Tag Archives: learning

Join me on an Italian adventure

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Painting near Florence in the Tuscan hills

The calendar has turned to April. Spring feels like hope, even when it’s cold. All those hours of daylight feel like a gift after a long winter. You can hear the song of the birds and everything is golden. The grasses turn the most beautiful gold color when they die, and spring is filled with these monochromatic landscapes. It is always, always beautiful in the woods.

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Plein air painting is on my mind. The British say there is no such thing as bad weather, just ill-prepared clothing. I agree, except when it comes to plein air painting. I’m a wimp about rain and wind whipping at me while my fingers and toes freeze. I’ve yet to find gloves that allow me the movement to paint and warmth at the same time. But some artists do it even in winter. I’ve determined that they are just sturdier than me.  Still, my mindset is starting to lean in that direction, dreaming of time “Up North” with days spent in nature and a happy fur baby by my side. In preparation, I’m doing a lot of drawing — figures and trees — and thinking about the rules: perspective, proportion, light, shadow, gestures, all the things that figure drawing and nature teach you.

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Studying from life

I’m also preparing to leave for Italy in a few weeks. I’ll be in Florence the first week, studying from a live model every morning and in the afternoons visiting the gorgeous art the city holds with an art historian as my guide. The following week, I’ll be in the rolling hills of Tuscany near Lucca. Here, we will spend our mornings painting from life, and our afternoons landscape painting.

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The relationship between these two art forms becomes clearer and clearer to me with time. The undraped human body forces you to be accurate when you’re off: The mistakes jump off the page at you, and nature makes you at least attempt to pay tribute to the rules of art, even if your plan is to break the rules. One must know them to break them.

Florence is a Mecca of classical art, and art schools that teach the classical way. When you’re the birthplace of the Renaissance, I suppose it’s hard to move past that. It’s as if Italy in general watches the striving of the rest the world and sits back in its chair, takes a sip of wine, and says, “You know, we are good. We did, after all, give you the Renaissance and oh so much more. Yup, we are good,” with another sip of wine.

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All that mind-blowing art can make one feel faint!

I hope you’ll join me this month in my preparation and exploration. We will first be traveling without ever leaving home, and then packing our bags for an adventure — an Italian adventure!

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A perfect place to plein air paint

What are the places that have taught you the most? And what places do you think you can learn from? I love hearing your thoughts. Join me on Facebook and Instagram where we can continue the conversation and adventure.

Cheers!

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Two years ago, I spent a month studying in Florence. It was so good, I had to come back for more!

Five Ways to Make Your Next Painting Stronger

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What happens when you take a break from routine to go back to school, if even for a short time? Learning and growing, then turning around and teaching it — it’s a metaphor for life, and certainly for art.

I spent the last two weeks — joyfully and gleefully and sometimes frustratingly — learning. Robert Burridge, Sterling Edwards and, most recently, Don Andrews, have been some of my mentors and teachers. (Google them — you’re bound to be thrilled and delighted by their incredible talent.) There have been many more teachers and fellow artists who I’ve learned from through the years, and through all of these experiences and encounters, I have found many universal truths.

These things really make a difference in my own work, and they keep coming up. I hope by sharing them, they can serve as reminders to you, too:

1. Play, Play, Play: Just pull out a piece of paper and see what paint does. Art is play when we let it be. Experiment and detach from outcome. This is your time to delight yourself, go ahead and make a mess, or discover something new. It doesn’t matter because it’s about the process.

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2. Be Bold: To paraphrase the famous quote, they say “well-behaved women never made history,” and the same is true of art. Don’t be afraid to stand out; it gives your viewer something yummy to experience, holding their gaze and supplying intrigue vs. ho-hum.

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3. Start Your Painting Loose: My mentor Bob Burridge used to say that behind every great painting is a really great abstract painting. The beginning of your painting is not the time to get into detail — it’s your playtime. There will be plenty of time for detail down the road. If you get too caught up in detail, too soon you become caught up in protecting the area and sacrifice the unity of the painting.

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4. Rule of Opposites: Think contrasts: Light needs dark. If you want to make something look lighter, put something dark next to it. If you want to make something look darker, put something light next to it. Soft edges need to be balanced with hard edges. Vary your line quality. Warm colors need cool colors; it keeps the eye moving around the composition and keeps the viewer entertained.

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5. Break up with Fear: This is probably the most important lesson of all.  Fear is the biggest killer of creativity. To paraphrase the author Elizabeth Gilbert: Tell it to go sit in the backseat; it’s not driving the bus. The minute you let it into the driver seat, your art becomes careful and calculated and that edge, that thing that makes you you, is stifled into trying to be like everybody else. So stay in the backseat, Fear: We are not listening to you today. Today, we will make our art, bravely and courageously.

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If you make art, these things are not new to you, but they are the things we need to constantly remind ourselves. So go, dare, play, create, and make whatever it is that floats your boat. In the age of technology, art is something that still needs a human, and each creation is different and unique — that’s the beauty.

As always, I love hearing from you in the comments. Is this information helpful? Do you want to learn more about the process? Your feedback is the most important part of the conversation. Thanks for reading, and cheers!