best. However, I really like my red rock paintings. I decided to include one in my top three. My other two are the scene of Jerome and today's painting of the cottonwood. My backups are the painting of the buggy at the museum and the first piece I did at Red Rock Crossing with Cathedral Rock in the background. It'll be interesting to see what does sell.

Tomorrow - the Quick Draw at L'Auberge de Sedona! The gun goes off at 10 a.m., and we'll paint furiously for two hours. The painting needs to be framed and delivered by 1 p.m. L'Auberge occupies a little oasis along Oak Creek and is surrounded by Arizona sycamores. It's a lovely spot. I can't wait!

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 4

Wednesday began with a wildlife encounter. Although Sedona boasts of its high-end galleries, gourmet coffee shops and day spas, it has its share of critters. Nestled against the National Forest and wilderness areas, Sedona's streets serve as thoroughfares for nocturnal animals. When I went out of our casita at 5 a.m. to check e-mail in the gated courtyard where the wi-fi signal is strongest, I was pretty surprised to see a skunk! He didn't seem to mind, though, so I pulled down my mail quickly and retreated. Later that day, I spoke to a resident who said he'd seen bobcats, mountain lions and raptors in his neighborhood.

Wednesday was "Paint Jerome" day. Jerome is an old mining town perched on a mountainside overlooking Cottonwood. It once boasted 25 bars, but is now down to just two, which is probably plenty for the 300 inhabitants. It has lots of old buildings and classic vehicles in a variety of states of repair.

The town caught a bit of a breeze, so I didn't put up my umbrella. Although I kept my palette and panel in shadow, I was standing in full sun, and enough light bounced around to make it a little tough to judge the values and intensity of my paint mixtures accurately. I was happy to see later, when I re-examined the painting in a shaded spot, that the values were good. Here's my painting (9x12) of Jerome, painted from the mining museum and looking back at town:


Artists met for lunch at the Mile High Grill and enjoyed their burgers courtesy of Steve Vasari of Vasari Oil Paints. After lunch, Trina and I decided to head back to Sedona for some exploration. First we stopped at the galleries of two painter friends in Jerome, Cody DeLong and Mark Hemleben, both excellent plein air artists. Next, we stopped in Clarkdale at the Yavapai Community College gallery to see the work of Clive Pates. Clive is from the UK and is currently living and teaching in Jerome. I interviewed him recently for a magazine article.

After picking up a delivery of frames at the Sedona Art Center, we headed over to a friend's house for dinner, Carolyn Ensley, who is another fine artist and teacher. Carolyn arranged for us to meet Clive and his wife, Virginia, whom she also invited. I'd not met Clive before, and I really wanted to do so, as his plein air work is truly exceptional.

Dinner was quick, since Trina and I had to be back at SAC for a slide lecture given by Curt Walters. Curt has done very large plein air pieces over the years (60" and bigger) of the Grand Canyon and other locations. If anyone is Mr. Grand Canyon, he is.

Tomorrow is our final painting day. We will need to deliver 5 framed paintings by 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Day 3

Another real work day, starting at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast for the artists at the Sedona Heritage Museum. It was a cool beginning with the temperature at 47 degrees, but the artists were up to the challenge.

I painted an old buggy that had been moved out of storage for us. (There was a bright red fire engine, too, but I didn't feel up to such saturated reds today.) The buggy stood sentry before the apple-packing barn, which is a beautiful structure made out of the local sandstone. Some of the challenges with this piece included the stonework and the distant mountains, both of which I had to simplify to keep from competing with the buggy. I also took artistic liberty and moved a Toyota Highlander out of the foreground. Here's this 9x12 oil:


After finishing, I had to rush back to the Sedona Art Center to do a painting demonstration at 11 a.m. I'm one of two artists who were invited to demonstrate. I painted in oil today, and Clark Mitchell will do pastel tomorrow. SAC set me up with a portable PA system and a tent, so the spectators could listen and watch in comfort. I had a sell-out crowd. I also got a good demo, something we workshop teachers all pray for but don't always get. This is the view from the back of the Art Barn (9x12, oil):


The rest of the afternoon was spent on the porch of my hosts' house, adjusting the six paintings I've done so far. I've got a good crop, and I can't wait to see them framed!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sedona Plein Air Festival - Days 1 & 2

Day 1

Trina and I arrived in Phoenix by mid-morning on Saturday and headed right up to Sedona to escape the heat. It was already in the high 80s before lunch! Sedona is a pleasant oasis, made so by a higher elevation and the cool waters of Oak Creek. This time of year, I always look forward to painting the cottonwoods, which edge the creek with golden hues. The trees seem a bit late this year, though, and have only just started to turn.

We crashed early Saturday evening. We didn't get much sleep the night before in our airport hotel in Portland, Maine, and we had to be at the airport by 4 a.m. Also, Campobello is a good four time zones away from Sedona, so when the sun dropped behind the red hills, we dropped, too. It'll take a few days to adjust to the new time. I'll probably do most of my painting in the mornings.

After a nice hike along the Broken Arrow trail with stops at Submarine Rock and Chicken Point, we headed to the Art Barn at the Sedona Art Center in town for orientation. We dropped off work they had brought for the Artists' Showcase, an adjunct show that starts Monday. Next, we had our painting panels stamped and then grabbed a seat so we could go over the week's schedule. Sponsors have invited us to paint at their locations and provide us with a meal to sweeten the deal, and we have a number of other events to go to. It'll be a full but fun week!

Orientation ended with the artists scrambling to find a location on Main Street for the afternoon paintout. The Festival has an educational aspect, so the goal was to give the artists and the Sedona Art Center a bit of exposure. I set up in the shade (smart idea) and near a coffee shop (another smart idea) to paint a street scene. Many people stopped by to chat. Some of them were artists themselves and others who were just interested in what I was doing.

Here's today's piece.



Day 2

This was a real work day. Up on Schnebly Hill by dawn, followed by two paintings, one at sunrise and the second a little later. (Tom Lynch was there early, too!) Then, Trina and I had a quick bite before heading out to Red Rock Crossing, probably the most photographed and painted vista in Sedona. It was 81 degrees today and hot at the Crossing. I was lucky to find shade! In the evening, we had the opening of the Artists' Showcase, which consists of pieces participants brought in to exhibit for the week. Some are plein air pieces, other are studio works.

Here, in order, are my three paintings for today. By the way, I'm shooting all these images with an old digital camera, so they're not the greatest. Once I'm home, I'll replace these with properly-photographed ones. All paintings are 9x12 and oil.