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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Albert Handell Workshop August 2013, Part 2

West Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, Maine

(See Part 1 of the Albert Handell workshop here.)

UPDATE:  Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop Coming to Sedona, AZ Nov 2-7, 2014.  Visit for details!

Wednesday morning, we met in the studio where Albert gave a demonstration in oil.  For this one, he chose a couple of photographs of running water from which to work.  Starting with a warm-toned surface (a panel from Sourcetek with Claessen's #66 linen), he scrubbed in a transparent underpainting with a brush.  Next, he followed with opaque passages applied with a knife.  "When I pick up my knife," he said, "I am going for the finish."

The demo lasted nearly three hours from start to end.  Again, it was a masterful piece - what else would you expect from a master? - and when I took a close look at it, I was surprised at how little paint there was on the surface.  Albert depends very much on that initial, thinly-applied, transparent underpainting to do most of the work, and then uses a little thicker paint in key areas to punch up the painting.

Afterward, Albert discussed his color choices with us.  In addition to the recommended paints on his supply list, I spotted a particularly beautiful color that wasn't on it.  It is Violet Grey from Holbein.  In the photo of his painting, you can see touches of it.  By the way, his travelling palette is simply a large sheet of 1/4" hardboard sealed with Liquin.

Albert Handell - 16x20 oil demonstration
After a short lunch break, we headed out again to West Quoddy Head State Park for student painting.  As before, Albert went from easel to easel offering help.  Now that students were more familiar with the lay of the land, I didn't have to spend much time tracking them down!  Even so, I must admit that my painting that afternoon was less than satisfactory; I chose one of my favorite rocks to paint, but the lighting on it was full frontal, and I had a great deal of trouble identifying planes and related half-tones.  Still, it was a good exercise in learning to see.

Showers in the wee hours of Thursday morning made us all wonder if we'd be in the studio.  Thursday was supposed to be our "all-day on location" day.  Dawn came chilly and blustery with lots of cloud cover, but since it wasn't raining, we headed out to the park.  Fortunately, the weather improved steadily all day.

In the morning, Albert painted on location.  Students had the option to watch his painting as a demonstration; or to paint the same scene along with him; or to go paint on their own.  He stationed himself in front of a particularly rugged-looking spruce snag and got to work.  A few students set up and painted along while others watched.  Because space was limited and I didn't want to take a space that could be occupied by a student, I went off and worked on my rock planes and half-tones.

Albert Handell - 18x17 pastel
By lunch time, there was still plenty of overcast, so I drove back into town for a bite to eat.  When I returned, the light was still soft.  I picked another favorite rock and worked on that; of course, the sun decided to come out about half way through the painting, which forced me to work from memory or to wait for moments when the clouds softened the light again.  I wanted to preserve the moodiness of overcast and low tide.  I was pretty pleased with this one.

Michael Chesley Johnson  - 14x11 oil rock/water study

Albert didn't paint in the afternoon but went from easel to easel as before, offering help.  Afterward, we all met in the parking lot for our "tailgate" critique.

Friday was the last day and much of it was devoted to critiques.  Although Albert gave critiques at the end of each day, these were short sessions due to time constraints.  But Friday, he looked at each participant's work again and also at up to six additional paintings from each person.  Besides offering detailed suggestions, he uncovered trends and habits, both good and bad, and then gave each person an action plan for improving as a painter.  He also demonstrated scumbling and glazing on some of the student pieces.

Albert demonstrating scumbling on student work.

The final afternoon was for painting, but before Albert went out to visit each person, I had a late lunch with him.  It was good to have a wrap-up of the week - he was very pleased with the student work - but we also agreed to schedule a mentoring workshop in Sedona, November 2-7, 2014.  Albert is in much demand as mentor, so I am pleased that he wants me to coordinate such a workshop for him.  (For details on his mentoring programs, click here.)

It's always sad when a workshop ends, but I think we'll all remember Albert's words when we paint on our own.  One of my favorite lines from the week:  "I'm a fast painter, but I don't rush."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Albert Handell Workshop August 2013, Part 1

Albert Handell
UPDATE:  Albert Handell Mentoring Workshop Coming to Sedona, AZ Nov 2-7, 2014.  Visit for details!

Every other summer, I like to have a guest artist teach a workshop for me.  The artist is always a well-known master of his medium, and this year, I am delighted to be hosting Albert Handell.

Albert has been painting for over 50 years and teaching for a good part of that.   He studied at the Arts Student League of New York City under Louis Priscilla, Robert Ward Johnson and Frank Mason.  He also lived in Europe and had his own studio in Paris.  For many years, he taught at the Woodstock School of Art in New York.  Today he lives and paints in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The author of several books on painting and the subject of many articles, he has won over 70 prizes and awards for his work.  His paintings are in the permanent collection of the Butler Institute of Art and many other museums and organizations.  It is a real treat to have an artist of his caliber teaching a workshop in "Far" Downeast Maine.

For this five-day workshop, we have 15 students from all over the Northeast and eastern Canada.  Several have studied with me previously, but some have studied with Albert, as well.   A variety of skill levels are represented, from intermediate to professional.  Although Albert has a mentoring program, this workshop follows a traditional format of lecture and demonstration followed by student work and critiques.   Each day, Albert begins with a full demonstration of a technique or subject and then, after a lunch break, students go on-location to paint while he visits each student offering incisive suggestions.

I met Albert on Saturday to help him settle in.  That evening, Trina and I had him over to Campobello for a light dinner.  Sunday,  Albert and I drove around Lubec to scope out painting spots.  Although I have my own favorites, it was enlightening to see his take on them and to understand his thoughts on what makes a good painting location.   As you might expect, variety is good - a rich painting spot offers lots of opportunity for composition and subject matter - but  also closeness to the studio, ease of access, parking and restrooms.   With a group this large, closeness and how easy it is to find are especially important.

Sunday evening, we all met for orientation.  In addition to what you would expect - maps, handouts and discussion of logistics - Albert went over setting up a French easel and his choices for pastel surfaces and pastel colors.   (Two of his demonstrations will be in pastel, but one will be in oil, so oil will be covered later in the week.)  Albert loves rich color, but he also understands how to "calm" it - his term - with complements.  Afterward, we all had dinner at the Fisherman's Restaurant at the Inn on the Wharf.

Inn at the Wharf

On Monday, he painted a wonderful tree demonstration in pastel.  He broke the demo into three parts:  drawing the tree, handling color and value relationships, and then applying the idea of color and value to the drawing.   I personally loved the drawing phase; watching Albert's hand as he drew flowing, sensitive lines was like watching a ballet.

Color Theory

Albert's 18x12 pastel tree demo

That afternoon, we headed out to the Inn under an overcast sky where we painted rocks and water.  The Inn offers not just lodging and a restaurant but also a fish market.  While we were painting, a forklift zipped quietly (and respectfully) back and forth hauling periwinkles to the market.  Afterward, Albert critiqued our work on the easel.

On Tuesday, he painted a very masterful rock demonstration.  Unlike trees, he says, where it is important to have "lazy" edges, rocks demand a degree of crispness.  He started off with a watercolor underpainting in Van Dyke Brown and Payne's Grey and, once it was dry, followed with pastel.  He left the painting as a vignette.  "Some teachers tell you to block in the whole thing and work to the edges; I tell you to work on your center of interest and get that right.   If you have time and keep working, you will eventually get to the edges - but it's also okay not to."

Albert's 12x18 pastel rock demo
In the afternoon, we drove out to West Quoddy Head State Park and found plenty of rocks to paint.  Albert was very impressed with the landscape's bold cliffs and rugged coastline.  Although I was coordinating the workshop and helping keep track of students, I had plenty of time to do a large (12x18) rock study in pastel of my own.  Critiques were held in the parking lot.

My own 12x18 rock pastel

Next time:  Albert's oil demo and more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Riverwalk – Plein Air Sketch to Studio

If you've been following my blog, you'll know it's been a busy few weeks.  Right now, Trina and I are restocking our two-person show in Lubec that opened last Saturday.  Sometimes, a gallery will let patrons take away what they've bought, but at other times they'd prefer to have all the work stay until the end of the show.  We have a little of both for this one – there are paintings with red dots, but there are also empty spaces!  So, after a successful opening, we are endeavoring to fill those spaces.

"The Geometry of Nature: Two Visions" continues through September 2 at the Mulholland Market at 50 Water Street, Lubec, Maine.  The gallery is open every day but Wednesday, from 10-4.

But being busy doesn't mean I can't find time to paint.  While watching our own gallery on Campobello Island in the afternoons, I pulled out a pencil sketch I made during my "Plein Air Sketch to Studio" workshop in South Bend, Indiana, this past spring.  The sketch never made it to the studio.  One of the students said she'd like to see what becomes of it.   With that in mind, I decided to play with it.

I wanted to experiment in a small format – 6"x8" – and with minimal color and keeping things abstract.  Edges and temperature control were my focus.  For simplicity, I narrowed my oil palette to indanthrone blue, burnt umber, white and just a touch of cadmium red (all Gamblin paints.)  At the top of the post is the sketch, and below is the finished painting.  I'm pretty happy with the effect and pleased that I stopped where I did.

River Walk, 6x8 oil

Next week, artist Albert Handell will be in Lubec, teaching a plein air workshop under my sponsorship.  I'll be busy, again, but I'm really looking forward to working with this master painter.  I'll be taking lots of pictures and notes.

By the way, I still have spaces in two of my workshops immediately following.  September 3-6 is an advanced/mentoring week; September 10-13 is for all levels.  Visit for details.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Exhibit - Opening Reception

Fabric Design by Trina Stephenson

I thought I'd remind everyone one last time!  Our joint show is open, and the artists' reception is this evening (Saturday, August 17) from 5-7 pm Eastern Time.  See you there!


A new exhibit, "The Geometry of Nature: 2 Visions," opens at the Mulholland Market Gallery at McCurdy's Smokehouse Complex, 50 Water Street, Lubec, Maine.  Exhibiting will be photographer and fabric artist Trina Stephenson and landscape painter Michael Chesley Johnson with new work.  The exhibit runs August 14-September 3 with an opening on Saturday, August 17th, from 5-7PM where you can meet the artists.

Trina takes photographs of the natural landscape to create kaleidoscopic images which she then prints on paper, metal or fabric.  In her fabric art, she brings together her interest in color, design and some of the techniques of quiltmaking.  Michael is an internationally-known painter and teacher working in oil and pastel in the plein air tradition.  Come and see some of his new "natural diptych" paintings.  For more on the artists, visit and

Also, Michael will also be teaching a plein air painting workshop based in Lubec, Maine, September 10-13.  Ordinarily, he teaches on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, but for US students without passports, he has scheduled this special workshop.  Visit for details.

Eureka Street, Lubec
16x20 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The High Route - Another Natural Divider Diptych

August is always a very busy month for me, what with the workshops and the studio gallery.  Now, of course, we have the second studio gallery plus a two-person show Trina and I are hanging next week.  And have I mentioned the workshop that I'm hosting for Albert Handell?  Well, life doesn't get any busier!

Although I am painting demonstrations for my workshops now, what I would call "personal painting time" has been put on the back burner for now.  But I wanted to share with you the steps in my latest natural divider diptych.  This is a view of the trail along Raccoon Beach here on Campobello Island.  It's one of my favorite view spots, where you can see Herring Cove Beach arcing off to the right, and then the trail ahead on the left side.

The painting presented a few more challenges than previous works in this series.  Most notably, the beach on the right is about 60 feet lower than the trail that the viewer is looking back on, and I had to get the effect right.

I started off with some high-chroma colors in the block-in.

Then I made some major adjustments in value and color temperature.
I added two figures on the beach for scale.
This helps to push the beach below and back.

In the final stages, I continued to put distance in the beach with cooler, greyer reds.
I also took care to apply a little more detail and warm color to the edge of the bluff
in the right corner to indicate that it is much closer than the distant beach.
"The High Route" (final) 12x24, oil

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What Color Should You Paint Your Gallery Walls?

I know I'm opening up a can of worms here, but I feel that I need to respond to someone who commented on the wall colors of our new gallery, Artists Retreat Studios & Gallery.  Our walls are off-white.  The comment was:  "I am surprised that as artists you would elect to show paintings on white walls, that is a big no, no.  All the great Museums use middle value colors so as to make the paintings be more alive. White walls make paintings look darker as our eyes dilate and the white gets all the attention."

We used white partly because it is a historically-accurate interior treatment for an 1870s Cape.  Back in those days, white paint was (and still is) the least expensive yet classy treatment for plaster-and-lath walls.  We also used it because white will not alter the look of a painting's color.  But more importantly, white is the most popular interior paint color for today's homes.  And because we use a blend of natural lighting and lamps that are found in the average home rather than "proper" gallery lighting, a visitor can easily see how a painting might look in her own home.

Before writing this post, I made an informal visual survey online of a number of well-known galleries and museums to see what colors they use.  Not surprisingly, nearly all of them use white or something close to it.  Certainly, they may have a wall or two painted a darker value with a more assertive color to alleviate the monotony of a large, white space, or, as in the case of museums, to create certain effects for special exhibitions, but white is in the lead.

Here is a great museum, the Guggenheim, with a room painted in what must be approaching pure white:

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective
Installation view: Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, June 29–October 8, 2012
Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.