Thursday, March 20, 2014

Workshop Wrap Up - Mainstreet Art Center, Lake Zurich, IL

I enjoyed spending several days last week with a great group of artists in the Chicago area. Mainstreet Art Center in Lake Zurich hosted my 3-day landscape workshop for pastel and oil. Below are my completed demos from the workshop.

Winter Evening Magic Hour, pastel, 12x12

Rising River, oil, 12x9

With the pastel demo, I discussed the importance of the thumbnail "map" for deliberate, planned placement of every element in the landscape. The oil demo was an example of blocking in the painting with just five shapes.

We also did a day of "minimal stroke" exercises, which is always a real eye-opener for students. I demonstrated quick examples in both pastel and oil. With either medium, this exercise causes artists to realize what they need to think about before laying down each stroke. The oil painters especially realized how much paint they actually need to mix up and have on their brush before putting the brush to their canvas.

During the workshop, one resourceful student, Chuck Sisson, came up with a brilliant solution to handling some busy subject matter in his landscape. Thought I'd share. Below is Chuck's painting in progress and a detail of this painting beneath. 

Work in progress by Chuck Sisson.

Detail, resulting from a "carved" pastel stick.

Chuck had initially placed in these fern-like stems in a way that was rendering far too much detail and not accurately depicting the "thicks and thins" of the foliage. Many experienced artists usually try to simplify areas such as this by connecting shapes and pulling out just a few of the fine edges and details. However, Chuck, an experienced artist himself, came up with a different solution: He carved with a razor blade some indentations into the flat edge of a Terry Ludwig pastel to create a simplified pattern that he pressed onto the surface. I thought he made it work beautifully!!

My next workshop will be here in Georgia, at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, located a little more than an hour north of the Atlanta area. This one is also offered to both oil and pastel artists, and will be two intensive days studying how to simplify and interpret the landscape. With affordable hotels nearby and plenty of great restaurants right near the art center, it's a great opportunity for out-of-towners to travel here for a short-term workshop. It's April 28 & 29 (Mon/Tues), 10 - 6, $250. Visit for more information and to register.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Buildings in the Landscape

Sundown Light, oil, 8x10

The Evening Show, pastel, 8x10

The focus this month in my classes at my studio was buildings within the landscape. The challenge here for the landscape artist is to avoid over defining and over rendering structures. This causes structures to look too stiff among the softer, often curvier edges of the landscape. As a landscape artist, our goal is to have structures look like they blend into the landscape, and not appear cut out and pasted in.

I think there are two critical areas to address in order to do this successfully:

1) Edges - Yes, in reality the edges of a building are certainly going to be stiffer, sharper, straighter than leaves on a tree or the foliage of a bush. But the job of the landscape artist is to be the editor of our paintings and decide WHICH edges get to communicate the idea of "straight" and "crisp." If we render every edge equally, that will lead to the cut out and pasted, stiff look. Finding areas to completely lose edges (often where two areas of similar values meet) creates a more fluid look, and also allows shapes to visually connect, which strengthens the composition. Beginning the painting by connecting large abstract shapes (i.e., connecting landscape elements with the structures) helps to establish this in the early stages.

2) Color Harmony - Even if your structure, in reality, shares no common color with elements in your landscape that it's within, it's the artist's job to find opportunities to harmonize color use. One way is with light and shadow found in both the structure and the landscape. Also, keeping to a limited palette and repeating colors where they'll "make sense"--thinking more in terms of "warms" and "cools" rather than exact local color--can allow you to find more areas for common, harmonized color.

"Sundown Light" and "The Evening Show" are my demos from my March oil and pastel classes. Below are some progression shots from each...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Workshop Wrap Up - Akron Society of Artists, Akron, OH

One of the best parts of teaching workshops is having the opportunity to meet friendly, enthusiastic artists who are eager to learn. My experience last week during my pastel workshop for the Akron Society of Artists in Akron, OH was no exception! With a mix of new and experienced artists in this group, we all enjoyed sharing knowledge and talking art for three days straight!

Day 1 demo...

Hilltop View, 11x14
Day 2 demo...

Warm Memory, 11x14
underpainting for Warm Memory

Day 3 demo...

minimal stroke exercise...completed in 100 strokes
Snow on the Marsh Impression, 6x8 (after a few touch up strokes)

During my visit for this workshop, I was honored to have the Akron Society of Artists (ASA) ask me to lead their critique group one evening. This is a group comprised of many accomplished artists with some "wow" paintings, which made this a challenging yet extremely enjoyable experience. Thank you, ASA!