Saturday, December 13, 2008

Drawing for information

To get enough information to do a large studio landscape, Jack does several very careful, tight drawings.  He uses a mechanical pencil and toned paper.  He is drawing for information, not for a broad general effect or gesture, but for specifics.  This is one of the drawings that he is using to create the big painting, and it is clipped to the easel to the right of the large painting, so that he can refer to it often. 

Working on the BIG painting

Because the painting is 6' tall, Jack uses a step ladder to reach higher areas of the painting, but stands on the floor to work on the grasses and rocks in the foreground.

Jack's BIG landscape painting

Doing a large studio landscape from plein air studies takes a lot of work.  This summer Jack did several plein air, or on the spot, paintings at the swimming hole in Jeffersonville.  He does these outdoor studies over a number of days, rather than in one shot.  Then, he goes back and does several drawings of particular detail that he will need when he composes his larger painting in the studio.  The completed painting shown here is the plein air study, and on the easel is the start to the larger painting (4'x6') that he is painting from the study.  His drawings and paintings are on the skinny easel to the right of the big painting.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


This quote is by Frank Vincent Dumond, who taught painting at the Art Students League in New York for nearly 60 years, and it should be the motto of every realist painter who paints from life.  He taught my teacher, Frank Mason, how to mass, and Frank Mason taught me.  I now teach it to my students.  Massing is the underlying structure that every good painting should have to make it read as an illusion of light, form, and depth.  Massing is learning to simplify and let go of the outline, and instead, think in terms of bulk, weight and advancing or receding in space.  

I have this quote taped to the top of my easel as a reminder.  Every painting is problem solving, and learning to solve your masses is key.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Priming Linen

We paint on various surfaces:  canvas, panel and paper.  Here are a couple of shots of Jack priming the linen.  He usually does this in the summer and in the driveway.  The linen is tacked to a large board.  Later, when this is dry, he stores it to let it cure.  Then, he can cut it (or keep it large for a big painting) for various size canvases.  


Although most of the students in my workshop were working in oils, Priscilla chose to work with pastel pencils.  The principles are the same.  Mass your shadows, mass your lights relative to your shadows, and you will create an illusion of light every time.  Pastel pencils are a great medium.  They are forgiving and can be erased.  They are easy to store, and the clean up is a snap.  It is a great alternative for moms with little kids and limited time for painting.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


My first weekend workshop was an intensive that touched on:  still life, landscape (plein air) and portrait.  All of the disciplines are connected.  They all feature problem solving with light, form, depth and movement, and one discipline helps the other.  The portrait segment was on the last day, and we had a spectacular model.  In this photo, she is taking a break, but you can see the skull and the "planes" head that I always use to help students analyze the form and structure on the model.   Future workshops, as well as weekly classes and "Open" sessions (no instruction) will focus on portrait/figure painting.

First Workshop

This past weekend, I taught my first workshop in the studio.  I limit my classes to 8 students, and I had 7 in this class.  We all fit in pretty well.  Six still lifes were set up around the room, so the students are facing in various directions.  Squinting is a big part of learning to simplify and mass.  The student on the left is squinting and using her brush to measure.  A workshop format is very intense, and we are using comparative relationships to gage space and value.  All painting is from life and done in alla prima, or one shot.  So, we are drawing and painting simultaneously.

Using Both Tables at Once

In this photo, I am painting 2 still life paintings.  You can see both set-ups.  The still life table with the brass and flowers has had the backdrop removed, so that I am using just the wall color for my background. 
Everything in the studio is movable.  Different configurations can be quickly arranged to best suit my needs, or get the desired light effect.  In this photos, you can see 2 still life tables.  The one with the cast also serves as a storage unit for new canvases or panels.  The top is painted in a faux marble, and the whole thing is on casters so it can be moved around the room.  The other table is his new invention.  I can change the height of my still life by moving the table to a different position on the black blocks, which you can see under the table.  This is very handy because I am a foot shorter than Jack!  Along the sides of the table, and behind my set up, are 2 slots in which different colored backdrops can be placed.  Again, the whole thing is on casters.

Studio Interior

Here I am in the studio.  Behind me, you can see the model stand, an adjustable still life table that Jack made and a large canvas on Jack's easel.  He plans on painting a large landscape, over the winter, from one of his smaller plein air studies (and drawings) that he did this summer.

Studio Sign

The sign went up over the front door.  2009 marks our 30th year in Vermont.  
Over the last 6 months, we have been building a studio.  The skylights face north, so the light is cool and consistent.  It measures 24'x28', and it is large enough so I can teach.  Prior to this, most of my teaching was done out of state and in the form of "workshops".  Now, with the studio, I can set up a weekly schedule, as well as workshops for serious students who want to learn to paint in a realistic manner from life. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

..and back at the studio...

...Meanwhile, back at the studio... I love summer, and this set-up says summer to me!  This was painted in one day.  It is an oil on panel that is 12"x24".  When you have fresh fruit, you have to paint quickly or else fruitflies have a field day.  My first session on a painting is generally my longest, and consequently, most important, so I paint as long as I can before the light fades (natural north light).  This is where I get my forms, colors, masses, and rhythms set.  Anthony VanDyke (17th century, Flemish Old Master) is credited with saying:

Endeavor as far as possible to complete your picture alla prima, because there is always plenty left to do afterwards.

To me, this is very true and logical.  It also keeps your work fresh and the fruitflies at bay. :)

Lake Champlain

Yesterday was a perfect summer day.  So, we headed in to Burlington to paint along the shores of Lake Champlain, New England's West Coast.  Looking across the lake, you can see the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.  Jack set up in the shade (very smart) and chose a long view.  The clouds were magnificent and changed continually, so it would have been a good day to just paint clouds, too.  You can see the start of his painting with his toned panel, not yet covered by paint,  at the bottom.  We always paint on a toned canvas. 

I chose to paint the shore, where the light, that was filtering down and hitting the rocks, caught my attention.  When I forget my mahl stick, I use my left arm as a mahl stick.   This helps to steady, or brace,  my right arm so that I can make more precise brushstrokes.  

Monday, July 28, 2008

Painting with friends

Painting with other artists is always fun.  Recently, Jack & I had the pleasure of painting with Jeffrey Freedner, who also studied with Frank Mason.  We set up overlooking Boyden Winery in Cambridge.  The farm field has a lovely dirt road that snakes its way down to the Lamoille River.  Jeff really caught the movement and a nice sense of depth.  He also has a blog:  

He has a great hat that keeps his neck from too much sun, and it offers good protection against those sneaky mosquitoes!  

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Drawing at the Swimming Hole

When we painted and drew here the other day, it was gray and started to rain, and we returned home before I was really "finished".  So, my plan today was to go back and try to finish, or clean-up and tighten-up a bit, my other drawing.  However, when I arrived sun was hitting my tree, and it was so lovely, that I was inspired to do another.

Drawing can tell you alot about yourself.  I discovered, or I am beginning to realize more and more, that I draw more like a painting.  I am attacted to the light effect and the movement, more than the details, and I work from the general to the specific, as I do in painting.

Again, I am using my sketchbook (Fabriano Quadrato Artist's Journal), and I am drawing with pencils and white chalk.

More Drawing & Painting at the Swimming Hole

Jack & I decided to go back to the swimming hole in Jeffersonville.  Jack usually works on one of his plein air paintings for several sessions.  He works slowly and deliberately, carefully thinking out his form and light, while modeling and drawing with the brush.  This is the third session with this painting.  Working this way, he has to return to the same spot, at the same time, so the light is the same.  

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Big Easel

We got out early this morning, and Jack took me to a place that he had painted in early spring.  The weeds were over my head, but we managed to get to the little brook with the view of Mt. Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont.  The space was pretty limited.  Jack had a large canvas, so he took his "big" easel.

This easel was owned by Thomas Curtin, who was a friend of my sister-in-law, and was an artist who had lived in Cambridge, VT.  He had passed away in 1977.  Before he died, he gave the easel to my sister-in-law to give to us.  It is a Gloucester easel manufactured by Oscar Anderson, and it is a very ingenious invention.  It is very simple, and Jack's paintbox and landscape palette fits nicely on the v-shape in the middle.  The canvas is sits on pegs, and the top of the canvas is held by a stick.  

Jack is working on linen with an oil priming, and it is 24"x30".  He will go back several times to the same spot to finish the piece.  This was just the start.

I am working on a small gessoed panel, and instead of getting in the big mountain, I decided to concentrate on the bank just across the brook.  You can see that my landscape palette box is held onto my easel by a small great!

Here is a close-up of my palette box.  I need to fix it up a bit now.  When I mix a fresh palette, I can keep it in the freezer, and this will keep the paint from drying out.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Landscape Palette

Sometimes I use a smaller easel, which is lightweight, compact and good for camping trips.  When I use this easel, I do not bring my normal "landscape palette" box, because it is too large. So, I came up with the truncated version that you see here.  The colors shift prismatically, as well as in value, which I find very useful.  

Jack was smart and painted in the shade.  


I decided to do more drawing this summer, so while Jack was painting this morning, I took out my trusty sketchbook and drew this tree.  It is done with pencil, a little ink and it is highlighted with white chalk.  When it started to rain, we packed up.  I may go back to try to finish it.  I have painted an oil sketch in this same spot, so now I am trying to do a little more detailed drawing, which will enable me to do a larger studio landscape, using my plein air sketch and the drawings that I hope to accomplish.

Make Art

The local swimming hole in Jeffersonville, with its little waterfall, is a great painting spot.  Early in the day (especially a gray day) is quiet, whereas later in the day (if it is hot and sunny), the place is packed with bathers.  Jack took advantage of the quiet to paint here.  

You can see his set-up, with his "landscape palette" of premixed value scales.  Premixing a palette gives you control, as well as freedom to explore color harmonies.  It also enables you to paint quickly, which in outdoor landscape painting with its ever-changing light and other challenges (bugs, wind, rain, etc.) is important.

Our local art supply store came up with this bumper sticker.

Modes of transportation

With summer finally here, outdoor landscape painting (plein air) goes into full swing.  Jack's favorite mode of transportation is this old Helix (Honda) scooter.  It gets over 70 mpg, so it is very economical. You can see his easel strapped to the side, his basket with supplies, and he built a special box to carry the wet painting, which goes in the trunk.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


With the arrival of spring, we are in the midst of a huge snow/ice storm (of course).  Because of the storm, our Thursday group decided not to meet, because we all travel some distance to get to Stowe.  I was pretty sad, so Jack agreed to pose for me.  This is the alla prima that I just did.  Maybe, I'll try tweaking it a bit, if I can get him to pose again.  He reached his limit for sitting, and I didn't press it.  I just realized that  I've only painted Jack a few times, but it was usually a picture of him in the act of painting , and not a head study.  It is funny how time slips away.

Friday, March 14, 2008


I'm working on this still life...well, I've been trying to finish it really.  I just replaced the lettuce which had wilted a while ago, as well as some tomatoes,  and started painting, when Roy showed up needing me to babysit for George.  So, I got out my trusty backpack!  Truly, the backpack is the best gadget ever invented.  Well, maybe that's a bit strong, but it sure is handy.  I used this backpack when I painted  with all of my kids.  One more are never too young to start art training...look how interested George is. 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Developments

The painting group at Dee's this week held many surprises.  The model was great.  I try to move around the room so that some weeks I have rim light, sometimes side light, sometimes three-quarter, and sometimes flat light. I chose to paint flat light this week. Flat light is always difficult, but it is good to battle it out and try.  Remember, there's work in brushwork!  So, my brain had a workout, and I'll post the results tomorrow.

At one of the breaks, one of the other artists asked Priscilla the ages of her children.  She answered, "Violet will be 4 years old in June,  Emma is 16 months, and NEW BABY IS DUE IN NOVEMBER!!"  What a surprise!  Boy, was it hard to keep my mind on painting.

Yes, I love painting, but I really love being a grandma!  Besides....there will be more models!  

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

So, here it is by the end of the session.  Trying to figure out where to put the bow is tricky.  But, I will put it in carefully when it is dry.  All in all, it was one of the most entertaining painting sessions ever!  


Here is my start.  I wiped my first attempt out and flipped the canvas to do a horizontal for the second attempt.  This was probably 20 minutes.  Frank Mason always said that you put down everything you know in about 20 minutes, and in many ways that is true.  My initial lay-in hit the pose I wanted as Jeremiah played song after song.  It was interesting to note that watching him play and trying to get the gesture was better than when he "froze".  The pose, then, became very stagnant and less interesting.  Alla prima painting is sort of like gesture drawing...actually it is gesture painting, which is drawing with the brush at its best.

More pictures from Dee's studio

There's no instruction.  Each artist works in his/her own manner.  Here is Jack.  He is painting with oil on paper.  Our model this week was a local musician named Jeremiah, another one of Priscilla's friends.  He's a fiddler, and he played the entire time.  It was wonderful.  Painting a moving target is no easy feat.  Occasionally, he would "freeze" and we would scramble to try to get in those hands before the bow started moving again.  

Dee Macy's Studio - Stowe, VT

Our Thursday group has grown to around 11 artists.  We meet at Dee Macy's studio in Stowe.  Every one splits the model fee and just paints.  Priscilla has decided to paint instead of model.  

Saturday, February 23, 2008


After posting the painting of Charles, I decided to add this painting that I did of Priscilla with dreadlocks.  I probably painted it in 2004.  It is also an alla prima painting on panel.  This was the original "Stylin'" painting.  If you go back to the beginning of my blog, you will see me painting Priscilla again in the same theme.  The dreadlocks were gone, but the curly pony tail worked.
Our group on Thursday painted our first male model, Charles.  He is a musician from Bakersfield, and one of my kid's friends. Enlisting models seems to take a standard course...first you get family members and then talk friends into posing. Charles had never posed before, but being used to performing, he didn't mind us squinting and staring at him. It is an odd fact, but there are probably more kids in Vermont with dreadlocks than in most other states.  Yes, 2 of my 5 children wore them at one time or another, and I must admit....they are fun to paint!  This, again, is an alla prima oil on panel.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Head Study

Here is another alla prima oil that I painted during one of the sessions in Stowe.  It is fun to complete (or at least try to get as far as I can) a painting in one sitting.   I am convinced that in order to keep learning, I need to do quick studies like this and then slow, carefully conceived and constructed paintings.  As long as an artist can stay on a learning curve, she/he will continue to improve.  Painting can be frustrating at times.  There are always times when you seem to hit a plateau....and then.....Bingo!  You have a break through.  Advice to self:  Keep painting!

Still Life Revisited

I did a little glazing on this one:  the background, bowl, berries and print.  I might do a little more, but I don't want the painting to get too picky or overworked.  So, I will put it aside for a while and think about it.