Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tubac, Arizona, Plein Air Painting Workshop

I've just returned from a three-day plein air workshop in Tubac, Arizona.  For those of you who don't know Tubac, it's a nifty little art town just 20 miles north of the Mexican border.  Tubac was, indeed, part of Mexico until 1853, and it has seen its share of booms and busts.  Lately, it's been booming as a prime retirement community and a great place to find both art and artists.  Artists Hal Empie, the "Dean of Arizona Artists," and Hugh Cabot lived and worked there for many years.

It's also a great place for painting architecture.  On our first day, we went to the Tubac Presidio Historic State Park (now operated by the Tubac Historical Society.)  The Presidio, a fort built in 1752, gave us some wonderful light and shadow patterns to paint.  Here is a 9x12 oil sketch I did as a demo.  It's a building just outside the Presidio wall.  The Director of the site told me it was the original Historical Society building.

On the second day, we headed over to the Tubac Golf Resort.  As a rule, golf courses aren't very interesting as subject matter, but this one occupies the historic Otero Ranch.  The developers did a great job of integrating their modern buildings with the remaining ranch buildings and old silos, which they worked hard to preserve.  Painting there felt like painting on a grand old estate.  Here are some photos plus a 12x9 pastel sketch I did of one of the silos.

On our last day, we drove down to the Tumacacori National Historic Park.  The centerpiece is the Mission San JosĂ© de Tumacácori, founded in 1691.  The current building wasn't actually begun in earnest until 1800.  The Mission presented us with a number of architectural problems.   The key to painting it was to forget everything you know about perspective and simply paint what you see.  I prefer to paint architecture this way, anyway.  If you measure angles and proportions rather than draw perspective lines and vanishing points, the building will look a lot more convincing, and it'll take a lot less time to paint.  Below are more photos and a 5x7 demonstration.  For this one, I was showing how to make accurate color and value relationships more than focusing on accurate perspective.

I did another demonstration that day, but I don't have a photograph of it.  Never sell your paintings without getting a good photo first!  But the painting was bought by Lois Griffel (, and I am honored for her to have it.  Lois was the last director of the Cape Cod School of Art and studied with Henry Hensche.  She now lives in southern Arizona and came to visit my workshop.

At the end of the day, we headed over to Abe's Old Tumacacori Bar.  It was built by WPA workers, who also built the highway in front of it, and opened in 1933.  I played a game of eight-ball - my first in nearly 30 years! - before going over to the Tumacacori Restaurant, which serves the unusual combination of Greek and Mexican dishes.  Below is the bar.

We had such a great time this week that we've already set up a workshop for 2012.  Put January 17-20 on your calendar!  Artist Katherine Reyes will be coordinating the workshop again.  Visit for more information.  I hope you'll join us for a warm winter getaway.


Sara Mathewson said...

Oh how I envy all of you painting in and around Tubac! Currently I'm living in very cold and snowy MN, but for several years I lived in a small town 23 miles down a long windy rod from Amado, called Arivaca. to me this is my true home and I miss it very much especially this winter! Next winter I plan to live there no matter what, so I will keep those Jan. dates open. Tubac is about 45 min. from Arivaca but only because it takes 30 min to drive that 23 mile very windy rd.

I love the pics and "sketches" you did they all bring back so many wonderful memories. I have belonged to the "Tubac Center for the Arts" (I think that is what it is called), for many years, and even had some paintings in a few of their members shows. So glad you had a great time there. there is history all around you when you visit those places.

alotter said...

So cool that you were able to get together with Lois! I wish she would come back to New Hampshire for another workshop.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Yes, Sara - keep those January dates open! We had a great time. Aline - I was lucky that Lois was able to come down. She was on a deadline to finish a set for a local play. It was great to see her again.