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Field studies to studio paintings

Field studies to studio paintings

Recently I took a class with Bernard Dellario at the Winslow Art Center to explore the use of gouache as a field study medium.

While gouache is less frequently used than either sketching tools or transparent watercolors, it has the advantages of being opaque. This helps the artist in the field by allowing you to paint color-over color, regardless of value.

Dellario’s methodology includes two approaches: limited palette “wet gouache” method, where a few primary colors are mixed on a disposable palette, and a “dry” method, where a larger palette of dried “cakes” of color prepared ahead of time by the artist allow you to paint in a somewhat thinner manner.

I like both methods, and experimented with them recently. Here is an example of a pondside painting I did, first in gouache, then translating into oil in the studio:

gouache field study of pondside rocks by Meryl Enerson

Gouache plein air study of pondside rocks (6 x 8″)

Oil painting of pondside rocks by Meryl Enerson

Pondside Rocks (oil, 9 x 12″)

Same Idea, Different Medium

Same Idea, Different Medium

Recently I have been exploring how to use different art media to cross-pollinate visual ideas. Across the ages, of course, artists have developed sketches in one medium (whether with a drawing or a watercolor) to create large-scale compositions in their “formal” painting medium (i.e., oil paint).

Today’s art environment offers a wealth of options for working up compositions and ideas. At the same time, I also see artists “staying in their lanes” and ONLY working in a single medium (such as watercolor or acrylic or oil).

I love the mental challenge of working in different media. When I work in watercolor, I use a different method (starting with lighter tones, then adding darks). Acrylics and oils, on the other hand, start with darks and add lights last.

Another medium I have ventured into is block printing, thanks to some workshops offered by Molly Hashimoto at the WInslow Art Center. Molly, an accomplished nature artist, works in watercolor, block-printing, and etching. She’ll sometimes take the same idea and render it in all three media.

Inspired in part by her methodologies, I used the same starting point (from a photo I took of Ooms Conservation Area in Chatham, NY), and did a very small color study in gouache (shown above).

This guided me in doing the (somewhat larger) watercolor painting:

painting of a pond with trees in the background

Watercolor (9 x 12″)





Finally, the same composition was used in the background for a hand-colored block print of a Mallard pair:

block print of a Mallard pair on a pond


Art Challenges (and Why they Work)

Art Challenges (and Why they Work)

Recently I responded to a 10-day art challenge on Facebook and several of my friends and colleagues responding and joining in. Not everyone wants or needs an art challenge (perhaps their day-to-day work is challenging enough), but it got me thinking about what is an art challenge, and why do artists do it?

The answer may be different for different people, but for me, art challenges generally do one of three things:

  1. Force me over the “hump” of getting started
  2. Speed up my instincts
  3. Help establish a routine

Getting Started

This is a common refrain from many artists and students of artists I know. If you want to paint (or draw or whatever) more, sometimes a challenge will help.

Social media challenges like the one I responded to are all over the map, from creating artwork:

  • in different styles
  • of specific subjects (e.g., 100 heads)
  • in different media
  • in a set time period (one hour or 1/2 hour per work, or the entire month of March, for example)
  • using a different methodology (i.e., your left hand)

Speeding Up

Birgit O’Connor, my watercolor mentor, leads occasional challenges and paint-offs in an online private online (Facebook-based) painting group. For a recent paint-off challenge, about two dozen of us painted landscapes from a supplied photo in a timed (30-minute) session. I produced the landscape (pictured above), which may just be as good as anything I have labored over much longer.  The lesson? Painting quickly instinctively can be a road to success if you get out of your brain’s internal critic.

Establishing a Routine

The act of painting daily and continuing the effort helps grow an artists’ work. Consistent effort builds skill over time.

The website Daily Paintworks is a well-known example of an ongoing painting challenge. The goal of the website, as articulated by founder Carol Marine, is simply to paint daily (her book Daily Painting is also a worthwhile read for anyone interested in this.) While not all the art on the website constitutes “daily” output, the concept of daily painting certainly drives many of the artists who show and sell their work on its marketplace.

Pure Entertainment

Art challenges such as paint-offs are also highly entertaining for others to watch. I realized I was entertaining my friends in my own Facebook 10-day challenge, as much as I was challenging myself.

Late last year, I watched with great interest Eric Rhoads (well known for his year-long art challenge) challenged a number of leading artists (including Birgit) in different media  (acrylics, watercolor, pastel, gouache) to a 60-minute “Battle of The Mediums” challenge of a landscape from a photo. They all went about their tasks with gusto, and it was fascinating to watch the alla prima techniques employed by each.  Watch it yourself here to see who won!

Yes, You Should Take an Online Art Class

Yes, You Should Take an Online Art Class

While the majority of the world population has been sheltering in place in the last few months, a (relatively) small percentage of us have been exploring the unique thrills of online adult art education. While art schools remain shuttered, many art educators have figured out how to utilize a combination of platforms to extend their skills to a wider audience.

I have been fascinated by how diverse the offerings are.  I also encourage anyone with even the smallest interest in this area to explore this emerging field of interactive art education.

I learned to paint in the atelier style, at a local community art school (IS183 in Stockbridge, MA). I was fortunate enough when I first lived in this area to benefit from the skills of a Berkshire-area painter who was not only talented in painting, but extremely gifted in art education: Pat Hogan. Pat no longer teaches at IS183, so when I decided to refresh my watercolor painting skills last year, I discovered an online art educator: Birgit O’Connor. Birgit is using the Teachable platform to offer a wide range of watercolor painting workshops that extends what she offers in-person.

Both are wonderful painters who encourage taking risks and having fun.  While I doubt I would be where I am from a skills point-of-view without Pat’s inITIAL guidance, Birgit’s online workshops are seriously good.  The online format also allows her to share her vast store of knowledge in a semi-permanent way: her pre-recorded videos are always available to workshop participants, as are the helpful materials lists.

Pre-recorded “over-the-shoulder” videos are not all of online art education, however.  The other components are of course: critiques and class interaction.  For Birgit’s approach, these are both offered via the omni-present Zoom. While I am not the only one suffering “Zoom fatigue” these days, I do readily acknowledge when it is helpful and functional, and an online class (with chat) is a great use of Zoom.  If you miss a workshop meeting, being able to record and access a workshop meeting after-the-fact is also useful.

An example of a slightly different way of tackling online art education is Patti Mollica. I am still in the middle of an excellent workshop she is giving on painting loosely with Acrylics, and am impressed at the way she has constructed her workshop around a mix of a) Zoom b) Vimeo, c) imagery slideshows, and d) Facebook groups (where participants post assignment work and she comments).

During Patti’s Zoom calls she discusses pre-recorded painting demonstration or shows examples of work from various modern or contemporary artists. She has remarked that in many ways the online format allows more interaction for itss participants because everyone gets a chance to see and comment on each other’s work (unlike in a compressed, in-person workshop, when you’re in your own world). I have found the Facebook Group interaction to be extremely lively and am fascinated at the range of work from the globally-based participants.

Last but not least, I would like to give a shout-out to the video-only art instruction some of which is really excellent. YouTube has an enormous library, but there are pre-recorded video instruction subscriptions (like Artists Network) with many excellent instructors in a variety of media. There are also talented individual instructors like Will Kemp who appears to have conquered the area of how to apply modern materials to the field of classical drawing and painting. Talent abounds in online art instruction.

You just have to watch some of it to reap the benefits.

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