Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Value of a Sketch

One assignment from the Tilghman Island workshop was to do about ten value sketches, a term used in art for a simple drawing in black and white to study light and shadow. One sketches with single lines and then connects the lines into blocks of shadow, to analyze the design on paper.

I sketched this with two Sharpie pens--one thin point and one thick--while sitting in an Adirondack chair in a shady spot on the grounds of Black Walnut Point Inn at the southern tip of the island. Doing this loosened me up and got me thinking in terms of abstract design rather than drawing individual objects. The lesson then hopefully carries through into your actual painting in oils later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tilghman Island Workshop

I had a great time at Walt Bartman's Tilghman Island workshop this past weekend. Walt is an inspiring teacher; his range of knowledge and thought is amazing. The workshop started Friday with a lecture at his Summer Duck Studio, and these photos are of the first demo he did that afternoon. The heat made it difficult to work except in the shade. We painted until sunset, then went out as a group of 18-22 for a late dinner. There was a full moon: I had just enough energy after dinner to wander about the moonlit grounds of the Black Walnut Point B&B where I was staying. The stiff breeze from the south was delightful, the point of land giving one the feeling of standing on the prow of an enormous ship, with a large wooden cross at the very tip of the land's end.

On Saturday morning Walt gave a lecture on color, then we were free to paint anywhere around the island we wanted. We came back to the studio for critiques around 3:30, and enjoyed a fabulous crab feast afterwards. After dinner we drove out to Knapp's Narrows inlet to paint the sunset, and then do a night painting. For my night painting, I figured being a guest at the Black Walnut Point B&B afforded a unique opportunity to paint this unusual location, so I went back there to paint alone in the total darkness with the aid of a miner's headlamp. As I was getting ready to set up, the moon rose from the water, so orange it seemed like the just-set sun rising anew. I sat down with a glass of wine and looked at the moon for a while, then got up to paint. After spending most of the day standing, my feet were killing me but I became so absorbed in my painting, I was totally oblivious to the mosquitoes flying up my shorts, biting the parts of my legs where the spray hadn't reached, until the next day. I packed up around eleven-thirty and collapsed onto bed.

Sunday morning we met at the inlet for painting. Camille, another student who lives on the island, had a wonderful canopy and was so kind to offer me its shade--I couldn't have lasted even an hour in that heat if it hadn't been for that. Walt worked on quite a large painting standing completely in the sun for several hours--incredible stamina and dedication!

Time went by so fast, I was surprised to come back with seven paintings, some in nearly complete condition (though in need of "fixing"). I headed home after our final crits totally exhausted, sunburned and grubby, yet full of new ideas and insights. Even the traffic cooperated and didn't come to a standstill until I reached the Bay Bridge, speeding me home as I gazed upon the distant skies with new eyes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gorilla Painter

The truth can now be told--I really am not one of the Gorilla Girls! I'm reluctant to designate myself as a "guerrilla" because to me that term has such an awful connotation, and I mean that in the original sense of the word of "filling one with awe." But I happen to have collected quite a bit of Guerrilla Painter equipment and accessories for my next plein air workshop coming up tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to having more compact, portable gear. Less time to set up, more time to paint.

I often think about why the figure of the unwashed, violent guerrilla has been so romanticized here in America... starting with Herbert Matthews as Fidel Castro's first groupie on through to Che Guevara's murderous, beretted mug for sale on T-shirts, Americans have just loved the image of these idiots, if not the men themselves. I can understand a certain appeal for the young, their rebellious adolescence finds in these men the ultimate anti-authority figure, while forgetting that they end up becoming worse dictators that the ones they replaced. The older unrepentant leftists should know better, but they will never admit it.

In any case, I'd never want to self-identify as a guerrilla, it's better to be a gorilla painter. What next? Whale painter? Tomorrow I'm off to Tilghman Island.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sunset at Fishing Creek

Sunset at Fishing Creek, oils on canvas, 16" x 20", $400

While getting my gear ready for next weekend's painting workshop on Tilghman Island I found this painting from last year. It was done from photos I took at Hooper Island in the fall a few years back, but its watery landscape is very typical of Maryland's eastern shore. Hooper Island, like Tilghman and others in this area, are only technically islands. Actually, they are more like long peninsulas separated from the eastern shore by creeks and wetlands. I would dearly love to own what I like to call a "painting shack" anywhere in this area--it would be wonderful to spend wintry weekends here painting the amazing skies and water as well as the good old summertime when we city and suburban folk flock outdoors.

If you are interested in buying the painting, please contact me at

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My First Portrait Commission

Mirna Suyapa con su hijo Cristofer, pastel, 17-1/2" x 11-1/2"

Today I completed my first portrait commission, and a really difficult one at that! I've struggled with it for several months, working only from photographs because my subject lives in Central America and I've never met the lady-- a friend who lives there commissioned the portrait of her with her infant son and sent me the photos.

It is a beautiful pose: a tender and intimate image of motherhood, but as most of us artists know, babies are difficult to draw convincingly, and the details of the two together were quite challenging. I actually did two other versions of the portrait before settling on this third one as the closest in likeness. It definitely furthered my education on portraiture; I couldn't have accomplished it without the portrait classes I've been taking at the Columbia Arts Center. I'll be going back for more classes this fall, it's great fun for me.

I hope my next portrait commission may be a bit easier, at least to the extent of being able to work with my subject posed in front of me, but I'm game for whatever may come. If any of you want your portrait or a loved one's painted, please contact me at