Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lois Griffel Workshop - Day 1

Thanks to a Shirl Smithson Scholarship from the Oil Painters of America, I'm taking a workshop with Lois Griffel this week at the Acadia Workshop Center in Southwest Harbor, Maine. It's a workshop I've wanted to take ever since reading her book, Painting the Impressionist Landscape (Watson-Guptill, 1994.) I allow myself one workshop a year, and this is the one for 2008.

When we arrived on Sunday, we were worried about Hurricane Kyle, which was due to hit Downeast Maine early Monday morning as, at best, a near-Category 1 storm. However, miracles do happen, and late in the evening Kyle suddenly staggered east, sparing us. Monday morning came with a gorgeous sunrise, worthy of any Impressionist's brush.

But even with the unexpected good weather, we spent the morning in the workshop center going over material that would be our foundation for the week. You'd think we all knew the color wheel by now, but I found myself learning some new things. For example, Lois splits the wheel temperature-wise down the middle from Red to Green, which gives these two colors an interesting property - they can be either cool OR warm. In a sense, this makes each half of wheel MORE than half and thus expands its color range.

I should say a word about Lois. She studied at the Art Students League of New York with Ray Kinstler, Burton Silverman and Harvey Dinnerstein. In 1975, she moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she became good friends with Henry Hensche. Not long afterward, she was chosen to become the director of the Cape Cod School of Art, third in line after Charles Hawthorne and Hensche. In a sense, this was a form of apostolic succession: Lois learned from Hensche, who learned from Hawthorne, who founded the school in 1899. Both Hawthorne and Hensche were considered luminaries of the American art world in the early part of the last century and still hold that position today. Lois was forced to close the school in 2000 because of economics. Today, she lives in Arizona. For more on her and the Cape Cod School of Art, visit www.loisgriffel.com.

After lunch, we went to a nearby bog to try out her basic idea. Each large value mass contains more than just the local color. The longer you look, the more you'll see complements. Complements or, as she calls them, "vibrating colors," are what make the landscape come alive. Skies may contain not just blue but pink. (Why not the true complement, orange? She likes to save that for the sunlit areas, since they are even warmer than the sky. Pink isn't quite as warm as orange.) The shrubby plants that make up the bog contain not just yellow ochre but also bits of violet. In applying these "vibrating colors," it doesn't matter what order you apply them in. You can start either with local color or any of the other colors. Today, for example, she had us start our skies with pink and gradually work blue back into them.

Below is my 8x10 view of the bog. Lois calls the sketches we did today "starts." They are basically underpaintings and can serve as a good base for what could become a finished painting with more time and observation.


For this session, we were working "alla prima." She remarked that the difference between the definitions of "plein air" and "alla prima" has gotten a bit fuzzy. "Plein air" does not necessarily mean "alla prima." With alla prima, of course, you're working wet-into-wet and finishing the painting in one session. With plein air, you may finish a piece over several sessions. She let us know that both Hawthorne and Hensche actually let their underpaintings dry before continuing to work on them. This allowed the painters to achieve the purest, richest color. It's so easy to stir up the complements and muddy the color when working alla prima. One could use a knife to paint with, since that stirs up the paint much less. In fact, Lois painted for many years exclusively this way, but now has started to use a brush for a softer look.

More to come!

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