Painting at Olana

Painting at Olana, the estate of Frederic Church, with fellow members of NYPAP, for the 2nd annual Ted Beardsley Memorial Paintout. Again, I’m a little rushed, but here are snapshots of what I did yesterday.

Olana overlook, approaching sunset, 12X16 oil, by little ol’ me.
Bea Gustafson painting the sky.
My first sketch, about 45 minutes. I am not accustomed to the long view, living on the Lake Plains as I do. Pretty cool view, but it wasn’t until evening that I really figured it out.
Second painting, Dame’s Rocket in an old orchard.
It wasn’t until I was totally tapped out that I realized Olana is totally organized to the sunset. As Thomas Cole lives across the river, I wondered: was Thomas Cole a morning person and Frederic Church an evening person? If so, each would be happiest with their own view.
August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME… and the other sessions are selling fast.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Climbing the Catskills in easy stages

The mist through the early morning trees.
By the time you’re reading this I’ll have painted all day at Olana at the 2nd Annual Ted Beardsley Memorial Paint-Out. Yesterday I drove to Kingston and saw Bruce Bundock’s fantastic show at the Rosendale Café, and then on to Jamie Grossman’s lovely home in the Catskills.

This morning, at the crack of dawn, I set off on an amble through the Catskill countryside. I confess that as much as I’ve wandered the byways of New York, this was the longest hike I’ve ever taken in this area.
Episcopal Church in Palenville was atmospheric as all get out, but when the mist burned off, it was more prosaic.
Outhouses? I have a knack for finding them.
I would love to know the history of this building. It’s a meeting house, with the balcony and rood screen still in place, attached to a house of the same vintage.
The stone wall is a fixture of the northeast, but varies in form  depending on the underlying rocks.
Jamie has six waterfalls on her property. I’ve admired this one many times from the bottom, but this morning I looked at it from the top. It’s calling to me.
Sun tea in the early morning mist!
Oh, no! There’s a branch across this waterfall! Where’s the son-in-law with his chain saw when you need him?

Thoughts of Maine

Downtown Rockland, not exactly last week. (Rockland Main Street, Inc. website.)
A few people have asked me why I—a person with a decidedly urban personality—like Rockland, ME so much.
If we were in Rockland this evening, we could attend a lecture at the Farnsworth comparing Giotto’s “Life of Christ” and Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” Rockland is a town of 7,297 people, in a county of 39,736—and this is the off-season.  
To compare, I checked the schedule of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. (Rochester has a population of 210,565, in a county of 744,344, and that’s the gallery of the well-regarded University of Rochester.) Tonight they are offering… well, nothing. But yesterday we could have done “Yoga at the MAG.”
Lyceums and Chautauqua assemblies were wonderful American 19th century phenomena, concentrated here in the Northeast and in the Midwest. In fact, the Chautauqua movement was founded just south of Buffalo in 1874, at the New York Chautauqua Assembly, which lives to this day as the Chautauqua Institute.
They served up a heady stew of evangelism, populism, education and entertainment. There was an assumption—now largely gone, alas—that the average man hungered for culture, education and entertainment. Today we watch reality TV instead, and most institutions honestly believe that nobody cares to think Big Thoughts anymore.
But back to Maine: the Farnsworth is a fantastic place, well worth a visit. But it’s just one of many fantastic places in this area, which is why I’m so anxious that you join me for one of my workshops. We’ll be painting at lighthouses, beside quiet coves, along rock-strewn beaches. We’ll be going to Monhegan to paint as well.
And if you ever doubt whether this teacher is worth her hire, let me tell you that I know where the bathrooms are.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Do you want a little paint with that wine?

Sue at the end of a wonderful evening painting at Durand Eastman. Nobody else painted a watercolor like that, I assure you.
The first time I heard of a Paint Night Event was when a student came back from a business trip to tell me he’d participated in one. Since I like wine and painting, I recognized it immediately as a tremendous idea, one I wish I’d thought of myself.
The premise is simple: a bunch of people gather in a bar or restaurant and paint under the direction of an instructor. The price varies from £40 in London (with hors d’ouevres) to $35 – $50 in Boston (with two cocktails) to $45 at the unbelievable 84 franchises of “Painting with a Twist” (with wine).
This is not painting instruction in any real sense; it is more like “follow the leader” or arts-and-crafts at camp. The instructor stands at the front of the class and guides the participants step-by-step through a set piece. If everything goes according to plan, the 30 or so participants should all end up with exactly the same painting.
Catherine and Lynn at sunset at Lock 32. A highly suspicious plastic cup, if you ask me.
To a painter, this seems weird—almost as weird as getting a paint-by-number kit for one’s birthday. But to non-artists, it seems to be tremendously satisfying. I’ve talked to people who’ve really enjoyed it. And if it motivates a few people to be interested in really learning to paint, that would be fantastic.
The problem is that painting is ultimately a powerful form of personal communication, and that requires a journey of discovery—not solitary, exactly, but individually guided.
We have been known to drink wine in our summer plein air classes as well, but usually under the trees as the light softly fades and we’re cleaning our brushes. Speaking of which, we move to weekday evening classes this month. If you’re interested in joining us, contact me by email
Nobody should expect to turn out work that looks like mine or anyone else’s in either my classes or workshops. I’d feel like a total failure if that happened.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Amazing what you find if you clean your room.

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 
It’s Memorial Day. I’m not up to anything particularly deep about the meaning or execution of art. Instead, I’m giving you Steve Ditko being deep about the meaning of art and heroism: selected panels from “The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes,” Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. Script by  D.C. Glanzman, Penciled by Steve Ditko, Inked by Steve Ditko.
You want to read the whole thing? I recommend you hunt down the comic book, since it’s still under copyright. But, pretty much, you can see where he’s going with this.
From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

In 1968, clothing was a better indication of social status than it is today. But oddly enough, as the elite has become more nihilistic in America, their clothing has gotten rattier. Coincidence?

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

I don’t think I paint women in bondage because I’m celebrating their nature, but rather I’m celebrating their ability to endure. But he has a point here:

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

 And I’m just happy to see this type of cultural critic lampooned. He never changes.

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

Ditko comes perilously close to the idea that there is a spiritual battle being fought all around us, one we cannot see unless we have “spiritual eyes.” I suppose that is a kind of superpower.

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

This makes me want to stick to landscape painting.

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 

 This was definitely the 20th century battle of viewpoints:

From The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes, Blue Beetle, Vol. 1, No. 5, November 1968, Charlton Comics Group, Derby Connecticut. 
Speaking of heroes, I’ve been thinking all day about ArmyPfc. Dwane A. Covert Jr. of Tonawanda, NY, killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom on November 3, 2007.
We are involved in an endless war that seems to have few casualties, so it’s easy to forget the ones our nation has suffered. But a moment to remember the men and women who have fallen in the quest to keep us safe does not come amiss.
August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

Drawing or painting?

Ancient Catalpa Tree, 6X8, oil on canvas, by little ol’ me.
It was a week of very unsettled weather, when even NOAA didn’t have a firm grasp on what would happen next. (Among other things, the daytime temperature dropped forty degrees.) After cancelling plans twice due to threatening rain only to watch the sky clear almost immediately, I made plans on Thursday to paint with Carol Thiel. We got to our site in Mendon (south of Rochester), set our stuff up, did our drawings, laid out our paints, and took a few brush strokes—and the sky opened up.
Now, Carol may harbor dreams of getting back there, but I have decades of half-finished paintings in my closet. I know the chances of recreating that opportunity are slim. Sad, because it was a good drawing.
On Friday, I headed west toward Buffalo after rush hour traffic cleared, catching a long traffic jam on the way. It rained all the way to the toll barrier, and by the time I reached Glen Park, it was merely spitting and cold. I was an hour behind schedule. This time I found a bench and sat down to draw in graphite. (I’m off to paint with JamieGrossman this week, and I thought it might be nice to brush up on waterfalls, since she has so darn many of them.)
Glen Park in Williamsville, on a miserable spitting late Spring day… graphite on Bristol board, by little ol’ me.
Saturday dawned clear and cold, with fleecy high clouds. My class was scheduled to paint at a farm in Honeoye Falls, but this being a holiday weekend, I didn’t expect many students. And I was right. It was a good opportunity to introduce a new student to oil painting, so I had my kit with me.
When she left, I was able to crank out the painting of an ancient catalpa tree at the top of this page. Is it a drawing? Is it a painting? Sure. Most importantly, it’s finished.
August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

In the end, it all comes down to footwear.

Practical for plein air painting as long as there aren’t deer ticks.

CT asks: I paint with water-soluble oils. I don’t know if this goes for regular oil paints, too, but I’m struck by the various textures and viscosities of different colors—from a cadmium yellow so thick it’s hard to get it out of the tube, to oily paints like the siennas. I know that you’re dealing with different pigments, so it takes different amount of oil to suspend them. But when you are trying to paint with them, how do you deal with the extremes? (Maybe you’ll tell me that that’s not a problem with “real” oil paint.)
Yes, water-miscible oils behave differently from regular oils. When severely thinned, water miscible paint tends to slip around like watercolor. When used straight from the tube, it tends to drag more than conventional oils. This means that the natural impact of viscosity range is somewhat exaggerated for you.
That range comes from the pigments themselves.  A paint’s opacity is directly related to its particle size (ergo its viscosity). The oldest pigments—the earths—tend to have large particles and be relatively heavy paints, since they’re basically just ground-up minerals. The 19th century pigments—most notably the cadmiums—tend to be moderately-large particles and so are moderately heavy. The 20th century transparent synthetic organic pigments generally tend to be high stain and more transparent.
There are a couple other factors involved. Making paint is an art in itself, and various manufacturers mill and mix pigments differently. Different brands of paint have radically different pigment loads, so the same color from two different makers may vary greatly in texture. Some paintmakers use driers, and sometimes paints sit for a long time before being sold, meaning you occasionally come up with a half-dried tube right from the store. Paints that stand (especially in high temperatures) can separate,  so the beginning of the tube is all oil and the end is stiff.
A sophisticated painter understands and works with the natural weights of pigments. This is especially crucial in watercolor, but it’s true for opaque media as well. This is, in fact, the fundamental trick of indirect painting, where a base painting of transparent earth tones is laid down and then painted into with opaque paints.
Cute, and about $8 from Old Navy, but ridiculous for plein air painting.

TG asks: “What kind of shoes do you recommend for plein airpainting?”
Next week I’ll be painting during a cocktail party fundraiser for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  I’m tentatively planning on wearing red patent-leather flats, a beaded skirt, silk blouse and pearls (with a smock, of course). But I admit that isn’t my typical painting garb.
There are two major issues with footwear: that you can tolerate being on your feet for several hours at a time, and that they be suitable for the environment in which you’re painting.
When working in an area without deer ticks, I favor sport sandals that can tolerate water. (I often find myself not just painting the river but slopping around in the river.)

But ticks (or black flies) mean you have to have a bug barrier of some kind, and the most effective one I know is clothing: long pants, socks and sneakers.
In the winter, I wear waterproof hiking boots and wool socks if I’m likely to get my shoes wet, or sneakers and wool socks if I’m not. Some painters carry a scrap of carpet on which to stand.
If you’re in an area with rough trails and you plan on backpacking your painting stuff up them, real hiking boots are in order. There is no agony like that of insufficient footwear on a rough trail, particularly if you’re packing any weight in a backpack.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

There’s a bathroom on the right…

“Joep Nicolas worked on these windows during the last twelve years of his life. Although he was a mature painter and a master glazier, it was evident his work evolved during the tenure of the project. This window is the greatest, in my opinion. It is a presentation of what was transpiring in the heavenlies during the dark period when Nazi Germany engulfed Holland. The lowest creature in the composition is a beast with ten heads and ten crowns and the heads are heads of lions.  This image is taken from the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. Above the beast, angels of God war against it. Above them are figures of people in the Bible, or they could be called Saints. The red sun is the sun of freedom, and there are badges which look like they are represent armies of the conflict on earth, including the Stars and Stripes of the USA,” wrote Gowing.
Toby Gowing recently visited the Oude Kerk in Delft in order to study the stained glass windows of Joep Nicolas, who, as she says, “is someone I had never heard of until my recent interest in stained glass, an artist who should be famous for this work.” Her photos of these windows are so exquisite I asked her if I could share them here.
Joep Nicolas (1897-1972) was a third-generation glazier, learning his craft in the family studio founded by his grandfather in 1855. He was considered an innovator in glass painting during his lifetime. By the age of 25, he was creating professional church windows; at age 28 he had won a major prize at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.
Nicolas lived in the United States from the start of WWII until 1958, and made ​​22 church windows here.
After his return to the Netherlands, he was commissioned to do the windows of the Oude Kerk. These windows are his most famous works.
“This is all glass, and everything that looks drawn or shaded is hand painted, said Gowing. “It has to be painted in a special process and then fired. Nicolas was a master of this process.”
Click on any image to enlarge:
“The Beast and the Angels. Please remember that direct sunlight was not coming through this window – only ambient light shone through, yet the colors are rich.”

“The Dutch text says: In the Year of Our Lord 1945, the dragon of calamity (evil dragon) was defeated by the army of righteousness. After a long night of darkness, the sun of freedom rose over our land and gave new splendor to the experience of our Biblical faith.”

“The Adam and Eve window is also organized in levels evoking the Creation, while the first couple stands surrounded by animals. The four rivers are being poured from vessels, and a wonderful spouting whale navigates the sea. Above Adam and Eve are the birds of the air.”
“Beneath the sea, time advances and we have civilization.”
More detail of the sea.

“The four winds and the hand of God.”
“In addition to being the site of Joep Nicolas’ work, a great painter was buried here.”

“Back to the great battle: the Army of Righteousness.”

“A detail from The Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse: the Pale Rider on a Pale Horse. This window was completed by Nicolas’ nephew after his death.”

“The Four Horsemen: white horse, red horse, black horse, pale horse. Magnificent composition.”

“This is another masterpiece in the Oude Kerk: The Liberation Window. From 1945: ‘In her first visit to her country after five years of exile, Queen Wilhelmina visited every town, every village and every hamlet that she could fit into a 10-day tour of liberated areas in Holland. The 65-year-old Queen did not spare herself. She saw the vast stretches of inundated countryside, which will remain barren for years to come even after the bombed dikes of The Netherlands are repaired. She saw the debris of towns where fighting took place only a few days before her visit, gave sympathy and solace to men, woman and children who were wounded or bereaved. She met the valiant miners of Hoerlan and Venlo. Wherever she stopped, she talked with the men and women who fought stubbornly and silently in the Dutch Resistance Movement. It was announced March 23, 1945, that the unofficial, unplanned tour had ended with queen Wilhelmina’s return to England. The queen was born in the Hague in 1880 and has reigned on the Dutch throne since 1890. When the Germans invaded Holland in May, 1940, Queen Wilhelmina was forced to flee to England.'”


“And here is where this incredible stained glass window resides. Above a bathroom placed in front so that you can only see this great work of art from a distance.”

“How many people have gone in there to see the Vermeer stone and never looked up?” asked Gowing. “Why build a bathroom directly in front of the second-greatest window in the Kerk? You literally cannot see the window up close. It is obviously a new bathroom meant for tourists. I suppose they couldn’t cut out the gift shop.”

“I wanted to learn more about Queen Wilhelmina. I found this picture of her on her post-war tour, acknowledging the salute of a Boy Scout Troop. Here is the Queen, dressed in the very clothing of the Liberation Window.  The same hat, dark jacket, and fox fur,  head and all, complete with a bouquet.”

 August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.

The perils of open source publishing

I think this is the best photo I took in the entire photo essay, but you be the judge.
See the whole photo-essay HERE.
A few months ago, Carolyn Mrazek asked me what my obsession was with East Avenue Wegmans’ construction project. “It’s a work of art,” I replied, “as important as anything I’ve painted. And, besides, the construction workers are cute.”
Wegmansis a phenom in Rochester, something that isn’t necessary fathomable if you don’t live here. This is its hometown, it’s a family-owned company, and it’s been on Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list since the list was started. But beyond that, it’s a first-hand, constant experience in the lives of Rochesterians. To “go to Wegmans” is a universal act we all participate in and understand, even if it isn’t our first choice of grocery stores.
Gone forever… an improvement or a loss?
This was a private-enterprise project; we see so few of them in New York these days. Over time, I realized that the contractors were consummate professionals. Their workflow was a joy to watch, and they were fanatically neat. (I wish I’d taken photographs of the times I saw their workers sweeping up after themselves.)  Read the comments by my friends comparing this to the public-works projects in their neighborhoods. It will give you pause.
Living a mile from the East Avenue store, I’ve long been in the habit of walking to it daily to shop. This photo essay started as a casual, personal project—I took photos and posted them on Facebook for the amusement of my friends.  Over time, it hardened into a specific project with a documentary goal.
Moving the pharmacy to its temporary location. I shot this with my cell phone,
through my windshield, on my way home from Maine.
Oddly enough, I don’t have any photos of the first buildings to be torn down for the project: the M&T bank branch and a parking garage behind it. I remember messaging my friend Ron that it was cool and he should photograph it; I remember commenting to my husband at one point that it looked like Christo was in town (when the bank was wrapped in plastic for asbestos abatement), but I don’t have a single photo of it. A pity, because that bank never looked better than as a skeleton.
Certain ground rules applied: I couldn’t make my husband late for work; I couldn’t trespass on Wegmans’ property. This project obviously lacks a studied artfulness, because that was never my goal. But it makes up in breadth for that, since I took photos five days a week for the better part of two years.
Probably asbestos abatement but who really knows?
Of the thousands of shots I took, I saved fewer than 300. I travel quite a bit, so there were periods when I took no photos. And there were periods when they seemed to be doing nothing much, and I didn’t feel like taking pictures. But overall, this is as complete a record as you could want.
Imagine my surprise to find that many of my earliest pictures are missing from my Facebook album. Either I lost them because I wasn’t thinking in terms of a photo essay, or they’ve been deleted. There’s never been any guarantee from Facebook that it would provide a ‘safe’ repository for art, and of course there’s no such guarantee from Google, either. But here we are in the Brave New World of open source art: I can’t be bothered to print and show these photos in a traditional gallery, or publish them in a book. So I will use social media to disseminate them and see what happens.
One of my earliest photos, and a favorite. Nature will never be totally suppressed.
The process of moving these pictures to Google created problems I never anticipated. Because the photos were shot with three different pocket cameras and two cell phones over two years, Google couldn’t reconstruct a date order that matched the original. I had to meticulously reconstruct it, using the original FB album as a guide. (Anyone who thinks the life of an artist is glamorous should spend three days assembling a folio on a laptop; I may never walk again.)
I meticulously copied the captions and comments from the individual photos, but of course can’t copy all the comments made elsewhere—and on Facebook, as with blogs, comments happen in weird places. I also added photos back into the original photo essay. The Facebook album was a day-by-day experience, and I think of this as more of an exhaustive memoir.
Maybe I wouldn’t have been so obsessed if
they hadn’t constantly messed with my sidewalks.
There is actually a small amount of work left to be done on the store since I said, “It is finished.” Just as I didn’t document tearing down the M&T branch building, I’m ignoring the finishing touches on the wine bar. To me it is enough that it is open and I can shop there again.
A note about their new logo—it is the third one I can recall. The original one on the old store was designed by Janice Corea, RIT graduate and graphic designer. I always loved it, and I think devotees of mid-century modern will appreciate it in coming years. But the new one is equally lovely. Graphic design is by its nature fashionable and fleeting. Just imagine someone looking at these photos of the Grand Opening in 40 years—will it all seem quaint to them?
Wegmans is a phenom in Rochester.

August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here or here for more information.

Finding what you’re not looking for

An old bridge abutment at Bushnell’s Basin… where “moth and rust” have already destroyed man’s handiwork.

Today was my second day walking along the Erie Canal in search of painting sites. It wasn’t as pleasant as yesterday; it was hotter and muggier. Other than the bridge abutment at Bushnell’s Basin (which I’ve painted before), the stretch I chose had little shade and almost no notable features. I turned around and headed home thirsty and rather tapped out.

Rust along an expansion joint on I-490 bridge over Erie Canal at Pittsford. Yikes!
 Unlike the rocks and sky, iron structures are not impervious to time. I’m obviously not an engineer, but I do know that rust is the great leveler here in the northeast, so we dutiful homeowners make a point of keeping our paintwork up. One hopes that our government does the same thing, of course.
It looks poetic as hell, but that’s not what I’m looking for in a bridge I drive on almost daily.
This bridge carries I-490 across the Erie Canal. I’ve walked under a lot of bridges along the Erie Canal—including bridges that are now lost forever in memory—and this is the worst-looking one I’ve ever seen. Yet I-490 is probably the most-traveled road in the Rochester metropolitan area.

Another view of corrosion on the underside of the bridge.
So this isn’t an artistic question, but a practical one: my skills are limited to observing and describing the world. I’ve no idea how one goes about fixing it, but I sure hope someone out there does. Any suggestions?
OK, he’s cute and paintable, but kind of far away from the canal bank.
August and September are sold out for my workshop at Lakewatch Manor in Rockland, ME.  Join us in June, July and October, but please hurry! Check here for more information.