Friday, January 30, 2009

Dana Hooper

Dana Hooper is one of the Bay Area's outstanding plein-air artists whose exuberant and colorful style represents all the freshness and spontaneity of working outdoors, directly from a subject.

"I paint outdoors in a style that is spontaneous and expressive. The motifs are colorist, intimate views of timeless subjects: animals, figures, rustic structures and landscapes. In my paintings there is often an idiosyncratic element, unexpected details or perspective - the picture may not be logical but it reads right. The paint surface is both thick and thin; the brushwork and palette knife strokes are deliberately visible and sometimes have a rough or unfinished look. Everything reminds you that this is a painting, a fusion of form, color and texture." – Dana Hooper

"Dana is a strong example of the modern return to plein air painting. Her work is spontaneous and expressive with a striking use of color. She paints intimate views of rural subjects--buildings, animals, landscapes--in a way that portrays their "innocence" and her love of them. I like a sentence she once said to me: 'My works are an escape from gentrification and technology, a respect for the simple.' There's a freedom to her brush strokes and I agree with a prominent collector who once told me: 'She's not derivative. She takes the California School (of figurative painting) in a new direction. It's a signature type of work.'" - Bud Johns

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review – Backpacker Painting – Outdoors with Oil & Pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson PSA MPAC

Michael Chesley Johnson knows how to pack a lot into a small package – whether it’s his painting gear or a 5” x 7” landscape painting. Being a master of the essential is no mean feat. Michael Chesley Johnson’s latest book, Backpacker Painting will reward the attentive reader with a wealth of outdoor painting know-how for a no-nonsense, no-frills approach to outdoor painting in every season, day and night. 164 pages, 8 ½” x 11”, 12 demonstrations, 72 paintings, 125 illustrations. Paperback $45.00 plus shipping or download $20. To order visit

Winston Churchill - Plein Air Painter

When Winston Churchill, during World War I, took the fall for the Gallipoli fiasco and resigned his post as the youngest ever First Lord of the Admiralty, he went to the trenches in France in 1915 and took a paint box with him. Thus began his painting career at age 40. Over the next 40+ years he painted over 500 very creditable paintings. Among his memorable quotes on the subject of painting is “When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting.”

Recognized for his “bold and joyous brush”, he quickly transcended amateur status and became an accomplished painter. He frequently painted large format plein air paintings as a break from his stressful life. His compelling essay “Painting as a Pastime,” in which he extols the contemplative virtues of painting for the overworked, is a classic. He is reputed to have entered art exhibits of some note anonymously and taken prizes.

An extensive collection of his work is to be found at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where he gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. A visit to the Churchill museum at Westminster College will be rewarded by the additional bonus of a fully restored Christopher Wren church moved from London after the war.

– Carl Judson

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Michael Chesley Johnson

Michael is a Master Pastellist of Pastel Artists Canada, a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America and the Pastel Society of New Mexico, as well as a juried member of Oil Painters of America and other prestigious groups. His award-winning work has been in shows in both the US and Canada and has been published in The Artist's Magazine, The Pastel Journal, American Artist and Fine Art Connoisseur (Formerly Plein Air Magazine).

Primarily self-instructed, Michael has studied under master artists such as Albert Handell, Doug Dawson, Bob Rohm, Ann Templeton and Ray Roberts. Michael is noted for his strong sense of color, his use of expressive strokes and his ability to capture the mood of the landscape simply.

Michael teaches throughout North America and also conducts intensive workshops at Friar's Bay Studio Gallery on Campobello Island in the Canadian Maritimes. All students, from beginner to professional artists, praise his relaxed but helpful manner of teaching.

"One way I have of connecting with the landscape is to go out into it and paint. Although I have a studio, I always prefer to paint outdoors. Painting outdoors is both a creative act and a meditative one. It ends up being a much richer experience than painting in the studio from photographs. First of all, there are the elements to contend with -- the wind that wants to knock over the easel, the sun that moves and changes shadow shapes, the temperature which is never ideal. I'm told this battle builds character. But then there are the things that I do not fight but embrace -- the warm sun if it is a cool day, the cool shade if it is a hot day, the song of the birds, the sound of the breeze in the treetops. And of course, there is the beauty of the landscape before me. I will always be an outdoor painter of landscapes."
-- Michael Chesley Johnson

Below is a plein air painting demonstration by Michael.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Painting with Oils on Birch and Mahogany Panels

For really striking, traditional results, prime mahogany and birch panels with one or two coats of clear primer like Gamblin Galkyd or linseed oil (The Galkyd will dry in a few days, while linseed oil can take weeks or even months).

Winslow Homer and other painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries let the dark, varnished mahogany surface show through to add interest and unify the painting.

The light color of birch allows you to use the color of the varnished wood for highlights to great effect. In this painting, Stopped For Adjustments, the road in the foreground and the highlights on the mountains were achieved by lightly wiping away the paint with a rag.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Plein Air Painters of America

"Plein-air painting has to do with putting your soul on show," says founder Denise Burns. Ask her why she organized the Plein-Air Painters of America, and she characteristically adds a tidbit of humor: "We were eating bugs, too," she says, pointing out that in the mid-1980s New Mexico's on-location painters were getting attention in the press, but those in California were only beginning to see their names in print.

It was an era when early California impressionism was just beginning to be documented by scholars. In 1982 Ruth Westphal published the resource book Plein-Air Painters of California The Southland, followed four years later by The Northland. Major collections were being built, and prices for historic paintings were rising. Burns, who was president of the Catalina Art Association at the time, felt the moment had arrived to educate collectors about contemporary artists pursuing the art of painting from life.

With the encouragement of her friend and Catalina neighbor, art collector Roy Rose (grand nephew of California impressionist Guy Rose) Burns handpicked 20 artists to participate in the First Annual Plein-Air Painters Festival, October 30-November 2, 1986. The concept was to come to Catalina Island, as did so many early California Impressionists, paint outdoors for a week, then sell the paintings in a Saturday evening exhibition.

That format continued with minor variations through 2003, when the last PAPA-sanctioned exhibition and sale took place on Catalina Island. Today, PAPA exhibitions and sales are held from coast to coast. Recent exhibitions have been held in such prestigious venues as The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California, and the Academy Art Museum, Easton, Maryland.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sonoma Plein Air

Sonoma Plein Air is a week long event celebrating the century-old technique of outdoor painting. The Sonoma Plein Air event raises funds to support art education programs for children in Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, a non-profit all volunteer organization, presents this annual event that is designed to be casual, interactive and educational.

This juried event brings nationally recognized plein air artists to Sonoma for a week of painting the inspiring landscapes of Sonoma Valley. Whether it is the magnificent green hills with giant oaks, grazing sheep and cows, winding roads, picturesque villages, or the colors and scents of wildflowers---Sonoma Valley in spring is paradise for plein air artists.

For more information about Sonoma Plein Air visit

Friday, January 23, 2009

Len Chmiel

There is an intimacy and honesty about the subjects oil painter Len Chmiel chooses, as if each painting were an expression of himself. He explains that he has a pretty good idea of who he is at this point in his life. "I used to try to control everything but now I allow my intuition to speak more. I try to stretch the truth of what the actual image is. I never wind up with a real representation. I do things that are recognizable, yes, but I have a much different intention."

Chmiel travels and works outdoors a great deal, frequently taking trips dedicated to painting on location. His travels have taken him to England, Scotland, and across Europe, into Mexico, Guatemala and Uruguay, as far away as Nepal and Thailand, and as close to home as his own backyard. He is fond of the Western United States where he often fits in hunting excursions with his painting trips. Chmiel tends to work small on location and bring his work back to the studio where he focuses on larger paintings. "I explore the boundaries of the smaller pieces to see which are suited for the impact of an expanded composition."

Chmiel maintains a truly open minded view of art. He cites painters Gustav Klimt, Andrew Wyeth and Richard Diebenkorn as influential artists who were quite different philosophically but similar in that they all transcended their craft and actually told the viewer something about themselves. Chmiel, makes his home in Hotchkiss, Colorado where he not only paints but also gardens, tends his vineyard and fruit trees, makes wine and hunts.

Jan Crooker

Jan Mrozinski Crooker grew up in Toledo, Ohio. Her love of drawing and color began as a child at the Toledo Museum of Art Saturday classes. As an adult, she earned a Bachelor Degree from Toledo University and a M.F.A. in art from Penn State University. She has exhibited nationwide. After graduate school, Jan moved to California to teach at Cal State San Bernandino. She taught in California ten years and then returned to Pennsylvania. She teaches drawing and painting at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.

Jan paints in both acrylic and oil paints. Jan's work has always had a childlike exuberance of color and intensity. After completing a three-year still life series, Jan began a landscape series in 2005. She paints both in plein air and in the studio. She is an active member of the Rehoboth Art League and exhibits in the league's outdoor show.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hudson River School

Hudson River school group of American landscape painters, working from 1825 to 1875. For the first time a number of American artists began to devote themselves to landscape painting instead of portraiture. They were particularly attracted by the grandeur of Niagara Falls and the scenic beauty of the Hudson River valley, the Catskills, and the White Mts. The works of these artists reflected a new concept of wilderness—one in which man was an insignificant intrusion in a landscape.

First of the group of artists properly classified with the Hudson River school was Thomas Doughty; his tranquil works greatly influenced later artists of the school. Albert Bierstadt glorified the Rocky Mts. in the West, working in the same manner as the painters in the East. Thomas Cole, whose dramatic and colorful landscapes are among the most impressive of the school, may be said to have been its leader during the group's most active years. Hudson River School landscapes are characterized by their realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrayal of nature along with the juxtaposition of colonialism and wilderness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frank Serrano

Contemporary landscape artist, Frank M. Serrano was born in Los Angeles on November 29, 1967. He developed an early interest in art and nature, studying throughout his school days, but is largely self-taught. His natural talent eventually gained him a lucrative career as a freelance commercial artist. After his success in the commercial sector, in the early 1990s Serrano decided to pursue his passion for traditional oil painting and has since developed a strong following of admirers, both nationally and internationally.

Serrano, an avid outdoorsman, is recognized for his keen sense of atmospheric observation and ability to spontaneously interpret his personal connection with nature onto canvas. In 2003 he completed writing and illustrating the book, Plein Air Painting in Oil, published by the Walter Foster Company, which serves as a handbook to budding plein air artists and collectors of this genre of landscape painting. As of August 2006 Serrano serves as plein air painting consultant for Walt Disney Studios.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Packing for Plein Air

Preparation is key when packing for plein air excursions. Just like backpacking, every ounce counts. These are some tips to consider when deciding what to bring or leave in the studio:
  • Take only the colors you need. Consider the time of year and the location you are planning on visiting when thinking about your palette. This may mean just 6 small tubes of paint, or a handful of half stick pastels.
  • Do you really need all those brushes? Fewer brushes will also help with space and cleanup.
  • Small amounts of turpentine/mineral spirits. Store in tightly sealed containers to prevent spills.
  • Take panels instead of canvases (see previous post)
  • Paper Towels are always a good idea; you can cut the roll in half to reduce size/weight!
  • When looking for other art supplies, travel sized/travel friendly options are always your best bet.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, bug repellent, water, snacks, and a hat.

How will you carry your supplies? Pochade Boxes and Plein Air Easels (French, Soltek, etc.) are specially made to hold your art supplies inside them, and are great ways to limit what you take with you in the field. Otherwise a small bag or tackle box can do the trick. If you are hiking into the field, or even just down the street, you should be able to carry everything comfortably in one trip. This could be a comfortable backpack, shoulder bag, cart, or any combination.

Every artist has their own particular way of doing things. Try out different options and see what works best for you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Andrew Wyeth - America's Artist

Early Friday morning artist Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep. He was 91. Wyeth portrayed the hidden melancholy of the people and landscapes of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley and coastal Maine in works such as "Christina's World" and "Groundhog Day." He died in just the sort of weather he loved, the empty cold and the sharp sunlight of the dead of winter.

Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 in Chadds Ford, PA. His father was N.C. Wyeth, famed painter and illustrator. It was in Maine that Wyeth found the subject for “Christina’s World,” his best-known painting. And it was in Pennsylvania that he met Helga Testorf, a neighbor in his native Chadds Ford who became the subject of the intimate portraits that brought him a wave of public attention in 1986. The “Helga” paintings, many of them full-figure nudes, came with a whiff of scandal: supposedly Wyeth had not even told his wife, Betsy, about the more than 200 paintings and sketches until he had completed them in 1985.

Although the art world has had mixed feelings about Wyeth's work since the 1950s, he has been referred to as "America's Artist" by the Baltimore Museum of Art. A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 drew more than 175,000 visitors in 15½ weeks, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for a living artist.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Plein Air Painting Demonstration

Jennifer Young gives a great step-by-step demonstration of her plein air painting procedure in this article from Empty Easel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Karen Ramsay - Watercolorist

Karen is a talented watercolorist and teacher, as well as a friend to Judsons Art Outfitters. Living in Fort Collins, Colorado allows her many opportunities to paint plein air. Her landscapes, cityscapes, florals, and portraits are filled with fun and life. Karen was also featured in the Big Sky Journal as an "Artist of the West" in 2001. She offers an on-going watercolor workshop in Fort Collins at The Gardens on Spring Creek. Karen’s artwork is featured on the 9x12 Guerrilla Painter® Watercolor Block which is available through our store. You can learn more about Karen by visiting her website.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Conrad “Connie” Schwiering – 1916–1986

Coming of age in Wyoming in the depression, Connie Schwiering made it the hard way. He got a start in painting from Robert Graham in Denver, was mentored briefly by Bert Phillips in Taos, then studied at the Art Students League in New York with Charles Chapman, a friend and contemporary of Frederick Remington. After the war, he and his wife settled in Jackson Hole where they lived for the next 11 years in a cramped travel trailer with a tacked on lean-to for Connie to paint in, before building a modest house and studio. He was well known and liked among local ranchers, painting in and around Jackson Hole as he slowly gained a following. Connie painted plein air extensively and on a substantial scale as shown in the accompanying photos. The genre of Western painting is underappreciated for its extensive contribution to the plein-air painting tradition in the United States. Conrad Schwiering is a stand-out from the lean years in the mid-20th Century.

– Carl Judson

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Skip Whitcomb - American Plein Air Artist

Congratulations to Skip Whitcomb - he has just been named Featured Artist of the 2009 Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale at the National Western Stock Show in Denver Colorado.

“The most obvious way to paint nature is standing in the middle of it. If I keep an open mind, I see all these wonderful relationships and juxtapositions I could never invent in the studio. I try to look at the landscape as if I’m seeing it for the very first time. You have to paint from inside yourself; otherwise you are simply recording like a camera. There really is a higher reality.” – Skip Whitcomb
Raised on a ranch near Sterling, Colorado, Whitcomb spent his summers Wyoming and the wide open spaces felt like home to him. An accomplished plein air painter, draftsman and printmaker, he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where he received thorough training in drawing and painting. Whitcomb believes that "Drawing is the soul of painting." He carries a sketchbook with him everywhere he goes and paints studies on the spot. A large part of his year is spent traveling throughout the West, but he is also rejuvenated by seeing and painting new places in the world. Whitcomb is recognized by his peers as an "artist's artist" and looks to the classics in art and literature for inspiration. He makes his home in Fort Collins, CO. In 2009, Whitcomb will be holding workshops in Arizona, Washington, Wyoming, and California.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Using Cast Shadows

Here is a link to an informative article on Empty Easel about the use of cast shadows. It has some great tips for all kinds of painting and drawing, not just plein air.

Monday, January 12, 2009

T. Allen Lawson

With an eye for subtle beauty and a dedication to continual study, T. Allen Lawson works and paints in the tradition of earlier artists. His paintings are consistently evolving expressions of the artist and his surroundings. Lawson lives with his wife and children in Rockport, Maine and will be offering workshops in the Fall of 2009.

Cynthia Hooper – Tijuana Garage Door Dwellings

“These oil and gouache paintings interpret the resourcefully improvised domestic dwellings and infrastructure of the rapidly and perilously expanding working-class communities of Tijuana, Mexico. My most recent paintings examine the repurposing of cast-off garage doors from vintage San Diego subdivisions to build sturdy four-walled Mexican homes. These garage doors—once an important façade component for mid-century American commuter homes—now function as the only façade for households that (more often than not) cannot afford a car. This subtle irony—as well as these homes’ iconic beauty—is completely compelling, as are the complex social and economic contingencies that shape these communities.” – Cynthia Hooper

You can learn more about Cynthia by visiting her website

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Octopuses Garden Art Alliance

The Octopuses Garden Art Alliance is a non-profit organization in Omaha, NE dedicated to strengthening community interaction through visual, literary and performance arts. Their vision is to integrate Omaha's diverse community by offering workshops, projects and events to all areas of the city and to serve as a catalyst for local schools, non-profits, and businesses to form alliances. They believe that self-expression through art is healthy and therapeutic for each individual, including those with special needs, and making such experiences accessible to everyone will benefit the entire community. For more information visit their website

Friday, January 9, 2009

My American Artist's Plein Air Blog

Below is a link to My American Artist's Plein Air Blog. It is bursting at the seams with interesting posts involving everything plein air.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Brian Buckrell's Plein Air Acrylic Set-up and Procedure

I have been plein air painting for about 4 years. In that period I have had the good fortune of taking numerous workshops from skilled painters doing plein air in both acrylics and oils. I am a bit of a gear-head (according to my wife), and as a result I have tried most set-ups and modified most of what I have purchased. Through trial and error, and studying the set-ups of others, I now have equipment that I am happy with.

I have purchased and used the 9x12 and 6x8 Guerrilla Boxes™, the Soltek Easel, and two sizes of the Easy L. I find any of these work fine for me when using oils - although each has its particular advantages. But for acrylics, after trying all, I have setteled on the 9x12 Guerrilla Box™ slightly modified to fit my needs. It is the sturdiest of the bunch and holds the most. I find painting with acrylics requires more supplies and the Guerrilla Box™ handles it well. If I am painting in an urban setting or some place close to my car, I transport my equipment in a folding hand truck equipped with plastic containers held in with quick ties.

I have modified the Guerrilla Box™ as follows: I have attached two bungees across the top of the lid of the Guerrilla Box™ to hold my Slip in Easel. I use the Slip in Easel to raise the base of the panel above the palette. I use a bungee that ties to the handle of the tripod and hooks over to the top of my panel - adequate for panels up to 16x20. For larger panels I put a bungee around the back of the box lid which hooks to each side of the panel. The Sta-Wet palette is held in place by two small nails that I hammered into the front edge of the Guerrilla Box™ and cut off the nail heads. These grab the plastic ridges on the base of the Sta-Wet and prevent it from sliding.
Painting Procedure:

It took a while to get it through my thick head, but I have finally learned that time spent planning is probably the most important time spent when doing plein air. I do at least two thumbnail sketches, selecting what to include and what to eliminate. I try to clearly define a foreground, midground and background. I then transfer the sketch to the panel using water soluble pencil, then re-draw it using a waterproof black marker pen - many brands bleed but some, like Sharpie, do not. I then wash off the water soluble pencil.

Once the sketch is in place I choose a transparent color (generally warm) and, using glazing medium, apply the under painting. Sometimes I apply it evenly and quite heavy; other times I wipe it off selectively, creating a value pattern. While the under painting is drying I select my palette (color choices vary from day to day). Unlike with oils, I do not put out all paints until I require them - and am constantly adding paint as needed (which is conveniently below my palette with the Guerrilla Box™). I begin by putting out the dark transparents and usually just put them on the 9x12 disposable palette which I discard once finished with these. If the weather is not too drying I put them on either the 9x12 plastic palette (using both the lid and bottom - stacking them on the slider) or the Sta-Wet 12x16 with disposable palette paper or, if conditions suggest, I will use the Sta-Wet moistened paper and sponge. I then lay in my darks using the transparent - often quite loosely - creating shape and value as much as possible. I avoid adding white - including colors made opaque with white - as long as I can. I often start with the foreground - using as much transparent as possible - and cut out the mid ground shapes with opaques as I create the background. Once the basic plan is in place I often glaze with transparent darks - often phthalos (green, blues or magenta) sometimes with ivory black added - always with glazing medium and a bit of water. This drops the overall value and creates harmony (a mother color if you wish). Then I come back with opaques and re-develop the lighter values.

I have a history of overworking many paintings. I have learned that I am better off not trying to finish many of my paintings on site - although about 20% of pieces I do call finsihed. The others I return to my studio to finish without reference, trying to make the piece stand on its own. Probably 25% are complete junkers - but that is down from 50% two years ago and I have to remember that these are the ones I learn from. I credit most of my improvement to the advance planning and the application of a correct drawing before I start - particulary in complex urban scenes.

Generally I prefer to paint plein air with acrylics. I find I paint more imaginatively and with more color. I paint fast and furiously. I no longer experience trouble with drying as I only put out paints I am using - and I have painted in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. I have tried the slow drying brands but prefer to keep them for the studio.

- Brian Buckrell