Monday Morning Art School: What are you good at?

Home Farm, 20X24, oil on canvas, $2898 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Painting teachers can sometimes focus on the negative, because it’s part of our job to point out deficiencies. However, there is a lot we can learn by asking our students, “What are you good at?”

I’ll go first: I’m logical, good with numbers, and I’m disciplined. In art terms, I’m a good composer and draftsman and I’m intrepid. See, that wasn’t too hard.

Lobster pound, 14X18, oil on canvas, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling within the continental US.

Your turn: what are you good at?

Name three qualities that are general and three related to your art. I can easily see a relationship between my strengths on and off the canvas. What about you? Are your strengths as an artist related to your strengths as a person?

No, it’s not bragging

I’m not asking you to talk about your awesomeness to everyone you know. We humans all perseverate on our weaknesses, and as an artist you’ve chosen a career with lots of knocks to the ego. A realistic idea about your strengths is a good counterweight to the negativity of the art world.

Camden Harbor, Midsummer, oil on canvas, 24X36 $3188 includes shipping in continental US.

Why is this important?

Looking at our strengths is an effective learning tool. Reflecting on our strengths helps us understand ourselves better. It allows us to recognize where we excel and what comes naturally to us.

Knowing our strengths boosts our confidence. When we are aware of what we’re good at, we feel more capable and empowered to tackle daunting challenges. Confidence can be a driving force in achieving our goals.

Understanding our strengths also helps us set realistic and achievable goals. By leveraging our strengths, we embark on projects that align with our abilities. That increases our chances of success.

Focusing on our strengths enables us to further develop and refine them. Continuous improvement in areas where we excel can lead to greater mastery in those areas. That in turn enhances our overall competence.

It also allows us to collaborate more effectively with others. I have a show hanging at Lone Pine Real Estate this season. It’s a good symbiotic mesh between experienced brokers and an experienced painter. I recognize their strength at attracting a clientele, but I also understand that my strengths in painting houses and boats gives them subject matter that meshes with their mission.

Above all, recognizing our competence develops resilience. All of us sometimes get to a point where we think, “I can’t do anything right.” Knowing our competence helps us navigate periods of self-doubt or rejection.

Main Street, Owl’s Head, oil on archival canvasboard, $1623 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Above all, it feels good

Not beating ourselves up all the time is such a relief. Art (and life) is just more fun when we feel good about what we’re doing. What we focus on, we (to some degree) become. As King Solomon wrote some 3000 years ago, “for as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

If you’ve got the courage, answer the question “what are you good at in art and in life?” below. (I promise to not tell anyone.) Can you see a relationship between the two? Can you see a way those strengths can be a building block to future success?

My 2024 workshops:

Footnote: the Red Barn Gallery in Port Clyde, ME, is looking for an artist to join for the 2024 season. It’s a cooperative gallery so you must be able and willing to work shifts there. Having done it myself, I can tell you there are few places more pleasant in which to spend a summer afternoon. The application is here.

Monday Morning Art School: nobody can copy you

Tilt-A-Whirl, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Bobbi Heath sent me a post yesterday called How to Deal With Copycats, which I promised I’d read before I blogged this morning. “I’m never that worried about what other people are doing,” I added. She told me not to bother reading it but to just write about the subject, so that’s what I’m doing.

A few decades ago, a woman came up to my booth at a show and took a photo of one of my paintings. “I want to copy it,” she told me, apparently unaware of the etiquette of stealing others’ ideas. (First rule: don’t broadcast your intentions.)

“Good luck with that,” I told her.

There are some brilliant copyists out there. They’re called forgers, and I admire their ability to channel their creativity into chemistry rather than the business of brushstrokes. I’m too idiosyncratic myself, and I suspect most of us are. We have an inner vision that’s too strong to be overridden.

I am insufficiently dead to attract the attention of forgers. Those other copyists are called ‘amateurs’ and if their copying doesn’t affect the value of my work or my reputation, I don’t care what they do.

In Control (Grace and her Unicorn), 24X30, $3,478 framed, oil on canvas, includes shipping in continental United States.

Sometimes copying is about learning

I look at the work of Tom Root for his brushwork, Tara Will for her audacity, Cynthia Rosen for her palette knife virtuosity, Eric Jacobsen for his scumbling, and Colin Page for his color. I have no hesitation about copying passages to be sure I understand how they achieved the effect that interested me.

Is that being a copycat? No; it’s being a lifelong learner.

Best Buds, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, $1087 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Paintings are mostly about what isn’t stated

It’s your inner vision that makes you unique, both as a painter and a person. I’ve taught painting for many years and one of my go-to lessons is to ask students to copy a masterwork. Can they make a perfect JMW Turner or Rockwell Kent or Emily Carr? Absolutely not; their own personality always seeps out through every brushstroke. That’s even true when I ask them to concentrate on brushwork.

A person who wants to copy your work or style is devoid of that strong inner vision. That means he or she won’t understand your viewpoint in the first place, which would make real mimicry impossible.

Beauchamp Point, Autumn Leaves, 12X16, oil on archival canvasboard, $1449 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

What is style, anyway?

Years ago, a painting teacher told me that heavy outlines were my style. He was wrong; they were just an inability to marry edges (which I hadn’t been taught yet). That’s an argument for not even thinking about style until you’ve developed serious painting chops. Style is different from being stylish, to which we should all aspire.

Style is the gap between your inner vision and your ability to render it. That disconnect may be caused by bad painting chops. It can equally be caused by something subconscious that elevates, rather than diminishes, your vision.

Vincent van Gogh is an eloquent example of this. His obsessive need to put his inner vision on canvas tells us he never quite succeeded in matching up his brush with his mind. We’ve all benefited immeasurably from that disconnect, since his style has profoundly influenced modern art.

But what about AI?

I feel about AI the same way I do amateur copyists. At this point in its development, it’s easy to pick out AI-generated art online. Maybe someday AI will be good enough to look like it has a heart, but we’re not there yet.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: why is a workshop important?

Sand and Shadows, 8X16, oil on archival linenboard, private collection

I had a long chat with Olena Babak last week, where we mostly discussed how much we value our artist friends. The plein air world, in which we’re both deeply planted, fosters a sense of community. Many of my friends are artists whom I met teaching or at events. There is something unique in the experience of pitting ourselves against our own unreachable goals that binds artists together.

At the same time, I texted with someone considering my Towards Amazing Color workshop at the Sedona Arts Center.  “What is the most important thing I will take away from this workshop?” she asked. I’ve been mulling that over ever since.

All painting starts with observation and perception, and Sedona is in a natural setting so preposterous that painters can’t fall back on what they think they know. The landscape is vast and the air is so clear that none of the usual tricks of aerial perspective apply. This creates distinctive lighting conditions, especially at sunrise and sunset, which in turn bounces what we think we know about color on its head.

Peace, 8X16, $903 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

That’s a great thing, since none of us should be painting stereotypes anyway.

In most of our world, the dominant color scheme is green, brown and blue, with flashes of warm colors. There is nothing wrong with that, of course; I paint it and love it deeply. But Sedona flips all that on its head. Its giant rock massifs are red and cream, set off by a ferocious azure sky and accented with dull greens.

Meanwhile, the intense warm light forms equally intense cool shadows. A week of painting that light will bleed back into our paintings of the more-delicate lighting elsewhere, helping us capture the nuances of light and shadow. Painting what we don’t know is invaluable for developing a keen sense of observation for when we get back to what we do know.

Early Light is 11X14, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 includes shipping and handling in the continental US.

That raises the question of how accurately we mix our colors. Just as I discourage eastern painters from using premixed greens, I discourage Sedona painters from using premixed reds. Yes, the rocks may be close to burnt sienna, but slathering that on will just make for a flat painting. We need to learn to mix colors to match the subtle variations in the landscape. That’s a skill you can take anywhere.

My personal painting challenge right now is in representing what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, deep space. It’s easy enough to paint an eastern mountain that’s a few miles away, especially when I have aerial perspective to fall back on. The giant rearing rock formations of Sedona, set like massive eroding jewels, are eroded like hoodoos but bigger than skyscrapers. They create their own special drafting problems. They teach me how to convey distance, perspective, and dimensionality. Once you’ve seen that kind of depth in a painting, you can’t go back to using mere layering to create the illusion of distance.

Pensive, 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard, $522 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

I am both a committed plein air painter and outdoorswoman (although I can’t tell you which came first). Painting outdoors fosters my connection with the natural world. It’s not just the landscape and atmosphere; it’s also the weather, the creatures and the plants. (That relationship transcends words, which is why I loathe writing artist’s statements.) Sedona has all those things in spades. If you haven’t ever been there, it’s worth the journey.

I hope this answers my correspondent’s question, and by extension, yours too.

My 2024 workshops:

Monday Morning Art School: ten great reasons to take a plein air workshop

Eastern Manitoba Forest, 6X8, oil on archival canvasboard, $348 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Plein air taught me more about painting than several years of intensive studio instruction. I could think of a thousand reasons it’s helpful, but here are just ten.

  1. Nature is inspiring. Plein air painting helps us engage with the natural environment. Creation is an unmatched, unique, unlimited subject. Changing light, colors, and atmosphere teach us so much about creating mood and dynamism. Speaking of nature…
  2. Spending time outdoors is good for us. It’s the best thing for my mental health, so I do it every day. It centers me, calms my anxiety, and constantly amazes, even in places I’ve been hundreds of times. Nature is never routine.
Brilliant autumn day, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $696 includes shipping and handling in continental US.
  • We get better at painting. I trained as a figure painter, but I think plein air is far more challenging. It teaches us to simplify, compose, and observe. Meanwhile we hone color mixing, brushwork, and drafting. And if the teacher is any good, we get immediate feedback and guidance.
  • We make friends for life. I don’t know why I’m so blessed, but I overwhelmingly have great people in my classes and workshops. Workshops bring together like-minded individuals with a passion for art. They exchange ideas, learn from each other, and establish long-lasting friendships.
  • We gain confidence. Painting on location encourages us to overcome challenges like changing weather, time constraints, and the occasional absurdities of painting in public spaces. That in turn boosts our confidence.
  • Larky Morning at Rockport Harbor, 11X14, on linen, $869 unframed includes shipping in continental US.
  • It’s the fastest way to learn how light and shadow work together. Mother Nature gives us no controlled light boxes, so we are forced to learn how natural light interacts with the environment. That ups our color game in ways we can take back to the studio.
  • We learn to see differently. Working outdoors in the slow lane helps us find unique and often overlooked subjects. These are things we never notice while frantically snapping reference photos with our cell phones.
  • We learn to make decisions quickly. There’s nothing like rapidly-changing light to help us stop dithering and lay down fast, decisive brush strokes. I’ve found that carries over to every aspect of my life.
  • Seafoam, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed.
  • Plein air gets you out of your rut. “The rut I was in had once been a groove,” sang Nick Lowe, and ain’t that the truth! Breaking out of your studio offers new ideas, perspective, and inspiration, and pulls us out of stagnation.
  • Plein air leads to personal growth. Like any serious discipline, plein air painting encourages adaptability, patience, and a deeper appreciation for the beauty of our world. That’s something we take far beyond painting.
  • A personal note: Joe Anna Arnett was a nationally-known painter, but to me she was primarily a sister in Christ, a generous friend and a wonderful, warm soul. I’m not sad for her; she’s done fighting a long, arduous battle against cancer, and now she’s with the heavenly choir. I’m sad for us, because a beautiful light was extinguished on Saturday night. Rest in peace, dear one.

    My 2024 workshops:

    In praise of Texas parks

    Migrating pelicans at McKinney Falls State Park.

    If like me, you are a lifelong resident of the northeast, you may have only a dim or cartoonish idea of the culture and landscape of Texas. Before last year, my only experience there was a drive-by of the statehouse in Austin and several days poking around San Antonio and the Hill Country. There are moments in those places that are unbelievably beautiful, but I’ll be the first person to admit my knowledge of Texas is only skin deep.

    The wildflowers of Texas are ethereally beautiful.

    “You need to come visit and teach here,” my friend and student Mark Gale told me repeatedly. Yeah, yeah, I told him. A workshop needs more than just spectacular scenery; it needs students. And yet Mark and I somehow pulled it together and we had a fantastic group.

    But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. Rather, I’m here to sing the praises of McKinney Falls State Park. When Mark mentioned it to me, I was skeptical. After all, it is just a few miles from downtown Austin. I wasn’t prepared for the solitude and peace of the place, or the beauty of knotted cypress roots. Onion Creek spills over a massive, long limestone scarf, and the water is a delicate blue-green-grey. Above all, there were lupines in their thousands.

    The tangled roots of a cypress are worth painting.

    Still, from a visitor’s standpoint that’s never enough. We need bathrooms, and the toilet block was fresh and clean. Where were the outhouses I’d expected there in cowboy country? (To be honest, we have state parks here in Maine where an outhouse would be a luxury.)

    We residents of the northeast have the idea that with our four hundred years of history we are somehow more civilized than newer, rawer states. Mention Texas in New York and your odds of an anti-Texas comment are about 50-50. That’s absurd. Texas is so large and varied that it defies description. It’s also historic. The first European settlement in Texas was only 61 years after the Pilgrims founded Plymouth colony.

    This limestone ledge is a perfect shelter in case of rain.

    Texas parks are beautiful and wildly diverse. That’s not just in terms of terrain, but in wildlife. We were painting lupines along McKinney Falls’ ring road, when I noticed skeins of birds high in the sky. “Canada geese?” I asked tentatively, because that didn’t make sense to me. No, they were pelicans. Meanwhile Mark has sent me photos of buffalo from Caprock Canyon, which could give the red rocks of Sedona a run for their money. There are armadillos, wild boars and rattlesnakes.

    If I’d had time, I could have hiked, camped, or fished. In the more remote parks, there are extraordinary stargazing opportunities. Because of light pollution, most of us never have a chance to see the heavens unfolded but there are still empty places in Texas.

    Not in the park, but one of my favorite places in Austin. We painted nocturnes here.

    The other thing I loved about McKinney Falls State Park were the children. There were hundreds of them on school field trips, learning about and loving nature.

    Yesterday the wind chill was below zero as I hiked up Beech Hill. I like Maine’s weather, but I spent the walk musing on lupines, which is why I decided to share this blast of spring with you. The lupines will be out in just a little more than two months, and I’ll be there teaching. I hope you will join me.

    My 2024 workshops:

    How to become an artist

    Skylarking, 24X36, oil on canvas, $3985 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

    I learned to draw and paint from my father. However, my parents were adamant that I couldn’t major in art unless I planned to teach, and I hated the idea. That prohibition turned out to be blessing in disguise, because art education at SUNY schools in the 1970s was dismal.

    I’ve helped a lot of kids get into art school but it isn’t something I’d encourage today. A year at Pratt currently runs $73,390. That is unrealistic for anyone but a trust fund baby.

    Instead of being a fine artist, I became a graphic designer. Programs like Microsoft Publisher reduced the need for layout artists, so I went back to college for a software degree.

    Ravening Wolves, oil on canvas, 24X30, $3,478.00 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

    I took off my last semester immediately after the birth of my fourth child. Bored, I set up an easel in my kitchen and started painting again. “If you can paint that well after laying off for so long, forget software. The world is full of programmers; but there aren’t that many good artists,” my husband said.

    I didn’t need to be told twice.

    I knew my skills needed updating, so I commuted on weekends to the Art Students League in New York from Rochester. That is a 670-mile round trip, but when you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it. There, I met Cornelia Foss. Her first assignment for me was to draw and paint an orange. “If this was 1950, I’d say brava,” she told me. “But it’s not.” Of my teachers, she was the most demanding, and I owe more to her than to anyone else.

    In Control (Grace and her Unicorn), 24X30, $3,478 framed, oil on canvas, includes shipping in continental United States.

    I decided to paint plein air once a day for a whole year, excluding Sundays. That generated an inventory of 313 landscape paintings. Having no better ideas, I started doing tent shows like Rochester’s Clothesline Art Festival. Eventually, I did these across the Northeast and Midwest.

    These are fun but brutal. When 5 PM rolls around on the last day, you must pack up your merchandise, stow your tent and display walls and then drive home. I started doing plein air events instead. I still enjoy them, but I now only do a few each year.

    Two old and dear friends were the nucleus of my first painting classes. Today I look back and wonder how I had the audacity to teach when I knew so little. I’ve learned as much from my students as they have from me.

    I have friends who painted right after art school, but too many promising painters are forced by student loans into working other jobs. It’s more common that art is a second career. Most of us must make a living before we do art. As my mother once trenchantly put it, “In my day, we didn’t have time to self-actualize.”

    Ever-Changing Camden Harbor, 24X36, oil on canvas, $3188 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

    Here are my recommendations for a career in art:

    At first you must play. I made prints, sculpted, and drew for decades before I settled down into painting. Don’t worry about wasting time and money at this stage; exploration is important.

    Then choose one medium and do a deep dive. I was once a competent musician, but painting took all my available bandwidth. That’s a necessary sacrifice, except it never felt like a sacrifice.

    Take classes and workshops. It’s cheaper and easier than trying to figure out everything by yourself.

    Study art. Know your place in art history.

    Do art every day, at least when you’re starting.

    Let your style evolve naturally. Resist the temptation to pigeonhole yourself, or, worse, be pigeonholed.

    Suck it up and apply to shows. Competition drives us to be better, faster. But don’t get discouraged; there are a lot of excellent artists out there.

    Embrace marketing, it’s not a dirty word. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” That’s nuts. The world loves a good marketing plan, first and foremost.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Monday Morning Art School: please learn to draw

    The illustrations in this post were from Monday Morning Art School: Drawing a Globe, and done by Sandy Quang and me on a stormy night before Christmas. The original post is here.

    Ten years ago I wrote about teaching Amy Vail to draw. She’d made the cardinal error of telling me she “lacked the gene to draw.” Since I know there’s no such gene, I challenged her to let me teach her, and she made great strides in just one week. Drawing is not a magic trick; it’s not a talent. It’s a technical skill no different from reading, writing or arithmetic.

    Drawing is first and foremost a technical skill.

    I know people who paint by tracing photos or photo-montages, but that prevents the non-linear part of the mind from getting involved. Art has always been about deeper things: reflection, aesthetics, ideas, feelings, spirituality and other forms of higher-order thinking. It makes no sense to shut out the part of your mind that processes these.

    I’m writing syllabuses for my January-February classes (and I’m sorry, but they’re both sold out). This is the first time I’ve taught drawing outside the context of painting. What is important and how do I teach it?

    Most complex shapes are riffs on simpler shapes.

    Observation Skills

    The ability to closely observe and analyze a subject develops hand-in-hand with the physical act of drawing. One can photograph a scene without paying too much attention. Drawing and painting from life is how skilled realist painters sort out what matters. The best way to really see something is to draw or paint it.

    Details are almost the least-important part, although it’s amazing how much one glosses over them until one actually sits down to draw. What really matters is proportion and the relationship between elements. That comes down to distance and angles. That is why painters can get away with leaving out detail if they get the proportions and relationships right. Anyone interested in abstracting the landscape had better have top-notch drawing skills.

    Even a line drawing conveys volume, but shading is that much more expressive.

    Basic Shapes and Forms

    Almost every complex shape is a combination of basic shapes like cones, boxes, spheres and columns. For example, the spinet piano next to me is fundamentally a tall box with another boxlike structure (the keyboard) attached to the front and supported by two columnar legs. Get the size relationships of those big shapes right, and the fluting and scrolls are almost extraneous.

    In their 2D form that means circles, squares, triangles, and ellipses. That doesn’t mean, however, that you get to ignore dimensionality, which leads us to…


    Everyone should learn how 1-, 2-, and 3-point perspectives work, and then never use them again. They’re a theoretical construct that shows you how to avoid errors, but they’re not ‘true’. The vanishing points in the real world are infinitely distant, and that’s hard to achieve on paper. However, understanding perspective will save you from lots of mistakes.

    The more you draw, the more fluid your painting will be.

    Volume and shading

    Yes, one can imply volume with line drawing alone, but shifts in value tell a broader story. They will also form the basis of painting composition.

    Expressive mark-making

    This is where drawing suddenly gets fun. Expressive mark-making takes time to develop, but experimenting with different line weights and styles is the first step in that exploration.

    Work up from simple objects and nothing will be too difficult for you. (Drawing by me.)

    So how do you start?

    Drawing is the cheapest and most liberating of all media. All you need is a sketchbook (this is the one I use, and I go through them like candy), a mechanical pencil, and some kind of straight-edge.

    Then start drawing every day. It’s that simple. This is the text I recommend to those who like learning from books, but you can also find a lot of free instruction on this blog.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Monday Morning Art School: why you should draw

    I draw every week in church, riffing off the sermon. Today’s was about persistence and hard work.

    Nobody can master painting until they master drawing. That’s true for both abstractionists and realists, because drawing is how you express depth and dynamism. Painting is really nothing more than drawing with a brush. To build facility in paint, you first must draw.

    Tens of thousands of years before there was written language, there was art on cave walls and cliffs. When words started being written down (around 3000 BC) they were first written in the form of pictographs. That tells us something about the importance of drawing to humankind.

    I can draw things out of my head because I know how to draw from life.

    Drawing is liberating

    Drawing allows us to express ideas, emotions, and narratives non-verbally. For painters seeking to escape being literal, that’s critical. I can’t think of a single great painter who couldn’t draw. Vincent van Gogh famously taught himself, and his early drawings are bad enough that they should give us all hope that we too can do better. “Drawing is the root of everything, and the time spent on that is actually all profit,” he wrote.

    It’s not just about putting pretty things down on paper. Drawing tightens up our observational skill. We develop a keen eye for details, shapes, proportions, and visual relationships. That helps us analyze and map both the world around us and our inner world.

    All I need is a sketchbook and a #2 mechanical pencil. Anything else is just a refinement.

    Much of drawing is about translating a three-dimensional reality onto a two-dimensional surface. That teaches us about structure and spatial relationships. If you don’t see the value in representing depth and space in a painting, take a deep dive into the work of Edgar Degas.

    A lot of us stopped working on hand-eye coordination when we mastered cursive writing. Then we let it go when we started relying on computers, which is why so many of us have terrible handwriting. We need that hand-eye coordination for painting, and we develop it through drawing.

    This is partly from my imagination, but the window is high up in our church building.

    A study showed that drawing helps memory in young and old alike. Researchers speculated that it was because drawing draws on varied brain paths simultaneously. I think it’s because in drawing we must attend much more intensely. That reaps benefits not just in art but in life overall.

    There is a gap between what we draw or paint and what is ‘really’ there. We like to think of that gap as a shortcoming, and to some degree it is. But it’s in that gap that we develop style, and where we do a lot of non-verbal creative thinking. Tracing from photographs will never allow for the soul to creep in like drawing does.

    This was drawn when I had to sit in the foyer because there were no seats. I amused myself by imagining what was going on inside.

    So why don’t we do it? The sad answer for many of us is that we’ve never been taught, so we’re frustrated and afraid to try again. We don’t grant ourselves the grace and patience to persist.

    I’ve butted my head against this since I started teaching. Drawing and painting are closely related but I can only teach one at a time. That’s why I’m breaking a promise to myself to not work six days a week and offering a Saturday class on Fundamentals of Drawing, starting January 6. By Ash Wednesday, you’ll be well on your way to good draftsmanship. That in turn will lead to better painting.

    My 2024 workshops:

    This series would not be happening without you

    From Step 1: the Perfect Palette

    Last year, Laura and I sketched out a seven-part series called Seven Protocols for Successful Oil Painters. Laura had a vision based on the industrial training videos that were part of her prior career. I’ve never watched a training video in my life; the last time I worked for someone else, my instructions were scribbled on foolscap.

    I didn’t want to make a tedious video where I did a long, uninterrupted demo. They always make me fall asleep. Laura wanted a series of shorts that explained a specific concept. Each would be followed by exercises and a quiz.

    I had no idea how to record video, and no clue how to edit it when it was done. However, I did have a good SLR and audio recorder. My son introduced me to DaVinci Resolve. We bought a subscription to Canva and extra storage on Google. Once we had all those things in place, we realized we had no idea what we were doing.

    From Step 2: the Value Drawing

    There is nothing more disheartening than spending an afternoon painting, only to find that you hadn’t focused the camera, or the light was wrong, or you forgot to start the audio recorder. If there was a mistake to be made, I’ve made it.

    Our goal was to finish all seven classes by the end of the year, but as the summer season heated up, I lost my momentum. We will probably finish the fifth one by Christmas, and the other two by the end of winter. Once that’s done, you’ll no longer need me; you can learn to paint by doing the exercises.

    From Step 3: The Correct Composition

    This series would not be happening without you. That starts with the people who have asked me over the year to write a book; I got it outlined and then stalled. The outline for that book became the outline for this series.

    Then there are the people who beta tested the first class. You gave me incisive and pertinent feedback, which improved later classes. A few loyal testers have been with me through every episode, and I’m especially grateful for you.

    I’m grateful for the early adopters of the series. At times I wondered whether Laura and I had lost our minds in devoting a year to such a risky venture. But many of you have taken them, and you seem to have found them valuable. “I took Carol’s online class modules prior to the [Rockport Immersive] workshop and found them to be great preparation,” Beth D. wrote. “I don’t think I could have absorbed all that complicated and practical information while painting plein air on location. The modules were very brief and concise yet enlightening.” Thank you, Beth.

    From Step 4: the Essential Grisaille

    In appreciation of you all, here’s a code for 30% off one of the Seven Protocols for Successful Oil Painters. Choose from:





    Just type THANKYOU30 in the coupon code. And thank you so much!

    My 2024 workshops:

    Monday Morning Art School: it’s all in the preparation

    The Pine Tree State, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed includes shipping in continental US.

    When I’m teaching workshops and classes, I frequently ask students, “What’s your takeaway lesson here?” Last week my workshop students got a deep dive into two artists’ working method: Andrew Wyeth‘s, through a guided tour of the Farnsworth Art Museum, and Colin Page‘s, from the maestro himself.

    “Painting is easy,” Colin said. “It’s the preparation that’s hard.” I smiled, because that’s something I frequently say as well. Wyeth didn’t whisper it from beyond the grave, but his methodology is spelled out in the museum. For his studio paintings, he was a consummate draftsman who made many sketches and paid meticulous attention to detail.

    Bracken Fern, 12X9, oil on canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping in continental US.

    Students frequently ask me how to achieve loose brushwork. My first question is why they want that, as it’s not a universal value. Rather it’s a question of style. Linear painting is based on line and boundary; the artist sees in clear shapes and outline. Painterly painting focuses on the interactions of masses, shadows, and merged shapes. An example of a contemporary linear landscape painter is Linden Frederick. An example of a contemporary painterly landscape painter is Kevin Macpherson. Neither style is ‘better,’ they’re just different. And there are many painters (including me) who work in the middle somewhere.

    When Arthur Rubinstein was asked if he believed people when they told him he was the greatest pianist of the 20th century, he replied, “Not only I don’t believe them, I get very angry when I hear that, because it is absolute, sheer, horrible nonsense. There isn’t such a thing as the greatest pianist of any time. Nothing in art can be the best. It is only… different.”

    What is a universal value in art is assurance, and that rests on the back of solid preparation. Rubinstein joked that he was lazy and didn’t like to practice, but he still spent 6-9 hours a day at the piano. “And a strange thing happened. I began to discover new meanings, new qualities, new possibilities in music that I have been regularly playing for more than 30 years.”

    Larky Morning at Rockport Harbor, 11X14, on archival canvasboard, $869 unframed includes shipping in continental US.

    The same thing is true of painting, as is its obverse-the less preparation you do, the more you’ll fumble in performance. And the more you must redraw, reposition, reset values, or restate, the less immediate and assured your brushwork will be. That’s as true in oils, acrylics and pastels as it is in watercolor.

    What does that mean for the emerging artist? At a minimum, you should do a carefully-realized sketch, considered in terms of compositional patterns of darks and lights. This sketch should be moved to the canvas or paper accurately; if that requires gridding, then you should grid. Colors should be tested first for value, and then to how they relate to the overall key of the painting.

    Sea Fog, Castine, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping in continental US

    Yes, I know artists who don’t do these things. They can be sorted into two groups. The first are those who are very experienced. They’ve learned what corners they can cut (which are not the same for everyone). The second are impatient beginning and intermediate painters. They almost always fail in the preparation, and then they wonder why they’re flailing around in the painting stage.

    My 2024 workshops: