Elements & Principles of Design

I recently ran a workshop for the Foxboro Art Association in Massachusetts on using the elements and principles of design in landscape painting. I explained and illustrated the use of the elements and principles with a digital slide presentation followed by a painting demonstration. 

Making use of the elements and principles of design allows the painting to become more than just the sum of its parts.

This is the stuff that makes up a painting. Every painting needs to be composed. Are you a painter who spends time thinking about the principles of design to best compose your paintings or do you more or less wing it and go with what looks good? I firmly believe that a lot of good paintings can be made stronger with a little more thought given to the arrangement of the composition. By the way, I am completely guilty of just winging it sometimes!

Edgar Payne wrote in his book, Composition For The Outdoor Painter; that an artist should 'mix brains with paint.' His examples of different compositional armatures in the book are outstanding and clearly demonstrate a thinker behind the brush. His use of these armatures within his paintings make his work stand out above a lot of landscape work. When a painter thinks about these compositional ideas along with the principles of design, they have a really good shot of simplifying their subject matter to the essentials and can begin painting the relationships of objects, along with relationships of value and color that add strength and unity to the painting. In other words, they PAINT a painting rather than copy or render things. 

Making good use of the elements and principles of design allows the painting to become more than just the sum of its parts. 

By utilizing the principles of design when organizing a painting, it allows the artist to still explain the big truths about nature but it also allows the artist to use his or her inventiveness in the final product.

In the coming year, I plan on making the use of these elements and principles of design a focus in my weekly painting classes and also in my plein air workshops. I'm in the process of also making it available as an online class.


Below is a very quick sketch done in class showing an example of working from a photo reference and strengthening the design using the elements and principles. I rearranged shapes, changed sizes and pushed the compositional movement towards a radial design with a strong diagonal movement.

Day 11-19 Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

This project still fascinates me. I realized about half way through the 30 day project that trying to crank out a painting each day just to meet my own self imposed deadline was rather senseless. My normal busy schedule of classes and deadlines for other paintings etc; was already a rather full plate. I started to find myself feeling anxious to get a painting completed just for the sake of getting it posted. After a couple days of real bombs (which were scraped completely) and other obligations that got in my way, I decided that It was alright to change my strategy and I made it a new personal goal to complete the 30 paintings as time allowed for it. I wanted to learn and gain new ideas from doing the project. Spending time thinking about what I was trying to capture in each painting from my color notes and photo references made the most logical sense. I tend to be very direct with my painting procedure, but I am a thinker. I think about a painting a lot before I ever touch brush to canvas. 

I personally wish that there were more painters in this world who spent  more time thinking about what they are trying to say in a painting along with giving more thought to composition, color, type of light etc instead of just copying everything before them. Or worse, and we see it a lot; painters who essentially just copy themselves over and over and over again. I've found myself doing it at times. It's actually rather easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are seeing things with fresh new eyes and approaching each painting with an emotional investment, when actually we are just on auto pilot. We reach for the same green, we make the same marks, the trees have to look a certain way, water is done like this etc etc. We start to paint from habit instead of painting from instinct and emotion. What results are formulaic paintings or paintings that look like everybody else. There are a lot of those paintings floating around. This is not a rant but an observation. 

For me personally, when I find that I am not emotionally invested in a painting, I take a step back to ask myself why. The painting experience is about having a conversation with my subject matter and therefore, expressing something that might not be readily seen in the painting but felt. Paintings that evoke an emotion from the viewer are the paintings that matter. Without that connection, a painter is just recording things on a canvas. Robert Henri said that the world doesn't need another 'pretty' picture and is he ever right. 

The Fleeting Glimpses & Memory project has made me have to think harder back in the studio about that emotional connection that I felt looking at the subject. Even color notations that I made on location took on a whole different meaning back in the studio. The notes gave me a starting point, but the actual color mixes that eventually were applied to the canvas were more about trying to recall the feeling of the color and were never exactly as they had been written down. I think all good paintings tend to evoke an impression or sense of place beyond just stating the obvious. Wouldn't it be an amazing feat if a painter could thoroughly intoxicate the viewers senses with this intangible quality.

Here are photos of paintings 11 through 19. The images are also posted on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Lussier-Plein-Air-Painting-Workshops/397547803746
and also on my Dailypaintworks gallery page http://www.dailypaintworks.com/allartists/#/artist=lussier,david&mode=search

'Fleeting Glimpses & Memories' Painting Project. Days 7-10!

'Fleeting Glimpses & Memories' Painting Project

Days 7, 8, 9 and 10

If there is one thing I've learned doing this painting project, is that my schedule is extremely full and fitting an extra painting into my day for thirty days in a row is just not going to happen easily. I'm enjoying the project immensely and have decided to get my thirty paintings completed as my days allow. (This will keep me from becoming a nut case!) :) 

It's been interesting looking at night scenes at all different hours. The night sky is so vastly different from one night to the next. Everything becomes a factor; the time, the immediate weather and the phase of the moon. It makes perfect logical sense, but it has never been so obvious until I really started looking and thinking about it. Every time I write down some notes about color and value, I am surprised by the various combinations I am seeing. It seems endless. At times it is strikingly different and yet so very subtle.

As I continue with the project, the weather is also changing. We are losing all the snow and that is going to have me looking at different subject matter etc. I'm excited about some ideas that I have and as the weather warms up and the days get longer, I am going to try to do some of these on location. The knowledge that I am gleaning from looking and trying to memorize the evening light is opening up my mind to thinking about color in new ways.

I'm still posting the painting images here and on FaceBook. You can click on the Daily Paintworks widget located in the right column of this blog to be taken to my gallery of all the paintings being done for this project on the daily paintworks website.

Day 7 - 'Ice Melt'   9x12
Day 8 - 'Ten P.M.'   9x12
Day 9 - 'Burning The Midnight Oil'   9x12
Day 10 - 'Night Lights'   9x12

Day 6 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

Day 6 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

Today's painting took three attempts. I wasn't able to wrap my mind around what I was after and how to get it onto canvas. In my second attempt, I was close to being on track but not quite. I scraped the paint off again and then started to build paint on top of the stained image. I finally realized where I had gone wrong and it just came together.

If I can't see it with my mind's eye, the painting is never going to turn out right. This is true for anybody that paints. The idea of slinging paint in hopes that by some stroke of luck it will evolve into a finished piece, is just some wishful thinking. Essentially though, that is precisely what I was doing with today's first two attempts. My color idea was off and so was my value plan. I was tired from a long weekend and that can also play a part, but I've long ago figured out how to stay on task when I am tired. 

What solved the dilemma for me, was scraping down and walking away for a little while. I made some coffee and played my guitar. Twenty minutes later, I took a good hard look and thought about my original plan and what I had seen while out in the field. I hadn't taken any notes and my photo reference was not in any way going to be of help except for the drawing.

It pays to stick with a painting sometimes and try to work it out. In the end, I was really happy with this piece. Can anyone guess how I came up with the name?

See you tomorrow!

'Ain't It Just Like A Friend Of Mine'   9x12

Day 5 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

For today's painting 'Waning Cresent' 9x12, I tried to capture a sense of moonlight and tried to go a bit higher key with it then I remembered seeing. This farmhouse is always pretty lit up at night and there is almost always work being done in the barn. Because of that, the place lends itself to being the subject of a night painting and i may try to do this one again sometime during the course of the project. Thanks for looking.

'Waning Crescent' 9x12

Day 4 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

Today was one of those long days with lots going on in the studio. My painting is from a place in my hometown of Woodstock and I was after the feeling and color of the evenings afterglow. I was attracted to the pink glow in the sky and the muted blue green building. The cool yellow green light in the window was really there and just seemed to complete the idea. I tried to give the painting a bit more light then what I remembered and was sure to include some sense of ground shadows. Without them the design falls flat. The painting, 'Afterglow' was completed in just under 3 hours. I was surprised at how much time I had to spend  in order to get the right balance of subtle color vibration to make the painting work. The building was painted 3 times before I got something close to what I remembered seeing.

'Afterglow' 9x12 

Day 2 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

Last night While Pam and I were driving home late, I was looking at a scene that reminded me of one of my favorite places to paint. This particular spot has changed considerably over the last two years. A couple of winters ago, when we were inundated with one nor'easter after another, the barn collapsed under the weight of all the heavy snow. It's a pile of rubble now, but I couldn't help but think about how this place would look painted with last nights evening sky before all the calamity. A few sketches later along with some rummaging through of old photo references, I came up with today's studio painting.

It's pretty much an invented idea. While looking the sky last night, I was aware of how the stars sparkled and the sky glowed. The landscape by comparison seemed desolate and muted. I went with that and created this painting called 'March Evening'.

'March Evening' 9x12

Day 3 - Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

Today's painting, 'Winter Twilight' is of a place I go by all the time and I've painted it plein air a few times over the years. My first time painting it was with my dear friend and fellow painter, Charlie Parsons who passed away a few years ago. I am the kind of plein air painter who can sometimes drive by a perfectly good painting spot a whole bunch of times without stopping to paint. I think that I paint some of these locations in my mind for years before I finally get around to actually stopping and setting up my easel. Charlie was the kind of guy who wanted to stop everywhere and anywhere to paint and on this particular day he mentioned this location and we just drove there and got the job done. Charlie would drive up from Marion MA to Woodstock on a whim sometimes to paint and stay at his little fishing cabin in Eastford. He grew up in Woodstock and he had a real connection to the place and seemed to know just about everybody. I always enjoyed his company, although family obligations and workshop travels kept me from getting out there to paint with him as much as I would have liked.

When Pam and I drive home from the studio we usually don't pass this spot because I take shortcuts to make the drive shorter. This time I drove the main road and drove right by this, as the view heading home is not the 'painting' view. As we went by, I thought about about Charlie and I happened to glance in my mirror and caught a sliver of the early night sky. My heart stopped for a second and I turned around to have a better look and to jot down some notes.

The studio painting the next morning started out very disjointed and I almost scraped it. Then something clicked and I realized the landscape and sky were not in agreement with each other. In the next five minutes the painting just came together and it felt really good. 

Here is the painting. I hope you like it. More tomorrow! 

'Winter Twilight' 9x12

Fleeting Glimpses & Memories

I'm excited to start the 'Fleeting Glimpses & Memories' project! This is an adventure that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. The idea of this project is to paint one 9 x12 each day for 30 days, of something that I've seen on my commute to or from my painting studio. I'm always traveling to the studio early in the morning and coming back around the time the sun is setting or after. I always see exciting things that I wish I could paint. They are fleeting moments and trying to paint them on location isn't really practical.
Night painting for me seems to affect my eyes. It's hard to judge color and the values are hard to control. I like the idea of working to recreate something in the studio from something that caught my eye for a moment in time. These paintings will be an exploration and there will be some inventing going on. I see it as a way to grow. I see it this way. If an artist works plein air, his skills as a plein air painter will grow. The same thing holds true for memory work. We get better at things we practice at! I'm even allowing you to watch me fumble and hopefully do some cool things with the landscapes that I will be painitng.

I really want to develop my ability to paint from memory, so this is the perfect way to do that. Using some rapid sketches to think about big shapes, some notes that I jot down about color and a reference photo to aid in the compositional plan, I will then dive into recreating what I saw and felt about the subject.

I'm fascinated about painting at twilight, the early or late evening, or even in moonlight. Sunrise is also high on my list of special times to connect with the landscape. More times than not, when it comes to sunrise paintings, I find myself standing in awe of what God can do with a morning and I spend more time looking than I do actually painting the view, but maybe this project will break that.

I know that I plan to take a hard look at intersections at night with traffic lights at some point during these 30 days as I am completely flabbergasted with the way the red, yellow and green changes in a traffic light influence the colors around it. There are many other thoughts going around in my mind and I am just going to take it one day at a time and see what inspires me as I go.

The paintings will all be 9x12's and sold unframed for $400 dollars. The paintings will be shipped at the end of the thirty day painting event. There is a $ 25.00 fee to cover shipping and handling. The paintings can be seen here; on FaceBook and also in Daily Paintworks, where they can be purchased.  

Click on the Daily Paintworks widget on my sidebar to be taken to the site.

It's my sincere hope that someone will be inspired by this project enough to want to attempt their hand at it and also that my paintings will touch someone enough, that they want to own it.

TODAY I painted a sunset (from the previous evening) of a stand of trees and a field in snow. It was exciting to try to reconnect with the scene in my mind and to just let the painting do its thing. In this one, I was intrigued by the combinations of muted yellow and yellow oranges against the gray purple snow

 More tomorrow!

'Last Light'  9x12 

Making Panels

Many students and fellow artists ask me for info on how I make my panels. Today was a panel making day, so I decided to post something to explain my process.

I like 359 alkyd primed linen from WindriverArts.com. Owners, Mary Rawle and her husband Chuck are the nicest people you could ever buy linen from. Sometimes I use some oil primed Italian linen from the Italian art store. It really depends on what becomes available when I need more linen. I like gator board and I buy it from a place in Connecticut called ArtGrafix.com. They are extremely prompt and their website is easy to navigate. I use the natural kraft wrap gator board. Because I am in a studio in an old mill that has a loading dock, it's easy to buy the board one or two pallets at a time. The sheets come 15 to a pallet and they are each 4 by 8 feet. Usually there are a few other artists going in on the purchase and it's a nice way to get it in quantity and then divide it up. Don't worry, they also sell different sizes, 10 to a box and you can order a box of 30 by 40 inch gator board and still have it delivered by UPS.

When I decide to make linen panels, I choose a day and I try to make all I can in a day. I use a sheet rock T square and a utility knife to cut the big sheets of gator board. I prefer to cut them to different size panels that I use on a regular basis. In this way, I am making a lot of different sizes, but I might also have some left that I can make as I need them. I cut up my linen into the sizes that I use regularly too. Generally, I add about a quarter of an inch to each side, in order to have a bit of excess that I can trim off as I make the boards. This is important, especially when I am making larger panels.

The glue I use to mount the linen to the board is a fabric adhesive. I buy it from United Manufacturers Supply Company. If you search for fabric adhesive on their website, it will come right up. I buy it in the quart size and also in half gallons. The quart size has a nice dispenser tip and therefore is useful for applying it to the gator board.

I apply the glue by squeezing it out of the bottle onto the gator board in a circular motion. You don't need tons of it, but you need enough to get the job done. Practice makes perfect. You will get a feel for it right away. The adhesive will tack up fairly quickly so once I apply it, I quickly spread it around. I just use an old bristle brush that I cut down slightly so that it is a bit stiffer for moving the adhesive. The adhesive looks somewhat like Elmer's glue but it isn't. This glue hold great, but can also be reactivated by heat which means that if it ever became necessary to remove the painting to adhere it to another panel, it can be done. It is a PH Neutral adhesive and it's completely archival.

Once I spread the adhesive around, I check that I got glue up to all the edges and then I place my linen on it and I use an old wooden ruler to press down on the panel from the middle to the edges to make sure it lays flat. I am careful not to press so hard that I squeeze all the glue out at the edges. If this happens, I am pressing too hard or have way too much glue on the panel.

Then I flip the panel over, and using my utility knife, I trim off the excess canvas. If I don't do this while the glue is wet, I will get a wavy buckle effect along the edge of the panel. It has something to do with the glue drying, causing slight shrinkage. Then I place it on a flat surface and put something on top of it to keep it flat. It doesn't have to be real heavy. I've gotten to the point that I put it under my cutting mat and place a book on top and it's ready to paint on in about 10-15 minutes.

I want to point out that I can make a 30 x 40 painting panel using this method and I can do it a heck of a lot faster than stretching a canvas. I have gone as big as 40 x 60. Making your own panels might use up some painting time, but I get satisfaction in constructing my own panels and I can make them for half of what it costs to buy them already made. In my book, every artist should concern themselves with cutting costs where possible. It's also a nice project to do with another fellow artist. One rainy spring, I made panels for 5 consecutive days with a good painting friend and by the end, we both had put together enough panels to last us for more than a year! I am providing a link here to a very simple YouTube video which shows the process.

In my next post, I will be starting a new project.

On my 30 minute drive to the studio each day, I see early morning scenes that would make great paintings, but the effects are fleeting. Then on my drive back home, the late afternoon light turns to twilight and again the effect is magical, but I see just a fleeting glimpse. It's just a moment in time. I would like to commit these to memory and paint one every day for 30 days beginning on Tuesday, March 4th. I will post these on this blog with a link to Daily Paint Works, where they will be available for purchase online for $400. Each painting will be either a 9"x12" or an 8"x10"  I hope you will have a look!

The Winter Gang

Every winter, for a number of years, a group of painter friends have gotten together here in Woodstock to paint throughout the cold and snowy months of January, February and March. 

It's a good time and it helps us to keep painting outside through the long winter. I love painting snow, but I admit that it is difficult sometimes to get out there when the forecast is talking about really cold temps. But when you get together with a group, you are all in it together for the day and it brings an element of fun to the challenge. 

We do things right. First we meet for a big breakfast and some good conversation before we paint. Sometimes on a particularly cold morning, when you are sitting there by a roaring wood stove eating eggs and gulping down a hot coffee, you look outside at the shriveled landscape and ask yourself what the heck you're doing there. Then you look around at all your friends, some of whom have driven almost two hours to paint with the group, and the idea of getting out there seems to feel a little better. The breakfast time helps prepare everybody and the conversation topics are always interesting and there are always a lot of laughs.

We usually start on the first Saturday after the new year and make it a point to get together every weekend until March 20th, which is the first day of spring. This year we decided to start early, before the snow flies as they say. We also changed the painting day to Sunday as it works out better for everybody. There is no snow in the forecast yet, but autumn is still giving us some hints of her beautiful color and the November skies are filled with fast moving, ever changing cloud formations. They are a real delight to the human spirit and at no other time of year in New England will the clouds push their way through the skies and call so much attention to themselves.

Today's weather was cold and then warm and then back to cold. It kept this up for most of the day until mid afternoon when the sky turned dark and a big breeze picked up indicating that some rain was imminent. We knew it was coming but some of us couldn't put the brushes down until it suddenly opened up and poured. Here are some images from the first couple of painting days. I promise to put down the brushes once and awhile and get more shots of actual paintings in the future. 

Here and There.

Life moves fast. Faster than I can keep up with it seems, but that's what I hear from everyone I talk to these days regardless of what they do for a living. I just feel blessed to be doing what I love and look forward to everyday as another chance to live life painting landscapes both indoors and out and teaching my classes and workshops.

Recently Pam and I were part of the Rye Art Center's ' Painters On Location' event. We've participated before and love the event. The idea is simple. We drive to Rye New York, get our canvases stamped and get out there to find our place to paint for the day. There is some great subject matter in the area and this time, Pam painted on one side of a marsh, while I painted on the opposite side. It was fun and both our paintings sold well at the auction that evening and I sold my silent auction piece at the very end of the night! It was a bit of last minute drama that made for a lot of fun.

From there we taught a three day workshop for the Maritime Gallery at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic CT. How can we not have fun painting the boats and harbor at the seaport?! Its an awesome place and we were impressed with how students took the lessons showed to them through my demo and tackled their paintings with new confidence. The rain held off during class too which is always appreciated!! We always look forward to teaching there.

This past weekend, we taught another workshop in Connecticut at a farm in Hampton. Gluck Farm is one of those bucolic farms that is the perfect example of a New England farm. Over the course of the three days, our students were immersed in several changes of New England weather and treated to numerous visits by sheep, horses and two large oxen.

We should be teaching in Wayne PA for the Wayne Art Center next but they cancelled the two day workshop because we only had 4 students signed up. It would have been a great workshop having to do with painting various lighting conditions. It's a workshop that we've taught at various art centers and associations  as full workshops and students have raved about it. Oh well. Pam and I will enjoy a bit of down time instead. In the meantime, here are some images to look at.

Monday Morning Blues (and Oranges)

Today is Monday and that means, my weekly painting class at 10. I blocked in this painting last week for my students and today I painted on the block in as my morning demo.

I am using a very simple orange red & blue green complimentary palette and showed them how to get a sense of a full range of color using this simple palette. I decided that the orange red would be dominant in this painting. That's an important decision to make.

I mixed a few rows of color, colorful greys and neutrals and showed them how to key the painting towards the orange red family. Before I painted, I was sure to oil out the block in since it had totally dried.

Here are some images of the palette and the painting including a few close ups. This was a 45 minute demo.

Color Ideas in Kennebunkport & Online Mentoring

Recently, Pam and I taught a three day workshop in Kennebunkport Maine to a great group of painters. We really enjoy teaching these private workshops. It was an intense three days and the group accomplished a lot. It was also a nice intimate setting and just about perfect weather for plein air. I've posted some images from the workshop at the end of the post.

We focused on the use of my palette, working with complimentary color ideas. The lesson makes use of the palette as a color wheel simplifying both color and value. Some painters have a difficult time juggling color, while some struggle with value. Sometimes, the idea that both color and value have to work together in  painting complicates the painting process to the point that they freeze up or they keep dipping their brush into piles of paint and applying it to their canvas, in hopes that something magical will  happen on it's own or by accident.

My workshop will help you understand how to simplify both color and value. While it's true that everyone possesses their own natural color sense and that the goal is to arrive at a point where painting becomes a somewhat intuitive process, everyone has to first learn and become comfortable with some real basics. My method starts out with a simple underpainting  which is an arrangement of light, middle and dark value shapes that all relate to one another in a logical way and creates a pleasing pattern. By starting out with just value and not the final color, many students make improvements immediately.I have recently made this workshop available as an online mentoring class, "Complimentary Color Palettes"

Color is painted on top of this underpainting in the same three values. In this way the painter doesn't break up their pattern of lights and darks. Lighter value and darker values can be stated later as the painting gets further along, but first we just want to keep our value plan. There's a saying in painting; 'no pattern, no painting' and if there was ever one big truth about painting, this one is it. I have students use a simple complimentary color palette for this workshop so that color doesn't get out of hand. It starts to teach them the poetry behind the use of a simple palette and how they can achieve a harmony in their paintings that many paintings lack because the artist tried to use every tubed color in the book. It's all about keeping things in reserve; the reserve of both value and color.

Anyone interested in this online mentoring class can purchase and download it from my website, davidlussiergallery.com. It is available as a private study on your own or with me as a four week mentoring class. I know you are all busy and I've tried to design a course that can be done anywhere at a time that is convenient for you.  The four weeks will start when you are ready to download and the four weeks can be taken over a period of time that works for you. While it is recommended to be four consecutive weeks, it doesn't have to be followed in that manner.

My hope is that this will help some painters who are struggling out there. I am confident that I can help you with your painting. Overtime, I will be adding more online classes to this series for a total of 6 individual courses. The next one will be about  color triads. I will be taking my color ideas a little further, showing you how to work with specific color triads to show you another way to bring color harmony to your paintings.

Moonlight Makes Me Feel Alright.

I've been thoroughly enjoying my studio time as of late. I enjoy teaching weekly classes and see some real growth in all my students. Last fall I started an apprentice/ mentoring program and my four students enrolled in this are making great strides. We've been working a lot with color and values, working with complimentary color palettes and different triad palettes. Now we are working on capturing specific types of lighting conditions. Any time a painter begins a painting, he or she is painting the effect of light. It's important to understand how each effect has its own set of value ranges. Sunlight has it's own range of values and side light differs from back light which differs from a front lit situation etc. Sometimes it is fun to try to capture the idea of moonlight. My students were asking me about it and so we spent some time looking at Frederick Remington and a Philadelphia painter, George Stotter. Honestly, I have attempted these types of paintings on location and I have learned from it, but I think the best paintings of night come from memory or a combination of memory and good old inventiveness. This painting is an interpretation of the harbor in Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard at night. It's of a place seen and remembered and then imagined.

Nova Scotia & 1400 Square Feet

A corner of the new 1400sq ft studio
It's time for me to get caught up on my blog and then to keep it current! My schedule has been non-stop for weeks on end, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel. The end of each year has a way of making us feel 'stressed' with the chaos that ensnares us at holiday time, but I'm not going there. Seriously, I'm not going there. Here at home, we are doing Christmas and New Years in a very low key. It seems like a miracle that Christmas is nine days away and I'm feeling laid back and calm. I highly recommend this low key version of the holidays, but this is a painting blog and so I guess I should focus my thoughts on that!

At the end of my last post, I had just entered into Canada and was on my way to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I now had the option of taking a ferry from St. John's across the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia or I could drive the big loop around to Nova Scotia in my car. Originally, I had intended to do the ferry, but the timing of things had changed and I would have to wait several hours for the ferry, followed by the 3 hour trip across the bay, and then another 3 or 4 hours of driving before reaching my destination. I was staying with Fred and Patti Rhinelander and they lived in Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. I figured that if I waited for the ferry, I would not arrive at their home until about 2 in the morning. By making the drive myself, I might get there by 10 or 11 PM. It was a no-brainer and I  hopped onto the highway and started making the long drive.

It was an interesting journey. I had about thirty dollars in American money and I had done all the proper things in order to have my debit card work in Canada. The first time that I stopped into an Irvine station to fill up, my debit card worked just fine and I breathed a sigh of relief. The next time I used it, it wouldn't work. I tried an ATM and that didn't work either. To make a long story short; I put twenty five dollars worth of gas into my car with cash and prayed that I would make it to Nova Scotia. I had snacks in my car and they became my lunch and dinner. I attempted using the debit card a couple more times with no success. I missed a turn along the way and ended up very lost for awhile, but eventually I figured my way back to the proper highway and kept on going. I should mention that I have a GPS but it didn't recognize Canada at all.

Somewhere along the way, close to Lunenburg, I put my last five dollars into the gas tank and I safely arrived at the home of my host family somewhere between 11:00 and 11:30. It turned out that Pam had used my debit card account number from the United States right after I used the card to get gas at the Irvine station in Canada and so they flagged it. Once I solved that, I had no more problem with accessing money and putting gas in the car!

My host family was wonderful, the workshop week was wonderful. My students were great and the weather was absolutely perfect. I couldn't have asked for a more cordial and accommodating host family. I couldn't have asked for a better group of students. I wanted them to learn to work smarter in their planning stages in order to be more spontaneous in their painting approach and I stressed big shapes and big relationships over a bunch of detail that meant nothing. Each student made every effort to try my ideas and go well beyond their normal comfort level. Whatever craziness I had gone through to get to Lunenburg, it was all forgotten by the very first morning of the workshop.

This was even better at low tide!

My demo's were done quickly and with a bit more spontaneity than I may normally go about , but this approach ALWAYS helps students to paint more intuitively and not labor over each stroke. Because I am painting very quickly, they open up to the idea that they can tackle a painting in this manner too. It is like giving them permission to loosen up. I didn't paint finished pieces in my demos but they could see how I constructed it, planned a composition and a dark pattern and then built it up  from there. Many times students tend to paint 'things' and not shapes of color and value. The mind-set is that, this is one thing and this is another thing. They are not seeing the big picture or the 'big idea'. Charles Movalli says 'No Pattern, No Painting' and this is key. It is the relationship of lights and darks and the relationship between each different color shape, that turns 'THINGS' into a 'PAINTING'. I wanted them to use the subject matter, but to learn to say more with less.

A classic paintable view
I saw a lot of improvement in this concept over the week. There were some very good painters in this workshop and I got them thinking outside of their comfort level. This is ALWAYS a good thing. On the last day, we had a three hour critique of the work that was done by everyone. You couldn't help but see the improvements from painting to painting. I was proud of them for taking risks and pushing themselves in new directions. They worked hard on the concepts I was teaching them and it showed.

One area that I push students to improve upon is 'composition'. Regardless of the level of skill, we can all work to improve on this aspect of painting. I admit that I am guilty of sometimes not giving enough thought to the composition of a painting before I begin. Oftentimes, the problem is this.. WE ARRIVE UPON A SCENE, WE GET ALL EXCITED BY IT AND WE CAN'T WAIT TO JUMP RIGHT INTO USING PAINT. As painters we love to paint. We love the feel of pushing all that paint around on a canvas. But...I  am a firm believer that if we even take just five minutes to think about our plan before we jump in, we would all improve on our compositions. In one of my earlier posts, I talk more about composition. Here is a link to that post 'Painters Who Compose'

No shortage of things to paint here!

At the Lunenburg Art Gallery, where we held our last morning critique session, there was a retrospective show of work by Earl Bailly. This remarkable painter, who developed polio as a child, rose above his handicap and painted by clenching a paintbrush in his teeth. This man knew how to compose a painting. It was a delight to look at the paintings on the gallery walls and talk about the artists knowledge of composition and to get the students talking about it. I saw light bulbs going off.  It was a real eye opener to consider that each stroke on the canvas had been done while the artist held the paint brush in his mouth. The deftness of  brush strokes to canvas were done with great sensitivity to the subject. Bold in some areas and soft and delicate in others. The handling of tree limbs in particular were most astonishing. I see so many painters, including myself, who can lose sight of how delicate a touch it takes to capture the essence of this subject. Here is a link to the Gallery Show.  This painting titled 'Winter Study' shows the handling and finesse of the tree limbs. The next time you feel like you've got it so hard, try to think about what this man overcame and maybe you will realize that your just not really looking at how good you've actually got it!

When the workshop was over, I spent one afternoon doing some painting on my own. Then the rain and gusty winds started coming in. There was a hurricane that was presently heading right for Nova Scotia and my plans to stay for an extra few days just to paint, were just not going to become a reality. Even if the hurricane were to miss Lunenburg, the forecast was calling for nothing but extremely heavy rain for three to five days. That night I said good bye to my host family and very early the next morning, I quietly left Lunenburg at 6:15 AM and drove towards the U.S. border in a pouring rain.

The rain was relentless. It became torrential at times and it was not a pleasant drive to say the least. I stopped a few times to take a break from driving and from the constant swish swish of the windshield wiper blades. At one point, maybe an hours drive from the border, I napped in the car at a gas station. Then I grabbed some coffee and continued on my way. When I reached the United States, I was welcomed home with a smile by the officer at the border and I drove to a gas station in Maine, filled up and kept on driving.

I drove for a total of 14 hours that day. It rained the entire time too. The weather certainly made me have to drive slower and while a big part of me was preparing to keep on going the 3 or so hours until I reached home, the tired and sensible part of me, said enough is enough. It was dark now and I found myself a room, grabbed some dinner and went to bed. I let myself sleep in and did not get on the road until around 10 A.M. the next morning. I grabbed food and coffee at a McDonald's, wished myself a 'Happy Birthday' and turned left to get on the turnpike for home.

It rained the entire 3 hour drive home, which just seemed normal to me by now. When I pulled into my driveway, I suddenly remembered the duct tape 'fix' that I had used on the car sun-roof and I smiled to myself. My last minute idea with the tape had worked and was continuing to work. As of this writing, which is many weeks since the trip, the duct tape continues to hold strong.

Since Nova Scotia, I've taught a few weekend workshops while preparing for a new studio space. Pam and I are moving into a 1400 square foot studio which will become our 'home away from home' and will house ALL our things related to painting and teaching workshops. It is time for a change. 'Big Studio Space-Small Living Space'. It has become like a mantra for us. In the spring we will sell our house and find something tiny. The studio is absolutely awesome and Pam and I can't wait to officially move in for January 1st 2012.

For now I am posting a couple of images of the new studio. I promised in my last post to show pics of my demo's from Lunenburg, but I presently have all paintings and all work related 'THINGS' in storage as the studio gets the finishing touches done to it. We moved in just long enough to have our 'Open Studio' weekends there and for me to teach a weekend workshop on painting boats and harbors and then everything had to be put back into storage so that the floors could be done. I'll write more about the new studio and the concept of 'Big Studio Space-Small Living Space' in my next post!

A view from 'The Mill Works'

'Open Studio' before the floor was refinished and before  track lights

After 'Open Studio' with tracklighting up and floor refinished!

There are five of these 8.5 ' x 11' windows!

Lunenburg Awaits!

I had a real adventure in Lunenburg Nova Scotia at the end of September. I went there to teach a workshop for the Lunenburg Art Association & Gallery. As I planned for this workshop, I was excited that I had a full class and I was looking forward to getting back to Nova Scotia. Pam and I spent part of our honeymoon there 11 years ago. Originally, she intended to go with me on this trip, but we also thought she would have a new kidney. Unfortunately, due to health insurance restrictions, traveling out of the country isn't possible for her at this time.

Interestingly enough, there were many little twists and turns to this trip across the border that made it quite the adventure. It all began with a leaky sunroof that I had tried to fix on my own in August. It seemed to all be fine until we had inches upon inches of rain with storm after storm and I had to start throwing a tarp over it in the driveway or else it would quickly become a Ford Escape with its own swimming pool. The rain stopped just long enough before I left for another attempt at solving the dilemma. The forecast called for lots of rain heading up north into Maine and then clear blue skies during the workshop week in Lunenburg. My last minute, 'what-the-heck...why not' idea was duct tape. I covered the sunroof edges with duct tape and I laughed at myself for even thinking this would work. The day I loaded up the car, there was no rain. None. That is, not until I left the driveway. Ten minutes on the road and the skies opened up like a water faucet. I glanced up at the corner of the sun roof where water usually pours in. Nothing.

I had given myself plenty of time to get up to Calais Maine on the Canadian border. It was a nine hour drive and it took me four hours to get to Wells Maine which usually only takes three. I stopped in Wells and called it a day. It was 10 PM. Driving in a pouring rain at night was making my head pound. There was still no leaking from my sunroof and the duct tape was holding surprisingly well. The next day I drove to Calais Maine. It rained on and off throughout the drive but at least it was daylight. I was excited to get to the border and I took a room at a small hotel. There was nothing of note in Calais except I was happy to have a decent room with a nice comfy bed and I caught up on some much needed sleep. The next morning I envisioned  driving across the border, then driving an hour or so to St John and taking the car ferry over the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia.

At 6:30AM the next morning, I pulled up to the Canadian Border. The conversation with the officer at the booth went something like this.

Border Officer: 'What brings you to Canada?'
Me: I am doing some painting and teaching a workshop.

Border Officer: 'Do you have a Letter of Invitation to come to Canada to teach this workshop?'
Me: 'No. What is that?!'

Border Officer: 'Do you have a Work Permit in order to come to Canada to teach this workshop?'
Me: 'No. What is that?!

Border Officer: 'Did the place where you will be teaching this workshop fill out a Labor Market Survey explaining why you need to come to Canada to teach this workshop instead of another Canadian?'
Me: 'NO AGAIN. What is that??!!! ##%^%$*

This had not gone quite as planned.! An hour and a half later, after spending what seemed like eternity explaining to the Immigration Officers 'WHY' I was trying to enter into Canada, I was signing a document stating that I would leave Canada 'Post Haste' and I was told not to return without the proper documents.

I am telling you this because, you should understand that crossing the border is not as easy as it once was. Before 9/11, I can remember driving into Canada looking for painting spots with George Carpenter and several cars of painters, only to NOT find what it was we were looking for and so back out we went. Then into Canada again at another crossing and back out etc etc. We did this 5 times or so. I doubt it would have been this easy if we were to try this stunt today.

So according to Canada, I was technically entering their country to 'work'. This was the major factor to my problem. The good folks in Lunenburg did not explain this paperwork and proper document information to me because some laws had recently changed and they did not know about them. They've had artists come in to teach for years without this paperwork. Back in my hotel room in Calais I explained all of this to them and they worked at getting what was needed for me to enter. In the end, I did indeed need a Letter of Invitation, but as a workshop or seminar (key word -seminar) instructor, guest lecturer and/or performing artist, I did not need a 'Work Permit' nor did the Art Association need to fill out the 'Labor Market Survey'. They faxed me the info as stated by law about teaching a seminar, lecturer or performing artist and I brought it with me the next morning back to the same border crossing. This time around, I was only there for maybe 15 minutes while the Immigration Officer went through some of his books and stared at my 'Letter of Invitation' for awhile. Finally he stamped my passport and I was welcomed into Canada and told to enjoy my visit. Yay.

Before this week is over, I will post part 2 of this workshop adventure.  It was a great group of students and there is much more to tell! I'll post some demo pics too. Here are a couple images of painting spots.

Autumn Workshop

I've recently returned from an interesting and fantastic trip to Nova Scotia. I am in the process of writing about that experience and it will become my next post. This past weekend, I taught a plein air workshop in my hometown of Woodstock CT and I want to write about it today.

This workshop is an annual one to paint the Autumn color. This year, apparently due to Hurricane Irene dropping a ton of rain on us, which had a lot of salt in it from the ocean, the color is not as spectacular as I had hoped for. As a painter though, I am not really interested in a cacophony of bright colors all competing for a place on the canvas. A little bit of intense color goes a long way. We as painters, have the opportunity to tone down the color a bit to create harmony and we can brighten color where it is needed to help to create a focal point. If a painting is all full of bright color, nothing gets heard over all that loud noise. A canvas like this is hard to look at. For the person who is taking a scenic drive or walk, the bright colors can be cheerful and fun to take in. Hand that same viewer a painting done of this same scene done verbatim and he won't feel the same about it.

Harry Ballinger said in his landscape book that the peak of Autumn harmonized better when painted on an overcast day or could be better unified when painted in a back-lit situation. These are excellent points to consider. I personally prefer to paint the early Autumn color or late Autumn when the trees have lost a lot of their leaves and I can see through the foliage. A scene like this attracts me because their is still some bit of Autumn color that plays off the beautiful purple tones that make up the distance.

This was a three day workshop. Students were given the option of participating  for one, two or all three days. Everyone liked having these options and I am considering doing more of this. I would love to hear feedback. It appears that everyone has such busy lives these days and although someone may want to register, they can't always make the commitment for the full number of days. Students who came for just one day of this Autumn Workshop were very pleased with this option and confided that they got a lot out of the one day. One student said that she was taking home a lot of new ideas.

On the first day we had an extremely rainy day and I brought everyone into the studio for the day. This makes the most sense on a day like this. There are plenty of points to discuss about the painting process and an indoor demo is always well received by students. I chose a photo reference of a complicated scene that had a lot of potential for a good painting but needed some thought behind the final idea. I am reminded about a James Whistler quote: "To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano!"

In the name of 'simplicity' I made some changes as I composed the painting. As part of the 'less is more' belief system that I have, it is my sincere hope to get at something in the simplifying of a subject that will say and feel more about that subject than the subject itself. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it is special. It's why I paint. Here is another quote, this time by Thomas Eakins: 'In mathematics the complicated things are reduced to simple things. So it is in painting.' And Albert Einstein said, 'Out of clutter, find simplicity'. And the kicker of them all is this one, also by Einstein: 'Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.' Eureka! Now THAT is what painting is all about!

I'm putting up some images of the indoor demo and also one of the outdoor demos. In the first demo you can easily see the changes compared to the photo reference. I played up the size of the larger building and played down the size of the barn to the left. I did this for the sake of balance. If things are too similar in size, they cancel each other out. The big describes the small and the small describes the big. Emile Gruppe was a master of this idea. I avoided some of the clutter of the hodgepodge of trees to the right and gave the viewer some room to see beyond. I exaggerated the angle of the shadow to the left and also the dark shape near the stone wall, all for the sake of getting the viewer into the picture. I toned the linen canvas with raw sienna and then I blocked in the painting with raw sienna and a hint of purple. I wanted to show the relationship of the big shapes and to strike a well composed balance with my dark and light pattern. This my 'big idea'. I always think about someone saying..Hey! What's the big idea? ..The big idea in a painting is what makes the painting work. It holds it all together.

Here is an outdoor demo that I painted on Sunday morning. This was a quick one and I really stressed the importance of the big relationships.

The Maine Experience - Part 2

I have been travelling for weeks, teaching and painting in Maine and in Canada. I've had no real access to the Internet, so my idea of keeping up with my blog in real time has just been impossible. I apologize for such a delay in posting, and now plan to get caught up and post on a regular basis again. Thanks for being patient with my travels!

Here is part two of my painting trip to Stonington Maine. It includes good info about making the most of a painting trip and I hope you find it useful.

Pacing myself on any painting trip is important. I think there is a logical rhythm to it that if adhered to will make for a successful time. I used to go on painting trips and try to paint EVERYTHING. Then after a few days, I was exhausted and would find later that I could have done better if I had slowed down the pace and had spent the time to think more about my subject matter. In the book, A Sense of Place: The Artist And The American Land, by Alan Gussow, there are wonderful essays that explore the complex relationship between the artist and the landscape. I highly recommend this book as a way to understand how important it is to connect with whatever it is you are painting.

Here is a link.  http://www.amazon.com/Sense-Place-Artist-American-Land/dp/1559635681

For me on this trip to Deer Isle, I arrived late on a Monday night after an 8 hour drive. I had six full days to get work done. I had to talk to myself and resist the urge to jump out of bed that first morning and attempt to  try and paint everything and anything under the sun. I have learned to pay particular attention to spending some time just looking and thinking before diving into painting. Armed with a decent digital camera and a sketch book, I like to rise early and spend time photographing and making thumbnail drawings of what I am seeing. It is all part of becoming familiar with a place. Doing this, I get a sense in this particular case about how really big this harbor is and how many boats are always coming and going. I learn that the lobster boats head out about 4:30 A.M. and start returning to unload their catch around 11:30 A.M. This goes on all day until around 5 or 6 P.M. Lobster boats return and unload at 4 different docks. As the day goes on, it becomes a real dance. One boat comes in, while several others weave and bob while waiting their turn and so on. After they unload, the lobstermen head back to their mooring spot to tie up their boat and then come back in on their skiffs. It all becomes part of the big dance. On the docks, several men are helping to unload the catch. Here is a picture that I think will help get the point across about how dance-like this all is.

All the while, I am snapping picture after picture and making some quick drawings. I'm excited by all that I am seeing and I really can't wait to paint. All day long I have painted numerous ideas in my mind. Seeing a painting in your minds eye is half the battle and can produce some well executed paintings. I'm like a hunter/gatherer. I want to come home with some good paintings but I also want many more ideas for future paintings that can be worked on later on in the studio.

On this trip I had a weather forecast that called for an entire week of sunny weather. The tides were also in my favor and my trip was planned with the tide charts in mind. I want to paint the docks and the boats when the tide is at it's lowest or at least somewhere inbetween low and high tide. Painting at the highest tide would be of importance if my goal was to paint surf, but for this subject matter, painting it at high tide would not excite me. All week long, I had a low tide in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon or very early evening. It was picture perfect.

With that being said, let me reiterate a point here. I came home with many paintings. I came back with numerous drawings and a lot of photo references, but I mostly came back with IDEAS. Now I am looking forward to spending the time to paint a cohesive body of solid work from what I've done out there.

George Carpenter used to tell me that I should hold onto more of my outdoor work in order to make more and better work from them. Especially with the idea of going bigger. This is precisely what I am doing more and more of. I spend about half my week painting outside and the other half hunkered down in my studio.

Here are a few of the quick paintings I did on location. These images will give you an idea of the varied subject matter and the feel of Stonington Maine.

The Maine Experience - Part One

I am suddenly jolted awake by a cacophony of strange whirring sounds all around me. I fly out of bed and glance at the clock. It is 4:30 A.M. I run over to a large picture window and pull up the blind so I can see what the heck is happening. I see lights, hundreds of them. In the dark, they appear to be hovering in mid-air.

It's not what your thinking. I am in Maine and what I am experiencing first-hand is not an encounter with strange beings from another planet but the Lobstermen of Deer Isle, Stonington, heading out from the harbor for another day on the water. It's a really big harbor and from my apartment for the week I have a view that overlooks a big portion of it. I have two large picture windows, one that is a view looking southeast and one that faces more west. I am here on a painting trip and these are views that will serve me extremely well for the next 7 days. Fully awake now, I sit and I watch as the hundreds of lights move about on the dark water. Eventually they become tiny specks far out on the horizon. The engine sounds that were filling up the air are now a quiet murmur barely audible from such a great distance.

My adventure here to paint in Maine for the week was planned months ago. With a full schedule of teaching plein air workshops and most of my evenings being taken up with doing home dialysis for my wife Pam, it was agreed that I would go somewhere and get some serious painting time in by myself. I needed to recharge my batteries. Pam would schedule getting dialysis at her center and I would concentrate on painting the boats and harbor. Nx Stage home dialysis has a high burn out rate and we are both determined to keep that from happening.

Just trying to make this trip a go, was an experience all by itself. Hurricane Irene was scheduled to arrive in New England on the day I was supposed to leave for Maine! It was odd, Pam and I were working to pack me for a painting trip while at the same time preparing ourselves for what was being forecast as the worst hurricane to strike New England since the one in 1938 that came storming up the East Coast with a forward speed of more than 50 miles per hour and struck as a category 3 hurricane. This was a bit daunting, but since hurricanes are unpredictable, we kept with the plan. I knew I would not be driving up on Sunday, the day of the storm and I was able to make arrangements to get to Maine on Monday or Tuesday and stay the extra one or two days in order to make it a full week.

On the morning of Irene blowing into Connecticut, we lost power very early in the day. Irene was coming to us as a tropical storm and so far we had not seen much wind yet, but apparently enough of it so that all of Woodstock pretty much lost power early that morning. Since I had spent a great deal of time preparing for a hurricane, I now spent the morning making paintings panels for the trip and thinking about Maine.

 I like to use 359 linen from Wind River Arts and Gator Board which I buy from a local source in Connecticut called Artgrafix. I have been using a fabric adhesive from United Manufacturers Supply for more than 15 years and I love the ease at which I can prepare panels. I simply cut the gator board with a good sharp utility knife to the size panels I want and then apply glue to each panel making circular motions as it comes from the squeeze bottle.

Then I make a scrubbing motion with a worn number 10 bristle brush that I have cut down in length a bit because this makes the brush a bit stiffer and helps to move the glue around. I pay particular attention to making sure the glue gets out to the edges. Then I take my linen and I apply it to the board. I use an old wooden ruler to press down on the panel to make sure it has no ridges or bumps etc. Before I do any gluing, I cut the linen from a roll and cut each piece a bit larger in size then what it will be in the end. I give each one about a quarter of an inch extra on all sides. After I am sure the linen is attached properly to the board with the glue, I turn the panel over and cut off the little bit of excess with the utility knife. It is important to do this step before the glue dries. If you wait till after it dries, you may find a ripple on the edges of the panels. I place the freshly glued panels on a flat surface and lay a flat board over them. I put a five pound weight on top. I can make a dozen panels and just keep laying one on top of the other along with the board and the weight on top of the stack. I always make sure I have extra blades for the utility knife and I change them often. This is 'key' to making panels with ease.

Early the next morning after Irene came through, Pam was on the phone with the dialysis center making sure that they were on generator power so she could get dialysis. The center had also been concerned that they were in an area prone to flooding and had informed us before the storm that if they did flood, Pam would need to get dialysis at a different center. To avoid any problems, we had a generator all set and ready to go at our house. On that Monday morning, Pam got the okay at the center. They were operating on generator power and could dialyze her with no problems. Pam jumped out of bed and told me to get myself to Maine!

My week in Stonington was fantastic to say the least. I had glorious weather all week long and the tides were working in my favor. Low tide was at 5:21 A.M. that first morning and so I had a low tide to work with for my morning light and also a low tide for the late afternoon light. When I paint around the docks, I really don't want to be doing it at high tide. There is no satisfaction in that for me.

On my next blog, which will be posted very soon, I will include some paintings I did on that trip and I'll write more about my week in Deer Isle Maine and my thought process of how to make the most out of a painting trip like this.