First Place in the Plein Air Salon

Plein air figurative painting from Gregurić Breg

Gregurić Breg. 100 x 80 cm (40 x 32 inches), oil on linen.

There has been a proliferation of online painting contests recently. In many I find the judging to be erratic and I don’t usually enter twice if I find I strongly disagree with their choices.

On the other hand, I don’t mind losing if I feel the winning works were excellent. The bimonthly contest offered by Plein Air Magazine is the one contest I both regularly enter and regularly lose. Even though I get beaten by other artists most of the time, I think the quality of the work selected for awards is almost always great. Their judging is done with an intelligence and taste that I almost always agree with, even when my submission is not selected.

So I’m happy to announce that, after entering numerous works over the past few years, my painting of Tina in a field in the little hamlet of Gregurić Breg took first place in the recent October/November Plein Air Salon.

The painting was done outside, on location, over the course of a couple of months this year. Below is a photograph of my set-up. It’s in a small village in the hills above Samobor, a small town just outside of Zagreb.

Plein air painting in the mountains above Samobor.

The location at Gregurić Breg.

The grass is of different heights in part because it grew the whole time. It was at the level of Tina’s waist when we started in April, and over her shoulders when we finished in late May. Our landlord was nice enough to leave that little patch of field for us uncut, so I could finish the work.

(Gregurić Breg is currently available for purchase via my London dealer, Constantine Lindsay.)

A second entry, my painting of a snow covered road near Les Plans, Switzerland also took first place in the plein air catagory:

Plein air painting of a road in the snow near Les Plans, Switzerland.

Road in the Snow, Les Plans. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Below is a photo of the location:

Plein air painting in the snow in Switzerland.

The location in Les Plans.

Suggested Donation Podcast

suggested donation
While in New York last month I did an interview with Tony Curanaj and Ted Minoff at the Salmagundi Art Club for their podcast series Suggested Donation. You can hear the interview on their blog here, or via iTunes.

It was the first time I’ve given such a long interview and I didn’t really prepare much for it due to time constraints with work and family in NYC. Thus, I was something of a deer in headlights in front of the mic and didn’t really get to flesh out some of the points I was making. I thought I would elaborate on them a bit here.

First, on Hardy Hanson at UCSC. One of the things I forgot to mention is that he would say to us over and over again to never stop improving. His idea (mantra almost) was that as we lay in our deathbeds painting a still life from the bed, our very last brushstroke should be the best brushstroke we’ve ever made. It’s something that has stayed with me all these years. Hardy Hanson passed away in 2012 and I remember wondering then about his last brushstroke. He was a great teacher and I’m very thankful for everything he gave me.

I think I only cleaned the toilets once at Charles H. Cecil studios. I’m really the last person you want in charge of keeping anything clean.

In the discussion about pigments, the alchemical idea of using four colors in figure painting is based on creation myths from various cultures. These stories describe the creation of man as occurring when god gathers four dusts from the four corners of the earth and mixes them with some elixir to give life. The dusts are red, yellow, black and white. It’s discussed in the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (a Jewish exegesis of Genesis), and some Native American tribes had similar myths. It’s not that I think painters are gods when creating paintings, I just thought it was interesting that people around the world assumed god used the same four colors. The fact that the limited palette actually requires glazing with alizarin could be seen as a sign of humility. The medium would be the elixir.

The squat in Paris where I worked was called Pôle Pi. There is a film on Youtube which documents a bit of it. I’m visible in the area where I worked for a second around the 43rd minute. It was a beautiful space, the poor quality of the film doesn’t really do it justice.

Discussing the Russian painters we met in St. Petersburg, I mention Evgeny Grouzdev, you can see some of his portraits here. The Burmese artist, Maung Thiha, I wrote about back in 2009.

The museums with large Russian Socialist Realism collections in the US are the Springville Museum of Art in Utah and the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis.

You can pick up Nick Beer’s sight-size book on Amazon.

I’ll do a blog post later on the great Italian 19th-century painters. In the meantime some names to look at are (in the order in which they appear in the bookshelf next to my computer): Francesco Lojacono, Ettore Tito, Luigi Nono, Giuseppe de Nittis, Antonio Mancini, Guglielmo Ciardi, Emma Ciardi, Domenico Morelli, and Telemaco Signorini.

Atelier Book and Plein Air Magazine

atelier
21st-Century-Atelier
Tony Winters has written a thorough book on artist’s studios called ATELIER: Building the Visual Arts Studios of the 21st Century. It’s interesting as it is written from the point of view of both an architect and painter. There is a small part on my ex-studio in Piazza Donatello in Florence (currently part of Charles H. Cecil Studios).
You can pick the book up on Amazon.
plein-air-magazine

Also, Plein Air Magazine has a short piece on my use of sight-size and scraping down in outdoor figure painting (Joe Paquet has the cover and a longer artist’s profile).

The Iphone as a Painting Tool

A short post on using an Iphone as a black mirror. Like most of my tips, this is not my idea and I understand this has been common practice for a while at the ateliers like the FAA which teach sight-size. I mentioned it to other painters who hadn’t thought of the idea and it was well-received, so I decided to post it here.

I made the following video a few years ago demonstrating the use of a mirror in sight-size portraiture:

And in the next video of Ben Fenske painting a landscape you can see how often an artist will reach for the mirror while working:

The fact is, the mirror is one of the most efficacious devices for checking shapes and proportions in painting. It can be used without sight-size, but having everything visually locked-in makes the mirror especially powerful as an artist’s tool. For commissioned portraiture, where speed and accuracy are so important, it is really essential.

In landscape painting, artists will often use welding glass (sometimes called a black mirror) as it also greatly reduces the values. This allows the painter to see a value range closer to what they can actually capture in paint, and simplifies the number of values they need to compare.

Enter the Iphone, the $700 black mirror.

The Iphone has a flat, black glass screen and works perfectly for measuring shapes, proportions and values while landscape painting. Most of us also carry our phones around with us all the time. I recently inherited an older Iphone to replace my Nokia. While I’ll miss the maps and the privacy of my previous phone, I hated the rounded screen as I couldn’t use it to check shapes. Since I often forget, lose or break my painting mirrors when I travel, it will be a nice upgrade (that and the fact that iOS supports Instagram so I can stop borrowing the wife’s phone to post).

Belgrade Sketches

Plein air painting of souvenir stands in Belgrade.

Souvenir Stands, Belgrade. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Here are a few plein air paintings from this weekend in Belgrade, Serbia. I wasn’t prepared for how cold it would be, and I spent a lot of time walking to try to get a feel for the town so I didn’t get a great deal of paintings down. Before leaving for Belgrade I was inspired by the wonderful urban watercolors of Dusan Djukaric, who is based there.

Plein air painting at sunset in Belgrade, Serbia.

Popcorn Stall at Sunset. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape painting of Sveti Sava in Belgrade, Serbia.

Sveti Sava Sketch. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Sunday in Zemun.

Boats along the Danube, Zemun. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The last day I was there I was shown around by the very talented, fellow landscape painter, Veljko Djurdjevic, who took me over to Zemun, one of the more picturesque neighborhoods of Belgrade. These short days make plein air work hard though. It’s too dark to paint by 4PM most days.

Plein air painting of the Assembly Cupola in Belgrade, Serbia.

The Assembly Cupola from Pironirski Park. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

New York City

Plein air painting of Chambers Street in Tribeca, New York

Andrea and Luella on Chambers Street. 12 x 8 in. oil on linen.

Here are some paintings from the past week on the streets of in New York City. I was there for a portrait commission and other business stuff, so I didn’t get a lot of time for plein air work.

It was fun painting on the streets, the New Yorkers (and tourists) were very complimentary about the work.

Apologies for the potato-quality photos, I didn’t have my camera with me.

Plein air painting of the Freedom Tower from West Broadway.

The Freedom Tower from West Broadway. 12 x 8 in., oil on panel.

Plein air painting of soccer players in Central Park, NYC

Soccer Players in Central Park. 8 x 12 in., oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a print seller near City Hall, NYC

Print Seller. 8 x 10 in., oil on linen.

I don’t normally sell prints of my work, but the above piece will be available for purchase as a print from Larry, the guy in the painting. He’s by the exit to the City Hall subway exit, near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Plein air painting of Times Square, NYC

Times Square. 8 x 12 in., oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge. 14 x 11 in., oil on panel.

Update: One more of the pile driver in Dumbo that woke me up every morning.

Plein air painting of a construction site in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

Pile Driver, Dumbo. 14 x 11 in., oil on panel.

A Dennis Miller Bunker Quote

Oil painting by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Meadow Lands (1890).

Dennis Miller Bunker is considered to be one of the greatest American painters. He died tragically young, at age 29, in 1890. He studied with Jean Léon Gérôme at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was one of the first ‘American Impressionists’, and he painted with John Singer Sargent.

Portrait painting by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Jessica (1890).

One of his best students was William Paxton, who taught R. H. Ives Gammell (who taught my teacher, Charles Cecil). Gammell wrote a biography on Bunker, published in 1953, and in the book there are a number of personal letters given to him by Bunker’s widow. I reread the biography earlier this year, and the following letter from Bunker to his then-fiancée struck me as being particularly insightful into the working life of the artist:

You must try to realize how dull and monotonous an artist’s life is. There is absolutely nothing but work, work, work. And there is nothing in the work of an artist that shows his personality. You are marrying a man whose highest ambition is to conceal his identity, to remain above his work and apart from it, not to appear in it in any way – to be as cold and calm as a machine. Oh! if I only could, I might some day learn to paint! What I am trying to tell you is not to nourish any any ideas of an artist people whom you see may expound to you. Don’t think, as they do, that the charm of an artist’s work must be found also in his own personality. It is always apart, or should be, should have nothing to do with it, and that is what makes it such an infernal trade. Never to play on ones’s own twopenny flute but to keep the big end in view always; to remain patient and cold and quiet and work like a dog from morning ’til night; there is no other way of arriving even at talent, unless one is cut out of larger stuff than I am.

Oil painting of a tree by Dennis Miller Bunker.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Tree (1884).

That’s it really. That’s all I wanted to say. Since you took the time to get here though, I’ll leave you with this passage from the book as well. In it Gammell beautifully express the idea of breadth and detail in painting:

People untrained in the art of painting often believe that finish is attained by simply adding detail to detail and consequently they dismiss it as a mere by product of industry and patience. Unfortunately this view does not correspond with the truth. For an essential characteristic of all fine painting is unity of effect and this unity is destroyed by any detail stated in a false relation to the other component parts of the picture. This is particularly true of the type of painting we are here discussing, the purpose of which is to recreate on canvas the impression made on the painters’s eye by the landscape before him. To achieve this end, each detail must be set down with just the degree of definition and coloration which it holds for the eye when the focus of vision is adjusted so as to include the entire scene depicted. Piecemeal notation of individual detail immediately destroys the requisite unity of impression and turns the canvas into a compilation of separately observed visual facts. This invariably results in a hard, dry look, destroying all breadth of effect and offensive to those who are quite unaware of its technical cause. It is, in fact, one of the most serious defects which a painting can have and perhaps the most difficult defect for an earnest painter to avoid. The ability to carry a picture to a high degree of finish without losing its unity of impression is the mark of a master and requires artistry of the highest order. It is the central problem of the type of painting which takes for its main theme the interpretation of the beauty of the visible world.

Oil painting by Dennis Miller Bunker of a beached boat.

Dennis Miller Bunker. Beached (1882).

For those of you noticing the wide range of style in the posted images of Bunker’s landscapes, Darren Rousar has an interesting post on Bunker’s move from the more Academic influence of Gerome, to the Impressionism of his later style.

Norfolk Plein Air Paintings

Plein air landscape painting of boats at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk, UK

Boats at Low Tide, Burnham Overy Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Here are the paintings from last week in Norfolk, England.

One of the best things about painting in the UK, I think, is that there is a large number of excellent plein air painters to work with. This trip was organized by David Bachmann, and we were joined by Roy Connelly, Tony Dakin, Jory GlazenerTim King, David Pilgrim, Mike Richardson and Karl Terry. (One evening the English artists were insisting that there aren’t really that many plein air painters in the UK, but then the two spots where we painted had large groups of plein air painters from the Norfolk Painting School, run by Martin Kinnear, and David and I saw another group earlier in the week at Pin Mill).

Plein air landscape painting of Burnham Market, Norfolk, UK.

Saturday in Burnham Market. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

While the weather in the UK was beautiful all week, we had a marine layer over northern Norfolk. I enjoyed the grey skies though, after a very hot August in Italy (well, the second half of August at any rate).

Driving inland a bit I was able to find some sun.

Oil painting of a bull in a field in Norfolk.

Bull in a Norfolk Field. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of sheep in a field in Norfolk, England.

Sheep in a Field, Cranworth. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Painting of the garden at Teal Cottage, Burnham Overy Staithe.

Teal Cottage Garden. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the sky at Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk.

Norfolk Sky. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Norfolk is famous among artists for its skies. The flatness of the land combined with the unstable English weather makes for some great sky paintings. Or so I’ve been told. We only had one day when the clouds were distinct, most of the time it was hazy or a flat grey.

Plein air oil painting of the church at Burnham Market, Norfolk.

The Church at Burnham Market. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I spent a lot of time painting the boats at low tide, I guess since I find it such an unusual subject.

Plein air painting of a sailboat at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk.

Sailboat, Burnham Overy Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a boat at low tide, Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk.

Boat at Low Tide, Brancaster Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a cornfield in Norfolk.

Cornfield, Brancaster Staithe. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Norfolk has a lot to offer for subject matter. It’s also a really nice place to work as the people are friendly, it feels really empty (at least in September), and there are very few fences anywhere.

Plein air painting of morning light, Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk.

Norfolk Morning. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Pin Mill

Plein air painting of a boat on the mud in Pin Mill, Suffolk.

Boat at Low Tide, Pin Mill. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Pin Mill is a couple of small buildings on the south shore of the the tidal River Orwell, in southern Suffolk, England.

Plein air painting of a sailboat in the mud at Pin Mill, Suffolk.

Sailboat at Low Tide, Pin Mill. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I recently spent three days painting there with three other plein air painters: David Bachmann, Roy Connelly, and Paul Rafferty.

The English painter Edward Seago did some of his best paintings there of the Thames barges. Since I spend a lot of time talking to other plein air painters, and Seago is seen as one of the best plein air painters of the 20th century, I assumed everyone in England had heard of Pin Mill, and that it was something of an English Giverny. So I was surprised when I called my studio painter friends in England to brag about going to paint at Pin Mill and no one had heard of the place. Then, at the B&B where I stayed up the road, they had never heard of Edward Seago.

Plein air painting of a barge in the fog at Pin Mill, Suffolk.

Grey Morning, Pin Mill. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The place should be more well-known. It is one of the more picturesque quarter miles anywhere in the world. The Thames sailing barges that Seago painted are still there, and often have their sails up still.

Unfortunately, when we were there the barges were all up at the nearby town of Woodbridge for a maritime weekend. We drove there to try to paint them on the last day, but they had just left to go back to Pin Mill.

Plein air painting of the pub at Pin Mill, Suffolk.

Late Morning, Pin Mill. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Pin Mill at Sunset.

Pin Mill Sunset. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Cala di Forno

Plein air painting of the beach in the afternoon.

Afternoon on the Beach, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of morning clouds.

Morning Clouds. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Cala di Forno is a magical little spot on the southern Tuscan coast. It’s a tiny clump of buildings just next to the beach, in the middle of a large natural park. Much of the park is off limits, even to those staying in the houses, so there is a lot of wildlife around. Down near the houses there are tame deer that stand under the fig trees, waiting for the kids to pick the figs for them (though they don’t stand still enough to paint with any accuracy).

plein air painting of deer in the parco dell"uccellina, maremma, tuscany.

Deer and Olive Trees. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a deer by the old well in Cala di Forno, Italy.

Deer by the Old Well. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

We spent last week there with a few other painters. After walking all over Rome in the heat, it was nice to be restricted to a tiny area in which to work. Many of my paintings were done within 10 meters (30 feet) of the front door.

plein air painting of the old well at cala di forno.

The Old Well, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a stone pine tree in cala di forno, maremma.

Stone Pine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the houses in Cala di Forno, Italy.

Houses in Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painters often look for people who are going to be in the same place for long enough to paint. Fishermen, for example, work great as subject matter as they move very little over the course of hours. I spent a few sessions painting the other artists while they worked. Other painters make great subjects since I have a good idea of how long they take to finish a piece, and thus for how long they’ll stay still.

plein air painting of a watercolorist on the beach.

Tina Painting a Watercolor. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Ben Fenske painting Beatrice on the beach.

Ben Painting Beatrice. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

plein air painting of a painter with his family.

Ignacio Painting on the Beach. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of another painter painting.

Ben Painting. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

The beach can be accessed by boat, so many arrive and park their boats in the little bay. The water is so shallow, they often just walk from their boat to the shore (swimming the first bit, obviously).

plein air painting of boats in the surf at cala di forno, tuscany.

Boats in the Surf, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I spent a lot of time trying to paint people on the beach.

Plein air painting of a mother and child on the beach.

Tamara and Moss. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a woman backlit in the sea.

Backlit. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

I even tried painting kids, though I have no idea how Sorolla did it, they moved much to fast for me.

Plein air painting of a kid on the beach, cala di forno.

Irene on the Beach. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of kids playing on a beach in Italy.

Kids Playing on Driftwood. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

In plein air painting, sometimes I find restricting myself to a small area in which to work can be better than moving around a great deal. The extra time not spent scouting and traveling means more time for the paintings.

Plein air painting of sunset at Cala di Forno, Italy.

Sunset, Cala di Forno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.