More Benelux Sketches

March and April are usually write-offs for me as far as plein air work. I find the florescent greens of new growth combined with the browns of winter to be really unpicturesque. My own attempts at blossoms are usually miserable failures so I avoid them. I also have a lot of studio work to catch up on, mostly enlarging sketches of Italian subjects from last year to meet gallery commitments.

That said, I did get out a few times and here are the results.

Cows at Sint-Martens-Voeren (Belgium). 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Luxembourg Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Canal in Maastricht. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Oud-Valkenburg Roofs. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Windmill at Ohé en Laak. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Windmill at Ohé en Laak #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I’m off to Italy next week so this will probably be it for my Dutch period. It’s too bad as the colors are just getting interesting again.


Holland: The Local Talent

My 4 month stint in Limburg is rapidly drawing to a close. I’ve painted with a couple of professional plein air painters, Hans Versfelt and (briefly) Roos Shuring, and had a few coffees with fellow ex-pat portraitist Scott Bartner.

In March, I visited the Tefaf fair in Maastricht with Urban Larsson, who showed me around and introduced me to the great Dutch painters of the 19th-century. As always, most of these artists aren’t well known abroad, but deserve greater recognition.

I had trouble finding books and images online for these artists, and I may have the titles wrong, but here goes.

(They have really long-winded names for being from such a small country).

Jacob Maris (The Anathaeum has a lot more images):

Jacob Maris. The Five Windmills (from the Centraal Museum, Utrecht)

Jacob Maris. The Ferry

Jacob Maris. The Ferry Boat.

Jacob Maris. Windmill in the Snow.

There were three Marises. Jacob’s brother Willem painted lots of animal subjects:

Willem Maris. Ducks. (From the Rijksmuseum)

Johannes Christiaan Karel Klinkenberg (More on Artmight):

Johannes Klinkenberg. River View, Sun.

Johannes Klinkenberg. View of Rotterdam.

Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël:

Paul Gabriel. A Polder Landscape.

Paul Gabriel. Landscape with Windmill. (From the Amsterdam Historical Museum).

Willem Bastiaan Tholen:

Willem Bastiaan Tholen. ‘Gezicht Op De Nieuwe Haven’.

Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch (more at Wikipaintings):

J. H. Weissenbruch. River Landscape.


Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, (though I did have the text checked by my lawyers).

In the ‘Blossoms’ post below I had wanted to add my favorite example, Primavera by Adolfo Tommasi in the Galleria di Arte Moderna in Florence. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent image online. The Italian Culture website has a small, terrible image of the painting with watermarks all over it from a private company which controls the image databases of Italian museums. It begs the question: Who is this for? The tagline on the government website is ‘a patrimony to explore’, and in the charter of most museums there is something about their job being to disseminate the works to the public. But the online images are often small, cropped, and covered with watermarks, rendering them all but useless except as ads for the database company. For important paintings, a quick Google-search produces high-resolution images in abundance, but for lesser-know paintings there is no way to get an image from an Italian museum online. I contacted the archive company representing the museum’s collection, Scala Archives, but they want €120 for a 600 pixel, 72dpi blog-ready digital image.

It got me wondering though: Who owns this image?

Adolfo Tommasi died in 1933, so the painting is in the public domain. Yet in this case, and in museum collections worldwide, archiving services such as Scala have photographed the work, and now claim a new copyright exists on the photograph of the painting.

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Blossoms and Tulips

I’ve been inside much of March and April working on larger Italian landscapes from sketches. I find this season difficult to paint well. In Florence, none of the plein air painters would work outside during these months. The acidic new greens, flowers, and blossoms are beautiful, but not necessarily picturesque. This happens often in painting. I’ve told the story in a previous post about watching dolphins jumping in sunset, and how it can be a wonderful experience, but under no circumstances should one attempt to paint dolphins jumping at sunset.

There aren’t many great blossom or tulip paintings for the same reason. Here are a few.

Claude Monet. Apple Trees in Bloom. 1873

Claude Monet. Trees in Bloom.

Claude Monet. A Field of Tulips with the Rijnsburg Windmill.

Claude Monet. Tulip Fields at Sassenheim.

(Wikipainting has an amazing online collection of Monet’s work. 1338 paintings in chronological order and in high resolution. Definitely worth a visit.)

Isaac Levitan. Spring in Italy, 1890.

George Inness. Spring Blossoms, Montclair, New Jersey

Jean-François Millet. Spring.

If anyone has any others feel free to post links. This was just from a quick perusal of Google images.

The Gronsveld Windmill

This is the windmill down the road from where I’m living in Limburg. I thought it would be fun to try one subject with a number of different points of view and weather effects. I’ll be here until June so I’ll have a couple of more seasons too. The tops of the windmills swivel, which confused me at first when I would go back for another shot on a sketch, to find it pointing in a different direction (who knew?).

The Gronsveld Windmill #1. 35 x 25, oil on panel.

Gronsveld Windmill #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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Art In The Open Festival in Wexford, Ireland


I’ll be painting and teaching a couple of short workshops in early August at the Art In The Open festival in Wexford, Ireland.

I had a very successful plein air trip to Ireland years ago, staying at the Cill Rialaig artist’s colony in southwestern Kerry, and I very much looking forward to going back.

Grey Maastricht Days

A couple of recent sketches from the grey March days we’ve been having lately.

(Always risky painting a leaning building as on this first one):

Klein Grachtje, Maastricht. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

The Jeker, Maastricht. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

And a couple from the countryside.

Brabant Farm. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Libeek Fields. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Only Idiots Learn from Their Mistakes

‘Only idiots learn from their mistakes, I learn from the mistakes of others’

– Otto Von Bismarck

Often while correcting students, they inform me that they would rather make their own mistakes, as a sort of learning tool. Since I’ve usually already made that exact mistake myself, I always reply with that quote.

I know sketching a small landscape painting in oils isn’t the same thing as baiting France into unifying Germany for you.  And part of the beauty of oil painting is the ability to change things at a later date.

But the truth is, plein air painting requires you to think about a lot of things studio-painters don’t have to deal with: “Am I blocking traffic?” “How many tourists am I going to have to talk to standing here?”, “Could I freeze to death in this cold?”… etc, and it is very easy to get distracted and make simple compositional errors that one normally wouldn’t make.

Here are a few of the recent snowscapes from Limburg with before and after images, showing my initial mistake, as well as the later-in-studio correction.

The Unfortunate Tangent:

Unfortunate tangents are when a line describing one element in space is tangent with a line describing an element in a completely different location. In the case below, the snow on the hedge on the left  is in front of the windmill yet it lines up precisely with the line of the hill on the right, which is behind the windmill. In the studio I raised the hedge a little to remove the tangent.


The Unfortunate Tangent.


In the case below, the trees in the original sketch were positioned at the same distance from each side of the panel, which is generally considered poor composition. In the studio I moved the left tree slightly to the right and added one behind it, to not have them look so symmetrical. (To be honest, I’m still not convinced about the trees as they’re a bit busy for such a small panel and might take them out entirely).

Also, the path through the snow was parallel to the base of the panel, so I raised it a bit on the left.


Parallel Lines:

Lastly, in the painting below, I put in too many parallel lines (also considered poor composition) to describe the plowed fields below the snow. In the studio later I removed a few, and tried to make them more randomly placed.

Parallel Lines.

Limburg Snowscapes

I’m currently living ten minutes outside of Maastricht, Holland in the little hamlet of Libeek in the province of Limburg.

For my first two weeks here the weather has been beautiful blue skies with snow on the ground, but very cold. Almost too cold to paint when the wind was up. I did manage to get a few plein air pieces done before the rain set in.

I used Google Maps for the names (and actually used Street View to scout a bit for the first time) so I hope I got them right.

Op de Vrouweheide, Ubachsberg. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Op de Vrouweheide, Ubachsberg (#2). 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Van Tienhovenmolen, Wolfshuis. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

I liked the windmills.

Banholt. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Shed. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

St. Johns, Maastricht. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The Border at Libeek. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Snow in Libeek. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Limburg Farm, February. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Libeek Sunset #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Update: Here are a couple more from the end of the snow.

Snow Melting, Hoogcruts. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Snow Melting, Banholt. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.


The Hibbard Mitten

My Hibbard Mitten (with some recent snowscapes).

When I was ten my family moved from Fiji to Los Angeles. I remember hating L.A. because of how cold I thought it was. To this day I still can’t stand feeling even the slightest bit cold. That said, I also love painting the snow since I grew up without ever seeing it.

Right now I’m painting in the Dutch countryside. We’re in the middle of two weeks of beautiful blue skies with snow everywhere on the ground. It’s also -20°C this morning with the wind chill factor.

For painting in the cold, I find it easy to keep your body warm with thermal underwear and layers, it’s the feet and the hands that are the problem. I use handwarmers in my shoes to keep my toes warm, and stomp down the snow. For my brush-holding hand, I wear a glove, and for my painting hand I use a Hibbard Mitten.

Named after the painter Aldro Hibbard (you can see some of his snowscapes here), the Hibbard mitten is a large knit sock -in my case a folded and sewn-up scarf- you put over your hand and poke the back end of the brush through. That way you can hold the brush directly with your hand rather than through a glove, which I find greatly reduces my dexterity. Painters are supposed to paint with the shoulder and the elbow, but I use my wrist a lot and using a glove makes detailed work difficult. The Hibbard mitten also means you have to hold the paintbrush at the end of the handle as they are meant to be used.

My Hibbard mitten also has a sewn pocket for an extra handwarmer. I find I still need to take the mitten off from time to time for details, but overall it makes painting much more comfortable.

Hibbard supposedly lost a couple of toes to frostbite, so be careful out there if you’re wearing your socks on your hands.