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:

    Intimations of spring

    Spring Greens, 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard, $652 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

    Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays me from the swift completion of my hike up Beech Hill (to paraphrase Herodotus and the US Postal Service). Here in Maine, we dropped into the teens last week. However, the worst hiking was through bucketing rain on Monday. I arrived home soaked to the bone and shivering uncontrollably. My student and friend Amy Sirianni stopped by; I met her at my door in a flannel nightgown and robe because I couldn’t get warm.

    What’s a poor New Englander to do when both days and nights turn bitter? My mother used to book a flight to Florida for March or April; it gave her something to look forward to. She didn’t want to come home until winter’s back was broken.

    Coincidentally, I’ve ended up doing something similar. At the end of March, I’ll again be teaching in Sedona, AZ and Austin, Texas. Instead of shivering in sleet storms, I’ll be in shirtsleeves under clear blue skies. Alleluia.

    Most of my workshops are on the east coast, which is my home turf. These are the only two workshops I’m teaching in the west (although I dream of reviving Pecos). Western painting is different from New England in atmosphere, color, and vista. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in both.

    Sedona is a small city of 10,000 people located within the Coconino National Forest. The town is encircled by red sandstone massifs in various stages of erosion. They glow brilliant orange and red in the rising or setting sun.

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

    “This color looks exaggerated to me,” I told Julie Richard of Sedona Arts Center when I finished Peace, above.

    “It’s not,” she answered, most definitely.

    Much of what we paint there are long vistas and those incredible red rocks set against junipers, piñons, and prickly pear cactus. We often paint from isolated trailheads, from which we can sometimes watch vast cumulus clouds form over the buttes and mesas and just as quickly blow away.

    Avenue B. Market and Deli at night. We had a riot painting nocturnes here.

    Austin, on the other hand, is the tenth most populous city in the United States (and grown out of all recognition from the first time I saw it). Our painting sites are urban, including the delightful Avenue B. Grocery and Market, where we painted nocturnes and ate fabulous sandwiches last year. Then there’s McKinney Falls State Park with its huge cypresses and turquoise spill basin. That’s where we painted bluebonnets in their thousands. On that magical day, hundreds of birds flew overhead in long, winding skeins.

    “Canada geese?” I asked, confused.

    “Pelicans,” someone answered.

    I find gift-giving challenging, especially for those people on my list who don’t want or need more stuff. I could look at all the catalogs in the world and still not find the right thing for that person who has everything.

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

    For him or her, experiences are a better bet. If you’re looking for a truly unique gift this holiday season that feels extra thoughtful, try a workshop. (And if you want a workshop for Christmas, print this out and leave it someplace subtle, like under your spouse’s coffee-cup. He or she can use the code EARLYBIRD to get $25 off any workshop except Sedona, which is already a discounted price).

    Also, if you’re thinking of buying a painting as a Christmas gift (another great idea for the person who no longer needs stuff), let me know soon. I’m my own shipping and handling department and I want to be sure your painting is delivered by Christmas. Until the first of the year, you can use the discount code THANKYOUPAINTING10 to get 10% off any painting on my website.

    My 2024 workshops:

    If you missed my North to Southwest virtual opening and have a high tolerance for listening to me drone on, you can watch it here.

    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:

    Painting Massachusetts’ wilderness

    Cassie Sano’s painting of Undermountain Farm’s Victorian barns.

    My father was from the west side of Buffalo and my mother was born in the first ward of Lackawanna, NY. Although they were both thoroughly urban, they bought a farm in Niagara County, NY in 1965. We had cattle, horses, ducks, and a hundred feeder chickens every spring. It was a well-ordered farm when it was established in 1861, and it’s maintained its good bones right up until the present.

    Although I couldn’t wait to get away, I realize now that the countryside was a great place to grow up. Most of my practical skills came from growing up on a farm.

    Yes, that’s a sheep keeping my painters company.

    On Monday, I taught at Undermountain Farm in Lenox, MA. It’s got 23 horses, two sheep and two goats. The sights, the smells, and even the clatter of my shoes on the wooden barn floors were a powerful nostalgic kick.

    Undermountain Farm’s horse barn has restrooms, a real step up from my childhood, where we had an external well with a pump that froze every winter. There are two horses at Undermountain Farm who are free to wander. As horses will, they really just want to scarf food the easy way. They found a broken bale directly under the hay chute, which happened to be directly in front of the restroom doors.

    What? You want us to move?

    Their need was not greater than my need, but they outweighed me. I pushed their noses; they pushed back. Docile they might be, but they were blocking my way. Finally, I thought, ‘just move the hay.’ Problem solved.

    One of the students in this workshop is the wonderful painter Cassie Sano, who hails from Augusta, ME. That’s not nearly as sophisticated as you might think; really, she lives in the woods. She’s camping here in western Massachusetts and on the first day, she was dragging.

    “I was up all night worrying about bears,” she told me.

    “But you live in bear country!” I remonstrated.

    “But at home I’m sleeping in my house!”

    I told her all the comforting bear facts I could think of. When I got back to my daughter’s house in nearby Rensselaer County, NY, my son-in-law was cleaning up trash from a bear visit. We know they’re there; earlier this year we saw a sow and three cubs on the trail cam just behind the house.

    Beth Carr’s lovely painting of Waconah Falls.

    My daughter inadvertently acquired a rooster this year. Besides chasing pullets around the yard, he starts crowing just before first light. That’s another sound with a powerful nostalgic kick, as is the outraged ‘no thanks!’ from a disinterested hen.

    If you’ve been to Boston and New York, you know something about the northeast. Yes, it’s urban and industrialized. However, get out of the major cities and our region is rural. In many places, it’s wilderness. If you really want to know New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, you have to get out of town.


    If you got an email from me yesterday, you know I’m doing an immersive workshop in Rockport in October. I wasn’t prepared for it to be so popular; as of this moment, more than half the seats are gone. I’m looking forward to sharing my beautiful town with you.

    Michael Anne Lynn perfectly demonstrated the successful phases of a good watercolor: value sketch, grisaille, color tests, and a finished painting. Now that you’ve seen this, you don’t need me.

    Artists, housing and one of my students.

    Creative types sometimes struggle with affordable housing just like many others. A student of mine in Austin (Mark Gale) along with a colleague of his in St. Louis, are involved in finding and supporting solutions.

    They are developing a panel discussion for the 2024 South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) that showcases three success. (SXSW gets national attention.) To bring this discussion to the public, though, they need votes via a simple thumbs up on the SXSW panel picker.

    Here’s a bit more info.

    Or follow a direct link to vote.

    The Austin program where Mark volunteers and one of those highlighted on the panel is Art from the Streets

    Voting closes 8/20, so please do it now.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Practicing polite deflection

    It didn’t seem like it was going to be a crowded day when we set up. All photos courtesy Jennifer Johnson.

    Acadia had nearly 38,000 fewer visits this June than it did last year, but you’d never know that from the crowds at Schoodic Point. I’d intended to bring my class elsewhere, but the winds on Tuesday produced big rollers crashing across the rocky promontory. That’s a special experience, and I wanted my students to have the opportunity to paint them.

    Apparently, John Q. Public also likes the drama of big seas, and he came along as well, bringing everyone he knew with him. They came in their hundreds and their thousands, and they kept standing in my view. The nerve.

    Painting on the hot rocks of Schoodic.

    Life in a National Park has its comic moments. Walking across the parking lot, I heard a cranky gentleman remonstrate to his wife, “There’s nothing here but water!”

    It also has its terrifying moments. Waves crashing against big rocks can be killers. I hate watching people skirting the edges of the rocks in blithe disregard of the danger, especially with their children in tow. On Monday, I saw a woman heading down the slope in her bikini. Since I didn’t read about her in the Bangor Daily News, I presume she was warned off.

    And there are sublime moments. For much of the day yesterday, a big fat seal cavorted in the surf, entertaining the crowds.

    Painting in public can be a wonderful experience, a way to express yourself and share your art with others. But when you’re trying to get something done, it can be irritating.

    We took a short break to discuss the theories of Edgar Payne and John Carlson, because that’s how we roll.

    The best defense is a good location, but there are few of those on the open rocks of Schoodic Point. Karen managed to set up with her back to a ledge of rock. That protected her from the problem another student was having. “They stand behind me, breathing loudly,” she said. That’s a slight improvement over the people who stand behind you making unsolicited comments.

    My personal bête noire is the person who stands behind me saying, “that looks like so much fun!” Done right, painting is darn hard work, but we do it because the payoff is so great.

    One could set clear boundaries with body language, but that’s hard to maintain when you’re concentrating. One student mused that she’s going to put a sign up that reads, “Artist at work: approach with credit cards.” Of course, they could wear earbuds, but then they couldn’t hear me.

    Another technique would be a debris field. I, like many artists, am particularly good at dropping things. If I’d stop picking them up, after a few hours, I’d have a dangerous physical barrier between me and the public.

    I once knew an artist who had a large QR code on his paint box. When people spoke to him, he just waved his brush irritably at the code.

    In the afternoon, I did a short demo.

    But I think the best technique is polite deflection. My monitor, Jennifer, has some rehearsed phrases, like, “this is a class. Our teacher, Carol Douglas, is over there.” Sometimes she even points in my general direction.

    For the poor schmoes in my class, I can only suggest, “I’m really focused on this painting right now, but I appreciate your interest,” or “I’d love to chat later when I’m on a break.”

    “See that woman over there?” She’s our teacher, and if I don’t finish this quickly, she’ll hit me with her stick,” however, is completely over the top.

    My new class, The Essential Grisaille, is available now.

    My 2024 workshops:

    If not today, when?

    Matt in his down coat, drawing at Sedona. He was not overdressed for the weather. (Photo courtesy Ed Buonvecchio)

    Yesterday, I ambled around the grounds of the French Legation State Historic Site in Austin musing about my plans for Sunday. The air here is clear and warm, the bluebonnets are blooming, and the trees are leafing out-perfect conditions for a day with horses.

    Then I remembered that my pal Sarah and the stable are back home in Maine. They’re about to receive another blast of arctic air, dropping temperatures back into the 20s and bringing more of the foul ‘mixed precipitation’ that so bedeviled last week’s workshop in Sedona. That’s my current disconnect.

    Nita wore a sock over her casted hand to keep it warm. (Photo courtesy Ed Buonvecchio)

    Last week’s weather was awful for plein air painting. However, I had a dedicated band that stuck it out. Nita had a pickleball fracture in her right arm. She’s a southpaw but she could only use watercolor, as managing pastels was impossible without two hands. In the cold, her injury started to throb. She painted, quietly excused herself to warm up her errant limb or go to physical therapy, and then returned. Every day.

    Joan had never painted before. On my recommendation she bought a gouache kit and drove down from Seattle. No matter how grim the weather, she gamely stayed with me, exercise after exercise. At the time, I thought, “this is an awful introduction to painting; she’s never going to want to do this again.” Still, she learned the fundamentals. She says she’s going to keep with it.

    Joan listening to me carrying on. (Photo courtesy Ed Buonvecchio)

    What’s got you rattled?

    I can think of a million reasons to not paint today. In fact, I can find a million reasons to not paint every day. I’ve written before about how Ken DeWaardEric JacobsenBjörn Runquist and I can dither. There are legitimate reasons why your creative impulses are blunted, including bad weather, work, children, or storms of grief or anxiety.

    We all suffer from competing demands that distract us from what we need to do. For me, for years, it was my house. I couldn’t paint if it was a mess, because disorder always feels like a tide about to engulf me

    Most of us have creative impulses-to write, to paint, to build furniture, to design beautiful interior spaces or gardens. The vast majority of us never do anything with those impulses, claiming a lack of time or energy. That’s despite being able to binge-watch television shows, slavishly follow the Buffalo Bills, or (in my case) read bad novels.

    Joy and Matt persevering despite the cold. (Photo courtesy Ed Buonvecchio)

    Are you hiding from the challenge?

    Not creating is a safe position from which to operate. Your talent is inviolable, protected, a seed not open to criticism. You remain assured that you’re really a genius, which could suddenly be apparent as soon as you have the time or focus to start creating.

    That gives you the latitude to criticize other creators, as you are protected from criticism yourself.

    Many of us-most of us, in fact-will go to our graves never having moved past the ‘potential’ position. Those who do experience a transition to deep humility as we start to work through all the ways our craft can go wrong. We’re no longer so quick to have opinions about other work, because we recognize the struggle in which it was created.

    But first you must start.

    Whatever creative task you are called to do, there is always a day you must start doing it, instead of merely thinking about it. This might be that day, my friend.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Monday Morning Art School: get the most from a painting workshop

    Rim Light, 16X20, 16X20, oil on archival canvasboard, $1623 includes shipping in continental United States.

    The hardest thing for a teacher is the student who says, “yes, but…” to everything one tells them. I should know; I tend to be one of those myself. I know what it means to stubbornly protect what I already know, to rely on my own skills instead of opening my mind to new concepts. (Note to Cornelia Foss: I really was listening; I wish I’d listened better.)

    I’m teaching in Sedona this week and Austin next week, so preparation is on my mind.

    The Rocks Remain, 16X20, oil on archival canvasboard, $1623 includes shipping in continental United States.

    Come prepared

    Study the supply list, but don’t just run right out and buy everything on it. Every teacher has a reason for asking for specific materials. In my case, it’s that I teach a system of paired primaries. You can’t understand color theory without the right paints. Another teacher might have beautiful mark-making. If you don’t buy the brushes he suggests, how are you going to understand his technique?

    A tube of cadmium green that I once bought for a workshop and never opened still rankles. I never want to do that to my students. When you study with me, I want you to read my supply lists. If something confuses you, or you think you already have a similar item, email and ask.

    (If you find yourself buying something for one of my classes or workshops and not using it, would you let me know? It means I’m missing something.)

    Bring the right clothes. It’s hovering in the 50s in Sedona this week, but Austin will be in the 70s. I send my students a packing list for clothes and personal belongings. But modify it for the weather you’re expecting. Don’t ignore the insect repellant and sunscreen.

    The Surf is Cranking Up, 8×16, $903 includes shipping in continental United States.

    Know what you’re getting into.

    “How can you stand this? It’s all so green!” an urban painter once said to me after a week in the Adirondacks.

    There are no Starbucks in Acadia National Park or on the clear, still waters of Penobscot Bay. If you’re dependent on your latte macchiato, you may be uncomfortable at first. But the beauty of America’s wild places more than makes up for it. (And somehow, there’s always coffee, even where there’s no cell phone reception.)

    Take notes

    There’s a sketchbook on my supply list; plan on writing as much as you draw. If you write down key points, you’ll remember them far better than if you just read my handouts.

    Listen for new ideas and ask questions. If I can’t stop and answer them mid-stream, save them for after the demo. Participate in discussions and know that your voice is valued; I’ve learned more from my students than from anyone else.

    Seafoam, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed, shipping included in continental United States.

    Be prepared to get down and dirty.

    I’m not talking about the outdoors here, I’m talking about change and growth. I am highly competitive myself, so it’s difficult for me to feel like I’m struggling. However, it’s in challenge that we make progress. Use your teacher’s method while you’re at the workshop, even if you feel like you’ve stepped back ten years in your development. That’s a temporary problem.

    You can disregard what you learn when you go home, or incorporate only small pieces into your technique, but you signed up for the workshop to grow and change. You can’t do that if you cling to your own technique.

    Connect with your classmates

    There’s power in those relationships. Exchange email addresses. Keep in contact. Follow them on Instagram or Twitter. You’ll learn as much from each other as you will from me.

    My 2024 workshops:

    Why not a two-day workshop?

    I like nothing more than sitting at Schoodic Point discussing watercolor with my old pal Becky, who has come back year after year for more of my malarkey.

    A fellow teacher told me recently that she’s been asked to compress a four-week beginner course into two days. “I think it's a disservice,” she said. “That's a lot of information to compress into a much shorter time. So, either it's a very shallow dive or there's so much information compressed so tightly that half of it gets lost.”

    I am asked about two-day workshops as well. They fit neatly into a weekend and the cost is lower, so they’re easier for arts organizations to sell. If they’re subject-based, like ‘painting sunsets,’ they can work because these workshops are inherently shallow. They’re also intended for artists who already know the mechanics of painting.

    But two days are insufficient when it’s a question of really developing style, color fluency, composition and form. And if you understand these concepts, you don’t need a special workshop on sunsets or water; you have the tools to paint anything you want.

    Students cavorting during a workshop in the Adirondacks.

    What can go wrong? A lot.

    Basic protocols for watercolor and oils run to about seven discrete steps, depending on how you break them down. Here are the steps for oil painting:

    1. Set up your palette with all colors out, organized in a useful manner.
    2. Do a value drawing.
    3. Crop your drawing and identify and strengthen big shapes and movements.
    4. Transfer the drawing to canvas with paint as a monochromatic grisaille.
    5. Underpaint big shapes making sure value, chroma and hue are correct.
    6. Divide big shapes and develop details.
    7. Add highlights, detail and impasto as desired.

    Students in my watercolor workshop aboard schooner American Eagle.

    Let’s just consider #2. It’s almost useless for me to just tell you to do a sketch—in fact, if I did that, you’d have to wonder why you didn’t just draw on the canvas instead. You need insight into what you’re looking for, what makes a good composition, and different ways to do that preparatory composition.

    I can (and sometimes do) rattle off a lecture on these points, but that is the just the start of the process of discovery. Unfortunately, in a two-day workshop, that’s about all the time we’d have for the step many artists consider most crucial to the development of a good painting. You, the student, then go home and consult your notes. They become a slavish list of dos-and-don’ts, rather than a framework for a deeper understanding.

    It's far better that I start with an exercise that allows you to build understanding of composition on your own. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between a book or video and interactive teaching. It’s why people take workshops in the first place.

    That kind of teaching takes time.

    Arthur Wesley Dow, the popularizer of Notan, had his students work for weeks on line before they eventually graduated to masses and then finally to greyscale and color. His students included Georgia O'KeeffeCharles SheelerCharles Burchfield, and other 20th century art luminaries, so he was definitely onto something.

    Linda DeLorey, another old friend, painting in beautiful Pecos.

    And now for something fun

    Here’s a quiz for you to discover the kind of workshop that suits you best. There’s no obligation, of course; it’s all in fun.

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    Have yourself a merry little workshop

    One thing I hear over and over is, “I plan to take one of your workshops someday.” K—, who started painting with me when she was sixteen and is now a fully licensed architect, used to say it every year. Finally, I pointed out to her that I’m not going to be around forever. She was shocked. I’m not planning on retiring any time soon, mind you, but I am practically middle-aged. Although my goal is to retire at age 107, I recognize that nature sets limits on us all.

    K—took my Sedona workshop this year. Now, she’s engaged to be married. It’s a good thing she went while she was still footloose and fancy-free. Life inevitably gets in the way of our good intentions. So, if you’re thinking about taking one of my workshops, I must ask: if not now, when?

    This might be the most-important present you’ve ever gotten, or given yourself. My teaching gets consistently high reviews. I’ve been doing it for decades, including ten years here in Maine. A workshop organizer once called me “the hardest-working painting teacher in America.” (If you can’t get by on your looks, you’d better work hard instead.)

    This year I’m focusing on teaching in the northeast, although I will be back in Sedona again and possibly Austin, TX (see my addendum below) in the early spring. New England is paradise in the summer; it’s easy to get here, and once you’ve been charmed by it, you will never want to leave.

    Watercolor of schooner American Eagle

    Age of Sail: Workshop on the water

    This has two sessions: June 20-24, 2023 and September 16-20, 2023. 2022 was the first year I sailed with American Eagle’s new captain, Tyler King. Tyler’s as thoughtful a host as he is a skilled sailor. In October, I went to Gloucester and saw the boatyard his parents run. It’s no surprise that he has saltwater in his veins.

    For this workshop, I provide the supplies, including a professional-quality kit of QOR watercolors. By the time we’re done, you’ll understand how to paint water, and how to paint with watercolors. Students of all levels are welcome.

    (Georgette Diamandis wrote about our fall trip here.)

    The Rocks Remain, 16X20, Carol L. Douglas

    Towards amazing color: Sedona, AZ—March 20-24, 2023

    March is just when it seems like winter will never end here in the northeast. Meanwhile, it’s balmy in Arizona’s high desert. Sedona has beautiful red-rock massifs, great hiking trails, wildlife, and clear, constantly-changing light. It also has fabulous shops, wineries, galleries, and restaurants. It’s a fun escape at the end of winter. This workshop is sponsored by the Sedona Arts Center, which is in itself a destination.

    The magnificent Schoodic Point.

    Sea & Sky at Schoodic—August 6-11, 2023

    I love all of Acadia National Park, but my favorite part is the Schoodic Peninsula. It has the same dramatic rock formations, windblown pines, pounding surf and stunning mountain views as Mt. Desert Island, but only a fraction of the people. I can walk home to my room at Schoodic Institute in the twilight and never see another person—this year, Cassie Sano saw a bear instead. And there are dolphins and seabirds.

    This is structured so that you can either camp in the area (choose instruction only) or register for  all-inclusive accommodation, depending on your taste and budget.

    Spring, Carol L. Douglas

    Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air: Berkshires—August 14-18, 2023

    I fell in love with the Berkshires when my oldest daughter lived in Pittsfield, MA. They’re rolling old mountains, dotted with historic New England villages and farms. But there are also amenities and cultural institutions. We’re centered in Pittsfield, so there are ample hotels and restaurants. Yet we’re close to some of the most beautiful towns in old New England.

    Pittsfield is just three hours from Boston and New York and it’s accessible by train from either city.

    ADDENDUM: Here's the information on Austin:

    Find your Authentic Voice in Plein Air: Austin--March 27-31, 2023

    This is part three of a four-part series on Holiday Gifts for Artists. The prior two parts are Holiday gifts for the serious artist and Holiday gifts for the budding artist (including kids).