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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grand Canyon Plein Air Painting Retreat

I'm now back from the Grand Canyon plein air painting retreat - and freshly-scrubbed after a hot shower.  We camped the whole time, and you campers know what it's like to get home to your own shower.  Camping was definitely the way to go, as it immersed you in the landscape.

Except for a couple of windy days, the weather couldn't have been better.  Nights were cool, with a low of 26 one morning, and days were moderate in the 50s to 60s.  With the sun out and a lee spot to paint in, life was good.

The Grand Canyon is much easier to paint if you take a viewfinder with you.  Getting lost in the canyon is nearly guaranteed without one.  Each of us had a viewfinder, or in one case, a camera to take a snapshot with to serve as a reference for the composition.  Another aid to painting the Canyon successfully is to ratchet down your view to a narrow scene - for example, a tree on a rock with a narrow slice of the canyon beyond.  I'll post three of my paintings below; there are several more, but they will have to wait to be imaged at a future date, as we are packing up for our next trip.

Near Yaki Point (sketch) 9x12,  oil with knife

At Moran Point (sketch) 9x12, oil

Near Yavapai Point (sketch) 9x12, pastel

We met a few other creatures of the Canyon during our time.  In addition to the rather moth-eaten elk we spotted one morning at Market Plaza (below),

we ran into a painter from Vermont, Malcolm Dubois, who was at the Canyon on a short trip.  Here's a photo of him on the edge.

We also came across another painter, who had dragged more equipment into the field than I would ever recommend to any of my students.  Here's an example of how not to set up your field studio.

So, now we're busying repacking the art gear and the car and about to head for points east.  I'll post more news from other workshops as we go.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Upcoming Plein Air Workshop at Acadia National Park

Every year, I teach a plein air painting workshop in Maine on Mount Desert Island, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.  This year, the workshop will be June 20-24 - a great time to have it, because the busy summer season hasn't quite kicked in and the lobsters are plentiful.  I wanted to write a post on this workshop because we do have a wonderful time and there are still a few spaces left.  You can paint in oil or pastel, and all levels of student are welcome.

The workshop will be based at Acadia Workshop Center in Bernard, which is on the "Quiet Side" of the island and just a few minutes from Southwest Harbor and about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor.  We'll have plenty to paint - bold cliffs, fishing boats and harbors, and even some mountain views and lakes.  There's also plenty to do for the non-painter, as well.  If you want to make a family trip out of it, while you're painting the rest of the gang can go for a hike, rent  bikes and tour the carriage roads, go on a whale watch or take a lobster fishing tour.

Cost of the workshop is $550, not including lodging and meals.  To register, visit the Acadia Workshop Center website at

To whet your appetite, below are a few photos from last year - and a painting!

"Bernard Dock" 9x12, oil

Friday, April 22, 2011

Utah Plein Air Painting Workshop

I just wrapped up a four-day plein air workshop in Kayenta (Ivins, Utah) with a great group of students.  I had a full class, with folks hailing from far-flung places such as California, Washington and  New York.  During our time here in the desert, we enjoyed some good weather - cool nights and warm, sunny days.  You couldn't have asked for a nicer spring in the desert.  Even some of the cactuses were starting to bloom!

Kayenta is home to Coyote Gulch Art Village, where Blue Raven Studio was hosting the workshop.  Besides ready access to coffee at Xetava Gardens Cafe next door, it offered us plenty to paint.  A little lake gave us water with some amazing, magenta-colored reflections of the neighboring hills. The Santa Fe-style houses have beautiful gardens, and we even painted my host's irises one day.  Looming over the nearby Anasazi Valley trailhead are cliffs covered with petroglyphs, and cottonwoods edge the Santa Clara River, which wanders just past the trailhead.  We also painted at Snow Canyon State Park, which has a variety of terrain from lava fields to sandstone hills to sand dunes.  Four days wasn't really enough to paint all of this, and I'm looking forward to returning in the fall of 2012.  Below are a few photos from the week, as well as a few demos I did.

On a final, unrelated note, I just found out that I've been invited to paint in this year's Plein Air Invitational at Zion National Park.  (Click here for a link to last year's event.)  This is a great honor, and I'm very pleased to be invited.  The event runs from October 31 through November 4, with the exhibition continuing until December 1.  It'll also be my third paint out event in the fall, preceded by the ones at the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  I'll post more on these events as we get closer.  If you're going to be near one of these locations, I hope you'll attend!

Snow Canyon Sketch (mountain shadow demo), 9x12 oil (sold)

Snow Canyon Cottonwood (tree demo), 7x5, oil

Lanelle's Irises (flower demo), 12x9, oil (sold)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Plein Air Painting - Craft or Expression?

Most of us who paint en plein air work hard at capturing the light.  We use all the tools of our trade - view finders, value scales and finely-tuned eyeballs - to reproduce what we see.  In a sense, we try to be a good camera operated by a good photographer.  Painting is a technical craft.

Some painters are happy leaving it at that.  Creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface is, indeed, an accomplishment.  It can be a very satisfying one, especially if the painting looks nice on the wall and can bring the moment alive to the viewer.

Of course, most of us want to advance beyond that.  We really do want to be artists, and not little factories turning out home decorating accents.  (Not to belittle the craftsmen; I, too, enjoy looking at a nice picture.)  We want to dig a little deeper, discover something unique about ourselves and express it in our own way.  We want to prove our existence - prove that we're alive, and also prove worthy of being alive.  We want to prove that it's not about the money.

Here's a knife painting I did not too long ago.  I was playing - playing with color, playing with form - and just exploring a bit.

Munds Mountain Snow, 12x9, oil

Monday, April 11, 2011

Seeing Faces in Clouds

There's nothing worse than displaying a painting you're proud of and then having someone say, "That cloud looks just like an elephant!"  Of course, you can always go back and change the cloud so it doesn't look like an elephant - or a fish or Uncle Bob or whatever.  But just because one person says it, does it necessarily make it true for the next person?  Would you or anyone else have seen it that way if it wasn't mentioned?

I don't have any answers.  Sometimes, the similarity is obvious.  Other times, it's a stretch.  If it's obvious, I'll fix the painting.  If it's a stretch - I may not.

On Campobello Island, there's a rock outcrop just off shore that is charted as Sugar Loaf Rock.  The locals, however, call it the Frog Rock.  It's pretty obvious, but you might not think it, if someone didn't say it.  I paint that rock a lot, and now I have to work hard at cosmetic surgery to minimize the rock's frogginess.  (I can't help but see the frog.)

You'll go insane if you look at your paintings and try to discover all the faces in them in an effort to avoid them.  Sure, avoid anything that's obvious.  And don't paint a cloud because it looks like Uncle Bob.  Paint the cloud because it supports the idea of your painting.

My advice is - don't worry about the faces.  Just make a good painting.

Here are two  pastels I did recently, neither of which has any faces, as far as I can tell.  They are sketches done on a material that's new for me, PastelMat.  I like the way it holds pastel.

"Sail Rock" sketch - 3x6, pastel, $60 - buy

"Uptown Trails" sketch - 3x6, pastel, $60 - buy

Friday, April 8, 2011

Two Pastels from Last Week

I thought I'd post a couple of the pastels I did in the last week or so.  The first one, "Banjo Bill Morning," was done about seven miles up Oak Creek Canyon, early in the day.  Although spring is quickening in Sedona - the mulberries are blooming - it's slow in coming further up the canyon.  You can still see some of the late-winter browns and yellows.  Still, there's a bit of green starting to show up in the water, thanks to the intense sun.

"Banjo Bill Morning" 9x12, pastel (sold)

The second one, "Mitten Ridge View," was painted at one of my favorite spots.  I've shared Schnebly Hill with many students and painters.  This is a somewhat different view, looking at Mitten Ridge over a small canyon.

"Mitten Ridge View" 12x18, pastel ($200, contact me)

This week, now that the workshops are done for a bit, I'm spending time in the studio getting re-organized.  Today I went through my pastel stock and refreshed my Heilman "backpack" box; poured the Gamsol out of the brush washer so I could scrape out and discard the mud at the bottom; and took an inventory of paint, panels and pastel paper.  I think I'm going to be in good shape.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Season's End for Paint Sedona Plein Air Workshops

Time certainly has flown this winter, and it's hard to believe that last week saw my last Paint Sedona workshop for the season and, this week, my workshop for the Sedona Arts Center.   It was a great winter - beautiful weather with lots of painting time, and I made some new friends through the workshops.  If you missed out this year, I've already got my schedule for the 2011/2012 season of Paint Sedona ( established.  You can sign up and make a deposit on any of these now.

My plein air painting workshops on Campobello Island ( are filling up fast.  Two weeks in August are already full!  If you've not been to Campobello Island, it's a lovely place - one of the quietest places I can imagine during summer, with nice beaches, bold cliffs, quaint fishing villages and lighthouses.  There are plenty of inexpensive places to stay there, and with my half-day format for the workshop, you can bring family and spend the afternoons exploring the island, whale-watching, hiking, biking or kayaking.

I should also mention that I have spaces left in some of my other workshops, which are sponsored by arts organizations and workshop centers.  Check out my workshops in Ivins, Utah; Batavia, Illinois; Valparaiso, Indiana; Acadia National Park, Maine; and St Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Canada, on my website workshop page.

Finally, I'd like to announce that I have delivered ten new paintings to Windrush Gallery here in Sedona.  The gallery is located in the Garland Building near the Schnebly Hill turn on Rte 179 in the Garland Building.  The website is  I hope you'll stop in to see some of this year's work.