Daylilies and lace-cap hydrangea

Daylilies and lace-cap hydrangea, 11X14, $869 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

When Colin Page asked me if I’d paint for the 76th annual Camden Garden Tour, I said, “sure, why not?” Don’t ever tell him I said this, but Colin is such a nice guy that he makes one want to do nice things too.

I’m not a painter of gardens. They’re one of the few landscape subjects I avoid. The painter can’t generally improve on what the skilled gardener hath wrought. Great gardens (as Merryspring Nature Center’s are) are beautiful, but they’re also neat. My natural inclination in landscape paintings is toward the scruffy, like me.

The contrast between the intense color in the foreground and the airy lightness of the great daylily bed at Merryspring appealed to me, even as I realized it would be a compositional bear and equally difficult to paint.

“Never proceed to paint until you have a drawing you love,” I tell my students. My problem was, I kept jabbering with passers-by. It’s a small town and I’m blessed with many wonderful friends. I didn’t finish my sketch until noon. Since I had to leave at 3 PM to get ready for the Camden Art Walk, it was time to fish or cut bait.

The featured artist for this year’s Garden Tour is Cassie Sano, who has studied landscape painting with me on and off for several years now. My students are passing me left and right in their Cadillacs.

This canvas is certainly not overworked, since I finished it at warp speed. It was a good warm up for Camden on Canvas, which starts this morning.

I wonder where I could find some musicians to play for the Camden Art Walk?

As we do every year, Björn Runquist, Ken DeWaard, Eric Jacobsen and I started a last-minute text string debating where we should paint. Dithering is an important part of the plein air landscape painting process; after all, there might be something brilliant right around the corner.

But here in Camden there’s not a single intersection or overlook that wouldn’t make the bones of a good painting. I know what I’m doing, and I suspect the Three Musketeers do too. The good lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m rowing out to Curtis Island on Friday and painting on Sea Street on Saturday. But double-check at the information kiosk on Atlantic Avenue just to make sure.

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How to pick a plein air location

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

I’m thinking about Camden on Canvas and an impractical location occurs to me. It’s a glacial erratic on Fernald’s Neck. It would be long hike with a large canvas and my gear (although not nearly as onerous as painting from the top of Bald Mountain. Even when I get there, I’ll be confounded by the composition, as it’s just a huge rock by the shore. However, it’s one of those subjects that always excites me when I see it, so this might be the year I do it.

Glacial erratic with my friend Marjean for scale.

The problem of choosing plein air locations is compounded when one is teaching or organizing an outing for a group. There are practical considerations that aren’t as important when I’m painting solo.

At Rest in Camden Harbor, 12X16, oil on birch, $1159 unframed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Here’s how I approach the question:

Does the view interest and inspire? That’s a moving target, but I look for places with interesting compositions and varied elements. That way there’s something for everyone.

How’s the lighting? I consider the time of day when it’s possible to be in that location. And, of course, at midday, I generally encourage people to down brushes and rest.

Is it accessible? This is far more important for a plein air class or an event where you have spectators than it is for solo painting. However, with big canvases come big equipment, and that’s where park-and-paint can be very helpful. There’s a famous location in Schoodic that’s now off-limits to groups. I never took mine there anyway; I judged it to be just too easy to tumble off that cliff.

American Eagle in Drydock, 12X16, $1159 unframed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Is the terrain negotiable? I don’t mean just for me, but for everyone in my plein air group. The best locations are ones where the agile can move out and explore, but others can paint from near their car.

Can painters set up chairs? I have a duff back, and I no longer stand to paint. I want a place I can sit, and where my students can set up chairs if they wish. There’s no shame in sitting to paint.

What’s the weather forecast? It behooves a plein air painter to know all the overhangs, bridges, gazebos and other places he or she can shelter from the weather. That includes the sun if it’s blistering hot as it will be this week. A contingency plan is a must. In Maine, mine is my own studio as a backup location. In other areas, it can be a rented hall.

Do you have permission? I will never forget being yelled at because other painters who were not part of my group had trespassed on private property. Make sure you have permission before you go on someone else’s land. One of the hidden costs of my Schoodic workshop at Acadia National Park is the required permit (and a hidden cost for all my workshops is insurance).

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

Leave no trace. If you brought it in, bring it out. Police your workstation before you leave.

Are there amenities? We all need restrooms, food, and water. While I can fend for myself, I need to be clear with students about their options before we arrive. There’s no Starbucks at Schoodic, and I hope there never will be.

Can I get help in the case of an emergency? If there’s no cell-phone reception, I want to be within minutes of a ranger or a road.

Can we get away from the crowds? In Maine (and other popular destinations) that’s not always possible, but I work hard to keep people out of the worst traffic jams. Some people like talking about painting, but others really want privacy in which to work.

Are there multiple points of interest? There are many plein air painting sites with one great view, but they’re inherently less interesting than those with a variety of points of interest. Is there depth, with distinctive features in the foreground, midground and background?

I spend a lot of time scouting in the area in which I paint (and teach), usually with sketchbook in hand. You should, too.

The four locations in today’s paintings are all places we’ll be painting during Painting in Paradise, here in Rockport.

Two openings this week:

Thursday, June 20, 2024, I’ll be at the Camden Art Walk, at Lone Pine Real Estate, 19 Elm Street, Camden, ME. That’s 5-7 PM, and the Art Walk is kind of a street party. It’s rather short notice, but I would love to see you there. Especially as my husband is threatening to bring his bass guitar and plunk away in the corner.

Friday, June 21, 2024, I’ll be at the Red Barn Gallery in Port Clyde, ME, from 4-7 PM for the opening reception of their first seasonal show, Barns. I’ll have three of them in the show, and my fantastically-gifted student Cassie Sano has taken my spot in the cooperative. I’m curious to see what she (and the rest of my friends there) is up to.

My 2024 workshops:

Five plein air challenges to make you a better painter

Lobster Wharf, 8X16, oil on archival linenboard, framed, $903 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Here are five plein air challenges that will help us all loosen up for the summer painting season. Enjoy!

1. Limited Palette Challenge

Objective: Use a limited palette of only three five colors plus white.

In oils (or other solid media:

In watercolor:

Benefits: This challenge forces us to focus on color mixing, understand color relationships, and create harmony in our paintings. It also helps improve our ability to convey light and atmosphere with a simplified color range.

Regrowth and regeneration (Borrow Pit #4), 6X8, oil on archival canvasboard, $348 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

2. Time Constraint Challenge

Objective: Complete a painting in under an hour. Then do the same subject again in under thirty minutes.

Benefits: Working quickly encourages decisive decisions and helps us capture the essence of the scene without overworking.

3. Different Times of Day Challenge

Objective: Paint the same scene at different times of the day (morning, midday, evening).

Benefits: This challenge enhances our observation skills and understanding of how light changes throughout the day. It teaches us to depict different lighting conditions, shadows, and atmospheric effects.

Brooding Skies, 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard, $522

4. Weather Conditions Challenge

Objective: Paint the same scene in sunny, rainy, and/or cloudy conditions. (As they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.)

Benefits: Painting under different weather conditions pushes us to adapt to the changing environment and learn to represent different atmospheres and moods.

“Thunder Bay Freighter,” Thunder Bay, Ontario

5. Same scene, different subjects

Objective: After choosing your view, paint two different studies focusing on two different subjects within that view. If there’s something in the view that you’d typically shy away from, try making it a focal point. (Except trash; nobody wants to look at trash.)

Benefits: This discourages us from trying to cram everything into a painting. It forces us to spend more time on composition.

Some quick tips for success

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to set up your kit for summer. One of my resolutions for this year is to repack my kit every time I get home from a session, rather than fussing with it in the morning when I should be painting.

Spend time sitting with your scene before you start painting. The more you look, the better you’ll paint.

Consistency is key. The more you paint, the easier it gets. Don’t get discouraged; think of every painting, good or bad, as a learning opportunity.

Assuming all went well, I got back to Boston last night from my lovely, long, blister-inducing hike. Laura should still be running the office. Just email me as usual if you have questions or problems registering for a class or workshop. (Who am I kidding? She fixes all that stuff anyway.)

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It’s wicked hard to paint a rainbow

Downpour, 6X8, oil on archival canvasboard, $348 includes shipping and handling in continental US

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s raining. I love these spring rains; it’s chilly but not cold, and the plants begin their rebirth. But as Ken DeWaard says, who needs another grey painting?

Actually, I disagree. Sea fog can be very beautiful, as I hope I’ve demonstrated below. And if you don’t believe me, ask the great Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Sea Fog, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $696 unframed.

Painting rainbows is tough. They’re luminous, shimmering, and there’s really no shift in value. Double rainbows are even harder; they have a slightly darker passage between the color bands, which looks ridiculous in paint. Not that there’s anything wrong with being ridiculous.

Frederic Church pulled off a great rainbow in Rainy Season in the Tropics, but that is another of his enormous studio blockbusters. Mine was painted fast at the end of a very wearing lockdown in El Chaltén, Argentine Patagonia. It’s a completely different kind of painting. (And, yes, I can paint detail when I want to.)

Toy Reindeer with double rainbow, oil on archival canvasboard, 6X8, $435 framed, includes shipping in continental US.

That day started with a halfhearted rain and moved to a downpour, much as yesterday and the day before (and so many other days this spring) have done here in Maine. It’s impossible to paint outdoors in these conditions, even in oil. The mist beads up on your palette and emulsifies with your paint. So, on that day, I painted through a window. The angle wasn’t great, and I only caught a small smidgeon of sky, which is why it has that deep central vee. However, the things that matter are all there: the southern beeches, the pinnacle rock formations, and, of course, the rainbow.

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Four most useful types of paint brushes

Alla prima oil painters usually favor hog’s bristle brushes. These are far less expensive than softer hairs like sable. They are the only brushes that spread thick paint smoothly and evenly, making for the freshest alla prima technique. There are some good synthetic brushes on the market, but none of them are quite as stiff as a good natural bristle brush.

Bristle brushes tend to form a flag (a v-shaped split) at the end over time. However, if the brush is made properly, with good interlocking bristles, it will have a natural resistance to fraying. Because field painters often go long periods without being able to clean their brushes, durability is important.

Don’t use that as an excuse to not clean your brushes thoroughly. Rinse and wipe out all the solids and wrap them tightly until you can get to a sink. When you do wash them, use a good fatty soap and make sure all the paint is out of the ferrule (the metal part), or they’ll lose their shape. A brush that’s got paint clogging the ferrule is impossible to resurrect. (My daughter’s brush soap, which is very good, is available here, but she will not be shipping more soap for the next few weeks.)


Flat brushes make an immediate, energetic mark. They’re excellent for fast, powerful surface work, long sweeping strokes, and blocking in shapes.

Used on their sides they also make great lines, far more evenly than a small round can do.

I like an 8-10 flat, because I tend to paint with large brushstrokes, but what size you use will depend to some degree on your painting style.

A bright is a just a stubbier, less-flexible version of a flat. It’s great for short, powerful strokes or situations where you want a lot of control. Your painting, your choice.


A round is a more lyrical brush than a flat, and is a classic tool for painterly surface marks. It can be used to make lines that vary from thin to thick. You’ll need a big one (perhaps an 8 or 10) for big, bold brushwork, and a wee pointed one (such as a 2) for fine detail.

My uncle used to say, “be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you.” The same is true of small bristle rounds. They lose their points very quickly if you don’t clean them carefully.


If I was stranded on a desert island with just one brush, it would probably be a size 8 filbert. Its great advantage is the variety of brushstrokes it makes. It’s can make single strokes that taper, such as in water reflections. Its rounded edges are good for blending. Set on its side, it makes nearly as good a line as a flat.

Double filbert or Egbert:

This is a ‘novelty’ brush like a dagger or fan brush, but it’s one I use all the time. It’s a lyrical brush that has a lot of expressive quality. Hold it at the butt end and swing it like a baton, and suddenly your painting will sing.

However, if you don’t clean it carefully it will splay and develop a split at the end, which renders it useless. I speak from sad experience here.

A bonus: I’ve been painting walls for the last week, and my favorite new brush is the Wooster Shortcut. Better control than a long-handled brush, easier to clean than China bristles, and with modern latex paint the coverage is just as good.

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:


    Midsummer, 24X36, oil on canvas, $3,188 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

    “I really like that painting you did of the flat houses.”

    What flat houses?” I asked, perplexed. I was envisioning the architectural equivalent of Flat Stanley, the children’s book series.

    It turned out that she meant Midsummer, above, and she was referring to the paint handling, not the drafting.

    I painted this during a residency through Parrsboro Creative. The view overlooks the general store at Port Greville, Nova Scotia. To access it, I drove up a side road and painted from the edge of the escarpment, just past a very nice lady’s lawn.

    This escarpment roughly parallels the shore of the Bay of Fundy. In places it’s gradual, and in other places it’s a steep, raw scarp.

    In Maine, our cliff edges are made of granite, so I was totally unprepared for the edge of crumbly red sand to drop out from under me. My fall was stopped by a thicket of alders growing on a ledge about ten feet down.

    I landed upside down but unhurt. After I turned myself around, I gathered my tools and threw them back up over the brink. Then I figured out how to climb back up to my easel.

    It’s all in the drawing, even in plein air.

    Cumberland County, Nova Scota is full of this crumbly soft red sandstone-and-soil mixture. It’s unstable, which makes rock-climbing risky. At Cap d’Or, the cliffs are a few hundred feet tall, but you wouldn’t be long for this world even if you miraculously survived the fall; there’s a wicked riptide. Every major storm causes erosion, so it’s a constantly-shifting shoreline. That in turn reveals a new cache of fossils, minerals and gemstones after every weather event; the area is world-famous for fossils.

    These are also the highest tides in the world. I visited Joggins Fossil Cliffs to walk on the beach and perhaps paint. I’d arrived at the wrong hour. There’s a narrow window of time where you can be at sea-level; the tide rises so fast that it will cut off your escape.

    These double-bay houses, so typical in Britain and the Canadian Maritimes, are not common here in the US; however, there are some here in Maine. We also have old-fashioned general stores like Dad’s Country Market, towards the left in my painting.

    This painting took two full days to complete. The first was spent in drawing out the architecture.

    “Draw slow, paint fast,” a student once told me. It’s an excellent motto, because the more time one spends on the drawing, the less floundering one does in the painting.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Living and painting close to nature

    Marty Heagney painting at Hancock Shaker Village.

    “It’s going to rain in ten minutes,” I told my workshop students.

    “How can you tell?”

    “I feel it in my corns.”

    Lynda Mussen painting under a changeable sky at Canoe Meadows.

    I don’t even know what corns are, but it seemed like a nice old-timey term for a skill that’s largely lost today. In truth, I was feeling and smelling the shift in air temperature and humidity that precedes a rainstorm. Sure enough, within ten minutes, it was coming down in sheets.

    It’s been a continuation of the damp weather that has wrapped the northeast in flannel all summer. My students have been remarkably good-natured despite the mizzle and occasional downpour. That’s especially true of Cassie Sano, who’s had to dry out her tent more than once.

    Yves Roblin painting at Hancock Shaker Village.

    “We could paint here all week!” several people said of Hancock Shaker Village. I’d heard the same thing at Undermountain Farm. We were rained out of Wahconah Falls, but I believe it would have earned similar plaudits. Instead, we were rescued by the good people of Berkshire First Church of the Nazarene, who let us use their social hall for the day. Work continued uninterrupted.

    “When the leaves turn over, and the silver undersides are showing, that’s a front change, usually not good,” I told a student from California. It’s a little like what happens when you part your hair on the wrong side; the leaves are ruffled out of their usual position. I was almost right; the weather did change. However, it wasn’t another drenching, but a clearing sky.

    In the US and Canada, our weather almost always comes from the southwest. You can often tell what’s coming just by looking in that direction.

    Then there’s ‘red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ It means that a high-pressure weather system has moved east. Good weather has passed, making way for a stormy low-pressure system. The first half of that couplet, ‘red sky at night, sailors delight,’ means exactly the opposite. There’s stable air coming in from the west.

    This delightfully fat sow is named ‘Stormy’. Appropriate for this week.

    We used to have an old-fashioned ‘storm glass’ style barometer in our living room. It told us the same thing as the rhyming couplet with slightly more accuracy: falling pressure means unsettled weather is coming.

    These signs were how people predicted the weather before the National Weather Service deployed legions of meteorologists and supercomputers to do it for us. For a detailed read, I find the air’s feel and smell just as reliable as my phone. That’s particularly true in coastal Maine, where the crazy-quilt coastline tosses weather patterns around like pinballs.

    I spend several hours a day outdoors, in all seasons. People who live and work in climate-controlled environments never get a chance to develop that almost-intuitive sense of weather that our ancestors took for granted. They also never get a chance to see the subtle interplay of light and color that makes nature so magical.

    This little donkey didn’t find me particularly endearing. Pity, that.

    In addition to rain, we’ve seen a lot of animals this week. At Undermountain Farm, there were horses, sheep and goats. At Hancock Shaker Village, there were cattle and a great fat pig smiling as she wallowed in mud. I patted a donkey and asked him if he knew why he had a cross on his withers; he trotted away. On Thursday, we watched a family of mallard ducks dabbling in a shallow pond at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, with their fat tails and feet sticking straight up in the air. We couldn’t help but laugh.

    And all too soon, it’s over. Today’s our last day, and then we’re gone for another year. But we’ll be back; the Berkshires are magical.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Scouting locations

    Inlet, 8X10, $652 framed, includes shipping within continental US

    On Sunday I hosted a paint-out for my old friends in Greater Rochester Plein Air Painters. That should have been simple, since I taught plein air painting there for many years. I’ve been gone nearly a decade now, and things change.

    Despite my knowledge, I found long-distance location scouting surprisingly difficult. Views and ownership change, as does our taste in subjects. I decided to play it safe with a boat dock along the Erie Canal. It had the advantage of being next to an Abbott’s Frozen Custard, but to be perfectly honest, it was boring.

    That niggling detail is why your local plein air group insists you take turns hosting paint-outs. And it’s why plein air workshops are not as simple as workshops taught in buildings.

    Quebec Brook, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1449 framed, includes shipping in continental US. This location was scouted by that consummate outdoorswoman, Sandra Hildreth.

    When you’re responsible for choosing the locations

    There’s no remote-location scouting when planning a workshop. The teacher or the monitor must visit sites, secure permission, and create a schedule.

    I first conceived my Berkshires workshop in the dead of winter. That’s the worst time to scout locations in New England. Covered in snow, with the trees bare, the landscape looks nothing like it will in the ‘wall of green’ of summer. That’s assuming you can even get down some of these tracks without a dogsled.

    I wasn’t flying completely blind; I know western Massachusetts. But what is suitable for an individual to paint and what is appropriate for a group are two very different things. More people magnify the problems as well as the joys. If you’re planning a plein air workshop or paint out, you need:

    • A mix of locations ranging from long views to water to architecture.
    • Ample parking.
    • Spots within a reasonable driving distance of a central location, in a manner that won’t take out the springs of cars. North Adams, as lovely as it is, is just too far from Lenox. October Mountain State Forest may be close, but even my SUV struggled on its rutted dirt tracks.
    • Park-and-paint that’s not too far from the road, but safely away from traffic.
    • A nearby outhouse is a plus.
    • A plan for a rainy day.
    • A place to buy coffee or lunch. If that’s not possible, students must be forewarned to bring food with them.
    Mountain Fog, 12X9, $696 unframed, includes shipping in continental US. This is another location that was scouted by Sandra Hildreth.

    When all these requirements have been met, one then crosses that stickiest of all wickets-permissions. A dozen or so painters can clog up the works on a small property. Permission can be as simple as, “let me know what day you’re planning on coming” to the labyrinthine permitting requirements of the national park system, which I negotiate every year for my Schoodic workshop.

    I got up very early on Tuesday morning and collected my assistant in Albany, NY. We visited Shaker historic sites and drove up into the clouds in the Pittsfield State Forest. We looked at rail-trail sites in the city of Pittsfield and snaked around rutted tracks in forest lands.

    Vineyard,” 30X40, oil on canvas, $5072 framed, includes shipping in continental US.

    There were a few disappointments. Beautiful and welcoming Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley will be hosting kids’ camps during the week we’re there, so it’s a no-go. On the other hand, they directed me to the lovely Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield. All’s well that ends well!

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    Let’s paint some duds!

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

    My husband can’t listen to the original cut of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher without pointing out that the guitar is out of tune. Still, it went to #1 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1967, and it’s one of Rolling Stone‘s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

    There are works of art that confound in the same way. Nobody can doubt the genius of Michelangelo, but his women could be strangely muscle-bound. His Moses is a work of immense sensitivity and insight, but he has horns. (That was an iconographic convention of the time, based on a translation error.)

    Édouard Manet is one of history’s greatest painters, but his Fishing and The Kearsarge at Boulogne are both (technically) duds.

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

    The rut that once was a groove

    Duds happen when you push the limits of your skill and ideas. They’re unlikely when you stay comfortably in your rut.

    In Fishing, Manet was quoting Peter Paul Rubens. That early painting may have failed but Manet is the same artist who later gave us Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, Olympia, and three versions of Execution of Emperor Maximilian, all of which rest on the same idea. Manet had the insight and skill to paint intellectually provocative subjects at the same time as he helped to advance the painterly development of Impressionism.

    Manet pushed boundaries of technique, subject matter and artistic norms. To do that meant ignoring the pernicious voice of group norming, and ignoring the possibility of failure.

    The Late Bus, 8X6, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed, includes shipping in continental US.

    The risk

    Of course, not conforming has its risks. Ralph Albert Blakelock was a celebrated painter of his day. He often mixed bitumen and varnish for rich depth of color in his thick, uneven paint. That has proved to be a conservation disaster, so when we look at his paintings today, we aren’t seeing what he laid down. In most of them tonalism has been replaced by something grubby and dark. And that’s why he’s fundamentally unknown today.

    But done intelligently, non-conformity can result in innovative breakthroughs and the development of new artistic styles, techniques, and forms. It can break down our preconceived notions of what we’re doing.

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

    This applies to us, too

    The plein air movement has reached its maturity. It is the greatest art movement of our time, but it’s also set limits in terms of finish, the time we spend on paintings, and style. I love plein air better than any other form of painting, but those limits are becoming clearer to me.

    What will its evolution and growth look like? Am I willing to paint duds to paint something new? Do I even have the smarts to figure out what that ‘new’ will look like? Am I willing to experience the rejection and discomfort that comes from pushing limits? I don’t know, but it seems to me that growth demands it.

    My 2024 workshops: