With cold temperatures and an ice storm just this week, it is hard to imagine that spring is just around the corner. But, it is! So, it's time to start thinking about painting and drawing outdoors.
Field Sketching I and II online classes are coming up in April and May, just in time to kick off a great season of work outdoors!
Working from Nature and direct observation is the time honored way to learn how to paint landscapes. Unfortunately, many aspiring landscape painters miss the essential first step: learning to draw and sketch in the field. If you are unable to draw the landscape you will have a much more difficult time learning to paint it convincingly.
Most classes and workshops jump into plein air painting without giving students any tools to make a success of their efforts. This course is designed to give you the tools to draw and sketch in the field with confidence, both improving your plein air paintings and leading to better, finished work in the studio.
I am happy to say the Lennox Woods Exhibition Catalog is now available! It contains 64 pages, with five essays about the history and ecology of the Woods and of course, the art. It also has over 40 images of drawings and paintings.
About this time last year we started thinking about a new space for a studio and for The Landscape Atelier. The south side of the historic square in our little town was being renovated, and a 4000 square foot, north facing brick storefront was available. The building is close to a hundred years old and in its time it has been a grocery store, a clothing store, movie theatre, and most recently a flooring store.
This is what is looked like in April 2013.
Now, almost a year later our new space is almost ready! It includes an exhibition space, studio, kitchen and full bath.
We are really excited to welcome our first group of students to our new space in March!
It's a sprint to the finish line! That's what I told a friend yesterday. Actually, it's more like a slow motion ant farm. With two ants (me and Steve).
I have a brand new online class starting at the end of February. This one is called Understanding Values in the Landscape. Value problems account for a lot of what goes wrong in painting. So, learning to sort out those pesky values is an essential part of learning to paint well. We'll cover Carlson's Theory of Angles of course. In addition, we will study how to create certain effects of light by careful attention to the value range or 'key' which is used and how to compress the value range effectively from what is seen in Nature and what our materials are capable of producing. Students will learn the value ranges to use to create the illusion of a sunny day, an overcast day, a foggy or rainy day, backlighting, patchy sunlight, nocturnes, etc. So, give yourself an early Valentines Day present, and sign up here!
I am very excited to say that I will have a feature article in the March issue of Southwest Art Magazine. The article will include the work for the Lennox Woods show! After spending the last two years working on this project, it is very gratifying to have this happen at this time.
My schedule now is long days in the studio followed by dinner and returning in the evening. I have about five weeks to finish and there is still much to do.
(click for larger view- pardon the homemade photography)
Sometimes it's just less. One of the great challenges of this project is to find a way to convey the Woods in a way that is authentic but still suggestive and full of mystery. And to do that in sizes ranging from 12 x 16 to 72 x 96. In a 12 x 16 you can use one brushstroke to describe what requires a complicated passage in a larger work. But more importantly, you have to find the right balance between what Asher B Durand called imitation and representation. There are some things which can be imitated and some things that can only be represented (I would use the word suggested perhaps). The right balance is essential to capture a sense of place and yet retain the mystery and mood you want to convey. I wanted the paintings to look like the Woods without being literal portraits- to convey a palpable sense of what it feels to be in this place. That requires something more than suggestive generalization and less than simply copying what you see.
Spreadsheets. Not a word I would have ever included on a list of things I might learn about over the course of working on my solo show. But, here I am two years later finding myself creating spreadsheets to keep track of and organize over forty paintings for the show.
The exhibition will hang in two separate venues (Galerie Kornye West and The Botanical Research Institute of Texas) and is organized around the theme of the four seasons in Lennox Woods. Early on, I worked out the number of pieces I would paint for each season and the size ranges and how many in each range, and roughly how many of each would hang in each venue.
As the work begin to take shape, other things needed to be kept track of- what pieces had been photographed, what was finished and what was work in progress, how many of each group still needed to be started, and the frame status for each piece.
Then, some pieces were sold and others left the studio for the gallery. Some pieces were varnished and others had not been (making it easier to work on them again if I wanted to).
When we started working on the catalog I needed to keep track of what information had been given to the designer of the catalog and what was still needed. And, of course, the deadlines to get the work finished, photographed, framed and delivered.
It turns out, spreadsheets are a great way to organize all that information in an easily accessible and organized way. Spreadsheets. Who knew?
Lennox Woods is a 300+ acre oasis of old growth forest surrounded by fields, pastures, third or fourth cut woods and pine plantations. Driving down the dirt road to its unassuming entrance one can immediately see the change in the landscape. The fact that the Woods exist today is because from the mid 19th century, the Lennox family preserved them, protected them from logging and then gave them to the Nature Conservancy to be protected in perpetuity. It could have all turned out very differently.
I thought a lot about all this while I worked in the Woods over the last two years. But, I also came to understand the idea of "what might have been" in much more personal terms. When I first came to the Woods I had certain ideas about how I would paint them. Although I spent several months just looking and drawing, I did have some preconceived ideas of how I would approach the work. Over time, many of those ideas dissolved and reformed into new ones- influenced both by the Woods themselves and the rhythm of my own life. Those things combined to produce a very different body of work than I would have produced in a shorter span of time or if my own life had not been upended in various ways during the process. I don't know what that work would have been like, but I feel confident that the body of work that I will exhibit this coming March will be stronger, better, and deeper. That is something else I learned in the Woods.
Now that I am closing in on finishing the work for the Lennox Woods show, I thought I might do a series of posts about what I have learned during this two year process. There are all sorts of things. I have learned a lot about my materials that I did not know. I have learned about patience and frustration. I have learned about the challenges of working on a large scale and of working on a long term project. The list goes on and on. So, I am going to tackle this one little piece at a time, and in no particular order of importance.
I have learned to slow down. To those who know me, I can hear your snorts of laughter! Yes, I do have a reputation for "being in a hurry, multitasking, getting a lot done in a short period of time and generally living by the "to do" list. But, exactly because of that, learning to slow down has been an important lesson, both in how I create my work and in how I approach it. Over the last ten years, the techniques I have adopted have necessitated that I slow down. Gathering field reference, eschewing photography and working indirectly have all made it necessary for the actual making of art to be a much slower process than it was when I was an alla prima, direct painter.
But now, I have slowed down in other ways. Spending time in the Woods has led me to a much slower, contemplative way of approaching Nature. Simply sitting on one spot and listening can lead to all sorts of things. In the end, that experience ends up on the canvas.
One of the most exciting things about painting for my solo show next spring has been the opportunity to work in large formats. I have learned so much about how to go about this, mostly by trial and error. These days my studio is a jungle of easels and paintings, but I cleared away some of the clutter to show how I started this large painting, 72 x 96 , aka "big boy" which will be the centerpiece of the show.
I have described in another post how I use sketches, drawings, memory and imagination plus a study to start the process. A grid is made on tracing paper over the study and proportional squares placed on the larger canvas in charcoal. In this first image you can see the 18 x 24 study (which is at the underpainting stage) on the right, the grid in the middle, and big boy on the left with the charcoal grid laid in. All images can be clicked on for a larger view.
Here is the grid. The main shapes and lines in the composition are traced in pencil after the grid format is drawn in in pen.
Here is the 18 x 24 study (unfinished).
Here is the underpainting more or less complete. This took about two days of work.
Up on my little stepladder working on the underpainting.
As my regular readers know, I teach a series of online drawing and painting classes. I started doing this almost five years ago and the number of courses and students has steadily increased. In addition to a number of painting courses, I have added classes in drawing, field sketching, color and most recently, art history. During this time, I have become interested in creating a course of study for landscape painters which would provide the same sort of focused training and commitment to core skills that we see in the classical ateliers springing up today. So, the idea of The Landscape Atelier was born. This year my spring workshop was run along these lines and later this year we committed to leasing a space on the square of our little town which could serve as a home for The Landscape Atelier. Because the backbone of my teaching takes place online, I knew I wanted to incorporate both online and in person teaching in this course.
I am happy to say that I will be kicking off the Atelier program next year offering focused, intensive training in landscape painting. This program will have both a full time and part time track and consist of online group study, individual mentoring and critiques, more in depth and intensive content, and a one month residency (which can be broken up into shorter stays). The full time program can be finished within three to four trimesters and the part time program over a longer period of time. Because I will not be handing the Atelier students off to assistants, I can only accommodate a few students in this program, and each student's program will be individualized. Students can start the program at the beginning of any trimester. The first trimester will start in January 2014.
I am happy to say that I will have three paintings in the Albuquerque Museum Miniatures & More exhibition and sale this year. The Gala will be held on October 26, 2013, and the paintings will be sold by fixed price draw.
This is another painting based on a pond near my home and studio and painted from observation and memory.
I walk most every morning, starting out just before dawn. As my Facebook friends know, I regularly post images of the things I see on my morning walks, usually skies and effects of light, but occasionally wildlife (deer, snakes, turtles, rabbits) and cows. I have made a few paintings over the last couple of years of early morning subjects from my walks but the Lennox Woods project has kept me pretty occupied. I made this painting for the Small Works, Great Wonders show at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum opening this November. I am looking forward to painting more morning subjects once I am out of the Woods.
I continue to work steadily on the Lennox Woods body of work for my solo show next spring. There will be five large scale paintings - 48 x 60 up to 72 x 96- and a total of about 42 paintings in the show. I started with the smallest of the "BIGs" as I call them, and am working my way up in size. I am working on several of them at the same time, plus others as well- usually about 8 to 10 pieces at a time.
In January of 2012 when I first started on this journey, I was out in the Woods one day with Steve and Allen Phillips (the filmmaker for the project). Allen and I managed to wander off the trail. I didn't know my way around the Woods very well back then and neither did Allen. But, he had a GPS on his phone and we knew if we kept heading north we would hit the dirt road that runs along one side of the Preserve. So, we kept going instead of doubling back to find the trail. It was winter so bushwhacking through the Woods wasn't too hard and we got back into some spots that would be hard to find in any other season. Pretty soon we came upon a small pond. It was a big surprise because the only water I had seen in the Woods was Pecan Bayou and the small streams it spawned throughout the Preserve. This pond looked self contained, although Steve thinks it is fed by a spring on adjacent property. Anyway, having found it, I knew I wanted to come back.
Here is a study for the 60 x 72 painting I am now working on.
A Summer Idyll
20 x 24
I started with lots of sketches, working out my ideas. This is my preferred way to work- hunting for motifs, then using drawings to work out designs and to gather reference materials.
Once I had the design organized and the field reference I needed, I started the 20 x 24 study.
I made a grid of the study and traced the main shapes and lines. I gridded the large canvas with proportional squares with vine charcoal, then drew in the composition.
Here is the studio with the large canvas on the left, the grid in the center and the study to the right of that. Just to get an idea of the scale, the painting on the easel behind the grid is 36 x 48!