Thursday, August 23, 2012

Another little trick I know 5

Toward the end of a painting day it is often useful to know how long you will have to continue painting before the light fails. I love saying "when the light fails" it is so old timey and romantic sounding. Long ago I  used to tell One lovely young woman that I would meet her "when the light fails".

 Here is a way to tell how long you have before dark, this is an old woodsman's trick. Hold your hand out at arms  length. Then place your hand below the sun  with the bottom of your hand on the horizon, or that line of trees, or whatever the  sun intends to drop behind. You might need to use both hands to do this if the sun is still high. Count how many fingers there are between the sun and the horizon. You can figure on fifteen minutes for each finger. In the picture above I have 45 minutes before the sun drops behind that row of trees.This works no matter how large or how small your hands are, I suppose because the length of your arm varies somewhat in proportion to the size of your hand.

Here is a trick for keeping your white (or whatever color) fresher overnight.

Put a tuna fish can upside down over that pile of color and it will be less likely to dry out overnight. If  paint drying overnight is a big problem, you can always put your paint in the refrigerator. That won't hurt it at all. You might want to make a special box for it if you do this routinely. That will keep the paint and your cottage cheese separate. In the winter I often  throw the palette in the trunk of my car when I am done working for the day. Even if the night is very cold the colors will rapidly warm up again in the heat of my studio.

 I have the attention span of a goldfish. A goldfish has about a two second memory. All day they swim around their little bowl muttering "I think I've seen this before... I could swear I've seen this before,
I think I've seen this before". I have a case of ADD that would kill an ordinary man, I am a human whippet, I am so easily distracted. 

  So, I keep a kitchen timer beside my easel. When I am having a problem staying focused, I work timed hours. I set the timer and no matter what happens I work for an entire hour. If the phone rings I will ignore it. I don't do this all the time but when I am against a deadline or there are lots of distractions I set my timer. Evidently people with jobs have similar systems involving timeclocks and scowling supervisors. To be self employed you have to have the discipline to oversee yourself, no one else will.

Is this next item a painting trick? Maybe not. but it is a useful survival habit for gaunt bohemians and hipsters with uncertain incomes.


Every time I sell a painting I go to the grocery store, there I make a point of buying a selection of imperishable food items, along with my regular grocery purchases. I buy things like tuna fish, soups, spaghetti sauce, noodles. canned soup, you know, stuff that will patiently wait for a long time to be eaten. This has saved me from hunger many times. These days my income is always sufficient to feed me, but there have been times when it was not and I went hungry. I still practice this habit out of caution, in these uncertain and tenuous economic times you never know. I could live for a month or longer without buying groceries if I had to. If you belong to Costco  or Sams Club, that is a great place to shop for survival rations. I usually have a case of soap around and enough dish detergent and household cleaning products to carry me through an extended period of financial misfortune. I feel safer knowing that I have a well stocked larder, just in case.

I do this with art supplies too. I buy my paint by the quart or five big tubes at a time. I could paint for months without resupplying. Paint won't spoil and I feel comforted knowing that it is there.


I have a few spots left in the Minnesota workshop to be held in Stillwater, Sept. 15 through the 17th. 
I am excited to be teaching in Minnesota, where I grew up. I like the prairies and hills there. Minnesota has great oak trees that are fun to paint. It is often a low horizon sort of a place, reminiscent of my hero Seago or Dutch painting. Perhaps you would like to join the group? I can save you YEARS of screwing around. Workshops are a lot of fun and I enjoy teaching them. I am  pleased to announce two special guest stars for this event, Mary Pettis and Kami Polzin, both are well known Minnesota plein air painters and will  join us out on location.

 Each day after painting we go out to dinner and I draw on napkins and teach design skills from my laptop. So this is the most intense  program possible. It runs from breakfast until after a late dinner. You will be exhausted at the end of each day, I promise. I will work you like a borrowed mule!. I only have three days with you and I want to cram as much into that time as I possibly can. There is a lot of camaraderie and I am always sorry when work shops end. Below is the link  if you would like to sign up or learn a little more about the work shop.

The same is true of my New Hampshire workshop in the White Mountains. I am down to only a few spaces left so let me know if you would like to come.

This is a total immersion program and I run the class about 12 hours a  day. I do an evening lecture while we wait for dinner to be served.The fall color in the White Mountains is legendary and people come from all over the world to see it. In the 19th century all of the great Hudson River painters made a point of being there too, just a few miles up the road from the inn.Sign up here;

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Partying with the The Hudson River Fellowship

Lauren Sansaricq and Erik Koeppel

I got a phone call the middle of last week from Nathan Sowa, a member of the Hudson River Fellowship. The Hudson River School fellowship is a yearly gathering of young painters, many from The Grand Central Academy in New York. The Grand Central Academy is highly regarded as the most elite of the new ateliers training young artists.

They submit portfolios and if selected spend a month painting in the field with a group of 30 artists. This year they worked in Jackson, New Hampshire. That is in the Mt. Washington Valley in the White Mountains. In the 1860's many of Americas greatest landscape painters summered in the Mt. Washington Valley. The guidebooks in those days called it the "Switzerland of America"

Nathan suggested that I come up and paint with them for a day, I jumped at the chance. I have known about the group for years and wanted to see for myself what they were doing. This year's Fellowship began with many of the students taking a ten day workshop with Erik Koeppel. Erik was written up in Plein Air magazine this month. I knew he had recently moved to New Hampshire and I was glad for the opportunity to meet him.

Erik usually does drawings outside as preparatory studies for paintings made in the studio, exactly as his 19th century heroes did, on the same locations that he is working.

Erik has spent years studying the methods of the Hudson River School painters. His paintings really do recall the work of that first generation of American landscape painters, artists like Thomas Cole and Asher B Durand. Erik has a DVD showing his methods that will be available soon. I will get a copy. I don't want to paint like a Hudson River School guy myself, but there is a lot to be learned here.

 Erik's partner, Lauren Sansaricg also studies the Hudson River painters, below is one of her paintings.

On Thursday night I met my friend Jerome Green in Hyannis Mass. We went to a concert featuring Kim Simmonds, Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, Leslie West and Rick Derringer. Those are all guitar heroes. I, of course, mostly went to see my friend Kim Simmonds, guitarist and founder of the legendary Savoy Brown Blues Band.

After the concert I drove back to New Hampshire, a several hour trip, and then slept for a few hours. On Friday morning I drove up to Jackson. That's on the other side of the mountains from mine so it is about a 2 and 1/2 hour drive. I arrived there and it was raining. It was my 60th birthday. I got to spend it teaching, I 'll take that!

This was their last night in the White Mountains and because of the rain there was little to do except have a party. There were about twenty or so of the fellowship hanging around at their rental house, so I went into my showbiz mode. I did a sort of mini workshop and lecture at them. I talked about landscape painting and making your living as a painter. They were also interested in hearing about my first teacher R. H. Ives Gammell, who is a famous figure to the classical painting revival. They asked me lots of questions and I did my best to answer them. They have had many teachers but have probably not known too many people who make their living painting.

We had dinner, take out pizza, and then I set up my easel and did a seascape demo in the corner where I was out of the way, but if anybody wanted to watch they could. It was not the best demo I have ever done. There was very little light.  I think my Rockport ways of working were very different from the measured approach they have all studied in the atelier. I was taught that way too, but I have long since developed my own less formal ways of doing things. They were probably shocked.

I guess their average age might have been about 22. They were college age , I would call them art students, but the atelier program they are in is far more demanding and structured than most art schools. They draw casts and figures, they study anatomy and work in mostly late 19th century technique.

They had good drawing skills and some of them seemed to have experience painting the landscape. Below is particularly fine effort by Zoey Frank. Isn't that  a fine painting? I met Zooey, she will be a fine painter before she is done.

Brian MacNeil working at his pochade (pronounced pochade) box. He is a Bostonian and is a both a tattoo artist and a painter. I asked him if he would please quit putting tattoos on women, but he told me that was the best part of his job. Below is one of his paintings of the Wildcat River above Jackson. I have painted there many times it is a spectacular place to work.

Below are some studies also done on the river by Nathan Sowa. Nathan arrived from an extended stay in Sweden and has taught for the Florence Academy of Art, another classical atelier.

The fellowship had done an  exhibition, that was well received, the night before in Jackson and there were many sales made. That which didn't sell was stacked all over the tables and around the house.This was the last night of the fellowships stay in Jackson. I missed meeting a few students who had already departed.

Nathan Sowa

The revival of interest in classical painting means that there are again young students working to learn the skills of a traditional painters craft. When I was studying in the mid 1970's almost no one had any interest in doing this kind of art. Today  dozens of ateliers train young artists in classical painting. They seldom have taught much about landscape though. Usually they confine themselves to figurative and still life painting.But the atelier training is an enormous asset for the would be landscape painter.Of course landscape painting is its own thing and after studying in an atelier few of these students will choose to become landscape painters. But those who do will be well prepared. Landscape painting has it's own set of skills. A painter is always a student.

Above is another painting of the Wildcat River by Connor DeJong. This artist is 19 years old. I have shoes older than that. I really enjoyed meeting these young artists. You would think that I would meet lots of young painters but I haven't. Until recently there weren't very many young people interested in classical painting. I sat in a gallery in Rockport, Mass. for 14 years and never had an art student express any interest in what I was doing, in the entire time I was there. T.M. Nicholas and I set up our easels in Savannah once and painted 30 by 40's a couple of blocks from the famous "name brand" art school there. None of the hundreds of students passing by with their portfolios under their arms bothered to walk the few paces out of their way and see what we were doing.

There is a tide flowing in the art world. It is ignored by the museums and the art schools but hundreds of young people are learning traditional painting techniques. I am certain that it will have an effect on our nations art. Some day one of them may actually get to show one of their paintings in a museum, besides the Alex Katz portraits and Damien Hirst seafood under plexi aberrations. It is glacial, but a shift is slowly occurring. These are hip, smart, beautiful young men and women who will be the artists that will live to see traditional painting accorded some attention by the official  art institutions. I am 60 now, I  don't believe I will live to see it, but they will. This has been generations in the making. My own teacher R.H. Ives Gammell began training young people in the 1950's hoping to preserve some of the accumulated knowledge of our culture before it was forever lost. In his day perhaps dozens of young people were working to learn this art, today many hundreds are.


I am lining up a number of workshops for the fall, more than in previous years. They seem to fill and I enjoy teaching when I can do it in 3 day spurts and then go back to my own painting. I have a bunch of workshops coming up.

Several people have asked me if I would do a workshop in Minnesota. The workshop will start on September the 15th and run though the evening of the 17th in (well, near) Stillwater,  Minnesota. Stillwater is an easy drive from the cities so participants can commute, or stay in one of the many motels or inns in this historic river town.
 There should be some autumn color and the greens of summer will have burnt off some by this time. This is getting into the best time of the year to paint outside. Woods and fields are a great subject at this time of year. Minnesota has lots of oaks that look real good in the late summer and fall. I grew up in Minnesota and will enjoy painting that landscape again. I am going to bring in some special guest stars to teach a little too.. I will tell you  a little more about that soon.

I will do the Stapleton Kearns show. So come out to Stillwater and join me. I can save you years of screwing around! The link to sign up is below.

Here is the link to sign up for my fall workshop in the White Mountains. This is a total immersion program and I run the class about 12 hours a  day. I do an evening lecture while we wait for dinner to be served.The fall color in the White Mountains is legendary and people come from all over the world to see it. In the 19th century all of the great Hudson River painters made a point of being there too, just a few miles up the road from the inn.Sign up here;

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Another little trick I know 4

Here is a  little trick for stretching canvas. When I start stretching a canvas I put a staple in the middle of each side. As you can see above the tension is uneven around that first staple. Before I drive the next one, I grab the end of the canvas up at the corner and pull it taut. I still have the canvas pliers in my other hand pulling the canvas as you see above. I pull it just as hard as I can.

I grab the canvas up there at the corner and pull it so that the canvas is tensioned not only across the stretcher but along it's length as well. It would help to be an octopus to do this. I release the hand up at the corner and use it to hold the staple gun to drive the next staple between the initial one and the corner. I space my staples about two inches apart. I do this for the first two or three staples on each side. That little tug helps prevent buckling or an uneven tension across the length of the side I am stretching.

I thought I would throw this in here too. This is a reprint from a previous post, but it certainly falls into the little tricks category

There is a trick to pouring from a new can of solvent. For years every time I did it I got turpentine all over. Then someone showed me how to do it. The trick is to turn the can over. Pour the solvent ACROSS the top of the can, like in the grainy cell phone picture above. You will need to hold your mouth just right for this to work, but try it, no more turpentine filled shoes!
There are about a million little tricks in painting.

 Above is pictured a device that sits on my easel. It is just a couple of stretchers screwed to the top and bottom of a length of 1 by 10. What it does is elevate the painting I am working on. I am 32 feet tall, so almost all easels are too short for me. I can't crank them up them up high enough to comfortably work on smaller canvasses, This one is an 18 by 24. The other thing it does is allows me to put a larger canvas on the easel quickly by removing this "easel stilt" rather than having to adjust the height of the easel itself. Notice that I have a half sheet of luan plywood sitting on the easel behind my painting. This allows me to tape my reference photos or inspirational reproductions of relevant master paintings next to what I am working on. It also eliminates the distraction of seeing whatever is behind the easel around my painting.


I have scheduled another workshop in the White Mountains for the autumn color season.  This is a first, I have never done a fall workshop up there. It should be a great time to paint the Presidential range from the Inn overlooking Franconia Notch. If you are interested, click on the link below and it will give you all the information about signing up. I limit the workshops to 10 participants, that keeps them a workable size and they almost always fill up so if you want to come, sign up before it is filled.

 Fall Color Workshop  September 8th through 10th

 This is the Sunset Hill Inn in Franconia, New Hampshire. I have been teaching workshops there for about three years and it is the ideal location.  Because I have taught so many workshops there the inn keepers have learned what painters at a workshop need and they are now practiced at hosting my workshops and making sure we have what we need to operate without any distractions or responsibilities other than painting.There is a broad rear porch that overlooks the mountains so we can still paint outside no matter what the weather does. The lower level of the inn  is ours to store our paints and canvas so we don't have to haul it all to our rooms and it makes a good place to teach too. The view of the mountains is spectacular and in the fall it will be even better. The inn takes good care of us. We have our own private dining room too. They handle  our meals and even bring us lunch so  we can work all day uninterrupted. The inn is one of those big old historic affairs from the 19th century and is homey and informal. Most of the rooms have gas fireplaces, it is cool in the evenings up in the mountains in the fall, so that is nice after a day outside.

 This will be the first fall workshop I have done there and I am thrilled. I love teaching workshops anyway. Everyone is always excited to be there and hang out with the other artists. It is like a three day party. We go from breakfast until bedtime. This is a total immersion program and I run the class about 12 hours a  day. I do an evening lecture while we wait for dinner to be served.The fall color in the White Mountains is legendary and people come from all over the world to see it. In the 19th century all of the great Hudson River painters made a point of being there too, just a few miles up the road from the inn. We don't need to leave the grounds of the inn  to find great subject matter so their is no problem with hauling easels around or caravanning cars to daily locations. We just walk out the back door and the whole Presidential range is spread out before us.

The schedule includes;
  • a demo every morning, on the first day I explain the palette and the various pigments.
  • In the afternoon the students paint and I run from easel to easel doing individual instruction and try to diagnose each students particular barriers to better painting.
  •  after the demo each day I run  a series of exercises  teaching root skills like creating vibrating color and the parts of the light (that is what you need to know to establish light in a painting) I am going to add a new exercise this time on color mixing.
  • I do a presentation before dinner with images from my laptop. One is a history of White Mountain art so you can see what the greats of American painting did with the same landscape we will be painting during the day. The other is unpacking  the design ideas in the works of great landscape painters, particularly Edward Seago and Aldro Hibbard, two favorite artists of mine.
  • I promise I will work you like a borrowed mule.

If you have never seen autumn in New England this is your chance to paint the most spectacular fall color in America.The cost of the workshop is 300 dollars, I charge a 150 deposit up front when you register. In return for that I will hold your place in the class. I won't give away your place to anyone else, so I don't return deposits. If you don't intend to come, don't sign up!
It is nessasary to stay at the in . However in the past several people have asked if they could stay with their brother in law or pitch a tent a nearby campground. If you want to do that, it's OK but you will have to pay a flat fee of 150 dollars to the inn for the use of their facilities. That fee will include your breakfasts, lunches and one dinner.The link to sign up is below;