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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Choosing a Painting Workshop

Dogwood at the Art Barn 8x10, oil

As I write this, I'm at the Art Barn School of Art in Valparaiso, Indiana.  Spring has finally come to this part of the world – the woods are filled with a lacy fluttering of green, spring beauties carpet the ground, and the trillium and dogwood are just about to bloom.  It'll be fun to get out this week with the students to paint the "spring greens."

With spring here and summer nigh, many artists are thinking about taking a plein air painting workshop.  What should you look for in a workshop?

First, consider what you want.  This might be:

  • A painting holiday, such as a week in which you can relax, tour and maybe do a little sketching
  • Time for sharpening your outdoor painting skills
  • An adventure in painting a landscape that is unfamiliar to you
  • A week learning new skills or techniques
  • Networking to expand your circle of painting friends

I'm sure there are many more.  Not all of these require an instructor.  You can do a lot on your own.  But if you'd like guidance, a location scout, or instruction, you'll need a teacher.

How do you find a workshop?  Although I teach workshops myself, I take about one a year.  Here's what I look for:

  • Do I like the teacher's paintings?  Are they something I might aspire to?
  • Does he have something to share that will make me a better painter?
  • What do past students have to say about him?  Is he professional?  That is, is he knowledgeable and eager to share?  Is he encouraging yet helpfully critical?

Finally, when I read the description for the workshop, I make sure that I understand it.  I don't want my expectations to be different from what the teacher promises.  If the description isn't clear, then I write or call the teacher for clarification.  For example, for my own workshops, I have a FAQ that students should read, as it clearly lays out what to expect.  Reading this FAQ helps the student have a much more rewarding experience.  (Here is the FAQ for my Sedona plein air painting workshop, and here is the FAQ for my Campobello Island / Downeast Maine plein air painting workshop.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Encounter: Robert Henri

Trina and I have driven Interstate 80 across Nebraska a few times over the years, and each time, a curious sign near Cozad caught my eye.  It reads "Robert Henri Museum."

"But wait," I can hear you asking.  "Isn't Henri considered part of the Ashcan School, and didn't he live in New York?"  I asked myself the same thing.  But we were always in a hurry to get east, so we never stopped.  I vowed I'd stop at the museum, some day.  And that I'd also look up Henri's biography to see what his connection with Nebraska was.

Today, as we made our way from Colorado Springs on up to Denver and beyond, we saw the sign again.  Should we?  Well, we did.

Once you get past the predictable "strip" right off the Interstate, lined with fast-food stops and gas pumps , you'll find Cozad is a quaint town seemingly frozen in the 1950s.  Diners, clothes shops, barber shops, churches, modest homes – it could be the hometown of anybody who grew up during those decades.  Since we were visiting on Sunday, all the shops were closed and the streets were empty.  Just what you'd expect of a town that grew up respecting Sundays.

But that also meant the Robert Henri Museum was closed.  (Turns out it is only open June 1 - September 30.)  At least I took a picture and made a note of the hours for next time.

So what is Henri's connection to Cozad?  Here's what the Museum's web site says:
Robert Henry Cozad was born to John and Theresa Cozad in, we now believe, Spence's Station, which later became Cozaddale, Ohio. John founded the town of Cozaddale in 1871. Between 1872 and 1873 John founded and settled in Cozad, Nebraska.
In their youth, Henri and his brother John Jr. only lived in Cozad during the summers and attended the Chickering Classical and Scientific Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The family lived in Cozad for approximately ten years until an altercation with a local rancher, resulting in the death of the rancher, necessitating the family to assume new identities. Mr. Cozad became Richard Henry Lee, Mrs. Cozad became Tessa Lee, John Anthony Cozad became Frank Southrn (correct spelling) and Robert became Robert Henri (pronounced Hen-rye).

Fearing for his life, John J. Cozad left town the night of the shooting in October 1882. John Jr. was already in Colorado conducting family hay business so Robert and Theresa remained in Cozad long enough to sell the family home in 1883 to Stephen Hendee.

Mr. & Mrs. Lee and their sons (who they said were adopted nephews) eventually all reunited in Atlantic City, NJ where Mr. Lee had purchased property on the Boardwalk. The oldest son then went to medical school and Robert enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
We'll try to catch you next time we're in town, Robert.

Robert Henri (from National Gallery of Art)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Taos Plein Air Painting Retreat – Day 5

Farewell to Taos!

We had rain in the night, but we awoke to a full moon setting in the west and fog-wrapped mountains in the east.  The morning air was filled with the fragrance of sage.  Sage is everywhere, but it's not until the rain bruises its tiny leaves that you really understand the spirit of Taos.

After breakfast and critiques, we headed out.  We went back to Arroyo Seco, which has become one of our favorite painting spots.  Although we'd gone there a couple of days ago, that day was overcast; today we had a lot more sun, and it gave the town a whole different aspect.  We set up in the parking lot of the church and went to work.

L to R: Robert, Tara, Me (vacant easel), Jim, Nancy (not pictured, Linda)
This was a pastel day for me.  When I'm traveling, I like to keep the last day for pastel.  This gives me some time to wash and dry my oil painting brushes before packing them away.  Also, in many ways, taking out a box of pastels and some paper is a lot simpler than wrestling with the oil gear.

Arroyo Seco church 9x12 pastel
Caveat:  Perspective looks "off," but this not a plumb structure
I wanted to paint one more picture of the church.  Today we had some nice shadows, which let me see all the "wonkiness" of the structure – askew eaves, tipped cross atop the belfry and so on.  Then, after a quick stop at the Taos Cow for a cup of decaf, I went back and painted a small picture of the mountains and the wonderful clouds that were building up.

Arroyo Seco clouds 9x9 pastel
We then spent the afternoon organizing, packing and taking some last photos of Taos.  We're not sure when we'll be back.  Next spring, I have my Zion National Park plein air painting retreat, which is full, followed by a month in Santa Fe for a series of four, back-to-back painting retreats.

We had a really great week with wonderful comraderie.  Thanks to everyone who came!  Here are the happy campers:

L to R:  Nancy, Linda, me, Robert, Trina, Jim and Tara
Now we bid farewell to Taos and hit the road.  After stops in Colorado and Nebraska, we'll get to Indiana, where I have two workshops waiting for me.  One is in Valparaiso at the Art Barn, and there is still room left in that one; the other is in South Bend, and that one is full.

I'll write more from Indiana.  Till then, happy trails!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Taos Plein Air Painting Retreat – Day 4

Painting at Rio Grande Gorge

We had more spring New Mexico weather Thursday.  The radar showed rain nearby and possibly overhead.  A quick glance at the sky, though, showed the rain wasn't reaching the ground.  Virga, as it is called, can be quite beautiful with its long, feathery drifts of rain, so after breakfast and our daily critique session we headed out for the Rio Grande Gorge.

Demonstrating the use of manganese violet
Ordinarily, the Gorge is best painted in sunlight with good shadows.  But I liked the clouds and the sense of distance the moist air created.  Best of all, though, I liked the little "Ice Cream Bus" parked  on the road by the bridge that crosses the Gorge.  (The bus also advertised "Strong Hot Coffee," and in the 46 degree chill, a couple of our group patronized the bus for exactly that.)

Ice Cream Bus  - If you're not on the bus, you're off the bus
One of the problems with the scene was the preponderance of hueless greys.  As I've mentioned before in my blog, I am red-green colorblind, and some of the more subtle greys tend to look, well, like grey.  If I see a pure, neutral grey in nature, I always to push it toward one color family or the other.  Which color I push it toward has to do what I perceive as the dominant color in the scene.  Today, I convinced myself I was seeing a lot of violet.

I picked up a tube of Gamblin's manganese violet this week, and I have been determined to use it.  (Perhaps this is what convinced me that I was seeing violet.)  It turned out to be the perfect "mother color" to use everywhere in the painting.  The middle-distance cliffs are mostly manganese violet with white and a little Torrit Grey.  The farther ones have some ultramarine blue added.  The closest ones have some permanent alizarin crimson.  Elsewhere, the greens, yellows and oranges have all been moderated with manganese violet.  Even the "school bus" yellow of the Ice Cream Bus has manganese violet in it.

Ice Cream Bus, Rio Grande Gorge 9x12 oil - SOLD
One of the retreat participants asked if I was going to add the letters on the bus.  "Ice Cream Bus" was painted in black along the top, but the letters were too small for a 9x12 format.  I opted to leave them out, hoping that the little seemingly-blank sign propped up in front would indicate that it was some sort of vendor's bus.  Also, the title helps.

Fechin House interior

San Fransisco de Asis church in Rancho de Taos.  This is the back of it.
Why does everyone photo and paint it from the rear?
After lunch, the overcast skies continued, but it seemed a little sun was coming out.  Some went back into town to tour the museums.  The Fechin House and Taos Art Museum are not to be missed.  Not only can you see some prime examples of Fechin's portrait work, but you can also see his handiwork in the house.  He hand-carved every piece of exposed wood, incising intricate scrollwork and other details.  We also visited the famous church at Rancho de Taos – it was painted by Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Ansel Adams and probably painted and photographed by a few hundred thousand other people over the years.

Painting on the back porch

Taos Mountain, Sunspots 9x12 oil

In the afternoon, I tried my new palette out on Taos Mountain.  The light was fleeting – shifting sunspots as thunderstorms built over the landscape – but as the mountain and the field of sage in front of it were mostly in shadow, my magenta violet was really appropriate.  (I'm not sure if the two photos of my paintings show the true colors; I'll take better ones once I'm at my summer studio.)

Pizza for dinner at Taos Pizza Outback!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Taos Plein Air Painting Retreat – Day 3

Mabel's View, 9x12 oil

Mabel's Gate, 9x12 oil
We had our best weather yet for our day at the Mabel Dodge Luhan house.  Although the morning started off at a crisp 19 degrees, it wasn't long after sunrise before it got to freezing.  By the time we got to Mabel's house, it was 32 – and in the strong sunshine, that felt like a fine summer's day.

Mabel Dodge Luhan's House
Mabel Dodge, a wealthy New York socialite and patron of the arts, got fed up with the city and moved to Taos in 1919.  She built a home here and began to invite her artistic friends out to visit.  Some of the people who visited were D.H. Lawrence, who painted pictures on the glass windows of the second story bathroom, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Robinson Jeffers and Georgia O'Keeffe.  Georgia thought Mabel talked too much, so instead of staying in the main house with Mabel, she stayed across the way in a smaller home by herself.  Somewhere along the line, Mabel divorced her husband and married Tony Luhan, a Taos Indian.  Mabel died in 1962.

Where Georgia stayed
Today, the house is a spectacular conference center and inn with views of the Morada, which we visited yesterday, and the broad landscape of the Taos pueblo.  We were grateful for the opportunity to paint there; for a small fee, we were able to paint, use the restrooms and enjoy coffee and tea.



Robert, Linda, Nancy
Afterward, we headed back to Kit Carson Avenue for a meeting with painter Jerry Jordan.  One of our participants, Jim, liked Jordan's work well enough to call his gallery, Parson Gallery of the West, to arrange a visit.  Jordan graced us with about an hour of his time to talk about his history, his painting approach and more.  As a young man, Jordan enjoyed the work of early Taos artists such as Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings and taught himself to paint by studying them.  Jordan is known across the US for his paintings of old Taos.

Jerry Jordan
Tomorrow, we may try to paint the Rio Grande Gorge.

Cold enough for a parka!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Taos Plein Air Painting Retreat – Day 2

Tara and Linda 

Yesterday's wind ended up becoming today's snow and rain.  But for the morning, we had a nice, dry slot of weather to paint in.  After a breakfast of poached eggs and toast – one of our participants shared a new technique for poaching eggs – we took a short ride over to scenic Arroyo Seco.

Church of the Most Holy Trinity 9x12 oil
Arroyo Seco was settled in 1804 on a Spanish land grant that was deeded back in 1745.  In 1834, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity was erected.  It was because of this church, styled on the earlier Nuevo Mexico mission churches, that I steered our group to Arroyo Seco.  The building has some beautiful lines and is in a beautiful setting.  The rest of the village, which is not much more than a crossroads, has a number of small shops, many of them occupying historic structures.  Despite the overcast day, it was a delightful place to paint.  Parking was easy, the coffee from Taos Cow was fresh and tasty, and the locals didn't seem to mind having a group of painters around.

Arroyo Seco with Taos Mountain 9x12 oil
By lunch time, the wind had gotten up and snow squalls were swirling over Wheeler Peak and Taos Mountain.  The mountains even disappeared behind the snow for awhile and rain spat down on our rental.  By early afternoon, though, the snow and rain stopped, so a few of us headed to town to check out the galleries.  I shared some of my favorites with the group:  Parsons Gallery of the West, Act One Gallery and Total Arts Gallery.  Parsons has one of my very favorite painters, Walt Gonske (about whom I wrote here), and Jerry Jordan.   I was excited to find the work of Dinah Worman in Act One, and also to find some nice pieces by Doug Dawson and Bill Cone in Total Arts.

Robert paints from the back of his truck - quite a studio!
We also stopped by the Morada - more formally known as La Morada de Don Fernando de Taos -- to take a few photos.  Once home to a local group of Pentitentes, it was bought in 1979 by the Kit Carson Museum and then, after a public outcry among the local religious, given to the local parish, which hopes to restore it at some point in the future.

La Morada de Don Fernando de Taos
After the gallery tour, some of us adjusted paintings.  I went through the ones I did today and made a few tweaks.  It's hard to paint these wonderful adobe buildings in the kind of overcast light we had today.  Tomorrow, we're expecting sunshine for our visit to the Mabel Dodge Luhan house.

For dinner, we headed over to Orlando's in nearby El Prado.  I've been to Orlando's before, and it's a great place for New Mexican cuisine.  Think chile rellenos with green chile sauce!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Taos Plein Air Painting Retreat – Day 1

Below the John Dunn Bridge - 9x12 oil

We arrived in Taos Saturday to snow squalls.  By Sunday, though, the skies cleared, the cottonwoods budded with springtime yellow-greens and the sage filled the air with its heady scent.  Our participants – five painters from Tennessee, Ohio, Nevada and Colorado – arrived with Taos at its best.

Before they arrived, though, we did a quick tour of the area to remind ourselves of grocery options and painting spots.  I have a fairly detailed list of good spots, thanks to a couple of painting friends who paint here a lot.  We checked out locations just north of Taos, such as Arroyo Hondo and Arroyo Seco.  Taos is rich with great painting opportunities, and I'm sure it will be a good week.

Me, below the John Dunn Bridge
After a communal dinner of soup and bread, we laid out the plan for the week.  The way I run the retreat, we start off with coffee and breakfast, followed by critiques of the previous day's work and a talk on whatever subject needs to be addressed.  After that, we saddle up and carpool or caravan to that day's location.  Usually, we are out long enough to have lunch in the field.  Afternoons are free – participants can paint more if they wish, or they can take advantage of the town's wonderful museums and galleries.  For dinner, everyone is on his own.  Some choose to go out, others eat in.  If we have some good light, we'll paint the view from our house.  ( I did a demo from the back porch last night.) Finally, we tend to retire early, because painting out in the New Mexico sun is exhausting work!

Red Willows - 9x12 oil
On our first day, we had coffee and breakfast and headed right out.  The forecast was for increasing wind – what is springtime in New Mexico without wind? -- so we went down into a canyon for protection.  The John Dunn Bridge, which is accessed from Arroyo Hondo by first pavement and then a couple of miles of dirt, crosses the Rio Grande where steep, basaltic walls rise up a couple of hundred feet.  Here, the river is shallow and slow and bordered by red willow.  The light was beautiful.

By lunchtime, though, the winds managed to dig down into the canyon.  At least two easels went over – mine did – and we decided to pack it up.  We had lunch in our cars and then headed back to the house.  The back porch of the house is, fortunately, on the lee side and is sheltered by a short wall, so I was able to take out my paintings and bring them to completion in comfort.



Robert (and Jim, not pictured)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Journey to Taos

Our artistic journey continues now on up to Taos.  After leaving Santa Fe early in the morning, we aimed the Crosstrek north.  Knowing we had plenty of time to get to Taos, we took a detour to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, which occupy a beautiful corner of New Mexico along the Rio Chama.

At Echo Amphitheater
We first went to our most distant point, Echo Amphitheater, to do a short hike with views.  The road passes through the Carson National Forest, and on our way back from the Amphitheater, we ventured out a short distance on Forest Road 151.  This primitive gravel road, 13 miles long, ends up at the Christ in the Desert Monastery.  It also follows the winding, cottonwood-studded river, which is spectacular in the autumn.    I would have liked to have gone much further – we went maybe a quarter-mile in – but I wasn't quite ready to take the new car on that particular road.

At Ghost Ranch
Then we went to Ghost Ranch.   Georgia O'Keeffe aficionados will remember Ghost Ranch and nearby Abiquiu as being Georgia's home for many, many years.  She first lived in a small house at Ghost Ranch, once a dude ranch but now a retreat and education center, and later at a larger, more remote house deep in the property.  The hills there are beautiful and worth painting.  You can just stop and paint, so long as you check in at the office.  I painted there maybe ten years ago with Bob Rohm, who leads a workshop at Ghost Ranch each fall.

Not Georgia O'Keeffe's home, but this is in Abiquiu
In Abiquiu, Georgia had another home.  Although you can't get a tour of the Ghost Ranch home, you can get a tour of this one – but you'll want to make your reservation a year in advance, I understand.  Abiquiu is worth wandering around in, too.  It's a small village with interesting adobe buildings and not much going on.   Between Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu there's a section of hill where you can pull off and get good aerial views of the Rio Chama.  I wouldn't risk painting there, but do take a few photos.

Rio Chama

The Pedernal, over Abiquiu Lake
I should mention the Pedernal.  This is a distinctive, flat-topped peak visible all over from O'Keeffe country.  Georgia once said,  "I painted it often enough thinking that, if I did so, God would give it to me."  Her ashes are scattered on top.

After Abiquiu, we headed on to Taos.  As we followed the Rio Grande up the gorge past Pilar, we could see the snow squalls building.  By the time we got to Taos, curtains of falling snow obscured the peaks.

Snow squalls over Wheeler Peak, Taos

Friday, April 19, 2013

Final Santa Fe Gallery Report

Santa Fe Chile Peppers!
The weather has continued windy this week in Santa Fe, and for two days, we even had snow flurries.  I'm hoping the weather pattern will become calmer for our upcoming week in Taos, which got two inches of snow.  But spring in New Mexico is, after all, typically windy.  The weather hasn't affected my painting, though.  For this week only, I've chosen just to take pictures.  I'll get back to painting once I'm in Taos.

Snow squalls coming in

Yesterday while on our way downtown, I suddenly remembered I needed a tube of white (Gamblin) for the Taos retreat.  We made a quick detour to Artisan Santa Fe.  A painter shouldn't visit Santa Fe without stopping by.  It's the most well-stocked and friendliest local art shop I've ever been in.  But it's like a candy store, and it's easy to break the bank.  Besides the white, I wanted an extra tube of Torrit Grey.  If you buy $25 or more of Gamblin products, you get it for free.  My 150ml tube of white wasn't quite that, so I very happily added a tube of manganese violet to my cart to go well over the minimum purchase.

Opening up shop at the Palace of Governors
This morning, we decided to go down to the Plaza and pay a final visit to Canyon Road.  It was cold – in the low 20s – so we first stopped for coffee.   After that, we wandered down to the Palace of Governors.  The Indians were setting up their little "shops" in the shade.  Jewelry, miniature katsinas and other crafts were placed out on blankets.  If I were them, I would have wrapped the blankets around myself, it was so cold!  At one gallery, the outdoor water fountains were all frozen.  (I overheard one tourist ask the gallery director, "Are these frozen just naturally?"  As if the fountains had some sort of refrigeration unit attached.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm no fan of most decorator wall art.  I most enjoy traditional representational art that shows a high level of craft and artistic sensibility.  The area around the Plaza has more than its share of tourist shops (think turquoise chokers, tee shirts and sand paintings) and, like Canyon Road, a good number of "contemporary art" galleries.  But it does have galleries with the kind of art I like, too.  Some of our favorites today include Hueys Fine Art, Mountain Trails and Wadle Galleries.  I was pleased to find a large selection of work by my friends Howard Carr and Betty Carr in Mountain Trails.  At Wadle, we saw a couple of pieces by Irby Brown that really spoke to us.  We almost bought one.

Wouldn't it be nice to cruise town with this?
We've been looking at property to buy this week, too.  Santa Fe is one of the top three art markets, along with Los Angeles and New York.  A beautiful gallery building, complete with courtyard and residence, is up for sale.  Its $2.5 million price tag sounds like a lot, but considering the location and what you get, it's not.  (Contact me if you're interested in partnering.  Seriously.)

Tomorrow morning early, we are off to Taos.  I hope to have some nice paintings to show you next week.