How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Barnyard at G and S Orchards, by Carol L. Douglas. 9X12, oil on canvas, $450, framed.
During Saturday’s class at G and S Orchards, my goal was to solidify the lesson from the prior week about painting into a monochromatic grisaille. This was something I used to do but had abandoned until I painted with Jamie WilliamsGrossman earlier this month. Then I remembered how much I enjoyed it.
Step one is a very rude value study. This gets simplified and refined with brush and rag.
One student went from his drawing right to masses of solid color. Nothing wrong with that, but I was a bit frustrated that he was totally ignoring my instructions. Eventually I realized he’d missed last week’s class because he had to sit for his SATs. But it was too late to show him on his canvas.
Step two is the addition of thin masses of color.
I quickly set up a demo for him. It was a small class so I was able to do rounds, come back and paint a bit on my canvas, call my student over to discuss what I’d done, and then repeat—over and over. I like being very busy and this was energizing. We did run over (about an hour and a half) because of this but nobody appeared to mind.
Here is Nina Koski’s monochromatic painting. She was able to correct a composition problem very early on, rather than have it dogging her through the whole painting.
Meanwhile, Nina Koski had taken my instructions of last week very much to heart and was turning out quite a lovely painting of roses along the barnyard. I managed to get some intermediate photos of hers as well, so you can look at two different painters using the same technique.
Here Nina Koski is starting to add color.
Nina, by the way, painted a small plein air painting almost every day last week. She’s an exemplar of that old joke:
“Excuse me sir, but how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
“Practice, practice, practice!”
And here is her finished painting. She’s only been painting a few months!
I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Social media and selling

Boats, by little ol’ me. Social media allows you to get your work out to a larger audience.
Last week I got into a spirited discussion with other painters about social media and marketing. As I frequently do, I cited one of my favorite painting students.
In his other life, Brad VanAuken is a brand consultant to Fortune 100 companies and the author of a texton the subject that’s going into its second printing. (In fact it’s his success in his chosen field that somewhat slows down his progress as a painter, since he’s always jetting around the globe instead of coming to class.)
Using photos of myself painting on location helps my audience understand what I do. Standing in creeks will someday also give me pneumonia or a broken ankle, but I try not to focus on that. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Saler, a painter you’ll be hearing about in the future.)
Brad is the person who made me understand an essential truth about social media: it works more like a mesh than an arrow. I can’t cite a particular connection between, say, a Pinterest post on Tuesday and the sale of a painting on Friday, but there is no question that—somehow—it works. I’m completely booked from now until September with invitational paint-outs, shows, and classes.
Sunset in Maine, by little ol’ me. I try to be transparent, to let people see my failures as well as my successes, because I want people to understand that painting isn’t a question of genius, but of plugging along.
One painter suggested that platforms like Tumblr and Twitter were a waste of time because their target demographic doesn’t buy paintings. This is untrue. I need look no farther than 22-year-old Anna, who not only owns her own home (which contains purchased art) but takes painting lessons from me to boot. And even if it were true, her age cohort is in some ways the arbiter of taste for the rest of us.

I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 

My White Trash Family

Rawlings Lowndes, 2013, by Kim Alsbrooks
I tend to take artist’s statements with a grain of salt, so when Kim Alsbrooks writes, “The White Trash Series was developed while living in the South out of frustration with some of the prevailing ideologies, in particular, class distinction,” the skeptic rises in me. But the work is more fun than the artist’s statement would have you believe.
Jane, 2014, by Kim Alsbrooks
After all, the artist is like a bowerbird, always collecting and repurposing junk. Who hasn’t seen flattened aluminum cans in the street and wondered how they could be useful? Like all metal painting surfaces, they’re inert and stable, so I guess they’d make a great painting surface.
Adriana on Fanta Orange, 2014, by Kim Alsbrooks
I really think her work is more about the juxtaposition of old and new than about Southern class distinctions. But as a base for landscapes, they would be awfully powerful. I see flattened cans all the time on my perambulations; maybe I’ll give this a try. After all, art is largely appropriation, right?

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 

Off your game? Who cares?

Bathers with a Turtle (Baigneuses), 1907-08, Henri Matisse

This week some friends were discussing Thomas Kinkade, whose work is being dragged out into the public sphere through a retrospective, which in turn has engendered a flurry of new stories about his troubled life. (Predictably, none are positive.)
I was curious about why his landscapes said nothing about his personal struggles. “He did not paint what he wanted to paint; everything he painted was to sell,” said Brad Marshall.
Steamboat Leaving Boulogne, 1864, Édouard Manet
Then we moved on to bad moments by great painters. Karl Eric Leitzel mentioned how bad Matisse’s Bathers with a Turtle is, which in turn reminded me of Manet’s Steamboat Leaving Boulogne and Sargent’s Spanish Dancer, in which either the head or the arms of the figure are inexplicably stuck on backwards.
Matisse, Manet and Sargent were brilliant painters; the rare duds in their oeuvre serve to point out just how brilliant they are. “When painters are that innovative and pushing painting in such new directions, they will be unsuccessful at times,” said Brad Marshall.
Spanish Dancer, 1879-82 (preparatory oil study for the main figure in El Jaleo), John Singer Sargent
And that is where I want to be: not painting what I know will sell, but painting outside myself.
This week, Pastor Bill Blakely suggested that if “I Am,” is the Lord’s name forever (Exodus 3:14), then all the “I am” statements we use to define and limit ourselves are in fact blasphemous. Thomas Kinkade was trapped by his “I am a great artist” statement; it was dissonant with the world’s opinion. Instead of painting setting him free, it made him miserable.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Just another beautiful day in Rochester

Highland Park by Brad VanAuken
For a few years now, I’ve had an ace-in-the-hole view at Highland Park—a long view through which the spire at Colgate Divinity is just visible. I took my class there this week only to find that the trees have grown so much that we were left with only a shrubby meadow. 
Highland Park by Sandy Quang
Still, it was a delightful shrubby meadow and early enough in the year that the greens were still somewhat differentiated. That meant this could be an exercise in seeing the different colors within green, and at that, they excelled.
Highland Park by Anna McDermott
Last week I started a painting with a sepia value study, a technique I used to use all the time and which I abandoned. I decided to try this out on my students, and they ran with it.
Highland Park by Nina Koski
I don’t really know why I abandoned this, because it allows you to make compositional assessments without distracting yourself with color.
And last but not least, Highland Park by little ol’ me. No, you can’t buy it; it was a procedural demo and I wiped it out before leaving the park.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Opening day

A happy crowd at the VB Brewery in Victor.
Our student show yesterday was a lovely success—a great turn-out, lively chatter, and lots of wonderful desserts that went surprisingly well with beer. Two paintings have sold and one silent-auction piece (raising money for the Open Door Mission) has exceeded its minimum bid so will sell by the end of the month.
Who knew that Carol Thiel was a twin? (I insisted she and her sister pull out their licenses to prove it.)
I missed my own opening at Bethel’s Aviv Gallery on Friday. I’d called my doctor on Thursday to ask him for an inhaler because I was having trouble breathing. By the time I got back into Rochester, my right leg was swollen and stiff. Combine the two with recent gynecological surgery and your doctor naturally suspects a deep vein thrombosis. This earned me a trip into the emergency room at Rochester General. By the time they concluded that it was coincidence and I’m actually healthy as a horse, it was 8:48 PM and my opening ended at 9.
If you forget a knife with which to cut the cake (which was drooping in the heat) you can always use a pocket knife… as long as it’s not yours, since it will get full of frosting and crumbs.
My deepest apologies to Richmond Futch, Jr. I’d promised him I’d be back from mid-Hudson in time for my opening.
Ilsa Koski, Kim Gorall and Nina Koski. Speedo the Hermit Crab goes to a new home.
Frankly, those few hours on a gurney were the most restful of my week. No way to work in an ER, so you might as well close your eyes and doze off. My greatest ambition today is to read a dumb novel and and enjoy the scent of the lilacs outside my window.
Ancient Roman beer bottle.
There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

Sunset at Olana

Clouds over the Hudson, by little ol’ me. $795, framed.

A select group of New York plein air painters—my pals—have been in the Catskills painting this week. On Wednesday, Nancy Woogen and Johanne Morin saw a bear swimming in a lake, a rainbow, and a painted turtle laying eggs. I saw only one of those things (the turtle) and was awed by it; they must have been gobsmacked.

Sunset over the Hudson, by little ol’ me. $795, framed.
Last night, I was leaving the grounds of Frederic Church’s Olana at dusk, having painted the sunset. I was completely alone. I sometimes have an intuition that there is wildlife close by. I slowly coasted the lanes out of the historic site, hoping to glimpse a bear. No dice so I sped up to 55 MPH as I entered the road—only to narrowly miss a bounding doe.
To amuse myself, I attempted to paint just like Jamie Williams Grossman. That really didn’t work so well; we’re too different, but it was a fun experiment and I think I might show my students how to start indirectly like she does.Here are our easels, side by side.
We’ve been surrounded by crazy numbers of tourists as we’ve painted this week. Nothing unusual in that for me, except that it usually happens on the Maine coast, not in an untamed wilderness. Plein air painters have a different relationship with nature than most visitors. Tourists hike up trails, they linger on sunlit rocks, and then they head down to their cars to drive to the next vista. Nothing wrong with that—I love hiking myself. But it is unlikely that you will come face-to-face with nature that way.

Painting at Olana! Oh, my!
Meanwhile, we’re in our corner, struggling with our paint. Most of the time, that’s an introspective thing, and we’re concentrating on the canvas. But because we are essentially still, and we’re there for a long time, the woodland has a tendency to sneak up on us. Still, at the end of the day we get in our cars and drive away, the windshield separating us from the wilderness as it does everyone else.
This week’s painting has been made more difficult by heavy pollen after this cold winter. My asthma, which has been well-controlled for years, is rampaging. Yesterday, I capitulated and called a doctor, and not a moment too soon.  I’m wheezing like an ancient church organ.
Still, I have allies—a group of tremendous friends who helped move my pack today. I couldn’t have done it without them.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available 

Untouched Eden

Rocks at Kaaterskill Falls, 10X8, oil, by little ol’ me.
I am going to leave it to my friends to argue about whether Kaaterskill Falls—at 260 feet—is the highest waterfall in New York, but it’s certainly a contender. And no busloads of tourists are going to roar by and disgorge occupants for 15-minutes visits, either, since you have to bushwack up the side of a mountain to get to the cascade’s base.
The trail is typical for New York parks. Not developed, but safe enough.
Nevertheless, it’s a pilgrimage site for anyone interested in the Hudson River painters, for it is an iconic image for them, defining wilderness to the romantic 19th century mind. And not just painters got in on the act. William Cullen Bryant wrote an ode to the waterfall that ends in youthful death.

MIDST greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn tide…

Not the smartest footwear.
The last time I hiked in sports sandals (on the T Lake Trail in Piseco, NY) I sprained my ankle, so I was loathe to climb without proper footwear. Jamie Williams Grossman loaned me a hiking pole, however, and  I gingerly set out after my fellow painters.
Kaaterskill Falls, 10X8, oil, by little ol’ me.
My pack is still too heavy, but the climb itself proved to be no problem. I made two sketches before it was time to leave. There are at least a hundred more there, awaiting a return visit.
There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.


North-South Lake, the Catskills, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, by little ol’ me.
I have been in many spectacular places around the world, but I never realized that one of them is practically in my backyard, and I’ve never seen it before. This is NYS Route 23A in Greene County.
This is most peculiar because I’ve been in Palenville (through which 23A passes) several times to hang with my buddy, painter Jamie Williams Grossman. I guess we just never turned right before.
North-South Lake, the Catskills, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, by little ol’ me (and not quite finished).
Palenville was a center of the Hudson River school. Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and other notable painters stayed and worked there. (Palenville is also the fictional home of Rip van Winkle, although it’s surprising that he could get any sleep, between the waterfalls, the Great Horned Owls, and the frogs and peepers who sing in the night.)
Rain was on the forecast, but it was a far nicer day than anyone anticipated.
Route 23A passes several of the Catskill High Peaks before dropping into the Hudson Valley via Kaaterskill Clove.  The section I drove today runs along Kaaterskill Creek in the general area made famous by the Hudson River painters. It’s no surprise that they loved it; it’s stupendous: the narrow rock walls vary between green, grey and red, and great boulders are washed in spray as the creek bounces its way down the steep gorge.  
Beavers hard at work everywhere.
We met—a group of sixteen New York Plein Air Painters—at North-South Lake. This was a favorite subject of the Hudson River school, particularly Thomas Cole. For a long time, the prestigious resort hotels in the area made it synonymous with the Catskills.
The park includes the site of the Catskill Mountain House, built in 1823. It was one of the premiere vacation spots of the 19thcentury. Today, all that’s left is the view—miles and miles of the Hudson River at your feet—and the forest paths.
Never one to waste a canvas, Patricia McDermond painted over an unfinished nude, engendering all kinds of comments from bystanders.
Because I’ve never been to this park before, I had to spend some time poking around and looking at things before painting. It was a full day, ending much too soon, and I can’t wait to come back.
Tomorrow we will meet at the trailhead for Kaaterskill Falls, made famous by the Hudson River painters. At 260 feet, it’s impressive, even for someone raised in the shadow of Niagara Falls.

There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.

The scene of the crime

My errant palette knife has returned home, with a spiffy monogram.

After a beautiful drive across the state, I arrived at Palenville in mid-afternoon. Unpacked and rested, I wandered into Jamie Grossman’s kitchen, where she handed me the palette knife I’d dropped in her creek last summer. Not only did she return it to me, she returned it monogrammed.

A wee little sketch of rocks and a tree.
Patricia McDermond and I had 45 minutes to paint or draw before it was time to dress for dinner, so we wandered back to the creek with our watercolor sketch kits. I didn’t fall in this time, but I didn’t paint much that was brilliant, either. Three fast and weak watercolors in my notebook and I was done.
A wee little watercolor sketch of the same tree. One drawn and three watercolor sketches in less than an hour.
It usually takes me about three hours to do a 9X12 plein air painting. But that doesn’t include the driving time, the sketching time, or the falling-in-the-creek time.
Success is a glass of wine on your friend’s deck in the woods.
There are still a few openings in my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.