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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hiding the Cliche

Rainbows, sunsets and lighthouses! Beautiful things to look at, beautiful things to photograph, but -- to paint? These scenic features, loved by tourists and postcard collectors, are difficult to treat in a painting. Stick in a lighthouse, and you risk making your painting sweet and sentimental.

My neck of the woods features not one but three lighthouses within a few miles of my home. I've been asked to paint these lighthouses, and being the accommodating artist I am, I gladly do so. However, I consider it my mission -- and my challenge -- to hide the cliche. I want to render these features differently and in an interesting way.

This afternoon, I drove out to the Head Harbour Light. It's well-known for the red Swiss cross on its tower. Tourists come from far and near to hike out to the third island where it stands, and it's a difficult hike that must be done only at low tide. (More than one visitor has been stranded by the tide coming in.) I was hoping to do the hike myself so I could do a close-up of the tower, but unfortunately, the recent Nor'easter had damaged a small wooden bridge one must cross and it was roped off with a big sign reading "Danger!"

So, I set myself up in the parking lot and went at it. The trick is to subdue what would be a cliche, and make it an insignificant part of the landscape. Make something else your center of interest, and keep the lighthouse only as a point of reference. In this case, the real center of interest is the rock in the foreground.

Here's my lighthouse. (8x10, oil/panel.) Below is a picture of me painting it. (As always, you can click on the thumbnail for a larger view.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

New Hampshire Workshop - Continues!

We had another beautiful day in Goffstown. (It's really making up for the Nor'easter and the floods.) Yesterday, we headed out to a small farm nearby that had plenty of barns and donkeys. The spring sunshine is so strong that, toward midday, the landscape washes out into dull browns and greens. The light also appears quite cool. I wanted to offset this with some good barn color. So, my demonstrations focused on the cool sunlight and how shadows can appear quite warm under these circumstances. One oil demo (below, 5x8) shows some of this.

Below this demo is a pastel (5x7) from the day before, at the Dunbarton cemetery, where something similar is going on. The underside of the large tree branch is quite warm; the shadow it casts on the tree trunk is cool with bits of blue, thanks to the skylight reflecting into it. (You will note that the sunlit trunk itself is quite warm. Nature is full of such complex contradictions. Annoying, but it also enriches the painting experience!)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

New Hampshire Workshop - Another Day

The weather was absolutely delightful yesterday. "Severe clear" sky, as the pilots say, with a deep blue that reminds one of the sunny Mediterranean or Southwest. My group of 10 students spent the day in historic Dunbarton, painting in a very old cemetery-- one slate headstone dated from 1811, and I'm sure there were many that were older -- and by the old town hall.

Here are two demonstrations I did. In the first, I painted an old oak and a stone wall (8x10, oil.) The point was how to handle the stone wall, which was of a similar value to that of the grass around it. (The secret is to put little trees behind it to show that the wall sits in front of the distant lawn; also, there's a subtle color change between wall and grass.) In the second, I wanted to show how you can do a complete 5x7 sketch in 30 minutes or less. The point is to capture the big shapes and the values only, and come away with something you can feel good about.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Hampshire Workshop

I'm on the road this week, teaching a workshop for New Hampshire Plein Air in Goffstown. Getting here was a bit tricky, considering that we had to drive 7 hours through a monster Nor'easter. "We only get storms like this once every 25 years," the weather forecasters were bragging. Fortunately, the storm was all rain along the coast.

Or unfortunately, depending on where you lived. Our route was passable with no closed roads, but we saw several houses that were deep in floodwaters. We took a detour to Perkins Cove along the coast of Maine; the storm tide had washed through the little village and flooded all the shops. Seaweed littered the parking lots. I took a photo of some of the raging waves that were beating against the area's famed "Marginal Way." (See below)

Our first day was a rainy one as the storm was hesitant to leave. Even the most dedicated plein air painters -- and this group is exactly that -- find it hard to paint in the rain. We made use of the Black Brook Gallery's fine studio space to work in. Some painted out the window; others painted from photographs.

Yesterday we painted around the grounds of the gallery. The rest of the week is predicted to be springtime gorgeous, and we've got some prime spots. Dunbarton, a quiet community of historic village buildings is today's destination. This is a group of experienced painters, and we're having a lot of fun. If I have a chance later this weekend (the workshop runs Wednesday through Sunday), I'll post more photos of us painting and maybe a painting or two of my own.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Good News

I got some exciting news the other day. I've been invited to participate in the 2007 Sedona Plein Air Festival this fall. This will be my second year with 29 other invited artists from across the US. This is an indeed an honour, and I'm looking forward to working beside some really excellent plein air painters.

The Festival runs from October 22-28. You can learn about last year's event and find out about this year's at If you're going to be in the area, please mark it on your calendar. You'll be able to visit with us out in the field, and you can come to the Gala and awards ceremony at the end!

Here's a painting from last year: "Dry Creek Sycamore," 8x10, oil/panel. (As always, you can click on the thumbnail to get a bigger image.)