Comforts of the Studio

This past weekend I taught my annual Winter workshop in my studio here in Woodstock Connecticut. The weekend was all about Winter painting, particularly how light behaves outdoors with snow on the ground. Winter sings its own song and it's a beautiful one. If you learn how to approach it with some knowledge, it will help a great deal when you go out there to paint the subject plein air. In the studio, everyone can relax in a comfortable environment which is more conducive to learning and asking questions.

For many years, I taught this workshop outdoors. There is always plenty of die-hard painters wanting to brave the elements and of course, being out there is always an experience unto itself. The problem would come up when the weather forecast for the weekend would be brutally cold and windy. That kind of environment just does not lend itself to much of a learning experience. The only learning you glean from this type of experience is that you shouldn't be out trying to paint in those extreme conditions.

Even when it was not the coldest of days, there was always a mix of students. Some of them were willing to be outside no-matter-what and some would find that they got cold quickly because they didn't bring what was asked of them for proper clothing or they would forget something at home. I remember one particular weekend of extreme temperatures where I could barely think in a straight line. I was dressed with all the right layers but the conditions made it so that my whole body was extremely busy just trying to stay warm. The demo I did was lacking to say the least and nobody talked. We all just wondered what we were doing out there! During the course of the weekend, I watched easels blow over and got to experience several canvases soaring through the air at the same time. It was like some type of interesting performance art or maybe more like a bad dream that I wanted to wake from!

Suffice it to say that I think the indoor Winter workshop is the perfect setting for learning. Everyone who attended the workshop this past weekend learned many things which they were able to apply to the paintings they worked on over the two day workshop. A lot of great questions came up and it was nice to be able to spend the time answering them, sometimes showing them by example. It was nice to be able to be in the moment instead of trying to answer them while simultaneously looking at fingers and ears that were clearly headed towards frost bite and wondering when I should call 911 !

On both mornings I talked about some specifics and then showed the students what I meant by painting a demonstration for them. I also showed them a digital slide show of winter paintings by many of my favorite snow painters. There were 156 images by Emile Gruppe, Lester Stevens, Carl Peters, Aldro Hibbard, Tommy Curtin and many more!  We paused at several of them to talk about why the paintings worked and also to discuss value and color relationships etc.

One thing that I stressed to students is that regardless of whether you are painting on an overcast day or a day full of bright winter sun, your painting needs to have a certain amount of warmth to it. A painting that is full of blue is not going to read correctly and if the viewer is freezing just looking at it, you haven't done your job correctly. Sure, it's okay to have it feel like winter and give the viewer a sense of the cold, but there is always a certain amount of warmth in a winter painting that is needed in order for it to feel truthful. There is a great overuse of blue in many a snow painting.

You should be able to put a winter painting into a gold frame and have it feel right in that frame. There are occasions when a silver frame feels correct on a winter painting, but generally speaking they should be able to live in a gold one. One other point I stressed was that if snow shadows in sunlight lean towards blue, you cannot use the same blue in your sky and expect it to live and breathe correctly.

Here are a few images from my first demo along with a few close-ups. In a couple of days, I will post the Sunday demo along with a few ideas. The demo from Sunday was all about how to get snow to go back in the distance correctly, in this case all the way back to the top of a mountain!