Buongiorno! Hello from Florence

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Florence!  Sigh. It’s long been a very special place to me. When I am there, or I think about my time spent there, the word that comes to mind is reverence. All that art, still there in this Tuscan town. Still in the places it was made for, there is nothing like it. It’s like the ghosts of geniuses walk the streets with you.

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Michelangelo’s  David At the Academia Gallery in Florence.

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The faces of people gazing up at the David sculpture by Michelangelo.  This sculpture, completed in 1504, holds us in its gaze still.

Over ten years ago, I spent a semester studying art in Mexico. It was a profound time in my growth as a artist. The underlying current there was passion. A quote from my teacher was “I don’t care what the subject looks like, show me how you feel about it”
That is a quote I will never forget, it has deep meaning for me and I can see it reflected in the way I create. Each country has its own value system around art. When you study art in places with deep the cultural ties to  their art, the more you will feel that value system in the way art is taught.

Two years ago I packed my bags to study in Florence. I didn’t know what to expect. Italy has such a deep deep rooted relationship to art and was the birthplace of the Renaissance. But the Italians are so passionate, would that passion spill over into a freedom in art as it did in Mexico?

No. No is the answer. The passion for art is tied tight like a bow around the classical tradition of art. When you grow up surrounded by so much unbelievable classical art, when your teachers are the likes of Michelangelo, you don’t really need to move past that. You put that up on a pedestal and honor it. And so, I return to the word reverence.

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Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery

I’ve spent weeks returning to drawing in preparation and now my bags are packed; and my knees buckle just a bit, as my heart beats just a bit faster, thinking of heading off to study, in that city, with so much mind boggling art, by so many classical and historically important artists. This study will not be about searching for the freedom in art, it will be about discipline. This study is about learning as much as I can, so later, at another time, I can break through from a place of knowing, into the place of freedom I first experienced in Mexico, and long to return to in art. But for now, reverence.

Left: Studying in Florence 2 years ago, Right: a few drawings I have been working on in preparation for my studies.

Just a note- I am writing this on Saturday, the day I will fly out. You’re most likely reading this on Monday, when I am already in Florence, already beginning my studies. So please tune into to my Facebook and Instagram pages, where I will be uploading in real time, and bringing you all along with me on this adventure.

Cheers!

Plein Air Painting: A Different (But Worthwhile) Beast

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Location, location, location — one of the many things that makes plein air painting so worth doing.

It’s that time of year. For those of us who enjoy working from nature but aren’t into the winter plein air bit, the weather has just turned into something we can work with.

Plein air painting, also called outdoor painting, is a completely different beast than studio work — and a method of working that I didn’t easily adjust to. I loved the idea of it, but in practice, my easel would blow over, taking my wet paint with it, both returning full of dirt … only to repeat the whole scenario all over again moments later.

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My favorite fur baby loves plein air painting with his Mama.

I had so many frustrations early on in my outdoor work, but the outdoor part kept calling me back. The beauty of nature, the sound of the birds: I wanted this to be my office. I figured there must be a way.

My setup is very different now, and my time outside painting is more peaceful — in increasing measure as I figure out better ways of working. I use a pochade box (see photo) now instead of a easel. I invested in a sturdy tripod to hold my pochade box. I work on smaller panels, instead of huge canvases, and I work in oil paint versus acrylic when the sun is out so my paint doesn’t dry up on me.

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I’ll make this my office every time I can.

Not that I don’t ever work differently: I will paint a big canvas in acrylic if I can drive right up to my painting spot, the wind is calm, and the sun not so hot that my paint dries fast. It can be fun to shake things up and work differently, which is the allure of plein air painting. Setting yourself up to study nature, and immersing yourself in it. For a landscape painter, there is nothing better than that.

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It helps to have some guidance as you get started in this incredibly rewarding way of working. I highly recommend the podcast “Plein Air Painting,” the book “Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting,” and studying from the masters: Andrew Wyeth, Frederic Edwin Church, Asher Durand, or any of the Hudson River School painters.

And most definitely, take a class. With good weather upon us, lots of classes are available. Or — if you live near Grand Rapids or Traverse City — send me an email. I’ll be happy to take you outdoors in nature and get you started on an adventure that will change your life  and your relationship to the outdoor world. It will teach you to see, to appreciate, and I promise you will never be the same. I know I’m not.