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Monday, June 27, 2011

Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy - Annual Event

"Blue Tug" 12x12, oil

This past weekend marked the fifth annual paintout of the Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy.  Every year, we alternate between the US and Canada for the event, and in keeping with that theme, the 2011 event was in Eastport, Maine.  (See for previous years and locations.)

Ten of our group, which consists of over 30 committed outdoor painters mostly from Downeast Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, had planned to meet Saturday.  Unfortunately, a world-class thunderstorm spent the day hurling lightning bolts and dumping torrential rains over the area.   I've seen some pretty strong storms during monsoon season in the mountains of New Mexico, and this one tied for first place.  Needless to say, the meeting didn't happen, and although a couple braved the storm from porches, most of us held back that day.   Sunday wasn't promised to be any better, so we opened up the painting period through Tuesday, and moved the "hanging" to Wednesday.

But Sunday turned out better than predicted, and several of us went to Eastport on our own schedules.  I ended up down by the wharf and painted in some heavy overcast.  Trina spotted an unusual blue tugboat for me, and I painted it.  There are a couple of tugs in Eastport, but I've never seen a blue one.  The color was just perfect for the weather conditions.  The painting is at the top of this post.  In the photo below, you can see that the tug rotated 180 degrees while I painted it.  Any boat that isn't tied up to a wharf requires quick drawing skills!

I ran across Evelyn Dunphy (below), who was painting at the opposite end of the Eastport wharf.   She was working on a large, multi-session watercolor.   After returning home, I later learned that Simone Ritter and Caren-Marie Michel had also been in the area.  If would have been nice to have had coffee with everyone, but Eastport is a cell phone dead zone, and there is no way to communicate other than by flare gun.  But that's why we love this area - the remoteness keeps things quiet.  (Except for the occasional flare gun.)

If you're in the area, please plan on coming to our opening reception at Next Door Gallery, 8 Boynton Street, Eastport, Maine, from 4-6 Eastern Time on Friday, July 1st.  (Add it to your Canada Day / Independence Day celebrations!)  The show will be up from June 29 through July 14th.  For details, visit

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Lupines - A Miniature Plein Air Painting

Lupine Colors, 4x4 oil - sold


I don't often do miniature paintings.  Some of my readers may argue with that, knowing my propensity for 5x7s.  But once in awhile, duty calls.  I was given a beautiful, 4-inch, hand-carved frame, and was asked to fill it.

So fill it I did - with lupines, en plein air.  I painted this on a piece of acid-free matboard that had been prepared with Gamblin PVA size and two coats of acrylic gesso.  The piece of matboard was much larger than the frame.  (I taped it to a 5x7 board and used my new Guerrilla Painter 5x7 Pocket Box.)  To make sure I was going to get a painting that would work, I first lightly pencilled a 4-inch square on the board.  Then, I centered my composition in the square but actually painted an area that went way beyond it.  I think I painted an extra two inches all the way around.  This gave me plenty of room to play with the final composition, cropping to suit.

Once I'd cropped the painting to size, I let it dry, sprayed a coat of retouch varnish on it, and then used a piece of acid-free foamboard for backing.   I did not use glass, since I consider the matboard/foamboard combination is more like a panel than paper.  (Works on paper typically get put under glass.)

By the way, the highlights on the flowers were done with Gamblin's Radiant Blue and Radiant Pink.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Acadia National Park Plein Plein Air Painting Workshop - Days 4, 5

Although the last two days of our workshop week were predicted to have rain, the rain didn't arrive until late Friday afternoon, and by then, we were back in the studio for critiques and final questions.  Thursday started off with clouds, fog and a sprinkle, but the clouds thinned, and some of us even got a sunburn.  That day, we went down to Seal Cove, which is a favorite for kayakers.  In the photo below, you can see my friend Pat LaBrecque, maker of the Art Cocoon, with the first of two groups of kayakers in the background.  Curiously, neither this group nor the next ever returned to the launch area.  I leave you to imagine their fates.

On Friday, we headed down to Steamboat Wharf in Bernard and the area around Thurston's.  Thurston's is a famous lobster pound, and we ended up having lunch there.  It's the yellow-roofed structure in the photo at the top of the post.  I like to paint this building, as it offers a nice spot of color on grey days.  Below is my rendering of it and also a close-up of the painting.  I originally painted the roof the color it was, a somewhat warm orangey-yellow, but it was much too warm a color for the cool painting; I ended up scraping out the roof and using a cooler and more lemony yellow instead. (9x12, oil.)

We had a strong wind off the water, and it was cool.  Pat and I found shelter behind a boatload of lobster traps:

One other attraction in Bernard is what I call the Stephen King House.  This was the house featured in King's made-for-TV movie, "Storm of the Century."  It's where the old lady lived in the opening scene in which Andre Linoge arrives and wreaks havoc.  Linoge has mostly one line throughout the movie:  "Give me what I want, and I'll go away."  It's one of my favorite movies.  Here's the house:

All in all, it was a great workshop.  I'm looking forward to my next one at Acadia Workshop Center in October 2012.  In the meantime, I still have space left in some of my Campobello Island workshops.  Visit for details.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Acadia National Park Plein Plein Air Painting Workshop - Day 3

(Photo Courtesy Pat LaBrecque)

For our third day, we headed over to Manset again, this time to the town wharf.  We had a bit of wind, but that at least kept the moored boats all pointing in the same general direction.  One of the problems with painting boats, especially moored boats, is that they do  move.  Both wind and tide, however little of each there seems to be, will cause subtle shifts in perspective and angle.  It'll drive you mad.  The best approach is to do a quick, initial sketch right on your canvas to capture the angles.

Here's my little boat demonstration.  I treated the boat as a simple oblong, and then reshaped the oblong by painting the negative space around the boat.  It was also important to get the sense of strong sunlight on the hull; I used cadmium red light with a touch of cadmium yellow deep for the sunlit areas, and cadmium red light with alizarin crimson for the shadows. (5x7, oil).

Later, we headed over to a swamp near the Back Bay area, in Bernard.  (Mount Desert Island is filled with tiny towns with quaint names.)  I chose to do a tree demonstration there.  It was challenging, since the trees were all crowded together, making it difficult to see where one tree ended and the next one began.  The best approach here is to squint - really squint - and simplify the masses.  I like to treat trees as silhouettes and add the mid-values and highlights at the end.

We had a group dinner at Mainely Delights, right near the Swan Island ferry, and had a fine sunset view.  For workshops through art centers such as the Acadia Workshop Center, we usually have a group dinner.  It's a lot of fun, and we even talk about art!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Acadia National Park Plein Plein Air Painting Workshop - Day 2

Yesterday was another fine day on Mount Desert Island - a clear, cool morning followed by warm breezes in the afternoon and just a touch of cloud to make for an interesting sky.  We started off at The Moorings, a seaside resort in Manset with a fine view of Somes Sound.  The owner was kind enough to invite us on her property to paint.  Manset, which is near Seawall, is a quiet place, and we had plenty of room to spread out in, and even a bit of shade.

Here's a link to The Moorings:

Later we went to the Charlotte Rhoades Park and Butterfly Garden in Southwest Harbor.  This small but spectacular garden by the sea was filled with blooming, early summer flowers.  We had it pretty much to ourselves.  One of the demonstrations I did included the following, a quick 5x7 pastel sketch of the garden.  I was drawn to the sense of light on the blooming catnip (the blue flowers) and on the house and greenery.  The point of this demo was to show how in 30 minutes you can capture a sense of light and color, and perhaps use this sketch later in the studio as a reference for color notes.

That evening, Trina and I headed back for Manset for dinner.  Here's a shot of the harbor toward sunset.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Acadia National Park Plein Plein Air Painting Workshop - Day 1

We're here for the week in Southwest Harbor, painting around Mount Desert Island and in Acadia National Park.  We have a good group of students, a total of eight, and they hail from Montreal, Florida, New York,  Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  They're all intermediate to advanced painters, and I'm looking forward to working with them this week.

On the first day, I talked about plein air basics and especially about stripping down your gear.  One of the most important things to having a good experience is to minimize the baggage.  (Like the airlines, maybe I should charge a baggage fee!)  I pare everything down so I can carry the gear in one trip from the car.  Of course, it's easy to forget important items when paring down, so it's also important to have a checklist.  Although I've got mine memorized, I certainly refer to it when preparing for a workshop.  It's good once in awhile to go through your bag and see what it is you haven't used the last ten times - that's probably something you can leave out.

We went to the Seawall picnic area for painting, where I also did an oil demonstration to show my approach to composing, blocking and and adjusting shape relationships.  Here's a shot of the demo, in situ.  It's a 9x12 on a homemade panel.  I'll probably adjust it a bit once it's back in the studio.  I also did a 5x7 rock demonstration, which I'll try to get a photo of later.

By the way, I am getting more men in my workshops than I have in the past.  I only have one this week - Michel from Quebec, below - but lately I've had a higher percentage.  I think I taught a workshop this past winter where the males were actually in the majority.

I still have room in my Campobello Island plein air painting workshops for the summer.  If you'd like a maritime painting experience, take a look at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Plein Air Acadia National Park, Maine

I'm about to head out to teach a workshop in Acadia National Park for the Acadia Workshop Center.  I was looking back this morning, trying to remember how many times I've taught there.  All except for one year, I've taught every year since 2004!  That's seven workshops, counting this year.  Wow.

I'm lucky enough to be able to alternate between early summer and fall.  Each season has its own beauty, and I like them both.  This summer, I'm looking forward to lupines blooming and the quiet time before the tourism season begins.  Next year, I'll be teaching in the fall, and we'll have some pretty foliage around the lakes.  Over the years, I've come up with many excellent spots to paint, and I'm looking forward to sharing these with this year's crop of students.

I pulled out a bunch of photos of the Acadia workshop from over the years.  Here they are.  I'll post a post-workshop post when I get back.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lupines Redux, and More on Self-Publishing

"Lupines by the Bay" 12x24, oil

The weathermen were right, and I was able to get out to finish my lupine painting this morning.

Painting lupines with oils alla prima or wet-into-wet is a tricky thing.  Flowers should be painted pure and rich in color.  But the colors of lupines are exactly the complement of the green foliage that surrounds them.  You're putting down blue-violet atop yellow-orange, or red-violet atop yellow-green.  This is a sure-fire recipe for mud!

Having a semi-absorbent surface helps, which is what I used for this piece.  Those first greens tend to sink down and stay put, allowing you to lay on the complement without stirring up the green.  Splitting the painting process over two days helps, too.  The first day's paint will be dry enough to lay down fresh paint without making mud.

For this painting, to make the lupines really rich, I added two colors that aren't part of my standard split-primary palette.  Gamblin's Radiant Pink and Radiant Blue are perfect for sunlit lupines.

The hunt for a way to distribute video continues.  (See my earlier posts, here and here.)  I played a bit with creating epub files and PDFs with embedded video, and although I'm learning a lot, I'm also learning that these approaches have some dreadful issues.  (Mostly having to do with software compatibility.)  This will be the last I say on the matter until I've found a workable solution.  Thank you,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lupines! And an Update on Self-Publishing for the Painter

This is prime lupine season now, and after two days of rain, I have been eager to get out and paint.  Today was the day.  I spent a couple of hours blocking in and adjusting shape relationships on a 12x24, above.  Tomorrow morning I'll go out again and hopefully finish up.   The weather forecasters are cautiously offering, as they do here, with a dollop of disclaimer and a dash of uncertainty, that it will be sunny again.

The panel is Ampersand Hardbord to which I've applied a coat of Golden's GAC 100 followed by a coat of Golden Acrylic Gesso and then toned with yellow ochre acrylic paint.  The yellow gives the piece a nice, sunny feeling.  If you are able to zoom in on the image, you'll note that my brush strokes barely cover it.  I'll need to go in and add more paint; some collectors like to buy their paintings by the pound, and not by the how effectively a teaspoon of paint has been used to paint three acres of canvas.  Also,  the lupines are still subtle, but I'll hit those a little harder in the next go-round.

I want to update my readers on a new development at  As I mentioned in a post of only a few days ago, I have had good luck with Lulu.  But no sooner than I hit the "enter" button than did Lulu announce that they are abandoning digital video and audio content.  This includes the mini-videos I have for sale.  As of September 19th, they will no longer be available through Lulu.  So if you've been thinking about getting the videos, now is the time!  (You can, of course, still get my full-length video demonstrations from

For the mini-videos, we'd like to stick with Lulu, since it has an easy ordering system, and I've already gone through the learning curve.  Doing so,  however, will require another learning curve, how to create an e-book in ePub format.  Although it's called a book, it can also serve up video.  There are some other options, too, but they will require research and coffee.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear from any of  you who have suggestions.  Basically, I want to upload a video to a third party who will handle sales and allow the customer to download it.  Fire away!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lilac Interlude

"Lilacs with Sleeping Dog" 9x12, oil

I mentioned in my last post that I'm waiting for the lupines to bloom.  They are blooming, but not quite enough to make for a good show.  So, I took a break yesterday and painted our lilac bush.  Saba, our Schipperke-mix, took a nap in the scene as I painted.  The moment seemed so typical of this season.  I felt like lying down beside her in the shade and breathing in the heady scent of lilacs and napping, too.

I painted this on a 9x12 sheet of hardboard from Judson's Plein Air Outfitters to which I applied one coat of Gamblin's PVA size followed by one coat of Golden Matte Medium.  This gives a clear coat that lets the warm, mid-value tone of the hardboard show through.  It's a nice color to paint against, and I like the somewhat rough and semi-absorbent surface for the marks it gives me.

I'll get to the lupines this week, promise.

In the meantime, I just want to remind you that I still have two spots left in my Acadia National Park (Maine) workshop, June 20-24.  This is my sixth year teaching, and over the years I've located the very best painting locations.  If you want an expert tour guide for plein air painting, I'm your man.  For more information and to register, visit

Also, I still have one place left in the Zion National Park retreat for April 16-22, 2012.  If want details, e-mail me at  $1000 gets you a room plus two meals a day and all the painting you can handle!  NOW FULL - waiting list only! (6/13/11)

I'll mention just one last time my Campobello Island workshops, which I'll be teaching all summer.  For full details, visit

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Self-Publishing for the Painter

"Morning Hike" 12x24, oil - SOLD

I'm still working on larger paintings for my St Andrews show in August.  The apple trees are nearly done, but the lupines have just started blooming.  I'll be painting those next!

[UPDATE 6/15/11:  I've just learned that is phasing out digital content such as my videos, which will force me to find another venue for selling them.  (See for more.)   If anyone knows of a service like Lulu that does not charge an upfront fee but only takes a percentage of sales, please let me know.  Not a good move on Lulu's part.]

Recently, I passed 1000 units sold and shipped directly through  This includes portfolios, books, videos and calendars since early January 2007.  When I started work on my first self-published book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island, I had no idea of how successful this endeavor would be.  I thought, Well, if I sell just a few and don't even pay for my own time, I could consider it an advertising loss.  But the project has pretty much taken on a life of its own, generating cash flow.  (I like to think that it also inspires the readers and takes their painting skills to a new level!)  It's not a lot of money, but it sure helps pay for paint.

Some of you have asked why I self-published.  I've gone the other route - working with editors and publishing houses - and although we've always had a good relationship, I've never been able to do the project exactly the way I wanted it done.  For example, Through a Painter's Brush straddles the fence between two genres, Art Instruction and Personal Essay.  Any publisher worth his salt would have pushed me off the fence, one way or the other.  But I wanted the book my way, and the only way to do that was through self-publishing.

I also chose to go through a print-on-demand (POD) house, rather than a traditional vanity press.  POD means the book gets printed only when ordered.  I didn't have to first come up with the cash to print 5000 copies plus pay for warehousing.   But you do make a tradeoff, in that the POD house typically gives you limited design templates, whereas a press will often have in-house design-layout staff who can fully customize your project.

For those of you thinking about self-publishing, I have a few warnings.  First, get yourself a good copyeditor.  You may think you're a top-notch writer, but even those of us with miles of magazine articles behind us will fall asleep at the wheel now and then.  Nothing says "amateur" more than poor spelling and grammar.  Second, get your photos professionally done or learn to take pro-quality images and to use Photoshop.  Finally,  if you don't have a template available and are forced to do your own layout, learn how to create a simple, effective design or hire a professional.  If you don't know what CMYK is or how to create a print-ready PDF file, you might want to find a design-layout firm.

I've enjoyed what I've done with self-publishing.  I've learned a lot - though I'm still not sure I can create a PDF file that is print-ready - and  it's been fun and profitable.

Speaking of Lulu, they are having a 20% off on print materials.  Use TOP305 as the coupon code.  Good through June 13.

By the way, I have one space left in my Zion National Park painting retreat, which is April 16-22, 2012.  If you're interested, let me know - you'll need to also show me a sample of your work, as this is for advanced painters.  Price is $1000 for lodging and two meals a day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Done with Apple Trees: Painting Chaos, En Plein Air

"Early Morning Apple" 16x20, oil

I spent a lot of time the last few days walking around with my camera, taking pictures of apple trees.  In addition to documenting one of the most spectacular springs ever, I was also on the hunt for pleasing compositions I could paint in the field.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my apple trees haven't seen a pruning hook in decades.  They are about as "wild" as can be.  Because their branches spin off in all directions, painting them becomes an exercise in design.  You almost yearn for something else in the painting besides the overly-organic explosion of bloom and branch.  Trina suggested, and I agree, that incorporating a building can make life easier for both painter and viewer.  Having in the design something man-made, something with right angles, adds a bit of stability to the chaos.

Above is what is most likely my final apple tree painting of the season.   (You'll see a dormer window peering over a hedge in the distance; that's my stabilizing factor.) The trees are now shedding their blossoms and the leaves are starting to take over.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More Apple Trees - and Make Me an Offer!

"Apple Tree & Fir" 16x20, oil

After a few days of the first, tentative blossoms, the apple trees have finally burst into bloom.  Yesterday's sun was just the push they needed.  As I walked down the path that winds among them to find a painting spot, I couldn't help but feel blessed to be immersed in this landscape.  When a painter works outdoors, he experiences the world with more than just his eyes - smell and sound come into play, too.  The buzz of bees and the rose-like scent of the blooms magnified the moment.

"Apple Tree Dance" 18x24, oil

Painting unpruned apple trees in bloom is a good opportunity to practice your skill of design.  Unlike pruned trees, and the tidy farmscapes that they inhabit, my trees are feral.  They grow in all directions.  Their blooms among the crazy branches make complicated patterns - or is it just complicated chaos?  You'd go crazy trying to paint them the way they are, considering the limitations of plein air painting.  Instead, you're best off finding the major branches and clumps of blossoms, and then ordering them to make a nice - but not tidy - design.  You want to suggest wildness, not trace it literally.  I find painting them first frustrating, and then when I understand  that I am in control, ultimately freeing.

By the way, in case you missed it, I am offering five paintings I did for an article in The Artist's Magazine for sale as a group.  Here's the post on it.  My minimum price is $250, and I'm taking offers until noon Saturday.  Best offer wins!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Four Palettes, Four Paintings

In the current (July/August 2011) issue of The Artist's Magazine, I have an article on exploring different oil palettes for plein air painting.  For the article, I made four paintings to demonstrate each of the palettes.  Because I am done with these pieces now, I am offering them for sale as a group.

The paintings are of Southern Head on Grand Manan Island in the Canadian Maritimes, just off the coast of New Brunswick.  Grand Manan is known for its tall cliffs and as a source of the edible seaweed, dulse.  The novelist Willa Cather summered there, and Audubon painted birds on its coast.  I like it because it always seems remote, and you can find some great landscape painting there.  On one of my trips, I painted Southern Head, and it was that painting that I used as a basis for paintings I made for the article.

The four paintings would make a nice grouping, or they would be valuable for the student to have and study.  They are on 8x10 sheets of archival mat board and not framed.  On the backs, the paintings are labelled as to which palette was used in creating it.  I will also include a fifth painting, the original painting, which is 9x12 on panel.  For the record, the palettes are:

  • Limited earth color (yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ivory black, white)
  • Limited primary palette (ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red light, white)
  • Limited primary palette with Naples yellow replacing the white
  • Split-primary palette with four values of grey (cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red light, permanent alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo green, and Portland Grey light, medium, dark and chromatic black)
  • Split-primary palette (same as above, but no grey or black)

All paints are from Gamblin.

I am taking offers until June 4th, Saturday noon Atlantic Time.  If you're interested, e-mail your offer to  The minimum I'd accept is $250 for the lot. I will need to add $10 shipping to your offer.   Payment can be Paypal, credit card or cheque.

Below are the paintings.  I think you'll like them!  I had a lot of fun painting them.

Earth Palette, 8x10

Limited Primary Palette, 8x10

Limited Primary Palette plus Naples Yellow, 8x10

Split-Primary Palette with Greys, 8x10

Split-Primary Palette (no grey or black), 9x12