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Friday, November 30, 2018

My Love of Landscape - Part 10

Part 10 of My Love of Landscape:  Exploring the Maine and New Brunswick Coast

Sunrise at Campobello 12x14 Oil - Available
President Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt's Cottage

I know I claimed my previous entry of "My Love of Landscape" would be my last, but enough readers seemed to enjoy the tale that I've decided to resume it, though not, perhaps, with such regularity.  Here, then is the next installment of the serial.

As much as we enjoyed New Mexico, we still had a hunger for the landscapes back east, especially along the coast.  At the 7000-foot elevation of our home, summers were pleasant enough.  Although the sun could be intense and warm, the shade of a ponderosa pine was like natural air-conditioning, and nights cooled down quickly.  Also, I enjoyed the summer monsoon storms—great, billowing thunderheads that always delivered drama—but there weren't any bodies of water nearby to enjoy, and we missed that.  We had a so-called river, the Sacramento, but it was an unreliable thread of water that came and went, depending on storms.

McCurdy Smoke House complex in Lubec

Lubec's fishing fleet

We still had family in Vermont, so on one of our visits, we continued on up to Maine.  We'd been to the coast there many times over the years, but now we went with an eye toward real estate.  We avoided Bar Harbor and points south.  Although an artist might easily find more patrons in those populous areas, that crush of population was exactly what drove us to Downeast Maine, where the population of Washington County is a scant 32,000.  We explored several locations, but we loved most Lubec, the eastern-most point in the U.S.  This small fishing community has a year-round population of around 1300, increased only slightly by summer residents and tourists.  For me as a painter, I fell in love with its historic waterfront and homes and also nearby Quoddy Head State Park, which features tremendous black cliffs, thunderous waves during storms and trails that provide many scenic opportunities for the painter.  (By the way, I'm leading a painting retreat this August in Lubec; for a detailed PDF, click here.)

View of Quoddy Head (and Trina and Saba)...

...Looking at this very paintable view

But then we re-discovered Campobello Island.

If you're over a certain age, you'll remember that Campobello Island, in New Brunswick, Canada, was the vacation home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for many years.  It was made famous by "Sunrise at Campobello," a movie about the Roosevelts, based on a play of the same name, that came out in 1960.  We didn't go to Campobello because of that, as I believe I was hardly aware of the history.  We went because it has not one but two large parks, which are threaded with many trails that lead to beautiful natural areas.  Also, it is connected by a bridge to Lubec, and it's an easy border crossing.

You can walk this beach on Campobello for a very long distance

I say "re-discovered," because we'd been there once before and had hiked one of the longest trails in the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park, out to lonely, rugged Liberty Point and back.  But we'd forgotten how beautiful the island is:  bogs with twisted little fir trees and pitcher plants, freshwater ponds fenced in by thickets of spruce, woodland trails that suddenly thrust one out onto a rocky perch dozens of feet above the sea, and beaches, beaches that are empty in what would be the busiest summer weekend down in Acadia National Park, just three hours away.  Beaches that are tiled with cobblestones as different as snowflakes.  Beaches, where at low tide, you can walk to many wild places.

Our Campobello house during repairs...

...and after.  Saba supervises from the porch.

Later, when three acres of oceanfront property with an 1867 Cape went up for sale at a very reasonable price, we bought it.  (We purchased it as a "life estate," and it was owned by another artist, which sealed the deal.) That summer, we arrived on the island from New Mexico and spent the season doing house repairs and exploring the island and the parks.  (The second is the Herring Cove Provincial Park.)  I don't recall painting the landscape that summer, probably because we had plenty of projects to make the house ours.  It became a lovely home, and we truly wished we could stay longer, but of course, not being Canadian, we had to return to the U.S. at the season's end.

But while back in New Mexico for the winter, a thought occurred to us:  Could we possibly get a work permit and stay on Campobello longer?  Wouldn't it be nice to stay...all year?

(to be continued)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

My Love of Landscape - Part 11

Part 11 of My Love of Landscape: Living in Canada

Friar's Bay, Sunrise

Research showed that, yes, I could apply for a work permit that would allow us to work and live on Campobello year-round, so long as there was no Canadian who could fill the job.  There were few artists close by to speak of, and as an artist, I am unique in what I do.  (And so it is with all artists, I would argue; no one paints like you.)  I suppose my application was also approved because of what I could do for the local economy.  Campobello has been, since the crash of the fishing industry, economically depressed, and I thought that if I ran a small gallery and taught plein air painting workshops, I could boost the economy in a small but meaningful way.

Winter painting on Campobello

Eastport View, Blackberry Canes 6x8 Oil
(view from our field, to the west)

Our first full year on Campobello involved a winter.  I didn't want to teach winter painting workshops—who would come?—so I decided to write my first book.  Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island was a real labor of love, since it required me to explore the island with a paint brush (or pastel box.)  This, our first winter, was glorious.  I remember hiking with just a fleece jacket right through Christmas.  I hauled my paintbox over trails to rocky cliffs to paint the headland views.  And, when we had snow, I stayed closer to home, going into our big field along Friar's Bay.  This field hosted a dozen or so apple trees, gnarled and twisted, plus large patches of blackberry and raspberry.  The blackberry canes made a stunning accent of hot red against the blue shadows of snow.  I also discovered night painting, and I learned that painting in the wee hours before dawn in pastel was more difficult than I had expected; the little pastels, so neatly laid down in color wheel order as I worked with them, rolled around and got confused, and under my headlamp's light I had a great deal of trouble telling the dark colors apart.  I decided oil was a smarter choice for nighttime painting since oil paint stays put.

Friar's Bay Gallery, open for business

By summer, we were ready to launch Friar's Bay Studio Gallery.  A home gallery made the most sense, since obviously there'd be no rent to pay or separate building to maintain; also, we'd be able to do laundry, cook a meal, finish up paperwork and even work in the studio while waiting for the doorbell to ring.  The gallery was small, just the living room at first, but over the years it came to expand into the front doorway, up the stairs and into nearly all the upstairs rooms.  We did well, as it seemed that visitors to the island always wanted to take home a memento.  We enjoyed running it, as many of the customers became good friends—and repeat patrons—over the years.

At the same time, I opened up my schedule for teaching small workshops on the island.  Up to four students at a time would meet the night before at the gallery for an ice-breaker and orientation session. The next morning, we'd meet again at the studio, where I'd lecture and critique, and then we'd all head off to one of my favorite painting locations.  I truly enjoyed showing students the secret spots I'd discovered; each week, it was as if I were seeing the landscape for the first time.  What's more, students would bring friends and family to the island, many of them new to the area.  As with the gallery patrons, some of my students became good friends, and we saw them summer after summer.  Students came to me from all over the U.S. and Canada and also from Europe.

Painting here...

...and there...

and here.

Of course, all this living full-time on the island meant giving up the house in New Mexico.  Our lives are like that.  One adventure ends but another begins, and you can be sure that the current one will end, too, but the cycle of adventures will also continue.  As I write these little essays on my life, I think over how major life decisions—such as choosing to move to Canada—are made.  When we bought the house on Campobello, for example, we had not yet thought of teaching workshops or selling art, and certainly not living there full-time.  We just wanted a nice place by the ocean, and we had the money to do so.  But if we hadn't followed that urge, how would our lives have been different today?

Over time, I got involved with the local art scene—Sunbury Shores Art and Nature Centre in St Andrews, the Saint John Arts Centre in Saint John, the New Brunswick Museum and, well, you can read my curriculum vitae to get all the details.  I also started Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy that included artists from Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and hosted exhibits alternating between the U.S. and Canada each year.  We'd always have a paintout in conjunction with the annual exhibit.  It was a great way to connect with other like-minded outdoor painters in a place filled with breath-taking scenery.

But I found that the maritime landscape, though beautifully scenic for the painter, was daunting for travelers.  The Canadian Maritimes and Downeast Maine comprise a vast area of small islands connected by ferries and, sometimes, by bridges, and possess a coastline so jagged it looks like a mad child had gone after a sheet of paper with scissors.  Artists were scattered throughout this broken-up landscape, hunkered down in their studios and working locally.  What they needed, we artists all agreed, was a studio tour that would give us more exposure, using ferries, bridges and highways to connect us.  So, with the help of the Tides Institute and Museum in Eastport, Maine, I started the Two Countries, One Bay, Open Studio Tour, which included the artists around Passamaquoddy Bay, from Washington County, Maine through Charlotte County, New Brunswick.   Educational in nature, the tour had artists demonstrating their craft and, of course, selling their wares.  The tour ran successfully for several years—at its height, we had over 50 artists participating—and then I felt the time was right to leave the project to others.

Lifting Fog at Dawn, 9x12 Oil

Noon Glare 9x12 Oil

Ready to Paint 8x8 Oil
About this time, I also began to engage in another aspect of painting that I've grown to love.  One fall, I flew out to to Sedona, Arizona, as an invited artist for the Sedona Plein Air Festival.  I'd seen Sedona, having been there first on my whirlwind tour of the Four Corners states several years ago, but that was just for an afternoon; more recently, I'd gone from our home in Timberon, New Mexico, with my mentor from Ruidoso, Ann Templeton, to help her at a workshop there and also to gather material for the retrospective I was helping her write.  During that workshop, I came to know Sedona better, and liked it well enough to wrangle an invitation to the festival.  This ultimately led to a long career of invitationals, including the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, the Zion National Park Plein Air Festival and the very first Plein Air Convention in Las Vegas.

To step back in time a bit, our second winter was much different from the first.  Snow and ice and bitterly cold wind off Friar's Bay made us yearn for the sunnier winters of the Southwest again.  But we were making a new life for ourselves on Campobello, so any return would need to be seasonal.  Summers were my most productive time of year with painting, teaching workshops and running the gallery; winters were more for writing books and magazine articles.  (Although I had a wonderful studio, I've never been much of a studio painter.)  But writing I didn't have to do on Campobello; I could go anywhere and write.  Sedona, for example.

And Sedona was warm enough in winter—and scenic enough—that I could also teach workshops and even get out to paint.  But better yet, we thought, if we rented a place large enough, we could have students stay with us to help pay the rent.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Love of Landscape - Part 12

Part 12 of My Love of Landscape:  Move to Arizona

Just Before Sundown 12x16 Oil
(Cathedral Rock, Sedona AZ)

We ended up spending winters in the Sedona area for nine or ten years.  I modelled my teaching program there on my Campobello program, focusing on just a few students at a time, usually no more than four, and making it a morning program, which left students time to explore with family and friends or to paint on their own in the afternoons.  Again, as with Campobello, I accrued a wealth of knowledge about the area and enjoyed sharing my "secret spots" with my students.  I liked Sedona so much I even wrote a small guide:  Paint Sedona!: A Plein Air Painter's Field Guide to Sedona, Arizona.

Teaching a larger workshop

On-location in Sedona

Sedona is "Red Rock Country."  Settled over a hundred years ago along Oak Creek, at the bottom of Oak Creek Canyon, it presents beautiful vistas of the characteristic geology, exposed by wind and water.  Thunder Mountain, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, Snoopy Rock—if you've ever been to Sedona, these names will immediately conjure up a visual of a skyline of curious shapes that glow with a powerful incandescence at sunset.  But even better, for the hiker or painter, there are many trails that take you right into this landscape.  We have many favorites that we hiked repeatedly, but while we were there, we continued to discover new hikes, new vistas.

Sedona is a beautiful place, but it is being "loved to death," as the saying goes.  Squeezed into a corner by national forest and the topology of the local landscape, it has three congested roads in and out, each of them scenic.  I thought about describing the travel issues here but decided to keep things light and cheery; just know that Sedona has traffic.  I had a student from Los Angeles come and ask, "What traffic?" but for a person who loves rural life, believe me, it has traffic.  But more than that, increasingly the surrounding forest is being over-used and commercialized by jeep and bus tours and other ventures.

Slide Rock Fault 16x20 Oil

Mitten Ridge with Snow 12x16 Oil

As much as we loved the Sedona landscape, we began looking for a place a little quieter.  We soon discovered interesting towns to the south:  Page Springs, home of many vineyards and wineries; Cottonwood, a "service town" that had a not-so-well-known Old Town section; Clarkdale, once a flourishing copper mine town; Jerome, a ghost town perched on a steep hillside and which was recently revived by an art culture moving in; and our favorite, Cornville, which, despite its name, doesn't have a single cornfield  and was once the home of Senator John McCain.  We finally chose Cornville.

Our community in Cornville sat at the confluence of Oak and Spring Creeks where, because of spring floods, much of the flood zone was left natural, with huge cottonwood trees, cobble sandbars and cattails.  Two trails follow the creeks, and each of them ultimately takes you out of the community and into national forest, where you can hike for a very long time before running into another person.   On our hikes along the creeks, we saw ducks and flycatchers, herons and bald eagles, turtles and river otters.  I especially loved the smell of the young cottonwoods in the fall as the leaves turned yellow; it was a wild scent that whispered of secrets yet to be found on our hikes.  As part of my workshop week, even though I continued to teach in Sedona, I always included a day in our community to share something a little different from Sedona but equally beautiful.

Albert Handell in Sedona

Doug Dawson in Sedona

During this time, I began to invite master artists to teach workshops for me, both in Maine and in Arizona.  Both Albert Handell and Doug Dawson, with whom we have become good friends, have taught mentoring workshops in Sedona and Lubec.  Although it took a lot of work to market and coordinate, for me each week was like a vacation; I didn't have to teach.  Also enlightening was to see my landscape through the eyes of these excellent painters.  One of my favorite comments was from Doug, who said, "If I see the obvious, I turn around 180 degrees and paint something else."  He made this in the context of a visit to a lighthouse with the students, and I think they were all surprised that he painted an exquisite vignette of a clump of trees rather than the obvious.

On the road with the Lazydays and M.L. Coleman

I should also mention that I began to take road trips with another painter.  M.L. Coleman lived in town, had a Lazydays RV, and liked to go out on excursions to paint.  He invited me along, and we now make it an annual date, to take at least one trip together.  We've made trips to, among others, Grand Canyon, both the North and South Rims; the Arizona Strip and Vermilion Cliffs; and Canyon de Chelly.  But we've also just explored the local scenery around Sedona.  Going out "boondocking"—camping without hookups to water or electricity—in your own neighborhood is much different than just driving off to paint for a couple of hours.  You get to see the landscape sunrise to sundown, moonrise to moonset, and to experience it at its fullest.  There's nothing quite like hearing the coyotes a few feet away on the other side of a very thin wall at 2 a.m.

Then Trina discovered a property for sale in Ramah, New Mexico—just a few miles from where we first came to New Mexico to work as caretakers on a small ranch, 20 years ago.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

My Love of Landscape - Part 13

Part 13 of My Love of Landscape: Finding One's True Home - New Mexico

Autumn Splendor 20x28 Pastel - Available

We'd always wanted to return to that part of New Mexico.  Fond memories drew us back, but there were other reasons, too.  The landscape is unlike anywhere else, what with the lava fields, cinder cones, sandstone mesas and granite hills.  But it's also an ancient place where many cultures have lived and traveled:  the prehistoric Chacoan indigenous cultures, the Spanish explorers and their descendents, today's Zuni and Navajo tribes, and the Anglo ranchers.  In fact, the highway that goes through the area is nicknamed the "Ancient Way."  You can visit Inscription Rock and see carved into the sandstone petroglyphs made by the prehistoric indigenous cultures; phrases scratched out by the Spaniards ("Passed by here, the adelantado Don Juan de Oñate from the discovery of the sea of the south the 16th of April of 1605," but in archaic Spanish); and the names, incised with a 19th century flourish worthy of a stone engraver, of U.S. Army members who camped under the 200-foot-tall cliffs.  After climbing to the top of Inscription Rock and casting your eye over the ponderosa-clad hills and chamisa-studded plains, you can easily imagine these travelers off in the distance, slowly approaching the perennial pool at the cliff's base on foot, on horseback, in covered wagon.

When a house in that area came up for auction while we were in Sedona one winter, we bid—and won.  Although Sedona had been good to us, we knew we could go back to teach and hike.  We had many friends there.  Plus, it wasn't like we would be leaving the Southwest.  Everywhere I wanted to paint would still be just a few hours' drive away:  Santa Fe, 3 hours; Abiquiu or Ghost Ranch, 4 hours, with Grand Canyon just a little farther off; Arches and Canyonlands, 5 hours; and Zion National Park, 6 hours.  Even Sedona would be only 4 hours away.

Ramah Lake

Oil Sketch of Ramah Lake / on paper, 6x12

So, just before our annual spring trip east to Campobello, we moved.  But it wasn't until we returned to New Mexico in the fall that we were able to unpack much.  And first, we had to get basic systems running.  Although we'd been told the house, which had been empty for two years, had been winterized, we discovered major leaks when we turned on the water.  Also, anything with an igniter—furnace, ventless heater, pellet stove—needed to have the igniters replaced, as they were all broken.  We had electrical work to do, too, not to mention fixing windows and doors and getting things sealed up for winter.  Now living at 7000 feet, we knew we could expect winter, and had to be ready for it.  (Winters are still much sunnier here than in New England, but we do get snow and below-zero temperatures.)

My studio

That winter, we set up house and studio.  I have a grand studio.  It was the home's second-floor master suite, with a porch accessed by a pair of french doors, a long view of the valley, and a large bathroom.  Because of the leaks, we decided to de-plumb the bathroom (we have three others in the house) and convert it into a comfortable reading area.  A wall that is partially glass block provides a sunny southern exposure.  Next to this is a large dressing area with plenty of storage space for art materials.  (I still use the shoe shelves, though, for shoes and boots; what else can one possibly use such small cubby holes for?)  The bedroom is large enough that I have two studio easels set up as well as an office.  One easel is my primary easel, and the second I use to hold reference works or to loan to a student during my Private One-on-One Painting Intensive program.  The studio is also far enough removed from the rest of the house that I can play music while I work without disturbing anyone.

The immediate landscape offers much in the way of walks.  From our house, I can walk up the ridge behind us—we sit near the bottom of a long cuesta—to get views to the east of the dormant volcanoes that make up the Chain of Craters and, to the southwest, the mesa tops of Zuni.  If I hike a little to the west on the ridge through the ponderosa pines, I can overlook the lake and the candy-striped cliffs that tower over it.  Also, from our house, I can scramble down the ridge, cut across a few fields studded with piñon and juniper, and arrive at the lake itself.  From there, trails lead here and there, over the rocks, up the canyons and, rumor has it, to even a natural bridge.  (I have yet to get that far.)  And, if I want to drive, in just a few miles I can get to Inscription Rock (El Morro National Monument), El Calderon (an extinct and very accessible volcano), and the ancient Zuni-Acoma Trail, which wanders tantalizingly across the lava fields of El Malpais.  I say "tantalizing," because the trail is sometimes hard to follow across the knife-sharp lava beds, even with cairns.

Winter on Ramah Lake

Snow Melting 6x8 Pastel - Available

As I write, we've been at this new house for two winters.  This is our second and snowiest.  We had over a foot in one storm between the Christmas and New Year's holidays.  Smaller storms over the last few weeks have freshened the snow.  But between these, we've had abundant sunshine and temperatures near 50 degrees.  I've had several chances to get out and paint snow.  Even at 35 degrees, the strong New Mexican sunshine can feel almost tropical, even when you are surrounded by snow.  Later this spring, when it gets warmer and the days more temperate, my Private One-on-One Painting Intensive program starts up again.  One student at a time stays with us, and we go out painting every day.  I'm looking forward to sharing this landscape again, too.

Out for the day, Private One-on-One Painting Intensive

By the way, we have not, by any means, abandoned Campobello Island and Lubec.  We still plan to head there each summer, where I will teach and paint.  (As much as I love summers in New Mexico, I can't yet give up the ocean.)  But I've scaled back a little on the teaching for personal projects, and also to work more on planning painting retreats.  The retreats take our group—past students and experience painters—to other interesting landscapes:  Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, Grand Canyon, Zion, Lubec, Nova Scotia and Scotland, among others.  Some day, I'll write more about my thoughts on these "foreign" landscapes that aren't Ramah and aren't Campobello Island.

And this brings us to the present.  While writing these essays, I've tried to puzzle out the origin of my love of landscape and how I became a painter.  I think I've discovered a few things.  You can love the landscape—meaning you can have a love of landscapes in general—and you can also love a landscape, meaning you can love a particular place.  Some of these places we return to, again and again, but others we enjoy only once in person.  The latter, however, we can revisit in our minds, and if we have painted them and thus studied them, the memory is all the more vivid.  For me, painting is a way of connecting completely with these landscapes.  I'm not just using my eyes to see them and my hand to copy them, but all my senses come into play.  I smell the cottonwoods, I hear the rattle of their leaves in the breeze, and sometimes, I swear, I can even taste them in the air.  While all this is going on, neural connections are building, strengthening, duplicating.  The fabric of the landscape before me becomes woven into the fabric of my self.  As much as my collectors prize my paintings, I prize my experiences.  For me, in a way, the painting is a beautiful by-product of a beautiful experience.

That's it for now.  I'm living in beauty.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

More 1980 Oil Colors by Gamblin

Overrun 12x14 Oil - Available (includes frame, shipping to lower 48 states)

I wanted to create a companion piece to "The River in Autumn," which I featured in my last post, using Gamblin's 1980 Oil Colors.  I had two nice matching gold frames, and I thought it'd be nice to use the same color palette in a second painting.  With that in mind, I created "Overrun."

First, I put "The River in Autumn" in a frame and created some design sketches.  I also pulled out some pastel sketches I'd made of a similar scene, from which I planned to pull some details as well as color notes:

I found myself especially enjoying the following mixtures:
Yellow ochre + phthalo green (a deep cool green for shadows)
Yellow ochre + ivory black (a deep warm green for sunlit areas)
Ultramarine blue + ivory black (a dulled-down blue for reflections)
and if I wanted an even lighter, warmer and richer note in the water:
Yellow ochre + cadmium yellow light

Here is the first painting again:

The River in Autumn 12x14 oil - Available - (includes frame, shipping to lower 48 states)

And now,  here is how they look together, framed:

Separately, the paintings are $1200 each (includes frame, shipping to the lower 48 states).  But I would like to keep them together as a pair, since they share color palettes and theme.  I'd sell them as a pair for $2000.  Let me know if you can give this nice pair a good home!

I had a great time painting these variations on a theme.  Now I am off on family business for a week, and then I will be back for the winter to paint, write and play with Raku the Firecloud Rez Dog.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

1980 Oil Colors by Gamblin

The River in Autumn
12x14 Oil - Available

We painting instructors, who often also are professional artists, admonish our students to not use "student grade" oil paints.  The wisdom, of course, is that "student grade" paints are lesser-quality and made with fillers, which means you have to use more to get the job done.  (One might make the same comparison between regular coffee and decaf.)  But now along comes Gamblin's 1980 Oil Colors.

I recently picked up the Introductory Set (list price $54.95), which includes 37 ml tubes of cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo green, ivory black, titanium white plus a tube of Galkyd Gel.  I wanted to give it a spin because Gamblin says:
In order to reduce the cost of oil colors, some manufacturers use gels and waxes to stiffen colors and replace traditional pigments with less expensive ones.  Our approach is different. 1980 colors are formulated with pure pigments, the finest refined linseed oil and marble dust (calcium carbonate). More affordable colors have been made with these three ingredients since oil painting began.
With 1980 colors, artists experience colors that are true, without homogenized texture or muddy color mixtures. Our approach of using both traditional raw materials and processes ensures that artists experience the luscious working properties that they expect from their oil colors.
If this set worked for me, I felt, it would also work as a low-cost alternative for students who are just getting into oil painting—and for other professionals who are looking for ways to cut cost without sacrificing quality.

I did notice on the labeling that two of the metal-based colors had been supplemented with organic pigments.  Cadmium yellow light is a mixture of cadmium yellow (PY35) and arylide yellow (PY3); cadmium red light is a mixture of cadmium red (PR108) and napthol red (PR188).   I suspect the less-expensive organic pigments were added to give the more-costly metal-based ones, which had been diluted somewhat with marble dust, more punch.  However, for me, both of these colors worked almost exactly the same as the Artist Grade versions.  Frankly, there's not much difference between the $24.95 tube of Artist Grade cadmium and the $9.95 tube of 1980 Oil cadmium—just the price.

As I worked with the paints, I found them to be a tiny bit stiffer out of the tube than the regular paints, but the colors, tinting strength and mixing properties were very close.  There are other colors to be tested, of course.  But for now, as a professional artist, I see no problem with using these in my own practice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

When Inspiration Fails

The Big Mountain
9x12 Oil - Available

Plein air painting workshops are difficult.  The instructor tells you, "Okay, I've shown you how to do it – now go out and paint one on your own."  You gather up your gear, walk around a bit...decide that you don't want to paint the same thing as the you walk around some more.  Eventually, you've circumnavigated the entire hilltop, all the while scanning both vista and intimate close-ups, hoping for something that will grab you.  Yet nothing does, and the clock continues to tick.  Fear of failure grabs you, and suddenly there's no hope for inspiration.  And now, here comes the instructor, stepping purposefully toward you to critique what you've done so far.

I've seen this happen a great deal in workshops.  (And yes, it's happened to me, too, when I was on the other end of the stick.)  Nothing inspires the student, and that is indeed a desperate situation.  However, there's a solution, right in your bag of gear.  It's the materials you've brought with you.

On the first day of my workshops, I tell my students that we can't always find something to "connect with" or to be inspired by in the landscape—especially in a workshop, when the terrain may be unfamiliar and the situation, intimidating.  To the class, I offer this advice:  Consider the painting session just an exercise, and pick anything, absolutely anything, to which you can apply what is being taught that day.  If I'm teaching atmospheric perspective, pick a vista; if I'm teaching you how to paint a tree, pick a tree.  It really doesn't matter if the subject inspires you or not.

However, if you have an open mind, you may find that your materials themselves may inspire.  The mere act of mixing color and pushing around paint might engage you.  Or, inspiration may come as a part of the process of analyzing the scene.  I personally find it exciting to observe how shadow and light differ; warm here, cool there, more intense color here, more dull color there.  The intellectual pleasure of observing may transform into a heart-felt one, and you  may find that, suddenly, the subject inspires.

At the top of this post is a scene I have painted many, many times as a demonstration for my students.  It illustrates how to capture the luminosity of sunlit rock, as well as sunlight on trees.  For this particular demonstration, I found it hard to be inspired—the scene is so old to me—but once I started mixing paint and making marks, the inspiration came.  I was very pleased with the results.  It's sketchy, but I like this one that way.  It's fresh.

Monday, November 19, 2018

2019 Calendar!

Yes, it's that time of year again when artists put out their annual calendars.  What makes mine different?  I travel to paint, and the calendar shows works that are not only seasonably appropriate but also representative of some of the places I've been.  In this one, you'll see scenes from Scotland, Maine, Arizona and New Mexico.  Plus, it has not only US holidays but also Canadian ones!

I've created the calendar on, and they're offering a 15% discount until November 22.  You can use this discount code when purchasing:  FIFTEEN.  My calendar is only $14.99, so with the discount it's only $12.75. 

You can preview the calendar and also purchase it here:

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Sedona Plein Air Painting Workshop Wrap-Up

The Big Vista 6x8 Oil / Available

Trina and I just finished a delightful week in Sedona, Arizona, with a small group of painters for my November plein air painting workshop there.  This time, we had a new addition to our family joining us, Raku.  (Her full name is Raku the Firecloud Rez Dog, for reasons which I will explain at some future point.)  Raku enjoyed meeting the painters, but she enjoyed most, I think, pouncing after locusts, little birds and wind-blown leaves.  At perhaps 18 months old, she still has a good bit of puppy in her!

Raku, our chauffeur to the painting location

We couldn't have had finer weather this week.  Although mornings started off crisp, with a little wind the first day, we enjoyed plenty of sunshine and warmth.  Sedona is a truly fabulous place to paint, with plenty of red rocks, babbling creeks and quiet places for the painter.  I've included a selection of photos from the week, as well as four of my demonstration sketches.

Sparkly River 9x12 pastel / Available

Stand Alone 9x12 pastel / Available

The Big Mountain 9x12 oil / Available

By the way,  as I have mentioned before, I'll be teaching in Sedona one last time April 2-5, 2019.  (In the future, rather than teaching workshops there, I'll be running the occasional painting retreat for past students.  The retreats are different from the workshops in that there is no formal instruction, but plenty of critiques, camaraderie and art talk.)  This final workshop will be for all levels and will run four days from 9-1.  If you like to travel with family or friends, you'll have your afternoons free to explore -- or to paint on your own, if you like to immerse yourself in the craft.  We have limited lodging left at the studio, so don't delay if you're interested.  Details Full details are at  I hope to see you there!

Helping at the easel

Sun dogs over the Verde River

My setup (Prolific Painter's "Day Tripper" easel)

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