Sunday, December 9, 2012

Time Travel

Moonlight on the Merrimac:
Looking Backwards

A friend and I have been discussing the view from his Federal-era house, looking down the hill to the Merrimac River, here in Newburyport. The original owner of the house was also the owner of a wharf along the river, at a time when the port was a thriving center for all things maritime. In fact, the Coast Guard's first revenue cutter was built and launched in Newburyport.

In any event, my friend has a window in his house that no longer looks out upon the landscape. It now peeps into a room that is a newer addition. We were musing about what the view must have been from this window when the house was built, and how it must have offered a long view of the owner's mercantile/maritime interests.

The suggestion was made that perhaps I could essay a painting to fill the now-blind window, one that would evoke the distant view of two centuries ago. 

Here's a grisaille, from today, of my initial thoughts about the scene. Now the street is entirely lined with houses and large trees, but it would have much more open in ca. 1810.

Not putting in trees, either in leaf or not, helps to make it more ambiguous as to season. Since the room is primarily used at night, sunshine might have been a bit disconcerting! 

I chose moonlight. 

This grisaille is 20" x 12", the window itself being 60" x 36". There is much refinement that might be done to this painting. We'll see if the project goes forward.

For you who always want to know the colors, the canvas was toned with a mixture of ultramarine blue and ivory black, very thinly applied. The painting, too, was made with those two colors, mixed together. The moon and its reflection are OH mixed white.

Let me know what you think!   

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Landscape Fiddling 3

Thursday's Progress

Here's the progress on the second one of the two (so far) imaginings, this one being ole man Winter.

Here's where we started:

And here it is, as of today. As you'll see, we've got to plant two more trees. There are a lot of other things to do, to refine, etc., but it's beginning to feel like winter to me. Something's got to be done about the awkward hillside behind the barn.

If you have any pointers for me, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Landscape Fiddling 2

Saturday's Child

First, I've replaced the photo in yesterday's post with one that's much closer to the painting.
It also appears down below.

Today I decided to make another painting of the same imaginary scene. I wasn't terribly scrupulous in making it an exact copy, but it is the same size, and the same general design. I'm thinking of making a number of these (perhaps I love Monet's grain stacks too much!)

I expect this one will be winter. Before you see it again the snow will definitely fall.

Yesterday's has a transparent red oxide priming, whereas this one has a light tint of Blockx Capucine yellow light. Although still quite warm, the overall tonality is much cooler than yesterday's, and will change very much after it snows tonight.

Here's yesterday's. I didn't work on it today as it was still quite wet. These paintings are 25" x 20".  (For those who don't know, height always precedes width).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Landscape Fiddling

Today's Demonstration

In fact, we had no class today.

Remember the question "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

Well then, in that same spirit, what is the answer to the question "if it's a class day, and there are no students, does the instructor still do a demonstration?"

Of course he does.
Here's a landscape demonstration from today, totally imagined, 25"x20".

This photo is a more correct version of the painting 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Drawing in France 3

French Dreamin' ---Part Three

Well, the French drawing posts have certainly been drawing comments and visitors. If you keep stopping by, and keep commenting, I'll keep posting.

Today's group are straight from a French sketchbook. the pages are roughly 8 1/2 x 11" in the original, reduced to fit on the blog page.

You'll see that I generally stress those parts which I most need to remember (often structures and buildings) and I often do the landscape just in outline. Sometimes all I'm after is the sweep of a particular composition, not the particular facts.

In any event, enjoy these pages...and comment (or else!)


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Drawing in France

French Dreamin' --Part Two

Yesterday's post had a lot of visitors, not least from Egypt, Poland and France. So I thought I might post some more drawings. Some are close to where we'll be, others are a bit farther out. 

They all suffer from those same second- or third-generation issues, but I hope you'll enjoy them.

Nothing is more important to a good painting than good drawing----not just drawing as lines, masses and values, but drawing as a conceptual act, irrespective of mark making.

The best advice I can give is draw, draw, and then draw some more.

Please leave a comment if these are at all helpful.


p.s. At the bottom is a still-life from a few years ago. It seems appropriate since it includes a Michelin Guide---another kind of French Dreamin'.


Hmmm...should be "aux" Buissons, methinks (Jon?)



Monday, November 26, 2012

Drawing in France

French Dreamin'

While putting together material for the upcoming blog post about the French Workshop (24-30 June 2013) I was looking through some drawings from the area where we'll be.

When I make sketchbook drawings such as these, I often treat different parts of the drawing in different ways. You'll see that I often just indicate the trees while describing the buildings quite accurately.

Hope you enjoy these. They are, unfortunately, not scanned from the drawings themselves, but from previous low-quality facsimiles----with all the loss of nuance that suggests. Sorry!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Landscape 911

Let's be Perfectly Clear---as long as possible.

Each week my students fall asleep as they hear me say, yet again, "Keep your colors transparent as long as you possibly can!"

I'm a firm believer in the precept  "keep your darks transparent, and load your lights". In my teaching, I try to get students to solve compositional and values issues while still in a transparent stage, before the temptation to color causes muddy mixtures as a consequence of muddy thinking.

Personally, I like to stay transparent as long as possible. This allows me to keep all my options open. An example is this grisaille that I did for my weekly plein air class yesterday. The canvas is 20"x20". This is a big canvas to attempt to take very far when one is also helping students at their easels. By leaving the hasty lay-in en grisaille, I could allow myself to think about the painting more later, when not in class.

Grisaille, strictly speaking, means "in grays', suggesting a nuanced black and white painting. In my loose usage, it means painting essentially in monochrome while keeping everything transparent. In a sense it's just drawing with the brush. With few exceptions, I do this with a mixture of burnt umber and ultramarine. For both I use Rembrandt colors because they are somewhat less-pigmented than some other brands and thus are easier to use transparently. The mixture varies during the grisaille, sometimes tending to the cool side and sometimes toward the warm. In this particular sketch I also used some W&N Prussian green (also transparent) for the grass and large shrub.

This morning, when I arrived at the studio, I immediately thought that I'd like to make yesterday's grisaille into a moonlit scene instead. I was able to completely change my conception of the painting because I'd done my lay-in just in values, essentially drawn in monochrome. If I'd hastily started slapping color on yesterday, under the noonday sun, I wouldn't have had today's option.

I put a quick covering of some homemade Payne's Gray-like color on the sky---just slapped it on. This particular mixture was just ivory black, ultramarine and OH mixed white. It has neither the usual tiny bit of red or of yellow ocher. For now I just wanted a cool, dark color.

I covered the rest with a very thin veil of pure, transparent ultramarine and then wiped off selected areas of the blue to become the "moonlight" on the building. Those bits of ultramarine that remained in the otherwise wiped areas became cast shadows from imaginary branches behind the viewer.

Here's a detail, probably close to actual size.

At this stage of the painting everything is, both literally and figuratively, still fluid. I could yet find a mid-day painting by giving it a different, lighter sky. But I think I'll cast my lot with moonlight.

Now all I have to do is correct the architecture, construct the trees, adjust the values, and paint the painting. Perhaps I'll do none of that, and just enjoy having had fun with it today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Workshops! Workshops!

February and June 2013 Workshops!

The details of the Cotswold Workshop, 10-16 June 2013, are now posted on the the workshop blog.

Have a gander at the details

The French Workshop, 24-30 June, will be posted shortly.

The English and French workshops are designed to be easily taken together, though they may be taken singly. There's a week in-between for travel, sightseeing, or just relaxing. Saving air fare is a great bonus for everyone. Several students are already signed up for both, eager to explore these quite different landscapes. English gardens in June and early summer in La France profonde----how can you beat that?! 

Details will be posted shortly, too, about the Savannah, Georgia Workshop, 11-15 February 2013.

Personally, I'm looking forward to dining with Paula Deen on West Congress Street...not to mention plein air painting in the middle of winter!

All of these workshops already have subscribers. Please don't dillydally if you'd like to join one.

You may write to me here with a reservation request, or to ask questions. Possibly Santa Claus will have an interest?

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Studio Visit

A Visit to the Studio

I've been asked a number of times to post some photos of my studio for all the atelier voyeurs out there. Because I've just had to clean it up for our local Open Studios weekend, I guess this is a good time to
put up some photos. These were all taken, hurriedly, with my phone.
They weren't intended to be the basis of a blog post. So be kind!

Above is a very grainy photo of a 48x72" painting in progress, with my palette table to the right.

And the palette table, closer up.

And here are a couple of other shots around the studio.

It's a bit dark for many artists' practice, but it suits me just fine. You'll see that I keep the venetian blinds drawn. Since what I'm painting isn't actually in front of me, I don't need the even temperature of north light. But I do need consistency. By always painting under my lights, the conditions are always the same and----day or night----I can pick up exactly where I left off, under exactly the same conditions as I had left it. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Painting in November

Rough Meadows Septet

On Friday, November 2, and Saturday, November 3, we had consecutive classes with different casts (for the most part). Both days we went to Rough Meadows Audubon Sanctuary in Rowley, Massachusetts.

Part of the Great Marsh, this property is a landscape painter's dream, especially in the autumn. For the two classes, I decided to divide up a 24x30" canvas into seven parts. I toned the lower portion of five of the rectangles, and completely toned the remaining two, vertical ones.

Because both days were class days, I wasn't able to spend much time on my own canvas, but here's what I got down.

One the right-middle, vertical panel, I showed that another strategy for making trees is to paint the negative spaces (the sky) so that the trees emerge as positive shapes.
We had Open Studios last weekend in Amesbury, and a lot of time was spent trying to make my studio presentable. This was followed with two intense days of meeting and greeting, very enjoyable, but very tiring. I mention this because it explains why I haven't got much further on the septet.
Last Friday, the 9th, we were again back at Rough Meadows. Here's a 16x20" quartet of grisailles done then. It seems I'm much like a squirrel at this time of the year: going crazy, saving nuts for winter.

A few of us went back to the site this past Monday, a beautiful, stolen, plein air day...66 degrees and sunshine on the twelfth of November.

And, as if that weren't blessing enough, Bill and Deb showed up at lunchtime with home-made clam chowder. Delicious! Thanks again.

Studio time, yesterday and today, gave me a bit of a chance to think about what I wanted to do with the Septet. Here's where I got to. Much yet to be done, of course. But I now know pretty much what each section will be like.

Hope you're finding plein air painting days where you are----if so, leave a comment (below) and let us know.

Paint well!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Walking All the Way Around

Blue Guitars, Madame Moitessier, and Maple Trees

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."
The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."
----- from Wallace Stevens, The Man with the Blue Guitar  (1937)

I'm often struck by how hastily we make decisions about the apparent truth of what we (think we) see. I think it's usually a good idea, when practical, to take a 360-degree ramble around what you intend to paint. Although you will be ostensibly painting only one side of the object(s), what you know about the other sides may well make for a better version of the side in view.

I'm reminded of Mme. Moitessier's arm, in the portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. I often think of her arm when I seek to make a well-graded transition. Notice how Ingres defines the curve around her wrist. It's a pretty tight turn. But notice how gentle and voluptuous is the second curve.

Ingres tells us exactly what takes place on those portions of the arm we can't see by the way in which he treats the edges of those parts we can. At her wrist the curve away from us is rapid, defined by the form of the underlying bones. But, on her upper arm, the transition is as slow and languorous as one could possibly imagine. The fleshiness of Madame's arm is entirely described by the two different rates with which Ingres describes how the two parts turn away from the viewer. 

Still on the subject of seeing, and on the suggestion of walking around your motif, I present a tree in the local cemetery, ablaze with its autumn color. It's a curious tree. If it were in a pasture, you might correctly guess that its lowest leaves had been browsed by cattle, creating that rather clipped bottom edge typical of pasture trees.

Cows notwithstanding, it's a very interesting tree. But I think you might miss an important fact if you failed to take two minutes to walk 'round it. There's some information to be found there which I think you ought to know.

This photo is taken from what would be the extreme right edge of the previous shot, 90 degrees removed from the original.
As you can see, this view shows that in fact it's really two trees. 

I can't promise you'll paint the painting better by knowing this. But I think the fact of the two trees would make me paint the transitions and edges with more care.

As Stevens said,

"Things as they are 
are changed upon the blue guitar."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wet Paint History

A Thirty-first Anniversary

Thirty-one years ago this September, I was thinking about how to convince  my New York artist friends to get on the train and to come paint with me along the Hudson.

It came to me that they might be lured by a box lunch and a chance to sell a painting. So I arranged to do a fund-raising event to benefit the Garrison Art Center, in Garrison, New York. This small hamlet had been the set for the movie Hello, Dolly! and had a substantial number of supporters of the arts.

I recruited artists, a number from New York, quite a few from Garrison and the surrounding towns, including a celebrity or two. The deal was that for $10 (as I remember) the artists got some coffee and doughnuts on arrival, and they took away a box lunch.

I managed to cajole some publicity, particularly from the newspaper in Peekskill, New York. Thus was born the first Artists on Location/Wet Paint event.

1981 Poster, courtesy of Janelle Cleary
Although I'm somewhat appalled at the illustration I provided for the poster, and at my willingness to sign it in pencil, it was great to receive the photo of the poster from an old friend, Janelle Cleary.

The event was a great success, and it has continued in Garrison for all the intervening years, spawning other events all across the country and, for all I know, around the world.

If anyone has any information about a wet paint event that precedes this one, I should be interested to hear. Otherwise, it may be time to call Ripley's.

Cheers, Donald




Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seacoast Art Association

An Evening Demonstration


Last night found me, and about 50 hearty souls, at the Seacoast Art Association's Gallery in Exeter, New Hampshire. I gave a landscape demonstration and answered some questions. It was a spirited audience and my hosts were very gracious.
SAA Demonstration, 16x20"
Here's the state of the painting at the end of the evening. It's a phone photo, so bear with it, please! If it's dry enough tomorrow, I may show the Friday class what comes next. If I do, I'll post the results.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Out in the Field

A Pair of Beeches and a Sweet Chestnut

Yesterday found the Friday plein air class back at Oak Hill. We started out at 38 degrees, and managed to just get to 50 degrees by the time we stopped. This might not have been so daunting but we had a persistent breeze into the bargain.

Nonetheless, we're all hearty souls, and we painted on!

Here's a photo of the demonstration I did en grisaille (I guess it should be en brunaille, really), finally painting these two massive beech trees that I've known for some years. 

Somehow they've thrived, while being only a few feet from each other. They seem rather like an old couple, making allowances for each other.

Oil, canvas tinted with Old Holland transparent red oxide, 24"x18"

Oil, on a canvas tinted with Old Holland transparent red oxide.

During the Scottish workshop, I painted the tree below en plein air It's a 400-year old+ sweet chestnut, one of three remaining from an allee planted by the Augustinian canons, some fifty-odd years before the birth of Rembrandt.
Oil on linen mounted to panel, 18" x 15"

It's quite sketchy, but it brings me back immediately to the sense of ye wildwoode that these trees conjured up.  A bigger contrast to the peaceful majesty of the beech trees would be hard to imagine.

Behind are hazels, which grow from a base called a 'stool'. The canons would harvest them for poles, tool handles, etc., growing them as a crop. Soon new shoots would grow up from the stools, and in a few years there would more poles to harvest.

Paint well!

Return of the Natives

Our Scottish Idyll!

Safely home, it's time to reflect a bit on our Scottish idyll. I, for one, had a marvelous time, painting in sunshine and under clouds. The landscape, as you will know, is one of great variety, and we were hard-pressed to decide what to tackle next. Here we are, on the first day, high up in the Queen Elizabeth National Forest, just beginning the day's work. The shifting clouds made ever-changing patterns on the hills, posing a challenge in terms of fixing a specific motif yet, at the same time, creating an exhilarating sense of the sky on the move.

Our second day found us along the edge of Loch Venachar, amid a grove of trees. During our time there we were questioned by some curious park rangers, eager to note that the spot was full of landscape painters. In fact, they took quite a number of photos of us. It seems it's possible that we'll be featured in the National Parks calendar for 2013, illustrating artists using the great resources of the parks. Perhaps we'll have our own version of Calendar Girls!

A landscape painter's dream, I'd say! (photo Christine Elvin)

On Monday, the skies were sullen, with spitting rain. We decided that it should be the day to go see the Glasgow Boys in their dedicated space at the Kelvingrove Art Museum in Glasgow. The museum (free) is a treasure trove of art and natural history. We spoke about the Glasgow boys paintings as we went around the gallery, seeing some familiar work in person for the first time. We also were entranced by the Raeburn portraits and by Bastien-Lepage's  La Pauvre Fauvette.

James Guthrie, Hard At It

Henry Raeburn, Mrs. William Urquhart

Jules Bastien-Lepage, La Pauvre Fauvette


On day four, we were off to Inchmahome Priory on the island of Inchmahome, smack in the middle of the Lake of Mentieth. Here's the island from the air.

And here we are, waiting to board the twelve-person 'ferry' to the island.

 A view of the church at Port of Mentieth as we embarked.

Once we arrived at Inchmahome, we found ourselves in a magical landscape---the ruins of the 13th century Priory of the Augustinian canons didn't disappoint.

We had a great day of painting, so much so that we all agreed to go back the next day. As luck would have it, we had a birthday girl among us. Compliments of the owners of our B&B, we had a lovely chocolate cake with which to celebrate. But where's the birthday girl---Big Red? She's not in the photo!

My kind students suggested that I take the morning to paint just for myself, without doing a demonstration. I hie'd me to the adjacent woods where there are three remaining sweet chestnuts, planted by the canons four-hundred plus years ago. (A photo of the painting will be in my next post.)

The afternoon brought the rounds of helping students as they forged ahead with their work.

We were sorry to leave at day's end. It had been a magical two days, far removed from the world, thrust, seemingly, deep into the middle ages.

The town where we all were staying was a wonderful place. All of our accommodations were great, and we received much help from the folks at the tourist board, and from the hosts of our B&Bs. Here are some different photos of the early morning in Callander. The River Teith winds through an area called Callander Meadows, right along the main street.

And everyone's favorite hardware store in Callander:

On our last painting day, we were somewhat confounded by rain in the morning. Set up we did, where I laid in a grisaille of this view.

But those clouds over Ben Ledi continued to mass and, a short moment later, my easel was under a Fenway Park poncho!

In true Scottish fashion, however, the sun came out again after twenty minutes. One of us had retired for the day, with an easel broken by being upset by the wind. Lunch awaited. 

Several of us set up again. Of course the clouds amassed anew. Being prudent adults, we decamped for the pub.


Soon we were fortified by real ale and tea, and off we went to an ancient bridge I'd seen.

We all painted good starts, desperately pretending that our magical stay in Scotland was not drawing to a close!

The night before, we had all dined together at Callander Meadows, a lovely restaurant on Callander's Main Street. I, of course, had to have the sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

On Saturday, class over, we were off in different directions, using our few remaining precious days in Scotland. Some were off to Edinburgh, some into Ayrshire, and others organizing their departure.

We had had a stupendous time. Everyone seemed to make great progress with their work and I found my own head filled with Scottish images, just waiting to burst forth in the studio.

Next February, we expect to be in Savannah, and June will find us in both England and in France. Join a workshop---you come, too! If you'd like me to keep you posted on these three events, or if you wish to sign up, write to me at The workshops are quite limited in size, so be in touch soon if you want to be included in our next adventures!

Happy Painting!

p.s. I can truthfully say that I've never, in my many decades of traveling, ever had a better lodging than we had at the Westerton B&B in Callander. Mike and Lesley were the most remarkable hosts, anticipating our every need! We arrived as guests and left as friends. I encourage you to visit them for a truly wonderful Highland experience.