Monday, April 16, 2012

Planting Fields Workshop

I spent part of the last three days painting at The Planting Fields Arboretum which is only a mile or two from my house. These gorgeous grounds consist of 409 acres of rolling fields, lovely open areas and many, many different species of trees and flowers as well as the lovely, stone Coe Hall. The Planting Fields is one of my default places to paint and I visit there often.

I had scheduled a one day workshop there with my students who wanted to get outside of our usual classroom environment and get a feel for painting on site. The weather forecast looked great for Saturday, iffy for Sunday (the actual day of the workshop) and great, albeit unseasonably hot for today. I went up on Saturday morning to scout around for some good locations to do my demo as well as suitable locations for the students to paint. I had my painting rig with me in the plein air mobile and couldn’t resist having a go at the following lovely vignette. The structure served as a playhouse for the children of the Coe family who once owned this Gold Coast estate. It’s a delightfully charming little pink building with a whimsical curved roof line and faux thatched roof.

"The Children's Playhouse" 9 X 12 Oil on Canvas. Click the link for purchasing details

The forecasted rain never materialized and Sunday turned out to be another near perfect day. I did my demo in the morning, we broke for a great lunch consisting of a shared plate from everyone and then the students set up and had a go at it in the afternoon.

I walked around with each of them to help find and discuss suitable subject matter. While doing just that with one of them, we stumbled upon the next view. I was so taken by the look of this great natural grouping of shapes and colors that I could hardly get to sleep last night! I went back around noon today to have another look and immediately set up and started slashing away. I think of these motifs as a “plein air still life” The only difference is that I let Mother Nature do the set up and I try not to interfere with what she has accomplished!

"Lilacs" 12 X 10 Oil on Canvas. Click the link for purchasing details

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the link below the painting for purchasing details. The price includes shipping costs in the continental United States. All others please inquire about shipping rates.

Monday, March 26, 2012


This week I have an exercise in extremes to share. Despite the fact that we are just 30 miles east and a suburb of one of the largest cities in the world, there really is a lot of natural beauty here on Long Island and I constantly search it out to paint it. But there is more to the Island than just the coastal beauty and the magnificent variety of trees. There is the infrastructure which, if the artist makes an attempt to handle it properly, can be quite striking as well.

Last Thursday night I was driving home from teaching on the Long Island Expressway. The LIE, Route 495, bisects the Island horizontally all the way from New York City at it’s western end to Riverhead in the east which lies in the crotch of the two forks of the Island, a distance of about 100 miles. It is not always avoidable (though most of us wish it was) and the traffic, especially during the summer Hamptons season can turn it into one long parking lot! However, at night, it is usually not too bad traffic wise and it gets me home from Dix Hills in about a half hour.

For some reason or another I was captivated by the look of it while driving home. The lights are mesmerizing and despite the fact that it was 10PM there did seem to be a lot of notes of color from the brake lights to the exit signs.

So, I decided to paint it. However, this decision brought with it some logistical difficulties. Setting up an easel in the center lane of a 55 MPH highway seemed…risky? And the fact that I wanted to do this at night took away any real possibility of doing it from photographic reference. My solution was to have my wife drive back and forth between a few exits while I studied, tried to get some photographs, and took loads of notes from what I observed. The result was painted largely from memory and very quickly to try to preserve the sense of motion.

"The Long Island Expressway~A Nocturne"12 X 16 oil on panel. Click on the link below the painting for purchasing details.

I spied the next view this past Saturday and thought to head out to do it on Sunday but the weather was bad so I had to wait until this morning. This marked my first trip outdoors, albeit around the corner, to paint this year and it felt good. It struck me when I returned home that the tree looked as jolly, fat, and exuberant as the artist did knowing that spring was finally here!

"Violets and Marsh Marigolds"12 X 9 oil on canvas. Click on the link below the painting for purchasing details.

I am also pleased to announce that I have been juried in to the Wayne Arts Center’s annual plein air event in Wayne, PA. I participated in this event last year and despite the fact that we had non-stop rain really enjoyed it. I hope we have better weather this year.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Theoretically we on site landscape painters are supposed to be able to bring what we learn out in the field back into the studio. Having spent hour after hour studying the landscape in natural light we should be able to use that knowledge to "inform" our studio work. Nothing about the local landscape has been interesting to me lately as everything is still just different shades of brown and gray. I decided that this would be a good time to try to put to use what I have been trying to learn out in the field.

Last Thursday, one of my ALLI students brought in a photo to work from taken in Provence. I was immediately struck by the subtle light and the bright red of the poppies against the greens of the grass and trees. As part of my teaching responsibilities I roam around the class, from student to student, and offer criticism and help and I wanted to get this painting done in one night. It ended up only taking about an hour to do it but I rather liked the furious application of paint in the foreground flowers.

Poppies en Provence 14 X 11 oil on canvas. Sold

This next painting is one I had begun on site last year somewhere in Connecticut. I say somewhere because I just happened to stumble on this view and probably couldn’t find it again if I tried! I pulled the unfinished sketch out a few days ago and decided to have a go at finishing it from memory. The title was the name of Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson’s catboat. The Stevenson’s were my teachers and I was thinking about them while I finished working on it.

"Little Albie" 11 X 14 oil on panel. Click on the link under the painting for purchasing details.

The building in this next one is at the bottom of the hill that we live on. Every time I pass it, late in the afternoon, I always think “Ooh, that light is very nice”. I decided to finally do something about it!

"Fresh Seafood" 14 X 11 oil on panel. Click on the link under the painting for purchasing details.

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the link below the painting for purchasing details. The price includes shipping costs in the continental United States. All others please inquire about shipping rates.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Year and a New Approach

I just noticed that it’s been two months since my last blog post! Actually more than two months…the last one is dated November 7th 2011! No one can blame me for clogging up their inbox with update after update!

I’d like to begin by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. I hope everyone enjoyed their Holidays and that, like myself, you haven’t already broken those New Years resolutions?

As the Holidays are over and the studio is back up and running I have a couple of new paintings to share. All of you know that I normally only paint outdoors directly from nature and very rarely paint from reference in the studio. Painting on site as much as I do is a great discipline because you learn so much and can then, hopefully, bring that information back into the studio with you. The on site work “informs” the work done inside. At least that’s the hope! I took the time to set up a computer and a largish monitor right next to my easel so I can work from digital images that I (or others) have shot. Being a confirmed and dedicated on site painter I have to say…I’ve rather been enjoying it! I’m also planning to do larger, more “finished” paintings this year and think this will be a good set up and approach for me.

First is an image that friends of mine took while traveling recently in Venice. They posted some of the pictures on Facebook when they got back home and I was really taken with this one. I loved the way the shadows and the perspective in the buildings seemed all to point at the one moored white boat in the canal and asked them if they’d mind if I “borrowed” the image!

“Venice” 11 X 14 oil on canvas. In the collection of Mr. and Mrs. G. Galluccio.

Next is an 11 X 14 done from reference shot down in Oyster Bay Cove. I was wandering around looking for something to paint when I saw this small skiff tied up just off shore. These small rowboats are used by the working oystermen to get out to where their power boats are moored. I wasn’t too crazy about it when I saw it but I shot it anyway and am really glad I did. I fell in love with its lonely look when I got back home.

“Skiff and Autumn Grasses” 11 X 14 oil on canvas.Available. Click on the link to view purchasing details.

The next painting is also a bit unusual for me. I was teaching my regular Thursday night class at The Art League of Long Island and decided to paint along with my students. One of them was working from a photograph she shot while traveling in Surrey, England. I usually make quite a few rounds during class; offering advice and comments/mild criticism on their work so I didn’t have much time to put into this. I guess I got in a total of about 45 minutes but was quite happy with the result. I’m trying to get a bit looser, a bit more impressionistic with my approach and this little painting is one of my first steps down that road.

“Surrey Snow” 9 X 12 oil on canvas.Available. Click on the link for purchasing details.

Finally, well...I would feel bad if I didn't have at least one on site painting to offer. This one was done a couple of years ago out at Caumsett State Park. Whenever I see these they remind me that warm weather is coming and that I'll soon be packing the Soltek into the plein air mobile and heading out to feel the sun on my back again!

"Summer Color" 11 X 14 oil on canvas.Available. Click on the link for purchasing details.

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the link under each image to view purchasing details. The price includes shipping costs.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Poor Carpenter

A poor carpenter blames his tools. Everyone has heard that old axiom and I know I have used it often when a fellow artist or a student complains that they can’t get the brush stroke they want because the brush “won’t behave” or that they had a difficult time getting their drawing down correctly because of a rickety easel, etc. I’ve never had too much patience with these claims, in part, because I was taught and make every effort to keep my equipment in as close to new condition as possible. I am very diligent about washing my brushes and “training” them to keep their original shape. I have a checklist taped inside my easel which I go through before I go out to paint to make certain that I have everything I need. I am compulsive to the point of wiping off the threaded ends of my paint tubes before I screw the tops back on!

However…(and I can hear you thinking “here we go!”) I got stuck with some bad gesso! I can also hear you now saying “Hey Paul, a bad carpenter…” but it is true! Really! For those of you who don’t know, gesso is one of a number of a “grounds” that are applied to the surface that an artist works on. In my case it is the material that makes my canvas white. I have used the same brand of gesso for as long as I can remember and, for this reason, never look at the jar when I pick it up off of the shelf at the art supply store. However, this particular jar was of a different formula and consistency than my usual. It seemed a lot thicker when I was applying it to my canvases but I didn’t think much of it.

My troubles began when I started painting on these panels. I just could not get the paint to move the way I usually like it to move. It seemed as though when I applied a stroke it would just sit there like a dull lump and I couldn’t get it to move. Being of a self critical nature I began to wonder and then to really fret about what I was doing wrong. I had suddenly parted with my hard earned skills! I was a hack who could no longer paint!

After a fitful night sleep I arose the next morning, got out of bed and immediately went down to see if the painting was as bad as I had thought it was the night before. I’m sorry to report that it was even worse. I dropped into my chair and started to wonder what other profession might suit me when something about the canvas caught my eye. I noticed that all of the paint I had applied only the day before was already dry! This is highly unusual for oil paint which normally takes a few days to start to set up. I reached out with a finger and started trying to smear some of the paint around but it would not budge. Immediately it dawned on me what the problem might be…the new “formula” thicker gesso had leeched all of the oil out of the paint leaving a dead, immoveable, dried crust behind!

Hope began to swell in my bosom and I excitedly grabbed my gear and a few older panels and went out to paint the two paintings that follow.

The Old Sentry12 X 12 oil on canvas. Click on the link to view purchasing details for this painting.

Sunday Morning~Locust Valley12 X 9 oil on canvas. Click on the link to view purchasing details for this painting.

I felt as though a bad dream had ended, that I had been paroled from crappy painter prison! Suddenly my skills had been returned to me, all was right with the world and I began to wonder if a good carpenter ever blames his tools?

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the “Paintings and Prints” tab and then on “Available Paintings”. The price includes shipping costs.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Change and the Stobart Palette

I believe it is a good idea to shake things up every now and then. Unfortunately what I believe and what I practice are sometimes two different things. What I should say is that I think change is a good idea but I rarely, if ever, practice it! I am what you would call a “set in my way” kind of guy. I think it is a family gene or maybe just a “German thing”? I am way too regimented and I’ve tried to figure it out and break away from it but this old dog isn’t usually interested in any new tricks.

The great English painter John Stobart has been a hero of mine ever since Mr. Stevenson introduced me to his work way back when I first began to study in the mid 70’s. Much to my delight Stobart self-financed and produced a series of programs that were broadcast on PBS in the early 90’s. Entitled “John Stobart’s Worldscape”, the series followed him around the world, usually in the company of a guest artist, painting on site wherever they ended up. What a treat and a gift it was for me to be able to learn directly from the man himself how he produces a painting from start to finish.

Stobart’s palette consists of only five colors and white. For the artists out there the palette is as follows; Windsor Red, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Green. He uses a titanium white. His style of brush is a bright of which he only uses one size which is about ¾” wide.

Now, as Stobart has long been my idol, my palette is not much different than his. In fact, the core of my palette is his palette with some additions I have made over the years…a different red, a pair of extra yellows and a different green, etc.

Recently I again watched every episode (as if I had never seen them before!) and immediately started thinking about how his palette makes so much sense…three primaries and a pair of convenience colors…nice, simple and direct. Following is one of Stobart’s magnificent harbor paintings for which he is justifiably famous. As you can see…quite a bit can be accomplished with only five colors!

I decided, as a kind of tribute to my hero, that I would spend some time using only his palette and his style of brush. As mentioned above, I don’t much care for change, and to suddenly be standing out in the field without my usual palette, to which I have grown very accustomed and fond, was a bit off-putting. Imagine a piano player suddenly confronted with a keyboard with no black keys. Why did I think this was a good idea!?

In the end I found that I had to get back to thinking about how color works instead of simply relying on old dogmas I had come to rely on over the years. I think the simpler palette had the virtue of giving the paintings an overall color harmony that had been missing of late. While I did not care for painting with the brights, I think I might just stay with the palette for a while. If it’s good enough for Stobart it is good enough for me!

Fall Crocuses11 X 14 oil on canvas. Click the link to view purchasing details.

Beaver Dam Fall 11 X 14 oil on canvas. Sold.

Charlie Clamming8 X 12 oil on canvas. Click the link to view purchasing details. Just a quick word about this painting...I was working down at Centre Island Beach when who should wander into my view but my father in law's life long friend Charle Cressi. Charlie is in his 80's and has been battling prostate cancer for some time. However, he still gets out and goes clamming a couple of days a week! Clamming is hard, hard manual work...we should all have Charlie's stamina when we get to his age!

Sagamore Morning Light14 X 11 oil on canvas. Click the link to view purchasing details.

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the link undr each painting for purchasing details. The price includes shipping costs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"...and the forecast calls for..."

I guess the lesson here is that one can never trust a weather forecast! I had a one day plein air workshop scheduled for this past Saturday in Smithtown, NY but we cancelled it because the weather forecast called for a 60% chance of rain and cold damp winds for both Saturday and Sunday. Needless to say I never saw a drop of rain and Sunday was one of the loveliest days I can recall since last autumn.

The element which made both days memorable for me was the incredible sky that the passing cold front left in its wake; massive fair weather cumulous clouds moving majestically up from the south. Nothing makes me more excited to get out and paint than the presence of this sort of very busy sky.

I left early on Saturday morning to head over to Centre Island Beach because I know that it is a spot where I can get a bit of water and some distant trees in the foreground yet have my canvas be mostly devoted to a good sky painting. However, I never made it that far because, as Bayville Road makes a sharp right-hand bend, you get a view across Long Island Sound towards Connecticut and I was amazed at how beautiful this sky was. The plein air mobile made what the faint of heart might consider to be a rather treacherous left hand turn into the beach parking lot. I got out of the car and looked to the west and saw the kind of view I normally only see in my dreams, lots of blues and grays in the water and in the tumultuous sky and a wonderful pink beach house which was brightly illuminated and would serve as a wonderful focal point.

"End of Summer~Stehli Beach" is available for sale. Click this link for details.

Idyllic, right? Well, not exactly. If you know the area then you are aware that I was set up just across the street from a somewhat new amusement park which I think is called the Bayville Scream Park. Among their other attractions they apparently have a pirate themed ride. To lend the proper atmosphere to the ride they have a loud recording of a very British sounding sea captain exhorting his crew to fire upon the dreaded enemy. The recording is repeated…over and over and over again! I began to root for the pirates, hoping they would get in just one shot which would send the annoying British flagged frigate to the bottom of the sea!

Not being one to look a gift sky in the mouth, I ate lunch, did a few errands, grabbed my rig and headed out again. I returned to Rottkamp’s Farm where I had painted last week for just the same reason as before…a bit of foreground to act as an anchor for a sky painting. And finally, early on Sunday evening, the clouds lowered, blocked out the sun and any blue sky, and raindrops began to splatter on my palette!

"Early October Sky" is available for sale. Click this link for details.

In truth, conditions would not have been very favorable for some of my less experienced students. Both days felt a considerable cool wind and the clouds intermittently blocked the sun causing subject matter to be illuminated, thrown into shadow and then illuminated again. Variable conditions while painting outdoors can be maddening even to the most experienced painter. But this was one day I will never forget!

Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the “Paintings and Prints” tab and then on “Available Paintings”. The price includes shipping costs.