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  • Footsteps in Jeffersonville, Vermont

     

    I spent last week painting in and around Jeffersonville, VT with a large group of painters.  Our crew was organized by Stapleton Kearns, who wanted to revive an old New England tradition of meeting other artists in the hills next to Mount Mansfield for painting and camaraderie.  I say revive, not because artists haven’t been painting there (the area is dense with art and artists), but because traveling groups of painters haven’t been staying at the particular inn we rented.

    We stayed at the Smugglers’ Notch Inn, built in 1790, which by the beginning of the 20th century had become a meeting place for some of the best and brightest outdoor painters in the Northeast.  Artists would meet there so often that the hotel kept a studio for artists- see the below advertisement for the hotel, drawn by Emile Gruppe, and below that a picture of the inn today:

     

     

    From the 1920s through the 1960s or so you might find John Carlson (1874-1945), Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972), Charles Curtis Allen (1886-1950), Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), Chauncey Ryder (1868-1949), Leo Blake (1887-1976), Loring Coleman (1918-2015), Roy Mason (1886-1972), John F. Enser (1898-1968), Thomas R. Curtin (1899-1977) or Harry Ballinger (1892-1993) staying at the hotel.  I have added the birth/death dates to drive the point home that although these artists were from another generation, it really wasn’t all that long ago at all.  Loring Coleman passed just a couple years ago.

    Jeffersonville is a tiny town but has a great density of artists and galleries.  Alden Bryan lived and worked there, I wasnt familiar with his work, but he had an ingenious set up: a horse-drawn studio with windows and a wood stove in it for painting outdoors, a sort-of Vermont winter version of Monet’s boat studio.  The carriage has been fully restored and can be seen outside the Visions of Vermont Gallery.  Click here to see photos and read about his portable painting cart.  Besides the Visions of Vermont Gallery, there is also the Bryan Memorial Gallery.

    Back in the old days, the owners of the inn said that John Carlson would sing for the group in the evenings, and accompany himself on piano.  I suppose he had a wonderful voice. We sat in that room at night, but thankfully we weren’t subjected to any of the artists’ singing.

    As I said, the inn kept a studio for artists, and when the weather wasn’t agreeable they would work indoors or hire the model there.  That said, the inn was hardly the only draw for artists- Mid-Century Modernists Florence and Hans Knoll also set up shop in nearby Cambridge when they retired, and their home went up for sale in 2012.

     

     

    The artists up for the trip were myself, Stape Kearns, TM Nicholas, Ken DeWaard, Peter Yesis, Thomas Adkins, Ted Charron, Garin Baker, Todd Bonita, Christopher Volpe and Sergio Roffo.  Click any artist’s name for a link to their work.  We were joined most days by hometown heroes Hunter Eddy (one of my dear friends from my Italy days who now lives outside Burlington) and Eric Tobin.  Eric really deserves an extra-special shout out, as he doesn’t just do impressive paintings, he also pointed where we should go, and when, and how many cars could fit.  Having someone who knows the lay of the land is invaluable when painting outside.

     

    As an aside, I think this trip convinced me to start using a Gloucester easel, Stapleton and TM were kind enough to lend me one to try.  They have a super-wide, low footprint, and their resistance to wind when working on large pieces makes them an invaluable bit of kit.  The above picture was during a super windy day with 40 mph gusts, and that is a 32×40″ canvas that barely moved an inch. I am good with my cigar box up to a 24×30″ or so, but as canvases get bigger I think I will be switching to a Gloucester.  Here is a link to the Take-It easel, the Gloucester easel with the modifications that those guys use.

    The weather was crazy up there last week.  We had three seasons in three days- temperatures went from negative digits to sunny, back to snowy.  The below pics are from one day after the above photo.

     

    TM Nicholas and Hunter Eddy

    Stapleton Kearns and Eric Tobin chatting in the mill

    Sergio Roffo up on the hill in the distance

     

    Another post next week when I’ve had time to clean up my paintings from VT- it’s still snowing on and off so I’m trying to finish a last few things around Boston before all my snow is gone.

  • Demo at Tree’s Place, February 4th

     

    This past Saturday I drove down the Cape to do a two hour demo at Tree’s Place gallery in Orleans.  It was a very interested group, and I had a great model.  Unfortunately I have been sick for nearly a week-and was totally not feeling great during the demo.  Though I’ve done lots of demos and talks, I’d never done one with a fever, but thankfully I think it all went OK.

    If you’re on the South Shore or nearby, my next event will be another 2-day portrait class at North River Art Society in Marshfield, MA on March 18th and 19th

     

    above, talking with some of the group, and below a shot of my setup.

     

    And here is a final image of the demo:

     

  • Copper Tacks, Back

    For those of you that have been at easel painting (or carpet laying, I suppose) for over a decade, you probably remember the ubiquitous copper tacks that were used for stretching canvas once upon a time.  They were copper plated, which prevented oxidization, and in retrospect, also looked really sexy next to the color of your linen.  Not only super sharp, but they worked with a magnetic tack hammer so that you could quickly tap one after the other into your canvas, all one handed.  They are back-or perhaps never left, and I just didn’t know where to find them at a reasonable price.

     

     

    From what I understand, the price of copper skyrocketed, and rather than the art store selling them by the pound jug, they started selling just ten at a time.  Most painters I know either started using the steel carpet tacks from home depot, or using a stapler.  While staplers work fine (and you can even get copper staples), tacks have a few advantages: with a  magnetic tack hammer you can work very fast, tacks make but one hole, staples two holes in your canvas, and tacks can be reused, removed easily and easy to restretch.  Staples, while fine, are way more of a pain for removing and restretching.

    Anyways, click here for a link to the only place selling copper tacks these days.  D.B. Gurney Company is apparently a historic tack maker, and here in Massachusetts.  All due credit to weekly student Elaine Benfatto for finding them.  Using them the other day I thought I would share…  It is nice to have them back- not just for their color, but for my outdoor pictures to stop getting bits of brown rust around the tack edge.

  • Materials Class, Florence Academy of Art US

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    I spent last weekend with the students and faculty of The Florence Academy of Art’s US branch, in Jersey City.  The school is set up in the Mana Contemporary complex, click here for an interesting article from the New York Times on the history of the Mana complex.  It’s an interesting place to run an atelier-modeled school- not only because of nearby NYC’s endless galleries and museums, but also what’s going on in the building at any time.  Right now, there’s a show of Andy Warhol’s silkscreens in the building, as well the Mana Urban Arts Project showing work by Shepard Fairey, Adam COST, a RIME tribute to NACE, and any number of specifically not-traditional-painting-related-things.  Clearly the students of the FAA NJ branch will not be able to convince themselves that they are at the forefront of the art world, but in a new niche existing in parallel with the greater art scene, vying for attention.  This is probably a healthy bubble for an art student to be developing in, plus- Newark Ave in Jersey City has the best Indian food in the States.

     

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    grinding yellow ocher

     

    This branch of the school is new, they’re in their second year.  The director of the school, Jordan Sokol had asked me to come to help get the student body started in making their own materials, as many are now beginning to paint after finishing with their Bargues, casts and figure studies, and it seemed to me that I came at the right time.  Everyone had lots of questions, and we talked about everything from grinding paint, to oiling out and sinking in.

    It’s always nice to have a large group of students that are really hungry for information- they ask such a variety of questions  that I don’t really need to ‘lecture’, it’s more like a two day workshop.  Here are some photos from the weekend.

     

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    talking with the students about different supports, rigid and flexible

     

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    sizing linen with rabbit skin glue

     

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    mounting raw linen to panel with Rabbit Skin Glue

     

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    cooking gesso ground with the students for their panels

     

     

    We covered a lot- we talked extensively about paint rheology, ground 15 tubes of yellow ocher, around 10 tubes of ultramarine blue, made 17-20 stretched linen canvases with oil ground applied, mounted linen to wood panel with animal hide glue, mounted pre primed linen to aluminum composite material with BEVA 371, cooked and tested rabbit skin glue, cooked a gesso ground, and made 30-odd gesso wood panels.  I hope the students enjoy using all the handmade stuff that we made together.

     

    My next weekend materials class will be at the studio in Waltham, on January 21-22nd 2017.  Email me if you are interested in joining.

    click here to read a blog post on my materials class last year at The Florence Academy of Art branch in Gothenburg, Sweden

     

  • 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”:

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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

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

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    Staple to the stretcher bar of painting

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

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

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    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”:

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    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.

  • Plein air paintings from Greece 2016

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    Plein Air of Athens in the Morning, 14×18″

     

    Here are (finally) good images of my pictures from Greece this past summer.  There’s been a backlog of teaching, painting, emailing and everything else that got in the way of touching up, varnishing and photographing.  Better late than never, here we are in November.

     

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    Messinian Patina, Morning 14×18″

     

    I really enjoy painting in Greece (you can see some of my Greek pictures from winter 2014/15 in this post).  It’s a great country for painting- besides the sites and weather, food is cheap, and lodgings are not expensive.  If you are into painting cityscape, Athens is a lot of fun with all the ruins peppered through the city, and the subway is brand new and super easy to get around with.  This time though I spent most of my time painting in the Peloponnese.

     

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    Terpsithea, 12×16″

     

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    Agrylis 12×16″

     

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    Vromoneri 10×14″

     

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    Methoni Castle 12×16″

     

    One nice aspect of painting in Greece is that there really has been no impressionist vein ‘outdoor painting’ tradition to speak of post-war.  There are great contemporary Greek Artists (Giorgos Rorris comes to mind), but I’m quite sure in many of the places I painted I am the first person with an easel they’ve seen painting outside; I’m a novelty.  I speak Greek well enough at this point to interact with the locals, and the interaction is often a version of the following:

    them: “Hey,  what are you doing?”

    me: “Good, just painting a little.”

    them: pensive silence “… ….Why?”

    me: “I like it, it’s my job.”

    them: “huh. That’s my house/land/tree/olive field in the painting.”

    me: “Oh really.  Nice house/land/tree/olive field.”

    them: “Can I have it?” pointing at the painting

    me: awkward silence “well, no, it’s my work.”

    them: “why?” 

    and so on.  It’s a breath of fresh air from the folks in New England that want to tell me about their Aunt’s paintings.  On a trip years ago a farmer asked me to trade a picture for some of his watermelons.

     

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    Kyparissia 14×18″

     

     

  • Plein Air Maine Pictures, October 2016

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    Stonington Harbor from Church St, 20×24″

    I thought I should make a separate post for the recent outdoor pictures I painted with the Russian crew in Maine.  Basically all of these got reworked entirely in the studio.

     

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    Fishing Shacks, Dusk 22×28″

     

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    Golden Hour, Allen Cove 14×18″

     

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    Lobster Pound, 22×28″

     

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    Windy Day at Eagle Lake 12×16″

     

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    Powell Camp 12×16″

     

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    Ocean Street Fishing Shacks, 27×38″

     

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    Stonington Lobster Co-Op, Glare Effect 26×36″

     

  • Blue Hill/Deer Isle Peninsula October 2016

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    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.

     

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    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.

     

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    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)

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    Stonington Harbor from Church St, 20×24″

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    Golden Hour, Allen Cove 14×18″

     

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    Lobster Pound, 22×28″

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    Powell Camp 12×16″

     

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

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    Tim McGuire painting in Stonington

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    Olga Karpacheva painting at Jesse Powell’s in the rain

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    Oleg Zhuravlev in Stonington on the Highlands

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    Irina Rybekova and Zhuravlev on Mt Cadillac above Eagle Lake

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    Jesse Powell painting in Stonington

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    Stapleton Kearns in Stonington

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    Me painting at Powell Camp

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    Olga Karpacheva and myself painting a Lobster Pound

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    Kelly Carmody

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    Ben Fenske and Viktor Butko painting happily in the rain

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    Fenske and Carmody in Stonington

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    Viktor Butko painting the Lobster Co-Op

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    Carl Bretzke painting in Stonington

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    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.

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

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