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  • Russian Engineering, by Viktor Butko

    At the root of painting is not only art, but engineering.  You have to ask yourself questions like- how do I fit all these wet paintings in my suitcase?  How many wet paintings can you have in a car before you start to damage them (and get paint all over your car)?  Who builds the best little portable paint box (for the record, I do, and I am starting to think about how to produce these little boxes to sell).  Put enough artists together and eventually they will start talking about their materials, and hanging out last month with Russian friend Viktor Butko reminded me of a couple of his really good ideas-as he called them, “Russian Engineering”.  I thought I should share them here.

    Viktor’s a resourceful guy, but although most artists are handy, part of it may come from his history- he’s from an artistic family.  He’s a third-generation painter, and works in Moscow in his Grandfather’s studio (which is one of the old Soviet Realist studios, one of my favorite Russian artists Arkady Plastov also worked in the building). His Grandfather’s name was Viktor Chulovich, and it’s really worth taking a look at his paintings online, I come across them from time to time, he was an excellent painter.   When our group visited Viktor’s studio in 2013, we were taken not just with the building, its history and his work, but this totally radical easel-chair that Butko had found in the attic-it’s really compact, check this link for a video of it that Dalessio took.


    Idea One, “The Viktor Rack”:


    This seems simple, but it’s ingenious.  I now keep a length of rope in my car that can crisscross between all four of the car roof handles, making a small rack to suspend a painting between your head and the roof.  When we got in Viktor’s car in 2013 and saw a perfectly suspended painting hovering above out heads we collectively all went “holy shit, what a good idea”.  If you paint large-ish, even if you don’t paint outside, from time to time there is a painting that just won’t fit in your car, or more importantly, won’t fit safely without risking denting it.  This problem has gotten a lot worse for me since having a kid in 2014, having a carseat in the car really limits the amount of larger work you can fit in the car, plus I need to keep work safely away from the young Mancini-Hresko’s kicking little feet.  This is a much safer method for transporting work than loading paintings vertically, (for the record, that is a 36×43″ canvas in the photo above)- and no, I have not once gotten paint on the roof of my car.  This works great for transporting delicate wet paintings, and larger framed finished works alike.  I wish I knew this one years ago.


    Below, a couple more snapshots-you can put a piece of cardboard to make a proper little shelf, just be careful that things don’t slip off as the cardboard is more slippery than the length of rope.


    img_9458 img_9462



    The other trick of Viktor’s came in especially handy at the end of our painting trip. Between our large group, most everyone prefers to work large on-site, and the work really starts to pile up quickly.  I was driving south alone, so it made sense for me to take as much of the work with me as I could fit in the car.  Most paintings if not completely wet were still tacky, and could have easily been damaged.  Fenske told me not to worry about it, that Viktor was an expert packer, whatever that meant.  When I asked the other Russians to pack up their work, they said, no, they’d let Viktor do it.

    Working in a smaller scale or on panel, I have a system that works fine (my friend Marc did a super-duper-clear blog post on it here).  That is how I brought home all my paintings from Greece this summer.   Using this method, I’ll be working on a wet painting up until the morning I head to the airport, just taping the final wet one into my stack of painting whenever I’m done working on it.  The problem with this method is that as panels get larger you need more bits of cork, and with the bumping around sometimes a piece of cork will come loose and scrape across a bit of the painting.  It’s foolproof in small scale, say 16×20 or 14×18″ maximum.  Worse still is if you paint on stretched canvas, with changes in humidity the paintings can come a bit loose, canvases sagging into another and touching.  I knew that trick wouldn’t work with all these large pictures and the bumping around in the car.



    That is a lot of wet paintings to have to make it home safe with.  Notice the Viktor Rack in use as well


    Idea Two “Expert Packing”:

    So, Viktor’s idea also involves wine corks.  I’m not entirely sure why, but there always seems to be plenty of wine corks sitting around at the end of a painting trip.  Painting in Maine, I was astounded that there wasn’t a single wine cork left anywhere, and when I was packing my paintings I actually had to open a bottle just to pack up my 22×28″s and 20×24″s.  Turned out the Russians had been hoarding the corks the whole trip.



    The tools necessary-Wine corks, Cardboard, Staple Gun and Knife


    Staple half a cork to the center of the cardboard, vertically


    Staple to the stretcher bar of painting


    Staple to other stretcher bar, putting paintings (the same size in one direction at least), face to face, or back to back 


    Repeat on all sides, making sure to leave a cork spacer in the face to face ones


    Close up, you can see the little corks on the other side of the canvas.

    I hope this post can be of some use to people, and all due credit to Viktor Butko for showing our group these little tricks.  All paintings made it home safe.


    Our show Russian-American Painting Alliance opens later today at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY.  Come out to say hello at the opening, I’ll be there with my family.



    Bonus Round “Russian Engineering by Fenske”:


    Another issue on one of these painting trips is you’re limited while painting not by people or gear, but the wet paintings.  Ben Fenske came up with this simple little rack for transporting multiple people’s in progress paintings, when there’s just more work than you could fit in a Viktor Rack.  Note that all shelves are leaning to prevent wet paintings from slamming back and forth when turning right or left.

  • Blue Hill/Deer Isle Peninsula October 2016


    Back in 2013, a group of my friends and I were invited to paint in Plyos, the Russian city in the Ivanovo region where Isaak Levitan painted many of his most important pictures.  The weather wasn’t great (you can read about that trip by clicking here, and I should really rephotograph the paintings I still have from the trip ).  During that difficult trip we developed a lot of camaraderie with our Russian counterparts, though we had little common language.  Painting through the torrential rain every day, and complaining and drinking at night.

    This year, my friend Ben Fenske wanted to return the favor, so he invited a small group of the Russian artists we painted with to come paint in the US, and organized an exhibition at the end of the trip at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY– Ben also organized a few American artists as counterparts, as we had in 2013.  The artists that were painting together were Carl Bretzke, Viktor Butko, Ben Fenske, Olga Karpacheva, Stapleton Kearns, Tim McGuire, Jesse Powell, Irina Rybekova and Oleg Zhuravlev [click any artist’s name for a link to their website] Additionally, my friend Kelly Carmody had been painting in Maine, and we spent time painting with her throughout the trip.  Jesse Powell was gracious enough to host our very large group at his family’s camp on a pond in Blue Hill, ME.  We were there for peak fall color, and thankfully the weather was mostly good.




    Trips like these are interesting- whatever the weather ends up being like, there’s an undeniable energy in getting a large group of artists together; everyone brings their ‘A’ game, and there is a sort of friendly competition and excitement to watching the group’s work develop.  For me personally, being away from my family encourages me to spend every waking moment working on paintings, as I want to make sure I’m using my time well.   As an artist it’s an energizing experience, however your paintings end up it will revitalize your studio time.  There is a bit of magic in all the big personalities, on your feet working all day, and large dinners at night.  It was intense, and exhausting.




    Here are a few of my pictures I started during the trip, and I have finished in the studio (Next post I will put the other half of the paintings from the trip, they are larger and have been taking more time to complete)


    Stonington Harbor from Church St, 20×24″


    Golden Hour, Allen Cove 14×18″



    Lobster Pound, 22×28″


    Powell Camp 12×16″


    Here’s some pictures from the trip of the group at work:


    Tim McGuire painting in Stonington


    Olga Karpacheva painting at Jesse Powell’s in the rain


    Oleg Zhuravlev in Stonington on the Highlands


    Irina Rybekova and Zhuravlev on Mt Cadillac above Eagle Lake


    Jesse Powell painting in Stonington


    Stapleton Kearns in Stonington


    Me painting at Powell Camp


    Olga Karpacheva and myself painting a Lobster Pound


    Kelly Carmody


    Ben Fenske and Viktor Butko painting happily in the rain


    Fenske and Carmody in Stonington


    Viktor Butko painting the Lobster Co-Op


    Carl Bretzke painting in Stonington


    the day we were completely rained out we took the Russians to the Farnsworth in Rockland to see the Wyeth collection

    The fall color was fantastic, though going into the trip I was slightly concerned the Russians would find inland Maine too similar to Russia- I had forgotten that though they also have fantastic fall color, they don’t have all the blood red maple foliage.



    Our show at Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor will open on November 5th.  Most of the artists will be in attendance.

  • Plyos, Rain

    This painting of Plyos, Russia from 2014 left the studio last week and I realized I never put a finished photo on my site. The client asked me to write a short description of the piece for them to have, so I thought I would post it here.  This has long been among my favorite of my studio landscapes, but strangely had never been selected for a single exhibition.  Glad that it’s gone off to a good home.



    Plyos, Rain oil on canvas 2014 35×47″ (90×120 cm)


    In spring 2013 I was invited by the Museum of Landscape in Plyos, Ivanova Region, to paint in Russia as part of a cultural exchange/art initiative called зеленый шум or “Green Noise”.  Plyos is a quaint village on the Volga River, (one of the ‘Golden Ring’ cities about ~8 hours northeast from Moscow), today a tourist destination with strict architectural cultural preservation and as its centerpiece, a museum and statue to the great Russian landscape artist, Isaak Levitan (1860-1900).  Levitan had long been one of my favorite artists, and I had read about Plyos for years-although most Russians I met had never heard of the town.

    Each year the ‘Green Noise’ program would invite foreign artists to paint with Russian counterparts and have an exhibition with the work at the end of the trip.  I jumped at the chance-Levitan’s pictures of Plyos rank among his best, so of course, I had to see it.  

    Unfortunately it rained every single day with two exceptions: the day it was snowing, and the one day we weren’t allowed to paint as we had to take part in the inaugural ceremony.  Generally speaking, I prefer to work indoors if it’s raining, but we had no choice during the trip to continue work as each of us had to produce paintings for the exhibition at the end.  I did 13 paintings during the trip, and ‘Rain, Plyos’ was eventually painted in my studio outside Boston from the studies in early 2014.  


    For comparisons sake, here is an image of the 24×30″ (60x80cm) painting that I did on-site during the trip:

    Plyos Sketch


  • Plyos – зеленый шум 2013


    This year I was invited by the Museum of Landscape in Plyos, Ivanovo Region, Russia to represent Italy in their annual regional painting exhibition and cultural exchange – зеленый шум or ‘Green Noise’.

    In previous years they had hosted painters from other regions of Russia, and a few years ago began inviting international artists- 2011 was France, and 2012 was a group from Cyprus.  Next year will be Holland or England I believe.  We were each asked to donate an Italian painting to the permanent collection of the landscape museum, and they picked another painting from the body of work we did which will either remain part of the collection or be sold to raise funds.  The show is up until October 20th.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Here’s my painting that’s now at the museum in Plyos- Market at San Lorenzo, 30x40cm 2011


    Plyos was made famous by Isaak Levitan, and in turn he made much of his reputation on his Plyos series.  I’d always been curious what Plyos was like, having admired Levitan for years, this trip was an amazing opportunity.  It’s remained a destination town- Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vacations there, and even though we were off-season we crossed paths with him on our first day.

    Sixteen artists total, eight Italians and eight Russians- the artists representing Italy this year were Daniela AstoneMarc DalessioBen Fenske, myself, Tim McGuireLuciano Regoli, Serghiy Shtanko and Vitaliy Shtanko who was the organizer of the Italian painters.  Our group was mostly culled from The Florence Academy of Art circle, and although I’m American I suppose living and working in Italy for over ten years is enough to represent the Italians.

    The Russian group was Виктор Бутко (Viktor Butko), Ольга Карпачева (Olga Karpacheva), Василий Куракса (Vasiliy Kuraksa), Людмила Кузнецова (Lyudmila Kuznetsova), Григорий Новиков (Grigoriy Novikov), Юрий Орлов (Yuri Orlov), Ирина Рыбакова (Irina Rybakova) and Олег Журавлев (Oleg Zhuravlev), who curated the entire exhibit along with Irina Sorokina from the museum.  *The links I’ve used here are the best I’ve come up with using my meager googling ability in Cyrillic- anyone who actually speaks Russian feel free to leave better links in the comments.  


    It was very interesting painting with the Russians- only really speaking through translators when they were available.  Despite our best efforts, at times a lot seemed lost in translation.  That said, we developed a good deal of camaraderie and understanding by watching each other work.  Painting was definitely the common language on this trip.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Plyos Motif 20×24″


    Before leaving, the forecast looked great- 60′s and partial sun.  A Russian had told me that Plyos was famous for its beautiful blue skies.  Instead, the weather was absolutely miserable.   Rain, wind and low temperatures, there was only one day we didn’t paint in the rain, though that’s because we were walking around Moscow in the snow.  Even the locals were shocked by the weather.  Coming back to Boston in October felt like walking into a tropical climate.


    Although the weather was difficult everyone got a lot of work done.  Being in a large group of artists is good for your hardiness, and even the days I was pretty sick I was out painting.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Dusk 11×14″


    Unfortunately I had very little computer access, photographing my work without the opportunity to check it on a bigger screen- as a result a lot of the images aren’t great.  I’ll rephotograph everything when I get it back in November.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    St. Varvara, Rain 20×24″


    We went out painting at night as a group a bit.  Always interesting, as no matter how good your lights are you really don’t get a sense of your color until you see the painting indoors.  A lot of trying to remember how much of each color you mixed with, and keeping your mixing space organized.  Even still, it’s usually a surprise to see your painting the next day.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Moonlight Volga 12×16″


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Midnight on the Bridge 12×16″


    Painting overcast effects all day every day is not something I’ve done much of- after a few days I started to really get into how much you could perceive color differences without light and shade.  Autumnal colors can be pretty garish, and the steady purple-grey sky seemed to tone everything down a bit.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Golden Plyos Sketch 12×16″

     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Golden Plyos 24×30″


    The architecture in the town was very interesting- a lot of traditional structures, and it seemed everything was under constant restoration.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Grey Day 24×30″


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    End of the Day 14×18″


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Before Sunset 16×22″


    Some days, with the wind, I could barely paint a straight line.  I have a few things that will need to be fixed in the studio- color was good, but drawing was very difficult some days on top of the hill.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Rooftops in the Rain 14×18″


    This is the second painting the museum took, which will either be sold or stay part of their collection:


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Rooftops in the Rain 16×24″


    Russia was an amazing experience- with all its difficulty, I never would have made it to Plyos without this trip.  A privilege to see where Levitan worked, visit the Levitan House Museum and see a bit of provincial Russia.


     Plyos зеленый шум 2013

    Church of the Resurrection 24×30″


    Apparently our paintings will be featured on a Russian Winter Olympics culture site at some point – I checked the site with Google translate and didn’t see us there.  Maybe someone who speaks Russian will see it.  They printed a catalogue as well- I have a proof, but the print quality isn’t great.  I’ll post a PDF of the catalogue when I get the OK from the good people at зеленый шум in Plyos.


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