How to hold a paintbrush

Technique is one thing; the zeitgeist is another.
Dry Wash, painted earlier this year, is most indicative of where I’m going right now, but I didn’t even include it at the event where I painted it. Oops.

 Last week I showed Roger the proper way to hold a paintbrush. “At its end, like a baton,” I said. “Not like a pencil.” I demonstrated how much more swing you get when you hold it like that.

Of course, there’s no one right way to hold a paintbrush. It’s just that every new painter thinks of it as an extension of their pencil and clutches it up near the ferrule in a three-finger choke hold, as if they’re about to work on their Palmer Method of Penmanship. That was adopted because it was hyper-regimented and would improve discipline and character. It was even believed it could reform delinquents.
Holding a brush like a pencil gives you a lot of precision but very little range. Holding it like a baton at the end gives a lot of lyrical movement and less precision. You can do both, but you’ll have much more energetic brushwork if you start off with it held farther back.
Roger’s a thoughtful guy. “This is all part of the idea of working in big, broad, patterns, rather than focusing on the details,” he mused.
I don’t remember where or when I painted this, but I like it today. It’s almost impossible to judge change in real time.
Yesterday I wrote about alkyd media and glazing. I got an interesting response from Bruce Bundock, a fine acrylic painter who works as a preparator at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. “Seems to me painting is the one discipline where there is no ‘last word.’ It’s what works for each individual,” he wrote.
Technique is one thing, the zeitgeist is another. The majority of painters since the mid-19th century have worked alla prima, directly and expressively. Glazing has no place in that system.
Painting movements are pushed along by both culture and technology. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was born in Victorian Britain. Queen Victoria’s early reign was marked by rapid industrialism and social and political upheaval. The nostalgia of its painters was reactionary, an effort to cope with overwhelming change.
Ruth, by Carol L. Douglas. Yes, I can glaze; no, I don’t like doing it.
The Impressionists were firmly grounded in technology. The vivid synthetic pigments that characterize their work were developed in the 19thcentury. They were able to paint outside extensively because of the invention of the paint tube in 1841. Emerging color theory shaped their thought.
Our own times have been rapid and anxious, which is reflected in our direct technique and in Expressionism. However, a young person would be a fool to tie himself to the last century. Nobody can predict where the spirit of the times is heading; we can only swim like mad and chart an uncertain course between fickle fashion and the past. And that is, as Bruce said, highly individual.
Alkyds may be the technological advance that ushers in a new period of indirect painting. After all, the Pre-Raphaelites were living in tumultuous times, and they glazed like mad. If you’re painting glowing, detailed interiors like William Holman Hunt’sThe Lady of Shalott, you’re definitely going to hold your fine brush like a pencil.
Wildfire, western Canada, painted during my 2016 road trip. Change isn’t always pretty.
But that’s not where we are today, and all I can do is teach my students the best technique rooted in our times. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?” Roger asked.
“I really thought I had,” I said apologetically. Painting instruction is so individualized that you can easily miss something like that. “But I’m still not refunding your tuition,” I added.
That was my last local (Rockport, ME) class of the summer. We start back up in October, on Tuesdays from 10-1. If you want a place in that session, email me.

Making it look easy

Renocation of the Kirkland Hotel, acrylic on canvas, by Bruce Bundock.

Remember my pal Bruce Bundock from Kingston? He’s on a roll this year. The catalog for his Faces of Vassar is out. And he is featured in this month’s Acrylic Artist Magazine as one of five winners in the 60th anniversary show of the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic.

The Kirkland Hotel at Kingston is on the National Register of Historic Places. Bundock painted it not as a tidy, quaint renovated place, but in the process of shedding its old skin and acquiring its new. “My painting is a form of investigative reporting on light, form and content,” he says.
Renovation of the Kirkland Hotel, #2 by Bruce Bundock
Bruce started by making plein air studies from the parking lot of the hotel and proceeded to a large scale drawing. From there he gridded and painted the finished work. In other words, he works hard to make it look easy.
Bruce’s drawing of the Kirkland Hotel project.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here. 

What does style mean?

A Pool With A View, by Bruce Bundock, is an example of the artist’s worldview.

The women I lived with last week are all at the top of their game, but paint in a variety of styles. Tarryl Gabel paints meticulously detailed, ethereal landscapes. Crista Pisano’s are minute but less about detail and more about form. Mira Fink is a high-chroma pattern-maker, a lot like me but in watercolor. Kari Ganoung Ruiz paints in the subdued palette of her native Finger Lakes. The two pastel painters were as different as chalk and cheese: Marlene Wiedenbaum is a romantic, while Laura Bianco works in bold, fast strokes.

Baroque Arch, Rome, is an example of Brad Marshall’s meticulous drafting.
What do those differences mean? Do they reflect something about the personality? I doubt it. Brad Marshall (whose show Italia is opening at the Fischbach Gallery on September 12) is a far more methodical and controlled painter than me. He’s more of a risk-taker in his 9-to-5 life—hanging from scaffolding on the side of tall buildings—but there are no glaring differences between our values, our lifestyles, the cars we drive, or our homes.
Certainly the content of a painter’s work reflects his worldview. Consider, for example, Bruce Bundock’s Faces of Vassar: An Appreciation, which opened last February. I love his work because Bruce is less interested in the grand than he is in the everyday.
Millbrook Hill, a pastel by Marlene Wiedenbaum, is wonderfully romantic.
I had a conversation last week with a successful, professional painter lamenting her lack of formal art education. Many formal art programs teach very little about actual painting and most artists do most of their learning on their own, after the classes and workshops end. Since she paints beautifully and her style is fully realized, there is little she can gain from a teacher now, and much she could muddy up.
Whereas Autumn Glow, a pastel by Laura Bianco, is absolutely graphical.
I don’t think style comes from the personality, but I do think it comes from the soul. The goal in painting is to get rid of the stuff that stands between us and our true self. Personal style is what’s left when we have tried our hardest to tell an accurate story with our brushes. It’s an artifact of imperfection. True personal style can’t be taught or learned. It comes from within. That’s why teachers who try to create copies of themselves among their students inevitably fail to foster greatness.

Message me if you want information about next year’s workshops. Information about this year’s programs is available here.


It’s almost time for Rye Painters on Location again!

My piece for Rye POL’s Silent Auction: Gold Mountain Air, oil on canvasboard, 11X14.
Some of my Best Painting Buds (BPBs) are people I met at Rye Painters on Location: Bruce Bundock and Marilyn Fairman, for example. Another of my other BPBs—Brad Marshall—is someone I recommended to the organizers (as did Lee Haber). There are also painters I like so much but never see except at POL—Kathy Buist, Patti Mollica, Linda Richichi, Tarryl Gabyl, and others. It’s always been my favorite event, so the last few years when they tinkered with it, I was kind of bummed.
Brad Marshall’s piece for the Silent Auction: Watermelon and Cherries, oil on canvasboard, 11X14.

Linda Richichi’s piece for the Silent Auction:Wetland Pink, pastel, 9X12.
But it’s back in its old format: silent auction of prepared pieces, live auction of wet canvases. And it’s coming up soon: September 28. I will be in Maine that prior week, and plan to race down to Rye to meet Brad Marshall for some fun times “flailing around.” After that, we’ll wash our faces, have a few glasses of wine with our friends, and sit back to watch the auction.
Having done this for a lot of years, I feel like I’ve painted an awful lot of the Long Island Sound scenery. I suggested that Brad should choose our painting location and I’ll just come along to fall into the ocean and generally make a mess. He was amenable, and last week he drove up to drop off his silent auction piece and scout locations. I now know where we’ll be painting; you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?
If you haven’t registered for my workshops but want to, know that October 2013—last session with openings in 2013—is selling out fast. Or, let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in 2014. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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?

Go see this show!

Those of you in the mid-Hudson region ought to run, not walk, to see Bruce Bundock’s show at the Rosendale Café, which opens this Sunday. He’s simply the best plein air draftsman around, but that distinction would be meaningless without his palpable empathy for the lives of regular folks.
He’s painted iconic buildings, but he tends to gravitate to the everyday: a commuter-train parking lot, a cement plant, a mobile home.  “They’re actual living and working spaces,” he said of his preferred choice of subject. “The thing about buildings is that they’re so appealing to look at, and I like the idea of blending them with the landscape,” said Bundock.  
Renovation of the Kirkland Hotel, #2. Bundock has painted many studies of this project.
Bundock has repeatedly painted and drawn the renovation of the Kirkland Hotel, a Kingston landmark built in 1899; several views are included in this show.  “I kept going out there and working on site,” he said. What drives a painter into that kind of meticulous exploration? “You have to have curiosity,” he told me. “It is the spark that leads you into investigation, and takes you through a number of different avenues, skills, techniques, materials and subjects, to see your vision realized.
A more pastoral landscape.
Bundock is known for his work in acrylics, although he also paints in oils.  “I like the idea that I can restate passages in ten minutes or less with acrylics, and with additives I can get soft edges like I can with oils.”
As Museum Preparator of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center of Vassar College, Bundock is conversant with the Hudson River artistic legacy, and he recognizes our debt to the artists of the past.  However, he thinks we need to look beyond them. “There is a difference between those who want to ape the past and those who want to find out where their own ideas break away from those they admire so much. You have to come up with something that brings you into your own identity.”
A few other of Bruce’s paintings you might enjoy:
SummerIn Ulster County  “I saw the light that hit that and it was a meditation on form and color and light—something aesthetically pleasing, and the idea of who lives there was sort of secondary. Light plays a big role in elevating the ordinaary. It’s like a still life—more of a close-up view than a grand panorama. It was an intriguing combination of shapes.”

River Road Looking North “It is the light that gives it that Greek Isles look.”

A Pool With a View “This is up in Wyndham. It is somebody’s house; I was intrigued by it, especially the red roof being a nice foil against the green. I left the Tyvek in because it rang truer. If I stripped that away, I’d have stripped away some of the character of the house, because the renovation was part of what I was curious about. That’s one hell of a view they got up there, to have that property at the top of that mountain, that’s fantastic.”

There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.

Ten days on the road

Painting John Porter on the porch of the Irondequoit Inn. Normally, you develop a painting all over, in layers, but not if your model has temporarily disconnected his oxygen to pose. (Photo by Carol Thiel)

September and October are New York’s grandest months, when our state throws off its sartorial rectitude and arrays itself in scarlet, purple, and cloth-of-gold. And the last week in September was the best possible time to be at the Irondequoit Inn with 14 of my fellow New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP). This organization is being wonderfully revived by painter Marilyn Fairman, who organized the event.

A tiny study of trees and reeds, by me.
However, there’s a reason Native Americans considered the Adirondacks their summer home. Its cold is brooding, often accompanied by rain and mist, and the weather is fickle.  Last autumn, the mercury was hitting 80° F, but this year it was pouting in the 40s and 50s, with rain and wind. That often corresponds to the best fall color, but it’s chilling to work in. However, we are all dedicated outdoor painters, so of course we soldiered through.

Painting at Oxbow Inlet
(Photo by Mary Beth Vought)
At one point, I trekked through a drenching downpour to find Janet Yeates turned out like the Gloucester fisherman and Ruth Crotty in knee-high Wellingtons, the hood of her rain slicker pulled tight around her face. Both, of course, were too stubborn to quit. Ruth was tarping down her easel under a pine tree, muttering, “What else could possibly happen?”

“Lightning?” I asked.

Mercifully, I was wrong.

The start of our retreat coincided with the end of a workshop given by National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins. The end of it coincided with the start of my painting workshop. The Irondequoit Inn was a whirling parade of the visual arts, running for two weeks straight, and it would be difficult to express just how energizing it was.

Snag at Piseco Outlet, by me.
My trip started with Bruce Bundock’s opening at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie. The show should have been called Friends in Low Places, because Bruce’s gift is finding the sublime in the pedestrian. This review features one of his finest paintings, but this painting currently is my favorite: a classic composition that might typically be used for a villa on the French Riviera, but which he translated to a raised ranch along the Hudson, with a tanker in the background. Since it’s Bruce’s day in the sun, I might as well add that he was recently profiled for his day job as a preparator at Vassar, here.

Value study by workshop participant Carol Thiel.
For several years, my goal in landscape painting has been to capture the sense of tapestry rather than the sense of distance.  I find that much more difficult than building a global scene comprised of discrete objects like buildings, islands, lakes and hills. I’ve gone past the point of liking or disliking the results; I am simply compelled to paint this way. Nothing was different this week: as my friends and then my students turned out fantastic paintings of the woods, fields and lakes, I continued to slash and burn amongst the trees.

One afternoon we finished up early and took a canoe trip in Piseco Lake and up the mouth of Fall Stream. We each brought small watercolor kits, but no painting was done (although the paper was certainly damp by the time we finished). But we did look at the mists, the black water, and the gold-drenched grasses on their earthen hummocks.

Watercolor of Piseco Outlet by workshop participant Shirley Ernst.

At 94, John Porter is the Piseco Company’s oldest living shareholder. I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with him during the last three autumns. He’s a retired woodsman, and wonderfully knowledgeable about both natural and human history. He’s getting a bit frail these days, and mostly looks at the woods from the front parlor. On the last afternoon of my workshop, we were working on architecture. I had set up a painting of the lovely old green chairs and dinner bell on the Inn’s commodious porch. The rain vanished, the sun came out, and it was suddenly warm. John joined us for a few minutes, so I put him in my painting. I’ll share it with you when it’s done, because to me it’s a wonderful memory of a precious day.

Seventh Annual Rhinebeck Paint-Out

Around the Bend, 12X16, oil
On Saturday, Oct. 18, I will participate (long-distance) in the Barrett Art Center’s 7th Annual Rhinebeck Paint-Out and Art Auction. Painters will work from 9-3 in the greater Rhinebeck area, with a reception starting at 4 PM, and a live auction from 5-8 PM. The auction will be held at Good Shepherd Church, Father Brogan Parish Center, in Rhinebeck.

Because I have an event in Rochester on the same day, the organizers graciously allowed me to paint on Friday, October 10. I chose the lovely Queen Anne house at Wilderstein for my subject. This was the home of FDR’s cousin and confidante, Margaret (Daisy) Suckley. The landscape of this estate was designed by Calvert Vaux (Olmsted’s co-designer of Central Park) and features prospects of the Hudson. I dithered between the “million dollar view” created to seen from the house, and the house itself. House won.

Wilderstein, 14X18, oil
Among the fifty or so artists who will paint in this event are Kathy Lynn Buist, Bruce Bundock, Frank Cannas, Margaret Crenson, Sallie Lyon, Nestor Madalengoitia, Seth A. Nadel, Crista Pisano, and Phyllis Tarlow.

For more information contact: Barrett Art Center, 55 Noxon St, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601 845- 471-2550

New York Social Realism

A Pool With A View (Cunningham Rd) by Bruce Bundock
32″ x 20″, Acrylic

Today I’d like to write about an artist who also did the Rye Painters on Location this weekend: Bruce Bundock.

It takes an extraordinary mind to see the beauty of Tyvek, T11 siding and an above-ground pool set serenely in Eden. This is a legitimate extension of the social realism of Millet or Hopper, but we are so blind to working-class, rural New York that we don’t immediately recognize it. (New York has the highest and fastest growing income disparity in the nation*.) What interests me is that Bruce seems genuinely fascinated by these modest houses; there isn’t a shred of sentimentality in his work.

His subtle social commentary wouldn’t work without impeccable technique. I am personally fond of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, and I see intimations of it in Bruce’s work, particularly in the discrete steps used instead of gradation to indicate tonal range. The best of his paintings remind me of old-fashioned commercial lithography, particularly in the wonderful flat greens of the trees. None of this, of course, would work without his superlative drafting.

Botanical by Bruce Bundock
11.5″ x 8.25″, Acrylic

This weekend, I acquired Bruce’s “Botanical”, above. I presume by the title that Bruce thinks it’s about the flowers, but once more I see a modest but proud house set in Paradise. As I’m sure I’ll see him someday in a major national gallery, I am thrilled to have such an archetypal example of his work.

Rye Beach Pavilion, by Bruce Bundock, September 13, 2008, acrylic

His Rye painting, of an old Spanish-style building at Playland, included that motif, appropriately muted. A painting which might have been postcard-sentimental was elevated by the inclusion of construction equipment in the foreground, which was perfectly integrated into the composition by skillful balancing of form and color.

To see more of Bruce’s paintings, go to http://artid.com/members/bundock