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  • Ben Fenske Portrait Concepts August 2017

    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

     

    Just wrapped up another class with visiting artist Ben Fenske; a new, slightly different version of the portrait construction class he taught back in 2015 (click here to read about that course).

     

    Like Ben’s other courses, this was a mountain of information to get through in just a few days.  After lecturing extensively each day, Ben would demonstrate, and we had a variety of information for the students to draw and paint from.

     

     

    Below, a few of Ben’s demonstration boards from the class:

     

     

     

    On the last day, Ben gave a quick demo showing how he approaches using these construction concepts in paint.

     

     

     

    Here are a few images of the students at work during the class:

     

    Many thanks to our group of students, many of whom traveled to get here.  Until next time.

  • Ben Fenske Landscape Class August 2017

     

    We just finished another super informative landscape painting class with visiting artist and friend Ben Fenske.  It’s always great to have him here.  We had a really nice group of students, full class, and many of the students with lots of painting experience.  I think the group seemed very happy…  Besides the fact that all of Fenske’s courses are just dense with information, this time the weather was just fantastic.  Sunny all three days, with not too much humidity or heat (for a Boston summer).  There may have been a sunburn or two, but other than that, I think it all went off without a hitch.

     

     

    Like Ben’s last landscape course (click here to read about Ben’s landscape painting class in 2016), there were a large variety of demonstrations.  The first day, Ben spent a long time explaining his approach, and went to great effort to explain the importance of simplification in all aspects.  As you can see in the demo below, Fenske started with a review of tonal values, and a five value ‘tonal plan’ for his landscape: a simple, sensible way to hold onto the effect as it changes, and to not get lost in the accents and minutiae of nature as we observe it.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ben did other demos in the mornings of the second and third days, and was asked to focus particularly on how to achieve a strong start.  Above, Fenske showing how he would lay in and simplify the garden and sunflowers, and below, a morning sketch of a tractor.

     

     

     

    Each day after lunch we would meet in my studio for the afternoons.  Ben showed a few slides on the computer, and did a series of demos out of his head, based on light effects and times of day, color theory, atmospheric perspective, linear perspective, composition and more.  After that he would take questions from the class, and paint things after their suggestions for an hour or so.  It was a marathon.

     

     

    The above picture is just a nice picture, but the below picture has Fenske explaining a morning backlit effect on the right side of the canvas, and then a sunset effect on the other side.

     

     

     

     

    Above, a board from Ben’s talk on linear perspective and atmospheric perspective as it applies to clouds, and below, the afternoon group.

     

     

     

     

    And here are some nice images of the students at work during the class.  It was a lot of fun- many thanks to Ben for offering so much to our students.  Currently we have his portrait class going on in the studio- a blog post will be coming on that sometime next week.

     

     

     

     

  • Sergio Roffo Demo July 2017

     

    Last Saturday I was happy to host a demo for Sergio Roffo in the studio.  Although Roffo is one of the best known painters here in New England, particularly for his ambitious, color saturated coastal scenes and marine paintings, it was only the second time I had seen him in action.  It was a ton of fun.  He paints a great demo, is engaging with the audience, and I personally came away with the same thing as when we painted together last winter-  man, he works quickly and efficiently.

     

     

    As is somewhat standard for a two hour demo, Sergio started by describing his artistic background, how he organizes his palette and brushes, and how he lays out a painting.  For this demo, he brought in two images, a print of an older large landscape of his to use for color, design, and parts of the composition, and a second painting of a Herreshoff sailboat to insert into the painting.

     

     

    After laying in the composition in pencil, Sergio painted the sky to his satisfaction, and then painted in the rest of the landscape (from back to front, most distant water finally to the nearest dune).  Roffo nearly finishes as he goes, painting to high detail in a bright, luminescent fashion.  After a pass on each spot, he would return to it to revisit the coloring of an area, and describe surface texture with meticulous, calligraphic brush strokes.

    While painting the boat, Sergio not only described all of the boat’s anatomy, but spoke about the importance of having consistent wind marks running through your grass and sand to support the direction of the sailboat.  I believe Sergio said that the Herreshoff in his painting he wanted to appear traveling at about 15 knots.

     

     

    After just an hour and forty minutes or so, Sergio quickly grabbed his painting and went over to the adjacent table (and to audible gasps from the audience) framed the picture.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Huge thanks to Sergio Roffo for agreeing to come share his talents with us.   He has many distinctions, he is an elected Fellow of the the American Society of Marine Artists (ASMA), an Associate Living Master of the Art Renewal Center, and an elected member of the Guild of Boston Artists.

    You can visit Sergio’s website by clicking here.   He has a solo show opening at Quidley & Co’s Nantucket gallery on Friday August 18th, and if you click here you will be brought to Sergio’s page on their website.  

    Additionally, Roffo is taking part of a group show opening September 9th at Tree’s Place in Orleans, MA.  He will also do a demo the day of the opening, contact the gallery for seats.

    There will be another demo by Sergio at the Rockport Art Association in October, during the Cape Ann plein air festival.  Contact the Art Association for availability.

     

  • Marc Dalessio Stonington class July 2017

     

    Earlier this month, Marc Dalessio and I ran a marathon 5-day landscape painting workshop in Stonington, on Deer Isle, one of my favorite places to paint in Maine.  Everyone worked very hard, with some students painting for hours before and after class times each day.  It was a whirlwind week, and I believe everyone got a lot out of it, Marc and I included.

    Marc demonstrating his approach to students on the first day of class at Sand Beach.  Marc talked at length about using sight-size as an effective means to expedite drawing, adjust placement and scale on the canvas, and how he deals with compositional pitfalls as they present themselves throughout the process.

    Marc’s demo on the first morning was about two hours, while Marc’s wife Tina painted with their dog Emma, in the background.

     

    below, a few images of the students at work throughout the class:

    Paul Sullivan painting on West Main St

    Bob Sullivan painting from the corner of Andy’s Wharf looking towards Green Head

    Sandra Dolan painting the harbor from Church Street

     

    As is often the case in the northeast, the weather was unpredictable.  Our weather for the course ranged from high 80s with humidity to low 60’s and freezing a-la-San Francisco in August when the fog rolled in.  We had rain, fog, clear skies, puffy clouds, wind, and all that sometimes in the same day; as if traversing the seasons in real time.  It’s a lot of fun- but provides an extra logistical layer to a class like this.  Between the weather, tides rolling in and out, and light changing as usual, there are a ton of variables to deal with.  Our intrepid group of students put up with the fact that neither Marc nor I can control the weather, no matter the app on your phone (we discuss weather apps a lot, here’s a list of Marc’s favorites).

     

    marc and cooper happily working away in the rain 

     

    Stonington is such a fantastic place to paint. I invited along a couple of New-England hometown heroes who have been painting the area for decades, Stapleton Kearns and TM Nicholas.  Both did a lot of work during the week.  It was nice to have painters with their experience along, as it adds to the critical mass getting momentum in a class. The students can listen to what Marc or I have to say, and then see entirely ‘similar but different’ approaches on the canvases of others.  I think that’s quite valuable. Additionally, the entire academic method that Marc and I were taught in (by Charles Cecil and Daniel Graves, respectively) came through the studio of RH Ives Gammell, who was Stapleton’s teacher in the 1970s.  Through that common background, we were able to talk a bit about the concept of artistic lineage and heritage as it applies to both 19th-20th century academic painting and american impressionism.

     

    TM Nicholas (not pictured), my easel, Meghan Weeks, Stape Kearns, Marc and Tina Dalessio all painting in the fog after class

    Stape, Marc and TM chatting on Church Street in the afternoon.

     

    The one day that rain got real heavy, Stapleton kindly offered to do an indoor demonstration.  An indoor demo during the rain is a total lifesaver for the morale of the class, and Stape does a great one.  He paints entirely out of his head, without reference, and it is always a seascape- not a landscape of the sea, but a big ‘crashing wave’ picture that really couldn’t be done from life.  Towards the end of the demo, Stape, Marc and I all started telling stories a bit, again reinforcing the common themes in what we do, and how we were trained.

     

    Stape’s demo, above (though I would wager he’s kept working on it since)

     

    One of the novel aspects of these classes is that they are like little engineering summits for outdoor painters.  Painting outside has become so popular that there are tons of products on the market.  That said, nearly everyone I know uses a unique system, often that they rig up to some degree themselves.  Dalessio was showing off the brand-spanking-new version of his Carbon Fiber homemade ultra-super-light system, I was showing everyone the Viktor Butko rack system in my car for traveling with big paintings. I also spent time plugging the new painting boxes from Mosepi (which are really very similar to the cigar boxes that my friends and I used to paint with, I like them very much), they work well for what we do.  Cooper Dragonette showed everyone his homemade kit which was very fancy, Stapleton Kearns showed the class the many virtues of the Gloucester easel (recommending exclusively the Stapleton Kearns model by take-it easel, of course). We even had an real honest-to-goodness well trained furniture maker in the class that made a homemade box and panel carrier system that literally brought gasps to viewers (peter, you should sell those).

     

    On the last day of class, Marc gave a demonstration specifically on using indirect painting techniques to strengthen your landscapes: glazing, scumbling, and talked extensively about scraping down and controlling your surface.  Marc uses these tools to strengthen effects of atmospheric perspective, or to add fog and cloud cover, and perhaps most useful, simply correcting areas of color without losing your hard work underneath.

     

     

    Many thanks to Marc and all of our students for coming up to Deer Isle to paint for the week.  For 2018, Dalessio and I have begun planning a course in Italy.  If you would like first crack at such an opportunity, sign up for the mailing list at the top of the classes tab.

     

     

     

     

  • 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

     

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