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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Some Sketches from the 10th Annual Plein Air Convention

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Here I am demonstrating at the Judson's booth.
Carl Judson is in the background.  And thank you
to the members of En Plein Air Texas (also pictured)
who took the photo.  Some visitors asked why I wasn't
standing to paint.  Carl asked me to paint this way
because he wanted to demonstrate how easy and
convenient the 8x10 Cigar Box is to use in this manner.
I think I may start painting this way much of the time.

While demonstrating at Judson's Art Outfitters booth during the recent plein air convention, folks asked me if I'd post images of the sketches after I'd finished.  Here are a few of them.  I wanted to get these up on my blog before I left my winter studio (New Mexico) for my summer studio (Campobello Island, off the coast of Maine.)  They are still a bit rough, and when I get back in the fall, I may do a bit more with them.  They were all made on the Judson's Guerrilla Painter 8x10 Cigar Box -- my new best friend.

Grand Canyon Illumination, 8x10 Oil
As with all of the demonstrations, this was
painted from a photo.  By the way, when I paint en
plein air, the enviroment has a tremendous effect
on me, pumping me up with energy and excitement:
The sound of rushing water, the smell of soil
baking under the sun, the wind on my cheek.
This energy is completely missing in the studio. 
For studio paintings (or when painting anywhere indoors),
I try to encourage that same energy by really pushing
the color.  

Grand Canyon Point, 8x10 Oil
Same approach as in the sketch above.

Eldorado Rapids, 8x10 Oil
I painted this one on-location at Eldorado Canyon
State Park on one of the afternoon paintouts.
There was so much beauty in the cliffs and the water,
I was overwhelmed and had to focus instead on this
simple, small rapid.

New Mexico Color, 8x10 Oil
Another demonstration from a photo,
again with exaggerated color.

Golden Cabins, Blue Air, 8x10 Oil
I painted this on-location in Golden, in the
historic museum.  This was the day we had
really terrible smoke, and even the closest hills
were tinted blue and nearly invisible.  In such
times, I focus on the nearby.

Now I really am off to Campobello Island.  I hope to have some paintings from that area to share soon.  In the meantime, I'll post some interesting art history for you.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

10th Anniversary Bash of the Plein Air Convention and Expo

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The Grand Opening.
How many people attended?  I heard 850.

This week marked the 10th anniversary of the Plein Air Convention & Expo – and also my 10th anniversary with the event, since I was present at its inception.   That first year, in Las Vegas, we had snow.  This year, in Denver, we had smoke, thunderstorms, hail and, I heard, also some snow.  Interestingly, I spoke with another long-time participant who joked:  “Bad weather seems to follow PACE like a bad penny.”

Normally, one would usually just shoot up to Denver from New Mexico via I-25.  But we decided to make more of a vacation out of it, taking the scenic route via Pagosa Springs, Buena Vista and Leadville.  It was like a trip back in time as spring seemed to reverse the higher up we went.  In Pagosa Springs, the light spring greens were deepening into the shadowy hues of summer; but in Leadville, the aspens showed just the slightest hint of green.  By the way, we saw plenty of snow at Wolf Creek Pass (10,856 feet), where we took a hike on snowpack that was about six feet deep.

Denver, of course, was already into summer, since it sits at a much lower elevation.  Fortunately, we had a cool AirBnB, and it was just a few miles from the convention center.  (We didn't stay at the hotel because our dog, Raku, insisted on a place with a full kitchen.) We arrived Sunday, and that afternoon PACE opened up officially with rousing music from a bluegrass band; followed by a gospel choir in full dress; then a juggler; and finally the Master of Ceremonies, Eric Rhoads, who is also publisher of PleinAir Magazine.  You never know what Eric has planned for the opening event.

Monday, the convention got down to business.  As always, it was a banquet of tasty offerings.  PACE presented the participant with so many simultaneous events that you couldn't participate in them all.  (“I want to keep you busy,” Eric said.)  Besides the main stage, smaller stages for oil, watercolor and pastel provided more intimate settings.  The good news is, if you couldn't attend every session, they were recorded for later consumption.

Afternoons were reserved for paintouts.  Each one offered something different.  On Monday, downtown Golden gave us historic buildings as well as views of Clear Creek; onTuesday, Eldorado Canyon State Park gave us stupendous cliffs towering over whitewater rapids; on Wednesday, Garden of the Gods (in Colorado City) gave us an alien landscape of giant boulders and weird rock formations; and finally, on Thursday, Rocky Mountain National Park gave us up-close-and-personal views of the Rockies' highest snowclad peaks.

Each day, I demonstrated at Judson’s Art Outfitters booth in the vendor room.  This was a real pleasure, as I had many people coming to watch and to chat.  And of course, I was happy to be there to support Judson's, which has so faithfully supported me over the years.  Thank you, Carl and Sarah!

On the almost-last day of the event, the venue for 2024 was announced:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Biltmore Estate.  The convention will be held in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Now that the convention is over, it's time to finish packing up my New Mexico studio.  When you hear from me next, it will be from my summer studio on Campobello Island!

Here are some pictures, starting with some travel pictures:

Near Pagosa Springs, where I'm leading a painting retreat this fall

Wolf Creek Pass

Buena Vista vista

The things you find in the forest


The art show!  Faculty and participants offered work for sale

The plein air bear

Doug Dawson pastel demonstration

My good friend and master artist, Doug Dawson

Bedazzled participants, just off the bus, looking for a painting spot in Golden

A demo I made, using Judson's 8x10 Cigar Box Pochade

Eldorado Canyon State Park

Painting by the rapids

Four of these mighty motorcoaches transported painters to the painting sites; at Eldorado Canyon, they kicked up a bit of dust

My good friends and supporters, Sarah and Carl Judson of Judson's Art Outfitters

Sunday, May 21, 2023

My Art History: Gustave Caillebotte

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“Paris Street; Rainy Day”
83 1/2 × 108 3/4 in, oil, 1877
Collection, Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894, France) came to mind this morning.  I was thinking about composition, and one painting of his in particular has influenced some of my work, above.

What's going on here, design-wise?  A lamp post splits the painting down the middle.  But it doesn't isolate each half, and here's why.  The man on the right is looking over into the left half of the painting, and in the left half, the man closest to the lamp post is about to step into the right half.  While the lamp post wants to push the two halves apart, the actions of the men join them together.

The visual tension in this painting has always excited me.  I've tried to use this approach in my “Natural Diptych” series, where I use some element of nature to divide a painting in two.  Here's one in which I use a fir tree to split the painting but also to serve as a unifying element.  The spreading branches of the firs and the shadow beneath “knit” together the two halves.  Also, the figure and dog on the left look over into the right half of the painting; certain shapes, such as the pointed firs, and colors, such as the pink of the apple trees, are repeated in both halves of the painting.  Everything around the tree is arranged so that the the tree is central—even though it splits the painting.

“Path to the Sea”
12x24, oil

Caillebotte, born into an upper-class Parisian family, started off studying law, but after the Franco-Prussian War, he began to paint and to hang out with painters.  (Always a bad sign.)  He befriended Degas, among others, and you can see the influence of Degas in the tight cropping of figures in “Paris Street; Rainy Day.”  As a patron of the arts, he purchased many Impressionist works and funded some of the Impressionist exhibitions.  Later in life, he stopped showing his work and painted less, preferring to garden and to build racing yachts.  Sadly, he died at 45 from pulmonary edema.

You can read more abut Caillebotte in the Wikipedia article:

Sunday, May 14, 2023

My Art History: Winslow Homer

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Winslow Homer in front of his painting, "The Gulf Stream"

When I was young and living in New Jersey, I had very limited access to Fine Art as such.  Instead, the walls of my home were hung with a few needlework samplers, family photos and a large, nicely-framed reproduction of a painting by Eric Sloane.  The painting depicted an idyllic scene: a tableau featuring an old-fashioned wooden bridge reaching lazily over a quiet creek.  A boy with a straw-hat lounged by the water, and an advertisement for Red Man Chewing Tobacco decorated the plank side of the bridge.  I'm not sure why my parents bought this nostalgic scene, but perhaps it was a reminder of their rural upbringing in the Deep South and gave them comfort in their New Jersey home.  I loved that painting.

Art museums weren't part of my world.  (Nor were public libraries, but that's another story.)  We lived near Princeton, and though it had a museum, we didn't go.  And not so far away New York City and Philadelphia with their abundance of museums, but it was difficult to get to.  My mother took my sister and me to Manhattan once, by train or maybe it was by bus.  It was an adventure:  the elevator ride to the top of the Empire State Building; NBC's Radio City Hall and the puppets from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," tiny in their glass display cases; and at every intersection, the gauntlet of feet and legs, furious as the workings of a mechanical harvester, which we little people worked hard to avoid.  But we didn't go to any museums. It wasn't until we moved to Atlanta and I became a teenager that I made my first museum visit.

Strangely, despite the lack of art, we had a book.  It was a coffee-table book, hard for little hands to hold.  I ended up spending hours with it, sprawled out on the living room floor.  The book was titled something like "One Hundred and One Masterpieces."  I don't know where it came from, but it was my mother's.  I leafed through the book so much that pages were starting to come unglued. I remember in particular Winslow Homer's (1836-1910) "The Gulf Stream":  a lone man, rowing in a broken-masted sloop, surrounded by gape-mouthed sharks with a waterspout churning menacingly in the distance.

The Gulf Stream
28x49, Oil/Canvas, 1899/1906
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Snap the Whip
12x20, Oil/Canvas, 1872
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"The Gulf Stream" is a far cry from the nostalgic innocence of Sloane's "End of Summer."  But Homer painted that kind of scene, too.  Here's "Snap the Whip," a scene in which a group of barefoot boys, holding hands and "snapping the whip" to see if the  child at the fast end can hold on.  Despite the energy of the game, the scene is beset with a sense of stillness; the horizontal lines of field, sky and cloud patterns form a static backdrop, with the rustic red schoolhouse acting as a weight to keep it all in place.  Although I like both paintings, "Snap the Whip" appeals to me more because of the calm landscape.

Born in Boston (1836), Homer spent his childhood in Cambridge.  His  mother, a gifted watercolorist, was his first teacher.  At 19, he apprenticed to a lithographer in Boston but soon joined Harper's Weekly as a freelance illustrator.  After moving to New York City at 23, he opened a studio and began studies at the National Academy of Design.  Two years later, the Civil War broke out, and Harper's sent him to the front lines.  (His lifelong experience as as plein air painter no doubt helped in recording accurate and necessarily quick studies.)  But his journey from illustrator to "easel painter" was short, and he started to exhibit at the National Academy as early as 1863.  Later,  he made trips to France and England, finally settling in Prouts Neck, Maine. Eventually, he started making regular trips to Florida and New York's Adirondack Mountains for a change of scenery before dying in 1910 at 73.  Today, the Portland Museum of Art owns the Prouts Neck Studio, which is open for tours.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Plein Air Convention & Expo 2023

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Next week I’ll be driving up to Denver for the annual Plein Air Convention & Expo.  This year marks the event’s tenth anniversary and my third appearance as a member of the faculty.  This time around, I won’t be presenting but instead will serve as a “field painter.” In addition to painting, my job at each paint-out will be to dispense useful tips, offer help as needed and spread good cheer generally.

The convention has become a big affair.  I think this year we are expecting upwards of a thousand participants, each of them eager to learn from over 80 instructors.  I personally am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, to watching some of my favorite painters at work, and to paint in some spectacular locations.  This year, we’ll be painting in Golden’s historic downtown, spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park—I understand it was very difficult to get the permit—and Eldorado Canyon State Park as well as Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  It looks like we’ll be putting some miles on our vehicles, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

I’ll also be demonstrating for Judson’s Art Outfitters (maker of the fabulous Guerrilla Painter pochade boxes) at their booth in the vendor room.  Judson’s has been a longtime supporter of my art and teaching, and I’m delighted that I can help them in return.  I’ll also have copies of my book, Beautiful Landscape Painting Outdoors, for sale.  If you’ve been wanting a signed copy, this is your chance!

If time permits, I’ll blog about the event.  Failing that, I’ll at least post to Instagram and Facebook.  The event runs from Sunday, May 21, through Thursday, May 25.  There are still a few tickets left, which you can get at  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Encounter: Don Weller

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I have to admit, as an artist living in the West, I don't particularly care for Western Art.  Painting such subject matter today—cowboys, horses, the American Indian—seems like a holdover from the days of Frederic Remington in a desperate attempt to sell paintings to a nostalgic modern public.  (The same might be said about landscape painting, a holdover from the days of Thomas Moran, but I digress.)  Some Santa Fe galleries are full of cowboy paintings, and I pass them by.  It's rare when a piece of Western art catches my fancy.

Recently, I was approached by my editor to interview Utah artist Don Weller, who paints cowboys and horses.  I wasn't too excited about the project initially, but when I started to view his work—it was all new to me—I was hooked.  His work is filled with sparkling color, brilliant brush work and figures of horses and men that possess a quality so dynamic they seem to jump off the page.  To help with research for the article, Don sent me a copy of his book, Don Weller Tracks: A Visual Memoir, which is a hearty "rancher's breakfast" of images with just a peppering of words.  The paintings reproduced therein confirmed my opinion that Here is Western Art I Can Love.

But what makes Don different from the run-of-the-mill painter of Western Art?  He's lived the life, and I can sense this in his paintings.  His work is honest, genuine, made from a lifetime of careful observation and love.

When growing up in eastern Washington State, Don convinced his parents, who knew nothing about horses, to get him one.  He started riding, roping calves and participating in local rodeos.  A fascination with cowboys and horses permeated his childhood.  After graduating from college with a degree in Fine Art—he'd drawn his favorite subjects throughout his early years—and not quite sure what to do, he joined the Air Force for a stint and then moved to Los Angeles for work.  Thus began a decades-long career in graphic design and illustration, with some of his clients being Time Magazine, the Hollywood Bowl, the National Football League, the 1984 Olympics and the US Postal Service, for which he designed five stamps.

Then, tired of the big city, he and his wife (Chikako "Cha Cha" Matsubayashi, also his work partner) moved to a rural part of Utah.  "The rural West with mountains, sagebrush and cowboys—it was still there, just as I left it so long ago."   Not only did he return to riding horses, he also returned to depicting his beloved subject matter in watercolor and oil. Today, Don continues to paint the kind of Western Art I like.

I've included a few images from his website here.  My interview with Don will be in the Fall 2023 issue of Watercolor Artist.  It was a real pleasure to come to know him.  You can see more of his work at

Eyes on the Horns
watercolor 17x26.5

In the Corner, Ennis
watercolor, 9x7

Pasture Trio in Autumn
oil, 10x14

Scratching Out a Ride
oil, 18x24

watercolor, 13.5x11.5

The Rockies
oil, 30x42