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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Cool Plein Air Products

Anytime I mention products in my workshops, books or videos, you can be sure that they are things I actually use and like. Lately, I've been introduced to two that I like very much - the Art Cocoon and the Best Brella.

The Art Cocoon is something I've wanted for a long time. I'd gotten tired of toting around a bulky wet canvas carrier and wanted a carrier I could stuff in my backpack along with my pochade box. The smaller Art Cocoon, the "I," fits the bill. It's small enough so I can stuff a couple into my backpack. It takes standard-size panels anywhere from 4x6 to 8x10, and it is designed to fit into the lid of my 9x12 Guerrilla Painter box. (The Art Cocoon II goes from 8x10 to 11x14.) It's a bit taller than the lid of the box, so when I'm done, I take out the Art Cocoon, secure its cover with the rubber band, and stuff it back into my pack. Of course, you can use it on any other type of easel, too.

The Art Cocoon has some other neat features. You can stack them. You can use the enclosed stand to display your work in a workshop or painting event. Plus, each carrier can be configured for a variety of sizes. Visit the website for more pictures and pricing.

I've also wanted an umbrella that lives up to its hype. I've gone through a dozen different umbrellas. Some of them have a Mary Poppins effect, others shred, fall over all the time or otherwise self-destruct. The Best Brella doesn't do any of this. It's got a clamp designed to last. It fits on both my tripod and French easel and rotates in any direction. It has an extension pole to get it up high - an important feature for me, since I'm over 6' tall. The umbrella itself has vents to minimize wind problems. It's also black on the inside, which cuts down on glare, and silver on the outside, which cuts down on heat. The Best Brella is a well-built unit. Visit the website for more.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Lately, I've come to love the use of grey, whether it's in oil or pastel. I've started using neutral greys to moderate strong color, rather than that color's complement. We've always been taught how a complement can neutralize a color. In my experience, the complement doesn't quite "kill" the color and, in fact, can often lead to an unintended color that doesn't quite fit the painting. Using a neutral grey, however, does the trick. It dulls the color perfectly. I suppose this is obvious to anyone who's academy-trained, but for me, this was a discovery and a real eye-opener!

For my pastel greys, I've been using the greys from the full Polychromos set and the set of 12 greys in the NuPastels. For oil greys, try the Gamblin "Portland" greys, which come in three values.

Here are a couple of pieces I did at the Acadia Workshop Center workshop I taught last week. Each one of these uses greys to dull color.

"Two Boats"
5x7 pastel -

"Bernard Harbor"
9x12 oil -

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Heading Home to Campobello

We've had a week of unsettled weather on Mount Desert Island, but surprisingly, we got plenty of time to paint outside. Yesterday we headed over to the Algereen Coast, where we had a pleasant day painting lobster boats and enjoying some intermittent sunshine. Today, Trina and I are heading back to Campobello Island, where I will - finally! - be home for a good while. I'm looking forward to getting into my routine and also to teaching on Campobello.

I leave you with this 9x12 pastel, "Cliff View."

"Cliff View," 9x12, pastel

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Road: Rainy Day Still Life

We've had quite a bit of rain here on Mount Desert Island. I'm teaching a plein air workshop for Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, Maine, and we're making the best of it. In addition to working from photographs, we've been painting the still life. As I think I've mentioned before, I'd rather paint from life whenever possible. Even though we're doing the landscape, painting the still life teaches us as much about the art of observing as does painting in the middle of a field.

Yesterday, we created a still life set up with peonies and clementines. Here's my 9x12 pastel demonstration of it.

"Peonies & Clementines"
9x12, pastel

Good news! This afternoon the rain broke, and we were able to get out for a few hours to paint. More news to come!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Three Small Ones

You guessed it - I'm packing up to head off to teach another workshop! Next week, I'll be teaching five days in Acadia National Park and around Mount Desert Island (Maine) for the Acadia Workshop Center. This will be my fifth year teaching there, and I have enjoyed it every time.

But before I go, I thought I'd keep my skills honed by doing a few small pieces. Trina and I visited some friends at Cobscook Bay State Park yesterday, and after a picnic lunch, I did the following pastel from their campsite. The salt marsh really was that acid green color! I used the Belgian Mist version of the Wallis paper, and it works well with a straight application of pastel. I never use a liquid wash with this toned paper.

"Salt Marsh Point" 5x7 pastel

Today, as the rain moved in, I played a bit more with the water-miscible oils. I tried a synthetic brush this time, and it worked pretty well. It's rather new, though, and needs to get worn down a bit to suit me. Also, I am continuing to use just water. I'd rather not tote around a special thinner for water-miscible oils. I measure the water by the drop. It doesn't take much to get the paint too thin, so I need to control the water carefully. Mostly, though, I just use it straight out of the tube.

I'll write more from the road next week.

"Rainy Day Lupines" 3x3 oil

"Rainy Day Fir" 3x3 oil

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Water-Miscible Oils

"Spring Shadows" 3x3 oil

"Clouds Over Eastport" 3x3 oil SOLD

I finally had a chance yesterday to play a bit with my Grumbacher Max Oils. These are water-miscible oil paints, which are sometimes misspoken of as "water-mixable oil paints," although they are that, too. I bought five tubes: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Ultramarine Blue and Ivory Black.

I did two paintings, each 3"x3", one indoors looking out and the other in the field. I was quite pleased with my limited test. The paints were fluid enough, just like regular oil paint. They thinned with water - I used only a little water, though, since I usually like to paint right out of the tube with a minimum of medium. And, as promised, brushes and palette cleaned right up with soap and water.

The paintings are still drying, but from all appearances, they look just like they were made with traditional oil paint.

I'm using expensive hog bristle brushes. But natural fibers absorb water, and the brushes can become soft, leading (perhaps) to loss of control when I make a stroke. Also, the soggy fibers will keep the wood beneath the ferrule wet, which could lead to rot. I'll need to switch to synthetics if I continue.

I did have one other concern. I like to cover my palette with plastic wrap and then stick it in the freezer. This keeps the paint from oxidizing and hardening, and it stays fresh for my next session. What happens to the physical integrity of water-miscible oil paint when you put it in the freezer? I sent a note to Grumbacher, who quickly responded that the paints contain no water and freezing them will not hurt them.

More to come as I experiment!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ann Templeton Mentoring Workshop

"Mora Church" pastel by Ann Templeton

In my blog, I usually like to blow my own horn, but I want to talk a moment about Ann Templeton. I've known her for 8 years, and she's become not only my mentor but a dear friend.

Primarily a plein air painter working in both oil and pastel, Ann developed techniques in her 30+ years of painting to capture the landscape quickly and to interpret it with her unique vision of color and design. She's studied under such masters as William F. Reese, Dick Turner and Walt Gonske. For many years, she ran her own art school in Houston and, today, she's a very popular teacher, travelling all across the U.S. and abroad. In the past few years, she's taught and painted in such far-flung places as Argentina, England and Italy. I find it hard to keep up with her travels!

I am proud this summer to have her teach an intense, mentoring workshop for me July 6-10. We'll be painting around Lubec, Maine. I'll be acting as tour guide and location scout, and we'll go to some of my favorite spots.

This workshop, which is for advanced to professional students, has a few spots left. If you're interested, please visit for details or contact me directly ( It's a great opportunity to work with a wonderful teacher in a beautiful place.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prepare for Plein Air!

I've just finished creating the course material for my new online self-study program, Prepare for Plein Air ( I wanted to create this program because, as a teacher, I run into many students who've never painted outdoors but would like to, yet don't know where to start. If you fall into this category, my program is for you! I designed it to give students a jump-start on learning how to paint in the wonderful outdoors.

In this online workshop, you can work at your own pace and learn the basics of painting oil or pastel en plein air. In one session, you will:
  • Get instructions on the basic equipment and supplies needed and where you can get them
  • Watch a video that shows you how to set up a French easel
  • Watch a video that goes over value basics
  • Watch a video on how to begin your painting in oil (or pastel)
Once you've completed the above, you will:
  • Go out and create your first painting
  • E-mail an image of your painting to me
  • Then receive my personal critique and suggestions for improvement via an e-mail or a 30-minute phone call (your choice!)
  • PLUS a $20 credit to any workshop with me on Campobello Island, New Brunswick.
The workshop costs $70 and requires an Internet connection.

If you'd like to see a preview of the videos, please visit and go to the "videos" page. One of the videos doesn't require a password, and you are welcome to view it for free!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

York Workshop Redux

Now that I'm home, I've had a chance to unpack a bit and go through the mail. I've got some new, water-miscible oils that I'm looking forward to working with. We've got drizzle and more drizzle expected, so I doubt I'll take them out before the drizzle goes away! Students report that the oils tend to be stiffer than traditional oils. I'll give you my take on them soon.

In the meantime, I'm been scanning in the pieces I did during the workshop I taught in York, Maine. There are two little pieces, 5x7s, that I'm fond of. One of them has almost-cartoonish color, but it gives me a good feeling. Looking at it is almost like being in kindergarten again. It's a bit naive, but with a touch of education. The second is a study of sunlight on water. The tiny white boat, although seemingly incidental, is important in balancing the composition.

"Sun at the Nubble" 5x7, pastel, en plein air

"Sunny Day at Fishermen's Walk" 5x7, pastel, en plein air

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Home Again: End of the Road Report

Yesterday, I finally arrived home on Campobello Island after two weeks on the road. It feels good to be home, even though I've got another away-from-home workshop in less than two weeks in Acadia National Park. I'll have just enough time to rest up, sort out the paperwork, and finish up the design of my new online course, Prepare for Plein Air (

IAPS in Albuquerque was a whirlwind, what with all the demos, workshops, vendor shows and social events. I next went to Texas, where I taught a three-day workshop for the Pastel Society of El Paso. Because we held the workshop indoors - it was too hot for plein air - life was more relaxing. We had plenty of time for important issues that are best dealt with in the studio. My host was a professional French chef, born and raised in Paris, and she made sure that I was well-fed during my visit. (Thank you, Annette!)

After Texas, I flew to York, Maine, where I taught a two-day workshop for the York Art Association. Joining us were members of Pastel Painters of Maine. This one was plein air, and we had a great time out at the "Nubble" lighthouse (Cape Neddick) and other locations. Below are a few pictures of the workshop plus one of my 9x12 pastel demonstrations. My host for the Maine workshop is a wonderful painter in her own right and creates some beautiful landscapes of coastal Maine. If I get her permission, I'll post a few of them here. (Thanks, Eileen!)

By the way, after getting home yesterday, Trina and I immediately turned around and went back across the border with a load of paintings for the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy exhibit, which opens today in Lubec, Maine. (For more on this show, visit If you're in town, join us for the reception Saturday, 4-6 ET, at the Mulholland Market on Water Street. If not, the exhibit will be up until July 13.

Now, for the pictures:

"Fog at the Nubble" 9x12, pastel

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pastel Journal and IAPS

At the IAPS convention last week, The Pastel Journal held its 10th anniversary birthday celebration. While Anne Hevener and Jamie Markle cut the birthday cake, I drew on my extensive catering experience (really!) and passed out pieces to get the line started. After the cake, Anne presented a short video slide show that featured my work, along with that of other artists.

In the slide show, I was honoured to have my work shown with the work of so many wonderful artists such as Daniel Greene, Albert Handell, Duane Wakeham, Wende Caporale and Jimmy Wright. To see the slide show, please visit this link:

Right now, I am in El Paso, Texas, teaching a three-day studio pastel workshop. Thursday I fly off back to the east coast, where I will teach a plein air pastel workshop over the weekend.