Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Some Sedona Demonstrations

Location shot for "Creekside"

In my last post, I wrote about my recent Sedona plein air painting workshop.  I want to share with you now some of my demonstrations from the week.  Because I had students working in both oil and pastel, I did the same.  So, here are a few:

"Creekside" 9x12 Pastel
Available here
A quiet look at the Verde River south of Sedona in the fall.

"Mountain Study (Thunder Mountain)" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
Thunder Mountain dominates the Sedona landscape.

"My Sycamore" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
I've painted these beautiful Arizona sycamores so
much that I feel they are mine.

"Blue Shed" 9x12 Oil
Available Here

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020. That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations. The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends. The studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging. (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away. You can find out more details and register here:

For experienced outdoor painters who would like to improve their craft or get career help, I do offer a Private, One-on-One Painting Intensive. For this, I customize a program and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio. I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sedona Workshop Wrap-up

Fall color doesn't get better than this!
Red Rock Crossing / Crescent Moon Ranch

I've seen some good fall color in Sedona, but for our plein air painting workshop last week, the color was the best I've seen in years.  Gold, crimson red and lemony yellows, all at peak saturation.  Combine that with the deep blue sky, and you have a situation that verges on being Van Gogh-ish.  Vincent once wrote, "There is no blue without yellow and orange," and the color we saw this week illustrated that statement perfectly.

I had eight students from Arizona, Kansas, California, Indiana and even Austria.  We met each morning in the studio, where some of us also lodged, for lectures and critiques.  After that, we went out to one of several beautiful locations, where I demonstrated how to handle Sedona's spectacular scenery, followed by everyone painting.  One night, we gathered at a new Thai restaurant in town to celebrate our new-found friendship.

We also had some spectacular storms one day.
One of my pastel demos, just begun.
I'll show some of the finished demos in a later blog post.

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020.  That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations.  The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends.  By the way, the studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging.  (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away.  You can find out more details and register here:

By the way, if you are an experienced outdoor painter and would like to improve your craft or get help with your career, I do offer a Private Painting Intensive.  For this, I customize a program for you, and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio.  I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Morning lectures

Morning critiques

Raku was an added extra and provided entertainment

Painting by Oak Creek

Painting by the Verde River
Our happy group

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Best Practice

Distortion--extreme foreshortening, squashed perspectives--is
common in illustration art.  But does it have a place in "fine art"?

"Best practice" isn't something you hear much about in the art world.  "Best practice" is defined as "Commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective."  The example the dictionary gives on how the phrase might be used:
The proprietors are keen to ensure best practice in food preparation, storage and serving. 
As someone who worked in the food service industry for more years than he'd like to admit, I've seen both "best practice" and what one might call "worst practice."  "Worst practice" would be leaving that big bucket of potato salad out overnight.  "Best practice" would be putting it away in the walk-in refrigerator and double-checking to make sure the temperature is holding at a cool 35-38°F.

So what about best practice for art?  Use of archival materials and procedures comes to mind.  If you want your work to last, you must follow best practice.  You hear about working "fat over lean," making sure you use only acid-free paper, and so on.  Who doesn't want to take all this very good advice?

There are two kinds of artists who don't follow best practice:  those who were never taught it, and those who consciously ignore it.  There's not much we can say about those who were never taught it, other than there's no excuse but laziness for not seeking out such knowledge.  (Especially now that we have the Internet.)  And as for those who consciously ignore it, they should understand the perils—and have a good reason for doing what they do.

But best practice doesn't have to do with just materials.  It also concerns such things as design elements and principles, color harmony and unity—and drawing.  From the definition above:  "Procedures that are...most effective."

One reader shared with me an image of painting she came across that peeved her.  It was a cityscape in which the high-rises were wildly distorted by a cartoon-world perspective.  She felt the drawing was off—and it was—and wondered how I felt about it.  She offered it as an example in which she thought best practice had not been followed.  She wrote:
When our generation went out to learn, we expected to be taught by someone competent and to learn 'best practice.'  I do believe there is a best practice, otherwise artists such as yourself would not be teaching.
In my view, yes, the buildings teetered precipitously from the vertical—an earthquake would have brought them down easily—but I had no clue as to artist's intent.  Did we have an artist who had never been taught best practice with regards to perspective; or did we have an artist who knew the rules but chose to not apply them?  Was the drawing merely incompetent, or was the distortion intentional?

You see this kind of intentional distortion in graphic novels, comic books and on book covers, but not so much in fine art.  This particular painting, however, did seem to be yearning to become "fine art."  It had all the right signs.  Unfortunately, the cartoonish perspective was not effective in adding a dynamic quality to an otherwise static design; instead, it actually distracted from reaching the apparent goal of being fine art.  There are other, more effective and appropriate ways—"best practices"—to achieve energy in that kind of painting.  What the artist used would have been, however, very effective in a comic book.

Just as there are different kinds of art, there are different sets of rules that apply to them.  The mastery of your particular art lies in knowing which set of rules applies—and then either employing them or not, but all with the final effect in mind.

Friday, November 1, 2019

October's Top Posts

I had a hard time this past month keeping up with the blog posts.  Between two traveling workshops and two magazine articles with tight deadlines, little precious time was left!  Next month, I promise I'll do better.  I'll have a Sedona plein air painting workshop to write about, plus a private painting intensive week with a student, as well as time of my own to work on personal painting projects.  I might even have my annual holiday sale to write about!

All things to look forward to.  But now, here are October's top three blog posts.

Two Plein Air Paintings - Video Timelapse - click here for the post

Supply Lists - Oil - click here for the post

Workshop Report: In Taos with Albert Handell - click here for the post

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Grand Canyon Plein Air Painting Workshop Wrap-up

Cliff Shadow 9x12 Oil - Demo, Available

A mile down below me, a copper-green ribbon of water snakes between pink buttes.  Visible but rendered silent by the distance, a ripple of rapids turns the water white.  From where I stand, perched on the limestone rim of Grand Canyon, I can obscure the rapids with my little finger, they are so far away.  Meanwhile, ravens, coal-black, tumble and play in the vast space.  Feeling just the slightest bit of vertigo, I step back.

The Canyon is like that.  It'll show you some thing of beauty, and then the next moment remind you how small—and how fragile—you are in the context of its landscape.

My job this past week has been to help students from Arizona, Florida, Maine and Ohio explore that beauty in paint. This was my second time teaching a plein air painting workshop for the Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute. As before, it's been a fantastic experience, partly because the GCC works with the National Park Service to make sure I have the access I need to show participants some truly special parts of the park.  Also, after years of painting there, I'm eager to share my knowledge of the canyon with my students, as well as to help them wrestle all that vastness down into a small canvas successfully.

Good weather gave us clear skies and warmth after a frosty start each day.  A couple of my students camped—camping was free for students—but they stayed warm and cozy in their tents at night, and the sun warmed things up quickly after daybreak.  Some wind, which was predicted for mid-week, never really arrived.  A painting friend of mine says, "Any day without wind at Grand Canyon is a good day."

Thanks to the weather, we had plenty of time to explore the entire length of the park, from Hermit's Rest in the west to Desert View in the east.  This year, I had the honor of playing bus driver and drove the 15-person van.  One afternoon, on the return trip from Hermit's Rest, a herd of elk moseyed across the road—a harem of cows plus a bull elk with a large rack—forcing me to stop, which gave everyone a little time to take some photos.

There's plenty more I could write about the week, but pictures do the job so much better.  Below are a few.  And next week, I'm off to Sedona, Arizona, to teach my next all-level plein air painting workshop.  I have a space or two left, so let me know if you're interested.

Massive 9x12 Oil - Demo, Available

Twisted Tree 9x12 Oil - Demo, Available

Clinging Tree 9x12 Pastel - Demo, Available

A student from Maine, perched near the edge.
A ranger told me he likes to stay "two body-lengths"
away.  There's actually a ledge just beyond him.

A student from Florida who paid attention to my lecture and used a ViewCatcher
to analyze the scene.  It was warm enough for short sleeves!

Raku's first glimpse of Grand Canyon.  Raku and
Trina also camped.

Mule riders heading down for Phantom Ranch.
Some year, it'd be fun to hike down again and paint there.
I'd have the mule riders take my gear.  It's only $70 for
a 30-pound duffel bag.

Sunrise from the Rim Trail on the Hermit's Rest road.

My "Clinging Tree" demo, partway done.  Near
the Desert View Watch Tower.

Sometimes, students clustered together, making my
job of going from student to student easier.

It's always nice to have a picnic table to work on.
This is at Hermit's Rest.

My "Twisted Tree" demo

Me, working on "Cliff Shadows"

Sunny spots prevailed.

"Cliff Shadows" demo in situ, near
the Yavapai Geology Museum

Monday, October 21, 2019

Two Plein Air Paintings - Video Timelapse

When I was in Taos the other week, I took step-by-step photos of some of my plein air paintings.  I thought I'd share the images with you in a short video.  The video features two of the paintings, both of which are oil and painted on gessoed hardboard that had been toned with Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red.  For each of them, I generally blocked in the scene and then focused on the center of interest.  Finally, I took them to the studio and spent about 30 minutes finishing them.

Here is the video.  (Can't see it?  Here is the direct link:

And the two completed paintings:

"Rio Grande Quiet" 12x14 Oil

"They Too Passed Here" 11x14 Oil

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Workshop Report: In Taos with Albert Handell

"They Also Passed Here" 12x14 Oil
One of the  paintings I made in Taos.
If you look closely, you might see petroglyphs.

"Look, bighorn sheep!"  I swivelled my head at the student's call and looked up at the rim of black lava rock high above.  Sure enough, one of the big animals peered down upon us, curious about what our group was up to.

I've painted in northern New Mexico many times, and this was only my second time seeing these beautiful creatures, munching grass along the rim of the Rio Grande gorge in Taos.  I was with master painter Albert Handell's mentoring workshop down in the gorge, by the scenic and historic John Dunn bridge, trying to capture the complex personality of a river rock.   This was only one of six days with the workshop, and every day offered us something new and exciting to paint.

Bighorn Sheep on the rim

I've worked with Albert many times over the last 20 years, both taking workshops and also serving as workshop coordinator.  For this one, I was Albert's invited guest—a real gift for me.  I worked hard this week to honor that gift.  And Albert did, too.  He was tough on me, noting in our final critique that he was a little disappointed that I'd not brought a particular painting to a satisfactory finish.  He said, "The painting has 'carrying power' from a distance, but when I get close to it, I don't see any touches of rich color and detail to excite me." Lesson learned.

Students from Alberta, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas and Missouri joined us for the week.  For the workshop, Albert shared some of his favorite locations from over 30 years of painting there.  In the mornings, he painted, and if we wished to watch the work as a demonstration, he happily shared his thoughts with us.  Some of us watched; others set up beside him and painted the same subject; now and then, one of us went off on her own to paint.  In the afternoons, he went from easel to easel, offering suggestions and the occasional touch of paint or pastel to illustrate a point.  Then, in the evenings, we joined again for critiques and career-building discussions.  It's rare that Albert has a small group—there were just six of us—and we made sure to make the most of it.  In my view, Albert shared much information that was new to me, even though I've worked with him many times.

I thought I'd share a few photos as well as some of my paintings from the week.  By the way, if you are an experienced painter and would like to paint Taos, I'm scheduling a painting retreat (not a workshop) for October 4-9, 2020.  As with my previous retreats, I'll give preference to previous students.  If you haven't taken a workshop with me yet, I have two coming up in Sedona, Arizona (November 5-8, 2019, and April 7-10, 2020) as well as some in Lubec, Maine, next summer.  If you'd like to be on the "interested" list for Taos, please let me know.  For a full workshop schedule, please visit

Here are some of the paintings:

"Along the Mountain Road" 12x14 Oil

"High Desert Barn" 12x16 Oil

"Rio Grande Quiet" 12x14 Oil

"Rio Hondo Pool" 12x16 Oil

"Taos Field" 12x18 Pastel
"Cliff Shadows" 12x16 Oil

 Here are a couple of videos:

Trina shot this while I painted along the Rio Hondo.
(Can't see the video? Link is here:

This little visitor kept me company.
(Can't see the video? Link is here:

Here are some photos:

I visited the grave of Mabel Dodge Luhan.
Don't know the name?  Look her up.

Aspens were in full color up the mountain.

A cache of petroglphys surprised me at one spot.

One morning, it was cold enough for ice!

Trina and Raku hiked while I painted.

I guess the fishing was good in the river.

Albert making a mark to make a point.

A demonstration in the studio by Albert.

Painting at John Dunn Bridge.

Near John  Dunn Bridge.

On the banks of the Rio Hondo.
It's just a sliver of water with an even narrower sliver
of bank, and my feet got wet.

Taos Mountain and a stage prop.

Demonstrating in the field by Albert.

At John Dunn Bridge.

The famous bridge itself.

After the workshop, I visited the Nicolai Fechin Museum.
This is Fechin's painting of his daughter, Eya, whom I met
years ago just before she died at age 87.