Maine Photo Project

The Haven, Bertrand H. Wentworth, undated, Monhegan Museum
Most of us go to Maine and come back with hundreds—thousands—of photographs. Within a year of the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 there were people taking pictures here, according to the Maine Historical Society.
Katahdin Canoe, Leland Whipple, before 1900, hand-tinted lantern slide, Bangor Public Library
The Maine Photo Project is a year-long series of exhibitions and public programs exploring this fascination. It’s interactive in the sense that we’re all invited to participate, using the hashtag #mephotoproject on Instagram. I’ll definitely be playing.
Untitled (East Machias Post Office), Berenice Abbott, undated, gelatin silver print, Farnsworth Art Museum
This statewide collaboration runs through 2015 and includes displays and contributions by museums, art galleries, historical societies, artists, collectors, and arts organizations across the state, with oversight by the Maine Historical Society.

Unidentified Group of Men, Albion Moody, c. 1880-1904, glass plate negative, Brick Store Museum

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Playing it safe

As-yet-untitled landscape of New Mexico by Cindy Zaglin, acrylic on canvas. Light, bright, abstract, and ultimately it looks like the place felt.

The working art world—as much as any clique—tends to be insular. Art markets are provincial communities that are inclined to distrust outsiders or new impulses. To really break out of the corner into which one has painted oneself, to violate the community’s intellectual, technical or social standards, can be tremendously difficult.
Because paintings are tangible objects, the culture of painting is less subject to mass media than are other art forms, and there are distinct regional differences.  Painting clubs and classes can be terribly restrictive. They draw their leadership and jurors from a constricted pool, so members tend to conform to a narrow style to be juried into shows or awarded prizes. That can be either conscious or unconscious, but it inevitably leads to derivative or dated technique. When I first went to Manhattan to study with her, Cornelia Fosslooked at my first exercise and said, “If this were 1950, I’d say, ‘Brava, Carol,’ but it isn’t.” That’s what came of learning to paint in Buffalo.
Of course in its own way Manhattan can be as provincial as anywhere else. Cindy Zaglin studied at the Art Students League in New York. She has never been one to tie herself blithely to someone else’s muse. “I was very unhappy. I was in class and would look at everyone’s realistic paintings and I could make mine look like theirs but it didn’t express me. I don’t care about the small details. I wanted to paint large swatches of color, use negative space, leave things out, replace things with color, and I was scared to do that.”
The problem with abandoning community is that one needs new ideas, and Zaglin struggles with how to maintain a healthy distance while still learning from others. “I still sometimes think what I’m doing isn’t ‘valid’.  Sometimes I know when it’s working; sometimes I don’t. I do want to learn from others including realist painters. Painting freely or abstractly isn’t just throwing colors or shapes on a canvas; you still need to know how to draw.”
Then there’s the marketplace. Mid-level art buyers are a curiously reticent bunch, embracing new things only after they have the imprimatur of other collectors. Too many painters temper their inner vision to the marketplace. We have all seen insipid artists sell while brilliant ones struggle in the trenches.
Spring Trees, oil on board, by Jean K. Stephens (image courtesy Oxford Gallery)
A decade ago, Jean K. Stephens was a respected Rochester landscape painter, with impeccable technique born of a very disciplined mind and a passionate love of the land. I’d heard she’d been through a painterly rite of passage; a mutual friend showed me some abstractions she’d done that I found painfully honest. When I came across a small nest painting of hers at Shop One² at Global Village recently, I wondered what made this seemingly established painter give up what she knew, and perhaps more importantly, what she knew would sell.
“I couldn’t not do them,” she said of those early abstractions. She had undergone a process of deep-tissue massage that, she said, brought her back to her birth experience. “I woke up in the middle of the night and did something I never do: I just started flinging paint. It was certainly not planned. It just spilled out that first night,” she said. “The next morning I went in the studio and said, ‘What just happened here?’”
What happened was more complex than a spiritual or psychological discovery, since Stephens had recently moved, had entered menopause, and had sold the rural property that had made her ‘big vista’ landscapes possible. Even as she’s moved past this work, she says it was and is a “true expression of my feminine self.”
Stephens’ current work embraces both that feminine expression and her capacity for realism. “I was in Maine with a bunch of friends. We had rented a house and I was doing the typical plein air. On the last day I looked down at my feet and said, ‘There’s the Great Mother!’ In our trips to Maine, I had always loved the rocks, but I felt like this work was the culmination of everything I had done to that point.”
So what happens when a painter known for her delicate, luminous landscapes suddenly starts exhibiting rock paintings that look like vaginas? “There’s always a risk in putting something different on the wall,” acknowledges Stephens. “I can take that risk. I do the work for me, but if people connect with it, that’s even better.”
In and Out, oil on panel, by Jean K. Stephens (image courtesy of Oxford Gallery). The complete series can be seen here.
Zaglin expressed a similar sentiment. “While I want others to be connected with my paintings I’m most interested in me being connected to my paintings. This year I started caring less about what others thought and started trusting that I did have a point of view.”
Last year was a time of personal crisis for Zaglin, and she thinks the upheaval changed her work. “Afterward, I decided I was wasting time not painting how and what I want,” she said. Which is, of course, true for all of us.

There’s still room in this summer’s Maine painting workshops! Check here for more information.

Images of Old Maine

The image on the left was shot with a Canon SD850 IS and printed on a plastic banner in 2008. It’s about 20X24. The image on the right was shot with a 2.25×2.25 format Ciro-Flex in 1981 and printed a few years after that. Both are fading, but the image on the left has spent considerably more time in the light than the one on the right, which has been stored in a flat file. On the other hand, that photo is still holding up a lot better than I am. (Yep, that’s me and my trusty dog.)

The truth is, I lied: I can’t show you any images of Old Maine. They’re locked up in a medium I can’t easily access: Kodachrome slides. In fact, my entire life prior to 2001 (when I purchased my first digital camera) is more or less stacked in a cabinet in the living room. Yes, I can show them to my children by fishing the carousel projector out of the garage and pointing it at the kitchen wall, but they lose a lot in translation. Kodachrome was the gold standard for transparency film, but unless you have a modern-day Magic Lantern, a lot of that is lost.
Of course, our slides are stored in a dry, dark, temperature-controlled environment, in which Kodachrome is remarkably stable. Future archaeologists are free to reclaim them, if they get there before someone dumps them.
My photographic lock-box, a/k/a slide carousels.
My father took tens of thousands of photographs, starting with photos of his mother in their cold-water flat in depression-era Buffalo. He was a professional photographer during and after WWII. His plates languished in his darkroom until they were tossed out earlier this year. There went a tremendous bit of history and art, lost forever.
(Ironically, it was his paintings that have survived. It’s unequivocally true that painting is an obsolete medium, largely supplanted in our day-to-day existence by photography and to a lesser degree graphic design. But that actually elevates its importance. The same people who blithely toss out photo albums of Grandma’s wedding wouldn’t dare to dispose of a painting of Grandma, for example.)
My first digital camera—a Minolta Dimage 7—did not take particularly good pictures compared to the Canon EOS film camera and lenses I was abandoning. However, the marginal cost of gazillions of pictures was exactly nil, and the images were tremendously easy to store compared to their film predecessors.
In 2001, we still thought of photos in terms of printing. Our hard drives were lock-boxes out of which we had to coax images via blurry printers with unstable inks. A mere decade later, our primary platform for showing pictures is the internet. Today, physical photos have become lock-boxes of a different kind.
And within a few short years, the quality of digital cameras and digital printing had improved tremendously. Above see two prints. The one on the left was taken with a $200 pocket camera (a Canon PowerShot) and printed on a plastic banner in 2008 (it has subsequently been hung outside in all kinds of weather). The image is about 20X24.
The one on the right is an older photo, taken in 1981 with a 2.25×2.25 format Ciro-Flex twin lens reflex with Kodacolor film. That camera was, comparatively, a much higher-market item than the Canon, selling for about $110 in 1948. Of course, one telling difference is that a 33-year-old camera wasn’t completely obsolete then. With film photography, as long as you could figure out the exposure and the lenses and back were intact, you were good to go, whereas I’ve replaced my digital cameras on average about every three years.
The photo of Antietam on the left is by me. The one on the right is by Matthew Brady, of course. It took a fraction of the time for me to find these two images on my server and on the internet than it took me to find the hard copies of the photos above.
Last summer I spent a few hours at Antietam. I am familiar with this photoby Matthew Brady; I of course took a corresponding photo of it myself. But how was I familiar with that photo? Not from the bound copy of “The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes” that sat on a shelf in our home when I was growing up—it was too valuable for children to touch. I’d seen the pictures online, of course.
One of my favorite of my own works has been a day-to-day account of the replacement of my local grocery store with a new, contemporary version—a two-year project that isn’t yet finished. I publish it on Facebook, of course, because there it gets a larger viewership than it would in any gallery. (You can see it here.)
I’m mercifully free of the need to monetize my every transaction, which makes it possible for me to exploit and enjoy the open-source world of the internet. But truthfully I’m as baffled about where it’s going next as I was about where digital photography was leading us. I hope my art stands a better chance of surviving than did my father’s, but who knows?

What is the nature of compassion?

Triste Herencia (Sad Inheritance) by Joaquin Sorolla (1899)

In counterpoint to Joaquin Sorolla’smany light and luminous canvases of naked children playing on the beach, Triste Herencia (Sad Inheritance) is a dark painting of children in a dark sea. Examined carefully, the painting is a detailed catalogue of woes—blindness, club foot, leprosy, and above all, polio, which was just starting its reign of terror at the time this was painted.*
Sorolla’s Chicos en la Playa (1910) is more typical of his beach children.
 The monk at the center of it has been on my mind this week. In contrast to my mental image of a compassionate shepherd, this fellow, of the Orden Hospitalaria de San Juan de Dios, appears rather grim—almost intimidating, in fact. He has the stern face and bearing of a saint painted by Zurbarán, or the confessor or inquisitor of our imagination.  Yet he is with great delicacy doing a job few of us would volunteer for.
Dwarves have a long history as palace accessories to the European nobility, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been painted by many masters. Perhaps the most famous of these paintings is Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, which includes both an achondroplasticdwarf (Maria Barbola) imported from Germany and an Italian proportionate dwarf(Nicolas Pertusato), kicking the dog.
The Jester Calabacillas, Bobo de Coria or Juan de Calabazas (1637-1639) by Diego Velázquez
Velázquez painted an entire lexicon of dwarfism, and his portraits are notable both for the respect he shows his subjects and for the honesty with which he portrays their condition. His portrait of Don Juan Calabazas is a highly sympathetic portrait of mental retardation. Calabazas was nicknamed “Calabacillas” or “Pumpkinhead,” a nickname we would find utterly objectionable today. Velázquez does not shrink from Don Juan’s disabilities, carefully documenting his subject’s symptoms, including his vacant smile, the frantic gesturing of his hands, his crouching posture. But in spite of that, Velázquez painted him with as much respect and affection as he ever did Philip IV or his family.
Compare this to the most well-known American painting of disability, Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth(1948). One would never crawl across a Maine hayfield naked, so Anna Christine Olson’s disability is masked to some degree by her clothing. But beyond that, the painting tells us nothing about her. It is a carefully constructed, beautiful composition focusing on the surface of the field and the elegant shapes of the buildings. (Both the buildings and the figure are substantially altered from their reality.) 
Christina’s withered limbs are an addendum to a completely separate idea. They draw us into what otherwise would be “Triangular Composition: Girl in Pink Dress on a Grass Field.” Seen in its most cynical light, they’re there to sell the painting.
Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth (1948) is a very American view of disability.
That’s not an indictment, of course; Wyeth is just treating disability the way the rest of America does. As the parent of four children, I know that schools offer the disability label as a ticket to purchase compassion from an otherwise inflexible system, and the pressure to buy into this system is overwhelming.  All of this is a diminution to the truly disabled, many of whose withered limbs are hidden from us.
This being the season of the Compassionate Shepherd, I am reminded of his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, told in John 4:4-26.
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
To our modern ears, that’s a pretty harsh exchange, but it was absolutely necessary that she acknowledge her reality before she could begin any process of renewal.
We moderns cannot be honest about the human condition because we are relativists; the only truth we understand as absolute is “don’t be judgmental.” But resolution requires honest assessment. Perhaps it is no surprise after all that Sorolla’s monk starts with the naked, brutal truth to help his poor charges. Perhaps it is no surprise that he is grim.


*I was shocked to read that polio epidemics were a 20th century scourge, although the disease itself has been known since antiquity. Before the 20th century, poor sanitation resulted in a constant exposure to the polio virus, which provided natural immunity from infancy. As sanitation improved in Europe, childhood exposure declined. The first localized epidemics occurred in Europe and the United States around 1900, the time Sorolla painted Triste Herencia.

The Quality of Light

“Michelle in incandescent light,” 36X24, oil on canvas.
(Photo credit, Brad Van Auken)

Last week I went to a figure group which used incandescent spots and Odalisque poses. Here I never set up with either, and haven’t since I studied with Cornelia Foss. When I returned to my studio after my trip, I was wondering whether I was missing anything, so yesterday I decided to set up with a spotlight.

Students like spotlights because at the beginning painting with them seems easier. Most of the major color and value decisions are made before one ever picks up a brush. There are only two fundamental colors to worry about—the color of the light and the color of the shadow, since all of the natural, accidental, reflected tones are blown away by the color of the spot.
The problem is that one can go a certain distance quickly, but then can go no farther. I painted the above in three hours. It was impossible to find any real color range. Gone were the delicate blues and greys and olives of Michelle’s skin; she was rather like one of those Thomas Kinkade lighthousesthat are apparently on fire from within. To be honest, I cheated with the warm midtones—they didn’t even exist. As I said to Michelle, “I am painting what I want to be true, not what is actually here.”
With incandescent spots, the pattern of darks and lights is spelled out by the lighting itself, and one need not work for it. That seems easier at the beginning, but it makes new discovery next to impossible. This is especially true in all the variations of the Odalisque pose.
Make no mistake: the history of the Odalisque is erotic. The word comes from the Turkish ‘odaliq’, or chambermaid, which in the west was understood to mean a harem concubine, and to refer to the whole sensualized artistic genre in which the model lies on her side on display. (If you doubt this, just do a Google search of Odalisque and imagine the models writhing.)
The art world has historically been deeply misogynistic. Art has been made by some very competent women— Artemisia Gentileschi, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Judith Leijster, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter, and so many others—but art is generally made by men and purchased by men. The Odalisque is sexual objectification, but a higher-rent version of it than the porn available on the internet. Sometimes it is done brilliantly, but it’s certainly nothing I’m interested in perpetrating (and I wonder sometimes why so many women are acolytes at the feet of its proponents).
For the next three weeks we will be working on one long pose, and I have set high-school student MB the task of creating the pose, having assigned her five artists to study: Goya, Manet, Degas, Modigliani, and Freud. That will give us nine hours to paint in this pose, and that’s an opportunity not to be missed. I should note that the times are slightly changed to accommodate MB’s schedule.
Friday, December 7, 2012: 3-6 PM
Thursday, December 13, 2012: 3-6 PM
Friday, December 21, 2012: 3-6 PM

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.

Oh, my! What should I buy?

My basic palette in my pochade box. 

I am happy to share my plein air supply lists with both my own students and others:

·         Watercolor supply list.
·         Oil painting supply list.
·         Pastel supply list.
I have friends who are tremendously efficient plein air packers. I freely admit I’m not up to their standard, but I do paint outdoors a lot, and successfully. Consider these lists not as gospels, but as starting points.
There is no one “best” palette for plein air (or any other kind of) painting. There are so many pigments available today that the artist is faced with—literally—millions of possible combinations. The medium you’re using, your own taste in color , what you want in opacity and drying time all affect your final choices.
And the exact same paints being used for figure painting.
A little knowledge of pigment development is helpful in whittling down selections. The newer the pigment, the more intense and more durable it will be. A palette of earth tones might have a hard time coping with the addition of dioxazine purple or phthalo blue, whereas a vivid 20th century palette will fail to notice a delicate Renaissance lake color.
This is not to say that you should choose only an “Old-Masters” or an “Impressionist” palette—my own palette has paints from every period. But you can avoid a lot of waste by avoiding obvious mismatches.
The earths and earliest synthesized colors:

The oldest pigments are the earth pigments: the ochres, siennas, umbers and carbon blacks. These have been in use more than 15,000 years. They are as solid and everlasting as dirt. Over time artists have been tremendously wily about expanding their narrow range.
The Egyptians created the first chemical pigment, Egyptian Blue, around 5000 years ago. They also pioneered the use of minerals as pigments with malachite, azurite and cinnabar, and devised a method of fixing dyes to solids (“lake making”) which is still in use today. The Chinese created vermilion and the Romans gave us lead white.
Renaissance alchemists must have been more focused on turning lead into gold, because although they made a few refinements to paints, they left the fundamental kit unchanged.
The industrial revolution:

The Industrial Revolution brought us a pigment revolution. Just a few examples are:
Cobalt Blue – 1802
Cerulean Blue – 1805
French Ultramarine – 1828
Zinc White – 1834
Cadmium Yellow – 1846  
Aureolin – 1862
Alizarin Crimson – 1868
Without the explosion of brilliant color in the 19thcentury, there could have been no Impressionism, no modern art.
Modern pigments:

The third tier of pigments are the highest-stain, most durable of colors, developed mainly for industry: “Hansa” yellows, titanium white, synthetic iron oxides (the “Mars” colors) phthalocyanines, quinacridones, perylenes, and pyrrols. Some have replaced 19thcentury colors that have proven to be fugitive (such as quinacridone violet to make “permanent” alizarin crimson). Some have an uneasy place on the palette because of their extremely high stain, such as phthalo blue.
My basic field kit.
References: “Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color,” by Phillip Ball. It is certainly the most fun book about color ever printed.

Gamblin Artist Colors has optional palettes here. (What is true for oils is generally true for acrylics.)
The most comprehensive guide to watercolor pigments I know of is here.
And my favorite resource for pastels is here.

The nature of Nature

“Keuka Lake Vineyard,” oil on canvasboard, 9X12

This year I am teaching plein air painting in two venues. I believe that all aspiring painters should study plein air. Why?
Character: The strength of plein air painting lies in its relationship to reality, but that is also its greatest weakness. Slavish homage to what one sees is a dangerous trap, even more deadly than the same tendency in figure or still-life painting.
Our appreciation of place is not entirely visual: it also encompasses sound and smell and spatial awareness. There are certain experiences in nature—such as standing in the sand on an elliptical shoreline—that are tremendously appealing in real life, but which make for weak paintings. A literal rendering of them is worse than banal: it lies about the character of the place.
The challenge for the plein air painter is to portray the place in a way that gives a sense of the non-visual cues—the warmth of the wind, drumming of the waves, crickets in dry grass. Either the non-representational aspects of painting become more dominant, or you fail. This happens in ways that figure or still-life never force you to consider.
Composition: We know intellectually that paintings built upon a strong, simple schematic project more powerfully than those pieced together from innumerable details. Nature, however, is essentially an infinite layering of innumerable details. With landscape painting, there is no solution but to fall back on the basic tools of composition: thumbnails, value studies, and shape studies. Painting students who rely on their instructors’ model poses or still lives will never learn to compose the way a plein air student—picking and choosing from the environment’s complexities—will learn to compose.
Communication: Painting is pointless if it is devoid of any emotional or intellectual content. Despite that, it is surprisingly easy to “phone it in” at times, especially in the controlled environment of the studio. We’ve all done it. But everyone has an emotional relationship of some kind with nature, and it is impossible to avoid expressing that.
“Piseco Outlet,” oil on canvasboard, 9X12

Upcoming classes

The two venues I’m teaching in are convenient for both the local student who wants to study in Rochester and the out-of-town student who wants to take a single, intensive class:

  1. Weekly classes in the Rochester area, every Wednesday from 5:30-8:30 PM, meeting in some of the loveliest parts of Monroe County, from the pier at Charlotte to High Falls to Genesee Valley and more. The tuition is $100 a month. Email me herefor more information.
  2. “Adirondack Wild,” a plein air painting workshop at the Irondequoit Inn in Piseco from September 30 to October 5, 2012. The Adirondack preserve is the biggest, wildest park in the Lower 48, and at $775 all-inclusive (room and board) for five days and nights, this is the deal of the century. Download a brochure here.

It’s not easy being green

“Jamie’s waterfall,” 12X16, oil on canvasboard. Painted in two hours flat, and after
packing my car and driving six hours. Only possible because I was working with a color matrix.
We are at that moment when the greens of the northeast suddenly become massive, heavy, and sometimes overbearing to new painters. We love summer, we want to share how delicious it is… and then we hit the wall of green.
Sue Bailey Leo’s version
of my green matrix.
I paint with color matrices wherever possible because they speed the process up, and the more one can get out of one’s own way, the better things go. In the case of foliage, a matrix allows one to separate the different green tones in a painting.
I don’t generally paint with a green pigment on my palette (with the occasional exception of chromium oxide green because it’s the exact shade and weight of summer foliage in the northeast). Instead, I mix them:

This matrix is, top to bottom: black, ultramarine blue.
Left to right: Cad. lemon yellow (or Hansa yellow, depending on my mood), Indian yellow hue (or gamboge hue), yellow ochre.
That gives you nine yellows ranging from high-chroma to subdued, blue to almost orange. In addition, you can tweak each color to either side by adding more of one or the other component, and you can also tint each tone by adding white.
The same matrix, mixed and with the addition of a row of cad. orange in the “yellows”.
Sometimes I shake it up by adding a row of cadmium orange tints, as above.

I’ve taught with this matrix for years and can attest that it helps beginning painters escape the deadly weight of greens, fast. 
Sue Bailey Leo’s first trip out this season. Note
 how effectively she was able to separate the greens.
And here is me, painting in a creek this week. Never happier than when wet, cold, and totally into the process.
Painting in the creek in front of Jamie’s waterfall, at dusk. I loves my Keens!

There just might be something to this.

Early spring morning, Piseco Lake, oil on canvasboard, 12X16

Yesterday, I wrote about a Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook that Jamie Grossman gave me, and my first attempt to pre-sketch my paintings in it in watercolor.
This morning as I walked my appointed rounds, I carried the sketchbook and watercolors instead of my camera. The first thing I noticed—of course—is that it took rather longer to make my circuit than it usually does.
I’ve had my eye on this lovely house set on a hill for a few years, and there being a convenient bench, I sat down to sketch it. (I decided that it will be a better painting when the leaves are leafed out.) From there, I moved to a tree in the deep woods with a triple trunk, which proved to be very difficult, but which was good observationally. In both cases, I was approaching the project too much like real painting, which just irritates when all one has is one small brush.
My sketch, a bench.
This last sketch I did much more quickly, just ripping off a pencil drawing and then flooding the sheet with a color map. And it is frankly more satisfying than either of my earlier sketches (which you can’t see because I finished my day after dark and forgot to photograph them).
Transcribed directly
to canvas
Because I didn’t have a toned canvas, I decided to underpaint my finished study in alkyds. (By this point, time had ceased to be a meaningful constraint.) And it was a good day for them, too—the wind whipping off the lake dried them in no time. My alkyd painting is a simplified but direct rendition of the watercolor sketch.
In the end, this painting took me about four hours, and that is about what I’d expect for a field sketch of this size (12X16). So whatever time I spent on the watercolor sketch was saved on the final project.

Alkyd underpainting, transcribed from
watercolor sketch.

 Marilyn Fairman has joined me in the hermitage, and we spent the afternoon painting intensively. Tomorrow, we have all day to paint. What a joy that will be.