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.

Adirondack Wild, a plein air painting workshop

The porch at the Irondequoit Inn at dusk… a beautiful, relaxing place to listen to the loons on Piseco Lake.
A few years ago, my husband and son signed up for a father-son canoe trip in Speculator, NY. Because I’m always restless to paint, I rode up with them. And because I live near IrondequoitBay on Lake Ontario, I naturally booked a room at the Irondequoit Inn in Piseco, sight unseen.

That was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Canoes and kayaks near the beach at Irondequoit Inn, photo courtesy of Eric & Liz Davis.

Over my life, I’ve backpacked in the High Peaks, visited Ausable Chasm, camped along the Fulton Chain, toddled through Santa’s Workshop, been to the top of Whiteface Mountain in an overheating old Chevy station wagon, scouted for “Herkimer Diamonds,” pored over old boats at the museum at Blue Mountain Lake, hiked up to Lake Tear of the Clouds. But although I’ve painted all over the world, I had—until that trip—never painted in the Adirondacks.
Irondequoit Inn from their private island on Piseco Lake.
Cool photo, huh? Taken by Eric & Liz Davis.

Several years ago, I taught in the southwest desert. It was very interesting, and I came home having made some wonderful friends and taken some great photos, but I really got no brilliant work done.

Mill Stream, on the Irondequoit Inn grounds, photo courtesy of Eric & Liz Davis.
There were two limitations. The first is that the southwest desert doesn’t resonate with me in the same way as the northeast does, despite the fact that it is theoretically more painterly, being a land of broad vistas and warm colors. The second is that distances are so great that we spent an inordinate amount of time driving.

This year I am teaching a painting workshopin conjunction with the Irondequoit Inn’s 120th Anniversary, from September 30-October 5, which is the height of leaf season in the mountains.
My painting buddies will love the ambiance of this old-fashioned Inn, with its broad porches, antique furniture and casual charm. There is a beach, an island, and three streams on the Inn’s own property, along with three wonderful lakes within spitting distance: Piseco, Oxbow, and Lake Pleasant, meaning that no long drives need be undertaken.

Weather closing in on Piseco Lake outlet.

The price is fantastic—$775, including lodging and meals—even our box lunches for out in the field! And because the Inn is doing the management, I am free to concentrate on what I do best—teaching painting.
Here is a link to the brochure, and a link to more images (in no particular order). My NYC painting pals should note that they can take the train to Rensselaer/Albany and rent a car from there. (Or, if you don’t drive, they should contact me and I’ll see what I can do to arrange a car pool.)
I do hope you are able to join us.

Paint Way Down East July 11-18, 2009

Following up on last year’s highly successful workshop, I am offering a painting adventure next summer to the moody, rock-bound coast of Down East, Maine.
This workshop will be based at the lovely and historic West Quoddy Coast Guard Station in Lubec, ME. This early 20th century station is located on the edge of Quoddy Head State Park. The station was recently renovated and opened as a guesthouse by Bill Clark, who developed Randall’s Ordinary Inn in North Stonington, CT.
Your fee of $1150 includes instruction, all meals and seven days of double accommodations. (Other packages are available from $1050.) Non-participating spouses are always welcome; please contact us here for more information and pricing.

See a brochure here.
Book by Feb. 1, 2009 and save $100 off the cost of your workshop!

Among the attractions to paint are:

West Quoddy Head Light (c. 1858)
Passamaquoddy Bay
Historic Lubec waterfront and harbor
Grand Manan Channel
West Quoddy Peat Bog
Sail Rock
Carrying Place Cove
Mulholland Light
Lubec Channel Light

Area attractions include:

St. Andrews, NB, and the Bay of Fundy
Historic whaling community of Eastport, ME
FDR historic site at Campobello Island

For more information, email me here, or call Carol L. Douglas Studios at 585-201-1558.

Looking forward to seeing you in Maine!

Trip to Ghost Ranch in AbiquiĂş, NM added to Taos workshop

“When I got to New Mexico, that was mine.”

That was how Georgia O’Keeffe described her instant love for northern New Mexico, which she first visited in 1917 Although she never owned Ghost Ranch, she eventually purchased a small home there and later a home in nearby AbiquiĂş. (Learn more about Ghost Ranch here.)

We have added a guided tour of this area (which she loved, explored, painted, and lived in for over 50 years) to our “Paint the Magic and Mystery of Taos” workshop, from June 15-21, 2008. This is optional and requires a ticket at $25.

Tour update

This trip is selling well, and we have a few openings left. I’m getting pretty jazzed about it myself.

I plan to pick up tour participants at Albuquerque Airport on Sunday, June 15 (if you arrive at a different time, there’s a shuttle available to Taos). On Sunday evening, we’ll relax over dinner at the Sagebrush Inn and get to know each other.

I am always excited to get to work right away and I bet you’re the same. In the morning, we’ll get right down to the business of painting. Then, while you eat your lunch and relax, Shelli or I will demo in a variety of media.

We’re visiting Ghost Ranch on Friday. We’ll bring our supplies so we can get one work session in that day. On Saturday we’ll help you pack and ship your stuff and get you back to Albuquerque for the trip home.

Your fee of $1200 includes workshop instruction, five days of painting in special selected plein air locations, lodging and two meals per day at the historic Sagebrush Inn. (

Painters are welcome to work in oils, pastels, acrylics and watercolor. Materials list and daily schedule will be supplied upon registration. A branch of Artisans art store is nearby. (

Travel arrangements and fees

Call Jeannie at Esplanade Travel to reserve your workshop space with a $550 deposit. She’s at (718) 597-1414 or [email protected]. She can also help with your flight arrangements if you wish.

Shelli Robiner-Ardizzone has led workshops for 8 years at the Women’s Studio Center, LIC, and at Great Neck Arts Center. She has been awarded a residency at the Vermont Studio Center and grants from National Academy School and Art Students League.

Carol L. Douglas (moi) is the chairperson of New York Plein Air Painters and teaches plein air, studio and figure painting in Rochester, NY. She studied at the Art Students League and elsewhere. (

For a brochure you can print, go here.