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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Painting Knives & Lupines

If you haven't gotten enough of lupines, now's the time. The lupines are at their fullest with only a short time to go. In continuing my adventure with the painting knife, I decided to try my hand at painting them. Trying to get the shape of the lupines is a little tricky. You have to go at them with a fully-loaded knife and just lay the paint on ever so delicately.

"June Lupines"
8x10, oil, en plein air

By the way, I forgot to mention that I'm trying out a new paint - Gamblin's "Radiant Blue," one of his Radiant paints. It's almost like white with a touch of Ultramarine Blue added, just perfect for skies and water. Yesterday I used it "straight" with "Head Harbour Colors", but today I had to add a touch of Phthalo Blue to warm it up for the hazy sky.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More Knifework

Today, we headed out for the Head Harbour Light Station, which is at the northern tip of Campobello Island. The lighthouse and its buildings sit on a tiny rock island, and it is accessible only by boat or at low tide. We chose to paint from the parking lot, safe from the tides.

I was so pleased with yesterday's result, I decided to continue on my painting knife adventure. Today, I had us focus on using interesting color. Rather than mix color that precisely matched our subject, we really pushed the color. For example, though the shadowed rocks and rockweed were a dark, murky gray-green, we went for dark purple. With the knife, it was easy to keep the richness of our color mixtures.

One further observation about the knife: I use more paint and more paper towels.

Here's today's demonstration:

"Head Harbour Colors"
8x10, oil, en plein air

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Knifework Revisted

This week, I have a student who's been using the palette knife for some time. Her mentor at home recommended she switch from the brush to the knife, since this would rid her of the habit of "nit-picking." Being a good sport, I decided to forgo the brush myself today in favor of the knife.

I'm finding this tool very addictive. It cleans easily and quickly with a wipe without solvent. When you mix color, the paint stays pure, right from the start. This is not always true for the brush, which is often tainted and can give you mud without effort. With a knife, you actually have to work at making mud!

Of course, the knife takes a different set of muscles than the brush. If it's been awhile since you've used one, it'll take some work to develop a delicate touch. Even if you can only manage broad strokes, the knife helps you avoid detail in the favor of the "big shapes" we are so fond of.

I did the following with just one small knife. I probably would have used at least two or three brushes on it.

"Fog at Herring Cove"
8x10, oil, en plein air

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Limiting Palette

Now and then, I run into a situation where my limited palette proves, well, limiting. This happens especially when flowers demand richer, more intense colors than I can mix with my six split-primary colors. As an example, today I was out painting the wildflowers in the dooryard. Fog and overcast can make for some very intense colors, and the phlox was remarkably high in chroma. I mixed my best purple (Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and white), but once I got back to the studio with the painting, it was still too dull. So, I pulled out the secret weapon: Dioxazine Purple. A little white with it makes a very light but still intense purple, just perfect for the phlox. I also added a bit of Thalo Rose, another intense pigment, for variety.

Here is the result. The photo doesn't quite do justice to the richness of the flowers, but there's enough for the imagination!

"Phlox and Daisies"
5x7, oil, en plein air

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Grand Manan Workshop Week

Warning: This post consists of a summary of five days. I apologize for the length. - MCJ

I've written it before and I'll write it again: What's a Maritime experience without fog or rain? We had a bit of both in our week on Grand Manan Island, the "Queen of the Fundy Isles." But our waterfront cottages had a paintable view with big porches to paint from and big windows to paint out of. Students stayed both in our cottages (Fisherman's Haven Cottages) and in another cluster just a short walk down the bay (Seaside Haven Cottages.)

Our first day was overcast with enough sun seeping through to give a good sunburn. After a short talk about the basics of plein air painting at our cottage, where we served coffee and tea, we headed over to Seal Cove for an oil demonstration. Seal Cove has many historic fish buildings that were used in the smoked herring industry.

"Seal Cove Overcast"
8x10, oil, en plein air

After painting, Trina and I went off to check e-mail at the public library, tour the wonderful Grand Manan Museum and then revisit some old painting spots to remind ourselves what they are like. We also scoped out a few dining possibilities for our anniversary, which would come on Friday, the Summer Solstice. We stopped at the Whale Cove Inn, where novelist Willa Cather summered for many years, to see their menu and to inquire about bringing the group to paint.

Later that evening, we had the first of the optional paint-alongs, in which I invite students to paint without instruction. (They get to visit some of my favorite, secret locations on these paint-alongs.) We went to Pettes Cove, where we had a spectacular view of Swallowtail Point, its lighthouse and two fishing weirs.

"Swallowtail Light, Evening"
5x7, oil, en plein air
On our second day, we had rain. After talking about the importance of value in the landscape, I demonstrated in pastel under the cover of our front porch. For this one, I used my customary wash of Turpenoid. For the first time, I had benefit of a hair dryer to help dry the underpainting. (It would have taken a long time to dry in all that rain!) Students painted from their porches or from inside looking out; we donated our porch to two.

After the workshop, we drove out to see the current show at the Grand Manan Art Gallery and to purchase a roast chicken for dinner from the grocer's. Afternoon was spent working on the new book and dining on roast chicken. Although the rain stopped around dinnertime, fog moved in. It was low tide, a perfect time to go out to the revealed beach and do a quick study of one of the fish buildings near the cottages. The fog thickened, and by the time I finished, my brushes were slick with moisture, and I was having a hard time getting the oil paint to stick to the wet panel. (Oil and water really don't mix!)

Our third day had fog, so after a short critique at our cottage, we headed out to Castalia Marsh Provincial Park. This is a good fog location, since there are picnic shelters to protect you from the mist and close views of the salt marsh, edged with wild roses. High tide was coming in, and the fog came and went, making for a very changeable scene.

I should step back a bit and talk about boats. On the night before the workshop began, Trina and I toured the wharves in both Seal Cove and Ingalls Head. I was pleased to see them packed with scores of colorful boats, some moored five abreast. What perfect places to paint! But the following morning, on our morning constitutional to the wharf, to our surprise the harbor was nearly empty. As we looked, the very last boats were pulling out for a day of fishing. Lobster season is taken seriously by the fishermen.

Still, fishermen seem to keep fairly regular hours: Head out soon after dawn, back by supper, with Sundays off. I'd been planning my optional painting sessions for 5, and I figured that by then, the boats would have returned to the harbor at Seal Cove. By 5, the fog had lifted enough for us to see the boats well enough, if they were indeed there. We weren't disappointed. Many of the boats had returned, and we had two beautiful ones to paint.

"Orange and Blue"
8x10, oil, en plein air

Thursday -- morning fog again. After a talk on atmospheric perspective (how appropriate!), we decided to hold off painting until afternoon, hoping the fog would lift by then. Trina and I then headed over to the Anchorage Provincial Park to hike the trail to Ox Head, which passes by a beautiful pond spotted with water lilies and edged by marsh grasses and firs. It'd be a great place to hike in with a "backpacker" painting kit.

Our decision to wait until 3 pm was rewarded with blue sky and bright sun. We made the short drive to the Ingalls Head wharf where boats were just starting to come home. You can really get lost trying to paint every boat, piling and buoy. I told students that if they focused on just one boat and rendered all the rest as simple patches of color, they could create a satisfying illusion of boatyard complexity around the one well-drawn boat. I took this idea to extremes and painted a single dory while eliminating the other 20 boats around it.

"Grand Manan Dory"
5x7, pastel, en plein air

"Ingalls Head Pier"
5x7, pastel, en plein air

Friday -- it's hard to believe, but yes, more fog! Today, with students leaving in the afternoon, we couldn't postpone our painting session. But first, I talked about color harmony and addressed how to correct common problems in the final stages of a painting. After that, we headed out to North Head, where I did a short demonstration to show how to paint a tree. Finally, once we were done painting, several of us had lunch at the Back Porch Cafe. (It doubled as our anniversary meal.) Trina and I finished up the day with a hike to the Swallowtail Light and to Net Point. The sun was just beginning to poke out as we headed back to our cottage to pack up.

It's always sad, leaving Grand Manan. Despite the week's unsettled weather, Grand Manan was, as always, a wonderful place to paint. You can find shelter if you need it, and if you're working in oil, a little mist doesn't hurt anything. And if you have sun! It can be glorious. Everyone had a great time, and we're looking forward to a return visit next year.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Catching my Breath before Grand Manan

I've spent the last couple of days dealing with paperwork and packing for my Grand Manan Island workshop. Now that the packing is done, I thought it would be good to catch my breath before we head out at dawn to catch the ferry.

We've had gorgeous, warm weather all week, and since the meteorological prospect for next week isn't so good, I wanted to take advantage of today's abundant sunshine -- and the lupine season!

Lupines are in full bloom now. My in-laws next door have a field on the ocean that is chock-a-block with them. I was afraid they'd be gone by the time I got back.

Because I didn't want to dirty my oil brushes, which are dry and packed up for the trip, I took out the pastels. Here's the result, a view of Friar's Head and the old weir stakes with the lupines in the foreground. Lupines have a deep color, but surprisingly, the value wasn't terribly different from the surrounding grass. The scene is pretty much as it was:

"Lupines and Weir Stakes"
8x10, pastel, en plein air

Now - off to pack the car. I won't post again until after the trip.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Large-Format Easel

One of my goals this summer is to paint bigger paintings outdoors. My French easel works pretty well up to a certain size, but the drawer doesn't hold the French Companion (or "Mistress") very well, and the large canvas, which catches the Maritime wind like a sail, can tip the easel over. The solution is the Gloucester easel:

This easel was used by Gloucester painters, most notably Emile Gruppé. Its two benefits: It is extremely stable in wind, and it can hold a very large canvas. There are a couple of improved versions of the easel available today. One is the "Take-It-Easel," sold by pastel artist Rosalie Nadeau (, and the "Beauport," sold by some of the online art supply merchants.

I got my Gloucester easel this week. I took it out a couple of times to work out the system. This is always important when you get new gear. My first time, I didn't venture any farther than the front yard, where I could hide behind a rose hedge. I didn't want to be seen by the neighbors as I wrestled with setting it up. Set-up went pretty quickly, but I had a problem with the cross-bars. They kept slipping down, and the "platform" they are supposed to make didn't seem at all steady. In fact, it collapsed, sending my French Companion tumbling into the dirt! I fixed the problem with a Bungie cord to my satisfaction.

Another issue was my little Wal-Mart chair umbrella, which has a clamp that is too small to fit on the easel's leg. I did try my Julian umbrella, which has a monster clamp but is heavy. Gravity caused it to twist and fall away from the ideal position. I'm not sure what to do, other than to have a second tripod for an umbrella. (Some of you may have ideas, and I'm happy to hear them!) One final issue was: How do you carry wet panels or stretched canvas? I'm planning on working in a larger format than is available for the plein air panel carriers. I don't really want to throw an unprotected painting in the back of the car, since I travel dirt roads, and a good deal of dust blows into the car, and thus onto the painting. (I can use ideas for this, too.)

I went out the next day to a good painting spot. I took only a 9x12 panel with me; I was more interested in making a second test of the easel rather than making a big painting. (The easel can take up to a 4-foot canvas.) I was very happy with the day, even without a working umbrella or a way to carry wet paintings. The easel does everything it's supposed to do. I even had a stiff wind blowing!

Here's a photo of the easel at work at Upper Duck Pond on Campobello Island. Yes, I know -- that little painting does look mighty funny perched way up high!

And here is the painting:

"Duck Islands"
9x12, oil, en plein air

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Workshop Survey Results

I had over 70 responses to my survey - not bad for just a couple of days! I thank everyone who participated. I'll use these results to fine-tune my painting workshops.

I had some surprising results and some not so-surprising. Here is a summary, looking primarily at the biggest numbers.
  • A 56% majority preferred workshops shorter than 5 days. (No surprise - people still working full-time might find it hard to commit to 5 days.)
  • No one wanted a workshop of more than 5 days. (Surprise - I thought at least some people who are retired or are full-time painters might want a longer, in-depth workshop.)
  • A 60% majority preferred workshops that run Monday-Friday. (Somewhat of a surprise - I thought people still working might like to take fewer days off from work and include weekends.)
  • A 77% majority preferred full-day workshops rather than half-days. (Somewhat of a surprise - my half-day workshops have been quite popular in recreational areas.)
  • For the minority that wanted half-day workshops, 53% preferred the hours of 9-1. (No surprise - no one gets up as early as I do!)
  • A 51% majority preferred workshops in just one medium. (Somewhat of a surprise - I find it enlightening to see another medium in play.)
  • 48% preferred a workshop size of 5-8 students. (No surprise - who wants to fight for attention?)
  • 37% said they would hike up to a quarter-mile to paint. (A delightful surprise - I didn't know so many were interested in hiking for a better painting spot.)
As for what months respondents preferred for a workshop, the data points create a two-humped curve like the back of a Bactrian camel. May and June are the first hump of popular months, followed by September and October. Surprisingly, July and August are only a bit more popular than the winter months. (Big surprise - I thought most people still working would want to take workshops during the summer vacation months.)

Predictably, painting locations were all over the map - literally! I'll hang onto this list and look into workshop possibilities. If you're interested in sponsoring a workshop in coming years, let me know. I have details of my requirements here:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Final New Hampshire Report & Master Pastellist Status

Rain moved in for our final day in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. This wasn't the mist, drizzle and spotty rain we'd had earlier in the week, but an ongoing, soaking rain - a gardener's delight. We gathered on our host's screened-in porch beside Lee's Pond, where I demonstrated working with a complementary underpainting in pastel. Although this technique can be overused, it was quite appropriate for all the green that surrounds the pond. Hemlocks, birches, white pines - we were in the thick of it! I started with many different dark reds and oranges for the vegetation and moved to lighter oranges for the water, sky and distant trees.

I loved the "repoussoir" effect of the trees that bracketed the view. Their dark shadows seemed to evoke a sense of mystery lying outside the picture frame. If you hear the rain dripping from the branches when you look at this painting, then I've met my goal.

Later, we went back to the Moultonborough Historical Society to finish up. Some worked on paintings done earlier in the week that needed adjusting; others painted scenes through the window; and two painted a still life. To round off the week, we talked about final matters - harmonizing your painting, framing, exhibitions, and the business of painting.

It was a great week, and I really enjoyed my visit to the area. I'll be back, because there's plenty more to paint!

I'm home briefly to tie up loose ends before heading for Grand Manan Island next Sunday. (Workshop will be 15-20 June.) I'll have limited Internet access that week, so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to post. At the worst, I'll have a full report for you by the end of the workshop week.

By the way, I just received news today that Pastel Artists Canada has awarded me Master Pastellist status. This is quite an honor, and I'm very happy!

Friday, June 6, 2008

New Hampshire - Continued

Rain drove us indoors on our workshop's third day. This gave us an opportunity to work on a variety of projects. At the Moultonborough Historical Society, which is our backup studio, I set up a simple still life with the assistance of students. Although in the past I've had students paint from photos on rainy days, lately I've been encouraging them to paint from the still life. Even though this is a landscape workshop, I feel it's more important to paint from life - even if it's apples and bananas rather than trees and ponds. Still, I don't force this on anyone. Some painted from photos or "tweaked" work done earlier in the week.

The day before, I demonstrated how I paint quick (30-minute) 5x7 studies to capture the essence of the scene. With the following sketch of two boats at Squam Lake, I pointed out how more important it is to capture light and color in this kind of sketch. Details, such as the precise angle of mast to hull or the position of one boat in relation to the other, are something I would rather capture in a drawing without color. My goal isn't to create a finished painting with these, but to observe and record.

On our rainy day, I continued with another of these quick sketches, this time with the still life:

Both of these were done on Belgian Mist Wallis Sanded Paper with Polychromos pastels. I used no underpainting or wash but went right in with the pastel.

On the fourth day, we went to the Remick Museum in Tamworth. Even though we had drizzle, mist and spotty rain, we were able to find shelter when necessary. The Museum has some beautiful old barns and outbuildings to paint, along with pigs, cows and goats. I demonstrated under an attached shed that had a pair of barn swallows flitting in and out as they tried to build a nest beneath the roof. We painted to the bleating of kids that were being weaned off their mothers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New Hampshire - Again!

I'm back in New Hampshire again, this time to teach a plein air workshop in the Lakes Region. Our home base is Moultonborough, right on Lake Winnepesaukee. Although the apple trees are just starting to bloom back on Campobello Island, here it seems that summer has arrived early. Birches are a full and deepening green, and the flower gardens of my host's home are beautiful with blooming rhododendron. Blackfly season seems to have passed, but the mosquitos swarm at dawn and dusk. Daylight hours are bite-free - perfect for outdoor painting!

On the first day of a workshop, I always like to stay close to home so I can gauge the level of my students. My host's home and "base camp" for the workshop is on Lee's Pond. This is a mill pond with a broad view of Sandwich Mountain up near Conway and a glimpse of Mount Chocura's sharp point. All day long, puffy clouds drifted over the mountain tops. I always like this kind of scene, full of horizontal bands. I stack clouds over mountains, mountains over trees, and trees over water. You can see this in the pastel demonstration I did:

"Lee's Pond" 9x12, pastel, en plein air

This one was painted on white Wallis Sanded Paper using my Heilman pastel box loaded with Polychromos pastels and Mount Vision pastels. I used a Turpenoid wash to scrub in my underpainting before finishing up with more pastel. (See the recent demo in my Backpacker Painting blog for an example of how this works:

For our second day, we went to Squam Lake. "On Golden Pond," the 1981 Oscar-winning film that starred Katherine Hepburn and the Fondas (Henry and Jane), was shot on the lake. For our adventure, the Squam Lake Association Resource Center in Holderness granted us permission to paint from their property. We had close views of boats, long views out of a cove toward the broad lake, and the occasional loon calling.

Rain was predicted for later in the day, so we thought we had plenty of time to work, even despite the rather threatening-looking clouds. I set up to do an oil demonstration first thing, but about 10 minutes into the painting, the rain began. Oil paint, of course, can stand a certain amount of rain, but it began to bead up heavily on my palette and on the painting itself, plus the students were getting quite wet. I finished the demonstration under the eaves of the SLA Center's porch.

"Rainy Day at Golden Pond" 8x10, oil, en plein air

For this demonstration, I showed how I use thin, transparent paint to create an underpainting and follow with more opaque layers. I didn't use any white in the first layer but saved it for the opaque passages. This is one of two methods I will talk about in the new book. Equipment used here was a 9x12 Guerrilla Painter box plus Gamblin paints, Turpenoid and Silver Brush Ltd. "Grand Prix" flats. My palette was a split-primary (Cad Yellow Lt, Cad Yellow Med, Cad Red Lt, Alizarin Crimson, Ultra Blue and Phthalo Blue.)

Wouldn't you know, but I was the only painter that day who had to deal with rain. Soon after I finished my demonstration, the clouds broke, the sun came out, and the day turned beautiful!