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.