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  • 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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    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.

  • Mario Robinson Demonstration, October 2016

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    This past weekend Mario Andres Robinson came up to Boston to share a bit of what he does with us in the studio.  For those unfamiliar with his work, Mario is one of very few American artists holding to a tradition of high-finish, realist watercolor.  He also paints in pastel and oil, and now is a published author.

    I’ve known of his work for over a decade, as we came up in a common gallery (Ann Long Fine Art) I was able to see many of his watercolors, pastels and graphite drawings years ago- though we hadn’t met til this past weekend.  Mario is a generous, open artist, and it was a lot of fun speaking with him and sharing the studio for a few days.

     

    During the demo I took a few snapshots of his process, below, a few of the steps that Mario’s demo went through:

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    Many artists (cough cough *me*) find watercolor frustrating and mystifying.  Watching Mario paint on Sunday through the early afternoon, I was struck by how similar his approach was in many respects to the techniques that I use in indirect oil painting- he starts off with a line drawing to allow him to paint more freely through the session, and layers his work with an attention to tonal relationships that really are near analogue to my oil underpainting process.  Of course, watercolor moves differently, dries a different color, and is affected by gravity- lots to think about.

    I wholeheartedly recommend his book, it’s all explained in better detail there.

     

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    click here for an Amazon link to Mario’s new Book, Lessons in Realistic Watercolor

     

  • Ben Fenske Landscape Class August 2016

    Last weekend was our summer guest landscape course taught by Ben Fenske.  The last courses that Ben had taught through my studio were centered on structural concepts in figure and portrait drawing (click here to read about his last class).  Like his approach to the human form, Fenske’s method of teaching Landscape Painting is based on structure, theory, and preconceived tonal hierarchies to have in mind.  Through rigorous study and thorough understanding one can achieve free, fluid painting.

     

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    Like always, our landscape class was at the whim of the weather, and the forecast was somewhat grim.  We completely lucked out, though from one day to the next we had somewhat drastic changes in light- the first day was overcast, quite cold and humid like a fall morning, and by the second day we were in the high 90’s, a total scorcher. Luckily, our hosts have a beautiful farm with plenty of shade and all sorts of animals to keep us entertained.

     

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    Laying in the scene as a linear drawing

     

    Ben Fenske did a series of demonstrations throughout the class- on the first day, he talked through first setting up your scene as a linear drawing- designing each shape, carefully measuring the proportions to make sure to have not only accuracy, but a pleasing sense of scale on the canvas, and then checking each of your objects in linear perspective.  Ben explained that the more confident one is in their drawing’s accuracy, the more free and interpretive they can be with their painting.  He also took some time to do a simple 6-value representation of the scene, to set up the tonal hierarchy that he would use to paint that light effect. Unfortunately I don’t have an image of his large demo after the first day. •edit 8/23/16 thanks to student Mike Rohner for sending me the below image-demo at the end of Ben’s first session.

     

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    Surprising no one (this is New England after all), by the second day the weather had entirely shifted, and we had a sunny, hot morning.  Rather than starting over, Ben decided to talk everyone through how he would go about changing his grey day picture to a sunny effect, scrambling to change the color/tonal structure of the painting.  One of the students mentioned that this was particularly helpful, to watch how quickly the decision making process had to happen, and that he clearly had a mental image of what he wanted it to look like before he put the changes to the canvas.  Fenske also talked at length about how to keep your painting ‘open’, to not lose freshness and how to delicately balance in the painterly space between unity and variety, and in his words ‘to keep a lively surface’.

     

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    Below is Fenske’s demo after the second day, having rapidly changed his painting from an overcast effect, to a backlit sunny day.

     

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    finished demo, sunlit effect ~24×28″ 60x70cm

     

    Ben then spent the rest of each day critiquing the students working on their individual paintings, here are some images:

    Fenske Carmody

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    ben and hal

     

     

    On the last day of the class Fenske gave a different demonstration, during which he did not paint from a scene in front of him, but painted instead a series of small scenes from imagination.  During the first demo (top right on the below canvas) he first went through describing the division of structural planes in the landscape, whether a building, tree, cloud or road.  Then, after setting up the painting he was able to demonstrate how color and tonal modulations, however slight, can give the effect of depth in your canvas.  I have seen Ben give versions of this demo over the years, and I would rank the talk he gave on the last day as one of his best.

     

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    Ben Fenske explaining two separate techniques for controlling and modulating greens

     

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    Ben’s initial demo, top right was about color value divisions in the landscape.  Same scene, top left moonlit effect and bottom right “golden hour” effect, with a dark post storm sky

    Our visiting artist continued to paint for much of the morning.  After doing a small talk on application techniques, Ben spoke about at length about controlling your painting’s surface and a variety of different techniques to achieve color vibration.  I agreed with Ben when he said that color vibration is a huge part of painting that is now rarely talked about.  Not only did Ben give effective examples for keeping color vibration, he showed how one would lose color vibration as well, showing us how one might kill an area, create a dead spot in the painting.

     

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    Ben continued paint different effects of the same view, showing how the same 6-color approach could represent any number of different atmospheric light effects, times of day and moods.  In my opinion, this was a particularly instructive part of the class for the students, I got the feeling they would have been content to have Ben continue to paint out of his head for the rest of the day…. and Ben nearly did.

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    Clockwise from top right: Front-Lit Sunlit effect, Backlit ‘Silouhette’ effect, overcast ‘Grey Day’ effect (with added reds to liven up the view) and Sunset effect (which he started adding a body of water to)

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    Fenske’s initial 6-color black and white representation of the grey day effect, from the first day

     

     

    And here’s a few of our friends from the class:

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    Pigs

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    Ben’s suggested Reading List for this Class:

    John Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, amazon link to the most inexpensive and complete text on landscape painting 

    The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Color by Sir Alfred East, the book that Edward Seago would reference that Ben and I mentioned

    Birge Harrison, Landscape Painting (this edition includes Asher Durand’s text on the landscape which admittedly I have not read-leo)

    a few artist’s monographs:

    Arthur Streeton 1867-1943 by Geoffrey Smith (other monographs on Streeton are great too, but this happens to be the one I have in the studio)

    Isaac Levitan: Lyrical Landscape 

    Hidden Treasures: Russian and Soviet Impressionism 1930-1970s

    Edward Seago (price has been rising on this monograph, but still reasonable)

    Soviet Impressionist Painting by Vern Swanson

    Masters of Russian impressionism: Sergei Petrovich Tkachev & Aleksei Petrovich Tkachev

  • Adrian Gottlieb Class, July 2016

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    I had the pleasure of sharing my studio at the end of last month with an old friend from our Florence Academy days, Adrian Gottlieb.  Though Adrian and I hadn’t gotten together since somewhere around 2002, over the years we’ve kept in touch over the internet, and I was very happy to have the chance to get us together again for a 5 day portrait painting intensive at my studio.  Additionally, we went and painted copies together at the MFA, and had some fantastic meals together.

     

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    Starting the first morning, Adrian gave an extended talk and demo, running through comparative proportional measurement tools, 3D structural plane concepts (Ben Fenske’s sculpted planes of the head models came in very handy), and a thorough talk on the materials list.  As far as it pertains to demonstrations,  the studios in Italy that Adrian and I trained at do hardly any teaching through demonstration, rather pure theory and discussion on the students’ individual paintings.  Here in the states, there tends to be a large amount of requested demonstration in workshops, and often the demonstration is a central portion of the class: there’s just less time to impart information from an instructor in a few days than there is in 3 years.  This leaves students hungry to get an overview of each artist’s process, and a demo may be the fastest way to achieve that.   As I’ve become accustomed to the demo-centric model I’ve really come to appreciate instructors who during their demonstrations paint slowly and deliberately, as they would in their own studio, rather than rushing through the steps in a slapdash manner, a sort of performance art that may be entertaining to watch but may often be a less-than-solid example.

    Gottlieb is a very thorough instructor, each morning he took time going through not only what he was doing in his demonstration, but also why he would go through each step, down to changing mediums for different layers of the painting, and a bit on paint rheology.  Adrian and I did a bit of back and forth during the class on materials (both of us were resident materials geeks at The Florence Academy during our respective times there).  Personally, it’s nice having someone around that I can get lost in a discussion about the advantages of one oil over another.

    Here are a few progress shots I took of Adrian’s demo over the course of the week:

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    Also, a not-so-secret part of me running these guest workshops out of my studio is to bring people to the Boston area that have a style or aesthetic that is parallel but markedly different than my own; to give people a chance that study here with me to hear the perhaps same things I am talking about when teaching, but from a slightly different perspective. Same prism, but through a different facet.   Gottlieb’s class has been a great example of that.  Adrian works up very finely painted, subtle heads, far more refined than my more blocky, broken brush approach, but through the class I overheard him telling my weekly students the exact same working methods and ways to streamline their process than I teach, whether it applied to drawing, tonal comparison, or simple color mixing.  When those things echo through the studio it makes running these workshops and demos very gratifying.

     

    Here are a few more photos from the course- Adrian should be back again to teach out of my studio in 2017, so sign up for the mailing list if you want a spot in that class.

     

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    Here are some shopping links that came up during the class:

    A link to Adrian’s new favorite arm palette, the portrait society’s John Sargent replica palette

    Here is an Amazon link to one of the plaster planes of the head casts we used during the class

    Here is another Amazon link of planar features, based on Michelangelo’s David

    This is a link to John Asaro’s planes of the head, one of Adrian’s preferred structural teaching examples (N.B., original head only)

    This is a link to Solomon J Solomon’s Practice of Painting and Drawing

    Another book link, Harold Speed’s Oil Painting Techniques

     

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