Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More Bagatelle

Skidaway CPR...Part Two,
et à toute à l'heure!

Spent a bit of time today on the cast-off I blogged about yesterday. Mostly strengthening things, working on values, etc.

Here's our progression so far.

You'll see I made things a lot darker. I'm still looking for the mood I want. The lightness at the top of the version above is mostly because my easel lights tend to favor the top of the paintings. Nonetheless, it suggests lighting the treetops. I might do that. We'll see.

Well that's some drama, anyway. There's so much wet paint on it at the moment that more was impossible to do right now. It can rest and dry while we intrepid ones paint in France.

One might well think that I should have reasonable hand/eye coordination. I think that's true. But it falls apart when I need to type on my android phone. 
What this means in practice is that the blog will be on holiday for a coupla weeks. But you'll be able to follow, in photos, what we're up to by checking in at

See you there!
And don't worry....I'll eat some warm croissants for you!  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Mere Bagatelle

Skidaway CPR

At the end of the workshop in Savannah, this past February, I began this 16x20" panel. I clearly wasn't very focused, and I spent most of my time helping students. There had also been a report of an alligator not far away. Enough excuses?

In any event, I found this today, and as I was feeling like just noodling around on something that didn't really count, I gave it a go.

Like most paintings of this sort, I included about forty-too-many skinny tree trunks. 

When I looked at it this morning, I decided I wouldn't try to recreate the feeling of the tropical foliage (and alligator). It has migrated north, and now could comfortably be somewhere in New England.

What I was most interested in was creating some sort of mood. I think that's happening. It is still entirely in transparent color, except the sky holes and some of the orange light in the far distance. 
I expect there will be a great deal more remodeling to be done. But now I have a sense of where it might go.

Sometimes people write wondering why I show dubious starts and sometimes include later disasters. I suppose the real reason is that the painting process is not always smooth, no matter how long you've done it. Part of the job of helping people learn to paint is being honest about the difficulties.

It's also important to allow yourself to re-think a previous idea. If this becomes a woodland stream north of Boston, instead of an alligator-infested backwater in the low country, it isn't a crime. It isn't even important.

I still have to edit all those tree trunks, especially in the reflection. Never enough time!


Monday, June 17, 2013


Also on the French Schedule... the Moulin d'Angibault, and its stretch along the river Vauvre.

This is one of my favorite spots in the Berry. When I was first there they were beginning the process of restoring the mill. I wrote about it in the sketchbook.

Here's a drawing of the mill from that time.

Here's a recent photo from the website of the mill.

(photo Redbubble)
I'm often reluctant to include photos with my drawings---lest I let you down. But this doesn't miss by much and, anyway, I can insist that any deviations between the two are because of the renovations.

Here are some other drawings from there.

 And another photo.

"Marcelle looked at this peaceful and charming place that spoke to her heart though she knew not why. She had seen more beautiful... But there are places that dispose us to indescribable emotion, and where it seems that destiny draws us ... " 

This is a loose translation from George Sand's 1845 novel,
Le Meunier d'Angibault, partly set at the mill. Even today it is a spot of extraordinary loveliness.

I'm looking forward to sharing it with everyone on the French Workshop.  


Summer Workshops

July and August Workshops

I don't mean to be an alarmist, but it seems to me that we need to make plans for a couple more outings before Labor Day.

The July Weekend Workshop is filling. There are a few remaining places. July 20-21.

I can do two in August. By then I'll be getting anxious that the summer's getting away from us, and I'll be dreading snow and slush.
The August weekends, should there be enough interest, will August 9-10 and August 24-25.

If you'd like to participate in any of these weekends, please contact Sarajean Graham, Keeper of the List, at

Paint well!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Digging Around

Speaking of Gardens...

The last post, about our upcoming painting workshop in France and, especially, painting at the garden of the Prieure d'Orsan, has put me to reminiscing about the garden that Kim and I created at our house in France between 2002 and 2005. 

When we bought this property in 2000, the garden looked like this:

The property consisted of an enclosed space (above), a house, a combination dilapidated guest house/garage, a small garden building, and a very large barn. All of the buildings were arranged around a farmyard, with a gate to the road.

The house had no heat, and virtually no electricity. There was really nothing you might call a kitchen and there was one very creepy bathroom. From 2001 to 2002, we meticulously restored the house. Finally, in Spring 2002, we were able to install ourselves. Now it was garden time.

Behind the house was a small, walled enclosure which also backed up to the garage. In this space was a large boxwood, footed by some mahonia, a somewhat sad espaliered pear, and some box remnants which you will see in the lower left corner of this photo. The area was filled with very tough pasture grass and quite a bit of rubbish. We laid out a rough square and planted several hundred small box to define the edges. The extant large box was coaxed into a cylindrical shape. We used gravel to make a sitting area since this garden was right off the kitchen. You'll see that we made the paths from discarded terracotta roof tiles. Although they continued to fracture in place, with all the foot traffic and wheelbarrow rolling, they mostly stayed where we wanted them. Here's what it looked like from the second-storey of the main house by the time we sold the property in 2005. You'll see that the new box plants haven't yet caught up to those few older pieces.

At the bottom left of the photo above, there is a gate going to the forecourt. Here's a photo of the view from the herb garden side. It looks out on roses, iris, fading wisteria, the mare (a small, sloping stone water tank used for washing cattle, etc.), and upon a slice of the larger Brionnais landscape.

Meanwhile, we were working like crazy to extirpate all the tough, noxious growth in the main, front garden. The work on the house had yielded a great deal of stone rubble. Rather than have the masons cart it away, I had them put it in a pile behind the barn, to serve as an ad hoc quarry for garden building. First we tamed a large rectangle immediately in front of the main facade, covering it with gravel for a bit of a cheap, informal terrace. We decided to leave the two somewhat-ratty boxwood ovals. Between them I built a set of circular steps, a la Lutyens, using the discarded stone. Here's an al fresco supper table, toward the end of that summer.

By now the garden had begun to take shape. What follows are a group of rather random photos of the garden. You'll find the moral of this story at the bottom of this post. 
Those of you who have made gardens, or are making them still, know that they are often of just a moment. As I often say about paintings, "they are merely the record of the skirmish".

In the photo above, the house is on the right, with the large barn in the center. This is the waste ground from the original photo after a great deal work. We had no mechanical equipment, save a lawnmower, and only our four hands. It was a lot of work, but a great joy.   

Below, a misty night... and dinner guests expected.

It was all a great pleasure. But we found that owning a house in France somewhat discouraged us from traveling very much ourselves. We had an abundance of friends and family come to stay and and we have a storehouse of great memories.

The moral of the story, as I promised, is coming up. In 2005 we sold the house to a Swiss couple who converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. Now it was theirs to cherish or to change.

And the garden? It was too much work, I guess. So they put it all back to lawn. Go figure.

If you garden, I needn't say more.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A French Preview

A Garden in Eden...made to be painted


Welcome to the Prieure N.-D. d'Orsan in Maisonnais, fourteen miles from our workshop headquarters in La Chatre.

In 1996, I stumbled upon the Priory, heeded a welcome sign, and found myself in an enchanted world. Here was a recently derelict group of marvelous buildings brought back to life through the vision of two architects, Patrice Taravella and Sonia Lesot.

At this stage the project was only three years old. They had, nonetheless, made great strides in protecting and restoring the buildings and in making the garden.

Everything was very informal, and I found an opportunity to talk with them both. But eventually their unrelenting tasks, and my need to make some drawings, sent us all off to work. Here's a drawing from that visit.

And another.

The Priory began its life in 1107. All that the monks needed would be produced here. The owners have made an extraordinary garden, respecting the monastic heritage but invigorating every design touch by their consummate taste.

I have just been in touch with Patrice, and we are welcome to come paint in the garden during our French Workshop. What fun we shall have! The Priory is also a tiny hotel (3 rooms, I think) of the Relais et Chateau group, We'll be able to get some lovely things for our lunch break. Patrice has said we may come any of the days, so we'll be sure to pick a gloriously sunny one.

We can paint from ten in the morning until seven in the evening. The fee, so you can save up, is 10 euros. If, however, you are able to convince them that you are a child of less height than one metre ten, you can get in for five euros.

I, for one, couldn't be more excited to paint at Orsan. Here's a video from the BBC, featuring Patrice interviewed by English gardening writer Monty Don.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Landscape 911


We had gray weather for the beginning of Saturday's workshop, with the sky trying to clear after Friday night's rain (about 3.5", almost 9 cm). By the end of our session the sky had cleared and was a vibrant blue with some ragged white clouds.

One positive thing that Friday night's rain did bring was a nice group of puddles, strung out along the dirt lane where we were painting. Generally, everyone faced the farm fields. One intrepid painter, a fellow of inexhaustible good cheer, decided to make the puddles his purview.

The canvas was turned to be a vertical rectangle, and he essayed a curved road ending in a section with puddles. Initially, however, he didn't manage to keep all the puddle areas flat. And, of course, a puddle that isn't flat quickly empties. 

We spoke of taking a drinking glass, half-full of water, and tipping it until the water begins to leak out. All through the tipping the water remains dead level, just until it reaches the lip of the glass. The same is true of puddles. A slope can have a puddle but only if there is a sufficient lip on the downhill side to keep the water flat. It's not a very usual condition.

Thus the problem was to relocate the puddles onto the flat part of the road. By Sunday's end, it was looking pretty good.

This morning I was thinking about those puddles. I decided to make an oil sketch (16x20) of a scene similar to the one my friend was painting. Initially, it was just a linear lay-in.

After a bit, I added some masses in grisaille.

I like to do this part, making marks that will ultimately be revealed by subsequent transparent veils and obscured by opaque passages. It's about having something to paint into.

At that point I stopped and met with two of the participants in the French Workshop. We divided fresh tubes of all the colors on my extended list into three piles. Between us we won't use more than a third of a tube in our five sessions, and now we have lightened our baggage load quite a bit. We also spent some time making our traveling panels. As many of you know, I much prefer to paint on stretched canvas. But packing six or eight 16 x 20" (40x50 cm) canvases is a chore. They manage to be both fragile and bulky. So we used some PVA glue to mount our Claessens canvas to gator board. The pile was loaded with weights, and tomorrow I'll tint the panels.

Having done that, the grisaille had set up pretty well. So I added some transparent color: Prussian green, ultramarine, permanent brown madder, and a touch of sap green. I just wanted to get some color in the masses so that I have something to paint into tomorrow. As you'll see, I played with one of the puddles. Tomorrow we'll see about puddle designing for real.

 You will see that, despite the crudeness of the current state, the puddle lays flat, not threatening to leak. Always remember that puddles, except right by your feet, are always foreshortened. It's what helps them stay in place.

Tomorrow, should I find the time, I'll work on this some more. It's rather fun to make a sketch where eighty percent of the painting merely serves as a context for a star turn by two muddy puddles.

What I must make sure is that the landscape stays as a supporting actor, not trying to upstage the puddles. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Saturday Night Fever

Three Saturday Events

First among the three is Day One of the June Weekend Workshop. It looks like there may be a couple of raindrops to dodge on Saturday, but we should be fine for our longer session on Sunday. There will also be a July Weekend Workshop (20&21). If you'd like to be part of that, please write to Sarajean, or to me at

From a class last May

On Saturday evening will be the Newburyport Art Association's Artful Feast, an auction of work by the members in support of the NAA.

My painting, which you may know from the blog last fall, will be auctioned to the highest bidder. If you'd like to leave an absentee bid, please call Elena Bachrach at 978-465-8769.

Also on Saturday night, at Quidley and Co (my Boston gallery), is the opening of their annual catalogue exhibition
In Good Company. This year's show features work from 29 of the gallery's artists. Representing me is The Hayloft, which you may also remember from the blog (sorry that it's black and white).

Of course you could come on Saturday evening and see it in color! Here's the scoop:

 In Good Company

June 8 – 27th 2013
Opening Reception:  Saturday June 8, 2013

Quidley & Company Fine Art
38 Newbury Street, 5th floor (between Arlington and Berkeley)
Boston, MA 02116

 Perhaps I'll see you there.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

More From the Crypt

Resuscitating Another One

I decided to take a break on the moonlit one, and to dig into the dark corner for another previously started painting. 

I came up with a start (16x20) from a class, possibly the latter part of last June. In any event, it was our first class held at Oak Hill Cemetery which, in addition to its expected denizens, is also home to one of the best collections of mature trees you'll find.

But, before we get to tha,t I must thank Sutrent who commented on yesterday's blog post, offering some corrective thoughts on perspective. Jon Main commented from France, mentioning that I have been referencing my childhood a lot. I promised in my comment to address that tonight.

I am one of those who believe that we best create when we are able to approach our work with a sense of wonder. For me, it's all spelled out by this quote from Albert Camus:

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Wyeth's  Blind Pew was a big part of that awakening for me.


Anyway, let's get on to today's effort. 

Here's the start I found. Clearly I had done a quick grisaille, and then had rushed it a bit to show the application of some subsequent color.

I do remember that I took great liberties with this. There was no distant hill, and it really wasn't such a defined road. 

Today, I set about to create a bit of mood, with some mystery in the shadows. Below you'll see how far I got. 

I think the photo, below, is a bit dark. The road will need to have its edges dissolve into the grass. At the moment they are much too defined, and too predictable. The road, as now painted, is not as white as this image. 

I don't know if this painting will get any sky. It definitely won't get snow, but moonlight is always in the back of my mind. It won't be winter or spring, but it could easily become autumn instead of summer.

The repeating "vees" of the shadows must be changed, probably by redesigning the one under the tree line. I will probably introduce some lighter, vertical mass on the left-hand side. (This whole photo seems a bit too cool in color).

Nonetheless, most of these things won't be noticed once I put in Hannibal's elephant column on its march north.

More anon.