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Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Hampshire Workshop - Day 4

Our last day ended just as nice as all the rest, with perfect weather. After letting the students paint a bit in the morning, I talked about color temperature consistency. My basic rule is this:

Warm light, cool shadow; cool light, warm shadow.

If you can determine what temperature the light source is, whether sun or ambient overcast light, the temperature of the shadows will be the opposite.

If you violate the rule and your use of color temperature is inconsistent, you will confuse your viewer. He'll know something isn't quite right, but he most likely won't be able to put his finger on it. Here's an illustration I made. The top sketch shows warm light with cool shadows. The bottom, cool light with warm shadows. Each is a gross exaggeration, but I think it puts the point across.

While students were painting, I did a quick pastel sketch of the spring colors. My host, Pat, was a bit sad that no one was painting her pond. And wouldn't you know, but several others painted the pond that afternoon, too.

"Pat's Pond"
5x7, pastel, en plein air

The workshop ended with a "cake 'n' critique" session. One of students brought in a celebration cake with "Happy Painting!" written on top. Over cake and coffee, everyone told me how interested they are in having the workshop again next year. I can't wait - spring is beautiful in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Workshop - Day 3

Kimball Pond called our workshop for the third day. Ducks, herons, rocky points, waterfalls - a great place to be on a Friday before the arrival of the weekend and the fishermen with their boats. Again, we were blessed with beautiful weather. (How long can it hold out?)

I elaborated more on the importance of doing quick, 30-minute sketches. If you've been agonizing over larger paintings, it's the perfect medicine for de-stressing. These mini-paintings are low-risk and low-investment. If you haven't captured the moment in 30 minutes, no problem - scrape it and start another one. And they don't cost you much in time or materials. They're also a great way to hone your design skills. When I do them, I focus almost entirely on color and shape.

Here are three I did. One I did as a demonstration, and the other two I did while the students set up or packed up.

"Kimball Pond"
Demonstration - 4x6, oil, en plein air - SOLD

"Shadowed Falls"
4x6, oil, en plein air

"Sunny Bottom"
4x6, oil, en plein air

Before I forget, I should mention the generous support we had in the way of samples from Jack Richeson & Co. Fine Art Materials (Daniel Greene oil paints and Unison pastels), Gamblin Artists Colors (oil colors, Galkyd and Gamsol) and Rtistx (Rtistx art boards).

Tomorrow - finishing up.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Hampshire Workshop - Day 2

Our second day dawned cooler than but just as sunny as our first day. We headed out to a local farm that had some neat old barns and fences, donkeys, guinea fowl, apple trees and just about everything else a painter might want.

The light was particularly beautiful on the forsythia blooming by the shadowed side of a barn, so I made that my subject. This time I painted in pastel. I showed how I blocked in my large masses and then used Turpenoid to scrub in the color before adding more detail. Here's my finished piece.

"Goffstown Barn"
9x12, pastel, en plein air - SOLD

While I took a break, the students found their spots and painted. Most of us stayed out of the sun, since we'd gotten too much of it yesterday.

Later, I noticed that the light had changed significantly on the scene that I'd painted earlier. The sun had come around and really warmed up the side that had been in shadow. I decided to show my approach to making a quick, 30-minute sketch. I focussed more on capturing the value and color contrasts than on accurate color and form. Here's the sketch.

"Goffstown Barn II"
5x7, pastel, en plein air - SOLD

By the way, red barns can be troublesome to paint. The color can appear so blazingly warm, even in the shadows. I find that to make red barns work, you have to push the temperature difference a bit between sunlit and shadow areas. Then, watch that you don't make the light reflecting into the shadows too warm.

Tomorrow, I'll go back to oil again. But no more architecture! We'll head out to Kimball Pond to paint water.

New Hampshire Workshop - Day 1

When I taught this workshop a year ago, a nor'easter had rolled through New England, washing out bridges and delaying the spring. This year, however, spring is right on target. Here in Goffstown, just outside of Manchester, daffodils are up, the forsythia is out, and a fine red lace softens the profiles of maple and birch.

I took my eleven students into Dunbarton, which has a historic village center a few miles from here. What could be more scenic than its cemetery, dating from colonial times, and its white buildings? I positioned myself in front of the library, with a view of a red barn across the road, to do an oil demonstration. (I'm teaching both oil and pastel in this four-day workshop for New Hampshire Plein Air.)

Here's the painting, still in the paintbox. (Sorry about the bit of glare.) It's a simple piece, painted to illustrate the use of big shapes and uncluttered design. In front of the barn were two sugar maples and a utility pole, all of which I elected to leave out in my original design. At the end, though, I knew it needed a strong, vertical element. I mixed up a batch of utility-pole-colored paint, loaded my brush, and prepared to paint in the pole with pretty much one stroke. Just before I touched brush to panel, the students figured out what I was up to and gasped. "Oh, I couldn't do that," one said. I explained that one should never let the fear of ruining a painting beat the desire for improving it.

"Dunbarton Center"
8x10, oil, en plein air
Painted with Gamblin oil colors on Ampersand Gessobord;
Guerrilla Painter 9x12 Paint Box

For a spring day, it got mighty hot. I don't know exactly how hot, but the forecast had it at 84 degrees. To stay out of the sun, most of us crowded into the shade of the library to paint more scenes from Dunbarton.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spring Sketches

I did two small sketches in the last couple of days. In the first, I sat in the warm sunshine on a rocky cliff overlooking the Lubec Channel. The tide was out, revealing acres and acres of green rockweed. I was most interested in the rocks, and I worked on capturing color and value accurately, especially in the shadows. I used no underpainting, but went in directly with thick paint. In this sketch, you're looking down upon the rocks with the revealed rockweed beyond.

"Rock Study"
5x7, oil, en plein air - SOLD

In the second, I overlooked our field down by the firs and apple trees. The evening light set the field aglow, making the yellow and orange weeds even more dramatic. We have a path through the field, and you can see a bit of green where the grass has finally begun to grow. Again, I painted directly.

"A Touch of Spring"
5x7, oil, en plein air -

Tomorrow, I'm off to New Hampshire to teach the next workshop. Stay tuned for a workshop report!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sunset over Eastport

After painting in pastel exclusively for nearly a month, I've been hankering to get back into the oils. Not only have I really missed the feeling of working in oil, I also felt like I needed to get the kinks out of my unused "oil muscles." I'm teaching a workshop in both media for New Hampshire Plein Air next week, and I want to be ready!

I don't normally paint late in the evening, but we've been having warm, gorgeous sunsets. (Sunset is around 8:15 with twilight ending a half hour later.) Around 7, I took out my Guerrilla Painter 6x8 ThumBox, found a good overlook toward the west, and painted this little piece with the paintbox perched in my lap.

"Sunset over Eastport"
5x7, oil, en plein air

The air seemed full of light, and you can see how it warmed up the air in front of the distant, shadowed hills near Eastport, Maine. To my eye, the air looked nearly green, and so I painted it that way. Because a warm color like green wants to come forward, it was important to include the red field in the foreground. Being a warmer color, the red comes comes forward even more, effectively pushing back the green.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

PAC Symposium - Day 3 & Final

I spent the entire final day of the PAC Symposium in a figure workshop. The instructor, Megan Williams, teaches the figure at the Toronto School of Art. She's a fine instructor, and I learned her approach to drawing the figure rapidly. Rapid drawing is necessary for the animation students she teaches. "It's such a competitive field," she said, "that if you don't practice every day, you don't get in."

Well, my goal isn't to do animation, but just to paint the figure to my satisfaction and to further my explorations of color and form. Although we have a figure group across the border from Campobello Island in Lubec, Maine, it's rare when I'm able to join them. I enjoy the figure, and it's something I wish I could get more of.

Figure Studio (sans model and students)

Rather than reproduce a manual for painting the figure, I'll just include the following two pieces I did. The first is a 5-minute foot study done with dark pastel on white Canson paper.

The second is a 90-minute figure done in full color on Belgian Mist Wallis sanded paper. I was pretty happy with both pieces.

So, the Symposium has come to an end. I met a lot of good artists and made some new friends, always my goals on such a trip. Now I get to fly home, rest a wee bit, and then head off a week from Tuesday to teach a combined oil and pastel workshop for New Hampshire Plein Air. I taught a workshop for them last year, and it was a blast. I'm looking forward to visiting with them again. Stay tuned!

PAC Symposium - Day 2

Saturday morning I took the "Colour Explorations" workshop with PAC artist Tim Daniels. In advance of the workshop, Tim set up a few web pages that outline the class material. (You can see the pages here. ) Rather than cover colour theory, which he says never really works for him, he takes a historical approach, examining colour solutions artists have found down through the ages. Starting with the Old Masters, who used a palette composed mostly of earth tones, he ended with contemporary painters of today, who have a broader selection of brighter pigments available to them.

Some of the examples he used for contemporary painters include Giorgio Morandi. I didn't know of Morandi's work, but I do like his subtle shifts in color and tone. Here's an example.

Now here's one of Tim's pieces:

Finally, here is the exercise I did based on a still life Tim set up for us. The point was to use vivid, contemporary colour, but to retain the sense of depth by handling colour temperature. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but I like the colours. It was a 15-minute excercise. Size is about 8x8.

Later in the day, I led two "walk and talk" sessions through the Member's Gallery. I had a dozen people each time. I didn't have to break out the balloon animals after all.

Tomorrow - figure workshop with Megan Williams.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

PAC Symposium - Day 1

I've been eagerly looking forward to the "It's Not Chalk!" symposium as a culmination of my trip to Ontario. This is Pastel Artists Canada's first annual pastel symposium, and by all signs it looks like there will be a second. Over 70 have signed up for a weekend of workshops, demonstrations and the vendor booth. Nearly 60 artists have work in the Members' Show and my Plein Air Workshop show.

Although I enjoyed my week of teaching, I'm very happy to be a student now. On Saturday, I'll be taking a colour workshop with Tim Daniels, and on Sunday, an all-day life drawing workshop with Megan Williams, who teaches the figure at the Toronto School of Art. Saturday afternoon I get to lead a "Walk & Talk" of the gallery exhibit.

The symposium is being held at the Burlington Art Centre. My billet host explained to me that this is a "public gallery," which in Canada is a more prestigious place to show than a commercial gallery. A public gallery is funded by hard-won grants from the government and corporations. PAC is very proud to have their show and symposium here.

Friday morning I hung 14 pieces from my students in the Plein Air Workshop show. Since all the work is 9x12, we framed them alike, and as you can see below, they make an impressive display. I've also included a close-up of my 5x7 sketch, which I chose to "float" in a similar frame.

After that, I sat in on a critique session given by Burlington Art Centre Program Director, George Wale, who has a sculpture background. (It's always fascinating to see how an artist from a radically different medium responds.) Members of PAC submitted slides for critique. At lunch, PanPastel gave a talk on their products. Following that, the exhibit and vendor booth opened, and I spent the next two hours looking at some excellent pastels from across Canada and talking to artists from as far away as Vancouver. I also looked longingly at the supplies for sale (booth was hosted by Mixed Media of Hamilton), but I knew better than to pull out my wallet. Finally, a photographer showed up from the local paper, so perhaps I'll be in the morning edition.

Tomorrow - report on the Tim Daniels workshop and my "Walk & Talk."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Milton Workshop - Day 4

On this last day of the workshop, the excellent weather continued. It was a bit cooler, but nothing to deter a plein air painter! As we worked today, Canada geese drifted overhead in great, honking flocks.

Today's demonstration showed how to liven up dull color. It is very early spring in the Niagara Escarpment area, and that means much of the dull brown still remains. All of us had trouble figuring out exactly what color those wooded hilltops were. I saw them as a nearly dark neutral with very small touches of violets, pinks and reds. Or did I? It was hard to tell.

Here's "Escarpment II." It's the same view I did the first day in a 5x7 format. This is 9x12 with a complementary underpainting. Using complements really gives the painting a kick.

"Escarpment" 9x12, pastel, en plein air - SOLD

We ended this workshop with Chinese takeout at the home of my host, Rosemary Simpson, who is a former president of Pastel Artists Canada. Joining our group was Brittani Faulkes, who will be leading a workshop on abstract painting this weekend.

Normally, this last day would be the end of the workshop week, but now the "It's Not Chalk" Symposium begins. I'm looking forward to taking a couple of sessions myself! I'll continue taking photos and posting comments on the PAC Symposium. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Milton Workshop - Day 3

After a brief period of rain, during which I discussed aerial perspective and other methods for putting distance in a painting, the sun came out again. Three beautiful days in a row is almost unheard-of in a workshop! We really have been blessed this week with excellent weather.

Once the sun reappeared, I had students go out and start new pieces or catch up on previous ones. While they worked, I continued a piece I started the day before - one using my "extreme limited" pastel palette. (You can find a list of the pastels I use here.) The colors are more vivid than they were in real life, but I really liked the way this piece progressed, so I stuck with it.

"Spring Pond"
8x10, pastel, en plein air

I painted this on one of the new Rtistx panels (available from We were given generous samples to try. On this one, I first laid in an underpainting with a mineral spirits wash, followed by an application of dry pastel. I used NuPastels almost exclusively. I did have an issue with getting the pastel to stay put, but I solved the problem by using a sheet of glassine and a spoon to "burnish" the pastel and press it into the surface. The pastel stuck just fine after this treatment. Like any new product, sometimes you have to play a bit to find the right mix of materials and methods! I think the board will work really well with softer pastels.

Later, we got everyone to don their "secret value decoder" glasses for a group shot. I've always wanted to do this, and I was finally able to coordinate the event. We might start a new craze with these!

Tomorrow - how to fix and finish a painting.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Milton Workshop - Day 2

It was another beautiful spring day at the Halton Region Museum. The sun came out in full force, and you could almost see the snow melting back on the ski slopes. I began to wonder if I should have brought some sunblock.

Today I talked more about value, and I told the group that doing a monochromatic underpainting was a great way to create a "road map" for adding color. Wherever color is added, it must match the value of the area it's being added to. I did a small demonstration using four values of brown -- a "bistre" underpainting, as they would say in the academies -- followed by local color. One of the side benefits of using such an approach is that the underpainting creates a natural color harmony in the finished piece. In my demonstration, little bits of brown show through everywhere.
"Over the Rooftops, with Snow"
9x12, pastel, en plein air

Here is a photo shot near where I stood to paint. Note the distortion to perspective caused by the camera lens; the angle of the rooftops is exaggerated. Another good reason to paint from life.

Later in the day, I demonstrated my "extreme limited pastel palette" of 12 colors plus black and white. This went over well with the students, since it showed them that you really don't have to lug all 300 pastel sticks into the field. This is, after all, a plein air workshop, and I'm stressing my approach to plein air. Extreme portability is the key. (Stay tuned for the book!)

Before I turn out the light for the night, here's another photo from around the Museum. Tomorrow - color temperature!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Milton Workshop - Day 1

I'm now in Milton, Ontario - not too far from Toronto - and teaching a workshop for Pastel Artists Canada. This is PAC's first annual pastel symposium, and I'm proud to be the pre-symposium workshop instructor. Despite Air Canada losing my luggage for a day and a cold that hit me on Saturday followed by some ear issues, I'm having a great time. The workshop is full (12 students) and they're all fun to be around.

The location for the workshop is the Halton Region Museum, right on the Niagara Escarpment and inside the Kelso Conservation Park. You couldn't ask for a better location. I've never been to this part of Canada, so I didn't know what to expect. As I flew from New Brunswick, Canada looked pretty flat. But I was delighted to see that the Escarpment is delightful terrain with lots of rolling hills, farm fields and the occasional steep cliff.

The Museum, formerly the Alexander Family Farm, was settled in 1836 by Scottish immigrants. Four generations of the Family farmed the land until 1961. The Alexander Farm was one of the first electrically powered farms in Southern Ontario. The Museum features many of the old buildings and all of the wonderful, rolling hills.

Because this is a four-day workshop (the Symposium starts on Friday), I've compressed my usual five-day workshop. Today we jumped right into values and the benefits of doing quick, 5x7 sketches. Below is a 5x7 I did of one of the cliffs, as well as some snapshots. You'll note that we still have a bit of snow here. Even so, it was a beautiful day with lots of fleeting sun.

5x7, pastel, en plein air - Escarpment
(click on image for a bigger picture)

Tomorrow, more painting!

Friday, April 4, 2008

OPA Scholarship Award

I like to keep self-promotion out of this blog, but I really wanted to share this excellent piece of news: I just found out I've been awarded a Shirl Smithson Scholarship from Oil Painters of America.

I'll be using this award to attend a Lois Griffel workshop in the fall. I really admire Lois' work. An excellent colorist, she studied under Henry Hensche. Hensche studied under Charles Hawthorne, founder of the Cape Cod School of Art. CCSA was famous for plein air Impressionism. Hawthorne was its founder and first director; Hensche was the second director; Lois was the third and last until the School closed a few years ago. I'm looking forward to this special opportunity to study with Lois.

As I mentioned before, I'm off to Ontario for a pastel symposium. Having not had time to do any painting since my return from Illinois -- it's been catch-up and now, repacking -- I thought I'd leave you with this pastel sketch I did last summer near Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a hot day, and the light was just glorious.

"Hot Harbor" 5x7, pastel, en plein air

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More Airport Sketching

As some of you know, I'm an advocate of sketching in airports. I used to read a lot, but it's almost impossible these days. There's always some guy having a public discussion of private matters on his cell phone, or CNN Headline News is cranked up loud enough to give even a teenager an auditory meltdown.

Instead of reading, I sketch. It's an excellent replacement activity. Not only is it enjoyable, it also hones your drawing skills.

It also is a great way to play secret agent, something most men my age played when they were kids. You can't stare at your subject as if you were in a figure drawing class. No, you have to steal glances and engage in subterfuge. You don't want to make your subject so uneasy that he picks up and moves.

It's also a way to learn the art of speed-sketching. Not all of your subjects will be seated. Some are hurrying from one gate to the next, stopping only briefly to check flight status monitors or to grab a coffee. You may have 30 seconds or less. These are the most difficult, but in some ways, the most fun.

On my last trip, I spent time in Bangor, Atlanta and Chicago. I made sure to keep my sketchbook handy. Here are a few. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

This weekend, I'm off to Hamilton, Ontario (near Toronto) for a pastel symposium. We'll see what my layover in Montreal generates!