Saturday, May 29, 2010

In Londontowne

Londontowne Garden, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

I had been wanting to return to Londontowne to paint in their fabulous gardens overlooking the South River. Today I got my wish--our painting class met there to avoid the commencement weekend traffic in Annapolis.

The day was overcast and after last night's downpour, cooler than recent days-- a welcome change. Our teacher Lee had brought a copy of Kevin MacPherson's book, "Fill Your Paintings with Light & Color" to show us MacPherson's approach to blocking in a painting, which is very similar to Lee's. BTW, I met Kevin MacPherson and his wife in Santa Fe when I was there a number of years ago (he lives near Taos) and he's not only a very nice person, but an excellent teacher and writer. I treasure two of his books--this one and "Landscape Painting Inside and Out: Capture the Vitality of Outdoor Painting in Your Studio With Oils" (both these books are available from

Lee prefers to start with the lights rather than darks in his painting, to keep the colors more pure, but also recommends we work on areas that are adjacent until the white of the panel is completely covered. Today we also talked about how to select a site conducive to a good composition and what elements are desirable. We walked around the garden until we'd found a propitious site, so we got started a bit late.

While we worked, the clouds thinned out and a patch of diffuse sunlight illuminated the grassy edge of a flowerbed, providing a nice focal point for our paintings. Most of us stayed late to develop the paintings as much as possible. I'm not sure my colors are convincing or very harmonious here; I don't believe further refinement would improve this one. As it was, I didn't get home until three in the afternoon.

We'll have another chance to paint here again next week. I'll have to remember to bring my camera and a lunch so I can stay later if I want to.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Before the Rain

Before the Rain, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

I felt totally drained after a rough week at work (a fifteen-and-a-half-hour day on Monday), and a bit gloomy about my art prospects. Our usual Friday class had been canceled so I'd driven up to Havre de Grace to pick up my artwork at the Riverview Gallery--it had been three years since I joined the gallery and in that time made not a single sale. It seemed as good a time as any to pull out and save myself a long drive several times a year. For lack of anything better to do, in the afternoon I applied half-heartedly to the Ellicott City Paint It juried plein air weekend in August. Why must the Howard County Arts Council schedule a plein air event during the muggiest time of the year?

On Saturday morning I puttered in the garden, setting out my summer veggies and a few marigolds. The marauding deer had eaten all the tops of the sugar snap peas, setting back my harvest to perhaps just a handful of peas this year (sigh!). The forecast called for rain in the afternoon, so I thought of Brookside Gardens, where I could paint under the shelter of one of their gazebos.

I found my favorite gazebo had been "improved" with the addition of a concrete-and-resin chess table and two seats right in the middle--leaving no room for me to set up my easel (why can't these people leave well enough alone? They've been "improving" the garden ever since they got a bad review from some snooty British gardening magazine decades ago, much to the garden's detriment).

I set up my Guerilla paint box on the low stone wall surrounding the gazebo and managed to sit stradding the wall to paint this view of another gazebo tucked on a small island in one of the ponds. The subdued light and the lush foliage offered a great opportunity for a study in greens, something I've been wanting to tackle. It began to rain just before I finished, but my spirits had risen greatly in just a few hours of artistic exercise.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boats on Spa Creek

Boats on Spa Creek, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

This Friday our class met at a different location. Lee wanted us to deal with a more complicated subject this week and boats, whose geometry is always challenging to draw, seemed the best way to kick up the difficulty one notch. He led us to Spa Creek, to an inlet where this beautifully kept-up old tug boat was moored. Of course, there were lots of other boats everywhere (we're in Annapolis after all) so judicious editing was called for.

The class spent the first hour just doing a pencil drawing and Lee corrected our drawings, explaining the subtleties of getting a realistic look to the boat's hull lying on the water. The day had started out overcast and cool, but the sun began to break through the clouds as we started to paint, and it soon got very hot and muggy. I regretted wearing a long-sleeved black T-shirt.

I kept my color key to the cloudy, overcast atmosphere, since that had already been established at the beginning. But I spent so much time on the landscape around my boats that there was not enough time left to work on the tug boat. I would have liked more time to get the color of the hull and the reflections on the water truer, as well as other details of the boat, but by that time my brain was totally fried by the heat and I was ready to call it quits--it was an hour past the end of the class. We're going back to the same spot next week, so there will be a chance to try this again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More of College Creek

College Creek #3, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

Our class was back at College Creek this week tackling the same subject again. Sometimes it's useful to go back to paint the same site over and over--Monet and other great painters did this to great effect--but it can be a bit challenging for the student.

I wanted to vary my composition as well as color from the previous week's, so this time I opened up the frame a bit to include some vegetation in the foreground and repositioned the turn in the creek more towards the center. I think I managed to get a more pleasing composition this way, and the colors are more varied than in last week's painting. I"m using more and more paint these days--I'll have to make a run to the art store soon to replenish my supplies.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Azalea Garden at Brighton Dam

Last Saturday after getting my hair cut, I headed over to the Azalea Garden at Brighton Dam, hoping the gate would be open and it was--great luck! Last year the gardens celebrated their 50th anniversary; I tried to get in to paint on two occasions and both times the gate was closed. The azaleas, mostly Glendale varieties, were planted at this site owned by WSSC on the banks of the Tridelphia reservoir, source of our drinking water. Although they seem to have suffered some damage in the last few years what with several droughts and our recent harsh winter, they are still an impressive sight, and the water as a backdrop gives the garden more character.

The day was delightful, if a bit hot for this time of the year, and I enjoyed walking around and taking photos before deciding on this view. I attracted quite a bit of attention and many people photographed me while I painted (most were polite enough to ask permission), but only one gentleman, Bill Morris, offered and actually sent me his photo, which you see here. Thank you, Bill for your wonderful photo!

 Azalea Garden at Brighton Dam, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16."

My painting turned out disappointing--the composition is the only thing to recommend it. I didn't hit the val-hues the way I should have, and my colors are too story-book to be believable. This was one time I should have done a small black and white preliminary study before going to color--it wasn't easy to gauge those val-hues. The white azaleas in the shade are deceptive but they should have been darker in relation to the water, and the foliage and tree trunks in the foreground should have been darker too. When you compare my painting to the photograph above, the actual values become much more obvious. Oh well, I'll have to try this one again--I am tempted to repaint the entire thing, but I don't know if I will have time to go back again this season. May is such a busy month--with nature at its loveliest, every site beckons to be painted.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

College Creek Revisited

College Creek Revisited, oils on panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

The spring session of our plein air class started the last week in April, but since I was in Chestertown for the Paint the Town, I missed the first class. Last Friday our class met at College Creek in Annapolis, just like we did the year before--the weather was glorious.

There are quite a few new students, so we started with a small black and white value study and went on to work with color for the second part of the class. Lee has been urging me to get bolder with paint, to lather it on like icing on a cake. After some hesitation, I threw caution to the wind, and went ahead.

First I blocked in the three main val-hues: sky, trees and water, then I began to work the color variations in the trees, using my brushes as expressively as I could manage. It turned out to be such fun, I think it shows--the result is really exciting!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plein Air Weekend: The New Extreme Sport?

 High Street Morning, oils on panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

 This past weekend I took part in Paint the Town in Chestertown. Chestertown is, to my mind, the prettiest of Maryland's historic towns on the eastern shore. Among its claims to fame are being the site of the only other Tea Party in colonial times, and as the location of Washington College, chartered in 1782 after the good General consented to have the college bear his name.

Paint the Town was the brainchild of Mary Pritchard, an accomplished pastel artist and teacher who lives there, supported by the Chestertown Arts League members. A group of artists would paint in plein air all around the town on Friday and Saturday, hold a wet painting sale on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning, a Quick Draw competition with cash prizes. They had arranged for us out of town artists to be housed by local hosts--my hostess for the event would be local artist Marj Morani, who was also taking part in the paint-out.

I got a late start on Friday due to a doctor's appointment so by the time I reached the Bay Bridge there was a twenty minute backup. I didn't arrive in Chestertown until noon, stopped by the Arts League to pick up my registration packet and decided to get a feel for the place by walking around for a few blocks. It had been many years since I'd been there and I didn't remember much. I saw Fountain Park and headed down High Street towards the river, admiring the charming colonial structures along the way.

On the first block I saw one artist finishing her painting and stopped to chat briefly. In the next block, I paused to take in an enormous tree and read a plaque next to it that stated it was a champion big tree, the largest basswood tree recorded in the state: a whopping sixteen feet plus in circumference and well over ninety feet high (it has since been topped by another tree in Charles County). As I was admiring it and the house next door, Mary Pritchard came out--this was her home. She told me that the house across the street had a gorgeous garden and the owners had opened the garden for the artists to paint there for just one day. It seemed too good an opportunity to waste, so I walked over to check it out.

 Painter in the Garden, oils on panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

The garden was lovely, and quite a few artists had nearly finished pieces. As I walked by a lady she called out, "Elena?" Marj, my hostess for the weekend introduced herself. What a stroke of luck! She was finishing up a pastel; we made plans to meet later so I could find her house.

I rushed back to grab my gear and drive to the garden, stopping along the way at the Imperial Hotel to pick up a sandwich (the chicken salad was delicious). The pleasant afternoon passed quickly while working on my painting. It was really hard to edit the painting as there were so many beautiful plantings to choose from.  I was drawn to the dogwood and the lilac, but the urn, which was the focal point of this section of the garden, was empty and needed a little embellishment, which I supplied. Unfortunately my shadows don't read well in certain places, and the greens are too monotonous--it lacks the punch I wanted. 

The artists had been invited to Mary's house for happy hour at 5:30, and we had fun meeting each other and seeing the glass-working studio her husband had set up in the basement.

The following morning we were up early. Marj had a meeting at the Arts League and I was left to enjoy my customary round of taiji in her wonderful back porch and garden before setting out to paint. I painted the view with the dappled light filtering through the trees looking down High Street towards the river from underneath the champion tree next to Mary's house. This one turned out the best of the three, but it has some defects.

 Mary's Wisteria, oils on panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

A quick lunch break at Play it Again Sam (owned by Mary's son-in-law) and I was back at Mary's house. I'd been wanting to paint a wisteria in bloom--the delicate lilac of the pendulous flowers is such an unusual color in nature--and here was a gorgeous old vine rambling over the back porch. I am surprised the painting turned out this well, considering it was getting cloudier and the shadows disappeared halfway into it. At least it didn't rain as had been predicted.

We were supposed to have our paintings framed and ready to hang at Emmanuel Episcopal Church's Parish Hall at 4:45 that afternoon for the reception and sale. Dutifully, we assembled at the tables set up for us for framing & labeling. I was still working on mounting my first piece when my framing gun jammed--I tried to loosen it but it was hopelessly stuck. The only way to unjam it would be taking it apart, and there was no time for that.

Fortunately, Mary had another framer's gun she made available to all. I barely got my three pieces hung as the reception was starting, feeling once again that this was like running a marathon. And Chestertown was nothing like as tight a schedule as the one for last year's Solomon's Island Paint the Town. Is it always like this, I wonder?

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who came to our show and bought work; the Chestertown citizens really supported the effort. After the reception, we were treated to a buffet dinner donated by the Arts League members. It was great to get to know the other artists, and I was so impressed by the enthusiasm and esprit among the Chestertown Arts League members--terrific folks!

Sunday morning dawned gray--it had been drizzling overnight, but it wasn't raining now. The Quick Draw Competition would go on rain or shine. Marj and I got ready to go to the Arts League to check in and have our panels stamped. The weather was looking very iffy, so we decided to stick close to cover. I set up on the porch of the Arts League for a view of the house next door, a decision I later regretted, as my perspective in the painting was way off.

Marj sat out by the trash bins behind the building, and managed to do the most beautiful little painting. That is the hallmark of a true artist--to create something beautiful out of something as ordinary, some would say ugly, as a trash can! Someday, I may yet learn how to do that.

The Arts League volunteers drove around town ringing a bell for the 9: 30 starting time (we were scattered all over), and again two hours later to signal that time was up. We then had to take our paintings over to Wilmer Park and set them up on our easels for the judging and perhaps more sales. The Taste of Chestertown festival was taking place at the same time, so the park was packed. I bought some tickets for the Taste of the Town so I could graze while the judging was going on. Newcastle, DE artist Dennis Young won both the First Place and People's Choice awards with a lovely pastel of Chestertown's historic ship, the Schooner Sultana. His painting was hard to resist, though a bit too sunny-looking for this day.

It started to drizzle again as I was heading out of town, back home to the western shore, totally exhausted. In all, it was an exciting weekend among genial folks. I hope this may be just the first of many annual Chestertown Paint the Town plein air festivals.